I scanned this Thresher article from March, 1928 for a couple of reasons. First, the joke at the bottom made me laugh. This is a bit unusual, as old-time jokes are often completely mystifying. It’s not that they’re not funny, but that you don’t even know why they’re jokes. I was also interested in the all-out push to help fund a partisan political event. Much of this was motivated by local boosterism, but it’s also certain that the vast majority of people at Rice and in Houston were Democrats, still part of the fallout from the Civil War and Reconstruction.
But really I wanted to use this as a way to start talking about early Rice English professor Stockton Axson. There’s so much to say about him, it’s hard to know where to begin. He came to Rice from Princeton in 1913 at Lovett’s pleading and stayed, with several leaves of absence, until his death in 1935. He was Lovett’s close friend and had been the brother-in-law and advisor of Woodrow Wilson. Axson was a tremendously gifted, complicated and troubled man, a brilliant lecturer and classroom teacher who inspired generations of students. It’s a bit hard to explain the power of his personality, but it was undeniably powerful. From today’s vantage point his style seems hopelessly elaborate, even flowery, but in his own day he drew huge crowds all over the country. He was a favorite of the early Rice students and was truly dear to Lovett, who was bereft when he died. Here is a short biography that gives some hints of Axson’s complications and a much longer, but compelling memorial address given by Axson’s colleague in the Rice English department, Alan McKillop, and published in the Rice Institute Pamphlets.
Here’s today’s Bonus Picture, which I found on a semi-defunct blog, of a very young Stockton Axson: