Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Charles Nisbet Lectures, 1789-1793

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, November 1995

Summary Information
Title: Charles Nisbet lectures
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1789-1793
Extent: 1,802 pages (4 volumes)
The Charles Nisbet lectures consist of four volumes of notes taken by Nisbet's students. Charles Nisbet was the first president of Dickinson College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. His lectures cover a range of topics, including logic, natural and moral philosophy, theology, and classical studies.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1980, 1986, 1989. M-1898, M-2277, M-2500.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


No copyright restrictions.

Preferred Citation:

Charles Nisbet Lectures, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Founded in 1785 by the arch-republicans, Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson, Dickinson College rapidly grew into a leading educational center in the state of Pennsylvania, its name assured from the start by the reputation of its founders and by the choice of the scholarly Charles Nisbet as the school's first president. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, the Scotsman Nisbet went on to study theology at Divinity Hall, and in 1760 was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Edinburgh. A strict Calvinist, Nisbet 's influence in the Church of Scotland grew increasingly as his intellectual reputation grew, and by the end of the American Revolution, he was well known on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1783, Nisbet was recognized with an honorary doctorate of divinity from the College of New Jersey, a Presbyterian stronghold headed by his colleague and fellow Edinburgh alumnus, John Witherspoon.

Like Witherspoon, Nisbet was strongly sympathetic with the cause of American independence, and their political and intellectual compatibility led Witherspoon to suggest Nisbet as a candidate to fill the presidency of the new college that Rush and Dickinson had established at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1785, Nisbet assumed his duties and remained at Dickinson until his death by pneumonia on January 18, 1804.

In addition to serving as president, Nisbet also lectured on logic, mental and moral philosophy, belles-lettres, systematic theology, and pastoral theology. A master of nine languages, ancient and modern, excelling in oratory, and possessed of personal warmth and magnetism, his goal in teaching was to give his students the capacity for independent thought.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles Nisbet lectures are comprised of four bound volumes of notes taken by students of Nisbet's at Dickinson College between 1789 and 1793. Nisbet read his lectures slowly, expecting students to take verbatim accounts, and a close comparison of notes taken at his lectures on the history of philosophy in December, 1792, shows that they were able to keep the pace. The four volumes are:

1. Anonymous notes, beginning 1789 August 1, 577 pp. This book is organized in three sections: first, a sixteen-lecture series on classical education and classical authors, 140 pp.; second, a contents list for the first 94 pages of (third) the following 320 pages, an unbroken passage entitled "Criticism." The spine of the binding bears a red leather label, "Criticism."

2. Anonymous, undated, untitled. 328 pp., lacking pp. 1-6.

3. Alexander Nisbet (1777-1857), 1792 December 14-1793. 240 pp. Sixty lectures on the history of philosophy. Alexander was the son of the lecturer.

4. Elias W. Hale. "Lectures on criticism," 1792 September-1793. 657 pp. The lectures beginning on page 400 are identical to those of Alexander Nisbet for the same dates.

Subject Terms

    • Criticism (Philosophy)--Study and teaching.
    • Dickinson College.
    • Education--Pennsylvania.
    • Lectures and lecturing.
    • Philosophy--History
    • Philosophy--Study and teaching.
    • Theology--Study and teaching.
    Genre Terms:
    • Lecture notes.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Charles Nisbet lectures [series]
    Volumes   1 and 2  
    Anonymous notes,  1789.
    Anonymous notes,  undated.
    Volume   3  
    Alexander Nisbet notes,  1792-1793.
    Volume   4  
    Elias W. Hale notes,  1792-1793.
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    Three letters by Charles Nisbet are located in the Duane Norman Diedrich Collection:

    • Nisbet, Cha[rle]s ALS to [ ]; Wilmington, 1790 May 13.
    • Nisbet, Cha[rle]s ALS to Alexander Tweedie; Carlisle, [Pennsylvania], 1793 June 12.
    • Nisbet, Cha[rle]s ALS to [ ]; Carlisle, [Pennsylvania], 1798 September 15.

    The Clements Library also holds: Nisbet, Charles. An Address to the Students of Dickinson College, Carlisle. Edinburgh: Printed for W. Martin, bookseller, 1786.


    Lindberg, John. Charles Nisbet's Use of the Scottish Curriculum at Dickinson College . John and Mary's Journal,. v. 11. Carlisle, Pa.: Dickinson College Friends of the Library, summer 1988.