interest every symptom of the awakening of public attention in America
to this subject, and every promise of opportunity for creating similar institutions.
The endowment of a great library in New York, given by Mr. John Jacob Astor
, at his death, in 1848, was much talked about; and men of forecast began to say openly that, unless something of a like character were done in Boston
, the scientific and literary culture of this part of the country would follow trade and capital to the metropolis, which was thus taking the lead.
Still, nothing effectual was done.
Among the persons with whom Mr. Ticknor
had, of late years, most frequently talked of the matter, Dr. Channing
was dead, Mr. Abbott Lawrence
had become Minister to England
, and Mr. Jonathan Phillips
was growing too infirm to take part in public affairs.
The subject, however, kept its hold on Mr. Ticknor
His idea was that which he felt lay at the foundation of all our public institutions, namely, that in order to form and maintain our character as a great nation, the mass of the people must be intelligent enough to manage their own government with wisdom; and he came, though not at once, to the conclusion that a very free use of books, furnished by an institution supported at the expense of the community, would be one of the effective means for obtaining this result of general culture.
He had reached this conclusion before he saw any probability of its being practically carried out, as is proved by the following letter, which he wrote to Mr. Everett
, in the summer of 1851.
A few months before this date Mr. Everett
had presented to the city—after offering it in vain more than once—a collection of about a thousand volumes of Public Documents, and books of similar character, accompanied by a letter, urging the establishment of a public library.