THE NOTICEABLE MAN was now president of a great university. The independent critic, the rollicking chum, the heady lover, the wooer of the Muses--all these fell now under the pressure of pastoral responsibility. The eloquent prophecy that had stirred the Princeton constituency would have to be tempered by tact and patience; for as the servant-leader of an academic community he must concern himself not only with principles but with men of many kinds--those whom he had to love as well as those whom he liked to love.
Soon after coming to Princeton to teach, Wilson had written to his father: "My mind cannot give me gratification. I know it too well and it is a poor thing. I have to rely on my heart as the sole source of contentment and happiness, and that craves, oh, so fiercely, the companionship of those I love." In the early nineties, in a house that the Wilsons rented on Library Place, there had been time to revel in the love of kin and the comradeship of friends. In the absence of shows, automobiles, and country clubs, the college faculty found their recreation in good conversation. And they talked brilliantly: Harry Fine, blunt and hearty, an unwavering disciple of Wilson's educational principles; Jack Hibben, whom the students toasted as "the whitest man in all the fac"; George Harper, authority on beloved Wordsworth; charming Bliss Perry; quizzical Winthrop Daniels; witty President Patton. There were guests, too, from the outside world; Humphry Ward, Walter Hines Page, and Mark Twain. Ellen Wilson arranged that brilliant men and women should come into their drawing room.
When there was occasion to meet strangers, however, Wilson often turned shy and made excuses. Ellen would have to coax him; but, once introduced, he enjoyed himself and dominated the talk. After telling a story he did not chuckle, but fixed a challenging eye on his hearers until they laughed. People who saw Wilson in repose often thought him homely; but once his countenance burst into conversation, they watched his mouth in awe at the precision of the words that came from it. In familiar conversation he was not didactic, and he was utterly candid.