Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Henry, James

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HENRY, JAMES (1798–1876), classical scholar and physician, born in Dublin on 13 Dec. 1798, was the eldest son of Robert Henry, woollendraper, College Green, Dublin, by his wife Katherine Olivia, whose maiden name was Elder. He was educated by Mr. Hutton, a unitarian, and by Mr. George Downes, and proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin, where he became scholar, 1817; classical gold medallist, 1818; B.A. 1819; M.A. and M.B. 1822; M.D. November 1832. His tutor at college was Dr. Mooney. Entering the medical profession, Henry obtained a large practice as a physician in Dublin, in spite of his unconventional ways and religious scepticism. He was often engaged in professional controversies. He said no doctor's opinion was worth a guinea, and only charged a five-shilling fee, which had to be paid in silver, as he would not carry about change for gold. He made no charge for medicines, and kept an apothecary at 100l. a year to prepare them. He gave up his profession in 1845, having acquired some fortune in addition to a large legacy. Henry began the serious study of Virgil's ‘Æneid’ about 1841. When a boy of eleven he had bought a Virgil for half-a-crown, and this copy he long after carried about in his left-hand breast pocket. From 1841 the study of Virgil became the absorbing object of his life. About 1846 he began to walk through Europe with his wife and his daughter, Katherine Olivia, making Virgilian researches. His wife died at Arco, Tyrol, but he continued to travel with his daughter, who had tastes like her father, and who assisted him with devotion in collating and other literary labours. They wandered on foot through all parts of Europe, hunting for manuscripts and rare editions of Virgil. They visited the libraries of Dresden, Florence, Heidelberg, Leghorn, &c., and crossed the Alps seventeen times, sometimes in snow. In November 1865 Henry and his daughter left Italy for Dresden, having made their last collation of the Vatican and Laurentian MSS. The daughter (born 20 Nov. 1830) died suddenly on 7 Dec. 1872, to the great grief of her father, who spent the last few years of his life in Dublin, chiefly working at Virgil in the library of Trinity College. Henry died at the residence of his brother, Dalkey Lodge, Dalkey, near Dublin, on 14 July 1876. His health was unimpaired till he had a stroke of paralysis three months before his death. In his coffin were deposited the ashes of his wife, whose body he had been compelled, against his wish, to cremate in the Tyrol.

There is an engraved portrait of Henry in his ‘Poems, chiefly philosophical’ (Dresden, 1856). His ‘long white locks and his somewhat fantastic dress … were combined with great beauty and vivacity of countenance, and a rare geniality and vigour of discourse. There was a curious combination of rudeness and kindness … of severity and softness in him.’ Henry married, about 1826, Anne Jane Patton, daughter of John Patton, co. Donegal. They had two daughters who died in infancy. Katherine Olivia was the third.

As a Virgilian commentator Henry was acute, original, and profoundly laborious. Conington (Vergil, ii. p. xiii, 4th edit.), among other scholars, praises him highly, and frequently quotes his notes. Henry examined every Virgilian manuscript of any importance, and came to believe in the good preservation of the text, objecting to emendations. He printed privately at Dresden in 1853, 8vo, ‘Notes of a Twelve Years' Voyage of Discovery in the first six books of the Eneis,’ and in 1873, vol. i. (pt. i.), London, of his ‘Æneidea’ (critical, exegetical, and æsthetical remarks on the ‘Æneid,’ with a collation of all the principal editions, &c.). Vol. i. (continued), Dublin, 1877, and vol. ii. Dublin, 1878 and 1879, were published by his literary executor, Professor J. F. Davies. Henry had left his remarkable commentary complete in manuscript, and the remaining portion was issued (1889–1892) by Arthur Palmer [q. v.] and L. C. Purser, fellows of Trinity College, Dublin. Nearly all Henry's writings were privately printed. He composed much verse—some of it distinctly original—and was the author of various vigorously written pamphlets, of which the most brilliant is ‘Strictures on the Autobiography of Dr. Cheyne’ [see Cheyne, John], in which he assails the ‘fashionable physicians’ of his day. Among his other writings may be mentioned: ‘The Eneis, books i. and ii., rendered into English blank Iambic,’ 1845, 8vo; ‘Miliaria accuratius descripta’ [Dublin, 1832], 8vo; ‘Poems, chiefly philosophical, in continuation of my Book [1853] and A Half-year's Poems’ [1854], Dresden, 1856, 8vo; ‘Thalia Petasata, a foot journey from Carlsruhe to Bassano’ (verse), Dresden, 1859, 8vo; ‘Unripe Windfalls’ (prose and verse), Dublin, 1851, 8vo. (See also the list of his works in the Academy, 12 Aug. 1876, p. 163, and Brit. Mus. Cat.)

[Obituary in the Academy, 12 Aug. 1876, pp. 162, 163, by Professor J. P. Mahaffy; information kindly supplied by Dr. Henry's relative, Miss Emily Malone, from her own knowledge, and from that of friends and relations; Henry's Works; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. W.