The Times/1906/Obituary/Richard Garnett
Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B.
We regret to announce the death of Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B., lately Keeper of the Printed Book in the British Museum, and a scholar and literary man of much distinction and wide knowledge. His death occurred yesterday from internal hemorrhage, at his house in Tanza-road, Hampstead.
Richard Garnett was born at Lichfield on February 27, 1835, and was one of a distinguished literary and scientific family, originally settled in Yorkshire. His father, the Rev. Richard Garnett, was at the time of his son's birth, priest-vicar of Lichfield Cathedral, but he soon afterwards succeeded Cary, the translator of Dante, as Assistant Keeper of Printed Book at the British Museum. If not therefore, born in a library, Dr. Garnett was certainly brought up in the atmosphere of one, and after receiving his early education at a private school in Charlotte-street, Bloomsbury, which produced more than one distinguished scholar, and reckoned Millais among its pupils, he entered the British Museum in 1851 as Assistant in the library shortly after the death of his father. Here nearly 50 years of his life were spent, he became Superintendent of the Reading Room in 1875, and Keeper of the Printed Book in 1890, from which post he finally retired in 1899. In his earlier years he had served under Panizzi, and so great was the knowledge he acquired of the books under his care that there was hardly a subject upon which he was not competent at a moment’s notice to direct or guide the inquiring student. Dr. Garnett certainly gave the lie to Mark Pattison's dictum abut the reading librarian; he not only read but published much; and though, perhaps, only a few can judge of his work done within the walls of the Museum, where he edited the catalogue from 1881 to 1890, as a scholar and writer of almost encyclopædic knowledge of everything connected with pure literature few Englishmen who have led the vita umbratilis have come to be so widely known and honoured among the less studious public. Dr. Garnett did not amass knowledge for its own sake; he was always ready to place his knowledge at the disposal of others, and it was said that he knew the nature of the contents of every book in the library. He will certainly be reckoned not the least of those scholars at the Museum who, like Panizzi, regarded the Museum as not for show, but for tho diffusion of culture, and in proportion to their numbers have done more for learning than many occupants of handsomely endowed chairs at the Universities.
Dr. Garnett had, perhaps, s wider knowledge of European literature,both ancient and modern, regarded from the purely literary standpoint, if not from that of philology, than any of his contemporaries. The list of his published works is a long one, and includes works on or translations from Greek, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese literature; while in almost all branches of English literature he was an acknowledged authority. If the amount of his strictly original work was not great, in spite of some graceful verse and an essay in fiction, “The Twilight of the Gods," it was perhaps, because he preferred to act as the interpreter of acknowledged masters; and, unlike that of many who have written on such difficult authors as Dante, Shakespeare, or Milton, his criticism, though that of a fastidious and learned scholar, was never overburdened with erudition. Indeed, true to the best conceptions of the duties of a librarian, as an exegetical commentator or guide, he performed his private work with the same purpose of instruction in view, and it is for this reason, among others, that he made so excellent an editor of the many classics which have been published under his auspices. It is to his honour that he could bring what is the highest in literature to the understanding of common people without in any way impairing the dignity of his subject. His death is a genuine loss to the cause which he served so diligently, while the epitaph written by a colleague in the Museum on Richard Garnett the elder—"Few men have left so fragrant a memory"—is equally applicable to the son.
Dr. Garnett married, in 1863, Miss Olivia Narney, but was left a widower in 1903. He was made C.B. in 1895.