Ormsby, John (DNB01)

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ORMSBY, JOHN (1829–1895), author, born at Gortner Abbey, co. Mayo, on 25 April 1829, was the eldest son of George Ormsby (d. 1836), a captain in the 3rd dragoons and high sheriff of co. Mayo in 1827, and his wife Marianne, third daughter of Humphrey Jones of Mullinabro, co. Kilkenny. He was a direct descendant of the Ormsby family which migrated from Lincolnshire to co. Mayo in the reign of Elizabeth. On the death of both parents during his childhood, he was placed under the guardianship of Denis Brown, dean of Emly. He was educated at Dr. Roman's private school at Seapoint, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1843, and he won a silver medal for chemistry at the university of London in 1846. Two years later he was admitted at the Middle Temple, but he was never called to the bar. His literary tastes were developed early, and he contributed papers of travel to 'Fraser's Magazine,' to the 'Saturday Review,' and to the early numbers of the 'Cornhill' and the 'Pall Mall Gazette.' He lived at this period in King's Bench Walk in the Temple, a 'denizen of Bohemia, but of the cultivated and scholarlike Bohemia,' and his friends often remarked that he would be an ' excellent representative of Warrington in "Pendennis."' He was extremely well read in eighteenth-century literature, and especially in Defoe, Fielding, and Boswell.

He was a member of the Alpine Club almost from its inauguration in 1858. He was one of the first party to climb the Pic de Grivola in August 1859, and he contributed an amusing paper on 'The Ascent of the Grivola' to the second volume of the second series of 'Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers,' by members of the Alpine Club (1862). In 1864 he published Autumn Rambles in North Africa,' travel sketches from La Grande Kabylie and Tunis during 1863-4, originally contributed for the most part to 'Fraser,' with illustrations by the author. In 1876 he collected in volume form his 'Stray Papers,' including some amusing pieces, 'Sandford and Merton,' 'Mme. Tussaud's,' and 'Swift on the Turf.'

Ormsby is memorable chiefly for his work in the domain of Spanish literature. His acquaintance with Spain, with its political and literary history, was both deep and wide. He had thoroughly explored the country, and during one prolonged expedition through its mountainous districts he suffered privations which had the effect of entirely destroying his power of hearing. For the last ten or twelve years of his life excessive deafness cut him off almost entirely from social intercourse; but his pen was never idle, and he mainly devoted himself to translations from the Spanish. Published in 1879, his translation of the 'Poema del Cid' is, if we except Frere's fragmentary renderings, the only version in English. The condensation into prose of the less interesting passages leaves it to some extent incomplete; but 'in all essentials in spirit, grace, fidelity Ormsby's verses come as near the spirit of the great Spanish epic as a translation may.' His rendering of 'Don Quixote' (4 vols. 8vo, 1885) is another excellent piece of work, valuable both for its accurate scholarship and for the bibliographical and other appendices one upon 'The Proverbs of Don Quixote.' Among his predecessors Ormsby accords a generous appreciation to Shelton (whom it had been his first design merely to edit), to Jervas (1742), and to Alexander J. Duffield (1881); but is unable to say much for either John Phillips (1687), Peter Motteux (1701), or Smollett (1755). Ormsby's health began to fail in_ June, and he died at Ramsgate on 30 Oct. 1895. Dying unmarried, he was succeeded at Gortner Abbey by his sister, Miss Marianne Ormsby.

[Burke's Landed Gentry; Athenæum, 9 Nov. 1895; Times, 8 Nov. 1895; Alpine Journal (memoir by Mr. Leslie Stephen), February 1896; Ann. Keg. 1895; Dublin Graduates; Don Quixote, translated by H. E. Watts, 1888 and 1895, introduction; Burke's Sancho Panza's Proverbs, 1892; Allibone's Diet, of English Literature.]

T. S.