Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to CHARLES ELIOT NORTON, dated June 12, 1862.
My dear Sir
I had no very confident expectation of your appointment to the secretaryship of this
Legation, but when the announcement of Mr Clay's preferment
to a second post of that character in a single year reached me, I found that I was
more disappointed than, with my experience in public affairs, I ought to have been.
In spite of probability, Mrs Marsh and I had looked forward with great pleasure to
the possibility of your being officially connected with us, and our regret at the
disappointment is much increased by the intelligence you so kindly communicate of
your expected marriage to a lady, who, we are sure, would
have been a very agreeable addition to our social circle. We shall still hope to see
you in Italy and as Mr Clay, though apparently a well disposed young man, has no
taste, and not a single qualification, for the duties of his position, I do not des-
pair of a change which may still bring you to Turin in his place. It is much to be regretted that the government is so little solicitous for the respectability of its diplomatic service, but I do not know that any former administration since the time of J. Q. Adams has been more so.
I received several copies of your pamphlet on the Translation of B. da Imola's commentary on Dante. I have read it with much interest, & think you have done a very good service to the cause of Italian literature and the fame of its greatest ornament by exposing the imposture. There are at Turin no Dantophilists, though Dante is much read. I have given copies to Mr J. Artoni, who has lived long in America, and may be known to you, to my learned friend Count Miniscalchi of Verona, and to Fraticelli, Padre Giuliani and Vieusseux of Florence. The others I retain to distribute as I find favorable opportunities.
I think it much to be regretted that the Italians study so little the ancient forms
of their language. Old authors, you know, are universally modernized, and I have not
met a single scholar, who could be
brought to admit that the publication of old codices in their original form was a matter of the slightest importance. I should have supposed that a German, like Witte, would have preferred a good literal text, with various readings and notes, to a made-up recension, but I am afraid it will be long before we shall see an edition, which will satisfy those who want the nearest approach to the ipsissima verba of the poet himself.
I am much obliged to you for your favorable opinion of my Wedgwood. I did not know that it was published, and yours is the only notice
I have seen of it. The labor it cost me is greatly disproportioned to the results
arrived at, but I intended it rather as an exercitation in--it would be claiming too
much for it to call it a specimen of-- etymology, than as an
exhibition of definite conclusions. These latter we cannot certainly,
arrive at, but I think the actual biography of words has been sadly neglected, and
that general etymology must in the end, like history, be built up out of the life of
individuals, not constructed à priori from assumed data. My second
course of Lectures on the English Language is half through the press,
& will be published in London and New York in September. It will hardly be
as well received
in England as the first series, because it throws stones at some of the current English , particularly at the theory (which I can only characterize by the epithet applied by a writer in the Saturday Review to the doctrine, as a very "silly" one), that the English language, English literature, and English genius owe nothing to the influence of the Norman-French speech, poetry, and blood.
My latest American dates are a telegram of June 1 in one line, announcing Banks's re- capture of Port-Royal. One thing about this war is clear even to a , ; we have no generalship on our side, unless possibly in the West. McClellan is very severely, and I have no doubt justly, criticized by European militaires, though I am not clear that what they regard as unmitigated imbecility is not a compound of stupidity and treachery. We shall have a European intervention soon, unless the war is immediately terminated. I think France would incline to propose a restoration of the Union upon terms honorable to the North, but the jealousy and malice of the English aristocracy in the state, the church, and the Exchange, will be satisfied with nothing short of the overthrow of our political institutions, and the destruction of every distinctive feature of American civilisation. I still trust that we shall [the follow appears on the top of the page beginning: "Turin June 12 1962"] outlast that most wicked and malignant of modern political societies, the British government, and that the world is not to lose the benefit of the example we have given it. I venture to offer to Norton, as well as to your mother, your sisters and self the congratulations and kind wishes of Mrs Marsh and of
yours trulyG. P. MarshC E Norton Esq
References in this letter:
Green Clay, of Kentucky, 21 years old when appointed, was Marsh's Secretary of Legation from 1862 to 1868.
Norton married Susan Ridley Sedgwick in May 1862.
In A review of a translation into Italian of the commentary by Benvenuto da Imola on the Divina commedia, 1861, Norton pronounced the translation by Giovanni Tamburini "worse than worthless."
Joseph Artoni, an Italian who had spent twenty years in Philadelphia, served Marsh as his private secretary for two decades.
Several books by Count Francesco Miniscalchi-Erizzo are in Marsh's library.
Pietro Fraticelli published Storia della vita di Dante Alighieri in Florence in 1861.
Giambattista Giuliani (1818-1884), an Italian philologist, was also well known as a Dante scholar.
Giovanni Pietro Vieusseux (1779-1863).
Karl Witte (1800-1883), a German jurist and Dante scholar, published a critical edition of Dante's Divine Comedy in 1862.
A Dictionary of English Etymology, by Hensleigh Wedgwood, Vol. 1 (A-D); with notes and additions by George Perkins Marsh, 1862.
Marsh's The Origin and History of the English Language, and of the Early Literature It Embodies, was published in 1862; a revised edition appeared in 1885.
Lectures on the English Language, 1860; revised and enlarged edition 1861.
Contrary to the report Marsh cites, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks lost Front Royal (not Port Royal) at the head of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to the Confederates May 23, 1862.
General George B. McClellan was commander of the Army of the Potomac from August 1861 to November 1862 before being raised to general in chief of all the Union armies.