• Date of Birth: September 20, 1864
  • Born City: Stoke Newington
  • Born State/Country: England
  • Parents: Samuel, Minister of Marsh St. Congregational Church, Walthamstow, & Amy Curling C.
  • Date of Death: September 28, 1933
  • Death City: London
  • Married: Margaret Mary Hall, 1891
  • Education:

    City of London School; A.B. Cambridge (first class), 1887; M.A. 1891; D. Litt., 1898; D.C.L. (hon.), Dublin, 1921; Padua, 1922; Oxford, 1928.

  • Dissertation:

    Verner’s Law in Italy (Cambridge, 1887).

  • Professional Experience:

    Lectr. Newnham College, Cambridge, 1887-93; fellow, Gonville & Caius, Cambridge, 1888-94; prof. Latin, University College, Cardiff, 1893-1903; Hulme Professor of Latin and Indo-European Philology, Manchester, 1903-29; Dean, Faculty of Arts, 1910; lectr. Harvard, 1927; Wilding Lectr., Christchurch Coll., Canterbury, New Zealnd, 1928; corr. member, Imperial Institute of Archaeology, Berlin, 1908; President, Classical Association, 1927;  fellow, British Academy, 1918; founder, Classical Association; president, 1927; commander, Order of the Crown of Italy, 1929; Charles Eliot Norton Lecturer, AIA, 1930; vis. lectr. UCLA, 1932; Hibbert Lectr., Oxford, 1932.

  • Publications:

    Verner’s Law in Italy: An Essay in the History of the Indo-European Sibilants (1887); Karl Brugmann, Elements of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages. A Concise Exposition of the History of Sanskrit, Old Iranian (Avestic and Old Persian), Old Armenian, Old Greek, Latin,Umbrian-Samnitic, Old Irish, Gothic, Old High German, Lithuanian, and Old Bulgarian, trans. with Joseph Wright & W.H.D. Rouse, 5 vols.(Srassburg & London, 1888; repr. London & Strassburg, 1990); “The Duenos Inscription,” AJA 10 (1889) 445-59; The Restored Pronunciation of Greek and Latin, with E.V. Arnold (Cambridge, 1895; 2nd ed., 1907); The Italic Dialects, Edited with a Grammar and a Glossary, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1897; repr. 2013); LivyBook II (Cambridge, 1901-27); “Vergil’s Fourth Eclogue with a Verse Translation,” “The Messianic Idea in Vergil,” in Vergil’s Messianic Eclogue: Its Meaning, Occasion and Sources Three Studies by J.B. Mayor and W.W. Fowler and R.S. Conway (1907, 1-9, 11-48; Limen: A First Latin Book, with W.C.F. Walters (1908); 34 articles in Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910-11); The Roman Coins of Manchester with G.C. Brooke & John MacInnes (Manchester, 1910); The Teaching of Vergil (1912); Titi Livi Ab urbe condita, with W.C.F. Walters, I-V (1914); VI-X (1919), XX1-XXV (1939); XXVI-XXX (1934) with S.K. Johnson; “Ancient Italy” in Hasting’s Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics 7 (1914), s.v.; “Ligurian Religion,” ibid., 8 (1915); The Youth of Vergil: A Lecture delivered at the John Rylands Library on 9th December 1914 (Manchester, 1915); Deigma: A First Greek Book, with Constance I. Daniel (New Studies of  a Great Inheritance, Being Lectures on the Modern Worth of Some Ancient Writers (London, 1921, 1930); The Making of Latin; An Introduction to Latin, Greek, and English Etymology (London: 1923, 1928); “Where was Vergil’s Farm?,” Bulletin of John Rylands Library, 7 (1922-3) 184-210; CQ 25 (1931) 65-76; “Where Was Vergil Born?,” Discovery 4 (1923) 208-14; The Architecture of the Epic” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 9 (1925) ; “Italy in the Etruscan Age,” Cambridge Ancient History, 4, ch. 12, 13 (1926); “A Graeco-Roman Tragedy,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 10 (1926) 309-29; Harvard Lectures on the Vergilian Age (1928); Poetry and Government: A Study of the Power of Vergil (Manchester & London, 1928); Great Writers of Rome (1930); Makers of Europe Being the James Henry Morgan Lectures in Dickinson College for 1930 (Cambridge, MA: 1931)“Vergil as a Student of Homer,” Martin Classical Lectures 1 (1931) 151-81; “Vergil’s Creative Art,” PBA 17 (1931) 17-38; Ancient Italy and Modern Religion being the Hibert Lectures of 1932 (Cambridge, 1933); The Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy with Joshua Whatmough & Elizabeth Johnson, 3 vols. (London,1933; repr. Hildesheim, 1968); Deigma: A First Greek Book with W.C.M. Walters & Constance I. Daniel, (London, John Murray, 1916); P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos liber primus, with Geoffrey Seymour Conway (Cambridge,1935).

  • Notes:

    Educated at the City of London School where he reached the sixth form at the age of thirteen under the novelist and theologian Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926), Conway taught himself Sanskrit before matriculating at Gonville and Caius. He learned linguistic accuracy from the epigraphist Ernest Stuart Roberts (1847-1912) and the Ciceronian James Smith Reid (1846-1926) who may have influenced him to write on only Golden Age authors. Conway received the Chancellor’s Medal eve recorded first class in his two Classical Tripos. His expertise in comparative linguistics was evident in the latter section of the second Tripos which was developed into Verner’s Law in Italy, an analysis of a law promulgated by the Danish linguist Karl Verner (1846-96) that accounts for a class of exceptions to Grimm’s Law. He was subsequently drawn to Leipzig in 1890 to hear the lectures of the comparative linguist Karl Brugmann (1849-1919). Conway was so taken with Brugmann’s approach that when he returned to Newnham he, along with the comparative philologist Joseph Wright (1855-1930) and headmaster of the Perse School and translator of Homer, W.H.D. Rouse (1863-1950, translated Brugmann’s Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik (1886)

    During his decade at Cardiff he completed a massive study of Italic dialects, aided by frequent visits to Italy to inspect epigraphical evidence. The first volume enlarged the evidence in Ivan Tsvetaev’s Inscriptiones Italiae mediae dialecticae (1884) for Oscan, Umbrian, and other dialects while updating Franz Buecheler’s Umbrica (1883). The second volume offers grammatical and etymological notes, though not as fully as von Planta’s Grammatik der oskisch-umbrischen Dialekte (1897), warmly reviewed by Conway at CR 12 (1898) 254-7. Conway suspended his linguistic work following this immense project but would return after travel and study grants in 1907-8 allowed him to travel through Austria and northern Italy. Conway contributed significant material on the Venetic inscriptions to Joshua Whatmough and S.E. Johnson’s The Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy, published after his death.  

    Although Cyril Bailey said that Conway had learned at school the “both the care for detail and the width of outlook which remained the characteristic of his classical work,” Conway had little interest in the wider world of antiquity: he never published on any Greek subject and limited his Roman studies to the authors between Cicero and Livy. Once he moved to Manchester he began work on the greatest poet and the greatest historian of Augustan Rome. 

    His great love was Virgil (Conway is credited with being the first Englishman to spell the Anglicized name as “Vergil.”). His magnetic lectures drew student and audiences not only in Britain but the United States and New Zealand. His approach was chiefly biographical in the four books he produced from 1923 to 1928. His early efforts compared the landscape described in the Eclogues with the countryside around Carpenedolo, rather than the traditional Pietole. He did not suffer criticism well and readily resorted to ad hominem responses. He set out to write a full commentary on the Virgil that would modernize Conington-Nettleship, but he took such great pains with the linguistic, historical, archaeological, and other details that he died before he could complete his commentary on Aeneid 1 (His son prepared the text for publication.) 

    Conway’s third great interest was the text of Livy which he completed for the Oxford Classical Texts series. A frequent visitor to Italy, he made accurate accounts of the manuscripts and familiarized himself with the landscape. Not a trained palaeographer, he nevertheless brought a fresh and full recension of the manuscripts to a far more complete and accurate apparatus criticus than had been known before. He edited three volumes (Books 1-5; 6-10; 21-25) with William Charles Flamstead Walters (1859-1927) and Books 26-30 posthumously with Stephen Keymer Johnson (1899-1936).

    Conway was clearly able to engage the cooperation of colleagues such as E.V. Arnold, Arthur Evans, J.B. Mayor, W.W. Fowler, not only on his scholarly work but in the founding of the Classical Association, the creation of an Honours Latin examination for those with little or no Greek, his participation in the excavation of the Roman fort at Ardotalia at Melandra Castle, the elementary texts in Latin (Limen) and Greek (Deigma) that he created with Walters, and his marshalling of his students to collaboratively translate the Rudens. He was a legendary teacher at Manchester, who was able to develop and maintain a kind of cult around Virgil. Students and colleagues alike were also aware that Conway reacted so severely to inaccuracy and disagreement that he often lost control of his temper. 

    Following his retirement at age 65, he continued his research schedule and lectured in the United States and Oxford. He died at 69 in a nursing home in Oxford.

  • Sources:

    W.B. Anderson, CR 47 (1933) 162-3; Anon., The Times (29 September 1933) 14; C. Bailey, PBA 22 (1936) 434-4; W.W. Briggs, DBC 196-9; P.G. Naiditch, A.E. Housman at University College, London The Election of 1892 (Leiden, 1988) 98-9; J. Whatmough, BBJ 59 (1939) 21-34; bibl. 34-40; ------“Profiles of Noted Linguists: Robert Seymour Conway,” Word Study 31 (1955) 1-5.

  • Author: Ward Briggs