Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Liddell, Henry George
LIDDELL, HENRY GEORGE (1811–1898), dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and Greek lexicographer, born at Binchester, near Bishop Auckland, 6 Feb. 1811, was the eldest child of the Rev. Henry George Liddell (1787-1872), brother of Sir Thomas Liddell, bart., who was created Baron Ravensworth at the coronation of George IV. His mother, Charlotte Lyon, was niece of the eighth Earl of Strathmore. His younger brother, Charles Liddell (1813-1894), engineer, was assistant to George and then to Robert Stephenson. During the Crimean war he laid a cable, between Varna and Balaclava, but most of his work was done on railway construction; among the lines he built were the Taff Vale and Abergavenny line and the Metropolitan extension to Aylesbury. He died at 24 Abingdon Street, Westminster, on 10 Aug. 1894 (Times, 18 Aug.)
Liddell was educated at Charterhouse School under Dr. John Russell (1787-1863) [q. v.], and entered Christ Church as a commoner at Easter 1830, being appointed by Dean Smith to a studentship in December of the same year. In June 1833 he gained a double first-class, among his companions in the class list being George Canning (governor-general of India), R. Lowe (Viscount Sherbrooke), W. E. Jelf, Robert Scott, and Jackson (bishop of London). He graduated B.A. in 1833, M.A. in 1835, and B.D. and D.D. in 1855. He became in due course tutor (1836) and censor (1845) of Christ Church, and in the latter year was elected to White's professorship of moral philosophy, and appointed Whitehall preacher by Bishop Blomfield. In January 1846 he was made domestic chaplain to H.R.H. Prince Albert, and in the summer of the same year was nominated by Dean. Gaisford to the headmastership of Westminster School, vacant by the retirement of Dr. Williamson.
It was during his residence as tutor at Oxford that Liddell published the 'Greek-English Lexicon' which will always be associated wich his name. This important work was undertaken in conjunction with his brother-student and contemporary, Robert Scott (1811-1887) [q. v.], and the first edition was published, after labours extending over nine years, in the summer of 1843. It was based upon the 'Greek-German Lexicon' of F. Passow, professor at Breslau and pupil of Jacobs and Hermann. Passow's name appeared on the title-page of the first three editions, but was afterwards omitted, as the book increased in volume, and a vast amount of new matter was continually added. Passow himself had spent his first efforts on the Greek of Homer and Hesiod ; to this he had added the Ionic prose of Herodotus ; but his early death in 1833, at the age of forty-six, had left his work quite incomplete. Much remained to be done, not only in the arrangement and method of treatment and illustration of the different meanings of words, but also in adding complete references to the principal Greek authors of various ages. The 'Lexicon' was the constant companion of Liddell in spare moments throughout his life, long after Scott had ceased to be his coadjutor. The dates of the several editions are : 1st 1843. 2nd 1845, 3rd 1849, 4th 1855, 5th 1861, 6th 1869, 7th (revised by Liddell alone) 1883, 8th 1897. The last two editions were electrotyped, and the last, embodying much new matter, was published when Liddell was in his eighty-seventh year. An abridgment of the 'Lexicon' for the use of schools, published immediately after the first edition, and an 'Intermediate Lexicon,' published in 1889, have rendered the labours of Liddell and Scott accessible to the beginners of Greek, as well as to the most advanced scholars.
Westminster School had much fallen in numbers when Liddell undertook the duties of head-master. Many changes were needed to restore its ancient reputation. New assistant-masters had to be appointed, new school-books introduced, the range of subjects of study enlarged, and many old abuses swept away. Under Liddell's wise guidance, and through his own unsparing efforts, much good was effected, and the number of boys soon rose from between eighty and ninety to about 140. He was in many respects a very remarkable ruler, and his appointment in 1852 as a member of the first Oxford University Commission showed the confidence reposed in him by the government of the day. But the labours of that commission formed a serious addition to his school work, and an outbreak of typhoid fever, an unfortunate result of Dean Buckland's sanitary reforms, led to grave anxieties, and to a serious diminution in the numbers of the boys. Unable to carry out his wish to move the school to a new home in the country, and despairing of its growth and expansion in London, Liddell was glad to accept Lord Palmerston's offer of the deanery of Christ Church in June 1855, on the death of his old chief, Dean Gaisford.
He held the deanery from the summer of 1855 till his retirement in December 1891 a period of more than thirty-six years, a longer tenure of the office than any former dean had enjoyed. It covered also an eventful epoch in the history of Christ Church. The recommendations of the commission of which he had been an influential member were embodied in an ordinance which became law in 1858, under which two of the eight canonries were suppressed, and the powers of the dean and chapter were largely curtailed, their ancient right of nominating to studentships being taken away, and a board of electors established, consisting of the dean, six canons, and the six senior members of the educational staff, who were to examine and select, after open competition, all students except those who were drawn from Westminster School. Instead of the old number of 101 students, there were for the future to be twenty-eight senior students (answering in some respects to fellows of other colleges) and fifty-two junior studentships, twenty-one annexed to Westminster School, and the rest open to competition.
This ordinance remained in force till 1867. But it satisfied nobody ; the senior students especially demanding a place in the administration of the property of their house, of which the dean and chapter had always enjoyed the sole management. After much controversy a private commission of five distinguished men was appointed, who drew up a new scheme of government, which all parties agreed to abide by, and which was embodied in the Christ Church Oxford Act, 1867. Under this act a new governing body was created, consisting of the dean, canons, and senior students, who were to be the owners and managers of the property. The rights of the chapter as a cathedral body — were at the same time carefully guarded. Liddell had taken a prominent part in both these reforms, and lived to see and to guide a third change, which came after the parliamentary commission of 1877, by which the studentships were divided into two classes, with different conditions of tenure and emoluments.
Dean Liddell's time will always be associated with great alterations and additions to the buildings of Christ Church. The new block of buildings fronting the meadow was erected in 1862–5, the great quadrangle was brought to its present state, and the cathedral, chapter-house, and cloisters were carefully restored.
In all matters relating to the university Dean Liddell exercised considerable authority during many years. The Clarendon Press owes very much to his enlightened and prudent guidance; his refined artistic tastes, and lifelong friendship with Ruskin, led him to take a deep interest in the university galleries. He was vice-chancellor 1870–4, and discharged with singular dignity and efficiency the duties of that important office, which had not been held by a dean of Christ Church since the days of Dean Aldrich (1692–4). As a ruler of his college he was somewhat stern and unsympathetic in demeanour, but he became more kindly as he advanced in years, and his rare and noble presence, high dignity, and unswerving justice gained the respect and gradually the affection of all members of his house. He was created hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh University in 1884, and hon. D.C.L. of Oxford in 1893. On Stanley's death he was offered but refused the deanery of Westminster.
After his resignation of the deanery in December 1891 he lived in retirement at Ascot till his death there on 18 Jan. 1898. His body lies at Christ Church, outside the southern wall of the sanctuary of the cathedral, close by the grave of his daughter Edith, who died in 1876.
Dean Liddell married, on 2 July 1846, Lorina, daughter of James Reeve, a member of a Norfolk family. Three sons and four daughters survived him.
In addition to the 'Greek Lexicon,' Dean Liddell published in 1855 'A History of Ancient Rome,' 2 vols. This work was subsequently (1871) abridged, and as 'The Student's History of Rome to the Establishment of the Empire' has a permanent circulation. He rarely published sermons; the best known of them, preached before the university of Oxford on 3 Nov. 1867, dealt with the philosophical basis of the real presence.
There are two portraits in oil of Dean Liddell; one, by Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A., is in the hall of Christ Church. This was presented to the dean, at the gaudy of 1876, in commemoration of the completion of his twentieth year of office. The other, by Mr. Hubert Herkomer, R.A., was painted in 1891, and presented by the painter to the university galleries. There is also an exquisite crayon drawing by George Richmond, R.A. (1858), which has been engraved. These, together with a portrait of Liddell at the age of twenty-eight by George Cruikshank, are reproduced in the present writer's 'Memoir' (1899).
[Memoir of H. G. Liddell, D.D., 1899, by the present writer.]