Thursday, October 31, 2013


J.P. Mahaffy on Dr. James Henry

J.P. Mahaffy (1839–1919), "Dr. James Henry," The Academy, No. 223, New Series (August 12, 1876) 162-163:
On July 14, at Dalkey Lodge, the residence of his brother, this remarkable man closed an active and earnest life of seventy-eight years. His health of body and vigour of mind were unimpaired when a stroke of paralysis three mouths ago warned him that his labours must soon draw to a close.

Born in Dublin, James Henry was educated at first at a Unitarian school, and then sent to Trinity College. He was distinguished all through his course, was a scholar, and took his degree at the head of his class, with the classical gold medal, in 1818. He then adopted the medical profession, in which he soon attained great eminence and large practice, though his sceptical and independent ways of thinking estranged him from the religious and commonplace practitioners around him. His Remarks on the Autobiography of Dr. Cheyne, an exceedingly sarcastic and bitter exposition of the worldly advantages of Christianity, show clearly the nature of his opinions, and the boldness with which he expressed them. He even advanced to the shocking heresy that no doctor's opinion was worth a guinea, and accordingly set the example of charging five-shilling fees, an unheard-of thing in Dublin in that day. Though his sarcastic and trenchant tracts set him at war with the profession, his practice continued to increase, and he had realised some fortune when a large legacy made him completely independent of his ordinary work and induced him to lay aside professional controversies for literary pursuits.

He began (about the year 1848) to travel through Europe with his wife and only child, and to make researches upon his favourite author— Vergil. This occupation became an absorbing passion with him, and filled up the remainder of his life. After the death of his wife in the Tyrol (where he succeeded in cremating her and carrying off her ashes, which he preserved ever after) he continued to travel with his daughter, whom he brought up after his own heart, who emulated him in all his tastes and opinions, and who learned to assist him thoroughly and ably in his Vergilian studies. It was the habit of this curious pair to wander on foot, without luggage, through all parts of Europe, generally hunting for some ill-collated MS. of Vergil's Aeneid, or for some rare edition or commentator. Thus they came to know cities and libraries in a way quite foreign to the present hurrying age; they came to know all the men learned in their favourite subject, and all the librarians of the great libraries; in Florence, in Leghorn, in Dresden, in Heidelberg, in Dublin, these quaint and familiar figures will long be remembered. Seventeen times they crossed the Alps on foot, sometimes in deep snow, and more than once they were obliged to show the money they carried in abundance, before they were received into the inns where they sought shelter from night and rain.

During all these years—a full quarter of a century—they both pursued with unwearied diligence the criticism and exegesis of the text of the Aeneid. But a small part of the results has yet seen the light. In his Twelve Years' Journey through the Aeneid of Vergil Dr. Henry first disclosed to the world that a great new commentator on Vergil had arisen, and those who will look through Conington's work will see how many of the best and most original notes are ascribed to Henry. He also printed privately (he never would publish anything except a few papers in periodicals) versified accounts of his travels, something like the Roman saturae or medleys, and other poems more curious than beautiful—some of them, however, striking enough from their bold outspokenness in religious matters.

Having thoroughly examined every MS. of the Aeneid of any value, he returned a few years ago to Dublin, when declining years disposed him to rest from travel, and where the library of Trinity College afforded him a rich supply of early printed books on his subject. Here he spent most of his time, hunting up obscure allusions, seeking new illustrations, and labouring to perfect that exegesis which he held to be the main problem in editing Vergil. For in textual criticism he had become thoroughly conservative: he believed in the pure condition and good preservation of the Aeneid, and used to scorn those scholars who emended because they could not understand. He was with difficulty persuaded to contribute some notes on passages to Hermathena, from which scholars may infer the magnitude of a commentary carried out on the same scale through the whole twelve books. This commentary is complete,and has been bequeathed, I believe, to the care of Mr. Davies, the well-known editor of the Agamemnon and Choephori, a thoroughly competent scholar, and an attached friend of the author. The MS. is in such beautifully clear and accurate writing that its publication will not be difficult. A fragment of 176 pages on the first twenty-six lines (Eneidea) was printed a few years ago by Dr. Henry, but he could not content himself with either his own work or the work of any known printer, and so preferred the postponement of the remainder till after his death. With all its ability, its originality, its acuteness, I fear this wonderful commentary is on too large a scale, and embraces too wide a range of illustrations and discussions, to find favour with our examination-driven students. It is like the work of a sixteenth-century scholar, of a man who studied and thought and wrote without hurry or care, who loved his subject and scorned the applause of the vulgar crowd. As such, and as the fullest and best exegesis ever attempted of Vergil, Dr. Henry's commentary cannot fail to take a permanent and unapproachable place.

To his personal friends the memory of the dear old man will stand out no less distinct and indelible. His long white locks and his somewhat fantastic fur dress, which gave him a certain Robinson Crusoe air, were combined with great beauty and vivacity of countenance and a rare geniality and vigour of discourse. There was a curious combination of rudeness and kindness, of truculence and gentleness, of severity and softness in him, which made him different from other men. He was so honestly outspoken about himself that he could hardly be offensive to others, and those who saw his deep and bitter grief ever since his daughter—the support of his age, and the hope of his future fame—was taken from him by sudden death know how keen and thorough were his affections. He never ceased thinking and talking of her, and looked with calmness and even with satisfaction upon his approaching death, though it afforded him no hope of meeting her again. It was an escape from the desolation of a life without her whom he had loved.

The following are his principal printed works, very few of which (if any) were published, and many of which are undated. They speak the history of his mind by their very titles:—

Miliaria accuratius descripta. Thesis habita in Univ. Dub., 1832; An Account of the Drunken Sea, Dub., 1840; An Account of the Proceedings of the Government Police in the City of Canton, Dub., 1840; Dialogue between a Bilious Patient and a Physician, Dub. (no date); A Letter to the Socs. of the Dublin Mendicity Instit., Dub., 1840; Report of a Meeting of the Informers of Dublin, the Day after the Execution of John Delahunt, by an Informer, Dub., 1842; Unripe Windfalls in Prose and Verse, Dub., 1851; A Halfyear's Poems, Dresden, 1854; Notes of a Twelve Years' Voyage of Discovery in the First Six Books of the Eneis, Dresden, 1853; Thalia Petasata, a Foot-journey from Carlsruhe to Bassano. In verso. Dresden, 1859; Religion, Worldly-mindedness, and Philosophy (Remarks on Dr. Cheyne) [s.l.], 1860; Poematia, Dresden, 1866; My Book and other Poems; Six Photographs of the Heroic Times; The Eneis (I. and II.) rendered into Blank Iambic Verse.

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