Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Riddell, James (1823-1866)

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RIDDELL, JAMES (1823–1866), classical scholar, born on 8 June 1823, was the eldest son of James Riddell (1796–1878), M.A. of Balliol College, rector of Easton, Hampshire, by Dorothy, daughter of John Foster, esq., of Leicester Grange, Warwickshire. After spending seven years at Mr. Browne's school at Cheam, Surrey, Riddell entered Shrewsbury school in 1838 as a pupil of Dr. Kennedy. He gained a scholarship at Balliol in November 1840, and, leaving Shrewsbury as head boy in 1841, he began residence in Oxford in the Michaelmas term of that year. He was placed in the first class in literæ humaniores with Thomas Arnold and Goldwin Smith. In the same year he was elected fellow of Balliol, serving his college as lecturer or tutor till his death. Probably few college tutors have exercised a happier influence on their pupils. He was classical examiner in 1858–9, classical moderator in 1865–6, and senior proctor and select preacher in 1862. He died at Tunbridge Wells on 14 Sept. 1866.

Riddell's fine scholarship was widely recognised. He was invited by the delegates of the university press to edit the Odyssey for their Oxford series; and Professor Jowett, who then contemplated an edition of Plato, entrusted to him the Apology, Crito, Phædo, and Symposium. Both of these works were left incomplete. His commentary on Odyssey, i.–xii., for which he had made large preparations, was pleted by his friend and pupil, Rev. W. W. Merry, D.D. (Clarendon Press, 1st edit. 1876). Of his work on Plato he lived to finish only the ‘Apology.’ It was printed after his death at the Clarendon Press in 1867. In the same volume appeared a ‘Digest of Platonic Idioms,’ which he left behind him, founded on a minute examination of the whole of Plato's works. The happy combination of a profound sympathy with the genius of the Greek language, a strictly scientific method, and an exhaustive study of his author, has given the ‘Digest’ a unique position among works of modern scholarship. His thorough familiarity with the Platonic style, and his instinctive appreciation of subtle laws of thought and expression in what is apparently anomalous, are recognised as indispensable aids for the explanation of the ‘Dialogues,’ and for the criticism of the text. His exceptional felicity in Greek and Latin verse composition is shown in various translations, redolent of the classic spirit, in the ‘Anthologia Oxoniensis’ and in ‘Sabrinæ Corolla.’ These have been collected, with additions, in a small volume of ‘Reliquiæ Metricæ’ (Oxford and London, 1867).

[Personal knowledge.]

W. W. M.