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Ferris Greenslet


Centurion, 1909–1959

Full Name Ferris Lowell Greenslet

Born 30 June 1875 in Glens Falls, New York

Died 19 November 1959 in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Buried Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Proposed by Hamilton W. Mabie and Richard Watson Gilder

Elected 3 April 1909 at age thirty-three

Century Memorial

It is not usual for a man to be successful as editor and author at the same time—although many try. Writers commonly use an editorial position as a stepping stone to author ship, but then their eagerness to write persuades them to steal time away from editing. Sometimes, too, they become frustrated by being forced to deal with the creations of others instead of focusing on their own masterpieces.

Ferris Greenslet was an exception to the rule. While he was associate editor of the Atlantic Monthly, he produced biographies of James Russell Lowell and Walter Pater and The Quest of the Holy Grail. Then, during a long, distinguished career with Houghton, Mifflin and Company, he wrote a life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich and an autobiography entitled Under the Bridge. The Practical Cogitator, on which he collaborated with Centurion Charles Curtis, set the pattern for Curtis’s later A Commonplace Book. During this time he moved from literary adviser of the publishing house to director, general manager of the trade department, and vice-president.

Greenslet was born in Glens Falls, New York, in 1875. He took his bachelor’s and master’s degree at Wesleyan University in 1898, his Ph.D. at Columbia in 1900, and his Doctorate of Letters at Dartmouth in 1924. Meanwhile he was with the Atlantic from 1902 to 1907 and then began his career in book publishing. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. Greenslet’s autobiography, Under the Bridge, reveals a habit of mind that many of us take tranquilizers to attain. For he is unafraid of digression, unashamed of leisurely thought. In the Preface to The Practical Cogitator, he and his collaborator, Charles Curtis, carried on a brief dialogue in verse that suggests a happy environment for thinking:

Ferris, this fumbling through other minds

Has made me thirsty.

Tell me where one finds

A place where you and I can sit,

And slake the dust of other people’s wit.

To which, Ferris replies:

Charles, I know a tavern not far distant

Where we can sit and talk o’er wine consistent

With our own thoughts; and while we’re drinking

We will atone for all vicarious thinking.

He was a Centurion for fifty of his eighty-four years.

Roger Burlingame
1960 Century Association Yearbook