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Rhetoric and Public Affairs Series

Eisenhower's War of Words: Rhetoric and Leadership Martin J. Medhurst, Editor

The Nuclear Freeze Campaign: Rhetoric and Foreign Policy in the Telepolitical Age J. Michael Hogan

Mansfield and Vietnam: A Study in Rhetorical Adaptation Gregory A. Olson

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult

Robert P. Newman

Post-Realism: The Rhetorical Turn in International Relations Francis A. Beer and Robert Hariman, Editors

Rhetoric and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century America Thomas W. Benson, Editor

Frederick Douglass: Freedom's Voice, 1818-1845 Gregory P. Lampe

Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination Stephen Howard Browne

Strategic Deception: Rhetoric, Science, and Politics in Missile Defense Advocacy Gordon R. Mitchell

Rostow, Kennedy, and the Rhetoric of Foreign Aid Kimber Charles Pearce

Visions of Poverty: Welfare Policy and Political Imagination Robert Asen

General Eisenhower: Ideology and Discourse Ira Chernus

The Reconstruction Desegregation Debate: The Politics of Equality and the Rhetoric of Place, 1870-1875

Kirt H. Wilson

Shared Land/Conflicting Identity: Trajectories of Israeli and Palestinian Symbol Use Robert C. Rowland and David A. Frank

Darwinism, Design, and Public Education

John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, Editors

Religious Expression and the American Constitution Franklyn S. Haiman

Christianity and the Mass Media in America: Toward a Democratic Accommodation Quentin J. Schultze

Bending Spines: The Propaqandas of Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic Randall L. Bytwerk

Malcolm X: Inventing Radical Judgment Robert E. Terrill

Metaphorical World Politics

Francis A. Beer and Christ'l De Landtsheer, Editors

The Lyceum

and Public Culture

In the Nineteenth-Century United States

Angela G. Ray

Michigan State University Press East Lansing


Fleeting glimpses of leisure activity from the nineteenth-century United States imply a developing culture attracted to spectacle and technological innovation, quizzical about the potential of government. eager to regulate boundaries for public speech, intrigued with celebrity, and conscious of the performances of socioeconomic class. For example, magic-lantern slides of apes, monkeys, and baboons were a great hit during the 1829-30 lecture season in Concord, Massachusetts. A decade later, in January 1840, a debating club in Euclid, Ohio, considered the question "Does the present form of United States government possess the elements of perpetual duration?" After the debate, 90 percent of the members voted in the negative. In Cincinnati in 1852, the Young Men's Mercantile Library Association sponsored a lecture by Orestes Brownson, who denounced the popular Hungarian exile Louis Kossuth and was subsequently censured by the association for "travelling outside the proprieties of the lecture hall." On 14 March 1855, Charlotte Forten heard Ralph Waldo Emerson lecture in Salem, Massachusetts. In her diary, she pronounced Emerson "a fine lecturer, and a very peculiar-looking man." A year and a day later, in New Orleans, William Makepeace Thackeray lectured on the English king George IV. During the Civil War, lecture-goers of Providence, Rhode Island, heard Wendell Phillips's "The War; or, The Times," Henry Ward Beecher's "The Beautiful." and George Vandenhoffs readings from Don Quixote. In the early 1870s, the celebrity lecturer Anna Dickinson wrote to her mother from Kansas City, Missouri, of the "ostentation" of the West. of the "wonderfully fine clothes" of lecture-goers and the "ivory rings" on the harnesses of their horses.'

These incidents demonstrate a high degree of variability, yet owing to nineteenth-century rhetorical practice, they can be discussed as linked, if not continuous. Parts of a singular phenomenon, these and thousands of other ordinary moments were called by a single name: lyceum. The connections between these variable events, then, are both rhetorical and cultural. They are rhetorical first because they were associated through a public symbol. the word lyceum. This naming, as well as the regular enactment of ordinary activities under the rubric of the name, was symbolic action that constituted a self-representational public practice. The incidents performed as lyceum practice not only defined the parameters of what





lyceum activity could be but also gave participants a means of creating and maintaining a sense of themselves as individuals who were parts of groups, both local and national. Lyceum activity was thus a means of simultaneously making and expressing culture, understood as distinctive patterns in the behavior of human groups.? It is in the broad, neutral sense of symbolic action as culture-making practice that the word rhetoric is used in this book: here it is construed not as "art of the public speaker" or "empty words" but rather as "that art by which culture and community and character are constituted and transformed.'? The legal scholar James Boyd White's functional definition resonates with Kenneth Burke's claims that it is through the use of symbols that human beings represent themselves as selves, band together in groups, and create and destroy boundaries among those groups+ It is by rhetorical action that cultures are made. This book operates from the premise that the lyceum in the nineteenth-century United States was a discontinuous, culture-making rhetorical practice. In the particularity of ordinary moments, nineteenth -century Americans made sense of themselves and their world, and it is that process of "making sense"-shaping what would be validated as common beliefs and valuesthat this book attempts to explicate."

The history of the changing lyceum in the nineteenth century illustrates a process of expansion, diffusion, and eventual commercialization. In the United States in the late 1820s, a politically and economically dominant culture-the white Protestant northeastern middle class-institutionalized the practice of public debating and public lecturing for education and moral uplift. The lyceum in the 1820s and 1830s was characterized by organized groups in cities and towns, particularly in the Northeast and the Old Northwest, or what is now called the Midwest." These groups were established to promote debate, to create a setting for individual and group study, and to provide a forum for members to lecture to one another about their own areas of expertise. The groups also supported public schools and the founding of libraries, and they offered leisure activity for young people, especially young men, that contemporaries identified as morally sound. Some lyceum organizations continued debating and other participatory activities into the late nineteenth century. In the 1840s and 1850s, however, the most visible activity of many lyceums was the sponsorship of public lectures, which were presented for institutional profit as well as public instruction and entertainment. By the late 1860s, arranging lyceum lectures had become a lucrative commercial enterprise, and the most highly sought

platform celebrities during the Reconstruction era earned large incomes from lecturing.

Lyceum activity thus began as part of a movement for public education and self-improvement and gradually metamorphosed into commercial entertainment. Yet the function of entertainment (as acceptable use of leisure) was present in the discourse of early lyceum promoters, and an emphasis on learning remained salient in the lyceum's commercial phase. An oscillation between the functions of education and entertainment typifies nineteenth-century discussions of the lyceum. Indeed, the shifts in meaning of the term lyceum itself provide a lens through which to view this interplay.

The Word Lyceum

During the nineteenth century, the denotative and connotative meanings of the term lyceum changed as a result of common usage and public behavior. The term in the 1820s illustrated the classical interests of early promoters. Through use, it became a word to denote a widespread social practice, a specific local association, a building constructed for the use of such an association, and the programs and performances sponsored by such a group. As the explicitly educational emphases waned in the 1840s and 1850s, lyceum was paired, attributively, with terms like amusement or entertainment. Despite the changes, lyceum, as historian Carl Bode observed, "continued to stand, grandly if a little vaguely, for learning."?

To advocates of mutual-education societies in the 1820s and 1830s, the correlation between lyceum and learning was anything but vague. Early promotional materials present the lyceum as a return to the much-admired splendors of ancient Greece and also a herald of a new, broad-based democracy in the nineteenth-century United States. Athens was to be recreated in the New World, only better. In 1832 Josiah Holbrook, the lyceum's major promoter, explicitly identified the U.S. lyceum with the Lyceum in Athens, the garden with covered walkways adjacent to the temple of Apollo Lyceus where Aristotle taught his pupils in the fourth century B.C.E.8 The choice of lyceum, a Latin word derived from a Greek epithet for the god of the sun, emphasizes the classical training of the U.S. lyceum's college-educated advocates. Holbrook, for example, was a graduate of Yale.9 In addition, the term lyceum was associated with organizations that promoted the natural sciences, such as the eighteenth-century Lycee (later the Athenee) in Paris and the early nineteenth-century Lyceum of Natural




Iistory in New York.!? Holbrook's own commitments to science-fostered hrough his affiliation with Benjamin Silliman, Yale's first professor of .hemistry and natural history-meant that if the lyceum he envisioned iorrowed its name from an ancient Greek school, its main subject matter vas to be modern nineteenth-century science. The word lyceum carried ioth inflections for Holbrook and other antebellum elites.

Early advocates defended the choice of lyceum by identifying it as a 'neutral," "universal" term referring to no particular "class." In 1828 and 1829 the American Journal of Education stated that the term was chosen because it was perceived to be "classless.rl! Here class betokens meanings in addition to socioeconomic status; it suggests any kind of demographic grouping, by age, sex, or occupation. According to lyceum promoters, the term lyceum connoted inclusiveness. Whereas organizational names like Mechanics' Institute, Mercantile Library Association, or Young Men's Association imply 1 hat the societies target mechanics, mercantilists, or young men, a name like Davenport Lyceum or Euclid Lyceum implies a restriction on participation based only on geographic area.

Despite the rhetoric of inclusion, resistance to the term lyceum suggests conflicts over the assumptions about what could count as "classless." The connotations of the word lyceum could be quickly understood primarily by those few who had received a university education. Evidence indicates that some people complained that the term was too "learned," that it sounded too pretentious for a "popular institution" meant to have wide appeal, and, parochially, that an "English word" would be preferable to a Latin one. Despite such concerns, the promoters' favored Latin term was broadly adopted as itself an English word, and the "awkward plural." lyceums, was accepted as a minor evil.l2 Some institutions that were organized and operated as lyceums, however, chose association names with "class" -specific elements, like Young Men's Association or Mechanics' Lyceum. Still, the widespread acceptance ol the term lyceum (for names of associations and, more important, as a generic term for a set of activities) highlights the influence of the college-educated promoters of the movement and also the salience of classical references for this group. The rhetoric of "mutual instruction," of farmers and mechanics teaching each other, was coeval with a hierarchical model of instruction by the classically learned, who defined what knowledge counted as "useful" and the appropriate ends to which such useful knowledge should be put.l '

Holbrook did not use the word lyceum in a letter that he published anonymously in the October 1826 issue of the American Journal of

Education, the epistle credited with precipitating the founding of many mutual-education societies throughout the United States.l+ The term, however, was in use the following month when Branch Number 1 of the American Lyceum was founded in Millbury, Massachusetts. As such societies proliferated, the term lyceum quickly acquired new meanings referring to the activities and structure of these groups. In the 1840s mutual instruction gave way to a circuit of traveling lecturers, and scientific and literary topics shared billing with subjects of inspiration, moral uplift, and social reform. The term lyceum in phrases like lyceum lecture, lyceum circuit, and lyceum lecture system then connoted not science or neoclassicism but an organizational structure that supported popular lecturing for public amusement and institutional profit.

The term lyceum continued to be used throughout the century, but it waned after midcentury in published commentary. Popular lecture system frequently denoted the lecture circuits. In 1868 Thomas Wentworth Higginson observed the decline of the term lyceum. For him, the word meant instruction: "With the name 'Lyceum' is also passing away the 'Lyceum lecture.' The scholar recedes from sight, and the impassioned orator takes his place. There is no time for Longfellow to analyze 'Dante,' nor for Lowell to explain Hamlet, while Sumner thunders the terrors of the Lord against a delinquent President, or Anna Dickinson pleads for the enfranchisement of one half the human race." 15 Higginson articulated the shift as a change in performative style and in subject content. Although he was hyperbolic in his claims about the altered subject matter-literary lectures persisted as long as the lecture circuits did-Higginson provided a plausible explanation for the decline in the use of the term lyceum. In the 1850s and 1860s, as the lyceum system came to be conceived less as a means for diffusing practical knowledge than as a forum for the expression of controversy, the term lyceum in its earlier sense of an institution for public instruction also waned. Yet the term did remain in use. In the 1870s and 1880s, when the platform was seen less as a forum for controversy than as a stage for comics, humorists, singers, and impersonators, commercial management agencies like the Redpath Lyceum Bureau retained the nominal reference even as their "talent" changed.t> In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the term lyceum described the kinds of commercial entertainments promoted by the agencies called lyceum bureaus.

Despite the changes in social practice that altered the denotational meanings of the term, lyceum retained a connotational affiliation with learning, as Higginson demonstrated and Bode observed. The sense of the





lyceum as an institution with an educational purpose, articulated by early promoters, persisted into the commercial era. The oscillation in emphasis between education and entertainment coincided with a sense of the lyceum as serious or frivolous, of lyceum-goers as participants or spectators, of lyceum performers as teachers or talent. Although the general trajectory of lyceum activity can be described as moving from education to entertainment, both functional impulses existed together, often in tension, from the I820s Iorward.!? The word lyceum embodied the paradoxes of

playful learning and serious fun.18

The Lyceum as Culture-Making Rhetorical Practice

Historian David Waldstreicher asserts that patriotic celebratory rituals in the streets of the young republic, along with descriptions in print media that enabled the rituals to be duplicated elsewhere, contributed to the creation of U.S. nationalism.s'' Similarly, the phenomenon of the public lyceum lecture provided a mechanism for the production of a mass culture. Donald M. Scott argues that the lecture system "not only expressed a national culture; it was one of the central institutions within and by which the public had its existence.r-! In the mid-nineteenth century, many people, from Maine to Michigan and Minnesota to Maryland, would have seen the same lecturer give roughly the same speech, and the speeches and activities of prominent lecturers were reported in newspapers-in news reports as well as in advertising columns. Thus oral and print media combined to suggest not only what topics were salient to the lecture-going public but also which performers had risen to the ranks of the prominent. Participating in a culture requires shared knowledge (endoxa), and both the mutual-education societies and the sponsored public lectures of the nineteenth century educated the population about who they were and what was important to them. These institutions and events created a body of shared ideas and shared experiences, shaping a sense of nationhood through communal participation.

The lyceum can thus be seen as a site where public selves and public cultures were constituted. The lyceum is a place of constitutive rhetoric not in the strict sense of being a location in which people explicitly called selfhood or nationhood into being (as constitutions do, in phrases like "We the people"). Rather, it was a site where group identifications could become meaningful through the repetition of behavioral patterns, through recurring rhetorical acts.22 Without saying so explicitly, a lyceum-goer could enact a symbolic assertion: I go to the lyceum; I am an American; the lyceum is an American institution; what we do is what being American is. Ordinary, repeated behaviors in this quasi-civic arena were normalized and routinized, made available for subsequent labeling as "typical." Even without overt labeling, however, the regularly enacted behaviors demonstrated "normality" and "typicality."

The lyceum not only had a civic role in creating a sense of "Americanness" among disparate people spread over a large territory, but lyceum activity also provided a mechanism to affirm a specific New England culture as the national norm. The beliefs and values promoted in most lyceum venues had deep roots in the particularities of British American Protestantism, and participants came to understand these beliefs as N American."

What does it mean, practically, to understand lyceum activity as a culturemaking rhetorical practice that mixed the functions of public education and public entertainment? Such a presumption has implications for the conception of lyceum activity as well as for the analytical approach and scholarly attitude demonstrated in this study. It presumes the significance of symbolic action in creating public selves and public cultures, and it suggests an approach informed by both rhetorical criticism and cultural


Shaping Public Selves and Public Cultures Understanding the lyceum as a culture-making practice attends to the ways that lyceum participants established ideals of group membership through a complex self-representation-demonstrating by expressed word and enacted practice what being "American," for example, could and

did mean.

In the Jacksonian period, laws governing the franchise had been re-

cently altered to give voting rights to non-property-owning white men (with the simultaneous disenfranchisement of some white women and some free black men) .19 These policy changes precipitated much elite concern with improving public education, or, from another perspective, with ensuring the consonance of elite and nonelite norms and attitudes. At midcentury, the extension of canals and railroads had made travel and commerce easier over great distances and the development of the penny press had made reading material available to a large segment of the U.S. population. Various forces were then at work to weave an "American" nation that could encompass disparate people in varying places and conditions.





Studying the Lyceum as a

Rhetorical and Cultural Practice

Understanding the lyceum as a culture-making rhetorical practice requires an analytical approach that blends rhetorical criticism and cultural analysis. This study seeks to explain, broadly, how a nineteenth-century public practice contributed to cultural formation and change. Questions concerning the relationships between knowledge formation and public representations owe much to the work of rhetorical theorist Robert Scott and media theorist Stuart Hall, for example.25 Further, observations about the dvnamics of economic and political power, as well as the dispersion of such power, are informed by the work of Michel Foucault and myriad ideological and cul-

tural critics.

Scholars of rhetoric-an art of the particular-however, are guarded

about generalization. If criticism is most salient when its analytical approach emerges from "the nature of the acts that it studies," as Karlyn Kohrs Campbell recommended in 1979, then much depends on how the critical object is understood.26 "Lyceum practice" is ambiguous and e hemeral. encompassing disparate events spread broadly over space and

time. This study demonstrates the view that "lyceum practice" was simultaneously a broad cultural formation of collective self-representation and also a series of discrete, unique events or moments. Each of these moments is past and hence is not susceptible to direct critical apprehension. Yet the w~itte~ evidence that remains-in reminiscences, private correspondence, editorial commentary, speech texts-offers the potential for the creative rep~esentation of the past event, the past "text" that is "read" not directly but VIa surrogates. The surrogates-the editorials, diary entries, newspaper reports, personal letters-are read closely, following the lead of rhetorical critics like Michael Leff.27 Critical insights gleaned through multiple instances of such re-creative and creative "reading" of individual moments in lyceum practice then serve as elements of another "object" of study, a more general sense of the lyceum as a cultural artifact, an object made from ~ombi~ing readings of the traces of specific past events. This second object ~s a thmg made by the critic and rendered plausible (or not) by readers. It IS a sense of what the lyceum may have been, a site of nineteenth-century culture- making.

The process of paying close attention to specific moments, leading toward broader statements about cultural formation, does not itself require the ~cholar to exhibit a particular attitude. One can imagine such a study motivated by fury, for example. It is fair to readers at this point, however, for me to describe the attitudes that are likely to be found manifested in these pages. My training and my self-definition as a scholar encourage me to provide an account of events that is as complete and accurate as possible, while recognizing the limitations of extant sources and personal acumen: My attitude toward the people and events that I study, though, manifests not so much scholarly training as personal inclination. I think of these long-dead individuals as genuine, complex persons, with needs, values, and beliefs that seemed to them to be coherent and worthwhile. lowe the~ ~are and, to the extent that I can manage it, accuracy in representing their lives. I assume that my interpretations of their actions would not be c.ommensurate with their own, and I value those disparities as representanons of varying concerns of our differing eras. Although I believe that I ha,:,e a responsibility to evaluate the ethical consequences of their symbolic acnon. both for good and for ill, I begin from a position of empathy-not sympathy, for the differences between us are too vast for such affinity, but empathy, in the sense of an imaginative projection of understanding based on ~ recognition of shared humanity. A great-uncle of mine used to enjoy talking about U.S. history, especially about the ways that events had had

Indeed, as Andrew Rieser notes, "the rise of nativism after the lyceum vogue is not entirely coincidental."23 The lyceum as a public practice, however, also contained the potential for the subversion of some of the norms and ideals that Protestant New England upheld. The enacted self-representation included the validation of opposing views: I go to the lyceum; I am an American; we believe in debate, in allowing opponents to be heard; we believe in our fair-mindedness. As a location for the creation of a public culture, the lyceum, particularly as it developed in the middle of the nineteenth century, encompassed voices of reform. These reformist voices adapted familiar lyceum themes, presenting alternative models and suggesting modifications to accepted beliefs and values. The entertainme~t function of the lyceum both assisted reformers in gaining access to public platforms (sometimes as curiosities) and also constrained the potential r.eception of their ideas (since audience members could be comfortably dIStanced spectators).24 This study thus has a dual focus, examining dominant and reformist discourse. It explicates the ways that the lyceum contributed to the creation of the idea of a U.S. public-at a time of rapid change in land area, immigration, transportation and communication technology, and social roles-and the ways that lyceum activities promoted and also restricted the reception of voices raised in calls for social change.





an impact on our family. Not infrequently, he would shake his head and say, "They were living in their times."28 This attitude is not far distant from my own assumptions as a scholar. Understanding people in the past as "living in their times" does not excuse their errors or protect them even from our condemnation. It does, however, encourage us to make vigorous efforts to comprehend them prior to rendering judgment. This position is compatible with scholarship in rhetorical criticism that emphasizes the importance of situating texts carefully within their cultural contexts.I?

This study, therefore, focuses on specific moments and at the same time attempts to re-create a sense of the broader context in which such moments occurred.s? Indeed, it strives to present the "context" that such moments helped create as itself a rhetorical text. The parameters of this study are both spatial and temporal. Although the lyceum extended throughout the United States, North and South, East and West, this study is primarily restricted geographically to the hearth areas of lyceum practice, first New England and then the Old Northwest. The study is bounded temporally from the mid-1820s, when the lyceum was established as a coherent movement for mutual education, until about 1880, an arbitrary date following the panic of 1873, the 1874 founding of the Chautauqua Institution, and the decline in public interest in lyceum activity during the 1870s.

Chapter 1 provides a narrative account of nineteenth-century lyceum history, in order to establish an informational basis for understanding the typicality and the uniqueness of the case studies. The four cases form the core of the study. The first two cases consider lyceum practice primarily in its dominant mode, as the opinions and attitudes expressed and enacted by typical lyceum leaders, white Protestant men of the professional elite. Chapter 2 examines the Family Lyceum, a magazine published in Boston in 1832 and 1833 by lyceum founder and promoter Josiah Holbrook. The magazine can be read as a model suggesting the ways that the lyceum was envisioned by its major advocate. Chapter 3 investigates the judgments made by individuals in Milwaukee in the mid-1850s about the popular lectures sponsored by the local lyceum, the Young Men's Association of the City of Milwaukee. Milwaukee was a major site on the developing lecture circuit in the Northwest in the 1850s, and the Young Men's Association was that city's primary sponsor of public lectures. The relevant texts used in this analysis include the minutes of the association's board of directors, the private correspondence of the association's president, and the advertisements and editorial commentary concerning the lectures from newspapers published in Milwaukee at the time. The analysis explicates the ways

:::{~:::k:nts were made of what could count as a good popular lecture e only a few years after Wisconsin statehood Such d "

contributed to th . . eosIOns

Th hi e mamtenance of the young city's cultural environment

. e t ird a~d fourth cases turn away from dominant discourse to exa~me the potentials and constraints of the lyceum on the utterances of social r~fo~mers. The two reformers studied-Frederick Douglass and A Dickinson were' . nna I - major national figures who were celebrated as lyceum

ecturers. Cha~ter 4 takes as its text the extant lyceum lectures of Frederick

Douglass, partIcularly from the late 1850s through the mid-1870 A

of speeches-"The Races," "SeU-M d " " s. group

. . a e Men, and Our Composite

NatIOnahty"-illustrates Douglass's adaptations of fa '1' 1

. d rm iar yceum themes

~n or .er to convey the centrality of African American experience in Am _

ican hfe. Chapter 5 t di . er

s u res mvennon and reception in "Whit d S I

h " I I e epu -

: res, ~ ~ceum lecture given in 1869 and 1870 by the celebrity lecturer

n~a Dlckms.on. Incorporating personal letters that Dickinson wrote to her

family, a partial preparation text in Dickinson's Own hand and 1

t hi , a camp ete

~ en~grap IC account of one performance of the lecture, this reading of

W~lted Sepulchres" suggests that it can be understood as a popular modification . of. the Protestant sermonic form. In its language and its perform-

ance' Dickinson', lecture illustrates the ways that the lyceum id d

me h . f . prOVI e a

c a~Ism or mtroducing feminist critique to a mass audience but also

c~nstraIned the form and reception of that critique. The appendixes in-

fic ude. texts of Douglass's and Dickinson's that are published here for the rst nrne,

Chapter 1 establishes the framework within which lyceum participants :nacted a self-representational practice. Chapters 2-5 investigate discrete

instances of lyceum activit . h

. y, movmg c ronologically from 1832-33 to th

mid-rsso, then b idzi h " e

. ' n ging t e CIvIl War and ending in 1869-70 31 Th 1

non f h . . e oca-

s ~r t ese Instances shift first from Boston, at the center of the

lyceum s New England hearth, to Milwaukee, in the Old Northwest the lyceum's. most prominent area in the 1850s. In Douglass's own 'self-

presentation and in his verbal hasl 1

h' . ernp asis on s avery and its aftermath, the

t ~d case e~bo.dles both the links and the discontinuities between North an South. Dickinson's speech in the fourth case was based on an 1869 tri through ~he West ~o Utah and California, thus illustrating the expansion ~ a: Amencan. empire from ocean to ocean. Chapter 6 links the themes of t . e case studies to examine the varying forms of rhetorical action in the nmeteenth-century lyceum.



This book thus proposes an understanding of the lyceum as a cultural practice of self-representation, investigating the ways that rhetorical processes created, maintained, and challenged a particular set of New England ideals as an "American" norm. It explores the interaction of the functions of education and entertainment, and it explicates the types of knowledge proposed and demonstrated as "useful" for a democratic republic. The study also represents an area of inquiry little examined by scholars. Prior book-length studies of the lyceum date from the 1950s: David Mead's Yankee Eloquence in the Middle West (1951) and Carl Bode's American Lyceum (1956).32 This book, informed by rhetorical and cultural history and criticism, tells a story of a public practice, of an intellectual history, of entertainment and education, of wisdom and foolishness, of compassion and avarice. Its stories are multiple, both mundane and extraordinary. Through the lens of the lyceum, we see images of the complex and contradictory world of the nineteenth century, a time of tragedy and hope that continues to influence our lives.t>


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment

pUbliC education in useful, "practical science" was the expressed goal of . the lyceum movement of the 1820s. Typically, well-to-do British American Pr~t:stant men banded together in villages and towns to read original

IcompositlOns, to debate questions of policy and value, to present and hear

ectures, and to enjoy th .

t e compamonable presence of their peers. Within

wo or th~ee decades, many local lyceums had become institutions for the sponsorsh.lp ~f lectures presented to the fee-paying public. The develo _ :ent"of circutts for traveling lecturers fostered the creation of "public le~-

rer as an occ~patio~al category. By the late 1860s commercial management agencies enjoyed considerable success in arranging appearances not only for lecturers but also for musicians comics and I'm

ators (F . li ' , person-

The or a time me of the nineteenth-century lyceum, see appendix 1.)

. lyceum as a cultural practice is best understood functionally. It legitimated the cultural and intellectual leadership of the economically and


Chapter One

From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


socially powerful, engineering public consent to d~minant New Englan~

lues Yet paradoxically, a major democratic-republIcan value was the ~al

va . h 1 rovided a mechamsm

idation of a culture of critique, and thus t e ~ce~m.p. I

for the public expression of controversy, albeit within contamed forms.

This chapter traces the history of the nineteenth-century U.S. lyceum, focusing primarily on its dominant British American mode. The lyceu~ was widespread and diverse, and no generalization presented here la~ks Its

. This chapter highlights the characteristics of the lyceum m the

exceptIOns. h 1820 d locations in which it was ubiquitous: in the f~om t e . s an _

in the Old Northwest from the 1840s. Tracing the shifts in ~mphasls on ed

t. and entertainment and on the role of controversy m lyceum prac-

uca Ion . f him from

. the chapter charts the transformatIOn 0 t ~ yceu

:~~ual-education society to a forum for celebrity entertamment. The sec-

. h 1 lyceum emphasizes both the rhetoric of early promoters

non on t e ear y . 1"

d the ways in which cultural practice adapted the promouone vlSl~n.

an highlights commeroal-

The section on the popular lyceum lecture system .

.' h ., the development of lecture circuits, conceptIOns of

IzatIOn, emp asizmg .

mass audiences, and the emerging culture of celebnty.

Just as the Pittsfield cattle show had its precursors, so educational institutions like the one established at Millbury had existed previously. At Millbury, however, writes historian Carl Bode, the lyceum "as a social institution," as a movement, gained substance." This new movement had a leader, a constituency, promotional activities, an organizational structure, and explicit goals. The form and expressed purposes of the lyceum owed much to the vision promoted energetically by the educational reformers who were the lyceum's most ardent champions.

The Early Lyceum

" mantras of the early

"Useful knowledge" and "republican virtue were . "

nineteenth century. With the new country frequently identified as an ~x. ent" in democracy, the success of the endeavor depended on ta~pmg penm 11" the potential of the skills and potentials of the citizenry-and contro mg . h d

b le Although only a tiny fraction of the white male populatIOn a

mo ru . . f hit b sand

access to colleges and universities, primary educatIon or w I e oy d

'd d i New England and on the increase elsewhere. E u-

girls was WI esprea m b t not all of cational reformers of the early nineteenth century, many u hid

hom were New Englanders, encouraged public support of sc 00 s an the improvement of teacher training. In addition, reformers stressed the it of adult education This emphasis fostered the development and

necessi y . . 1 1 fair and the

diff 'on of two New England institutions: the agncu tura

I USI dest d t omote utilitarian knowl-

1 ceum. Both were social structures esigne 0 pr. .'

y . 12Th U S agricultural fair traces Its history to edge among workmg peop e. e·· t the

a "cattle show" in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1810, and the lyceu~, 0 '11

founding of Millbury Branch Number 1 of the American Lyceum m MI -

bury, Massachusetts, in 1826.

The Promoters' Vision

In October 1826, a month before the founding of the Millbury Lyceum, editor William Russell published an unsigned letter in the Boston-based periodical the American Journal of Education under the title "Associations of Adults for Mutual Education" (transcribed herein as appendix 2).4 This twelve-hundred-word epistle was written by Josiah Holbrook, a Yaleeducated farmer, teacher, and scientific lecturer (figure 1). It described Holbrook's conception of a nationwide network of associations that would foster learning among youth and adults. The purposes for mutual-education societies described in this letter can be refined to two foci: an inward focus on improving the individual, situated within a communal structure, and an outward focus on improving the products of economic and social activity. That is, mutual-education societies could raise "moral and intellectual taste"-here Holbrook echoes the Scottish rhetorician Hugh Blair-and could also improve economic production." Such purposes emphasized the value of "useful knowledge" in creating a social realm consonant with elite ideals. Holbrook's letter displays the powerful earnestness of an Enlightenment faith in human progress and perfectibility and in the possibility for creating social cohesion through collective enterprise.

Holbrook theorized progress fueled by collective learning. In his vision for lyceums, groups of individuals would meet regularly in towns and villages throughout the country, teaching each other from their own areas of expertise (e.g., engineering, farming, bookkeeping, the law) or studying important and useful subjects in company (e.g., chemistry, mineralogy, botany, history). Each group might, when it seemed desirable, obtain instructional lecturers from outside the society. In addition, the society would form a nucleus for intellectual activity in a community." Holbrook's plan showed the influence of British mechanics' institutes, established in the early nineteenth century to provide instruction to workers, especially in fields directly related to their occupations." The implicit and sometimes


Chapter One

Figure 1. Josiah Holbrook (1788-1854). Reprinted from the American Journal of Education 8 (1860), frontispiece.

explicit focus on the improvement of the products of work-:-pa~ticularly i~ farming and manufacturing-established a capitalist underpmmng as a pn-

mary motive for education.

In 1828 a lyceum advocate, the Reverend Asa Rand of Bost~n, asserted

that practical breadth, not scholarly depth, was the a~propnate goal ?f

bli d t· n "Shall I be told that this plan will make superficial

mass pu IC e uca 10 .

scholars?" he asked. "Sir, I trust it will not; for the sum total ~f my hopes

from it are, that it will make them thorough. Not indeed extensively: not as

From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


finished scholars; not as men of great science. But, as far as they go through, scholars; men of thought and reason; practical men, well versed in the various parts of a thorough popular education.w Rand's argument split the population on an intellectual basis, dividing it into an elite scholarly class and the mass public. Educating, or "leading forth" (Latin educate, "to lead forth"), workers did not mean challenging or reconstituting the elites. This bifurcation remained subtextual: the lyceum was promoted on democratic grounds, as an intellectual leveler.? Yet the lyceum was presumed to function by raising the mass not from ignorance to abstract scholarship but from ignorance to useful, practical knowledge that could be applied in daily working life. This idea of public education restricted systematic learning and scholarship to an authoritative elite and thus reinforced the cultural power of that class, while simultaneously providing a means for the general diffusion of the products of elite industriousness, such as books and other instructional materials.

In addition to economic incentives, moral concerns also motivated public education. Not only would widespread adult education advance the intellects of participants and improve their job performance and the products of their labor, but the provision of acceptable leisure activity would also create distractions from forms of leisure considered unacceptable. At the top of this list was the frequenting of "grogshops." Young men, particularly the young men who had moved into boardinghouses to work in the new factories and mills of the Northeast, away from direct family influence and supervision, tended to be the subjects of concern for the educational and social reformers of the 1820s and 1830s.1O Drinking, gambling, fighting, hiring prostitutes-such activities were the targets of nineteenth-century crusades. If leisure was dangerous, a time when "insidious inroads of vice" were "ever ready to be made"-according to William Russell-then a leisure activity that would distract young men would protect them and would also counteract evil forces. I I Education, lyceum promoters said, would provide this path to moral improvement.

Although the potential benefits to political life did not emerge explicitly in Holbrook's October 1826 letter, the value of educational associations to a democratic society quickly became part of the rhetoric of lyceum advocates. The principle of basing voting rights on property ownership was being eroded, and discussions in many forums questioned the longterm stability of the u.S. "experiment" that gave a large segment of the population control over the mechanisms of government. In this milieu, many promoters of public education argued that only a knowledgeable


Chapter One

public could be trusted to make good decisions and to remain skeptical of demagogues. In 1828, for example, A. C. Flagg, superintendent of common schools of the state of New York, argued that instruction in reading, writing, and the duties of citizenship "should be coextensive with universal suffrage." Later that same year, the American Journal of Education noted with approval that some lyceums sponsored debates on political and legal affairs, debates "involving principles of expediency, rather than science."12

Holbrook himself, whose plan for lyceums emerged from his commitments to scientific pursuits, argued in 1833 that lyceums were strongly republican in character. Organized voluntarily by mechanics and farmers, the lyceum, he said, "aims at the diffusion of knowledge among all classes, all ages, and both sexes. Its doors are open as wide to the poor as to the rich." Although the material realities of lyceum practices rarely lived up to HoI·· brook's inclusionary designs, it is significant that he argued for the establishment of lyceums on the grounds of promoting broad-based democracy. He also linked political, moral, and religious rationales with the need for public education. "Without moral and christian [sic] freedom," he wrote, "there is no Republicanism .... the christian code, and those built upon it, are alone republican in reality, in their tendency-their results. That makes all free, and equally free-free from the chains and the lash of a master without, and a more cruel and unrelenting master within-free from the chains of a slave-ship-a heartless politician-an aspiring demagogue-a

f . f 'It"13

cruel despot-from ignorance-from bigotry- rom passlOn- rom gm .

Using imagery from colonial America-freedom from the tyranny of an external oppressor-that also resonated with contemporary reformist impulses for emancipation and abolition, Holbrook argued that true freedom was a form of directed Christian morality.

The early lyceum, then, was promoted simultaneously as a means of

controlling the potential of mob rule and as a means of expanding individual opportunity. Freedom, that is, was ideally enacted within a preexisting framework. The lyceum promoters thus exhibited their own inculcation of the values that historian Daniel Walker Howe has identified as part of American Victorianism. "The intended product of Victorian didacticism," Howe writes, "was a person who would no longer need reminding of his duties, who would have internalized a powerful sense of obligation and could then safely be left to his own volitions."!" This formulation resonates with Foucauldian discipline: the one who is disciplined inculcates the behavioral norms, and even the forms of thought, of the disciplinarian, to such an extent that the presence of an external disciplinarian becomes


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


unnecessary.t> To identify the lyceum as a mechanism of social control. then, is both accurate and simplistic, since almost any institutional structure can be understood as a means of social control. What is especially instructive in the rhetoric of the lyceum promoters and educational reformers of the 1820s and 1830s is the coexistence of the manifestation of elite power and the extension of the educational advantages that partially made elite norms less exclusive.

The role of controversy in the rhetoric of early promoters, however, highlights the extent to which promotional discourse represented public debate as an activity appropriate for elites, not part of public "education." Holbrook and other early lyceum promoters attempted to create a free space for educational inquiry, but this "free space" was conceived not as a forum for the expression of all and sundry ideas but rather as a place set aside, apart, free from sectarian religious conflicts and partisan politics.!v This suppression of conflict had two sources. First, early promoters understood lyceum education not as training in discussion, in which contingent truths were expressed and negotiated, but as the transmission of preexisting fact from individuals who were more learned to those who were less learned. Such activity was meant to occur in turns, with individuals alternately playing the roles of teacher and pupil. Conflict in the creation of what would count as knowledge was not part of the envisioned lyceum curriculum. Rather, diligent pupils would learn to observe and comprehend information. Second, lyceum organizers and promoters had a vision of the lyceum as a movement that would encompass children and adults, men and women, lawyers and blacksmiths, farmers and masons. Suppressing religious sectarianism and partisan politics had the practical function of making a space for learning in a context of harmony. The gendered dimension was especially salient: if the lyceum was to be a place appropriate for respectable women, then conventions of the day required the rhetorical containment of conflict and controversy.

Holbrook's own publications emphasized lyceum activity as a practice that was broadly Christian and patriotic but neither sectarian nor partisan. (Christianity, however, meant Protestantism.) Reporting on a lecture titled "Business and Study" given at an organizational meeting of a lyceum in Brighton, Massachusetts, Holbrook in 1832 observed that denominational religious conflict was absent: "It is gratifying to learn that on this occasion, as on most others of a similar character, all denominations found a subject and object in which they could unite with unanimity and with spirit." Further, whereas he argued that the lyceum was a fundamentally republican


Chapter One

institution that would provide a training ground for patriots, he rejoiced at the close of the 1832 presidential election and called on newspaper editors "to direct, not only their attention, but a portion of that systematic and combined effort towards the great and common cause of Education, that has been employed for the conflicting cause of politics."!" For Holbrook, education and partisan politics, education and sectarian religion, were separate enterprises.

As individuals in cities and towns organized lyceums and operated them for their own purposes, they embodied the promoters' vision. As people throughout the young country began to congregate in groups and form lyceums, however, the promotional vision of participatory education with intellectual, economic, moral, and political benefits was altered to meet felt needs in specific locations.

Diffusion from Millbury Beginnings

In November 1826 thirty or forty men, manufacturing workers and farmers, formally established a mutual-education society in the Worcester County town of Millbury, Massachusetts. Acting under Holbrook's guidance, they called their society Millbury Branch Number 1 of the American Lyceum.!" Holbrook planned a nationwide network of such groups, organized in an orderly hierarchy. He forecast a system of village and town lyceums; from these, representatives would create county lyceums, from which state lyceums and then a national lyceum would emerge. Although a loosely organized national American Lyceum did meet annually from 1831 to 1839, lyceum activity always occurred primarily at the level of the town or village. 19

The diffusion of the lyceum was accomplished through vigorous promotional activity. Holbrook traveled extensively throughout the country, giving scientific lectures and promoting the establishment of lyceums. In addition to using the resources of an oral culture, Holbrook and other lyceum supporters used the available print media. Word spread about the lyceum through periodicals, through newspaper reports, and especially through the pamphlets, circulars, and instructional materials that Holbrook himself published.I''

Holbrook's efforts SOOll produced a bumper crop of town and village organizations. Prompted by the founding of the Millbury Lyceum, several other towns in Worcester County also organized lyceums. The American Journal of Education described this organizational activity as morally and spiritually infectious: "The spirit excited in Worcester county [sic] has

From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


already found its way into others, and there is a prospect if not a certainty, that several towns in other counties will adopt the plan in a few weeks."21 By October 1828 Russell's journal could report that the lyceum "seems to be rapidly extending over the Ncw-Bngland States" and that between 50 and 60 local associations existed.22 In 1831 William C. Woodbridge's American Annals of Education, citing the American Spectator, reported between 800 and 1,000 town lyceums. By 1839 there would be between 4,000 and 5,000 groups, extending from New England west to Missouri and south to Florida. In the same year, Massachusetts alone boasted 137 lyceums.23 A Boston meeting in 1828, chaired by Daniel Webster, had resulted in the formation of an association in that city; by 1833, 15 lyceums operated in Boston. The year 1829 saw the founding of the Concord Lyceum, which would later count among its members Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Amos Bronson Alcott. The lyceums at Salem and Lincoln were established in 1830. In the early 1840s many New England lyceums failed, owing not least to the sense that the associations were luxuries in the aftermath of the economic panic of 1837. Lyceums in the hearth area of Massachusetts, however, continued to prosper.e'

Following the establishment of the Millbury Lyceum in 1826, lyceums also cropped up in the West. The Cincinnati Lyceum, for example, incorporated in 1831, and that same year the residents of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, were hearing weekly lyceum lectures. Lyceums in Cleveland and st. Louis were operating in 1832, and the Chicago Lyceum began in 1834. In 1838 the Young Men's Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, heard a lecture against mob violence, "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions," by the local lawyer Abraham Lincoln. The Milwaukee Lyceum began in early 1839, and that same year saw the founding of a lyceum in Davenport, Iowa.25 Such western organizations were not uncommon during the time that the New England lyceum exhibited such optimistic growth, but the period of significant expansion in the West occurred later, particularly from the mid- 1840s through the mid-1850s. Texas chartered lyceums at Austin in 1841, Galveston in 1845, Houston in 1848, and Brownsville in 1849. In the 1850s lyceums were established in Minnesota, Kansas, and Nebraska and as far west as central California.26

The Early Lyceum's Buildings, Membership, and Activities

The town or village lyceums of the 1820s and 1830s met in public spacesin churches, schools, or town halls-and sometimes in purpose-built


Chapter One

lyceum halls. Holbrook's published plans for the lyceum included a proposal for a two-story village lyceum hall (see figure 2). In 1832 Holbrook suggested that such a building could be built for about $2,000, payable through subscriptions. He extolled the virtues of such buildings in terms designed to appeal to the civic-minded patriot. "A place of general intellectual and social resort," he wrote, would be "a bulwark to our nation's liberties and a monument to our nation's glory."27 Some lyceums built their own halls; others sought glory elsewhere than in edifices and chose to meet in existing buildings. When the Salem, Massachusetts, Lyceum was founded in 1830, lectures took place in the Methodist Meeting House and then in the Universalist Meeting House. In January 1831, however, the group met in Lyceum Hall, a structure built for the lyceum at a cost of just over $3,000. The decorations of this hall created an explicit connection between classical learning and the enlightenment sought by the nineteenthcentury lyceum promoters: on the ceiling above the stage was a painting of Apollo Lyceus in his chariot, and the front walls included fresco paintings of Cicero and Demosthenes as well as two of Salem's leaders. In Concord, the local lyceum met in a variety of venues during the first twenty-two years of its existence: a local academy building, the more centrally located Centre Brick School House, the vestry of the Orthodox Meeting House, and the vestry of the First Parish. Beginning in 1851, the lyceum met at the Concord Town Hall. The Franklin Lyceum in Providence, Rhode Island, founded in 1831, also met in local halls, such as the Masonic Hall, and it erected its own Lyceum Hall. In 1844 the organizers of the new Lyceum and Library Society in New Orleans immediately began making plans to acquire "a lot and building in a central position."28

Costs for membership in lyceums that followed Holbrook's 1826 model were $1.00 for a year's membership and $10.00 for a life membership; by 1828 Holbrook had doubled the suggested fees, to $2.00 and $20.00, respectively.I? Members of individual organizations, however, departed from published formulas as it suited their perceptions of local circumstances. At its January 1829 founding, the Concord Lyceum charged $2.00 for an annual membership to an individual who lived within the center school district of Concord and $1.00 to a member outside the district; a person under eighteen could pay half the requisite fee and become a nonvoting member, and $10.00 would gain an adult a life membership. The Salem Lyceum, which was from the first a lecture organization more than a debating club, charged $1.00 for a "gentleman's ticket" to a season's course of lectures <Inn ~O.75 for a "ladies' ticket," provided that the "lady" was appropriately

Figure 2. Plan for a lyceum building. The cabin .

mineral collections instruction I. et room was Intended to house Pamil L ' a eqUIpment, and a library. Reprinted from

y yceum 1, no. 15 (24 November 1832): 59.


Chapter One

"introduced" by a "gentleman." When Downingtown, Pennsylvania, about twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, began its lyceum in 1841, $0.25 could obtain a membership to this lecture and debating society. The Franklin Lyceum in Providence, which operated from 1831 to 1881, never charged more than $4.00 for an annual membership. This fee, less than 10 percent of the cost of a year's membership to one of the city's elite postwar social clubs, was nonetheless out of reach for the immigrant workers of the

~~w .

It is difficult to determine the extent to which lyceum memberships or tickets to public lectures were economically accessible to various members of the community. In 1832 the daily wage of a male shipbuilder in New England was about $1.25; a common laborer earned $0.68. Female wage workers earned substantially less: in the same year, a New England woman working in cotton manufacturing earned $0.41 per day; a domestic earned $0.32 plus board.>! If we assume that a wage worker in a Massachusetts town or city could spend approximately 6 percent of income on nonnecessities, then a dollar-a-day worker would use all discretionary income for seventeen workdays in order to pay for a $1.00 annual lyceum membership or for a $1.00 ticket to a course of lectures.t- The poorest members of a community, even if perchance they felt welcome at town lyceums, w~ich tended to be run by the local elite, would probably find the fees excessive. For merchants or skilled workers, and particularly for the wealthy, however, lyceum fees were comparatively low. In 1832 Holbrook compared the relative value of a $2.00 annual lyceum membership with hiring a horse and chaise at $2.00 for a day. The cost of dancing school, he wrote, was at least $10.00 per quarter, and attending two balls would cost at least $10.00 per couple. With the cost of ardent spirits at $0.06 per glass, Holbrook calculated that a town would do well to construct a lyceum building rather than a tavern, considering only the town's "pecuniary prosperity. "33

The participation in lyceums represented by the membership rolls varied from place to place. The Concord Lyceum was established with 57 men; 25 men formed the initial membership of the lyceum of Lincoln, Massachusetts. The Franklin Lyceum in Providence began with only 4 members, although it grew to 690 active members by 1859. Forty-seve.n men sign~d the constitution of the Downingtown Lyceum.t+ The Franklm Lyceum did not admit women to membership until 1870, but the Lincoln, Massachusetts, Lyceum took this step in February 1835. The constitution of the Lincoln Lyceum was amended to offer full membership to "Ladies" who signed the constitution; they were not to be assessed any fees.35


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


Holbrook envisioned the lyceum as an institution for all ages and both sexes and for the poor as well as the rich. The town or village lyceum was the most common and most lasting type of lyceum, however, and membership in many of these early lyceums appears to have been confined to elite or upwardly mobile men of the community. The rolls of many early town lyceums contain a preponderance of names accompanied by clerical. medical, and judicial titles, and lyceums attracted the likes of Webster Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. '

Lyceum activities, though, particularly public lectures, involved a broader segment of the local population. GOing to the lyceum became a chief means of acceptable diversion and social interaction in many towns and villages. A newspaper editor in Davenport, Iowa, opined in 1839 that "if courtship is a science, then indeed is our Lyceum a most excellent school." In 1879 the Concord Lyceum celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and one of its first members, E. R. Hoar, reminisced about audiences for lyceum lectures: "For fifty years, through these successive winters, the old and the young have come here together to see each others' faces, the young men and maidens sometimes, perhaps, with other views than ~trictly intellectual culture, but all of us friendly, neighborly, and engaged In a pursuit innocent and wholesome." The minutes of the Concord Lyceum for 1837 imply that the families of members could attend lyceum events, whether or not they were designated as "public" lectures. Although most commentators on the early lyceum referred to audiences as harmonious, harmony was sometimes broken. The Concord Lyceum twice resorted to establishing committees intended to curtail "whispering and playfulness," to keep "order among the boys and others disposed to disturb the lectures." In 1831 the lyceum in Eastport, Maine, discussed a formal prohibition on heckling Undoubtedly, though, many platform speakers became skilled at parrying with hecklers. As an entertainment, the lyceum lecture could offer both social sanction and an opportunity for interaction and frolic.

Contemporaries frequently discussed the broad appeal of the lyceum. In 1830 the American Journal of Education published a report from the Herald of Newburyport, Massachusetts, describing the remarks of a Judge Cummins, who had attended public lectures at lyceums in Worcester, Concord, and Northampton. He claimed that he saw a cross section of the community at these lectures, "the mechanics and the traders, and the laboring classes generally. There were the most intelligent gentlemen in the place and the most respectable families. And what, after all, perhaps, was the best of it,


Chapter One

and what ought not by any means to be omitted or forgott~n, wa~ that those families not only went there themselves but the; car~:;d o~h~~rW~~I-

. ith them "37 The women workers in the texti e rru s ,

rnestics WI . 30 d ne Harvard Massachusetts, attended lyceum lectures in the 18 .s, an 0 kina."

b d "I have never seen anywhere so assiduous note-ta mg.

lecturer 0 serve r h L ell mill

Whereas some of the so-called lyceum trippers among t e . o~

k 'dentl'fied the lectures as "precious privileges" for their Improve-

wor ers I .' b t'" castle

nt others were more skeptical, indicating cunostty a ou au k

me , hei t "38 Such a remar building by people who had time to indulge t elf tas es. h b

b tt ded the lecture as muc to 0 -

indicates that some audience mem ers a en ,

.' 1 t be "improved" from the lecture s content.

serve the exhibited ecturer as 0 h . b

1 ceum in its later phases would be roundly criticized for avmg e-

The y fib 't' but the Lowell mill worker's remark suggests

come a forum or ce e n les, . . .

that spectatorship and public display were part of lyceum activity even in

the~::~Ye~;;~ol~ceums were operated by and for the benefit of the ~hite

t f ith European Amencans

It' of English ancestry and Protestan a . .

popu a IOn . . t appear rarely m

of non-English ancestry, particularly recent Immlgran s. . I ,rEd

1 1 In 1836 however, the American Anna s oJ -

accounts of the ear y yceum., . 11 . P n

. t d that lyceums in German ethnic areas, especia y m en -

=»: repor e 11 t d 39 Some free African Americans, especially

sylvallia were we suppor e . . .

in nort~ern cities, founded and ran lyceums for themselves .. The maJorty

of earl lyceums, however, were operated by British Amencan men or thems~ves and their families and peers. The lyceum was, therefore, one. of

h b which this powerful group solidified its sense of commulllty,

t e means Y . d fi . hat would

by sharing "knowledge" and, through this practice, e nmg w

count as useful and practical. 1

The specific structure of lyceum activities varied markedly fro.m ~ :~:~~

1 The adult members of some lyceums, for example, orgamze

~e~~:~ into classes, studying subjects like chemistry, astronomy: or geolog~~ then resented explanatory demonstrations to the. enure. group. ~~~er lYCe~ms were organized as a combination of a debatmg society and 1 a

1 Th Concord Lyceum for examp e.

society for the sponsorship of ectures. e 'd d

. its first five months of operation in 1829 heard eleven lectures an em I . Debates and lectures were usually scheduled for albated four questiOns.. .' . d as schools for

k 41 Some lyceum organizatIOns funcuone

ternare wee s. , 1 bined myriad

. d dults 42 other [vceums ambitious y com I

chilc1ren an young a . . ed

. 1832-33 sponsored lectures, orgamz

functions: the Boston Lyceum m h . d

debates, and conducted classes in elocution and debate, r etonc an


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


composition, astronomy, geography and history, and the French language.v' Most lyceums met weekly, in the evening, from fall to early spring. From 1837 to 1844, however, it was possible to live an around-theclock lyceum life at the Lyceum Village in Berea, Ohio. The village, wrote Holbrook, was "designed for a Scientific Education, in connexion with productive industry. "44 In short activities sponsored by early lyceums varied considerably. The unifying threads were participatory activity and a rhetorical commitment to the diffusion of general knowledge.

Members' debates and sponsored public lectures were the two lyceum activities most common in early practice and, indeed, throughout the nineteenth century. Although lyceum promoters discouraged the articulation of controversial subject matter in public lectures, lyceum participants could enact controversies within the less public context of debates.

In Holbrook's promotional materials, public education and public controversy existed in two separate realms. Yet debating and persuasive speaking were firmly fixed in the minds of many nineteenth-century individuals as an inextricable part of "education." Western education for centuries had included practice in formal argumentation and debate; debating as a pedagogical practice can be traced to the Greek Sophist Protagoras of Abdera in the fifth century B.C.E.45 Such practice was construed and enacted as serious fun: it taught students research techniques, critical thinking, and public speaking and also involved pleasurable interaction with others. The debating activity of many early lyceums appears to have been modeled on debates that occurred in nineteenth-century U.S. college literary societies.46 Lyceum members involved in formal debating created a space for the discussion of issues involving social values and public policy. In extemporaneous debating, lyceum members practiced engaging in controversy but in a controlled, restricted setting. This was activity shared with one's social peers, not usually presented for the collective gaze of the general public.

Lyceum debates involved matters of policy (how should our town or state or nation solve a given problem?) or matters of value (which decision would bring the greatest benefit? what is right or wrong?). Questions pertaining to contemporary politics involved local, state, and national issues.s? Many lyceums debated major policy questions concerning the treatment of Native Americans, the emancipation of southern slaves, the role of women in public life, and the appropriateness of capital punishment.v' Lyceums also debated issues of personal and social practice, such as the wearinz of



Chapter One

mourning attire and the benefits to "civilized man" in abstaining from "animal Iood.t+?

Further, lyceum participants developed skills in critical thinking through debates evaluating historical decisions, such as "Was the destruction of tea in Boston harbor during the Revolution justifiable?" debated in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1836, or "Was Queen Elizabeth justifiable in her treatment and final execution of Mary Queen of Scots?" debated in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, in 1841.50 Such questions, which required historical research, were similar to questions debated in U.S. college literary societies and were thematically linked to topics taught by Rome's Elder Seneca."! Questions evaluating relative benefits were also common debating topics for lyceums. Many of these questions had a scholastic ring, although they required definitional clarity and critical assessments. The Concord Lyceum in 1833, for example, debated the question "Does the Pulpit or the Bar afford the greatest field for Eloquence?" The lyceum in Davenport, Iowa, in I R40 asked, "Which is the greatest injury to a community, a Thief or a Tattler?,,52 Such questions provided exercises in argumentation and speaking as well as entertainment for participants.

In lyceum debating, controversial topics were introduced and articulated, albeit in a highly formalized, agonistic way. Each question had two and only two sides; at the end of the evening, debate ceased when a decision was imposed through adjudication. 53 One side or the other ended the evening in the ascendancy. This was not a ritual of discussion or compromise seeking. Yet it was also a ritual based on a cooperative framework: the advocates of opposing viewpoints agreed to allow their opponents the same opportunities to be heard that they reserved for thernselves.v' As a self-representational practice, then, lyceum debating suggested that public controversies were appropriately addressed in restricted forums by men, that controversies were orderly and could be parsed into two opposing viewpoints, and that decisions on major issues could be reached through the formal performance of debate and a ritualistic vote, which amounted to a selection of one perspective or the other, not compromise. Yet lyceum debates also modeled fairness in permitting the airing of conflicting ideas. The potential for reopening a debate, closed arbitrarily by the end of the evening's activities, was always present.t?

In keeping with the educational tenets of early lyceum promoters, the subjects of public lectures presented at early lyceums implied that appropriate public knowledge was fact-based and random rather than systematic. Lecture topics tended to vary considerably from week to week, with

From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


packets of information delivered in bursts of one or two hours. One season's "course" of lectures at a lyceum might include "Whales and Whaling," "Popular Superstitions," "Meteorology," "Law of Wills," "Character of Byron," "Defects of Female Education," and "Spasmodic Cholera." The Salem Lyceum sponsored these lectures in its 1831-32 season. 56 Occasionally, however, a course would comprise a series of related lectures by a single individual; the Franklin Lyceum in Providence, for example, heard Ralph Waldo Emerson deliver six lectures on "Human Life" as its 1840 course.r? Providing a Course of related lectures was the exception rather than the rule. Diversity within seasonal offerings typified the courses of the early New England lyceums. 58

In keeping with promoters' rhetorical suppression of partisan and sectarian topics, many early British American lyceums actively sought to keep current controversies out of sponsored public lectures. As Richard 1. Weaver II noted, members of Michigan lyceums, who frequently debated the question of slavery during members' meetings, "were less willing to have lecturers speak on it."59 In New Orleans in 1844, the municipal ordinance submitted for the establishment of a Lyceum and Library Society included the provision that "the lecture rooms of the Lyceum shall never be used for any religious or political discussions."60 Similarly, early lyceums enacted a clear sense of the inappropriateness of religious and political themes in their dealings with public lecturers. Members of the Franklin Lyceum, hosting Emerson's six lectures on "Human Life," found his third lecture, on politics, sufficiently distressing that they met in a special session and voted to request the lecturer to avoid the topic of religion in subsequent presentations.61

In 1842 the subject of slavery prompted members of the Concord Lyceum in Massachusetts to articulate a vision of education that cordoned off controversial issues. Abolitionist orator Wendell Phillips was to lecture on slavery. When this subject was announced at the meeting previous to the scheduled lecture, the society debated a resolution: "Resolved that as this Lyceum is established for Social & Mutual improvement the introduction of the vexed and disorganizing question of Abolitionism or Slavery should be kept out of it." The lyceum twice laid the resolution on the table. Phillips spoke at the Concord Lyceum as scheduled in 1842 and again in 1844. When members voted 21-15 to invite him to return in 1845, two c~rators resigned.62 According to some members of the Concord Lyceum, "Improvement" connoted personal inculcation of received "facts," not knowledge of political agitation or efforts to improve the lives of others.


Chapter One

Lecturing proprieties in the antebellum United States called for generalizations, not specifics, for appeals to God and country, not articulations of sectarian commitments or partisan policy. Most lecturers upheld these norms. In 1859, for example, George D. Prentice, partisan editor of the pro-Whig Louisville Journal, agreed to deliver a lecture before an association in Terre Haute, Indiana. The lecture was titled "Politics, Politicians, and Political Conditions in the United States," but Prentice was careful to emphasize that it was "a thoroughly no-party discourse."63

Lyceums organized and run by African Americans, however, departed markedly from these trends. Living within a white-supremacist society and denied access to many of the formal means of education and advancement, free black adults founded schools for their children and, particularly in northern cities, established lyceums and literary societies for themselves. Although such groups constituted a small proportion of the lyceums in the country, their significance as secular training grounds for the development of black abolitionism makes them especially noteworthy.s+

Antebellum Lyceums of African Americans Lyceums and literary societies organized by and for free persons of color provided access to education and intellectual development, especially for more well-to-do urban residents. As Dorothy Porter observes, free urban black women and men, particularly in the 1830s and 1840s, organized associations that provided opportunities for reading and writing, sharing original compositions, and participating in debates and discussions. Some of these societies also instituted libraries and reading rooms, collected cabinets of rocks and minerals, and, reaching beyond their own membership, sponsored public lectures. Lecture topics included abolitionism as well as literature and science. Free African American men organized societies such as the New York Philomathean Society (formed in 1830); the Bonneau Library Society in Charleston, South Carolina (1830); the Phoenix Society in New York (1833); the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons (1833); the Young Men's Mental Improvement Society for the Discussion of Moral and Philosophical Questions of All Kinds in Baltimore (before 1835); the Rush Library and Debating Society in Philadelphia (1836); the Adelphic Union for the Promotion of Literature and Science in Boston (1836); and the Demosthenian Institute in Philadelphia (1837). Black women organized groups such as the Female Literary Society in Philadelphia (1831), the Afric-American Female Intelligence Society in Boston (1832), the Ladies Literary and Dorcas Society in Rochester (1833), the


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


Minerva Literary Association in Philadelphia (1834) and th Y .

Lit S· . ' e oung Ladles

I erary ociety in Buffalo (before 1837). Further the Gilbert L .

Philad I hi f' 'yceum m

be pia, ounded m 1841, was unusual in that it was established and

run y both men and women.e>

~frican American lyceums and literary societies were abolitionist in their outlook, and prominent black abolitionists in the North organi d

and supported lyceums. Lumber merchant William J Whip f ze

I . per, or exam-

p e, promoted the founding of Philadelphia's R di R '

, ea mg oom SOCiety for

young men, begun m 1828, Abolitionist clergymen Samuel E C ish

~h~,les B, Ra:, Chr~stopher Rush, and Peter Williams were offici~ls i:~;~

or s P~~en~x Society. Another Phoenix Society leader was the printer and abolItl~mst David Ruggles, a steadfast friend of runaway slaves In 183~ ~artm R, Delany-who would become prominent as an edi~or physictan, and black nationalist leader-was elected as the first lib ' f

th Y ,. I r anan 0

e oung ~e~ ~ Literary and Moral Reform Society of the City of Pitts-

bu~g~ and Vicinity, In Philadelphia, educator Sarah Mapps Douglass and a~tJvlsts Robert Purvis and Harriet Forten Purvis helped organize th Gilbert Lyceum 66 A tive i ki e also ex " ' c rve m, spea mg out against slavery, these individuals

hibited a correspondmg energy in promoting intellectual advancement among free African Americans.

Like African Ameri h h

lum Af ' ,can c urc es and beneficent organizations, antebel-

, ncan Amencan lyceums also served as centers of community con-

SCiOusness and as st ' d

1832 f aging groun s for protests and abolitionist agitation. In

d ,or example, the lecturer Maria Miller W. Stewart delivered an ad-

ress to B,oston's new Afric-American Female Intelligence Society a s eech

later published in the Liberator. She called upon black ,P ,

influence ' . . women to exert their

to promote Chnstlamty and racial advancement 67 M' ,

zations likew", ' en s orgam-

d ise provided mechamsms for the assertion of black intellectual

~n moral culture, An especially ambitious group was the Phoenix Society I~ New York, Members established a library; organized reading and discus sion groups; sponsored lectures on morals science and histo 'b' fl - a I izh h ' r ry, ne y ran

11g ,sc 001 for black children; and organized so-called Ward Societies to

ascertam t~e condition of African Americans in the city and to encoura e

the education of children and adults.68 The Phoenix S let g

b h i ocie y was un usual

ot III the extent of its programs and in the large audiences that it at-

tracted for lectures, and it inspired free blacks in other cities, In the same

year that the Phoenix Society was founded the Third An I C '

f h 'nua onvennon

or t e Improvement of the Free Peo le


Chapter One

"to use their exertions to form Phoenix Societies, similar to those in the City of New York."69

The numbers of individuals directly affected by these societies is difficult to gauge. Dorothy Porter names forty-six African American lyceums and literary societies (likely a partial list), and Leonard Curry estimates that few of these groups had a membership of more than fifty individuals. (Many lyceums run by European Americans did not have large memberships either.) Attendance at lectures sponsored by African American lyceums ranged up to about five hundred. As Benjamin Quarles observes, however, "a number count was not the full measure of the impact of these societies. They raised the aspirations of their own members; they lent support to the abolitionist cause. and to nonjoincrs, white or black friend or disparager, they furnished an evidence of black enterprise in a somewhat unexpected quarter. "70

In the segregated North, black lyceums and white lyceums tended to run on parallel but nonintersecting tracks, although societies like Boston's Adelphic Union sponsored lectures by white abolitionist speakers such as William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, and Charles Sumner; and Charlotte Porten. a young African American teacher, heard lectures at the white-run Salem Lyceum in the 1850s and described them in her diaries."! The organization of lyceums by African Americans was both a response to the exigencies of white supremacy and a coherent means of building a vibrant black community through self-education and group support. Such societies provided practical training in writing and speaking to their membership, offered public lectures accessible to other African Americans, and also demonstrated the intellectual capacities of persons of color.

In antebellum lyceums operated by British American elites, however, standard practice suppressed political advocacy in sponsored lectures to which the public was invited. Opening white lyceum platforms to such material would require the social and political pressures of impending civil war.

The Plan and the Practice

The earliest lyceums operated by white elites were designed as voluntary associations for mutual education; Holbrook's plan emphasized practical instruction, especially in science. The rationales for such activity were based in designs for self-education and self-improvement, in moral codes that emphasized the vigorous use of dangerous leisure time, in economic


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


motives for the improvement of workers and products, and in political principles that required the republican citizen to be sufficiently knowledgeable and enlightened in order to make appropriate decisions for the good of the whole. Promoted through print media and personal appearances, lyceums sprang up quickly, from Maine to Florida, from Pennsylvania to Missouri. Many of these groups were short-lived, although some persisted well into the later nineteenth century. The lyceum that sponsored both members' debates and public lectures was typical. In the early period, essays prepared by members became "lectures" when read to the full group. As lyceum practice changed over time, organizations looked outside their membership for appropriate lecturers, and they began to pay expenses or small fees and expenses. Although some lyceums had always included lecturers from other towns on their seasonal programs, the general trajectory of lyceum practice was away from mutual instruction among mem bers of a community and toward the sponsorship of lecturers imported from elsewhere_72 By the mid-1840s, according to Carl Bode, hearing a public lecture had begun to replace participating in mutual instruction as the primary activity conducted in lyceums.F' Early lyceum lectures illustrated a conception of public education that emphasized breadth rather than depth, and sectarian or partisan themes were actively suppressed. The geographic center of the early lyceum was Boston, home of Holbrook and the American Journal of Education and the American Annals of Education. Along with the shift to an emphasis on outside lecturers, in the 1840s the geographic center of the lyceum moved westward. New England would remain the intellectual hearth of the lyceum movement, but the Old Northwest would become its new fertile soil.

The Popular Lecture System

Many lyceums in the West were initially organized as debating societies, and occasional lectures were given by the membership. Local notablesjudges, ministers, newspaper editors-also delivered lectures. By the early 1850s some western multipurpose lyceums, such as the one in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had splintered into groups focusing on science, literature, or library promotion. Most remaining lyceums functioned as debating societies and lecture sponsors. As more and more western lyceums imported lecturers from elsewhere-from neighboring towns and also from the East-local lecturing and debating waned. Although some lyceums sponsored both debates and lectures throughout their history and other


Chapter One

lyceums never brought in outside lecturers, the general trend was away from lyceum activity as a local. participatory enterprise and toward lyceum events as an opportunity for spectatorship. Audience members could now "pay twenty-five cents" to hear "remarkable" people lecture, "with the privilege of looking at them for an hour and criticizing them for a week." The pleasure of watching one's neighbors watch the lecturers and, perhaps, planning for later discussion or teasing added value to the experien.ce,74 The developing lecture circuits, then, not only brought people and Ideas from elsewhere into cities and towns and created a sense of shared culture over a large area. They also helped create the basis upon which community life was negotiated.

The Popular Audience

Demographically, audiences during the second phase of the lyceum movement did not differ appreciably from the public audiences of the first phase. Most lyceums appealed to the British American portion of communities, East and West. Lecturer Thomas Wentworth Higginson observed in 1868 that audiences usually comprised persons "of New England birth." Immigrants from non-Anglophone countries, he noted, "are apt to avoid it-or to taste of it, as they do of any other national dish, with courtesy, but not with relish." Sometimes immigrant enclaves, however, such as the Irish community in Boston, sponsored their own lectures. Most town lyceums run by whites tended to be frequented by the white members of the co~munity; a British lecturer wrote in the 1880s that he did not recall that hIS U.S. audiences included any African Americans. In 1860, providing evidence of the improvement in the status of white women in civic and professional life, Susan B. Anthony observed, "The more liberal lyceums are open to her, and she is herself the subject of the most popular lectures now before the public." The white British American audience members tended to be upper and middle class, especially in the East; western audiences, as Higginson noted, often represented greater socioeconomic diversity."?

Lecturer Olive Logan said in 1870 that western audiences were better than eastern at identifying "humbug," but many other lecturers claimed that audiences in the West and in the East did not vary a great deal in either "numbers" or "intelligence." Mary Livermore, John B. Gough, Albion W. Tourgee, and Robert J. Burdette agreed on this point in 1882,76 Lecturer Oliver Wendell Holmes found audiences so similar that he provided a description of the typical "great compound vertebrate," the audience:


---------- .......

From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


Front seats: a few old folks,-shiny-headed,-slant up best ear towards the speak~r,-~rop off asleep after a while, when the air begins to get a little na~cotlc w~th carbonic acid. Bright women's faces, young and middle-aged, a little behind these, but toward the front,-(pick out the best. and lecture mainly to that). Here and there a countenance, sharp and scholarlike, and a dozen pretty female ones sprinkled about. An indefinite number of pairs of young people,-happy, but not always very attentive. Boys, in the backgro~nd, more or less quiet. Dull faces, here, there,-in how many places! I don t say dull people, but faces without a ray of sympathy or a movement of expression. They are what kill the lecturer,77

In Holmes's description of his audience as a vast animal with compound parts, ~iffering little from others of its species, the audience becomes partly seductIve, partly threatening, sometimes clever, sometimes insensate. As a dragon like creature, "writhing" and "coiled" or ever watchful. the audience is an opponent worthy of a valiant lecturer-hero,78 Most commentary by audience members about lecturers and by lecturers about audiences does not reach this level of suggested conflict. but its purpose is usually to evaluate-the substance or style of the lecture or the apparent interest or intelligence of the audience. Spectatorship worked two ways. Both lecturer and audience Were positioned at the focal point of the other's gaze.

In order for such scrutiny to occur, of Course, the two parties had to be in the physical presence of each other. The significance of changes in the technologies of transportation and communication to the diffusion and deve~opment of the lyceum cannot be overstated. Just as the opening of the Ene Canal in 1825 affected the commercial prosperity of towns in upstate New York. the migration of New Englanders toward the West. and the concomitant transmission of New England cultural norms and practices, so the extension of the railroads also brought the challenges and possibilities of further westward expansion. In the early 1850s, for example, the city of Cleveland formed the hub of the Ohio rail network-and, not coincidentally, of the Ohio lecture circuit. At Cleveland, the east-west Lake Shore Railroad, which passed through the towns along the Lake Erie shore, intersected with the north-south Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati Railroad. Numerous short lines linked these main lines with other Ohio towns. The expanding railroads brought an expansion of the traveling lecture system. Officials in western lyceums could now entertain the idea of inviting lecturers not only from neighbOring towns but also from Boston and New York."? The lyceums issued invitations, often using the new communica-

tions technology, the telegraph. The humrnin« "",rpc ~l-.A __ .! _


Chapter One

. ns ortation system all contributed to the

media, and the expandmg tr~ p d. for the public exhibition of

transformation of the lyceum into a me rum

professional lecturer-entertainers.

The Celebrity Lecturer .

. noted that lyceum lectunng was

In 1830 the American Journal of Educatzon. training ground for indi-

.. ight: rather It was a

not a profession m Its own r '. tr ' • lly law medicine, and the

. f "the professIOns [especia '

viduals prepanng or h er with expanded opportu-

ministry) .80 The popular lecture systehm, tOtWh:vco~ntry and for demanding

hi udiences throug ou d

nities for reac ing a bli h lect ring as first an occupation an

d hi h fees helped esta IS ec u

higher an ig er iees. .. ld M Scott observes that most

f . 81 The hlstonan Dona .

then as a pro eSSIOn. f to public lecturing along one

h midcentury plat orm came d

white men on t e oun men avidly pursued learning an

of three paths: so~e poo.rer Y wo~ld by turning their knowledge into a sought to make rheir way m the . men from the elite classes

. ( sylvester Graham), some

paying vocatIOn e.g.. .. f traditional profession and pe-

. from a combmatIOn 0 a d

improVIsed a career . W dell Holmes Ralph Wal 0

1 ( g oliver en '

riodic travels as a ecturer e .. , d .. nal professions lectured as a way

d ctive in the tra iuo

Emerson); an men a. .. into a broader social realm (e.g.,

of extending their profe~sIOnal ~cu~~tyw men lecturers, many of whom Benjamin Silliman, LOUIS Agas:lz). .0 t nth-century movements for

I latform VIa the rune ee

came to the yceum p , . hts blazed another path.

b 1· . f slavery and woman s ng ,

temperance, a 0 inon 0 , . d the traditional professions

, t formal educatlon an

With women s access 0 .. rticularly after the Civil War-

. d the lecture ClrcUIts-pa

severely restncte , . ublic career. Lyceum lec-

it for a remuneratIve p

provided the opportum y 1 vigorous pro-Union stump

. ki for examp e, was a

turer Anna DIC mson. h a lyceum career was open to

speaker during the Civil War. After t e war,

1·· 1 eer was not 83

her whereas a po inca car . pation into a profession,

r • f lecturing from an occu

The transformatIOn 0 d I t" n." Commentators in

d "b attribution or ec ara 10 .

Scott notes, occurre y . . it with a "grammar of

. s described this new acUVI y

newspapers and magazme . I le for the lecturer and a se-

Professionalism," suggesting a coherent sOdClaff rot The payment of fees for

r ti ity an e or s.

rious status for the lecturer s ac I.V 1 d diences in a ritual of profes-

d mbolically mvo ve au I d

lecture atten ance sy .. 1 tl the lecture fee signa e

. . ker of capItalIst va ua ion,

sionalIzatIOn: as a mar ti n that the lecturer had

f th event and the assump 10

the significance 0 e 1 cost lectures had trouble draw-

. B the l850s free or ow- h

somethmg to say. Y . . h.f t worth pay, it is not wort

ing audiences: "The publIc think t at 1 no


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


hearing." On the other hand, audiences made a distinction between lecturers who charged appropriate fees and those whom they thought were out to swindle them. In 1855 Brooklyn clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most eminent lecturers of his generation, hired a Chicago agent, E. S. Wells, to arrange a western lecture tour for him. When the price of a ticket jumped from the ordinary fee of twenty-five cents to fifty cents, many Ohioans boycotted Beecher's lectures and accused him of greedy profiteering. 84

The matter of the fee structure, then, was subject to social negotiation, as was the definition of the professional public lecturer. The invited, sponsored lecturer was frequently distinguished in press reports from the "itinerant" freelancer, who came to town, pinned up posters and bought an ad in the local paper, and held forth at the appointed hour. The two categories were not as distinct as the terms imply; the same people sometimes gave invited lectures and also set up more speculative enterprises.

In the u.S. census of 1860, twenty-two people identified their occupation as "lecturer": twelve in Massachusetts, six in Illinois, and two each in Indiana and Michigan. Twenty-two is not many out of an enumerated total population of nearly 31.5 million, but the presence of the new classification indicates that lecturer had become institutionalized as a descriptor for a person's primary occupation. Far more lecturers, however, considered lecturing to be a subsidiary form of work. Indeed, one commentator claimed that "only those who work worthily in other fields have a permanent hold upon the affections of lecture-going people." In September 1859 the New York Tribune named 202 individuals who were available to give lyceum lectures in the 1859-60 season. Almost a third of the Tribune lecturers had clerical titles; military, professorial, judicial, and medical titles also appeared. The great preponderance of the lecturers resided in the Northeast, particularly in New York and Boston, but listed lecturers lived as far west as Iowa City, Iowa (see appendix 3).85

The Tribune list, which provided only name and location, assumed readers' familiarity with the individuals and their usual subject matter. The print media helped create this familiarity, reporting lectures as news events and the details of lecturers' lives as popular gossip. The 1859-60 Tribu ne list included abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips; woman's rights advocates like Susan B. Anthony, the Reverend Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Ernestine Rose, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; and literary men like George William Curtis, Josiah G. Holland, James Russell Lowell, and Herman Mplvillp <::,,~h 1:_._ ----


Chapter One

in the 1850s, and the Tribune list was sometimes published in towns quite distant from New York. The Commercial Register of Sandusky, Ohio, for example, duplicated the Tribune's list of 1854.86 These notices ~elped elevate the named individuals to the status of celebrated pubhc performerpersonalities.

Commercialization of the Lyceum

Such listings made it possible for local associations to contact the lecturers directly, and this was the most common means by which lecturers' a~p~arances were arranged before the Civil War. Secretaries of local associauons corresponded with the lecturers and arranged the date of a lec~ure and the fee. The secretary of a lecture association in Terre Haute, Indiana. for example, ambitiously requested the lecturing service~ of Emerson, Holmes, Holland, and other notable eastern lecturers, all m the same year. Although most declined the invitations, a positive response. c.ame from B~yard Taylor, whose good looks, exotic costumes, and VIVI~ tales of hIS world travels made him a platform favorite in the 1850s. In hIS letter of acceptance, Taylor mentioned that he would lecture at E~a~sviIIe around the same time.s? A series of successive appearances was significant for lecturers' financial success, and the leaders of local associations were aware that multiple appearances would be more likely to lure pop.ul~r lecturers. When members of the Clarksville, Tennessee, Literary Association asked Herman Melville to come and lecture in 1857, for instance, they suggested that he might be able to arrange other appearances at Louisville and at Nashvill~.88

The challenges of arranging a schedule of lectures fostered cooperat~ve

. hich emerged first in the West-to provide lecturers with


full schedules and associations with full programs. In the 1850s the officers of lecture associations began forming liaisons to provide itineraries for popular lecturers and to ensure that even small-town lyceums had the opportunity to engage the best-known lecturers. Notable among these association officials were Samuel D. Ward and Jerome Ripley Bri~ham of the Young Men's Associations in Chicago and Milwaukee, res~e~tlvely. By working together and in cooperation with other lecture assoClatlO~s, th~y could offer a lecturer a full slate of appearances in Illinois and Wlsconsm towns and thereby induce notable lecturers like Parke Godwin, T. St~rr King, and Bayard Taylor to venture westward. Fu~th~r, towns h~e Belvidere, Rockford, Freeport, Galena, and Dixon, Illinois, and Beloit. Janesville, Madison, Waukesha, and Racine, Wisconsin, could attract t~e same lecturers that drew crowds in Chicago and Milwaukee as well as m


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


the cities and towns of the East.89 Ward and Brigham did not collect fees for their services in arranging lectures for small-town lyceums, although such cooperative liaisons anticipated the coming lecture bureaus, which would operate for profit.

In 1864 a major step toward the commercialization of the lecture circuit occurred with the formation of the Associated Western Literary Societies (AWLS), first called the Northwestern Lecture Association. This agency for the collective action of lyceums and literary societies was formallyorgan_ ized in Detroit. It operated until 1870, when it merged with the American Literary Bureau in New York. During its existence, the AWLS secured the promise of participation from lecturers and then sent lists of their names subjects, and fees to individual lecture associations in towns and cities throughout the West. Local groups could indicate their first and second choices for lecturers, and the AWLS then arranged the speakers' itineraries. The AWLS assessed fees from participating lyceums: at first assodations paid flat rates for annual memberships; later, the AWLS assessed a 2 percent commission on each lecture fee paid. The AWLS arranged appearances for such lecturers as P. T. Barnum, Clara Barton, Benjamin Butler, Anna Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John B. Gough, Wendell Phillips, Alexander H. Stephens, and Mark Twain. At the AWLS's peak of activity, more than a hundred local groups belonged to the association.9o

Thomas Wentworth Higginson praised the AWLS in 1868 for its organization of lecture tours, and in 1871 Josiah G. Holland approvingly recalled the aSSociation as one that promoted the financial well-being of lecturers and associations and the intellectual integrity of the lecture system. HoIland's comments were proffered to contrast the AWLS with newer lecture bureaus, however, and the founder of a major bureau responded by calling the AWLS "one of the clumsiest and stupidest organizations ever devised in this country."91 James Redpath's wrath toward Holland may have induced him to hyperbole, for Redpath's Boston Lyceum Bureau, founded by Redpath and George L. Fall in 1868, owed much to the organizational pattern established in the West. A major change did occur, however, from the AWLS to lecture bureaus like Redpath's: instead of being an association comprising local lecture sponsors, Redpath's bureau operated as a management organization for the lecturers themselves. Redpath selected lecturers to manage-in 1871, the bureau's officials accepted about a tenth of the lecturers who approached them-negotiated lecture fees, and arranged itineraries. Redpath's offices provided a place for lecturers to rOm'''TlP ,,~rI


Chapter One

Redpath himself sometimes influenced the choice of lecture topics that a speaker prepared for a given year. The Boston Lyceum Bureau began publishing its own magazine, the Lyceum, in 1869. It established a branch office in Chicago in 1871. By the time that Redpath sold the bureau to James Burton Pond and George Hathaway in 1875, the organization was called the Redpath Lyceum Bureau. This name persisted throughout the bureau's

operations, well into the twentieth century.92

Redpath's bureau and other management organizations, like the New

York-based American Literary Bureau (founded in 1866 and incorporated in 1870) and the Williams Lecture and Musical Bureau (founded in 1869), intended, according to lyceum historian Anna Curtis, "to systematize the lecture business, and do away with ham and potatoes as lecture fees." Although the Concord Lyceum dealt in money rather than foodstuffs, in the 1850s that organization regularly paid lecture fees ranging from $10 to $15. By the mid to late 1860s the Young Men's Library Association in Dubuque, Iowa, paid lecturers between $60 and $100 regularly, and platform "stars" like John B. Gough and Anna Dickinson could command $200 for a single lecture. In the early 1870s Gough, a temperance advocate, received between $300 and $500 per evening's lecture. Dickinson earned more than $23,000 in 1872, in an era when the salary for the U.S. president was $25,000. The Reverend Russell Conwell, who gave his gospel-ofwealth lecture" Acres of Diamonds" more than six thousand times, earned enough as a Baptist minister and lecturer to found Philadelphia's Temple University.93 The establishment of for-profit lecture bureaus was not solely responsible for the spiraling of lecture fees, but the systematization of the lecture system contributed to the creation of a celebrity culture and the concomitant bestowal of exorbitant wealth on individual celebrities.

The Redpath Bureau published annual lists of the individuals available for platform performances. In 1869 and the early 1870s the lists classified the performers as "lecturers" and "readers." By the late 1870s the lists also included impersonators, magicians, caricaturists, and a "Lyceum Stereopticon." The lists exhibit difficulty in assessing which performances counted as "entertainments"; in 1890 the word entertainer was coupled with reader in a combined group, "Readers and Entertainers," but the two categories were again separate in 1892. In the "List of Attractions" of 1901-2, readers and performers of "picture plays" and monologues shared billing with "entertainers" like Maro the Magician and Kreiger's Kurious Kompany and lecturers like the Reverend Russell Conwell, the Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, and Booker T. Washington. During the early twentieth century, the


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


Redpath Bureau used the broad cate . "

and "musical attractions" t h . gones lecturers," "entertainers"

sponsored.?+ 0 c aractenze the platform performers that 'it

The difficulty in distinguishing betwee .

evident from the earliest d f h n Instructors and entertainers was

· . ays 0 t e lyceum Holbro k h d

joined "instruction and entertainment" . 0 a unabashedly ture. and the most po I I as part and parcel of the same ven-

pu ar ecturer at the s dl

Lyceum in 1829-30 N h . uppose y solemn Concord

was e emiah Ball wh

natural history and ast .' 0 accompanied his lectures on

ronomy WIth "repr .

magoria Lantern." In 1830-31 th C esentanons ~rom the Phantas-

intervals in lyceum meeting 95 De. on cord . b~nd provided music during

· s. unng the ClVlI War the F ki-

m Providence instituted piano pi . b f ,ran III Lyceum

performances of pianist Edwardl~~ff~~~ each lecture. In 1862-63 the Beecher's lecture "The Ed . f preceded such offerings as

ucanon 0 the Citizen" Joh L d'

and the Results of His Gre t D' ,n or s" Columbus from Les Miserables 96 By th~ t.lscovhery," and George Vandenhoffs readings

. IS ime t e term entertai t

coupled from instruction and di ' d as i nmen was generally un-

iscusse as ItS opp it Th hi

tertainment function of th I I OSI e. e istory of the en-

e ear y yceum was s d f

commentators criticized the bli I uppresse or orgotten, and

· pu IC ecture system fo it "d

mto entertainment-of Ie t b humori r I s egeneration"

cures y umonsts as well d .

impersonations concerts m . as rarnanc readings,

, ,aglC acts, and other 'T h "f

the profession of publi It' . ig ter are. In the 1870s

c ec unng was 10SIllg status d .

lecturers retreated into uni iti d ,an many instructional

versi res an scholarly i ft d

tures to groups of initi t h ns I utes, elivering lee-

a es rat er than a mass public. 97

. . Controversy as Public Entertainment

Individuals writing about the lyceum in t

characterized it as a site for azi he 1860s and afterward often

or agitators and ref h

open forum suffused much of this di or~ers. T e rhetoric of the

William Curtis for I s dls~ourse. Bditor and lecturer George

, examp e, asserted III 1862 th "th .

country has been emphatically what it ha at t e Lyceum III this

preaching. Its experience and th s been so often called-Iaythat the heart of the nation . e constant success of certain men, shows

IS an earnest rna I h . h .

ingly hears candid and consid .'. n y eart: t at It asks and will-

a h h consi erate opinions of every kind; and whil .

ur c urc we are sure to hear the doctrine we beli I e III

caucus the policy e believe. and at our party

we approve, the Lyceum is a

and capable men" Thi t I common ground for all fair

lyceum as "a lay' PUIP:/' ~~Tahrs ater, Anna Dickinson also remembered the

. e men who came t it." h

message to speak and unre t 0 I, S e wrote, "had a

, s , argument and education were the sure


Chapter One

sequences." In 1895 E. P. Powell. writing in the New England Magazine, went so far as to say that the lyceum "killed slavery; it broke the power of superstitious theology; it made women free."98

Whereas powell's hyperbole is amply refuted by evidence already ad-

duced in this chapter-that is, in the antebellum era most lyceum platforms were emphatically closed to displays of political agitation-the coming of the Civil War did bring changes in lyceum lecturing. As early as 1854 the Ohio Mechanics' Institute in Cincinnati presented a course of lectures entitled "American Slavery," with speakers including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, and Wendell Phillips. These lectures, writes historian David Mead, "were calculated to attract large crowds and rich profits to the Mechanics' Institute." The course was thought highly unusual and strictly "a money-making scheme," since, Mead notes, "the offering of political topics by lecture associations was considered to be in poor taste and detrimental to the true cultural purpose of the lecture system." By the wartime of the early 1860s, however, Ohio's lecture-going public had acquired a taste for reformers and politicians. Ohio lyceums sought such speakers as Tennessee Unionist William "Parson" Brownlow, abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Theodore Weld, U.S. Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax, fiery senator Charles Sumner, and the young Unionist stump speaker Anna Dickinson.99 Traditionally political topics had permeated daily life, conflict and controversy had become part of national self-definition, and speakers who could deliver denunciations of the enemy and hope for moral and military victory were much in demand.

The war opened the portals to popular political and reform speeches,

and in the North, the immediate postwar period saw a brief flowering of reformist discourse in the lyceum. The lists of Redpath's Lyceum Bureau of the late 1860s and early 1870s include the names of many reform-minded lecturers, such as Susan B. Anthony, Robert collyer, Frederick Douglass, John B. Gough, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Julia Ward Howe, Mary Livermore, Wendell phillips, and Charles Sumner. In 1871 Redpath also promoted a debate on the woman suffrage question between Mary Livermore and General James A. Hall of Maine.lOo Yet the availability of such platform performers did not mean that lyceum courses had been transformed. In the 1867-68 season, for example, the Franklin Lyceum in Providence heard Anna Dickinson's "Idiots and Women" and Charles Sumner's "Are We a Nation?" but these lectures were offered as part of the same course with more conventional lyceum lectures such as James Russell Lowell's "The Dramatic Art of Shakespeare, as Illustrated by Hamlet" and

From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


Paul B. Du Chaillu's "The Gorilla, Its Habits and Natural Affinities to

M "101 Th .

an. e same season in Salem, Massachusetts, found Clara Barton

deli~eri~,g "Work and Incidents of Army Life" and Frederick Douglass presennng On Some Dangers to the Republic," along with James Fletcher's "Two Thousand Miles Up the Amazon" and Edward S. Morse's "Modes of Locomotion in Animals.t'v- The Civil War had added political and reform speeches to British American lyceum courses and had opened the platform to nontraditional speakers. The lyceum had not, however, become predominantly a reformist arena.

The rise of reformist discourse in the lyceum occurred along with commercialization. Controversial subjects and, perhaps more to the point, controversial lecturers-people whose own self-presentation on public platforms challenged conventions for public speaking-were thus cast as "entertaining," a good drawing card. The rhetorical emphasis in discourse about the lyceum from the 1820s was on a serious educational mission; lyceum activity was entertaining, but only incidentally. Now, as the sponsorship of lecturers and the arrangement of courses became a lucrative commercial enterprise, previously taboo topics and previously dubious platform performers became desirable partly for their potential as exhibitions. In 1871 Charles Dickens observed with surprise that in the United States "even orthodox Mormonism and atheism" were acceptable topics for public lectures.t'" The commercial potential of the anti-Mormon lecture delivered by a woman who had lived in a polygamous marriage was demonstrated in the mid-1870s when Ann Eliza Young, the estranged nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, launched the career of lyceum manager James Burton Pond. Young traveled widely, giving "instructional." "moral" lectures with such titillating titles as "My Life in Bondage" and "Polygamy As It Is." 104

The social and political upheaval of the Civil War, then, opened the lyceum lecture hall to explicitly political topics and the discourse of social reform as well as to a greater variety of lecturers. White women like Anna Dickinson and Mary Livermore, African American women like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and African American men like Frederick Douglass were no longer so anomalous on lyceum platforms run by the white male elite, and calls for social change were far more frequently heard. Yet the lyceum remained a location where controversy was formally contained, partly by casting controversial speakers as novelties. Lecturers presenting controversy adapted to the situations they faced by muting their views in performance: muffling the controversial material by presenting it alongside other subjects, approaching the tabooed topic indirectly, or concentrating


Chapter One

on generalities rather than specifics. Although the lyceum had become a socially sanctioned arena for reformist speech, its heri~age and ~he cultural environment in which it existed meant that the public expression .of controversial views required controlling mechanisms, such as frammg the event as spectacular entertainment or transmuting social critique into more palatable forms.

Decline of the Lyceum

In the early 18605 the lyceums that continued to operate-and many did not-emphasized the ongoing Civil War. In the North, newspapers provided lecture-goers with information about the war, and lyceum lectures like Theodore Tilton's "State of the Country," Charles C. Coffin's "Battle Scenes," and George William Curtis's "Political Infidelity" helped them classify this information and relate the details to larger issues. These le.ctures, all presented at the Salem Lyceum, attempted to sh~re up commitment to the Union cause. At the same time, lectures like Edward L. Youmans's "Ancient and Modern Science" and John B. Gough's "Here and There in Britain," or a concert by the Mendelssohn Quintette Club, provided a diversion from painful wartime realities.U'> Bode observes that public lecturing during the war, North and South,. promoted ~ straightforwardly propagandistic view of Christian versus infidel, of nghteous.ness versus evil. He selected the Civil War as the end point of the lyceum, viewing wartime lecturing as propaganda and postwar lecturing as commercial entertainment.J'" Bode, however, interprets the lyceum as a reasonably coherent movement for public instruction, not as a public practice that throughout its history combined education and entertainment.

Considered as a multifunctional public practice, the popular public lyceum persisted well beyond the war, although it declined in the 18_70s. The status of professional lecturers deteriorated in the 1870s, the pamc of 1873 reduced the discretionary income of audience members, and the functions of the old lyceum were gradually adopted by the new chautauquas. Chautauqua began in 1874 on Lake Chautauqua, N~W ~ork, when the Reverend John Heyl Vincent, with funding from LeWIS Miller, established a religious and educational retreat for Methodist Sunday scho~l teachers. Following the success of the New York institute, many communities established their own chautauquas. Traveling chautauquas, especially in the Northeast and the Old Northwest, soon followed. By the early twentieth century, programs of commercial entertainment-lectures and other performances-had replaced the earlier religious emphasis, and the


From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


traveling chautauqua was eventually displaced by the newer media of ~adio and film. 107 Lyceums tended to occur in the winter; the chautauqua, III summer. Lyceum events took place in permanent buildings; the performances of the traveling chautauqua, in portable tents. The lyceum had its roots in science; the chautauqua, in religion. Yet a basic similarity existed in the rhetoric promoting the two phenomena: an emphasis on moral and intellectual self-improvement to be gained through attending public performances and thinking and talking about them afterward. lOB

By 1880 many of the lyceums that had survived since the 1830s or 1840s had closed, and the groups that continued to operate included fewer lectures on their programs. The Franklin Lyceum in Providence, fOT example, closed in 1881 owing to the lack of profitS.109 As late as 1897, however, the town of Stillwater, Minnesota, was beginning an organization that the members called a lyceum. It was quite unlike the lyceum established in nearby Taylor's Falls in 1859, which had planned to sponsor public lectures "on all Scientific and literary Subjects" and to train members in essay writing, "extemporaneous speaking and the knowledge of parliamentary usages." In contrast, the Stillwater organization was designed to provide "high grade entertainment at the nominal cost of one dollar for six to nine attractions each season."IlO The lyceum had become a cooperative commercial institution for the promotion of inexpensive, "high grade" fun.

Nearly thirty years earlier, however, the programmatic regularity of lyceum performances arranged by commercial bureaus had made popular lecturing susceptible to satire. In 1870 the editor of the magazine Galaxy imagined a bill from an Atlantic and Great Western Lecture Company to a local association. The local group identified with classical tradition and asserted its love of the spoken word in its name, the North Plato Philoglossian Society:

To 12 lots prime, extra, and middling, as per your order, say:

2 poets, at $25 per poet $50

1 Arctic traveller 50

1 Baron Munchausen 1 Elocutionist

1 Congressman (Democrat)

1 Congressman (Republican)

1 Actress (penitent but piquant)

3 Divines (with side whiskers), at $40 1 Editor, at $5 and expenses

100 10 30 30 50

120 105

$545 II I


Chapter One

With lecturers toted up on a bill of sale-not quite by weight-the rhetorical creation of lecturing as a capitalist commodity was complete. The penitent actress, the cheap poets, the evenly balanced political leaders, the whiskery ministers, and the editor who is worth little and spends a lotthese figures gain their humorous value partly through recognition. These were stock types, and lyceums throughout the country sponsored programs with the wheat and the chaff well mixed.U?

Making Culture, Managing Controversy

The U.S. lyceum had been reshaped and remolded since its beginnings as a manifestation of British American New England culture in the 1820s. The role of local participants changed over time: in the early period, members of local associations participated in debates and read their own prepared essays as "lectures"; in the later period, although debating continued in some places, the most common lyceum activity involved local sponsorship of an outside lecturer, preferably a platform celebrity. Even in the early period, however, many members of a community were spectators at lyceum events, since local elite men jisually conducted the debates and local lectures that their families and neighbors attended.

With the establishment of the lecture circuit came a new occupation, that of public lecturer. This occupational status and the commercialization of lecturing through profit-making bureaus contributed to the creation of a small group of lecturer-celebrities who earned substantial sums from public performances. The details of the lives of the lecturer-celebrities made saleable newspaper copy, and the personae of these individuals loomed larger than life. The lyceum as a public practice changed over time and space, but throughout its history it remained distinct from religious or governmental institutions, a secular site where participants forged a common culture. Having the requisite power to assert their values and beliefs as normative, they called that culture "American."

Defining the terms and boundaries of that "American" culture was a process of consensus-building and" resistance, of accord and conflict. The lyceum's management of controversy, in the articulation of promoters' goals, in members' debates, and in the sponsorship of lectures, offers a site for examining the dynamics of education and entertainment in the lyceum, of the making of culture through rhetorical action.

The management of controversy in the nineteenth-century lyceum thus can be understood to have had three major facets. First, "political and religious" conflict and debate were suppressed in the early British American

From Mutual Education to Celebrity Entertainment


lyceum. Promoters urged the exclusion of specific controversies from lyceum practice, and many lyceum organizations followed suit in choosing speakers and topics to present to the public. Nonetheless, at the same time that promoters rhetorically excluded political and religious controversy from their definition of education, educational practice derived from U.S. college literary societies influenced the development of members' debates as a common part of lyceum activity. Lyceum members enacted formal controversy for the edification and amusement of themselves and their families and friends, debating and discussing political and social issues of ~he day and also considering more academic questions. Although debating in the lyceum waned in the 1840s with the increased emphasis on the sponsorship of public lectures, some lyceums held debates into the late nineteenth century. The appearance of controversial topics and controversial speakers on most public lecturing platforms, however, did not reach full flowering until the turmoil of the impending Civil War made politics and reform materially salient in the lives of lyceum lecture-goers. In the immediate postwar period, when reformist discourse was more noticeable on lyceum platforms than before or since, controversial people and issues were frequently presented as entertainment, encouraging a spectatorial response. The performative norms of entertainment thus created space for reformers and at the same time restricted their reception.

The lyceum's management of public controversy represents a microcosm of the cultural negotiations of political participation and social behaviors in the nineteenth-century United States. The rhetoric of the lyceum helped solidify consent to the dominant values and ideals that emerged from the educated elite of New England, but one of these emergent ideals, the ideal of the free and open democratic-republican platform, made a place for pluralism, a pluralism that destabilized those carefully constructed dominant norms. The four cases in this study demonstrate the rhetorical constitution of dominant norms and resistant possibilities and the interplay among them.