These quotations have been selected by the Editor to illustrate Wilson’s close contact with what Dr. Dodds called “the low watermark” of college life at the turn of the century and his realistic, candid analysis of it.

“It is a very interesting circumstance, gentlemen, when we revolutionized the course of study and absolutely changed the method of instruction, it raised hardly a ripple upon the body of the alumni. That was an intellectual matter and entirely our business. But when we came to touching the social life of the University, that was another matter; not a ripple of excitement but a storm of excitement swept the body politic and we knew at last that we had touched the vital matter…When the alumni show by their interest that you have touched their lives, and you have not touched their lives when you change the curriculum and method of instruction, they are showing what is universally true. That is life…”

“Scholars, therefore, do not reflect; they label, group kind with kind, set forth in schemes, expound with dispassionate method. Their minds are not stages, but museums; nothing is done there, but very curious and valuable collections are kept there.”

“It is my lonely privilege, in gathering of educated men [Princeton alumni], to be the only person who speaks of education.”

“The work of the college, the work of its classrooms and laboratories, has become the merely formal and compulsory side of its life, and “undergraduate activities” have become the vital, spontaneous, absorbing realities for nine out of every ten men who go to college.”

“I don’t see how a literary life can be built up on foundations of undergraduate instruction. That instruction compels you to live with the commonplaces, the ABC of every subject, and to dwell upon these with an emphasis and an invention altogether disproportioned to their intrinsic weight and importance – it keeps you on the dusty, century-travelled highroads of every subject, from which you get no outlooks except those that are catalogued and vulgarized in every guide-book. You get weary of the plodding and yet you get habituated to it, and find all excursions aside difficult – more and more so. What is a fellow to do?”

“The preceptors are to be selected primarily on their standing as gentlemen, as men who are companionable, clubbable, whose personal qualities of association give them influence over the minds of younger men. If their qualities as gentlemen and scholars conflict, the former will win them the place.”

“Wilson used to get terribly excited at athletic contests. Holding his cane between his knees, he brought it down with a band at critical moments, and gave short staccato shouts, making more noise than the noisiest rooter.”

“The very men the teacher most desires to get hold of and to enlist in some enterprise of the mind, the very men it would most reward him to instruct and whose training would count most for leadership outside of college, the natural leaders and doers, are drawn off and monopolized by these necessary and engaging undergraduate undertakings.”

“If players were scarce, coaches were scarcer. It was, therefore, a particularly welcome sight, one afternoon in October [1890], to see Professor Woodrow Wilson come striding out upon the field, take his place behind the eleven with Captain Poe, and proceed to whip the team up and down the sward, a function which Woodrow Wilson continued daily to discharge through the long grind of ten weeks that desperate fall.”

“An executive is a man of action. An intellectual – such as you [Lincoln Steffens] and I – is inexecutive…our everlasting disposition to think, to listen, to – not act…We are not put into this world to sit still and know; we are put into it to act.”

“The real intellectual life of a body of undergraduates, if there by any, manifests itself, not in the classroom, but in what they do and talk of and set before themselves as their favorite objects between classes and lectures.”

“I hear a great deal about character being the object of education. I take leave to believe that a man who cultivates his character consciously will cultivate nothing except what will make him intolerable to his fellow man…the place in which character would be cultivated, if it be a place of study, is a place where study is the object and character the by-product.”

“Most fellows who live in libraries know little enough…The ordinary literary man, even though he be an eminent historian, is ill enough fitted to be a mentor in affairs of government. For it must be admitted, things are for the most part very simple in books, and in practical life very complex.”

“My plain necessity, then, is some profession which will afford me a moderate support, favourable conditions for study, and considerable leisure; what better can I be, therefore, than a professor?”

Twice Lehigh scored easy touchdowns, and it seems as though Wesleyan faced certain defeat, when suddenly, from the Wesleyan bleachers Prof. Wilson walked out in front, clad in heavy rubber boots and a raincoat. He shouted to the Wesleyan contingent, reproaching them for not cheering for their team; and at once began to lead them in the Wesleyan yell, beating time for them with his umbrella. This he continued violently until…the tide of the game turned.”

“It makes a great deal of difference, gentlemen, to a university whether it turns out thinking men or not. It does not make very much difference whether it turns out men who have attended lectures or not. It would be a very nice test of university lecturers if the attendance were made optional.”

“The increase of wealth has brought into the colleges, in rapidly augmenting numbers, the sons of very rich men, and lads who expect to inherit wealth are not as easily stimulated to effort, are not as apt to form definite and serious purposes, as those who know that must whet their wits for the struggle of life.”

“Most undergraduates come out of an atmosphere of business and wish a breeding which is consonant with it. They do not wish learning. They are much more interested in the incidental associations of college life than in the main intellectual occupations of the place.”

“These changes may be looked back upon by alumni with pride but now rather puzzle than please. The old Princeton we have all known and loved is disappearing and a new Princeton is coming into existence which will not for some time be familiar to our thought. The old Princeton is the college, our college when we were boys and constituted the little family…with so much delight and rewarding companionship.”

This was originally published in the October 12, 1956 issue of PAW.