Off For College
My parents took a deep interest in my education. They had ample means to give me a thorough college training and however they may have disagreed about other matters concerning me, they were united in their purpose to give me good school advantages.
I do not care to name the college to which I was sent. The president was a large man of striking appearance, varied learning, and wide experience in the world. He was genial and warmhearted and the students loved him devotedly. While he was a member of an orthodox church, in his religions convictions he was quite in harmony with the modern higher criticism, and I think a sort of Unitarian without any firmly fixed faith in anything only that lie was not in sympathy with any orthodox or evangelical preaching, and frequently made light of what he called sudden conversions.” In his chapel addresses he used to say that lie did not like the expression, “getting religion;” that a man got religion like he got an education; that every man was the architect of his own character, that good deeds were like so many bricks laid into a wall of good character. That we must not be looking for some outside influence, or power, to save us or make us happy, but that we must live right, be honest, tell the truth, and despise little and mean things. I think this man worshipped at the shrine of his own works. He had a very attractive and eloquent way of presenting his thoughts. He rarely, if ever, mentioned Christ or the atonement made by him, and I am confident I never heard him mention the Holy Spirit. He talked much of manhood, of self-reliance, of independence, of becoming good by doing good, and all that sort of thing.
My teacher in natural science was quite a bright and fascinating young man, enthusiastic in his advocacy of the teachings of Darwin. It was his delight, in a covert way, to ridicule preachers, to point out what he claimed were contradictions in the Bible and boast of his determination to be free from the dominion of the priesthood and to do his own thinking. I well remember that he took the entire hour of one of our recitations to lecture the class on the fact that the orthodox Christian faith had become obsolete, and many of us were quite surprised at the large number of university and college presidents he cited as having turned away from the Scriptures and being in harmony with the views advanced by himself.
Under these influences I neglected the Bible, prayer and church, and finally I gave up my faith, and came almost to hate the Bible, and joined with other boys in ridiculing the old faith. I well remember how, while passing through this stage of my experience, I sometimes awoke in the night with a great ache in my heart and a solemn fear would creep over me that I was being led astray, but our professor taught us that these fears were mere superstitions and were common to all heathen people. “There is nothing to fear,” he would say, with a great show of assurance.
The pastor of the church we attended was quite in harmony with the spirit that characterized the college. He preached much on historical, scientific, and literary subjects. He was quite an orator and large numbers of students attended his church, especially at night when he gave us sermons or lectures on Shakespeare, Browning, Longfellow, and other distinguished literary men. It would have been difficult for any student of my age to have maintained his simple faith in Christ as a Savior from sin under the pressure which was brought to bear against us. I am confident that a number of our professors were delighted when they saw the boys drifting away from their religious moorings. They said it was an evidence of growth in a fellow to find him doubting the legends and superstitions which had been taught him by people who had not had the advantages of modern, scientific education.
Gradually all of the anxiety and fear connected with the change which was coming over me, passed away and I exulted in a sense of liberty and felt quite free to think and do as I pleased, and soon learned to laugh at any protest of my own conscience. It startles me as I reflect on the moral condition of that institution of learning. Boys who came there with good religious experiences and a clearly-defined faith in the great doctrines of Christianity, were soon robbed of their belief, their spiritual life was destroyed, their consciences benumbed, and directly they were playing Cards, drinking whiskey, swearing profanely, and falling into those vices which hardened their hearts and polluted their bodies. Not infrequently students were sent away from the institution because of having contracted loathsome diseases from which it seemed impossible to recover them. As I reflect over the wrong that was done me and many of those bright young fellows, I can but feel that our teachers will be held responsible at the judgment bar for the manner in which they trifled with our faith.
As all interest in spiritual life died within me, a great love for college sports took possession of me and I wasted my time, neglected my books, and deceived my parents in order to indulge my abnormal love for sports. the money which my father sent to me to defray my legitimate expenses, I wasted in following my college baseball team from place to place, having him afterward to suffer embarrassment and inconvenience by having my bills sent to him for settlement.
I was a poor student, lost interest in my books, and after two years left the college, which I first attended, and went farther east to a large and popular institution where I found less of faith, more of immorality, and stronger temptation to indulge my abnormal desire for the excitement of the various college sports, and for games of chance, in which I was frequently indulging.
After four years in the two colleges mentioned, I wasted two more years in a university where I was fully confirmed in the unbelief and skepticism which had taken root in me in the colleges of which I have spoken. I am amazed as I look back at the bitter prejudices which seemed to possess both teachers and students in these institutions against the Bible, against the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, against the sinfulness of sin and the beauty of holiness. I do not believe ministers and religious people of this country have any true conception of the condition of unbelief and immorality that exists in many of our great seats of learning. Whatever may be said of the education to be obtained in them, of the opportunities for scientific study and research which they afford, I assure nay readers that there is, in many of these great schools, a condition which tends to brutalize men, to give them a low appreciation of every sacred thing, God, the church, womanhood, the home, the civil law, and everything that ennobles life and makes good character permanent and beautiful. In many of our schools there is a subtle drift toward anarchy; disregard of divine law and human law, a tendency toward the belief that every man should be a law unto himself. A diabolical feeling that there is no sacred Sabbath, that it is stupid to regard one day as any better than any other day, that there is no such thing as sin, that there is no harm in adultery, in taking advantage in business transactions; that after all life itself is not the sacred thing that the Bible would make you believe it to be; that we are to be governed by the great law of “the survival of the fittest,” and that every fellow is to get the most out of life for himself that he can, largely regardless of his fellow beings. it is this spirit that has led to revolts and strikes in some student bodies that has at times seemed to threaten the existence of some universities.
Of course no professor says these things point blank in lecturing in classes, but as I have intimated there is a strong under current drifting in this direction. As already stated, I was at no time a hard student, but picked up quite a smattering of knowledge of history, literature, geography, and the sciences. I was proficient in nothing. In these schools I enjoyed many social advantages which gave me a certain polish that enabled me to pass for a gentleman and has paved my way to the sins and crimes which have brought me to the cell from which I write these letters, with the hope that some one, reading them, may take warning and avoid the snares into which my feet have become entangled.