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Title: Letter from Elisha Mitchell to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, September 1836: Electronic Edition.
Author: Mitchell, Elisha, 1793-1857
Funding from the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Bari Helms
Images scanned by Bari Helms
Text encoded by Brian Dietz
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 20K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-06-30, Brian Dietz finished TEI/XML encoding.
Title of collection: University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Letter from Elisha Mitchell to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, September 1836
Author: E. Mitchell
Description: 4 pages, 4 page images
Note: Call number 40005 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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Letter from Elisha Mitchell to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, September 1836
Mitchell, Elisha, 1793-1857

Page 1
University of NCa Sept. 1836

To the Hon. Executive Committee
of the Board of Trustees,


I was charged with the duty of examining Dr Griscon's Cabinet of Minerals with reference to the purchase of the same. I embraced the opportunity afforded me by a visit to Providence, R.I. for this purpose; of observing the condition of such colleges as were at no great distance from my route and ascertaining the facilities for obtaining a good education they severally afford. When so much rivalry exists as as amongst the Institutions of this region and there is such opportunity for a comparison of results there is great probability that the measures and methods generally adopted if not absolutely wise and good are at least possessed of some advantages and are worthy of consideration.
No apology can therefore be necessary whilst reporting on the examination of Dr Griscon's Cabinet for calling the attention of the Committee to the points in which we seem to differ most widely from other Colleges. I could before leaving home have specified what are the most pressing wants of the University and have sheltered myself against the charge of presumption in urging appropriations for particular objects under the law maxim — "cuique in sua arte cuderdum est" — claming that I have for nearly thirty years been connected with and thinking and reading about Colleges and that I may therefore be expected if I am possessed of any talent and judgment to know something of the manner in which their prosperity is to be secured. But this method of sheltering myself under authority is more convenient.
The one particular in which our inferiority is most glaring and palpable is the want of what has of late been called the "material" of science and literature — Books, Philosophical Apparatus, Cabinets of Minerals, Rocks and Shells. Nothing about the University of N. Ca will strike an intelligent stranger who has been making public schools an object of attention as so little creditable to us as this part of our establishment. With reference to putting it into a good condition disbursements for almost any other object may well be avoided. I was at Yale, the Methodist College in Middleton, Washington College at Hartford, Brown University, Amherst,

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and had furnished myself with letters and means of introduction at at Harvard and Princeton but was so little gratified by what I had already seen that I neglected to use them.
I know very well that Dr Caldwell purchased articles to a considerable amount in Europe, but of this Apparatus, three items — viz. the Astronomical Clock the Amplitude and Arimuth Instrument and the Transit Instrument — (all good and necessary in an observatory) consumed a large part of the funds. It is not my purpose to intrude upon the province of the Professor of Mathematics by urging the wants of his department or specifying the items of which there is the most urgent need but merely to state amongst other things that what will strike the eye of the most casual observer as to the difference between the philosophical furniture of other colleges and that of our own. It appeared to me that what are now called for are instruments for every day experiments before a class. These will many of them be large and showy without being very expensive and produce the kind of effect and impression upon both the students and visitors which we so much need. Two thousand dollars devoted to this object is as little as should be thought of and with this sum laid out in the establishment of Pixii in Paris where instruments are one third cheaper than in England it might answer very well. Unless there be an additional appropriation of 1200 or 1500 dollars for such a telescope as they have at Yale This until lately was larger than is possessed by any of our Colleges, but I found that at the Methodist College in Middleton they had just received one from Leubours in Paris for which they paid 1200 dollars and at Princeton they are expecting one still more expensive from the shop of Fraunhofer .
The real advantage to be derived from apparatus and experiments is perhaps over rated by many persons — still it is great and the reason that the instruments speak to the eye of a stranger of the richness of the provision made for meeting the wants of the student they should be supplied. It is a misfortune to a young man to have studied hard to obtain an education and when he comes to visit other Colleges be compelled to suppose that his education is imperfect.
The appropriations for the department of Chemistry in the University considering what the state of its funds has been heretofore have perhaps been sufficiently liberal; but this science has been taught as I learned by inquiry; at a less annual expense with us than in the respectable institutions elsewhere. There is wanted now an appropriation of a thousand dollars to meet its wants including Apparatus for Electro-Magnetism and the Polarization of Light for illustrating which branches we have not an

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article and without the necessary instruments find some difficulty ourselves in understanding all that has been written about them.
I examined Dr Griscon's cabinet at the Friend's Boarding School in Providence. It is valuable and in some parts well filled but it wants many species. I was assured by good authority that we should find our account in purchasing from M. Moldenhauer of Heidelburg whose priced catalogue I have. But a cabinet we cannot do without any longer. The University has hitherto paid only 15 dollars for that object and it will be well to purchase of Dr Griscon if we can get no other. Baron Lederer the Austrian Consul has one that he holds at 4000 dollars. He has paid more for single specimens than Dr Caldwell did for the whole cabinet he purchased for the Trustees.
We have a professorship of Modern Languages and with the exception of a broken copy of Voltaires Works and some old books of controversy between the Catholics and Protestants presented many years ago by Gautier of Elizabeth in Bladen have hardly a French work — in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese we have nothing. Books are continually published in the different departments of science and learning which the professors must have — without which the library of the University cannot be respectable and which therefore it seems proper that the Trustees should purchase.
For these different objects if the attention of the Committee had not been absorbed by important business of various kinds — if it had been directed for a length of time to the subject of education they would agree with an unanimous voice that almost any other thing should be postponed — that entailments are to be made in any direction for the purpose of securing 8 or 10 thousand dollars to be devoted to the purchase of Apparatus, Library and Cabinets of Minerals, and shells. The study of these last is absolute necessary in the present state of Geological science.
Another subject of enquiry was — the methods adopted for reducing the price of education within moderate limits. There are two classes of young men who enter our Colleges — the rich and the poor. It is most desirable that they should be educated together. We want the young men of good families to introduce into the mass — polished manners and an elevated tone of feeling — the poor as examples of patient industry and sobriety. The wealthy will want only a college well endowed and able Professors. The poor will want pecuniary assistance. This is afforded so far as tuition is concerned by a remission of that item but I am unable to say to what extent this practice prevails — and so

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far as regards board by establishing Commons with dearer and cheaper tables between which the student makes his choice.
The Commons system is liable to great objections. We are brought into collision with the most capricious and unmanageable part of a student's system — his stomach. All of the students lead an inactive life and have not therefore the ravening appetite with which they sit down to eat after having carried a gun about their fathers plantation for a day — perhaps without having tasted any dinner. They lay the blame upon the food which is due to their own want of exercise. Those who have lived the plainest at home will often aim at proving their gentility by railing loudest against the food. Our present system is the best if the price of board can be kept down and to this an efficient steward in the place of the miserable tools we have often had would contribute largely. The Steward's Hall is a constant source of vexation and disturbance at other Colleges where they have ampler means of supplying the table than we can command on Chapel Hill. In addition it may be remarked that there are likely to be always some young men getting an education who will be willing to live on very plain food and make out their dinner on Greek roots and Conic Sections. For their use there is wanted a house where they shall manage and direct the whole disbursement so that they can have no one to blame but themselves. Such an establishment if there shall be no objection on the part of the Trustees — I hope by means of the funds accruing from this same Bursarship to be able to purchase and provide.

All which is respectfully submitted

E. Mitchell