THE CONCORD LYCEUM
51. Records of the Concord Lyceum (Volume A1), showing
entries for meetings, April 18-June 13, 1838, documenting Emerson’s delivery
of the lecture series “Human Culture.” Ink on paper; bound in leather.
The Concord Lyceum was formed late in 1828 and early in 1829. Early programs consisted primarily of debates and lectures, later (post-Civil War) of musical and other entertainments. The Lyceum met in the old Academy building, the Center schoolhouse, the vestries of the Unitarian and Congregational churches, and, finally, the Town Hall. Programs were held in the winter season of each year and were at first free to all town residents. Because the Lyceum in its early years had some difficulty in maintaining solvency, the system of admission by ticket was adopted in 1856.
The Lyceum offered lectures on a wide range of topics. Some of its lecturers were local (Emerson and Thoreau, for example); many were from out of town. Speakers over the years included Jones Very, James Freeman Clarke, Theodore Parker, Frederic Henry Hedge, Orestes Brownson, Louis Agassiz, Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James T. Fields. To the discomfort of some in the community, abolitionist Wendell Phillips spoke several times, the first in 1842.
Emerson attended and delivered Lyceum lectures in Concord, served as an officer (“curator”) of the organization, and persuaded friends and acquaintances to come here to speak. His son Edward wrote that in addressing audiences of local people, he “never wrote down to them, but felt them entitled to his best thoughts.”
Lyceum audiences in Concord included a cross-section of the community. Edward Emerson related a story that highlights the Lyceum’s—and his father’s—broad appeal: “ … Madam Hoar, seeing Ma’am Bemis, a neighbor who came in to work for her, drying her hands and rolling down her sleeves one afternoon somewhat earlier than usual, asked her if she was going so soon: ‘Yes, I’ve got to go now. I’m going to Mr. Emerson’s lecture.’ ‘Do you understand Mr. Emerson?’ ‘Not a word, but I like to go and see him stand up there and look as if he thought everyone was as good as he was.’ ”
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