James Henry

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Henry, James, M.D., scholar and author, was born in Dublin in 1799. Educated at a Unitarian school and at Trinity College, he adopted the medical profession, in which he soon attained great eminence and large practice, though his sceptical and independent ways of thinking, and his adoption of a five-shilling fee estranged from him most of his professional brethren. His sarcastic and trenchant tracts on questions of the day set him openly at war with the profession, yet his practice continued to increase, and he had realized 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. About the year 1848 he began to travel through Europe with his wife and only child, and to make researches on his favourite author, Virgil.

Dr. Mahaffy says: "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 Virgilian 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 Virgil's Æneid, or for some rare edition or commentator... 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... In his Twelve Years' Journey through the Æneid of Virgil Dr. Henry first disclosed to the world that a great new commentator on Virgil 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 out-spokenness in religious matters." Having examined every MS. of the Æneid of any value, he returned to Dublin, when declining years disposed him to rest, and where the Library of Trinity College afforded him a rich supply of early printed books on his subject. The Æneidea: or Critical, Exegetical, and Æsthetical Remarks on the Æneid, appeared in 1873, with the following dedication: "To my beloved daughter, Katherine Olivia Henry, etc., I give, dedicate, and consecrate all that part of this work which is not her own."

His daughter's death, shortly after the appearance of this book, was a terrible blow to him. He himself passed away, 14th July 1876, aged 77. A full list of his publications will be found in the Academy, 12th August 1876, in the ample notice by his friend Mr. Mahaffy, from which this sketch is taken. His most permanent printed works are probably his poems; but his commentary on Virgil left behind in MS., will doubtless, if given to the world, establish his reputation as a scholar. Unable to satisfy himself as to the completeness of any part of it, he had long before his death abandoned the prospect of publication during his lifetime.

Sources

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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