North American Scholar

HUMPHREYS, Milton Wylie

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1844-09-15
  • Born City: Greenbrier Co.
  • Born State/Country: VA (now WV)
  • Parents: Dr. Andrew Cavet & Mary
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1928-11-20
  • Death City: Charlottesville
  • Death State/Country: VA
  • Married: Louise Frances Garland, 3 May 1877.
  • Education:

    A.M. Washington College (now Washington & Lee U.), 1869; study at Berlin, 1872-3; Ph.D. Leipzig, 1874.

  • Professional Experience:

    Tchr., 1865-6; asst. prof, to adj. prof. anc. langs. Washington Coll., 1869-75; prof. Gk. Vanderbilt U., 1875-83; U. Texas, 1883-7; U. Virginia, 1887-1912; pres. APA, 1882-3.

  • Dissertation:

    “Quaestiones metricae: De quibusdam accentus et elisionis momentis in hexametro dactylico et trimetro iambico” (Leipzig, 1874); printed as De accentus momento in versu heroico (Leipzig, 1874).

  • Publications:

    “On Negative Commands in Greek,” TAPA 7 (1876) 46-9; “On Certain Influences of Accent in Latin Iambic Trimeters,” ibid., 107-45; “Influence of Accent in Latin Dactylic Hexameters,” TAPA 9 (1878) 39-58; “Elision, especially in Greek,” ibid., 84-97; “On the Nature of the Caesura,” TAPA 10 (1879) 25-31; “On Certain Effects of Elision,” ibid., 32-60; “A Contribution to Infantile Linguistic,” TAPA 11 (1880) 5-17; “The Fourth Play in the Tetralogy,” AJP 1 (1880) 187-96; “The Agon of Old Comedy,” AJP 8 (1887) 179-206; The Clouds of Aristophanes (Boston, 1888); The Antigone of Sophocles (New York, 1891); “The Equivalence of Rhythmical Bars and Metrical Feet,” TAPA 23 (1892) 157-77; “Hephaestion and Irrationality,” TAPA 46 (1915) 29-33.

  • Notes:

    Milton W. Humphreys was a distinguished professor of Greek at the University of Virginia for 25 years. Born in what is today West Virginia to a devout Presbyterian family, he was the seventh of twelve children in this Scotch-Irish brood. He might never have emerged from his native Greenbrier County if it had not been for the interest of a visiting Presbyterian minister, who saw in young Humphreys the stuff of which clergymen are made. So he was sent to Charleston (VA) for the beginnings of his education, at the hands of another Presbyterian minister. Humphreys always remained a Presbyterian but he never became a minister. His academic career at Washington College was interrupted by the Civil War, in which he served from 1862 until the end as an artilleryman in the Army of Northern Virginia. Following Gen. Robert E. Lee in peace as in war, Humphreys returned to Washington College, graduated first in his class, and stayed on to teach.

    In 1872 Washington & Lee gave Humphreys a leave of absence with half salary to study in Germany. In the winter semester 1872-3 he attended the lectures of Ernst Curtius (1814-96) and Moritz Haupt (1808-74) among others. In the spring of 1873 he moved to the University of Leipzig, then the most distinguished German Ph.D. for men of his generation. Many attended Leipzig and Ph.D.s were gained by Frederic De Forest Allen (1870, Martin L. D'Ooge (1871) J.I. Manatt (1877), and Charles Forster Smith (1881). At Leipzig he studied Greek literature and Old Italian with Georg Curtius (1820-85), comparative syntax of Greek and Latin with Ludwig Lange (1806-76), and Latin grammar, Latin and Greek metrics, and the philological seminar of Friedrich Ritschl, the most eminent Latinist of his period. Humphreys wrote his very large dissertation over the Christmas break of 1873. He was put on a fast track because he was an established professor in the United States, he enjoyed scholarly status, and he suffered from bad health. He has left a detailed account of his study in Germany and of his doctoral examinations in his Autobiography and letters. The large dissertation was declared "epochemachend" and he published portions of it in Germany and later in America. In less than ten years he was elected president of the APA at the age of 38.

    His subsequent career involved appointments at major new universities, Vanderbilt and the University of Texas. If in these twelve years Washington and Lee had offered him a position in Greek, he would gladly have accepted it: he had become a classicist because that is where he sensed his alma mater needed him. Lexington's loss was Charlottesville's gain. Throughout his life he maintained an interest in mathematics, astronomy, ballistics, and botany, along with a preternatural interest in gunnery that led him to contribute frequently to The United States Journal of Artillery. His classical scholarship covered a broad range of interests, but he is best remembered for his metrical work, begun with his dissertation and for his texts and commentaries.

  • Sources:

    Joseph R. Berrigan, “Milton W. Humphreys, an Appalachian Odysseus,” SHR, Special Issue, The Classical Tradition in the South (1977), 27-31; Ollinger Crenshaw & William W. Pusey, III, “An American Classical Scholar in Germany, 1874,” American-German Review 22,6 (1956) 30-33; Ollinger Crenshaw and William W. Pusey, III, "An American Classical Scholar Learns German," MLJ 43, 1 (January 1959) 22-5; Robert H. Webb, DAB 5:377-8; autobiography, letters, and Civil War diary in Alderman Library, U. Virginia.

  • Author: Joseph R. Berrigan