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William Elliot Griffis's Biography (Books)

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William Elliot Griffis (September 17, 1843 - February 5, 1928) was an American orientalist, Congregational minister, lecturer, and prolific author.

Griffis was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of a sea captain and later a coal trader. During the American Civil War, he served two months as a corporal in Company H of the 44th Pennsylvania Militia after Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania in 1863. After the war, he attended Rutgers University at New Brunswick, New Jersey, graduating in 1869. At Rutgers, Griffis was an English and Latin language tutor for Taro Kusakabe, a young samurai from the province of Echizen (part of modern Fukui).

After a year of travel in Europe, he studied at the seminary of the Reformed Church in America in New Brunswick (known today as the New Brunswick Theological Seminary).

In 1903 he resigned from the active ministry to devote himself exclusively to writing and lecturing. His books on Japan and Japanese culture were complemented with extensive college and university lecture circuit itineraries. In addition to his own books and articles during this period, he also joined Inazo Nitobe in crafting what became his most well-known book, Bushido: The Soul of Japan.

In 1907, the Japanese government conferred the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, which represents the fourth highest of eight classes associated with the award.

The prolific writer was also a prolific traveller, making eleven trips to Europe--primarily to visit the Netherlands. In 1898, he was present at the enthronement of Queen Wilhelmina; and he attended the Congress of Diplomatic History. He was among the group of Bostonians who wanted to commemorate the Pilgrims' roots in Holland; and the work was rewarded with the dedication of a memorial at Delfshaven and the placement of five other bronze historical tablets in 1909. He was one of four Americans elected to the Netherlands Society of Letters in Leiden.

In 1923 Griffis published "The Story of the Walloons: At Home in Lands of Exile and in America". In this work he reveals the long history and contributions of these Belgians. The last half of the book relates the story of New Belgium (Nova Belgica) in America, the first settlers of Manhattan being a group of Protestant Walloons who petitioned the Dutch West India Company to be sent to establish a colony in the New World. These Walloons were sent to Manhattan as well as to other smaller locations on the Delaware, Hudson and Connecticut Rivers. They sailed out of Leiden, Netherlands in 1624. Griffis draws parallels to the thoughts of government and freedom of the Walloons and the US Constitution of 1787, and how their ideas made a lasting contribution to this country, though at the time (1923) the Walloons were generally unknown and overshadowed by the Dutch and later, English. This remains true to a great degree even today.

In 1926, Griffis was invited to return to Japan; and on this trip, the Japanese government conferred a second decoration. He was presented with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, which represents the third highest of eight classes. A private rail car was provided by the Japanese government, and he visited several cities in the course of this return trip.

Griffis was a founding member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (later to become the American Academy of Arts and Letters), the American Historical Association, and the U.S. Naval Institute. He died at his winter home in Florida in 1928.

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