University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Pundit Club and the City of Rochester

Volume XX · Winter 1965 · Number 2
The Pundit Club and the City of Rochester

One of Rochester's choice institutions, it is unnecessary but fitting to observe, is the Club, familiarly known as the Pundit Club, and I am sure that I speak for all members of the Fortnightly Club when I say that we are honored and delighted by the opportunity to join in celebrating the Pundits' 110th anniversary.


In glancing back over its records, I discover that, because of its age, the Club has observed many anniversaries. Mr. Schilling has already alluded to a few of these. He has quoted from the paper with which Lewis H. Morgan, one of the founders, reviewed "The Origins and Results of the Club" at the opening of its fifth season in October, 1858. Morgan joined four other members in reading brief papers to mark its tenth anniversary. Nine members read memorials for their eleven deceased companions on the Club's twenty-fifth birthday, and President Anderson read a reminiscent paper on the Pundits at their 500th meeting in April, 1888. Frederick A. Whittlesey's last paper, delivered shortly before his death after forty years in the Club, marked its semicentennial with a "Review of the Club's History." When the Pundits approached their seventieth milestone, Professor William C. Morey, the oldest member, accepted the task of preparing a "History of the Club," which he delivered at its 935th meeting in January, 1923. Due to various circumstances, you missed your centennial, but over the decades you have displayed, from the historian's point of view, a commendable regard for the Club's anniversaries.

This is the first time, however, that you have invited an outsider to comment on your history, and, as a result, I feel a double obligation- first to express as adequately as I can the city's long unspoken respect and gratitude for your continuing contributions to its intellectual life, and second, to add something, if possible, to a record so ably and fully reviewed by your own distinguished members past and present.

Mr. Schilling has said that I will comment on Lewis H. Morgan's contributions to the Club, but that, I fear, will be the most difficult point at which to introduce anything new or fresh, since Morgan's reputation and fame are well known to all of us. As the outstanding star in Rochester's intellectual history, it was most fitting that he should take a lead in the Pundit Club's origin and early development, and by indirection in our own Fortnightly Club's birth as well.

This latter point may be new to some of you, but not to Dr. Slater, who is my source on this as for many aspects of Rochester's cultural growth. In his researches several years ago into the origins of our club, Dr. Slater uncovered the existence of a Junior Pundit Club formed in December, 1866, by youthful admirers of your august body. Although its biweekly meetings apparently ceased early in 1870, two years later three of the Junior Pundits met with several new companions to organize a new group, known as the Spencer Club, and persuaded Morgan, who had recently returned from a trip to Europe during which he had visited that provocative author, to lead them in a serious study of his writings. When, after a few years, Spencer's theories began to lose their charm, the members turned to a study of Morgan's own theories and writings. Shortly after Morgan's death in December, 1881, the Spencer Club, deprived of its mentor and of its meeting place in his book-lined library, disbanded, but again several of its members joined to form a new group, the Fortnightly Club. Thus our younger body, organized in January and February, 1882, likewise looks back to Morgan as its spiritual founder.

But on this Pundit anniversary, it is of greater interest and more fitting to reflect on the contributions the Club made to Morgan's career. Who, a century after the event, can reconstruct the workings of a man's mind? Psychologists among us will agree that is difficult enough to determine the influences that govern a living man. We can only speculate about Morgan's reaction to the papers delivered in the Club's early years-on the origins of the races and the classification of species as well as on the development of languages and the evolution of basic forms of law and custom. But who can seriously doubt that the lively discussions in which he participated on these topics helped to prepare Morgan to grasp the significance of an unexpected similarity in the strange family relationships he discovered in 1857 between two widely separated Indian tribes!

Thus, Morgan, by helping to establish the Club, achieved, I am sure, more than he could have intended. He not only helped to launch a congenial fellowship but created in addition a stimulating atmosphere of alert and inquiring minds, which undoubtedly nurtured his own intellectual development and helped to transform Morgan into a scholar of world renown. We need not try to measure the extent of its influence or apportion the credits, for certainly in this case there were enough to share with many institutions and people, but we can see the Club's fructifying function in Morgan's career as symbolic of its service to other Rochesterians whose lives were enriched by participation in its sessions.

Mr. Schilling has mentioned some of its academic members, particularly those connected with the University. Professor Morey, whose able paper I am sure you have all read, identified and briefly honored other professional men, starting with the clergy and continuing through the more numerous representatives of the legal and medical fields into the professorial ranks from other institutions. He concludes with a few non-professionals from the city-Samuel D. Porter, George H. Ellwanger, Edmund Lyon, and Joseph O'Connor. It is an impressive roster of distinguished men. I will not name them all, but I am pleased to report, after a quick check, that all but four of the forty he cited have also received a mention in my books on Rochester.

And on further probing I discover that I have mentioned several that Professor Morey passed over, some obviously because they were still living when he wrote in 1923. One whom he missed entirely was Robert Carter, who left the city and the Club before Morey joined it, but who should not be forgotten. Editor for a few brief years of the Rochester Democrat, he was a distinguished writer and editor. Formerly joint editor with James Russell Lowell of The Pioneer, a short-lived literary journal, secretary for a time to Prescott, the historian, and author of several books, he was perhaps the Club's brightest star in both fields.

But what attracts our attention is the paper he read on the eve of his departure in 1869, "Rochester, Its Advantages and Its Needs." Although that paper has been lost, Frederick A. Whittlesey, a fellow Pundit, apparently had a copy at hand when he wrote his own paper for the 1895 season. In Whittlesey's "Tales of a Grandfather," published much later by the Historical Society, we read with some gratification Carter's statement that although "he had lived in 21 different localities in the Union, Cambridge, Washington, etc. . . . he knew of none concerning which he could speak with more unqualified praise than of Rochester." Pleasant as that praise no doubt sounded at the time, his hearers in 1869 must have known that is was not merited except possibly as a tribute to the intellectual fellowship they shared in the Club and the domestic pleasures they, with other favored members of the community, enjoyed.

It was not the praise that prompted Whittlesey to quote Carter twenty-five years later, however, but the part of his paper devoted to the city's needs. There Carter, familiar with developments in many cities, sketched out a visionary system of parks, boulevards, and bridges on the upper and lower Genesee and other civic improvements which were finally in process of realization when Whittlesey wrote. The success of Carter's predictions seemed to justify a second attempt to envision the future, and Whittlesey confidently peered ahead to 1934: "That the people here in 1934 will double the present census may be deemed a safe assumption. Three hundred thousand souls, at least, will then inhabit the city, and it is easy to see that the main growth of new settlement will be northward, for it seems but natural that Lake Ontario will be the objective point, and that we shall embrace Charlotte in our limits, and the head of Irondequoit Bay, if the government shall improve navigation in that direction. With our beautiful Genesee Valley for our background and foundation, capable of a more diverse cultivation than any other district in America; with our libraries, our University and our Seminary; with our pure and abundant water which has not been forced here but is glad to come of its own volition; with our invigorating climate, our small death-rate, and absence of tenement life; with our freeholds held by citizens in larger proportion than in any city of its size in the world; with our excellent and cheap facilities for intramural conveyance; with our superb parks unsurpassable elsewhere; and above all, with the morale, thrift, and intelligence with which the town has been endowed by its New England ancestry, we need no consultation of Sibylline Books upon which to base predictions of a prosperous future for so fair a heritage."

These two papers reveal an aspect of the Club that seems to have escaped previous notice by its historians. That is the interest repeatedly shown by its members in the planning and development of their home city. We know today that these matters absorb a large share of attention in the dinner table discussions, and the same must have been true in the early days of the Pundits, at least as soon as the debate over the proper time and character of that meal, as described by Mr. Schilling, simmered down. Incidentally, in that connection, George H. Ellwanger's five successive papers on varied aspects of the art of cookery, delivered around the turn of the century, must have confirmed the Club's commitment to a good and substantial repast.

Even if we look only at the scheduled menu of Pundit topics, we find a score of titles that reflect a keen interest in Rochester's development. Thus in December, 1857, John W. Dwinelle, president of the Bank of Rochester, read a paper outlining "A Plan for an Art Gallery in Rochester." That paper, too, is missing, but his proposal, whatever its form, must have helped to pave the way for the establishment, two years later, of the Rochester Academy of Music and Art on the upper floor of the Rochester Savings Bank. While Dwinelle, the banker, promoted art, Morgan, the scholar, was sufficiently concerned with practical matters to read a paper entitled "Relieving Rochester from Future Floods." That paper, delivered in 1860 on the anniversary of the great flood of the previous year, was written by Morgan's friend, Samuel P. Ely, formerly a Rochester miller and a member of the Club. Unfortunately for Rochester, its flood hazard was not finally removed until the completion of the Mt. Morris dam in 1952.

Meanwhile Professor Lattimore read a paper in December, 1872, on "Water for Rochester." It followed, as you will note, the great Chicago fire of the previous year which had suddenly stirred Rochester's interest in this subject. Again the paper is missing, and we cannot tell whether the professor was urging, as many citizens did, that the newly created Water Works Commission hasten to bring pure Hemlock water to Rochester, or whether he supported its plan to provide, first of all, a quick flow of river water through a Holly system to combat fires. In any event, Rochester got the two systems, the Holly in 1874, and the Hemlock two years later.

There were a few other papers on Rochester in those early decades, but let us skip along to 1890 when Dr. Edward Mott Moore, founder of the park system, delivered his Pundit paper on that subject. His conception of the uses of public parks was much more elaborate than Robert Carter could have imagined twenty years before, and it reflected the thinking of a group of citizens still only slightly represented among the Pundits or the Fortnighters. That situation changed drastically as the years advanced, bringing the election by both clubs of new members with active civic interests. Dr. Moore read another civic paper, discussing "Municipal Reform" in 1895, the year that saw the rise of the Good Government movement of Joseph T. Alling, who became a Fortnighter in 1899. James G. Cutler did not become a Pundit until 1907, his last year in the mayor's office. The only mayor ever elected to the Club, Cutler drew on his rich experience in municipal reform for three papers that again are unfortunately missing. At least he kept the subject alive for a longer period there than Alling did in the Fortnightly Club or in the public forum where George Aldridge and Hiram Edgerton held almost undisputed sway.

There was another Pundit, who was also a Fortnighter, who merits our special attention as a citizen who gave much to and therefore received much from his club associations. This was Edward G. Miner, dynamic president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1909, who took a leading part that year in the organization of United Charities and also of the Civic Improvement Committee, which authorized the preparation of Rochester's first city plan. Miner was elected a trustee of the University and a member of Fortnightly in 1910, and five years later became a Pundit as well. The wide-ranging intellect of this self-educated man is best represented by the list of papers he delivered at the two clubs. They ranged from scholarly topics, such as "Seward's Diplomacy in the Civil War," reflecting his historical bent; "The History of Yellow Fever," a product of his historical and scientific curiosity; "Germany in 1932," revealing his keen international concerns, to matters of civic interest, such as "Electric Power in Rochester," a subject on which he could speak from experience. Always an avid reader and a collector of rare books in many fields, he greatly enriched the University library with his treasures.

It would no doubt be relatively easy to demonstrate that, as in the case of Cutler and Miner, the election of Pundits (and of Fortnighters, too) from the city came after, rather than before, their demonstration of civic interest and a capacity to express themselves. Yet it seems equally apparent that the stimulating climate of the Club nurtured the development of the rounded personalities many of these men attained-E. Peshine Smith no less than Morgan in the early period, Theodore Bacon and Joseph O'Connor no less than Dr. Moore, and, if I may mention another Fortnighter, Robert Matthews no less than Miner.

Thus the clubs (and here I will include them both) have provided a congenial and stimulating intellectual fellowship which is as valuable today, when the members are scattered widely over an expanding metropolis, as it was a century ago when all the Pundits resided within the area bounded by the Inner Loop. They have maintained a dialogue on mundane as well as learned matters which has helped to make Rochester the enviable community Carter envisioned almost a century ago.