Nettleship, Henry (DNB00)
NETTLESHIP, HENRY (1839–1893), Latin scholar, born on 5 May 1839 at Kettering, Northamptonshire, was the eldest of the six sons of Henry John Nettleship, solicitor, of Kettering, by his marriage with Isabella Ann, daughter of the Rev. James Hogg of the same town. After attending a preparatory school (Mr. Darnell's) at Market Harborough, Nettleship was sent in 1849 to the newly founded Lancing College, and thence, in 1852, to Durham School, at that time under the rule of Edward Elder [q. v.], a man for whose character and attainments Nettleship always retained a feeling of the utmost admiration. On Elder's removal to Charterhouse Nettleship followed him thither in 1854, and became a ‘gown-boy’ by winning an open foundation scholarship in 1855. Among his Charterhouse friends and contemporaries was Professor R. C. Jebb of Cambridge. His election in April 1857 to an open scholarship at Corpus Christi College—the college of which John Conington [q. v.], as Latin professor, was a fellow—was his first step in a distinguished Oxford career. He carried off the Hertford scholarship and the Gaisford prize for Greek prose in 1859; and, though he only achieved a ‘second’ in literæ humaniores, he won in the same year (1861) one of the two Craven scholarships (the other being taken by R. S., now Mr. Justice, Wright) and a fellowship at Lincoln College, where he was admitted as probationer on 20 Jan. 1862. In 1863 he won the chancellor's prize for a Latin essay, on a most forbidding subject, the civil war in America. He served for some years as tutor of Lincoln College, but resigned this office in 1868 to become an assistant-master at Harrow, under Dr. H. M. Butler. In 1870 he married Matilda, daughter of the Rev. T. H. Steel, another Harrow master. A man with Nettleship's intellectual aims and interests could hardly feel himself quite at home in a public school, though he was certainly much valued by his Harrow pupils and colleagues; it was therefore a welcome relief to him when he found himself in 1873 invited to return to Oxford as fellow of his original college, Corpus, and joint classical lecturer at Corpus and Christ Church. In 1878 he was elected to the Corpus professorship of Latin at Oxford, in succession to Professor Edwin Palmer; and he held the office with great success and distinction for fifteen years. Nettleship died at Oxford on 10 July 1893. Though he never played a very prominent part in active university politics, Nettleship was one of the small band of academic reformers who thought that a university should be organised with a view to learning and research as well as with a view to education. In taking this line, Nettleship was to some extent influenced by Mark Pattison [q. v.], to whom he owed much, and of whom he always spoke in terms of high regard. It was probably in consequence of Pattison's advice that Nettleship determined to see for himself what a German university was like in its actual working. Armed with an introduction from Pattison to Professor E. Hübner, Nettleship, at the age of twenty-six, proceeded in 1865 to Berlin, matriculating there in the regular way, and attending lectures as an ordinary student during the whole of a summer semester. The impression he thus formed of German learning and modes of study is recorded in his sketch (reprinted in his ‘Lectures and Essays’) of one of the most striking figures in the Berlin professoriate of that day, Moritz Haupt. Nettleship already possessed scholarship, in the English sense of the term, in abundance; but Haupt made him aware of the fact that this was no more than a good beginning, and that a larger and more critical view of ancient literature was requisite to make a philologist. Nettleship's Oxford teacher, Conington, who had done much towards reviving the study of Latin in the university, was a scholar of a very peculiar type, giving his mind almost exclusively to some few of the ‘best authors;’ in his later years, too, he lapsed into translation, and elected to address the general public rather than the world of learning. Nettleship took a very different course: he eschewed translation, and saw that, to read an ancient author with understanding, one must know a great deal more than what is contained in the pages of his book. This larger conception of knowledge is visible in his first published work, his completion of Conington's Vergil (1871), to which he prefixed an important introduction on the ancient critics and commentators on Vergil, and again in his ‘Suggestions introductory to the Study of the Æneid’ (1875), and ‘Ancient Lives of Vergil’ (1879). In 1877 he was diverted from these studies by an invitation to prepare for the Clarendon Press a new Latin dictionary; and his own idea was, not to revise and improve some existing dictionary, as his predecessors had been content to do, but to produce an entirely new work by a fresh reading of the ancient texts and authorities. The scheme was not so chimerical as it might seem, since there was reason to think that collaborators would be forthcoming to aid in the work. Failing to obtain such collaboration, however, Nettleship worked on singlehanded for several years before he finally relinquished the task as too great for any one man. The main results of these years of labour were printed in 1889 in a volume of ‘Contributions to Latin Lexicography,’ which the most competent living critic (Professor J. E. B. Mayor) has characterised as a ‘genuine piece of original work, necessary to all serious students of the Latin language;’ its importance was fully recognised abroad also. In the midst of these severe and very technical studies Nettleship never lost his hold on literature, and he had long meditated a history of Roman literature. From a sense of duty, however, he felt bound to accede to a request from the delegates of the Oxford press to complete the Nonius which his friend and pupil, J. H. Onions of Christ Church, had undertaken, and by his untimely death in 1889, left unfinished. Though a work of perilous difficulty, it was one for which Nettleship possessed unique qualifications; and he was devoting himself to it with his wonted thoroughness at the moment when his fatal illness overtook him.
Nettleship combined with his devotion to scholarship a fine sense for language and literary form. ‘He was willing to plunge deep into laborious and abstruse detail, but he kept throughout a clear sense of the ultimate meaning of it all. The deification of detail, the favourite fault of Kleinphilologie, was his abhorrence. His researches into Latin glossaries, into Verrius Flaccus, Nonius, and the rest, were carried through with the distinct consciousness that the results would illustrate the whole vocabulary of Latin, as well as the efforts made by the Latins themselves to study their own language’ (F. Haverfield, Class. Rev.) And he never forgot that the final end of all lexicography is to throw light on literature and history.
Nettleship was at all times a great reader of modern literature, but his real passion was for music. Even as a schoolboy he was ‘bent on studying it seriously’ (R. C. Jebb); his desire to understand the theory and methods of the great German school of composers increased as he grew older; and in his later years the works of J. S. Bach were always in his hands, and the object of strenuous and systematic study. Throughout life he was firmly opposed to tests and other impediments to freedom of thought and inquiry in matters of religion; at the same time there was a serious religious vein in his nature, and he had no sympathy with the coarser forms of theological liberalism.
Nettleship was the author of many articles and reviews for the ‘Academy,’ ‘Journal of Philology,’ and ‘Classical Review,’ and there are some few papers of his in American and German classical periodicals. He superintended edition after edition of Conington's ‘Vergil’ and ‘Persius,’ bringing them up to date, and incorporating valuable additions of his own. He edited for the Clarendon Press the ‘Essays of Mark Pattison’ (1889), and the second edition of Pattison's ‘Casaubon’ (1892). In conjunction with Dr. J. E. Sandys, he revised and edited the English translation of Seyffert's ‘Dictionary of Classical Antiquities,’ London, 1891; he was one of the writers in the third edition of Smith's ‘Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities,’ and contributed a critically edited text of Vergil to the Cambridge ‘Corpus Poetarum.’ An essay by him on ‘The present Relations between Classical Research and Classical Education in England’ appeared in the ‘Essays on the Endowment of Research,’ edited by Dr. Appleton, London, 1876; and he also drew up the memoir prefixed to the volume of the Rev. T. H. Steel's ‘Sermons,’ London, 1882, and the life of Conington in this dictionary (vol. xii.). The following writings of his were published in a separate form: ‘Suggestions introductory to a Study of the Æneid,’ Oxford, 1875; ‘The Roman Satura,’ Oxford, 1878; ‘Ancient Lives of Vergil, with an Essay on the Poems of Vergil in connection with his Life and Times,’ Oxford, 1879; ‘Vergil’ in the series of ‘Classical Writers’ edited by J. R. Green, London, 1879; ‘Moritz Haupt: a Public Lecture,’ Oxford, 1879; ‘Lectures and Essays on Subjects connected with Latin Literature and Scholarship,’ Oxford, 1885; ‘Passages for Translation into Latin Prose, with an Introduction,’ London, 1887; ‘Contributions to Latin Lexicography,’ Oxford, 1889; ‘The Moral Influence of Literature: Classical Education in the Past and at Present. Two popular Addresses,’ London, 1890.
[Bodleian Catalogue; Parish's List of Carthusians; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; De Gubernatis's Dictionnaire International; Times, 11 July 1893; F. Haverfield and T. Fowler in the Classical Review, October 1893; W. W. Fowler in Oxford Mag. 18 Oct. 1893; portrait in Daily Graphic, 14 July, and in Illustr. London News, 22 July 1893; private information and personal knowledge.]