This is from a book review by Jacob Heilbrunn in Modern Age:
Within a few decades Britain and the US saw an explosion of social groups devoted to self-improvement and providing the pleasures of social life even to “the vulgar multitude.’
Edward Gibbon, for instance, complacently observed in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that while 'constant and useful labor' maybe the occupation of the vulgar multitude, it was the case that the 'select few, placed by fortune above that necessity, can fill up their time by the pursuits of interest or glory, by the improvement of their estate or of their understanding, by the duties, the pleasures, and even the follies of social life.
One of the very first times Abraham Lincoln appears in the public record is as the result of a speech he gave to Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838. What interests me here is not the speech but the venue. The first cabin at the place that would become Springfield was built on the Illinois frontier in 1820. In the 1840 census, the town had a population of 2,579. Yet the people of Springfield, the young men of Springfield, were already part of the Lyceum movement.