b.24 March 1812 d.9 March 1888
BA Cantab(1832) MD LSA FRCP(1845) FRS
Robert Latham, first son of Thomas Latham, vicar of Billingborough, Lincolnshire, was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge. After graduating in arts in 1832, he travelled abroad, chiefly in Scandinavia, and, as a result, translated Bishop Tegner’s Frithiof's Saga (1838) and wrote a book on Norway and the Norwegians (1840). He became, in 1839, professor of English language and literature at University College, London. He also took up the study of medicine and in 1842, having qualified, was made physician to St. George’s and St. James’s Dispensary. Three years later, he was appointed lecturer on materia medica and forensic medicine at the Middlesex Hospital, and in the next year assistant physician. Concurrently, he was at work on his book, The English Language (1841), which went into four editions, and in 1849 he resigned his appointments and abandoned medicine for literature, philology and ethnology. His Handbook of the English Language (1851) passed into several editions and his edition of Johnson’s Dictionary (1866-70) was equally well-known. The intellectual brilliance and encyclopaedic knowledge displayed in his works more than compensated for his obscurities of style and occasional inaccuracies. Latham died at Putney, where he had made the acquaintance of Gordon Hake and Theodore Watts-Dunton. The former recorded amusingly a meeting between Latham and George Borrow.
G H Brown
[B.M.J., 1888; D.N.B., xxxii, 168; Hale Bellot, 114]
(Volume IV, page 42)
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