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Chapter 3: at Transylvania University.

From the Academy presided over by Mr. Shaw I went to Lexington, Ky., to enter the Transylvania University. Having usually been classed with boys beyond my age, I was quite disappointed to find that the freshmen of the college I wanted to enter were much younger than myself, and I felt my pride offended by being put with smaller boys. My chief deficiency was in mathematics, which had been very little taught in the Academy. The professor of mathematics, Mr. Jenkins, kindly agreed to give me private lessons, and I studied under him for the balance of the session and through the vacation, so as to enable me to pass examination as a sophomore. He was a classical scholar as well as a mathematician, but he had very poor material to work upon, as it was mainly languages and metaphysics that were considered desirable to know at that time. His health failed while I was taking lessons from him, leaving [23] me in the meantime to study as much as I could or would; he availed himself of the vacation for going away.

After I had been for some time studying by myself, a senior from Louisiana, who had taken some interest in me, inquired how I was getting along. I told him how far I had gone. He was very much surprised, undertook to examine me, and found that I did not recollect the letters that were put on the figures in the book, which he told me were necessary. I began at the beginning to memorize the letters. When the professor returned, and I explained to him the difficulty encountered, he laughed and told me that if the senior knew his letters that was all he ever did know, and he would rather I should learn the problem without the letters than with them; by which I was greatly relieved.

Our professor of languages was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin — a fine linguist, with the pronunciation of Latin and Greek taught in that College, which I then believed, and yet believe, to be the purest and best of our time.

The professor of these last — named branches, and vice-president of the University, was a Scotchman, Rev. Mr. Bishop, afterward president of a college in Ohio (Kenyon, I believe it was), a man of large attainments [24] and very varied knowledge. His lectures in history are remembered as well for their wide information as for their keen appreciation of the characteristics of mankind. His hero of all the world was William Wallace.

In his lectures on the history of the Bible his faith was that of a child, not doubting nor questioning, and believing literally as it was written.

About this I remember a funny incident. He was arguing for a literal construction of the Testament, and said that valuable doctrines were lost in the habit of calling those teachings of our Lord ‘Eastern allegories.’ ‘Now, my hearers, I will, if you please, read one of the passages with the words, “Eastern allegories” where your learned friends think they occur. “And all the Eastern allegories besought him, saying, Send us into the swine that we may enter into them, and he forthwith gave them leave. And the Eastern allegories went out, and entered into the swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea.”’

Mr. Bishop was going on gravely reading when a titter aroused him. He looked up astonished, and said, “Sobriety becometh the house of God.”

A vulgar boy, in the junior class, committed some outrage during the recitation, [25] which Dr. Bishop chose to punish as became the character of the offender. His inability to draw a straight line on the blackboard caused him to keep a very large ruler, broad and flat, with which he used to guide the chalk. Calling the boy to him, he laid him across his knee and commenced paddling him with the big ruler. The culprit mumbled that it was against the law to whip a collegiate. “Yes,” said the old gentleman, momentarily stopping his exercise, “ but every rule has its exceptions, Toney.” Then he whacked him again, and there would not have been a dissenting voice if the question had been put as to the justice of the chastisement.

Among my college mates in Transylvania was a tall country boy, true-hearted and honest, with many virtues but without grace or tact. The sight of him always seemed to suggest to Mr. Bishop the question of the Catechism, “Who made ye, Dauvid?” to which Atchison always answered, “Gaud,” and Mr. Bishop invariably responded, “ Quite right, Dauvid; quite right.” I left him in the college when I went to West Point, and afterward, when I met him in the United States Senate, in which he was one of the Senators from Missouri, my first greeting was, “Who made ye, Dauvid?” I loved him when we were boys, and he grew with growing [26] years in all the graces of manhood. David R. Atchison, now no more, but kindly remembered even by those who disagreed with him politically, was a man of unswerving courage and stainless honor.

The University of Transylvania was fortunate in so far that its alumni were favorites in public life. My dear and true friend, George W. Jones, of Iowa, was of our class, and with me, also, in the Senate of the United States; S. W. Downs, of Louisiana, was a graduate of Transylvania, and so was Edward A. Hannegan, both of whom were subsequently United States Senators. When I was serving my first term as United States Senator, I was one of six graduates of Transylvania who held seats in that chamber.

In my time, the college proper (over which the very brilliant Horace Holly presided), consisted of a medical department, with such distinguished professors as Drake, Dudley, Blythe, Cook, Richardson, Caldwell, and others. The law department was well, although not so numerously attended as the medical and theological; its professor was that real genius, Jesse Bledsoe, who was professor of common law. Some sectarian troubles finally undermined the popularity of the President of the Transylvania University, and the institution has probably never recovered [27] ·the high reputation it had in 1820, and the years immediately following.

There I completed my studies in Greek and Latin, and learned a little of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, surveying, profane and sacred history, and natural philosophy.

The Honorable George W. Jones, of Iowa, in a memoir of my husband, written at my request, says:

Jefferson Davis and I were classmates at Transylvania University, Lexington, Ky., in 1821. My acquaintance with him commenced in October of that year. At that time young Davis was considered by the faculty and by his fellow-students as the first scholar, ahead of all his classes, and the bravest and handsomest of all the college boys.

Major Theodore Lewis, who served in the Mexican War with Mr. Davis, told me that he often slept by the side of the then Colonel Davis, and that he never awoke at night that he did not find him reading when off duty. Major Lewis had been a college mate with Davis and myself at Lexington, Ky. He assured me that Davis was as devoted a student during that campaign (the Mexican War) as he had always been when a college classmate of ours. Governor Dodge, while we were brother Senators and [28] brother housekeepers (most of the ten or twelve years) often extolled Mr. Davis for his studious habits while they served together in the First Regiment of United States Cavalry, never, he said, neglecting a single duty as Adjutant of his command.

At college, Mr. Davis was much the same as he was in after-life, always gay and buoyant of spirits, but without the slightest tendency to vice or immorality. He had the innate refinement and gentleness that distinguished him through life. He was always a gentleman in the highest sense of the word. Aside from the high moral tone and unswerving devotion to conscience which characterized his whole career, Mr. Davis was always too gentle and refined to have any taste for vice and immorality in any form. He never was perceptibly under the influence of liquor, and never gambled.

This statement concerning him, though based primarily on my personal knowledge of Mr. Davis, is not unsupported by the testimony of others who were equally intimate with him.

In November, 1823, Jefferson Davis was appointed to a cadetship at West Point Military Academy, New York, by President Monroe, and we drifted apart.

Judge Peters, of Mount Sterling, Ky., was [29] another classmate of Mr. Davis at Transylvania.

“When I was with him,” wrote the Judge, as soon as he heard of Mr. Davis's death, “he was a good student, always prepared with his lessons, very respectful and polite to the President and professors. I never heard him reprimanded for neglecting his studies, or for misconduct of any sort, during his stay at the University. He was amiable, prudent, and kind to all with whom he was associated, and beloved by teachers and students. He was rather taciturn in disposition. He was of a good form, indicating a good constitution; attractive in appearance, a well-shaped head, and of manly bearing, especially for one of his age. He did not often engage in the sports of the students, which was playing at football; perhaps he did not choose to lose his time from his studies.”

A friend of the family, Mr. Joseph Ficklin, was postmaster of Lexington. He lived in an old-fashioned brick house at the corner of East High Street. It is still standing and but little changed in its exterior. There young Davis boarded. Mr.Ficklin and Mrs. Ficklin were extremely proud of the cheerful, gentlemanly boy, and made him happy with their kind treatment and good and dainty fare.

Indeed Jeff was usually so dignified, decorous [30] and well-behaved, that they fell into the way of treating him like a man of thirty.

There was a visitor at the house who was about twenty-three or four years old. He had large views, and was “penetrated by esteem and respect” for his own personality to such a degree as to arouse the indignation of the younger people and to amuse the older ones. One day there came out an urgent appeal for this aspiring young person to run for sheriff of the county, reciting, in turgid style, his fitness for the work. It was signed “Many Voters.” Lexington was a village then, and this audacious suggestion set the whole town agog. The advertisement had been enclosed to the paper with the money for its publication, and nothing more. Many guesses were made. The young person whose name had been suggested remarked, with an air of superior dignity, that he knew some persons had thought of him for an important office. Mr. Ficklin looked at Jeff, whose crimson face and jerking muscles showed him laboring to suppress something, and called him out of the room, when, amid peals of laughter, the joke was divulged. Jeff confessed that he had sent the card to the paper. He was always fond of a joke, and very full of gay suggestions until the fall of the Confederacy; but never afterward. [31]

In 1852 we were in Lexington. Mr.Ficklin and Mrs. Ficklin gave us an evening entertainment, and many pleasant people were invited to meet us. I saw Mr. Davis, across the supper-room, take Mrs. Ficklin's hand and kiss it very respectfully.

In a little while she came to me and said, “Jeff is the same dear boy he was when he was sixteen.”

He went every day, while we remained, to see the aged couple.

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