Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Birthday: "When once the mind has raised itself to grasp and to delight in excellence, those who love most will be found to love most wisely."


Francis Turner Palgrave (1824-1897)
Poet, critic, civil servant

He was a child of the historian Sir Francis Palgrave (1788-1861), who was born a Cohen, then embraced Newmanism, became a fervent Catholic, and adopted his wife’s mother’s maiden name.

The junior Francis was educated at Charterhouse, did the Grand Tour, and won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. He ran in the literary circle of Arthur Clough and Matthew Arnold; after taking his degree, Palgrave was a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, 1847-1862; in 1846- after a spell as private secretary to W.E. Gladstone-he joined the government in the Education Department.

He had wanted to pursue a career in the arts- the 1899 memoir by his daughter described how he was transformed by great architecture and deeply downcast by the sight of ruins, but practicality won the day. He left the civil service in 1850 to assume the vice principalship of a training college “for teachers of delinquent and pauper children” run by Frederick Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury. The school generated some controversy over the efficacy of its educational curriculum and closed in 1856.

While with the training college, Palgrave attached himself to the poet laureate, Alfred Tennyson- who lived nearby- and toward whom Palgrave felt the most ardent hero-worship after their first meeting in 1849. The local museum’s biographical sketch of Palgrave notes that “Tennyson found him rather heavy going” but they remained friends until Tennyson’s death in 1892.

Palgrave returned to the Education Department, then part of the Privy Council, as Assistant Secretary, and remained with the Department until 1884.

The job was not particularly taxing; Palgrove traveled widely and wrote for all the best magazines; he was art critic for the Saturday Review in the 1850s. After his Golden Treasury came out in 1861, was engaged to compose the catalogue for the 1862 London International Exhibition of Arts and Industries in London, but his edition was withdrawn after a scandal in which he was accused of favoring the work of his close friend, the sculptor Thomas Woolner.

Both were known for spiky personalities; Henry Adams wrote that it required supernatural efforts to be polite around Woolner, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Adding fuel to the fire was the muckraker Jacob Omnium, who published the fact that Woolner and Palgrave lived together. The exhibition opened in May, 1862; during the summer, Palgrave, then 38,  met the daughter of an MP- a childhood friend of Gladstone’s; in a few weeks they were engaged. They married December 30, 1862, a month after the exhibition ended.

Woolner married in 1864, at 39. Both men fathered six children.

Palgrave had a fine eye for the merits of others’ work; his 1861 Golden Treasury of English Songs & Lyrics- an idea he fleshed out with Tennyson’s help- was an instant success and was the standard anthology in the field for over a century; it remains in print- now expanded to six volumes, to this day. He was also renowned as a hymnist; a 1907 work noted that verses by Palgrave “are marked by much originality of thought and beauty of diction, as well as great tenderness. His object was ‘to try and write hymns which should have more distinct matter for thought and feeling than many in our collections offer, and so, perhaps, be of little use and comfort to readers,’ and he has admirably succeeded in his object.”

In 1885 Palgrave was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford on the strength of two decades’ worth of published poetry and literary criticism. He held the post, which required three lectures a year and presentation of the Creweian Oration every other year, until 1895. After a period of failing health, Palgrave died in 1897.

His fame today is a bit disembodied; untold numbers have treasured his Golden Treasury without really knowing who he was. Perhaps anticipating this; like many Victorians, he was preoccupied by death. In the preface to his greatest work, he wrote,

“This little Collection differs, it is believed, from others in the attempt made to include in it all the best original lyrical pieces and songs in our language, by writers not living, and none besides the best. The Editor will regard as his fittest readers those who love poetry so well, that he can offer them nothing not already known and valued.”

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