Select Page

Stacks sings the third verse (different from the first) of William S. Johnson’s diary, which details the life of one of the very first students at Antioch College. When last we left our hero, he was dealing with the news that three of his siblings had died from Typhoid, a disease rampant in the 19th century due to the standards of sanitation at the time. With the Fall term of 1854 in full swing, however, Johnson has little time to dwell on his troubles. As the College’s bellringer, what we in Antiochiana have described over the years as the first on campus co-op job (despite the fact that genuine extramural education was still 70 years in the future), Johnson has perhaps the busiest schedule of any student of his day. Note how early he has to get up and how much he has to do before breakfast, and all in an unheated Main Building. It isn’t clear exactly which room in Main is number 30 where he resides, but it would stand to reason that the ringer of the bell would live close to his work, leading to speculation that he lives in the north tower. 

Of interest among his activities not involving work or study is his visit to see a panorama of the epic poem by John Milton, Paradise Lost. In William’s day, the moving panorama was one of the more popular entertainments, and hundreds of them toured the country at any given time. An early form of mass media, the moving panorama transported enthralled audiences into exotic locales, historic moments, and the world of fiction through scenes painted on a long rolling canvas usually advanced by hand-operated cranks. 

Johnson also attends a lecture by the very notable Reverend Theodore Parker, a prominent Massachusetts abolitionist and intellectual who happens to be a close friend of the College president Horace Mann and his wife, Mary. Parker, famous for inspiring the phrase “of the people, by the people, for the people” that Abraham Lincoln immortalized in the Gettysburg Address (the sesquicentennial of which just passed on November 19th), delivers a discourse on one of the larger cultural issues in the United States at the time: that it as yet had no culture of its own. 

Feeling duty bound to return to the family farm, William Johnson finally makes the difficult decision to withdraw from college at the end of October, 1854. He leaves Antioch with a long, rather poetic goodbye, and as far as we can tell, he never returns. William Johnson’s journal ends in October, 1858.

Antioch College campus 1860

by Wm. L. Johnson
A. College  Oct. 1/54

Nearly one month of this College year has passed away.  I am in the First Prep. Class.

Our studies for this 1st term are, Latin Caesar, Greek, Bullion’s First Lessons, continued Ancient Geography and Rhetorict(sic) two days in the week.

Oct.6. 1854 9. o’cl. P.M.

In one of the Articles of our paper today in the Alethezetean Society, among many other things the author spake of the propriety and some advantage of keeping a diary or journal.  After considering the matter I have considered to make this journal as well as a Commonplace Book.  And will endeavor hereafter to write something every day.  I have long desired to do so, and indeed have, more than once, commenced the work, but have as often ceased or neglected it.

I rose this morning at 5 1/2 o’clock; washed, dressed and built a fire in the Library.  There is no way to have a stove in my room which is No. 30 A. Hall, nor no way for warming it by any other means.  At six o’clock rung the Bell for the students, that is, those who might yet be in bed, to rise and prepare for breakfast.  Studied my Greek till 6 3/4 .  Then rung the Bell for breakfast.  At the table half hour. 7-30 min. rung for Chapel exercises, five minutes, wait five then toll five.  By this time, or rather by the time I get to my seat, all are expected to be in their seat; if not, they have to remain, who are tardy, and give their excuse .  These Chapel exercises on ordinary occasions only last about fifteen minutes.  From 8 to 9. no recitation; study Greek. 9 to 10 recite Greek to Prof. Holmes 10 to 11, Ancient Geography to Miss Pennell.  I forgot to say at 9 ring the Bell.

At 10, ring the Bell both for recitations.  At 11, ring for recess. From 11 to11 1/2 took a walk to the Post Office, got nothing. 11 1/2 rung the Bell.  11-30m to 12-25 study Latin .  At 12-25m ring for recitation.  From 12-25 to 1-20 recite Latin, to Prof. Zachos.  1-20 ring for close of recitation.  1-30 for dinner.

Dine half hour.  Went to the Library a half hour and at 2-30 went to the Alethezetean Society, which meets now on Friday at the above time.  Remained there untill a little after 4.  In the mean time, rung at 3 and 4.  The former for singing exercises, in which, the whole school, free of charge to them, received lessons daily at that hour; and the latter for study hours.

It is now most ten o’clock, and I shall have to stop.

Oct. 7, 1854

Rose this morning at 6 o’clock and rung the Bell immediately.

The ladies and gentlemen all eat at the same table, on their respective sides.  These tables are arranged different this term from the way they were lst term.  They are now arranged across the Hall, with an aisle between in the center of the room.  They are long enough to accommodate eight or nine persons on either side.

But what we call our table consists at present of only five persons, viz. Misses Lizzie Pick, Etta Wilson and Ella Dushane, on the ladies side.  Gentlemen, Mr. Wm. Loudon and myself.  Mr. Andrew Neiper [Neeper] did sit at our table, but does not at present; perhaps he may do so again sometime this term.

Miss Ella Dushane has been sick most of the past week.  She got better and went home yesterday.

After breakfast attended chapel, after having rung the Bell twice.  Went to the Library talked with several ladies, who were there getting books.  Walked down to the Post Office with Miss Robins.  Got nothing as usual.

This afternoon visited a panoramma(sic) of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  A very small audience.  Like it very much.  Thought some of the paintings splendidly sublime.

The explanations of the different scenes, and recitations from the Poem, was conducted by Prof. J. E. Frobisher, of Boston, a very good Elocutionist.  At 81/2 o’clock supper.  Misses Knapp and Phelps  made us a visit.  A very pleasant chit chat at the supper table.  And now, here I am, nearly ten o’clock, writing in this, what shall I call ? Well, journal if you please.

Oct. 10

Recitations are through today.  I did well in Greek.  In the other lessons did not recite, should have failed in Geography, if I had.  Latin tolerably well.  Had singing and exercise as usual after dinner.  Then by permission, went down town and voted at the election for county and state officers.  Voted the People’s ticket.  Got my Latin out when I returned.  Went to supper.  Had a pleasant time.  Miss Dushane has returned.  Misses Knapp and Phelps payed us a visit, read on my Geography.  This is a very hard study for me.  It is not interesting.  It seems to go with a drag all the time.

Then corrected an essay.  Found 5-6 mistakes that I marked might have made more corrections in punctuations and style, but thought it best not to do so.  It was E. C. Mahannah’s paper.  ‘Tis most eleven o’clock I must go to bed.  Farewell bright and beautiful day that has passed.

Oct. 12/54

Rose at five this morning, studied Greek till six; rung the bell, and then, book in hand, to take a walk directed my footsteps toward the Glen.  Night had just vanished and the glorious day had dawn[ed].  But the King of day was not to be seen.  The heavens were o’er spread with clouds and with those threatening signs that betoken a storm.

As I passed along, I instinctively closed my book, when my eyes fell upon the forest before me.  Its sear and yellow leaves drooping, decaying, falling from their mother stems; the low winds moaning through the trees, the dark and lowering clouds, and now and then an occasional flight of pigeons, hither and thither, as though they had lost their way, and anon the lovely chirp of some mateless bird, all conspired to create in my mind a train of thought corresponding to the surrounding scenes.

I thought, a few months since, this Glen was all animation, all life.  The forest green, the flowers luxurient(sic), perfuming the whole air; the green carpet of nature had spread out its folds to the four winds, & the birds with their sweet, woeing(sic), soft and melodious notes rendered the scene indescribably grand.  And now behold the change! But ah, had these been all the thought suggested by this scene, it had been well.

Spring is emblematic of youth, with all its vivacity & sweetness, as well as its power and health.

But I must close, it is after twelve o’clock  more anon.

Oct. 13, 1854

Summer manhood, with its full blown rose, and all the other varied flowers, perfumes; and its fruits.  Autumn decay, when the flowers of man begin to grow weak, his works all perfected and the fruits there of are being reaped and gathered into the barn.  But winter corresponds to death.

Oct. 14, 1854

Rose this morning at 5 1/2 o’clock.  Rung bell &c. After Chapel went to town. Post office, no letters as usual.  Bought half ream of paper(best congress) at Mr. Blake’s for $1.75.  Got back ten or eleven o’clock, studied till dinner.  Went to town after dinner.  Came back with Miss Buffington, I think her name is; studied latin till four; next supper.  After supper attended the lecture of Rev Theodore Parker, of Boston, in the Chapel.  He delivered a splendid discourse on the American people, or American Anglo saxon race.  In the course of his lecture, he said that  “America was yet in her infancy, that we have no literature that is permanent, no poetry no drama; that on account of our infancy, we had no past on which to found poems, and drama.  That what we had of these were of foreign origin.”  And much more I might write but have not the time. 

After the lecture, Mrs. Mann invited several of us over to call on Mr. Parker.  Some half dozen or more went over.  Mrs. Mann received us kindly, and very politely introduced us to the Rev. Mr. Parker.  We spent a very pleasant evening there; listening to Mr. Parker and Mr. Mann in conversation, a part of the time, and a part of the time talking to some of the ladies.  I had very pleasant conversation with Miss Knapp, of Boston; a very lady-like courteous young lady; talented, and with all, a very pretty face, from which shone mild, yet piercing eyes. 

And here I am now at 12 1/2 o’clock writing.

Another week has closed.  It is saturday night.  I am six days nearer eternity, but am I six days nearer heaven?  I fear not, but the opposite.  What good have I done today, this week?  I fear that I shall have to answer nothing.  I will pray God will help me not to live another without doing some good. 

Oct. 28, 1854

It has been some time since I last wrote.  I thought then, I would not let any time, that is, any day pass without writing something, yet the habit of procrastination still clings to me.

I have just returned from a visit home, went Thursday.  Found all tolerably well.  Our folks think I have gone to school enough, and desire me to come home. (I do not think so though.)  It seems to me that my presence is needed at home now.  It never has seemed so before or it always has appeared to me that they could get along without me.  And I suppose they could if it had not been for the death of my brothers.  This loss and the pressure of business, I fear will compel me to leave school for the purpose of assisting loved ones at home.

I made up my mind to take a regular course of six years, and better than one of which has already passed.  In the mean time many things that had a tendency to call me from my school, not any one thing, nor all combined could not effect it.  There is nothing, but this one thing, that I can think of, which would or could cause me to give up the idea of attending school here until I finish my course.

But when I went home this time, and saw the condition of affairs there, both in our business in town, and also on the farm; saw how things were going to waste for want of attention; saw the trouble my father was in; and saw that some of it might be for want of help; saw the trouble mother experienced; then remembered the great loss we have all but recently suffered, and thought how lonesome our farm must now be with only three of our own as occupants that had always been filled with merry voices, and how lonesome father’s and mother’s heart must be when they thought of it, I almost resolved immediately to go home, to leave my school forever, to live at home and do as they bid me, even had the charge of me, and thus if possible try to comfort them.

October 29, 1854

I have made up my mind to leave school.  Today has been a hard day for me.  To leave school is a very hard cross for me to take up.  The very thought seems almost crushing.  Yet it seems my duty to 

go hence and I must go.  When duty calls we should go, it seems to me.  I felt it to be a duty, as well as a pleasure, to come to school in the first place; I now feel it to be a duty to go home, and if ever I feel it to be a duty to come back I shall do it; if not, not.

I intend to go home, and if all suits, to help father in his business till spring; then, Samuel and I go on the farm and manage it. Go with the intentions of settling myself, and being a farmer instead of what I have intended.

Oct. 31, 1854

Yesterday I advertised my classical books for sale.  I have sold all except Dr. Sinott Latin Lexicon, a Latin grammar and reader, and Smith’s unabridged Classical Dictionary.  I do not wish to go home till Saturday, because I wish to go to our society once more.  I have quit studying and cannot be satisfied to remain here.  I shall go down to Xenia at 2 o’clock thence to Jamestown.

March 11th, 1855.  I sold a good many of these books, but I am, and have been very sorry I did so ever since.  I did wrong in selling them.  I will never sell a book again.  

Nov. 3, 1854

Returned today on the 9 o’clock train.  Visited many friends and relations while at Jamestown, but not all the latter, nor I dare say the former, either.  Wednesday evening I was at the wedding of Cousin Amanda Johnson to Morgan Adams.  Also at the______of J. F. Johnson to Miss Haller, of Wilmington.

Nov. 4, 1854

Thought I would go home today; would start on the 9 o’clock train, but think I shall not go until the 2 o’clock train, and go down instead of up.  I have all my things ready packed to start.  I took my Classical Dictionary down to the Book Store today and sold it to them for books at $16.00.  I had offered for $15.00 in cash.  I did not take them today, but am to have them whenever I call for them.

Antioch College, I now bid you a fond farewell.  You have been sweet to me.  I have long cherished a hope of graduating in your Halls; of being one of the first who prepared in your halls and came off with the laurels of victory.  Of having my name enrolled among the pioneers of Antioch College.  Of having my name handed down as one of those who composed the first class at Antioch.  That is the first class that prepared for college wholly at Antioch and graduated.  But duty calls me hence, and when duty calls, I must obey.  So once for all a long farewell.

My loved Classmates, I bid you farewell.

“Here side by side within these Halls,
we’ve sought the precious pearl of truth,
Whose soft pure light around us falls
To guide the trusting heart of youth.
We’ll bid farewell, we’ll bid farewell
Our classmates kind we’ll bid farewell.”

Yes, “side by side” we have gone forth to battle, to engage in the arduous duties of  study, you have loved each other and I hope we will continue to do so as long time and eternity last.

Brethren of the Alethezetean Society farewell. “Side by side” we have endeavored to seek truth and also__________[Greek phrase]; but now we must be separated for a time at least, if not forever.  I shall go forth to engage in the busy din of life.  Midst the tumult and strife, while you are to continue plodding your slow but sure path up the hill of science.  Farewell.