Published in the New Hampshire Argus and Spectator March 1, 1889
The dedicatory exercises incident to the opening of the Richards Free Library to the use and benefit of the inhabitants of Newport, took place in the town hall during the afternoon of the 22nd inst.
The weather for such an occasion was most propitious. It may also be considered as a happy omen that the day was coincident with the 157th birthday of the “Father of his Country,” and now becomes the birthday of an institution to which George Washington would have set the seal of his high commendation.
After 125 years of municipal life the town of Newport, by some mysterious process of evolution has produced a man who counts it a great pleasure a grand satisfaction, at an expense of $40,000, to found a public library, not a stately column, or mausoleum of no practical utility, to perpetuate his name and memory among men and go into dust and oblivion in a few centuries, but an institution of substantial and beautiful proportions, filled with the productions of the thinkers and writers of all the past, for the benefit and culture of all the future, an institution from which will go out to the homes of the people, year after year, and generation after generation, messengers in the shape of books, to inform, improve, cultivate and adorn those homes and the minds of their occupants, in all that distinguishes our civilization.
The platform was occupied by Hon Dexter Richards, and the several members of his family the Board of Trustees of the Richards Free Library the architect of the Library building Hira R Beckwith the assistant builder Marin L Whittier the selectmen of the town His Excellency Governor Sawyer, and staff the clergymen speakers and orator of the day.
The hall was packed to its utmost capacity with a most attentive auditory drawn together by the novelty and interest of the occasion not only from Newport but all the neighboring towns in Sullivan county and from the adjoining counties and other states.
In the section of the auditorium reserved for visitors were seated Hon John Kimball Hon J B Walker Hon H P Rolfe Hon Stillman Humphrey Edward A Jenks and others from Concord, rooms for ladies Francis A Foster Daniel W Wilcox M R Emerson and Miss Studley of Boston Edward P Woods of Lowell Hon Geo H Stowell Hon H W Parker Hon J J Farwell Hon Ira Colby Hon Gen L Balcom Hon Edwin Vaughan and lady Rev J BGoodrich Herman Holt Esq and others from Claremont. A party of 34 students from the New London Academy occupied a block of seats in the balcony, also parties from Hanover and Lebanon.
The musical part of the programme was in charge of the Newport Cornet Band and the Arion Quartette and was executed with the usual marked ability of these associations. After the performance of a selection by the band appropriate and fervent prayer was offered by Rev W Bennett of the M Church.
The President of the day Hon I W Barton then came forward and spoke as follows
We are favored with the presence of the Governor of the State and his staff. We are fortunate also in having with us as orator of the day one who has a national reputation as a close thinker logical reasoner and eminent divine.
We have called upon home talent to assist in the work before us and the gentlemen have responded to the call and are present must also lends its aid to add pleasure to the occasion. All these unite to make this meeting one of marked enjoyment. But we have here a gentlemen who seldom if ever speaks at public gatherings. He has something to say which the people wish to hear. Without this the grand purpose of our coming together would not be realized and it would be the play of Hamlet, with Hamlet left out.
He is a plain spoken man and is better known by his deeds than by his public speeches and knowing him as we do we should not be surprised if while delivering his speech he should deliver a deed also.
You will now hear from the donor of The Richards Free Library who needs no introduction to this audience.
The pith of the occasion was the delivery to the trustees of the deed, conveying the library estate, and the fund for the endowment of the library. Mr. Richards then addressed the trustees of The Richards Free Library as follows.
Educational interests have been properly valued and well sustained by the people of Newport from the time of its first settlement.
The support of our common schools, was placed beyond any contingency by taxation and other legal enactments.
Schools of higher grades, libraries, and reading rooms, have been dependent upon personal effort, and voluntary contributions for their support, and of course their existence among us has been less permanent and more varied.
As early as the year 1803, the Newport Social Library was chartered. It was well patronized for many years, but the circulation was confined mostly to its shareholders. As far as it went it exerted a most beneficial influence upon the intelligence of our people. Ultimately all the shares became the property of one holder, and not occupying the position of a free public library the interest in regard to it declined and it is unknown as a public institution.
A similar institution was established at Northville but after running a few years the books were divided among the shareholders, and it disappeared. Undoubtedly the best and most continuous library privileges in this town up to this time have been offered by the Sunday Schools of the churches.
Some of these libraries contain over a thousand volumes, adapted to children, youth, and persons of adult age, which have had a wide circulation and been productive of great good.
About the year 1880 I donated a room in the Richards Block, on Main Street, and with other subscribers aided in furnishing the room and supplying, free to all, reading matter to our citizens. This went on prosperously until a disastrous fire made other arrangements in regard to the room necessary, and the reading room was given up.
It was out of this experience, however, that came the idea and purpose to establish in this town an institution that would have a permanent home and a support beyond the reach of any ordinary financial contingency.
I noted the good influence of the reading room on our young people, clerks and employes and came to the conclusion that there was no better way in which I could aid the social, moral, intellectual and business interests of my native town, than by giving the people larger and better facilities for mental culture I also felt that my success in a somewhat extended and fortunate business career would justify me in such an undertaking, not only this, but it was a work, the accomplishment of which would give me great personal satisfaction, in as much as it would enable me to launch upon the tide of time and human affairs, a craft that would bear to the shores of the future to generations to come, the evidence of my good will. With this view of the matter I first obtained plans and specifications from an accomplished architect and builder, Hira R Beckwith of Claremont, whom I wish, in this public way, to thank for the thorough able honest, and satisfactory manner in which he designed and executed my work. I wish, also to thank Martin L Whittier for his energy and efficiency in supervising the work of construction.
I gathered the best of materials for my purpose from our own and other states and countries. I selected a site which for beauty of situation and as regards all the conditions necessary for a substantial public building is unequalled in this town. I have employed skilled workmen in the construction of the building from the foundation to the top of the cupola. The work was commenced in May 1887 and continued up to January 1889 with the exception of the winter months of 1887 and 88 and the library edifice now stands completed and ready for use. There is a reading room a room for reference books, there are separate reading rooms for ladies and gentlemen a room for persevering relics antiquities, also a historical room. The general library room is large and convenient with alcoves having a capacity for about 13000 vols. The frescoing was done by Lewis F Perry of Boston Mass. The building is heated by steam the apparatus having been furnished by the Somersworth Machine Co of Dover. I have placed on its shelves more than 2000 volumes comprising works of the most approved authorship covering a wide field of knowledge and research in art, fiction, biography history political economy books of general reference and selections of current periodical literature all selected by persons competent to judge of the needs and the work of a general library.
I wish to say in this connection that we cordially invite contributions of books magazines pictures curiosities antiquarian articles. Upon the cover of each book presented a special card will be affixed stating the name of the giver and date of presentation, and their title will be added to the catalogue. Other articles donated will be carefully marked and acknowledged and placed in a room specially designed for their preservation. To Further carry out my purpose in regard to this matter. I have appointed from among my friends and contemporaries a board of trustees seven in number as follows.
Dana Mooney, term expires Dec
This board was organized by choosing
Dana Mooney President
Joseph Parmelee Secretary
Seth Richards Treasurer
Into the hands and control of the board thus organized without consideration of money. I now place and vest the title of this building and institution to be known as The Richards Free Library of Newport to be managed by them for the free use and benefit of the people of Newport. I have expended up to this time for building and books, and for furnishing the rooms, the sum of $24,000, and I now hand you a check for $1000 to make the sum $25,000, the one thousand I desire to be expended for the use of the library in purchasing additional use books, and periodicals during the present year. I also have the pleasure to hand you the obligation of the town of Newport for the sum of $10,000, to run for twenty years, from March 1, 1889, the interest payable semi-annually at the rate of six percent per annum. I also hand you five debenture bonds of one thousand dollars each of the New Hampshire Trust Co., drawing interest at the rat of 6 percent payable semi-annually; making in all the sum of $15,000 as a permanent fund, the income of which is to be used for current expenses, and the balance to be applied to the purchase of additional books and periodicals. The amounts thus given aggregate the sum of forty thousands dollars. It has been intimated to me that the permanent fund will be increased by gifts from former citizens of Newport. Also, contributions in books. My object, as before states, is to found an institution which shall have undoubted character and stability. To this end, the edifice here presented, has been constructed in the most substantial manner; and the fund in reserve for its preservation in good order is assured; also the maintenance and increase of its library and the payment of all necessary expenses attending it management. It stands for an additions means for the diffusion of useful knowledge among the people of my native town, as they may grow up and remain here, or remove to other places. And it is my hope and prayer, that through God’s blessing it may so continue to the remotest generations, and exert a widespread and beneficent influence upon mankind.
The speech of Mr. Richards was received with enthusiastic applause.
In response to Mr. Richards, Albert Wait, Esp, in behalf of the Trustees, made the following remarks.
Mr. Richards, the pleasing duty is assigned to me, on behalf of the gentlemen who have been named as trustees, and to express to you their grateful recognition of the munificent spirit and enlarged views which have induced you to make it, and they desire you to be assured that they receive it as an honorable – a sacred trust in the interest of the people of this community, the faithful discharge of which will demand their earnest attention and constant care.
Engaged like other communities in practical affairs and in the promotion of business interests, the people of our town, though advancing steadily in material prosperity, and numbering among them many men and women of literary attainments. have long felt the need of those better and enlarge facilities for literary and scientific pursuits which your generosity has now supplied. It will be the duty of those to whom your endowment is entrusted to so administer it that the object had in view shall be realized in the fullest practical measure.
Having said, we accept your gift, and with it the responsibility it implies, with earnest and heartfelt thanks, perhaps my proper duty may be considered performed it may not be inappropriate however and I trust I may be permitted to give expression to some thoughts which naturally arise on so interesting an occasion.
The founding of The Richards Free Library is not alone for the present time, it looks beyond this generation into the far distant future and its beneficence is to be more and more felt and realized when those who now live to thank you shall have passed away. Its widening influence and its ultimate results who will undertake to measure who presumes to predict? Who can foresee into what minds hungering and thirsting for knowledge will fall the seed you have sown? Who can tell how many intellects it will will quicken for work on which great events in the indefinite future may turn? We cannot lift the veil which shuts the future from human ken but while we know that passing events and existing institutions are but the offspring of that which has gone before that what there is of intellect and mental culture, as well as material wellbeing, is but the fructification of seed sown in ages preceding we know as well that under divine guidance the transactions of today are destined to ripen of the harvests of those which are to come.
Your reward must be in feeling that the transaction of today is not simply the unsealed execution of you written gratuity, but by anticipation that which will become legible upon the pages of remotest time.
Monuments have before been raised to tell after generations the story of personal fame. Antiquity has built many whose records have passed from the memory of men and they stand silent memorials we know not of what, cenotaphs merely of buried time. And why? Why is their significance lost why as records of distinguished servants have they perished? It is plain everyone feels it knows it they have perished because they were erected for the commemoration of nothing useful. They speak not because their speech would be in vain because it would tell of nothing of value to the world.
But a monument has been raised by your munificence which taking its place among the instrumentalities of the world’s progress can never perish can never cease to tell the story of your generosity. It must live in the intellects it will quicken, in the influence it will bear to future times.
The building indeed magnificent in its architectural beauty and in all its appointments may pass away the volumes which fill its shelves may perish. This is only to say they are material. But the great the enduring the never perishing monument its destined influence upon human progress upon the general intelligence and moral well-being of men growing widening as time advances springing perennially into renewed life pervading the world of mind, elevating it constantly to a higher and better plain, it can never cease to carry legibly forward the record of the deed you have done.
S.L. Bowers Esq then responded in behalf of the inhabitants of Newport, as follows
Mr. President and Friends –
I arise in behalf of the citizens of Newport to express our thanks for the munificent gift, – a gift that has come to stay – from our fortunate and wealthy townsman, the Hon Dexter Richards. Words but poorly convey the heartfelt thankfulness of every individual in this community. Lisping childhood, strong youth, mature manhood, and reflecting age are here to join in heartiest gratitude for the precious treasures bestowed upon us this day. “I thank you” springs spontaneous from every lip. It is a red-letter day in the history of our town, a birthday for Newport. A new epoch has opened, a new star is seen above our horizon.
A costly building has been erected, beautiful for situation, fronting upon the common pleasure grounds of the town. The house is made perfect in all its parts, finished in the most thorough manner, decorated and adorned by beautiful frescos that charm the eye, a well selected library of the choicest books, containing the recorded wisdom and knowledge of the part and present, in science, art and literature, and the whole endowed by a sufficient fund not only to meet all expenses, but to largely increase the list of books from year to year as time rolls on, are all, by the generosity and good will of Mr. Richards, at an expense of $10,000, given to us and to our children and to our children’s children to the latest generation, to use and enjoy free, free as the air we breathe. What a rich legacy! What hosts of children will arise to bless your memory. Multitudes of men and women will owe to you higher, richer, happier lives for the benefit you have conferred upon them. The seed now sown into the ground will bear some thirty, some sixty and some an hundred fold to end of time.
You have put within the reach of the entire community advantages far beyond those that can be found in the largest and best private libraries. It is a magnificent “school-house” of learning, at which our boys and girls, when they have outgrown the other schools will come to carry on and carry out the education already commenced, and where the Newport men and women – children of a larger growth – will come to acquire additional knowledge, which opens, in its pursuit, the purest source of happiness, and which contributes something to the usefulness, the grace and ornament of life.
Friends, I need not tell you the great benefit we obtain from books. They are the garnered wisdom of ages. They introduce us a company of the wisest men and women that have ever lived. They address our moral natures, they arouse the imagination, they inspire in us higher and better thoughts. We stand on vantage ground, we close the book, wiser for having read it. A word warm from the heart enriches us, we find that the experience of other corresponds with our own. All that Caesar had, we have, all that he dared we may attempt. The hero inspired the heroic. We find that in certain books there is something vital and spermatic. We are inspired and lifted up and out of the low level of every day life, and we stand on the mountaintops.”
I am aware that some in our midst will scout book learning and we sometimes hear as we have heard very lately, that a public library is of ‘no utility’ that they are rather ornamental than a useful necessity. There is a growing disposition to claim that the ‘self taught’ man is superior to the well read up in books, that knowledge gained by observation and experience is vastly better than theories and statements of books. No name perhaps is so frequently mentioned for his purpose as that of Franklin who because he had scarce any school education and never went to college has been hastily set down as a brilliant example of the inutility of book learning.
This is a great mistake.
A thirst for books which he spared no pains to stake is the first marked trait in his character. His success can be directly traced to the use he made of them and his first public movement was to found a public library in Philadelphia which flourishes to-day. “It was” say Franklin “the mother of all the North American libraries now so numerous.” Franklin ‘not a book man’. We happen to have some information on that point in a little book written by his own hand when he was 75 years old. He there states the fact in his own language. Hear his words. From my infancy I have been passionately fond of reading, and all the money that came into my hands was laid out in purchasing books. I was fond of voyages. My first acquisition was Bunyan’s works. My father’s small library consisted chiefly of books in polemic divinity most of which I read. I have often regretted – and this is a sentence that might well be inscribed on the front of our library building – that at a time when I had such a thirst for knowledge proper books had not fallen in my way. What would he not have given and subscribed if he could have had access to such a library as this? Think of the lab scarce ten years old saving every cent he could lay his hands on to buy books to read. His appetite was so great for books that he lived for months on potatoes and hasty pudding in order to save half of the money that his board would otherwise cost for the purchase of good books.
The speaker reviewed to considerable length more of the life and words of Franklin which lack of space compels us to omit. Continuing, Mr. Bowers said
I mean to have the satisfaction of presenting the first volume given to our library since it came into the hands and under the care of this honorable board of trustees and as the generous founder has invited contributions to be made. I do now in your presence, and in the presence of this vast assembly on this twenty-second day of February, 1889, – Washington’s birthday – offer this copy of Franklin’s Autobiography, as a gift to The Richards Free Library, in Newport hoping and believing that there is more than one. ‘Franklin boy’ who will hereafter catch the inspirations of that book, and that it will give them “a certain turn of thinking” that will lead them in the straight paths of learning, wisdom and virtue.
We believe a light has been kindled this day in yonder building just dedicated, which will guide us and our children, and our children’s children in the paths of intelligence, virtue and happiness.
“Till the archangel’s flat is set upon time.”
Gov Sayer was then introduced and made some remarks complimentary to the occasion. This was the governor’s first visit to Newport, and he was received with much enthusiasm by our people.
After another selection by the band, Rev W. J. Tucker, D. D. of the Andover (Mass) Theological Seminary, was introduced. His subject was “Life in literature, and the human element in books.”
It would be impossible to do justice to Dr. Tucker’s terse, incisive, well timed address, which occupied about forty minutes, on this occasion. We may say, however, that the large audience came fully under the spell of his voice, and manner, and words, as he continued, and perfect silence, and the deepest attention prevailed, except when some potent ideas, or happy thought, rung out in the speaker’s words, to win a hearty applause. As we came out of the house, praise of Dr. Tucker’s address was on many tongues. We hope to be able to give it verbatim in due time.
A hymn of dedication written by Joseph W. Parmelee for this occasion by request was then sung by the Arlon Quartette.
Almighty God! We come to Thee,
Our Maker, Father, Sovran Friend,
To ask those blessings, large and free,
On which all life and hope depend.
We bring this building made with hands,
From creatures rude, of wood and stone,
Which deftly joined, in beauty stands,
A work, we trust, that Thou wilt own.
Its alcoves teem with precious thought,
With inspirations drawn from Thee,
And authors of all times are brough
Together, a grand company
It also stands for human weal
To those who seek its stores of thought,
Which to the studious mind reveal
The many wonders “God hath wrought.”
And may Thy servant, when the sands,
The measure of his life, have run,
Enter that house not made with hands,
Nor lighted by an earthly sun.
The exercises of the day were concluded by the singing of “America,” by the audience, accompanied by the quartette, and the band.
The ushers on the first floor of the hall were Charles H Fairbanks, George E Lewis, Dexter A RIchards, Eugene H Coffin, Eugene P Paul. In balcony, Charles H Towle, Nelson P Coffin, Elwin N Johnson, and all performed the duties incumbent upon them in the most acceptable manner.
The Richards Free Library is now dedicated, and after perfecting the catalogue and completing other necessary work requiring a few days it will be open to the public. Due notice will be given in the papers. An event of this kind is not likely soon to occur, if ever again in Newport and it is matter of gratulation that these public exercises passed off so well and that the advent of the library is characterized with so much of popular favor and down right good feeling.
We trust it will be more and more appreciated as time goes on and that at no time the recording angel will have occasion to drop a tear on its record.