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  Francis Turner Palgrave (1824–1897), by Samuel Laurence, 1872 Francis Turner Palgrave (1824–1897), by Samuel Laurence, 1872
Palgrave, Francis Turner [Frank] (1824–1897), anthologist and art critic, was born on 28 September 1824 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, in the house of his maternal grandparents, Dawson Turner, a banker, and Mary Turner, née Palgrave. He was the eldest of the four sons of , the medieval historian, and Elizabeth Turner (1799–1852). Elizabeth's parents had permitted her to marry Francis Cohen only if he converted to Christianity and took his wife's mother's maiden name. As a child, Palgrave was not told of his Jewish heritage, but in later life he had to endure Swinburne sneering at his ‘Cohenisms’ (Swinburne Letters, 16).

As an outsider, Sir Francis struggled to support his family: until he became keeper of the public records, he could not afford to send his sons to school. Instead, he and his wife taught them at home in Hampstead, in what the Dictionary of National Biography called an atmosphere of ‘fervid anglo-catholicism’ and ‘strenuous thought’, and his parents gave Palgrave a passion for classical Italy and Greece. When he finally went to school at fourteen as a day boy at Charterhouse School, Surrey, his early intellectual training did not, as he later told his daughter, compensate for his priggishness and lack of social skills. His early education did enable him to become head boy at Charterhouse and to win a Balliol College scholarship. In 1843 he went up to Oxford, where he joined a short-lived Balliol secret society called the Decade Club. He met Matthew Arnold and Arthur Hugh Clough there, and came under the influence of the master of Balliol, Benjamin Jowett. Jowett turned him (briefly) into an ardent republican, and together they went to Paris in 1848 to witness the revolution.

Palgrave's university years were interrupted in 1846 because his father had arranged for him to take a university term off to act as private secretary to W. E. Gladstone, then colonial secretary in Sir Robert Peel's government. He did not enjoy the experience (though he retained links with Gladstone for the rest of his life) and returned to Oxford, where his first-class honours degree in classics was rewarded with a fellowship at Exeter College, though he stayed there only a year and in 1849 left Oxford. His first choice of career had been architecture, but his father had insisted that he join the civil service instead. Palgrave followed other Balliol men into the newly created education committee of the privy council. His first job, in 1849, was as a teacher at Kneller Hall in Twickenham, Middlesex, an experimental training college for teachers in the workhouses. After it closed in 1855, he returned to the ministry, where he stayed until his retirement in 1884. His job, first as an examiner and then as an assistant secretary, allowed him enough spare time to publish art and literary criticism, to write novels and lyric poems, and to cultivate his passion for artistic and literary celebrities.

Palgrave's friendships with artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites, led him to produce articles and reviews on art (and literature) for, among other publications, the Saturday Review and the Quarterly Review. His criticism is recognizable for its intemperate language: he had difficulty balancing his loyalty to his friends with his critical objectivity, while his sometimes bitter jealousy of other more talented poets and artists often comes through. In fact, his violently expressed opinions got him into trouble early in his career. He was commissioned to write the Official Catalogue of the Fine Art Department of the International Exhibition of 1862, but instead of simply describing the works on exhibit, he praised the work of the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner at the expense of other, better-known exhibitors. One of those insulted, Matthew Higgins, writing under the pseudonym Jacob Omnium, pointed out in the letter column of The Times that Palgrave and Woolner were housemates. The guide was immediately withdrawn, but on the strength of his notoriety Palgrave became the art critic of the equally outspoken Saturday Review for three years, a period which produced a toned-down selection of his articles published as Essays on Art (1866).

In London in 1849 Palgrave had also been introduced to Tennyson, who had yet not achieved the fame that In Memoriam (1850) would bring. His time as Tennyson's disciple was one of the highlights of his life, but Tennyson's need for admiring followers was eventually overcome by his dislike of being harried by the devoted Palgrave. On a walking tour of Cornwall in 1860, for example, while hunting for Arthurian sites for the Idylls of the King, Tennyson complained to William Holman Hunt that:
all day long I am trying to get a quiet moment for reflection … but before I have finished a couplet I hear Palgrave's voice like a bee in a bottle, making the neighbourhood resound with my name, and I have to give myself up to escape the consequences. (Hunt, 2.213)
It was, therefore, little wonder that Tennyson ‘dismissed’ Palgrave in 1868, though Palgrave continued to regard himself as a lifelong friend. In fact, when Tennyson died in 1892, Palgrave immediately offered to help his widow, Emily, and their son, Hallam, to ‘edit’ Tennyson's papers. Appointing himself one of the guardians of Tennyson's reputation, he helped burn nearly 30,000 letters, including all those to Tennyson from Arthur Hallam.

The friendship between Palgrave and Tennyson was responsible for producing Palgrave's only lasting claim to fame: The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language (1861), an anthology so successful that, as J. W. Mackail wrote in the Dictionary of National Biography, ‘it remains one of those rare instances in which a critical work has substantive imaginative value, and entitles its author to rank among creative artists’. On the walking tour of Cornwall which they had made together in 1860, Palgrave had suggested to Tennyson the idea of an anthology which would differ from all previous ones by being a collection of all the best lyrics and songs in English. As Palgrave had had little success with his own lyric poetry and literary criticism, he hoped that this project would bring him fame, and that it would also be a project on which he could work with Tennyson. As he used Tennyson's name to help get the Golden Treasury published, most critics have assumed that Tennyson must also have chosen the poems. The manuscript in the British Library reveals that although Tennyson was consulted on the manuscript, Palgrave himself made the initial and final selections, and that he often disregarded Tennyson's suggestions. The idiosyncratic editing principles, including the thematic arrangement of ‘books’ and the removal or rearrangement of lines, words, and whole stanzas, were Palgrave's alone.

Tennyson did influence the Golden Treasury in two important ways. First, he encouraged Palgrave to pursue the project, probably as a way of giving what he called Palgrave's ‘pertinacious devotion’ (Tennyson, 327) another outlet. He also refused to be included, causing Palgrave to omit all living poets, in whose work his taste was much shakier: his Golden Treasury ‘second series’ of living poets, which appeared just a few days after his death in 1897, was a failure with critics and the public because his loyalty to his contemporaries had overruled his critical judgement. He also attempted to replicate the original anthology's remarkable popular success with Treasuries of children's verse and sacred song. He wrote lyrics of his own, producing five volumes of original lyrics, from Idyls and Songs in 1854 to Visions of England, based on his father's historical theories, in 1881. Like the lyrics he chose for the Golden Treasury, most of his own lyrics deal with love, mutability, and nature, modelled on those of his favourite poet, William Wordsworth. As his reputation as an editor grew after the Golden Treasury appeared, he also edited selections of lyric poetry by others, including Shakespeare, Herrick, Keats, Wordsworth, and, of course, Tennyson.

Although Palgrave's friendship with Tennyson was a great source of joy to him, his adult emotional life was initially very unhappy as a result of the unrequited love he felt for a childhood friend, Georgina Alderson, the subject of his two autobiographical novels, Preciosa (1852) and The Passionate Pilgrim (1858). After she married Sir Robert Cecil in 1857, he became suicidal, according to William Holman Hunt, but recovered eventually, though he was prone to depression throughout his life. Cecil Greville Milnes (1834–1890), whom he married on 30 December 1862, provided him with a happy and stable married life. They had four daughters and two sons. (One son died in infancy.)

Upon his retirement from the education ministry, Palgrave stood (successfully) for election as professor of poetry at Oxford University in 1885, and served two consecutive five-year terms. While at Oxford he wrote a semi-official Ode for Queen Victoria's jubilee (1887) and lectured on Chaucer, the influence of the Renaissance on English poetry, and the relationship between art and poetry, the last published as Landscape in Poetry from Homer to Tennyson (1897). After his wife's death in 1890, Palgrave suffered a number of small strokes before the one which killed him on 24 October 1897, at the age of seventy-three, at his home, 15 Cranley Place, South Kensington, London. He was buried alongside his wife and infant son in the cemetery at Barnes Common, Barnes, Surrey.

Megan Nelson Otton


DNB · M. J. Nelson, ‘Francis Turner Palgrave and The golden treasury’, PhD diss., University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, 1985 [including comprehensive bibliography] · Francis Turner Palgrave: his journals and memories of his life, ed. G. F. Palgrave (1899) · The Swinburne letters, ed. C. Y. Lang, 6 vols. (1959–62), vol. 6, p. 16 [letter, 1570, 10/8/1891] · W. H. Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 2 (1905), 213 · R. Martin, Tennyson: the unquiet heart (1980), 583 · C. Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson (1949), 327 · D. Holman-Hunt, My grandfather, his wives and loves (1969), 211–12 · Gladstone, Diaries


BL, corresp., literary MSS, and papers, Add. MSS 42126, 45734–45741 · BL, family corresp., Add. MS 45741 · Bodl. Oxf., journal of visit to Paris · Dorset RO, literary agreements · Lincoln Central Library, Tennyson Research Centre, journal of tours made with Tennyson · NYPL, Berg collection, library MSS · Ransom HRC, papers · University of Virginia, Charlottesville, papers · Yale U., corresp. |  BL, corresp. with W. E. Gladstone, Add. MS 44270 · BL, corresp. with Macmillans, Add. MS 54977 · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Mr and Mrs A. H. Clough · Bodl. Oxf., letters to W. M. Rossetti · Bodl. Oxf., letters to F. G. Stephens · CUL, letters to Lord Acton · E. Sussex RO, letters to Frederick Locker-Lampson, Eleanor Locker-Lampson, and Lady Augusta Stanley · JRL, letters to J. L. Warren · Lincoln Central Library, Tennyson Research Centre, letters to Lord Tennyson and Hallam Tennyson · NL Scot., letters to Blackwoods · NRA, priv. coll., letters to the ninth earl of Carlisle · Trinity Cam., letters to Dawson Turner · Trinity Cam., letters to Lord Houghton · Trinity Cam., letters to C. W. King · University of British Columbia, Angeli MSS, letters to William Michael Rossetti · Yale U., Beinecke L., letters to Frederick Locker-Lampson, Eleanor Locker-Lampson, and Lady Augusta Stanley


S. D. Laurence, chalk drawing, 1872, NPG [see illus.] · R. T., wood-engraving, NPG; repro. in ILN (26 Dec 1885) · photograph, repro. in Palgrave, ed., Francis Turner Palgrave, frontispiece

Wealth at death  

£26,701 19s. 7d.: probate, 23 Feb 1898, CGPLA Eng. & Wales