North American Scholar

POPKIN, John Snelling

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  • Date of Birth: 1771-06-19
  • Born City: Boston
  • Born State/Country: MA
  • Parents: John, inspector of customs, & Rebecca Snelling P.
  • Date of Death: 1852-03-02
  • Death City: Cambridge
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Education:

    A.B. Harvard, 1792.

  • Professional Experience:

    Tchr. (Woburn, MA), 1792; priv. tutor, Boston, 1793-4; tutor Gk. Harvard, 1795-8; pastor Federal St. Soc. (Boston), 1799-1802; prof. Gk. Harvard, 1815-26; Eliot prof. Gk., 1826-33.

  • Publications:

    Sacred Poetry (Boston, 1812); A Grammar of the Greek Language with an Appendix Originally Composed for the College-School at Gloucester and Newly Republished with Additions (Cambridge, 1828); Three Lectures on Liberal Education (Cambridge, 1836). Kleine Schriften: A Memorial of the Rev. John Snelling Popkin, D.D., ed. C. C. Felton (Cambridge, 1852).

  • Notes:

    A self-effacing, generous man, tall and physically active, Popkin was thought by some to be the best scholar at Harvard since the Revolution. He became the second Eliot Professor of Greek after the election of Edward Everett to the U.S. Congress. Everett, with his oratorical gifts to Interest, instruct, and amuse, was a difficult act for the reserved and bookish Popkin to follow. He did not care to show off his personality and devoted his classes instead to routine parsing and commentary on the ancient texts, much in the manner of his time. Though his students referred to him affectionately as "Old Pop," he was not a great success in drawing students to the classics. As a scholar he edited the Gloucester Oreek Grammar and Dalzelā€™s Collectanea Graeca. He never married ("I have too much impartial benevolence to narrow down my affections to one") and denied that he had ever told a student seeking a "miss" (remissio orationis) from class, "Ye ask, and ye receive not, because ye ask a-miss": "I have not wit enough; in the next place, I have too much wit, for I mortally hate a pun. Besides, / never allude irreverently to the Scriptures."

  • Sources:

    Biographical Sketch by Felton in A Memorial of the Rev. John Snelling Popkin, D.D.; Harvard U. Archives.

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.