This letter was written by David Black (18xx-1843) to his college class-mate Charles Carroll Parker (1814-1880). They were 1841 graduates of the University of Vermont in Burlington.
The college catalogue says that David Black was from Fredonia, New York and entered the college from Sharon, New York, in May 1838. He taught in Sheridan, New York, but died in 1843. From this letter we learn that David taught briefly at an academy in Canton [presumably New York], and that he then taught languages at the newly established Brockport Collegiate Institute ¹ in Brockport, New York.
Charles Carroll Parker was born in Underhill, Vermont. After graduating from college, he was the principal of Burlington High School from 1841 to 1845. He attended the Union Theological Seminary and was ordained a Congregational minister in 1848. He served as the pastor at Tinmouth (1848-1854), the pastor at Waterbury (1854-1867), the Principal of Gorham (Maine) Seminary (1867-1868), and finally relocated to Parsippany, New Jersey.
Addressed to Charles C. Parker, Esq., Rector of the Burlington High School, Burlington, Vermont [forwarded to Underhill, Vermont]
My Dear Friend Parker,
I doubt not but you will be not a little surprised at receiving a communication from this part of creation & be ready to le me down with those who migrate, not emigrate. I left Canton. I left the Trustees of the Academy fighting about my stay. I left that Academy for I could see no ground to cause me to think that Institution could ever flourish. Religion! Religion or rather the lack of it with many was the cause! The Trustees were men such as I should call destitute of judgement withal as old Ben says, & moreover ignorant.
Before I reached home, I had an application to go to Brockport. My intention had been to study a year at home. I agreed to go & teach ½ time. I teach 2½ days per week & get $300 a year. The school is large — 4 male teachers & 4 female teachers. “The building is of stone 4 stories in height above the basement & 60 feet by 100 upon the ground. It is divided transversely by two halls, one of which belongs to the Female Department. There are 4 general school rooms, a large Chapel, 32 rooms for students 14 feet square to each of which is attached a bedroom. The building was raised for a college & for one year they had college exercises. It cost $20,000 & $2,000 was afterward spent in repairing & finishing it.”
The Brockport Collegiate Institute, as they call it, has been in operation only half a year. There is a foundation you see for great things. My part is to teach the languages. I have just engaged to instruct 3 of the teachers in Latin. One is a lady, by the way. Metaphysics I soon intend to bear down upon. The distinction made by the [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge men between the Reason & Understanding — or I ought to say the Existence of both there as distinct faculties — has always stumbled me. What necessity in supposing this faculty (reason) to exist? In the language of Dugald Stewart, let me ask, “What good reason can be given for assigning one name to the faculty which perceives truths that are certain & another name to the faculty that perceives truths which are probable? Would it not be equally proper to distinguish by different names the power by which we perceive one proposition to be true & another to be false?” This I acknowledge has some weight with my mind, however I wish truth. I have as yet established to system; consequently not interested in defending or assailing anyone. Truth & truth only is my object. I can not be interested in persuading myself of falsehood. Will you be so good as to make some remarks on the subject if your mind is made up on it? I am aware that the subject does not admit of mathematical demonstration. But still it may be presented if true in a light that is convincing at least to a mind that is not clouded too thickly with prejudice.
For some time past I have been conscious of an inward yearning after truth on many subjects & this truly is an important one for the whole system that we were taught is hinged upon it & I well remember the words of that true, great & good man of whom I count it an honor to be a pupil — that “without this distinction, there can be no philosophy.” ²
By this time the Seniors must have got their sheep-skins. I wish when you write that you would write where Morse is. I think I wrote to him last though I am not certain. Write how you get along (I suppose it is vacation with you now). I have had none except about 3 weeks & one week of that I studied hard inasmuch as the weather was inclement.
Tell me what has become of George Lyman. I suppose they will get — if they have not already got — Mr. Bliss to fill Dr. Marsh’s place. The main pillar of the U. V. M. has fallen & I fear it has seen its best days. If you please, write the number of Freshmen — alias Frenchmen — that have entered.
I can tell you but little of Brockport as I have not been here a week. The village, however, is pleasant. Locust trees, as in Burlington, are very numerous round the dwelling. I should think it is nearly half the size of Burlington.
How do you progress in the study of the Greek particles? As expected, I find few teachers that know anything about them. No long since, the principal of a large academy & one that had been teaching Greek for at least five years, told me he did not know that any one had ever written on the power & even of the particles. I find my time was not by any means misspent when devoted to investigating them. The habits of investigation I then acquaired I shall ever appreciate. I then learned clearly the meaning of Lord Bacon’s Induction. It is laborious but is the only touchstone of truth in such subjects.
My time shall hereafter be devoted to the languages & metaphysics. I shall spend little time in mathematical enquiries. By this, however, I do not intend to imply any intention to neglect extending my knowledge on other subjects — that it [to] acquire a stock of general knowledge. This I deem important. I do not intend to be a mere linguist or metaphysician. The great object of society is to make a man an agreeable & useful member of society.
I must stop for you may think I am too prosy & will just beg the honor of subscribing myself your friend & class-mate, — D. Black
Huntington I think cannot be far from here. We are only 20 miles from Rochester. I may possibly visit him if the distance be not great.
¹ “In 1841 a group of people in Brockport, which was a vital commercial and manufacturing town then, opened the Brockport Collegiate Institute in a building located where Hartwell Hall now stands. The building had housed another academy in the 1830s which failed for financial reasons. The Collegiate Institute was a thriving success scholastically but like many such schools struggled financially. In 1866, largely through the efforts of Malcolm MacVicar who was the principal and a leader in education circles, the school became one of the four new state “Normal” schools established in New York.” [Source: The College at Brockport website]
² David Black is no doubt referring to Rev. James Marsh, D. D. — the deceased President of the University of Vermont, and who served as the Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy. He died on 3 July 1842, just before this letter was written. He was succeeded by Rev. John Wheeler.