Tuesday, February 18, 2020

George Payn Quackenbos

George Payn Quackenbos, son of George Clinton Quackenbos; born September 4, I826; married to Louise B. Duncan. The couple had the following children: John Duncan, born April 22, 1848; Mary Louise, married to Theodore Robert Sheer; Helen, died very young.

George Payne Quackenbos was born in the city of New York on September 4, 1826. At an early age he was placed at the grammar school of Columbia College, where his studies were directed by the late Dr. Anthon. He entered Columbia at 13, and graduated with honor in 1843, taking the English Salutatory. After a year passed in North Carolina, he commenced the study of law in his native city, but, finding it uncongenial, he gave it up after eighteen months, and resolved to make teaching and literature the profession of his life. In 1847 he established the Henry Street Grammar school, and, although it was situated in a district that was rapidly deteriorating, he raised this institution to an enviable rank among the private schools of the city. Here he remained for eight years, when he accepted an offer of partnership from the late WilHam Forrest, the oldest principal in New York, whose Collegiate School had for more than forty years enjoyed the highest reputation. After three years Mr. Forrest withdrew, and Prof. Quackenbos became the sole head of this flourishing institution.

Under his management its efficiency and reputation were fully maintained, while its sphere of usefulness was largely extended. Hundreds of young men passed through his hands, and hundreds in every walk of life, commercial and professional, can bear witness to his unremitting care and thorough training. As a teacher he was eminently successful. His discipline was a judicious mixture of the suaviter in modo with the fortiter in re; perhaps his pupils thought at the time that the fortiter was rather in excess. Perfect obedience and hard work were the keynotes to which he sought to attune his school; being on hand early and late, not shrinking from the drudgery of teaching himself, ever ready to explain difficulties, and seeking to establish that personal influence on which the higher success of the educator so largely depends. He has the satisfaction of seeing many of his old scholars satisfactorily filling positions of honor and usefulness; among them we may name Governor Woodford, whom he prepared for college.

Mr. Quackenbos was actively engaged in school duties for about twenty years, by which time his book interests had become so large, and the labors connected therewith so engrossing that he retired from teaching, and has for the last six years confined himself to literary work. Of his labors in this department, on which his reputation principally rests, it is time we should speak. A taste for literature led Mr. Quackenbos at an early age to become a contributor to various magazines and newspapers, and in 1848 he projected a weekly paper, the "Literary American," which, after he had conducted it for two years, became merged in a musical paper, the " Message Bird." He subsequently formed for short periods other editorial connections, and in 1853, during the Crystal Palace Exposition, was the regular New York contributor of no less than 24 daily and weekly newspapers in different parts of the country—all this, it will be remembered, while he was at hard work from six to seven hours a day in the school room.

An iron constitution has enabled him, throughout his life, to endure a strain which would have proved fatal to men of ordinary strength. We heard him remark, a short time since, that he had been confined to bed by sickness but one day within the last thirty-five years. But it is his school books that have made Professor Quackenbos known throughout the length and breadth of the land. The earliest of these was his "First Lessons in Composition," published in 1851. It was suggested by the difficulty which he found in teaching his scholars to make a practical use of their lessons in grammar, in enabling them by the systems then in vogue to express themselves fluently and elegantly, and acquire such readiness in composition as is necessary to every one in the business of life. He saw that there was something more needed than the old-fashioned parsing and analysis, and sought to infuse life into the dry bones of etymology and syntax.

Instead of taking apart, he taught the learner in this book to build up; without referring to the technical details of grammar, he led the youthful beginner unconsciously to a familiar acquaintance with its practical applications. This little book was, in fact, the germ of the "Language Lessons" of the present day. It had a remarkable success; it clothed with interest what had before been dry ana repulsive; it taught how to speak and write correctly, as no grammar had done. It was at once largely introduced, and, despite several close imitations of it (even in title) by subsequent authors, it has maintained its place in the schools, and is probably used at the present day more largely than all other text books on composition put together. More than 400,000 copies have been printed. As a further evidence of its popularity, we may add that it was reprinted in the Confederate states during the late war.

The unprecedented success of this first book led to the preparation of the "Advanced Course of Composition and Rhetoric" in 1854. This was a manual of academic or collegiate grade, in which it was aimed to present a variety of subjects, all connected and having a common bearing on the mastery of our language, but which, as usually treated of in a number of different text books, were apt, amid the multiplicity of academic studies, to a greater or less extent to be neglected.

Before the appearance of Quackenbos's Rhetoric there was no single volume from which the learner could get an insight into the origin and peculiar characteristics of our language, taste the pleasures of the imagination, style, criticism and figures; together with practical instruction in punctuation and the niceties of composition. Here was a book that contained the substance of Blair, Kames, Burke, Akenside, Addison and other standards, condensed in a reasonable space and brought down to the level of the dullest comprehension. It met a want, and its success was immediate and permanent. With such a text book, rhetoric could be made an attractive as well as useful study; and many institutions in which it had before been unknown introduced it as a regular branch of their curriculum. A general call from parties who used the "First Lessons" and "Rhetoric" induced the author to compile his comprehensive work on " English Grammar " (1862), and "First Book in Grammar" (1864).

These books have been very generally commended for their terseness of rule and definition, their fullness of illustration, their simple and natural treatment of the subject, their explanations of perplexing constructions, their saving of labor to the teacher, and their remarkable adaptation to the class room. They completed the series on language.

Meanwhile, Professor Quackenbos had been engaged by the Messrs. Appleton to edit the Paris edition of Spiers's French Dictionary. This great work (1,300 pages octavo) cost him sixteen months of the severest labor. There was need of despatch, for an American edition of the same book had also been advertised by another house, and its editorial care intrusted to Dr. Anthon, whose unflagging industry and capacity for brain work were proverbial. It may well be supposed that Mr. Quackenbos felt some trepidation in being thus pitted against the eminent scholar who for seven years in school and college he had reverenced as his teacher ; but he went at the work with an energy that insured success, distancing his competitor so far in point of time that on the appearance of his edition the rival house, finding the market forestalled, abandoned the enterprise and destroyed the plates that had been made. (Dr. Anthon is himself the authority for this statement.) From sixteen to eighteen hours' labor a day was no uncommon thing with Mr. Quackenbos, while this work was going through the press. Spiers's book was thoroughly corrected, the pronunciation was added, a number of new features were introduced, with numerous phrases and idioms, and 4,000 French words gleaned from general literature or belonging to scientific nomenclature. Quackenbos's addition of Spiers has remained to this day the standard French Dictionary.

We have little space left in which to speak of the remaining books of our author. There are few, we imagine, to whom they are not well known. His United States Histories, so different from the dry compilations, whose name is legion, have charmed many a class, and done much to promote a taste for general historical reading among the young. Professor Clifford thus happily hits off their distinctive feature : " Mr. Quackenbos," he says, "selects the prominent points, and weaves them into an easy narrative that attracts the young mind with much of the charm of a fairy tale or of Robinson Crusoe; yet in no instance does he violate historical truths to add zest to the story."

A Natural Philosophy appeared from Mr. Quackenbos's pen in 1859. His latest works are the Arithmetics of Appletons' Mathematical Course. These books are marked by the same merits and have met with the same success as their predecessors. They take nothing for granted, proceed inductively by gradual advances from what is known to what is unknown, and show even to the casual examiner that they are the work of one who has studied the youthful mind, and knows how to remove difficulties that are likely to be its stumbling block.

In connection with Quackenbos's school books two things are noticeable: 1. That they have all been successful— he has never made a miss; 2. That they cover a wide range of subjects. This by no means implies a wonderful versatility or variety of accomplishment in their author, but simply that he understands how to make a good school book. The same characteristics of mind, the same qualities of style, the same knowledge of what is needed in the school room, that enabled him to prepare a good rhetoric, have also enabled him to produce good histories and good arithmetics. The making of school books, as the " Methodist Quarterly Review " once remarked, is his proper vocation.

An interesting incident which occurred two winters since is worthy of narration. At a reception given to Professor Tyndall, a mutual friend introduced Mr. Quackenbos to Mori, the Japanese Minister. "What name? What name did you say? " asked Mori, as he heard the Dutch patronymic of our friend. It was repeated. " Ah! " exclaimed Mori, "that is a name well known in Japan." Mr. Quackenbos was naturally curious to to learn the meaning of this remark; and on inquiry it appeared that several of his different text books had found their way to "the sunrise kingdom" with the first Japanese ambassadors that had visited this country, had there been translated by an eminent native educator, and were used as manuals in the government schools.

We omitted to say that Mr. Quackenbos received the degree of L.L.D. from Wesleyan University—a fitting honor to one who in the amount of literary labor performed has been surpassed by few men of his years. We have not been able to gather many incidents worth recording in his career, for he has led the quiet, uneventful life of a student; but he certainly has cause to look back with satisfaction on his labors in the cause of education. The results he has achieved show how much can be accomplished by a rigid economy of time and a determined purpose to make the most of every moment. (From Appleton's " Educational Notes," August, 1881).

George Payn Quackenbos died July 24, 1881. The immediate cause of his death was disease of the heart, from which he had been suffering for some time, but doubtless his death was hastened by the shock resulting from a painful accident with which he met at New London earlier in the month, when he was thrown from his carriage, causing a fracture of the leg and other severe injuries.

After his passing, his son, John Duncan Quackenbos picked up the torch of updating and writing more school books.

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