1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carpenter, William Benjamin

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CARPENTER, WILLIAM BENJAMIN (1813–1885), English physiologist and naturalist, was born at Exeter on the 29th of October 1813. He was the eldest son of Dr Lant Carpenter. He attended medical classes at University College, London, and then went to Edinburgh, where he took the degree of M.D. in 1839. The subject of his graduation thesis, “The Physiological Inferences to be Deduced from the Structure of the Nervous System of Invertebrated Animals,” indicates a line of research which had fruition in his Principles of General and Comparative Physiology. His work in comparative neurology was recognized in 1844 by his election to the Royal Society, which awarded him a Royal medal in 1861; and his appointment as Fullerian professor of physiology in the Royal Institution in 1845 enabled him to exhibit his powers as a teacher and lecturer, his gift of ready speech and luminous interpretation placing him in the front rank of exponents, at a time when the popularization of science was in its infancy. His manifold labours as investigator, author, editor, demonstrator and lecturer knew no cessation through life; but in assessing the value of his work, prominence should be given to his researches in marine zoology, notably in the lower organisms, as Foraminifera and Crinoids. These researches gave an impetus to deep-sea exploration, an outcome of which was in 1868 the “Lightning,” and later the more famous “Challenger,” expedition. He took a keen and laborious interest in the evidence adduced by Canadian geologists as to the organic nature of the so-called Eozoon Canadense, discovered in the Laurentian strata, and at the time of his death had nearly finished a monograph on the subject, defending the now discredited theory of its animal origin. He was an adept in the use of the microscope, and his popular treatise on The Microscope and its Revelations (1856) has stimulated a host of observers to the use of the “added sense” with which it has endowed man. In 1856 Carpenter became registrar of the university of London, and held the office for twenty-three years; on his resignation in 1879 he was made a C.B. in recognition of his services to education generally. Biologist as he was, Carpenter nevertheless made reservations as to the extension of the doctrine of evolution to man’s intellectual and spiritual nature. In his Principles of Mental Physiology he asserted both the freedom of the will and the existence of the “Ego,” and one of his last public engagements was the reading of a paper in support of miracles. He died in London, from injuries occasioned by the accidental upsetting of a spirit-lamp, on the 19th of November 1885.