By Leah Wickett
ARB and Ohio Valley History Intern
Founded in 1819, Cincinnati College was home to two literary societies, the Philomathic Society and the Erophoebic Society (which had a bit of a rivalry between them). Students of the College formed the Philomathic Society prior to the opening of the College, on January 18, 1818. The Society’s aim was “for mutual literary improvement” and its first members were John Hough James, Junius James, George Mackey Wilson, Lemuel D. Howells, Robert T. Lytle, and Edward L. Drake. Soon after its creation, the student members created a separate branch of the Philomathic Society for elected members consisting of William Henry Harrison, Thomas Peirce, Daniel Drake, Benjamin Drake, Peyton Short Symmes, as well as “other gentlemen, well known at that day… interested in literary affairs.” On April 3, 1821, Daniel Drake invited the members of the Philomathic Society to join the public commencement of the Medical College being held the following day at Cincinnati College’s Chapel. In the early part of 1821, the Society created a semi-monthly paper called The Olio, which featured local literature and was “the first effort on the part of a literary society, in the West, for development of poetic ability.” The publication contained historical essays, articles, poetry, and the occasional “humorous essay.” The Olio, published and edited by John H. Wood and Samuel S. Brooks, ended after just one year of publication.
Later in 1821, the Philomathic Society offered a gold medal prize for the best original poem by a “Western man,” containing no less than four hundred lines. The committee to decide the winner of the prize included John P. Foote, John D. Godman, and Benjamin Drake. The competition received twelve poems for consideration, with extracts from the top four poems published in The Spy and Cadet; “’The Muse of Hesperia,’ by a citizen of Cincinnati, ‘The Banks of the Ohio,’ by a lady of Madison, Indiana, ‘The Story of Osage to Ben Logan,’ written in Ross county, and ‘Retrospection,’ written in Muskingum county, Ohio.” The Philomathic Society awarded “The Muse of Hesperia” the gold medal with “The Banks of Ohio,” taking second in merit. In early 1823, the Society published “The Muse of Hesperia” as a separate publication on “heavy paper from clear type,” but the author declined to reveal his identity. After ten years of debate, Thomas Peirce became known as the author.
In 1824, the Society moved its library to an apartment adjoining the lecture room of the Western Museum with the aim of furnishing “it with the best literary journals, and most of the new works of interest.” Among the books held in the library, the Society also provided literary journals for their patrons, including; the Quarterly, Edinburgh and North American Reviews, Campbell’s Monthly Magazine, The Museum, the Port Folio, and Silliman’s Journal of Arts and Sciences. The library featured all of the local newspapers, which they regularly bound and filed. In 1924, the Society sold shares into their library at three dollars an “annual ticket.”
The Philomathic Society was concerned with more than just sharing a passion for poems and literature. In April 1824, the Society planted shade trees in an empty lot near the campus of Cincinnati College, in a means to relieve students of the “heat from southern exposure.” In August 1824, the Philomathic Library moved again more from the Western Museum to Col. Carr’s mansion,” which was located on Third Street between Main Street and Sycamore, “in the east room on the second story.” In November 1824, the Cincinnati Library (established in 1802 as a subscription library and later becoming the Cincinnati Public Library in 1853) proposed joining together with the Philomathic Society Athenaeum and keeping the library in the current location at Carr’s Mansion and “placed under the care of one Librarian.” To offset the “increased expenses” the two libraries coming together would incur, they proposed selling “six or eight additional shares” at ten dollars each. According to The Cincinnati Gazette, a moderate increase in public patronage would ensure a permanent existence for the combined and enlarged library. In 1825, Peyton Short Symmes, an elected member of the Philomathic Society, became the president of the Cincinnati Library.
The Philomathic Society, along with the Erophoebic Society, held the annual “Birth-Day of Washington” celebration each twenty-second of February. In 1825, the two Societies entertained the patriotic crowd with an original “Ode” to George Washington, on which both Societies had collaborated. It is unclear when the Philomathic Society ceased to exist in Cincinnati. If it endured past 1825, – of which there is no evidence to prove it – it is likely to have ended when Cincinnati College began to flounder in the mid-1830s.
History of the Philomathic Society of Cincinnati College/University of Cincinnati
“Philomathic Athenaeum, and Circulating Library,” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. 1. No. 5. (January 31, 1824), 7:
January 1824, “The Philomathic Society of Cincinnati College, have removed their Library to an apartment adjoining the lecture room of the Western Museum, and have made arrangements to furnish it with all the best literary journals, and most of the new works of interest. They have received the last numbers of the Quarterly, Edinburgh, and North American Reviews, Campbell’s new Monthly Magazine, the Museum, the Port Folio, and Silliman’s Journal of Arts and Sciences. They received all the City papers, which will be regularly filed and bound. They have procured the King of the Peak, and Hunter’s Narrative, and will receive by mail during the ensuing week, The Pilot, by the author of the Spy, two copies of St’ Ronan’s Well, will be received in like manner, when it shall be published. Also by the first arrivals, eight volumes of Las Cases’ Journal. The Library will be open on Mondays and Thursdays, between the hours of 2 and 5 P.M. Five Shares remain to be sold. Annual Tickets $3.00.”
“New Works,” Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. I. No. 12. (March 20, 1824), 7:
“Just Reviewed at the Philomathic Athenaeum, and Circulating Library:” Franklin’s Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea; Griscom’s Year in Europe; Thatcher’s Military Journal during the Revolutionary War; Las Casas’ Journal – complete in 8 vols.; St. Ronan’s Well, (two copies,); The Pilot, do.; High-ways and By-ways, or Tales by the Road-side; Memoirs of the Court of Elizabeth, by Miss Aikin; The current numbers of the Edinburgh, Quarterly, and American Reviews; Silliman’s Journal; The Port Folio; and the Museum. “Subscriptions received by the Librarian at the Western Museum. Occasional readers may have access to the Library on moderate terms.”
“Shade Trees,” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. 1. No. 14. (April 3, 1824), 6:
April 1824, the Philomathic Society offers to plant shade trees in a vacant lot near the campus to help with the heat from southern exposure.
The Philomathic Athenaeum,” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. II. No. 9. (August 28, 1824), 7:
August 1824, the Philomathic Society Athenaeum moves from the Western Museum to Col. Carr’s building on Third, east of Main Street, in the east room on the second story. They held regular hours of three to six o’clock P.M. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Society boasted a collection of books, including Mitford’s History of Greece, The Adventures of Hajji Baba, and Redgauntlet.
“The Cincinnati Library,” The Cincinnati Gazette, Vol. II. No. 22. (November 27, 1824), 7:
“The Cincinnati Library. For the purpose of obviating the objections (whether well or ill founded) which have been urged to the connection heretofore existing between the institution and the College, – we understand the Directors have been negotiating with the Philomathic Society, for so far uniting the Library and Athenaeum, as to have them both located in the same eligible apartment, (in Col. Carr’s Mansion-house) – – and placed under the care of one Librarian. – – As the increased expenses which would be incurred by the arrangement for placing the Library in a central and advantageous position, would be met by the disposal of only six or eight additional shares [at $10 each.] it is to be hoped that such as have not yet contributed to its funds, and are desirous of ensuring its prosperity, will step forward; and obviate the difficulty. As the institution is now almost entirely out of debt, and has lately had its empty shelves completely filled up with valuable books (taken in for taxes,) – – there seems to be only needed a moderate increase of public patronage to ensure for it a useful and permanent existence.
“Review: New Directory,” Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. III. No. 3. (Jan 18, 1825), 5.:
“There is an elaborate account of Cincinnati College. From it we quote the following: ‘Annexed to this institution, are two respectable literary societies, (founded by the students of the College,) the Philomathic and Erophoebic. Each possess a handsome library, and are in a flourishing condition.’ Will the compiler permit us to suggest that he might with great advantage devote an occasional hour to the pages of Mr. Murray.”
“The Approaching Twenty-Second of February,” Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. III. No. 8. (February 19, 1825), 7:
“The Approaching Twenty-Second of February is about to be celebrated by the Philomathic and Erophoebic Societies – composed of the pupils and alumni of the Cincinnati College. On Tuesday morning a procession of the citizens is to proceed from ‘Washington Hall’ to the 1st Presbyterian Church: – where it is understood, the exercises are to consist of a Prayer, two Orations, Music, original Ode, &c. The laudable interest which is felt for the advancement of these respectable Societies, and the ennobling recollections which are so universally awakened by every return of the birth day of Washington, – will doubtless draw together a large and respectable audience on the occasion.”
“The Birth-Day of Washington,” Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. III. No. 10. (March 5, 1825), 6:
“The Birth-Day of Washington has recently been celebrated by the Philomathic and Erophoebic societies of the Cincinnati College in the appropriate manner described in the different papers of the city: which we consider it unnecessary to repeat. The Ode sung on the occasion will be found on our poetical page.
On the afternoon of that day a large party, consisting of the friends of the successful candidate for Presidency, and the lovers of good eating, partook of an entertainment provided by T. L. Paine, in the Western Museum: at which, after the discussion of a reasonable quantity of codfish and potatoes, with other savoury viands,, the usual number of toasts, both regular and volunteer, were drank; and we are glad to learn from them that all the late Presidential candidates have again become great and good men.”
“ODE.” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette (1824-1825) Vol. III. No. 10, (Mar 05, 1825), 80:
“Ode: Written for the Philomathic and Erophoebic Societies; and sung, by Mr. S. M. Lee, at their recent celebration of the 22d of February.
TUNE – ‘Anacreon in Heaven.’
Unillumed by one ray of political light
From the broadswords of freemen, or volumes of sages,
Enwrapt in the thick gloom of Slavery’s night,
Content with his fetters, man slumbered for ages;
While tyrants combined
To enshackle his mind,
And depress his proud spirit, for freedom designed:
But God in his providence wisely designed,
That kings should not govern the empire of mind.
But rousing at length from his dungeon-repose,
And indignantly spurning the despots around him,
In the pride of his strength, like a giant he rose,
And breaking, like Sampson, the fetters that bound him,
Walked boldly abroad,
Majestic – unawed, —
And acknowledged allegiance to none but his God:
For God in his providence, &c.
Then in a broad flash of etherial light,
That played round the globe in diffuse coruscations,
The bright torch of Liberty burst on the night,
Which so long and so deeply enveloped the nations;
While monarchs amazed,
On the ill omen gazed,
And quak’d on the thrones which their tyranny rais’d.
For God in his providence, &c.
Then, too, our Washington – whose hallowed name
Will flourish for ever, unfading, in story –
Regardless of wealth, unambitious of fae,
Gave birth to a nation, and led it to glory;
And proved that a king
Is but man – and the thing
Called a crown, its possessor to ruin may bring.
For God in his providence, &c.
While the sun still pursues its bright path in the sky,
In the first dazzling garb, in which nature arrayed it;
While the free soul of man rises nobly and high,
In the image and strength of the Being who made it;
May Columbians henceforth
Laud the prowess and worth
Of our Washington – each glorious day of his birth.
For God in his providence, &e.
Hence, with rapture again, on this holiest of days,
Haye convened in this temple the pupils of Science,
With devotion of heart grateful paeans to raise
To the hero whose prowess bade despots defiance;
And thus oped a door
That the treasures of lore
May be won by each youth who comes to adore.
For God in his providence, &c.
Great Spirit of him who a nation made free!
Look down from thy dwelling in mansions elysian,
Smile on these oblations to Freedom and thee,
And grant thy example may still bless our vision;
That whilst yon bright sun
In his circle shall run,
We may guard the rich prize which our forefathers won.
For God in his providence wisely designed,
That kings should not govern the empire of mind.
William Turner Coggeshall, The Poets and Poetry of the West: with Biographical and Critical Notices (Columbus: Follett, Foster, 1860), 17-18.
In the early part of the year 1821, a competitor for the prose and poetic contributions of the young writers of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, which The Spy and Cadet had chiefly monopolized, was issued at Cincinnati. It was a semi-monthly quarto paper, called The Olio. The encouragement given by these journals to local literature was the inspiring cause of the first effort on the part of a literary society, in the West, for development of poetic ability.
In the year 1818, the students of Cincinnati College formed a society for mutual literary improvement, which they denominated The Philomathic. The first members were John H. and Junius James, George Mackey Wilson, Lemuel D. Howells, Robert T. Lytle, and Edward L. Drake. Afterward, William Henry Harrison, Thomas Peirce, Daniel Drake, Benjamin Drake, Peyton Short Symmes, and other gentlemen, well known at that day, were elected members of a branch of the society, composed of graduates and persons interested in literary affairs. In that circle originated the enterprise of offering a gold medal of the value of fifty dollars for the best original poem by a citizen of the Western country, which should be sent to the Secretary of the society, between the fifteenth of November 1821, and the first day of April, 1822. The poem was required to consist of not less than four hundred lines, and, to merit the award, be worthy of publication, the society pledging itself to print it in acceptable form. The only restriction as to subject was that ” if any natural scenery, historical incidents, or existing institutions were commemorated, they should be of a Western character.”
The committee appointed to decide upon the merits of the poems competing for the prize, was composed of John P. Foote, John D. Godman, and Benjamin Drake. Twelve poems were received by the officers of the society. Extracts from four of them, ” The Muse of Hesperia,” by a citizen of Cincinnati, ” The Banks of the Ohio,” by a lady of Madison, Indiana, ” The Story of Osage to Ben Logan,” written in Ross county, and ” Retrospection,” written in Muskingum county, Ohio, were published in The Spy and Cadet. The medal was awarded to ” The Muse of Hesperia, a Poetic Reverie,” and “The Banks of Ohio” was adjudged next in merit.
” The Muse of Hesperia ” was published by the Philomathic Society on heavy paper from clear type, in the early part of the year 1823. It was then announced that the author had declined making himself known to the society, so as to receive the medal awarded his poem. The President of the society, in a preface to the pamphlet containing “The Muse,” said it was not given as the best exhibition of poetic talent in the West, but as the best submitted to the committee. For several weeks after its appearance, lively discussion upon its authorship and upon its merits was had in the Gazette and Liberty Hall and in The Spy and Cadet. The authorship was not certainly ascertained for ten or twelve years. It was then fixed upon Thomas Peirce.
Both on account of its origin and its characteristics, ” The Muse of Hesperia ” is peculiarly appropriate for the conclusion of this Sketch. It embodies a just appeal to the Bards of the West for original study and treatment of themes suggested by the scenery, history and romance of the Hesperian valleys.
Such facts, showing the origin of literary enterprises, and the encouragement and development of poetical literature in the West, after 1821, as could be ascertained, have been given in the Biographic Notices which precede the specimens of that literature selected for this volume.
Henry A. Ford, History of Cincinnati, Ohio: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches (Cincinnati: L.A. Williams & Co., 1881), 272.
“In 1818 the students of Cincinnati college had a literary society called the Philomathic, to which a branch was attached for scholarly gentlemen not belonging to the college – as General Harrison, the Drakes, Peyton S. Symmes, Pierce (“Horace”), and others. After a year or two the prize of a gold medal worth fifty dollars was offered for the best original poem by a Western man, written between January 15, 1821, and April 1, 1822, and containing to less than four hundred lines. The committee of judges consisted of Messrs. John P. Foote, Joshua D. Godman, and Benjamin Drake. Twelve poems were submitted; and after careful examination the award was made to The Muse of Hesperia, a Poetic Reverie. Its authorship, however, was not disclosed, and not until long after its publication was announced in 1823, did it come to be known that Tomas Pierce was the successful contestant. The Philomathic Society undertook its publication in handsome style with heavy paper and a clear, beautiful imprint.”
John Brough Shotwell, A History of the Schools of Cincinnati (Cincinnati: School Life Co., 1902), 258.
Funds were exhausted and instruction suspended at Cincinnati College in 1832.
Reginald C. McGrane, The University of Cincinnati: A Success Story in Urban Higher Education (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 11-12:
Founded in 1819, Cincinnati College was home to two literary societies, the Philomathic Society and the Erophebic Society. The Philomathic Society organized prior to the opening of the College, on January 18, 1818. “The catalogue of the College in 1840-1841 stated the influence of these societies promoted ‘the ultimate objects of the institution – developing the mind and adding incentives to a generous emulation for literary excellence.’ This may have been true by that year, but records of the early years of the Philomatic [sic] reveal numerous incidents of ungentlemanly conduct and the use of vulgar and immoral language by its members. In the spring of 1821 a contest between these societies threw the whole College into an uproar. George Wilson [Philomathic member] and William Lytle [Erophebic member] started a fist fight, but were stopped by the intervention of faculty. Wilson was frequently the cause of trouble in the Philomatic [sic] Society. On one occasion the President of the Society called him to order for talking. Wilson said that he had only asked Robert T. Lytle ‘to go wh—ing with him.’ For using such immoral language Wilson was fined one dollar. Another time Wilson was fined the same amount for using immoral and profane language in the Chapel. C. Ramsey, another member of the Society, was fined one dollar for disorderly conduct. He had defied the President of the Society with ‘fine and be damned’; whereupon he was fined again. The Philomatic [sic] Society did publish a literary magazine, the Olio, ‘the first issue of which appeared on May 26, 1826; it contained essays, historical articles, poetry, and occasionally a humorous essay.’ The society ordered a gold medal valued at $50.00 for the best original poem written by a citizen of the western country. It had to contain at least four hundred lines. The first prize was won by Thomas Pierce for ‘The Muse of Hesperia,’ which was published in December 1822.”
 Robert Lytle of the Philomathic Society letter to the Erophoebic Society, undated, UC Archives and Rare Books Library.
 Reginald McGrane, The University of Cincinnati: A Success Story in Urban Higher Education (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 11-12.
 William Turner Coggeshall, The Poets and Poetry of the West: with Biographical and Critical Notices (Columbus: Follett, Foster, 1860), 17-18.
 Daniel Drake to John Hough James, Letter, April 3, 1821. Box 8, Folder 3. John H. James Collection, Walter Havinghurst Special Collections, Miami University Libraries.
 McGrane, The University of Cincinnati, 11-12.
 William Henry Venable, Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley: Historical and Biographical Sketches (Cincinnati: R. Clarke and Company, 1891), 66.
 Henry A. Ford, History of Cincinnati, Ohio: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches (Cincinnati: L.A. Williams and Company, 1881), 272.
 Coggeshall, The Poets and Poetry of the West, 17-18.
 “Philomathic Athenaeum, and Circulating Library,” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. 1. No. 5. (January 31, 1824), 7
 “Shade Trees,” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. 1. No. 14. (April 3, 1824), 6.
 “The Philomathic Athenaeum,” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. II. No. 9. (August 28, 1824), 7
 “The Cincinnati Library,” The Cincinnati Gazette, Vol. II. No. 22. (November 27, 1824), 7
 “Cincinnati Library,” The Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. III. No. 13 (March 26, 1825), 6.
 “The Approaching Twenty-Second of February,” Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Vol. III. No. 8. (February 19, 1825), 7.