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Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)

Irrmann, Robert H.
A Harvard graduate goes west: Robert Adams Coker and the Highland School in the 1830's,   pp. 91-107 ff. PDF (6.5 MB)

Page 93

1955] Irrmann—Robert Adams Coker 93 
"western" academy he had learned of through William Austin's letter. 
 Whatever his several interests might be, Robert Adams Coker's first love
was mathematics, if we can accept the confessions of his own pen. "Last week
I have read from the beginning of the Application of Algebra to Geometry
to nearly the end of the chapter on the Ellipse, except a short chapter on
the circle which I read last week. I find it very interesting. I find that
I can at present take up Mathematics with relish when no other works charm—even
newspapers and novels are dry and incipid (sic) when compared with these."7
Also, "the past week I have finished reading the Application of Alg. to Geometry.
I find in it many beauties which escaped me the first time it was read."8
Soon that interest and talent, if such it was, was to be put to the service
of young scholars in the "west", for Coker left Francestown later in May,
and was home in West Newbury about the 18th, and was soon to have confirmation
from the Highland School.9 By June 10th the overtures to the Highland School
were concluded: alea jacta est! "Monday . . . received a letter from Mr.
Watson N.Y. in answer to mine of the 24 ult., in which I accepted his offer."°
Mr. Watson's letter is extant; it failed to give Robert Coker intimation
of the many vexations that were to be his out on the banks of the Hudson
across the river from West Point: 
"Dear Sir, in compliance with your request, I acknowledge the receipt of
your favour of the 24th inst. . . . (I) presume that you distinctly understand,
that besides taking charge of the Mathl. department, we shall expect your
assistance in such other modes as we may desire, & as may be in your
power; for the business of instruction, important as it is, 
 Coker's failure to concentrate upon, or find pleasure in, anything but his
beloved mathematics might be explained by his concern and fear for his health.
He was confiding to his Diary of his possible ill health. "May 13. Monday,
raised blood all day—perhaps 4 or 5 spoonfuls in all." "The last part
of last week & first part (of this?) I have raised more blood than in
the same length of time previously. I cannot think I am in a consumption
yet as this is the only simpton (sic), tho' it will probably terminate in
one soon unless something can be done." Page 95. Diary, II, 93—94,
entries for week of May 6, 1832. 
 8Diary, II, 94, entry for the week of May 13, 1832. 
 ~ Ibid., II, 98, entries for the weeks of May 14, 27, 1832. Coker's Diary
for the week of May 21, 1832, details the steps by which his commitment to
John Lee Watson and the Highland School was made: ". . . Tuesday (May 22)
rode to Craneneck; & as I returned I called at the Post Office &
found that a letter had come for me & been sent to my father's. When
I reached home I found a double letter from my chum (William Austin) then
on a visit to Oroton. The letter from Austin contained one from John Lee
Watson, Highland School, Near Cold Spring, Putnam Co., N.Y., offering me
$500 per annum and Board, wood. lights, & (sic) if I would take charge
of the Mathematical department in the Highland School. Thursday, concluded
to accept on Mr. Watson's proposal & wrote him an intimation of my acceptanceS,..."
Diary, II, 98, West Newbury, entry for the week of May 21, 1832. 
 1~ Diary, II, 99, entry for Monday, June 10, 1832. 

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