This comradeship of his which began on this campus had a strong hold on him always. It included all kinds of men on the campus and diverse interests. He never lost the joy of it – and I know it often lightened his burdens.

[Following is the address by Robert Bridges ’79, delivered at the memorial services for his classmate, President Wilson ’79, in Alexander Hall, February 24]

To have known a man for almost fifty years, to have watched his steps on the way from undergraduate to President of the United States, is a great privilege. So often the way to glory and great achievement is one of disillusionment; so often the strenuous effort, the indomitable will, seem to harden the mind and congeal natural feeling. We begin always to generalize about successful men and great men – and label them with certain qualities. A man with an analytical mind like Wilson’s is always a particularly good subject himself for such analysis. How often we have heard him use – in this very hall – the word to describe it. Certainly I shall not attempt to “assess” the career of Woodrow Wilson. It is far beyond my capabilities or my inclination.

But to me, he has always been so human and so lovable – so much a part of a beautiful friendship beginning on this campus, that I cannot put his qualities among the cold abstractions of greatness.

Does any one of you, sitting elbow to elbow with your chum in the seats before me, label him with abstract qualities? You may call him by the most outrageous nicknames, and openly deride him – but he and you know that is a part of the game of being friends. There is really nothing like it, as one looks back on it – several hundred boys – fortuitously gathered from the ends of the earth, to be thrown into a close relationship that lasts through life.

Wilson was a boy like that, peculiarly adapted to college life. He came from a small southern college where conditions were then very simple and you had to know your fellows. We soon found out that he had an eager mind. That is a rare quality among youngsters of eighteen. But there was not a touch of the pedant or dig about him. He was as keen for the life of the college as any one of us; but we soon discovered that what he called “the play of the mind” was as exhilarating to him as the play of the body to the athlete. He took great pleasure in the writers who used language with precision and with imagination. To him this was not a scholastic pursuit. It was full of the stuff of existence. He would trail a word or a phrase with that eagerness that R.L.S. so exalted. They would pop out in his conversation at the club table as a part of a jest or a noisy dispute. There was a twinkle in his eye, but he knew, and you knew, that he had scored.

It was as natural for him as an undergraduate to talk about Burke, Brougham or Bagehot, as for the rest of us to allude to Cooper or Mayne Reid.

We soon found out that the thing he was most interested in (to which this play of words was accessory) was Government. Now that sounds abstract and full. To him it meant the evolution of a method by which all kinds of people could live together in the same country and same world. For him it began in our little college world with its coteries. He soon had around him a group of fellow who could play the game of hall or club politics with the skill of practiced parliamentarians. It did not interfere with the fun of athletic contests – and it certainly added to the zest of college life. Through his initiative, they followed the rules of the British Parliament – and if you could not uphold your contention in debate, you were overthrown as a prime minister is in Great Britain. Of that little coterie on became Attorney General of New Jersey, another Chancellor and later Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, another Mayor of his City and Congressman from an important district, and one – Governor of New Jersey and President of the United States.

In all this, good-fellowship was an essential feature. Wilson soon began to use the word “comradeship” as expressing his idea of the best part of college life. He never lost that point of view- and you will find that as President of the college, Governor of New Jersey, or President of the United States, or negotiator of a World Peace, he put at the root of it all the comradeship of men and nations.

I recall that when he was considering the possibility of running for Governor, we had a little talk about it, and I pointed out the helplessness of a Governor with a hostile or divided legislature. Hie eyes snapped and he said: “Well, I can talk, can’t I?” And that is exactly what he did, as you recall. He found that his bills were having a hard time in the legislature, and he went right to the source of power – the people – and talked to them; the bills were passed by a divided legislature.

And that was what he had in mind when he broke the custom of 100 years, and as President went in person before Congress to read his message. At a class dinner on the eve of his departure for Washington, in a delightful, frank and confidential talk, he said, “Boys, I want to find some way to bring the Executive in closer contact with the legislative branch of Government.” It was his old idea as an undergraduate about the inefficiency of Committee Government, later developed in his book, “Congressional Government” – and personally applied by him both as Governor and President.

He always wanted to put his mind alongside of yours: the exercise of the faculty of intelligent debate and discussion was of infinite variety and joy to him. I never knew but one other man who got so much fun out of the exercise of his faculties – and he was also a President of the United States.

This comradeship of his which began on this campus had a strong hold on him always. It included all kinds of men on the campus and diverse interests. He never lost the joy of it – and I know it often lightened his burdens. Whether in a professor’s house here, or at Prospect, or in the White House, he made a point of having the crowd with him. The informality of a class dinner in the White House was something long to be remembered and recalled. I have thought it would not be a breach of faith or taste to let him speak to you in a few brief extracts from personal letters – phrases that show this affectionate comradeship without any bluff or self-consciousness. I want you to know the man who was one of us – as you are one of the great body tied by a thousand bonds to the college that we love. I believe that he would like to speak to you in his own words in this hall which so often echoed his voice:

May 21, 1885 – “I believe that I love the fellows of that crowd and value the genuine friendships existing amongst us now more than I ever did before.”

December 20, 1885 – “I often long for a renewal of our old comradeship more than I can tell you. The old love never dies down for a moment, but I can’t keep myself from occasional heart-sickness now and again, because of the dispersion of the old crowd and the necessity which keeps us apart.”

May, 1899 – “We couldn’t enjoy the Reunion ourselves if we did not have you all here under our own roof.”

March 17, 1902 – “The blessed thing about poetry is that a lot of a man’s self has got to go into it, or it isn’t poetry at all.”

January 21, 1901 – “It was a great delight to have you here. I do not think that a Seventy-nine Reunion would be the source of delight it is to me, if I could not have you and the rest of the crowd about me.”

November 10, 1910 – “Thank you with all my heart for your note. It brought me cheer, for I wanted to win your approval of my new venture…I want fellows I know and trust about me to keep my straight with advice.”

February, 1916 – “Bless you for your generous and affectionate letter. I believe that what is fair and right will prevail so long as those who are partisans of what is fair and right do not lose heart or let their lines be broken at all.”

January 2, 1918 – “It was a deep distress to me that I could not get over to Charlie Mitchell’s funeral. His death has affected me very deeply. My thought like yours goes back to the old days of our delightful comradeship, and those memories, thank God, are a permanent possession. Death seems to me in such instances a very unreal thing, but it has this terrible aspect of reality, that it does take the dear fellow away from us for the days to come, and I grieve with all my heart.”

May 24, 1919 – “Your affection and confidence mean a vast deal to me.”

June 3, 1921 – “It was a great disappointment not to get over to Cumberland while you were there…I hope you found the boys all well and in good spirits. It seemed strange not to be part of such a reunion. I shall certainly seek some opportunity to recover the lost ground.

“Please send my love to the gang when you get a chance, and tell them how proud I am to have won their confidence and admiration.”

June 22, 1923 – “To see our classmates would be altogether a joy.”

There was a certain integrity in his ideal from boy to man that gave his friends a peculiar confidence in his ultimate destiny as a leader of men. It was a jest of his in college which ended “When I meet you in the Senate, I’ll argue that out with you.”

Every step in that great career was like a new chapter in a book that we began long ago and in which we were absorbingly interested. To visualize it, I saw him at his various inaugurations – on this platform, saying of Princeton in the Nation’s Service: “Who shall show us the way?” – and little dreaming that on his tired shoulders would fall the task in a supreme world crisis. I saw him as he marched on foot at the head of a war-time procession along Fifth Avenue – with head erect – alert and firm and enjoying it as he always did.

I know and you know what tunes were ringing in his head as he marched. No Princeton man forgets them. They speak of life and joy and comradeship – and these he had in full. And at the last scene of all, I could rejoice that I had known such a man – that his was the supreme comradeship that never failed in the right.

I could hear the tramp of feet, and boys marching together, and a clear voice singing.

And I thought of the welcome given Kipling’s Knight on his return to the castle from great wars:

“Draw-bridge, let fall!

He’s the Lord of us all,

The Dreamer whose Dreams came true.”

This was originally published in the March 5, 1924 issue of PAW.