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

XXV. Scholars

§ 37. Francis Andrew March

Fowler by his teaching and Webster through his writings are said to have “exercised a dominant influence” on the mind of Francis Andrew March (1825–1911), a graduate of Amherst and after 1855 a professor at Lafayette College. March there taught Latin and Greek, French and German, botany, law, political economy, “mental philosophy,” and the Constitution of the United States—all this as professor of the English Language and Comparative Philology. “Teaching English classics like the Greek and Latin” became his characteristic. As English gradually gained a place in the curriculum beside the ancient classics or in their stead, it was challenged to furnish an equivalent discipline. For this process March’s method was admirably fitted. It is fully set forth in his Method of Philological Study of the English Language (1865), which is modelled upon the Method of Classical Study (1861) by Samuel Harvey Taylor, principal of Phillips Andover Academy. These books gave a minimum of text and a maximum of questions and notes on grammar, syntax, and etymology. As a classical scholar himself, March undertook the general editorship (1874–77) of the Douglass Series of Christian Greek and Latin writers, in which the two principal volumes were March’s Latin Hymns and Gildersleeve’s Justin Martyr.

March’s chief work, however, lay in English philology. His Comparative Grammar of the Anglo-Saxon Language (1870) was the first attempt anywhere to concentrate upon Old English the results of general Indo-European linguistic study. It focusses upon the illustration of Old English forms a collection of the forms of “Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Gothic, Old Saxon, Old Friesic, Old Norse, and Old High German.” According to a competent critic “the Grammar ‘marked an epoch,’” and “revealed the author’s full stature as a commanding figure in the world of philological scholarship.” March was “controlled by the noblest philosophic conception of the science of grammar”—the conception that the “facts and laws of language are seen to be facts and laws of mind and of the history of man.” He was profoundly interested in spelling reform, which he actively urged upon both the learned and the unlearned. His work in lexicography is also notable. For several years he co-operated with the Oxford Dictionary by selecting and directing its American readers (1879–82). As consulting editor he planned the Standard Dictionary (1890–95). The Thesaurus Dictionary of the English Language (1902), said to have been “prepared under the supervision of Francis Andrew March,” is really a recension of Roget, for which March “did little more than read printers’ proofs and contribute a ‘Foreword.’”