so very difficult ever since to collect a hundred persons in Boston
to listen to an address on prison discipline, that one marvels at the strange interest which in 1847 drew together multitudes on successive warm evenings in May and June, going early and remaining late.
The audiences which filled the spacious Temple
represented the intelligence and philanthropy of the city, as well as all that Was radical and adventurous in speculation,—people already enlisted or about to enlist in the warfare against American slavery; people earnest for moral reforms, like temperance; seekers for novelties, who imagined they had found a new revelation in phrenology as taught by Spurzheim
and George Combe
; disciples of Theodore Parker
's theology and of Emerson
An audience of such tendencies and inspirations could be gathered in no other city.
Their interest was rather in the disputants than in the subject; it was aesthetic and sentimental, rather than philanthropic and practical.
They were interested in Sumner
as a man, enjoyed his refined eloquence, were inspired by his noble sentiments, and admired the spirit with which he resisted the dictation of those whose right to dictate had not before been disputed, and who had now found an antagonist with capacity and courage for debate which were more than their match.
The crowd of both sexes—young men, and, above all, young women conspicuous in numbers—thronged to the Temple
as to a tournament where the fame and gallantry of the knight awakened sentiments quite apart from the cause he espoused.
's reputation as an orator had during the previous year been greatly increased by his Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard College and his speeches on the Mexican War
. His opposition to Mr. Winthrop
's votes on the war and to his re-election, in which Dr. Howe
had been associated with him, had made him warm friends as well as bitter enemies in politics and society.
He was in the freshness and vigor of his powers; He had become familiar with the platform; and it is remembered that as he handled one adversary after another, he seemed conscious of his strength.
The other speakers were without attractions of style and manner, and, except Mr. Gray
and Dr. Howe
, knew very little of the subject.
The meetings were prolonged during eight evenings, from half-past 7 till nearly or quite eleven, and sometimes till nearly midnight.1 Sumner
opened the debate on the first evening, occupying