Curzon, Robert (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

CURZON, ROBERT, fourteenth Baron Zouche (or de la Zouche) of Harringworth (1810–1873), elder son of Harriet Anne Bisshopp, in her own right Baroness Zouche, by the Hon. Robert Curzon, son of Assheton, first viscount Curzon, was born at London on 16 March 1810. He was educated at the Charterhouse, and entered Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner in 1829, but left without taking his degree in 1831, when he was returned by Clitheroe to the House of Commons. The borough was disfranchised in 1832, and Curzon never sat for another. In 1833 he began those travels which have made his name renowned. He visited Egypt and the Holy Land in 1833–4, on a tour of research among the monastery libraries, whence he succeeded in rescuing many valuable manuscripts and showed the way to other explorers, such as Dr. Tattam. Continuing his investigations in the Meliora convents of Albania, he finally in 1837 visited Mount Athos and its colony of monks. His varied experiences are recorded in his ‘Visit to the Monasteries in the Levant’ (1849), one of the most charming books of travel ever written and a worthy companion even to ‘Eothen.’ It immediately took hold of the popular fancy; three editions were issued in 1849, a fourth in 1851, a fifth in 1865, and a sixth (the latest) in 1881. From a scientific point of view, also, these revelations of monastic treasures were of great importance, and it was Curzon's experience that set others on the track which led to the acquisition of the magnificent collection of Nitrian manuscripts by the British Museum.

In October 1841 he was appointed attaché at the embassy at Constantinople and private secretary to Sir Stratford Canning (afterwards Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe). Here his antiquarian tastes found a congenial soil, and it is recorded that, without shirking work that was required of him, he greatly preferred a ramble in the bazaars or among the ruined vestiges of Old Stamboul to the copying of even the most exciting of his chief's famous despatches. In January 1843 he was appointed a commissioner, conjointly with Lieutenant-colonel (afterwards Sir W. Fenwick) Williams, for defining the boundaries between Turkey and Persia, and he remained, at Erzeroum for the most part, engaged in this task until January 1844, when he returned to England. In recognition of his services the shah and sultan bestowed upon him respectively the decorations of the Lion and Sun of Persia and the Nishan (or ‘Pour le mérite’) of Turkey. His impressions of the country, derived from a year's residence, are published in his ‘Armenia,’ of which three editions appeared in 1854. In the meanwhile he had married in 1850 Emily, daughter of Sir R. Wilmot-Horton, by whom he left issue the fifteenth Baron Zouche (b. 1851) and a daughter. His later travels in Italy were devoted partly to the same object which had inspired his early explorations of the Levantine and Egyptian monasteries—the discovery of manuscripts; and the Philobiblon Society published in 1854 his ‘Account of the most celebrated Libraries of Italy.’ His interest in manuscripts, however, was at least as much excited by the actual writing as by the contents. He was a student of the history of handwriting, and his valuable collection of manuscripts had been gathered with a view to an exhaustive treatise on the subject, which he never completed. In 1849, indeed, he printed fifty copies of his ‘Catalogue of Materials for Writing, Early Writings on Tablets and Stones, Rolled and other MSS. … and Books in the Library at Parham,’ which comprised examples in Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Uigur, Persian, Armenian, Greek, and Coptic, and upon which he intended to found a larger work. These manuscripts have lately been temporarily deposited by his son in the charge of the department of manuscripts at the British Museum. The only other work he published, and that in an edition of thirty copies, was the ‘Lay of the Purple Falcon,’ 1847, a poem in archaic style, professing to be a translation of a manuscript at Parham. The earlier part of the ‘Lay’ was really written by Bishop Heber, and Curzon completed it. In 1870 he succeeded his mother in the barony. The title was originally created by writ in 1308 in the person of William le Zouche, son of Eudo, a younger brother of Alan, baron Zouche of Ashby. It fell into abeyance in 1625, and was not revived till Sir Cecil Bisshopp made good his claim in 1815. On his death the barony again fell into abeyance between his two daughters, but this was terminated by the crown in favour of the elder. Lord Zouche was deputy lieutenant of Sussex and Staffordshire, where his estates of Parham and Ravenhill are situated. He died at Parham on 2 Aug. 1873, at the age of sixty-three.

[Times, 7 Aug. 1873; private information; Foster's Peerage.]

S. L-P.