Robert Curzon, Collection

Object Title

Robert Curzon, Collection

Robert Curzon, Collection





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Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Curzon.Traveler and collector of manuscripts, born in London. Educated at Charterhouse, he entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1829, but left without taking his degree in 1831 when he was returned to Clitheroe to the House of Commons. The borough was disfranchised in 1832, and Curzon never sat for another. In 1833 he began the travels that have made his name renowned. He travelled through Europe before visiting Egypt and the Holy Land in 1833-34, on a tour of research among the monastery libraries, gathering many valuable manuscripts. He set out on a second tour in 1837-38, when he visited Mount Athos and bought five manuscripts from several monasteries there, before making further purchases in Egypt. His experiences are recorded in his Visit to the Monasteries in the Levant (1849). It immediately gained popularity, running to six editions by 1881.[end] From a scientific point of view these revelations of monastic treasures were of great importance, and it was Curzon's experience that set others on the track which led to the acquisition of the magnificent collection of Nitrian manuscripts by the British Museum. Curzon has subsequently been criticized for removing the manuscripts to Britain, but it seems certain that many owe their preservation to the removal.

In October 1841 Curzon was appointed attache at the embassy at Constantinople and private secretary to Sir Stratford Canning, where he spent his leisure exploring the city and particularly the manuscripts there. In January 1843 he was appointed a commissioner, with Lieutenant-Colonel W. Fenwick Williams, for defining the boundaries between Turkey and Persia, and in recognition of his service he received decorations from both the shah and sultan. The diplomatic service was, however, not to his taste, and he returned to England in 1844, publishing an account of his stay in Armenia (1854). On 27 August 1850 he married Emily Julia, daughter of Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton.[end] His later travels in Italy were devoted partly to the discovery of manuscripts; and the Philobiblon Society published in 1854 his Account if the Most Celebrated Libraries of Italy. His interest in manuscripts, however, was at least as much excited by the actual writing as by the contents. He was a student of the history of handwriting, and his valuable collection of manuscripts had been gathered with a view to a treatise on the subject, which he never completed, although in 1849 he printed fifty copies of his Catalogue of Materials for Writing, which comprises examples in Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Uigar, Persian, Armenian, Greek, and Coptic. These manuscripts were deposited by his son in the British Museum and left permanently to the museum by his daughter.

On 15 May 1870 he succeeded his mother in the barony, as fourteenth Baron Zouche (or de la Zouche) of Harringworth, inheriting properties very much encumbered by his parents, particularly his father, who spent money too freely and managed family affair ineptly. Lord Zouche was deputy lieutenant of Sussex and Staffordshire, where his estate of Parham and Ravenhill were situated. He died at Parham on 2 August 1873 and was buried in the family vault beside his wife.