Dr. Mell had a wonderful power in winning the hearts of the students and most of them loved him. His whole theory of college government, so far as it related to the control of the pupil, was based on this power. He used to say that it was barbarous to make boys obey through fear, and that the man who could not control them by kind treatment and affection, but rather had to resort to harsh measures, was not competent to be placed in charge of a great University. He said that most young men who came to college had the instincts of the gentleman in them and should be treated as such; and his experience was that where the boys were so treated they were prompt to respond in like manner. The boy should be taught to do right, not because he feared the consequences of doing wrong, but because he loved to do right; and the teacher must be obeyed not because the pupil feared his anger but because the pupil loved the teacher and found great pleasure in obeying him.
This was the principle upon which he based his government, and acting upon it he mingled with the boys as much as possible, entered into all their plans, was their friend and adviser, looking after their interests, protecting their rights, seeing to their comforts, admonishing, rebuking, encouraging, guiding, always firm, courteous and gentle, but at the same time the master hand that shaped, controlled and blessed their lives.
In his long career of nearly sixty years as a teacher, thousands of young men have been educated under him. They are scattered far and wide all over the United States, and from all quarters come expressions of admiration and respect. A few tributes from the number have been selected to show the impression he made upon his pupils.
“The boys loved him because of his gentleness and strength. Nothing could break his will when once made up; but his decisions were never hasty and his dealings were all devoid of prejudice and partiality. He was a leader of men. The discipline of the University, as befitted an institution of its breadth and design, was never close or inquisitorial, but the Chancellors command of the boys was perfect, and when he showed his authority, on proper occasions, his wisdom and firmness were beyond question. Whenever a student knew Dr. Mell he loved him, and there are thousands of Georgians to-day who hear with sorrowful hearts of his decease.” (Editorial in Augusta Chronicle.)
“His government of young men was based upon self-respect and obedience to authority. He held it fundamental that if an Institution could not ennoble and better the student, it had no right to disgrace him. While he enforced the penalty of disobedience when the offense was aggravated, he refused to expel; but had the parent, at an opportune time, to withdraw the student from college.
The consequence has been that among the young men who attended the University no professor or chancellor had probably so justly deserved and won the Popularity and respect of the students. And in this broad common wealth, when the sad intelligence of his death is conveyed to those who knew and loved him, tribute will be offered to the many virtues of the distinguished dead.” (Charles Z. McCord.)
“I am deeply grieved at the news of his death. I sat under him as professor during my three years at the University, and learned to love him then. Since that time I have been closely associated with him as trustee, and have never known a more admirable man.” (Henry W. Grady.)
“He was a perfect gentleman, in the highest sense of that term. There was no kind of force used by him in the government and control of students, except that which might be called in the strictest sense of the term, moral force. It operated alone on the gentlemanly instincts of the students, and so great was its influence that during the two and a half years I spent under his tuition I never knew or heard of anyone, even the worst, who did not yield to it.” (Judge W. H. Hammond.)
“If, as Pope says, the proper study of mankind is man, what a rich volume we have before us.
Dr. Mell’s house was always open to the boys who were away from paternal influence. The first time that ever the speaker saw Dr. Mell was in the little college chapel at Athens, when he read the 19th Psalm, and closed his prayer with the last words of that sweet poem: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, 0 Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. It seemed to me ever afterwards to be the motto of his character, the watchword of his life. No prayer did he pray but was opened or closed with it.
Whenever I saw Dr. Mell it seemed to be written in his face, and when I heard his voice, those sentiments, in imagination, glowed out as a part of his very breath. It has always been as if that verse was peculiarly his own. His thoughts and all bore the impress of that prayer of the Psalmist.
Whatever professor might be the especial favorite with a student, every one looked up to Dr. Mell as the strong character of the faculty, as the embodiment of honor, as the self-possessed and courageous exemplar for every student, the kind and considerate friend, the ever ready and watchful moral nature to infuse itself into every boys heart and make it feel that nobility of character that so exemplified itself in him.
No harsh words fell from his lips, no dogmatism, no overbearing displayed itself towards those under him, but he was always the same modest, courteous gentleman that treated the young gentlemen, as he called them, with loving consideration and polite equality. You could not see him without noticing that he was a timid man. You could not be with him without feeling that he was eminently a brave man. There was a bravery in his timidity, but there was no timidity in his bravery.
Given as his life had been to the training of the young, he had thoroughly learned to respect them, which in itself would have commanded a high respect in return. Had the thought of attempting any prank or indiscretion on him entered into the breast of a single boy it would have found no lodgment, for the soul of each one would have rebelled against such action on its part as being the basest ingratitude.
As gentle as a woman, he inspired a chivalric respect from every young man. As brave as was ever plumed knight, he excited unbounded admiration. Cool and deliberate, yet full of order. Relishing keen thrusts of wit, he was always considerate of the feelings of others. His character was made up of virtues that contrasted, but did not conflict. It was a positive character which you felt to be great, and it unconsciously burned its impress on all he taught. And how many have they been?
For over fifty years has he taughtthirteen, a professor in Mercer, and thirty-two in the State Universityten of which he was its honored chancellor. Oh, what an occupation and profession! The noblest calling of man or woman.” (Captain J. L. Hardeman.)
“After all, his fame will rest securest upon his Wonderful success as an educator of the young men of the South. All over the land, hundreds of the foremost young people of Georgia, when the news of his death goes out, will feel for a time his loss, almost as that of a father. He delighted to call them his boys in the familiar talks he often had concerning themillustrating, as he felt they did in their successes, his own careful training. The blood of the University flowed from his veins into the frame of these, his sons, and no one felt prouder of their achievements than he, or gave kindlier advice or sympathy in the days of adversity.
His government of young men was unique and without a parallel. There was no threat of violenceno remonstranceonly the expression of a desire of co-operation on the part of the students in the government of the Institution, nevertheless every member of the classes knew that beneath the soft velvet of his words and manner was the iron will of the governor, the strong, intense and overmastering spirit of the man, that compelled obedience.
He walked among us as one born to rule, and to the recognition of this fact was due the ease with which he held vast parliamentary bodies in check, and carried them through the most trying emergencies of legislation and business. No order was equal to that kept in his recitation room. Large classes of young menoften with members fiery and rebelliouswere controlled by him without any apparent effort. The young men themselves were scarcely aware of the intense power that held sway over them. He was not stern; on the contrary his manner invited confidence, and he became the trusted friend of every student in his charge. No one was ever known to complain against him of injustice. He moved steadily forward, convincing the judgment and commanding the affections of the students, as the basis of obedience.
He carried this method into the government of his own family, which was a large one. Those who have seen him at home can testify to the respect and veneration shown towards him by his children. There was never a kinder father, and yet never one whose word was received with less hesitation, as unquestioned law. To one, inquiring his method of training in this regard, he replied: I have taught my children to respect my wishes. They obey me first because I willed it; now, they obey because they love and wish to please me. He has made no mistake in this particular. He knew his children as he knew menintuitively, and he adopted his course accordingly.” (Editorial in Macon Telegraph.)
Many amusing and interesting incidents occurred during his connection with the University that serve to illustrate his watchfulness for the students welfare, and how his complete control over them enabled him to bring order out of disorder, with an apparent ease that was astonishing, and with a simplicity of manner and absence of all rigid formality that won the admiration of the students.
Just after the war and at the close of the second session, (I think it was in 1866 or 1867), the negroes attempted to take possession of the University for the purpose, as they alleged, of sending their sons to college. They kept their intentions secret until the night of the attack. The final examinations were in progress and many of the students were up late, on the night in question, preparing for them. Just after midnight, one of the boys, while passing through the campus from town, saw a large crowd of negroes on the street in front of the campus armed with every weapon imaginable. He carefully approached them and learned from what they said that they were going to storm the college buildings where the boys were rooming. As quickly as possible he gave the alarm, and in a very short time all the students, most of whom had been Confederate soldiers, were assembled on the campus. They ordered the negroes to disperse or they would fire into them. The negroes knew, however, they outnumbered the boys three or four to one and they determined to push their advantage and enter into a contest for the possession of the University property. All this trouble occurred within one hundred yards of Dr. Mells residence, and he was soon informed of the condition of affairs. Hurrying out among the boys he told them to stand firm, but not to fire a single shot until he gave the command. He informed them it would be best for the University, on account of the unsettled condition of the country, to drive the negroes off without bloodshed, if possible, but if that could not be done they would drive them off at all hazards. The boys consented to submit to Dr. Mells guidance, and he came out in view of the negroes and demanded the cause of the disturbance. Being informed that they wished to have the same privileges extended their people that were enjoyed by the white people in the University, and that they would not leave the campus until they were assured that this demand would be granted, Dr. Mell said, “Your demand will not be respected, because this is the white mans college, and you are perfectly powerless to help yourselves. You are now surrounded by armed and determined men who are only waiting for my orders to fire into you on every side. If you will quietly disperse and go to your homes you will not be hurt; if you refuse, I will command these men to fire and not one of you will leave this campus alive.” This was literally true. The alarm had been sounded throughout the town and the people were coming into the campus from all directions. The negroes finding themselves surrounded and their cause utterly hopeless decided to withdraw. This they were permitted to do by Dr. Mells advice, without a single gun being fired, although the students and citizens were greatly incensed.
In illustration of his justice towards the students the following incident is related. One of the young men from a neighboring city got into serious trouble that caused his temporary suspension from the University. His father came to Athens to examine into the causes that resulted in his sons suspension, and calling on the Chancellor he asked for the particulars of the affair. But Dr. Mell refused to utter a word in regard to the matter until the young man was brought, declaring that he must have the privilege of defending himself.
Very soon after he became Chancellor the students were excited to the highest pitch of indignation by the murder of young Walter Roundtree by a negro. It was feared the boys would take the law into their own hands, and a general race riot would ensue, for the negroes were determined to protect the murderer. Dr. Mell quickly took charge of the situation and by his wise and skillful management restrained the young men. The press of the State commended his action in the highest terms.
“Chancellor Mell talked to them, and the boys loved and heeded the advice of this great and good man. Wednesday night, when our town was wild with excitement, not a student could be seen on the streetsthey had quietly returned to their rooms, there to await the events of the night.” (Athens Chronicle.)
“Chancellor Mell has signally demonstrated his capacity and ability to govern young men in the most trying circumstances. In this he has served the State and the cause of the Institution over which he worthily presides.” (Atlanta Constitution.)
“Chancellor Mell, on the night of the murder, remarked to Mr. Davis, chief of police: You need have no fear of trouble from my boys. I have talked to them and they will heed my advice. They will retire to their rooms tonight, and if their services are needed to preserve the law, they will march to your call as one manand I will be at their head. Happily no call was made on them, and Athens is today as quiet and peaceful a city as there is in Georgia.” (Augusta Chronicle.)
Dr. Mell had a keen sense of the ludicrous and it was frequently gratified in his dealings with the students, although his patience was equally severely tried at times, as the following experience will testify.
Some time in the year 1886 he was considerably annoyed by the loud and boisterous singing and laughter at the Summey House, (or “Yahoo Hall, as the students termed this boarding house), just in front of the Chancellors residence. A detachment of the Salvation Army had recently come to Athens, and their peculiar way of conducting worship attracted the boys, and as a result there were several mock Salvation Armies among the students, with headquarters at the Summey House. A favorite song of the Army was called “Wake tip the dead,” and the college boys, of course, adopted it at once, and when they got together they sang it loud enough to literally wake up the dead, if such a thing were possible. As the regular Army accompanied their songs with the tambourines, drum, horn, shouting, clapping of hands, etc., so the college boys did also, and when it was not convenient to beat tambourines they substituted tin pans and anything else they could find that would make a noise. One night the Summey House “Salvation Army” were making such an infernal din that Dr. Mell went over to see what was the matter. He found several boys collected around a young fellow who had a piece of sheet iron that had come from the front of some grate, beating it with all his might while the crowd was singing, or rather yelling, “Wake up the dead, wake up the dead, Gods going to wake up the dead.” As Dr. Mell reached the outskirts of the crowd, the boys stopped singing and slipped away as soon as they saw the Chancellor, except the boy who was beating the iron. He was making such a noise he did not know he had been deserted and that the Chancellor was standing by him. Dr. Mell placed his hand on the shoulder of the young man; the noise ceased and the “musician” became very much embarrassed. The Doctor, however, in a calm and serious manner, said, My son, are you beating that iron from a sense of duty?” “0, no, Sir,” replied the boy. “You have no conscientious scruples against stopping it, have you?” “No, Sir,” promptly responded the boy, greatly amazed at the questions asked him by the Chancellor. “Oh, well, then,” said the Doctor, “I am so glad to hear you say that, because now I will not feel any delicacy in asking you to stop it, when if you were doing it conscientiously, I should have hesitated.” It is needless to say that the boys ceased to wake up the dead” after that conversation.
At another time a large crowd of boys were sitting on the chapel steps, during study hours, singing very boisterously, “Nobody knows the trouble I see, the trouble I see,” etc., when Dr. Mell stepped in their midst from behind one of the fluted columns and quietly remarked: “Yes, gentlemen, that expresses my feelings exactly, nobody knows the trouble I see when you create these disturbances, and you would confer a great favor on me if you would co-operate with me to stop them.” They co-operated.
During the Chancellors absence in attendance on the exercises of the Branch Colleges some students succeeded in taking out the clapper of the bell and concealing it. When the Chancellor returned he found the college authorities, and students generally, very much embarassed because of the silence of the bell that had become so necessary in regulating the time of the day and in sounding the recitation periods. The faculty had notified the students that until the clapper was returned no excuse, excepting sickness, would be received for tardiness in attendance upon the lectures. Dr. Mell began at once to put into operation all his resources to ferret out the perpetrators of the deed. He succeeded, after much difficulty, in reaching the belfry and found on the floor several screws, a screw-driver and a piece of wire, all of which were of peculiar patterns. He then visited the hardware stores in the town to find if such material could be secured at them, but failed to find anything exactly like them. He then visited each of the University Laboratories, with the ostensible purpose of noticing the students work, and said nothing to the professors concerning the real objects of his visit. While going through one of these laboratories he requested the professor to show him all his facilities for work. In doing this certain drawers were opened, in which the Chancellor detected screws and wires exactly like those he found in the belfry. He asked the professor if the students had free access to these drawers, and being informed that they did, he then wished to know how many boys worked in this laboratory and what were their names. This information was also furnished him. The young menabout twentyconsisted of some of the best students in the University, and none of them had been detected in mischief of any kind. But he was satisfied one or more of these young men could tell him all about the clapper extraction and its location. Several of these boys roomed in what was termed the “Summey House,” and by methods that he was enabled to employ, he succeeded in reducing the number to the five or six of the laboratory students rooming in this building; and although he strongly suspected these boys the question was still a difficult one to bring the proof to a conclusive settlement. Meeting one morning two of these young men he entered into conversation with them, and just as he was about to leave he took them by the hands and said: “Young gentlemen, the Faculty and students have been placed to great inconvenience by the mischievous removal of the bell clapper. The students of good standing, I am sure, are as anxious as the authorities to bring the perpetrators to punishment. Now I have the utmost confidence in you two, and I am sure you will give me your assistance in this matter.” As the Chancellor said this he looked the boys steadily in the eyes and his entire manner impressed them that his confidence was not so deeply rooted as his words would imply. They at once became confused and greatly embarrassed, all of which he quietly noted. Next day his attention was attracted by a word let fall by one of the janitors in his presence, and he immediately began asking questions that elicited the information that the clapper was under the mattress in the room of these young men in whom he had expressed such “confidence” the day before. The negro boy had made the discovery while making up the bed. Dr. Mell sent for the boys at once and charged them with taking out the clapper. They commenced to deny the accusation, but Dr. Mell stopped them immediately and said: “I know the clapper is in your room, under the mattress of your bed. Now I trust you will not force me to institute a search that will be unpleasant both to you and to me. I shall expect the janitor to ring the bell to-morrow morning for prayers, and I am sure you will aid in the accomplishment of this wish of mine. You can place the clapper in the hands of the janitor, or, in your own way, return it to its place in the bell as you found it.” It is needless to say that the bell pealed forth its welcome sound next morning as though nothing had ever happened to it. The sound had scarcely died away before there was a shout from the combined throats of students and citizens, testifying to their gratification at the sound.
When Mr. Cleveland was elected the first term, and on the night after the election, when the wires indicated such uncertain sounds as to the results, the students of the University of Georgia concluded to have an immense bonfire to commemorate the election of Mr. Cleveland. All the dry goods boxes in the town, as well as the empty barrels available, were carried to the campus after midnight and a pile was made, huge in proportions. In some way the Chancellor became aware of the intentions of the students, and, in accordance with his usual custom, he was in their midst before they were aware of it. Instead, however, of reprimanding them and endeavoring to forcibly stop the work of preparation, he quietly informed the boys that he thought the celebration eminently proper, and the cause righteous, and he would help them get the combustible material in shape for the bonfire. “But,” he said, “the election is not yet decided, and I know you boys do not desire to celebrate the defeat of the Democratic Party. And yet such an accident would be possible if the brand was applied to the pile, and while it was in flames the telegraph should announce that Mr. Cleveland was defeated.” He also informed the crowd of students gathered around the pile of boxes, that the college buildings were in great danger if the fire should be applied in the present situation, and, therefore, he proposed that the boxes be removed to the rear of the grounds, in safe distance from the buildings. The students, now feeling that the Chancellor was in full accord with them and the fire was an assured thing without Violation of any regulation, readily agreed with him that the pile of combustible material must be removed to a safe distance, and they immediately began to demolish what they had so carefully erected. But before much of the material came down the Chancellor was prepared with a fresh difficulty. “Now,” said he, “we do not wish to sit up all night watching our material in order to prevent any one but ourselves from starting off the fire, so I suggest that we have all these boxes and barrels safely stored away in a warehouse near by until we are sure Mr. Cleveland has been elected, and I will then furnish all the assistance in my power to make this bonfire a grand success.” The argument seemed to be so plausible all were forced to agree, and the boxes were securely stored away in the warehouse. All next day and the following night the telegrams were so uncertain the students lost interest in the contemplated bonfire, and when Mr. Cleveland was at last declared elected the margin was so small there was a tacit consent to give up the bonfire. Moreover, now that the Chancellor was a party to the transaction much of the spiciness had been destroyed, since there was no violation of law, and therefore no risks incurred. Dr. Mell, in referring to this episode, stated that it was always the part of wisdom to head a mob and lead it into channels that would dissipate its dangerous features. A man was foolish to throw himself against a mob determined in its purposehe would only be crushed and annihilated. He was well aware of the fact that the students had determined to have the bonfire and severe measures would have only stimulated them to other deeds more violentso he “headed the mob” and no harm resulted.
During the year 1886-87 two of the young men of the University got into a personal difficulty that arose very naturally and spontaneously from complications and antagonisms among the students themselves. In his report to the Board of Trustees for that year Dr. Mell brought before them the following facts in regard to this unfortunate difficulty. There had been a custom at the University of long standing for the classes in the written examinations to hold all their members to a rigid accountability, and to demand that they in good faith should conform to the pledges they would sign that they had received no aid in preparing the papers. They resolved and announced that they would report to the faculty all that they found cheating. This rendered it necessary that they should as a class investigate and decide upon the cases of those against whom charges were made previously to bringing the accused before the faculty. These inquiries were always and inevitably accompanied by great excitement, and soon lost the feature of a preliminary investigation, and assumed the character of a tribunal of ultimate decision. A tribunal thus organized is well qualified to do great wrong to a timid student accused ignorantly, maliciously, or through rivalry; or cause great commotions and collisions among its own components when it attempts its processes against a brave boy unjustly accused who has friends to rally around him. While a class may be very efficient in the character of a prosecutor, it is singularly disqualified to discharge the functions of a judge and jury. In the first place, inexperience and their very noble impulses, themselves in opposition to dishonorable conduct, are likely to make them indignant against one tainted by plausible accusation of wrong; and then, in the next place, the ardor and resentment of the prosecution tend to make them unable in an unprejudiced way to see both sides. The consequence has been that in some cases not detected by the Faculty before the catastrophe, very worthy young men have been driven off, or the court itself has been turned into a battle ground where questions have been decided by pugilistic, rather than by forensic disputations.
In the particular case that year, a member of the Sophomore class brought the charge of cheating against five of his classmates. Others joined with him in the testimony in regard to two of them. After some excitement he consented to withdraw the charge against three, admitting that he could not prove them, and gave a written admission to that effect. It happened unfortunately that all the accused, excepting one, were members of the same secret fraternitythe exception being a non-fraternity manand that the accuser belonged to another club. Suspecting and charging that this was an attempt to smirch the fair name of their club, all the members of the fraternity rallied around their fellows thus accused; and this caused antagonistic combinations on the part of some of the other clubs in the University. Soon after the accusation was made, one of the three from whom the charge was ultimately withdrawn, had a stand-up tight with the accuser, with the knowledge and concurrence of parents. It was thought that honor required the other two to challenge their accuser to pugilistic combat also; but as they were small in size and he large and muscular, it was thought right that one of the clubmates, more on terms of physical equality, should champion their cause. All parties acquiesced in this arrangement, and agreed that the duello should be a final settlement all around. Entering heartily into this engagement, forced into it by the prevailing public opinion in the University, encouraged by the undisguised sentiment even among some of the ladies of the town, acting under the approbation of their parents, and umpired by one of the leading merchants of the town, the parties eluded the police, and at a safe place, four miles from town, “punished each other,” as the phrase is, “according to the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury”whatever that may be.
As soon as Chancellor Mell discovered that the class was about to deal with some of its members, he had an interview with it as the members assembled in one of the recitation rooms, and made an address to them the design of which was to show the dangers that would attend upon their efforts to adjudicate the case. They listened respectfully to him, and finally gave their cordial consent to prosecute the case before the Faculty. A committee of that body met with the class and, after patient and careful investigation, convicted one of the accused and acquitted the other. It was hoped that this would terminate the excitement; and it did, so far as the class as a body was concerned. But individuals had become exasperated, because, as they said, their honor had been called in question; and others writhed under innuendoes to the effect that their courage had been impugned; and the whole inflammable University community became involved on one side or the other, demanding that the controversy be settled by blows, and aiding all in their power to that end. The matter commenced with the Sophomore Class, but in the final catastrophe there was but a solitary Sophomore engaged. The other champion, and the two seconds were all three Seniors.
He summoned beforfe him the two principals, one at a time, and endeavored to prevent the encounter. But it did not take him long to realize that they were held hopelessly to their chapmionship by the relentless crowd on the campus, in the town and at their homes. He then addressed himslef to the effort to induce them to postpone the fight until the close of the term, reminding them that they were proposing to violate University law, warning them of the danger to themselves personally of University penalties, and appealing to their sense of obligation to the University authorites, who deserved better things at their hands. These considerations received such respectful, and apparently candid, attention that he had hopes of accomplishing his object. The same results were accomplished by a consultation with the seconds. However, they had no sooner left the Chancellor’s office than they were caught up and wafted off by the wave of excitement out of doors, and Dr. Mell saw nothing more of them until the folly had expended itself. In a day or two the four young men, engaged in the affray, addressed a written acknowledgement to the Faculty disavowing any intention to treat with contempt constituted authority, and expressing, profound regret that they had been betrayed into a violation of University law. This was followed next day by a communication signed by nearly all the students, who acknowledged that they were in large measure responsible for the unfortunate events, and soliciting the clemency of the Faculty in behalf of themselves and their victims.
It may be asked why the Chancellor did not prevent the unfortunate event by having all the parties arrested? In re;oy to this it may be said that these four young men were mere straws floating on a mighty tide whose momentum gathered in its force confluent currents issuing from the University, from the town and from exasperated family circles. He had not chains fitted, or strong enough, to bind all these forces; and any summary attempt by him would have only intensified the difficulty, and precipitated disaster as well as disgrace.
These young men were expelled from the University for participating in this fight, and after a certain time they were reinstated in their classes. This leniency on the part of the authorities was very severely criticised by the papers in Georgia, as well as elsewhere, and the Chancellor was given a large share of the blame. In reply to these strictures he published in some of the leading papers the following defense and explanation that fully satisfied the demands of the public and put a quietus on the critics:
“A writer in your paper of the 25th instant correctly says I alone am responsible for the restoration to the University of the would-be duelists. I cheerfully admit my responsibility to the newspapers and to the general public, as well as to the Board of Trustees for the general principles controlling my part in the administration of the Universityand preeminently so, for my decision of a question involving the very essence of morality itself. I do not consider it unfortunate that the University is not like the denominational colleges, surrounded by denominational owners who are tempted to resent any newspaper notices that are not favorablewho strive to intimidate Into silence any paper that shows a disposition to criticise. On the contrary, I think it fortunate for the University that the press have, and assert, the right to make daylight shine and the fresh winds of heaven to blow, through it everywhere. True, sometimes, hasty and inaccurate statements may be rushed into print; but even then there is ample compensation if some competent hand gives the correction; for thus the University is kept before the public . . . . Of course, on the details of my administration of discipline I ought not to be expected to plead before the public; but I stand ready to justify the great principles on which my system of government is based: and certainly to explain to the newspapers and the public why I restored the would-be duelists. . . . The question is asked why were not the would-be duelists punished? The answer is that they were all punished. Their connection with the University was severed, and they were instructed to go home. This action of the University was announced by the press everywhere, and met with universal approbation. The University put its brand of condemnation on the criminal, barbarous and foolish deed which the boys attempted to perpetrate.
But why were they restored to their places in the University? Please let us see what is the extent of meaning of this question. Is it asked on the assumption that those boys had committed the unpardonable sin that must cut them off forever from prosecuting the course of higher education furnished by colleges? Does it imply that it was the duty of all colleges to close their doors against them? I do not suppose that any sensible person would answer this question in the affirmative. If there should be one I beg to be excused from arguing the case with him. If they could ever be restored to the rights and privileges of college students, when, and at what Institution? And could they enjoy this high boon without detriment to morals and to our good name here? For, according to their own laws and the comity existing between these higher Institutions, no University or college could receive these boys without our consent first given. Whenever and wherever then they may have entered institutions of learning they would have done so at our instance and on our responsibility. In deciding to permit them to return here I have committed no greater outrage if outrage at allthan could have been justly charged to me if I had consented for them to enter any other institution. I consented for them to return here (1) because they had had a punishment inflicted on them in the presence of the whole world that is reached by newspapers; (2) because most of them were fine students, who received their punishment with the most admirable spirit, justifying it to me in unmistakable terms, and declaring that they were going away with the highest respect and affection for the University whose laws they deeply regretted to have violated; (3) because their parents were, some of them, our alumni, and all of them our friends, who united with their sons in thoroughly acquiescing in the justice of the punishment inflicted; finally, (4) they were permitted to return here because this was the Institution of their choice .
But why were they restored at the particular time, and how was the idea of their restoration suggested? Did they or their parents make application to the Faculty or Chancellor? No. The application was made by a large number of Trustees and other distinguished men from various parts of the State . . . . If I could feel at liberty to give the names of all these distinguished gentlemen, no one would suspect that the boys were restored because their advocates were disposed to justify or condone the hideous practice of dueling.”
The Athens Banner- Watchman in an editorial of this date says:
“It is well known that such men as General A. R. Lawton, Col. John Screven, Hon. P. W. Meldrim, Col. J. J. Gresham, Mr. H. W. Grady, and other prominent Georgians and members of the Board of Trustees, wrote strong letters to the Chancellor favoring the recall of the young men suspended.”
When the Board of Trustees met at Commencement of 1887, Dr. Mell read his annual report giving a thorough and masterly review of the workings of the University in all its departments. He reviewed the escapade of the “would-be duelists” and defended his action at length. They listened with interest and received his report. Afterwards the Board of Trustees amended the “law with regard to dueling, so that upon conviction, the student who indulges in that pastime shall be expelled, and not allowed to return to college except by a vote of the Board of Trustees. Dr. Mell considered this as censuring his action in restoring the young men, and promptly sent in his resignation as Chancellor. The Board unanimously refused to consider it and sent a committee, composed of Messrs. Gordon, McDaniel and Hammond, to interview the Doctor and find out his reasons for resigning and request him to withdraw his resignation. As soon as it was ascertained why the Doctor had taken such a step a resolution was unanimously passed stating that the Board did not mean in its resolution to censure Dr. Mell, but on the contrary unanimously endorsed his action in the matter. This being satisfactory the resignation was withdrawn.”