1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Garnett, Richard

GARNETT, RICHARD (1835–1906), English librarian and author, son of the learned philologist Rev. Richard Garnett (1789–1850), priest-vicar of Lichfield cathedral and afterwards keeper of printed books at the British Museum, who came of a Yorkshire family, was born at Lichfield on the 27th of February 1835. His father was really the pioneer of modern philological research in England; his articles in the Quarterly Review (1835, 1836) on English lexicography and dialects, and on the Celtic question, and his essays in the Transactions of the Philological Society (reprinted 1859), were invaluable to the later study of the English language. The son, who thus owed much to his parentage, was educated at home and at a private school, and in 1851, just after his father’s death, entered the British Museum as an assistant in the library. In 1875 he rose to be superintendent of the reading-room, and from 1890 to 1899, when he retired, he was keeper of the printed books. In 1883 he was given the degree of LL.D. at Edinburgh, an honour repeated by other universities, and in 1895 he was made a C.B.

His long connexion with the British Museum library, and the value of his services there, made him a well-known figure in the literary world, and he published much original work in both prose and verse. His chief publications in book-form were: in verse, Primula (1858), Io in Egypt (1859), Idylls and Epigrams (1869, republished in 1892 as A Chaplet from the Greek Anthology), The Queen and other Poems (1902), Collected Poems (1893); in prose, biographies of Carlyle (1887), Emerson (1887), Milton (1890), Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1898); a volume of remarkably original and fanciful tales, The Twilight of the Gods (1888); a tragedy, Iphigenia in Delphi (1890); A Short History of Italian Literature (1898); Essays in Librarianship and Bibliophily (1899); Essays of an Ex-librarian (1901). He was an extensive contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Dictionary of National Biography, editor of the International Library of Famous Literature, and co-editor, with E. Gosse, of the elaborate English Literature: an illustrated Record. So multifarious was his output, however, in contributions to reviews, &c., and as translator or editor, that this list represents only a small part of his published work. He was a member of numerous learned literary societies, British and foreign. His facility as an expositor, and his gift for lucid and acute generalization, together with his eminence as a bibliophile, gave his work an authority which was universally recognized, though it sometimes suffered from his relying too much on his memory and his power of generalizing—remarkable as both usually were—in cases requiring greater precision of statement in matters of detail. But as an interpreter, whether of biography or belles lettres, who brought an unusually wide range of book-learning, in its best sense, interestingly and comprehensibly before a large public, and at the same time acceptably to the canons of careful scholarship, Dr Garnett’s writing was always characterized by clearness, common sense and sympathetic appreciation. His official career at the British Museum marked an epoch in the management of the library, in the history of which his place is second only to that of Panizzi. Besides introducing the “sliding press” in 1887 he was responsible for reviving the publication of the general catalogue, the printing of which, interrupted in 1841, was resumed under him in 1880, and gradually completed. The antipodes of a Dryasdust, his human interest in books made him an ideal librarian, and his courtesy and helpfulness were outstanding features in a personality of singular charm. The whole bookish world looked on him as a friend. Among his “hobbies” was a study of astrology, to which, without associating his name with it in public, he devoted prolonged inquiry. Under the pseudonym of “A. G. Trent” he published in 1880 an article (in the University Magazine) on “The Soul and the Stars”—quoted in Wilde and Dodson’s Natal Astrology. He satisfied himself that there was more truth in the old astrology than modern criticism supposed, and he had intended to publish a further monograph on the subject, but the intention was frustrated by the ill-health which led up to his death on the 13th of April 1906. He married (1863) an Irish wife, Olivia Narney Singleton (d. 1903), and had a family of six children; his son Edward (b. 1868) being a well-known literary man, whose wife translated Turgeneff’s works into English.  (H. Ch.)