Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, Ernest Chester

THOMAS, ERNEST CHESTER (1850–1892), bibliographer, the eldest son of John Withiel Thomas, born on 28 Oct. 1850 at Birkenhead, was educated at Manchester grammar school, matriculated from Trinity College, Oxford, on 17 Oct. 1870, and graduated B.A. in June 1875. He became a student at Gray's Inn on 7 May 1874, and, having won the Bacon scholarship of the inn in May 1875, published the following year a volume on ‘Leading Cases in Constitutional Law briefly stated’ (2nd edit. 1885). In 1875 and 1876 Thomas studied in the universities of Jena and Bonn, and produced in 1877 the first volume of a translation of Lange's ‘Geschichte des Materialismus,’ the second volume of which appeared in 1880, and the third in 1881. He issued in 1878 ‘Leading Statutes summarised for the use of Students,’ and in the same year became joint honorary secretary of the Library Association with Mr. H. R. Tedder, with whom he collaborated in writing the article ‘Libraries’ in the ninth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ (1882). He was called to the bar on 29 June 1881. He edited the ‘Monthly Notes’ of the Library Association for 1882, and published in January 1884 the first number of the ‘Library Chronicle: a Journal of Librarianship and Bibliography,’ which he carried on until 1888.

His chief claim to notice is his edition of the ‘Philobiblon of Richard de Bury, bishop of Durham, treasurer and chancellor of Edward III’ (London, 1888, sm. 8vo; also large paper), of which he produced the first really critical text, based upon the early editions and a personal examination of twenty-eight manuscripts. The notes clear up most of the obscurities which have embarrassed successive editors and translators. The translation is scholarly and the bibliography a model of careful research. It is an illustration of Thomas's conscientious methods that, a later investigation having led him to doubt the real authorship of the ‘Philobiblon,’ he printed a pamphlet which questioned the fair literary fame of Richard de Bury. Thomas had at one time a small practice at the bar, but his life was chiefly devoted to literature and librarianship. He was a man of extensive reading, a brilliant talker, a keen debater, an excellent writer. He edited several volumes for the Library Association, and contributed many articles and papers to the proceedings and journals of that society, which owes much to his self-denying labours, and to which, with several colleagues, he acted as honorary secretary for twelve years. He died at Tunbridge Wells on 5 Feb. 1892.

[Biography, with a complete bibliography, by the present writer, reprinted from the ‘Library,’ 1893, iv. 73–80; personal knowledge.]

H. R. T.