Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Christie, Richard Copley

CHRISTIE, RICHARD COPLEY (1830–1901), scholar and bibliophile, born on 22 July 1830 at Lenton, Nottinghamshire, was the second son of Lorenzo Christie of Edale, Derbyshire, a mill-owner much respected in Manchester, and his wife Ann, a daughter of Isaac Bayley of Lenton Sands. In April 1849 he entered as an undergraduate at Lincoln College, Oxford, where Mark Pattison [q. v.] was then establishing his ascendency. Towards him Christie was drawn by common literary interests and by a close agreement between their ideas as to the higher purposes of academical life; they became intimate friends in later years, and after the rector's death Christie contributed a biographical notice of him to this 'Dictionary.' His own Oxford days came to an end in 1853, when he graduated B. A ., taking a first class in law and history. Hallam, the historian, was one of his examiners. In 1855 he proceeded M.A. Having resolved upon a legal career, he was on 21 Nov. 1854 admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn (Lincoln's Inn Records, ii. 266); but almost immediately he was induced to settle at Manchester, and devote himself for a time to educational work. In this year the trustees of the newly founded Owens College had to select the first body of professors of that institution, which from small and tentative beginnings was gradually to grow into the largest of the university colleges of the Victorian type. As was inevitable in the case of a foundation intended to supply the instruction usually given in the English universities, Owens College opened with more chairs than teachers, and Christie, who had been appointed professor of ancient and modern history, was in the following year also chosen for the Faulkner professorship of political economy and commercial science [see Faulkner, John], To these, modestly remunerated, chairs was in 1855 added a third, that of jurisprudence and law; and, pluralist as he was, Christie found himself further called upon to bear an active share in the teaching of the evening classes of the college, for many years one of its most important departments, and even for a time to hold an additional class at the Working Men's College in the Mechanics' Institution. In the deliberations which aimed at increasing the public usefulness of the Owens College, and which in fact for many a year largely turned on the question of how to assure its existence, Christie from the first took a leading part, distinguishing himself by resourcefulness as well as judgment. One of the most satisfactory incidents in the earlier internal history of the college, the institution of the associateship, was due to his suggestion. As a teacher he was, according to general consent, successful; he can at no time have excelled in delivery, but he was invariably clear in statement and polished in expression, and he had at command that incisive kind of wit which as a tradition endears itself to students.

In June 1857 Christie had been called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn, and he at once commenced practice at Manchester as an equity draughtsman and conveyancer, and in the chancery court of the county palatine of Lancaster. His practice continuously grew, till at the time of his retirement in 1877 he was the leader of the Manchester equity bar. He was a good draughtsman and clear-headed lawyer, and professionally a model of honour and propriety. After the procedure had been altered he was less effective as an examiner of witnesses in court. Pupils found his chambers an admirable school of training. With his practice, which was of a high class, the importance of his personal position at Manchester steadily rose. In 1861 he married Mary Helen, daughter of Samuel Fletcher of Broomfield near Manchester, who from first to last closely 'associated herself with her husband's interests and beneficence. In their hospitable house on Cheetham Hill, and afterwards at Prestwich, bis library had already begun to be a source of pride and pleasure to him, and in his vacations he was quietly pursuing his literary and bibliographical researches in France and elsewhere. Gradually the pressure of his Owens College duties, as super-added to his professional engagements, became excessive, and he found himself compelled to resign in succession the several chairs held by him. In 1866 he vacated that of political economy, in which he was succeeded by William Stanley Jevons [q. v.]; in the same year he resigned that of history; and, finally, in 1869 that of jurisprudence and law. In the present Owens College the subjects originally committed to him are taught by five professors and as many lecturers and assistant lecturers.

Christie's interest in the progress and prosperity of Owens College was in no degree relaxed by his ceasing to be a member of its teaching body. In 1870 the movement which had long been in preparation for the rehousing of the college in commodious buildings on a new site, and for the reconstitution of its system of government on broader and more suitable lines, took definite shape; and an extension committee was formed for carrying out these objects, of which Thomas Ashton, for many years one of the foremost public men at Manchester, became the chairman and the guiding spirit. With him and the principal of the college, Dr. Joseph Gouge Greenwood [q. v. Suppl.], Professor (now Sir Henry) Roscoe, and the other chief supporters of the movement, Christie worked in unbroken harmony, and there was no adviser whose counsel, whether in legal or in other matters, was more confidently followed. In the Owens College Extension Act of 1870 he was named one of the governors of the reconstituted college, a position which he was prevailed upon to hold to the last, and at the same date he became a member of the executive body, the college council, on which he retained his seat till 1886. In these capacities he actively participated in all the chief measures which attested the development of the college during the quarter of a century ensuing the incorporation with the college of the Royal Manchester School of Medicine, and the erection and subsequent enlargement of the buildings of its medical school; the reorganisation and extension of several others of its departments, including the school of law; and the efforts which in 1880 resulted in the grant of a charter to the Victoria University, with the Owens College as its first and for a time only college. Christie was elected a member of the first university court, and sat there till 1896. For the first seven years of the existence of the new university he was also a member of its council. In 1895 the university, on the occasion of the visit of Earl Spencer, its recently elected chancellor, conferred on Christie the honorary degree of LL.D.

In January 1872 the bishop of Manchester [see Fraser, James] conferred upon Christie the chancellorship of his diocese, an appointment which much gratified him and his friends. The duties of his office were performed by him with his usual care, and his decisions invariably met with ready acceptance. He was at the same time successful in considerably reducing the cost of proceedings in his court. He held the chancellorship till January 1894.

In 1879 Christie, who had two years before retired from the practice of his profession, left Manchester to reside at Darley Dale in Derbyshire. He afterwards lived for a time at Glenwood, Virginia Water, and then, after a temporary residence at Roehampton, finally settled down at Ribsden, Windlesham, a charming house on the farther side of Bagshot heath, formerly owned by Henry Cadogan Rothery [q. v.], to which he added, under his own directions, admirable accommodation for his library. In 1887, when he had for some years ceased to have his abode at Manchester, he found himself placed in a position of altogether exceptional responsibility towards the community in which the best part of his life had been spent a position so used by him that he will be enduringly remembered as one of the chief benefactors of that city. By the will of Sir Joseph Whitworth [q. v.], who died in this year, Christie was appointed one of the three legatees to whom was bequeathed a residuary estate of more than half a million, in equal shares for their own use, 'they being each of them aware of the objects' to which these funds would have been applied by the testator, had he matured the plans that had occupied him so long. (For a statement as to the appropriations actually made by Christie and his fellow legatees, see Whitworth, Sir Joseph.) Of existing institutions the Owens College was judged by the legatees to have a primary claim upon their munificence; and sums amounting (apart from that expended on the purchase of an estate to be held by the college for hospital purposes) to more than one fifth of the total at their disposal were devoted by them to the various departments of the college. These donations were made by the legatees in common; in 1897, however, Christie personally assigned a sum exceeding 50,000l. out of the final share of the residuum falling to him, for the erection of a Whitworth Hall, which should complete the front quadrangle of the Owens College, and satisfy the requirements for ceremonial purposes of college and university. The hall was opened after Christie's death, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the college. Already in 1893 Christie had himself offered to the college a specially characteristic gift at his own cost. This was the beautiful Christie library, which, erected by the architect of the college, Mr. Alfred Waterhouse, R.A., at a cost of over 21,000l., was opened by the Duke of Devonshire, as president of the college, on 22 June 1898.

Christie was only able to see the progress of the building of this library in its earlier stages. After ceasing to reside at Manchester, he had for some time been a frequent visitor there. In 1887 he had been appointed chairman of the Whitworth company, and he held this post till 1897. From 1890 to 1895 he was president of the Whitworth Institute. He was much interested in the medical and other charities of Manchester, and the Cancer Pavilion and Home, of whose committee he was chairman from 1890 to 1893, while he retained the presidency of the institution till his death, owed much to his munificence and care. Of a different nature was an office which he held from 1883 to the time of his death. This was the chairmanship of the Chetham Society, in which he had succeeded James Crossley [q.v.J, and to which he gave much attention, as may be seen from the reports, for which he was annually responsible. He was successful in securing new contributors to the society's publications. His own contributions included a volume of considerable local interest on 'The Old Church and School Libraries of Lancashire' (1885), and part ii. of vol. ii. of the 'Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington,' 1886 (the previous portions had been edited by James Crossley), together with a bibliography of Worthington (1888).

Christie's literary reputation had some years before this been established almost suddenly by a publication his studies for which, as his friends were aware, had occupied him for several years, but which took the reading world by surprise. 'Etienne Dolet, the Martyr of the Renaissance,' which appeared in 1880, was the result of long labour and indefatigable research (the latter carried on more especially at Lyons), and formed a contribution of enduring value to the history of llenaissance learning. The work was translated into French by Professor C. Stryienski, under the superintendence of the author, who thus gave the translation the character of a revised edition of the original (1886). Christie, however, lived to publish in 1899 a second English edition, for which he had in the interval collected much new material. The second edition, while filling some lacuna and correcting some oversights in the first, left wholly unmodified those fearless expressions of liberal thought and feeling which were eminently characteristic of the writer.

According to his own statement Christie had looked forward to putting into form, now that at last literary leisure seemed at his command, the materials he had collected for a series of essays on personalities of special interest to him in the history of the Renascence. Two of these, on Pomponatus and Clenardus, appeared in the 'Quarterly Review' in 1893 ; a paper on Giordano Bruno was published in 'Macmillan's Magazine' in 1885, and one on Vanini in the 'English Historical Review' in 1895. Unfortunately, not long after he had settled in Surrey, his health began to fail, and consecutive literary labour gradually became difficult and then impossible. Among his publications not already mentioned were an edition, with translation, of the 'Annales Cestrienses' for the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, of which society he was for many years president (1887), and 'The Letters of Sir Thomas Copley to Queen Elizabeth and her Ministers' (Roxburghe Club, 1897). He wrote for the 'Quarterly Review ' articles on 'Biographical Dictionaries' (1884), 'The Forgeries of the Abbé Fourmont' (1885). and on 'The Dictionary of National Biography' (1887), and contributed to this 'Dictionary' the following articles : Alexander, Hugh, Thomas, and William Christie, Anthony and Sir Thomas Copley, Mark Pattison, and Florence Volusene. He also wrote the article on 'The Scaligers' in the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' and was a frequent contributor to the 'Spectator' and to ' Notes and Queries.' Among his bibliographical publications were 'The Marquis de Morante, his Library and its Catalogue' (1883), 'Catalogues of the Library of the Due de la Valliere ' (1885), 'Elzevir Bibliography;' 'Works and Aims of the Library Association' (presidential address, 1889) ; 'Special Bibliographies' (1893) ; 'Chronology of the Early Aldines' (in 'Bibliographica,' 1895) ; ' An Incunabulum of Brescia '(1898).

In the Library Association of the United Kingdom Christie took a very active interest ; he was a vice-president of the Bibliographical Society, and for many years a useful member of the London Library committee. At the Royal Holloway College, near Egham, of which he was a governor from 1892 till 1899, and to whose affairs he during those years gave assiduous attention, he was chairman of the library committee, and took special interest in its work. His own library, of about 75,000 volumes, destined for Owens College, remained to the last the object of his affectionate solicitude. Of its choicer portions, arranged according to printers, the most notable was the collection, unequalled as to completeness, of the issues of Dolet's press; it also contained a large number of Aldines, about six hundred volumes printed by Sebastian Gryphius of Lyons, on whom he contemplated writing, and was rich in bibliographical works. It also included an unrivalled series of editions of Horace, to acquire which had been one of the amusements of Christie's life; and a large and in some respects exceptional choice of Renaissance literature, more especially of the productions of French writers and scholars of the period, and of Erasmiana. Christie's knowledge of his own books was both close and full; he was at the same time remarkably liberal in allowing the use of his treasures to others, and to the last ready to place the resources of his knowledge at the service of those engaged in literary composition or inquiry.

In October 1899 the freedom of the city of Manchester was conferred upon him and his surviving fellow legatee under Sir Joseph Whitworth's will, Mr. R. D. Darbishire. Ill-health prevented Christie's attendance on the occasion, and the lord mayor and town clerk of Manchester subsequently travelled to Ribsden in order to enable him to sign the roll. During the last two years of his life he was virtually confined to his couch. He bore the trial of a painful and incurable illness with an unaffected composure which it was impossible to witness without admiration, and his mind remained perfectly unclouded. He died at Ribsden on 9 Jan. 1901, and his remains, after cremation at Woking, were buried in the churchyard of Valley End, near Sunningdale. His wife survived him. By his will he left his collection of books to the Owens College, with ample provision for the maintenance of the Christie Library there. He also left legacies to the Royal Holloway College for the foundation of a scholarship and prizes, to the Library Association of the United Kingdom, and to various medical and other charities.

A portrait of Christie by Mr. T. B. Kennington is in the Christie Library at the Owens College, Manchester, where it was placed by his friends shortly before his death.

[Obituary notices in the Manchester Guardian, 10 Jan., the Athenaeum, 19 Jan., and the Owens College Union Magazine, Feb. 1901; private information and personal knowledge.]

A. W. W.