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When I think of the thorough drilling to which young men are subjected in the English universities, acquiring a minute knowledge of Latin prosody and of Greek particles and accents, so that they can not only turn a passage of Homer into English prose or verse but readily a passage of Shakespeare into Latin hexameter or elegiacs, — that this and the like of this is to be liberally educated, — I am reminded how different was the education of the actual Homer and Shakespeare. The worthies of the world and liberally educated have always in this sense got along with little Latin and less Greek.
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If I were to choose a time for a friend to make a passing visit to this world for the first time, in the full possession of all his faculties, perchance it would be at a moment when the sun was setting with splendor in the west, his light reflected far and wide through the clarified air after a rain, and a brilliant rainbow, as now, o’erarching the eastern sky. Would he be likely to think this a vulgar place to live, where one would weary of existence and be compelled to devote his life to frivolity and dissipation? If a man travelling from world to world were to pass through this world at such a moment, would he not be tempted to take up his abode here?
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Wednesday, August 11.
Alcott here the 9th and 10th. He, the spiritual philosopher, is, and has been for some months, devoted to the study of his own genealogy, — he whom only the genealogy of humanity, the descent of man from God should concern! He has been to his native town of Wolcott, Ct., on this errand, has faithfully perused the records of some fifteen towns, has read the epitaphs in as many churchyards, and wherever he found the name Alcock, excerpted it and all connected with it: for he is delighted to discover that the original name was All-cock and meant something, that some grandfather or great-grandfather bore it, — Philip Alcock, — (though his son wisely enough changed it to Alcott). He who wrote of Human Culture, eh who conducted the Conversations on the Gospels, he who discoursed of Sleep, Health, Worship, Friendship, etc., last winter, now reading the wills and the epitaphs of the Alcocks with the zeal of a professed antiquarian and genealogist! He has discovered that one George Alcock (afterwards Deacon George) came over with Winthrop in 1630 and settled in Roxbury. Has read Eliot’s account of him in the Church records and been caught by a passage in which [his] character is described by Eliot as being of “good savior,” I think it is. But he has by no means made out his descent from him. Only knows that that family owned lands in Woodstock, Connecticut. Nevertheless the similarity of name is enough and he pursues the least trace of it. Has visited a crockery dealer in Boston who trades with Alcocks of Staffordshire (?), England, great potters, who took a prize at the World’s Fair. Has, through him, obtained a cup or so with the name of the maker, Alcock, on it. Has it at his house. Has got the dealer to describe the persons of those Staffordshire Alcocks, and finds them to be of the right type, even to their noses. He knew they must be so. Has visited the tomb of Dr. John Alcock in the Granary Burying Ground, read and copied it. Has visited also the only bearer of the name in Boston, a sail-maker perchance, — though there is no evidence of the slightest connection except through Adam, — and communicated with him. He says I should survey Concord and put down every house exactly as it stands with the name. Admires the manuscript of the old records, — more pleasing than print. Has some design to collect and print epitaphs. Thinks they should be collected and printed verbatim et literatim, every one in every yard, with a perfect index added, so that persons engaged in such pursuits as himself might be absolutely sure when they turned to the name Alcock, for instance, to find it, if it was there, and not have to look over the whole yard. Talks of going to England—says it would be in his way—to visit the Alcocks of Staffordshire. Has gone now to find where lie the three thousand acres granted to the Roxbury family in 16—. “on the Assabett,” and has talked with a lawyer about the possibility of breaking the title, etc., etc.; from time to time pulling out a long note book from his bosom, with epitaphs and the like copied into it. Had copied into it the epitaph of my grandmother-in-law, which he came across in some graveyard (in Charlestown?), thinking “it would interest me”!