Silversmith William Grant (1800-1836) writes to his mother in February 1829 about his excitement for the Boston Lyceum and the new education movement that just then was beginning to flower in America. Though business is “dull and money scarce,” Grant nevertheless employs his time profitably through his association with a lyceum. Because his mother may not be familiar with the term, he explains that lyceums are “societies of men for mutual instruction and are carried on by debates, discussions, lectures, and illustrations of all the useful branches of practical education. Lyceums are formed and forming in various parts of the country in Vermont & New Hampshire and in this state. I was at a meeting at the Representative Hall a few evenings since and heard several members of the legislature speak in relation to Lyceums, their general effects on the community at large, &c., and giving an account of the formation, operation and effects of such societies with which they had been personally acquainted. I am fully of the opinion that if they were formed generally in the country towns they would be the most beneficial towards diffusing and obtaining a thorough education of any system or method now known. A gentleman by the name of Holbrook who is now in Boston claims to be the first in the project of Lyceums, and should he succeed according to his expectations in establishing them will undoubtedly be rewarded by a large share of fame.”
The Lyceum movement flourished in America during the mid-19th century. In fact, Josiah Holbrook is credited with starting the first American lyceum in 1826, the “Millbury Branch No. 1 of the American Lyceum” as it was known. It was Holbrook’s intention to begin a national lyceum organization, but as other educators jumped in, the movement spread faster than any one organization could keep up. Until the Civil War, lyceums were primarily institutions for self-improvement; after the war they increasingly became venues for entertainment. Today, adult education in general, and the fast-emerging MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) in particular, might be understood as descendants of the lyceum movement.
Evidently William Grant was a clock and watchmaker by trade. In the years immediately preceding his death he was a partner with Nathaniel Kimball in the firm of William Grant & Co. in Boston.