Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Griffiths, John (1806-1885)

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676504Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23 — Griffiths, John (1806-1885)1890William Alexander Greenhill

GRIFFITHS, JOHN (1806–1885), keeper of the archives at Oxford, was born in 1806. His father, Dr. John Griffiths, was head-master of the grammar school at Rochester. After receiving his preliminary education at Winchester, he was elected a scholar of Wadham College, Oxford, on 30 June 1824. He graduated B.A. with a second-class both in classics and in mathematics in 1827, and was elected fellow of his college in 1830, and after holding a classical lectureship was appointed tutor in 1834 and divinity lecturer in 1848. In 1837 he was appointed sub-warden, and he held the office for seventeen years. He was an accurate scholar, and always ready to assist his pupils; but he had a reserved and somewhat formal manner which diminished his popularity. He was a high-principled and religious man, and his hatred of needless controversy makes it somewhat remarkable that he should have been one of the 'Four Tutors' who drew up and signed the memorable protest against Newman's 'Tract XC' in March 1841. His three colleagues were Thomas T. Churton, Henry B. Wilson [q. v.], and Archibald C. Tait (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury). Griffiths defended his action in 'Two Letters concerning No. 90' in the series called 'Tracts for the Times.' He was appointed Whitehall preacher in 1843. He resigned his fellowship in 1854, being superannuated according to the old statutes, and resided for some time at Hampton Wick, near Kingston-on-Thames. Here he employed himself in editing for the delegates of the university press Inett's 'Origines Anglicanæ' (Oxford, 1855, 3 vols. 8vo). In 1857 he succeeded Dr. Philip Bliss [q. v.] as keeper of the archives, which was a post well suited to his exact turn of mind. He returned to Oxford, and lived in St. Giles's till he was elected warden of Wadham in 1871, on the resignation of Dr. Benjamin P. Symons [q. v.] In 1881 he resigned this office, which was never altogether to his taste, and for which he was in some respects not well fitted, and returned to his house in St. Giles's, where he died on 14 Aug. 1885. He held at different times such academical offices as select preacher (1850), delegate of the press, secretary of local examinations, curator of the university chest, and member of the hebdomadal council. In the latter part of his life he exercised great influence in the university.

Griffiths edited two of the plays of Æschylus, with English notes, the ‘Prometheus’ (1834) and the ‘Septem contra Thebas’ (1835), and published in 1831 a little work on ‘Greek Accents,’ which was very popular (4th edition, 1839; 5th edition, 1853). He also edited the ‘Homilies’ for the university press in 1859; and issued ‘An Index to Wills proved in the Court of the Chancellor of the University of Oxford,’ Oxford, 1862; and ‘Enactments in Parliament specially concerning the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge,’ Oxford, 1869. An edition by Griffiths of the Laudian ‘Statutes of the University of Oxford’ appeared in 1888. At the time of his death he had been collecting materials for a new edition of Anthony à Wood's 'Athenæ Oxonienses.' Griffiths collected about 280 rare engravings and etchings by old masters, which were sold by auction during his life (May 1883). The sale excited much interest among art collectors. The Rembrandt etchings were especially fine, and one of them, the portrait of Dr. Arnold Tholinx in the first state (of which only three other copies are known, and they all in public collections), sold for 1,510l., the largest sum ever given for a single print. He gave to his college a valuable collection of engravings and medals relating to its history.

[Obituary notice in the Times; manuscript life by the Rev. S. J. Hulme, furnished by the present Warden of Wadham; personal knowledge and recollection; communications from friends and from Messrs. Colnaghi; sale catalogue of his collection.]

W. A. G.