Coxe, Henry Octavius (DNB00)

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COXE, HENRY OCTAVIUS (1811–1881), Bodley's librarian, eighth son of the Rev. Richard Coxe, was born at Bucklebury, Berkshire, 20 Sept. 1811. He was educated at Westminster, and under his elder brother Richard, then a curate at Dover. He entered Worcester College, Oxford, as a commoner in 1830. Here he worked hard, both in the classical school and on the river; but an accident forced him to content himself with the ordinary pass degree in 1833. While still an undergraduate he had been invited to enter the manuscript department of the British Museum, which he joined in May 1833. Soon after this he took orders, and was for two years curate of Archbishop Tenison's Chapel, and subsequently for two more years of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, adding to his work in the museum zealous exertions among the London poor. In 1838 he was appointed an under-librarian at the Bodleian, where he spent the rest of his life, and was so devoted to his work that for the first thirty years he never once drew the full six weeks of his statutory vacation. The year after his appointment he married Charlotte, daughter of General Sir Hilgrove Turner, by whom he had five children, only two of whom survived him. His eldest son, William (Balliol College, Boden Sanscrit scholar, and assistant in the department of Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities in the British Museum), died in 1869, aged 29. In 1860 he succeeded Dr. Bandinel [q. v.] as chief librarian. As an under-librarian he was sent by Sir G. C. Lewis, then chancellor of the exchequer, in 1857, to examine the religious houses of the Levant, with a view to further discoveries of manuscripts, such as those which had rewarded the explorations of Tattam and Curzon. Coxe found a number of important codices at Cairo, Jerusalem, and Patmos, but the value of such treasures had unfortunately become known even to their ignorant owners, and the monks would not listen to any proposals for their purchase. A fever compelled his return home before he had been able to visit Mount Athos, but the results of his researches were already of considerable value, and appeared in an official report in 1858 (reissued 1880). This was the chief voyage of his life; but in his closing years he accompanied his daughter and her husband, the Rev. John Wordsworth (now, 1887, bishop of Salisbury), in several visits to Italy. During these journeys he was already suffering from the painful disease which, after seven years of suffering, bravely borne, caused his death (8 July 1881).

Coxe was at once a fine palæographer and editor of manuscripts, a hardworking country parson, and an admirable librarian. The catalogue of the Greek manuscripts at the Bodleian and that of the manuscript collections of the several Oxford colleges are his best known and the most generally useful works. He held successively various curacies in the neighbourhood of Oxford: Culham, 1839–48; Tubney, 1848–55; Yarnton, 1855; and in 1856 Wytham, of which in 1868 he became rector. He had a real gift for parish work, and was greatly beloved by his parishioners. He was also select preacher to the university in 1842, and Whitehall preacher 1868; in 1878 he presided at the first annual meeting of the Library Association at Oxford. As a librarian of the good old scholarly type he was helpful in the highest degree, and an inimitable guide to his library. The gigantic catalogue, in 723 folio volumes (each slip in triplicate), was compiled during his tenure of office between 1859 and 1880. He never suffered his private work to encroach upon his official time, and avoided interference in academic controversy, lest it might lead to the intrusion of party spirit into the management of the library. He showed perfect tact and consideration for his subordinates, who respected his authority the more because it was exerted without fuss or self-importance, and with a genial air of camaraderie. His personal charm was due to a rare combination of playfulness, dignity, and old-fashioned courtesy; and his wit and stores of anecdote were equally remarkable. He was an honorary member of the common rooms of Corpus and Worcester colleges, a chaplain of Corpus, a delegate of the press, and curator of the university galleries. His social powers and his unaffected sweetness of character made him a welcome guest in all society.

His published works are:

  1. ‘Forms of Bidding Prayer, with introduction and notes,’ Oxford, 8vo, 1840.
  2. ‘Rogeri de Wendover Chronica sive Flores Historiarum cum appendice,’ 5 vols. 8vo (Eng. Hist. Society), 1841–4.
  3. ‘The Black Prince, an Historical Poem, written in French by Chandos Herald, with a translation and notes’ (Roxburghe Club), 4to, 1842.
  4. ‘Poema quod dicitur Vox Clamantis, auctore Joanne Gower’ (Roxburghe Club), 4to, 1850.
  5. ‘Catalogus Codicum MSS. qui in Collegiis Aulisque Oxoniensibus hodie adservantur, 2 partes,’ Oxford, 1852, 4to.
  6. ‘Catalogi Codd. MSS. Bibliothecæ Bodleianæ pars 1’ (codd. Græci), Oxford, 4to, 1853.
  7. Id. ‘Partis 2 Fasc. 1.’ (codd. Laudiani), Oxford, 4to, 1853.
  8. Id. ‘Pars 3’ (codd. Canoniciani), Oxford, 4to, 1854.
  9. ‘Report to H.M. Government on the Greek Manuscripts yet remaining in libraries of the Levant,’ 1858, 8vo, and 1881.
  10. ‘Letter in Reports on the Antiquity of the Utrecht Psalter,’ 1874.
  11. ‘The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine represented by Figures, reproduced in facsimile from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library’ (Roxburghe Club), 4to, 1876.

[London Guardian, No. 1861, pp. 1089–90, signed J. W. B[urgon, Dean of Chichester]; Athenæum, 2803; Academy, 480; Times, 12 July 1881; Libr. Assoc. Trans., 1881–2, p. 13; information from Coxe's son and son-in-law; personal knowledge.]

S. L-P.