George Washington Greene (1811-1883), instructor in modern languages, was born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, on April 8, 1811. He was the grandson of General Nathanael Greene. He was introduced to literature by his mother, who, according to Reuben Guild, “taught him when a mere lad to love Pope and Addison and Goldsmith.” In 1825, at the age of fourteen, he entered Brown. He left in his junior year because of his health, and traveled to Europe. He lived abroad for twenty years, except for several visits home, during one of which in 1834 he was principal of Kent Academy in East Greenwich. From 1837 to 1845 he was United States Consul at Rome. He met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Southern France, the two became friends, and Longfellow had much influence on Greene’s pursuit of a literary life. Greene was one of the original members of the Dante Club which met at Longfellow’s house. Greene wrote, beginning in 1835, a number of essays on Italian literature and history for the North American Review. After his return to the United States, he was appointed in the spring of 1848 instructor in modern languages at Brown, a position he occupied until 1852. In 1850-51 and 1851-52 courses in Italian and Spanish were offered. James Burrill Angell 1849, wrote in Memories of Brown of Greene’s arrival to take the place of Charles Coffin Jewett, the librarian, who had been teaching modern languages:
“Fortunately his place in the classroom was taken by George W. Greene, the well-known historical scholar. His life had been chiefly spent in Europe. The revolutions of 1848 were raging while we were under him. Greatly to our delight and I may add to our profit his time in the classroom, under the provocation of questions from us, was chiefly spent in discussing European affairs, and especially in describing the eminent persons who were conducting the military or political movements. Not a few of these he knew personally. None of us who hung upon his lips in these hours can ever forget his narratives. He had the art of the best French raconteur. I confess that my own intense interest in European politics and history dates from the hours I sat under the spell of George Greene’s fine talk. And who of our American writers has surpassed him in a pure and flowing English style? I am sure the inspiration of the contact with so finished a scholar was lost on but few of the class, even though the demands for the details of recitation were not very exacting.”In 1852 he moved to New York City and devoted his time to study and writing, and was especially occupied with working on the biography of his much admired grandfather, General Nathanael Greene. The first volume of The Life of Nathanael Greene, was published in 1867, followed by the second and third volumes in 1871. Of this work, the Dictionary of American Biography commented, “a mistaken sense of patriotic duty and the adulation of ancestor worship disfigured the labors of many years.” In 1872 Greene became a non-resident professor of American history at Cornell University for a year, and may be said to have held the first chair in American history in the country. He retired to his writing, and died in East Greenwich on February 2, 1883.