A third medievalist was James Morgan Hart (1839-1916), who earned a doctorate in civil and canon law from the University of Göttingen. In 1868, after working as a lawyer in New York City, Hart was appointed Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at Cornell. He retired as Full Professor in 1907. He worked closely with the Early English Text Society, founded in 1864 with the goal of printing “all that was most valuable of the yet unprinted MSS. in English.” Hart was an authority on English philology and the evolution of language, which, at the time, represented the most rigorously “scientific” mode of literary scholarship. In 1874, he published German Universities: A Narrative of Personal Experience (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons). In his view, German universities were superior to their American counterparts:
“The German method of higher education is far better than our own. The German student is much more thoroughly trained [than the American student, especially in philology and history,] if by history we mean in all sincerity the formation of national character and habits, and not merely the chronicle of battles and court intrigues.”
Hart was fond of German academic rituals and their medieval spirit:
“[During public disputations] the candidate stands on the platform like the knights of the Middle Ages, ready to maintain the merits of his lady-love. His antagonists are his friends […] The Dean pronounces [the champion] a true and worthy knight of science […] The real test of the candidate’s merit is his dissertation, which has been read in print beforehand by each member of the faculty, and which must be a substantial contribution to knowledge […] No words of mine, I fear, will do justice to the part played in the university by the Privatdocenten [sic] [teaching assistants] [who can] startle you with their knowledge of Sanskrit roots and their familiarity with university slang, but all with a quiet, unassuming, gentlemanly air.”
Hart is remembered as “an influential voice in shaping graduate studies in U.S. universities based on German practice” (Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, 2016).
Hart donated his personal library to Cornell and it was “placed in the room which was for many years his office, and was known as the Hart Memorial Library” in Goldwin Smith Hall (Princeton Alumni Weekly, 17:5 [November 1916], p. 126).
Portrait, oil, artist J. C. Forbes. In vault, Uris Library.