Munro, Hugh Andrew Johnstone (DNB00)
|←Munro, Hector||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
Munro, Hugh Andrew Johnstone
MUNRO, HUGH ANDREW JOHNSTONE (1819–1885), classical scholar and critic, born at Elgin 19 Oct. 1819, was the natural son of Penelope Forbes and H. A. J. Munro of Novar, Ross-shire, the owner of a famous collection of pictures. His early youth was spent at Elgin. He was sent to Shrewsbury school in August 1833, and took a good place from the first. In 1836 Dr. Benjamin Hall Kennedy [q. v.] succeeded Dr. Samuel Butler [q. v.] as headmaster of Shrewsbury; and Munro himself has put on record (in his memoir of Edward Meredith Cope [q. v.], prefixed to the latter's posthumous edition of Aristotle's ‘Rhetoric’) the powerful influence which the enthusiasm and scholarship of their teacher exercised upon the sixth form. In October 1838 he entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, as a pensioner, was elected scholar in 1840, and university Craven scholar in 1841. In 1842 he graduated as second classic, and gained the first chancellor's medal. He was elected a fellow of his college in 1843, and after some residence in Paris, Florence, and Berlin, took holy orders and began to lecture on classical subjects at Trinity. From this time until his death, Trinity College was his permanent home, though he paid many visits to the continent, and generally spent some part of the summer in Scotland.
He first attracted attention in Cambridge by his lectures on Aristotle; and his first publication was a paper, read before the Philosophical Society 11 Feb. 1850, in which he reviewed with remarkable power and no less remarkable frankness Whewell's interpretation of Aristotle's account of inductive reasoning. Five years later, in the ‘Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology,’ he published an important paper on the same author, in which he maintained the Eudemian authorship of the fifth, sixth, and seventh books of the Nicomachean ethics. The theory was adopted by Grant in his edition; and most English scholars are now agreed that Munro proved his point. But the main work of his life was to be done in other fields.
Early in life he turned his attention to the poem of Lucretius: between 1849 and 1851 he collated all the Lucretian manuscripts in the Vatican and Laurentian libraries, and examined those at Leyden. It was known on what subject he was working; and his friends supposed, when Lachmann's critical edition appeared in 1850, that Munro would find nothing left for him to do. But he himself knew better. When the ‘Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology’ began to appear in 1854, he contributed a number of papers, chiefly on Lucretius. In 1860 he edited a text with a critical introduction; and in 1864 he published a revision of his text, with introductions, a prose translation, and a full commentary, both critical and explanatory. The book was at once recognised by competent judges as the most valuable contribution to Latln scholarship that any Englishman had made during the century. In the three subsequent editions he tended more and more to defend the traditional text in passages where he had originally followed Lachmann in emendation.
In 1867 he published a text of the Latin poem known as ‘Aetna.’ He was led to do so by the accidental discovery in the university library of a much better manuscript than any previously known. In 1868 he published a text of Horace, adorned with woodcuts of antique gems selected by a brother-fellow, Charles William King [q. v.] A remarkable introduction from his pen is prefixed, in which the soundness of his judgment is perhaps even more conspicuous than elsewhere, the question of Horace's text being one of the most difficult problems of philology.
In 1869 a professorshlp of Latin was founded at Cambridge in honour of Dr. Kennedy, and Munro was elected to fill the chair at once and without competition. Shilleto expressed the general feeling when he wrote
Esto professor carus editor Cari,
Carus Sabrinæ, carior suæ Grantæ.
This position he resigned (1872) after three years. His manner of lecturing was not calculated to attract large audiences under the present system of instruction for the purpose of examination. He had no flow of language and always spoke with a measured deliberation which most men reserve for their written works, and he was at times absent-minded: so that, if an attractive train of thought suggested itself, he was apt to follow it up without due regard to the original topic from which he had digressed.
The ‘Criticisms and Elucidations of Catullus’—Munro's last book—appeared in 1878. Much of it had already been printed in the form of papers in the ‘Journal of Philology,’ to which he was a constant contributor from its first appearance in 1864. As there was no necessity here for extreme compression, this book contains the strongest evidence of his knowledge and appreciation of literature, both ancient and modern.
Munro's strong constitution and temperate habits gave every promise of a very long life; but in the spring of 1885 he suffered from sleeplessness, and, going abroad for change and rest, he was attacked at Rome by an inflammation of the mucous membrane, and, when this was abating, a malignant abscess, which proved fatal, appeared on the neck. He died on 30 March 1885, in his sixty-sixth year. He was buried in the protestant cemetery at Rome, where his college has erected a marble cross in his memory. Memorial brasses have also been placed in Trinity College chapel and in the Elgin Academy.
Throughout his whole life Munro had a great fondness for composing in Greek and especially in Latin verse, and many specimens may be seen in the ‘Sabrinæ Corolla’ and ‘Arundines Cami.’ Though all his published Latin verses are translations, he often expressed his own thoughts in this form in private letters or in books given to friends. His verses have been attacked on the ground that they are not Ovidian. Against such a charge on one occasion Munro defended himself with characteristic vigour (‘Modern Latin Verse,’ Macmillan's Magazine, February 1875). The charge is, perhaps, true; but if his verses are not Ovidian, they are certainly Latin. Just before his death Munro printed a collection of these translations privately, and gave copies to his friends.
Munro will always hold a high position among English scholars. Though his knowledge was great and his memory retentive, in these points others may have surpassed him; but he had an unusual soundness of judgment, which seemed instinctively to dismiss the false and grasp the true, and a noble love of all great literature, which gives freshness and interest to every page of his writing. Homer and Lucretius were hardly more familiar to him than Shakespeare, Goethe, and Dante. The last he considered the greatest poet of any age or nation. He spoke French, German, and Italian, deliberately, indeed, as he did English, but with correct idiom and good accent.
His character, like his intellect, was strong. Generally reserved, and sometimes absent-minded, he united dignity and courteousness of manner with a very marked simplicity, and a strongly expressed antipathy for anything which he considered false or mean. He had not many intimate friends: to such as he had his attachment was extraordinarily strong.
He was of middle height and strongly built. His forehead was remarkably broad and massive, with thick nut-brown hair growing close to the head. The lines round the mouth were strongly marked and the lips tightly compressed. The general expression of his face was that of strength and benignity. It is unfortunate that no adequate idea of his living presence can be gained from the two posthumous busts at Cambridge.
Munro's published books are:
- ‘Lucretius’ (text), 1 vol. 1860.
- ‘Lucretius’ (text, commentary, and translation), 2 vols. 1864; 4th and final edition, 3 vols. 1886.
- ‘Ætna’ (text and commentary), 1 vol. 1867.
- ‘Horace’ (text, with introduction), 1 vol. 1869.
- ‘The Pronunciation of Latin,’ a pamphlet, 1871.
- ‘Criticisms and Elucidations of Catullus,’ 1 vol. 1878.
- ‘Translations into Latin and Greek Verse,’ 1 vol. 1884 (privately printed).
His chief papers in learned journals are:
- ‘Cambridge Philosophical Society's Transactions,’ x. 374-408, a Latin inscription at Cirta.
- ‘Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology,’ i. 21-46, 252-8, 372-8, ‘Lucretius;’ ii. 58-81, ‘Aristotle;’ iv. 121-45, ‘Lucretius.’
- ‘Journal of Philology,’ i. 113-45, ‘Lucretius;’ ii. 1-33, ‘Catullus;’ iii. 115-28, ‘Lucretius;’ iv. 120-6, and 243-251, ‘Lucretius;’ pp. 231-43, ‘Catullus;’ v. 301-7, ‘Catullus;’ vi. 28-70, ‘Propertius;’ vii. 293-314, and viii. 201-26, ‘Lucilius;’ x. 233-53, ‘Fragments of Euripides.’
[Athenæum, 4 April 1885; personal knowledge; private information.]