Essays in librarianship and bibliography/Sir Anthony Panizzi, K.C.B.

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SIR ANTHONY PANIZZI, K.C.B.[1]


Italy has been fertile in eminent librarians. Magliabecchi was probably the most learned librarian that ever lived; Audiffredi was the creator of scientific cataloguing; to Battezzati the practical librarians of the United States confess themselves indebted for some of their apparently most original ideas. But it is Sir Anthony Panizzi's especial distinction to have added to much of the erudition of a Magliabecchi and all the bibliographical skill of an Audiffredi the more commanding qualities of a ruler of men. He governed his library as his friend Cavour governed his country, and in a spirit and with objects nearly similar, perfecting its internal organisation with one hand, while he extended its frontiers with the other.

Born on September 16, 1797, at Brescello, in the province of Reggio, in the duchy of Modena, at that time a part of the Cisalpine Republic, Antonio Panizzi came into the world as the citizen of at least a nominally free state, but grew up the subject, first of a foreign intruder, and afterwards of the worst of the petty despots of Italy. These circumstances indirectly determined his future career. As a man of thought and feeling he could but be a patriot; as a man of action he could but be a conspirator. After receiving his education at the Lyceum of Reggio and the University of Parma, which he quitted with honourable attestations of his proficiency, he prepared to practise as an advocate, but speedily became implicated in the political commotions of the time. It was the day of the Holy Alliance, when the Spanish Revolution had called the Italian into life:—

Spain calls her now, as with its thrilling thunder
Vesuvius wakens Ætna, and the cold
Snow-crags by its reply are cloven in sunder."

While Shelley was writing, Panizzi was acting. In 1821 he was denounced to the Modenese Government, saved himself by flight, narrowly escaped arrest by the Austrians at Cremona, and, after a short residence in Switzerland, whence he was expelled at the instance of Austria and Sardinia, arrived in England in the May of 1823. The Modenese authorities proceeded to try him in his absence, and having duly sentenced him to be executed in effigy (October 1823), sent him a bill for the legal expenses thus incurred. Panizzi, with equal humour, replied negatively in a letter subscribed "L'anima di Panizzi," and dated "Campi Elisei, regno diabolico," rather a shock to received ideas of geography.

The Elysian Fields were apparently at that time situated in Liverpool, whither Panizzi had repaired, provided with introductions from Ugo Foscolo to Dr. Shepherd and to William Roscoe, the men who, with James Martineau, have given Liverpool a place in the history of letters. Liberality of opinion united him to both these eminent persons, and his Italian origin and Italian enthusiasm necessarily proved the most potent recommendations to the historian of Lorenzo de' Medici and Leo X. From Roscoe, indeed, he received all the affection of a parent, but these were the days of the Liverpool scholar's adversity. Panizzi, nevertheless, probably owed to him the introduction to Lord Brougham which proved the turning-point in his career. He is said to have been of great assistance to Brougham in the Wakefield trial. In 1828, furnished with further introductions from Roscoe to Samuel Rogers and Sir Henry Ellis, he quitted Liverpool to assume, at Brougham's invitation, the post of Professor of Italian in University College, London. He had supported himself while in Liverpool as a teacher of Italian; little record remains of the struggle, but it must have been severe. The present writer has heard him say, while lamenting the miserable salaries paid to supernumerary assistants in the Museum thirty years ago, that he had notwithstanding maintained himself upon much less. One indispensable acquisition he made at Liverpool, a ready command of our language, entirely unacquainted with it as he was upon his arrival in this country. Neither his accent nor his idiom was ever free from traces of his foreign extraction, but when he wrote the latter circumstance was rather favourable to him. The peculiarity of manner contributed to the general impression of originality, and the massiveness of his thoughts was agreeably relieved by the raciness of his style.

The study of Italian, an indispensable branch of polite accomplishment in Elizabeth's time, was becoming a speciality or a tradition in George IV.'s. The professorship existed rather for the College's sake than the students'. Panizzi produced an Italian Grammar and Reading Book, and gave oral instruction to the few who required it. His attention, however, was mainly engrossed by a much more important undertaking, which would have given him reputation, had he achieved nothing else. Nearly three centuries had elapsed without an edition of Boiardo's "Orlando Innamorato," of which the "Orlando Furioso" is but a continuation, and without which the latter poem is not fully intelligible. Some occasional rusticity of diction, so pedantic is Italian purism, had sufficed to obscure the merits of a poem which Signor Villari, writing in an age more familiar with generous ideas, celebrates for "its moral seriousness, its singular elevation, its world full of variety, of imagination, of affection," qualities, indeed, which had militated against it in the day of Italy's degeneracy, and had caused preference to be universally accorded to the brilliant but half-jocular rifacimento by Berni. Sir Anthony Panizzi was the man to be attracted by such qualities; he must, moreover, have felt an especial interest in Boiardo as a native of the same district of Reggio from which he himself sprang. He determined to rescue him from oblivion, and effectually accomplished his purpose by editing him along with Ariosto (1830-1834). The first volume of this fine edition, dedicated to his benefactor Roscoe, is occupied by his celebrated dissertation on Italian romantic poetry, especially remarkable for the reference of mediaeval romances to Celtic sources, and containing analyses of the "Teseide," the "Morgante," the "Amadigi," and others of the less read Italian romantic epics. It is further graced by translations contributed by Lady Dacre, Mr. Rose, and Mr. Sotheby. The second volume is prefaced by a memoir of Boiardo, with an essay making him full amends for the long usurpation of his fame by his adapter Berni. The corrupt text of the "Orlando Innamorato" is restored with great acumen from a collation of rare editions principally contributed by the Right Hon. Thomas Grenville, and, as well as that of the "Furioso," is accompanied by valuable notes. At a later period Sir Anthony edited Boiardo's minor poems.

The distinguished assistance which Panizzi had been able to command for his edition evinces the hold which he had already acquired upon the best English society. His urbanity and charm of manner, no less than his accomplishments, made him irresistible. He was intimate at Holland House, and on terms of personal friendship with most of the Liberal statesmen who mainly directed English policy for the next thirty years. His friends now came into power, and Lord Brougham used his influence as an ex officio Trustee of the British Museum to secure his appointment as an extra assistant librarian of the Printed Book Department (April 27, 1831). When one considers what Panizzi found the Museum and what he left it, one is in danger of being betrayed into injustice to the institution and its administrators at that period. Miserably inadequate as it must appear if tried by our present standard, there was no conscious deficiency on the part of its official representatives, and it fully corresponded to the ideal of the public. The nation, in fact, had scarcely the remotest idea of the organisation of literary and artistic collections as a branch of the public service. The records were in a shameful state of dilapidation; the Museum itself existed only by accident; the National Gallery did not as yet exist at all. Men like Hallam could honestly confess their perfect content with the Museum as it was, and, unquestionably, it numbered among its officers persons of the highest eminence. To mention only Sir Anthony's immediate official superiors, the Keeper of the Printed Books was a most accomplished scholar, the Assistant-Keeper had made the standard translation of Dante. If there was an uneasy spot anywhere it was the catalogue. The old printed catalogue had become inadequate. Mr. Hartwell Horne had for some time been engaged on the compilation of a classed catalogue, which did not seem to promise good results. Mr. Baber, the Keeper, saw that a good alphabetical catalogue was the indispensable condition of a classed catalogue, and Panizzi loyally supported him. The Trustees appeared to be irresolute. While this question was in agitation the grievances of an assistant, very properly dismissed from the MS. Department, brought about a Parliamentary inquiry into the general management of the Museum. In July 1836, Panizzi appeared before the Committee, and courageously, yet with perfect good taste and official decorum, laid bare the enormous deficiencies of the national library. A still more valuable contribution was the mass of evidence supplied by him with reference to the condition and administration of foreign libraries, the result of journeys to the Continent undertaken with the express object of collecting it, and occupying many hundred folio pages in the Appendix to the Committee's Report. Most valuable of all, perhaps, was his clear enunciation of the principle that the Museum ought not to be a mere show-place, as the Government and the country then practically concurred in regarding it, but a great educational agency. This principle, emphatically expressed by him before the Committee, gives the keynote of all his administrative action.

Merits like these could not go unrecompensed, even though they might have rather alienated than conciliated some of those whose duty it was to reward them. In July 1835, a proposal to raise Panizzi's salary had been shelved in a manner which so excited Mr. Grenville's indignation that he never attended another meeting of the Trustees. In 1837 Mr. Baber's resignation of the Keepership of the Printed Books placed Panizzi in a delicate position. Mr. Cary, the translator of Dante, his immediate superior in office, had every claim to promotion on the grounds of seniority and literary distinction, but Mr. Cary had recently recovered from an attack of insanity. In reply to incessant insinuations, Mr. Panizzi's high-minded conduct in the matter was reluctantly stated by himself before the Royal Commission of 1849, and the account is fully confirmed by a narrator who had himself had sharp conflicts with him, Mr. Edwards, in his "Founders of the British Museum." Mr. Cary, it ultimately appeared, thought that his past services entitled him to "that alleviation of labour which is gained by promotion to a superior place"(!). It must be remembered that there were no superannuation allowances in those days.

Panizzi did not expect or intend his labours to be alleviated by promotion. He took office at a most critical time, when the books were being transferred from Montague House to their new quarters, when the question of the catalogue was ripe for decision, and when the public were beginning to suspect the deficiencies of the library. The removal was promptly effected, and some of the assistants temporarily engaged to aid in it remained, and proved most valuable officers of the Museum. The undertaking of the catalogue led to much tedious discussion, but in December 1838, Panizzi declared his readiness to accept this formidable addition to his ordinary duties, and early in 1839 the cataloguing rules, which have ever since been regarded as models, were framed by him with the assistance of Messrs. Winter Jones, Watts, Parry, and Edwards. Mr. Jones assumed the general direction of the catalogue; Mr. Watts undertook the arrangement of the new acquisitions on the shelves; the cataloguing of these was chiefly intrusted to the Rev. Richard Garnett, Mr. Gary's successor as Assistant-Keeper. A misunderstanding, for which Panizzi was in no respect responsible, interfered with the progress of the general catalogue. It was announced that it must be proceeded with in alphabetical order, and much time was lost before Panizzi was permitted to resort to the more expeditious plan of cataloguing the books shelf by shelf. The Trustees were further represented as demanding that it should all be in type by a fixed date, and much time and labour were accordingly wasted in printing the first volume, containing letter A, which, as books requiring to be entered under headings commencing with this initial constantly occurred during the subsequent progress of the catalogue, inevitably proved exceedingly defective. The catalogue has nevertheless been now for a long time substantially completed in MS., and for the most part incorporated with the much more extensive supplementary catalogue of books acquired during its progress; the question whether and how it should be printed is too extensive to be entered upon here. Even more of Panizzi's attention was claimed by his third task, the ascertainment of the deficiencies of the library. Rich in classics, in the bibliographic treasures collected by such amateurs as Mr. Cracherode, in history and some other subjects to which especial attention had been paid by the King's Librarian, in its unique collections of English and French revolutionary tracts, in the departments of natural science represented by the Banksian Library, the Museum was still deplorably poor in most branches of general literature, in German almost ludicrously so. Aided by Mr. Jones and Mr. Watts, Panizzi commenced an active investigation into the condition of the library in this respect. The results were embodied in his celebrated report of 1845, subsequently published as a Parliamentary paper, which, backed by his political and social influence, caused an increase to £10,000 of the annual grant for the purchase of books. Another important step in the same direction was the enforcement of the Copyright Act, hitherto but negligently attended to by the Secretary to the Museum. Upon this duty being intrusted to Panizzi, he discharged it with a vigour that soon brought reluctant publishers to their senses, and he even personally undertook an expedition through Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, for the sake of enforcing the observance of the Act. Yet another accession due to him was the matchless Grenville Library, perhaps the finest collection of books ever formed by a private individual. Mr. Grenville himself declared that the nation was solely indebted to Mr. Panizzi's influence with him for this magnificent gift; and Panizzi's minute instructions for its removal, addressed to Mr. Rye, afterwards Keeper of the Printed Books, are still extant to evince his anxious care for the collection, his perfect knowledge of it, and his grasp of every administrative detail, from the greatest to the smallest. With such accessions from so many sources, it is hardly surprising that the volumes originally under Mr. Panizzi's charge should have multiplied fivefold by the time he quitted the Museum. It would be endless to describe his numerous improvements in such matters of library detail as stamping, binding, and supplying the Reading Room. The most important of any was the introduction of movable and multifold slips into the catalogue, largely due to a suggestion from Mr. Wilson Croker.

The Royal Commission of 1847-49 deserves to be considered the turning-point of Sir A. Panizzi's administration. Up to this time, however caressed in highly cultivated circles, he had been unpopular with the public, who could not be expected to know how his plans were cramped and thwarted, and were in many instances illiberally prejudiced against him as a foreigner. The Commission gave him a welcome opportunity of at once challenging inquiry into complaints, and of making known the signal improvements already effected by him. His invitation to complainants to come forward—widely circulated through the notice taken of it by this journal—elicited a number of attacks, which, with the replies, may be found in the Parliamentary Blue Book, and form as instructive and amusing a body of reading as ever Blue Book contained. The Commissioners, who included men of letters like Lord Ellesmere, and men of business like Lord Canning and the present Duke of Somerset, could but report that not one charge had been established in any single particular. It is abundantly clear that very few of the complainants had any definite notion of what they wanted, and the frivolousness of their imputations, even had they been well founded, arouses something like indignation when contrasted with the immense services which Panizzi was at the time rendering without receiving any credit at all. This triumphant vindication of his management, however, made him omnipotent with the Trustees and the Government, and paved the way for the greatest undertaking of his life. It is needless to describe a structure so familiar to all English men of letters as the new Reading Room. The original design, sketched by Mr. Panizzi on April 18, 1852, was submitted to the Trustees on May 5 following. By May 1854, its originator's indomitable perseverance and extensive influence had prevailed to obtain the large grant necessary for the commencement of the work, which was completed and opened to the public in May 1857. The part generally visible—Mr. Smirke's contribution to the plan—though architecturally the most imposing, is hardly the most remarkable portion of a structure providing space for three hundred readers and a million volumes on ground previously wasted and useless. Every detail was either devised or superintended by Sir A. Panizzi, and it is not too much to affirm that no edifice has existed more perfectly reconciling grandeur of general effect with an accurate adaptation of means to ends in the very smallest things. One thing alone is wanting, that the reference library should be as far above competition as the Reading Room, and this, too, will be accomplished when the exigencies of space allow the present Principal Librarian's plans to be carried out. The attempts that have been made to deprive Sir A. Panizzi of the credit of the conception are futile. Any one could see that the space in the quadrangle was wasted. The present writer himself made the remark to an officer of the Museum at the age of fourteen. But it was one thing to discern the evil and another to provide the remedy.

In 1856 Sir A. Panizzi succeeded Sir Henry Ellis as Principal Librarian, being himself succeeded as Keeper of the Printed Books by Mr. Winter Jones. His administration of the Museum as a whole was carried on in the same spirit as his administration of the library, but, except for the great impetus given to purchases generally, was not distinguished by equally striking incidents. His work for the library had been mostly performed, and the affairs of the other departments afforded less scope for the display of his peculiar qualities. Two or three slight administrative mistakes may be admitted without derogation to his fame, for they can be shown to have originated in every instance from an excessive regard for what he himself considered the true interests of his subordinates. This was ever a passion with him, and every improvement in the position of the officials of the Museum effected during his connection with the establishment may be traced to his influence. Exhausted at length with work, he retired on his full salary in July 1866. He took up his residence in Bloomsbury Square, almost within call of the Museum, and ceased not to the last to exhibit the warmest interest in the institution. In 1869 he accepted the honour of knighthood, which he had frequently declined. His death on April 8 has already been recorded in our pages.

Little can be said here of Sir A. Panizzi's activity as a politician and patriot. It was probably little less important or beneficial than his activity as a librarian, and possibly occupied hardly less of his time and thoughts. It was, however, wholly below the surface, and the materials for defining and appreciating it are at present wanting. There can be no question that he served the cause of Italy most effectually by his intimacy with the leading English statesmen, who admired and confided in him. Thoroughly Anglicised, he knew how to appreciate the currents of English sentiment, and predicted to Lord Palmerston that the Conspiracy Bill would occasion the downfall of his government. With this statesman, as well as Lord Russell, he was most intimate; and he received touching proofs in his last illness of the regard of Mr. Gladstone, whose famous pamphlet on the Neapolitan prisons sounded a note originally struck by Panizzi. Sir James Hudson, the English Envoy at Turin, was one of his most trusted friends, and their mutual understanding was of great service to the Italian cause. Cavour thoroughly confided in him, and vainly tempted him to a political career in Italy by the offer of a senatorship. Though devoted to the house of Savoy, he cordially sympathised with Garibaldi, in whose English reception he had a great share, and whom he accompanied on that occasion to the tomb of Ugo Foscolo. He reckoned the Orleans princes among his friends, and a community of literary tastes especially linked him to the Duke d'Aumale. While his sympathies and connections were thus Liberal, his relations with statesmen on the other side were always most amicable. We believe that the flattering resolutions of the Trustees passed on occasion of his resignation were moved by Mr. Walpole and seconded by Lord Beaconsfield.

Besides the works we have mentioned, Sir Anthony Panizzi was the author of an essay in Italian entitled "Chi era Francesco da Bologna?" in which that artist, the inventor of italic type, is identified with the great painter Francesco Francia; and the editor of Lord Vernon's sumptuous verbatim reprint of the first four editions of the Divine Comedy, respectively printed at Foligno, Jesi, Mantua, and Naples. He further wrote some pamphlets on questions connected with the British Museum and the Catalogue of the Royal Society's Library, and contributed several articles on political and literary subjects to the Edinburgh, Quarterly, and North British Reviews.

Sir Anthony Panizzi's was a rich and complex nature, and his character cannot be sketched in a phrase; else we might feel tempted to sum it up in two characteristics, magnanimity and warmth of heart. Other traits, however, must be added to complete the portrait—prodigious power of will, indomitable perseverance, hatred of inefficiency and pretence, active and disinterested kindness, impetuosity held in check by circumspect sagacity. He might be said to combine the characteristics of the land of his birth and the land of his adoption: his moral nature seemed English, his intellect Italian. Warmth of feeling gave after all the keynote to his existence. He was, indeed, jealous of his well-won fame, but fame was not his main object. If he greatly helped his Museum, his country, his colleagues, it was because he began by greatly caring for them. In labouring for the public he erected an imperishable monument for himself:—

"Ipsa quidem virtus sibimet pulcherrima merces;
Dulce tamen venit ad manes, cum gloria vitæ
Durat apud superos nec edunt oblivia laudem."

  1. Athenæum, April 19, 1879.