Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Carpenter, Lant
CARPENTER, LANT, LL.D. (1780–1840), unitarian divine, born at Kidderminster on 2 Sept. 1780, was the third son of George Carpenter (d. 12 Feb. 1839, aged ninety-one), carpet manufacturer, by his wife, Mary Hooke (d. 21 March 1835, aged eighty-three). Ann Lant was the maiden name of George Carpenter's mother. George Carpenter failed in business, and removed from Kidderminster, but Lant was left behind with his mother's guardian, Nicholas Pearsall, who adopted him, with a view to his becoming a minister. Pearsall was a strong unitarian, of much benevolence. He sent him to school, first under Benjamin Carpenter at Stourbridge, and then under William Blake (1730–1799) [q. v.] at the school of Pearsall's own founding in Kidderminster. In 1797 Carpenter entered the dissenting academy at Northampton under John Horsey, and was ranked in the second year of the five years' course. The Northampton academy was the immediate successor of that at Daventry, from which Belsham had retired on adopting unitarian views. Horsey was moderately orthodox, the classical tutor was a polemical Calvinist from Scotland. The arrangement did not work, the minds of the students became unsettled, and the trustees in 1798 abruptly closed the academy. In October of that year Carpenter with two fellow-students entered Glasgow College as exhibitioners under Dr. Williams's trust. His studies there, interrupted at the outset by an attack of rheumatic fever, lasted till 1801. He took the arts course (but did not graduate), adding chemistry and anatomy, for he had a scientific turn, and at one time thought of combining the duties of a physician and a dissenting minister. Divinity he studied for himself, especially during the vacations. Circumstances prevented his continuing at Glasgow for the divinity course. He now thought of schoolkeeping as an adjunct to the ministry (he had already entered the pulpit), and in September 1801 he became assistant in the school of his connection Rev. John Corrie, at Birch's Green, near Birmingham. Next year he supplied for a time the pulpit of the New meeting, Birmingham, vacant by the resignation of John Edwards, but soon accepted the offer of a librarianship at the Liverpool Athenæum. This situation he held from the end of 1802 till March 1805, conducting at the same time advanced classes for young ladies, and occasionally preaching. He declined overtures from congregations at Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds, Ormskirk, and Dudley, and an invitation (in 1803) to become literary tutor at Manchester College, York (this invitation was renewed in 1807, and again declined). On 9 Jan. 1805 he accepted a co-pastorate at George's meeting, Exeter, as colleague with James Manning, in succession to Timothy Kenrick. Manning was an Arian; Kenrick had been a humanitarian, and this was now Carpenter's standpoint. In philosophy he was a determinist, and an especial admirer of Hartley. At Exeter (where he soon married) Carpenter undertook an extensive pastorate and the cares of a boarding school with an unfailing fervour, method, and success, which were marvellous, considering his far from robust health. He brought out in 1806 a popular manual of New Testament geography. Applying to Glasgow in 1806 for the degree of M.A. by special grace, he was at once made LL.D. In August 1807 the temporary loss of his voice led him to send in his resignation; his congregation in reply gave him a year's freedom from pulpit work, and his colleague undertook the double duty. He employed his leisure in founding and managing a public library. His return to the pulpit in 1808 was followed by a controversy, in which his chief opponent was Daniel Veysie, B.D. In 1810 the congregation of the Mint meeting amalgamated with that of George's meeting; the Mint meeting trustees in 1812 wanted to place an organ in George's meeting, and this was done, not without considerable opposition. In 1813 Carpenter declined a pressing invitation to become colleague with John Yates at Paradise Street Chapel, Liverpool (overtures from the same congregation were made to him in 1823). Another doctrinal controversy in which he had a share in 1814 was summed up in an epigram by Caleb Colton (‘Lacon,’ 1822, ii. 720). He remained at Exeter till 1817, taking an increasing part in public questions, especially the agitation for the Roman catholic claims in 1813. In view of the approaching retirement of John Prior Estlin, LL.D., Carpenter was invited (28 Aug. 1816) to Lewin's Mead Chapel, Bristol, as colleague to John Rowe. The Exeter people made every effort to retain him, but in the summer of 1817 he removed to Bristol. The congregation was large and wealthy [for its earlier history see Bury, Samuel], but had lost cohesion. Carpenter drew its various elements together, developed its religious and philanthropic life, and gave it a hold upon the neglected classes of society. On the resignation of Rowe in 1832, Carpenter obtained as colleague (after a short interval) Robert Brook Aspland, M.A. [q. v.]; in 1837, the year following Aspland's removal, his place was filled by George Armstrong, B.A., a seceder from the church of Ireland. Carpenter did much to widen the spirit of his denomination. With one exception, the earlier unitarian tract and mission societies had been fortified with a preamble branding trinitarianism as ‘idolatrous’ and so limiting the unitarian name as to exclude Arians. As early as 1811, Carpenter endeavoured to expunge the preamble from the rules of the Western Unitarian Society; it took him twenty years to effect this change. But in 1825 three older metropolitan societies were amalgamated into the existing British and Foreign Unitarian Association, and to Carpenter is mainly due the disappearance from its constitution of the restrictive preamble. His polemical publications in reply to Magee and others were commended for their mildness by orthodox critics; for that very reason, perhaps, though able works, few of them were much read. Just before his arrival in Bristol, J. E. Stock, M.D., long a zealous convert to unitarianism (he had drafted the invitation to Carpenter), seceded to the Calvinistic baptists. Soon after this, Charles Abraham Elton, the well-known classical scholar, became a convert, and produced ‘Unitarianism Unassailable,’ and similar publications; but in a few years he published his ‘Second Thoughts’ and rejoined the established church. In 1822 Samuel Charles Fripp, B.A., a clergyman residing at Bristol, who had been a curate in Kent, announced his unitarianism from the Lewin's Mead pulpit, and remained steadfast to his new connections. Of Carpenter's own catechumens a considerable number, including some of his favourite pupils, ultimately joined the church of England. Many of the sterner unitarians regarded his influence as too evangelical. Much independence characterised his views; the rite of baptism he rejected altogether as a superstition, substituting a form of infant dedication. In 1833 the Rajah Rammohun Roy, in whose monotheistic movement Carpenter was strongly interested, visited Bristol, but only to die. Carpenter preached his funeral sermon (afterwards published, with a memoir). He had given up his school in the spring of 1829. Of Carpenter as a schoolmaster there are two sketches by James Martineau, his pupil, and for a time his locum tenens (Memoirs, p. 342; Life of Mary Carpenter, p. 9). No master was ever more adored by his scholars, or more effective in the discipline of character. Bowring says: ‘For many a year I deemed him the wisest and greatest of men, as he certainly was one of the best.’ ‘Christopher North’ (who had been his fellow-student at Glasgow), when appointed in 1820 to the moral philosophy chair at Edinburgh, consulted him about the plan of his lectures and the literature of the subject (see his reply, Memoirs, p. 255). Carpenter is caricatured in Harriet Martineau's ‘Autobiography,’ 1877, vol. i. Till 1836 he took a leading part in all public work in Bristol, acting in politics as an independent liberal, and devoting much time to the encouragement of physical science. He was one of the chief organisers of the Bristol Literary and Philosophical Institution in 1822. By 1839 his constitution was completely exhausted under his unsparing labours. He left home on 22 July and was recommended by London physicians to travel. Accompanied by Freeman, a medical adviser, he went on the continent, but his health did not revive. He was drowned on the night of 5 April 1840 while going by steamer from Leghorn to Marseilles. He was not missed till morning, and it is supposed that he was washed overboard. His body was cast ashore near Porto d'Anzio, about two months afterwards, and was buried on the beach. He married on 25 Dec. 1805 Anna (d. 19 June 1856), daughter of James Penn of Kidderminster, and had six children, of whom the eldest was Mary [q. v.], the fourth William Benjamin [q. v.], and the youngest Philip Pearsall [q. v.] His remaining son is Russell Lant, his biographer.
Of Carpenter there is an excellent portrait drawn by Branwhite, and engraved by Woodman, prefixed to his ‘Memoirs;’ but perhaps the best likeness of him is a small porcelain bust by Bentley, published in 1842. Among his publications, which numbered thirty-eight, besides four posthumous works and several contributed articles and works edited by him (see a full list in ‘Memoirs,’ appendix B), the most noteworthy are:
- ‘Unitarianism the Doctrine of the Gospel,’ 1809, 8vo, 3rd edition 1823 (in the form of letters to Veysie).
- ‘Systematic Education,’ 2 vols. 1815, 8vo, 3rd edition 1822 (in conjunction with William Shepherd, LL.D., and Jeremiah Joyce; Carpenter's part includes the mental and moral philosophy).
- ‘An Examination of the Charges made against Unitarians … by the Right Rev. Dr. Magee,’ &c. 1820, 8vo.
- ‘Principles of Education,’ 1820, 8vo (reprinted from Rees's ‘Cyclopædia,’ much commended by the Edgeworths).
- ‘A Harmony, or Synoptical Arrangement of the Gospels,’ &c. 1835, 8vo (the second edition, 1838, 8vo, is dedicated, by permission, to the queen).
- ‘Sermons on Practical Subjects,’ 1840, 8vo (edited by his son; an abridged edition was brought out by Mary Carpenter in 1875).
[Memoirs, by Russell Lant Carpenter (his son), 1842; Memoirs of P. P. Carpenter, Ph.D. 1880 (by the same); family pedigrees are given in privately printed Memorials (1878) of Mary Carpenter (sister of Lant Carpenter); Monthly Repos. 1817, p. 481; Murch's History of Presb. and Gen. Bapt. Churches in West of England, 1835, pp. 117 sq., 409, 564; Christian Reformer, 1842, p. 371; Henderson's Memoir of Rev. G. Armstrong, 1859; Autobiographical Recollections of Sir J. Bowring, 1877, pp. 42–3; private information.]