Edward Nicholson (librarian)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Edward Williams Byron Nicholson (16 March 1849 – 17 March 1912) was an author and Bodley's Librarian, the head of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, from 1882 until his death in 1912.

Early life and career[edit]

Nicholson was born in St Helier, Jersey. His father, a former member of the Royal Navy, participated in the California Gold Rush and died in America, leaving Nicholson's mother in poverty. She moved back to her mother's house in Llanrwst, north Wales. Nicholson was educated at Llanrwst Grammar School, Liverpool College (for one term) and Tonbridge School. He studied at Trinity College, Oxford from 1867, initially reading classics before obtaining a third-class degree in Law and Modern History in 1871. During his time at Oxford, he won the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse in 1871 and the Hall-Houghton Junior Greek Testament Prize in 1872.[1]

Nicholson had been the librarian at Tonbridge School and was the honorary Librarian of the Oxford Union Society from 1872 to 1873, and produced catalogues of the contents of each library, demonstrating his aptitude for cataloguing.[1][2] After spending some time teaching, he became Principal Librarian and Superintendent of the London Institution in 1873. He reinvigorated the organisation, which promoted education through lectures and a library, and helped to increase its activities, membership and income, as well as the quality of its library. An international conference of librarians was held in London in 1877, largely through his work, leading with his help to the foundation of the Library Association of the United Kingdom. He was a council member until 1881, when he resigned complaining that the council had failed to instigate "one single improvement however trifling in library-management or library-appliances".[1]


Bodley's Librarian (the head of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford), Henry Octavius Coxe, died in 1881. Nicholson applied for the post, relying on his experience as a librarian and his organisational skills to compensate his lack of experience in palaeography, bibliography and languages. He was a surprise choice, as the position had traditionally been held by scholar-librarians, but he had the support of Benjamin Jowett (Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1882 and Master of Balliol College) and others who thought that the Bodleian needed reform. The library was cramped, under-staffed and poorly catalogued, but was still regarded as one of the leading libraries in the world. Nicholson instituted a number of reforms and improvements: he obtained further space for the library in the rooms of nearby buildings; he changed the system of cataloguing; more books were acquired; open access to some reference books in the Radcliffe Camera was introduced; and boys were employed to carry out some tasks, freeing up the time of the more experienced staff. However, these changes had internal opponents, including Falconer Madan, the senior Sub-Librarian (and Nicholson's eventual successor). The battles between Nicholson and some of his staff, which included anonymous complaints in newspapers, were an ongoing problem and affected Nicholson's health. One writer, however, later said of Nicholson, "I have always regarded him as almost the refounder of the Library".[1]

The library continued to suffer from inadequate space and money, but Nicholson made the most of the building and his staff, even though increasing the number of books added pressure on the available space. Nicholson proposed an underground book store in 1899 and work on this (the first specially-constructed underground book store to be built), along with other expansion work, began in 1907. However, by this time, his struggles and hard work had affected his health: he was confirmed as suffering from heart disease in 1890, he had a breakdown in 1901, and collapsed in the street in 1907 on two occasions. His last dispute with staff concerned his decision to appoint a woman to a permanent position. He was very reluctant to take a leave of absence from the library, suspecting motivations behind the suggestions, but finally did so less than a month before his death.

Outside the library, he enjoyed chess, swimming, cycling, and writing limericks. He was noted for his kindness and consideration, and was particularly appreciated by junior staff at the library.[1]

He died at home in Oxford on 17 March 1912, leaving a wife (Helen Grant) and three daughters (Violet, Myrtle and May).[1]


Nicholson published on various topics, such as classical literature and Celtic antiquities.[1] His writings included:

  • The Christ-Child, and other poems 1877
  • The Rights of an Animal 1879
  • The Bodleian Library in 1882–1887 1888
  • Golspie, contributions to its folklore, collected and edited by Edward WB Nicholson London, 1897
  • The Gospel according to the Hebrews 1879.[3][4]
  • Keltic Researches: Studies in the History and Distribution of the Ancient Goidelic Language and People. London, 1904
  • Can we not save Architecture in Oxford? (1910).[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Clapinson, Mary (2004). "Nicholson, Edward Williams Byron (1849–1912)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Nicholson, Edward Williams Byron". Who Was Who 1920–2008. Oxford University Press. December 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Review of The Gospel according to the Hebrews 1879 by Robert Vaughan, The British quarterly review, Volume 71–72, Hodder and Stoughton, 1880. p 277 "The Gospel according to the Hebrews: its fragments translated and annotated, first published 1879, is a highly creditable work. The list of fragments and of references has never been so completely made as by Nicholson. The sum of the external evidence as accumulated by him, is that among Nazarenes and Ebionites such a gospel did exist written in Aramaic, but with Hebrew characters; that though the authorship was attributed by some to the apostles generally, yet by the majority to Matthew; that Ireneeus, Epiphanius, and Jerome speak of it as Matthew's gospel though the latter says the Ebionite copies were truncated and corrupted; that Papias narrated a story found in it, and Hegesippus quoted it; that Clement Alexandriuus cited it as scripture, and Origen quoted it with respect; that it is not found in any list of accepted books, a fact which may be accounted for, because it was thought by many to be an Aramaic edition of the Gospel of Matthew, but that its claims to be an authentic gospel coming from Matthew were scarcely challenged. With these external testimonies to its value, Mr. Nicholson proceeds to the enumeration and translation, from the writings of Epiphanius and Jerome, of every quotation, however brief, distinguishing the Ebionite from the Nazarene text, placing these in the chronological order suggested by the canonical Gospels, and accompanying them with very valuable annotations. These notes elucidate the various points in which either in the matter of history or event, or teaching, this document differs materially from the canonical Gospels. Attention is called to the additions to and deviations from the canonical Gospels, in which Justin's celebrated quotations of the evangelic narrative agree with the Gospel according to the Hebrews. The most remarkable passages are those with reference to the baptism of our Lord, and the appearance to James after His resurrection. Mr. Nicholson has also introduced at length the story of the woman taken in adultery, on the ground of Papias' reference to some such story being found in the Gospel to the Hebrews. An exceedingly interesting note follows on the whole passage, and an explanation is offered of its position, in certain MSS. in the Gospel of John, rather than in Matthew, Luke, or Mark. The author refers to the Theophania of Eusebius for evidence that the gospel contained also the parables of the Prodigal Son and of the Talents, or something like them: and he adds the remarkable and difficult passage: ' My mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs, and bore me up on to the great mountain Tabor. Pic that hath marvelled shall reign, and he that hath reigned shall rest'—with some interesting remarks justifying the theology and explaining the phraseology. He urges that the kind of objections taken against some of these quotations might have been taken against any one of the Synoptic Gospels, if they had been preserved to us in disjointed fragments; and his argument is, if we had the whole of this -early gospel, its consistency with itself and the other gospels would become apparent. He admits that the discovery of the document which Jerome translated, or even Jerome's translation itself, might blow his own deductions to the winds: but with the evidence before him, they amount to something like this—that one-third of the gospel probably contained matter independent of the canonical Gospels, though revealing parallels of thought and of expression with it; that while there are no passages corresponding with that which is peculiar to Mark or John, one-fourth contains matter identical with the three Synoptists; that the closest resemblance occurs to the gospels of Matthew and Luke; seven fragments, about one-fifth of the whole, parallel to Matthew only, while not more than one-twentieth is peculiar to Luke. This historic work is still in print. " from Robert Vaughan, The British quarterly review, Volume 71–72, Hodder and Stoughton, 1880. p 277
  4. ^ Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 1915 article Gospel of the Hebrews; "E.B. Nicholson, after a full and scholarly examination of the fragments and of the references, puts forward the hypothesis that "Matthew wrote at different times the canonical Gospel and the Gospel according to the Hebrews, or, at least, that large part of the latter which runs parallel to the former" (The Gospel according to the Hebrews, 104). The possibility of two editions of the same Gospel-writing coming from the same hand has recently received illustration from Professor. Blass' theory of two recensions of the Acts and of Luke's Gospel to explain the textual peculiarities of these books in Codex Bezae (D). This theory has received the adhesion of eminent scholars, but Nicholson has more serious differences to explain, and it cannot be said that his able argument and admirably marshaled learning have carried conviction to the minds of New Testament scholars."

External links[edit]