George Perkins Marsh

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George Perkins Marsh
George Perkins Marsh.jpg
Born (1801-03-15)March 15, 1801
Woodstock, Vermont, US
Died July 23, 1882(1882-07-23) (aged 81)
Vallombrosa, Italy
Signature Appletons' Marsh Charles - George Perkins signature.png

George Perkins Marsh (March 15, 1801 – July 23, 1882), an American diplomat and philologist, is considered by some to be America's first environmentalist and the precursor to the sustainability concept,[1] although "conservationist" would be more accurate. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont takes its name, in part, from Marsh.

Biography[edit]

George Perkins Marsh was born in Woodstock, Vermont, to a prominent family. His father, Charles Marsh, had been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. George Marsh graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, in 1816 and from Dartmouth College with highest honors in 1820. He studied law in Burlington, Vermont,[2] was admitted to the bar in 1825, and practiced law in Burlington. He also devoted himself to philological studies. In 1835 he was appointed to the Executive Council of Vermont, and from 1843 to 1849 was a Whig representative in Congress.[citation needed] He served as an editor of Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley which was published in 1848.[3]

In 1849 President Zachary Taylor appointed Marsh United States minister resident in the Ottoman Empire. He rendered valuable service to the cause of civil and religious toleration in that empire. In 1852–1853, he discharged a mission to Greece in connection with the imprisonment of American missionary Jonas King. He accomplished this task with a vigor that surprised the diplomats of Athens and showed a masterly knowledge of the Greek constitution and legislation, as well as of international law.

He returned to Vermont in 1854. In 1857 he was appointed by the governor of Vermont to make a report to the legislature in regard to the artificial propagation of fish. He had previously been appointed one of the commissioners to rebuild the state house at Montpelier and in 1857 was a member of the state railway commission.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Marsh the first United States minister to the Kingdom of Italy. Marsh would go on to be the longest-serving chief of mission in U.S. history, serving as envoy for 21 years until his death at Vallombrosa in 1882.[4] He is buried at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

Marsh was an able linguist, able to both speak and write fluently in Scandinavian and half a dozen other European languages. He was a remarkable philologist for his day, and a scholar of great breadth, knowing much of military science, engraving and physics, as well as Icelandic, which was his specialty. He wrote many articles for Johnson's Universal Cyclopaedia, and contributed many reviews and letters to The Nation.

He was an admirer of the Goths, whose presence he traced in whatever is great and peculiar in the character of the founders of New England. He owned the finest collection of Scandinavian literature outside of Scandinavia. Part of it ultimately became the property of the University of Vermont, through the liberality of Frederick Billings. During the winter of 1858/9 he began a course of thirty lectures on the English language at Columbia University, and a year later he delivered a second course, on the grammatical history of English literature, before the Lowell Institute, in Boston.

His book Man and Nature (1864) constituted an early work of ecology, and played a role in the creation of the Adirondack Park. Marsh argued that deforestation could lead to desertification. Referring to the clearing of once-lush lands surrounding the Mediterranean, he asserted "the operation of causes set in action by man has brought the face of the earth to a desolation almost as complete as that of the moon." He argued that welfare is secured as long as man manages resources and keep them in good condition. Welfare of future generations should be one of resource management determinants. Resource scarcity is a result if misbalancing an environmental equilibrium. In other words: it comes from unreasonable human action rather than is determined by some absolute resource scarcity.

Works[edit]

He prepared an American edition of Hensleigh Wedgwood's Dictionary of English Etymology (New York, 1862), to which he made large additions and annotations. He translated Rask's Icelandic Grammar.[2]

Family[edit]

His second wife, Caroline (Crane) Marsh (1816–1901), whom he married in 1839, published Wolfe of the Knoll and other Poems (1860), and the Life and Letters of George Perkins Marsh (New York, 1888). This last work was left incomplete, the second volume never having been published. She also translated from the German of Johann C. Biernatzki (1795–1840), The Hallig; or the Sheepfold in the Waters (1856). (See "Hallig").

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Curtis, Jane; Will Curtis; and Frank Lieberman. (1982). The World of George Perkins Marsh. Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press.
  • Dolling, Lisa M., ed. George Perkins Marsh: An American For All Seasons (Hoboken: Stevens Institute of Technology, 2013), 179 pp.
  • Garvey, T. Gregory. (2009). “The Civic Intent of George Perkins Marsh’s Anthrocentric Environmentalism,” New England Quarterly 82 (March), 80–111.
  • Hall, Marcus, ed. (2004). The Nature of G.P. Marsh: Tradition and Historical Judgement. Special issue of Environment and History 10 (2).
  • Linehan, Peter. "The Teacher and the Forest: The Pennsylvania Forestry Association, George Perkins Marsh, and the Origins of Conservation Education." Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies (2012) 79#4 pp: 520-536.
  • Lowenthal, David. (2000). George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Primary sources[edit]

  • Ducci, Lucia. George P. Marsh Correspondence: Images of Italy, 1861–1881 (Lexington Books, 2011)

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Horace Everett
U.S. Representative from Vermont
1843–1849
Succeeded by
James Meacham