Keene, Henry George (DNB00)

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KEENE, HENRY GEORGE (1781–1864), Persian scholar, born on 30 Sept. 1781, was the only son of Thomas Keene, and was grandson of Henry Keene [q. v.] His mother was Jane, sister of the first Lord Harris [q. v.] He was educated privately, partly by Menon, afterwards one of Napoleon's generals. He went to India as a cadet in the Madras army about 1798, and shortly after became adjutant of a Sepoy regiment, which formed part of the brigade commanded by Colonel Arthur Wellesley. In May 1799 the brigade took part in the siege of Seringapatam, where Keene led the company carrying the scaling-ladders for the storming party (4 May). The fatigues of Indian campaigning having affected his health, he obtained an appointment in the Madras civil service through his uncle, Lord Harris, the commander-in-chief, in February 1801. After a short visit to England he entered the college of Fort William, Calcutta, then newly established by the Marquis of Wellesley for the training of young civil officers. In January 1804 he passed out in the first class with honours in Persian and Arabic, with prizes in classics, English composition, French, and gold medal in Mohammedan law, having held public disputations in Arabic and Persian. Joining the service at Madras he became in turn registrar of the district court at Rajamundri, and assistant-registrar to the sudder courts at the presidency, and wrote a book on law in Arabic, for which the government awarded him ten thousand rupees. In 1805 he went to Europe, and in 1809 returned to India, where he soon incurred the displeasure of Sir George Barlow [q. v.], the governor. He consequently gave up his post, and on 13 Nov. 1811 matriculated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1815 as eighth senior optime. Shortly afterwards he retired from the Indian civil service. He was admitted fellow of his college on 13 Nov. 1817, and took holy orders. About this time he visited the continent, in company with Lord Stanhope [q. v.], and became the friend of Archduke John and of Baron von Hammer the orientalist, with both of whom he kept up a constant correspondence for many years. In March 1819 he unsuccessfully contested the Arabic professorship of Cambridge University.

In 1824 Keene became professor of Arabic and Persian at the East India College at Haileybury, near Hertford, of which he was afterwards appointed registrar. At Haileybury he received visits from many famous men, and employed his leisure in literary work, among other things assisting his friend Dr. Adam Clarke [q. v.] in the philological part of his ‘Commentary on the Bible.’ He had written a Persian grammar, but destroyed the manuscript on learning that a similar work had been undertaken by the Mirza Muhamad Ibrahim, his assistant. In 1834 he resigned his offices at Haileybury, and went to reside at Tunbridge Wells, where he spent the rest of his life in local work, and in writing much on the ancient history of Persia, which he never published. He died there on 29 Jan. 1864.

In 1824 Keene married Anne, daughter of Charles Apthorp Wheelwright, formerly of Boston, Massachusetts, a royalist refugee. He left two sons and two daughters.

Among his few published works are: ‘Akhlák-i-Mahsini’ lithograph text and translation, and a book of the ‘Anwár-i-Suhaili,’ also text and translation (Hertford); ‘Persian Fables’ (London), 1833; ‘Persian Stories’ (London), 1835; ‘Sermons of Rev. W. Sharpe,’ with a memoir, 1836. The ‘Persian Fables’ were translated into Tamil in 1840, and a new edition was published in 1880 under the care of his daughter Katharine.

Keene had a clear and flexible style and indefatigable industry. He was much beloved by his acquaintance; but his versatility and want of worldly ambition hindered his rise.

[Family knowledge and information kindly supplied by the authorities at the India Office and the registrar of the university of Cambridge.]

H. G. K.