Chapter Five - Nisbet in His Prime
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CARLISLE, eagerly watching in the sunlight and bells of that early Independence Day, saw a stoutly built man in ministerial black, sharp nose, bright eyes, under a full white powdered wig. Such a wig, almost unique in America, set him apart as the sage from afar he was. Yet the sage had an observant eye, missing nothing, and, for all his fleshiness, a light, strong step. They would find him as agile in body as mind, a good horseman and a man who, on foot, could keep pace with any ordinary rider.1 With him—all somewhat overawed by the alien wildness of this holiday scene—they saw his wife, his nineteen-year-old son who had just been graduated with distinction Master of Arts of the University of Edinburgh, the two little girls and his youngest, a boy of eight.2 They all spoke, of course, with a broad Scots brogue, but this mattered little in a country where every other schoolmaster seemed to be a Scot. When Robert Heterick left the old academy at York and was succeeded by "a Quaker gentleman," the boys laughed contemptuously at the newcomer's speech, which had none of the thick burr of a learned man.3 Carlisle people gave the Nisbets all the warmth of a frontier welcome, hushed by the respect due to the vast erudition of "a walking library." Later, they would find their own high spirit matched and overmatched in this man's needling ironic wit.

As for the Nisbets, through the dust cloud of their mounted escort into town, they saw a village of about fifteen hundred souls, untidy log houses along unpaved streets and then, as they



neared the square, find mansions elegantly built of the native gray stone clustering about the courthouse and churches.4 New college and sage from afar had brought a faster beat to that frontier sense of future. John Steel's fine meetinghouse was being renovated to make room for Duffield's Pomfret Street congregation—Old Side, New Side, united under the smile of Dr. Davidson, blessed peacemaker. Sure sign of expected growth in commerce as well as learning, a newspaper, The Carlisle Gazette and the Western Repository of Knowledge, was nearly ready to begin its run, with a bit of Latin, no less, on its bannerhead "MULTAS IT FAMA PER ORAS."5 Its first number would appear on August 10, 1785, with a congratulatory address elegantly composed by a student "on the rising grandeur and encreasing reputation of Dickinson College . . . already are her courts crowded with a train of ardent votaries."6

Now to those courts the sage must come, face-to-face with reality at last. After the glowing letters from Dr. Rush, after the praise and promises—after that reception at Philadelphia where John Dickinson and so many others had crowded in to take his hand and hear his voice, where George Duffield had pledged a sermon and collection for the College (inspiring Rush's "blessed times and changes! The lamb & the lyon will soon lie down together!")7—after all this he found a small brick schoolhouse in a narrow lane, one room below and one above. Here James Ross, now standing deferentially at his elbow, had been teaching a roomful of ten-to-teen-age boys their Latin and Greek. That was the old Grammar School, essence of college preparation, but there must also be "English school" for other preparatory subjects, and where to put the college classes remained a question indeed. At the Works, perhaps. The trustees, were hopeful, confident, intolerant of doubts, and in Philadelphia Nisbet had been assured of absolute control.8 The College had some apparatus, too: a telescope and globes. The library was surely an unusual one to find in the midst of a forest. Back in March, 1783, John Dickinson had promised five hundred volumes from the famous collection of his father-in-law, Issac Norris, but had since sent out more than three times as many. With the gifts still coming in from friends of Dr. Rush, with Nisbet's personal library of about fourteen hundred titles, here were



book resources any college in America might envy.9 Shelves were being set up for Nisbet's books in the house which the trustees had rented for him at the Works, the hoped-for campus of the future.

The trustees were pledged to this expense, to all the costs of the voyage from Scotland and to a salary for the Principal which could also have been the envy of other college presidents.10 They expected, to be sure, that the Doctor would earn it not only by organizing the curriculum and teaching the senior classes, but by touring the states and raising money as John Witherspoon had done, and was still doing, for Nassau Hall. Development was a president's business, then as now. Yet Dr. Nisbet had now to face inadequacies within himself. He had always been an outsider, had always figured as a learned, caustic critic of the men and times around him—coming out in print against the King's ministries again and again and almost arrested for treason during the American war, taking issue with the great William Robertson in the General Assembly of the Scottish Kirk, lashing the town council of Montrose.11 Here in free America virtually the whole population was the establishment. In Philadelphia he had been thrilled by the respectful attention of "the republicans here," who "never deign to bestow these where they are not in earnest, as they have nothing to ask of any man living."12 Well enough for the moment; but very soon, seeing a society without class distinctions, a government dependent on a fickle and ignorant majority, a clergy with no public support, and nowhere any fixed orders of social and political leadership, he felt himself one of a nation plunging to disaster. Emotionally, he needed those elements of security. He could not handle groups with authority, commanding respect. He could criticize but not persuade. His punishing wit often brought laughter but never love. One close friend put his finger on it:

"He never seemed happy in his situation. In Scotland he was a republican. As far as I can judge from letters I had from him, after going to America, he was nearly monarchical. During his residence at Montrose, he was still shooting the arrows of satyre at the Magistrates. This threw a sort of shade over his character, and made him pass for what he was not, an ill-natured man. But he had such an irresistible

desire of saying smart things, that he seldom let any opportunity of doing so pass, at whatever expense. Often he pained his friends, by using the language of scripture, rather in a jesting mode of application."13

From the first, there was repining in the little house at the Works. Morning and evening mists from the millpond nearby brought a fear of fever and ague to the little family. Shut indoors with the oppressive American heat around them, they thought of home. On their mantel the big bracket clock made by William Robb of Montrose watched them steadily. You could set it either to chime the hour or to play any one of three Scots tunes, "Twee Side," "Corn Riggs" or "Bonny Brook."14

Dr. Rush received a letter from the Principal, dated July 18, 1785, which instantly aroused his alarm, displeasure and contempt. Anne Tweedie Nisbet, it seemed, was just as craven as Mrs. Witherspoon had been when she had resisted the idea of the move to America. But Mrs. Nisbet, having come, wished now to return, and the children had joined her in pleading with their father, not only in dread of the ague but suffering from "the desiderium patriae or maladie de pais so fatal to the Swis."15  In a letter of five days later, however, these fears and doubts were barely discernible. The trustees would meet in August, and Nisbet gave his view of what was needed. A master must be found for the Grammar School. With pupils entering in all stages of preparation it was "impossible that Mr. Ross should at once teach them the Principles of Grammar, & discharge his office of humanist to the higher Classes." Both Ross and Robert Johnston, teacher of mathematics, had too many in their classes. The appointment of Robert Davidson for history, chronology and geography (delayed, perhaps, for Nisbet's approval) must go through, but this should not "supercede the Election of a Professor of Natural Philosophy." Nisbet, obviously, had become aware of Davidson's dabbling in science and his incompetence to teach it on college level. He expressed urgent hopes that Congress would grant the buildings and that Rush would "continue your Activity with Regard to the funds."16

To others, the Principal was less reticent in implying that he had been lured into this barren land under false pretenses. He



would never be able to take the advice that old John Erskine of Edinburgh sent with a gift of book, "Remember that you have two ears and but one tongue."17 Erskine knew that Nisbet's complaints would soon be appearing in the Scottish press.

When Dr. and Mrs. Rush arrived in Carlisle for the trustees' meeting on August 9, fever and ague had at last taken hold at the Works. Newcomers, especially when weakened by a transatlantic voyage, were subject to it. Natives regarded it lightly. So also Dr. Rush. He did not call. When on the next day he opened a plaintive, incoherent note, beginning, "And is this thy Kindness to thy Friend?" his eye stopped at the dating by the signature, "Tomb of Dickinson College, Augt. 10th 1785."18 He would answer rebuke with rebuke. He did not go.

By charter, the Principal of the College had no place on its Board of Trustees. Had Nisbet been a Witherspoon he might have remedied this, at least by establishing a pattern of consultation. At this meeting the curriculum was to be determined, the organization of the whole completed. The trustees, fourteen of them with old John Armstrong sitting as President pro tem, went ahead with their business, contemptuous of Nisbet's plight and feeling no need whatever for his counsel—setting a precedent which would long endure. These gentlemen understood the duties and dignity of college trustees and would not demean the institution by any wavering. It was theirs to administer the whole, the faculty's to submit to their direction.

The eight clergymen, a majority, were all Presbyterians except Henry Ernest Muhlenberg and William Hendel. General Armstrong, Colonel Hartley, Colonel Montgomery and Stephen Duncan were lawyers. Two medical men, Samuel A. McCoskry and Rush, made up the company, and of them all only Rush had given thought to the whole range of educational policy. His concepts were original and bold—at the same time owing much to the directions set by William Smith at the College of Philadelphia. He foresaw a national system of public schools and colleges with a single "federal university" at its summit.19 The culminating study would not be Moral Philosophy (so long to be the final fare of American college seniors), but history and government, the principles and practice of agriculture, commerce and manufacturing, with chemistry and natural history to



the fore. The modern languages would take precedence over the ancient. Let Greek and Latin be studied for content, not for grammar. Athletics would be cultivated, an unheard-of thing. Schools for women had a place in his system, with emphasis on "the principles of liberty and government."20

Rush knew better than to advance the whole of this program at a meeting where the majority would be certain to oppose—to say nothing of that uncompromising classicist abed at the Works. At a later date he would refer openly to Greek and Latin as "offal learning" which "brutalized" the intellect, and declare the American Indian languages a more useful study.21 The Plan of Education for Dickinson College which his committee brought in on August 11 is in his hand—a tentative first draft, a step forward rather than a manifesto.22 One must look beyond it for the full intention of this man of inspired eagerness and ready anger. It goes back to his childhood and that one principle from which, as he saw it, all else must flow—love. In one of his essays he has written:

The world was created in love. It is sustained by love. Nations and families that are happy, are made so only by love. Let us extend this divine principle to those little communities which we call schools. Children are capable of loving in a high degree. They may therefore be governed by love.23

"Mothers and school-masters," he went on, not governments or clergy, "plant the seeds of nearly all the good and evil which exist in our world." Now, in his Plan, "as the fear of The LORD is the beginning of all wisdom, and should be the end and Object of all education," Rush gave religious instruction first place. It is interesting, however, that he specified not mere chapel attendance, but discussions and compositions on theology, and that his colleagues voted that provision out. "Moral Discipline" came next, enforced by a scale of punishments from admonition to expulsion. This emphasis was highly orthodox, and would be for years in American educational theory, where we find it stated over and over that learning without morality and discipline is evil.

Rush's curriculum began with a division of four classes above the grammar school, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior.



This was allowed to stand, though it would be many years before a four-year course would be achieved. One can see this feature as the measure of an institution's strength, and not many colleges had yet reached it.24 Latin and Greek headed the list of studies. The Doctor might not approve, but it could not be otherwise and be called a college. He added Hebrew for good measure, another learned tongue for which, with faculties recruited so largely from the clergy, it would not be too hard to find a teacher. Then came French and German, his real interests. The recent French alliance had given our colleges and college students a new awareness of French literature, of French commercial ties. On German, the Doctor had long held strong convictions: a subject vital for Pennsylvania. He had sought at once a cooperative program with the German Reformed Church, where, however, his motives had been suspected:

The English, who are here, are now establishing a second school in Carlisle, for which purpose they, at our last coetus, desired our assistance, and also some Reformed teachers. Since we had reasons to fear that this might tend to suppress the German language, and even our nationality, and might be to the disadvantage of our religion since they might accept a Reformed teacher only as a matter of form, we excused ourselves on the ground of disability.25

Philology, rhetoric, criticism and logic were in the Plan, with exercises in composition and public speaking, all necessary preparation for citizenship in a republic. So also were history, chronology and geography, with the myths and antiquities of the ancient world. To these last he had added the antiquities of Egypt, a surprising new point of emphasis so long before Bonaparte and Champollion. Moral philosophy was there, but Rush had specified that it was to include "government & the law of nature & nations"—and so it would in Nisbet's lectures. Finally, there was to be a full course of mathematics and as full a one as possible of general science, or "natural philosophy." Chemistry had been entered, later to be crossed out, perhaps for lack of a teacher, perhaps in the clerical fear (shared by Nisbet) that too much concentration of the material weakened one's awareness of the divine.

Examinations (always oral in this day) were to be held regularly. A thesis upon a subject chosen by the student would



be required for graduation and must be defended in public at commencement.26 This was a long advance over the carefully coached commencement orations which in practice would prevail. Regulations for the Library were laid down, as also for the governance of the Grammar School and its more plebeian adjunct, the "English school." Rush had a fixed aversion to dormitories. The boys must lodge with village families. As things stood, of course, it could not be otherwise. He also presented his case for "swimming, skating and such other exercises as are innocent, conductive to health and external elegance." This section of the manuscript is marked, in another hand, "Expunged." Also expunged was his provision that students wear coats with a distinguishing badge for each class. Here the deletion was wise, for specified dress, always intended chiefly as an aid in detecting malfeasance, had no success at Hampden-Sidney, Princeton, Harvard or wherever tried. The Rush view of dormitories would become moot later, but be overriden by trustees and faculty. We hear no more of the graduating theses, each of which, as he had wisely ordered, was to be bound and preserved in the Library. Nothing of that sort was done until a hundred years had passed.

It is hardly conceivable that any alteration in that first draft of the Plan occurred while Rush was there to defend it. The minutes of August 11 tell us that it "was debated by Paragraphs & adopted by the Board." It would be reviewed by a committee appointed on October 19, when Rush was no longer present. A year later, he was scolding the Board by letter because the Plan had not been formally adopted by the faculty also.27 It was then once more "debated by paragraphs & after several alterations adopted."28

A report of the doings of August, 1785, is spread out in the second issue of the new Carlisle Gazette. The adoption of the Plan was announced with a touch of public relations fanfare: "very extensive and includes several branches of literature not hitherto taught in any of the American colleges." Here also we read of the election of Dr. Davidson as "Professor of HISTORY, and the BELLES LETTRES, to teach also CHRONOLOGY and GEOGRAPHY."29 Some of those new "branches of literature" were no doubt expected to appear within the fold of Belles

Lettres as presented by Davidson, versatile soul. We read too of the "English school," now to give a full range to the preparatory department. Robert Tait, an experienced Scottish pedagogue who had made the voyage with Nisbet, was in charge. Tait's advertisement, headed, "EDUCATION," is printed directly below the news. "Just arrived from Edinburgh," he solicited pupils for his school "under the direction of the Trustees of Dickinson College," in the schoolhouse in the alley—"where he proposes to teach the English and French Languages Grammatically. Also, Writing, Cyphering, and Bookkeeping."

The English school began operations immediately, making, after a fashion, the beginning of that modern language program desired by Rush, not to mention bookkeeping, a practical aspect of mathematics he approved. So also would he approve, and had perhaps suggested, that final clause in Mr. Tait's invitation: "Young Ladies who chuse to study any of these branches, and have not already acquired them, may, (if they please) have separate hours for themselves." The English school was soon in trouble, however, and would be an irregular operation at best. By December, Montgomery was complaining to Rush of Tait's behavior, and in May the trustees dismissed him.30

That issue of the Gazette sought also to gladden the community with news that the Rev. Charles Nisbet was "perfectly recovered from his late indisposition." From this we can infer that Nisbet was present at the public exercises of the College also covered in the paper. These had been held on Monday, August 15, and must have been planned originally as the inauguration of the new but now reluctant Principal. There had been an oration "in praise of Mathematics," spoken by young John Montgomery, and then a "Dialogue" between John and another trustee's lad, Robert Duncan. Montgomery as Philemon, and Duncan as Eugenius, they went at it in "a spirited and graceful manner," and with many a flattering allusion to their elders:

How can we but admire, & love, & praise, The generous few, who toil, and watch, & plan, That learning may diffuse her cheering light On us, and all mankind?

                                       We thank you all,
For every wish express'd, & plan design'd

The infant sons of Dickinson to bless.

And you, dear sir, safe from your native land
Arriv'd, we welcome to these calm retreats.
By your kind aid we hope ere long to reap
Those honours that reward the student toils.31

Yet he unto whom these last lines are addressed, on the very day the Gazette appeared, was writing to the Presbytery of Brechin begging for assurance that he could be taken back into his living at Montrose. His erstwhile colleagues would receive this plea with a coolness akin to that of Dr. Rush, wishing him "prosperity & success in your present usefull & honourable station."32

From the varying accounts of Nisbet's illness it is clear that the fever and ague had been only a mild affliction, and that his trouble was a nervous prostration in the face of the difficulties with which he was now expected to contend, resentment at unsubstantiated promises, frustration in being wholly subject to trustees who could dictate but not sustain. He lost all energy, his mind wandered childishly, and on into the winter pain and trembling of the under jaw still afflicted him.33 In the meantime, October 16, he had sent his resignation to the trustees. They agreed to finance his return, and appointed Davidson Acting Principal. The Nisbets were waiting for a Scottish ship that could carry them safely home, but winter came before the vessel and cooler weather—and that cool reply from Brechin— brought second thoughts. By the turn of the year he was an eager candidate for reelection.

Even before Nisbet's resignation, Rush had been looking for a successor—this time an eminent American. He had in mind Jonathan Edwards, Jr., Professor of Languages at Princeton. Yet to old Colonel Montgomery a Down East Yankee was no better than any other foreigner. "I see you are fond of the great sages in the eastern countries," he wrote. "Well, then, let us send to China and get one. " Montgomery was for Davidson. He added a P.S. to the letter, " . . . this between ourselves you know that we obtained the Charter and Endowments not by the aide of the new lights but Even in opposition to them but now when they see us going on they wish to push themselves into the best



places." And then, significantly, for he had declared himself sick of Old Side, New Side politics, "Dr. Davidson stands high here and is no party man or as little so as any clergyman . . . . " 34

Rush, too, had had enough of clerical conniving. It rankled him that John Ewing still had influence in the affairs of his college. It made the crisis with Nisbet doubly humiliating. Learning that Montgomery had been in correspondence with Ewing, he nearly broke entirely with his old friend. Also, before Nisbet's resignation, the Colonel had sent the trustees a strong statement in favor of Davidson, thickly urgent in his soldierly way but also with a certain academic cogency that might well have come from the Provost.35 In his fury and frustration, Rush broke with the beloved church of his fathers and became, for a time, an Episcopalian. "You wonder," he explained to Montgomery, "at my leaving the Old Side church. It was because I detected the father of the Old Side party, Dr. Ewing, in lying, drunkenness, and profane conversation, and afterwards found him supported by Old Side Presbyterians and New Side Skunks in every part of the state."36

So now the issue was between Nisbet and Davidson. Davidson might have had it, but for Rush on the one hand and, on the other, John Dickinson's sympathy with Nisbet's plight. Take him back, Rush urged, cutting his salary from £400 to £300 until the College recover from the damage he has done. "If the Doctor will do his duty and give over whining and complaining, I shall love and serve him as much as if nothing had happened."37 That, however, was unlikely to occur. Nisbet had been directly consulted at least once in that fall or winter— "but when I presented a few hints to the meeting of the Trustees, not the smallest attention was paid to them, though I knew that many of them approved them in their heart. Everything was ordered according to the old mumpsimus." This went to the Earl of Buchan in a long letter of December 15, 1785, full of disillusionment with ignorant and foolish trustees holding an absolute power without appeal, the teachers "mere day-labourers for seven hours a day, summer and winter," with only the two one-month vacations; the students acquiring, many of them, only "a decided aversion for books and learning."33



Nisbet complained no less to Benjamin Rush who, at least, could never rightly be called an old mumpsimus. He flatly refused to cease his criticism of American ways, and sneeringly reminded the Doctor of how he had been summoned from Scotland "to make War on Ignorance. . .":

I cannot agree with you that a Person at the Head of this College could have the Influence you mention, especially if he is to be restrained to simple Panegyric on the Manners of the times, & to teach, along with three other Persons, in a Room not twenty feet square . . . . The Hubbub & Confusion of such a Place would confound St. John himself, & St. Job too, if he were concerned with it, tho' sanctioned by the Example of the admired University of Philadelphia. But as your Regulations are professedly changeable, it is to be hoped that this Absurdity will soon be removed. Perhaps you designed to awaken my Ambition by mentioning that you hoped that Providence had such a Person in View for this College as might prove at St. John in Religion & Lycurgus in Politics. Though these are Hyperbolical & big Words you know that I once had a Desire to approach as near as possible to the Purport of them, if not deprived of promised Support, or fettered by Regulations that would render success impossible. In every European Seminary the Teachers are allowed to exercise their Judgment as to the Mode of teaching, & the Division of the time of their Pupils betwixt public Lectures & private Study . . . .39

Again, he taunted Rush on the absence of all the most prominent trustees, leaving the institution at the mercy of

mean local Prejudice. To erect a College in the Corner of a Grammar School is a Scheme that was never thought of in any other Age or Place of the World, & to call a Person to teach, without allowing him a Place for that Purpose, seems pretty strange & can only have the effect to make the Boys lose their Time & Money & the Teachers their Labour & Reputation. They talk indeed of building another Apartment, of the same Size with the present, & that they will begin in the Spring, but this gives no Relief at present, & will even, if carried into Execution, only hinder the College from increasing.

To this he added allusions to the mud of the Carlisle streets in every winter thaw and to the morass around him at the Works, "which by the summer heats may be rendered an Avernian



Lake, that may choke the Birds of the Air as well as the Inhabitants of the Earth."40 The Gazette's item of February 8, 1786, that the trustees were now unanimously in Nisbet's favor, probably came from Rush, to whom John Black was writing, a week later, that "Genl. Armstrong and his party, it is said, are now fixed on Dr. Nisbet, whilst Coll. Montgomery &c. are determined for Dr. Davidson."41 James Ross broke into the Gazette with a fervent poem in Latin celebrating Nisbet's recovery from illness, a touching gesture in behalf of a fellow classicist from one who, democrat and patriot ever, had little in common with him otherwise.42

Then early that spring, the democrats and patriots, the hopefuls, had their first bright ray of justification. On April 7, 1786, the Pennsylvania Legislature granted £500 and ten thousand acres of land to Dickinson College. The prophet in Philadelphia was jubilant. "We have passed the Red Sea and the wilderness. A few of us it is true have been bitten by fiery serpents in the way, but the consciousness of pure intentions has soon healed our wounds. We have now nothing but the shallow waters of Jordan before us." There must be publications, "a short history of the rise and progress of our College, a copy of our charter and our plan of education, a list of the contributors to our College, and an account of our professors, Library, &c."43 The addition to the schoolhouse was begun, and building was well advanced when the trustees met on the 10th of May.

At that meeting, Charles Nisbet was reinstated as Principal of Dickinson College at a reduced salary, with Colonel Montgomery's party amiably concurring. In August the Board had authorized the Principal to go "on a mission" into the neighboring states, accompanied by a trustee. This authorization was now renewed. Let him prove that he deserved a better wage. Dr. Davidson had recently returned from such a foray, and had had more success than Nisbet, alas, would experience in wider travels. On the next day, the Board met in the church to hear the new Principal deliver a sermon on The Usefulness and Importance of Human Learning. It was ordered to be printed. There followed An Address to the Students of Dickinson College, also published.44 The Address appeared soon after with an Edin-



burgh imprint, evidence that the Doctor himself thought it the better piece, and certainly it was with this audience that his sympathies lay.

Dr. Davidson's report on his term as Acting Principal was received. It showed a school and college body of eighty. He had made a division into four classes with the Grammar School as one, but admitted that students had not been "regularly formed" into them. With such a motley assembly in terms of preparation and only two college professors, himself and Ross, to deal with it, he could hardly have done better. Tait had been replaced by Robert Johnston, teacher of mathematics, who was preparing himself in astronomy and hoping for appointment to a professorship at this meeting. He got it. As Professor of Mathematics he would be allowed to try his hand at natural philosophy as well. Johnston had been a tutor at the College of Philadelphia for three years after his graduation there in 1763, had gone into medicine and had marched off to war, January 16, 1776, as surgeon of William Irvine's regiment. As a teacher of science, however, he proved a total failure. He was hurriedly divested of that duty, and resigned from the faculty in something of a huff. Two years later, he was back as a trustee, elected at the same time as General Irvine. Johnston was a popular figure, a friend of Washington. He taught for a while in Delaware, then voyaged to China, returning at last to the life of a country squire in Franklin County. He bequeathed £50 to the College.45

So it would eventually devolve upon Davidson to teach the science course, along with so much else. In the meantime, and very possibly in response to his new dignity as Professor of Belles Lettres, the Belles Lettres Society of Dickinson College had been organized, May 20, 1786, with eleven students adopting and signing its constitution. Belles Lettres, so long to hold high prominence on the Dickinson College scene, began as an independent student group much like the original Phi Beta Kappa and others of the sort. It was exclusive in character, being limited at the outset to sixteen members. Like Phi Beta Kappa, it was dedicated to self-improvement and pledged to secrecy.46 One member of the faculty only, on request, might be admitted to a meeting, and the early minutes show no sign of faculty



intervention. The impulse for its founding may have come from the students themselves, or it may have been that Davidson, or a trustee with memories of Whig or Cliosophic at Princeton, saw this as a way of regularizing entirely independent student enterprise. On December 29, 1785, some of the boys had much diverted the town with a theatrical entertainment, "The Fatal Discovery," accompanied by a farce, "High Life Below Stairs." Trustees and professors both had looked askance at this; while the Gazette, speaking for the town, had opined that "a well regulated theatre is capable of being rendered a great school of virtue," and had advised the addition to the faculty of "a master in the art of speaking."47

The art of speaking (an emphasis Dr. Nisbet deplored) became a major concern of Belles Lettres. Fortnightly meetings were held at first, the members either appearing with a composition or debating a prescribed issue; and, as may be imagined, the debates were the more popular activity. Three years later, August 31, 1789, ten students founded a second society, the Union Philosophical.48 This completed the pattern of two rival, ardent loyalties, vying for "literary" distinction, the pattern to be present in almost every American college for many years to come, bringing a freshness and vitality to the curriculum as nothing else could possibly have done. The societies, meeting weekly as membership grew to the point where every student belonged to one or the other, were to the humanities what the laboratory would be to the sciences, and more. They would have the best libraries on campus (though each largely duplicated the other), bring in the most stimulating speakers, discuss vital contemporary topics and maintain, at first on the platform and later in print, an invaluable rapport between campus and town.

The subjects they debated reveal the students' character, along with professorial and home influences and, occasionally, the mood of rebellion. Anticipation of love and marriage is seen repeatedly—"Whether the love of Liberty or the love of Women is the strongest passion?" Women won, 5-4.49 "Do the Clergy or women have the greater influence on the Morals of Mankind?" The clergy took this, hands down, March 2, 1793. Novel reading was condemned in Belles Lettres debates, August 8,



1789, and again on June 21, 1806, which is rather surprising since the Society's library, in contrast to that of the College, was fairly well stocked with fiction.50  Slavery was condemned "by a Majority," August 12, 1786; and a warm debate, March 16, 1793, on "Whether is the War now carrying on against the Indians just or not?" was followed by a vote (suggestive as to where the strongest reasoning lay) that no vote be taken. Young Roger Brooke Taney had supported that tactful omission.

Taney, on June 22 of that year, was one of those supporting the negative view of the question, "Whether are Dr. Davidson's Lectures on Natural Philosophy an eligible way of acquiring a knowledge of that science?" They carried their point. Taney thought his college perhaps unique in allowing the students themselves to determine who should hold the places of honor at commencement, salutatorian and valedictorian.51 Since each society sought to capture both, the issue was often decided by non-members, and in time faculty intervention was inevitable. Taney himself was valedictorian in 1795. He always remembered Belles Lettres as an important factor in his training for the law, rejoicing, he tells us, "to meet in the business of life gentlemen who have been trained and disciplined in its exercises and whose conduct and acquirements reflect credit upon it."52

Taney and seven others lodged and boarded with James McCormick, the most popular of the professors, always friendly and concerned, teaching mathematics and, later, natural philosophy, 1788 to 1814. McCormick was also one of the first to publish in his field, supplying the astronomical calculations for Carlisle's Western Almanac.53  It was rarely given to the drill-masters in the foundation subjects, Latin and Greek, to be popular, although the young alumni who often did a stint as head of the Grammar School and helped occasionally with college classes might be so. Taney and others were much attached to Charles Huston, who later became a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Huston was succeeded by Henry Lyon Davis who at age nineteen was carrying the full load of Professor of Languages with the hearty approval of Dr. Nisbet and the student body generally. This youth, who later became President of St. John's College, appealed grandiloquently to the students when, by "blackest artifice," he found himself suddenly out of



a job. At a student gathering he had, it seems, suggested a few lines from Pope as appropriate for the title page of the new edition of Geography Epitomiz'd being printed at Carlisle in 1794:

Here embryo thoughts in wild disorder Iye,

Here newborn nonsense first is taught to cry.
Maggots half formed in Rhyme exactly meet
And learn to crawl upon Poetic feet.54

The proposal reached Davidson and must surely have influenced his prompt action, though the new professor, William Thomson of the Newark Academy, was an experienced and agreeable man, who gave good service for the next ten years.

Modern languages would not have a professor until Claudius Berard came in 1814. English grammar was being taught by Davidson in 1788, though Taney, in his day, found it left to the students' reading, nourished also by Nisbet in his lectures and his work with the commencement orations.55 Once installed as Principal, Dr. Nisbet would not miss a single day of classes until death took him from the scene—a fidelity to his students which is matched by an equally consistent contempt for his trustees.56 In his Address to the Students, he had made clear his intention:

In order to discover the genius and capacity of students, and to suggest useful hints for conducting their studies and regulating their conduct, I am convinced that private acquaintance and conversation are of great use. It will therefore be agreeable to me to receive visits from all of the students, as often as their studies and mine will permit, and to suggest to them what may be useful, as well as to resolve their doubts and difficulties, being determined to act as the private preceptor, as well as the public instructor of every student, without exception or respect of persons, who comes to this seminary in quest of useful knowledge.57

As for what constituted "useful knowledge," his position was equally clear:

The classics are useful, not from their being writ in dead languages, or because it costs a great deal of pains to read them: but they are valuable as models of just thinking, examples of true taste, and monu-


meets of the wisdom and capacity of ancient nations, and have been the delight and wonder of many successive generations.58

Nor must it, resting on this foundation, be remote from the present:

The book of nature is continually open before us, and if we are only attentive, we will be daily gaining new information, both with regard to the natural and moral world. Solon boasted that even in his old age he was always learning something. In the course of our lectures we have endeavored to illustrate the doctrines we have taught you by solid arguments and instances drawn from history and real life, and have uniformly condemned the futility of those who compose theories of human nature from mere imagination, instead of drawing from real life.59

The idea of training in practical skills as a useful preparation for life would be in the minds of forward-looking American educators for many years to come. Dr. Nisbet had little patience with it. He wrote to his friend, Alexander Addison:

The Methodists have a College at Abingdon in Maryland, in which the Scholars are allowed no Play, but are obliged to spend the Intervals of their Lessons in the Operations of Agriculture & Gardening, as they have a Farm & Garden for the Purpose. It is probable that these last Branches of Science are the only ones that are taught with Success in this College, which Dr. Rush has held up in the Columbian Magazine as a model for others. The Conceit of it was borrowed from Rousseau's Emiline.60

In the same letter he described his own teaching and his method:

My occupation is to read Lectures on Logic, Metaphysics & Moral Philosophy, to which I premise a short Account of the Greek & Latin Classics, a Course of Lectures on the History of Philosophy, & another of Criticism, & sometimes explain a Classic critically in the Beginning before my Class is fully assembled. I oblige my Students to write out all the Lessons ad longuam, at least I enjoin them to do so, that as they have not time to read, they may at least acquire a few Ideas, & Dr. Davidson has lately conformed to this Custom.61

This was "prelection." "So far as I can learn," he added,



"it is not the Custom in any of the American Colleges to teach by Prelection, but merely by way of Exercise & Examination, tho' a Lecture was sometimes read to the students, on entering a new Branch of Science."62 He read each lecture so slowly that the class could write down the whole, using quarto sheets which they would later have bound in solid calf. At a place and time when text books were rare indeed, each student who performed the whole emerged with a book, and some of the books were later read by the young men to classes of their own. Each was obliged also to compile a shorter volume of "Questions and Answers" on the subject in hand. Upon this they would be drilled in catechistic fashion, no doubt a dismal business under Davidson, but with Nisbet continually enlivened as he made each point an occasion for discussion and enlargement.63

Roger Taney, like others, had been sent to Carlisle because of Nisbet's reputation. He and others dwell upon the warmth and affection with which the Doctor was regarded by his students, their debt to his great learning and kindness. The College was a college in its founding years by virtue of Nisbet alone. Of course they were shaken by his acid contempt for the American government and social structure, which he believed dedicated to roguery and headed for disaster. They were ardent patriots, sharing Rush's view of America as the hope of the world. They were Jeffersonian democrats, many of them, too, and Carlisle itself was strongly of that complexion. Throughout the country at the turn of the century, a left-wing wave in politics and religion was at crest, and college students were feeling its force. Nisbet's students, amazingly tolerant of his "monstrous heresies," simply rested their pens when a lecture took that turn.64 One of his duties as Principal was to examine newcomers, and some of his popularity must have been that which comes to the friendly and understanding admissions officer. Taney's classmate, Edwin Atlee, tells in verse how he rode to Carlisle, a mounted servant jogging deferentially behind, and went at last 

                                         with trepidation, 

To stand the usual Examination.

     At the appointed hour, and wonted place, 

Master and Candidate met, face to face:

Somewhat abash'd and aukward was the latter,
Who well perceived it was no trifling matter.
Enquiry made— where he'd left off at School?
He answered: and pursuant to the Rule,
Was told to construe where he last had read.
This, with apparent boldness, he essay'd:
But, whether by fatality or no,
He open'd on a Speech of Cicero.
Just at the Threshold stood S. P. Q. R.
A host of Capitals which made him stare,
As much, as if what those Initials stood for
Had met his view. — "Why what's the ninny gude for!
"Canna ye mak' the meaning oot at a'?
"Hoot mon! ye canna fin' it on the Wa!"
Thus spake the Principal, whose keen black eye,
O'erhung by pond'rous brow, could well espy
The lad's confusion; but he soon reliev'd him
From the sad puzzler which had so much griev'd him,
Then humbly thanking the facetious Scot
For kindly solving this quadruple knot,
Eugenius caught the thread, and follow'd on,
Till o'er th'appointed portion he had gone.
Thro' various other Exercises led,
Reviving what lay dormant in his head,
With honour he the tedious trial pass'd,
And by just Sentence, with his Peers was class'd.65

The functions of advisor and disciplinarian do not well combine. Only rarely did Dr. Nisbet turn his crushing sarcasm upon a student—only when richly deserved, and then with telling effect.66 In general, in an age when strict government of the young was given such primary attention, colleagues and trustees thought him far too easy-going.67 His comment when he found James Ross caning a grammar school boy became famous: "Hoot! Ye're puttin' it in at the wrong end!''68

In Nisbet the students saw a professor solidly at war with the overlords of their small world, and he had their admiration as one who dared defy authority. It was a position which the Doctor made equally clear to students and trustees. In 1791 he stated in his regular report to those gentlemen:


The Trustees will be pleased to reflect that Students are not to be considered merely as Animals, that need only Food, & a Hole to sleep in, but that they ought to be considered as rational Creatures, who need Retirement, Quiet & Conveniency for exercising & improving their faculties by Study, in order to attain that Knowledge which is necessary to enable them to discharge the Duties of Life with Propriety, & to be useful to themselves & to their Country, in the various stations to which they may be called.

He carries the point forward at excessive length, and yet a little more may be worth quoting as so applicable to mid-twentieth century practice:

That Students in the Situation of those in the present Boarding Houses cannot prosecute their Studies to Advantage will be evident to every rational Person who will take the Trouble of visiting all, or even a few of them, as they will find that they are extremely straitened, & that too many are lodged together, so that they have little or no Opportunity for Study, & prove Interruptions instead of Helps to each other.

And altho' some young Men, on Account of their having contracted a vehement Thirst after Knowledge, or from Strength of Genius, & superior Activity of Mind, may prosecute their Studies with Success amidst manifold Inconveniencies, yet it would be as irrational to expect that the Generality of young Men should be able to do the like as it would be to expect that all Men might become Giants, because some Men have grown to the Stature of Eight Feet & upwards.

The Trustees ought to consider, that a Number of young Boys, when crowded into a narrow Lodging, must necessarily contrive to spend their time in some Way or other, and when they find it impracticable to pursue their Studies, they will either go out to seek such company as they can find, or be engaged in such trifling Conversation & Amusements as Youth are too much disposed to pursue in the Absence of their Parents & Teachers.

The Trustees ought not to wonder, if this Seminary produces but few good Scholars, nor that many young Men take a Disgust at their Studies, & leave the College before the Course of public Lessons is finished, when they reflect on the Situation of most Students in this Place, where so many are crowded together, without Conveniency for Study, that if the Trustees were to order their Teacher of Mathematics to measure their Apartments, & to report the Square Contents of their Lodgings, it is probable they would find that the Space allowed

to each, at an Average, would not be much greater than that which, according to the Calculations of Mathematicians, was allowed to each Individual of the lesser Kinds of Cattle in Noah's Ark, when the mere
Preservation of Life was the only thing intended.69

Vice-Principal Davidson, earnest, prim and satisfied, Ewing's man, was the active administrator through these years. But Rush, Ewing, the trustees, were all set at nought by Nisbet. It was the portly, bitter Scot who brought to these young men, as every college should, their contact with intellectual greatness, with the human spirit undefiled by mendacity, compromise or surrender. Nisbet, in that first interim of shock and dismay, had been appalled by the contrast between these young Americans and the lads of North Britain who, as he himself had done, would toil for learning in frugal desperation—that spirit which was peopling this western world with teachers. But through the years from 1786 to the end it was nonetheless with his students that he held firm and frank rapport. To young Samuel Miller, his future biographer, the personal contact with Nisbet was the truly memorable part of his life at Carlisle. Miller had come to join the graduate course in theology which the Doctor taught from 1788 to 1791.70 Through one winter he spent every evening at the Nisbet house, enjoying with the others a new world "of rich amusement and information, . . . an extraordinary knowledge of men, and books, and opinions, such an amazing fund of rare and racy anecdotes, all poured out with so much unstudied simplicity, with such constant flashes of wit and humour, and with such a peculiar mixture of satire and good nature as kept everybody whether young or old hanging upon his lips."71

Take any day through all these early years, under sun or cloud, there in Liberty Alley where, as John Penn saw it in 1788, the "college or schoolhouse" stood, "a small patched-up building of about sixty by fifteen feet."72 From inside, if he had paused there, he might have heard Davidson's class in geography reciting some of the hated rhymes—

Round the globe now to rove, and its surface survey,

Oh, youth of America, hasten away;
Bid adieu for a while to the toys you desire . . .73


this, from the introduction to the book, an acrostic on its author's name—until released and pouring out with their hockey sticks to a game of bandy-ball up and down the long and narrow college yard. After which, refreshed, let them come back to a less fretful, more fruitful, hour with Dr. Nisbet.

Hundreds of his lectures survive in student transcripts. To the college educator of today they may be worth a sampling, if only to glimpse the teaching method of this "walking library" unwillingly stranded at a far and desolate outpost of the sophistication of his time. The sneering anger of his letters is muted here. The boys are his hope, his future and his friends. Take, for instance, the opening of a prelection in the Moral Philosophy course on the subject of sincerity and (doubly tender now in the professor's mind) the honoring of promises. The boys have their paper and ink before them, their quills in hand, and he begins:

Sincerity or the love of truth is the companion of innocence, dignity and true greatness of mind. Simulation and dissimulation, however calculated for the purposes of knavery and concealment, and commended by crooked and shallow politicians, are the arts of cowardice and the cloak of villainy. We hope you will remember that simulation is pretending to a disposition which we have not, and dissimulation is concealing the character, or a disposition which we have.

Quod non est simulo, dissimuloque quod est. Vulg.

Prudence will indeed direct that we should not express all our thoughts, or communicate them to every body; but sincerity will by no means permit that we should tell what is not true, or even that we should conceal the truth to the injury of another. There may be a Iying in silence or gesture as well as in words; but sincerity will lead us to condemn as a lie every artifice that has a tendency to deceive another. Lyars and politicians may value themselves as much as they please for indirect dealing, but it is the part of cowards and fools, because they cannot remain long unknown. Most men will set a mark on those whom they have once detected in Iying and dissimulation, and will make it a rule never to believe them. Hence liars meet with no credit even whilst they speak the truth. When their mean arts are once discerned we always read their speeches backwards, and understand them as well by the application of the rule of contraries, as if they spoke truth. The only chance a lyar has of cheating is to speak

truth, which by being disbelieved, will answer his purpose as well as lying. The strict performance of a promise or contract belongs to truth as well as justice, as it is only on presumption of their speaking truth that we make any contracts with men or trust their promises in any instance. Those who break their promises and contracts, or make engagements without intending to keep them, ought to be excommunicated from civil society. Vicious habits commonly begin in little matters. Want of punctuality and delay of performance of promises degenerate by degrees into downright perfidy and knavery. To violate a promise in a small matter is a step to violating it in a greater. The man who is perpetually pleading excuses, and making explications of his promises in order to elude performance, is already corrupted and destitute of integrity. Truth is the only bond of human society, and when it is violated, society is no longer tenable. Impudence and perjury are the natural attendants of Iying and insincerity. A callousness of mind takes place after giving in to a habit of this kind, whereby the mind becomes hardened and prepared for the most infamous practices. If a character of this kind is once fixed on a nation or people, though by the villainy of a few, it will require ages of honesty and sincerity to convince the world that it is a calumny. Sincerity alone qualifies men for friendship, as none will ever chuse for friends those whose words they cannot trust, and whose promises are deisgned only to deceive and insnare. Falsehood is naturally so hateful that even knaves abhor one another, when they find they have been cheated, and falsehood can never be amiable, even to those who practice it. We may say of falsehood, perfidy and treachery what Virgil said of Alecto, one of the furies,

Odit et ipse peter Pluton, odere sorores
 Tartareae monstrum . . . Aeneid vii. 327.

Truth and sincerity are the inseparable companions of justice; so we often call both of them by the complex name of honesty.

The last quality which constitutes virtue or moral perfection, is fortitude or strength of mind. This is the consequence of, and depends entirely upon, the other habits of which we have been speaking, and is totally inseparable from them as well as unattainable without them. The person who is benevolent, just, wise and sincere is and ought to be firm in his purposes, and need not and ought not to be diverted from them, because by these habits he is ever supposed to be good, and fortitude is only a firm adherence to the right. Wicked men may have a desperate and imprudent boldness, which may be mistaken by some for true courage. Ignorance may sometimes be bold merely because it is blind, and at other times, for the same reason, it is

fearful from a consciousness of guilt, and the prevalence of imagination, which multiplies the objects of terror. But a person who is conscious that he is destitute of virtuous qualities cannot possess rational and true courage. Malice and anger may on some occasions counterfeit its appearance; but their strength being exhausted, cowardice, the natural companion of guilt and falsehood, immediately takes its place. Courage or strength of mind is absolutely necessary to keep us close to the path of virtue and to enable us to persevere in the pursuit of moral excellence. Without this, innocence might give way to temptations, and we might be carried quite contrary to our judgments by the example of the multitude. Some young men whose minds inwardly approve of virtue, yet for want of courage are carried against their conscious and inward persuasions. A wise man ought to be steady in his resolutions, because he may expect to meet with many things that will tend to divert him from them. The firmness of mind that belongs to virtue is founded on reason, and connected with the possession of every other excellence.

Justum et tenacem proposite virum,
Non civicum ardor prava jubentium,
Mente quatit solida . . . Hor.74

Samuel Miller tells us of Nisbet's "electrifying the whole class" at the close of a lecture, but one finds that it is never quite like that at the end. He recaptures their attention by laughter in mid-course. He will brighten a long discourse on the use and misuse of words by bringing in a few examples of misuse that have been blessed by custom—how "the Spaniards . . . commend the bravery of a person who runs great risques in their bull-battings by calling him a 'Son of a Whore,' and the English Bucks applaud a friend by calling him 'A damn'd clever Fellow.' "75 A culminating story, built up in rich detail, such as that of how Omai, the Tahitian chief, having learned from Johnson's Dictionary that "to pickle" meant "to preserve," took his final leave of Lord Sandwich by praying "that God Almighty might pickle his Lordship to all eternity"— this would not end the hour, but serve to hold them for one final application of his central theme.76

So it goes, confronting the boys with ideas, with authors from ancient to modern times, Pliny's fabulous natural history, much of Pascal, much of La Bruyère, and on to Sir Thomas



Browne (and Dr. Fell), to Robert Boyle ("a person of great probity and worth"), or Samuel Werenfels of Zurich and his De Logomachus Eruditorum of 1702 ("which may be read with pleasure and instruction"). Others must be cited with warning or distaste, the great Voltaire, sentimental Rousseau, or, even more dangerous, Scotland's own David Hume. Hear him open another lecture on the morning of Tuesday, January 24, 1788, with winter in the windows and small comfort from the fire against the wall. The course in Philosophy. Quills are dipped once more, ideas in melee again. The theme is that resounding impact of Scottish common sense upon the armored logic of the great John Locke:

Simple Ideas comprehend all those which we receive from our senses, which are necessarily divided into five classes, according to the organs by which they are perceived. Thus, Colours are simple ideas, as the mind cannot divide them into parts. The same thing may be affirmed of the ideas received by our other senses. Compound ideas must be resolved into such a number of simple ideas as they comprehend, before the mind can distinctly perceive them. In perceiving sensible ideas, the mind seems to be entirely passive. On the contrary, it seems to be active also with regard to those of Reflexion and Abstraction. Indeed it may be said to be active in a considerable degree even with regard to those ideas that are received by means of the senses, at least attention and a willingness to perceive appear to be necessary for receiving ideas in that manner, as for want of this many things are often said within our hearing, which notwithstanding we do not hear; and many objects are exposed to our sight, which however, we do not see.

When the mind has perceived any idea, it necessarily pronounces some judgment concerning it, and first of all it infers or concludes the existence of those objects without itself from which it receives these ideas or impressions. It is by means of our ideas alone that we infer the existence of sensible objects around us, and discover their several properties and qualities. Yet some philosophers would have us believe that the ideas we receive of external objects do not necessarily infer the existence, or give us any knowledge of the objects from which we receive them. Mr. Locke has detailed to the world as a capital discovery, that Colour, Figure, Taste, Heat and Cold, and the other secondary qualities of Matter do not exist in bodies themselves, but solely in the mind which perceives them, and is at great pains to prove that nobody ever questioned, viz. that inanimate bodies are not per-

cipient beings, nor in the least conscious of the impressions which they make on beings endowed with the power of Perception. To say that there is no heat in the fire, meaning that there is no such sensation as we feel when we are actually exposed to it, is a mere childish quibble, and unworthy to be mentioned among Philosophers, as no man was ever so ignorant as to imagine any thing of this kind. Yet the generality of philosophers, since Mr. Locke's time, have followed his notions, and by secluding from the consideration of the mind every thing except its own ideas, without considering these as the true representations of originals actually existent, have rendered the existence of external objects extremely problematical, and given great advantage to the Sceptics, which they have carefully improved.

Father Mallebrance77 and the Cartesians, who first set on foot the notion of our seeing all things in God, imagines that it is the Deity who excites in our minds the ideas of external objects, and the objects themselves are only the occasion, but not the cause of exciting ideas in our minds, and in delivering the doctrine concerning the origin of our ideas, they lay it down as a caution, that we ought not to believe that any thing in the external objects is the cause of those ideas that we receive from them. The Cartesians attributed all the effects in nature to the immediate agency of the Deity, and allow external objects to be only the occasions of the ideas excited and the effects produced by them. A love of subtlety and the affectation of singularity, together with a desire of avoiding those difficulties that pressed upon the other hypothesis, seem to have led these philosophers to so strange conclusions. The obscurity of the subject led those on both sides of the question to advance sundry things not easily conceivable. Mr. Locke and his followers, by affirming rashly that the mind perceives nothing except its own ideas, have laid a foundation for general scepticism, or doubting of the existence of external objects, which Mr. Hume has improved into a regular system without departing in the least from those principles which Mr. Locke had laid down in his celebrated Essay on the human Understanding. And it is truly a scandal to the philosophic reputation of the present age that the ingenious Dr. Reid was obliged to write [an] octavo volume, full of laborious reasoning, merely to prove the existence of external objects, which is rendered quite uncertain by Mr. Locke's hypothesis, and to bring us back to the level of children and savages, who have no doubts concerning the existence of objects that are perceivable by their senses.78 Dr. Priestley has endeavored, though feebly, to defend Mr. Locke's doctrine on this head,79 but it is to be hoped that the increasing light of Reason and common Sense will quickly destroy the credit of these

fanciful and mischievous theories, which tend to subvert the foundation of human knowledge, and to destroy all distinctions between truth and falsehood, virtue and vice.80

Deftly, an appreciation of literature is brought in. He recites poetry, passages often from Horace, Thomson and Pope. He dwells on the necessity for rational thinking and the accurate use of words, telling them, in that recurrent subjective note, how to be a teacher stimulates one to greater precision in thought and word. The use of repetitive, slightly variant words and phrases as a means of clarifying an idea is explained, while all the time he is using the device itself—moving forward to a eulogy upon plain terms and clean sense, illustrated, again, by an anecdote:

The late Dean Swift was remarkable for studying plainness in his sermons in order to prevent misconceptions in the minds of his hearers, and having accidentally used the phrase, "an avaricious man," in composing a sermon, he was doubtful what sense ordinary hearers would put upon it. To satisfy himself on this head, he called up one of his servants and asked him what he meant by an avaricious man. The servant replied, "a mighty sly fellow." On calling up another and putting the same question to him, he answered that an avaricious man meant "a good-natured jolly dog;" for which reason the Dean altered the phrase in the sermon, putting the word covetoZls instead of avaricious, and on asking them what they meant by a "covetous man, " they readily told him. Moliere, the famous French comedian, used to read all his works to an old woman who was his housekeeper before he offered them to the public, and he never retained any phrase or term which she mistook or did not understand. The late Mr. Pope constantly used the same method with regard to his poems, with regard to perspicuity and clearness of conception. 81

The pith of the lectures would come up again in drill on the "Questions and Answers." Davidson delighted in rote, was made glad by hearing an echo of himself, but this other professor, as young Taney bears witness, would urge them on in kindly fashion and show most pleasure when the answer came back in the student's own words. "His object was to teach the pupil to think, to reason, to form an opinion, and not to de-



pend merely upon memory .... He undoubtedly succeeded in fastening our attention upon the subject on which he was lecturing, and induced us to think upon it and discuss it, and form opinions for ourselves."82



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