OPENING OF THE COLLEGE NISBET'S ADMINISTRATION.
MEETING OF TRUSTEES AT CARLISLE SEAL OATH OF OFFICE FACULTY DR. NISBET ELECTED PRINCIPAL INDUCED TO ACCEPT
ARRIVAL IN AMERICA RECEPTION AT CARLISLE PROF. DAVIDSON RESIGNATION
OF DR. NISBET HIS RE-ELECTION HIS WORK COLLEGE BUILDING THE
BARRACKS RESOURCES STATE AID SUBSCRIPTIONS LOTTERY STATE AID FIRST COMMENCEMENT REQUIREMENTS CLASSES INSTRUCTION REGULATIONS TANEY'S ACCOUNT FINES BUILDING CAMPUS WEST COLLEGE BURNED DOWN REBUILT DONATIONS PLAN OF NEW BUILDING DEATH OF DR. NISBET HIS CHARACTER.
THE Board of Trustees, after its organization and meetings held at the house of Doctor Rush, on Second street, Philadelphia, and in the Statehouse, met for the first time in Carlisle, in the court-house, April 6, 1784. After assembling, before proceeding to business, they went in procession to the Episcopal church, where a sermon suitable to the occasion was delivered. Upon re-assembling, they were ably addressed by President Dickinson, and immediately proceeded to the organization of the College. Ways and means were devised for raising money, including a petition to the Legislature of the State, addresses to religious bodies, a carefully prepared letter to the Honorable William Bingham, in Europe, requesting him to solicit aid there, and the preparation of subscription books
for circulation. A seal was also adopted, the device consisting of a Bible, a Telescope, and a Cap of Liberty, the two last placed over the first, with the motto: "Pietate et doctrina tuta libertas." It was reported by Doctor Rush and President Dickinson, and, according to Doctor Rush, "the excellent sentiment" was suggested by the latter. The seals of colleges, in their devices and mottoes, exhibit much of the spirit and purpose of their founders. The open Bibles of Harvard, Yale, and Amherst, and the red-cross of Brown, with the mottoes in harmony, indicate the connection of culture and religion. In the seal of Dickinson is introduced, in addition, the thought then uppermost, the guardianship of liberty just entrusted to independent America; and that virtue and learning were to be its safeguards. Each member of the Board, in addition to his oath, as trustee, had taken and subscribed the " iron-clad " oath of that day, as follows: " That we will be true and faithful to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and that we will not, directly, or indirectly, do any act or thing prejudicial or injurious to theConstitution or the Government thereof, as established by the Cunvention, and that the State of Pennsylvania is, and of right ought to be, a free, sovereign, and independent State, and that we do forever renounce and refuse all allegiance, subjec-
tion, or obedience to the King or Crown of Great Britain, and that we never have, since the Declaration of Independence, directly or indirectly, aided, assisted, or abetted, or in any wise countenanced the King of Great Britain, his generals, fleets, or armies, or their adherents, in their claims upon these United States, &c., &c."
Although the revenues from productive funds amounted to only £130 per annum, and they were almost without a building, it was thought advisable to commence operations, by organizing a faculty. Accordingly, the Reverend Charles Nisbet, D. D., of Montrose, Scotland, was elected Principal, and James Ross, A. M., well known as a classical scholar and author of a Latin Grammar, was elected Professor of Greek and Latin. Attention had been called to the former by Doctor Rush, who had made his acquaintance whilst a student in Edinburgh. The College of New Jersey had also been largely indebted to Doctor Rush for the acquisition of Doctor Witherspoon, as President, fifteen years before. At that time, Doctor Witherspoon, who at first declined the position, had suggested Doctor Nisbet "as the person of all his acquaintance the fittest for that office," although he was but thirty-one years of age. The interval, filled with the excitements and estrangements of the war, contained nothing calculated to render him less acceptable as the head of an American College; on the contrary, although thoroughly loyal to his Sovereign, he had been known, perhaps it might be said notorious, in his own country, as a fearless, outspoken friend of America, and champion of her rights, and he had suffered much for it. On one occasion, called upon to preach upon a public Fast, appointed by the Government, during the war, he selected Daniel v: 525, as his text. On a similar occasion, the members of the town council of Montrose, during the introductory remarks, left the church in a body, and the Doctor, stretching forth his hand
toward the vacant place, said with emphasis, as they withdrew: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth." Such a course was not calculated to render him popular, and it was only the respect for his great talents, preeminent learning and acknowledged piety and faithfulness that preserved him from serious annoyance. He was the center of a circle of devoted friends, including some of the most eminent men of Scotland. Among the learned, he was known as a walking library. His excellent social talent, his unrivaled wit and humor, combined with his vast learning, caused his company to be courted. The principalship of a college in a new country, the plans of which were on paper, and revenues in promises, it would seem, could hardly be attractive enough, although presented with the greatest unanimity, to draw him from his congenial literary surroundings and assured position.
After most profound consideration, and without the encouragement of some of his most intimate and influential friends, he finally concluded to cast in his lot with the Republicans of the New World, with whom he had so deeply sympathized, and for the defense of whose rights he had not feared to incur odium at home. The picture that presented itself to his mind of the "formative condition of America" in all respects, with the "minds of its citizens free from the shackles of authority yielding more easily to reason," had considerable influence in producing his decision, re-enforced as it was by the ardent, persistent, and eloquent persuasions of his friend Doctor Rush, with all the high coloring imparted to the prospects of the new institution by his sanguine temperament. The natural caution of Governor Dickinson, combined with his constant thoughtulness of the comfort of others, at one time led him to dis- courage Doctor Nisbet from accepting the position, by a frank statement of his fears that the revolution in Pennsylvania politics, occasioned by the restoration of the right of suffrage to
the loyalists, was not favorable to the prospects of the College for State aid. The doctor, in a letter to the Earl of Buchan, clearly exhibits his views in regard to this turn in American politics in the following parap;raph: "Perhaps the late Assembly of Pennsylvania have been too much in haste to obtain the reputation of being humane and merciful, by taking in those who have turned out themselves. If they had contented themselves with restoring the loyalists to their estate, but denied them the privilege of voting till they had passed a novitiate of ten or twelve years, the present confusion might have been avoided. * * * But imprudent counsels are common in all States."
On the 9th of June, 1785, after a voyage of forty-seven days from Greenock, he arrived in Philadelphia with his family, consisting of his wife and two sons and two daughters. During a delay of several weeks in Philadelphia, as the guest of Doctor Rush, he received every attention from the leading citizens, and was, upon the whole, very favorably impressed with the people and his prospects. He arrived at Carlisle on the 4th of July following. Upon information of his approach, a deputation of citizens and a troop of horse were dispatched to escort him into the town. On the following day the oath of office was administered, and he delivered a sermon from Acts VII, 22, upon the importance of the union of piety and learning, remarkable as the only sermon of his that was allowed to be printed. A Grammar School was already in successful operation under the charge of Professor Ross, assisted by Mr. Robert Johnson, tutor, and subsequently professor of Mathematics. At the first meeting of the Board of Trustees after the arrival of Doctor Nisbet, Reverend Robert Davidson, D. D. , was added to the faculty as professor of History, Geography, Chronology, Rhetoric, and Belles Letters, and a Mr. Jait was appointed, to teach the students "to read and write the English
language with elegance and propriety." Doctor Davidson was also, at the same time, settled as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Carlisle. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and had been connected with it as an instructor, and, as will be seen, had an important share in conducting the College in its earlier years.
Before Dr. Nisbet had fairly entered upon his work, he was prostrated by a severe and protracted fever, together with several members of his family, and became so much discouraged by the effect of the climate upon his health, "especially of the great heats beyond the conception of anyone who has not felt them," that,on the 18th of October, he resigned his position, resolved to return to Scotland. The trustees felt obliged to accept his resignation, though with great reluctance, and Professor Davidson was appointed Principal pro tem. Unable as well as unwilling to undertake a mid-winter voyage, Dr.Nisbet postponed his departure to the Spring, and in the meantime his health and spirits were so far restored, that he consented to a reelection to his former position on the 10th of May following,and during his long subsequent connection with the College, his health was never seriously interrupted again.
In the faculty thus organized, Dr.Nisbet was not only primus infer pares in position, but also most decidedly in energy and amount of work. Connected with his position as principal was the chair of Moral Philosophy, but in order to bring the college curriculum nearer to his ideal, he delivered four co-ordinate courses of lectures on Moral Philosophy, Logic, Philosophy of the Mind, and Belles Lettres,and, upon the request of a class, added a fifth, on Systematic Theology, which extended over two years and embraced four hundred and eighteen lectures, and is remarkable as probably the first course of lectures on systematic theology delivered in this country. He also filled the pulpit of the Presbyterian church alternately
with Dr. Davidson, and with all, according to the request of tte trustees, visited different parts of Pennsylvania and the adjoining States, to solicit money for and excite an interest in the institution, not a small matter at that time, when even postal communications were limited, and his journeys were for the most part made in the saddle.
Whilst the College seems thus to have been provided with an able and active faculty, the matter of buildings was apparently neglected. It is true that at the very earliest meetings of the trustees resolutions were passed for the purchase of grounds and the erection of buildings, but other matters, apparently more pressing and important, monopolized the attention and energy of the friends of the College, so that for nearly twenty years the exercises were conducted in a small two-story brick building, with four rooms, near the corner of Bedford street and Liberty alley, long known as the old College, replaced by a building empioyed for educational purposes by the borough. One cause for delay on this point was doubtless also the expectation entertained, when the College was located at Carlisle, that the government buildings adjoining the town would be obtainable, by donation or purchase, for the purposes of the College. In April, 1787, negotiations were entered into with Congress, through the Secretary of the Treasury, for their purchase, and subsequently a committee of the trustees was privately instructed to offer $20,000 for them, and political influence was brought to bear through the senators and representatives in Congress. It is said that Dr. Nisbet did occupy a portion of the buildings for a time, and that some of his lectures were delivered there, and that students were also accommodated in them for several years. It is perhaps not to be regretted that they did not become the permanent seat of the College, or the present more eligible site might not have been obtained.
The College was not only cramped by its limited accommodations, but even more by the slender support at its command. The aid expected from the State was tardily given. Public finances were as straightened as those of individuals. In 1786 the first grant was made, consisting of £500. in specie, and ten thousand acres of the unappropriated lands of the State. Many private individuals had made similar donations of unimproved land. However promising such property may have been for the remote future of the institution, it contributed little to its immediate support or growth. Under financial pressure, repeated authorizations were given for its sale by the trustees, but with practically no result. For the same reason, they formed a poor basis even for loans. The immediate expenses of the College were therefore met, in great part, by contributions. The latter, though not munificent in character, were, in many cases, liberal, especially for that day, and were from leading citizens in widely separated sections. In Philadelphia, the name of Robert Morris heads one list with £375, and among the other names are those of John Cadwallader, Thomas Willing, Charles Thompson, Benjamin Paschal, Edward Shippen, and John Ross. The report in regard to Baltimore, by Dr. Davidson, after a visit to that city, was that he had found the inhabitants well disposed toward the institution, and that they had subscribed with great generosity. Among the contributors was William Patterson, father of Madame Bonaparte. Even Richmond, Va., manifested its interest by substantial aid. The Chevalier de la Luzerne, Minister of France, paid $200 in specie.
Another expedient, however, of more doubtful morality now, but very usual then, in the form of a lottery, was resorted to. Other Colleges, at the time, as well benevolent and public enterprises of different kinds, had, under legislative sanction, employed the same method for pecuniary relief. In January,
1790, a lottery was advertised with much display, as authorized by the Legislature, "for raising the sum of $10,000 for erecting a City Hall in Philadelphia, and for the use of Dickinson College. The highest prize was $3,000, and the tickets four dollars each. After the scheme of prizes, the advertisement continued : "It is to be hoped that a lottery instituted for the purpose of improving the Capital of the State, and for promoting the interests of literature in its western parts will meet with encouragement from the public. The College of Carlisle has already exhibited very promising appearances of future usefulness to the State. Its central position, the respectable characters of its principal and professors, and the reputation it has already acquired for accurate and useful learning, render it an object worthy of general patronage in this and the neighboring States." Among the parties from whom it was announced tickets could be purchased in different localities, a very fair sprinkling of Reverends appears.
In 1791, the State came to the relief of the College, by a grant of £1,500, and subsequently, about 1796, an additional grant of $3,000 was made. In the midst of the severest financial embarrassments, the trustees did not fail, in some way, to provide the necessary educational appliances, as well as competent instructors. The expenditures for the library and philosophical apparatus, was more than liberal, in proportion to the resources.
In spite of all the difficulties and discouragements, the College assumed a very creditable rank as a literary institution. The first public commencement was held September 27, 1787, and the "first degree in Arts" was conferred on nine young men. There seems to have been no established course of study for the degree, as there was no established day for commencement. Neither were the students classified. When, in the opinion of the Faculty, a class could be advanced far enough
for examination for graduation by a certain date, the fact was certified to the President of the Board of Trustees: and a meeting of that body was called by regular legal advertsement, and the day fixed for that class. These regulations prevailed as late as 1800. The second class, of eleven, was graduated on the 7th of May, 1788, a class of like number on the 3d of June, 1789, and of twelve on the 28th of September, 1790, whilst in 1791 there was no class; but on the 2d of May, 1792, the largest class was graduated that has gone out from the College, except that of 1858. The students were first classified in 1796, and a regular course of study was prescribed at the same time for graduation. But three classes, however, were formed, designated as Freshman, Junior, and Senior. The missing Sophomore link was not discovered until 1814. The curriculum in Latin and Greek was almost as extensive as at present, and the first year seems to have been almost entirely devoted to these languages and arithmetic. Lectures were almost exclusi'vely employed in imparting instruction, where the subject permitted. Complaints in regard to this method of instruction were frequent. The Trustees, by resolution, repeatedly recommended more frequent exercises in recitation and examination, and at one time alleged that the institution was likely to suffer very much from the complaints of the students in regard to "the labor of writing out so great a number of lectures on the various branches of literature," and "that the dread of this circumstance had deterred many young men from coming to the College." They simply recommended that the labor should be lightened by abridging the amount of writing, but that the plan of education should in no degree be abridged.
There were many peculiarities of that period that gradually disappeared. The Latin Salutatory, which was considered the highest honor, and the Valedictory, next to it, were left to the decision of the class, until 1812, when the Trustees, discover-
ing that plan to be objectionable, imposed the duty of assigning them upon the Faculty. The account of Chief Justice Taney, of the class of 1795 , indicates the controlling influence of the literary societies at that early day. The selection, which was by ballot, was generally decided upon the society line, the literary society, which happened to be in numerical ascendency in the class, even assuming to make the nominations for its mem- bers in the class, and generally, too, without hesitation, appropriating both of the honors. According to the same authority, the subjects of the orations of the graduates were not only selected by Dr. Nisbet, but a skeleton, covering half a page of small letter paper, by him, indicated the manner in which it might be handled in any case. The method employed for securing attendance on recitations and prayers had, too, a different point of contact with the student. The monitor of the class, appointed weekly, called the roll upon every assembling of the class, not, however, until the professor had taken his chair. Absentees were fined, at the discretion of the professor, from 3d. to 6d. All absences, fines, &c., were reported by the monitor, at a weekly meeting of the professors, and all the students held on Saturday morning, when fines were collected, excuses heard, admonitions given, monitors appointed, &c., and absence from this meeting, on the part of the student, was punished by a fine of one eighth of a dollar. "The moneys arising from this source" were appropriated by the regulations for fuel and for keeping the building in an orderly condition. It might be feared that the physical comfort of students would, in some degree, be in inverse ratio to their literary and moral character, and yet this argumentum ad crumenam style of dealing with literarand moral delinquencies, so out of harmony with our present notions, may have had some elements of efficiency in it that more modern devices lack. Although the commencements were held with great ceremony, and the Trustees,
Faculty, and students accompanied the graduating class in formal procession to the church, the exercises of the College were conducted in the "small, shabby building fronting on a dirty alley," as Taney narrates. The friends of the College were not indifferent to this feature. The Trustees kept constantly before themselves, and the community, the intention to have it remedied by resolving that it ought to be done, and by appointing committees to select a site, &c. After a grant of £1,500 by the Legislature, in 1791, such a committee was appointed to negotiate for the purchase of a lot in the borough, from the Penns, to build a "college house" upon, and also to prepare a plan, make estimates, &c.
It was not until 1798, however, that a committee on this subject found it possible or worth while to act. The present College campus, comprising a whole square of the town on its western limits, was then purchased of the Penns in fee for $150.*; The ground was open at the time, and formed apart of what was called the "commons," under a prevalent impression that it had been set apart as open ground for the benefit of the town. Measures were at once taken looking to the erection of a building, and after great effort, it was in so far completed as to have been partially occupied by students, when it was totally destroyed by fire on the 3d of February, 1803. The friends of the College congratulated themselves that the library, apparatus, globes, charts, &c., had not yet been removed to it. The fire originated in one of the unfinished rooms, from ashes placed at a considerable distance from the building. A very high wind from the west prevailed at thetime, carrying the charred shingles over the town beyond the Letort spring. Nothing seems to have prevented the conflagration of the whole town but a light fall of snow. Misfortunes of this character frequently develope a surprising amount of
* Deed recorded. Cumberland county, Book N, Vol. I, p. 327.
latent vitality as well as unsuspected public spirit and ability. Judged by all the ordinary rules of diagnosis, the case of the institution struggling under a load of debt for the new building, would have been pronounced hopeless. But within twenty-four hours, a subscription for re-building was liberally filled in Carlisle, and a meeting of the trustees was called, at which, after setting forth the destruction of "the new and elegant building erected at the expense of many thousand dollars," they most vigorously entered upon measures for re-building. A committee was appointed to employ laborers to dig clay, make brick, and contract for other material. Contributions came in from unexpected sources. The destruction of the College was regarded as a national calamity. Political animosities were softened by it. The College had been notoriously in sympathy with the Adams administration in its trustees, its faculty, and its students. The latter had sent a letter expressive of their feelings to President Adams, to which he had given a very appreciative and fatherly reply.* But at this juncture, of seventeen members of Congress who contributed to the re-building of the College, all but one were Republicans, and even Jefferson received the committee courteously and gave $100. Count de la Laugune also headed a list with the State, aided with a loan of $6,000 upon unimproved lands of the College.
In August, 1803, the first stone of the new building was laid. The original intention was to construct it of brick. Plans, suggested by the Trustees, were submitted to Latrobe, the Government architect at Washington, who not only furnished the working plan, as finally adopted, but, fortunately. succeeded in having it carried out in stone. As represented in a letter from Judge Breckenridgc, he argued that "either brick or stone would rust and acquire an appearance of age, which, however, would not be objectionable, as painters, in their drawings, give even
* Life and Works of John Adams, vol. IX, p. 204.
new buildings the rust of antiquity to make them venerable, and in large buildings, and of a public nature, it is especially becoming." But as to material, he was "decisively for stone, as proper for a large edifice, giving it the appearance of strength." The entry was also thrown to the north, at his suggestion, and the door in the east end was not in the building, as originally constructed, but enlarged from a window, in 1834, at Doctor Durbin's suggestion. The length of the building is one hundred and fifty feet, and its breadth forty-five feet, and all the dimensions and the altitudes of the different stories and basement were carefully planned, with a view to harmonious architectural effect. It was not ready for occupancy until November, 1805, and then only in a partially finished condition internally. A donation from Doctor Rush, subsequently, was used in erecting partitions, and, in 1821, much remained to be done to completely adapt it to all the purposes for which it was intended. At present it contains a spacious and pleasant Chapel with a gallery, the Halls of the Belles Lettres and Union Philosophical Societies and two large rooms for their Libraries, the Reading-room, two Lecture-rooms, with offices for professors, a professor's residence, several rooms for students, besides ample accommocations for a students' boarding club in the basement.
Whilst the new ouilding was in course of construction, the College met with its gravest misfortune in the death of Doctor Nisbet, January 18, 1804, after an illness of a few weeks, resuIting from a heavy cold. He had just completed his sixty-eighth year. For nineteen years, through all the embarrassments and discouragements, and in spite of many deficiencies, he had given character to the young institution, and had attracted to it the sympathy and aid of friends of higher education as well as students. As a prominent factor in the teach ing force, internally, and as a figure-head, externally, he had
almost constituted the institution. At home in all branches of human learning, he had his acquisitions so fully in hand, that they were readily turned to account. He was a fluent speaker, and in the pulpit never used aids of any kind. His imagination was lively, his wit keen, his sarcasm scathing, whilst he was fearless and unreserved, at times, perhaps, needlessly so in his expressions of opinion or of censure. He had the use of at least nine languages, and was at home in the whole range of classic literature. Some of his intellectual feats are incredible. Whilst in Europe, he was supposed to be one of the best Greek scholars it contained: His memory was as wonderful as his wit was unequaled. He cou]d repeat whole books of Homer, the whole of the Æneid, and is said to have often heard his recitations in the classics without a text-book. His life in America was not a happy one. His temperament was peculiar, and his ideal of a College did not harmonize at all times with the views of the trustees, and perhaps not with the demands of the country at that time. In discipline, he was generally regarded as too lenient in the execution of law, but he relied upon his sarcasm, which is said to have been the terror of disorderly students. His methods of instruction were modeled after those of much older institutions of very different character. The disappointments encountered caused him at times to take a gloomy view of American affairs, and combined with the impressions made by the horrors of the French revolution, eventually imparted a tinge of anti-republicanism to his sentiments. Thjs was prominent in his lectures to the students, and the young republicans of the day simply omitted the offensive passages from their notes, according to Taney, whilst their high regard for him as a man restrained them from what would have been open rebellion with any other professor. The wonderful character of the man, so out of joint with his surroundings, is apparent in the fact that he retained his position without a question; and his death was
regarded as the greatest calamity that could have befallen the College. He lies buried in the old grave-yard of Carlisle. His monument bears a lengthy epitaph in Latin by Doctor Mason, one of his successors in office. His children were no discredit to so eminent a father. The only son that survived him, Alexander, was for many years a judge in Baltimore, and his daughters were married and filled highly respectable stations in life.