Rieu, Charles Pierre Henri (DNB12)

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RIEU, CHARLES PIERRE HENRI (1820–1902), orientalist, born at Geneva on 8 June 1820, was son of Jean Louis Rieu, first syndic of Geneva, whose memoirs he edited (Geneva, 1870). His mother was Marie Lasserre. On leaving school Charles entered the Academic de Geneve in Nov. 1835, where he went through courses both in philosophy and science. At Geneva he first took up Oriental languages and became the pupil of Jean Humbert, who had studied under the French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy. In 1840 Rieu proceeded to the university of Bonn, where he was inscribed in the philosophical faculty (30 Oct.). There he read Sanskrit with Lassen, and Arabic with Freytag and Gildermeister, and at the same time he acquired a thorough mastery of German. In 1843, on completing his studies, he received the degree of Ph.D. and published his thesis entitled 'De Abul-Alæ poetæ arabici vita et carminibus secundum codices Leidanos et Parisiensem commentatio' (Bonn, 1843). After a visit to Paris, where he was elected a member of the Societe Asiatique on 8 Nov. 1844, he removed to St. Petersburg, and there in conjunction with Otto Boehtlingk he edited with German notes the text of 'Hemakandra's Abhidhanakintamani' or Sanskrit dictionary (St. Petersburg, 1847). While engaged on this work he visited Oxford for the purpose of transcribing the unique manuscript in the Bodleian library.

In 1847 Rieu settled in London, and thanks to his eminent qualifications as an Arabic and Sanskrit scholar he secured the post of assistant at the British Museum in the department of Oriental manuscripts. Henceforth he was engaged on the important task of cataloguing the museum collections. In 1867 he became first holder of the office of keeper of Oriental manuscripts, and in 1871 he completed the second part of the 'Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium,' of which the first portion had been published by William Cureton [q. v.] in 1846. Besides Arabic and Sanskrit, Rieu had an extensive knowledge of Persian and Turkish. At the British Museum he drew up the 'Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts' (4 vols. 1879-95) and the 'Catalogue of Turkish Manuscripts' (1888). These voliimes constitute an invaluable storehouse of information concerning Mohammedan literary history, and show a high degree of critical scholarship.

Rieu, who was for many years professor of Arabic and Persian at University College, London, received a congratulatory address from the University of Bonn on the jubilee of his doctorate (6 Sept. 1893). In 1894, despite his advanced age, he was elected Adams professor of Arabic in the University of Cambridge in succession to William Robertson Smith [q. v.]. Of a gentle and retiring disposition, he resigned his post at the British Museum in 1895, and died at 28 Woburn Square, London, on 19 March 1902. He married in 1871 Agnes, daughter of Julius Heinrich Nisgen, by whom he had issue five sons and two daughters. A portrait (c. 1887) by his son, Charles Rieu, is in the possession of his widow.

[The Times, 21 March 1902; Athenæum, 29 March 1902; Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, July 1902, obit, notice by Prof. E. G. Browne; congratulatory address from Bonn University in Brit. Mus., 1893; private information from Mrs. Rieu.]

G. S. W.