Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Atkinson, Robert
ATKINSON, ROBERT (1839–1908), philologist, born at Gateshead on 6 April 1839, was only child of John Atkinson, who was in business there, by his wife Ann. After education at the Anchorage grammar school close to his home from 1849 to 1856, he matriculated in Trinity College, Dublin, on 2 July 1856, but he spent the years 1857 and 1858 on the Continent, principally at Liège. There he laid the foundation of his knowledge of the Romance languages. On his return to Ireland he worked as a schoolmaster in Kilkenny till he won a Trinity College scholarship in 1862. Thenceforward his academic progress was rapid. He graduated B.A. on 16 Dec. 1863, M.A. in 1866, and LL.D. in 1869. In 1891 he received the honorary degree of D.Litt.
In 1869 Atkinson became university professor of the Romance languages, and from 1871 till near his death he filled at the same time the chair of Sanskrit and comparative philology. His masterly powers of linguistic analysis made him an admirable teacher, notably of composition in Latin and Romance tongues, while the immense range of his linguistic faculty enabled pupils of adequate capacity to learn in his classroom languages new to them, with almost magical rapidity and thoroughness.
Atkinson was both a linguist and a philologist of exceptional power and range. With equal facility he taught not only most of the Romance languages but also Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and other Indian tongues. He was a brilliant Hebrew scholar, and Persian, Arabic, and several languages of Central and Western Asia were familiar to him. In all the many forms of speech that he studied he acquired a mastery of colloquial idiom and of pronunciation, as well as of the literary style. In his later years he devoted his leisure to Chinese, and at his death he had completed a dictionary of that tongue. The 'Key' which he intended to accompany it, and without which it could not be used, he did not live to complete. The MS. as it stands has been presented by his widow to the library of Trinity College, Dublin.
A scientific philologist, Atkinson was always intent upon analysis of the structure of a language rather than on its literature. His philological teaching impressed on his pupils the principle of law in language, as opposed to theories of 'sporadic changes.' Therein he long anticipated Brugmann and the new school of philologists. The most important outcome of Atkinson's study of Romance languages was a scholarly edition of a Norman-French poem attributed to Matthew Paris, and entitled 'Vie de Seint Auban' (1876). In Sanskrit learning Atkinson confined himself to the language of the Vedas and to Sanskrit grammar, planning and partially writing a Vedic dictionary, and learning by heart, as Pandits have done for twenty-four centuries, the whole of the intricate masterpiece of the great grammarian Panini.
In addition, Atkinson was both an expert scholar in Celtic and an advanced scholar in Coptic, the Christian descendant of the ancient Egyptian language. In two communications dealing with the latter, and made by him to the Royal Irish Academy (Proc. 3rd series, iii. 24, 225) in 1893, he subjected to searching examination a series of Coptic texts published during the preceding ten years by Professor Rossi and M. Bouriant. It was not perhaps difficult to show the inferior character of these publications ; but the service rendered by Atkinson was to enter a much-needed protest against a tendency to 'play hieroglyphics' with Coptic texts. In the decipherment of the ancient Egyptian language there is room, no doubt, for conjecture and hypothesis : in Coptic, as Atkinson showed once and for all, the rules of accidence and syntax are fully known, and editing and translation should proceed with the scientific regularity of any other better known Oriental language.
On 11 Jan. 1876 Atkinson was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and in March became a member of its council. In 1876 he was chosen librarian. Secretary of council from 1878 to 1901, he was then elected president. Meanwhile in 1884 he was Todd professor of the Celtic languages in the academy, delivering an inaugural lecture on Irish lexicography on 13 April 1885. His connection with the Royal Irish Academy drew him to Celtic studies. His Celtic work was that of a pioneer, being undertaken before many fundamental principles of old Irish grammar were recognised. But he edited two documents which are of the utmost importance for the student of the history of the Irish language. Of these the first was 'The Passions and Homilies from the Leabhar Breac,' with translation and glossary (Dublin 1887 ; perhaps the most important source of information with regard to Middle Irish), to which he appended the 'Todd Introductory Lecture on Irish Lexicography.' His second Irish publication of great philological value was Keating's 'Three Shafts of Death ' (Tri Bior-gaoithe an Bhais, Dublin, 1890), with glossary and appendices on the linguistic forms. He also wrote valuable introductions and analyses of contents for several of the MS. facsimiles issued by the Royal Irish Academy, viz. 'The Book of Leinster ' (1880), 'The Book of Ballymote' (1887), and 'The Yellow Book of Lecan ' (1896). With Dr. John Bernard, now bishop of Ossory, he edited for the Henry Bradshaw Society in 1898 'The Irish Liber Hymnorum' (2 vols). A 'Glossary to the Ancient Laws of Ireland' which he prepared for the 'Rolls' series, 1901, was severely criticised by Whitley Stokes [q. v. Suppl. II]. To Irish, Atkinson added a knowledge of Welsh. To Welsh grammatical study he contributed a paper 'On the use of the Subjunctive Mood in Welsh' (Trans. Royal Irish Acad. 1894).
Atkinson's varied energies were by no means confined to philology, he being an accomplished botanist and a fine violinist. In 1907 his health failed. He died on 10 Jan. 1908 at his residence, Clareville, Rathmines, near Dublin, and was buried at Waltonwrays cemetery, Skipton, Yorkshire. On 28 Dec. 1863 he married, at Gateshead, Hannah Maria, fourth daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Whitehouse Harbutt of that town. The only child, Herbert Jefcoate Atkinson, became a civil engineer.
ATTHILL, LOMBE (1827–1910), obstetrician and gynaecologist, born on 3 Dec. 1827 at Ardess, Magheraculmoney, co. Fermanagh, was youngest of ten surviving children of William Atthill (1774-1847). The father, of a Norfolk family, after graduating in 1795 as second wrangler and Smith's prizeman, became fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, acted as chaplain (1798-1804) to his relative, Dr. Porter, bishop of Clogher, and was thenceforth beneficed in Ireland. Atthill's mother was Henrietta Margaret Eyre, eldest daughter of George Maunsell, dean of Leighlin. Atthill's elder brother, John Henry Grey Atthill, became chief justice of St. Lucia.
After attending the grammar school, Maidstone, Kent (1839-41), he returned to Ireland to prepare for Trinity College, Dublin. In June 1844 he was apprenticed to Maurice Collis, a surgeon to the Meath Hospital, Dublin, and in July he entered Trinity. In July 1847, while under twenty, he obtained the licence of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and in 1849 he graduated B.A. and M.B. of Dublin University, and in 1865 M.D.
In 1847 he became honorary surgeon to a charitable dispensary in Fleet Street, Dublin, where he gained much experience of typhus, small-pox, and other infective fevers, and during the following winter was assistant demonstrator in the Park Street School of Medicine. From 1848 to 1850 he was dispensary doctor of the district of Geashill in King's County. In 1850 he settled in Dublin and was made assistant physician to the Rotunda Hospital in 1851. While in the Rotunda Hospital for the usual period of three years he endeavoured, without much success, to build up a private practice. A period of pecuniary struggle followed. In 1860 he was elected fellow of the King's and Queen's College of Physicians and from that year to 1868 was registrar of the college. In 1868 there was a turn of fortune. He joined the staff of the Adelaide Hospital and was given charge of a ward for the treatment of diseases peculiar to women, the first appointment of the kind in any Dublin hospital. Gynaecology was practically a new study, and thenceforth Atthill, by his teaching and writings, did much for its development. He was one of the first in Ireland successfully to perform the operation of ovariotomy, his first two cases being successful. In November 1875 he was elected master of the Rotunda Hospital, and thus commanded the best field in the kingdom for obstetric and gynaecological experience, in the Rotunda Hospital he gave gynaecology a place almost as important as mid-wifery. He re-organised the working of that institution by the introduction of Listerian principles, and practically drove puerperal sepsis from the wards (Johnston, Proc. of the Dublin Obstetrical Society, 1875-6, p. 28; Smyly, Trans, of the Royal Acad. of Med. in Ireland, 1891). From 1874 to 1876 he was president of the Dublin Obstetrical Society. He was president of the obstetric section of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland in 1884-5, and again in 1895-7, and was president of the Academy 1900-3. In 1888 he was elected president of the Irish College of Physicians, and from 1889 to 1903 represented the college on the General Medical Council. In 1898 he retired from practice, in which he finally achieved great success. He died suddenly on the platform of Strood railway station near Rochester on 14 September 1910. He was buried at Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. He married (1) in April 1850 Elizabeth (d. 1870), daughter of James Dudgeon of Dublin, by whom he had one son and nine daughters ; and (2) on 1 June 1872 Mary, daughter of Robert Christie of Manchester, and widow of John Duffey of Dublin, mother of Sir George Duffey, a president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.
Atthill published at Dublin in 1871 'Clinical Lectures on Diseases Peculiar to Women' (7th edit. 1883 ; reprinted in America, 5th edit. 1882 ; and translated into French 1882, and Spanish 1882). Consisting of lectures to students in the Adelaide Hospital, the book embodied the results of Atthill's own experience, and was for many years regarded as the best English text-book on the subject. In 1910 he published in the 'British Medical Journal' (1910, vol. i.) 'Recollections of a Long Professional Life,' afterwards reprinted for private circulation. Posthumously in 1911 there appeared his 'Recollections of an Irish Doctor,' an interesting reminiscence of Irish life prior