Mass.) Salem Lyceum (Salem.

Historical sketch of the Salem Lyceum : with a list of the officers and lecturers since its formation in 1830. And an extract from the address of Gen. Henry K. Oliver, delivered at the opening of the fiftieth annual course of lectures, November 13th, 1878 online

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Online LibraryMass.) Salem Lyceum (SalemHistorical sketch of the Salem Lyceum : with a list of the officers and lecturers since its formation in 1830. And an extract from the address of Gen. Henry K. Oliver, delivered at the opening of the fiftieth annual course of lectures, November 13th, 1878 → online text (page 1 of 5)
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Salem Lyceum,







Fiftieth Annual Course of Lectures,

NOVEMBER 13th, 1878.



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Salem Lyceum,

With a list of the






Fiftieth Annual Course of Lectures,

NOVEMBER 13th, 1878.




Z— Vw Cz S S 3


The Salem Lyceum was formed in the month ot Jan-
uary, 1830, and the first lecture was delivered on the
evening of February 24, of that year, in the Methodist
meeting-house in Sewall street, by Judge Daniel A.
White. Other similar institutions were organized at
about the same time in the principal towns and cities of
the country. Of these, the Salem Lyceum and the
Concord Lyceum, formed at the same time, alone sur-
vive, the others having long since ceased to exist.
During these years, fifty successive courses of lectures
have been delivered to its members, covering a great
variety of topics, engaging the services of many very
distinguished persons, and contributing not a little to
the social education and entertainment of the public.

The Lyceum, as a specific institution, was an intellec-
tual development of the time of its birth, and, under
the name of Institute, flourished in England even be-
fore it was transplanted hither. The persons engaged
in the formation of the Lyceum in Salem were the
principal gentlemen of the town. The first meeting
was held at the house of Col. Francis Peabody, (the
present residence of John H. Silsbec, Esq., No. 380
Essex street), on Jan. 4th, 1830. It was then,

' ' Voted, That it is expedient to establish an institution
in Salem for the purpose of mutual instruction and ra-
tional entertainment, by means of lectures, debates, &c."

A meeting was subsequently held in the Town Hall,

(Jan. 12), when a committee was appointed "to pre-
pare a constitution, and submit the same for inspection
to the citizens of Salem."

This committee prepared an address to the public,
and a form of constitution, which were left for signa-
tures at the Commercial News Room, the Reading Room
of the Charitable Mechanic Association, and at the

On the evening of January 18th, 1830, a meeting of
the signers of the constitution was held in the parlor of
the Essex House, then known as "Pickering Hall," and
frequently used for public purposes. At this meeting
and at an adjourned meeting, the following officers were
elected, and constituted the first Board of Directors : —

President — Daniel A. White.

Vice President — Stephen C. Phillips.

Corresponding Secretary — Charles W. Upham.

Recording Secretary — Stephen P. Webb.

Treasurer — Francis Peabody.

Managers — Rev. William Williams, Caleb Foote,
Esq., Rev. Rufus Babcock, Hon. Leverett Salton-
stall, Col. Jonathan Webb, Dr. Abel. L. Peirson,
Dr. Malthus A. Ward, Dr. George Choate, Hon. Rufus
Choate, John Moriarty, Esq.

It was originally intended that public debates should
be among the exercises of the Lyceum, and the by-laws
provided for the appointment of disputants upon the
affirmative and negative sides of such questions as might
be discussed. But this plan was never carried out. A
course of lectures was, however, started forthwith, and
these lectures were mostly delivered by members of the

Lyceum, who contributed their services without fee or
reward. Of the lectures in the first course, all but four
were delivered by gentlemen of Salem. For several
years afterwards the lecturers were many of them resi-
dents here, and the fee rarely exceeded ten dollars.

The lectures were at first given in the Methodist
Meeting House, in Sewall street. The use of the Town
Hall had been asked for, and had been granted by
the town ; but upon the latter declining to allow per-
manent seats in the Hall, the Lyceum concluded to go
elsewhere. The lectures were afterwards delivered in
the Universalist Meeting House. But during the sum-
mer of 1830, plans were adopted for the construction of
the present Lyceum Hall, and in September a contract
was made with William Lummus to build it, and so
expeditiously was the work forwarded that it was ready
for occupancy in January, 1831. The original cost of
the building was $3036.76, and it was erected upon land
bought of Mrs. Sarah Orne, for the sum of $750, of
which $545 was raised by subscription. The cost
of the lectures was so small, and the income of the
Lyceum was so large, that in a very few years the debt
upon the building was extinguished, and it has since
been the property of the members of the Lyceum.

The tickets for the Lyceum were at first sold at Mr.
Buffum's bookstore, in Central Building, and after-
wards for many years were subscribed for in the ante-
room of the hall, where the lists were in charge of Mr.
William Mansfield, who for a long period was identi-
fied with the Lyceum by his services. Two courses
| soon became necessary, so great was the demand for

tickets, and it was customary to secure a repetition on
Wednesday evening of the lecture first delivered on

Tuesday evening. The evening of Tuesday was usu-
ally preferred by the Orthodox subscribers, and that of
Wednesday by the Unitarians, and hence the audiences
became marked in their character in this respect. The
selection of evenings was made by drawing "lots,"
under Mr. Mansfield's direction. Gentlemen's tickets
at the outset were sold for $1, and ladies' tickets for 75
cents ; but it was not considered proper for ladies to
purchase tickets, unless "introduced" by a gentleman.
Their tickets therefore ran as follows : —




Introduced by


B. TUCKER, Rec. Sec.

But it is significant of the change that has since oc-
curred in public views of what is proper for females
in this respect, that for many years ladies have not
only attended the lectures upon equal terms with gen-
tlemen, but have assisted to deliver them, until it has
come to be thought that a course is incomplete without
a lady lecturer or reader.

During the fifty courses of lectures since the begin-
ning, eight hundred and fifty-three lectures have been
delivered before the Lyceum, and it will be noticed by a
perusal of the lists which are printed herewith that the
names embrace many of those most distinguished in the
world of literature, science, and politics. It would
probably be impossible to find any other institution in

the country which could present such a distinguished
list of instructors as this Lyceum.

It ought to be mentioned that, during all these years,
the Lyceum has maintained a "free platform," and dur-
ing recent years esrjecially, nearly all topics of moral,
political and social interest, have been discussed with
the utmost freedom consistent with the proprieties of
such an institution.

In the year 1852, the Lyceum obtained of the Legis-
lature a new Act of Incorporation, under which it acts
at the present time. A perusal of this document will
inform the reader of the peculiar character of the insti-
tution, and of the privileges and rights of its members.



lyceum, nov. 13th, 1878.

Among the institutions affording popular lectures, is
that in which we are now specially interested, our own
Lyceum, this evening celebrating its semi-centennial
anniversary. The word Lyceum is of Greek origin,
and is the name which was given to a gymnasium, or
place of physical and mental instruction, outside and
easterly from the city of Athens, and where Aristotle
taught, — a temple dedicated to "Apollo Lyceus," or
"Apollo of the Light," standing close by and origi-
nating the epithet. Our English words, "lucidity," "lu-
cent," "lucid," and their relatives, are from the same
root. The name is appropriate, for from the Lyceum,
or house of light, is to radiate the night-dispelling light
of knowledge. There was, at one time, on the ceiling
of this hall, just above the stage, a fresco painting of
Apollo Lyceus, in his fiery chariot with fiery coursers.
It happened that a gentleman, groping one day in the
dark of the attic, put his foot, uninvited, into the char-
iot, and through its bottom, into the hall. So the bright
ceiling was removed, and a blind put over the hole.
There were, also, on the walls in front, frescos of the
orators, Cicero and Demosthenes, and of our then
townsmen, Judge White and Joseph Peabody, the


father of Col. Francis Peabody. Time and whitewash
have obliterated them.

And here, leaving for a while the direct subject before
me, let me speak of the extraordinary array of men of
note, expert and eminent in almost every department
of learning, whom I encountered, on coming here from
Boston, a stripling of eighteen years, and with whom
it was my very great privilege and benefit to associate
for many subsequent years. If the language I use seem
to my younger hearers inordinately eulogistic, or exag-
gerated, I appeal, without fear, to those whose memo-
ries recall the men. My limit of time permits me to
name but few.

Bear in mind that the population of Salem was then
but about 13,000, or one-half of its present number,
and mostly confined within the strip of land between
the South and North Rivers, now approaching annihila-
tion. But few houses were in North Salem, and none
in South beyond the junction of Mill with Lafayette
streets, till you reached the Derby estate. Every man
of note was known to all his fellow-townsmen, if not
personally, yet by name and character. As is known
of ancient Athens at its best, — quoting from Hypcr-
cides, an oration-writer by profession of those clays, —
"It is impossible for a man in this city to be of good
repute, or otherwise, without all of us knowing it."

And first, I name the venerable and venerated John
Prince, minister of the First Church, whose advanced
years had not weakened his love of science, nor para-
lyzed the skill of his hands in the construction of in-
struments of precision and experiment. Herein "his
eye was not dimmed, nor his natural force abated."
Earth and sky were the fields of his successful invest!-


gation, — and he prepared his own means of research, —
microscope, telescope, pneumatic-pnmp, electric and
magnetic apparatus, all seeming to come complete from
his successful make and manipulation, like Minerva
from the brain *of Jove, ready for active work, the en-
thusiasm of youth unweakened by any impotence of
years. His house, — that now occupied by David Moore
on Federal street, — was at once home, library, lecture-
room, workshop, and cabinet of curiosities, a rare and
interesting combination of the equipments of science,
which I often visited.

Nathaniel Bowditch, whose statue in bronze now
marks his resting-place at Mount Auburn, was a mar-
vel of mathematical and scientific attainment. His fame
can never die, nor his name cease from the lips of men,
till ship and sailors cease to grope their way across
trackless seas. A victorious student was he in the se-
verest fields of mathematical contest, making that best
use of his triumphs, in their practical utilization and
response to the demands of society, and this in such
simplicity of appliance and working, that the average
mind encounters small difficulty therein. His transla-
tion into English of the Celestial Mechanics of Laplace
was a most acceptable relief, as it interpolated steps
which, though they were needless to the author's mar-
vellous mind, were most embarrassing to the average
student, and subjected him to much wearying study to
make the connections necessary to the understanding of
the subject. Yet though absorption in study is apt to
make men recluses, and sometimes even repulsive in
manner, the learned halo about them seeming to ordi-
nary men a sort of dense impoundment, no man within
my memory was more genial, more communicative,


more demonstrative in all the courtesies and ordinary
socialities of life. I knew him well, being Librarian
at that time of the Salem Athenseum, of which he was
President, and coming into contact with him every day.

John Pickering, (son of the well known Col. Tim-
othy Pickering, of revolutionary work and fame), and
in recalling and naming him, there return feelings of
most earnest respect and gratitude for many acts of
personal kindness and assistance in my inexpert clays as
a teacher. A man was he justly and widely honored
for his large and varied learning, specially in the classic
languages and literature, possessing that exact knowl-
edge of details in grammatical laws and verbal con-
struction which aid the young student in many a dis-
tressful struggle, as well as give certainty of true schol-
arship and merited renown to the man himself. Yet
he seemed to be wholly unconscious of his own intel-
lectual and scholarly greatness and grasp, — mingling in
with us all as a gentle and companionable friend. He
was the author, — and all students of Greek blessed him
therefor, — who, with the aid of Dr. Daniel Oliver, also
of Salem, edited and published a Lexicon of that peer-
less language with English renderings, — students before
that time having to get the meaning of their words
through the medium of Latin. His home was on Chest-
nut street, corner of Pickering street.

I may here mention, as men of scientific and literary
note, two relatives of Dr. Daniel Oliver, then resident
here, Dr. B. L. Oliver, and his nephew, — in the law,
— of the same name. All three of them were noticea-
ble for their skill in music. It seems to be in the breed.
They, and all of the name hereabouts, — including also
many in whom the compound name of Oliver- Wendell


occurs, were descendants from Surgeon Thos. Oliver,
the English immigrant to Boston in 1632, who from
the seven generations that have followed, has supplied
to Harvard and Dartmouth Colleges, up to 1870, thirty-
six out of their forty-five graduates of that name, be-
sides a long roll by marriage into other names, and of
these three or four Doctors in each generation. There
is a smell of medicine all adown the line.

I next mention Joseph Story, the great jurist and
judge, a marvel of legal learning, reinforced by an
amount of general attainments and accomplishments,
that it would seem might require more than an ordinary
life to secure. His powers of conversation, fluency of
speech, and command of words, were, like those of Dr.
Bentley, of the East Church, the admiration of their
day. No subject seemed to be beyond their reach,
grasp and control, and they each seemed to be ready
with speech and argument for whatever subject-matter
might turn up.

I will here mention one, Mr. Thomas Spencer, whom,
however, I did not meet till about 1825-26, when he
came to Salem, having immigrated to the United States
from England in 1816, and who, after a long residence
here, returned to his own country, where he died, to
enjoy in retirement a valuable inherited estate. A
hard-working day-laborer while here, as a tallow-chan-
dler, he yet became noted for his knowledge and skill
in the science of Optics, and his expertness in arbori-
culture. He was also the originator of that deservedly
famous and toothsome confection, sought by young
and old, rich, dainty, and durable in its relish, and
which made Salem famous for titbits, as well as for
witches, beauty, and learning, — the noted " Gibralter,"

13 •

taking name from its firm make and power of withstand-
ing long continued siege of suck. To my recent gus-
tatory experience, however, the modern is inferior in
richness of tonguey tickle and power of endurance to
the old. Is its making one of the lost arts?

Mr. Spencer's leaving was matter of great regret, and
his frequent letters hither, and his hospitable reception
at his English home of American visitors, testified to
his grateful memory of his sojourn with us. That truth
is stranger than fiction, was verified in a life, which,
starting among the zeros of social position and mental
opportunity, culminated into that of a wealthy and hos-
pitable land-holder, and of an eminent man of science.
The love of learning is of most democratic propensities,
taking 1 root and growing in whatever soil, regardless of
anything, excepting its geniality, affluence of food, and
power of push towards growth and maturity.

But, of these samples, perhaps enough have been
quoted. The difficulty is not to find, but, to select, one
is so bewildered with the mighty array. l r et there is one
other name, to omit which would be doing violence to my
own feelings, and be unjust to him and to you. Its ut-
terance never fails to awaken vivid emotions of grateful
respect, and to bring to memory one of whom any city
might justly be proud. Always devoted to the good
of our community, and to effort by word and act to-
wards its enduring welfare, he regarded himself as less
than his town and his townsmen, his affection for each
being always earnest and demonstrative. The personal
attractions of a manly figure and a winning face, were
supplemented by a noble nature, nobly developed, with
just impartiality in his estimate of men and their mo-
tives and actions. Of eminent rank at the bar, and

* 14

eagerly sought by clients, his professional obligations
never excluded his general culture, and he was at once
a wise advocate, a safe adviser, an impressive and elo-
quent speaker, adorning office, refining society, and
enriching home with profusest affection. His worship-
ping nature made him an earnestly religious man, and for
years his rich voice gave utterance to his prayerful spir-
it as he joined in the service of song in public worship.
'•So well were the elements mixed in him that

" Nature might stand up
And say to all the world : This was a man."

A laudable ambition accepted the offices you gave him.
You sent him to Congress without his asking, and you
made him your first Mayor. It was Leverett Sal-


Now it would be hardly possible for a community in
which were found men like these, and scores of others,
their fellows, — the town probably never had so great a
proportion of educated men within its limits, old and
younger college alumni were here in dozens, — it would
be hardly possible not to feel their control, nor to be
inspired by their influence. If you move in the sun-
shine, you will feel its warmth and know its light. If
you walk amid roses, you will inhale their perfume.

And so, at last, when " the fulness of time was com-
pleted," the seed germinated and the plant appeared
above ground.

The first movement in the direction of public lec-
tures, in our vicinity, is credited to the late Col.
Francis Peabody, well known and well remembered by
many of us. His home was then in the large brick
house on Essex street, west of Plummer Hall and the


Athenaeum, on whose site stood his father's house, one
of our older and most noted merchants. Col. Peabo-
dy's tastes were thoroughly scientific, and much in the
direction of the mechanics of science. In his day, say
from 182(7 to the time of his death, in 1867, were very
many persons in Salem, both competent and inclined to
aid and promote his efforts. The first manifestation
seems to have been the course before the Essex Lodge
of Free Masons, in the winter of 1827.

In 1828, our Salem Charitable Mechanic Associa-
tion inaugurated a course of lectures for the gratifica-
tion and instruction of its members and their families,
and during the same year Col. Peabody gave a course
of free lectures on " Steam, the Steam Engine, and
their Utilities," subjects then new and exciting an in-
tense interest, and which were destined to work marvel-
lous revolutions in the world and its ways.

The same gentleman, in conjunction with Jonathan
Webb, gave free lectures on Electricity, in the same
season of 1828, in Concert, now Phoenix, Hall, at the
foot of Central street. These gentlemen were experts
in the science, their practical manipulations verifying
their theories with convincing instruction, their appa-
ratus being complete and effective in every respect. I
knew them both intimately. Col. Peabody, with his
ample means generously poured forth, and his earnest-
ness of work, was well reinforced by Mr. Webb, with
equal earnestness, energy of purpose, and physical ac-
tivity. He was an apothecary, his last place of business
having been in the brick building opposite Barton
Square Church. His was a spirit of great enterprise, a
mind exceptionally well cultivated, and a nature most
genial and companionable. Indeed, he was the wit of

the town, having that quick sense of the ridiculous, that
keen vision in its discovery, and that rich power of ex-
pressing it in apt and telling language, that never failed
to wake us into an uproar of enjoyment. He was a
sort of cachinnatory apostle of mirth and god'd health,
often saying that a merry laugh was better than all the
medicine in his shop. His bodily health, however, was
never equal to his mental vigor and his love. of scientific
work, and he died at the early age of thirty-seven years,
in August, 1832. At the time of his death, he was en-
gaged in the improvement and enlargement of his elec-
tric apparatus, — a splendid plate machine, of the largest
diameter then made, being then on its passage to him
from St. Petersburg. His early leaving us was deeply
lamented, no man in the then town being more general-
ly known or more heartily beloved. As an experimen-
tal lecturer he had no superior. I well remember how
comically he startled a whole audience in this room by
the instantaneous explosion by the electric spark of
about twenty air pistols, placed about the cornice of
this room, each filled with explosive gas and connected
together and to the machine by a copper wire. But few
of us were in the secret, and the suddenness and bis:
bang of the discharge, the screams and the " Oh mys "
of the feminities, the chirruping of the children, and the
outspoken " what-in-thuncler is that" of the men, and
our own loud laugh, made the hall a confused theatre of
uproarious merriment. So did the old experiment of
sending a sharp shock of electricity through the joined
hands of some scores of people, each one of whom real-
ly believed he was the first one hit, so synchronous was
the blow. But these were merely the curious and
amusing manifestations of powers, which now, in their


riper development, have revolutionized travel, business,
and all inter-communication, as well as very many of
our ways of life. And theory, like that in Macbeth,
is, ■' and still they come," — the end is not yet, nay, is
it not the mere beginning? So amazing, so almost in-
credible, have been their developments, their manifesta-
tions, their influences, that the world is prepared to re-
ceive with small surprise any and whatever discoveries
and inventions may be awaiting birth.

These exhibitions, and the familiar oral explanations
illustrating them, for written lectures and prepared
platform essays had not as yet reached the stage, ex-
cited greatest interest, and awakened a determinate
purpose to secure more and kindred knowledge, and to
create a permanent institution for its attainment and
wider diffusion.

The methods of these pioneers had been wisely ju-
dicious. They had allured, not repelled, — and so had
created scores of " Olivers asking for more." They
gave the best teaching, inasmuch as it was of the illus-
trated verities of science, with palpable exhibit of ev-
ery scientific truth they announced. The ear heard and
the eye saw, and when the earnest men who led the
work, — and they were among Salem's then best, and
her best were among* the best of the whole land, — put
themselves to the task of elaborating a permanent
means of instruction by lectures, they met the sympa-
thetic encouragement and support of the community.

Confining myself to our own institution (the attempt
to create a County Lyceum, though pushed by leading
minds in Essex County, failing), it appears that a meet-
ing for its initiation was held at the house of Col. Pea-

1 3 4 5

Online LibraryMass.) Salem Lyceum (SalemHistorical sketch of the Salem Lyceum : with a list of the officers and lecturers since its formation in 1830. And an extract from the address of Gen. Henry K. Oliver, delivered at the opening of the fiftieth annual course of lectures, November 13th, 1878 → online text (page 1 of 5)