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Chapter 19:

In 1823 Mr. Ticknor was chosen a Trustee of the Boston Athenaeum, and at one time was its Vice-President, and he became greatly interested in enlarging the scope and extending the usefulness of this excellent institution. An effort was made in 1826 to increase its funds, which was successful, chiefly through the liberality of Colonel Thomas H. Perkins, and of his brother, Mr. James Perkins. With this was combined a project to unite the various subscription and society libraries of the city in one organization with the Athenaeum; and of this plan Mr. Ticknor, with his liberal views of the needs of public culture, was one of the most earnest promoters. Unfortunately the difficulties in carrying out the entire scheme proved insurmountable.

During the winter of 1826 Mr. Ticknor, in addition to his other occupations and pursuits, was much engaged in these efforts, in personally seeking subscriptions, and in preparing lists of books to be added to the library. The following letter to Mr. Webster contains some account of the plan:—

To Mr. Webster.

Boston, February 2, 1826.
my dear Sir,—We are much indebted to you for your agreeable letter, and I should have answered it sooner, but really, when every mornings breakfast-table was covered with the debates on the Judiciary Bill, I could not find it in my conscience. However, you have [371] now got that burden off your shoulders. . . . . Your friends here feel very happy at the result, and at the manner in which it was obtained. You seem now to be resting yourself, while the rest of the house are trying their skill on the subject of fortifications and money bills. But I hope you will be on the floor again pretty soon, for we feel, when we take up the ‘Intelligencer’ and find you are not in the bill of fare, very much as the boys of Paris did in the Revolution, on those days when nobody's head was to be cut off, and they went home crying out, ‘Point de fete aujourd'hui.’

I wish I could tell you something from here that would interest you. But my shop is a small one, and no great assortment in it. The College is going on very well, as far as changes are concerned. Frank Gray is elected into the Corporation, and will no doubt be approved by the Overseers next Thursday. This is a good change . . . . Further we will tell you when you attend the meeting of the Overseers next June, and ask what has been done. For you promised last winter to ask the question, and I hope you will not cease to ask it until all has been done that ought to be . . . .

We are making quite a movement about libraries, lecture-rooms, Athenaeum, etc. I have a project, which may or may not succeed; but I hope it will. The project is, to unite into one establishment, viz. the Athenaeum, all the public libraries in town; such as the Arch Library, the Medical Library, the new Scientific Library, and so on, and then let the whole circulate, Athenaeum and all. In this way, there will be an end of buying duplicates, paying double rents, double librarians, etc.; the whole money raised will go to books, and all the books will be made usefuL To this great establishment I would attach all the lectures wanted, whether fashionable, popular, scientific,—for the mechanics, or their employers; and have the whole made a Capitol of the knowledge of the town, with its uses, which I would open to the public, according to the admirable direction in the Charter of the University of Gottingen, Quam commodissime, quamque latissime. Mr. Prescott, Judge Jackson, Dr. Bowditch, and a few young men are much in earnest about it. . . . .

We went the other night to a great ball at Colonel Thorndike's, a part of which extended into your house,1 which it was not altogether agreeable to enter without finding its owners there to welcome us. A few nights afterwards we had the whole town turned in upon ourselves, for the first time in our lives . . . . . I am very glad you like [372] Mr. Vaughan.2 He is, I think, one of the most respectable gentlemen I have ever known. Do persuade him to come to the North next summer. Finally, write to us when you can, come home as soon as you can, and believe in us as truly as you can.

Yours always,

Among the friends most valued by Mr. Ticknor was his college classmate, Sylvanus Thayer, who, having entered the army of the United States, and served with distinction, was appointed Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point in 1817, and held that position for sixteen years. By force and dignity of character, energy, good judgment, and professional knowledge and ability, he gave new life to the school under his charge, and raised it to that high position, as an establishment for military education, which it has since maintained.

Colonel Thayer had repeatedly urged Mr. Ticknor to serve as a member of the Board of Visitors, at one of the annual examinations of the Academy. In the spring of 1826, Mr. Ticknor having expressed his readiness to attend the examination of that year, he was appointed among the other Visitors, and went to West Point on the 1st of June.

The following extracts from his letters, written from there, give an excellent picture of the condition of the school, and of the character and habits of its distinguished Superintendent.

To Mrs. Ticknor.

West point, June 5, 1826.
This morning the Board met; nine on the ground. General Houston was chosen President, and, as usual, the honor of doing the work fell to me, as Secretary. We have been nine hours at the examination to-day. This evening Governor Morrow, of Ohio, President Bligh, formerly of Transylvania University, and Mr. Van Buren have arrived; a salute has been fired, and all is in motion. [373]

When I arrived last evening, I walked up to our old friend Cozzens's; meantime Thayer had gone to the boat to meet me, and we missed one another. In a few moments, however, he came in, and ordered my luggage to his house, where I am established in great comfort and quiet. . . . . The examination is a very laborious business, and will prove, no doubt, tedious to most of those concerned in it. To me, who must keep the records and write the reports, it will give too much occupation to permit me to be very dull. What we have done to-day has been rather interesting.

Precisely at nine o'clock the whole Staff of the Academy assembled at Thayer's house, in full uniform. I was presented to them, and when this little ceremony was over we all went to Cozzens's, where all were presented to the rest of the Board of Examiners. The Board then went to a room by itself, and was called to order by Commodore Bainbridge, and General Houston, being the chief military personage on the ground, was chosen President; though for the rest, he is a pretty coarse Tennessean, who tries to be kind, good-natured, and even elegant. . . . . The other members are pleasant enough, particularly the three commodores, Bainbridge, Chauncey, and Jones, who are very agreeable indeed, and Colonel White of Florida, who proves an amiable, gentlemanlike man.

We went forthwith to the examination, which was extremely thorough. Thirteen young men were under the screw four hours, on a single branch, and never less than four on the floor, either drawing on the blackboard or answering questions every moment, so that each one had above an hour's work to go through; and, as I said, in a single branch. It was the lowest section of the upper class, but no mistake was made, except by one Cadet. Of course it was as nearly perfect as anything of the kind ever was. The manner, too, was quite remarkable. The young men do not rise when they answer; they are all addressed as Mr. So-and-so; and when the drum beat outside for one o'clock, Colonel Thayer adjourned the examination while a Cadet was speaking, so exactly is everything done here. We dined at Cozzens's, and the examination was continued in the afternoon till seven o'clock.

My residence at Thayer's is extremely agreeable; that is, the little time I pass there. He seems to feel towards me just as he did nineteen years ago, just as if we had never been separated. The house is perfectly quiet, and there is a good deal of dignity in the sort of solitude in which he lives, and without any female attendant, yet with the most perfect neatness, order, and comfort, in all his arrangements. [374] There is nothing at all either repulsive or stiff in his manner to the officers and teachers under him, or to the Cadets. All the members of the Board seem to have the most thorough admiration of him. . . . .

June 10.
I delight exceedingly in the exactness with which everything is done here. The morning gun is fired exactly at sunrise, though I am free to say I sleep well enough to hear it rarely, and as there never seems to be the least noise in Thayer's house, the first thing I hear is the full band, when, precisely at six, the manoeuvring being over, the corps of Cadets begins its marching. I get up immediately, and when Thayer comes home, at half past 6, from parade, he brings me your letter. You will hardly believe how welcome his step is to me, and how perfectly I have learnt to distinguish it from that of his Adjutant, his Orderly, or his servant, none of whom ever gives me my letters. I sometimes think he takes a pleasure in doing it himself,— at any rate, he always calls me by my Christian name when he brings them. Breakfast precisely at seven; then we have all the newspapers, and, a little before eight o'clock, Thayer puts on his full-dress coat and sword, and when the bugle sounds we are always at Mr. Cozzens's, where Thayer takes off his hat and inquires if the President of the Board is ready to attend at the examination-room; if he is, the Commandant conducts him to it with great ceremony, followed by the Board. If he is not ready, Thayer goes without him; he waits for no man.

In the examination-room Thayer presides at one table, surrounded by the Academic Staff; General Houston at the other, surrounded by the Visitors. In front of the last table two enormous blackboards, eight feet by five, are placed on easels; and at each of these boards stand two Cadets, one answering questions or demonstrating, and the other three preparing the problems that are given to them. In this way, if an examination of sixteen young men lasts four hours on one subject, each of them will have had one hour's public examination on it; and the fact is, that each of the forty Cadets in the upper class will to-night have had about five hours personal examination. While the examination goes on, one person sits between the tables and asks questions, but other members of the Staff and of the Board join in the examination frequently, as their interest moves them. The young men have that composure which comes from thoroughness, and unite, to a remarkable degree, ease with respectful manners towards their teachers. . . . .


June 12, 1826.
Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon I stayed at home, and had a solid talk of three hours with Thayer, concerning his whole management of this institution from the time he took it in hand. It was very interesting, and satisfied me, more and more, of the value and efficiency of his system. One proof of it, which I have just learned, is very striking. Before Thayer came here it was not generally easy to find young men enough to take Cadet's warrants to keep the Academy full. But for the last two or three years there have been, annually, more than a thousand applications for warrants, and there is at this moment not a small number of the sons of both the richest and the most considerable men of the country at the Academy, to the great gratification of their families. I think this state of things gratifies Thayer very much, and consoles him for the considerable privations, and the great and increasing labor he is obliged to undergo. . . . .

17th.—Thayer is a wonderful man. In the course of the fortnight I have been here, he has every morning been in his office doing business from six to seven o'clock; from seven to eight he breakfasts, generally with company; then goes to the examination-room, and for five complete hours never so much as rises from his chair. From one to three he has his dinner-party; from three to seven again unmoved in his chair, though he is neither stiff nor pretending about it. At seven he goes on parade; from half past 7 to eight does business with the Cadets, and from eight to nine, or even till eleven, he is liable to have meetings with the Academic Staff. Yet with all this labor, and the whole responsibility of the institution, the examination, and the accommodation of the Visitors, on his hands, he is always fresh, prompt, ready, and pleasant; never fails to receive me under all circumstances with the same unencumbered and affectionate manner, and seems, in short, as if he were more of a spectator than I am. I do not believe there are three persons in the country who could fill his place; and Totten said very well the other day, when somebody told him,—what is no doubt true,—that if Thayer were to resign, he would be the only man who could take his place,--‘No: no man would be indiscreet enough to take the place after Thayer; it would be as bad as being President of the Royal Society, after Newton.’ . . . .

The examination, the exhibition of the institution, has gratified me beyond my expectations, and this feeling I believe I share with the rest of the Visitors. There is a thoroughness, promptness, and efficiency in the knowledge of the Cadets which I have never seen before, and which I did not expect to find here. . . . .


June 24, 1826.
my dearest wife,—It is all over, all well over, and I am very much contented and light-hearted. Yesterday, however, was a real flurry, as I thought it would be. I began the general report day before yesterday, in the afternoon. It was plainly to be about thirty pages long; the two other committees who were to furnish materials for a large part of it had behaved very shabbily, neglected their duty, and done nothing but collect documents, which they had neither examined nor digested. In short, the whole work came upon me. At the same time the French examination was going on, which it was my particular duty, from the first, to superintend and share. Everything, therefore, came at once. That afternoon and night I wrote about ten pages, and examined two sections in French. Yesterday I examined two other sections, dined abroad, examined the Hospital, and wrote twenty pages. This morning before breakfast I finished it [the report]. At eleven o'clock the examination was finished, and the report read, and signed by all the Board. At twelve we had a little address to the Cadets by Kane, which was very neat and appropriate. I declined delivering it, having enough else to do; and I am glad I did, for it was done remarkably well by Kane, whom, by the by, I am very glad I have learnt to know.

Very soon after his arrival at West Point, Mr. Ticknor received the sad news of the illness and death of his friend, Mr. N. A. Haven, of Portsmouth. A close sympathy in tastes, and an accordance of judgment in respect to the motives of action, the objects of life, and the foundation of character, had given to their friendship unusual closeness and intimacy.

. Mr. Haven died on the 3d of June, and on the 9th Mr. Ticknor wrote:—

Here, surrounded by those who take no interest in my feelings, I cannot help expressing to you my deep sorrow at the loss of Haven. It pursues me wherever I go. I did not think it would have fallen so heavily on my heart; or, rather, I thought I had more prepared myself for it. But there is no preparation for such things; we may feel composed, as we see one who is dear to us gradually sinking away from our cares and affections; but the last step, the change from life to death, is so sudden, so great, that there is no proper preparation for it. I felt as if it were unexpected, when I read your letter this morning. The blood rushed to my head as if I had then [377] received the first intimation of his danger. God's will be done. I shall have few losses to bear, that will reach so far in their consequences.


The relatives and friends of Mr. Haven, by whose early death —at the age of thirty-six—many hearts were saddened, and many hopes disappointed, were desirous to have some memorial of one so loved and valued. There was a general wish among them that this should be prepared by Mr. Ticknor, and a volume was accordingly arranged by him, and printed for private circulation, consisting of Mr. Haven's writings,—including two occasional discourses,—with a brief memoir, which is a graceful sketch of a life admirable for moral beauty, and for calm, intellectual strength.

The 4th of July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of the Independence of the United States, was made memorable by the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the two Presidents who succeeded Washington. The coincidence of their deaths on this anniversary was one to touch the imagination and the feelings of the whole nation, and the sentiment thus roused found its best expression in the Eulogy on the two Ex-Presidents, delivered by Mr. Webster, on the 2d of August following, in Faneuil Hall, Boston, in presence of the City Government and the assembled citizens.4 [378] Mr. Ticknor describes it in the following letter:—

To C. S. Daveis, Portland.

Newport, Rhode island, August 17, 1826.
Your letter of Sunday evening, my dear Charles, arrived at Boston on Wednesday morning, just as we were bustling away to hear the great oration. Would it had been yourself instead of your sign manual; for it would have given you a higher and sublimer notion of oratory than you ever had before, if you had beheld and felt Mr. Webster's presence and power, as he stood there transfigured by the genius of eloquence, and fulfilling, in his own person, all he so marvellously described as peculiar to John Adams. It was altogether a different affair from that at Bunker Hill, much more solemn, imposing, and sublime. The hall was better arranged than I ever saw anything among us, being almost entirely and very gracefully covered with black; above four thousand people were quietly seated and perfectly silent; the light was very dim, partly from the mourning drapery, and partly from the obstruction of the windows with the bodies of the audience who thronged inside and outside; and Mr. Webster stood forward on an open stage, alone in the midst of the subdued multitude, and spoke without hesitation and with unmitigated power for an hour and fifty minutes, hardly once recurring to his notes, which lay on a table partly behind him, and then rather to make a pause than to refresh his recollections. Every word he spoke was distinctly heard in every part of that vast throng, so awestruck were they beneath his power.

The tone of the great body of the discourse was solemn and elevated, and though at intervals a murmur of applause and excitement ran through the crowd, it was immediately hushed by the very occasion itself, and by the grave expression of the speaker's countenance and manner, and all became as silent as death. But at the conclusion he forsook this tone, and addressed the people on the responsibility that rests with the present generation, as heirs to those who achieved our independence for us, and on the hopes and encouragements we have to perform boldly and faithfully the duties that have fallen upon us; so that when he ended, the minds of men were wrought up to an uncontrollable excitement, and there followed three tremendous cheers, inappropriate indeed to the occasion, but as inevitable as any other great movement of nature. . . . .

He was at our house the evening before, entirely disencumbered [379] and careless; and dined with us unceremoniously after it was over, as playful as a kitten.5 This is what I think may be called a great man.

A few months later he writes thus of his various occupations, and especially of his sketch of his friend Haven:—

To C. S. Daveis, Portland.

Boston, February 24, 1827.
Sickness, much labor, and many cares, my dear Charles, have prevented me from writing to you or to anybody else, for a long time, except on business that could not be postponed. But I begin to feel a little relieved. . . .

The Athenaeum, the College, the Hospital, Mr. Bowditch's office,6 and many other things have made such constant demands on my time, that I have been more teased than I ever was in my life, and have hardly known a quiet hour, except in A.'s room, since last November.

Among other things which have much occupied and a good deal [380] troubled me, has been my Memoir of Haven. . . . . I have written a plain and simple memoir of his life and character, in which my main object has been to show how he made himself so important to the best interests of his friends and society. Whether I have succeeded or not, I wish you were here to tell me. . . . . There are not many persons who feel about the memory of our friend as you and I do, and therefore it was necessary for me to avoid all exaggeration, while, on the other hand, his character was a truly valuable and instructive one, whose influence should not be lost from a fear of being accused of partiality. If I have hit the medium, and not only so represented him that it will be felt what he was, but what, if God had spared his life, he would have been, I shall be satisfied . . . .

Now and then I get a new book from England or from the Continent; but the embarrassments of the world and the troubles about money—which Lafontaine thought was chose peu necessaire—have been felt even in the marts of literature. There were never so few books printed in one season, within the memory of man, as the last, both at London and Paris. ‘The Subaltern,’ written by Rev. Mr. Gleig, is a curious book, worth your reading; so is John Bell's fragment about Italy; but Head's ‘Rough Sketches’7 is really one of the most spirited affairs I have looked into for a great while. . . . .

Mr. Livingston sent me the two folios of his Code, and Chancellor Kent sent me his Commentaries, or I suppose I should not have ventured into them; but being obliged to do enough to make appropriate acknowledgments, I read the whole, and was much interested and edified.

I received, the other day, a package of books and manuscripts from Everett, in Spain.8 Among the rest, the work about Columbus, which is very curious, and ought to be translated bodily, as well as melted down, by Irving, into an interesting and elegant piece of biography . . . .

In April, 1828, Mr. Ticknor went with his friend Prescott to Washington, being absent from home about three weeks, during which he very much enjoyed the society of his companion, and that of Mr. Webster, with whom they spent nearly all their time in Washington. He also saw many other friends and interesting [381] persons, who are mentioned in his letters to Mrs. Ticknor. For instance—

Last evening we went to Mr. Clay's. He looks miserably, and almost, I might say, miserable; care-worn, wrinkled, haggard, and wearing out. He was very pleasant, and asked much after you; talked about general matters as much as he could, but still constantly came back to politics.

From Mr. Clay's we went to Mr. Vaughan's, who showed more pleasure at seeing me than I thought he would. . . . . Mr. Webster and he seemed quite familiar, and we all dine with him to-day at five o'clock, without ceremony or company; and on Wednesday, which is the fete of St. George, the titular saint of the King of England, we dine there again in great ceremony, with all the heads of Departments, the foreign ministers, their attaches, etc.

April 22.—First this morning I took Sally S. in a coach and went to Georgetown, to the convent, where I. W. lives, to give her a parcel from her father. She is a nice round lively little girl; and the whole air of the convent, and seeing I. through the grating, interested and amused S. so much that I was very glad I took her.

On our return I went to the House and Senate, where we passed the forenoon in hearing debates, and witnessing the passage of the tariff, which went by a majority of eleven in the House, and was followed by a short abusive speech from John Randolph.

I dined at a mess, called ‘Fort Jackson,’ with Tazewell, Governor Dickerson, Woodbury, Verplanck, Calhoun, Polk, etc . . . . . I was quite happy and gay an hour or two with Mr. Webster, Mr. Gorham, etc., after dinner [at Mr. Sullivan's lodgings], and I was somewhat excited by John Randolph in the House; but in the main I was rather dreary and homesick.

April 25.—Yesterday we had quite a pleasant time at Menou's.9 He has bought a small cottage, and after nearly rebuilding it and fitting it altogether in French style, he has made it a pretty little snug place for a bachelor. Mr. Webster dined there, General Van Rensselaer, M. de St. Andre, Prince Lieven, my old classmate Hunt,10 Judge Johnstone, and General Stewart of Baltimore. We had a nice little dinner in the library, and a nice little time altogether. Afterwards William and I spent an hour with General Van Rensselaer, at the Livingstons,11 very gayly. [382]

All Washington looks rather trite to me. The divisions of party have infected social intercourse. . . . . The whole thing is much less gay and amusing than it was when we were here together. I have been very happy in my visit to Mr. Webster, who has been very kind and confidential with me. I am glad to have seen Mr. Vaughan, and to have found him so pleasant. I am glad to have seen Count Menou, the Livingstons, and so on; but I am glad it is over, and that we are going to set our faces towards you and dear Nanny.

Sunday Morning.—A little homesick again, when I think of you going to church, and Nanny standing at the window to see the crowds pass, my little class of boys, and Mr. Channing's sermon.

1 The two houses were connected by doors, which could be opened on such occasions.

2 British Minister at Washington, formerly Secretary of Legation at Madrid. See ante, p. 209.

3 Mr. Haven's attachment to Mr. Ticknor is expressed in a letter to Miss Eliza Buckminster, written at Amsterdam, July 24, 1815, when Mr. Haven was twenty-five and Mr. Ticknor twenty-four years old. He says: ‘Ticknor is happier than I thought he ever could be when absent from home; but his feelings are so entirely under the control of his reason, his mind is so perfectly regulated and balanced, that he will always be happy when discharging what he believes to be his duty. An intimate acquaintance of six years, in which I have treated him with the confidence of a brother, and have received from him favors which years of gratitude can hardly repay, has given me a full knowledge of his character and feelings. I should do injustice to him, and to myself, if I ever spoke of him with moderate praise. There has never been an action of his life, since I have known him, which I have ultimately discovered to be wrong, nor a single moment, even in our wildest hours, in which he has either vexed or irritated me. But you know him, and I need not praise him.’

4 A full account of the Eulogy, and of the scene of its delivery, written by Mr. Ticknor, is given in Mr. Curtis's ‘Life of Webster,’ Vol. I. p. 274.

5 It may be noticed that Mr. Ticknor had already (p. 331) applied to Mr. Webster this simile, which will seem to many persons amusingly inappropriate; but Mr. Ticknor was greatly in the habit of applying it thus to his grave and imposing friend, who in his hours of easy gayety justified its use in a surprising way.

6 He so calls the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company, which is substantially a trust company, a part of whose profits go to the uses of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Mr. Ticknor was a Director from 1827 to 1835, Vice-President from 1841 to 1862, and wrote an important Annual Report in 1857. He was a Trustee of the Massachusetts General Hospital—no sinecure — from 1826 to 1830. His connection with the Athenaeum and the Primary School Board have been mentioned. In 1821 he became a member of the corporation of the Boston Provident Institution for Savings,—the first savings-bank in New England, in founding which his father was much concerned, —and was a Trustee from 1838 to 1850. In 1831 he became a member of the Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society, whose funds go to support widows and children of deceased clergymen, of various sects, mostly, of course, Orthodox or Evangelical. In this he labored actively, was Treasurer from 1831 to 1835, and in 1841-42; Vice-President, 1861-64; Chairman of Committee on Appropriations for several years, and placed on almost all committees charged with important duties. He resigned from it entirely in 1864. He was Treasurer, for two or three years, of the Farm School for Boys, which his father had wished to see founded.

7 ‘Rough Notes made during Journeys across the Pampas,’ etc., by Captain [afterwards Sir] Francis B. Head.

8 Alexander H. Everett, United States Minister to Spain.

9 French Minister.

10 See ante, p. 7.

11 Mr. Edward Livingston and his family. See ante, pp. 350, 351.

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