North American Scholar

GILDERSLEEVE, Basil Lanneau

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1831-10-23
  • Born City: Charleston
  • Born State/Country: SC
  • Parents: Rev. Benjamin, editor of religious newspapers, & Emma Louisa Lanneau G.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1924-01-09
  • Death City: Baltimore
  • Death State/Country: MD
  • Married: Elizabeth Fisher Colston, 15 Sept. 1866.
  • Education:

    Study at Coll. Charleston, 1844-5; Jefferson Coll. (now Washington & Jefferson), 1845-6; A.B. Princeton, 1849; study at Berlin, 1850-1; Göttingen, 1851-2; Bonn, 1852-3; Ph.D. Göttingen, 1853; LL.D. William & Mary, 1869; Harvard, 1886; Yale, 1901; U. Chicago, 1901; U. Pennsylvania, 1911; D.C.L. U. South (Sewanee), 1884; L.H.D. Princeton, 1899; D. Litt. Cambridge, 1905; Oxford, 1905.

  • Professional Experience:

    Tutor, Wiggins, SC, 1853-4; prof. Gk. U. Virginia, 1856-76; prof. Gk. & Lat., 1862-7; prof. Gk. Johns Hopkins, 1876-1904; Francis White Prof. Gk., 1904-15; pres. APA, 1877-8; 1908-9; founder & ed. AJP, 1880-1920; mem. AAAL, 1908; Barbour-Page lctr. U. Virginia, 1908.

  • Dissertation:

    “De Porphyrii studiis Homericis capitum trias” (Göttingen, 1853).

  • Publications:

    Books: Latin Grammar (New York, 1867; rev. ed. New York, 1872; rev. and enlarged by Gildersleeve and Gonzalez Lodge, New York, 1894); A Latin Exercise-Book (New York, 1871; rev. ed. 1873); The Satires of A. Persius Flaccus (New York, 1875; repr. New York, 1979); A Latin Reader (New York, 1875); A Latin Primer (New York, 1875; rev. ed. Gildersleeve and Chapman Maupin, New York, 1882); Pindar. The Olympian and Pythian Odes (New York, 1885; repr. 1890); Latin Grammar, School Edition, with G. Lodge (New York, 1898); Latin Composition, with G. Lodge (New York, 1899; 2d ed., 1904); Key to Latin Composition, with G. Lodge (New York, 1899; 2d ed., 1904); Syntax of Classical Greek, Part I, with C. W. E. Miller (New York, 1900; repr. Groningen, 1980); Hellas and Hesperia, or The Vitality of Greek Studies in America (New York, 1909); Syntax of Classical Greek Second Part, with C. W. E. Miller (New York, 1911); The Creed of the Old South (Baltimore, 1915). Articles (Collected): Essays and Studies (Baltimore, 1890; New York, 1924); New York, 1968; Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, ed. C. W. E. Miller (Baltimore & London, 1930); The Selected Classical Papers of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, ed. Ward W. Briggs, Jr., APA Am. Class. Stud. 30 (Atlanta, 1992). Articles (Classical): “The Legend of Venus,” Southern Review (Baltimore) 1, 1 (Apr. 1867) 352-82 = E&S 161-205; “Xanthippe and Socrates,” Southern Review (Baltimore) 2, 3 (July 1867) 172-200 = E&S 209-48; “The Emperor Julian,” Southern Review 3 (5) (Jan. 1868) 179-209 = E&S 355-98; “Apollonius of Tyana,” Southern Review 4 (7) (July 94-125 = E&S 251-96; “Lucian,” Southern Review 6 (12) (Oct.1868) 389-426 = E&S 299-351 and re Library of Southern Literature 4:1799-1804; “A Word or Two on Comparative Syntax,” Educational Journal of Virginia 1 (4) (Feb. 1870) 97-101; “The Grammarian's Tools,” University Monthly 2, 2 (Feb. 1872) 36-8; 2, 3 (March 1872) 56-8; 2, 5 (May 1872) 103-5, Part 3 reprinted in Educational Journal of Virginia 3, 9 (July 1872) 333-7; “On the Steps of the Bema: Studies in the Attic Orators,” Southern Magazine (= New Eclectic Magazine) 12-3 (n.s. 5-6) (Apr., May, June, July, Aug., Sept. 1873) 395-404, 559-69, 664-71, 4-22, 129-37, 272-83; “On εἰ with the Future Indicative and ἐάν with the Subjunctive in the Tragic Poets,” TAPA 7 (1876) 5-23; “Contributions to the History of the Articular Infinitive,” TAPA 9 (1878) 5-19; “Encroachments of μή on οὐ in Later Greek,” AJP 1 (1880) 5-57; “On ΠΡΙΝ in the Attic Orators,” AJP 2 (1881) 465-83; “Notes from the Greek Seminary: I. The Articular Infinitive in Xenophon and Plato; II. οὐ μή.” AJP 3 (1882) 193-202, 202-5; “Athena Parthenos,” Harper's New Monthly Magazine 64 (Apr. 1882) 666-74; “Studies in Pindaric Syntax: I. The Conditional Sentence in Pindar; II. On ΑΝ and ΚΕΝ in Pindar; III. Aorist and Imperfect,” AJP 3 (1882) 434-45; 446-55; 4 (1883) 158-65; “ΕΣΤΕ, ΙΝΑ, ΟΠΟΣ, ΟΥ, ΜΗ, ΠΡΙΝ,” Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon, 7th ed. (Oxford, 1882); “Note on the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon,” AJP 3 (1882) 515-6; “Weiske on the Articular Infinitive,” AJP 4 (1883) 241-2; “Symmetry in Pindar,” JHU Circulars no. 25 (Aug. 1883) 138-40; “On the Final Sentence in Greek,” AJP 4 (1883) 416-44; 5 (1884) 53-73; “Friedrich Ritschl,” AJP 5 (1884) 339-55; “The Consecutive Sentence in Greek,” AJP 7 (1886) 161-75; “The Articular Infinitive Again,” AJP 8 (1887) 329-37; “On the Stylistic Effect of the Greek Participle,” AJP 9 (1888) 137-57; “On the Article with Proper Names,” AJP 11 (1890) 483-7; “The Construction of ΤΥΓΧΑΝΩ,” AJP 12 (1891) 76-9; “On εἰ with the Future Indicative, or Statistics and Statistics,” JHU Circulars no. 99 (June 1892) 102-4, repr. AJP 13 (1892) 123-5; “Aristophanes,” “Euripides,” “Hesiod,” et al., Johnson's Universal Cyclopaedia 8 vols. (New York, 1893-7); “My Sixty Days in Greece: I. The Olympic Games, Old and New; II. A Spartan School; III. My Traveling Companions,” Atlantic Monthly 79 (Feb., Mar., May 1897) 199-212, 301-12, 630-41; “Introduction,” in The Histories of Herodotus, trans. Henry Cary (New York, 1899), iii-xviii; “Problems in Greek Syntax,” AJP 23 (1902) 1-27, 121-41, 241-60; repr. Baltimore, 1903; “Temporal Sentences of Limit in Greek,” AJP 24 (1903) 388-407; “Notes on the Evolution of Oratio Obliqua,” AJP 27 (1906) 200-8; “A Syntactician among the Psychologists,” AJP 31 (1910) 74-9; “The Seventh Nemean Revisited,” AJP 31 (1910) 125-53; “Usque recurret MH,” AJP 33 (1912) 447-9; “Paulus Silentiarius,” AJP 38 (1917) 42-72. Articles (Southern): “The Proposed Epitaph for the Monument to Stonewall Jackson,” New Eclectic Magazine 7 (Nov. 1870) 527-30; “The Creed of the Old South,” Atlantic Monthly 69 (Jan. 1892) 75-87; repr. in The Creed of the Old South (Baltimore, 1915; New York, 1979) 7-52, C. D. Morley, Modern Essays Second Series (New York, 1951), 103-21, Library of Southern Literature 4:1804-24; “A Southerner in the Peloponnesian War,” Atlantic Monthly 80 (Sept. 1897) 330-42; repr. in The Creed of the Old South (Baltimore, 1915) 55-103.  

  • Notes:

    Born at the height of Charleston's eminence in American life, Gildersleeve, who could read Greek at age 5, led his life according to values he felt were shared by ancient Greece and the Old South. He graduated from Princeton at the age of 17, desirous of a literary career and under the influence of what he called his “Teutonomania,” a love of German culture, particularly Goethe. He set out for Germany in hopes of writing a novel about his tour of this “holy land.” Other figures of promise were in Germany at this time, W. D. Whitney, F. J. Child, George Martin Lane, and W. W. Goodwin. Though advanced study had been a pretext for going abroad, the young Gildersleeve almost immediately fell under the influence of his great teachers at Berlin, Bonn, and Göttingen, August Böckh, Friedrich Ritschl, F. W. Schneidewin, and Karl Friedrich Hermann, and he was converted into a classicist. He said, “To Germany and the Germans I am indebted for everything professionally, in the way of apparatus and method, and for much, very much, in the way of inspiration.” Having received the finest classical training available on the planet, he returned to a land that scarcely knew how to use him. He declined an offer from Princeton that he considered insulting, and after three years spent as a tutor for a private family and assistant in his father's editorial offices, he was elected the University of Virginia's first professor of Greek, following the wish of Gessner Harrison to divide his professorship of ancient languages. When the Civil War came, Gildersleeve spent summers serving on the staffs of Gens. Fitzhugh Lee (1861 and 1862) and John B. Gordon (1864), then taught in Charlottesville the rest of the year. He also enlisted his pen in the service of the Good Cause, writing some 63 editorials in the Richmond Examiner. Wounded in the leg in September 1864 at Weyer's Cave, near Staunton, Virginia, he bore a limp for the rest of his life and would compare himself to “the lame Spartan schoolmaster Tyrtaeus.” He was taken to a private home outside Charlottesville to recover, and there he was nursed by Eliza Fisher Colston, a daughter of the owner, whom he married and with whom he raised a son and a daughter. In the straitened circumstances of the Reconstruction South, he hoped to make money with a Greek grammar. He had begun a Greek syntax before the war, but later adapted his outline to Latin, and produced his Latin Grammar. Like most grammars written by Americans at the time, it draws heavily on a German model, but the arrangement of the categories is Gildersleeve's, as are the idiomatic translations. Its popularity encouraged Gildersleeve to write his Latin series comprising an exercise book, a primer, and a reader, all aimed at the needs of Southern students. The 1894 revision remained authoritative (and in print) almost a century after its publication. Daniel Coit Gilman sought faculty for the new Johns Hopkins University of which he was president in 1875, Gildersleeve's 20th year at Virginia and the year in which his father died. The chair of Greek had been declined by Goodwin, Lane, and Whitney, each of whom had recommended their German classmate Gildersleeve. Baltimore was essentially a Southern city, Johns Hopkins had stipulated that a number of scholarships would be reserved for Southern students, and Gilman set out to emulate the German model of Gildersleeve's formative postgraduate education. By accepting Gilman's offer as the university's first academic appointment, Gildersleeve enlarged his sphere of influence from the regional to the national and, with the founding of The American Journal of Philology, he demonstrated that American classical scholarship could compete with the European in a number of areas. Gilman sent him into his first classroom with only one instruction: “Radiate.” The first decade of his “second” career was truly extraordinary. He finished his commentary on the Apologies of Justin Martyr and completed his Pindar. He hosted the American Philological Association in Baltimore in 1877 and served as president in 1877-8. In 1880 he founded The American Journal of Philology, which he would edit for the next four decades. When reviewers proved hard to come by, he began a feature ultimately entitled “Brief Mention,” in which he could notice books at whatever length he chose, using them as vehicles for reminiscences, argument, and praise; this was the most popular part of the journal and demonstrated the special combination of erudition and literary élan that made him unique. Read in bulk in Miller's selection, these columns define the ideal philologist. In the same period, he began to gather up his researches from the Virginia period and with the help of the students in his seminar produce a series of scientific articles on Greek grammar in preparation for his Syntax. But this work, coupled with the completion of his Pindar in 1885, seemed to drain him and in his middle 50s, he devoted himself primarily to the needs of his journal. A decade later he wrote two highly regarded articles in the Atlantic, defending and explaining the defense of “civil liberty, not human slavery” in the Civil War.Scholarship, he felt, was certain to be superseded, but teaching was permanent because it ensured the continuance of knowledge and love for the ancient world. He required much of his students, though never so much as of himself, and his favorite authors were the orators and Sophocles. From the need to explain grammatical and literary points to his students, he developed principles and examples that would find their way into his scholarship. Pindar. The Olympian and Pythian Odes approaches the poems much as his teacher Böckh had done, as an evolving text in which the poems form an organic poetry book (“No truth stands alone, and the most effective work is done by those who see all in the one as well as one in the all”). The book is useful today primarily because Gildersleeve dealt with the poems themselves synthetically rather than analytically. Though the Syntax was begun following the Pindar, the deliberate pace of his assistant C. W. E. Miller delayed publication of the first part until 1900. It treated the syntax of the simple sentence in Attic Greek and was noted for the clarity of its arrangement, the abundance of examples, and the lucidity of its explanations. The second part was not published until Gildersleeve was 80. Nevertheless, the three Göttingen Ph.D.s, Gildersleeve, Goodwin, and, slightly later, H. W. Smyth, gave America clear, and as Gildersleeve would have it, natural, superiority in the study of Greek grammar: “No nation is quicker than ours to take in the point of a situation and there is no reason discernible why Americans should not excel in the solution of the most subtle problems of antique manners and politics.” The students called him “Zeus,” and at more than six feet and 200 pounds, with a great white beard, he looked and acted the part. He was always fairly distant from students as from friends and colleagues; yet he tempered his imperial bearing with a gentle self-irony and an attractive avoidance of careerism. He claimed his motto was “grow, not climb,” and in the obscurity of his Virginia days he would quote Ovid Trist. 3.4.25, bene qui latuit bene vixit. His honorary degrees, he said, came too late in his life to swell his head. In his 80s his eyes and ears failed him and he was obliged to retire from active teaching at age 84, though he continued to edit AJP until 1919 and to write sonnets in the darkness and silence that gradually overcame him. He died of a sudden bronchial infection at the age of 92 in Baltimore, and at his own request he was buried in Charlottesville beside his two sons who died in infancy.

  • Sources:

    Autobiographical: “Formative Influences,” The Forum 10 (Feb. 1891) 607-17; “The College in the Forties,” Princeton Alumni Weekly 16, 16 (26 Jan. 1916) 375-9; “A Novice of 1850,” Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine 1 (Nov. 1912) 3-9; “Professorial Types,” The Hopkinsian 1 (1893) 11-18; “Modest Critique of 'A Sketch after Landseer',” Southern Literary Messenger 20 (Feb. 1854) 118-20; “The Hazards of Reviewing,” Nation 101 (8 July 1915) 49-51; “Retrospect,” AJP 25 (1904) 486-90; “An Unspoken Farewell,” privately printed, 1915; “Announcement,” AJP 40 (1919) 451.Other: F. G. Allinson, “Gildersleeve as a Teacher,” Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine (JHAM) 13,2 (Jan. 1925) 132-6; idem, DAB 7:278-82; J.S. Ames, “Professor Gildersleeve and the University,” JHAM 13, 2 (Jan. 1925) 129-32; Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve: An American Classicist, ed. Ward W. Briggs, Jr. & Herbert W. Benario, AJP Monographs 1 (Baltimore & London, 1986); Geraldine Garant, “Basil Gildersleeve, the American Scholar,” M.A. thesis, Vanderbilt, 1942; E. H. Griffin, “Professor Gildersleeve as Friend and Colleague,” JHAM 13, 2 (Jan. 1925) 126-9; Franklin Ross Jones, BDAE, 509-10; C. W. E. Miller, “Gildersleeve the Scholar,” TAPA 56 (1925) xix-xxii, xxviii-xxxii; idem, “Biographical Sketch” in Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, ed. C. W. E. Miller (Baltimore & London, 1930), xxiii-xxx; John Adams Scott, “Gildersleeve the Teacher,” TAPA 56 (1925) xxii-xxviii; Paul Shorey, “Gildersleeve the American Scholar and Gentleman,” JHAM 13, 2 (Jan. 1925) 136-48; W.M. Thornton, “Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve at the University of Virginia,” ibid., 122-6; WhAm 1:454-5.Bibliography: The Selected Classical Papers . . . 326-36; Selections from the Brief Mention .... xxx-liii.Festschrift: Studies in Honor of Basil L. Gildersleeve (Baltimore, 1902). Indices: “Indiculus Syntacticus,” AJP 36 (1915) 481-7; “Index Scoliodro-micus,” with Lawrence H. Baker, AJP 42 (1921) 370-82. Letters: The Letters of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, ed. Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (Baltimore, 1987).Papers: Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins; Edward O. Alderman Library, U. Virginia.

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.