The Times/1919/Obituary/William Warren Vernon
Mr. W. W. Vernon.A Dante scholar
We regret to announce that Mr. W. W. Vernon, the Dante scholar, died on November 12, at 105 Cadogan-gardens, S.W., aged 85.
The Hon. William John Borlase-Warren-Venables-Vernon, second son of the fifth Baron Vernon, was born in 1834. After several years spent in Italy, whither his father had removed for financial reasons, he went to Eton, where he won (in 1850) the Prince Consort's first prize for Italian. From Eton he went up to Christ Church as a gentleman-commoner. He left Oxford in 1855 in order to be married, without taking a degree, an omission which he repaired 20 years later.
Stimulated by the example of his father, whose great services to Dante literature in the printing of various unpublished early commentaries on the Divina Commedia, and in the production of the magnificent "Vernon Dante," are universally recognised, and inspired by the enthusiasm of his friend, Sir James Lacaita, Mr. Vernon, in the intervals of a busy life as a country gentleman, devoted himself to the study of Dante, a study which was to bear fruit eventually in the well-known series of Readings on Divina Commedia, published in six volumes and in several edition between 1889 and 1909.
Before the issue of the first of these series, however, Mr. Vernon had performed an act of filial piety, which constitutes his chief claim to gratitude on the part of Dante students, in the publications (in 1887) at his own expense, under the editorship of Sir James Lacaita, of a handsome edition of the valuable unpublished Latin commentary on the Divina Commedia of Benvenuto de Imola, an edition which had been projected by Lord Vernon, but had been left in abeyance at his death. It was upon this commentary that Mr,. Vernon's own "Readings" were primarily based.
As an expounder of Dante he made no claim to originality nor to independent research; he was content for the most part to summarize and dissect the existing commentaries after the plan adopted in the edition of Scartazzini, of whose methods he was somewhat blind admirer. But though he addressed himself rather to the beginner than to the serious student, his "readings" have special merits of their own, which give them a permanent value. Not the least of these was his insistence on the fact that Dante was a Tuscan. During a residence of many years in France Mr. Vernon had familiarized himself not only with the language, but with the every-day life of Tuscany, the life of the contadino as well as of the town-dweller. This familiarity enabled him to point out and illustrate to his readers expressions and images peculiar to Tuscany which occur in the Diving Commedia, and which had proved stumbling-blocks to previous English commentators. and in some cases even to non-Tuscan Italians themselves.
IN 1888, being then in Italy, he was selected as one of the representatives of the University of Oxford at the celebration of the eight centenary of the University of Bologna. He was fond of relating a Dantesque experience on the occasion—how, as he and his fellow-representative, Sir Thomas Erskine Holland, were standing under the great leaning Tower of Carisenda, during a pause in the procession, a cloud passed over the tower, giving exactly the effect described by Dante in his account of the giant Antaeus, as he bent over Virgil and himself, in the 31st canto of the Inferno.
At the instance of Sir James Lacaita, Mr. Vernon was nominated in 1895 a corresponding member of the Accademia della Crusca in recognition of his labours as a Dantist, an honour which had been conferred upon his father some 50 years before, and which 10 years later was conferred upon his friend and fellow-Dantist, the late Dr. Moore; and in 1900 he was the recipient, together with Dr. Paget Toynbee, of a similar honour from the Reale Instituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, the North Italian counterpart of the Crusca. He was much gratified at the reception in the same year of a specially struck gold medal from Queen Margherita of Italy in commemoration of the completion of the final edition of his series of "Readings." He had already received on the recommendation of the Minister of Public Instruction the Order of San Maurizio e Lazzaro. Queen Margherita's medal he presented last December to the Boys' Library at Eton, with her Majesty's full consent and approval.
Mr. Vernon was for many years an active Freemason, and in 1876 was appointed Junior Grand Warden of England. In his younger days he was an active athlete and a keen sportsman, and for 20 years he rented a fishing in Norway, where he made many friends. On giving up his domicile in Norway in 1898, in return for benefits conferred by him on the district which he had resided he received from King Oscar the knighthood of the Order of St. Olaf.
He was twice married; first, in 1855, to Agnes Lucy, daughter of Sir John P. Boileau, Bt., who died in 1881; and secondly, in 1884, to Annie, daughter of Mr. Charles Eyre (formerly Archer-Houblon), of Welford Park, Newbury. He had a son by each marriage, both of whom died before him. After the death of his younger son, who was in the Navy, from an accident on board H.M.S. Russell, which left him without any heir, he presented to the library of the Athenæum Club, of which he had long been an habitué, and where his "Reading had mostly been written, the bulk of his collection of works upon Dante, consisting of over 400 volumes, many of them of great value. He was a genial companion and a warm-hearted friend, and an excellent raconteur, and though in later years almost total deafness cut him off in large measure from the social intercourse in which he delighted, he will be missed by a large circle.
In 1917 he published a volume of "Recollections of Seventy-two Years," consisting largely of records of life and travel in Italy, and containing some interesting reminiscences of the kingdom of Naples in the days of King Bomba.