An article in Sunday's Washington Post said that Ralph Nader speaks contemptuously of his alma mater, Princeton University, and has never been at a reunion there. In fact, Nader has attended two Princeton reunions and says he does not always speak contemptuously about the school.

When George F. (Horse) Edwards suffered a relapse one morning in 1897 after a long bout with tuberculosis, doctors ordered immediate hospitalization. But Edwards rejected that advice out of hand.

It was, after all, the first weekend in June and Edwards, a graduate of Princeton in the class of '89, would permit nothing to keep him from the reunion at his alma mater.

Carried by his classmates on a wicker stretcher, Edwards joined the alumni "P-Rade," cheered feeby as Princeton downed Harvard in baseball, and choked out one final chorus of the school song "Old Nassau."

As the weekend drew to a close, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, the sickly young man was carried to his old dormitory room. After summoning a lawyer to transcribe a hasty will ("All to Princeton"), he expired in peace, faithful to the last to his college and his class.

In an age of alienation, the death - some Princetonians call it the "martyrdom" - of Horse Edwards might seem a quaint relic of Victorian emotion.

In fact, though, a visit to the university during its reunion confirms that the spirit that brought Edwards back to Princeton is still live and well.

This weekend more than 4,500 Princetonians - one out of every eight living alumni - converged on the lush gothic campus to sing, swill and celebrate the school's 21th annual rite of return.

Scholars, lawyers and businessmen of all ages donned every conceivable combination of the school's colors - classmates of astronaut Charles Conrad wore orange and black space suits - and paraded through the streets of this prim, prosperous little town.

They cheered lustily for one another and wept without shame as they sang a reunion song about "going back . . . to the best old place of all."

But then, a true Old Tiger knows no shame in regard to his old-school ties.

Princetonians old and young persist in the habit of naming homes, boats, pets and even children after Princeton or its oldest building, Nassau Hall.

They maintain an active market for orange and black ties and blazer and a vast panoply of Princeton plaques, paintings, and pennants. Nassau Hall was given a new root this spring, and today merchants reported brisk sales of the old shings at $45 each.

Wherever particular Princetonians congregate, a college club is likely to spring up. "Even if you don't know where Taichung is, it's comforting to know that there is a Princeton club in town," an alumni magazine reported recently.

Just as Robert Kennedy once climbed the mountain named after his brother, Princeton alumni regularly scale the 14,000-foot heights of the school's Eponymous peak in the Colorado Rockies. "We have som many rocks from that darn mountain we can't store them anymore," a campus official says.

Love of Princeton extends to business as well. A financier from the class of '50 has built on Long Island an orange and black office building named "Nassau Hall." The chemist Hubert Alyea, seeking a means to teach molecular interaction, devised an "Old Nassau reaction" in which chemical forces cause a vial of colorless liquid to turn bright orange and then pitch block in miraculous successsion.

Although the "martyrdom" of Horse Edwards remains a singular event in the annals of Princetoniana, other alumni as well retain their faith to the end.

Princeton men frequently request the playing of "Old Nassau" at their funerals, and a few every year have their ashes scattered over the campus lake. At Woodrow Wilson's grave in the National Cathedral, that most famour Old Tiger is flanked in perpetuity by the U.S. flag, and the Princeton seal.

There are other colleges that evoke strenuous loyalties. Few alumni here can match the fervor of the old grads at an Army-Navy game. Notre Dame is revered not only by its graduates but also by millions of "subway alumni" who adopt the school as their own each football season.

But for sustained, serious devotion to am alma mater, there is probably no alumni body in the land that surpasses the sons - and, since 1973, the daughters - of Old Nassau.

They provide the school more than $4 million annually in contributions, and most cough up as well to class and club fund drives. They hold meetings and mini-reunions at the drop of an orange and black hat.

They subscribe to two seprate alumni magazines - one is tha nation's only weekly alumni journal - and a plethora of other Princeton publications.

And once a year, every year, they come back.

Leader of the pilgrims this weekend was Halstead (Juggs) Little '01, a New Jersey nonagenarian who was present on the day of Horse Edwards' demise and has missed few reunions since.

He was followed by a handful of 75th reunion levelers from '02 and at least one member of every class thereafter. More than 250 graduates from the class of '76 came back to signify their loyalty after a year away from Mother Priceton.

Why do they come? In a cynical detached world, some say, Princeton is an anchor.

That was brought home vividly today when the classes lineup up chronologically of the start of the alumni "P-Rade." As each class stepped off along their route, it was greeted by thunderous cheers from all the younger classes. For an alumnus marching through that cordon, the sense of family, of belonging, was keen.

Frederick Fox, a Presbyterian minister from the class of '39, whose personal treasures of Princetonalia include F. Scott Fitzgerald's reunion uniforms, sees the return to Princeton almost as a duty.

"It's important to care about something in life," Fox says. "Many people their calssmates. Coming back is a care about Princeton. They are about way to show that you care."

For some graduates, reunions are a time to care about oneself. "Every year there are people looking fro jobs," says an officer in the school's alumni office. "You sidle up to some old coot of a banker and sing songs with him, and a week later you send him a resume."

A member of the class of '58 recalled caustically that his classmate, Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) rarely attended reunions. "But then last year he's running for the Senate, and they made the pitch at our reunion for campaign contributions."

Another strong lure is the rekindling of old friendships. "You see these old guys who had a course together 30 years ago," says Dave Rahr, versity. "They sit down together over beer and that friendship just comes right back."

Inevitably, the religion has its apostates.

Ralph Nader, who speaks contemptuously of his alma mater, has never been seen at a reunion. Some alumni who still like the school are put off by the zeal of the dedicated reuniongoers. "It's an orgy of nostalgia," says a Washington lawyer who went back only once. "The whole scene is sick."

A sologist studying the annual ritual would be frustrated to find that there is no apparent correlation between attendance at reunions and such factors as age, economic status or ideology.

Recent classes peoduce turnouts as large as those from the 1930s and '40s. Even the class of '72 which eschewed such frivolities as parades and proms when it graduated had about 30 per cent of its members on hand today for the fifth reunion.

Female graduates seen at the class of '76 reunion seemed more fastidious than the men about proper wearing of the class uniform.

Overall, the best explaination of this annual phenomenon is that the reunion cannot be rationally explained.

Norman Thomas, the old Socialist from the class of '05, crystallized the spirit in a remark that was frequently invoked this weekend.

"Some things in life justify themselves emotionally," Thomas wrote, "without necessity for analytic reasoning. Princeton reunions fall in that category. In my moralizing moments I may regret that reunions are too greatly inspired by the prayer, Make me a sophomore again, just for tonight - which prayer, with the aid of the spirituous rather than the spiritual, often seems to be granted."