- Henry Lee Higginson
Henry Lee Higginson (November 18, 1834 - November 14, 1919) was a noted American businessman and philanthropist. He is best known as the founder of the
Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Family and Early Life
Higginson was born in
New York City, the second child of George and Mary (Cabot Lee) Higginson,Perry, Bliss, Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson, The Atlantic Monthly Press, Boston, 1921. ] and a distant cousin of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. When he was four years old his family moved to Boston, making him by birth part of the elite class of Bostonians known as the " Boston Brahmins.""Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century Boston: The Creation of an Organizational Base for High Culture in America," DiMaggio Paul, Media, Culture and Society, 1982.] However, like his father and mother before him, and most of his lower class boyhood friends, Higginson divorced himself from “rule only by the elite” Boston Brahmins. Instead, he adopted republican political beliefs that dictated people should strive, for personal [A) Henry’s father George’s grandfather was Stephen HigginsonSr. who was a Privateer during the Revolution but became an extreme-Federalist and one of the most notorious members of the Essex Juntothat brought the once honorable Federalist Party of Hamilton to a very disgraceful end.
"...Federalist leaders throughout New England had opposed “Jimmy Madison’s War” [War of 1812] from the very start, and refused to supply either men or money for a conflict they considered unjust and immoral. … the entire country turned upon the Federalist party as “the party of treason.” After 1816 it was difficult for any New Englander to admit being a card-carrying member of a party which had worked against the national government in its hour of need.” Source: Bibles Brahmins and Bosses, by Thomas H. O’Connor, City of Boston Public Library, 1976, pg. 43.
B) Later, during the U.S. Civil War a similar kind of “elite” “Brahmin” was found in the “Copperheads” traitors that infested the best of Boston’s Exclusive Clubs. "… Alexander Williams, chronicler of the Boston clubs, hypothesizes that an impolitic member may have risen and given a toast to John Wilkes Booth. As one of the founders of the Union Club would later remark, “We wanted a place where gentlemen could pass an evening without listening to Copperhead talk. …" Sources: Fifteen Minutes: The Old Boys' Clubs By Samuel Hornblower, The Harvard Crimson, April 27, 2000, http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=100719 ( The Tavern Club that HLH belonged to had a lot of creative artists and writers, including another very patriotic, NON-Brahmin, John F. Kennedy). The Neo-Brahmin historians wish some of this history would be erased. ;
C) Also Note, HLH memoir describing the 1850s and the worst of the same Boston Brahmin Copperheads. (Source, Perry, pg.8) "... We were all taking a good deal of interest in the slavery question at that time, and to me it appealed very much. Very many of the people whom we naturally saw, old and young, in Boston, were interested in cotton manufactures and had many friends in the South, and did not share the strong feeling that we held about slavery. I remember that we boys used to go down to Faneuil Hall to hear the meetings for and against slavery. But my feeling about it was very strong. Mr. Webster made his great speech about the fugitive slave law just at that time, and excited thereby great dislike as well as great admiration. Somehow or other, from early days I had had the feelings of a "reformer," and those feelings grew with me. ...”;
D) See also, One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War, by Dean B. Mahin, Brassey's, Washington, 1999] [In ~1864 "At one period of the war, when one of his sons [HLH] was lying dangerously wounded, another in Libby Prison, while a third was with his regiment in South Carolina, ill of malarial fever, he [George-HLH's father] repelled the condolences of a Copperhead friend whose sons had been harbored at home, saying emphatically that he would not exchange places, and that he stood in no need of pity. Such was his standard of patriotism." (Description of HLH’s father, SOURCE: Perry, pg.11) NOTE: Many of the Neo-Brahmin historians don’t have much good to say about HLH because he and his NON-Brahmin, best friends thought “ALL Men are created Equal."] and ethical reasons, [The Glittering Illusion : English sympathy for the Southern Confederacy, by Sheldon Vanauken,: Worthing : Churchman, 1988, from his Oxford thesis, 1957 (this is about British Empire’s, “Divide and Conquer” strategy during the Civil War to supply extremely fast British warships to the South to destroy the North and their merchantile fleet.)] to remain NON-Brahmins. (at least 20% of the original Brahmin big names were this opposite type) ["Higginson and Chadwick: Non-Brahmins in Boston" by Steven Ledbetter, American Music Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 51-63] Henry’s father, George, had a modest education, who came back to Boston from New York reluctantly, to escape poverty. George jointly founded a brokerage as a junior partner, was extremely patriotic, and never owned a house or a horse of his own until within a few years of his death. Henry’s mother died of tuberculosis, from which she suffered for some time, when Henry was 15. After withdrawing twice due to eye fatigue problems, he graduated from
Boston Latin Schoolin 1851, and began studies at Harvard College. However after 4 months he withdrew since his fatigued eyes grew too weak to study, and he was sent to Europe. Upon returning to Boston in March 1855, Henry's father secured a position for him in the office of Messrs. Samuel and Edward Austin, India merchants, a small shipping counting house on India Wharf where he worked as the sole company clerk and bookkeeper.
He entered the Union Army on
May 11, 1861, as second lieutenant of Company D in Colonel George H. Gordon's 2nd Massachusetts Regiment. In the First Battle of Bull Run, his regiment was ordered to hold the nearby town of Harpers Ferry. Higginson was commissioned major in the cavalryon March 26, 1862. On June 17, 1863, the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry engaged the soldiers of General J.E.B. Stuartand General Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry at the Battle of Aldie. During this battle, Higginson crossed sabers with a foe and was knocked out of his saddle with three saber cuts and two pistol wounds. As his wounds slowly healed in Boston, he married Ida Agassiz, daughter of Harvard professor Louis Agassiz, on December 5, 1863.
After the war, he worked as an agent for the Buckeye Oil Company in
Ohio, January to July 1865, purchasing equipment and contracting laborers to work in the oil fields. In October 1865, he and friends paid $30,000 for five thousand acres (20 km²) of cotton-farming land in Georgia. This failed philanthropic adventure left him more than $10,000 in debt. Reluctantly at first, out of desperation, he started as a clerk, and later became a junior partner in his father’s business of Lee, Higginson and Co.on January 1, 1868, which at that time, was a modest brokerage. His father had been a junior partner until 1858 and worked till his death in 1889 at age 85. This brokerage and banking company eventually became very profitable.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
In March 1881, Higginson published (for Boston newspapers) his plan for a Boston orchestra that would perform as a "permanent orchestra, offering the best music at low prices, [BSO tickets were initially 25 and 75 cents. (25 cents was the same as Henry paid to see an Italian opera in Boston, from the upper balcony, at age ~17, in~1851, 30 years before.)] such as may be found in all the large European cities". This became the
Boston Symphony Orchestraand its "concerts of a lighter kind of music" offspring, the Boston Pops Orchestra, which he generously funded for many years. It is fair to say that neither would have existed without Higginson's extraordinary energy and generosity. [ "... In February '81  I began to put in shape a scheme conceived twenty-five years before that date  , namely to give orchestral concerts of the best attainable character and quality at a price which should admit any one and everyone likely to care for such things - -my hope was to draw in by degrees a larger and less-educated class of society* - I had meant to engage an orchestra and a conductor to be at my beck and call because this only could I ask and get practice sufficient in amount and quality to reach the playing of the great German orchestras. ..." (From H.L. Higginson's Sept. 20, 1882, Letter to Sir George Grove (chiding Grove who lived where the Empire’s Brahmin caste system was the norm) describing the founding of the BSO for 1883 printing of the Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. * The concept of Rush line seats was a typical Higginson American innovation that made 100s of good quality seat tickets available, at a very affordable price, to those waiting in line a few hours before certain concerts.]
It should be noted that as sole
administratorof the BSO during these early years, Higginson assured success of his new organization by tightly controling the professional musicians who worked under him. In 1882, Higginson forged a new contractrequiring his musicians to make themselves available on a regular working basis (unusual for musicians of the time) and to "play for no other conductor or musical association." Other established Bostonorchestras simply couldn't keep up with Higginson financially, making them "unable to compete for the services of Boston's musicians."
Despite an outcry from the press, Higginson rode out the controversy and went on to further strengthen his grip on his musicians. For example, Higginson aggregated control by "threatening to break any strike with the importation of European players." Furthermore, over time he dropped musicians with ties to
Boston, and imported men from Europe of "high technical accomplishment, upon whose loyalty he could count." From the very beginning through at least the first 30 years of the BSO, through a key contact, a Jewish friend in Vienna (Julius Epstein), Higginson had access to a continuous stream of the best musical artists in the world that happened to be mostly European and German speaking. (most, learning well from the time of Friedrich Schillerup through the turmoil of the Revolutions of 1848, liked the American Republic a lot, especially since all the attempts at similar constitutional republics in Europe were all crushed out by one despot after another) [ "... We all took some interest in public affairs, and when the Revolution of 1848 came in Europe, it interested us much. I had a very strong feeling about our country, was very proud of it, thought nothing too good for it, thought it had no faults, could not conceive of living under any other government, and was delighted with the revolutions in Europe." Perry, pgs.7,47-49. (Note: HLH got himself in trouble with the government in Germany, when he paid room and board to and lived with a family in Dresden. The father (Professor Wigard) was one of the professor/officials living in exile from the failed interim government that led the Revolution of 1848 at the Frankfurt Parliament (dubbed the "professor's parliament,"). Friedrich Schillerwas an icon of that Revolution to Europeans as he was earlier during the later part of the American Revolution with his numerous anti-(Hessian/British) plays including "The Robbers"-1781 and "Intrigue and Love"-1784, (See Act 2, Scene 2, that depicts a firing squad massacre of young, pro-American sympathizers in Hanoverian-Germany) then closely followed in 1785 by Schiller's "Declaration of Independence", “Ode to the Happiness”(An die Freude) (as in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) poetry that Beethoven later set to music in his 9th Symphony.
HLH who could barely read because of weak-fatigued eyes(NOT!-Poor Eyesight!, there was nothing wrong with his focus), we know from letters to his best friend Charles Lowell, were reading volumes of Schiller's works (all owned by HLH) at about the same time (~1855-1856) we know he got the idea to start an American Classical Symphony Orchestra in which he later requested the playing the Beethoven Symphonies at least once per season)]
In 1882, he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Harvard University and served as the first president of the new
Harvard Club of Bostonduring a time when Higginson helped raise a lot of money to send non-wealthy, non-Brahmins to Harvard especially with the principal goal to train-well, many future teachers for the Republic, from all walks of life. He was awarded an honorary LL.D. from Yale University in 1901. He served as president of the Boston Music Hall and as a trustee of the New England Conservatory of Music from 1892-1920.
His minor autocratic tendencies towards the musicians under him (he wanted all Beethoven Symphonies performed at least once per season) was tempered by a generous philanthropic public persona characterized by substantial acts of charity [1890, June, 10 excerpt from HLH's Soldier’s Field speech; "...One of these friends, Charles Lowell, dead, and yet alive to me as you are, wrote me just before his last battle:-- "Don't grow rich; if you once begin, you'll find it much more difficult to be a useful citizen. Don't seek office; but don't 'disremember' that the useful citizen holds his time, his trouble, his money, and his life always ready at the hint of his country. The useful citizen is a mighty unpretending hero; but we are not going to have a country very long unless such heroism is developed. There! what a stale sermon I'm preaching! But, being a soldier, it does seem to me that I should like nothing so well as being a useful citizen." This was his last charge to me, and in a month he was in his grave. I have tried to live up to it, and I ask you to take his words to heart and to be moved and guided by them. ...” (Source: Perry, pgs. 233,536. Henry's best friend, Charles Lowell was another one of the relatively poor, Non-Brahmin reformists, like HLH)] (some anonymously) For example, on June 5, 1890, Higginson presented Harvard College a gift of 31 acres of land, which he called the Soldier's Field, given in honor of his friends James Savage, Jr.,
Charles Russell Lowell, Edward Barry Dalton, Stephen George Perkins, James Jackson Lowell, and Robert Gould Shaw, all of whom perished in the Civil War.
Higginson was very active in promoting quality education to citizens from all walks of life. Unlike the worst of the Brahmin, he truly believed that “All men are created equal.” In 1891, Higginson established the Morristown School for young men in
Morristown, New Jersey, declining to be named as the school's founder. (In 1971 it merged with Miss Beard's School to become today's Morristown-Beard School.) In 1899, Higginson contributed $150,000 for the construction of the Harvard Union, a "house of fellowship" for all students of Harvard and Radcliffe, where they could dine, study, meet, and listen to lectures. In 1916, he accepted election to honorary membership in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity. [ (http://www.sinfonia.org/History/Sinfonian/MysticCat-March1916/1916_March-2.pdf)] He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Middlesex School, and the school's Higginson House dormitory is named for him.
He died in 1919 and is buried in
Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
All good work takes time and life-blood -- and shows us why most of us must live long to do a real piece of work. -- H. L. H. to A. W. Thayer(A Beethoven Biographer), July 21, 1887.
Welche grosse Opfer bringst Du der Musik! Dein Name wird nicht vergessen werden. Dein alter Verehrer und Freund, Julius Epstein. -- Julius Epstein To H. L. H., July 15, 1914. [rough translation: What great sacrifices you make for Music! Your name will not be forgotten. Your old Admirer and friend]
The orchestra sprang from the faith of my youth and has been the faith of my life and of my old age. -- From H. L. H.'s penciled memoranda for his farewell address, May 4, 1918. (Perry, p.290)
Notes and Citations
* [http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/6732/hlh.html Index to Henry Lee Higginson's Pages]
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