Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Fiske, Daniel Willard

FISKE, Daniel Willard, scholar, b. in Ellisburg, Jefferson co., N. Y., 11 Nov., 1831. When very young he disclosed an uncommon aptitude for the acquisition of languages, and a precocious interest in both literature and politics. He pursued his school education at Cazenovia seminary and at Hamilton college, but left that institution in his sophomore year to go abroad and study the Scandinavian languages. At Copenhagen he enjoyed the friendship of Prof. Rafu, the distinguished Danish archæologist. With little aid except some occasional correspondence with the New York “Tribune,” he sustained himself during 1849-'52, passing two years in the University of Upsala, giving lessons in English and lecturing on American literature, and speaking Swedish so well that he commonly passed with the students for a Swede. In 1852 he returned to New York and took a place in the Astor library, where he remained as assistant until 1859, still pursuing his studies in languages, and in making a collection of Icelandic books, which soon became the most considerable in this country. So enthusiastically had he directed his attention to that enlightened island that it was said that few natives were more familiar with its geography, history, politics, and literature than he. In 1859-'60 he was general secretary of the American geographical society. In 1861-'2 he was again abroad, and attached to the American legation at Vienna under Minister John Lothrop Motley. Returning, he was editor of the daily “Journal” of Syracuse, N. Y., in 1864-'6, and through 1867 had charge of the Hartford, Conn., “Courant,” from which he was called in 1868, after another extensive tour abroad, which embraced Egypt and Palestine, to the professorship of the north European languages, and the place of chief librarian, at Cornell university. To his unremitting labors for years in the class-room, as librarian, and as director of the University press, no inconsiderable degree of the success of the institution is due. During this time he took a deep interest in the reform of the civil service, and was a most influential writer and lecturer in its behalf. In 1879 he was again abroad for five months, and visited Iceland. He had been a principal promoter in this country of the contribution of a library on the celebration of the National millennium, and upon his arrival he was the guest of the nation and accorded honors seldom if ever given before by one nation to a private citizen of another. His health failing from his severe application to college duties, he went abroad again in 1880. In that year, in Berlin, he married Miss Jennie McGraw, of Ithaca, N. Y., who died in September, 1881. In 1881 he resigned his offices at Cornell and took up his permanent residence in Florence, Italy. Although his chief work has been that of a scholar and bibliopole, he has been a voluminous contributor to various Swedish, Icelandic, and German journals, and to the American press. He was one of the famous chess tournament of 1857, and, in conjunction with Paul Morphy, edited the “American Chess Monthly” in 1857-'60, and compiled the “Book of the American Chess Congress” (New York, 1859). He has edited various university publications, such as the “Ten-Year Book of Cornell,” the “Register,” etc., and many bibliographical publications, such as the “University Library Bulletin,” the “Bibliographia Psiupsilonica,” etc. He was one of the chief promoters of the chapter-house system in the Greek letters societies. He is now engaged in completing his two private book collections, one relating to Petrarch, the other to Icelandic history and literature—the most considerable collections in existence relating to those subjects—and is printing privately a series of “Bibliographical Notices” illustrating his collections. Prof. Fiske has received the degree of A. M. from Hamilton and that of Ph. D. from Cornell.