To celebrate National Poetry Day I am featuring the Victorian critic, anthologist, and poet Francis Turner Palgrave who was a Fellow of Exeter College from 1847 to 1862. He is probably best known for his anthology of verse ‘The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics’ (1861) widely considered to be an important contribution to the development of English literary taste, as it gathered together what in Palgrave’s opinion were the finest examples of English poetry.
As well as copies of the Golden Treasury, Exeter College library has over a dozen other works by Palgrave including art criticism and volumes of hymns and poetry, the majority donated by the author.
Among them there is The Handbook to the Fine Art Collections in the International Exhibition of 1862 which Palgrave had been commissioned to write . This caused a minor scandal when it was published as he was judged to have overly praised his close friend the sculptor Thomas Woolner and denigrated Woolner’s artistic rivals. William Holman Hunt waded into the controversy, writing in support of Palgrave and Woolner but Palgrave was forced to withdraw the catalogue.
Palgrave was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1885 and held the post for ten years. He had been in the race for the poetry post earlier in his career, we have a copy of his letter to the Times standing down from the contest in 1877.
In 1862, Palgrave had married Cecil Grenville Milnes, the daughter of the Wakefield M.P. James Milnes-Gaskell. Indeed, he had resigned his fellowship at Exeter College for her because dons at the time had to be unmarried.
I close with one of Palgrave’s poems, the Prothalamion, a marriage song not to his own wife but to Princess Mary of Teck on the occasion of her wedding on 6th July 1893 to George Duke of York, later George V.
Joanna Bowring, College Librarian