Biography of Samuel S. Nelles, D.D., L.I.D.
Samuel S. Nelles, nearly thirty years ago at the had of Victoria College, is a son of William and Mary (Hardy) Nelles, and was born at Mount Pleasant, near Brantford, Ont., October 17, 1823. His paternal ancestors were originally from Germany, and were among the early settlers in the Mohawk Valley, New York, William Nelles being born in that State. His mother was also of part German pedigree, born in Pennsylvania.
Our subject aided his father in farming until sixteen years of age, having, meanwhile, such literary pasturage as comparatively new clearings in Brant county furnished forty and fifty years ago; in 1839 went to Lewiston Academy, N. Y.., where he had the witty poet, John G. Saxe, for tutor; at the end of one year went to the old academy at Fredonia, Chautauqua county, in the same State, and there and at the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, at Lima, he spent two more years. In June, 1842, when the academy at Cobourg, established and opened in 1836,. became Victoria College, with Rev. Dr. Egerton Ryerson as President, Mr. Nelles was one of the first two students matriculated; and after spending two years in this young institution, and one year in study at home, he went to the Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn., Dr. Olin, President, finished his undergraduate course, and then received the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1846.
Returning to Canada, Mr. Nelles taught one year in the Newburgh Academy; in June, 1847, entered the ministry of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, preaching one year at Port Hope, and two in Toronto, in the old Adelaide street, now Metropolitan, church; and after being transferred thence to London, and preaching there three months, he was appointed to the Presidency of Victoria College, and since September, 1850, has held that responsible position. During the first year his department was the Classics, and since that time his chair has been that of Mental and Moral Philosophy, with the addition of Homiletics and Apologetics when the Theological department was started in 1872. Prior to that date, and as early as 1854 the Faculty of Medicine was added, and in 1862 the Faculty of Law. The Faculty of Medicine at first embraced only one medical college, the Toronto School of Medicine, at the head of which was Hon. Dr. Rolph; now there are two medical colleges, one at Toronto and one at Montreal, which receive their diplomas from Victoria College, its Medical graduates alone numbering more than 850; its Law graduates are a little less than 100; its Divinity, between 30 and 40, and its Arts, about 265. All these graduations, with the exception of half a dozen in the Arts department, have taken place since Dr. Nelles became President. With him Victoria College took a new departure, and has greatly prospered, having a handsome endowment, a full and strong faculty, and every facility for studying to the best advantage. In 1876, “Faraday Hall” was erected at an expense, including apparatus, of about $25,000. It is devoted exclusively to the Natural Sciences, with one of the best scientific scholars in Ontario at its head.
A gentleman who has long known President Nelles, thus speaks of him as a teacher, scholar, lecturer, and a gentleman:
“For twenty-nine years Dr. Nelles has been President of Victoria University, which is the highest literary position in the appointment of the church to which he belongs. He has devoted special attention to the departments of Logic, and of Mental and Moral Philosophy, on which he has been for many years a successful lecturer. He has also compiled a popular textbook on Logic, and has contributed to high class educational and literary periodicals. Through his sermons and writings there runs a vein of lofty thought, and many of his metaphors and analogies are striking and beautiful. Several of his baccalaureate sermons, delivered before the graduating class of the university, have been published, and fully sustain his reputation as an eloquent preacher and writer. His discourses appeal rather to the intellectual than to the emotional side of our nature. As a public lecturer, Dr. Nelles occupies the rostrum much less frequently than his friends would like, but always with acceptance. A rich vein of wit is always struck in these discourses, and a wide range. of reading and familiar acquaintance with the English poets is evidenced.”
The few printed sermons and educational addresses prepared by President Nelles, and
which we have seen, justify everything said above as regards the depth of his thoughts, and the richness and brilliancy of his style.
President Nelles had the degree of Doctor of Divinity conferred upon him by Queen’s College, Kingston, in 1860, and that of Doctor of Laws by Victoria College, in 1873. He represented the Canadian Conference at the General Methodist Conference, held in Philadelphia in 1864, at the New Brunswick Conference in 1866, and at the English Wesleyan Conference, at Newcastle, in 1873. He was President of the Teachers’ Association of Ontario two years in succession, and is held in very high esteem by the educators of the Province, as well as by all other classes who know him. As a lecturer on educational subjects, he has but few peers in the Province.
July 3, 1851, Miss Mary B. Wood, of Toronto, daughter of Rev. Dr. Enoch Wood, President of the Canadian Conference for ten years, and long a Superintendent of Wesleyan Methodist Missions, became the wife of Dr. Nelles, and they have five children here, and one son in Heaven.