Arthur Evans


Arthur Evans : biography

8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941

Oxford man

Between 1870 and 1874 Arthur matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford. His housemaster at Harrow, F. Rendall, had eased the way to his acceptance with the recommendation that he was "a boy of powerful original mind." At Brasenose he chose to read modern history, a new curriculum, which was nearly a disaster, as his main interests were in archaeology and classical studies.

His summertime activities with his brothers and friends were perhaps more definitive to his subsequent career. Having been given an ample allowance by his father, he went looking for adventure on the continent, deliberately seeking out circumstances that might be considered dangerous by some. In June, 1871, he and Lewis visited Hallstatt, where his father had excavated in 1866, adding some of the artifacts to his collection. Arthur had made himself familiar with these.

Subsequently they went on to Paris and then to Amiens. The Franco-Prussian War had just concluded the month before. Arthur had been told at the French border to remove the dark cape he was wearing so that he would not be shot for a spy.. Amiens was occupied by the Prussian army. Arthur found them prosaic and preoccupied with souvenir-hunting. He and Lewis hunted for stone-age artifacts in the gravel quarries, Arthur remarking that he was glad the Prussians were not interested in flint artifacts..

In 1872 he and Norman adventured into Ottoman territory in the Carpathians, already in a state of political tension. They crossed borders illegally at high altitudes, "revolvers at the ready." This was Arthur’s first encounter with Turkish people and customs. He bought a complete set of clothes of a wealthy Turkish male, complete with red fez, baggy trousers and embroidered, short-sleeved tunic. His detailed, enthusiastic account was published in Fraser’s Magazine for May, 1873.

In 1873 he and Balfour tramped over Lapland, Finland, and Sweden. Everywhere he went he took copious anthropological notes and made numerous drawings of the people, places and artifacts.. During the Christmas holidays of 1873, Evans cataloged a coin collection being bequeathed to Harrow by John Gardner Wilkinson, the father of British Egyptology, who was too ill to work on it himself. The headmaster had suggested "my old pupil, Arthur John Evans – a remarkably able young man."

Little Evans, son of John Evans the Great

Arthur graduated from Oxford at the age of 24 in 1874, but his career had come near to foundering during the final examinations on a special topic, modern history. Despite his extensive knowledge of ancient history, classics, archaeology and what would be termed today cultural anthropology, he apparently had not even read enough in his nominal major to pass the required examination. He could answer no questions on topics later than the 12th century..

Fortuitously he had convinced one of his examiners, Edward Augustus Freeman, of his talent. They were both published authors, they were both Gladstone liberals, and they were both interested in and on the side of Bosnian and Herzegovinan insurrection. Moreover, Freeman was raising four attractive and talented daughters. Freeman convinced Evans’ tutors, George Kitchen and John Richard Green, and they convinced the Regius professor, William Stubbs, that, in view of his special other knowledge and interests, and his father’s "high standing in learned society," Evans should not only be passed, but receive a first. It was the topic of much jesting. Green wrote to Freeman on 11 November 1875:"I am very sorry to have missed you, dear Freeman … Little Evans — son of John Evans the great — has just come back from the Herzegovina which he reached by way of Lapland, having started from the Schools in excitement at the ‘first’ I wrung for him out of the obdurate Stubbs …"

A double entendre on Evans’ height seems possible, as his five feet, two inches did not strike his observers as tall. Whether Horowitz’ characterization as "insignificant in stature," which is typical of many of his more critical biographers, is to be indulged is another matter. Evans later roughed it in the mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina for months at a time, and in late middle age hiked over the mountains of Crete, neither of which achievements imply an insignificant constitution.