Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bliss, Philip

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562252Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 05 — Bliss, Philip1886William Prideaux Courtney

BLISS, PHILIP, D.C.L. (1787–1857), antiquary and bibliographer, was the son of the Rev. Philip Bliss, rector of Dodington and Frampton Cotterell in Gloucestershire, who married Anne, daughter of Thomas Michell of Conham, Wiltshire, and died on 1 Feb. 1803. The younger Philip Bliss was born at Chipping; Sodbury on 21 Dec. 1787, and educated at its grammar school and at the Merchant Taylors School, where he stayed from 1797 to 1806. In the latter ear he was elected a scholar of St. John’s College, Oxford, and in 1809 he became a fellow of his college, taking the degree of B.C.L. in 1815, and that of D.C.L. in 1820. From youth to old age he haunted libraries, and in 1810 he found congenial occupation in his appointment as assistant at the Bodleian, then presided over by Dr. Price. For a short time he was employed, through the nomination of Lord Spencer, at the British Museum, but he speedily returned to Oxford, and with Oxford his name will be ever associated. Bliss entered into deacon’s orders in 1817, his first curacy being at Newington, near Oxford, and was advanced to the priesthood in 1818. Parochial preferment he never held, but for many years, and until 1855, he officiated as chaplain to his friend, Sir Alexander Croke, at Studley Priory. From July 1822 to December 1828 he was under-librarian at the Bodleian to Dr. Bandinel, and after that period held numerous university offices. He had tried for the keepership of the archives in 1818, and had been defeated, though he polled the respectable total of 122 votes. His, first post was the registrarship of the university, which he retained from 1824 to 1853, when he retired on a well-earned pension of 200l. a year. He was keeper of the archives from 1826 to 1857, registrar of the university court 1831, and principal of St. Mary Hall, in succession to Bishop Hampden, 1848–57. In addition to these offices he discharged at various dates the duties of clerk of the market, delegate of the university press, and deputy professor of civil law. Bliss was the embodiment of the traditions and history of his alma mater. The punctuality of his habits and the method with which he kept the muniments entrusted to his care became a proverb at Oxford, while the sweetness of his disposition and the courtesy of his manners were the delight of all with whom he came in contact. He died at St. Mary Hall, Oxford, on 18 Nov. 1857, and was buried on the north side of St. Giles's churchyard, Oxford, on 23 Nov.; his wife, So hia, second daughter of the Rev. Robert Barker Bell, whom he had married in 1825, survived him. Their issue was one son and one daughter.

Many of the works of Bliss are of the highest utility to the literary student. Whilst at the Bodleian he compiled part of the catalogue of Richard Gough's collection; the ‘Oxford University Calendar' was edited by him for some years, and the catalogue of Oxford graduates, 1659–1850, appeared under his superintendence, He edited in 1811 Bishop Earle's ‘Microscosmography,' adding thereto a valuable bibliography of character-books, and was responsible for the publication of that part of the volumes generally known as ‘Letters from the Bodleian,' which contains John Aubrey's lives of eminent men. Among his other reprints were Arthur Wilson's ‘Inconstant Lady’ (1814); the ‘account of the Christmas Prince as it was exhibited in the university of Oxford in 1607,' which was written by Griffin Higgs; a selection of ‘bibliographical miscellanies,' of which one number only appeared in 1813 in 104 copies; ‘thirteen psalms and the first chapter of Ecclesiastes translated into English verse by John Croke, with documents relating to the Croke family,’ part of the 11th volume of the Percy Society’s publications (1844), which was mainly prepared by Sir Alexander Croke, but seen through the press by Bliss; and the first part of what was intended to be a series of ‘historical papers,’ to he edited for the Roxburghe Society by Bliss and Bandinel. But the work with which Bliss has for all time linked his name, and for which successive generations of scholars must own their indebtedness to him, is his edition in four volumes (1813–20) of Anthony à Wood's ‘Athenæ Oxonienses and Fasti.’ It originated in a conversation of Thomas Park, the antiquary, who told a London publisher of the notes which Bliss had collected as additions to the original work, and suggested the issue of a new edition. Another edition under the care of Bliss was among the projects of the directors of the Ecclesiastical History Society, but it went no further than the first volume containing the life of Wood, which appeared in 1848. Most of the fresh matter which Bliss intended to have incorporated in this impression is contained in an interleaved copy of the 1813 issue which was left by him to the Bodleian. His second great work related to the other Oxford antiquary, Tom Hearne. This was entitled ‘Reliquiæ Hearnianæ; the Remains of Thomas Hearne,’ and consisted of a selection from his voluminous manuscript diaries. The greater part of it had remained in the press untouched for nearly half a century before it was completed in 1857 at the suggestion of Mr. W. J. Thoms, the late editor of ‘Notes and Queries.’ This edition was soon exhausted, and a second was twelve years later included in the ‘Library of Old Authors.’ The library of Bliss, an extremely interesting collection, especially in character literature, volumes printed in London just before the great fire, books printed at Oxford, and works on the Psalms, were sold from June to August 1858. Many of them were purchased for the Bodleian Library. The Additional Manuscripts at the British Museum, 22574–22610, formerly belonged to him, and two volumes in the same set, 25100–25101, contain his notes on English poets and on fairy poetry. His letters to Dr. Hunter and Joseph Haslewood are in Nos. 24865 and 22308. Some selections from his correspondence are printed in ‘Notes and Queries,’ vols. viii. and x. of the 2nd series, and vol. i. of the 3rd series. A tribute to his poetic taste was paid in the same paper (2nd series, vol. x. 181, 204, 221) by printing the extracts from the old poets which he had incorporated in his edition of Wood.

[Nichols's Leicestershire, ii. 693*; Macray's Bodleian Lib. 215, 216, 235, 289; Cox's Recollections of Oxford, 86, 344–5, 375, 411; Robinson's Merchant Taylors, ii. 169; Gent. Mag. December 1857, pp. 677–8, January 1858, pp. 99–100; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 443, v. 47, 76, vii. 514..]

W. P. C.