Stirling-Maxwell, William (DNB00)
|←Stirling, Walter||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
|Stisted, Henry William→|
STIRLING-MAXWELL, Sir WILLIAM (1818–1878), baronet, Spanish scholar, historian, and virtuoso, born at Kenmure on 8 March 1818, was the only son of Archibald Stirling of Keir, who married, on 1 June 1815, Elizabeth (1793–1822), third daughter of Sir John Maxwell (1768–1844), eighth baronet of Pollok and M.P. for Paisley, 1833–4. The descent of the Stirling family is traced from Walter de Striuelyng (fl. 1150), grandfather of Thomas de Striuelyng (d. 1227), chancellor of Scotland (see Fraser's Stirlings of Keir, 1858, passim). William's father, Archibald Stirling of Keir and Cawder, was born at Cawder on 2 Aug. 1769, and sailed for Montego Bay in 1789, to take charge of the family estates in Jamaica; the property had been built up by his uncle Archibald Stirling (1710–1783). For nearly twenty-five years he continued a planter there. In 1831 he succeeded his brother James in the family estates, and settled at Keir, near Dunblane. A keen agriculturist and breeder of shorthorns, he drained and improved his lands, and, though his West Indian property greatly deteriorated in value, his fortunes were augmented in Scotland by the discovery of coal, iron, and freestone upon his estates. He died on 9 April 1847.
William was educated at the private school of Daniel Baxter Langley, vicar of Olney in Buckinghamshire. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1835 (pensioner 28 April, fellow-commoner 13 Oct.), gradating B.A. in 1839, M.A. in 1843. His college tutor was Whewell. Upon leaving Cambridge at the close of 1839 he spent some time abroad, visiting Spain and the Levant. He explored Mount Lebanon, stayed with the monks on Mount Carmel, and returned to England from Syria in 1842. The study of the Bible amid the scenery of Palestine prompted him to versify a number of episodes of the Old Testament, and a few copies of his ‘Songs of the Holy Land’ were printed for private circulation (Edinburgh, 1846; 2nd ser. London, 1847; the two series were united and published in 1848, London, 4to).
Renewed visits to Spain induced a growing interest in Spanish art. The subject was practically unexplored, being represented in English by such perfunctory essays as the dramatist Cumberland's ‘Anecdotes of Spanish Painting’ and A. O'Neil's ‘Dictionary of Spanish Painters,’ 1834. Nor was either France or Germany much better off in this respect. Stirling's scholarly work on the subject thus proved to a large extent a revelation. It appeared in 1848 as ‘Annals of the Artists of Spain’ (London, 3 vols. 8vo; twenty-five copies with extra plates and adornments command high prices—one was sold in 1895 for 17l.; a new edition with emendations, 4 vols. 1891, 8vo); and, despite a tendency to discursiveness and over-elaboration of style, the good sense and taste displayed by an author so young were no less remarkable than the amount of precise information which his work embodied. The part relating to Velazquez was afterwards rewritten and published separately as ‘Velazquez and his Works’ (London, 1855, 8vo; translated into German, Berlin, 1856, and into French by G. Brunet, Paris, 1865). Two articles in ‘Fraser's Magazine’ for April and May 1851 showed that Spain was about to reveal new subjects and fresh sources of information; and in the following year appeared ‘The Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles V’ (London, 1852, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1853; 3rd edit. 1853; new edit. 1891, incorporating new materials contributed to ‘Philobiblon Miscellanies,’ vol. ii. 1856, besides American editions and German and Dutch versions). Stirling's work, which censures somewhat harshly the work of Robertson and other predecessors in the same field, is based mainly upon Siguenças's ‘History of the Order of St. Jerome’ of 1605 and upon the Gonzales manuscript in the archives of the French foreign office. These archives were under the jealous custodianship of Mignet, who was himself meditating a work upon the subject (Mignet, Charles V, son abdication, &c., 1854), and it required all Stirling's pertinacity to effect his object of transcribing the documents. When finished the book was dedicated to Richard Ford [q. v.] as a mark of ‘admiration and friendship.’ It was warmly praised by Ford, Milman, and the American historians, Prescott, Motley, and Kirk; but its position has necessarily been somewhat impaired by the rivalry of Mignet's book and by the elaborate Belgian monograph of Gachard (‘Retraite et Mort de Charles V,’ 3 vols., Brussels, 1854–5).
In the meantime (1847) Stirling had succeeded to the family estates, which he disentailed in 1849. Between that date and 1851 he remodelled the mansion at Keir, removing the entrance and turning the old hall into a library. In 1852 he sold the estate of Hampden in Jamaica, which from being a highly lucrative property had ceased to pay expenses. In 1852 he was returned unopposed for the county of Perth as a ‘moderate conservative,’ and in 1857, 1859, and 1865 he was re-elected without a contest. In 1868 he was unexpectedly defeated, but in 1874 was restored by a large majority. His speeches in Scotland were much appreciated for their point and flavour, but he took a very small part in debate, although he did effective work as a member of several commissions—of the universities commission, 1859, of the historical manuscripts commission, and from 1872 of the Scottish education board.
In addition to his seat at Keir, Stirling had a mansion with a very fine library in London (128 Park Street, Grosvenor Square), where he exercised a wide hospitality. He was one of the original thirty-five members of the Philobiblon Society in 1854, and was also a member of the Athenæum Club (he was elected in 1849 under rule 2). From 1848 he was a familiar figure in literary society, and was specially friendly with Lord Dufferin and his circle, with the Duc d'Aumale, with Thackeray, Monckton Milnes, Dean Milman, and Peter Cunningham. Prescott during his sojourn in London met him at Lockhart's, and wrote of him afterwards to Ford as ‘that prince of good fellows’ (October 1850). To the ‘Times’ of 4 Sept. 1858 Stirling sent an appreciative memoir of Ford, and in ‘Fraser's Magazine’ for March 1859 he paid a like tribute to Prescott (this was privately printed with additions; both were reprinted in ‘Miscellaneous Essays’). On 27 Nov. 1862 he was elected rector of St. Andrews University by 101 votes as against 59 recorded for Lord Dalhousie. His excellent address was not published at the time, though a few copies were struck off (see, however, Miscellaneous Essays; cf. Knight's Rectorial Addresses, 1894). In 1865, by the death of his uncle, Sir John Maxwell, Stirling succeeded to his baronetcy, and assumed the additional name of Maxwell. In 1870 he was elected rector of Aberdeen University by the casting vote of the chairman, but declined to accept the honour. In 1871 he took an active part in organising a loan exhibition in Edinburgh of pictures, manuscripts, and relics relating to Sir Walter Scott, and in November 1872 he wrote the preface for the quarto catalogue of the exhibition (1872). On 5 Feb. 1872 he was installed rector of Edinburgh University, and on 27 April 1876 chancellor of Glasgow University (both of his addresses are in the ‘Collected Works,’ vol. vi.). On 21 June 1876 he was created D.C.L. by the university of Oxford, and in the same year he had the exceptional honour for a commoner of being nominated a knight of the Thistle.
These literary and academic distinctions did not prevent Stirling-Maxwell from an energetic discharge of his duties of landed proprietor. On the contrary, he devoted extraordinary care to the breeding of shorthorn cattle, and both in this matter, and more particularly with regard to the breed of Clydesdale horses, he raised the standard which had been attained by his immediate predecessors; in both classes of animals a ‘Keir strain’ came to be highly valued. He joined the Highland and Agricultural Society in 1841, took a leading part in the direction of the shows at Perth (1861) and at Stirling (1864), and on 15 Jan. 1868 was elected honorary secretary of the society, a post which he held until his death; he was also president of the Glasgow Agricultural Society.
Meanwhile he indulged with absorbing eagerness in the collection of works of art and vertu and in many other hobbies, which tended to become the serious business of his life. His collection of sixteenth-century engravings and blocks for head and tail pieces was probably unrivalled. He himself acquired no little skill in the designing of initial letters. Other hobbies were the collation and bibliography of proverbs and the application of the bewildering variety of newly invented photographic processes. As an ardent bibliographer he was a regular frequenter of the reading-room at the British Museum, and referred more than once with gratitude to its ‘420 feet of wall covered to the height of six feet with books of reference.’ He was appointed a trustee in 1872, and he was also a trustee of the National Gallery and a member of the senate of London University (1874–8).
Sir William died of a fever at Venice on 15 Jan. 1878, and was buried with his ancestors in Lecropt church. He married first, at Paris, on 26 April 1865, Anna Maria (d. 8 Dec. 1874), third daughter of David Leslie Melville, tenth earl of Leven and Melville, and by her left two sons, Sir John Maxwell Stirling-Maxwell, present baronet, at one time M.P. for the College division of Glasgow, and Archibald, lieutenant in Princess Louise's Argyll highlanders. Sir William married as his second wife, on 1 March 1877, an old and attached friend, Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton [q. v.]; she was at the time confined to her room by indisposition, and she died on 15 June following.
There is a watercolour drawing of the historian as a child at Keir, painted by W. Douglas in 1824. A mezzotint was engraved from a photograph by R. B. Parkes as a frontispiece to the sixth volume of the ‘Collected Works’ in 1891, and there is a copperplate, by the same engraver, from a portrait by George Richmond, R.A., at Keir (prefixed to vol. i. of ‘Works’ in 1891). A terra-cotta bust, modelled in 1873 by Francis J. Williamson, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
It was not until five years after Stirling-Maxwell's death that his most elaborate historical work became available to the public under the title ‘Don John of Austria, or Passages from the History of the Sixteenth Century, 1547–1578,’ 1883, 2 vols. 8vo. It was edited and prefaced by Sir G. W. Cox, and adorned by cuts from a collection of engravings, &c., formed by the author, with a valuable appendix of documents and authorities (a few copies had been printed for private circulation as early as 1859, and others apparently at later stages of completion; and 115 copies were now issued in folio, with extra plates). The author had been at work upon ‘Don John’ almost continuously since the conclusion of his ‘Cloister Life,’ but his fastidious taste and regard for precision conspired to postpone publication. He was happily inspired in his subject; he was never happier than when elaborating a treatise within a treatise, such, for instance, in the present case, as his description of a slave galley, or that of the state of the navies of the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century. His good judgment generally in historical and literary matters is shown very clearly in his ‘addresses.’ His style gained in lucidity and succinctness with his years, and few scholars have had a wider bibliographical or historical purview of their subjects.
The minor publications of Stirling-Maxwell comprise: 1. ‘A Posie of Poesies,’ Cambridge, 1839, 8vo (in conjunction with Alexander James Beresford Hope [q. v.]). 2. ‘An Essay towards a Collection of Books relating to the Art of Design, being a Catalogue of those at Keir,’ London, 1850, 8vo (25 copies; another edit. 1860). 3. ‘Lemmata Proverbialia,’ London, 1851, 4to (10 copies only, privately printed in red, one on vellum). 4. ‘Napoleon's Bequest to Cantillon: a Fragment of International History,’ London, 1858, 8vo. 5. ‘An Essay towards a Collection of Books relating to Proverbs, Emblems, Apophthegms, Epitaphs, and Ana,’ London, 1860, 8vo (75 copies privately printed). The writer enumerates over a century more works than Duplessis in his ‘Bibliographie Parémiologique,’ Paris, 1847, and by 1870 his collection exceeded twelve hundred works on the subjects indicated. 6. ‘Examples of the Ornamental Heraldry of the Sixteenth Century,’ London, 1868 (300 copies, folio). 7. ‘Arabesques and other Ornaments in Typographical Use at Zurich in 1559,’ London, 1868, folio (the impression consists of 50 copies, 25 with red ornaments and black text, 25 vice versa; privately printed). 8. ‘The Chief Victories of the Emperor Charles V. Designed by Martin Heemskirk in 1555, and now illustrated with Portraits, Prints, and Notes,’ London and Edinburgh, 1870, folio (dedicated to the Duc d'Aumale, patron of the Philobiblon Society). 9. ‘Examples of the Engraved Portraiture of the Sixteenth Century,’ London, 1872, folio (50 copies privately printed). 10. ‘The Turks in 1533: a series of drawings made in that year at Constantinople by Peter Coeck of Aelst, with introduction,’ London and Edinburgh, 1873, obl. folio (100 copies privately printed, and bound in emblematic cloth). 11. ‘Essay towards a Catalogue of Prints engraved from works of Velazquez and Murillo,’ London, 1873, 12mo (100 copies privately printed). 12. ‘Andreæ Vesalii Tabulæ Anatomicæ Sex,’ originally printed at Venice in 1538, London, elephant folio, 1874 (privately printed, 30 copies on paper, one on vellum, and one on parchment; prefixed are a portrait and a life of Andrew Vesalius by Stirling-Maxwell; the ‘Tabulæ’ are reproduced in facsimile). This choice reprint, like several others of these issues, has a presentation page with a coloured border enclosing Stirling-Maxwell's autograph (Brit. Mus.). 13. ‘The Procession of Pope Clement VII and the Emperor Charles V after the Coronation at Bologna on 24 Feb. 1530;’ engravings after Nicolas Hogenberg, with historical introduction, Edinburgh, 1875, folio (250 copies).
Stirling-Maxwell contributed some valuable papers to the early ‘Miscellanies’ of the Philobiblon Society, and several reviews to the ‘Examiner,’ to ‘Fraser's Magazine,’ and other periodicals. The life of Prescott in the eighth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ was by him; and he wrote a number of smaller pieces in prose and verse. A selection of his verses is included in Grant Wilson's ‘Poets and Poetry of Scotland’ (ii. 406). A six-volume edition of his ‘Works,’ comprising a new edition of ‘The Artists of Spain’ (4 vols.), a fourth edition of ‘The Cloister Life,’ and a volume of ‘Essays, Addresses,’ &c., appeared in 1891, 8vo (415 large-paper copies, with red initials and rules and duplicate illustrations).[A very brief ‘biographical note’ is prefixed to the Collected Works, 1891, vol. vi. See also Fraser's Stirlings of Keir, 1858, and the same author's Maxwells of Pollok, i. 115; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Foster's Peerage and Baronetage; Athenæum, 1878, i. 89; Academy, 1878, i. 75; Times, 17 Jan. 1878; Scotsman, 17 Jan. 1878; Guardian, 16 Jan. 1878; Foster's Members of Parliament—Scotland; Ticknor's Life of Prescott; Martin's Privately Printed Books, pp. 520, 526, 540; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Stirling-Maxwell's Works in Brit. Mus. Library; information kindly supplied by Dr. Aldis Wright and James Macdonald, esq.]