« PreviousContinue »
society also commenced a "Biographical Dictionary," on a magnificent scale and of great value; but this was unfortunately discontinued after the publication of seven volumes, containing letter A. The circulation of the preliminary discourse to this series of publications, reached 100,000 copies; that of the weekly "Penny Magazine," over 200,000; of those of its books of a more popular character, sometimes 40,000; and of many of the scientific ones, 25,000.
FRANKLIN'S CLUB FOR MUTUAL IMPROVEMENT.
Franklin formed a Lyceum, in effect though not in name, in Philadelphia, in 1727, of which he gives the following account in his "Autobiography."
In the autumn of the preceding year, (1727,) I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club for mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of morals, politics, or natural philosophy, to be discussed by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay, of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradictions, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.*
The club was the best school of philosophy, morality, and politics that then existed in the province; for our queries (which were read the week preceding their discussion) put us upon reading with attention on the several subjects, that we might speak more to the purpose; and here too we acquired better habits of conversation, every thing being studied in our rules which might prevent our disgusting each other; hence the long continuance of the club.
At the time I established myself in Pennsylvania, there was not a good bookseller's shop in any of the colonies to the southward of Boston. In New-York and Philadelphia, the printers were indeed stationers, but they sold only paper, &c., almanacs, ballads, and a few common school-books. Those who loved reading were obliged to send for their books from England; the members of the Junto had each a few. We had left the alehouse, where we first met, and hired a room to hold our club in. I proposed that we should all of us bring our books to that room; where they would not only be ready to consult in our conferences, but become a common benefit, each of us being at liberty to borrow such as he wished to read at home. This was accordingly done, and for some time contented us. Finding the advantage of this little collection, I proposed to render the benefit * Dr. Franklin's account of the members of this club is amusing. "The first members were Joseph Brientnal, a copyer of deeds for the scriveners; a good natured, friendly, middle-aged man; a great lover of poetry, reading all he could meet with, and writing some that was tolerable; very ingenious in making little nicknackeries; and of sensible conversation, Thomas Godfrey, a self-taught mathematician, great in his way, and afterward inventor of what is now called Hadley's Quadrant. But he knew little out of his way, and was not a pleasing companion; as, like most great mathematicians I have met with, he expected universal precision in every thing said, or was forever denying or distinguishing upon trifles, to the disturbance of all conversation; he soon left us. Nicholas Scull, a surveyor, afterward surveyor-general, who loved books, and sometimes made a few verses. William Parsons, bred a shoemaker, but loving reading, had acquired a considerable share of mathematics, which he first studied with a view to astrology, and afterward laughed at it; he also became surveyor-general. William Mangridge, joiner; but a most exquisite mechanic, and a solid, sensible man. Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, and George Webb, I have characterized before. Robert Grace, a young gentleman of some fortune; generous, lively, and witty; a lover of punning, and of his friends. Lastly, William Coleman, then a merchant's clerk, about my age, who had the coolest, clearest head, the best heart, and the exactest morals of almost any man I ever met with. He became, afterward, a merchant of great note, and one of our provincial judges. Our friendship continued, without interruption, to his death, upward of forty years."
from the books more common, by commencing a public subscription library. I drew a sketch of the plan and rules that would be necessary. So few were the readers at that time in Philadelphia, and the majority of us so poor, that I was not able, with great industry, to find more than fifty persons (mostly young tradesmen) willing to pay down for this purpose forty shillings each, and ten shillings per annum; with this little fund we began. The books were imported; the library was open one day in the week for lending them to subscribers, on their promissory notes to pay double the value if not duly returned. The institution soon manifested its utility, was imitated by other towns, and in other provinces. The libraries were augmented by donations; reading became fashionable; and our people, having no public amusements to divert their attention from study, became better acquainted with books; and in a few years were observed by strangers to be better instructed, and more intelligent, than people of the same rank generally are in other countries.
This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study; for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allowed myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolic of any kind, and my industry in my business continued as indefatigable as it was necessary. My original habits continuing, and my father having, among his instructions to me when a boy, frequently repeated a proverb of Solomon, "Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men," I thence considered industry as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction, which encouraged me; though I did not think that I should ever literally stand before kings, which however has since happened, for I have stood before five, and even had the honor of sitting down with one (the King of Denmark) to dinner.*
The late Dr. Smith, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, in his discourse upon the death of Dr. Franklin, alludes to the Junto in the manner following. The questions, which he has selected from those discussed in that club, are curious as a sample of the diversity of their inquiries, and may still be interesting topics of discussion in our Lyceums.
"This society, after having subsisted forty years, and having contributed to the formation of some very great men, besides Dr. Franklin himself, became at last the foundation of the American Philosophical Society, now assembled to pay the debt of gratitude to his memory. A book, containing many of the questions discussed by the Junto, was, on the formation of the American Philosophical Society, delivered into my hands, for the purpose of being digested, and in due time published among the transactions of that body. Many of the questions are curious and cautiously handled; such as the following:
How may the phenomena of vapors be explained?
Is self-interest the rudder that steers mankind; the universal monarch, to whom all are tributaries?
Which is the best form of government, and what was that form which first prevailed among mankind?
Can any one particular form suit all mankind?
What is the reason that the tides rise higher in the bay of Fundy than in the bay of Delaware?
How may the possession of the lakes be improved to our advantage?
Why are tumultuous, uneasy sensations united with our desires?
Whether it ought to be the aim of philosophy to eradicate the passions?
How may smoky chimneys be best cured?"
Why does the flame of a candle tend upward in a spire?
Which is least criminal, a bad action joined with a good intention, or a good action with a bad intention?
Is it consistent with the principles of liberty, in a free government, to punish a man as a libeller when he speaks the truth?
These, and similar questions of a very mixed nature, being proposed in one evening, were generally discussed the succeeding evening, and the substance of the arguments entered in their books."
* Franklin's Memoirs and Works, Vol. I., pp. 62, 83, &c.
TIMOTHY CLAXTON* was born at Earsham, Norfolk, in England, on the 22nd of August, 1790. His father was a gardener in the service of the Windham family, at Earsham Hall-honest and industrious; but, as was his mother, not able to read or write. They did their best to secure for their children an education, and in this were assisted by the Hon. Mrs. Windham, who, while she lived, kept six boys and six girls at school, for two years each. When thirteen years old, he was apprenticed to a white-smith; which craft he acquired, and practiced for thirty years. With the first money, (a half-guinea,) which he received as a Christmas-box, from his master's customers, he bought a Bible, and a thick cyphering-book; and in the latter commenced, forthwith, to prosecute his arithmetical studies; and, as he grew older, exercising his mechanical ingenuity in making all sorts of curious and artful machines. During his minority, he was often called on to write letters for his father, and his neighbors; and thus acquired facility in composition. He, at the same time, began to practice drawing. In 1810, he removed to London; and, for the first time, saw a steam-engine, heard a lecture, and read a book on subjects connected with the arts and sciences. When just turned of twenty-one years of age, he attended a weekly course of popular lectures on natural philosophy, by Mr. Tatum; taking notes, and afterward writing out the lectures as full as he could recollect, and making drawings of the apparatus. He also procured and read a book on the same subject. In 1816, he succeeded in getting up a mechanical institution,† which was in operation for three years, to the great good of the active members. In 1820, Mr. Claxton went to St. Petersburgh, (Russia,) to put up apparatus for making gas, and illuminating one of the governmental offices. He improved the opportunities of visiting the public galleries and gardens. In June, 1823, he left Russia for the United States, and landed in Boston, Massachusetts, studying mathematics on the voyage. In September, 1823, he engaged to work in a machine shop, connected with a cotton factory, in Methuen, Essex county. In his autobiography, Mr. Claxton thus described one of the first, if not the earliest, lyceum established in this county.
In the spring of 1824. however, an opportunity offered itself for me to attempt the formation of a society for mutual improvement. A discourse was delivered in the afternoon of Fast-day, by the clergyman of the village, on the importance of knowledge, and the facility with which it can be obtained, by a judicious arrangement of our time, and by associating together for mutual benefit. In fact, he expressed my views so well, that I felt confident of a kind reception from him; and I accordingly waited on
him the same afternoon.
After stating ny views, and presenting him some papers on the subject, he informed me that a small society for reading had existed for about five years in the village, but
This brief memoir is gathered from a useful little volume, entitled, "Memoir of a Mechanic," or the Life of Timothy Claxton. Boston: G. W. Light, 1839, pp. 179.
+ The London Mechanics' Magazine, for February, 1831, says: "We always thought that it was a fact, beyond all dispute, that the present London Mechanics' Institution was the first establishment of the kind in the British metropolis; but it appears from these documents that, several years before we thought of calling upon the mechanics of London to form an association for cultivating a knowledge of the principles of the arts they practice, some of these mechanics had already done so among themselves, and of their own accord. The institution we allude to was established in August, 1817-about five years before the foundation of the present London Mechanics' Institution-and differing as little from it in name as in character, being called "The Mechanical Institution." In an Introduction to the Code of Laws of this Mechanical Institution, “Printed by J. Mills, Shoe-lane," it is said to have been "established for the purpose of disseminating useful knowledge among its members, and their friends, by attending lectures and discussions on various branches of science."
was at a very low ebb at that time.* He was pleased with my proposals, and invited me to attend the next meeting of the society.
I attended, and found a respectable number of both sexes assembled at the house of one of the members. They were engaged in reading, by turns, from Whelpley's Compend of General History; and the president put questions to them, as they proceeded, which made it interesting. At the close of this exercise, he asked me how I liked it. "Very well," was my reply. I then inquired what other exercise they had. He told me that was all, except an annual address, which he delivered himself. I asked him if it would not be well to try the debating of questions, and familiar lectures on science and the arts. He said he thought well of it, but they felt very cautious how they ventured from shore, lest they should get into deep water. I told him J thought they need not be afraid; for I had seen persons engaged in such exercises, whose opportunities for intellectual improvement were inferior to theirs. I was asked if I could give them a lecture. I said I would try; and prepared myself accordingly. I had brought a small air-pump with me from Russia, which I made of a piece of gastubing, with a ground brass plate, on a mahogany stand. I bought a few glass articles, which I ground, to fit the pump-plate, with a little sand and water, on the hearth-stone of my room. I procured a small wash-tub, and fitted a shelf to it, for a pneumatic cistern. In this way, I succeeded, with a very simple apparatus, in explaining the mechanical, and some of the chemical properties of air.
This put new life into the society. Their constitution was revised, to make provision for a library and apparatus. Debating was also introduced with success; and the ladies handed in compositions, which were read at the meetings. The reading exercise was pursued only occasionally. Several of the members were prevailed upon to give lectures on subjects connected with their professions, unless some particular branch of knowledge had been studied by them. It required considerable effort on the part of the more active members to bring those forward who were very diffident. More than one case occurred, however, in which gratitude was felt by those who had thus been roused to action.
I served as vice-president of the society during the remainder of my stay in the town, and took an active part in its exercises.
The society continued to meet at the members' houses, until it became too large to be thus accommodated. They then tried the school-house, and the hall at the tavern; but, not being satisfied with either of these, they built a two-story building for their own accommodation, at an expense of twelve hundred dollars, of which I furnished my full share. The building was completed within two years from the time I was introduced to the society. The hall was let to another society; and there were two mechanics' shops under it.
Since this time, the society has been quite prosperous. The exercises were weekly, in the following order-1. Reading by all the members; 2. Reading by one member, selected for the purpose; 3. An original lecture; 4. Discussion. This monthly course was continued for one year after the new hall was completed.
In October, 1826, Mr. Claxton removed to Boston, where, in 1829, he engaged in making and selling apparatus for illustrating the various sciences.
After I had been in Boston three or four years, Mr. Josiah Holbrook, a gentleman much engaged in the establishinent of lyceums, came to me to see about apparatus, as he was trying to introduce such cheap and simple instruments into schools, and other seminaries of learning, as would come within their means. He had already several articles for illustrating geometry, astronomy, &c.; but air-pumps were not then simplified enough to form a part of the lyceum apparatus. At this interview, I introduced to his notice a small air-pump for exhausting and condensing, and several articles of apparatus to be used with it, which I had made for the amusement of myself and my friends. He frankly acknowledged it to be the very thing that was wanted in the smaller establishments for education. He wished me to make some for sale, and promised to recommend them, which he did not fail to do From this interview I may date the commencement of my making philosophical instruments as a regular business.
In the summer of 1835, his shop and ware-rooms were destroyed by fire; but, as he was fully insured, he resumed business promptly, taking into partnership his principal workman, Mr. J. M. Wightman, who had been, from the first, his "right-hand man."
The first meeting of the Methuen Literary Society was held December 7th, 1819, when it was voted to accept a constitution which had been prepared; and the persons present constituted themselves a society, for the purpose of reading and the promotion of useful information, with the title of "The Methuen Social Society for Reading and General Inquiry,” A number of useful and interesting works were read by the society, in succession. Not long after the formation of the society, it contained between forty and fifty members, male and female. Afterward, the interest abated. and the number of members diminished. Finally, in the autumn of 1823, there were but four or five regular attendants; and a consultation was held on the subject of dissolving the society.
During this period, Mr. Claxton was active and influential in improving the means of popular education in Boston. He says:
On my arrival in Boston, my first object was, to make inquiries respecting mechanics' societies; but I was surprised to learn that no society existed to which a mechanic could resort, and hear lectures on subjects calculated to aid him in his vocation. There had been some talk of building a mechanics' hall, &c.; but that project was abandoned. I conversed with several persons on the subject, who were willing to assist in forming a society for mutual improvement. I put a notice in the newspaper, stating where names would be received, and finally called a meeting, which was attended by nine persons; and a second, which was attended by only seven. At this meeting it was determined to make the thing more popular, by advertising it in the daily papers, and hiring a hall in a central situation. The next meeting was held at Concert Hall, and was very well attended, The result was the formation of the Boston Mechanics' Institution. This was in 1826.
The society soon became popular, which induced others to follow the example thus set. Being the first society in Boston that introduced popular lectures on various branches of science, it would seem rather strange that it did not continue longer. I have formed my own ideas as to the causes of its decline. Not the least of these, I should say, was its unsocial character. A course of lectures merely, during the winter, was all that the managers ever attempted: no library, reading-room, nor classes. A class on mechanical science was indeed formed, by members of the institution, with the expectation that the managers would give it encouragement, and own it as a branch of the institution; but they merely appointed a committee to consider the subject, with power to furnish a room for the class. They decided, however, that it was inexpedient; and some of the board thought it wrong to take the funds of the society for the purpose. The class might have supported itself, if persons could have been admitted who were not members of the institution; but the rules of the class forbade it. In fact, the class adhered too closely to the rules of the parent for its own benefit; and was finally discontinued, for want of a little of that fostering care which the managers might have bestowed, with advantage to the parent institution as well as to the class. The plan of classes in connection with a large institution is better, in some respects, than so many small, independent societies, which are generally of short dura tion, as the removal of one or two active members is often sufficient to discourage the others, and sometimes to break up the society. The classes, on the other hand, can be filled up, from time to time, as long as they take an interest in the subject; and, when that fails, other classes may be formed, on subjects in which an interest is taken. By the concentration of talent and energy, with the various facilities afforded by a popular institution, the classes can be conducted with more economy, and greater benefit, than can in general be secured by the smaller societies for mutual improvement. Still, I would not depreciate the latter, which will do much good wherever they are carried on with the proper spirit; and there are many places where no other kind will succeed.
Among the many kindred societies that had adopted measures similar to those of this institution, may be named, as its greatest rival, the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. This was an old and powerful society, with plenty of funds; but the members were very careful how these funds were spent. For a long time, individual members had been trying to introduce something of an improving nature into the society; but, when the lectures were named, there were always a host against any such thing. The following has been related to me, as a specimen of the kind of opposition the liberal members had to contend with:
A proposition was made for a course of lectures on chemistry; on which a sensible member exclaimed, "What good will chemistry do us? If we want medicine, the cheapest way is to get it at an apothecary's shop." And, strange to say, such remarks, the offspring of very contracted views, had more weight with the majority than any thing that could be urged in favor of the proposed measure.
The association remained in this state when the Mechanics' Institution was formed; but the popularity of the latter soon brought the members of the former to their senses, and they actually voted one hundred dollars to a gentleman for a course of twelve lectures, which were delivered simultaneously with the second course given by the institution. From that time, the association has been progressing steadily; and there is some reason to hope that it will do much good in the end; for I have recently been informed that they are going on bravely in the work of improvement. "Mirabile dietu!" says my American correspondent, in 1837, "what can you guess has happeneda new comet discovered, caught, and analyzed, or one of the men in the moon fallen off and alighted among us, to prove the moon-story of last summer a hoax? No; not quite equal to that, but quite as improbable. The Mechanic Charitable Association have actually appropriated five thousand dollars, Boston currency, to get up a fair, like the New Yorkers and Philadelphians, next October. This is the consequence of a drubbing given them by their orator, Mr. Homer, at their last triennial celebration."
The Mechanics' Institution commenced on a liberal plan, paying twenty-five dollars for each of their lectures, which were so well attended that a repetition of them was