Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Morris, Richard (1833-1894)

MORRIS, RICHARD (1833–1894), English scholar and philologist, was born at Bermondsey on 8 Sept. 1833, of Welsh parentage. He was trained for an elementary schoolmaster at St. John's College, Battersea, but his education was for the most part self-acquired. In 1869 he was appointed Winchester lecturer on English language and literature in King's College school. In 1871 he was ordained, and served for two years as curate of Christ Church, Camberwell. From 1875 to 1888 he was head-master of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys at Wood Green, and afterwards for a short time master of the old grammar school of Dedham in Essex. His diploma of LL.D. came from Lambeth, being given him in 1870 by Archbishop Tait. The university of Oxford conferred upon him the honorary degree of M. A. on 28 May 1874.

As early as 1857 Morris showed the bent of his mind by publishing a little book on 'The Etymology of Local Names.' He was one of the first to join as an active member the Chaucer, Early English, and Philological societies, founded by his lifelong friend, Dr. F. J. Furnivall. None of his colleagues surpassed him in the devotion which he expended upon editing the oldest remains of our national literature from the original manuscript sources, on the same scientific principles as adopted by classical scholars. Between 1862 and 1880 he brought out no less than twelve volumes for the Early English Text Society, of which may be specially mentioned three series of 'Homilies' (1868 seq.) and two of 'Alliterative Poems' (1864). In 1866 he edited Chaucer for the 'Aldine Poets ' (2nd edit. 1891). This was the first edition to be based upon manuscripts since that of Thomas Tyrwhitt [q. v.], and remained the standard one until it was superseded by Professor Skeat's edition (1894-7). In 1869 he edited Spenser for Macmillan's 'Globe' edition, again using manuscripts as well as the original editions. In 1867 he published at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 'Specimens of Early English,' which has been augmented in subsequent editions by Professor Skeat. These are books for scholars and students. But Morris's long experience as a schoolmaster induced him to undertake a series of educational works, which have contributed largely to place the teaching of English upon a sound basis. The first of these was 'Historical Outlines of English Accidence' (1872), which, after passing through some twenty editions, was thoroughly revised after his death by Mr. Henry Bradley and Dr. L. Kellner. Two years later (1874) he brought out 'Elementary Lessons in Historical English Grammar;' and in the same year a primer of 'English Grammar.' From both of these tens of thousands of boys and girls have learnt their earliest knowledge of their own tongue, which they will never need to unlearn.

Scarcely had Morris struck out this remunerative line of authorship when he deliberately turned aside to devote the remainder of his life to what is probably the least appreciated of all the branches of philology the study of Pali, the sacred language of Buddhism. In this case the stimulus came from his intimacy with Professor Rhys Davids, the founder of the Pali Text Society. For that society he edited, between 1882 and 1888, four texts, being more than any other contributor down to that time. But he did not confine himself to editing. His familiarity with the development of early English caused him to take a special interest in the corresponding position of Pali, as standing midway between the ancient Sanskrit and the modern vernaculars, and as branching out into various dialects known as Prakrits. These relations of, Pali he expounded in a series of letters to the 'Academy,' which are valuable not only for their lexicographical facts, but also as illustrating the historical growth of the languages of India. The very last work he was able to complete was a paper on this subject, read before the International Congress of Orientalists in London in September 1892. Unfortunately he could not himself correct the proofs of this paper as printed in the 'Transactions.'

For the last two years of his life Morris was prostrated by an incurable and distressing illness, which he bore with characteristic fortitude, preserving his cheerfulness and his love of a good story to the last. He retired to the railway-side hamlet of Harold Wood in Essex, and there he died on 12 May 1894. He was buried at Hornchurch, within which parish Harold Wood is included. In 1893 Gladstone had conferred upon him a pension of 150l. on the civil list; and on 2 June 1896 new pensions of 25l. each were created in favour of his three daughters. The greater part of his valuable philological library was acquired by the bookseller, Mr. David Nutt.

[Personal knowledge; private information.]

J. S. C.