1849: William Waith to Chalon Burgess

This letter was written by William Waith (1824-1914) — a native of London, England who studied privately and graduated from the Auburn Theological Seminary in 1851.

William wrote the letter to Chalon Burgess (1817-1903) of Silver Creek, New York. Burgess graduated from Hamilton College in 1844, and attended the Auburn Theological Seminary in 1845-6 and 1847-9. He married Emma J. Johnston of Ovid in June 1853.

Addressed to Mr. Chalon Burgess, Silver Creek, Chautaugua county, New York

No. 23 in the Chapel, Auburn Theological Seminary
Friday, November 16, 1849

My Dear “Burgess,”

I am truly sorry that I have neglected you so long, but there is no end to procrastination, & I may as well seize my pen this moment as wait till next week. All the news respecting myself — & a great deal more — is contained in my letters to the Waithcare family on “Popular Street” & you may if you like go there and ask them for any news which I do not write here.

Of course you have heard by this of [Augustus Galestin] Gould’s ¹ death — unexpected, shocking, & mournful. We followed him to his grave one week ago today. The services were attended in the chapel. Dr. [Henry] Mills preached. Mr. Nelson made remarks. Dr. [Laurens Perseus] Hickok spoke powerfully & Professor [Samuel M.] Hopkins performed the burial service at the grave — the most touching part of the whole ceremony. A hymn was sung at the grave and all the students marked back in procession as they went up. Gould’s relatives were present & were of course overwhelmed with sorrow. It makes us feel very gloomy here, Burgess, but I hope it will not be without a wholesome & sanctifying effect upon our hearts.

I have lately heard from [Samuel Minor] Campbell [1823-1892]. He is still laboring at Alder Creek & is happy in witnessing the openings of a revival among his people. He seems to be in an excellent frame of mind, but he trembles in view of the accumulating responsibility of his office. I have not heard much of the other graduates. O yes, [Jeremiah] Petrie [1825-1910] is installed over a church somewhere.

Of course our folks have told you all about the prosperous condition of the Seminary. The rooms are full & occasionally another & another keeps dropping in. They are not yet through doubling in the New Building. All the professors are in good health except Hopkins who is in rather a precarious state. I’m afraid he won’t live long. He is killing himself by hard study & application. We middles are full of metaphysical subtleties about these times, but I am not so enthusiastic in them as some. I greatly admire the Dr’s system, & shall try to give it faithful study. Burgess, I never was so busy in my life for I do not only my own copying, but lots for other people. Then, too, I am head over ears in Hebrew & in Charles V by Robertson, & other books. I say nothing of my wood sawing propensities, nor of the time I spend on magazines, &c. I am deep, too, in the calculus, in which I am exceedingly interested. There there is exegesis, & so I might go on, but you know it all without my help.

This town is at present all in a ferment about “the ghost.” A spiritual visitant of some sort is said to haunt a house on South Street. Dr. Lathrop has been sent for to exorcise the spirit, but he refuses to meddle in such ticklish affairs. A man goes into the ghost’s room where he presently hears mysterious noises. A guitar moves from a chair nearby & apparently, without help, is laid in his lap. Thence it rises, goes on to the bed, and immediately a tune is struck out from its strings by invisible fingers. Then a cold hand is laid upon your forehead, &c. &c. ²

The Nat. Hist. Soc, is going off pretty well. We have had one debate about the existence of the Sea-Serpent and next week we are to have essays. Bart. is President, and I am Secretary. The Theologic has also begun. The basis of the Rhetoric has been entirely reconstructed and I think it will now work much better than it did. They have a debate tonight & as I am a disputant, I must go very soon.

I might fill 3 or 4 sheets to my friend Burgess but I know he will appreciate my motives for brevity. I will first say that you are very often spoken of here and very anxious enquiries about you are put to me from time to time. Cook’s family are well. Miss Butter’s brother William was pardoned a short time since, and is now at work in this city.

The Prison Sabbath School goes off nobly. My business there now is to drill the choir while the others are teaching the Word. After that, I stay and hear Cooke preach & sing for him.

My dear Burgess, I often think of our last summer’s intercourse and although I was then as remiss visiting you as I have now been in writing to you, yet the little visiting that we did  enjoy has left a very grateful remembrance of you in my mind. I hope to see you at Christmas & then I will tell you a vast deal of Seminary news that would not look dignified on this nice paper. I would ask you to write me a letter in answer to this but you may feel writing to be irksome & therefore I will not press it. Nevertheless, if you should feel pretty bright, write to me, & it will be joyfully accepted.

[Justus] Doolittle has gone to China. He and his wife [Sophia A. Hamilton] had to hurry off pell mell just at the last for they had passed the summer in visiting & had neglected to make the necessary preliminary arrangements. Consequently, at the last moment, they had to gather up their duds & go. She is not over efficient.

Burgess, my dear fellow, upon my word I am ashamed to send you so short & hasty a letter, but I know now how to spend another moment for the bell will ring in two minutes.

Yours affectionately, — W. Waith.

Wanzer’s book establishment blew up a few days ago or in other words, they failed. There is some prospect now that they will resume the business in a few days of course. I conveyed your messages safe. I will try and write to you again to make amends for this short note. Mrs. Cooke would like to see “Bother B” very much.

¹ Augustus Galestin Gould (1821-1849) was from Cherry Valley, New York. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1848. He died while attending the Auburn Theological Seminary on 7 November 1849. He was buried in the North Street Cemetery in Auburn.

² The first gathering of people interested in Spiritualism occurred in 1849, in homes of some of Auburn, New York’s most prominent citizens. They called themselves, “The Auburn Circle.” This particular “spiritual visitant” no doubt pertains to a séance conducted by Mrs. Tamlin in Auburn in November 1849 in which a guitar was played “with all the exactness of an experienced musician.” Those present claimed “the tones varied from loud and vigorous to the most refined touches of the strings that could be imagined” though Mrs. Tamlin could not herself play the instrument. [Source: Modern American Spiritualism by Emma Hardinge, 1870]

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