Oliver Elton
Oliver Elton was an English literary scholar whose works include A Survey of English Literature (1730 - 1880) in six volumes, criticism, biography, and translations from several languages including Icelandic
Icelandic language
Icelandic is a North Germanic language, the main language of Iceland. Its closest relative is Faroese.Icelandic is an Indo-European language belonging to the North Germanic or Nordic branch of the Germanic languages. Historically, it was the westernmost of the Indo-European languages prior to the...

 and Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

. He was King Alfred Professor
King Alfred Chair of English Literature
The King Alfred Chair of English Literature was founded at the University of Liverpool, England in 1881.The holders of the chair have been:*1881-1889: A.C. Bradley*1890-1900: Walter Raleigh*1901-1925: Oliver Elton*1929-1951: Leonard Martin...

 of English at Liverpool University.

Early life

Born at Holt, Norfolk
Holt, Norfolk
Holt is a market town and civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. The town is north of the city of Norwich, west of Cromer and east of King's Lynn. The town is on the route of the A148 King's Lynn to Cromer road. The nearest railway station is in the town of Sheringham where access to the...

, on 3 June, 1861, Elton was the only child of Sarah and the Reverend Charles Allen Elton (1820-1887), the headmaster of Gresham's School
Gresham's School
Gresham’s School is an independent coeducational boarding school in Holt in North Norfolk, England, a member of the HMC.The school was founded in 1555 by Sir John Gresham as a free grammar school for forty boys, following King Henry VIII's dissolution of the Augustinian priory at Beeston Regis...

, where Oliver was taught by his father until he proceeded to Marlborough College
Marlborough College
Marlborough College is a British co-educational independent school for day and boarding pupils, located in Marlborough, Wiltshire.Founded in 1843 for the education of the sons of Church of England clergy, the school now accepts both boys and girls of all beliefs. Currently there are just over 800...

 and Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Corpus Christi College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom...

, where he was a scholar from 1880 to 1885. He graduated BA
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 with first class honours in Literae Humaniores
Literae Humaniores
Literae Humaniores is the name given to an undergraduate course focused on Classics at Oxford and some other universities.The Latin name means literally "more humane letters", but is perhaps better rendered as "Advanced Studies", since humaniores has the sense of "more refined" or "more learned",...

in 1884.

His friends at Oxford included Leonard Huxley
Leonard Huxley (writer)
Leonard Huxley was an English schoolteacher, writer and editor.- Family :His father was the zoologist Thomas Henry Huxley, 'Darwin's bulldog'. Leonard was educated at University College School, London, St. Andrews University, and Balliol College, Oxford. He first married Julia Arnold, daughter of...

, Michael Sadler
Michael Ernest Sadler
Sir Michael Ernest Sadler KCSI was a British historian, educationalist and university administrator. He worked at the universities of Manchester and Leeds. He was a champion of the public school system.-Early life and education:...

 and Dugald Sutherland MacColl
Dugald Sutherland MacColl
Dugald Sutherland MacColl was a Scottish watercolour painter, art critic, lecturer and writer. He was keeper of the Tate gallery for five years.- Life :...

, whose sister he later married.


Elton's first work was as a tutor and lecturer in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, while preparing school editions of Shakespeare and Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

. He translated Einar Hafliðason's Laurentius Saga as The Life of Laurence Bishop of Hólar in Iceland (Lárentíus Kálfsson
Lárentíus Kálfsson
Lárentíus Kálfsson , 10 August 1267–16 April 1331) was bishop of the northern Icelandic diocese of Hólar 1324–31....

) into English. In this he was encouraged by Frederick York Powell
Frederick York Powell
Frederick York Powell , was an English historian and scholar.- Biography :Frederick York Powell was born in Bloomsbury, London. Much of his childhood was spent in France and Spain, so that he early acquired a mastery of the language of both countries and an insight into the genius of the people...

, whose biography Elton would later publish in 1906.

In 1890 he went as a lecturer to Manchester University, remaining for ten years. During his time there he published a translation of nine of the books of the Gesta Danorum
Gesta Danorum
Gesta Danorum is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 12th century author Saxo Grammaticus . It is the most ambitious literary undertaking of medieval Denmark and is an essential source for the nation's early history...

by Saxo Grammaticus
Saxo Grammaticus
Saxo Grammaticus also known as Saxo cognomine Longus was a Danish historian, thought to have been a secular clerk or secretary to Absalon, Archbishop of Lund, foremost advisor to Valdemar I of Denmark. He is the author of the first full history of Denmark.- Life :The Jutland Chronicle gives...

, a study of Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton was an English poet who came to prominence in the Elizabethan era.-Early life:He was born at Hartshill, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. Almost nothing is known about his early life, beyond the fact that in 1580 he was in the service of Thomas Goodere of Collingham,...

, and The Augustan Ages (1899) which brought him recognition from the academic literary world. Meanwhile he got to know Charles Edward Montague
Charles Edward Montague
Charles Edward Montague, , was an English journalist, known also as a writer of novels and essays.He was born and brought up in London, the son of an Irish Roman Catholic priest who had left the church to marry. He was educated at the City of London School and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1890 he...

 and wrote for the Manchester Guardian.

He went to Liverpool in 1901 as Professor of English Literature and stayed till his retirement in 1925. While there, he completed two thirds (four volumes) of his Survey of English Literature and lectured and wrote on Milton, Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language....

, Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

, Chekhov
Anton Chekhov
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician, dramatist and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics...

 and others.

After retirement he went as a visiting professor to Harvard and then settled in Oxford. He completed the Survey of English Literature, and published a book on English poetry: The English Muse: a Sketch (1933). He also continued an interest in Russian and other Slavic
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

 literature (mainly Serbian) which had begun during the first world war
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and published further translations, notably of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin
Eugene Onegin
Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse written by Alexander Pushkin.It is a classic of Russian literature, and its eponymous protagonist has served as the model for a number of Russian literary heroes . It was published in serial form between 1825 and 1832...


Elton's encyclopedic range is impressive and George Sampson, in the Cambridge History of English Literature, brackets him with two of his contemporaries who were also "scholars on the heroic scale of learning ": William Paton Ker
William Paton Ker
William Paton Ker was a Scottish literary scholar and essayist.-Life:He was born in Glasgow in 1855. He studied at Glasgow Academy, the University of Glasgow and Balliol College, Oxford....

 and George Saintsbury
George Saintsbury
George Edward Bateman Saintsbury , was an English writer, literary historian, scholar and critic.-Biography:...



In 1888 Elton married Letitia Maynard MacColl, the sister of his Oxford friend Dugald Sutherland MacColl
Dugald Sutherland MacColl
Dugald Sutherland MacColl was a Scottish watercolour painter, art critic, lecturer and writer. He was keeper of the Tate gallery for five years.- Life :...

. Letitia became a children's writer. They had three sons, one of whom was the biologist Charles Sutherland Elton
Charles Sutherland Elton
Charles Sutherland Elton FRS was an English zoologist and animal ecologist. His name is associated with the establishment of modern population and community ecology, including studies of invasive organisms.-Personal life:...


External links

  • Portrait of Elton by Francis Dodd
    Francis Dodd
    Francis Edgar Dodd RA was a notable British portrait and landscape artist and printmaker.Born in Holyhead, north Wales, the son of a Wesleyan minister, Dodd trained at the Glasgow School of Art, winning the Haldene Scholarship in 1893 and travelling around France, Italy and later Spain...

  • http://omacl.org/DanishHistory/ Elton's translation of The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus
    Saxo Grammaticus
    Saxo Grammaticus also known as Saxo cognomine Longus was a Danish historian, thought to have been a secular clerk or secretary to Absalon, Archbishop of Lund, foremost advisor to Valdemar I of Denmark. He is the author of the first full history of Denmark.- Life :The Jutland Chronicle gives...

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