Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 30. George Perkins Marsh

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXV. Scholars

§ 30. George Perkins Marsh

The first of this group seems to have been George Perkins Marsh (1801–82). At Dartmouth College he read Latin and Greek far beyond the requirements of the curriculum, and taught himself to read fluently French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. He then turned to the Scandinavian languages; from 1832 onward kept up a correspondence “indifferently in English and Danish” with C. C. Rafn of Copenhagen; and in 1838 printed an Icelandic grammar. His appointment in 1849 as minister to Turkey enabled him to travel extensively, and nourished still further his somewhat exotic powers. In 1852 he went to Athens as special minister to Greece. It was in 1858–59 that he delivered at Columbia College, as one of the “Post-graduate” courses of instruction (organized 1858), his Lectures on the English Language. Of the thirty lectures, seven deal with the sources, composition, and vocabulary of the language, six with parts of speech and grammatical inflections, three with English as affected by the art of printing, three with rhyme, alliteration, and assonance, and others with pronunciation, synonyms, the principles of translation, the English Bible, corruptions of English, and the English Language in America. Marsh’s Lowell Institute lectures of 1860–61, The Origin and History of the English Language (1862), were much more distinctly historical. They come down chronologically from “Origin and Composition of the Anglo-Saxon People and Their Language” to “The English Language and Literature during the Reign of Elizabeth.” Marsh’s last and greatest foreign venture was his mission as our first minister to the Kingdom of Italy, to which he was appointed by Lincoln in 1861. He died in Italy. Marsh was an early and frequent contributor to The Nation; prepared a number of articles, chiefly on Spanish, Catalan, and Italian literature, for Johnson’s Cyclopædia; and wrote monographs on The Camel (1856) and on Man and Nature (1865; afterwards issued as The Earth as Modified by Human Action, 1874). His philological work is spoken of with respect by the other members of the group, even by Fitzedward Hall.