13.0256 Leonard Boyle 1923-1999

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sun, 31 Oct 1999 11:37:45 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 256.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1999 11:15:26 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: Leonard Boyle 1923-1999

Dear Colleagues:

It is my sad duty to tell you that Father Leonard Boyle, an extraordinary
human being, one of the great palaeographers and a scholar keenly
interested and involved in our field, has died at the age of 75. An
obituary from the New York Times is included below.

Boyle was formerly Prefect of the Vatican Library. Before he went to Rome
he was professor in the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto,
where he taught palaeography to generations of students in the Institute
and in the Centre for Medieval Studies. I first encountered Boyle when I
was a student of Old English, in a course taught by Angus Cameron (fons et
origo of the Dictionary of Old English), at Toronto in 1976. For a final
project I submitted to Angus a amateur's palaeographical study of some
vernacular Anglo-Saxon hands (I had done palaeography on my own as a
calligrapher years before). Much to my delight Angus thought well of the
project. Without asking me he passed it on to Boyle, who then contacted me
and asked me to see him. I went to the Institute expecting a stuffy
academic scholar totally ignorant of the practical side of lettering.
Boyle, the speed of whose wit and clarity of mind recall many a story of
samurai swordsmanship, quickly disabused me of such expectations; he knew
all about the American Arts-and-Crafts Revival of calligraphy and had on
his bookshelf most of the rather difficult-to-obtain books I was very proud
of having in my collection. He knew of my mentor, Lloyd Reynolds, at
Reed College. I was impressed! We became friends.

I saw him again from time to time in Toronto, always intending to take his
palaeography course, but as a budding Miltonist never did, alas, alas.
While working at the Records of Early English Drama project I became
friends with a number of medievalists and as a result joined the long
chain of beneficiaries of Boyle's insomnia. It seems that to while away
the hours Boyle would read mystery novels, and at such a rate that a
constant stream of them flowed from his study to the many others like
myself needing some relief from our day jobs.

Boyle was then called to Rome. Some years later I found myself there for
the first time, on a Sunday. I was approaching the Vatican when I spotted
him walking briskly along in plain black. The only thing I remember about
the conversation (other than the warmth of his greeting) was his telling
me which of the nearby "bars" (Italian style) was the best place to get a
sandwich. He explained that he could not go to the best one because the
owner knew him and would refuse to take money from him. "I have a very dim
view of a man not earning his living!" he exclaimed -- and walked on.

Some years after that I was giving a talk on computing at the Institute
when Boyle turned up unexpectedly to introduce me. He commented that the
sort of thing I was about to lecture on was precisely what he had had in
mind when he established the lecture series 15 years previously. Computers
were rather new to our academic world then, but Boyle was the kind of
person who could recognise a good thing for scholarship when he saw it,
however obscured by temporary crudities of form.

I referred above to samurai swordsmanship. The particular accomplishment I
have in mind is the ability to slice a burning candle in half without
disturbing the flame. But the metaphor doesn't do justice to his
salt-of-the-earth wit, the sparkle of rebellious, conspiratorial delight in
his eyes, the burning intelligence, the etymologically precise magnaminity,
the passion for letterforms, for the life of the mind. A great loss to us all.


>Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1999 09:53:51 +0100 (BST)
>To: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk
>>From: John Lavagnino <John.Lavagnino@kcl.ac.uk>
>Reply-to: John Lavagnino <John.Lavagnino@kcl.ac.uk>
> New York Times, October 28, 1999
> Leonard E. Boyle, Who
> Modernized Vatican Library,
> Dies at 75
> The Rev. Leonard E. Boyle, the former keeper of
> manuscripts and chief librarian of the Vatican
> Library, who was dismissed from his post in 1997, died
> on Monday in Rome. He was 75.
> Boyle died of cancer, said Ambrogio Piazzoni, vice
> prefect of the Vatican Library.
> The library is one of the world's greatest storehouses of
> ancient books and manuscripts. Whether because of
> carelessness, shadowy ecclesiastical politics or plain
> bad luck, Boyle, a highly respected Oxford-trained
> paleographer, or student of manuscripts, became
> involved in several imbroglios toward the end of his
> 13-year tenure as keeper that tarnished an otherwise
> sterling reputation and led to his dismissal.
> Vatican officials refuse to discuss the circumstances
> surrounding Boyle's departure. Piazzoni would only
> say: "Everyone has to leave some time."
> Others outside the Vatican were more forthcoming.
> "What goes on inside the Vatican is anybody's guess,
> but Boyle's opening of access to materials in the library
> must have played a role in his departure," said James
> H. Marrow, an emeritus professor of art history at
> Princeton University who has worked at the Vatican
> Library. "He had a great impact on the place."
> Friends and supporters praise Boyle for having
> computerized the library's ancient catalogs, wired the
> main reading room for laptops, hired women for the
> first time and liberalized the strict dress code. Others
> suggest that the liberalization measures and Boyle's
> trustfulness were the seeds of his downfall.
> In May 1995 Anthony Melnikas, a professor of art at
> Ohio State University, was found to have stolen from
> the Vatican Library two leaves from a medieval
> manuscript once owned by Petrarch, the 14th-century
> Italian poet. Melnikas was sentenced to 14 months in
> prison.
> Boyle was stunned by the theft by a man he considered
> a friend; he was criticized as an unwitting accomplice
> for having granted Melnikas many special privileges in
> the library, including allowing him the free run of the
> institution in August, when it is closed to the general
> public.
> In 1996, a year after the Melnikas affair, the Vatican
> was obliged to pay $8.8 million plus $1.3 million in
> attorneys' fees to settle a lawsuit stemming from
> Boyle's sale to a California entrepreneur of exclusive
> world rights to reproduce the images in the Library.
> His object, he insisted, had been to raise money to pay
> for a modernization program, but the Holy See accused
> him of acting without authority -- a charge he
> contested. Boyle's offer to take early retirement in
> order to discourage gossip was not accepted; he was
> dismissed three weeks before the 13th anniversary of
> his arrival.
> Leonard Eugene Boyle was born on Nov. 13, 1923, in
> Ballintra, County Donegal, Ireland. He was educated in
> Gaelic and entered the Dominican order at Cork in
> 1943. He then went to Oxford University, where he
> discovered his passion for medieval manuscripts. He
> was ordained a priest in 1949 and soon became a widely
> published and prize-winning scholar.
> Moving to Toronto, he taught at the Pontifical Institute
> of Mediaeval Studies, and in 1961 also taught at the
> neighboring Center for Medieval Studies at the
> University of Toronto. He was employed by the Vatican
> Library in 1984.
> A playfully witty man, Boyle disparaged suggestions
> that he might be positioning himself to become a
> cardinal. "I'm not interested in some second-rate job,"
> he said. "The papacy or nothing!"

Dr Willard McCarty / Centre for Computing in the Humanities /
King's College London / Strand / London WC2R 2LS U.K. /
voice: +44 (0)171 848-2784 / fax: +44 (0)171 848-2980 /

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