Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Edward Everett (1794-1865)

Edward Everett was one of America's foremost Hellenists and orators in the nineteenth century. He was elected to the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, became the Governor of Massachusetts, and then Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore, and was a failed vice-presidential candidate in 1860. He also served at President of Harvard University from 1846-1849.

After graduating from Harvard and preaching from the Brattle Street pulpit, he was invited to a professorship of Greek at Harvard, and allowed to study in Germany first, while receiving full salary. It is claimed that he was the first American to receive a Ph.D., which he took from Göttingen in 1817. Ralph Waldo Emerson studied in his classroom at Harvard, and said of him: "There was an influence on the young from the genius of Everett which was almost comparable to that of Pericles in Athens."

While he is clearly an interesting figure in American history for many reasons, it strikes me as remarkable that he had a relationship with both presidents Jefferson and Lincoln. He is well-known for his two-hour speech at Gettysburg which preceded Lincoln's famous address, and corresponded with the president. For Jefferson, he served as a book buyer while in Europe, and corresponded with him also. In one series of letters, when he was 80 years old, Jefferson attempts to argue that Greek did, in fact, possess an ablative case, which was only formally identical to the dative. He finally concedes to Everett, saying, "I acknowledge myself...not an adept in the metaphysical speculations of Grammar. By analyzing too minutely, we often reduce our subject to atoms of which the mind loses its hold."


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