Charles Eliot Norton - Encyclopedia

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Norway House, Keewatin .





York Factory .





Fort Simpson, 41° 51' N. .



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Fort Franklin, 65° 12' N.




NORTON, CHARLES ELIOT (1827-1908), American scholar and man of letters, was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the 16th of November 1827. His father, Andrews Norton (1786-1853) was a Unitarian theologian, and Dexter professor of sacred literature at Harvard; his mother was Catherine Eliot, Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard, being his cousin. Charles Eliot Norton graduated from Harvard in 1846, and started in business with an East Indian trading firm in Boston, for which he travelled to India in 1849. After a tour in Europe, he returned to America in 1851, and thenceforward devoted himself to literature and art.

In 1881 Norton inaugurated the Dante Society, whose first presidents were Longfellow, Lowell and Norton. He translated the Vita Nuova (1860 and 1867) and the Divina Commedia (1891-1892, 2 vols.). After work as secretary to the Loyal Publication Society during the Civil War, he edited from 1864-1868 the North American Review, in association with James Russell Lowell. In 1861 he and Lowell helped Longfellow in his translation of Dante and in the starting of the informal Dante Club. In 1875 he was appointed professor of the history of art at Harvard, a chair which was created for him and which he held until he became emeritus in 1898. The Archaeological Institute of America chose him to be the first president (1879-1890). From 1856 until 1874 Norton spent much time in travel and residence on the continent of Europe and in England, and it was during this period that his friendships began with Carlyle, Ruskin, Edward FitzGerald and Leslie Stephen, an intimacy which did much to bring American and English men of letters into close personal relation. Norton, indeed, had a peculiar genius for friendship, and it is on his personal influence rather than on his literary productions that his claim to remembrance mainly rests. From 1882 onward he confined himself to the study of Dante, his professorial duties, and the editing and publication of the literary memorials of many of his friends. In 1883 came the Letters of Carlyle and Emerson; in 1886, 1887 and 1888, Carlyle's Letters and Reminiscences; in 1894, the Orations and Addresses of George William Curtis and the Letters of Lowell. Norton was also made Ruskin's literary executor, and he wrote various introductions for the American "Brantwood" edition of Ruskin's works. His other publications include Notes of Travel and Study in Italy (1859), and an Historical Study of Church-building in the Middle Ages: Venice, Siena, Florence (1880). He organized exhibitions of the drawings of Turner (1874) and of Ruskin (1879), for which he compiled the catalogues.

He died on the 21st of October 1908 at "Shady-hill," the house where he was born. He bequeathed the more valuable portion of his library to Harvard. In 1862 he had married Miss Susan Sedgwick. He had the degrees of Litt.D. (Cambridge) and D.C.L. (Oxford), as well as the L.H.D. of Columbia and the LL.D. of Harvard and of Yale.

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