"WHEN will that Chautauqua bubble burst, do you think?" said a sedate man in our hearing not long since. We replied:
Considering its magnitude and rapid growth, Chautauqua must possess some rare elements of strength, and have a solid foundation, or it would have collapse before now.
"But can it last many years longer?"
That will depend on whether the material of which it is composed is of the lasting character. Let us see. The first gathering of the hosts in the groves of Chautauqua Lake, was in August, 1874, and each succeeding Assembly, in numbers, power, and influence has surpassed its predecessor. The Assemblies have felt the pressure of the "hard times;" the gathering of 1876 encountered the great centennial diversion; and in '77 the effects of the railway war; but it was found to possess a strength that was equal to any emergency, and which has given it an uninterrupted success.
"But is not this success spasmodic--the result of special stimulants--and not of enduring character?"
The first great gathering in 1874 possessed simply the Sunday-school element. The sermons, lectures and studies were purely of a Biblical character. Its chief characteristic was the organization of normal classes and the zealous pursuit of normal studies. A regular and systematic course of reading and drill was initiated, with the honors of graduation, and a diploma, in prospect. In this step was fully realized the basal idea of the Sunday-school Assembly. The Alumni of this department are now counted by thousands scattered from Massachusetts to Mexico, and every one is proud to be called a Chautauquan. The pioneer class of '74 seems to enjoy special honors. Funds are partially collected to build an Alumni Hall at Chautauqua.
The great orators at this Assembly were Bishop Simpson, Dr. Talmage, J.B. Gough, Drs. E.O. Haven, H.M. Warren, J.F. Hurst, C.H. Fowler, and J.M. Buckley. It was at Chautauqua during this and subsequent Assemblies, that Messrs. Warren, Hurst and Haven developed those qualities, and formed that wide circle of acquaintances, which finally placed them upon the ecclesiastical throne of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Such was the success of the first Assembly that Dr. Vincent, Lewis Miller, Esq., and all concerned, felt that another must be held on the same ground the next year. Shall it be the same thing over again, or is there room for growth? were among the thousand questions suggested and considered. Has the Assembly, like Jonah's gourd, grown to maturity in a day? If so, it may wither in a night and be soon forgotten. But if it is pre-destinated to live and realize a far off future, it must experience a constant growth. All that was of solid worth in the Assembly of '74 was carried forward into the Assembly of '75, with many new and attractive features. Our last camp-meeting was held on these grounds in June of this year, amidst the sounds of axes and hammers. The preaching and the meetings were good, but the attendance was not large, as al eyes were looking towards the August meetings. As was anticipated, the attendance at the Assembly was over-flowing. Pennsylvania and Ohio were largely represented. Many Southerners and people from Canada were present.
Prominent among the features of the second Assembly was the cause of Temperance and Moral Reform. During the preceding winter the crusaders had astonished the world by the boldness and success of their onslaughts upon the strongholds of rum. And the question then uppermost was: What next?
Miss Francis E. Willard, Mother Stewart, Dr. Jocelyn, Dr. Fowler, and Rev. Thos. Graham, were prominent in the temperance work. Miss Willard won all hearts by her persuasive eloquence, her deep earnestness, and the polished grace of her manners. In her line she has not a superior in America.
It was during the second Assembly that many thousands of people became acquainted with the plantation melodies of the South, as rendered by the Tennesseeans. The singing of these ex-slaves greatly pleased all classes. No orator on the ground could so quickly draw everybody from their cottages, and pack the people as this band of singers. They seemed to have been taught to sing by the birds, and to have been the native warbler of the grove. With these enlargements of the basis of the second Assembly, the lectures, sermons and normal studies were much the same as the first. Each day's proceedings were copiously reported for the Press, and the Buffalo Express and Courier had a large sale on the ground.
But the public demanded more careful preservation of the able lectures delivered at Chautauqua, and at the opening of the third Assembly, editors, stenographers, reporters and publishers were ready for the important work of starting a daily paper. The Herald, daily during the Assemblies, and monthly during the rest of the year, under the sole management of Messrs. Flood and Bailey, has since then formed an important part of the Chautauqua enterprise.
The most notable feature of this Assembly was the introduction of scientific lectures. Dr. Doremus, of New York, and Dr. Lattimer, of Rochester, were present with all the essential appliances of a chemical laboratory. The experiments and demonstrations were a splendid success, and the luminous explanations given were all that could be desired. For the first time on the history of learning, the secrets of the inner sanctuary of science were exposed to the wondering gaze of thousands of the common people. We saw the nebular theory developed; water dissolved into its elements and reformed again; witnessed the freezing of mercury, and handled the substance, and nature was thus manipulated in a thousand ways. Science, in harmony with Christianity, was incorporated in the groundwork of the Chautauqua Assemblies, enlarging their foundation, and giving them a wider range of influence.
The crucial year of the Assemblies was '76, the centennial year. A national jubilee, supplemented by a presidential election, it was feared would monopolize the time and exhaust the resources of the people. But, when the first of August came, the steamboats and the immense trains of cars were alive with people coming to the Assembly. From first to last there was no falling off in the attendance. Besides the Sunday-school work proper, the scientific department was largely reinforced this year. Drs. Doremus and Lattimer were present, brilliant as before. Professor Winchell lectured on Geology and Dr. Burr on astronomy, to the great delight of the people. The classes organized the previous year in Hebrew and Greek, by Drs. Vail and Strong, still pursued their studies. Joseph Cook and Bishop Foster made their debut at this Assembly, and delivered able lectures to vast crowds of people. Dr. Talmage was again present, and delivered two lectures very much to the interests of the occasion. The presence of Messrs. Gough and Murphy at this Assembly gave great prominence to the temperance part of the work. On the whole, '76 was a great year at Chautauqua. The month of July '77 was a time of fear and terror to the American people. Mob-law for some time held sway along all the railway trunk lines on the continent, and many millions of dollars' worth of property were destroyed, and lives were sacrificed. People away from home could not return, and travel by rail practically ceased. Many looked forward to the August Assembly with solicitude. But Providence was propitious, the people were able to come, and the Assembly of '77 is classed among the best. The children's temple was built and solemnly dedicated, and other important improvements were made on the ground. The lectures of Dr. Warren (now Bishop) on astronomy, received universal applause. The exercises were almost endless in their variety. Joseph Cook was present and his giant strength was felt on various occassions.
The Assembly of '78 was signalized by the introduction of many new men upon the platform. The musical department, under the direction of Profs. Sherwin and Case, received special attention. In fact, from the beginning, the singing and the music at Chautauqua have been of the highest order. Messrs. Phillips, Bliss, Sherwin, Case, Sankey, and the distinguished soloists, Misses Kent and McClintock, and many others, have held many thousands of people spell-bound by the power of melody and song. It was at this Assembly that Bishop Foster delivered three lectures on "Beyond the Grave" which gave great satisfaction, and placed the Bishop in the front ranks of logical and metaphysical reasoners. But the great event of this Assembly was the organization of the C.L.S.C. The influence of this society is wider than the continent, and probably not less than 20,000 people have, in the last two years, been benefitted by the organization.
The Assembly of '79, in value and interest, ranks among the very best. In that year the Amphitheatre and Hall of Philosophy were built and dedicated; both of them remarkable structures, and destined to play an important part in the unfolding of the Chautauqua idea. The morning lectures to preachers in the hall were very able, practical and interesting. The tilt between Dr. Curry and Dr. Hodges on Calvinism will not be soon forgotten because of its ability and good nature. The lecture of George R. Wendling, Esq., on Ingersolism, in the amphitheatre, presented a spectacle of grandeur not often witnessed. Around the orator was a vast sea of life, and he trod the platform like a Neptune, ruling the waves by the force of his logic, and the pungency of his appeals. At Chautauqua this year, was organized the Teacher's Retreat. The School of Languages was formally opened with the understanding that in the future it is to be a part of the Chautauqua interest. Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French and Anglo-Saxon classes were organized and placed under the charge of native teachers. Six weeks were devoted to the study of languages, and the natural method of teaching adopted.
We can but touch a few salient points in the history of the Assemblies of the past, but these are sufficiently prophetic of a grand future.We see practically, a University springing up in the grove as if Mother Earth had given it birth. The reasons why Yale and Harvard should continue as seats of learning will apply to Chautauqua. Although Chautauqua has become the school for the masses, yet provision is made for the pursuit of particular studies, and for the wants of select classes. Whilst the scope of its influence knows no bounds, it gives special attention to the wants of the humblest Sunday-school girl.
Because of recent purchases, the grounds are more ample for all purposes. Men of wealth are building fine cottages: the great usefulness of the Assemblies are fully appreciated by the whole country; the enterprise is in the hands of men who know no such thing as failure. Dr. Vincent is yet in the prime of life with his plans only partially developed, and, with the blessing of Heaven, the future of Chautauqua seems to be assured.