Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/July 1882/Sketch of Professor S. S. Haldeman

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

PSM V21 D300 Samuel Stehman Haldeman.jpg



THE career of Professor Haldeman illustrates how a student, who has his heart in his work, may excel as a specialist in more than one branch of science; and shows how the enthusiastic investigator, seeking light from all sides on the point he has under investigation, may be led by the natural course of his work from one branch to another, which at first view seems quite distinct from it. Professor Haldeman was in his early youth a collector of living objects around his father's estate, and thus laid the foundations, in his recreations, for the eminence he afterward reached as a naturalist. Then, having turned his attention to ethnology, he was drawn to the study of languages and philology, and became one of the most distinguished American scholars and authorities in those branches. Next, he became interested in archaeology, and contributed to that subject in his papers before the American Association of 1880, the last literary labors of his life. His success in all of these branches appears to have been owing to the adaptation of his natural tastes, and these to have been developed from inherited peculiarities.

Samuel Stehman Haldeman was born, August 12, 1812, at Locust Grove, on the Susquehanna River, twenty miles below Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His family were of Swiss descent, had possessed the extensive estate which was their home for several generations, and occupied a considerable social position. His great-grandfather was a member of a local Committee of Public Safety in Revolutionary times; his great-uncle was the first Governor-General of Canada under British rule; his grandfather was a member of the General Assembly of the State in 1795. A niece of his great-grandfather and great uncle, Mrs. Marcet, born Jane Haldimand, was a celebrated scientific writer, distinguished as the first who attempted to popularize science, by the publication of her "Conversations" on chemistry, natural philosophy, botany, mineralogy, language, and political economy. Professor Haldeman derived his middle name from the maiden name of his mother, Frances Stehman, who was an accomplished musician, and transmitted to him that correct ear for the notation of sound that made him in after-life so accomplished a phoneticist. His father was a man of literary tastes, and warmly encouraged the son's aspirations in a direction congenial to his own. Young Haldeman's education, till he was thirteen years old, was carried on in the local schools and his father's library. No little of it was gained on the farm, where he made the collections of specimens in natural history, which he was taught by a Methodist minister how to prepare, and of aboriginal stones and implements, which constituted his first museum, in the loft of the family carriage-house; and where he gathered shells, he says, on the banks of the Susquehanna long before he knew the meaning of genus and species.

When five years old he was a fellow-scholar with Daniel Engle, who could not speak English, but could spell in German, and sat with him. Young Haldeman soon discovered that his companion could spell in another language, and engaged him to bring his German spelling-book to the school, so that he could learn to do the same. The book was brought, and carefully hidden, to be studied in secret. The teacher found the boys out, and forbade their studying German during school-hours, but allowed them to do so at recess and noon, when he also took a part in the exercise.

In 1826 Haldeman was taken to Harrisburg, to the classical school of Dr. John Miller Keagy, a "great teacher," who, besides the classical languages, "knew Hebrew, German, and French. He had a taste for the natural sciences, and in the absence of class-books he taught orally in an excellent conversational style." He remained two years at this school, and was then sent to Dickinson College, where his scientific tastes were encouraged by Professor Rogers, afterward State geologist. The stereotyped course of study of the college was not consonant with his own views of how his faculties should be trained, and he left the institution after two years, to take the superintendence of his own studies. He became ostensibly engaged with his father in conducting a saw-mill, but spent much of his time in field-studies, and with his books, concerning which he wrote at the time: "I developed a taste for rainy weather and impassable roads; then I could remain undisturbed in the perusal of my books, a supply of which I kept in a back office, where I retired as soon as the sky looked threatening." In 1833-'34 he attended the lectures of the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania, but without any design of becoming a physician. In 1835 he was married to Miss Mary A. Hough. Shortly afterward he removed to Chickies, Pennsylvania, to the house which he occupied till the end of his life, and became a silent partner in the iron business conducted by his brothers, Dr. Edwin and Paris Haldeman. In connection with this business he wrote two papers for "Silliman's Journal," on "Smelting Iron with Anthracite Coal," and edited, in 1855, a revision of Taylor's "Statistics of Coal." "In his residence at Chickies," says Dr. D. G. Brinton, in his memorial before the American Philosophical Society, "books and cabinets accumulated under his laborious hands, only to be scattered again and give place to others when his insatiable appetite for knowledge led him into new fields of investigation. For forty-five years he spent most of his time in his library, where, in his vigorous manhood, he worked sixteen hours a day. For, though he accepted several professorships, and delivered a number of courses of lectures, he did so with reluctance, preferring to be master of his time, and to spend it in the quiet of home."

He received from Professor Rogers an appointment as assistant on the Geological Survey of New Jersey in 1836, and of Pennsylvania in 1837. His field of work in Pennsylvania embraced that part of the State lying between the Blue Mountain and the South Mountain, the most important division, geologically, in the State. While engaged upon it he discovered the fossil plant, Scolithus linearis, the most ancient organic remains found in Pennsylvania, on which he published a monograph in 1840. During this period he also recorded the observations, real discoveries, that the peregrine falcon makes its nest in rocks, as in Europe, and not in trees, as Wilson and others had supposed; and that the American eagle is a fishing-eagle, robbing fish hawks when he can, diving himself after fish when he has to. He also discovered and described a new species of trilobite in Pennsylvania, which Professor Hall named after him.

Professor Haldeman's first publication was made in 1835, the year of his marriage, and was a paper in the "Lancaster Journal," exposing the falsity of the celebrated "Moon Hoax," published by Richard Adams Locke in the New York "Sun." He also published, in connection with his labors as a naturalist, a work on the "Fresh-Water Univalve Mollusca of the United States," in nine parts, 1840 to 1866; three numbers of a series of "Zoölogical Contributions"; "Outlines of the Zoölogy of Pennsylvania"; a sketch of the natural history and geology of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; a monograph on the genus Leptoxis for a French work; an article on the "Zoölogy of the Invertebrate Animals," for the American edition of the "Iconographic Encyclopædia"; and seventy-three papers which Professor Agassiz has enumerated as having appeared in the scientific and philosophical journals and "Transactions" of the United States up to 1852.

"Dr. Haldeman," says Mr. C. H. Hart, "very early took a deep interest in the languages of the North American Indians, and, as an aid to the study of ethnology, he now devoted his attention to the study of language in general; and doubtless it will be as a learned and accurate philologist that his labors will be most remembered. His investigations in this most interesting study were not directed so much to the origin and source of language as to rendering it facile of acquirement and expression—his specialty being the notation of the elementary sounds uttered by the human voice in speech; thus reaching the form of language, which is merely the peculiar method of uniting thought with sound." The first result of these labors in this department was the paper entitled "Some Points in Linguistic Ethnology, with Illustrations chiefly from the Aboriginal Languages of North America," which was published in the "Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences," in October, 1849. A work on the "Elements of Latin Pronunciation," which was published in 1851, and was warmly received, was an indirect result of studies which he pursued with the object of finding a way to adapt the Latin alphabet, while adhering strictly to its Latin signification, to the representation of the sounds of the native Indian languages. From this he was led on to pure linguistic studies, the fruits of which appeared in his "Investigation of the Power of the Greek ft by Means of Phonetic Laws" (1853), in a monograph "On the Relations between Chinese and the Indo-European Languages" (1856), and in his report to the American Association for the Advancement of Science "On the Present State of our Knowledge of Linguistic Ethnology." Having delivered some lectures on the "Mechanism of Speech" before the Smithsonian Institution, he entered the competition for a prize of one hundred pounds offered by Sir Walter Trevelyan, President of the Phonetic Society of Great Britain, for the best essay "On a Reform in the Spelling of the English Language"; to contain among other features "an analysis of the system of articulate sounds, an exposition of those occurring in English, and an alphabetic notation, in which as few new types as possible should be admitted." The result of this effort was a work on "Analytic Orthography," which, even before it had been revised in accordance with the suggestions of the donor of the prize, was preferred to the essays of seventeen competitors, all learned European philologists, and which was published in 1860. Five years afterward appeared a work on "Affixes: in their Origin and Application exhibiting the Etymologic Structure of English Words," which was pronounced, by a writer in the "Contemporary Review," "a collection more rational, complete, and exhaustive of the component parts of our language than we have had any good right to hope for within the present century."

Professor Haldeman was one of the founders of the American Philological Association, and was its first vice-president 1874-'76, and its president 1876-77. He contributed many papers to its "Transactions," the first of which, on the "German Vernacular of Pennsylvania," was afterward extended, under the light of new studies, at the request of the Philological Society of London, into "Pennsylvania Dutch; a Dialect of South German, with an Impression of English," which was published in 1872. His last published philological work, "Outlines of Etymology," had in view the teaching of this as other sciences are taught, and appeared in 1877.

To this department of Professor Haldeman's activity belong his labors in behalf of reform in the spelling of the English language, in connection with which he presided at the International Convention on the subject held in Philadelphia in July, 1876, when the Spelling Reform Association was organized, and he was made one of the vice presidents. His address to the American Philological Association at the close of his presidency in 1877 was devoted mainly to this reform.

Of his attainments in philology, Professor March says: "Professor Haldeman was in early life and by his mental constitution a scientist, and he took hold of the facts of speech in that spirit. He had a delicate ear and flexible organs of speech, and could pronounce with ease the most unutterable scientific vocables. His scientific habit enabled him to watch and describe the movements of the organs in producing all sorts of sounds, and to give the physical processes or causes of the changes in the sounds of words from age to age. He devoted much study to these subjects, seeking living speakers of every nation and tribe, and imitating and recording their peculiarities. He applied his knowledge of the laws of letter-change to etymology—chiefly, so far as I know, to the derivation of English words and affixes. His textbooks on that subject are full of ingenious observation and careful scientific deduction. He was also a great reader of old English books in their early editions, and he treasured in his memory the curiosities of spelling and pronunciation, the rhymes and puns and the like which he found there. He busied himself also with the Pennsylvania Dutch, as it is called, and traced it to its sources in Europe. He read largely the German works on the science of language, but he was an independent observer, and more likely to be biased by his critical temper than by absorption in any systems."

Professor Haldeman was actively interested in education, and occupied professorial chairs during a large part of his life. He was chosen Professor of Zoölogy in the Franklin Institute in 1842, and afterward filled the positions of chemist and geologist to the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society in 1852; Professor of Natural History in the University of Pennsylvania, 1850 to 1853; professor in the chair of the same name in Delaware College, Newark, 1855 to 1858; and Professor of Comparative Philology in the University of Pennsylvania from 1869 till his death. He regularly attended the meetings of the Pennsylvania State Teachers' Association. Professor Haldeman had in great part been induced to change his studies from zoölogy mainly to linguistics by the failing condition of his eye-sight; in a similar manner an order to take exercise for his health became the occasion of his engaging in the study of archaeology in 1875. He proceeded to carry out an intention he had long entertained of digging for aboriginal relics in the Chickies Rock retreat, a shallow cave on his own property. Here he obtained the interesting collection which he presented to the American Philosophical Society, and which he described in a monograph "On the Contents of a Rock Retreat in Southeastern Pennsylvania," published by the society since his death, with fifteen large quarto plates. He also published archæological papers in the "Smithsonian Report" for 1877, in the "American Antiquarian" and "American Naturalist," and through the American Association.

He was a prolific and successful writer on a curious variety of subjects, some of which appear incongruous with each other. The list of his scientific publications prepared by his daughter, Mrs. Eliza Figgelmery, includes ten titles in conchology, twenty-three in entomology, two on arachnidæ, five on Crustacea, six on annelides and worms, seven in geology and chemistry, thirty-three in philology, seven in archaeology, and twenty-nine miscellaneous publications. Outside of the immediate circle of subjects with which his name is most prominently associated, he published one or two works of literary criticism, an essay on the "Tours of a Chess-Knight," showing how the knight can pass over the whole chess-board, touching each square but once; a collection of "Rhymes of the Poets," by Felix Ago, containing specimens of false rhymes from one hundred and fourteen prominent writers; and two mock-heroic poems. He was a contributor to Johnson's "Cyclopædia" and an associate editor of the department of comparative philology and linguistics in it; and he left behind him in manuscript two complete philological works; one on "Word-Building," the other on "English Prosody." The diversity of occupation of which this varied bibliography affords evidence was in part a matter of principle with him, for, says Dr. Brinton, "it was his taste and apparently also his theory that a student should not be a specialist, but should devote his mind to different branches, thus securing wider knowledge"; and he once said to Professor Barber, "I never pursue one branch of science more than ten years, but lay it aside and go into new fields." That he was able to acquit himself creditably in everything he undertook, we have the word of Agassiz, who said of him, "That man Haldeman has an idea behind every word he utters." Professor Le Conte has said that "next to his valuable contributions in philology, the most important work of Professor Haldeman was in the direction of descriptive natural history. He was well versed in several branches of zoölogy, and notably in conchology and entomology; in both studies he perceived latent possibilities of future philosophical development which the then imperfect observations rendered impossible to do more than dimly outline. . . . While his contributions in the two branches of zoology above mentioned have contributed to their advance in this country, what are to be especially admired are the zeal, the honesty of expression, and the unselfishness with which he did everything he believed to be right, or to be his duty as the occasion dictated. . . . At all times he was an industrious and intelligent laborer, a warm and sympathetic friend, and a thorough hater of pretense and empiricism."

Professor Haldeman was born of Protestant parents, but, not satisfied with the theology that was preached around him, made a study of the evidences of Christianity for himself, and ended by uniting with the Roman Catholic Church, in whose faith he died.

His death took place suddenly on September 15, 1880, a few days after his return from the Boston meeting of the American Association. The immediate cause was heart-disease, following a period of considerable fatigue.