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Himes, Charles Francis.

Life and Times of Judge Thomas Cooper, Jurist, Scientist, Educator, Author, Publicist; Lectures Before the Dickinson School of Law, Carlisle, Pa

Carlisle, PA: Dickinson School of Law, 1918.

Charles Francis Himes had a long and distinguished career as science professor and administrator at his alma mater, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In retirement he pursued other loves, including history and photography. In a set of lectures before the Dickinson School of Law delivered toward the end of his life, Himes combined many of his varied interests with his study of the Life and Times of Judge Thomas Cooper.

Himes believed in 1918 that there had been no adequate biography of Cooper and that the common opinions about him contained many inaccuracies. He held this to be due, in part, to Cooper's abrasive and disputatious personality and the salient fact that most of his personal materials had been destroyed in a South Carolina fire. Through careful study, aided with evidence collected at Dickinson College and through interviews with several aged citizens of the town of Carlisle, Himes was able to lay to rest some deeply ingrained errors about Cooper's life (especially the information held even among his few biographers that he was Joseph Priestley's son-in-law, rather than simply the close friend of the great scientist-in-exile's son).

Himes' biographical sketch of his subject is business-like and comprehensive, and considers Cooper as a scientist throughout. Himes outlines clearly the man's contentious personality, and he is able to use Cooper's own accounts of his various disputes and clashes with the law to great effect. He gives a full account of Cooper's struggle to be accepted in the post of professor at Dickinson and the remarkable tour de force lecture on chemistry he delivered before the trustees and students of the college soon after being sworn in as professor. The interesting details of his social life in Carlisle follow, but, curiously (since he would have had access to college archives), Himes brushes over the disputes with the college's president that contributed to his departing the town in 1815. Thanks largely to Himes' use of Maximilian Laborde's 1857 History of South Carolina College, Cooper's arrival in South Carolina to take up a professorship and later the presidency of the new state university is covered well, from his establishment of departments of Geology and Political Economics to his inevitable conflict with the trustees of the university over his religious views. Himes also notes Cooper's development of more accommodating views on slavery and selective suffrage based on property, as he aged in the American South. Himes posits an examination of his core political beliefs as they were in 1815 with extended reference to Cooper's privately printed pamphlet "A Letter to a Student of Law - July, 1815" in which he lays down a series of crucial readings, from Aristotle, Edward the Confessor, and Milton to Brackenridge, Wolstonecraft, and, of course, himself.

Himes' careful biographical sketch is a useful and approachable introduction to this remarkable and, indeed, often neglected Anglo-American thinker of mercurial brilliance. More complete discussion of his politics, his deism, and his materialism must be searched for elsewhere, but Himes provides both a careful introduction and evidence of the beginnings of the twentieth century re-examination of the life and thought of Thomas Cooper.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.

Page created: August 15, 2003                                            close window