STEPHEN HARKENS CARPENTER


From History of Dane County, Wisconsin, publ. by Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1880, page 544-548

STEPHEN HARKENS CARPENTER. Mr. CARPENTER was born in Little Falls, Herkimer Co., N.Y., August 7, 1831. His early education was given him at his home. He prepared for college at Munro Academy, Elbridge, N.Y. In 1848, he entered the Freshman class of Madison University, at Hamilton, that State, afterward, in 1850, entering the Junior class of the University at Rochester - graduating with the degree of Chancellor of Arts, in 1852. He had early shown a predilection for the classics; and having been taught Latin at home, in his youth, he was enabled to continue the study in college with more than ordinary success. To the Greek, also, he gave a good deal of attention; so that, at his graduation, his reputation was excellent of his attainments in both languages. After graduating, he came to Wisconsin.

On his arrival in Madison, says one who was then of the faculty of the university: "He had come to join the small body of us then constituting the faculty, who were striving in the midst of narrow and discouraging conditions to lay the foundations of a great institution of learning for Wisconsin. He was then just arrived at legal manhood - just turned of twenty-one years of age, and was just graduated from college. In personal appearance, however, and in the extent and range of his acquirements, he seemed four or five years older." He occupied the position of Tutor in the University, at the commencement of the third university year (1852-1853), taking the place of O. M. CONOVER, who was promoted to the chair of ancient languages and literature. He retained his position until July 1854, when he resigned, and was succeeded by August L. SMITH.

After being a few months employed in selling cabintware in Madison, as senior member of the firm of CARPENTER & LAWRENCE, he associated himself in that city, with S. D. CARPENTER, in the publication of the Daily Patriot - he being announced, on the 20th of November 1854, as its local editor and publisher, while S. D. CARPENTER became the political editor. On the 17th of July 1855, he succeeded to the position of co-editor; and, on the 29th of January 1856, of joint publisher. On the 28th of July following, he retired from the Patriot, having disposed of his interest to Rolla A. LAW. On the 31st day of January 1857, he established, in Madison, a neatly printed weekly paper, devoted to news and literary and miscellaneous reading, but non-political, called the Western Fireside. It was a good family paper, and was ably edited, but its support was not sufficient to justify its publication; so, on the 8th of January 1858, it was discontinued. The materials of the office were afterward purchased by the proprietors of the State Journal. This ended his career as editor and publisher. He continued in it, however, long enough to be recognized by the public not only as a man of ability, but as a graceful writer.

For the years 1858 and 1859, he was Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction for Wisconsin. Being a very methodical man, he introduced order and system into the internal administration of the office. In 1860, he was elected Professor of Ancient Languages in St. Paul's College, Palmyra, Mo. This position he held until the war of the rebellion broke up the institution. Returning North, he taught a select school one winter in Richland, Wis. Afterward, failing to find more congenial employment, he maintained himself, for a time, by working at the printer's trade in Madison, setting type in the offices of the Wisconsin Farmer and State Journal. He also gave lessons in German. During these years all his spare time was devoted to literary studies.

In 1864, he was elected Clerk of the city of Madison, continuing in that office until October 1868, when he resigned. Meanwhile, he filled, temporarily, the chair in the University made vacant by the resignation of Prof. READ, as before mentioned. He was also a member of the City Board of Education, Madison; and, from January 1, 1868, to the 1st day of October following, was Superintendent of the Schools of Dane County. His resignation of these offices was made imperative because of his acceptance of the professorship of rhetoric and English literature in the University. This chair was changed, in 1874, to logic and English literature, but Prof. CARPENTER was continued therein until his death, which occurred at Geneva, N.Y., December 7, 1878.

In 1856, the degree of Master of Arts was conferred upon him by his alma mater and, in 1872, that of Doctor of Laws. He was married to Miss Frances CURTIS, of Madison, Wis., on the 14th of May 1856. In 1875, he was elected to the Presidency of the Kansas University, but declined the office, believing he could do a greater and better work in the institution with which he was connected. In 1876 he was appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin, an examiner of teachers applying for State certification. He continued to hold the office until his decease.

It may be said that, as teacher, Dr. CARPENTER had few equals in the United States. His favorite fields were rhetoric, logic, and English literature; these he cultivated assiduously. Although at home in the classics, in political and moral science, in French and German, and in mathematics, it was in the English language and literature that he was especially erudite - especially profound. Outside this department, "his knowledge was not of the sort that would be called erudition; it was rather general than detailed; and consisted, principally, of such facts as had an importance outside of the science to which they belonged. It was such knowledge as a man of vigorous mind and retentive memory (whose leading trait was the clear perception of the bearing of things) would gather from an extensive field of reading and study."

The fame of Dr. CARPENTER rests largely, therefore, upon the wonderful power he exhibited as an educator. "He loved his work and threw his whole being into it. His class-room was never a tedious place. A student never sought that room in doubt of receiving help, or left it unsatisfied. Every one felt the remarkable permeating presence of the beloved instructor. Prof. CARPENTER put his stamp upon every intellect. He reached out with a strong arm and raised the young men and women to a higher intellectual plane. He made himself felt. A student knew he was standing upon solid ground in the Professor's presence." "His thought," says another, "was pre-eminently logical. He saw quickly and traced rapidly the relations of things. Logic was a favorite science with him, and he gave it more enforcement in the minds of pupils than any other teacher I have ever known. It was the stronghold of his instruction." Says Prof. J. B. PARKINSON: "Prof. CARPENTER was distinctly an educator - teacher. In his ability to impart instruction - his aptness to teach - lay his special power. Not one man in ten thousand could equal him as a teacher. Here was his chosen field. In it was the work that lay nearest his heart. He thoroughly appreciated the chief requisites of the successful instructor." "Prof. CARPENTER seemed to aim," continued Prof. PARKINSON, "at a thorough mastery of his department; and his familiarity with what he had in hand, his wealth of happy and forcible illustrations, and his genuine enthusiasm, constituted the chief secrets of his success in the classroom. As at teacher, then - and I use the term in it technical sense - his impress has left the deepest furrows. As a teacher, his influence will reach the farthest and abide the longest."

In 1867, Prof. CARPENTER published his first work - a book entitled "Songs for the Sabbath School." It consisted of a collection of melodies - embracing a variety of new tunes; these, with one exception, were composed by himself. In the preface, the author says; "The music in this little book is all new and is believed to be serviceable. The words do not inculcate error, but are in accordance with evangelical truth." The hymns, also, several of them, were written by him. These are, generally, to be commended for their sweetness and tenderness.

As the result of his studies of Anglo-Saxon and the English language, Prof. CARPENTER has given to the schools of the country three excellent books: "English of the Fourteenth Century," "An Introduction to the Study of the Anglo-Saxon Language;" and, "The Elements of English Analysis." The first mentioned is, in fact, Chaucer's "Prologue" and "Knight's Tale," illustrated by grammatical and philological notes, designed to serve as an introduction to the study of English literature. The author's notes are ample; and these, together with a glossary, are intended to remove every difficulty that would meet a student of average ability. In his second book - "An Introduction to the Study of the Anglo-Saxon Language" - he comprises an elementary grammar of the Anglo-Saxon; also selections for reading, with explanatory notes, and a vocabulary. In his last book - "The Elements of English Analysis" - he uses a system of diagrams to represent to the eye the outline structure of a sentence, in order the more readily to fix the principles of analysis in the mind of the student. This is a small but carefully written work.

After the publication of his Anglo-Saxon grammar, Dr. CARPENTER devoted the most of his leisure hours to the translation and annotation of the celebrated poem, "Beowulf," the oldest monument extant of Anglo-Saxon literature. He had just completed the translation when he died, and was preparing a somewhat elaborate introduction, which he left not quite finished. This last important work of Prof. CARPENTER, one on which he bestowed much care and to which he gave his ripest scholarship will be published under the editorship of Prof. R. B. ANDERSON, who was, through many years, his bosom friend.

Prof. CAPENTER was not an author of books, in the popular sense of the term. He wrote but one - "An Historical Sketch of the University of Wisconsin" - adapted to the general reader; but, in the religious and educational periodicals of the country, he contributed extensively. His communications took a wide range. His style of writing is marked and strikingly characteristic of the man. When he said anything, he said it; and, at times, the fire of his thoughts consumed his words. Although largely wanting in the imaginative element, his diction is nevertheless, peculiarly attractive because of its smoothness and clearness. Take this paragraph, as an example, from "The Relations of Skepticism and Scholarship," in the Baptist Quarterly, for January, 1873.

"Faith is the condition of progress. belief grasps actual possession by the strong hand of demonstration; while faith rises superior to reason, and grasps greater truth by the stronger hand of conviction. Faith is not an abandonment of reason; it is the condition of reason. It places the crown of universal dominion upon the head of man; puts in his hands a scepter, which the future as well as the present obeys - eternity as well as time. It asserts our kinship which the future as well as the present obeys - eternity as well as time. It asserts our kinship with God, who does not discover truth by the slow process of reason, but who reaches his conclusions by the same intuitive action by which faith apprehends principles. Reason adapts man to the present life. Faith is a pledge of immortality. Destroy faith, and man is hedged in by humanity - is limited to the now and here - to the little segment of the infinite circle which lies immediately before him. Add faith to reason, and out into infinity, onward into coming eternity, upward to God Himself, sweep the slowly arching sides of the mighty circle of truth, whose resound will, nevertheless, forever baffle finite measurement."

A number of his educational addresses have been published. His direct way of giving utterance to his thoughts is well illustrated in the opening paragraph of one of these - 'Industrial Education" - delivered before a convention of the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, February, 1874: "There are two essential requisites to success in any trade or profession: A knowledge of the principles forming the science of which the profession is the practical application; and skill in the application of these principles. The one requires cultivated mind; the other, cultivated muscle. Every profession presents these two sides, but notably those which are largely dependent upon mechanical operations for their success."

An address on "Reading," delivered before the State Teacher's Association of Wisconsin, in July 1871, at Madison, and published in the August number of the Wisconsin Journal of Education for that year; also an article in the Examiner and Chronicle, on "The Education Question - Conflicts Between the Old and New," are worthy of special commendation. His centennial Fourth-of-July address, in Madison, added to his reputation as an orator and man of culture. "The Relation of the Different Educational Institutions of the State" and "Rambles in the World of Words," contributions to the periodical first named, exhibit, in a striking light, the wide range of his thoughts and his extensive scholastic attainments.

Of Dr. CARPENTER's published lectures, one on "Moral Forces in Education," and a series of twelve on "The Evidence of Christianity," have received a merited recognition from some of our country's ablest and best men. His translations from the French, have also been highly complimented. The most notable of these efforts are (1) articles on political economy and the future of Catholic nations, of Emile de Laveleye, and (2) Stories of George Sand, from Revue des deux Mondes. Dr. CARPENTER was a member of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters. He contributed two papers to its "transactions": (1) "The Metaphysical Basis of Science;" (2) "The philosophy of Evolution." These papers attracted wide attention, especially the last mentioned. His very latest contribution to the press was a solution of an algebraic problem, to be found in the January number, 1879, of the Wisconsin Journal of Education.

The sudden death of Dr. CARPENTER produced a profound impression in Wisconsin. Resolutions expressing appreciation and esteem were adopted by the faculty and regents of the university, also by the State Teacher's Association and by the State Historical Society, of which he was a member and an officer. His mortal remains lie buried into he beautiful cemetery near the city of Madison, not far away from the institution where many of his years were so profitably employed and where he gathered unto himself a name and fame that Wisconsin will long remember with pride and respect.


Transcribed and contributed to this site by Carol

 

 

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