Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 3.djvu/11

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1

DICTIONARY

OF

NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY

SECOND SUPPLEMENT

Neil
Neil
1

NEIL, ROBERT ALEXANDER (1862–1901), classical and Oriental scholar, the second son of Robert Neil, minister of the quoad sacra parish of Glengaim near Ballater, Aberdeenshire, by his wife Mary Reid, was born at Glengaim Manse on 26 Dec. 1852. Both parents were sprung from Aberdeenshire famihes which had produced many clergymen and medical men. Robert, who was always interested in books, was educated under Mr. Coutts, the master of the local school, but was taught classics by his father. In 1866, while still under fourteen, he entered Aberdeen University, having obtained a small scholarship at the annual bursary competition. At the end of the session he was first prizeman in the class of Prof. (Sir) William Geddes [q. v. Suppl. I]. In 1870 he graduated at Aberdeen with first-class honours in classics, the Greek prize being divided between him and Mr. A. Shewan, now well known as an Homeric scholar. The following winter Neil acted as an assistant in the university library and next year studied anatomy and chemistry with the intention of graduating in the medical faculty. He soon changed his mind and was elected a classical scholar of Peterhouse, Cambridge. Meantime he had been reading omnivorously; but his early training, in which classical composition had played but a small part, handicapped him for the Cambridge course. Under the tuition, however, of Dr. J. S. Reid, of Dr. Verrall for a short time, and later of Richard Shilleto [q. v.], he made such rapid progress that in 1875 against strong competition he won the Craven scholarship and in 1876 graduated as second classic. Soon after he was elected a fellow of Pembroke College, where till his death twenty-five years later he was a classical lecturer, though his public lectures were given for many years at his old college, Peterhouse. Soon after taking his degree he published 'Notes on Liddell and Scott' in the 'Journal of Philology' (viii. 200 seq.); but his teaching work left him little leisure for writing, which his caution and fastidious taste made a somewhat laborious task, while his wide range of literary interests rendered reading more congenial. Almost immediately after his degree Neil began to read Sanskrit with Prof. Edward Byles Cowell [q. v. Suppl. II]. For the rest of his life Neil spent one or two afternoons a week in term time working with Cowell. In the earlier years they read parts of the 'Rig Veda,' of Indian drama, grammar, and philosophy, but gradually turned their attention more and more to Buddhist literature. In 1886, under their joint names, appeared an edition of the 'Divyavadana,' a Buddhist work in Sanskrit. The edition was founded on the collation of a number of MSS. which were supplied to the editors from various libraries, including those of Paris and St. Petersburg. After the publication of this work Neil, though still reading the 'Veda' with Cowell, took up seriously the study of Pali, and formed one of the little band of scholars who under Cowell's superintendence translated the 'Jataka,' or Birth Stories, into Enghsh (6 volumes, Cambridge University Press,