Romance Languages and Literatures, The Department of.

Romance Languages and Literatures, The Department of. The first romance language ever taught at Princeton was smuggled in by none other than President John Witherspoon. As early as 1769, when only Hebrew, Greek, and Latin were respectable enough to warrant inclusion in the curriculum, Witherspoon himself offered, free-of-charge, extracurricular instruction in French, as did also outside teachers who were engaged by the students for a fee. Not until 1830 did the College appoint a regular instructor of French and Spanish, Louis Hargous, who taught these languages until 1836. Hargous was followed by Benedict Jaeger, who became a one-man language department, offering German, Italian, French, and Spanish, all as Professor of Modern Languages, a rubric that lasted till 1958, when by amoeba-like fission the Department of Modern Languages divided into the two Departments of Germanic and Romance Languages and Literatures.

Although Hargous, Jaeger, and their followers had faculty standing, no academic credit was given for their offerings. A century after Witherspoon's early efforts, President McCosh made instruction in modern languages a regular part of the curriculum for which credit was given. Finally, in 1904, Woodrow Wilson raised the living languages to a par with the dead ones, when he created the present organization of departments, among them Modern Languages.

During the administration of the first chairman, Williamson U. Vreeland, 1904 to 1913, Wilson summoned a generation of fine teacher-scholars to the department: Christian Gauss, Douglas L. Buffum, Donald Clive Stuart, and Percy A. Chapman. From here on, the stars in the department's Pléiades become too numerous to be accorded the space they deserve; but not to be forgotten is their predecessor, the inimitable Frank L. Critchlow (remembered in the Faculty Song as ``hatless, coatless, kids in hand'') who contributed rare humor, coupled with solid scholarship in the little-known Catalan language.

Of the ``preceptor guys'' Wilson appointed in 1905, Gauss was beyond question the most spectacular. He is remembered by alumni not only as a brilliant lecturer and preceptor but also as twice chairman of the department (1913-1936, 1943-1946), as dean of the college for almost twenty years, and as a wise expositor of American college life.

A dozen years after the first preceptors, two outstanding scholars were called from Johns Hopkins: Charles C. Marden, first Emory L. Ford Professor of Spanish, and Edward C. Armstrong. Marden became internationally known as editor, and twice as discoverer, of medieval Spanish texts. Armstrong was the founder of the famed Elliott monographs in romance studies, and head of a research project on the medieval Alexander romances. Under Armstrong's guidance as director, graduate studies prospered greatly. Among the first to earn Princeton Ph.D.'s in the early twenties were F. Courtney Tarr, later second Ford Professor, and Ira O. Wade, chairman from 1946 to 1958.

For the first two decades, the department was staffed primarily by native Americans, but in 1923 it imported Augusto Centeno from Spain and Maurice Coindreau from France. Centeno became a popular lecturer and preceptor; Coindreau, through his sensitive translations, acquainted France with American authors such as Faulkner, Hemingway, and Dos Passos.

About this time Kenneth McKenzie accepted a professorship in Italian, and Alfred L. Foulet was called to assist Armstrong, whose Alexander studies he continued splendidly. A little later the department took in two young Princeton graduates who became fixtures in their specialties: E.B.O. Borgerhoff in French classicism, and Raymond S. Willis in Spanish middle ages and renaissance.

After 1930 the department's reputation attracted an imposing array of scholars who served as visiting professors, such as André Maurois, P. Laumonier, Salvador de Madariaga, and R. Lapesa.

Under a different policy, Princeton called to tenure appointments three foreign scholars: a Frenchman, Gilbert Chinard; an Italian, Giuliano Bonfante; and a Spaniard, Américo Castro. Bonfante's stay was relatively brief; Chinard and Castro left indelible impressions on Princeton. Chinard's specialty was eighteenth-century America and its relations with France, and it created deep and lasting interest among students and faculty. Castro revolutionized Spanish historiography with his thesis that Spain was born of the symbiotic relationship of three medieval ``castes'': Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

In the wake of World War II, far-reaching changes to the department took place. Language learning by listening and speaking, as developed by the army, was instituted under the guidance of Archibald T. MacAllister, Jr. Russian, a wartime innovation, was expanded into a field of literary study, chiefly by two women, Ludmilla Turkevich and Valentine Bill; and it remained with Romance Languages until it was converted into an independent department in 1961.

Another important postwar change was introduced by soft-spoken Ira Wade, who turned out to be a radical innovator, devising unprecedented schemes to convert young Americans into world citizens. With the cooperation of foreign business, students were placed in summer jobs in Europe and Latin America, and they also did research there on anything from labor problems to contemporary poetry. Wade's Special Program in European Civilization (including Latin America at first) eventually enlisted the collaboration of four social science and six humanistic departments, from whose offerings students tailored their own programs on the civilization of a foreign land.

Even after the separation of German and Russian, the department steadily increased its offerings. By 1974 it presented seventy undergraduate, one-term courses for which there were 2,000 student elections. The program included French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish; also offered were linguistics, European literature in English translations, and, at the graduate level, medieval Provençal and Catalan literature.

Faculty recruitments, beginning in the late 1940s, strengthened the department in medieval and modern languages, literature, civilization, and linguistics. They included Blanchard W. Bates, Edward D. Sullivan, later chairman and then dean of the college; Edmund L. King, another chairman; Vicente Llorens; Armand Hoog; Leon-Francois Hoffman; Albert Sonnenfeld; Karl D. Uitti, also chairman; Antonio Alatorre; Victor H. Brombert; J. Lionel Gossman and Sylvia Molloy, the first woman in the University ever to be promoted ``from the ranks'' to tenure (in 1973). Together with their associates, they have formed a team of romance scholars whose distinction has been recognized the world over.

Raymond S. Willis


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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