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Page 25, 27th March 1909

27th March 1909
Page 25
Page 26
Page 25, 27th March 1909 — THE LATE MR. W. H. BLISS. FROM "THE ATHENEUM."
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THE LATE MR. W. H. BLISS. FROM "THE ATHENEUM."

The death of Mr. W. H. Bliss, which occurred on the 8th of the current month at Rome, will be much regretted by the many English scholars who have had occasion to consult MS.

sources there, says The Athenceum. He had for more than

thirty years been the official representative of the Public Record Office in Rome and Central Italy, and the willing helper of all who applied to him for assistance. He regarded himself as a sort of literary Consul in Rome, and spared neither time nor trouble in the execution of his duties in that capacity. William Henry Bliss, born April 26th, 1835, was the son of the Rev. William Bliss, of Newton St. Loe, near Bath, by his wife Jane Monck Bridges and nephew of the Rev. James Bliss, the editor of the works of Beveridge and Laud. He was educated at Winchester (1847-52), and remained all his life an enthusiastic Wykehamist. In 1854 he entered Magdalen College, Oxford, then a society with only a vei y few undergraduates. He graduated as B.A. in 1859, M.A. in 1863, and B.C.L. in 1868.

He lost his father while still at school (February 5, 185o), and his mother took him with her to Hursley, near Winchester, where as a boy and a young man he learned to know and love his father's friend "Mr. Keble," as he always called him. Keble's personality and character made a lasting impression on him, and in after life he took great pride and pleasure in the recollection of this intimacy. His mother died September 9, 1871. Mr. Bliss was ordained deacon in 1858 and priest in 1865, between which dates he did both literary and clerical work,

acting, for instance, as curate to his uncle James Bliss at Plymouth in 1863. From 1866 to 1868 he was Vicar of North Hinksey, near Oxford. In 1869 he felt it his duty to be received into the Roman Communion, and in 1872 he took advantage of the Act relieving him of his clerical disabilities.

In 1859 (May 4) he married Mary Jane, eldest daughter of the Rev. Cecil Wray, Incumbent of St. Martin's, Liverpool. His wife and a large family survive him. It was not until 1865 that he returned to Oxford, to which, as to Winchester, he was devotedly attached ; and in March, 1866, he had the great joy of being appointed a member of the Bodleian staff under H. 0. Coxe. Here he remained until the end of 1876, acting as Keeper of Periodicals, and after 1871 superintending the

preparation of the printed Catalogue. The occupation was congenial, and he never severed his connexion with the Library : one of his last visits in England was to the Bodleian. He did not finally give up his Oxford house till 1898 or thereabouts.

At the end of 1876 the Rev. Joseph Stevenson, who was employed by the Public Record Office to obtain transcripts of documents of historical importance in the Vatican Archives, resigned his appointment ; and Sir Thomas Hardy, on Cardinal Manning's recommendation, appointed Mr. Bliss as his successor. Mr. Stevenson (who joined the Society of Jesus in September,

1877) did not quit Rome immediately on his resignation ; and when Mr. Bliss took up his duties in January, 1877, his position

was a difficult one. The interposition of Cardinals Manning and Cullen and of Lord Denbigh, and above all Mr. Bliss's own persistence and tact, ultimately removed all difficulties, and he became the only non-official student who had continuous access to the Archivio Segreto until the opening of the Archives by Leo XIII. in 1881. Mr. Bliss was thus the oldest of the historical students at the Vatican, although on the occasion of the recent presentation to Mgr. Wenzel he waived his claim to that dignity in favour of Professor Pastor. Of his services in this capacity it is hardly necessary to speak. The mass of transcripts at the Public Record Office, many of them in his own hand, sufficiently attests his diligence. Father Foley and Father Knox drew freely upon them for their works on the English Catholics ; and the constant references to them in Gardiner's histories bear witness to their importance.

Bliss's printed work is less extensive. He had, while at the Bodleian, edited the" Liber Regalis " which was issued by Earl

Beauchamp to the Roxburghe Club in 1871; and in 1890, under Sir Henry Maxwell-Lyte's directions, he began a Calendar of the entries in the Register of Papal Bulls relating to the British Isles. The first volume was issued in 1893, and eight volumes have now appeared, bringing the work down to 1447 ; but since the fifth volume the Calendar has been edited by Mr. J. A. Twemlow, who succeeded Mr. C. Johnson as assistant-editor in 1897. The first volume of a corresponding Calendar of the Register of Petitions appeared in 1894.

When thus enabled to relinquish the Calendar, Mr. Bliss gladly returned to his original province of procuring transcripts of documents of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was work in which his natural modesty found more satisfaction, and for which he was much better fitted. His personal qualities were peculiarly adapted to dealing with the custodians of collections not yet sufficiently arranged to be conveniently open to the public. He never asked as a right what could only he conferred as a favour, and the transparent sincerity of his character disarmed all suspicions. He thus succeededin penetrating private archives whose owners would not willingly have admitted students of a less attractive disposition. For he did not confine his researches to the Vatican. Wherever he went, his first thought was to promote the publication of unprinted historical material. It was characteristic of him that a summer holiday in Stockholm in 1881 led to his spending part of his vacation there in the two following }ears, and forming (with the sanction of the Deputy-Keeper) the collection of Stockholm Transcripts now at the Public Record Office. In the same way he procured transcripts from Naples, Milan, and Zurich, the last due to his anxiety to utilise even the misfortune of an operation for cataract in the service of history. On his last visit to Zurich, for a final operation, he was knocked down by a cab and broke his leg, and there can be no doubt that this accident contributed to shorten his life. He died of influenza followed by pneumonia, after a short illness.

One incident of his life in Italy was his appointment as English tutor to the then Prince of Naples ; for this he refused to accept any remuneration, and he had the gratification on more than one occasion to find that he was not forgotten by his old pupil. Italy filled a great place in his later life, and it would almost have broken his heart to give up his work in Rome.

It would be difficult to say more of his personal character without betraying the partiality of friendship, yet no one could know him at all without feeling warmly towards him ; and owing to the varied circumstances of his life his friends were many both at Rome and in England. They will remember, and miss, his lightheartedness and courage, no less than his kindness and his honesty. He was, as a Rcman tradesman once expressed it, war con i cara persona.