Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Furnivall, Frederick James
FURNIVALL, FREDERICK JAMES (1825–1910), scholar and editor, born at Egham, Surrey, on 4 Feb. 1825, was second child and eldest son, in a family of five sons and four daughters, of George Frederick Furnivall by his wife Sophia Barwell. The father, a medical practitioner, who had been educated at St. Bartholomew's Hospital and was in 1805 assistant surgeon of the 14th foot, maintained a prosperous practice at Egham, and also kept a private lunatic asylum at his house, Great Fosters, out of which he made a fortune of 200,000l. He attended Shelley's wife, Mary, in her confinement at Marlow in 1817, and the son was fond of quoting his father's reminiscences of Shelley and his household. He died on 7 June 1865.
After attending private schools at Englefield Green, Turnham Green, and Hanwell, Furnivall in 1841 entered University College, London, and in July 1842 passed the London University matriculation in the first division. On 9 Oct. he matriculated from Trinity Hall, Cambridge. As a boy he hunted at Egham, and before entering the university he was a skilled oarsman. He quickly won a place in the college eight. During the long vacation of 1845 he built, with the aid of John Beesley, a Thames waterman, two sculling boats on a new plan. By narrowing the beam and extending the outriggers he gave an unprecedented leverage to the oar. A wager boat on Furnivall's lines was soon built for the champion sculler, Newell, who in it gave Henry Clasper, on the Tyne, one of his rare defeats (18 Jan. 1846). To sculling Furnivall remained faithful till death, and he always ardently advocated its superiority to rowing. Despite his lifelong devotion to the water he never learnt to swim. As an undergraduate he showed a characteristic impatience of convention and an undisciplined moral earnestness. He became a vegetarian, and remained one for a quarter of a century. To tobacco and alcohol he was a stranger through life. He read mathematics, and was admitted scholar of Trinity Hall on 1 June 1843. He graduated B.A. in 1847, taking a low place among the junior optimes in 1846. He proceeded M.A. in 1850.
On leaving Cambridge, Furnivall entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn (26 Jan. 1846). He read in the chambers of Charles Henry Bellenden Ker [q. v.], a friend of his father, a man of wide and enlightened interests. He was called to the bar at Gray's Inn (30 Jan. 1849), and set up as a conveyancer at II New Square. He rented various sets of rooms in Lincoln's Inn till 1873, but the law had small attraction for him, and his attention was soon diverted from it. Through Bellenden Ker he came to know many men and women who championed social reform and democratic principles. Of these John Malcolm Ludlow [q. v. Suppl. II] exerted a predominant influence on him. Through Ludlow he was drawn into the Christian Socialist movement, and accepted at first all its tenets. He heard Maurice preach at Lincoln's Inn, and attended his Bible readings. The doctrine of industrial co-operation appealed to him, and he joined the central co-operative committee. He supported trades unionism and identified himself with labour agitation, selling his books to give 100l. to the woodcutters who engaged in a strike in 1851. Meanwhile he wrote for the 'Christian Socialist,' and published in 1850 his first literary work, a pamphlet entitled 'Association a Necessary Part of Christianity.'
Philological study and music also engaged Furnivall's youthful attention. He joined the Philological Society in 1847, and heard Chopin play (26 July 1848) and Jenny Lind sing. The current literature which he chiefly admired was the early work of Ruskin, with whose outlook on life he avowed an eager sympathy. In 1849 a chance meeting with Mrs. Ruskin at a friend's house led to an invitation to Ruskin's London home. 'Thus began,' Furnivall wrote, 'a friendship (with Ruskin) which was for many years the chief joy of my life.' Of Ruskin, Furnivall was through life a wholehearted worshipper, and the habit of egotistic reflection which characterised his own writing is often a halting echo of Ruskin's style and temperament.
At the beginning of the intercourse Furnivall sought with youthful ardour to bring Ruskin into relation with Maurice. In 1851 he invited Maurice's opinion of Ruskin's theological argument in his 'Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds.' Furnivall forwarded Maurice's criticisms to Ruskin, and an interesting correspondence passed through Furnivall between the two; but they had little in common. Furnivall, who inclined to Ruskin's rather than to Maurice's views, printed this correspondence for private circulation in 1890 (Nicoll and Wise, Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century, ii. 1-46).
In the spirit of Christian Socialism Furnivall at the same time devoted his best energies to endeavours to improve the social and educational opportunities of the working classes. With Ludlow and others he opened as early as 1849 a school for poor men and boys at Little Ormond Yard, Bioomsbury. In 1852 he joined the same friends in forming a working men's association for the purpose of giving lectures and holding classes at a house in Castle Street East, off Oxford Street. These efforts developed into the foundation on 26 Oct. 1854 of the Working Men's College in Red Lion Square, with Maurice as principal. Furnivall vigorously helped in the organisation of the new college. He spent there five nights a week, and actively identified himself with its social, athletic, and educational life, Furnivall taught English grammar and lectured on English poetry from Chaucer to Tennyson. He induced Ruskin to teach drawing to the students with profitable results. But it was in the development of the social side that he worked hardest. He accompanied the students in botanical walks and on rowing excursions. He arranged Sunday rambles, and organised concerts and dances. In 1858, on the advice of Ruskin, he took a party of working men on a tour abroad. It was Fumivall's only experience of foreign travel. He left London with his companions for Havre on 6 Sept., and spent three weeks walking in Normandy and visiting Paris. In 1859 he eagerly helped to organise a volunteer corps of college students, and became company commander, retaining the post for twelve years. Subsequently he inaugurated a college rowing club, which was named after Maurice. He induced the members to engage, under his leadership, in sculling four and eight races, which he introduced to the Thames in 1866; he was long the rowing club's guiding spirit.
Furnivall's devotion to the recreative aims of the college, and his emphatic advocacy of Sunday as a day of solely secular amusement, caused difficulties between him and Maurice and other members of the college council. His religious views had undergone a change. He had been brought up in conventional orthodoxy. This he abandoned in early manhood for an outspoken agnosticism and uncompromising hostility to the received faiths. Joining the Sunday League which combated Sabbatarianism, he described, during 1858, the Sunday amusements of the college in the League's organ, 'The People's Friend.' His somewhat insolent references to Maurice led the latter to tender his resignation of the principalship, and he was with difficulty persuaded to remain in office. Although a reconciliation was patched up, Maurice's relations with Furnivall lost all show of cordiality. Furnivall deemed Maurice and the college council to be not only unduly conservative in their religious views but imdemocratic in refusing working men admission to the council. Fumivall's activity in the affairs of the college ceased only with his life. He never lost his early tone of impatience with those colleagues whose religious or political views differed from his own. But he retained to the last the ardent devotion of the students, and the social development of the institution stood deeply indebted to him. Furnivall's zeal for literary study rapidly developed, and he tried to adapt to its pursuit the principles of association and co-operation which he advocated in other relations of life. Of the Philological Society he became one of two honorary secretaries in 1853, and was solo secretary from 1862 till his death. He supported with enthusiasm the society's proposals for spelling reform, which Alexander John Ellis [q. v. Suppl. I] devised, and always took an active part in promoting such reform, adopting in his own writings a modified phonetic scheme. In another direction his energetic participation in the Philological Society's work bore more valuable fruit. At the end of 1858 the society, at Archbishop Trench's suggestion, resolved to undertake a supplement to Johnson's and Richardson's Dictionaries. But Furnivall urged a wholly new dictionary, and his proposal was adopted. On the death in 1861 of the first editor of the suggested dictionary, Herbert Coleridge [q. v.], Furnivall took his place, and he worked at the scheme intermittently for many years. At the same time he planned a 'concise' dictionary which should be an abstract of the larger undertaking. Although he accumulated much material for the double scheme he made little headway owing to his varied engagements. In 1876 the Oxford University Press took over the enterprise, appointing Dr. (afterwards Sir) James A. H. Murray editor. The 'New English Dictionary' was the result. To that great work Furnivall continued to contribute to the end of his life.
Meanwhile Furnivall was concentrating his attention on early and middle English literature. He deemed it a patriotic duty to reprint from manuscript works which were either unprinted or imperfectly printed. He valued old literature both for its own sake and for the light it shed on social history. His literary endeavours at first centred in the literature of the Arthurian romances, and he inaugurated his editorial labours with an edition of Lonelich's fifteenth-century epic 'Seynt Graal,' which he prepared for the Roxburghe Club (1861, 2 vols.; re-edited for the Early English Text Society, 1874-8). Two prominent bibliophile members of the Roxburghe Club, Henry Huth [q. v. Suppl. II] and Henry Hucks Gibbs, afterwards Baron Aldenham [q. v. Suppl. II], enlisted his services. In 1862, for the Roxburghe club, he undertook one of his most valuable pieces of textual labour, the 'Handlyng Synne' of Robert of Bninne, to which he added the 'Manuel des Pechiez' of William of Waddington, unhappily from a MS. of inferior textual value. In 1862 he also printed a collection of early English poems from MSS. for the Philological Society, and in 1865 he published with Macmillan the more attractive 'Morte d'Arthur,' from an Harleian MS.
In 1864, with a view to more effectual pursuit of his literary aims, Furnivall founded the Early English Text Society. It began with 75 subscribers, Ruskin and Tennyson amongst them. Its first publication was Furnivall's edition of a short metrical 'Life of King Arthur.' The society flourished under Furnivall's energetic guidance, and he worked hard for it both as director and editor for more than forty years. He enlisted the co-operation of scholars all over the world, who edited texts for the society. At first the society's sole aim was to print mediaeval MSS. But in 1867 a second or extra series was instituted to include reprints of the work of the earliest English printers. At his death the society had issued 140 volumes in the original series and 107 in the extra series. The vastness of the material with which Furnivall sought to deal led him to found other societies on similar fines for separate treatment of volmninous mediaeval writers. Chaucer, Wiclif, and Lydgate each in his view needed a society exclusively devoted to his interests. It was chiefly at the suggestion of Henry, Bradshaw [q. v. Suppl. I] that Furnivall started in 1868 the Chaucer Society. His hope was to form an accurate text of the poems by collation of all known manuscripts and to ascertain from both internal and external evidence the date at which each of Chaucer's known works was composed. His labour began in 1868 with the issue of his six- text edition of the 'Canterbury Tales,' which provides the best possible material for textual study. There followed parallel text editions of Chaucer's 'Minor Poems' (1871-9), and of his 'Troilus and Criseyde' (1881-2). Although he had collaborators, the most important of the Chaucer Society's pubhcations are the fruit of Furnivall's own industry. He thus set Chaucerian study on a new and sure footmg. Another enterprise diverted Furnivall's attention to English literature of a later period. In 1868 he and Prof. J. W. Hales edited and printed by subscription in three volumes the folio MS. of the 'Percy Ballads' [see Percy, Thomas]. With a view to continuing Percy's labours in rescuing old ballads from obhvion, Furnivall thereupon founded the Ballad Society, which was designed to make accessible the large store of ballad collections which was not accessible in modern reprints. The Roxburghe and Bagford collections of ballads in the British Museum were published (1868-99) by the society, together with illustrative pieces of popular literature of the sixteenth century.
Now that Furnivall's researches had reached the sixteenth century he proceeded to apply to Shakespeare's work the methods which had already served the study of Chaucer. In 1873 he founded the New Shakspere Society, with the object of determining 'the succession of his plays' and of illustrating his work and times. Many distinguished scholars became vice-presidents, and Robert Browning was induced to act as president. Furnivall organised reprints of early texts and of contemporary illustrative literature. To a translation of Gervinus's Commentaries on Shakespeare (1874) he prefixed an essay entitled 'The Succession of Shakspere's Work, and the Use of Metrical Tests in settling it.' There he laid a stress on the metrical tests, which became characteristic of the society's labours and evoked the ridicule of aesthetic critics (cf. [John Jeremiah] Furnivallos Furioso, 1874). Much controversy ensued. Swinburne, who at first treated Fumivall's learning with respect, was moved by the society's mechanical methods of criticism to satirise its proceedings in a skit called 'The Newest Shakespere Society' which appeared in 'The Examiner' in April 1876. Subsequently Swinburne denounced Furnivall and his friends as 'sham Shakespeareans.' Furnivall rephed with heat (Spectator, 6 and 13 Sept. 1879). When Halliwell-Phillipps accepted in 1880 Swinburne's dedication of his 'Study of Shakespeare' Furnivall brought Halliwell-Phillipps as well as Swinburne within the range of his attack. In 'Forewords' to the facsimile of the second quarto of Hamlet; dedicated to Gladstone (1880), he dubbed Swinburne 'Pigsbrook,' and Halliwell-Phillipps 'H-ll-P.' In Jan. 1881 Halliwell complained to Browning of this 'coarse and impertinent language' ; but Browning declined to intervene, and Halliwell-Phillipps privately printed the correspondence. Furnivall retorted in even worse taste in 'The "Co." of Pigsbrook & Co.' (1881). Fumivall's conduct had little to justify it. Many of the distinguished vice-presidents of the society resigned, and the society was thenceforth heavily handicapped. Nevertheless, it continued its work imtil 1890. Many of its publications were useful, notably its editions of Harrison's 'Description of England' (1877-8) and Stubbes's 'Anatomic of Abuses' (1879), which Furnivall himself prepared. By independent work outside the society, Furnivall also, despite his imprudences, stimulated Shakespearean study. In 1876 he wrote an elaborate preface to 'The Leopold Shakspere,' a reprint of Delius's text, which the publishers, Messrs. Cassell, dedicated to Prince Leopold, duke of Albany. The preface was re-issued separately in 1908 as 'Shakspere — Life and Work,' the preliminary volume of the 'Century' edition of Shakespeare. With a view to facilitating accurate textual criticism Furnivall supervised, too, the issue between 1880 and 1889 of photographic facsimiles, prepared by William Griggs [q. v. Suppl. II] and Charles Praetorius, of the Shakespeare quartos in 43 volumes, to eight of which he prefixed critical introductions by himself. One of the off-shoots of the New Shakspere Society was the Sunday Shakspere Society, which was founded 18 Oct. 1874 as the outcome of an address given by Furnivall to members of the National Sunday League when on an excursion to Stratford-upon-Avon.
Three other literary societies were due to Furnivall's initiative. In 1881 he founded the Wiclif Society for the printing of the reformer's Latin MSS., and in the same year, at the suggestion of Miss E. H. Hickey, a devoted admirer of Browning, he inaugurated the Browning Society for the study and interpretation of Browning's poetry. Furnivall had read Browning's poetry with appreciation, and had come to know the poet, whose personality attracted him (cf. Furnivall, How the Browning Society came into being, 1884). The first meeting of the new society was held on 28 Oct. 1881, and excited much ridicule. But Furnivall and his fellow-members were undismayed, and their efforts greatly extended Browning's vogue. The poet was always grateful to Fumivall for his aid in popularising his work. Furnivall compiled an exhaustive 'Browning Bibliography ' in 1881, and arranged for the production on the stage of several of Browning's plays, among them 'In a Balcony' (6 Dec. 1884), 'The Blot in the 'Scutcheon' (30 April and 2 May 1885), 'Return of the Druses' (26 Nov. 1891), and 'Colombe's Birthday' (19 Nov. 1893). In 1887 Fumivall became president of the society, which lasted till 1892. The final society which Furnivall founded was the Shelley Society, which lasted from 1886 to 1892. Besides reprinting many original editions of Shelley's poems, the society gave a private performance of the 'Cenci' at the Grand Theatre. Islington, on 7 May 1886.
Furnivall's work for his societies was unpaid, and though he found time for some external labour, including an edition of Rohert de Brunne's 'Chronicle of England' for the Rolls Series in 1887, his literary activity was never really remunerative. His pecuniary resources were, during the last half of his life, very small. On his father's death on 7 June 1865 he received a substantial share of his large estate, but he invested all his fortune in Overend and Gurney's Bank, which stopped payment in 1867. Furnivall, left well-nigh penniless, was forced to dispose of his personal property, but this his rich friends, Henry Hucks Gibbs (afterwards Lord Aldenham) and Henry Huth, purchased and restored to him. In 1873 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the post of secretary to the Royal Academy. Among others who testified to his fitness were Tennyson. William Morris, Charles Kingsley, J. R. Seeley, M. Taine, and Delius. Thenceforth he lived on his occasional and small literary earnings and on an annual payment as trustee of a relative's property until 1884 when he was granted in addition a civil list pension of 150l.
In 1884 Furnivall, whose reputation as a scholar stood high in Germany, received the honorary degree of Ph.D. from Berlin University. 'In 1901, in honour of his 75th birthday, a volume entitled 'An English Miscellany,' to which scholars of all countries contributed, was printed at the Clarendon Press. At the same time the sum of 450l. was presented to the Early English Text Society, and an eight-sculling boat was given to Furnivall. His portrait was painted for Trinity Hall, of which he was made an hon. fellow on 21 April 1902. He received the hon. D.Litt. of Oxford University in 1901, and he was chosen an original fellow of the British Academy next year.
Till his death he advocated with characteristic warmth the value of sculling as a popular recreation. In 1891 he fiercely attacked the Amateur Rowing Association for excluding working men from the class of amateurs. By way of retaliation he founded on 15 Sept. 1891 the National Amateur Rowing Association on thoroughly democratic lines. In 1903 he became president in succession to the duke of Fife, the first president. In 1896 he formed, in accordance with his lifelong principles, the Hammersmith Sculling Club for girls and men, which was re-named the Furnivall Club in 1900. Until the year of his death he sculled each Sunday with members of the club from Hammersmith to Richmond and back, and took a foremost part in the social activities of the club.
Furnivall died at his London residence of cancer of the intestines on 2 July 1910, and his remains were cremated at Golder's Green. Until his fatal illness prostrated him, he carried on his varied work with little diminution of energy.
Fumivall's disinterested devotion to many good causes entitles him to honourable remembrance. The enthusiasm with which he organised societies for the purpose of printing inedited MSS. and of elucidating English literature of many periods stimulated the development of English literary study at home and abroad. His taste as a critic was, like his style, often crude and faulty. But he was indefatigable in research, and spared no pains in his efforts after completeness and accuracy. In his literary labour he was moved by a sincere patriotism. But there was no insularity about his sympathies. Powerful democratic sentiments and broad views dominated his life. He believed in the virtue of athletics no less than of learning, and he sought to give all classes of both sexes opportunities of becoming scholars as well as athletes.
Devoid of tact or discretion in almost every relation of life, he cherished throughout his career a boyish frankness of speech which offended many and led him into unedifying controversies. He cannot be absolved of a tendency to make mischief and stir up strife. His declarations of hostility to religion and to class distinctions were often unseasonable, and gave pain. But his defects of temper and manner were substantially atoned for not merely by his self-denying services to scholarship but by his practical sympathy with poverty and suffering, and by his readiness to encourage sound youthful endeavour in every sphere of work.
In 1862 Furnivall married at the registrar's office, Hampstead, Eleanor Nickel, daughter of George Alexander Dalziel. Separation followed in 1883. Of two children of the marriage, a daughter, Ena, died in infancy in 1866. The son, Percy, is a well-known surgeon.
Of portraits of Furnivall, one by Mr. William Rothenstein is at Trinity Hall. Cambridge; another by A. A. Wolmark was presented to the Working Men's College in 1908; a life-size head, drawn in crayons by C. H. Shannon in 1900, was offered after his death to the National Portrait Gallery; a fourth portrait, by Miss A. D. Staveley, is in the English Library at University College. In 1912 a small memorial fund was applied to the purposes of the Working Men's College.
[Frederick James Furnivall: a volume of personal record, with a biography by John Munro, Oxford University Press, 1911; The Working Men's College, 1854–1904, ed. J. Llewelyn Davies, 1904; Proc. Brit. Acad, (memoir by Prof. W. P. Ker), 1909-10, pp. 374–8; An English Miscellany, 1901, bibliography to date, by Henry Littlehales; personal knowledge.]