Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Strachan, John

STRACHAN, JOHN (1862–1907), classical and Celtic scholar, born at the farm of Brae near Keith, Banffshire, on 31 Jan. 1862, was only son of James Strachan, farmer of Brae, by his wife Ann Kerr. He was educated at the grammar school of Keith under Dr. James Grant till he entered the University of Aberdeen in 1877 at the age of fifteen. Strachan proved an excellent all-round scholar, but especially distinguished himself in classics and philosophy. In 1880 he spent the summer at Göttingen working with Professor Benfey. In 1881, having completed the course at Aberdeen with first-class honours in classics, he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, where another Aberdonian, Robert Alexander Neil [q. v. Suppl. II], was the principal classical lecturer. In 1882 he won the Ferguson scholarship, which is open to the four Scottish universities. In 1883 he won at Cambridge the Porson university scholarship, and having taken the first part of the classical tripos with the highest distinction, proceeded to Jena, where he worked at Sanskrit with Professor Delbrück and at Celtic with Professor Thurneysen. The following year he spent the whole summer at Jena in the same pursuits, and in 1885 graduated at Cambridge with special distinction in classics and comparative philology. He was also second chancellor's medallist. In the summer of the same year he was elected professor of Greek at Owens College, Manchester, and in 1889, by a re-arrangement of work with Augustus Samuel Wilkins [q.v. Suppl. II], the professor of Latin, he added to Greek the teaching of comparative philology.

In his first years at Manchester, Strachan busied himself especially with work upon Herodotus, the fruit of which was an excellent school edition of book vi. (1891), containing an account of the Ionic dialect superior to anything preceding it. At his death he left in manuscript a large Greek grammar treated on philological principles, which is not yet published. He gradually devoted himself, however, more and more to Celtic studies, and during the last few years of his life his distinction in this department was recognised by the university, which appointed him to a newly founded and unpaid lectureship in Celtic; in order to give him time for this work he was granted an additional assistant in Greek. His publications on Celtic were numerous and important; the greatest of them was the 'Thesaurus Palæo-Hibernicus,' which he undertook in conjunction with Dr. Whitley Stokes [q. v. Suppl. II]; it appeared in two large volumes in 1901 and 1903, At the time of his death he was making arrangements for compiling the Dictionary to the texts thus published.

The increasing interest in Irish studies was fostered by the School of Irish Learning established in 1903 by Professor Kuno Meyer in Dublin, in which during several long vacations Strachan taught Old Irish with much enthusiasm. For his pupils he produced several little books containing the grammar and selections from the Old Irish texts. In the 'Transactions of the Philological Society' he published a long series of valuable memoirs upon the 'History of Irish,' the most important perhaps being 'The Compensatory Lengthening of Vowels in Irish' (1893), 'The Deponent Verb in Irish' (1894), 'The Particle "ro" in Irish' (1896), 'The Subjunctive Mood in Irish' (1897), 'The Sigmatic Future and Subjunctive in Irish' and 'Action and Time in the Irish Verb' (both in 1900). Shorter papers appeared in the 'Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie,' and other journals at home and abroad. In 1906 and 1907 he took up the study of early Welsh, and began preparing for the press 'An Introduction to Early Welsh.' This was published posthumously in 1909 by the Manchester University Press after a satisfactory settlement of a lawsuit brought against the publishers by the Welsh scholar Dr. John Gwenogvryn Evans, who thought that inadequate acknowledgment of Strachan's debt to his own published Welsh texts had been made by the editor. In September 1907 Strachan went for a few days to Wales in order to collate at Peniarth the texts of some of the early manuscripts which he wished to publish. While at Peniarth he caught a chill which on his return to Manchester developed into pneumonia. On 25 Sept. he died at Hilton Park, Prestwich, where he had lived for some years.

Besides his work on Greek, comparative philology, and Celtic, Strachan also taught Sanskrit at Manchester. In 1900 Aberdeen University conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D. No good portrait of Strachan exists, and the bronze bust in the possession of Manchester University only faintly resembles him. His Celtic books were purchased by Manchester University. In 1886 he married Mina, eldest daughter of Dr. James Grant, his old schoolmaster, and by her had issue two sons and six daughters. A pension of 80l. from the civil list was granted to his widow in 1909.

[Information from Mrs. Strachan; personal knowledge from 1880.]

P. G.