Open main menu

MIDDLETON, JOHN HENRY (1846–1896), archæologist, architect, professor of fine art, and museum director, born at York on 6 Oct. 1846, was the only surviving child of John Middleton, architect, of York, and Maria Margaret, his wife, daughter of James Pigott Pritchett [q. v.], architect, of York, and his first wife, Peggy Maria Terry. As a child he was taken by his parents to Italy, where he acquired a love of that country and its language, which lasted throughout his life. On their return his parents settled at Cheltenham, where his father practised as an architect, and where Middleton himself was educated, first at the juvenile proprietary school, and afterwards at Cheltenham College. In 1865 he was matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford. Middleton, though far from being an eccentric recluse, or of as weakly a constitution as his appearance seemed to denote, displayed from his youth an acutely nervous and fastidious temperament, liable to strong emotions and to deep depression. This was accentuated in 1866 by the shock caused by the sudden death of a close friend at Oxford, which brought on a severe and painful illness, which confined him to his room for five or six years ; hence he did not graduate in the ordinary course. During this period, however, by assiduous reading and study he laid the foundations of that remarkable, painstaking, and accurate knowledge of art and archaeology, for which he was afterwards so highly distinguished. On his recovery he started off on a series of travels of an arduous and adventurous nature. He visited America, crossing it to Salt Lake City and the Rocky Mountains, and descending into Mexico. He travelled in Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, and North Africa. He undertook a special journey to Fez in Morocco to study the philosophy of Plato as taught there, and in the disguise of a pilgrim effected admission into the Great Mosque, which no unbeliever had previously succeeded in doing, and also was presented to the sultan as one of the faithful. On his return he adopted the profession of an architect, studied for a time in the office of Sir George Gilbert Scott [q. v.], and became a partner in his father's business at Storey's Gate, Westminster. The profession was, however, never congenial to him, and after his father's sudden death in February 1885 he placed the business in thorough working order, and disposed of it to others.

Middleton had never ceased to pursue his favourite studies of art and archaeology, and even went through a course in the schools of the Royal Academy. His extensive and accurate knowledge became well known, and brought him many friends, among others William Morris [q. v. Suppl.], with whom Middleton travelled in Iceland. In June 1879 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was a frequent contributor to their 'Proceedings' and their publications ; he was elected a vice-president of the society in 1894. He was also a considerable contributor to the 'Encyclopædia Britannica ' (9th edition), as well as to many weekly and other periodicals. He made a special study of the antiquities of Rome, and in 1885 published these as 'Ancient Rome,' a revised edition of which appeared in 1888. In 1892 he followed this with another work, 'Remains of Ancient Rome.' In these works Middleton was the pioneer of the serious and scientific study of Roman antiquities, and his work, if it has been to a great extent supplemented, has not as yet been superseded. In 1886 he was elected Slade professor of fine art at Cambridge, and given the honorary degree of M.A. at Cambridge in 1886, and at Oxford in 1887, followed by those of Litt.D. at Cambridge in 1892, and D.C.L. at Oxford in 1894 ; he was also honoured with a doctor's degree at the university of Bologna. He was twice re-elected to the professorship. In 1888 he was elected a fellow of King's College, Cambridge. In 1889 he was appointed to be director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, a post which offered him opportunities for a further display of his knowledge in 'Engraved Gems of Classical Times' (1891), 'Illuminated MSS. of Classical and Mediaeval Times' (1892), and a catalogue of 'The Lewis Collection of Gems' (1892). Middleton was also appointed a lecturer at the Royal Academy in London. In 1892 he was selected to fill the important post of art director of the South Kensington Museum, a department then sadly in need of reform and reorganisation. Several reforms of great importance were at once initiated and carried out by Middleton at South Kensington. Unfortunately the strain of difficult and uncongenial departmental work brought on threatenings of the disease from which he had suffered in his early youth, and for which he had frequently to have recourse to opiates. An accidental overdose of morphia cut short his life at the Residences, South Kensington Museum, on 10 June 1896. His body was cremated at Woking, and the remains interred at Brookwood cemetery. Middleton married, in December 1892, Bella, second daughter of William J. Stillman, American correspondent of the 'Times' at Rome, by whom he left one child.

[Private information.]

L. C.