Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 2.djvu/100

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Garnett
Garnett
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ment the whole of the 'Poetæ Scenici Græci,' Diodoras Siculus's History, the works of Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso, and the stories of Tieck and Hoffmann. All his life he studied not only the classics but the literature of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. His interest in current affairs was at the same time singularly active in youth, and he assimilated with avidity details of home and foreign politics and records of sport.

After his father's death in Sept. 1850 he declined, from a confirmed if somewhat precocious distrust of the educational efficiency of both Oxford and Cambridge, his kinsfolks' proposal that he should prepare for one of the universities. In the autumn of 1851, through the good offices of Anthony Panizzi [q. v.], his father's colleague at the British Museum, he became an assistant in the library there. With the British Museum he was closely identified for the greater part of his career. His first employment was in copying titles for the catalogue, but he was soon engaged in the more responsible task of revising the titles. Panizzi quickly recognised his ability, and entrusted him with the duty of classifying fresh acquisitions and placing them on the shelves. Panizzi won his whole-hearted admiration, and he set himself to carry on the traditions which Panizzi initiated at the museum. After devoting twenty years to subordinate labour at the museum, he was made in 1875 assistant keeper of printed books and superintendent of the reading-room. In spite of his shy and nervous manner he at once won golden opinions by the courteous readiness with which he placed his multifarious stores of knowledge at the disposal of readers. He was soon engaged on a heavy piece of work which added materially to the usefulness of the library to the public. In 1881 the printing of the general catalogue of books which had been suspended since 1841 was resumed. The superintendence of the enterprise fell to Garnett. He devoted immense energy to this great undertaking. In order to concentrate his energies upon it, he in 1884 retired from the reading-room, and was mainly occupied in editing the catalogue until 1890. In that year he was appointed keeper of printed books, and the catalogue was completed by other hands.

In 1882 Garnett was an unsuccessful candidate for the librarianship of the Bodleian library, Oxford, but his promotion to the headship of his department at the British Museum fully satisfied his ambitions. Many important additions were made to the library under his rule. 'A Description of Three Hundred Notable Books' (which he purchased for the museum during his term of office) was privately printed in 1899 in honour of his services on his retirement, and proves the catholicity and soundness of his judgment. He was keenly alive to the need of providing room for future accessions to the library, and in 1887 introduced 'the sliding press,' which greatly economised the space at his disposal. In 1899, a year before he attained the regulation age for retirement, he resigned his post, owing to his wife's failing health, after forty-eight years' service at the museum. Bishop Creighton called him 'the ideal librarian'—a title which was well justified by his width of literary knowledge and his zealous desire to adapt the national library to all reasonable public requirements. Although he was not a scientific bibliographer, he was interested in the purely professional side of his work, and won the regard of his fellow-librarians. In 1892-3 he was president of the Library Association of the United Kingdom, to whose 'Transactions' he frequently contributed. He edited a series of 'Library Manuals' and was president of the Bibliographical Society in 1895-7. From early days Garnett devoted his leisure to literature, and during his career at the museum steadily won a general reputation as a man of letters. After his retirement from the museum his pen was exceptionally busy, and his literary work was in unceasing demand until his death. In letters addressed between 1851 and 1864 to his younger brother, W. J. Garnett, who was then in Australia, he described his first literary endeavours as well as the varied experiences of his bachelor days in London. These letters, which have not been published, are now in the British Museum (Add. MS. 37489). Setting out with poetic ambitions which he never wholly abandoned, he published anonymously in 1858 his first volume, 'Primula; a Book of Lyrics.' This reappeared under his own name with additions next year as 'Io in Egypt, and other Poems,' and was thoroughly revised for a third issue in 1893. There followed 'Poems from the German' (1862); 'Idylls and Epigrams, chiefly from the Greek Anthology' (1869; republished as 'A Chaplet from the Greek Anthology,' 1892); 'Iphigenia in Delphi ' (1891); 'One Hundred and Twenty-four Sonnets from Dante, Petrarch, and Camoens' (1896); 'The Queen and other Poems' (1901); a dramatic jeu d'esprit in blank verse called