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Jebb, Richard Claverhouse (DNB12)

JEBB, Sir RICHARD CLAVERHOUSE (1841–1905), Greek scholar, eldest of the four children of Robert Jebb, an Irish barrister, by his wife Emily Harriet, third daughter of Heneage Horsley, dean of Brechin, was born on 27 Aug. 1841 at Dundee, where his parents were visiting his maternal grandfather, the dean of Brechin; to the place of his birth he owed his second name. His father's grandfather, Richard Jebb, came from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, to settle at Drogheda in Ireland early in the eighteenth century. Richard Jebb, an Irish judge, was his grandfather; John Jebb [q. v.], bishop of Limerick, was his great-uncle.

Jebb's early life was spent in or near Dublin. In 1850 his father retired from the bar, and the family removed from Dublin to Killiney, nine miles off. After receiving early education from his father, Jebb was sent to St. Columba's College, Rathfarnham, in 1853, and two years later to Charterhouse School, still in the City of London, where he remained till 1858. When little more than seventeen he entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October of the same year. Though few worked harder than Jebb in manhood, his undergraduate years were not devoted exclusively to study; but he had learnt much at school, and his natural gifts—his memory and mastery of language—were altogether exceptional. Without any apparent effort he gained all the highest prizes that Cambridge offered for classical learning: he was Porson scholar in 1859, Craven scholar in 1860, and senior classic and first Chancellor's medallist in 1862. In 1863 he was elected fellow of Trinity College.

For the next twelve years Jebb was a classical lecturer of his college; in 1869 he was elected public orator of the university. Jebb found time and energy for much beyond the duties of these offices. He took part in a re-organisation of classical lectures in the university on the intercollegiate plan; together with Edward Byles Cowell [q. v. Suppl. II] he founded the Cambridge Philological Society in 1868, and was the first secretary; he acted as examiner in London University in 1872; he served for some time on the staff of 'The Times' as leader-writer and reviewer. Besides all this he published four books during this period. To the series called 'Catena Classicorum' he contributed editions of Sophocles' 'Electra' (1867) and of 'Ajax' (1868). An edition of 'The Characters of Theophrastus' followed in 1870, and a collection of translations into Greek and Latin verse in 1873. The editions of Sophocles showed for the first time that schoolbooks may be works of literature; the Theophrastus was so popular that it was soon impossible to procure a copy; the 'Translations,' which included a version of Browning's 'Abt Vogler' into Pindaric metres, a brilliant tour-de-force, were pronounced by experts to be masterpieces of their kind. In 1888 he composed another Pindaric ode addressed to the University of Bologna, which was celebrating the 800th year of its existence; to this effort Tennyson referred when next year he dedicated his 'Demeter and Persephone' to Jebb:

  Bear witness you, that yesterday
  From out the Ghost of Pindar in you
  Roll'd an Olympian.

In 1875 Jebb left Cambridge on being elected professor of Greek at Glasgow in succession to Edmund Law Lushington [q. v.]. He remained at Glasgow for fourteen years, admirably performing the duties of his chair. Much of the work was elementary, but his teaching was thoroughly business-like and practical: he kept his large classes in excellent order and drilled them methodically in the rudiments. To his advanced students he gave of his best. There was one remarkable novelty in his teaching: on one day in each week he lectured upon modern Greek, which he knew well and spoke with case. He visited Greece in 1878 and explored its archæology, receiving from the King of Greece the gold cross of the order of the Saviour. For the six winter months of each year at Glasgow his teaching work was heavy, but the long summer vacations, which he spent at Cambridge, gave him the opportunity to write; and books came at short intervals from his pen. The first of these was an important work on the 'Attic Orators from Antiphon to Isaeus.' Published in two volumes in 1876, this book was well received in general, but Prof. J. P. Mahaffy, reviewing the book in the 'Academy' (1 April 1876), brought against Jebb a charge of excessive obligation to the work of F. Blass in the same field. Jebb thought it necessary to reply to his critic in 'Some Remarks' (1876), Mahaffy's reply to which elicited a 'Rejoinder' from Jebb (1877). It might have been better if Jebb had relied for his defence upon the evidence of his later books. In 1877 he published a 'Primer of Greek Literature'; in 1878 a further book of 'Translations in and from Greek and Latin Verse and Prose,' in collaboration with Henry Jackson and W. E. Currey; in 1879 a volume of selections from the 'Attic Orators' with an excellent commentary, which he seems to have completed in a single month; in 1880 'Modern Greece,' two lectures with papers on 'The Progress of Greece' and 'Byron in Greece,' and in 1882 a monograph on Bentley in the 'English Men of Letters' series, a model of its kind. 'Homer: an Introduction to the Iliad and Odyssey,' appeared at Glasgow in 1887 (3rd edit. 1888); it was a masterly and concise statement of most complicated questions.

In 1884 Jebb paid a first visit to America, and received the degree of LL.D. from Harvard University. In 1889 he was recalled from Glasgow to Cambridge to take the place of Benjamin Hall Kennedy [q. v.] as regius professor of Greek. He was re-elected at the same time to a fellowship at his old college. These posts he held for the rest of his life. He at once took an active part in instruction and administration of the university. His carefully prepared lectures, which remain unpublished, dealt mainly with the history of Greek literature, and were attended by large audiences of undergraduates. Yet Jebb probably taught more successfully through his books than by means of lectures; his hearers, while admitting the excellence of his matter, were apt to complain of his manner as deficient in life and vigour.

Soon after his return to Cambridge he began to address an audience of a different kind. In the summer of 1891 Henry Cecil Raikes [q. v.], M.P. for the University of Cambridge, died, and Jebb was chosen to succeed him in the conservative interest. He was re-elected in 1892, 1895, and 1900. It may be questioned whether he did wisely in trying to combine the life of politics with the life of study; he carried the double burden with distinction, but not for long. He was not content to follow the example of his most famous predecessor, Sir Isaac Newton, and merely to sit and vote with his party. In discussions concerning education and the Church he spoke fairly often and was favourably heard. For debate he was not well equipped, but few men could be more impressive in a set speech upon a formal occasion. He gave a fine proof of his eloquence in the speech which he delivered at Charterhouse in July 1903, when a cloister was dedicated in commemoration of those Carthusians who had fallen in the recent war. Jebb, besides serving on parliamentary committees, sat on the royal commission on secondary education in 1894, on the London University commission of 1898, and the commission on Irish University education in 1901. He was also a member of the consultative committee of the board of education from 1900. He spoke from the platform at many meetings, political and educational, in different parts of the country. Jebb contrived to carry on his literary work together with this public activity. He delivered the Rede lecture at Cambridge in 1890 and the Romanes lecture at Oxford in 1899; the subject of the first was 'Erasmus' and of the second 'Humanism in education.' In 1892 he revisited the United States and delivered at Johns Hopkins University lectures on 'The Growth and Influence of Greek Poetry,' which he published next year. He published an elaborate commentary on the newly discovered poems of Bacchylides in the last year of his life (1905).

Meanwhile Jebb had begun and completed the great work of his life, his edition of Sophocles. He had started on the enterprise in 1880; the first volume, containing the 'Œdipus Tyrannus,' appeared in 1883. He pubhshed a volume upon each of the remaining extant plays—'Œdipus Coloneus' (1885), 'Antigone' (1888), 'Philoctetes' (1890), 'Trachiniæ' (1892), 'Electra' (1894), and 'Ajax' (1896); he intended to publish an eighth volume containing the fragments. To the Greek text are added a translation into English prose, critical notes upon the text, and a commentary. In the first two plays the critical notes were written in Latin; it was in deference to an appeal from Matthew Arnold that English was used for this purpose in the later volumes.

A man of affairs as well as a scholar, Jebb helped to shape and to start upon its career the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies in 1879. He was one of the originators of the society and one of its most active members; he made important contributions to the Journal issued by the society. Similarly, to Jebb more than to any other man the British School of Archæology at Athens owes its existence. Since his visit to Greece in 1878 he kept urging upon the British public the duty of doing what had already been done by France and Germany. In 1887 his ideal was realised, and the British School at Athens entered on its career of excavation and discovery. Lastly, he took a leading part in the meetings and discussions which ultimately led to the formation of the British Academy. When the Academy received its charter of incorporation in 1902, Jebb was one of the original fellows.

Although he was very shy in manner, Jebb's friends and admirers included the leading men of letters of his time, and with Tennyson, whom he had gratified by a review of 'Harold' in 'The Times' (18 Oct. 1876), he formed a close intimacy. He stayed with the poet at Aldworth, and wrote admiringly of Tennyson's work in T. H. Ward's 'English Poets' (vol. iv. 1894). His own literary eminence and public services were fittingly recognised. In 1888 he was elected an honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was made hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh in 1879; hon. Litt.D. of Cambridge in 1885; hon. LL.D. of Dublin and hon. Ph.D. of Bologna in 1888; and hon. D.C.L. of Oxford in 1891. He was a fellow of London University, appointed by the crown in 1897, and a corresponding member of the German Institute of Archæology. In 1898 the Royal Academy elected him to fill Gladstone's place as their professor of ancient history; in 1903 he was elected a trustee of the British Museum in succession to Lord Acton. In 1900 he accepted the honour of knighthood, which he had declined three years earlier. Lastly, in 1905 he received the distinction of the Order of Merit.

When the British Association met at Cambridge in 1904 Jebb became a member, and was elected a vice-president of the section of education. He was chosen president of the section for the following year, when the association met in South Africa. He reached Capetown on 15 Aug. 1905. His address on education, delivered in Capetown, was so successful that he had to repeat it at Johannesburg. The travelling, sightseeing, and general business of the next month was arduous and overtaxed his strength. Soon after reaching England on 19 Oct. his health failed, and he died at Springfield, his house in Cambridge, on 9 December 1905. On 13 Dec. he was buried in St. Giles's cemetery at Cambridge after a funeral service in the chapel of Trinity College. He left no family.

A portrait of Jebb, painted by Sir George Reid in 1903, hangs in the Hall of Trinity College. It is a faithful likeness; but the sitter was suffering at the time from hay-fever, and the expression is consequently harassed.

Jebb was married on 18 Aug. 1874, at Ellesmere in Shropshire, to Caroline Lane, daughter of the Rev. John Reynolds, D.D., of Philadelphia and widow of General Slemmer of the United States army. Lady Jebb survived her husband. To her the edition of Sophocles was dedicated: Jebb wrote that his work had owed more to her sympathy than to any other aid.

Sir John Sandys re-edited Jebb's 'Characters of Theophrastus' in 1909, and prepared for the press in the same year the translation of Aristotle's 'Rhetoric' which was left unpublished at Jebb's death. Lady Jebb issued in 1907 a selection from his 'Essays and Addresses' as well as his 'Life and Letters.' Jebb was a leading contributor to the 9th edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica.' He wrote for this Dictionary the articles on Bentley and Porson, and for the 'Cambridge Modern History' (vol. i. 1902) a brilliant chapter on 'The Classical Renaissance.'

Never idle, Jebb worked faster than other men, and few accomplished more. He took little exercise, although in later life he rode a tricycle, and he occasionally fished. He wrote a beautiful hand, clear and large; in working for the press he preferred pencil to pen and ink. While he did many things well he was far more distinguished as a scholar and man of letters than as a politician and public speaker; and his reputation will depend chiefly upon his edition of 'Sophocles,' which is the most completely satisfactory commentary on a classical author that has been written in the English language. Though each volume is of moderate compass, nothing is omitted that can throw light on the matter in hand. The compression is marvellous; yet the statement is everywhere perfectly lucid. Every part of the edition is good, but best of all is the commentary. Jebb had an exquisite apprehension of every shade of meaning in the most delicate and precise of languages; and there was a natural harmony between the poet and his expositor, by virtue of which Jebb seems to wind his way into the very mind of Sophocles. In a hundred places where the text had been suspected and alteration suggested, Jebb's subtle analysis proved the text to be sound and showed why Sophocles used precisely those words and no others. Few men of Jebb's time had received as great gifts from nature as he, and few worked as hard to exercise and improve them.

[Life and Letters, by Caroline Jebb, 1907, with an estimate by A. W. Verrall, pp. 429-487; The Times, 11 Dec. 1905; Athenæum, 16 Dec. 1905; Proc. Brit. Acad., 1905-1906, notice by Prof. R. Y. Tyrrell, p. 445; Tennyson's Life of Tennyson, 1897; Grant Duff, Notes from a Diary, 1889-1901 (1901-5); J. E. Sandys' Hist. of Classical Scholarship, vol. iii.; private information; personal knowledge.]

J. D. D.