All Scholars

ELLIS, Robinson

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  • Date of Birth: September 6, 1834
  • Born City: Barming, Kent
  • Born State/Country: England
  • Parents: James, a landowner and hop-grower, & Carolina Robinson E.
  • Date of Death: October 9, 1913
  • Death City: Oxford
  • Death State/Country: England
  • Married: Jane Jones, 1866
  • Education:

    Elizabeth Coll., Guernsey, Rugby, 1850-2; Balliol College, Oxford, 1853-6; Chancellor’s Prize for Latin Verse 1855; Ireland Scholarship, 1855; B.A. (first class), 1856; Boden Sanskrit Scholarship, 1858.

  • Professional Experience:

    Fellow, Trinity College, Oxford, 1858-61; lectr. philosophy, 1861-70; vice president, 1879-93; reader in Latin, 1883-93; Corpus Prof. Latin, 1893-1913; hon. fellow,1894-1913; Prof. Latin, University College London,1870-6; fellow, Corpus Christi, Oxford, 1893; Litt.D. (hon.) Trinity College, Dublin, original member, British Academy. 

  • Publications:

    Catullus (1866) Catullus (1867; 2nd ed. 1878); The Poems and Fragments of Catullus Translated in the Metres of the Original (1871); A Commentary on  Catullus (Oxford, 1876; 2nd ed. 1889); Ibis (Oxford, 1881); Collatio cod. Hatleiani 2610, Ovidii Metamorphoseon I, II, III.!-622; Epigrammata Latina XXIV ex codocobus Bodleianus et Sangallensibus: Glossae in Appollinarem Sidonium ex codice Digbeiano 172 (Oxford 1885); Avianus (Oxford 1887); Orientius in M. Petschenig et al.,Poetae Christiani minores I. corpus scriptorium Ecclesicorum Latinorum 16 (Vienna, 1888); Noctes Manilianae (1891); Velleius Paterculus, OCT (1898; 1904); Nova Anthologia Oxoniensis, ed. with A.D. Godley (1899) Aetna (Oxford, 1901); Carmina Catulli OCT (1904); Catullus in the Fourteenth Century (1905); Appendix Vergiliana OCT (1907).

  • Notes:

    Ellis’s mentor at Rugby was George Granville Bradley (1821-1903), later Dean at Westminster, and at Oxford Benjamin Jowett (1817-93) and John Conington (1825-69). He especially excelled at composition and won the Latin verse prize in 1855. His superb education was capped by a double first in classical moderations (1854) and literae Humaniores (1856). At Oxford he taught Latin poets (Catullus, Propertius, Lucan, Statius) and composition and maintained his interest in composing his own Latin verse (Nova Anthologia Oxoniensis). His effort to establish a solid text of Catullus shortly after receiving a fellowship at Trinity College was based on a fresh collation of six Italian manuscripts and the G (Paris) manuscript. The first result appeared in 1866 and was followed by a larger edition in 1867 that took the O manuscript into consideration, though it was generally considered that Ellis had “undervalued” the manuscript. This manuscript was acquired by the Bodleian Library at Oxford earlier in the century but was not known until Ellis discovered it and offered a first full collation in his edition of 1867 and a revised version in 1904. Ellis’s wide erudition was clearly on full display, but the collations and his 80 conjectures were subject to scathing reviews by Emil Baehrens (1848-88) for mistranscriptions and reliance on commentators more than the manuscripts and H.A.J. Munro (1819-85) not for failure to investigate the manuscripts but for the judgement he used in deciding between manuscript readings.  Ellis set about to study the manuscripts more carefully but he had been afflicted with bad eyesight from his youth and it worsened apace from middle age on until he was so visually impaired that he required an assistant to read his lectures for him. 

    Ellis’s mentor at Rugby was George Granville Bradley (1821-1903), later Dean at Westminster, and at Oxford Benjamin Jowett (1817-93) and John Conington (1825-69). He especially excelled at composition and won the Latin verse prize in 1855. His superb education was capped by a double first in classical moderations (1854) and literae Humaniores (1856). At Oxford he taught Latin poets (Catullus, Propertius, Lucan, Statius) and composition and maintained his interest in composing his own Latin verse (Nova Anthologia Oxoniensis). His effort to establish a solid text of Catullus shortly after receiving a fellowship at Trinity College was based on a fresh collation of six Italian manuscripts and the G (Paris) manuscript. The first result appeared in 1866 and was followed by a larger edition in 1867 that took the O manuscript into consideration, though it was generally considered that Ellis had “undervalued” the manuscript. This manuscript was acquired by the Bodleian Library at Oxford earlier in the century but was not known until Ellis discovered it and offered a first full collation in his edition of 1867 and a revised version in 1904. Ellis’s wide erudition was clearly on full display, but the collations and his 80 conjectures were subject to scathing reviews by Emil Baehrens (1848-88) for mistranscriptions and reliance on commentators more than the manuscripts and H.A.J. Munro (1819-85) not for failure to investigate the manuscripts but for the judgement he used in deciding between manuscript readings.  Ellis set about to study the manuscripts more carefully but he had been afflicted with bad eyesight from his youth and it worsened apace from middle age on until he was so visually impaired that he required an assistant to read his lectures for him. 

    In addition to a highly corrupt textual tradition, Catullan scholars must face the issue of what to do with the obscene poems. Ellis published a translation of all the poems into English approximations of the metres with scant success. He was happy to be offered a professorship at University College London in 1870, but found the large classes and more elementary teaching uncongenial. Nevertheless he was able to complete his important Commentary on Catullusin 1876 and return to Oxford

    Stung by the reception of his Catullus, Ellis turned to Ovid’s Ibis in 1881 and afterwards left the elegists for lesser-known poets, including Avianus (1887) Orientius in the Opuscula Vergiliana (1895, 1907), Velleius Paterculus, and the Aetna (1901). His collection of essays on various minor authors were collected in his Noctes Manilianae (1886-91). He introduced the Matritensis manuscript of Manilius. As with the O of Catullus, He did not give the M its deserved importance and conjectured frequently

    In 1879 Ellis may have first encountered his most famous student, A.E. Housman (1869-1936), who may have taken Ellis’s class on Propertius in that year. A year earlier, Housman’s “The Eleventh Eclogue” pseudonymously lampooned the two contestants for the Corpus Chair, Ellis and Henry Nettleship (Ellis succeeded Nettleship as Corpus in 1893). Whether or not the naïve and frequently caricatured Ellis took offense, student and don remained cordial while Ellis was alive. Housman called on Ellis in 1891 for help with his own work on Propertius and Ellis recommended Housman for the chair at University College, London in 1892.  But Ellis’s text of Propertius suffered the same faults as his Catullus and may have encouraged Housman’s work on that author’s notoriously difficult text. Of Ellis’s text Housman wrote privately, “Mr Ellis’s reluctance to accept the emendations of others is only equalled by the reluctance of others to accept the emendations of Mr. Ellis.” (Naiditch, 47-8) He later wrote that “Most of Ellis’s conjectures have no other origin than infirmity of mind. They might have been proposed by an idiot child.” (Naiditch 48)

    This was typically mean and extreme, but that was Housman. Ellis was respected for his indefatigable work on minor poets, his championing of palaeograhy, his discovery of important manuscripts of Catullus and Manilius, particularly the O, but his judgement as a textual critic was, in the opinion of many, deficient. Later in life he turned to the Catholic church to indulge his only interest outside classics, classical music.

  • Sources:

    Baehrens, Analecta Catulliana (1874) Housman, Manilius Astronomica 1930 xxiii; H.A.J. Munro, Criticisms and Elucidations of Catullus (VCambridge, 1878) vi-vii; The Times 14 October 1913); H.H. Bellot, University College London 1826-1926 (1929) 325-6; A.C. Clark, PBA 6 (1913-14) 517-24; P.G. Naiditch, A.E. Housman at University CollegeLondon 32-51; Roger Rees, DBC, 285-6.

  • Author: Ward Briggs