BURRITT, Elihu. New Britain, Conn. 8.12.1810 — ibid. 6.3.1879. “The Learned Blacksmith”. U.S. Literate interested in Sanskrit. Son of an eccentric shoemaker-farmer. He was trained as smith in his home district and worked 1828-37 as a smith in Worcester, Mass. Began privately to study languages already as an apprentice. In 1837 he started and soon became famous as a lecturer and a pacifist. In 1846 left for Britain to propagate pacifism, remained until 1853. In connection of peace conferences also visited Belgium, France and Germany, became friends e.g. with Hugo and Lamartine. He was famous, praised and derided, tried vainly to prevent the civil war. In 1863 Lincoln appointed him consul in Birmingham, and he described aptly the English countryside in several books. Last years from 1870 he lived in his home country in New Britain tilling the soil, writing and teaching languages.

Burritt was a pacifist, a champion of free trade, workers’ rights and temperance, and an abolitionist. He understood well international relations, which was exceptional in the U.S.A. of his time. He knew many European languages, Greek, several Semitic languages, and Sanskrit. A very productive author. His Sanskrit handbook was the first of its kind in the U.S.A. and according to Robinson quite good for its time, although his text specimens are from the Sanskrit version of the New Testament. As an exercise the Sanskrit translation of the Gospel according to St. John was included.

Publications: Wrote numerous books (c. 37) and articles on a variety of subjects.

A Sanskrit Handbook for the fireside. 110 p. 1876.

Sources: Dict. of Am. Biogr. 3, 1929; Nat. Cycl. of Am. Biogr. 6, 133-135 (with two pictures); Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume; *P.T. Marsh, Oxford D.N.B.; Wikipedia with photo.

My thanks are due to Christopher Robinton who studied Burritt’s papers and contacted me in December 2023.

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