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Francis James Child

From Academic Kids

Francis James Child (February 1, 1825 - September 11, 1896), was an American scholar and educationist, and collector of what came to be known as the Child Ballads.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he graduated at Harvard in 1846, topping his class in all subjects. He was tutor in mathematics in 1846-1848; and in 1848 was transferred to a tutorship in history, political economy and English literature. After two years of study in Europe, in 1851 he succeeded Edward T. Channing as Boylston professor of rhetoric, oratory and elocution.

Child studied English drama (having edited Four Old Plays in 1848) and Germanic philology, the latter at Humboldt University, Berlin, and the University of Gttingen during a leave of absence, 1849-1853; and he took general editorial supervision of a large collection of the British poets, published in Boston in 1853 and following years. He edited the works of Edmund Spenser (5 vols., Boston, 1855), and at one time planned an edition of Chaucer, but contented himself with a treatise, in the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for 1863, entitled "Observations on the Language of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales," which did much to establish Chaucerian grammar, pronunciation and scansion as now generally understood.

His largest undertaking, however, grew out of an original collection, in his British Poets series, of English and Scottish Ballads, selected and edited by himself, in eight small volumes (Boston, 1857-1858). Thenceforward the leisure of his life--much increased by his transfer, in 1876, to the new professorship of English--was devoted to the comparative study of British vernacular ballads. He accumulated, in the university library, one of the largest folklore collections in existence, studied manuscript rather than printed sources, and carried his investigations into the ballads of all other tongues, meanwhile giving a sedulous but conservative hearing to popular versions still surviving.

His final collection was published as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, at first in ten parts (1882-1898), and then in five quarto volumes, for a long time the authoritative treasury of their subject. Professor Child worked "and overworked" to the last, dying in Boston after completing his task apart from a general introduction and bibliography. A sympathetic biographical sketch was prefixed to the work by his pupil and successor George Lyman Kittredge.

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