Courtney Langdon (1861-1924), professor of modern languages, was born in Rome on January 18, 1861, the son of William Chauncy Langdon, an Episcopal clergyman, who was at that time chaplain of the American delegation in Rome. The family lived in Florence and Genoa before returning to the United States in 1873. Langdon studied at Harvard from 1878 to 1881, and between 1881 and 1890 he taught German and romance languages in various places including Lehigh and Cornell Universities. He came to Brown as assistant professor of modern languages in 1890, was awarded an honorary bachelor of arts degree in 1891, promoted to associate professor in 1892 and professor in 1898. The three volumes of his translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia into English blank verse were published between 1918 and 1921. He received the degree of Commander of the Crown of Italy from King Victor Emmanuel III in recognition of his service in advancing the cause of Italian culture in America. He also wrote a book of poems, Sonnets on the War, which was published in 1917. His course on the Divine Comedy was affectionately known by students as “Courtney’s Hell Course.” George W. Potter ’21 wrote of him in the Providence Journal:
“He was about as unorthodox instructor as you could find. ... He gave but one written examination – the final – and that over his most explosive protests: and it was said that he graded the examinations by throwing the books up a flight of stairs and marking them according to where they fell. ... The course was officially described as one in Dante. What it actually was, was a course in Humanism, with Dante as the peg. ... Dante was for him the great universal man who could see beyond the towers of his Fourteenth Century city and embrace the world in his dream of universal peace coming through a universal government. ... He was a Yankee humanist, eccentric and brilliant, with a following of students many of whom had had taken his course because it was a “snap” one and by so doing were exposed to education of the most enduring sort. I’ll wager that if you mention Dante to any student at Brown who sat under him the first picture that comes into his mind is not the laurelled head of the great poet but the bald head of Courtney.”Langdon died in Providence on November 19, 1924. In spite of illness he had continued to teach two courses until two weeks before his death.