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GEORGE ROGERS HOWELL
AMONG those Albanians who have devoted their time and talents more exclusively to the pursuits of scientific, linguistic and literary research a man who ranks high among American scholars, is Mr. George R. Howell of the state library.
Born in the town of Southampton, Long Island, on the 15th of June, 1833, he passed his boyhood in that interesting locality. The first American ancestor of this name was Edward Howell, of Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire, England, who came with his family to Boston in 1639, and soon after removed to Southampton as one of the earliest settlers of the place. The old stone manor house of Edward Howell is still standing at Marsh Gibbon, and is still inhabited as a residence. We may remark here that Southampton, Long Island, was the first town settled by the English in the state of New York. The parents of Professor Howell were Charles and Mary Rogers Howell, highly respected citizens of Southampton.
Young Howell first attended the district school and then the academy at Southampton, He very early manifested his love for books and a strong desire to gain a knowledge of various languages which he acquired with remarkable facility. After due preparation at the academy he entered the sophomore class in Yale college in 1851, at the age of eighteen. In this excellent and renowned institution, then under the presidency of Theodore D. Woolsey, D. D., assisted by such professors as Silliman, Olmsted and Hadley, he had every facility for making a rapid progress in the wide fields of learning. ,But the natural sciences and the languages always enjoyed the first place in his heart, and when the years of his college life were closed, his proficiency in these studies was far greater than ordinary.
In 1854 he graduated at Yale with honor, and stepped out into the busy world with the proud consciousness of having been a faithful student, and with a laudable ambition of making his mark in literary circles. Turning his collegiate education to some practical use, he now spent several years in teaching in academies, while at the same time he continued in private those studies which were more congenial to him. With his favorite books in hand, the fireside at home was invested to him with quite as much interest as the stirring public scenes of a college life. While he laid the foundation of his learning at old Yale, he afterward continued, as all successful teachers and scholars have done, to build upon that foundation, elevating, strengthening, polishing the superstructure till the whole fabric should be crowned with intellectual glory and stability. In the spring of 1861 Mr. Howell decided upon studying for the ministry, and accordingly, in September of that year, he entered Princeton Theological seminary, from which venerable institution he was graduated in 1864. For about two years he was engaged in ministerial work in western New York. An incident now occurred which turned his attention in the direction of a more purely literary line. The two hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the settlement of Southampton was to be celebrated in 1865, and from the high scholarly reputation that Mr. Howell had already gained he was invited by his townsmen to deliver the address on that occasion at his native place. He consented, and in a most interesting effort, which required no little labor to prepare, he gave, before an interested and delighted audience, a glowing history of Southampton and its noble pioneers. It was so well received that in the following year, at the request of the citizens of the town, it was greatly enlarged and printed under the title of “The Early History of Southampton, Long Island, with Genealogies, N. Y. 1866.” A second edition of this valuable local history was published at Albany in 1887, making an octavo volume of 473 pages. A work of great research, it fully displays the patient, industrious habits of Mr. Howell and reflects no little credit upon his literary taste.
In 1865, on the recommendation of Dr. Macauley, secretary of one of the Presbyterian boards at Philadelphia, he was offered a professorship of Latin or Greek at his option, in a prosperous college in Iowa. His engagements at the time forbade his accepting this offer, and as a further inducement to obtain the aid of his scholarship in the west, the presidency of the same college was then offered. But this, too, he was obliged to decline for the same reason. The nature of the future life work of Mr. Howell seems now to have been clearly indicated, and he appeared to have been unexpectedly led into a position congenial to a scholar, which he has since illustrated with commendable ability and rare devotion. In 1872, at the suggestion of Dr. S. B. Woolworth, he was engaged, on account of his linguistic attainments, to take an office in the state library as assistant librarian, with a view of qualifying himself thoroughly as a successor to Dr. Homes. The state library is an excellent school for the complete development of the qualities of a firstclass librarian. And for sixteen years Mr. Howell has devoted himself with unremitting energy at his post in making himself familiar with the rich treasures of this library, and with its wants and best modes of administration, until he has acquired what comparatively few men possess, a most intimate and general knowledge of books in all departments. Here his earlier study of different languages has been of great utility to him in the classification, cataloguing and arrangement of the ninety-six thousand volumes in the general library. His suggestions with regard to the purchase of suitable or desirable volumes have also been useful in the development of its resources.
During the long period of Dr. Homes’ confinement to his house by sickness, Professor Howell was obliged to perform the duties of both assistant and general librarian; and since the death of Dr. Homes, in November, 1887, he has been the acting librarian of the general library, the duties of which he has most successfully performed.
For more than three years Professor Howell has been the secretary of the Albany institute, in the welfare of which he has taken a deep interest. He has read several able papers on scientific subjects before the institute, some of which have been published in the ” Transactions of the Albany Institute,” including “Linguistic Discussions,” “The Open Polar Sea,” and ” Heraldry in America.” His wide knowledge of existing works of local history and genealogy as well as his general literary and scientific attainments make him especially useful to the readers of the library.
Now in the full vigor of manhood, and with long and varied experience in the pleasing walks of science and literature, he is still following the ” even tenor of his way ” in his chosen profession, whose charms for him are far greater than merely worldly greatness or political power.
On the 18th of August, 1868, Professor Howell married Miss Mary Catherine Seymour, a daughter of Norman and Frances Hale (Metcalf) Seymour of Mount Morris, Livingston county, N. Y. He has one son, Seymour Howell, who in the September of 1888, entered the Freshman class of Harvard university.