George Ticknor (August 1, 1791 – January 26, 1871), was an American academician, specializing in the subject areas of languages and literature. He is known for his scholarly work on the history and criticism of Spanish literature.
Ticknor was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He received his early education from his father, Elisha Ticknor (1757-1821), former principal of the Franklin public school and a founder of the Massachusetts Mutual Fire Insurance Company, of the system of free primary schools in Boston, and of the first New England savings bank. In 1805 George entered the junior class at Dartmouth College, where he graduated in 1807. During the next three years he studied Latin and Greek with Rev. Dr John Sylvester John Gardiner, rector of Trinity Church, Boston, and a pupil of Dr Samuel Parr. In 1810 Ticknor began the study of law, and he was admitted to the bar in 1813. He opened an office in Boston, but practised for only one year. He went to Europe in 1815 and for nearly two years studied at the University of Göttingen.
In 1817 he became Smith professor of French and Spanish languages and literatures (a chair founded in 1816), and professor of belles-lettres at Harvard University, and began teaching in 1819, after travel and study in France, Spain and Portugal. During his professorship Ticknor advocated the creation of departments, the grouping of students in divisions according to proficiency, and the establishment of the elective system, and reorganized his own department. In 1835 he resigned his chair, in which he was succeeded in 1836 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and he returned to Europe in 1835-1838.
After his return he devoted himself to the chief work of his life, the history and criticism of Spanish literature, in many respects a new subject at that time even in Europe, there being no adequate treatment of the literature as a whole in Spanish. Both Friedrich Bouterwek and Jean Charles Leonard de Sismondi had worked with limited or secondhand resources. Ticknor developed in his college lectures the scheme of his more permanent work, which he published as the History of Spanish Literature (New York and London, 3 volumes, 1849). The book is not merely a story of Spanish letters, but, more broadly, of Spanish civilization and manners. The History is exhaustive and exact in scholarship, and direct and unpretentious in style. It gives many illustrative passages from representative works, and copious bibliographical references.
It was soon translated into Spanish (1851-1857) by Pascual de Gayangos y Arce and de Vedia; into French by Magnabal; and German by Nikolaus Heinrich Julius and Ferdinand Wolf. The second American edition appeared in 1854; the third corrected and enlarged, in 1863; the fourth, containing the author's last revision, in 1872, under the supervision of George Stillman Hillard; and the sixth in 1888.
Ticknor had succeeded his father as a member of the Primary School Board in 1822, and held this position until 1825; he was a trustee of the Boston Athenaeum in 1823-1832, and was vice-president in 1833; and he was a director (1827-1835) and vice-president (1841-1862) of the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company, and a trustee of the Massachusetts General Hospital (1826-1830) and of the Boston Provident Institution for Savings (1838-1850), the bank that his father had helped to found. He was especially active in the establishment of the Boston Public Library (1852), and served in 1852-1866 on its board of trustees, of which he was president in 1865. On its behalf he spent fifteen months abroad in 1856-1857, at his own expense, and to it he gave at various times money and books; a special feature of his plan was a free circulating department. He left to the library his own collection, which was particularly strong in Spanish and Portuguese literatures.
Ticknor's minor works include, besides occasional reviews and papers:
See Life, Letters and Journals of George Ticknor (2 vols., 1876), by George S Hillard and Mrs Anna (Eliot) Ticknor and Miss Anna Eliot Ticknor. This book was edited, with a critical introduction, in 1909, by Ferris Greenslet.