A member of an old and prominent Rhode Island family, the late Professor Jeremiah Lewis Diman, D. D., was born in this State and practically spent his entire life here, the exception being the years he studied in German universities, and the eight years that he spent in the active ministry as the pastor of two Congregational churches in Massachusetts. The greater part of his career and, perhaps, its most brilliant and useful portion was devoted to teaching at his alma mater. Brown University. His brilliancy as a teacher not only brought him great success in this work, but also resulted in numerous offers from other leading universities in this country, which, however, he invariably refused, preferring to continue his teaching at Brown University. He was regarded as one of the most effective members of that institution’s faculty, and as one of the outstanding citizens of Providence.
Jeremiah Lewis Diman was born in Bristol, on May 1, 1831, a son of Governor Byron and Abby Alden (Wight) Diman. His father was a man of strong character and intellect and served as Governor of Rhode Island in 1846. Through his mother, Professor Diman was a direct descendant of John Alden and a collateral descendant of Benjamin Franklin, the latter having been a great-uncle of his mother. He received his early education in the public schools of Bristol and then attended Brown University, Providence, from which he was graduated in 1851 with high honors, standing third in his class. Next he spent a year in the study of philosophy and theology, as well as of the classics, with a scholarly clergyman in Newport, Rhode Island. He then became a student at the Andover Theological Seminary, where he spent the years 1852-54. This was followed by two years of study at the universities of Halle, Heidelberg, and Berlin, Germany, where he studied theology, philosophy, history and art. Returning to this country, he took his Bachelor of Arts degree at Andover Theological Seminary in 1856. Later, in recognition of his eminent services as a teacher, Brown University conferred upon him, in 1870, the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. Ordained a minister of the Congregational Church in 1856, he served as pastor of Congregational churches at Fall River and Brookline, Massachusetts, until 1864. In that year he was appointed Professor of History and Political Economy at Brown University, a position he filled with eminent success until his death seventeen years later. In 1879, he gave a course of lectures on history at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, and in 1880, a course on theism, at the Lowell Institute, Boston, Massachusetts.
As a teacher, Professor Diman made a brilliant success from the beginning, but grew in power and influence with each year. He instructed wholly by lectures, and they were so deep and vital in substance, so luminous, polished and witty in manner that his popularity as a teacher was second to none. His sketches of life and characters, his humorous pictures of past times and events, his inimitable method, not only served to render complete the students’ conception of history, but also to exemplify the model of an instructor. He was offered professorships at Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard universities, and could have had the presidency of Vermont University or the University of Wisconsin, but he steadfastly refused all these offers, preferring to remain at Brown University. He was in great demand as a speaker at civic occasions and as a lecturer before many educational institutions. Candor and intellectual fearlessness were conspicuous characteristics of his lectures. He was also noted for his writings and historical addresses. He was the author of numerous articles, published in the leading magazines of his times, and was the editor of “John Cotton’s Answer to Roger Williams” (1867), and of “George Fox Digg d Out of His Burrowes” (1872). However, it was only after his death that any of his writings of a creative type were published. The more important of these are: “Theistic Argument as Affected by Recent Theories,” (1882), and “Orations and Essays” (1882). His writing, as his orations and lectures, were deeply satisfying to the most critical, yet so simple, sincere and logical, that they captivated all who read or heard them. His culture was remarkable for its completeness and symmetry. The spiritual, the intellectual, and the aesthetic met in him in most satisfying harmony. His mental and spiritual breadth, his historical sense, his love of art, all united in creating in him an understanding sympathy for both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant faiths.
Dr. Diman married, May 15, 1861, Emily Gardner Stimson, a daughter of John J. Stimson, of Providence. Dr. and Mrs. Diman were the parents of four children:
- Maria Stimson, born February 12, 1862, who was killed in an accident April 29, 1881.
- John Byron, born May 29, 1863, who was graduated from Brown University, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1885, and from the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1888. In 1896 he received the degree of Master of Arts from Harvard University. After the completion of his theological studies he was ordained a deacon and later a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church and for three years was minister in charge of St. Columba’s Church, at Middletown, Rhode Island. In 1892 he took up educational work and became a teacher at the University Grammar School, Providence, a position he continued to hold until 1895. In 1896 he became head master of St. George’s School, Middletown, Rhode Island, in which capacity he continued to serve for many years. In 1924 he joined the Benedictine Order of the Roman Catholic Church and at that time took the name of John Hugh Diman. He is now head of the Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Priory School and Prior of his Order for Rhode Island.
- Louise, born December 23, 1869, makes her home in Providence.
- Emily, born April 4, 1873, for twenty-five years lived at St. George’s School, Middletown, Rhode Island.
Dr. Jeremiah Lewis Diman died at his home in Providence on February 3, 1881. His untimely death at the age of nearly fifty years cut short a notable career of exceptional brilliancy and usefulness. As a clergyman and teacher he left his impress on thousands of lives, who were better for having come in contact with his scintillating intellect, his fine moral courage, his inspiring leadership and his sympathetic kindliness. How greatly he was loved and admired, is proven by the fact that today, though almost a half century since his death, his memory is still revered by all who knew him. His achievements will always form one of the brightest pages in the annals of Rhode Island’s intellectual history and in the records of Brown University.
Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.