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George Edward Woodberry

Professor of English Literature

Centurion, 1893–1930

Born 12 May 1855 in Beverly, Massachusetts

Died 2 January 1930 in Beverly, Massachusetts

Buried Central Cemetery, Beverly, Massachusetts

Proposed by Edmund C. Stedman, Frank Dempster Sherman, and Nicholas Murray Butler

Elected 3 June 1893 at age thirty-eight

Seconder of:

Century Memorial

As author and critic, George Edward Woodberry belongs to the period commonly described as “a generation ago.” In his writings, Woodberry was amazingly prolific. Nearly forty separate books bear his imprint as author, some of them books of six or more volumes; the collections which he edited—writings of Shelley, Poe and Bacon, for instance—bring the record of tangible literary achievement higher still. These publications issued intermittently from the press between 1883 and 1917; they will fill the shelf of a good-sized library. All of them have the flavor of his own poetic imagination and interpretation. No one could lay down any of them without the current of his own thought being turned in a new direction.

But Woodberry’s real place is in the traditions of Columbia. He never taught there after 1902, but his courses in English prose and poetry, in literary criticism and in what was then called “comparative literature,” are still remembered at the University. Like all born teachers, Woodberry was a law to himself. He did not agree with the Faculty’s ideas of the period, that the urging of pupils to make up their own minds on literary questions was more suitable with graduate students than with undergraduates. He was likely enough to devote one of his semi-weekly lectures to remarks on some branch of literature quite unconnected with his course and only incidentally suggested by it; as when he gave up a whole day’s talk to lyrics of the Civil War, although the topic prescribed was the mediæval song of adventure and military prowess. He sometimes asked the impossible from his classes, as when he bade them on Tuesday to “reread before Thursday the Iliad and the Odyssey, preferably in the original.” But whether he held the Faculty or not, Woodberry always held his pupils. The shy and reserved demeanor, which kept him in the background of ordinary intercourse, was thawed out by the warm enthusiasm that kindled with his favorite literary visions of the class-room, and the Columbia students of that day crowded to his courses.

Alexander Dana Noyes
1930 Century Association Yearbook