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ARTICLE 1-DISCOURSE COMMEMORATIVE OF PROFESSOR DENISON OLMSTED, LL. D.
[Prof. DENISON OLMSTED, a frequent and valued contributor to the pages of the New Englander, died in New Haven, May 13th, 1859. On Friday, of the following week, May 20th, President Woolsey delivered in the College Chapel the following commemorative Discourse.]
I APPEAR before the academical body, and this respected audience, to-day, as the eldest of the acting colleagues of Prof. OLMSTED, in order to pay an official, but willing tribute to his worth and services. Not thirteen years have elapsed since he stood the fifth, and I the sixth, in the order of seniority upon our catalogue. Of the four elder members of the Faculty, one whom I love to think of, and love to honor, Prof. Kingsley, was called away by death a year after he had resigned his work of half a century in the service of the college; and three others, whom age or infirmities had induced to leave their stations, still survive, to show to the world how
honored is the old age of a scholar, who has built his life upon the foundations of Christian virtue. Prof. Olmsted, the next in this series, presents an example of what has not happened before in our Faculty for more than a generation,-for Prof. Stanley had suspended his labors a long time before his death-he died in the midst of his work, with his armor on, actively engaged in his lectures through the last term, and looking forward, just before his disease attacked him, to instructions during the Summer. He had intended, for a considerable time before his death, to resign his Professorship in the year 1861, when he should have reached the age of seventy. But God's ways are not our ways. The tranquil shade of the evening of life, that harbor from care and toil, where the old man of intellectual resources and Christian hopes can look forward and backward without disturbance, was not allotted to him. He thought of rest on earth, as the aged Christian may; but God did better things for him-he gave him rest in Heaven.
There is a sense of incompleteness, when we speak of the life and character of a friend who has passed away, if we do not ascend to the beginning, if we do not trace the stream from its fountain downwards. What was the boy, what were the influences in the forming years, what were the events which aided or injured the young germ of an immortal soul, every one asks, and asks because there is an intense relish for individual traits in the human soul, and because the training of a mind borrows dignity and importance from the mind itself.
Denison Olmsted, then, was the fourth child of Nathaniel Olmsted, of East Hartford, where he was born the 18th of June, 1791. His father was a descendant of James Olmsted, (or Olmstead,) one of the first settlers of the colony of Connecticut, who died some four years after the plantation of Hartford, leaving two sons, Nehemiah and Nicholas, and two nephews, Richard and John. These are supposed to be the ancestors of all of the name, many of whom are still living in or around Hartford, while others have scattered thence in various directions. The father of Prof. Olmsted, a farmer in "moderate but comfortable circumstances," lived next door to the house where Prof. Stanley, his beloved pupil and colleague, was
born, and where he went home to die. At East Hartford only the early boyhood of Prof. Olmsted was spent; he had been deprived of his father by death when he was a year old, and in his boyhood was sent to an uncle to assist him on his farm. Meanwhile, when he was about nine years old, his mother married again, and removed with him to Farmington, the residence of her second husband. Here, amid circumstances not the most favorable to his improvement, he had in his mother* a noble guide and friend, of whom every one that I have consulted speaks in terms of the highest respect. This lady lived into extreme old age, beloved and honored by her son, who felt that to her religious training, her high principle and wisdom, he owed a debt which could not be repaid. "Never had a
son," writes an aged friend of his, "a more profound reverence, or a tenderer affection for his mother, than he for his; and her character seems to have been his pattern.
The same friend, Rev. Dr. Porter, of Farmington, gives the following account of a portion of his early life, after the removal to that place: "His mother, living out of the village, where the common school was not all that she desired, and obliged to make the most of the means in her hands for his education, procured for him a place in the family of Governor Treadwell, to do such offices as a boy could do, for his board, and to attend the district school. He was then about twelve years old. He was a very lovely, intelligent boy, and soon engaged the affections of the family. Gov. Treadwell, in particular, became interested in him, and poured instruction into his inquisitive mind. One evening he said to him, 'Denison, would you not like to learn to cipher?' Arithmetic was not then taught in our common schools, but only reading, spelling and writing. Denison eagerly seized the opportunity, and spent his evenings in learning arithmetic, under the direction of that great and good man. Several winters successively he spent there and thus." To this we may add, that Mr. Olmsted always held Governor Treadwell in the highest reverence;
* She was born in 1755, and was a daughter of Denison Kingsbury, of Andover, Ct., from whom Prof. Olmsted's Christian name seems to have come.
he called him the last of the Puritan Governors, and paid a tribute to his worth in a memoir published in a number of the American Quarterly Register for 1843.
Farmington was then a place of much more trade than it is at present, and as soon as the boy's age would allow, he was put into one of the stores of the thriving village, in which a son of Governor Treadwell was a partner. Next we find him still in the employment of the Governor's son, at Burlington, near Farmington, and once a part of the same township. While thus occupied, at the age of about sixteen, he conceived the desire for a more thorough education; and, having obtained the consent of his guardian and his mother, went to Litchfield South Farms, where a school of high repute was kept by James Morris, a man for whom Dr. Dwight entertained a warm friendship, and who had been, I believe, one of the President's pupils during his tutorship. From this school he returned to Farmington, and fitted himself for college in part under the minister of the parish, Rev. Noah Porter, who had recently been settled there, and is still active, after a ministry of fiftytwo years, in the same place.
Young Olmsted entered Yale College in 1809, at a time when Dr. Dwight was in the fullness of his reputation and his power. For this distinguished man he never ceased to feel the highest regard and admiration. On two occasions he has testified this respect in a public way; once, not long after President Dwight's death, in a discourse which appeared in the Portfolio of November, 1816, and once, quite recently, in the valuable Article contributed to Barnard's Journal of Education, for September, 1858, entitled "Timothy Dwight as a Teacher." It is believed, from the frequency with which he referred to sayings of Dr. Dwight in after life, as well as from his high admiration of him as a man, that no influence was more powerful in shaping his mind and character than that of his instructor.
Mr. Olmsted's life in college was a pure, happy, and successful one, in a class very large for the time, and containing a number of members of marked ability. With many of his classmates he formed firm friendships. Towards one he felt
the highest admiration; I refer to Alexander M. Fisher, afterwards Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in this college; of whom I need not speak to my elder hearers as a man of preeminent scientific attainments and abilities. Mr. Olmsted, many years after the untimely death of this scholar, prolonged the recollection of him by a memoir inserted in the New Englander for 1843. I am not aware that one kind of studies was more attractive to our friend, during his college life, than another. He showed a laudable proficiency in all, and took the rank of an orator in a class of seventy, when only ten received that honor. He excelled also in writing, and cultivated a taste for belles lettres and poetry. At the Commencement, when his class received the degree of Bachelors of Arts, he delivered an oration "On the Causes of Intellectual Greatness," of which Prof. Silliman tells me that the striking close excited his respect for the literary powers of the young student.
Mr. Olmsted, having nearly exhausted his little patrimony in procuring his education, sought, on leaving college, a place as a teacher, and found one at New London, in the "Union School," so called, a private institution for boys, which had been supported by a few families of the place for several generations.* This, however, was not his novitiate in teaching, for already, while making his preparation for college, he had taught a district school in Farmington. At New London he was successful; and here two events took place which had an important bearing on his future life. One was an attachment which he formed to Miss Allyn, who afterwards became his wife, and the other, of far higher moment, the making up of his mind on the great subject of personal religion, and his cordial reception of the Gospel as the rule of his life. This great question settled, he resolved to become a minister of the Gospel, and accordingly, when he received the appointment of a Tutor in Yale College, in 1815, he went to New Haven with that intention, and joined the small class in Theology, which gathered around Dr. Dwight once or twice every week, to read dissertations and hear his comments. Dr. Dwight died a little
* See his own words in Barnard's Journal, Sept., 1858, p. 369.