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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

Anthony Panizzi (né Antonio Panizzi) (1797–1879)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

An Italian-born lawyer, he came to England in May 1823 after a court in his home duchy of Modena had passed the death sentence on him, for membership of a prohibited secret society agitating for the liberty of Italy from Austrian influence (Constance Brooks, Antonio Panizzi: Scholar and Patriot, 1931)

He arrived in London almost penniless; in later years he told his young friend and first biographer Louis Fagan that he lived in cheap lodgings, allowing himself fourteen pence for breakfast and dinner and gazing through the windows of a cook-shop with hungry eyes (Louis Fagan, The Life of Sir Anthony Panizzi KCB, late Principal Librarian of the British Museum, Senator of Italy etc. etc., 2 vols, 1880)

Through Italian refugees already resident in London, among them Ugo Foscolo and Santorre Santa Rosa, Panizzi was introduced to the poet Thomas Campbell, who gave him a letter of introduction to William Roscoe junior, the well-known Liverpool banker and biographer of Lorenzo de’ Medici

Campbell’s letter said that Panizzi was keen “to teach Italian in Liverpool — if he can find any pupils” (Thomas Campbell to William Stanley Roscoe, 5 July 1823, published by Sydney Jeffery in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement, 8 July 1944)

Panizzi did find pupils, and remained in Liverpool for nearly five years

An early example of his fearlessness and combativeness is his reply to the absurd demand from the Inspector of Taxes at Reggio for 225 francs and 25 cents, which included the fee for the hangman

Panizzi wrote back from the ‘Realm of Death, Elysian Fields’, regretting that “I do not consider that since my departure I have any longer either assets or liabilities in that miserable world of yours” and signing his mock reply ‘the Soul of A. Panizzi’ (Louis Fagan, The Life of Sir Anthony Panizzi KCB, late Principal Librarian of the British Museum, Senator of Italy etc. etc., 2 vols, 1880)

Having met through his Liverpool friends Henry Brougham, the prime mover, with Thomas Campbell, of the new University of London (later University College London), Panizzi was encouraged by his new friend to apply for the first Professorship of Italian at the new University, which was to open in October 1828

Gabriele Rossetti, father of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was a rival candidate for the chair, but the post was offered to Panizzi in February 1828, after Panizzi had visited London to meet the recently appointed Warden of the University, Leonard Horner

He was wary of moving from Liverpool, where he had a circle of friends and enough pupils to make ends meet, and was warned by fellow exile Giuseppe Pecchio that if he took the London Chair, “it is not only doubtful whether you will be richer, but very doubtful whether you will be happier. That depends on your character. London contains so many things irritating to the bile” (Edward Miller, Prince of Librarians: The Life and Times of Antonio Panizzi of the British Museum, 1988)

Horner seems to have reassured Panizzi, though the latter rather boldly and unrealistically outlined to Horner his objection to teaching beginners and his need for a paid assistant to perform that task

This was not something that the cash-strapped University could agree to; the money-pinching Council offered Panizzi a loan of £250 to tide him over the move, but would make no further promises at a time when it was deciding to offer guaranteed salaries of between £200 and £300 to its Professors for the first two or three years, after which their earnings would be taken out of the fees brought in by the students they managed to attract (Council Minutes, vol. I, 10 July 1828, UCL Records Office)

Though Panizzi accepted the post, he was soon to find, along with fellow Professors like Dionysius Lardner, Frederick Rosen, John Conolly, and Robert Grant, that he could not survive without taking on work outside the University

Having arrived in London and taken up lodgings very close to the University at 2 Gower Street North, Panizzi found, in spite of Horner’s and Brougham’s predictions that his classes would be popular, that the numbers attending them amounted to five in the first year, eight in 1829–1830, and five in the following year (Edward Miller, Prince of Librarians: The Life and Times of Antonio Panizzi of the British Museum, 1988)

Somewhat mysteriously, he was able to donate “the mummy of a cat from Egypt” to the University’s incipient natural history collection in April 1829 (Council Minutes, vol. I, 11 April 1829, UCL Records Office)

He was helped to supplement his inadequate income in 1831 when Brougham recommended him for a post in the British Museum

As Lord Chancellor in the reforming Whig government which took office in November 1830, Brougham was ex officio one of the three principal Trustees of the British Museum

Panizzi was appointed Extra Supernumerary Librarian on 27 April 1831 at a salary of £200 per annum (Constance Brooks, Antonio Panizzi: Scholar and Patriot, 1931)

Panizzi took British citizenship in 1832 and anglicized his Christian name

In July 1837 he was promoted to Keeper of Printed Books, and began to wield influence and power in the institution, to which he introduced a number of reforms in the teeth of obstinate and sometimes hysterical opposition from his colleagues in the Museum

Parliament, press, and public had been taking an ever more vociferous interest in the way the British Museum was run, and Panizzi was invaluable in his energy and hard work and the forceful replies he gave to a number of Parliamentary Select Committees and Royal Commissions which were set up in the 1830s and 1840s to investigate it

Though he kept his Professorship at University College London until December 1837, he had ceased to have any duties there

As the genial but complacent Principal Librarian of the British Museum, Sir Henry Ellis, told the 1835 Select Committee, when they asked about employees with outside appointments: “I believe he remains on the list of Professors at London University, but there is nothing that ever calls him away. There is no man more punctual in his attendance” at the Museum (Edward Miller, Prince of Librarians: The Life and Times of Antonio Panizzi of the British Museum, 1988)

Ellis’s assurance is borne out by the fact that the Annual Reports of University College London do not include Italian among the subjects taught in the years 1835, 1836, and 1837, at a time when French, German, and even Hebrew managed between 3 and 20 students each (Annual Reports, 1835, 1836, 1937, UCL Records Office)

At this point, as one of the senior officers of the British Museum, Panizzi moved from his Gower Street lodgings into an apartment inside the Museum

He was already showing his combative nature by arguing his case for a better apartment than his equal, the newly appointed Keeper of Manuscripts, Sir Frederic Madden, on the grounds that, though Sir Frederic had been an employee for longer, Panizzi’s new appointment had preceded Madden’s by three days (Anthony Panizzi to Rev. Josiah Forshall, Secretary to the Museum, 25 July 1837, Original Letters and Papers, vol. XVII, British Museum Central Archive)

Panizzi lost the battle this time, but was to win all the many battles between the two men over the next twenty years, culminating in his appointment as Principal Librarian in 1856, the post coveted by Madden

Madden’s diary exhibits his obsessive hatred of the “vagabond Italian” (13 January 1847) and shows him boiling with rage on learning that he has been passed over for the Principal Librarianship by “this cursed fellow” who “came to England with a rope around his neck” (1 March 1856, transcribed copy of Madden’s MS diary, British Museum Central Archive)

Panizzi, a large man of extraordinary energy, did not care whom he offended — colleagues, trustees, press, politicians — in his drive to make the British Museum Library the best in the world

In his thirty-five years of employment there he oversaw the great task of compiling an adequate catalogue of printed books, a task for which he drew up his famous ninety-one rules; introduced the system of having readers request books on printed forms rather than haphazard bits of paper; enforced the 1842 Copyright Act by taking publishers to court when they continued to flout the rule about giving a copy of every book they published to the Museum library; lobbied the trustees for fairer wages and conditions for the low-grade officers; and enlarged every part of the Department of Printed Books (Edward Miller, Prince of Librarians: The Life and Times of Antonio Panizzi of the British Museum, 1988)

His greatest achievement of all was the creation of the great Round Reading Room in the Museum, which opened to universal acclaim in May 1857

He did all this against the background of antagonism from press and politicians about a foreigner taking charge of a great national British institution

Richard Monckton Milnes was particularly antagonistic in the debate in the House of Commons to vote the Museum’s annual grant in April 1856, just after Panizzi’s appointment as Principal Librarian

An anti-Catholic bias was evident in his remark that “he was always desirous that men in such a position [i.e. political refugees] should be received in this country as those Protestants who took refuge here after the revocation of the edict of Nantes were received”, but he believed that “the chief position in the great library and museum of the country” should have been bestowed on an Englishman, not a foreigner (Hansard, 21 April 1856)

By the time Panizzi decided to retire, though ill health, in 1865, the trustees and most of his colleagues had come to value him, despite his obstinacy and occasional rudeness

The Trustees resolved to “record their deep sense of the ability, zeal, and unwearied assiduity with which he has discharged the many arduous and responsible duties which from time to time have been committed to him” (Committee Minutes, vol. XXXI, 24 June 1865, British Museum Central Archive)

They decided, unprecedentedly, to recommend to the Treasury that he should receive as his pension the full amount of his salary, £1,400 (Committee Minutes, vol. XXXI, 24 June 1865, British Museum Central Archive)

In October 1865 Panizzi moved out of the Museum and into a house at 31 Bloomsbury Square, which he described as being “in a very unfashionable quarter, though very respectable” (Louis Fagan, The Life of Sir Anthony Panizzi KCB, late Principal Librarian of the British Museum, Senator of Italy etc. etc., 2 vols, 1880); he died there in 1879 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

For more general biographical information about Anthony Panizzi, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 7 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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