Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Panizzi, Anthony
PANIZZI, ANTHONY (1797–1879), principal librarian of the British Museum, was born on 16 Sept. 1797, at Brescello in the duchy of Modena. His father, Luigi Panizzi, was the son of a lawyer named, like his son, Antonio; his mother, Caterina Gruppi, was likewise of a family connected with the law. Panizzi received his education at a school at Reggio, whence he proceeded to the university of Parma, and graduated in the faculty of law in 1818. He then commenced practice as an advocate, obtaining considerable distinction, and, notwithstanding his youth, receiving the office of inspector of the schools of his native town from the Duke of Modena, who entertained a personal regard for him. This favour did not prevent his conspiring with other young patriots to overthrow the worst of all the petty Italian tyrannies of that epoch. He was initiated as a Carbonaro in March 1820, and himself admitted others. In May 1822 the assassination of a police agent redoubled the fears and vigilance of the government, and, as a consequence of the inquiries set on foot, Panizzi was arrested in October of that year. Escaping by the connivance of an official, he fled to Lugano, and there published, with the fictitious imprint of Madrid, a pamphlet ‘I Processi di Rubiera,’ denouncing the cruelties and judicial iniquities of the Modenese government. The work was rigidly suppressed and is now exceedingly rare. The government indicted Panizzi in his absence, sentenced him to death as contumacious, and debited him with the costs of the legal proceedings, for which he disclaimed responsibility in a humorous letter. After a short stay at Lugano he made his way to London, where he was welcomed by Ugo Foscolo, who despatched him to Liverpool with a letter of introduction to Roscoe, the chief patron of Italian literature in England. Roscoe received him most kindly, provided him with numerous clients for his Italian lessons, and introduced him to the intellectual society which Liverpool at that time boasted, one of whose members, Francis Haywood, the translator of Kant, became a lifelong friend. Panizzi had, in all probability, already become known to Brougham through Foscolo, and their intimacy was cemented when, in 1827, he accompanied the great advocate to Lancaster, to the famous trial of Edward Gibbon Wakefield [q. v.], involving points of continental marriage law on which Panizzi's aid was of material service. Brougham requited him by the doubtful benefit of procuring him, in 1828, the Italian professorship at University College. The emoluments of the post soon proved to be a disadvantageous exchange for the tuition he had carried on so vigorously at Liverpool; but this incited Brougham, as chancellor and an ex-officio trustee of the British Museum, to provide for him more effectually by securing his appointment as assistant librarian in that institution in April 1831.
The administration of the museum was at that time at a lower ebb than at any period of its history. There were eminent men among the officers, and the collections had lately been enriched by two most magnificent additions, the Elgin marbles and the king's library; but the premises were antiquated, the grants insufficient, and the entire system of government unenlightened and illiberal. Panizzi's immediate official superior, the Rev. Henry Hervey Baber [q. v.], was a man of great capacity, but there was nothing for him to do worthy of his abilities, and still less for his subordinate, whose official time was mainly occupied for several years in writing out the titles of uncatalogued pamphlets in the king's library, or of the French revolutionary tracts presented by John Wilson Croker. Panizzi's attention was naturally much given to literature; he had already published an Italian grammar and chrestomathy for his scanty flock at University College, and he now carried on with vigour his great edition of Boiardo's ‘Orlando Innamorato’ and Ariosto's ‘Orlando Furioso,’ the first volume of which had been published in 1830. His rescue of Boiardo, long completely eclipsed by the fame of his adapter Berni, was the great literary achievement of his life. The preliminary essay, which occupies most of the first volume, was valuable in its day as an indication of the indebtedness of European chivalric fiction to Celtic romance, but has inevitably been superseded. He also thoroughly purified his author's much-corrupted text, and subsequently published an elegant edition of his minor poems. The work endeared him to patrons of Italian literature like Thomas Grenville [q. v.], William Stewart Rose [q. v.], and Lady Dacre, and promoted his intimacy at Holland House, where he soon became a favourite guest and the wielder of a social influence entirely disproportioned to his public position or pecuniary circumstances. Another literary undertaking, the preparation of the catalogue of the library of the Royal Society, produced an embittered quarrel, which fortunately terminated in a pamphlet instead of a lawsuit.
In 1834 the trustees, dissatisfied with the unsatisfactory progress of a subject-catalogue of the museum library, which had long been in progress according to a scheme framed by the Rev. Thomas Hartwell Horne [q. v.], called upon Baber to prepare a plan for an alphabetical catalogue. Baber proposed that the execution of this work should be entrusted to the superintendence of Panizzi; but an inferior plan was adopted, and Panizzi shared the task with others. It soon appeared that he performed more work than any two of his colleagues, and a sub-committee of trustees recommended that his salary should be raised in consequence. The rejection of this proposal by the general board occasioned Grenville's secession from the trustees' meetings. At this time the governing body was imperatively summoned to set its house in order by a parliamentary committee presided over by Mr. Sotheran Estcourt, but mainly inspired by Sir Benjamin Hawes [q. v.] This inquiry, to which Panizzi contributed important evidence and ample statistical information, though set on foot through the intrigues of a discarded minor official, produced valuable reforms, and constituted an epoch in the history of the museum. The new era was most effectively symbolised in Panizzi himself, who succeeded Baber as keeper of printed books in July 1837, the year after the termination of the committee's sittings. His elevation over his senior in office, the Rev. Henry Francis Cary [q. v.], occasioned much comment and remonstrance, but was inevitable, Cary being by his own admission incapable of the fatigue of a laborious post. Panizzi behaved with perfect delicacy, and nothing would have been said but for the illiberal prejudice against his foreign extraction from which, to the discredit of his adopted country, and though he had been naturalised as early as 1832, he suffered more or less during all his life in England.
Panizzi assumed office at a critical period, when the library was to be removed from Montague House to its new quarters, when the catalogue had to be undertaken in earnest, and when the deficiencies of the collection had to be ascertained and made good. The first undertaking, under the immediate supervision of John Winter Jones and Thomas Watts [q. v.], was carried out with a celerity and an absence of friction which astonished everybody. The progress of the catalogue was by no means equally smooth and rapid. The trustees left it optional with Panizzi to undertake or decline this vast addition to his ordinary labours, which he accepted in December 1838. The next step was to frame the catalogue rules, in which, with the assistance of Jones, Watts, and others, Panizzi proved himself the greatest legislator the world of librarianship had yet seen, and his work, in essentials, will never be superseded. Some of the rules may be over-minute, and the undertaking may in some respects have been planned on too extensive a scale; but the real causes of the delays which excited so much criticism were insufficiency of staff and the unfortunate decision of the trustees, in spite of Panizzi's warnings, to proceed in strict alphabetical order, and print each letter as soon as it could be made ready for the press. This occasioned enormous hindrance—first, in ascertaining, or rather trying to ascertain, what books should come under a particular letter, and afterwards in carrying on the printing of one portion of the catalogue simultaneously with the preparation of another. The only visible result of Panizzi's labours for many years was the solitary volume printed in 1841, and great dissatisfaction prevailed. But in 1849 Panizzi persuaded the trustees to dismiss the idea of printing for the present, and to engage an efficient staff of transcribers to copy titles on movable slips, after a plan suggested independently by Wilson Croker and Mr. E. A. Roy of the library. He was thus enabled to place the groundwork of a comprehensive catalogue before the public in September 1850. It must be admitted that Panizzi did not see the advantages of print, either as regarded the circulation of the catalogue or the economy of space. His manuscript catalogue, after serving excellently for a time, at last proved impracticable under the multitude of accessions; it assumed unwieldy proportions which rendered it increasingly difficult to consult, or even to house. The extent of the accessions was mainly due to the success of Panizzi's efforts to supply the deficiencies of the library—efforts in which no other librarian of his period could have succeeded, for no one else possessed his personal influence either with the treasury or with public-spirited collectors. Having in 1843 prepared, with the assistance of Jones and Watts, a most able exposition of these deficiencies in nearly every branch of literature but classics, he procured in 1845 an annual grant of 10,000l., the judicious administration of which, under him and his successors, has elevated the museum library from the sixth or seventh to the second, if not the first, place among the libraries of the world. One of the most important additions it ever received, the bequest of the Grenville Library in 1846, was entirely due to Panizzi's personal influence [see Grenville, Thomas].
By 1848 the public dissatisfaction with the administration of the museum in most of its departments—prompted, however, far more by lack of space than by distrust of the staff—had reached a point which was held to justify the appointment of a royal commission of inquiry. The idea seems to have arisen with the men of science, who were justly scandalised at the crowded condition of the natural history collections; but the centre of interest speedily shifted to the printed book department. Panizzi's success in rebutting all the accusations brought against his management was universally acknowledged, and the most important result of the investigation was to virtually transfer the administration of the museum to him from the secretary, whose mind gave way during the sittings of the commission; while the commissioners' proposals for a more radical change of system were allowed to drop. Two years afterwards the insufficiency of space, so far as regarded the library, was effectually remedied for a long time by Panizzi's grand conception of the reading-room and its annexes, by which he will be better remembered than by any other of his achievements. The waste of space through the emptiness of the great quadrangle must have struck every one, but no suggestion for occupying it with an additional library appears to have been made except by Thomas Watts in 1836. Professor William Hosking [q. v.] and Edward Hawkins (1780–1867) [q. v.], keeper of antiquities, brought forward in 1845–50 schemes for a central hall for sculpture, which passed unnoticed. Panizzi's first design was sketched by him on 18 April 1852, and submitted to the trustees on 5 May following. It merely contemplated a flat-roofed building, and it does not precisely appear when the striking architectural feature of the dome was added. After a controversy with Wilson Croker and Sir Charles Barry, who wished the space to be devoted to a central hall for antiquities, Panizzi's plans were approved by the trustees and the government, and it would now be universally admitted that the world contains no edifice more carefully devised, down to the minutest details, or better adapted to subserve the double purpose of storage for immense contents and accommodation for a numerous public. The foundations were laid in May 1854, and the building was inaugurated by a reception given by Panizzi on 2 May 1857. A year previously he had become principal librarian, having succeeded Sir Henry Ellis on 6 March 1856. The minor improvements introduced by him during his nineteen years' tenure of office as keeper of printed books are far too numerous to be noticed here; but one, the stricter enforcement of the Copyright Act, must be mentioned, on account of the obloquy to which it for a time subjected him.
As principal librarian Panizzi displayed the same energy and administrative capacity that he had exhibited in a subordinate station, but no very important question agitated his term of office, except one in which he unfortunately took the wrong side. He was a strong advocate for the removal of the natural history collections, chiefly, it was thought, from impatience and dislike of the men of science, whom he could never endure. ‘He would,’ said Macaulay, ‘give three mammoths for one Aldus.’ It is indeed improbable that any influence would have prevailed upon any government to sanction the large expenditure which the proper accommodation of all the multifarious collections of the museum at Bloomsbury would have entailed; and if proper accommodation for all was not to be provided, it was better that a part should be removed. It is also true that some vehement opponents of the dislocation of the museum, in their zeal for the interests of art and archæology, worked against their own object by their grudging recognition of the claims of science. It is nevertheless to be regretted that Panizzi should have supported the removal otherwise than as a necessary evil. Wiser administrative measures were the trisection of the unwieldy department of antiquities, a fourth subdivision being added subsequently, and the appointment of a superintendent of all the natural history collections in the person of Professor Richard Owen [q. v.] The most remarkable acquisitions during Panizzi's administration were archæological, including the Temple vases and bronzes, the Farnese sculptures, the fruits of excavations at Halicarnassus, Camirus, and Carthage, and the Christy collection of prehistoric antiquities. The great Castellani purchase came immediately after his resignation, but his influence was believed to have contributed to it. Another important transaction in which he was deeply concerned was the admission of the staff of the museum, whose friend he had always been, to the benefits of the Civil Service Superannuation Act, a measure which had the additional advantage of establishing the position of the museum as a recognised branch of the civil service. The staff expressed their sense of obligation in the presentation on different occasions of Panizzi's bust by Marochetti and portrait by Watts, both of which are deposited in the museum. His resignation took place in June 1866. He had wished to resign a year earlier, but retained his post for a time in deference to the representations of the trustees.
During the whole of his official career at the museum Panizzi had lived a second life of incessant occupation with politics, especially as they affected the movement for the liberation of Italy, and he had attained to great influence through his association with two very dissimilar classes of people—Italian patriots and whig ministers. He enjoyed the full confidence of Russell, Palmerston, and Clarendon, and as early as 1845 effected a temporary reconciliation between Thiers and Palmerston. Thiers wrote him confidential letters on the Spanish marriages, and his replies may rank as state papers. This influence was usefully exerted on behalf of his own country. He had been a Carbonaro when conspiracy afforded the only outlet for patriotism, but had afterwards rallied cordially to the house of Savoy, and concurred in all essentials with the policy of his friend Cavour. When anything in the proceedings of the Italian patriots alarmed the English government, Panizzi was always at hand to explain and extenuate, and this interposition continued until it was no longer needed. Even when Italian freedom had been won, Panizzi was engaged to exercise a wholesome supervision over Garibaldi during the latter's visit to England. The most dramatic episode of his political activity was his championship of the Neapolitan state prisoners, whose cause he stimulated Mr. Gladstone to undertake. He went to Naples at considerable personal risk to inquire into their case, and, when his efforts on the spot proved fruitless, organised, partly at his own expense, an elaborate scheme for their escape. ‘For four years,’ says Mr. Cartwright in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ ‘he clung to his idea, collected by indefatigable energy the means necessary for its realisation, and finally brought it to the verge of execution. No incident in his life is anything like so illustrative of his power for bold conception, and for making men and things bend before his steady, persistent, and subtle will.’ At a later period he seemed likely to play a part in French politics, having been introduced by his friend Prosper Mérimée into the inmost circle around Napoleon III with whom he spent a considerable time at Biarritz. But, although he was much caressed, and himself conceived a warm attachment to the emperor, the sturdiness of his Italian patriotism seems to have proved unpalatable. Cavour wished to make him director of public instruction, but he refused to be drawn away from England, although he accepted an Italian senatorship.
Panizzi's last years were passed in retirement at his London residence, 31 Bloomsbury Square, almost in the shadow of the museum. Their chief events were an all but fatal illness early in 1868, and the distinction of K.C.B. conferred upon him in 1869. Some few years later, at a suggestion from high quarters, he elaborated, with all his old energy, a scheme for placing the South Kensington Museum under the administration of the trustees of the British Museum, which was discussed for a time, but produced no result. His last years were severely tried by bodily afflictions, but cheered by the attentions of many old friends, among whom Mr. Gladstone was conspicuous. He died on 8 April 1879, and was interred at St. Mary's catholic cemetery, Kensal Green. His portrait and bust at the museum have been mentioned. Another portrait, and a very fine one, by Watts, painted about 1850, is at Holland House, and Panizzi's appearance in the latter years of his life is well conveyed in the etching by Mr. Louis Fagan, prefixed to his biography.
Panizzi was unquestionably a very great man. Had Italy been a free country in his youth, he would have entered public life and risen to the highest honours of the state. Diverted to a narrower sphere, his energies sufficed to regenerate and remodel a great institution, which but for him might long have lagged behind the requirements of the age. His services to the museum are to be measured, not so much by what he actually effected for it, great as some of these achievements were, but by the new spirit which he infused into it, the spring of all that it has done and is doing after him. His principles of administration have been thus summarised: (1) The museum is not a show, but an institution for the diffusion of culture. (2) It is a department of the civil service, and should be conducted in the spirit of other public departments. (3) It should be managed with the utmost possible liberality. Views like these were congenial to a nature whose main attribute was magnanimity. Except for an occasional pettiness in hunting and worrying small offenders, Panizzi's faults, equally with his merits, belonged to a warm and impetuous nature, capable of any exerexertion where a great end was to be gained, and not always entirely scrupulous in its pursuit, but capable also of tender affection and disinterested kindness. On some few points he was narrow and prejudiced, but in the main his judgment, both of men and things, was remarkably sound; and he was equally at home in the broadest principles and in the nicest minutiæ of administration. His plans for the extension of the library were conceived in the most catholic spirit. His distaste for science was undoubtedly a great disadvantage to him, but it redounds the more to his credit that he should have provided as well for the scientific as for any other department of the library. His literary tastes were those of a scholar of the eighteenth century. He read and re-read Dante, Virgil, and Horace. He superintended Lord Vernon's magnificent edition of Dante, wrote on the identity of the Aldine type-cutter, Francesco da Bologna, with Francesco Francia (1858, a privately printed pamphlet written in Italian), and occasionally contributed to the 'Foreign Quarterly,' 'Edinburgh,' and 'North British' Reviews, and to the 'Encyclopædia Britannica' (8th edit.)
[Fagan's Life of Sir Anthony Panizzi, 1880; Cowtan's Biographical Sketch of Sir Anthony Panizzi, 1873; Cowtan's Memories of the British Museum, 1872; Edwards's Founders and Benefactors of the British Museum; Lettere ad Antonio Panizzi di uomini illustri e di amici Italiani, pubblicate da Luigi Fagan; Prosper Mérimée's Lettres à M. Panizzi (Panizzi's own letters to Mérimée were destroyed in the burning of the latter's house under the Commune); W. C. Cartwright in the Quarterly Review, vol. cli.; R. Garnett in the Athenæum of 19 April 1879; personal knowledge.]