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1820s-1830s Gilman, Alfred - Early Lyceums in Lowell

 In the Lowell Mercury of November 28th 1829, appeared the following notice, “The meeting held at the school house near St. Anne’s Church on Wednesday evening, 18th inst.  For the purpose of forming a Lyceum is adjourned to this evening at half past 6 o’clock at the same place, when the committee appointed to form a constitution for the association will report.”

 Jan. 2d 1830 a writer in the Mercury says “A Lyceum has been formed in this town, consisting of more than one hundred members,” and he further says, “we confess that we have less faith in its success than some others”.  This writer was undoubtedly the Editor of the Mercury, the Rev. Eliphalet Case, as it was a custom of his to publish his contributions as communications.  The views expressed by the writer tend to show his stand point at that time.  He acknowledges his ignorance of the workings of a Lyceum and therefore is not qualified to judge of its usefulness.  In order to show up the position assumed allow me to make one or two extracts; - he says

 “We are friendly to the intellectual improvement of mankind.  But we fear that a whole community will never become a reading literary body.  High intellectual attainment probably will never constitute in this state of existence, a large amount of mans’ happiness.  There are comparatively speaking but few “who reason and will have a reason”.  A man may be ever so learned and still be incapable of reasoning.” Some think who do not read, but more read who do not think.” “Of the thousands who annually leave our academies and colleges, but few have any correct knowledge of the meaning of the words they may have committed to memory.”

 The whole article at this day sounds rather peculiar and would be considered a dash of cold water upon an effort to establish an institution of this kind.

 But as it is not my intention to enter the lists as a defender of Lyceums and debating societies I pass on to my recollections of this one of which I became a member.  After a few meetings in the Merricmac Companys’ School House a room was occupied in what was then called “the Bank Block” on Merrimac Street, which remains to all outward appearance just as it did at that day.  It is the brick block between the Merrimac House and the First Congregational Meeting House.  The most remarkable members in that Lyceum if my recollection serves me was Walter Wright.  His memory was of the first order, and gave him a superiority that was undisputed.  I have heard him repeat a whole chapter of the bible without a falter or correction.  At that time Mr. Wrights’ religious views were unsettled and he apparently delighted to argue upon all the truths and doctrines of the bible with almost unscrupulous freedom.  He had the reputation of being a free thinker.  This I do not mention to the discredit of Mr. Wright, for long before he died he became a sincere and earnest christian man.  In the society was another remarkable man – remarkable for his apparent roughness and freedom of speech, for his skepticism in religious matters, and for the readiness with which he would attack the religious views of others.  I refer to Eliphalet Brown, commonly known as “Life” Brown.  With men entertaining such views, and who held them up ostentatiously before the younger members you may readily imagine that the debates were warm and at times acrimonious.  That they were calculated to unsettle and distract the minds of the younger members there can be no doubt; and to-day, thinking carefully over the impressions I received at that time, I only realize a sense of doubt and danger ad one who has been in the path of a run-away horse and just escaped being maimed for life.  Another of the peculiar men brought to light in that society was “Old Tripp”.  He was a great reader of books and newspapers and well posted in all political matters.  He is reported to have had a mind of his own, so much so as at times to be a little troublesome.  It is said that being drawn on a jury and his jury having retired with the evidence, the plea and the judges’ charge, upon taking a ballot, Mr. Tripp found himself in a minority of one.  Ballot after ballot revealed just this peculiar state of things.  Rehearsing the points of evidence and argument were like the idle wind to him; -he laid his coat upon the floor in a corner of the jury room, and laid down, remarking “that when the jury had made up their minds to come over to his way of thinking they might wake him up.”  I think it must have been “Old Tripp” who figures in the account of the visit to Chapel Hill to hear the Rev. Mr.  Case hold forth in the pulpit.  I know that he was never a great admirer of Mr. Case as a politician, cared very little for the preaching of men, or for the observance of the Sabbath.  A friend of Mr. Cases’ urged him to go and hear him, but with very little success at first.  After a great amount of urging he consented and went.  He apparently paid strict attention to the sermon, and retired with the reverend gentleman’s friend.  “Well” inquired he “how did you like Mr. Case?” “Very well” responded Mr. Tripp.  “Why I am surprised “said Mr. Case’s friend, “I thought you did not like preaching.” “You are right,” said Mr.  Tripp, “I do not like preaching, and I liked his preaching, because it comes the nearest to no preaching”.

 Mr. Tripp had a slight impediment in his speech.  This misfortune, however, was seldom noticed on account of the vigor of his manners.

 Subsequently the meetings of the Lyceum were held in the Hamilton School House on Middlesex Street in the building which is now occupied as a Free chapel.  The change was made about the middle of the month of February 1830.  Here I lost sight of this Lyceum.

 Jan. 22, 1831 a call was issued to the young men, which resulted in the formation of the Franklin Lyceum.  The meetings were held at the Hamilton School House on Middlesex Street.  It was at this place that I was called upon by assignment to take part in the discussions.  The question whether theatrical entertainments have a moral tendency because to me the most important question.  I was to prove the negative, and if I ever searched high and low for facts and theories to prove my side of the question, it was then.
I felt a deep responsibility and became acquainted with the “early mysteries” religious performances; with the state of the stage in the reigns of Charles I, Cromwell and Charles II, and I have no doubt the manner in which the morals of the stage were held up to the view of the members of that Lyceum, was a caution to theatrical performances.  My opponent, as if anticipating total annihillation, was not prepared to prove his side of the question, and I had the field entirely to myself.  I read my piece and it seemed to fall like a leaden weight on the members.  After such earnest, and as I thought, thorough preparation, the effort was a total failure, especially when compared with that of a brother printer from the same office, who drew on Mother Goose for his first essay, he began with

                     “Tom, Tom, the pipers’ son
                     Stole a pig, and home he run
                     The pig was eat, and Tom was beat
                     And Tom ran crying down the street.”

From this verse he elaborated the most ridiculous and funny string of wit and nonsense, interspersed occasionally with decided hits on morals and manners.  The performance was hailed with the most uproarious applause, and I believe, if time had permitted, he would have had to repeat the whole thing.  I was thoroughly chargrined, and he was proportionately elated.  In the office, where we both worked was a bound volume of the New England Galaxy, edited by J.T.  Buckingham in his palmiest days.  We resorted to this frequently for a feast of wit.  I took up the volume one day, soon after my Lyceum experience, and while turning the leaves over carefully, espied the identical verse about “Tom”.  Curiosity led me to read the piece, and you can scarce conceive my astonishment, when I found that he had borrowed the whole thing from this paper, word for word, and comma for comma.  From that day to this it has been my aim never to appear abroad in borrowed plumage.

 That young man was Cornelius W. Blanchard.  Walter Wright married his mother as his second wife.  She belonged to Westford.  His career was of a varied character.  He left Lowell and went to Boston.  There he worked in the Investigator Office, a paper edited by Abner Kneeland.  When the Boston Daily Atlas was started, I went to Boston and worked in that office.  I think the first number appeared July 4th 1832.  It was printed by the City Printer -  his name was Eastburn.  I did not work for him long, as he was a very poor pay-master.  Blanchard was dissatisfied with his position and wished to leave it.  We walked together down on Long Wharf and discussed the situation.  He was in favor of a whaling voyage, and appeared anxious for me to ship with him.  He anticiapated great results financially and particularly a lot of fun.  He intended to start that day for New Bedford, and urged me to accompany him.  I was not so sanguine as he was, and preferred dry land.  We parted, he for New Bedford, and I on a visit to Bangor, Me.  He immediately shipped for a long voyage.  Either on the passage out or back, the sailors mutinied, were conquered, put in irons and brought home in that condition.  On the arrival of the vessel in New Bedford, Blanchard was detained with the mutineers, whether on account of a participation in the muntiny, or from some other cause, I never knew.  From a knowledge of his disposition and habits, I doubt the fact of any participation on his part.  It may have been that his presence was required as a witness.  At any rate Mr. Walter Wright went to New Bedford and became responsible for his appearance at the trial and he came back to Lowell.  He went to work in the repair shop on the Merrimac and having acquired a knowledge of machinery, took the position of second hand and eventually overseer of a room on the Massachusetts.  It was on the Massachusetts he found the girl he married, Miss Sarah Sherburne, the daughter of William Sherburne of  Tyngsboro.  These Sherburnes came from Portsmouth, NH and Henry Sherburne of Portsmouth came from England in 1631.  Mr. Brewster, in his “Rambles about Portsmouth”, gives the following romantic account of the Sherburne family: “Richard Sherburne of Stonyhurst, with others of the nobility and gentry, was called upon in the year 1543 to furnish his quota of men and arms against the Scotch, under the Duke of Somerset, and was knighted on the 11th of May 1544, then 22 years old.  Sir Richard married Maud, the fifth child of Sir Richard the Bold, in the time of Henry VIII, by his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Butler, knight of Bewsey.  Sir Richard Sherburne, probably son of first Richard, died in prison, August 6th, 1589, and was succeeded by his son Richard who married Anne daughter of John Cowfield, Esq.; and dying without issue, the princely mansion of Stonyhurst and the many mansions and lordships pertaining to it, devolved on his brother, Sir Nicholas Sherburne, Bart., who married Catherine, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Edward Charlton of Wesley Tidehaust and had three children; Catherine who died an infant, Richard Francis born 1693 and died 1703; also Mary Winnefrida Francisca who married Thomas 8th Duke of Norfolk and at his death married the honorable Peregrine Middleton, but had no issue by either marriage.  Sir Nicholas Sherburne died in 1718 bequeathing his large estates to his only surviring child Mary Duchess of Norfolk who dying in 1754, all their estates were bequeathed conditionally (that no other heirs were living to claim the estate) to the issue of Elizabeth Weld her Aunt, sister of the deceased Baronet.  Such is the family in England from which it is said the Sherburnes in Portsmouth descended but the connecting link for a generation we have not at hand.  If the Sherburnes in this county could supply the missing links in the chain, they might possibly claim to the estate, but the question of getting possesion is quite another matter.

 But to return to C.W. Blanchard.  From the Massachusetts he went to Amoskeag, NH from there to Waltham, Mass. and there back to Amoskeag.  From Amoskeag he went to Clinton and had charge of the Coach-lace Mill for a number of years.  From Clinton he was called to Chicopee and from there to Holyoke.  At the two last places he had charge of large establishments.  He died at Holyoke in the year 1856.  His family returned to Lowell.

 Among the friends acquired at this time were two whose career I watched with interest.  Sylvanus Adams a machinist at the Big Shop, afterward, assistant superintendent on the Merrimac and then Agent of a cotton mill at Chicopee Falls.  He died a few years since.  While at work at the Big Shop his leisure time was occupied in acquiring knowledge useful to him in his business, and the knowledge then acquired aided him materially in climbing up the ladder.  His early education had been deficient, but his persistent determination to conquer carried him through.  The other friend was Granville T. Dole.  Some of you may recollect him.  Mr. Dole was a machinist and worked at the same shop with Mr. Adams.  They boarded and roomed at the same place.  Mr. Adams was ambitious for the honors and emoluments of this life.  Mr. Dole turned his thoughts to the life to come.  He studied for, and became a minister of the gospel.  A scrap of poetry from his pen is in my possession and I ask your indulgence to read it.  Christmas day, December 25th 1832 was a day to be remembered.  The sun shone clear and bright there was no snow on the ground, no wind in the trees.  A perfect calm was over the earth and the air was balmy as spring.  All that was wanting was the song of birds, and the green grass and leaves to make one believe that it was springtime.  It was to celebrate this day: Mr. Dole tuned his harp that Christmas evening:

                    “The glorious sun was sinking low
                    Behind the western hills,
                    And o’er the distant mountains brow
                    The blue mist slowly steals.

                    O, ever sweetly sad the hour,
                    When daylight fades away;
                    But most delightful now the power
                    It’s lovely scenes display.

                    No chilling tempest reigns around,
                    The winds no sigh disclose;
                    Nature seems hasl’d to peace profound,
                    And seeking to repose.

                    Imagination spreads her wings
                    And swiftly soars away,
                    To Bethlehem, where the King of Kings
                    And humble infant lay.

                    So calm, so beauteous fell the night
                    On Palenstine, fair plains,
                    When the bright messengers of light
                    Struck their majestic strains.

                    To God, the glorius God on high,
                    Their heavenly harps they strung;
                    To man, good will and sympathy
                    And peace, sweet peace they sung.

                    Such were the notes when Christ was born,
                    Sung by the heavenly choir;
                    Then christian let your fears begone
                    And raise your athems higher.

                    Here let me oft by faith retire,
                    When hope and vigor cease,
                    Here with new joy my heart inspire
                    Blest savior, prince of peace!

                    O, calmy as the shades descend
                    To wrap the earth in gloom;
                    So tranquil be my latter end
                    When verging to the tomb.

                    And when deaths hand my pulse shall still,
                    And clay my heaving breast;
                    Then with pure peace my bosom fill
                    And take me to thy rest.

 One can readily imagine the character and disposition of the writer by the poetry.  Mr. Dole was an affectionate, kind hearted man, full of the beautiful spirit of a christian, and one whose face would shine with the enthusiam and inspiration of his subject.

 Associated with us (I see some faces around me that were familiar then) was that genius, H. Hastings Weld.  I call him a genius because what he did not know was not worth knowing.  born in Boston, he followed the sea in the “Old Brig Neptune,” visited one port in South America, and remembered that fact ever after.  I dare say he has not forgotten it to this day.  He came to Lowell early in the thirties, and entered the Journal Office as an apprentice to the printing business.  His genius was of the fertile order, he was full of expedients and they often led him into scrapes from which he gloried in escaping by the exercise of his wit.  Physically he was no expert.  His body was short and thick, his head was big and his face broad and heavy, lacking expression.  When I first became acquainted with him he acted in the capacity of “printers’ devil” and lived out the character to perfection.  He had a kindred spirit with a more active body in the person of Gus Tarbox, and they were always ready for fun and frolick.  Recollet, I am not charging Weld with any infringement of the law, only that he could discover the material of a joke a great way ahead, and hoarded them up for future use.  He was a kind hearted man, if sympathy for those in trouble is evidence of kind heartedness, for he was always as willing toto help them out as he was to help them in.  The first number of the Lowell Gazette, a sort of tender to the Journal appeared in 1830.  Weld was supposed to be a large contributer to its columns.  It was like a comet, periodical, but not very regular in its appearance and was the primary school in which Weld took lessons in writing for the public.  Its next appearance was in May 1831, and the contents of sufficient consequence to cause Mr. Case, the editor of the Mercury to fire a whole broadside into it.  Mr. Case calls the editor “a poor ignorant boy by the name of Weld”.  While the Franklin Lyceum held its meetings in the Hamilton School House, Messrs. Richardson, Peabody (now present) and Weld were its secretaries.  Nov.  25th, 1831 its meetings were held in a room in Wymans’ Building on Merrimac Street.  H.  Hastings Weld started a paper called  “The Compend” in 1832, which was united with the Journal and edited by Sleeper & Weld.  The co-partnership was dissolved in August, 1833, and Mr. Sleeper retained both papers.  I think Weld afterward started a new paper called the “Times”.  He married November 1832, Miss Sophronia A. Wright of Springfield, VT.  After he left Lowell he became a contributor to the Boston Galaxy and the Boston Pearl.  He published his contributions in 1836 under the title of “Corrected Proofs”.  Later he compiled an Annual but with what success I have never learned.  He is now a clergyman of the Episcopal order and is settled in Riverton, New Jersey.

 Nov.  24th, 1832 Doctor Elisha Bartlett delivered his lecture “On the structure of the heart and circulation of the blood”, before the Lyceum, in what was called Concert Hall.  By your indulgence allow me to dwell one moment here.  Doct. Elisha Bartlett was for many years my family physician and my business at one time led me to an intimate connection with his labors as editor of a medical journal printed in this city.  I worked as compositor from his manuscript and printed the forms of the journal.  My associations with him were of the most agreeable nature, and on his part, characterized by that kind, unaffected and happy disposition which distinguishes the perfect gentleman.  As a scholarly man he was unsurpassed, as a ready and fluent speaker rarely excelled.  It was a great treat to me to work from his manuscript.  Every idea was drafted in the best language, and his subject was always treated in that clear and admirable manner, that seemed to me as leaving nothing unsaid that should be said. 

 The Society rented their room of a Miss Prescott, who had her dwelling and a school in the building.  She had notified us that she must have more rent than what she had been getting, and the subject came up one evening before the Lyceum.  Miss P. was a maiden lady of about 45 years.  Her room was in the rear of Concert Hall, and connected with it by a door.  When the question of the rent had been stated by the president it was noticed that the door slightly opened.  One of the members of this association, Hon. J.A. Knowles, rose and addressed the president on this momentous question.  His speech was, if my memory serves me right, as follows: Mr. President, I am opposed to this demand of our landlady.  We are paying enough for the accomodations we have, and even if we were not you must recollect who it is you have to deal with for if “you give an inch she will take au ell”.  The door shut with a bang and the squire sat down.

 The Franklin Lyceum lingered along until the middle of 1833.  In August of that year, I had occasion to notice it, and I give the conclusion of the article:

 “The Franklin Lyceum began with quite flattering prospect, its debates were well attended and the members manifested an interest in it, which favored the idea that it would become permanent; but after the novelty of the thing had subsided the members gradually dropped of one after another.  The fact is our young men are transient inhabitants, and coming here, as they do for the professed purpose of making money, they are exceedingly unwilling to trouble their wits about metaphysics, the sciences, or the arts.  The questions that have commanded the most attention in the Lyceum have been the most unprofitable and useless according to our way of thinking-questions that every one can most surely determine with his own conscience-we mean theological ones.  These may have had a tendency to split the society into little parties, and gradually effected its ruin.” 

 The last debating society to which I belonged met at a room in the Market House.  Its existence was short but during its life we had a number of very acceptable essays from such men as Colonel Schouler, Wm. S. Robinson, Doct. A.H. Brown and others.  J.C.  Ayer was a  member.  It adopted the plan of having a new presiding officer each evening, which gave an excellent opportunity of acquiring a facility in the discharge of the duties of that office.

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