Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/MacColl, Norman

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MACCOLL, NORMAN (1843–1904), editor of the 'Athenæum' and Spanish scholar, born on 31 August 1843 at 28 Ann Street, Edinburgh, was only child of Alexander Stewart MacColl by his wife Eliza Fulford of Crediton. His grandfather, Donald MacColl, clergyman of the Scottish episcopal church, became, later, factor to the duke of Gordon on his Lochaber estates. MacColl's father, a good classical scholar, kept a private school of repute in Edinburgh, and his mother was an accomplished woman. Norman was brought up at home together with his first cousin, Alice Gaunter, now widow of James R. Jackson. He entered at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1862, but migrated next year to Downing, and was elected a scholar there in 1865. He took a high second class in the classical tripos of 1866, a disappointing position, due partly to ill-health, partly, as his coach, Richard Shilleto [q. v.], recognised, to reading outside examination subjects. He was in 1869 elected a fellow of Downing, having won the Hare prize in 1868 with an essay on 'Greek Sceptics from Pyrrho to Sextus,' which was published and indicated the bent of his mind. He graduated B.A. in 1866 and proceeded M.A. in 1869. He became a student of Lincoln's Inn on 21 Jan. 1872, and was called to the bar on 17 Nov. 1875. At Cambridge MacColl began an acquaintance with Sir Charles Dilke [q. v. Suppl. II] proprietor of the 'Athenæum,' and in 1871 Dilke appointed him editor of that paper. He held the office to the end of 1900, working without any regular assistance till 1896.

As editor of the 'Athenæum' MacColl, whose general knowledge was great and whose interests were wide, was faithful to sound ideals of criticism, thorough, independent, and well-informed. An artist in language, he kept a keen eye on the style of his contributors. He was cautious in his policy, but, once having settled it, was not easily moved. He claimed to be something of a tactician, when new ideas, as in the case of Darwin, made changes of view imperative, and he allowed his reviewers when they were wrong to be corrected in published correspondence.

His temperament encouraged independence and a certain measure of isolation, partly from reserve and shyness, partly from his unwillingness to associate himself with any clique, and partly from a horror of self-advertisement; he went comparatively little into society, although he visited occasionally Westland Marston's Sunday parties, went regularly in later life to the Athenæum Club, was one of Leslie Stephen's Sunday tramps, and played a steady game of golf. His private generosity was notable, and much kindness lay underneath a somewhat sardonic humour. MacColl travelled much on the Continent in his vacations, making one Spanish tour. He devoted himself seriously to the study of Spanish from 1874. He published in 1888 'Select Plays of Calderon,' with introduction and notes; in 1902 a translation of Cervantes' 'Exemplary Novels' (Glasgow, 2 vols.), and at the time of his death he was engaged on an edition of the 'Miscellaneous Poems of Cervantes' which was published posthumously (1912). His Spanish publications reflect his scrupulous methods of scholarship. He died suddenly at his residence, 4 Campden Hill Square, Kensington, on 16 Dec. 1904, from heart failure. and was buried at Charlton cemetery, Blackheath, in the same grave with his parents. He was unmarried.

A portrait by Clegg Wilkinson, painted shortly before his death, belongs to his cousin, Mrs. Jackson, who presented a replica to Downing College, now in the Combination Room. A small but vivid sketch occupies the centre of Harry Furniss's view of literary characters at the reading-room of the British Museum (Punch, 28 March 1885). He endowed by will a lectureship at Cambridge in Spanish and Portuguese which bears his name, and left to the university library his Spanish books.

[Information from Mrs. Jackson and college authorities; personal knowledge; Athenæum, 24 Dec. 1904; Morning Leader, 17 Dec. 1904; Publishers' Circular, 10 Feb. 1905; Cambridge University Reporter, 8 June 1905; J. C. Jeaffreson, Book of Recollections; memoir by Fitzmaurice Kelly, before Miscellaneous Poems of Cervantes, 1912.]

V. R.