[PW] Foreign opinions of levels of learning in 18th-19th century America?

Kevin O'Kelly rkokelly at gmail.com
Wed Feb 24 18:08:48 PST 2016

I am doing some research on the library in American intellectual life. I
have read in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography that due to other
communities in America following the example set by the founders of the
Library Company of Philadelphia "reading became fashionable...in a few
years [Americans] were observed by strangers to be better instructed and
more intelligent than people of the same rank generally are in other

I would like to know what if any evidence there is for this from sources
other than Franklin.

And to advance into the nineteenth century, I know America 1820-1860 was
the heyday of the founding of membership libraries. I would like to know if
there's any evidence of foreigners remarking on their impact.

I know that when Charles Lyell visited the US he was impressed by the
number of Americans aware of his work, even people in rural areas who were
anxious to direct him to fossil remains in the vicinity. Of course, people
in rural areas would not have had access to membership libraries, which
were located in cities. But still  it's obvious that Americans had access
to a degree of knowledge impressive in an age when books and magazines were
 transmitted by train or steam boat. And expensive.

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