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Merivale, Charles

MERIVALE, CHARLES (1808-1893), English historian and dean of Ely, the second son of John Herman Merivale and Louisa Heath Drury, daughter of Dr Drury, head master of Harrow, was born on the 8th of March 1808. His father (1779-1844) was an English barrister, and, from 1831, a commissioner in bankruptcy; he collaborated with Robert Bland (1779-1825) in his Collections from the Greek Anthology, and published some excellent translations from Italian and German. Charles Merivale was at Harrow School (1818 to 1824) under Dr Butler. His chief friends were Charles Wordsworth, afterwards bishop of St Andrews, and Richard Chenevix Trench, afterwards archbishop of Dublin. In 1824 he was offered a writership in the Indian civil service, and went for a short time to Haileybury College, where he was distinguished for proficiency in Oriental languages. But he eventually decided against an Indian career, and went up to St John's College, Cambridge, in 1826. Among other distinctions he came out as fourth classic in 1830, and in 1833 was elected fellow of St John's. He was a member of the Apostles' Club, his fellowmembers including Tennyson, A. H. Hallam, Monckton Milnes, W. H. Thompson, Trench and James Spedding. He was fond of athletic exercises, had played for Harrow against Eton in 1824. and in 1829 rowed in the first inter-university boat-race, when Oxford won. Having been ordained in 1833, he undertook college and university work successfully, and in 1839 was appointed select preacher at Whitehall. In 1848 he took the college living of Lawford, near Manningtree, in Essex; he married, in 1850, Judith Mary Sophia, youngest daughter of George Frere. In 1863 he was appointed chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, declined the professorship of modern history at Cambridge in 1869, but in the same year accepted from Mr Gladstone the deanery of Ely, and until his death on the 27th of December 1893 devoted himself to the best interests of the cathedral. He received many honorary academical distinctions. His principal work was A History of the Romans under the Empire, in seven volumes, which came out between 1850 and 1862; but he wrote several smaller historical works, and published sermons, lectures and Latin verses. Merivale as a historian cannot be compared with Gibbon for virility, but he takes an eminently common-sense and appreciative view. The chief defect of his work, inevitable at the time it was composed, is that, drawing the materials from contemporary memoirs rather than from inscriptions, he relies on literary gossip rather than on Numismatics and epigraphy. The dean was an elegant scholar, and his rendering of the Hyperion of Keats into Latin verse (1862) has received high praise.

See Autobiography of Dean Merivale, with selections from his correspondence, edited by his daughter, Judith A. Merivale (1899); and Family Memorials, by Anna W. Merivale (1884).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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