Proctor, Robert George Collier (DNB12)

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PROCTOR, ROBERT GEORGE COLLIER (1868-1903), bibliographer, born at Budleigh Salterton, Devonshire, on 13 May 1868, was only child of Robert Proctor (1821-1880) by his wife Anne Tate. The father, a good classical scholar, was crippled from boyhood by rheumatic fever. Proctor's grandfather, Robert Proctor (1798-1875), who published in 1825 'A Narrative of a Journey across the Cordillera of the Andes and of a Residence in Lima and other Parts of Peru in 1823 and 1824,' married Mary, sister of John Payne Collier [q. v.], who was thus the bibliographer's grand-uncle. A sister of Proctor's father (Mariquita) was first wife of George Edmumd Street [q. v.], the architect.

Proctor, who in childhood developed a precocious love of study, went from a preparatory school at Reading to Marlborough College at the age of ten. Owing to his father's death on 5 March 1880, he stayed at Marlborough only a year. Thereupon he and his mother, who was thenceforth his inseparable companion, settled at Bath. In January 1881 he entered Bath College, where his scholarly instincts rapidly matured. In 1886 he won an open classical scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and he matriculated at the university in October. His mother lived at Oxford during his academic course. He won a first class in classical moderations in Hilary term, 1888, and a second in the final classical school in Trinity term 1890, when he graduated B.A. While an undergraduate Proctor engaged in antiquarian research outside the curriculum of the schools. A visit to Greece stimulated his archaeological predilections. Already as a schoolboy he had collected books, and at Oxford he spent much time in his college library. A love of bibliographical study developed, and a catalogue which he prepared of the Corpus incimabula and printed books up to 1600 gave promise of unusual bibliographical aptitude.

He remained at Oxford after taking his degree in order to continue his study of early printed books. Between 23 Feb. 1891 and Sept. 1893 he catalogued some 3000 incunabula in the Bodleian library, in continuation of work begun by Mr. Gordon Duff, and he did similar work at New College and at Brasenose.

On 16 Oct. 1893 he competed successfully (after a first failure) for entry into the library of the British Museum, and he remained an assistant in the printed books department until his death. There he made indefatigable use of his opportunities and quickly constituted himself a chief expert on early typography and bibliography. He rearranged the incunabula at the Museum and revised the entries of them in the catalogue, in which he was also responsible for the heading 'Liturgies.' He soon set himself to describe every fount of type used in Europe up to 1520, and by way of preparation read through the whole of the British Museum catalogue. His reputation was finally established by his 'Index of Early Printed Books from the Invention of Printing to the Year MD,' which was issued in four parts in 1898, after four years' toil. He then worked on a similar index for the period 1501-20, but of four projected sections only one — the German — was completed in his lifetime (1903).

Proctor's earliest contribution to bibliographical literature was an article on John van Doesborgh, the fifteenth- century printer of Antwerp, which appeared in 'The Library' in 1892 and was expanded into a monograph for the Bibliographical Society in 1894. Proctor soon read many learned papers before that society, for which he also prepared 'A Classified Index to the Serapeum' (1897) and 'The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century' (1900). He likewise printed for private circulation three 'tracts on early printing,' viz. 'Lists of the Founts of Type and Woodcut Devices used by the Printers of the Southern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century' (1895); 'A Note on Abraham Frammolt of Basel, Printer' (1895); and 'Additions to Campbell's "Annales de la typographic neerlandaise au XV siecle" ' (1897).

Proctor subsequently experimented in Greek printing, adapting a beautiful type from the sixteenth-century Spanish fount used in the New Testament of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. With his new type Proctor caused to be printed at the Chiswick Press an edition of Æschylus's 'Oresteia,' which (Sir) Frederic Kenyon completed for publication in 1904. In the same type there subsequently appeared Homer's 'Odyssey' (1909).

Interest in the work of William Morris's Kelmscott Press led to a personal acquaintance with Morris, with whose socialistic views Proctor was in sympathy. On F. S. Ellis's death in 1901 Proctor became one of the trustees under Morris's will. Morris's influence developed in Proctor an enthusiasm for Icelandic literature. His first rendering of an Icelandic saga, 'A Tale of the Weapon Firthers.' was printed privately in 1902 as a wedding gift for his friend Mr. Francis Jenkinson, librarian at Cambridge University. He subsequently published a version of the Laxdæla saga (1903).

From boyhood Proctor was in the habit of making long walking tours, usually with his mother. The practice familiarised him not only with England and Scotland but with France, Smtzerland, Belgium and Norway. On 29 Aug. 1903 he left London for a solitary walking tour in Tyrol. He reached the Taschach hut in the Pitzthal on 5 Sept. and left to cross a glacier pass without a guide. Nothing more was heard of him. He doubtless perished in a crevasse. At the end of the month, when his disappearance was realised in England, the weather had broken and no search was possible.

A memorial fund was formed for the purpose of issuing his scattered 'Bibliographical Essays,' including his privately printed tracts. The collection appeared in 1905, with a memoir by Mr. A. W. Pollard. The memorial fund also provided for the compilation and publication of the three remaining parts of Proctor's 'Index of Early Printed Books from 1501 to 1520.'

[Proctor's Bibliographical Essays (with memoir by A. W. Pollard and reproduction of a photograph taken at Oxford), 1905; Athenæum, 10 Oct. 1903; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

S. L.