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William P. Trent


Centurion, 1901–1939

Full Name William Peterfield Trent

Born 10 November 1862 in Richmond, Virginia

Died 6 December 1939 in East Fishkill, New York

Proposed by Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas R. Price

Elected 1 June 1901 at age thirty-eight

Seconder of:

Century Memorial

In that older generation of scholars which first brought distinction to Barnard College, William Peterfield Trent held high rank. Born in Richmond, Virginia, he began his teaching career at the University of the South, and while there wrote his first book, a life of the first man of letters of the Old South, William Gilmore Simms. Some years later, when that omnivorous reader, Theodore Roosevelt, chanced upon the volume, he was so impressed that he persuaded his old friend Seth Low to invite the author to Columbia. Trent remained at Barnard as professor of English Literature from 1900 to his retirement in 1927. His two courses in English poetry of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries reflected his faith in the aristocracy of poetry, based on an extraordinary breadth of reading and perspective of culture. From 1910 forward he gave a large part of his time to two great scholarly undertakings, the Columbia edition of the “Complete Works of John Milton,” of which he was co-editor, and his own bibliography of Daniel Defoe. Both authors were objects of a life-long reverence and love. In assembling material for the latter work he accumulated a colossal collection of the Defoe books and pamphlets, probably the most extensive in existence. Upon his retirement the collection was sold to the Boston Public Library for $35,000. His own books make a long and varied list, all written with scholarly discernment and charm. Reserving his allegiance for the best in literature, he was uncompromising, not to say austere, in his intellectual outlook. But there was wit as well as loftiness in his speech and kindness and generosity in his friendship.

Geoffrey Parsons
1939 Century Memorials