Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Ward, Harry Leigh Douglas

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WARD, HARRY LEIGH DOUGLAS (1825–1906), writer on mediæval romances, born on 18 Feb. 1825, was fourth son of John Giffard Ward, successively rector of Chelmsford (1817) and St. James's, Piccadilly (1825), and dean of Lincoln (1845–1860). He was educated at Winchester and University College, Oxford (B.A. 1847), and in 1849 became an assistant in the department of manuscripts at the British Museum, where he remained until his superannuation at the end of 1893.

In his early official years he made a catalogue of the Icelandic manuscripts in the British Museum; this was never printed, but is preserved among the books of reference in the students' room. His attention was thus directed, by way of the Norse sagas, to the study of mediæval romantic literature in general, which became henceforth the engrossing interest of his life, and in which, through his wide reading, retentive memory, and sound critical instinct, he acquired exceptional proficiency. This bore fruit first in a comprehensive and admirable article on ‘Romance, Mediæval,’ which he wrote for Knight's ‘English Cyclopædia’ in 1873; and more fully afterwards in his monumental, though unfinished, ‘Catalogue of Romances in the British Museum,’ of which vol. i. appeared in 1883, vol. ii. in 1893, and vol. iii., based largely on his notes, in 1910 (after his death). Vol. i. is the largest and also perhaps the most interesting to students of literature generally, comprising the great Arthurian and Charlemagne cycles, besides many other important groups of romances, such as those of Troy, Alexander, and Guillaume d'Orange, and a host of miscellaneous romances in prose or verse. It became at once a standard textbook, being no mere catalogue, but rather a collection of monographs, combining a succinct account of the conclusions of specialists with additions (often of considerable value) based on Ward's own independent studies. Vol. ii. includes the ‘Beowulf’ epic, but deals mainly with collections of shorter tales: Icelandic sagas, Æsopic fables, miracles of the Virgin, etc. Vol. iii. is entirely occupied with the ‘exempla’ used by preachers and moralists, and so appeals mainly to the professed mediævalist. The university of Halle conferred on him the honorary degree of Ph.D. in recognition of his work on the romances.

Ward's other published work was scanty, consisting merely (apart from reviews) of some translations of Andersen's ‘Fairy Tales and Sketches’ (1870); ‘The Vision of Thurkill’ (in ‘Journal Brit. Archæol. Assoc.’ xxxi. 420, 1875); and ‘Lailoken (or Merlin Silvester)’ (in ‘Romania,’ xxii. 504, 1893).

Ward's actual output in print by no means measures the full extent of his services to learning. During his long career at the British Museum he was continually consulted by students of various nationalities; and it was always a delight to him to place his rich stores of knowledge at their disposal, without any care for his own claims to priority of publication.

Ward died at Hampstead on 28 Jan. 1906. On 28 April 1866 he married Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel George Fox, and had by her four sons and three daughters; one of the daughters predeceased him.

[The Times, 1 Feb. 1906; Gent. Mag. Feb. 1906, p. 106; private information.]

J. A. H.