Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Palgrave, Francis Turner

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1410926Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 3 — Palgrave, Francis Turner1901John William Mackail

PALGRAVE, FRANCIS TURNER (1824–1897), poet and critic, eldest son of Sir Francis Palgrave [q. v.], the historian and antiquary, was born at Great Yarmouth, in the house of his maternal grandfather, Dawson Turner [q. v.], a banker of that town, on 28 Sept. 1824. His childhood was spent partly there, but chiefly in his father's suburban residence at Hampstead. He grew up, in both houses, amid an atmosphere of high artistic culture and strenuous thought. He was familiar from infancy with collections of books, pictures, and engravings, and when he first visited Italy with his parents at the age of fourteen, was already capable of appreciating, and being profoundly influenced by, what he saw there both in art and nature. This gravity and sensibility beyond his years was further reinforced by the fervid anglo-catholicism of his family. His earlier education was at home; he was afterwards (1838-43) a day boy at Charterhouse, from which in 1842 he gained a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, and went into residence there in 1843. There he joined the brilliant circle which included Arnold, Clough, Doyle, Sellar, and Shairp, and which has been commemorated by the last-named of these in the posthumous volume of poems entitled 'Glen Desseray,' prefaced and edited by Palgrave himself forty years later. He took a first class in classics in 1847, having already, some months previously, been elected a fellow of Exeter College; he did not graduate until 1856, when he took both his B. A. and M.A.

Early in 1846 Palgrave had been engaged for some months as assistant private secretary to W. E. Gladstone, then secretary of state for war and the colonies. Soon after completing his probationary year at Exeter he returned to the public service by accepting an appointment under the education department, in which the rest of his active life was spent. From 1850 to 1855 he was vice-principal, under Dr. Temple, the present archbishop of Canterbury, of Kneller Hall, a government training college for elementary teachers at Twickenham. Tennyson was then living in the neighbourhood, and the acquaintance begun in 1849 between the two grew into a warm and lasting friendship. In 1855 Palgrave returned to London on the discontinuance of the training college, and served in Whitehall, first as examiner and afterwards as assistant secretary of the education department, till his retirement in 1884. In 1854 he had published 'Idyls and Songs,' a small volume of poems which has not achieved permanence. He was for several years art critic to the 'Saturday Review,' and contributed a large number of reviews and critical essays dealing with art and literature to the 'Quarterly Review' and other periodicals.

Much of the inner history and not a little also of the outward incident of his life Up to this time is recorded in the remarkable volume published by him pseudonymously in 1858, under the title of 'The Passionate Pilgrim,' the Dichtung und Wahrheit of a highly cultured and delicately sensitive mind. The work is now little known, but is notable for the mingled breadth and subtlety of its psychology, and is only marred by a slight overloading of quotation. This was, however (and the same may be said of much of his later writing), no ostentation of learning, but the natural overflow of unusual knowledge and a power of critical appreciation which was in excess of his own creative faculty. Here, as so often elsewhere, the imaginative precocity fostered in him by his early surroundings had to be paid for by a certain lack of sustained force in his mature work.

During annual holidays spent with Tennyson in England or abroad, the scheme and contents of the 'Golden Treasury' were now being evolved. It was published in 1861, and obtained an immediate and decisive success which has continued for forty years. The enterprise was one often attempted before, and often renewed since; but it at once blotted out all its predecessors, and retains its primacy among the large and yearly increasing ranks of similar or cognate volumes towards which it has given the first stimulus. In itself it is, like all anthologies, open to criticism both for its inclusions and its omissions. In later editions some of these criticisms were admitted and met by Palgrave himself. But it remains one of those rare instances in which critical work has a substantive imaginative value, and entitles its author to rank among creative artists.

In 1862 Palgrave was employed in the revision of the official catalogue of the fine art department of the exhibition of that year, and the compilation of a descriptive handbook to the art collections there, and also wrote a memoir of Clough, who had died the autumn before. In 1866 he published a volume of 'Essays on Art,' and a critical biography of Scott prefixed to a collected edition of his poems. Among other productions of this period were an edition of 'Shakespeare's Poems' (1865), a volume of Hymns (1867), another of 'Stories for Children' (1868), and one of 'Lyrical Poems' (1871). 'The Children's Treasury of English Song,' a companion volume for children to the 'Golden Treasury,' and the result, like it, of many years of thought and selection, appeared in 1875. The other anthologies made by him may be mentioned (here together: 'Chrysomela,' a volume of selections from Herrick (1877), 'Tennyson's Select Lyrics' (1885), and the 'Treasury of Sacred Song' (1889). A second series of the 'Golden Treasury,' the response to many appeals for inclusion of later poets, was published only in the year before his death. In it the selection made failed to give general satisfaction; and indeed the judgments in poetry of a man of seventy are likely to have lost much and gained little in the years of declining life. By that time too the way he had opened thirty-five years before was thronged with followers, and the new volume took a place only as one among the crowd. Two more volumes of original poems, the 'Visions of England' (1881) and 'Amenophis' (1892), complete the list of his own contributions to English poetry.

In 1884 Palgrave resigned his assistant secretaryship in the education department. The remainder of his life was divided between London and the country house at Lyme Regis which he had bought in 1872, with almost annual visits to Italy. In 1878 he had been made an honorary LL.D. of Edinburgh University, and in 1885 he was elected to the professorship of poetry at Oxford, vacated by the death of John Campbell Shairp [q. v.] He had already declined to be put in nomination for that chair in 1867 as Arnold's successor, and had actually been a candidate in 1877, but had withdrawn then in Shairp's favour. He held the chair for two quinquennial terms (1885-95). It is singular that during nearly forty years its successive occupants from Arnold to Palgrave were all contemporaries, and all members of the same group of Balliol scholars.

A volume of his Oxford lectures, 'Landscape in Poetry' (1897), collected and revised by him after he vacated the chair, was Palgrave's last published work. His health had been for some years failing, and he died after a brief illness on 24 Oct. 1897. He had married, in December 1862, Cecil, daughter of J. Milnes Gaskell, M.P., who predeceased him on 27 March 1890, and left surviving him a son and four daughters.

Palgrave was one of those men whose distinction and influence consist less in creative power than in that appreciation of the best things which is the highest kind of criticism, and in the habit of living, in all matters of both art and life, at the highest standard. This quality, which is what is meant by the classical spirit, he possessed to a degree always rare, and perhaps more rare than ever in the present age. Beyond this, but not unconnected with it, were qualities which only survive in the memory of his friends childlike transparency of character, affectionateness, and quick human sympathy.

[Francis Turner Palgrave, by G. F. Palgrave, 1899 (a Memoir by his daughter); Boase's Reg. Coll. Exon. (Oxford Hist. Soc.); personal knowledge.]

J. W. M.