Bryant Day celebrations chime in the new reading season


Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education and Youth Services, announces four of the 2012 CLSC selections at Bryant Day 2011. Daily file photo.

Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

This weekend, Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle graduates will ring the Bryant Bell to commence the new reading year in celebration of Bryant Day.

A ceremony with the Alumni Association begins at 11:30 a.m. Saturday by Miller Bell Tower, and Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education, will announce a few CLSC selections for 2013. Taking inspiration from next season’s focus on Romeo and Juliet in Chautauqua’s fine and performing arts, 2013 CLSC books will celebrate the themes, broadly construed, from Shakespearean classics.

The festivities remember William Cullen Bryant, who was a poet, journalist and political activist, according to Institution archivist and historian Jon Schmitz. Toward the end of the 1880s, Institution co-founder John Vincent hoped Bryant would be involved with the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle — Bryant declined, but he wrote a letter of encouragement to Vincent.

“He especially wished to support Vincent’s plan to include natural science in the course, as he believed this would be the only way to prepare and protect Christian believers in a modern and changing world,” Schmitz said.

Bryant died a month after writing to Vincent, but two months later, Vincent announced the beginning of the CLSC to the Assembly and read Bryant’s letter.

“The next year, the second class of the CLSC, the class of 1883, held a tribute to Bryant,” Schmitz said. “Using a new oxygen-hydrogen lamp, later known as a limelight, they staged a reading of his most famous poem “Thanatopsis” … and they decided to name their class the Bryant Class.”

The class eventually dropped the name and became known as the “Vincents,” but Vincent remembered Bryant by naming Nov. 3 as “Bryant Day,” Schmitz said. Opening Day for the reading season was on Oct. 1, and in 1936, the two events were combined, and the celebration was moved within the nine-week season.