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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

The Oxford representative was John Conington


About

1860 three remarkable persons illustrated scholarship in the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh respectively, with a combination of literary and linguistic knowledge which had been growing rarer up to their time, and which has grown rarer still since.

The Oxford representative was John Conington, who was born at Boston on 10th August 1825. He went to Rugby and to Magdalen College, Oxford, whence he migrated to University College, and there obtained a fellowship, making nearly a clean sweep of the chief University prizes meanwhile. He became in 1854 the first Professor of Latin, and held the post till his death in 1869. He edited Virgil, AEschylus (part) and Persius, translated Horace, Homer, and Virgil, and did a certain amount of miscellaneous literary work. He was neither a very exact nor a very great scholar: his scholarship indeed took rather the character of that of foreign nations, other than Germany, than the dogged minuteness of German, or the large but solid strength of English study of the classics. But he was an exceedingly stimulating professor; and coming at the time when it did, his work was valuable as a reminder that the classics are live literature, and not so much dead material for science.

Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro, a native of Elgin, where he was born in 1819, a Shrewsbury boy and a scholar and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who became Professor of Latin there in 1869

and died in 1882, was an incomparably greater verbal scholar than Conington, and may fairly be said to have taken up the torch of Bentley and Porson. His great edition (with a less great translation) of Lucretius, his work on Horace and Catullus, and his scattered papers, all come up to a very high standard; and in the delightful art of Greek and Latin composition in verse, where England has long stood paramount, and which, since she has abandoned it, remains uncultivated throughout Europe, he was almost supreme. But Munro, though he never surrendered wholly to the philological heresy, was affected thereby; and some of his Lucretian readings were charged with a deficiency in ear such as that with which he justly reproached his German predecessors.

The most strictly literary of the three has yet to be mentioned. William Young Sellar, born near Golspie in the same year as Conington, was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, at the University of Glasgow, and (as a Snell exhibitioner) at Balliol. After holding an Oriel fellowship for some years, and doing professorial or assistant-professorial work at Durham and St. Andrews, he became in 1863 Professor of Humanity at Edinburgh, and remained so till his death in 1890. In the year of his election to the professorship appeared his _Roman Poets of the Republic_, quite the best book of its kind existing in English; and this was followed up by others on Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, and Propertius--good, but less good, the mannered correctness of the Augustans evidently appealing to the author less than the more strictly poetic excellence of Lucretius and Catullus. Attempts, too few but noteworthy, have since been made to handle classical literature in the style of the _Roman Poets of the Republic_, but it has never been surpassed, and it has very seldom been equalled.


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