24 January 2012

W. R. Paton

While reading Michael Gilleland's blog I became curious about William Roger Paton (1857-1921), who translated Greek texts for the Loeb Classical Library. At first I could find very little information online apart from a brief obituary in the American Journal of Archaeology (Vol. XXVI, 1922, p. 90) saying that he had studied at Oxford, married a woman from the Greek island of Samos, and died there on April 21st in the town of Vathy. A more vigorous search turned up two more substantial references:

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Erinnerungen 1848-1914 (Leipzig: K. F. Koehler, 1929), pp. 227-8. My own translation from the German:
The most important [of my English correspondents] was W. Paton, who had approached me with questions while he was collecting inscriptions on Kos. I didn't have enough free time for them then, but we maintained an active correspondence from that day on, even into the early years of the Great War. He was stuck working as a junior teacher at the British school in the south because he had fallen in love with a beautiful Greek woman from Kalymnos. He owned a plot of land in Myndos and was later compelled to move to Chios and Lesbos for his sons' sake, since this is where the Greek high schools were. 
Unenthusiastic about archaeological research he drifted from one author to another until he finally settled on Plutarch's Moralia, working without the hostility of the clever but undisciplined and unreliable Bernardakis, who gave me a hard time because I dared to describe his messy edition as a chore. We both laboured on Plutarch for many years; in the end Paton died while the first volume was at the printer, but the edition is secure, even if I do not live to see its completion. As far as I can tell, criticism here is most difficult; one must get used to the apathy of the philological audience when one is working on texts that will be heavily consulted by the public. 
Paton must have had a deep need to speak about very intimate things, since he discussed them more and more in his letters to me. In this way I came to know the character of an extraordinary man from Scotland. Despite a long life in completely different circumstances he was a gentleman in the fullest sense, and he was still an Englishman despite his freedom from certain ties. However, he did he not have the haughty demeanor that is found in a particular kind of Englishman -- the same demeanor that could also be found in a corresponding type of travelling German before the war.
He was appropriately proud of his great nation and the British Empire. As a true patriot he was willing to admit the validity of another's patriotism and pride. United in this spirit, we good friends sent our sons off to face each other on the battlefield.

J. H. Fowler, The Life and Letters of Edward Lee Hicks (London: Christophers, 1922), pp. 91-2:
At this time [Hicks] became associated with another Greek scholar, Mr. W. R. Paton, who took up his abode in the Island of Cos and made a careful collection of the inscriptions to be found there. Hicks collaborated in the deciphering and interpretation of the inscriptions, and wrote the introduction for the Inscriptions of Cos (Clarendon Press, 1891). A friendship grew up between the two men, unlike as they were, the one equally at home in the practical and in the theoretical life, the other a dilettante scholar who became at last so completely "orientalized" (to use his own expression) that he was reluctant to revisit England, and who never earned anything in his life till he was paid for his translations from the Greek Anthology in the Loeb Library. Nevertheless, he did visit England and Hulme Hall; and he most kindly set down for this biography his impression of the visit some time before his own lamented death in May [sic], 1921:
Vathy, Samos, Greece.  
I was deeply grieved to hear of the death of my dear master and friend, the late Bishop of Lincoln. When I first came to know him, I was more or less a novice in Greek epigraphy, a science of which he had complete command. I happened to discover some very interesting inscriptions in the island of Cos, which I communicated to him before publishing ; and as I was at the time residing there, he advised me to collect all the inscriptions of that island, and offered to join me in publishing them, as we did. Of course, that led to most cordial relations, and I fully learnt to estimate aright his skill and judgment. I also had the privilege of meeting him personally, both at my own house in Scotland, where the late Mr. Theodore Bent and Professor W. M. Ramsay were present, and I had the full advantage of the conversation of these three distinguished people, and also at his own house at Manchester, where he was then Principal of Hulme Hall , and obviously very popular with the young men there.  
He was then an honorary Canon of Worcester (I think) and had a fair amount of leisure, although devoted to the cause of temperance and social reform. When he was appointed to a regular Canonry at Manchester itself, entailing the care of a large and poor parish, I confess I was sorry. He possessed unique qualifications for the study of Greek inscriptions, and such qualified epigraphists are few, whereas many others might have worked with equal zeal and devotion among the poor at Manchester. But, of course, whatever he did, he always threw his heart into it, which is the great secret of success, when the heart is supported by an intellect like his. He had not abandoned his interest in Greek epigraphy. A few years ago a Coan stone, my copy of which I had lost, but which I mentioned in our book, saying that some one in a yacht had bought it and carried it off, and it might turn up, did turn up in a garden somewhere in the country in England, and luckily was acquired by the British Museum. It is a very important and interesting ritual document, and the Bishop helped them to read and edit it, and wrote to me about it.  
W. R. Paton

There also appears to be a note on Paton in Text and Tradition: Studies in Greek History and Historiography in Honor of Mortimer Chambers (Claremont: Regina Books, 1999), but I do not have access to it.


Update: Mike Gilleland was kind enough to consult David Gill's entry on Paton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and sent me these two quotes:
It seems that at this time Paton was offered a chair at Oxford, presumably the newly created Wykeham chair of ancient history filled by Myres in 1910, but he declined. His daughter Sevasti Augusta, in her unpublished memoirs, linked her father's decision to Paton's feelings about how Oscar Wilde had been treated; she recalled Paton 'could never work with a People who were capable of confusing the great Artist with the man'.
A glimpse into Paton's character is provided by Oscar Wilde. Paton had written to his old friend Wilde on his release from Pentonville in 1897, and Wilde responded, "I have often heard from others of your sympathy and unabated friendship … I hope you are happy, and finding Greek things every day".