Martin Routh bigraphy, stories - Classical scholar and college head

Martin Routh : biography

18 September 1755 - 22 December 1854

Martin Joseph Routh (18 September 175522 December 1854) was an English classical scholar and President of Magdalen College, Oxford (1791–1854).


Routh was born at South Elmham, Suffolk, England. Educated at Queen's College and Magdalen College, Oxford, he was elected in 1775 to a fellowship at Magdalen College. On 28 April 1791, he became the President of Magdalen College, a post he held for the next 63 years until his death in 1854. In 1810, he was presented with the valuable living of Tilehurst in Berkshire, where, it is recorded, he liked to spend his holidays when not in Oxford. He married Eliza Agnes Blagrave, daughter of John Blagrave of Calcot Park in Tilehurst, a lady some thirty-five years his junior.

Routh sympathised with the Tractarians of the High Church Oxford Movement in the 1830s and 40s. R. W. Church in his history of the Oxford Movement said Routh "had gone below the surface, and was acquainted with the questions debated by those [Anglican] divines, there was nothing startling in what so alarmed his brethren, whether he agreed with it or not; and to him the indiscriminate charge of Popery meant nothing. But Dr. Routh stood alone among his brother Heads in his knowledge of what English theology was".R. W. Church, The Oxford Movement. Twelve Years: 1833-1845 (University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 207. John Henry Newman dedicated his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church (1837) to Routh as one "who has been reserved to report to a forgetful generation what was the theology of their fathers".Ian Ker, John Henry Newman. A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 137.

Shrunken in size and deaf, Routh retained his eyesight, his good memory, and his other intellectual powers to the last, dying at Magdalen College.


  • His edition of the Euthydemus and Gorgias of Plato, 8vo, Oxford, 1784.
  • Reliquiæ sacræ sive auctorum fere jam perditorum secundi tertiique seculi post Christum natum quæ supersunt, 4 vols. 8vo, Oxford, 1814–1818; the first two in 1814, the third in 1815, the fourth in 1818. Routh added a fifth volume in 1848, and brought out a second edition of the first four, the whole in 5 vols. 8vo, 1846–8.
  • An edition of Burnet's History of his own Time, with notes by the Earls of Dartmouth and Hardwicke and Swift, and observations, 6 vols. 8vo, Oxford, 1823; a second edition, 1833.
  • Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum opuscula præcipua quædam, 2 vols. 8vo, Oxford, 1832; a second edition, 1840, re-edited (anonymously) by Dr. William Jacobson, Bishop of Chester, 1858.
  • An edition of Burnet's History of the Reign of James II, with additional notes, 8vo, Oxford, 1852.
  • Tres breves Tractatus, containing De primis episcopis, S. Petri Alexandrini episcopi fragmenta quædam, and S. Irenæi illustrata rhēsis, in qua ecclesia Romana commemoratur, 8vo, Oxford, 1853. He wrote a large number of Latin inscriptions, four of which are given in the pages of Burgon's Life and twenty-five in an appendix.



Many affectionate stories were told of him, but he is best known today for his response to John Burgon, who asked him what he would say to a young don seeking advice: "You will find it a very good practice always to verify your references, sir!" This is also to be found in the short form, "Always verify your references", with and without the "sir". His last words when he collapsed taking a heavy volume from a high shelf in his library allegedly were: "A worthless volume, sir! A worthless volume!". According to James Morris, Routh's last words, spoken to his housekeeper, were "Don't trouble yourself".

Literary career

He was the author of editions of the Euthydemus and Gorgias of Plato (1784), to which Karl Wilhelm Dindorf declared himself indebted for his first ideas of Greek criticism, and of Gilbert Burnet's History of his Own Time (2nd ed., 1833) and History of the Reign of King James the Second (1852). Routh was above all an authority on patristic literature, his Reliquiae Sacrae (2nd ed., 1846–48), a collection of the fragments of the Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum opuscula praecipua quaedam (2nd ed., 1840) being valuable contributions to ecclesiastical knowledge.

  • Reliquiae Sacrae, sive, Auctorum fere jam perditorum secundi tertiique saeculi. Vol. I, II, III y IV. Latin - Ancient Greek. Typis Academicis, Impensis J. Mawman, Londini, 1st. Ed. 1814.
Living octopus

Living octopus

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