Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Johns, Claude Hermann Walter

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

JOHNS, CLAUDE HERMANN WALTER (1857–1920), Assyriologist, was born at Banwell, Somerset, 4 February 1857. He was the eldest son of the Rev. Walter Pascoe Johns, Wesleyan minister, of a yeoman family settled for generations at Wendron, Cornwall, by his wife, Eleanor, daughter of Charles Gilbert, of Mutford Hall, Suffolk. Educated at Queen Elizabeth's grammar school, Faversham, Johns won an exhibition at Queens' College, Cambridge (1875), after previously declining two scholarships. At Queens' he was presently elected to a minor scholarship, a foundation scholarship, and to a Goldsmiths' exhibition; and in 1880, while a master at the Leys School, Cambridge, he graduated as twenty-seventh wrangler, an accident having prevented him from taking the tripos examination earlier. His health, never very good, then compelled him to go abroad to Tasmania, where he became second master at Horton College (1880–1883); but he returned to England for family reasons in 1883 and, after a short period as a master at Paston grammar school, North Walsham (1883–1886), was ordained in 1887, becoming tutor at Peterborough training college (1887–1891). He served curacies at Helpston, Northamptonshire (1887–1888), and in Peterborough (1888–1892), in conjunction with his work at the training college. He returned to Queens' College as assistant chaplain in 1892, and was presented by his college to the living of St. Botolph's, Cambridge, in the same year. He held this living till 1909.

It was now that the interest which Johns had taken in Assyriology since 1875 began to bear fruit. The expedition to Nineveh undertaken in 1873 by George Smith [q.v.], of the British Museum, resulted in the further discovery of Deluge-tablet fragments, and the discussion on these roused Johns's interest. Subsequently, urged by the Orientalist, Sandford Arthur Strong [q.v.], he took up the study of cuneiform to such good purpose that he was made lecturer in Assyriology at Queens' College in 1895, and in 1904 lecturer in Assyrian at King's College, London. In 1903 he was elected to the Edwardes fellowship at Queens', and in 1909 proceeded to the degree of Litt.D., Jesus College making him a research fellow. A few months later he was elected to the mastership of St. Catharine's College, with its accompanying canonry at Norwich, which, while it conferred well-deserved recognition on Johns's capacity, unfortunately for Assyriology, absorbed the greater part of his time. Yet he did not lose touch with his Assyrian studies, for in 1910 he visited America and delivered in Philadelphia the Bohlen lectures on The Religious Significance of Semitic Proper Names, and in 1912 he gave the Schweich lectures at the British Academy on the Relations between the Laws of Babylonia and the Laws of the Hebrew Peoples.

Unhappily the stress of his labours proved too much for him. His devotion to his work not only in Assyriology but also in raising the status of St. Catharine's caused a break-down in his health, and he resigned his mastership and canonry in 1919. He died at Winchester 20 August 1920, and is buried at Twyford, Hampshire. He had married in 1910 Agnes Sophia, daughter of the Rev. John Griffith, principal of Brighton College and later vicar of Sandridge, Hertfordshire. He had no children.

In 1904 Johns published Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts, and Letters, a collection of documents illustrated by full, ingenious, often brilliant discussions of the problems raised. His magnum opus was a corpus of eleven hundred contract tablets, in four volumes (one issued posthumously in 1923 by his wife), Assyrian Deeds and Documents (1898–1923). An Assyrian Domesday Book (1901) dealt with cuneiform records of plantations and their proprietors round the city of Harran. One of the results of Johns's familiarity with the contract literature was his vast collection of Assyrian proper names, which was embodied in Assyrian Personal Names, K. L. Tallqvist's work on the subject. He wrote two historical volumes, Ancient Assyria (1912) and Ancient Babylonia (1913), both containing much original work. In addition to numerous papers in scientific journals, Johns also wrote The Oldest Code of Laws in the World (1903), Ur-Engur (1908), A List of the Year Names of the First Dynasty of Babylon (1911), and A Survey of Recent Assyriology (1914–1915). The only drawback to his careful work was that he had never travelled in the Near East.

Johns's election to the mastership of St. Catharine's brought about a surprising change in the college. By his energy and attractive personality he raised it from a comparatively unimportant position in a way that astonished those who had known the college in the 'nineties. The number of its undergraduates greatly increased, and Johns entirely reorganized its management.

[Private information; personal knowledge.]

R. C. T.