Friday, September 26, 2014

A Hebrew Grammar

When John Smith was persuaded by his tutor Samuel Moody to enter Dartmouth College in 1771, he had already spent many years in the study of ancient languages. According to his wife Susan, he "had then read through Homer twice, and all the minor Greek poets he could find." He entered Dartmouth as a junior and by the following year had "mastered the Hebrew and Chaldee languages as to lay the foundation of his Hebrew and Chaldee Grammars." After he graduated from Dartmouth in 1773, he became preceptor at Moor's Charity School for a year before being hired by Dartmouth as a tutor for its students. During that time he worked on a revision of the Hebrew Grammar he had completed in 1772, for the purpose of facilitating "the study of the scriptures of the Old Testament in the original." He emphasized the fact that his Grammar would be particularly useful for those students of the language who did not have instructors.

Letters of the Alphabet
However, the road to its publication was a long one. At one point in the process Eleazar Wheelock wrote to the trustees in London suggesting that Smith's Grammar "should be published as a specimen of the progress some of his scholars were making in this new institution." But, according to Mrs. Smith, "Mr. Smith declined or [had] otherwise given up."

Perfect Verbs
In 1777, John Smith was appointed Professor of Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Oriental languages at Dartmouth College. He was the first academic hired by Wheelock who, until then, had been doing all of the teaching with the help of the tutors. For his services, Smith was promised one hundred pounds annually, "half in money and the other half … in such necessary articles for a family as wheat, Indian corn, rye, beef, pork, mutton … ." In return Smith had to continue as tutor as well.

Smith stayed connected to the College for the rest of his life. In addition to teaching he served as the pastor for the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College and introduced the practice of giving commencement sermons to the Senior Class on the Sunday before Commencement Day. He also became a trustee in 1788.

Chaldaic Grammar
Smith's Hebrew Grammar Without Points was finally published by John West in 1803. It was only the second Hebrew Grammar book published in the Unites States and the first using no points.

If you would like to take a look at the original manuscript and its revision ask for MS-1266. To see a printed edition ask for Alumni S652h.

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