Harry Thurston Peck

Harry Thurston Peck

Harry Thurston Peck (November 24, 1856 – March 23, 1914) was an American classical scholar, author, editor, and critic.


Peck was born in Stamford, Connecticut. He was educated in private schools and at Columbia College, graduating in 1881, where his literary gifts attracted wide attention. His address at the conclusion of that year's commencement exercises was "witty, pathetic, and fully of clever allusions" according to the New York Times. "Bouquets fell at his feet by the score as he bowed his way off the stage." [1] Upon graduation he immediately joined the faculty as a Latin tutor, becoming a professor in 1888.[2] In 1904, at the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Columnbia's founding, he was among several distinguished faculty members appointed to newly created chairs: he became Anthon Professor of Latin Language and Literature.[3]

In addition to a distinguished academic publishing career, he wrote travel guides and produced translations and works for children under a number of pseudonyms.

Peck was a frequent and forceful contributor to magazines and newspapers. He was editor in chief of Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities and editor of the Students' Series of Latin Classics and Columbia University Studies in Classical Philology. He served as the first editor in chief of The Bookman magazine, worked on its staff from 1895 to 1906, and, in 1895, created America's first bestseller list for its pages. Peck was also editor in chief of the International Cyclopaedia from 1890 to 1901 and co-editor of the first edition of its successor, the New International Encyclopedia (1902–1904).

In 1910, there were newspaper reports that Peck was being sued by a former secretary for breach of promise, that is, promise of marriage. The stories included alleged excerpts from his love letters to her. Their romance had purportedly occurred around the time when Peck divorced his first wife and married his second. Though the lawsuit was eventually dismissed, and the facts of the dispute were never settled, the implication that Peck might have been involved with three women at once made for a titillating controversy.

The imperious, image-conscious president of the university, Nicholas Murray Butler, though a longtime friend and former schoolmate of Peck's, promptly terminated the scholar's relationship with Columbia based on nothing but the scandal in the press. Peck fought his dismissal without success.[4] Among those who tried in various ways to support Peck's right to more considerate treatment or due process was another professor, Joel Spingarn, who soon found himself dismissed as well.[5]

Peck lived out his remaining years cut off from his former colleagues relying on income from occasional writing assignments. Increasingly depressed and unable to find work, he was sighted one day near the end of his life on the streets of Manhattan "walking in a dazed sort of way...., dressed, as was his custom, in a frock coat and silk hat, but both were extremely shabby. He passed, looking neither right nor left; he seemed entirely oblivious to his surroundings."[6]

He committed suicide in Stamford, Conn. on March 23, 1914.[7] He was buried in Christ Church Cemetery in Greenwich, CT.[8]

Works (partial list)


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Harry Thurston Peck

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