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Wylie House

Exploring the Library of Theophilus Adam Wylie

Written by Abe Nemon, Wylie House Intern and IU Graduate Student

May 6, 2020

historic books and furniture

Theophilus Adam Wylie’s library in the Morton C. Bradley, Jr. Education Center

In the top of a bookcase at the Wylie House Museum, in a room which houses the working library of former Indiana University interim president and university librarian Theophilus Adam Wylie (1810 – 1895), there is a plaque on display that communicates the intentions of Theophilus Wylie’s grandchildren, Anton T. Boisen and Marie Louisa Boisen, in donating their grandfather’s library to Indiana University: “It is placed here by [Theophilus Wylie’s] grandchildren in the belief that it has a story to tell of the type of culture and scholarship for which the university stood in the days when it was young.” But what is that story? I began my internship with Wylie House Museum this Spring with the vague understanding that T.A. Wylie was a professor of natural sciences at Indiana University and was also a Presbyterian minister; but as my research into the provenance of Theophilus Wylie’s books has deepened, I’ve come to see that Theophilus Wylie’s grandchildren were right: his library tells a fascinating story not only about the history of Indiana University, but also about historical developments – in science, religion, industry, immigration, and slavery – that reshaped America in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

plaque stating "library of Theophilus Adam Wylie Professor of Natural Philosophy Indiana University from 1837 to 1886

Plaque donated by Anton and Marie Louisa Boisen

A principal concept in the field of archives is respect des fonds, which means keeping a collection of materials together instead of scattering them to different parts of a library, with the idea that the provenance – or source of origin – can tell us a great deal about how the materials were used, when and why they were obtained, and how the books traveled over the course of their lives. The major task of my internship with the Wylie House Museum and the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab has been to examine each book one-by-one in order to correct and build upon inventories of these books made by previous students and staff at the Wylie House. These enhancements included ensuring that each item was findable through accurate location data, that multivolume sets were reunited and consolidated into single records, that main titles and additional title information were recorded separately from spine labels, and that authors were identified not just by their names as written in the book, but also by an authorized name from the Library of Congress Name Authority File (LCNAF) which would allow each book to be linked to a specific person in history. Standardizing this data is important because it allows the library to be analyzed in its totality – for example, by charting historical trends in what subject areas, places of publication, and publishers are most represented over the course of Theophilus Wylie’s career as a collector, which can inform both an analysis of his activities and interests as well as providing a snapshot of sorts of the history of the book in America during the nineteenth century.

Theophilus Wylie: Minister and Professor of Natural Philosophy

Theophilus A. Wylie

Theophilus Wylie was initially hired by Indiana University as the college’s professor of natural philosophy and chemistry, in 1837 when his cousin Dr. Andrew Wylie was the institution’s president. He had been born in Philadelphia, attended the University of Pennsylvania from 1828 until 1833, and had been licensed as a Reformed Presbyterian minister in 1836, but when he arrived in Bloomington his focus quickly turned to the sciences, and in his early career he is credited with building the university’s first chemistry lab in 1840, with introducing geology instruction to the university, and appears to have become the university librarian after 1841, serving “until 1879, a period of thirty-eight years, the longest tenure” of any university librarian at the institution.[i] He later was appointed to serve as Professor of Ancient Languages from 1863 to1867 and as chair of Natural Philosophy from 1867 to 1886, and was called on to serve as the interim president of the university on three occasions, in 1859, 1860, and 1875.[ii] Though he was never chosen as the institution’s permanent president, the Indiana University catalogue from the years 1854 to 1856 places Wylie third on its list of faculty, and from the 1857-1858 to the 1892-1893 catalogues, he was never placed lower than second.[iii] Despite his longevity and apparent influence, T.A. Wylie seems to have had a retiring demeanor, as attested by his former student and colleague Amzi Atwater:

A student who should have met Doctor Wylie on the street in those days-a man of small stature and weak voice and half diffident, unworldly manner certainly far from self-confidence-would hardly have been able rightly to estimate him. In order to do so, he would need to visit him in his rare old home and see him in the midst of his most interesting family and accept their generous hospitality. He would thus see him surrounded by every indication of old time learning and refinement such as few have enjoyed. He would see him in the midst of his books, his pictures, his ancestral portraits and paintings and mementos of other times and scenes. Only thus would he realize his hereditary touch with scholars, divines and great missionaries and the noble forces leading to the world’s advancement.

I would agree that spending time with Theophilus Wylie’s books is one of the best ways to get to know him. His library attests to the breadth of his interests, which encompassed classical Greek and Latin literature, theology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology and what was then known as “practical science” or mechanics. His books were evidently read, as many contain annotations, mathematical formulas, and numerous drawings of faces and other odd scenes that could serve as material for a study in themselves. Though more of Theophilus Wylie’s time was taken up with scientific topics than literary ones, he was a long time reader of literary periodicals like the Edinburgh Review (TAW 0375) and the Quarterly Review (0461), and his library contains the occasional literary surprise, like an 1836 copy of Robert Southey’s anonymously published Robert Burton-style miscellany, The Doctor (TAW 0173).

Two Kinds of Books in Theophilus Wylie’s Library

Samuel B. Wylie

Soon after I began examining the books in Theophilus Wylie’s library, however, I began to notice an overall pattern in terms of their subject matter and apparent provenance. While many of the books were about scientific subjects and were signed by Theophilus Wylie, a large portion of the books – no fewer than 80 separate titles – are also signed “S.B. Wylie,” “Samuel B. Wylie,” “SBW,” “Sam. B. Wylie,” which I subsequently learned were abbreviations of the name of Theophilus Wylie’s father, Samuel Brown Wylie (1773 – 1852), a Reformed Presbyterian minister and classical scholar who has turned out to be a more and more significant figure the more I have learned about him. Samuel Brown Wylie was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1803 until his death. He was made a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1806, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Dickinson College in 1816, and was made Professor of Ancient Languages at the University of Pennsylvania in 1828, and then served as the Vice-Provost of the university from 1834 to 1835. In an entry in the Rev. John L. Blake’s Biographical Dictionary published in Philadelphia in 1857, Blake writes that “Few men have ranked higher than Dr. Wylie in classical literature and theological attainments—as a successful teacher, a good pastor, or a practical Christian.”[i]

The books bearing Samuel B. Wylie’s signature cluster into a handful of categories, which (before I performed any research) told me quite a bit about his interests. They include reference works reflecting Samuel B. Wylie’s status as a scholar of classical philology, such as a 1823 copy of Alexander Murray’s A History of the European Languages (TAW 0219), an 1831 New Greek and English Lexicon by James Donnegan (TAW 0577), Josiah W. Gibbs’s Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (TAW 0441), etc. A great number of these books are editions of Greek and Latin writers, Lucian, Juvenal, Sophocles, Pliny, Lucretius, Herodotus, Horace etc., as well as 40 volumes of the Classical Journal. But while most of the books attributable to Samuel B. Wylie relate to classical philology, there are also a surprisingly large number of books on scientific and technical subjects, such as Gregory Olinthus’s Treatise on Astronomy and James Ferguson’s Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles  (TAW 0263 & TAW 0266), John Winthrop’s Two Lectures on Comets (TAW 0065), George Adams’s Astronomical and Geographical Essays (TAW 0265), and Jacob Bigelow’s Elements of Technology (TAW 0237). The presence of scientific tracts in Samuel B. Wylie’s collection is less surprising however when we consider his membership and active service in panels of the American Philosophical Society, a position that brought him into contact at the society’s meetings with prominent figures like founding father Thomas Jefferson, the chemist Robert M. Patterson, and the geologist William H. Keating. There are also among the books Theophilus Wylie inherited from Samuel B. Wylie a number of older books from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including a monumental six-volume set of Brian Walton’s polyglot Bible of 1657 (TAW 0471) and a 1672 copy of the works of Descartes printed by Daniel Elzevir (TAW 0112.)

Why Science?

Beyond the books that may be classed as Samuel B. Wylie-related books, there are a larger number of books related to the sciences, and these are signed by Theophilus Wylie and not his father. As Shawn Martin found in his examination of Theophilus Wylie’s library, the authors of these books seem generally to be his contemporaries in the larger world of early nineteenth century British and American science.[1] And yet, the science books in the library seemed to form such a distinct group that I felt there had to be some more meaningful story behind this polarity I had come across – between science and invention on one-side, and the religion and classics-oriented world of Samuel B. Wylie on the other. There had to be a reason why Theophilus Wylie would move away from his father’s calling as a minister and into this new world of science and technology. Unlike J. Lawrence Smith (whose vision of scientific engagement Shawn Martin contrasts with Wylie’s), there was little in Theophilus Wylie’s background prior to 1837 which connected him in any official capacity with the world of science. What formal ties can be discerned from T.A. Wylie’s journal consist in his education at the University of Pennsylvania and his father’s membership in the American Philosophical Society. In order to answer the question, “Why did Theophilus Wylie choose science?” I had to go beyond the library and consult other sources, such as the journal Wylie wrote from 1835 till the end of his life.

The journals show that Theophilus Wylie did have informal connections to the world of early American science even when he was still in Philadelphia. He was a close friend of John Fries Frazer (1812 – 1872), the future editor of The Journal of the Franklin Institute and a successor in the position of Vice Provost of the University of Pennsylvania to Samuel B. Wylie, who after Frazer lost both of his parents when he was eight years old, “who took the youth into his family, and brought him up as one of his own children, while preparing him to enter the University of Pennsylvania, where he was graduated in 1828, at the head of his class.”[2] In 1835, Frazer was an assistant geologist working for the University of Pennsylvania under Henry Darwin Rogers and helping him produce his geological surveys of the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, both of which are represented in T.A. Wylie’s library (TAW 0402 & TAW 0402), although the former is actually inscribed by Rogers to Samuel B. Wylie. (Also bearing Samuel B. Wylie’s name is T.A. Wylie’s copy of the Geological Manual written by Henry Thomas De La Beche [TAW 0267], who Rogers had studied under in Europe before returning to Philadelphia in the early 1830s.[3]) During the years 1835 – 1837, Rogers was off visiting Europe to raise money for Girard College, at that time a brand new boarding school for orphan boys in Philadelphia, and in Theophilus Wylie’s journal he reports visiting Girard College on a number of occasions with Frazier.

But a keystone event in the history of T.A. Wylie’s development into a professor of natural philosophy would seem to be the trip he reports taking with Frazer on August 25, 1835 up to geological sites around the Manayunk banks on the Schuykill River. In this lengthy entry to his journal, Wylie waxed poetically about the scenery and the minerals that Frazer shows him – “the place was delightful, and we spent an agreeable half hour in it, just such a place, would the ancients have dedicated to Diana, or some of the Potamides.” After returning home, he goes the next day to talk to Frazer again, and “while in his room looked at some admirable etchings by Retsch, for the song of the bell, nothing for a long time has pleased me so much, there cannot be more poetry in this poem itself than there is in the sketches.” Though it is hard to say whether Wylie’s relationship with Frazer was the definitive factor in leading him to pursue a career in the sciences, Wylie’s palpable enthusiasm for geology contrasts with the anxiety he feels over his competency to be a minister, which he evinces in a number of journal entries preceding his move to Bloomington, afterward reflecting, “Do we serve God more by trying to attend to subjects which do not interest us, or by meditating on things which do, even though they be not of the kind commonly considered religious?” Nonetheless, Wylie did continue to preach and served as the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bloomington from 1838 until 1869.[4]

Where Did the Books Come From?

A distinct shift happens in T.A. Wylie’s journal after he is hired as professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at Indiana University as Wylie reports purchasing and using a large volume of books on the sciences. And when we examine the distribution of publication dates across all of Theophilus Wylie’s books, it does appear that the greatest portion of them were acquired in the two decades after he took on the role of Professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy in 1837, with his purchasing activity cooling off after 1860.

graph of publication date distribution of T.A. Wylie Library

The question of how the books were acquired is a thorny one, because they can be traced to a wide variety of sources. As James R. Green describes the situation in the early years of the American publishing industry in his chapter of A History of the Book in America, Volume II, the work of publishers was not wholly distinct in this period from that of booksellers.[5] On several occasions we find Theophilus Wylie report that he went to “Mr. Dobson’s” to buy books and maps, and this favored bookseller is apparently Judah Dobson, who also served as the main publisher of the Journal of the Franklin Institute and was the son of Thomas Dobson, a Philadelphia publisher most famous for adapting the Encylopaedia Britannica to the American market as Dobson’s Encylopaedia.[6] But the books Wylie purchases from Judah Dobson are not, for the most part, published by Dobson, because the primary source of Dobson’s revenue is not his original publications, but rather his bookstore and distribution of imported book from other publishers. By Theophilus Wylie’s time, the publishing and bookselling industry had become highly cooperative.

Early on, American publishers primary focused on reprinting British books and distributing them within geographically limited distribution areas. The publishing houses that ultimately became the most successful in the mid-nineteenth century both produced original books and developed extensive distribution partnerships with local booksellers in far flung places like Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, and eventually Bloomington. We can see evidence of both sides of these publisher-bookseller partnerships in Theophilus Wylie’s library. First, we can see that among the cities listed for Place of Publication, a handful of cities dominate:

Date Distribution – Places of Publication

City Frequency Percentage Average Yr Median Yr Mode St.Dev.
New York 270 27% 1851 1850 1853 19
Philadelphia 211 21% 1845 1843 1845 18.6
London 111 11% 1802 1821 1831 57.7
Boston 90 9% 1854 1851 1882 22.6
Cincinnati 63 6% 1851 1852 1850 9.9
Indianapolis 23 2% 1864 1859 1859 17.7
Other 235 23% 1817 1836 1834 65.3
Total 1014 100% 1836 1844 1845 46.0

We can see likewise the dominance of publishers with large distribution networks, like the firm of Matthew Carey in Philadelphia, later to become Carey, Lea, and Blanchard, and Harper & Brothers of New York, who became more market-dominant as the century wore on:

Number of Books By Publisher

Publisher Number of Books City Located In
Harper & Brothers 55 New York
Carey, Lea, & Blanchard 28 Philadelphia
D. Appleton & Company 12 New York
James Munroe and Company 7 Boston

There were some nascent publishing industries in both Cincinnati and Indianapolis from the 1830s onward, but they both late and faded early due to the development of train networks that made regional hubs for book distribution lose importance. Once Theophilus Wylie moved to Bloomington, however, the existence of local booksellers continued to be important because these booksellers were able to order books from the large publishers of the major cities. We can see evidence of this in Theophilus Wylie’s library in the form of bookseller stickers inside the books. Hence William Enfield’s Institutes of Natural Philosophy, Theoretical and Practical (1832), a book published by the Boston firm Hilliard, Gray, Little, Wilkins, has a sticker stating that it was “Sold by Morton & Smith, Booksellers & Stationers, Louisville” (TAW 0272), and there are similar bookseller stickers for other merchants in Philadelphia, Lexington, KY, Bloomington, and Mitchell, IN. We can see multiple references in Theophilus Wylie’s journals to one of these distributors, Joseph Whetham (“Mr. Whitham”) in scattered journal entries from the Fall of 1838, when Wylie is traveling back from Bloomington to Philadelphia to get married, and upon his return he has ordered “the box of books from Whitham wt. 25 cost to P. 1.56.” He notes in another entry that he has “Ordered from Mr. Whitham,” what appears to be classroom sets of textbooks:

  • 20 copies Farnais Mec at 2.75
  • 25 copies Turners – at 2.00
  • 25 copies Baehis Brewster  .20
  • 1 Olmstead 5.00
  • vide [see] bill

He later writes that “5 dos or a dollar’s worth of Catechisms were not sent by Whitham,” and later notes paying some $145 dollars to Whihtam, and makes reference to Whitham transporting the materials “to Pittsburgh.” Whitham may perhaps be identified (by a bookseller’s sticker) as Joseph Whetham – a copy of R.A. Davenport’s Manual of Analytical Chemistry published in London by Thomas Tegg is labeled as, “Imported by J. Whetham, Theological & Classical Bookseller, No. 144 Chesnut street, Philadelphia” – by it is difficult to ascertain if Whetham would have been responsible for the entire transportation of these books from Philadelphia to Bloomington or if his job was merely to get them on a boat in Pittsburgh, whereby they might be sent on to Cincinnati or Louisville to be picked up and taken the rest of the way. Here, as is often the case when dealing with original documents, the picture we get is only partial.

One lingering question that I had while examining Theophilus Wylie’s library was how he knew which books to order from New York and Philadelphia, or which to acquire on his occasional trips back. The Indiana University Catalogues from 1854 onward list books that were used as classroom texts for various courses that were taught in the sciences, and it is frequently found that these books are not only present in Theophilus’s library, but they are often heavily annotated, indicating that were used directly in the course of Theophilus’s lectures. But as to how T.A. Wylie kept abreast of the latest textbooks and development in the sciences, the answer would seem to lie in his sets of periodicals like the Edinburgh Review (TAW 0375), the Quarterly Review (TAW 0461) and the Journal of the Franklin Institute (TAW 0625), where he not only would be able to read scientific papers but also reviews and advertisements of the latest publications.

[1] “Biographical Notes,” Theophilus A. Wylie papers, 1814-1992, bulk 1830-1895, Indiana University Archives. Accessed here. Lane, N. Gary, Geology at Indiana University, 1840-2000, Bloomington, Ind. : Dept. of Geological Sciences, Indiana University, 2000, pp. 1-8. This estimate of T.A. Wylie’s tenure as university librarian by Mildred H. Lowell in her 1957 dissertation, Indiana University Libraries, 1829-1942, pp. 41-43, needs to be adjusted downward to account for his two years at Miami University from 1852 to 1854.

[2] Atwater, Amzi. “Indiana University Forty Years Ago.” The Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 146–148.

[3] The Indiana University Catalogue … Register … Announcements. Bloomington, IN, 1854-1895.

[4]Blake, Rev. John L., “Wylie, Samuel Brown, D.D.,” A biographical dictionary : comprising a summary account of the lives of the most distinguished persons of all ages, nations, and professions; including more than two thousand articles of American biography, 13th ed., Philadelphia : H. Cowperthwait & co., 1859., p. 1355.

[5] Martin, Shawn, “A Tale of Two Models: Theophilus A. Wylie and Higher Education in Nineteenth-Century Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 115, No. 1 (March 2019), pp. 20-41.

[6] “Frazer, John Fries,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, New York : James T. White & Company, 1898, p. 348.

[7] “Sketch of Henry Darwin Rogers.” Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 50, December 1896.

[8] Hammel, Bob and Don Root. “Church History.” United Presbyterian Church, Bloomington. URL:

[9] Cf. James N. Green’s essay, “Part 1: The Rise of Book Publishing,” in A History of the Book in America, Volume 2, An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840, Gross, Robert. A and Mary Kelly, eds., Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

[10] Cf. Arner, Robert D. (1991). Dobson’s Encyclopaedia: The Publisher, Text, and Publication of America’s First Britannica, 1789-1803. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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