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Sir Anthony Panizzi

Sir Anthony PanizziAKA Antonio Genesio Maria Panizzi

Born: 16-Sep-1797
Birthplace: Brescello, Modena, Italy
Died: 8-Apr-1879
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Mary Roman Catholic Cemetery, London, England

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Curator

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Librarian of the British Museum

English librarian, born at Brescello, in the duchy of Modena, Italy, on the 16th of September 1797. After taking his degree at the University of Parma, Antonio Panizzi became an advocate. A fervent patriot, he was implicated in the movement set on foot in 1821 to overturn the government of his native duchy, and in October of that year barely escaped arrest by a precipitate flight. He first established himself at Lugano, where he published an anonymous and now excessively rare pamphlet, generally known as I Processi di Rubiera, an exposure of the monstrous injustice and illegalities of the Modenese government's proceedings against suspected persons. Expelled from Switzerland at the joint instance of Austria, France and Sardinia, he came to England in May 1823, in a state bordering upon destitution. His countryman, Ugo Foscolo, provided him with introductions to William Roscoe and Dr. William Shepherd, a Unitarian minister in Liverpool, and he earned a living for some time by giving Italian lessons. Roscoe introduced him to Brougham, by whose influence he was made, in 1828, professor of Italian at University College, London. His chair was almost a sinecure; but his abilities rapidly gained him a footing in London; and in 1831 Brougham, then lord chancellor, used his ex officio position as a principal trustee of the British Museum to obtain for Panizzi the post of an extra assistant librarian of the Printed Book department. At the same time he was working at his edition of Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato. Boiardo's fame had been eclipsed for three centuries by the adaptation of Berni; and it is highly to the honor of Panizzi to have redeemed him from oblivion and restored to Italy one of the very best of her narrative poets. His edition. of the Orlando Innamorato and the Orlando Furioso was published between 1830 and 1834, prefaced by a valuable essay on the influence of Celtic legends on medieval romance. In 1835 he edited Boiardo's minor poems, and was about the same time engaged in preparing a catalogue of the library of the Royal Society.

The unsatisfactory condition and illiberal management of the British Museum had long excited discontent, and at length a trivial circumstance led to the appointment of a parliamentary committee, which sat throughout the sessions of 1835-36, and probed the condition of the institution very thoroughly. Panizzi's principal contributions to its inquiries with regard to the library were an enormous mass of statistics respecting foreign libraries, and some admirable evidence on the catalogue of printed books then in contemplation. In 1837 he was appointed keeper of printed books. The entire collection, except the King's Library, had to be removed from Montague House to the new building, the reading room service had to be reorganized, rules for the new printed catalogue had to be prepared, and the catalogue itself undertaken. All these tasks were successfully accomplished; but, although the rules of cataloguing devised by Panizzi and his assistants have become the basis of subsequent work, progress of the catalogue itself was slow. The first volume, comprising letter A, was published in 1841, and from that time, although the catalogue was continued and completed in manuscript, no attempt was made to print any more until 1881. The chief cause of this comparative failure was injudicious interference with Panizzi, occasioned by the impatience of the trustees and the public. Panizzi's appointment, as that of a foreigner, had from the first been highly unpopular. He gradually broke down opposition, partly by his social influence, but far more by the sterling merits of his administration and his constant efforts to improve the library. The most remarkable of these was his report, printed in 1845, upon the museum's extraordinary deficiencies in general literature, which ultimately procured the increase of the annual grant for the purchase of books to £10,000. His friendship with Thomas Grenville (1755-1846) led to the nation being enriched by the bequest of the unique Grenvilie library, valued even then at £50,000. In 1847-49 a royal commission sat to inquire into the general state of the museum, and Panizzi was the center of the proceedings. His administration, fiercely attacked from many quarters, was triumphantly vindicated in every point. Panizzi immediately became by far the most influential official in the museum, though he did not actually succeed to the principal librarianship until 1856. It was thus as merely keeper of printed books that he conceived and carried out the achievement by which he is probably best remembered -- the erection of the new library and reading room. Purchases had been discouraged from lack of room in which to deposit the books. Panizzi cast his eye on the empty quadrangle enclosed by the museum buildings, and conceived the daring idea of occupying it with a central cupola too distant, and adjacent galleries too low, to obstruct the inner windows of the original edifice. The cupola was to cover three hundred readers, the galleries to provide storage for a million of books. The original design, sketched by Panizzi's own hand on the 18th of April 1852, was submitted to the trustees on the 5th of May; in May 1854 the necessary expenditure was sanctioned by parliament, and the building was opened in May 1857. Its construction had involved a multitude of ingenious arrangements, all of which had been contrived or inspected by Panizzi, who had a genius for minute detail and a gift for mechanical invention.

Panizzi succeeded Sir Henry Ellis as principal librarian in March 1856. During his tenure of this post a great improvement was effected in the condition of the museum staff by the recognition of the institution as a branch of the civil service, and the decision was taken (under the influence of Sir Richard Owen) to remove the natural history collections to Kensington. Of this questionable measure Panizzi was a warm advocate; he was heartily glad to be rid of the naturalists. He had small love for science and its professors, and, as his friend Macaulay said, "would at any time have given three mammoths for one Aldus." Many important additions to the collections were made during his administration, especially the Temple bequest of antiquities, and the Halicarnassean sculptures discovered at Budrun (Halicarnassus) by C. T. Newton. Panizzi retired in July 1866, but continued to interest himself actively in the affairs of the museum until his death, on the 8th of April 1879. He had been created a K.C.B. in 1869.

Panizzi had become a naturalized Englishman, but his devotion to the British Museum was rivalled by his devotion to his native land, and his personal influence with English Liberal statesmen enabled him often to promote her cause. Throughout the revolutionary movements of 1848-49, and again during the campaign of 1859 and the subsequent transactions due to the union of Naples to the kingdom of upper Italy, Panizzi was in constant communication with the Italian patriots and their confidential representative with the English ministers. He labored, according to circumstances, now to excite, now to mitigate, the English jealousy of France; now to moderate their apprehensions of revolutionary excesses; now to secure encouragement or connivance for Giuseppe Garibaldi. The letters addressed to him by patriotic Italians, edited by his literary executor and biographer, L. Fagan, alone compose a thick volume. He was charitable to his exiled countrymen in England, and, chiefly at his own expense, equipped a steamer, which was lost at sea, to rescue the Neapolitan prisoners of state on the island of Santo Stefano. His services were recognized by the offer of a senatorship and of the direction of public instruction in Italy; these offers he declined, though in his latter years he frequently visited the land of his birth.

His administrative faculty was extraordinary: to the widest grasp he united the minutest attention to matters of detail. By introducing great ideas into the management of the museum he not only redeemed it from being a mere showplace, but raised the standard of library administration all over England. His moral character was the counterpart of his intellectual; he was warm-hearted and magnanimous; extreme in love and hate -- a formidable enemy, but a devoted friend. His intimate friends included Lord Palmerston, Gladstone, Roscoe, Grenville, Macaulay, Lord Langdale and his family, Rutherfurd (lord advocate), and, above all perhaps, Francis Haywood, the translator of Kant. His most celebrated friendship, however, is that with Prosper Mérimée, who, having begun by seeking to enlist his influence with the English government on behalf of Napoleon III, discovered a congeniality of tastes which produced a delightful correspondence. Mérimée's part has been published by Fagan; Panizzi's perished in the conflagration kindled by the Paris commune.

    University: University of Parma
    Professor: Italian, University College London (1828-37)

    British Museum Librarian
    Exiled 1822
    Naturalized UK Citizen
    Knighthood 1869


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