North American Scholar

COMFORT, George Fisk

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1833-09-20
  • Born City: Berkshire, Tomkins County,
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Parents: The Rev. Silas, minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, & Electra Smith C.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1910-05-05
  • Death City: Syracuse
  • Death State/Country: NY
  • Married: Anna Manning, M.D., January 19,1871.
  • Education:

    Four years' study of the sciences, modern languages, music and art; A.B. Wesleyan U. (CT), 1857; study of fine arts and archaeology at Berlin, 1860-5; study & travel in Europe and Asia, 1879, 1887, 1891; L.H.D., U. of the State of New York, 1888; L.L.D., Syracuse, 1892;

  • Professional Experience:

    Tchr., natural sciences, drawing, and painting, Amenia & Fort Plain (NY) seminaries; chair, modern languages & prof. aesthetics, Allegheny College (Meadville, PA), 1865-8; lector. Christian archaeology, Drew Theological Seminary (Madison, NJ);  prof. mod. langs. & aesthetics, College of Fine Arts, Syracuse U., 1872-3; dean, 1873-93;pres. Southern College of Fine Arts (La Porte, TX), 18891; organized APA, 1869; secy. 1869-73; founder and trustee, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1869-72; organized Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, 1896; organized Central New York Society of Artists, 1901.

  • Publications:

    Source of Power, or, The Philosophy of Moral Agency, with S. Comfort (New York: printed for the author, 1858); Esthetics in Collegiate Education (n.d.: n.p., 1867); Art Museums in America (Boston: H.O. Houghton, 1870); A Manual of German Conversation to Succeed the German Course (New York: Harper, 1871); German Reader: To Succeed the German Course (New York: Harper, 1871); German Course: Adapted to Use in Colleges, High-Schools, and Academies (New York: Harper, 1871); First Book in German to Precede the German Course (New York: Harper's, 1871); The First German Reader to Succeed the First Book in German (New York: Harper's, 1872); A German Primer: Introductory to the German Series (New York: Harper, 1873); Women's Education and Women's Health: Chiefly in Reply to "Sex in Education," with Anna Manning Comfort (Syracuse: T.W. Dunston, 1874); The Land Troubles in Ireland: A Historical, Political, and Economical Study (Syracuse: J.T. Roberts, 1881); Modern Languages in Education (Syracuse: C.W. Bardeen, 1886); A German Course (New York: Harper, 1886); "Shall the Methodist Episcopal Church Be Divided into Episcopal Districts?" Northern Christian Advocate (February 23 & March 1, 1888) 3-9.

  • Notes:

    George Fisk Comfort was not a classicist: He was a professor of German and the first professor in the country of aesthetics. His great contribution to the classical world is that he and he alone was the founding organizer of the APA. 

    Comfort was the son of an eminent Methodist Episcopalian minister and writer. After graduating from he Cazenovia (NY) Seminary, he spent for years of independent study of art, French and German languages, and the natural sciences. He majored in classics at Wesleyan, and taught drawing and painting as well as the natural sciences in the Amenia and Fort Plain (NY) seminaries. His knowledge and deep love of art and architecture had come mainly through books and Comfort longed to witness storied works of art in person. In 1860 he set off for five years of study in Europe, visiting museums, sites,  and schools of art. He studied at the University of Berlin for two years, both at the University, the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts (Akademie der K√ľnste) and the Royal Library (K√∂nigliche Bibliothek).  He made the acquaintance of numerous celebrities of the art world, Cornelius, Kaulbach, Lepsius, Waagen, Von Ranke, and others who showed him how art appreciation and art history, and art techniques were being taught in Germany.  

    Comfort returned to America in 1865 and assumed a position teaching modern languages at Allegheny College in northwest Pennsylvania. Comfort longed for the sophistication and stimulation of city life and in 1868 became a lecturer on Christian architectures in New Jersey, while he took up residence in New York. There he created a small series of German learning texts based on his teaching at Allegheny. Interaction with the sophisticated and well-to-do society of New York and the interest they showed in art and the classics led to the remarkable year of 1869, when Comfort helped found the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Philological Association. In Europe, Comfort had joined the institutes of archaeology in Rome, Paris, and Berlin,

    In 1872 the newly founded Syracuse University offered him the opportunity to found a College of Fine Arts in the university, which he did, following his experience at the Prussian Arts Academy. The fields of study were music, painting, and architecture taught in theory, history, and practice. The system did not ape the German system, but formed a model fo other such colleges in the United States.  With his long white beard and black kulfi, he made a distinctive figure on campus.

    In 1870, Comfort met his future wife Anna, who was the first female graduate of the New York Medical School, promoter of Women's suffrage, and a prominent gynecologist, who, with her husband wrote a book on the relation of education and health in women. 

  • Sources:

    NatCAB 3:162; WhAm 1:247; David Tatham, "George Fisk Comfort," The Courier (Syracuse University Library Associates) 11,1 (Fall 1973) 3-16.

  • Author: Ward Briggs