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Joseph Emerson

Excerpted from an unknown newspaper (June 2, 1898):

     Fifty years ago on the 24th of May Joseph Emerson alighted at the Rock River House in Beloit, Wis., ready to take up his duties in the new college, whose students were a freshman class of five, and whose material equipment was an incomplete brick structure with walls partly raised -- today this is the Middle College of Beloit, surrounded by daughter buildings on the campus. The young professor had graduated at Yale in 1841; returning as a tutor to his alma mater he later turned his face westward, bringing with him the inheritance of a scholarly and devoted New England ancestry.

     For forty years Prof. Emerson remained in active service, first as professor of ancient languages and later as professor of Greek. During the last ten years, owing to impaired health, he has been asbent much of the time from Beloit; several years being spent in Europe, and longer or shorter periods in Evanston and Chicago.

     His distinctive personality, at once recognized by every one who has seen his tall, commanding figure, and caught the glance of the keen eye, soon won for him the title of Zeus among the college boys, and this serves as a key to unlock the secret of his influence as an instructor. He was Zeus in the classroom -- all-powerful, from the slightest shade of grammatical exactness to the fractions of a second in punctuality. He brought from Mount Olympus where he dwelt in the clouds, the half-real, half-idealized Grecian pantheon continuous with the Christian faith and humanity.

     He lifted his students to an idealism which nevertheless had a very practical bearing on their relations and responsibilities in the nineteenth century. Plato, Socrates, Sophoclese were in his theocracy forerunners of Christ in the on-coming of the kingdom in which Beloit men were to have a large part the world round.

     Some years after the death of his first wife, the mother of his two children -- his son being an honored trustee of Beloit and his daughter a devoted teacher of her father's beloved Attic tongue at Ashland Academy -- he married Miss Helen F. Brace, who has since given lavishly in equipment and service to the art department of the college, to which their united efforts have been given for the past decade.

     The college library at Beloit, now numbering over 24,000 volumes, has been largely the result of Prof. Emerson's planning and earnest effort for nearly half a century; and it exemplifies the wisdom of the seer who in the day of small things had the faith to plan for greater things to come.

     The Greek Play at Beloit, now one of the distinctive features of the Wisconsin college, in its annual rendition was a concept of his Olympic mind; as now given under the direction of Prof. Wright, his pupil and successor, a yearly production which makes Beloit College a Mecca for students of the Greek drama.

     Much of the sententious power of Beloit's senior member of the "Old Guard" is to be found in his volume of Lectures and Sermons published in 1897, in which one may read in the lines as well as between them the strong and lasting hold which the Zeus in human form has exerted on the characters of Beloit's graduates, who now rise with bared heads to do him the honor.

 

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