Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Notes from the Special Collections



AUGUST FIRST of this year marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of George Ticknor 1807, first professor of modern languages at Harvard College, writer, and co-founder of the Boston Public Library. Ticknor graduated from Dartmouth at the age of sixteen, following which he extended his studies in Latin and Greek with a private tutor. At the same time he read law and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1813. Finding the law not suitable to his temperament and desiring to further his studies of the classics, he decided to visit Europe to pursue his learning at an institution that could provide more advanced teaching than that which could be provided in America. With his friend and fellow Bostonian Edward Everett, who later was to become one of America's most famous orators, he enrolled at the University of Göttingen where Ticknor remained nearly two years, followed by another two years touring western Europe and meeting statesmen, scientists, writers, and other persons of learning. During Ticknor's stay at Göttingen he was offered the position of a newly-created professorship in French and Spanish at Harvard College. Ticknor spent several months during 1818 in Spain in preparation for the position. He resigned in 1835 and was succeeded by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 1821 George Ticknor married Anna Eliot, a daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant. With money received from her father and George's own inheritance, the Ticknors were able to live a life of comfort and elegance. During the next several years, Ticknor was identified with many Boston institutions, among which were the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Boston Primary School Board, and the Boston Public Library. Of note to Dartmouth readers is that Ticknor was appointed to the Board of Visitors to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where his Dartmouth classmate Sylvanus Thayer was superintendent.

Following Ticknor's resignation from Harvard College, the Ticknors spent the next three years travelling in Europe. Upon their return Ticknor began work on his three-volume History of Spanish Literature, utilizing advice from his friend the historian William Hickling Prescott and his own personal library of Spanish literature that he had methodically built up over the years. In addition to Ticknor's Spanish and Portuguese library, he amassed a scholar's library of American, English, French, German, Italian, and classical literatures. These collections, exclusive of the Spanish and Portuguese books, were given to the Dartmouth College Library in 1943 through the bequest of William Dexter, a great-grandson of George and Anna Ticknor, and a year later an additional donation of books was made by Rose Linzee Dexter, all totalling over 5,000 volumes. The Spanish and Portuguese books had been given previously to the Boston Public Library.

With the books bequeathed to the Dartmouth College Library were 1,200 manuscript letters from distinguished European and American friends and acquaintances as well as letters written by well-known persons from earlier times in history. Also included were over thirty volumes of manuscript notes including two sets of journals from Ticknor's 1815 and 1835 European trips. In addition there are eight volumes of journals written by Mrs. Ticknor regarding the tour in 1835. Furniture and art work from the Ticknor library at his home on Park Street, at the head of Boston Common and across the street from the State House, were subsequently donated to Dartmouth by the family of William Dexter. There are two handsome portraits of Ticknor, one painted in 1828 by Thomas Sully and the other by G.P.A. Healy in 1848.

In the March 1944 issue of the first series of the Dartmouth College Library Bulletin is a folksy two-page report on the gift of the George Ticknor library to Dartmouth. The writer ended his account by stating: 'It is our plan sometime to provide a room of space and dignity to house this bequest. Against this background of the library of a great Dartmouth scholar it should be possible to suggest to future undergraduates the meaning and rewards of the scholarly attitude, the value of reading and study.'

The College did carry out that plan in 1964 with funds provided by Thomas W. Streeter 1904. The George Ticknor Room is on the second floor of Baker Library and contains the portraits and the furniture, including a handsome mantelpiece. Here are located many of the books from the Ticknor library. A number of volumes are inscribed to Ticknor and Mrs. Ticknor by such writers as Wordsworth, Byron, Thackeray, Holmes, Dana, and Longfellow. Also included is a signed poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning entitled 'The House of Clouds' laid in a copy of Prometheus Bound.

For the researcher, there are the journals of the Ticknors' European trips, which have been microfilmed, and a published annotated guide to the microfilm edited by Steven Allaback and Alexander Medlicott Jr. is available. A biography entitled George Ticknor and the Boston Brahmins by David B. Tyack contains thirteen pages of bibliography. Among other published works on Ticknor are Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor in two volumes and Ticknor's Life of William Hickling Prescott, which Tyack describes in part as 'a useful source for Ticknor's ideas about the role of the scholar in America.' 1

George Ticknor may have gone to Dartmouth instead of Harvard because his father Elisha Ticknor 1783 became a preceptor at Moor's Indian Charity School for three years under President John Wheelock, to whom Elisha Ticknor may have felt a certain loyalty. Too, George's half-sister was Mrs. William Woodward, wife of the Dartmouth College treasurer, with whom George would room. Perhaps religiosity may have had a hand in it-Calvinist Dartmouth versus Unitarian Harvard.

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The following letter by Elisha Ticknor was written when his son was fourteen years old. The original manuscript is in Special Collections (MS 805374).

Boston, 24 June, Sunday Eve, 1805

Dear Sir,
My little son I hope will be the bearer of this. He leaves me tomorrow morning with a view of placing himself under your parental care and instruction. I expect to follow him in a few days on a visit to Hanover, where I hope to have an opportunity to converse with you particularly as to him and his future studies. Till I arrive I wish him to relax a little from study as he has been very attentive since he left College last fall.

Dctr Dexter, Mr Bingham and myself have made some exertion and have received several small donations of Books for the College. They are contained in two boxes, which Mr Underwood, a teamster, has agreed to convey to you in the month of August, at the rate of 15 /pr C. Groce.

In the mean time, please accept Mrs Ticknor's and my love and compliments and make the same agreeable to your good Lady, and, believe me to be,

Dear Sir,
Your most obedient,
Humble servant,
(signed) Elisha Ticknor.


1. (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1967), 251. Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor was first published in Boston by James R. Osgood & Company in 1876 and appeared the same year in London. Ticknor's Life of William Hickling Prescott was first published in Boston by Ticknor and Fields in 1864.