Garnett, Richard (DNB00)

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GARNETT, RICHARD (1789–1850), philologist, born at Otley in Yorkshire on 25 July 1789, was the eldest son of William Garnett, paper manufacturer at that place. He was educated at Otley grammar school, and afterwards learned French and Italian from an Italian gentleman named Facio, it being intended to place him in a mercantile house. This design was abandoned, and he remained at home, assisting his father in his manufactory, and teaching himself German, that he might be able to read a book on birds in that language. In 1811, convinced that trade was not his vocation, he became assistant-master in the school of the Rev. Evelyn Falkner at Southwell, Nottinghamshire, devoting his leisure hours to preparing himself for the church. Within two years he had taught himself sufficient Latin, Greek, and divinity to obtain ordination from the Archbishop of York, whose chaplain pronounced him the best prepared candidate he had ever examined. After a brief settlement in Yorkshire he became curate at Blackburn and assistant-master of the grammar school, and continued there for several years, engaged in incessant study and research. In 1822 he married his first wife, Margaret, granddaughter of the Rev. Ralph Heathcote [q. v.], and in 1826 was presented to the perpetual curacy of Tockholes, near Blackburn, he had some time before made the acquaintance of Southey, who in a letter to Rickman calls him `a very remarkable person. He did not begin to learn Greek till he was twenty, and he is now, I believe, acquainted with all the European languages of Latin or Teutonic origin, and with sundry oriental ones. I do not know any man who has read so much which you would not expect him to have read,' About this time he came before the world as a writer on the Roman catholic controversy, contributing numerous articles to the 'Protestant Guardian,' the most remarkable of which were extremely humorous and sarcastic exposures of the apocryphal miracles attributed to St. Francis Xavier. He also commenced and in great measure completed an extensive work in reply to Charles Butler on the subject of ecclesiastical miracles; but the extreme depression of spirits occasioned by the death of his wife and infant daughter in 1828 and 1829 compelled him to lay it aside. He sought relief in change of residence, becoming priest-vicar of Lichfield Cathedral in 1820, and absorbed himself In the study of comparative philology, then just beginning to be recognised as a science. Having obtained an introduction to Lockhart, he contributed in 1835 and 1836 three articles to the 'Quarterly Review,' treating respectively of English lexicography, English dialects, and Prichard's work on the Celtic languages. These papers attracted great attention, and were almost the first introduction of German philological research to the English public. He made the Celtic question peculiarly his own. His conviction of the extent of the Celtic element in European languages, and of the importance of Celtic studies in general was to have been expressed in an article in the 'Quarterly Review' on Skene's 'Highlanders,' which for some reason never appeared. In 1834 be married Rayne, daughter of John Wreaks, esq., of Sheffield, and in 1836 was presented to the living of Chebsey, near Stafford, which he relinquished in 1838, on succeeding Cary, the translator of Dante, as assistant-keeper of printed books at the British Museum. Though exemplary in his attention to his duties, he took little part in the great changes then being effected in the library under Panizzi, but was an active member of the Philological Society founded in 1842. To its 'Transactions' he contributed numerous papers, including two long and important series of essays 'On the Languages and Dialects of the British Islands,' and 'On the Nature and Analysis of the Verb.' He died of decline, 27 Sept. 1850. His epitaph was briefly written by a colleague in the Museum—'Few men have left so fragrant a memory.' Besides his philological essays, edited by his eldest son in 1859, and his theological writings, which have not hitherto been collected, he was author of some graceful poems and translations, and of a remarkable paper 'On the Formation of Ice at the Bottoms of Rivers' in the 'Transactions of the Royal Institution' for 1818, containing a most graphic account of the phenomenon from personal observation. It is republished along with the essays of his brother Thomas [q. v.] As a philologist he is thus characterised in the preface to Mr. Kington Oliphant's 'Sources of Standard English:' 'It is a loss to mankind that Garnett has left so little behind him. He seems to have been the nearest approach England ever made to bringing forth a Mezzofanti, and he combined in himself qualities not often found in the same man. When his toilsome industry is amassing facts he plods like a German; when his playful wit is unmasking quackery he flashes like a Frenchman.'

[Memoir prefixed to Garnett's Philological Essays, 1859; Southey's Letters, ed. Warter, vol. iii.; Cowtan's Memories of the British Museum; Prichard's Celtic Nations, ed. Latham; Donaldson's New Cratylus; Farrar's Essay on the Origin of Language; Kington-Oliphant's Sources of Standard English; Gent. Mag. 1850; Athenæum, 1859.]

R. G.