Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Professor Johnson"
[Henry Johnson], Brunswick, Maine, February 6, 1874.

The following letter provides insight into Chamberlain's feelings on being a college president. Just three years into his Presidency, Chamberlain wrote this letter to Henry Johnson, a Professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin.


Feb. 6 1884

My dear Professor Johnson:

  Your letter has had an experience like that of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Last winter I took it with me to Florida thinking I should have more time and strength there than here to answer it. I was scarcely able to read it while there, and I came back to Boston in April and went into Hospital and into the valley of the shadow of death.

  The letter was sent after me to Boston but I was not able while there to look at it.

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 It was placed among papers that were withheld from me, and in fact it was only last week that on revisiting the scene in Boston I found the letter again, and have brought it home with me.

  But I had not forgotten the letter nor you. Occasionally I have inquired of our friends at Dr. Lincoln's and have heard good accounts of you.

  My interest in what you are doing in is no wise abated. I still look forward to the carrying out of those ideas and plans for the well-being of

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the College which you so ably supported in making for the first time being so worthy of attention as to hold a place in our revised course.

  I thought it best to resign the Presidency at the last Commencement; and I want to say to set a caution against your young ambition, that however pleasant and useful the life of a College Professor may be, that of a President, in I may say any of our common or best New England colleges even, is about the most thankless wearing and wasteful life that can be undertaken.

  Very many things have made my experience singularly fortunate and happy.

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The kindnesses shown, and the friendships grown on this Alpine precipice have been rare and sweet plants, in flower and fruit.

  I shall expect to see you come home richly laden with the best "spoils" of your Gothic campaign and ready to overthrow and set Empires. And I wish to assure you of my constant regard, and of the support I shall still be able to give to your enlightened views of college work.

  I think we have held up well the prestige of the Department of Modern Languages

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 but we have no provision as yet for a division of the work in order to give freedom for the administration of the Library.

  That is something we must bring ourselves up to. It is a necessity of the College. There are some things I might like to have you do for me in the way of a private collection of books on Political Science and Law.

  I am not quite ready to say what; for I am not sure what I shall choose to undertake for next year here or elsewhere.

  I have had two very attractive

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 presidencies offered: but no more of that sort of thing for me if I can help it. Other things draw me more, still in the line of my studies and experience.

  I would be glad to hear from you again, now that my health will allow me to do my part of the correspondence more { . . . }.

  With sincere regards to Mrs. Johnson

     I am

As ever

Your Friend

  J.L. Chamberlain

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Citation: George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College, Joshua L. Chamberlain Collection, M27.

Index Terms: Presidency; Johnson, Henry; Modern Languages; Bowdoin College; Boston; Florida; Dr. Lincoln; New England

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