THE literary institutions of our country are under many obligations to the mercantile profession. The enlarged and liberal views of opulent individuals, in this class of the community, have frequently prompted them to laudable and munificent appropriations for the promotion of science and the means of education. Among men of this description the benevolent rounder of the professorship, under which the following lectures were delivered, is highly distinguished.
NICHOLAS BOYLSTON esq. was an eminent merchant of Boston. He died August 18, 1771, aged fifty six. In the gazette notices.of his death, be is characterized as “a man of good understanding and sound judgment, diligent in his business, though not a slave to it, upright in his dealings, honest and sincere in all his professions, and a stranger to dissimulation.”* By his last will, made a few weeks before his decease, among other judicious dispositions of his property, he bequeathed fifteen hundred pounds lawful money, as a foundation for a professorship of rhetoric and oratory in Harvard college. This sum was paid to the college treasurer in February 1772, by his executors, and was placed at interest, for the purpose expressed by the donor.
The progressive accumulation of the fund was in a degree impeded, in the course of, the revolutionary war; and it was not until the year 1804, that the amount was considered adequate to the object. In the summer of that year, the “rules, directions, and statutes of the Boylston professorship of rhetoric and oratory in Harvard college,” which hadĚpreviously been prepared and adopted by the corporation, were approved by the board of overseers.
In June 1805 the honorable John Quincy Adams was chosen, by the corporation, the first professor on this foundation. This choice was confirmed by the overseers on the twenty fifth of July. Mr. Adams accepted the appointment with a reservation, which should leave him at liberty to attend. on his public duties in congress; he being at that time a senator of the United States from Massachusetts. At subsequent meetings of the corporation and overseers, a dispensation was assented to in this particular, and some alterations were made in the statutes.
He was installed June 12, 1806; and on that occasion pronounced the inaugural discourse, which was soon after published, at the unanimous request of the students; and which is now prefixed to his lectures.
The professor immediately after his induction entered on the duties of his office; but, in consequence of his public engagements, and as permitted by the terms of his acceptance, confined his attention to a course of public 1ectures to the resident graduates, and to the two senior classes of under-graduates, and to presiding at the declamations of the two senior classes. His public lectures were continued weekly, in term time, as required by the statutes, excepting such intermissions, as were occasioned by his attendance on congress.
On the twelfth of August 1808 he completed his course, comprising thirty six lectures, and had advanced nearly through a repetition of it, when, early in July last, he announced, by a letter to the corporation, the resignation of his office, “on account of a call in the foreign service of the country.” He took leave of the students in his 1ecture, delivered on the twenty eighth of July, and soon afterward embarked for Russia, being appointed minister plenipotentiary to the court of St. Petersburg. Previously to his departure, he was respectfully requested, by the two senior classes in the college to consent to a publication of his lectures. He yielded to this request, though not without hesitation, as his approaching departure and various incidental occupations would render a revisal of the work impracticable; and especially as the whole subject, belonging to the professorship, had not been discussed. These lectures however comprehend what, in his estimation, belongs to rhetoric; and contain the theory of his branch. The practical part, or what belonged to oratory, he intended to treat at a future period; and to give, under that head, a detailed analysis of the productions of the most distinguished orators, ancient and modern.
However the author may have regretted, that these lectures were thus destined to appear before the world without his deliberate revisal, they will, it is believed, be considered as a valuable acquisition to the public, in their present form. The multiplied stores, derived from extensive reading, the energies of a strong and discriminating mind, and the results of much experience and observation, are therein exhibited. To relieve and animate the discussions, appertaining to his subject, he thought proper frequently to indulge in figurative expression to a degree, which some may not entirely approve. This however was not less the result of deliberation, than of taste. He considered his auditory; that impression was indispensable; and regarded the intimation of Quinctilian, Studium discendi voluntate constat. It is certain that his success, in securing the fixed and habitual attention of his auditors, was complete. It will be found that they were not excited without an adequate and interesting object. In addition to the mass of information and ingenious discussion on his appropriate topic, those great and essential principles, on which the true dignity and beauty of the human character depend, will be found, on every fit occasion, to be forcibly inculcated. Like his admired Milton, it was his constant aim to point out “the right path of a virtuous and noble education.” In concurrence with the habitual genius of our Alma Mater, he consulted the best good of the pupils, and “sought to temper them such lectures and explanations upon every opportunity,” as might “lead and draw them in willing obedience, inflamed with the study of learning and the admiration of virtue; stirred up with high hopes of living to be brave men, and worthy patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages.”
The corporation lost no time in supplying the vacancy, occasioned by Mr. Adams’ resignation. On the twenty fifth of August last, they made choice of the Rev. Joseph McKean for that office. His election was confirmed by the overseers. Mr. McKean, having accepted the appointment, was installed, in the usual academical form, on the thirty first of October; and on that occasion delivered an appropriate Latin address. He entered immediately on the duties of his office.
February 26, 1810.
* In the philosophy chamber, at Cambridge, is an excellent portrait of this, gentleman, painted by Copley. It is in a style of ease and amenity, which renders it singularly prepossessing. The expression of the countenance.is admirable. Lavater would have said, I see there the genuine indications of intelligence, rectitude, and benevolence. That man must have been the delight of his friends.