Essays in librarianship and bibliography/The Late Sir Edward A. Bond

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The record of the life of the late Sir Edward Augustus Bond is one of steady unbroken success, so quiet and uniform as almost to conceal the credit to which he is entitled as a man of original mind and a vigorous innovator and reformer. Born on December 31, 1815, the son of a clergyman and schoolmaster at Hanwell, he entered the Record Office at seventeen, and there, under the tuition of Sir Thomas Hardy and the Rev. Joseph Hunter, laid the foundation of his extensive palæographical acquirements. Having obtained a thorough acquaintance with medieval hand-writings, so far as this is attainable from English and French records and charters, he passed in 1837 to the more varied and extensive field afforded by the British Museum, where continuous experience made him a master of palaeography in every department. The sudden and much regretted death of Mr. John Holmes in 1854 made Bond Assistant-Keeper of Manuscripts sooner than could have been anticipated, and in 1867 he succeeded his chief, Sir Frederic Madden, as head of the department. During thirty years he had been known as an exemplary and diligent official, who enjoyed the confidence and esteem both of his immediate superior and of the head of the Museum, Sir A. Panizzi; yet few were prepared for the sweeping and vigorous measures by which, within a few years, he reorganised his department, reformed many defects which had been allowed to creep in, did away with the extraordinary mass of arrears which he found existing, and brought the work up to the high standard of regularity and efficiency which it has maintained ever since. Concurrently with these reforms, he executed the classified index of MSS. which has proved of such essential assistance to students, and performed a service, felt far beyond the precincts of the Museum, by the foundation of the Palæographical Society, whose selections of authentic facsimiles from MSS. of varied character in separate libraries may be said to have made palæography an exact science. Their value was evinced in the celebrated controversy respecting the date of the Utrecht Psalter, in which Bond took the leading part. This, however, was about the only occasion on which he came prominently before the public. His modesty and reserve kept him almost unknown beyond his own department; it was a genuine surprise to the world and to himself when, in 1878, he succeeded Mr. Winter Jones as Principal Librarian. The appointment had been looked upon as the appanage of Sir Charles Newton, at that time the most conspicuous officer of the Museum, and he might undoubtedly have filled it, if a brief experience as Mr. Jones's deputy of its arduous and engrossing nature had not made him decline it as incompatible with his cherished archaeological pursuits.

Sir Edward Bond's career as Principal Librarian repeated the history of his keepership upon a larger scale. As before, he was inflexibly diligent in his attention to routine duties, and boldly original when an emergency arose requiring special action. He saw that the time had come for the introduction of electric lighting into the Museum, and achieved this invaluable improvement in the face of many discouragements. The enormous bulk of the catalogue threatened to drive everything else out of the Reading Room. Sir Edward Bond first curbed the evil by introducing print for the accession titles, and then induced the Treasury to consent to the printing of the entire catalogue, a vast undertaking now on the verge of completion. His openness of mind was shown in no respect more forcibly than in his prompt appreciation of the sliding-press, an idea altogether new to him. An ordinary official would have hesitated, objected, and deferred action until some other institution had shown the way. Sir Edward Bond no sooner saw the model than he adopted the invention, and won the honour for the Museum. In his time the separation of the Natural History departments from the Bloomsbury Museum was consummated, and the White Wing erected with its newspaper rooms and admirable accommodation for the departments of MSS. and prints and drawings. The facilities for public access to the Museum were greatly extended under him. Of the many important acquisitions made in his term of office, the Stowe Manuscripts were perhaps the most remarkable. He retired in 1888, among the most gratifying testimonies of the respect and affection he had won for himself. His manner had been thought cold and reserved, and such was indeed the case; but the better he was known the more apparent it became that this austerity veiled a most kind heart and a truly elevated mind, far above every petty consideration, and delighting to dwell in a purely intellectual sphere. After his resignation he spent upwards of nine years in an honoured and dignified retirement. He had been made a C.B. while Principal Librarian, and his last days were solaced by the bestowal of the higher distinction of K.C.B., which ought indeed to have been conferred much sooner. He died at his house in Bayswater on January 2, 1898, two days after completing his eighty-second year.

As a palæographer, whose life had been spent among MSS., Sir Edward Bond could not be expected to take the same warm interest in the Library Association that may reasonably be looked for in a librarian chiefly conversant with printed books, but he well understood the duty in this respect imposed upon him by his office as Principal Librarian, and evinced this by presiding over the London meeting of 1887. He married a relative, Miss Caroline Barham, daughter of the famous author of the "Ingoldsby Legends." Lady Bond survives her husband, and he has left five daughters, all married. He wrote no independent work, but edited the Statutes of the University of Oxford, the Trial of Warren Hastings, and several books for the Hakluyt and other Societies, besides contributing numerous memoirs to the Transactions of his own special creation, the Palæographical Society.

  1. Contributed to The Library, May 1898.