Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Peile, John
PEILE, JOHN (1837–1910), Master of Christ's College, Cambridge, and philologist, born at Whitehaven, Cumberland, on 24 April 1837, was only son of Williamson Peile, F.G.S., by his wife Elizabeth Hodgson. Sir James Braithwaite Peile [q. v. Suppl. II] was his first cousin. His father died when he was five years old, and in 1848 he was sent to Repton School, of which his uncle, Thomas Williamson Peile [q. v.], was then headmaster. At Repton he remained till his uncle's retirement in 1854. During the next two years he attended the school at St. Bees, and in 1856 was entered at Christ's College, Cambridge. In 1859 he won the Craven scholarship, and in 1860 was bracketed with two others as senior classic, and with one of these, Mr. Francis Cotterell Hodgson, as chancellor's medallist. He graduated B.A. in 1860 and proceeded M.A. in 1863. Having been elected a fellow of Christ's in 1860, and appointed assistant tutor and composition lecturer, he settled down to college and university work, which occupied him till near his death. He took up the study of Sanskrit and comparative philology, and in 1865, and again in 1866, spent some time working with Professor Benfey at Göttingen. Till the appointment of Professor Edward Byles Cowell [q. v. Suppl. II] in 1867, he was teacher of Sanskrit in the university, and when Sanskrit became a subject for a section of part 2 of the classical tripos, he published a volume of 'Notes on the Tale of Nala' (1881) to accompany Professor Jarrett's edition of the text. He also corrected Jarrett's edition, which in consequence of a difficult method of transliteration was very inaccurately printed. In 1869 appeared his book 'An Introduction to Greek and Latin Etymology.' The lecture form of the first edition was altered in the second, which was issued in 1871; a third appeared in 1875. Soon after the point of view of comparative philologists changed in some degree, and Peile, who by this time was becoming more immersed in college and university business, allowed the book to go out of print. A little primer of 'Philology' (1877) had for long a very wide circulation. To the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopædia Britannica' he contributed the article on the alphabet and also articles upon the individual letters. He was for many years a contributor to the 'Athenæum,' reviewing classical and philological publications. In 1904 he was elected a member of the British Academy.
Peile was tutor of his college from 1871 to 1884, when, on his appointment to the newly constituted post of university reader in comparative philology, which was not tenable with a college tutorship, he resigned, but remained a college lecturer. On the death of Dr. Swainson in 1887 he was elected Master of Christ's, but continued to lecture for the university till his election as vice-chancellor in 1891. His two years' tenure of the vice-chancellorship (1891–3) was eventful beyond the common. The most important incident was the passing of an act of parliament, whereby the perennial conflict of jurisdictions between 'town and gown' was brought to an end satisfactory to both parties, the university surrendering its jurisdiction over persons not belonging to its own body and receiving representation on the town council. The controversy had reached an acute stage over a case of proctorial discipline, and the new arrangement was mainly due to Peile's broadmindedness and statesmanship. His vigorous vice-chancellorship made him henceforward more than ever prominent in the affairs of the university. While he was vice-chancellor a new chancellor—Spencer Compton Cavendish, eighth duke of Devonshire [q. v. Suppl. II]—was installed, and Peile visited Dublin on the occasion of the tercentenary of Trinity College, which conferred upon him the honorary degree of Litt.D. (1892). He had been one of the early recipients of the degree of Litt.D. on the establishment of that degree at Cambridge in 1884.
In 1874 Peile had been elected a member of the council of the senate, a position which he held uninterruptedly for thirty-two years. Along with Prof. Henry Sidgwick [q. v. Suppl. I] and Coutts Trotter [q. v.] he represented in the university the liberalising movement then perhaps at the zenith of its influence. He was long an active supporter of women's education and a member of the council of Newnham College, and in the university controversy of 1897 on the question of 'Women's Degrees' he advocated the opening to women of university degrees. After the death of Prof. Arthur Cayley [q. v. Suppl. I] in 1895 he became president of the council, and a new block of college buildings at Newnham has been named after him. He was in favour of making Greek no longer compulsory on all candidates for admission to the university when the question was debated in 1891, and again in 1905 and 1906. He also took an active part in the university extension movement.
Though he never ceased to take an interest in comparative philology, and remained for many years an active and influential member of the special board for classics, most of his leisure, after he ceased to be vice-chancellor in 1893, was devoted to compiling a biographical register of the members of his college and of its forerunner, God's House, a work which entailed a great amount of research. In connection with this undertaking he wrote in 1900 a history of the college for Robinson's series of college histories. The first volume of his register (1448-1665) was completed before Peile's death, which took place at the college after a long illness on 9 Oct. 1910. He is buried in the churchyard of Trumpington, the parish in which he lived before becoming Master of Christ's College.
In 1866 he married Annette, daughter of William Cripps Kitchener, and had by her, besides two children who died in infancy, two sons, and a daughter, Hester Mary, who married, in 1890, John Augustine Kempthome, since 1910 bishop-suffragan of Hull.
Peile was a man of moderate views who had the faculty of remaining on good terms with his most active opponents. He was an effective speaker and a good chairman. As a college officer he was very popular, and the college prospered under him. As a lecturer on classical subjects (most frequently on Theocritus, Homer, Plautus, and Lucretius), and on comparative philology, he was able to put his views clearly and interestingly, and, like Charles Lamb, he sometimes found the slight hesitation in his speech a help in emphasising a point. To him much more than to anyone else was due the successful study of comparative philology in Cambridge.
A portrait by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A., is in the possession of the college; a replica presented to Mrs. Peile was given by her to Newnham College, and now hangs in Peile Hall.
[Information from Mrs. Peile, Dr. Shipley, Master of Christ's College, Prof. Henry Jackson, and the headmaster of Repton; Prof. W. W. Skeat in Proc. Brit. Acad. 1910; Dr. W. H. D. Rouse in Christ's Coll. Mag, 1910; personal knowledge since 1882.]