The First Greek Book by John Williams White

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The death, on May 9, of John Williams White, professor of Greek in Harvard University, touches a large number of classical workers who have come into relations with him through his teaching or his writings, and concerns many a student, past or present, who may not have known his name, or a word of the language and literature which he professed. For the interest in Roman private life and Roman archaeology which so largely governs the teaching of Latin today is the result of a movement in the Greek field in which he played a large part. He was the first chairman of the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, of which the corresponding school in Rome was the natural follower. He was an active and controlling worker in the American Institute of Archaeology, which of course covered the Roman field as well as the Greek. In particular, he gave the first methodical course in Greek private life in this country, illustrating it with the lantern; and he thereby set the model for the courses in Roman private life which presently were given in various institutions.

John Williams White was born in Cincinnati, March 5, 1849. He was graduated from the Ohio Wesleyan College, Delaware, Ohio, at the age of nineteen. Three years later, in 1871, he received the degree of A.M. from his Alma Mater. In this same year began his long and happy married life. In 1874 he was appointed tutor in Greek at Harvard. In 1877 he received the degree of Ph.D. from Harvard and was appointed assistant professor. In 1884 he became full professor. He retired in 1909, not for rest, but for unbroken work.

Recognition came to him in many forms, among which were the degree of LL.D. from Wesleyan and Ohio Wesleyan, and the degree of Litt.D. from both the English and the American Cambridge.

His thirty-five years of service at Harvard were spent in activities both varied and strenuous. From the beginning he threw himself ardently into teaching, and with singular success. His animated manner, which was the natural expression of a vigorous mind, itself deeply interested, commanded the interest of his students. Hence, while he exacted a great deal of work, he always had large classes-a fact which added much to the staying power of Greek studies at Harvard in the face of adverse influences. He also entered into personal relations with many of his students, making them welcome guests at his house; and out of not a few of the acquaintances thus formed grew enduring friendships.

He came into large contact with another aspect of college life, as chairman for many years of the athletic board at Harvard. For this work he was especially qualified by his quick sympathy with youth (perhaps one should say, his own unquenchable youthfulness) and his personal interest in many sports. He was a formidable tennis player, a lover of the life of the woods, and a skilful hunter and fisherman.

His dissertation for the doctorate was upon a syntactical subject. But his permanent interests proved to be literary and archaeological. The latter have already been mentioned. The former ranged from an excellent book for beginners in Greek, through college textbooks, to such volumes of monumental power as The Verse of Greek Comedy (London, 1912), and The Scholia upon the Aves of Aristophanes (London, 1914). These last two books belong to a projected great edition of Aristophanes for which he had made elaborate collections of manuscript and other materials, and to which he had long been giving all his energies and all his hours.

He had met an earlier malady of the gravest character with incomparable courage and decision, and, as it proved, with complete success. He had every reason to hope for years of unchecked activity. But, aside from the cutting short of the work which would have been the crowning achievement of his life, the manner of his death was that for which he had prayed. The name of the illness, angina pectoris, carries grim associations. But in his case there had been but slight indications, and the actual passage from life, coming in the course of an ordinary forenoon and with no warning, was made with such swiftness as to bring to his face only the expression of painless calm. WILLIAM GARDNER HALE, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO 

In Memoriam: John Williams White
by William Gardner Hale

The Classical Journal Vol. 12, No. 9 (Jun., 1917), pp. 585-587


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