Gibb, Elias John Wilkinson (DNB12)

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GIBB, ELIAS JOHN WILKINSON (1857–1901), orientalist, born on 3 June 1857 at 25 Newton Place, Glasgow, was only son of Elias John Gibb, wine merchant, and Jane Oilman. Both parents survived their son. He was educated first at Park School, Glasgow, under Dr. Collier, author of the 'History of England,' and afterwards at Glasgow University, where he matriculated in 1873, and pursued his studies until 1875, but took no degree. Prompted on the one hand by a strong linguistic taste, and on the other by an early delight in the book of the 'Thousand and One Nights' (Alf Layla wa Layla), and other Eastern tales, Gibb, who was well provided for, devoted himself at an early period to the Arabic, Persian, and more especially Turkish languages and literatures. Gavin Gibb, D.D., a cousin of his grandfather, who was professor of oriental languages in the University of Glasgow from 1817 to 1831, seems to be the only connection in Gibb's family history with oriental scholarship. It was apparently without external help or suggestion that Gibb published in 1879, when only twenty-two, an English translation of the account of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, given by Sa'du'd-Din in the 'Tuju 't-Tevárikh' or 'Crown of Histories.' In 1882 there followed his 'Ottoman Poems translated into English Verse in the Original Forms,' which was the forerunner of his detailed and ambitious 'History of Ottoman Poetry,' on which he gradually concentrated his energies. In 1884 he translated from the Turkish of Ali Aziz the 'Story of Jewad.'

Moving to London on his marriage in 1889, and collecting a fine oriental library, Gibb lived the life of a studious recluse, rarely going further from London than Glasgow to stay with his parents. He travelled in France, and Italy in 1889, but never visited Turkey or any Eastern country, although he spoke and wrote the Turkish language correctly, and acquired through his reading a profound sympathy with Mohammedan thought. He joined the Royal Asiatic Society about 1881. The first volume of his work on Ottoman poetry, containing an introduction (pp. 1–136) to the whole subject, not less useful to students of Arabic and Persian than to those of Turkish literature, and an account of the earlier period of Ottoman poetry (A.D. 1300–1450), was published in 1900, but in November next year, while he was putting the final touches to the second volume, he was attacked by scarlet fever, of which he died on 5 Dec. 1901. He was buried at Kensal Green cemetery, his funeral being attended by the Turkish poet 'Abdu'l Haqq Hamid Bey and other Mohammedan friends and admirers.

In 1889 Gibb married Ida W. E. Rodriguez (afterwards Mrs. Ogilvie Gregory). On his death his library was, with small reservations, divided among the libraries of the British Museum (which received his manuscripts), the Cambridge University (which received his Arabic, Persian and Turkish books), and the British Embassy at Constantinople (which received many valuable works on the East). A summary list of the Gibb MSS. is given in his ‘History of Ottoman Poetry’ (vol. ii. pp. xvi–xxxi, 1902). A list of the printed oriental books, 422 in number, in the Cambridge University Library was compiled by the present writer and published by the Cambridge University Press in 1906.

By desire of Gibb's widow and parents, the present writer edited, after Gibb's death, the remainder of his ‘History of Ottoman Poetry,’ which, though not complete, was in an advanced stage of preparation; vol. ii. was published in 1902; vol. iii. in 1904; vol. iv. in 1905; vol. v. (containing three chapters on the ‘Rise of the New School’ and indexes to the whole book) in 1907; and vol. vi. (containing the Turkish originals of the poems translated in the whole work) in 1909. A seventh supplementary volume, dealing with the most recent development of Turkish poetry, from Kemál Bey to the present time, has been written in French by Dr. Rizá Tevfíq Bey, deputy for Adrianople in the Turkish parliament (1911), and is being translated into English by the present writer.

[Personal knowledge and information supplied by Gibb's sister, Mrs. Watson; notices by present writer in Athenæum, 14 Dec. 1901, and Royal Asiatic Soc.'s Journal, 1902, p. 486.]

E. G. B.