Bullen, George (DNB01)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BULLEN, GEORGE (1816–1894), keeper of the printed books in the British Museum library, born at Clonakilty, co. Cork, on 27 Nov. 1816, began active life as a master at St. Olave's School, Southwark. In January 1838 he became supernumerary assistant in the department of printed books in the British Museum, and thus inaugurated a connection with the museum which lasted for more than half a century. At the date of his appointment the institution was entering on a very important era in its career. Panizzi had just been made keeper of the printed books, the demolition of the old Montagu House was completed, and the present buildings in Bloomsbury which had been erected on its site were ready for the reception of the library. Bullen's earliest work was to assist in the arrangement of the books on the shelves in the new premises. In the following year he took part in the preparation of the catalogue of the library which the trustees had resolved to print. The only result of the scheme was, however, the publication in 1841 of a single folio volume covering the letter A. To this volume Bullen contributed the article on Aristotle, which filled fifty-six columns and embraced entries in every European language. Forty years later the enterprise of printing the museum catalogue was resumed, and was then carried through successfully.

In 1849 Bullen was made a permanent assistant in the library, and in 1850 senior assistant. In 1866 he was promoted, in succession to Thomas Watts [q. v.], to the two offices of assistant keeper of the department and superintendent of the reading-room. Bullen's genial temper gained him a wide popularity while superintendent of the reading-room. In 1875 he succeeded Mr. W. B. Rye in the higher office of keeper of the printed books, and thus became chief of the department which he had entered in a subordinate position thirty-seven years earlier. Bullen filled the office of keeper with efficiency till his retirement in 1890. During his fifteen years' reign the great task of printing the museum catalogue was begun in 1881, and in 1884 there was published under his supervision the useful 'Catalogue of the English Books in the Library printed before 1640' (3 vols. 8vo). An index of the printers and publishers whose productions were noticed in the text is a valuable feature of the work. Bullen retired from the keepership of printed books in 1890, and was succeeded by Dr. Richard Garnett.

Although no scholar of a formal type, Bullen was much interested in literary research, and throughout his life he devoted much time to literary work. He was long a contributor to the 'Athenæum;' he wrote articles in 1841 for the 'Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,' and he compiled in 1872 a 'Catalogue of the Library of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.' His bibliographical skill was probably displayed to best advantage in his 'Catalogue of the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society,' which appeared in 1857. In 1877 he helped to organise the Caxton celebration at South Kensington, and edited the catalogue of books there exhibited.

In 1883 he arranged in the Grenville Library at the British Museum an exhibition of printed books, manuscripts, portraits, and medals illustrating the life of Martin Luther, and prepared a catalogue with biographical sketch. In 1881 he prefixed a somewhat unsatisfactory introduction to a reproduction by the Holbein Society of the editio princeps of the 'Ars Moriendi' (circa 1450) in the British Museum; and in 1892 he edited a facsimile reprint (in an issue limited to 350) of the copy, recently acquired by the museum, of the 'Sex quam Elegantissimæ Epistolæ' of Peter Carmelianus, which Caxton printed in 1483.

Bullen was a vice-president of the Library Association, and took a prominent part in many of its annual congresses. He was elected on 11 Jan. 1877 a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; the university of Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D. in 1889; and he was created C.B. in 1890. He died at his residence in Kensington on 10 Oct. 1894, and was buried in Highgate cemetery on the 15th. He was twice married. Mr A. H. Bullen, his second son by his first wife, has edited many valuable reprints of Elizabethan literature.

[Times, 13 Oct. 1894; Athenæum, 13 Oct. 1894; personal knowledge.]

S. L.