Prof. Manuel Fetter, although his students teased him in his recitation room, had a warm place in their hearts. He was well versed in the reading and parsing of Greek, but had the defect of most classical teachers of his day, that of not calling attention to the literary excellence of the books he taught. He was minutely strict in carrying out the rules, and was very sensitive to ridicule. Sometimes students intentionally committed breaches of the regulations or of etiquette, in order to laugh at his evidences of annoyance. But even these, and certainly all the well-behaved, carried to their homes respect and affection for “Old Fet.”
In teaching he placed great stress on the “Dictionary meaning,” Liddell and Scott being his sine qua non. No alternative reading was favored, so that those who wished good marks were driven to much turning of leaves. Those who studied Greek for the grandeur of thought and beauty of imagery were not pleased, but those who wished familiarity with the grammatical structure of the language, the declensions and tenses, dialects and derivations of words, obtained as much as they could carry off.
It is said that when he first came from the North he knew nothing of gardening. After he planted his “sweet potato” slips, he was shocked to find that the growing of the tubers had caused little fissures in the earth of the hills. He consulted his neighbor, Mr. Snipes, about the difficulty. “The remedy is easy,” said Snipes, “take some lime mortar and plaster up the cracks.” And so indeed he did. He afterwards became a most skillful gardener.
He was perhaps too strict in reporting indecorums for the demerit roll, and calling larger offenders before the faculty. Once he brought on himself some ridicule. He asked a student, James W. Wilson, who afterward became an eminent civil engineer, the name of an ancient river, Oenoe, or Enoe, pronounced En-o-e. Wilson, who had often fished in the stream running through Orange County, confidently replied, “E-no, Sir!” There was a general laugh and he was ordered before the faculty for disturbing the recitation. In reply to the charge he said, “Governor! how do you pronounce E-n-o-e?” “E-no, Sir!” was the reply. “Well, Sir! Mr. Fetter summoned me for pronouncing the word just as you do.” Of course he was acquitted and the faculty thought the joke was against the professor.
Sometimes a student would hold his text-book under his cloak and gaze intently at it as if he were reading a novel. The professor would administer a rebuke for violating the law, when the cloak would be thrown open and, with an injured tone, the question would be asked, “What, Mr. Fetter! is it against the law to read my text-book?” Sometimes his feet, uncommonly large, would be gazed at with faces expressing wonder. As his chair was on a platform elevated two feet above the floor, there was no way of avoiding the inspection, and his annoyance was plainly visible.
Occasionally several students would groan without opening their lips, so that it was impossible to discern which of the innocent-looking youths were guilty. Occasionally nearly all the class would march behind the professor, as he repaired to the Chapel for Evening Prayer. Those in front were usually summoned before the faculty for a reprimand. Of course ridiculous questions were sometimes asked as gravely as if the speakers actually sought knowledge. The old torment of cat calls was not wanting and in acorn and chinquepin seasons these nuts would be rattled across the room. Another mode of teasing Mr. Fetter was to induce a large number of the class (there were always about a half a dozen who would not join them) to “snap,” that is, to absent themselves from the recitation room, or to “fess,” that is, to decline answering questions. They invariably were discomfited in the end, the Faculty requiring them to recite the lesson, with the alternative of being dismissed. Twenty-five members of a freshman Bible class, however, submitted to this penalty, because when their regular teacher was absent, they claimed that they were not bound to recite to another. Of course there was the usual submission and restoration.
Similar to this was the fate of a class locked out of their room by some sly youth pouring shot into the capacious key holes, into which fitted brass keys nearly or quite a foot long. The locked out professor would direct the class to follow him to the Chapel or to other vacant rooms, but was generally disobeyed, except by a faithful few. Other instructors anticipated the ringing of the bell by five minutes so that, if the lock had been tampered with, a servant with an axe could break into the room and the damage charged to “Deposites.”
In 1844 Prof. Fetter, as the phrase of the day had it, “disapproved,” or “glistered,” all the junior class, except three, on the Medea of Euripides. The unfortunates dressed the book in black crape, marched by the professor’s home in solemn procession, and then back to the Davie Poplar and buried it with funeral honors. Over it was a slab of sandstone on which was inscribed Hic Jacet Medea. On the corner, in small letters, was “E. Hinton, sculpsit.” It is to be regretted that it was not allowed to remain in honor of the graduating class of 1845.
Source: Kemp Plummer Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, Vol. 1 (Raleigh 1907), 543-45.