Missing Persons

A Volume of Omissions in the Dictionary of National Biography.

When Leslie Stephen edited his Dictionary of National Biography (the first volume of which, A-Abbey, was published in 1885) he chose the subjects that seemed to him – as a Victorian and a man of letters – to be the most deserving. Over the next 100 years what started as a trickle has become a flood of letters, challenging his decisions and deploring the omissions. As one of the Dictionary's present editors, Dr C.S. Nicholls, says, 'Everyone has a "pet person" whom they feel should not have been omitted'.

In view of this the publishers, Oxford University Press, have taken the momentous decision to produce a 'volume of omissions'. As Dr Nicholls points out, there are various categories of people who, for equally various reasons, failed to make the grade first time around. Stephen had no interest in sportsmen – unless they were cricketers; science, business and trade were not (except for exceptional cases) worthy of inclusion, and of course, women came off very badly (Isabella Beeton, for instance, whose contribution to Victorian domestic comfort and harmony was immense, got no mention). This last group has provoked a torrent of complaints in recent years, particularly from the United States, and therefore many more women – poets, painters, authors (Mrs Beeton included) – will join the chosen.

Another category to be included is those who were 'discovered' posthumously – diarists figure here, gossipy Creevey and the ingenuous Kilvert – and other figures like the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who only became popular during the First World War.

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