Review of the Early Years

of

The Mechanics' Institute

at

Woodstock, N. B.

 

Having been called upon by the gentlemen with whom I have been associated for the past year in the management of the affairs of the Institute, to deliver a valedictory or farewell address, as the closing lecture of the season, had I consulted my own feelings and wishes in the matter I should most certainly have declined the honor of appearing before you in the capacity of a public lecturer, knowing and feeling my incompetency properly to discharge the task assigned me. But as I hold it to be the duty of every member of any community, associated for a common purpose, to contribute according to the ability that providence has bestowed upon him towards furthering the objects in view, entertaining these sentiments I felt that I should be recreant to my own profession were I to refuse to respond to the call thus made upon me.

Trusting to your kind forbearance then Ladies and Gentlemen, I will endeavour before bidding you farewell for the next few months, briefly to detail such matters and things, connected with the Institution, as appear to me most worthy of your notice, promising however that what I have to offer cannot appear in that attractive form, which you have been accustomed to hear from this place, for in the first place I have not the learning nor the ability to clothe my ideas, with those glowing and eloquent words which those who have preceeded me have invariably done, and in the next place my subject will hardly admit of any great redundancy of language being more in the nature of a dry detail of facts, and for which I must principally depend upon a not very retentive memory, for I find very little recorded of former proceedings, from which I can derive any great assistance.

To begin then at the beginning, let us take a retrospecive view of the early days of the Institute, let us look through the not very long vista of five or six years upon its commencement and what do we see? A few Individuals assembled at the office of the Central Bank agency, to devise ways and means for the erection of a Building, for the use of the Mechanics Institute, a charter of incorporation having been already obtained. After much discussion and several meetings held a plan was adopted, a Building Committee appointed, who were also to solicit Subscriptions, which were in a short time raised to an amount sufficient to justify them in entering into contracts for the completion of the work, in anticipation however of receiving a grant of not less than 200 pounds from the Legislature which had been all but guaranteed to the Institute. The site for the building was given by the Hon. Charles Connell. In 18__ the corner stone was laid with the usual formalities under the auspicions of the Ancient and Honorable fraternity of Free Masons.

A Bazar was held the following summer. And here Mr. President allow me to record a passing tribute of grateful thanks to the Ladies, who with that true hearted Womanly feeling of Benevolence so characteristic I am proud to say of the ladies of Woodstock, unanimously proffered their assistance toward accomplishing the work in hand, toiling week after week and taxing their ingenuity in the production of such articles of taste and fancy as well as usefulness to suit the various purchasers that might present themselves. How they performed their self imposed task it is quite needless for me to say more than that the very handsome sum realized from the proceeds of the Bazar relieved the Building Committee from a considerable degree of embarrassment by enabling them to meet a payment due the Contractor, which from having been disappointed of the expected grant from the House of Assembly, they would have been unable to effect. (One hundred pounds was afterwards granted.) All Honor then to the ladies, who whenever a good work is to be done or a deed of Charity performed, are ever ready.

I have only now to add in reference to the House that within one year from the Foundation Stone being laid the whole was completed, and given up to the Committee who forthwith entered into possession of the premises.

Of the various uses to which the building has been applied since its erection, nothing need be said further than that it serves to demonstrate, that its importance as a Public Structure can hardly be overrated.

I must now in order to arrive at that part of my subject upon which (painful as I feel it to be) I have been requested to address you, request that you will again turn your mental vision backwards to a period antecedent to that in which the Mechanics Institute had existence, and then those of you who do not recollect the reality, may portray in imagination, a school room filled with an attentive audiance, listening to a lecture upon the atmosphere, delivered in clear lucid and conversational style. And what of the lecturer? There he stands at the Teachers Desk a Man of middle age, with a calm and intellectual countenance, and in familiar but expressive language, expatiating upon and explaining the nature and properties of that subtle principle by which we are surrounded on all sides and which pervade all nature.

I think from what has been already said, you can have no difficulty in recognising the individual alluded to: the best and earliest friend — and may I not add the Patron Benefactor and founder of this Institute, the lamented Doctor Charles D. Rice, the intelligence of whose death has been received with feelings of the deepest regret, and whose Loss will be felt as a public calamity. For though the personal connexion of Dotor Rice with the affairs of the Institute, ceased upon his removal from the Country, yet the recollection of the great services rendered in its earliest and Infant days, intitles his memory to the respect and gratitude of every Member and well wisher of the Institution, contributing of his time and means towards its success — witness the admirable lectures prepared and delivered by him — from its first formation in December 1847 to the Close of the season in 1848, during which time he delivered a ourse of seven Lectures on phisiology and an equal number on the science of Geology, one on Meteors, and one or two others the subjects of which I have forgotten; and all this was done while engaged in the constant practise of his profession the arduous and fatiguing duties of which he faithfully discharged, nor it was said neglecting any one of his numerous patients.

But it is not from his Connection with the Institute alone that a proper estimate of his Character can be formed. It will be necessary in order to a right understanding of his claims to the popularity he attained to when living and the regrets we feel for his loss and the respect paid to his memory when dead, to take a review of his general conduct and actions, as a man a physician and a Member of Society at large. Perhaps no man ever felt a more thorough contempt for that kind of popularity so eagerly sought after by the would be great men of the present day, who by flattering the follies and pandering to the passions of the multitude, obtain for themselves a very unenviable notoriety. Not so with out lamented friend; despising alike the plaudits or the displeaaure of the crowd, he pursued the even tenour of his way and by doing what his conscience told him was right and rendering Justice to all men, he established a Character of sterling worth and unimpeachable honesty as honorable as it will be enduring.

Of his professional skill I shall not presume to offer an opinion, but if a very extensive practice and treatment sucessful enough to warrant that degree of confidence always placed in him by the numerous patients under his care, forms a true Criterion by which to judge of the Merits of the Physician, we may place his name pretty high upon the list of practitioners. The qualities of his mind though not perhaps of the highest order were above mediocrity, possessed of a clear and unclouded intellect a sound and discriminating Judgment with considerable powers of Imagination and a tact and shrewdness that made him an excellent Judge of men and things in general. In his Social intercourse he was always cheerful and sometimes gay; posssessed of rare conversational powers and a good deal of wit and humor, he contributed his full proportion of amusement to whatever Company he happened to be among.

In this short and very imperfect sketch I have made no allusion to his Family, which perhaps I should have done. His Father, the Venerable Doctor Samuel Rice now a very aged man, about forty years ago, emigrated with his Family from the Town of Salem in the State of Mass., to Houlton, Charles, the subject of this notice, being about three years old. The professional services of Doctor Rice being often required at Woodstock, he was at the solicitation of the Inhabitants induced to settle permanently among us, where for nearly thrity years he steadily pursued the practice of his profession, with credit to himself and usefulness to the public, highly respected for the uprightness and integrity of his Character. His only two daughters having married and settled in the United States he again removed to that Country, where he now lives in Honored old age.

Again reverting to my subject I have only now to add that after going through the usual course of studies at Bowden College in Mass., I believe he obtained a Diploma of M. D., returned to Woodstock and commenced life as a Physician, in which he acquired Property and Reputation, shortly after which he married, and not being born a British Subject took the oath of allegiance, and was appointed Surgeon to the Militia forces of the County. And what further can I add, more than has been already shewn — that in the various relations of life, he discharged his duty in such a way as to gain the confidence the respect and affection of all who knew him. I have said nothing of his Religious principles of which I knew but little further than that he was a follower of the doctrines of Swendenborge, of which I know too little to form an opinion. I however know (from himself) that he was a firm believer in the leading Doctrines of Christianity and the truths of Revelation, which was evidenced by his daily practice and walk in life. Let us then with one of England's sweetest Poets,

No further seek his merits to disclose
Nor draw his frailties from their dred abode
There they alike in trembling hope repose
Upon the bosom of his Father and his God.
And while we deplore his loss on our own account let us not forget the Infinitely greater one sustained by his bereaved and heart broken wife; to Her Mr. President in your name and that of the directors and members of the Mechanics Institute I beg to offer our sincere and heart felt sympathies and condolence hoping and trusting that in this her hour of deep affliction she may feel and realize that the hand which bruised can also heal, and that She may look in faith and hope to him with whom dwelleth Peace, for consolation and comfort in the trying ordeal to which in his inscrutable wisdom and goodness she has been subjeted.

Resuming the subject more amediately connected with the proceedings of the Institute generally, and in order to find some Data to enable me to carry out the plan I had adopted I consulted the archives of the Corporation and find it recorded that on the 11th of March 1847 a meeting of Inhabitants of Woodstock was held at Miss Drake's School Room James Robertson Esq. in the chair, for the purpose of forming a Mechanics Institute. It was then and there Resolved, That the increasing intelligence of the community requires the adoption of means for the more fully developing the Mental energies of its Members, and the more general diffusion of useful information, and that the delivery of Lectures upon Historical Literary, and Scientific subjects will best effectuate these subjects. Again on the 15th March another Meeting was held Rev. Mr. Temple in the chair when the Society was regularly organized, and the officers for the management of its affairs duly chosen. Some alteration has since been made in the Constitution it then adopted.

On the 25th of March a Lecture was delivered by Doctor Rice on the Atmosphere, the first one before the Institute as an organized body, tho he had previously lectured on that and other subjects. On the first of April Doctor Wood delivered an interesting Lecture on water illustrating his subject by experiments, showing by Analysis the component parts of which it is composed. The Lecturer also made some appropriate remarks upon the past and present State of Woodstock, congratulating his Audiance upon its progress in improvement since his first acquaintance with it about twenty years previous, at that time but little more than a Wilderness, now a flourishing village. This appears to have been the last lecture of the season, though it must be within the recollection of many of you that the Rev. Mr. Temple delivered one or two lectures on Astronomy about that time, and I think it due to the Rev. Gentleman to notice his kindly manner in which he expressed his good wishes for the future advancement of the then Infant Institution, and the assistance rendered by his experience and advice in its formation.

December 30th, Doctor Rice delivered an introductory lecture on Physiology, and again on the 6th February /48 it is recorded that he Doctor Rice delivered his seventh lecture on the same subject; no notice is taken of the intermediate lectures. To attempt any thing like a partiular description of those very interesting and scientific lectures is far beyond my power; I can however well recollect, (as no doubt others of you do) the attention and interest with which they were listened to, while the lecturer, in that easy and familiar style of language, peculiar to himself discribed the works of vegetable and animal Nature, and the laws by which all are governed From the fungous that grows upon the wall to the highest production of the vegetable Kingdom; and beginning in his delineation of Animated Nature with the atom that floats unseen in the Air, thence to the lower class of Insects, and rising in regular Gradation of the scale of Animals, from the lower to the class amediately above it, thence upwards through the intire chain of the Animal Creation, discribing the regular and successive links, binding and connecting the whole together, from the meanest and lowest of Animated Nature, to the Infinitely highest and greatest of all Created Beings, Man; dwelling at length and with minuteness upon the wonderful structure of the human form, which a profound knowledge of the Sience of Anotomy only could have enabled him to do. On the 25th February the Rev. Mr. Prince lectured on the rise of British Commerce; and on the 18th March the Rev. Mr. Street delivered a lecture on the Economy of Nature. Both of those lectures afforded Instruction and Entertainment to large and gratified Audiances. The season of 1848 was closed by a ninth lecture from Doct. Rice on Physiology on 1st April.

1849. January 26:   Doctor Rice again commences the season by his introductory lecture on the Science of Geology. I can find no further mention of these lectures there was however a course of I think seven on geology all of them equally instructive and equally interesting as those we had before heard from him, rendered perhaps more so by coloured plates shewing the different stratas of which the Earth is composed and the deposits belonging to each. In the preparation of the Plates of Diagrams which showed a good deal of Artistic Skill, he was indebted to another valued Friend of the Institution, whose modesty will I hope excuse the mention of his name, William T. Baird Esquire. February 2nd, Mr. Richard Ketchum lectured on the subject of Meteorology. 5th, Introuctory Lecture on Chemistry by Mr. Secretary, W. T. Baird.

March 5th, Lecture on the Signs of the times by the Rev. Mr. Allison. April 2nd, Second Lecture on Chemistry by Mr. Baird, illustrated by some beautiful experiments shewing the nature of the elementary gasses, oxygen, Hydragon, Nitrygon, and carbon and some of their combutsions 1850, January 7th I find it noted the second of two lectures delivered by Doctor Dow on the subject of Anotomy and Physiology.

On the 22nd December 50 Doctor Rice was admitted as an Honorary Member of the Institute.

Rev. Mr.Allison, lectured on Natural Phylosophy, and for half an hour riveted the attention of his audiance by his usual fivid [vivid] and glowing Elequence of Language. Other Lectures were delivered during the Season of 50 and /51 by Mr. Samuel Watts, L. P. Fisher, one of which created qite a Sensation, and also by the Rev. Mr. Hunter of which I find no notice on the Minutes.

We must pass over the last Year as a perfect Blank in the history of Lectures: nothing was done no audiance could be induced to give their attendance, no lectures were delivered.

The present season, however afford a most pleasing contrast, as gratifying as it is credible to all concerned. The season commenced by a most interesting Lecture from Mr. Baird, on Food, discriptive of the quantity and quality of nutricious matter contained in the various articles of Sustenance made use of.

He was followed by Mr. E. J. Jacob on Australia, in which the Lecturer sketched the early history of the Country from its discovery to the present time, the discovery of gold and the localities where it is found made some judicious remarks on the folly of Young Men in possession of the comforts of Life leaving home and Country in the pursuit of wealth which if attained does not always bring with it that unaloyed happiness generally looked for from its possesion.

Mr. Fisher came next on the history and Spirit of the British Constitution, delivered Extempore The beautiful and Eloquent language in which this Lecture was given, and the Knowledge of the subject displaid, was at lest equal to any thing that has been heard within these walls.

The Rev. Mr. Street next lectured on the influince of Education upon Revealed Religion. Time will not permit me to notice this Lecture further than to say that it was listened to with respect and attention, and spoken of with admiration. Nor can I do more than notice those that followed from Mr. McLauchlan on the History of the Province Mr. R. A. Hay on things Mechanical and Men in General Rev. Mr. Hunter on Our National antipathies and Social Relations, viewed in the Light of the past and the future; all of them excellent in their kind.

I must now bring this Rambling and tiresome Lecture to a conclusion; but before doing so I trust I may be permitted to notice, and to congratulate you Mr. President on the gratifying fact that since the commencement of the Season to its close this Evening the Hall has been filled with an intelligent and attentive audience, who appeared to appreciate the Intellectual Entertainment prepared for them.

And now Ladies and Gentlemen in bidding you farewell till another Season brings us together within these Walls, accept my best wishes.

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NOTE: This lecture appears to have been delivered before the Mechanics Institute at Woodstock, N. B., by John Bedell at the close of the season 1852-53 (see Page 11), probably in March or April 1853. He was the magistrate at Woodstock. It has been copied from the original in the possession of the Bedell family, without editing. Capitals are as written, although in many cases it is not clear whether they were intended; his punctuation marks were dashes of varying lengths. Copied by James Bedell, June 1939.