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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/449

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Owen
Owen
443

bodily infirmity made it no longer possible to continue that flow of contributions to scientific literature which had never ceased during a period of sixty-two years, his first and last papers being dated respectively 1826 and 1888. On 5 Jan. 1884 he was gazetted K.C.B., and on Mr. Gladstone's initiative his pension was supplemented by 100l. annually. His wife had died 7 May 1873, and his only son in 1886, but the son (who had held an appointment in the Foreign Office) left a widow and seven children, who, coming to reside with him at Sheen, completely relieved his latter days of the solitude in which they would otherwise have been passed. During the summer of 1892 his strength gradually failed, and he died on the 18th of December, literally of old age. In accordance with his own expressed desire, he was buried in the churchyard of Ham, near Richmond, in the same grave with his wife.

Despite the prodigious amount of work that Owen did in his special subjects, he found time for many other occupations or relaxations. He was a great reader of poetry and romance, and, being gifted with a wonderful memory, could repeat by heart, even in his old age, page after page of Milton and other favourite authors. For music he had a positive passion; in the busiest period of his life he might constantly be seen at public concerts, listening with rapt attention, and in his earlier days was himself no mean vocalist, and acquired considerable proficiency in playing the violoncello and flute. Nothing afforded him more relaxation during his hard work than a visit to the theatre, and it is stated in his ‘Life’ that when Weber's ‘Oberon’ was first produced in London, he went to see it thirty nights in succession! In addition to his other accomplishments he was an expert chess player, and had for opponents at one time or another Sir Edwin Landseer, Lonsdale, and Staunton. He was also a neat and careful draughtsman; the large number of anatomical sketches he left behind him testify to his industry in this direction. His handwriting was unusually clear and finished, considering the vast quantity of manuscript that flowed from his pen, for he rarely resorted to dictation or any labour-saving process. Only those who have had to clear out rooms, official or private, which have been long occupied by him, can have any idea of the quantity of memoranda and extracts which he made with his own hand, and most of the books he was in the habit of using were filled with notes and comments.

Owen's was a very remarkable personality, both physically and mentally. He was tall and ungainly in figure, with massive head, lofty forehead, curiously round, prominent and expressive eyes, high cheek bones, large mouth and projecting chin, long, lank, dark hair, and during the greater part of his life, smooth-shaven face, and very florid complexion. Though in his general intercourse with others usually possessed of much of the ceremonial courtesy of the old school, and when in congenial society a delightful companion, owing to his unfailing flow of anecdote, considerable sense of humour, and strongly developed faculty of imagination, he was not only an extremely adroit controversialist, but no man could say harder things of an adversary or rival. Unfortunately, he grew so addicted to acrimonious controversy that many who followed kindred pursuits held somewhat aloof from him, and in later life his position among scientific men was one of comparative isolation. To this cause, combined with a certain inaptitude for ordinary business affairs, may be attributed the fact that he was not invited to occupy several of the distinguished official positions in science to which his immense labours and brilliant talents would otherwise have entitled him.

In addition to the honours already detailed and many others of minor significance (of which a full list is given in the ‘Life’ by his grandson), he received the Prussian Order ‘Pour le Mérite’ in 1851, the Cross of the French Legion of Honour in 1855, and was also decorated by the king of Italy with the Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus (1862), by the emperor of Brazil with the Order of the Rose (1867), and by the king of the Belgians with the Order of Leopold (1873). He was chosen one of the eight foreign associates of the Institute of France in 1859. The universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin conferred upon him their honorary degrees, and he was an honorary or corresponding member of nearly every important scientific society in the world. The Royal College of Physicians conferred on him the Baly medal (for physiology) in 1869, and the Royal College of Surgeons its honorary gold medal in 1883. He was the first to receive the gold medal established by the Linnean Society at the centenary meeting of that body in 1888. The Royal Society, on the council of which he served for five separate periods, awarded him one of the royal medals in 1846, and the Copley medal in 1851.

A fine portrait of Owen as a young man, by Pickersgill, is reproduced as frontispiece to the ‘Life’ issued by his grandson, the Rev. Richard Owen, in 1894. In the same work are reproduced portraits from a daguer-