PRINCETON was a small village in those days. The College itself consisted of two buildings -- Nassau Hall, the nobly proportioned eating, living and intellectual quarters of the students, and the President's home, with whose prospect in the course of construction Esther Burr had been so entirely enamored. Dense forests lay on every side, and other settlements were few and far between. But the New York-Philadelphia stage stopped overnight at the only tavern in the village, and brought regular news of the outside world, and provided a meeting- place where the young students could seek relief from the too chilly dogmas of moral philosophy.
The young boy of thirteen applied himself at once with the utmost diligence to his studies. He devoted from sixteen to eighteen hours of close application to his books. He ate and drank with Spartan abstemiousness, finding that a well-loaded stomach was conducive to mental and physical sluggishness. He was determined to keep up with the others of his class at whatever cost.
But this remarkable regime could not but undermine his constitution and lay the foundation for future disorders. His health gave way. When, however, he discovered at the end of the year that he had exceeded most of his companions in standing, he wisely decided to relax his furious pace. For the remainder of his college career he took his studies in their stride, easily and without the pale, sickly cast of the midnight lamp. Whereupon his health improved and he was able to devote himself to the other recreations that Princeton might afford.
For one thing he joined the literary societies. There were two of them, the American Whig and the Cliosophic, rivals in debate and a somewhat scurrilous paper warfare. He first became a member of the American Whig. With him in that organization were such future notables as James Madison, President of the United States, Philip Freneau, the Revolutionary poet and pamphleteer, Lighthorse Harry Lee, member of the Constitutional Convention, and Hugh Brackenridge, Judge of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.1