OLIPHANT, Ernest Henry Clark (1862-1936)


OLIPHANT, Ernest Henry Clark (1862-1936)
Elizabethan scholar
son of Felix Edwin Oliphant, was born at Melbourne on 14 August 1862. He was educated at Scotch College and the university of Melbourne, but did not graduate. He became an assistant librarian at the Melbourne public library in 1884, but in December 1888 resigned and went to Europe. In 1890 Mesmerist, a Novel was published in London, and during the years 1890-2 three papers by Oliphant on "The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher" appeared in Englische Studien, Leipzig. These were afterwards reprinted in pamphlet form. Returning to Melbourne in 1893 Oliphant took up journalism. In 1895 he published anonymously at Korumburra, Victoria, a volume of verse, Lyrics, Religious and Irreligious. His name appeared as publisher and he afterwards acknowledged to the present writer that he was the author of the volume. Oliphant was in Tasmania from 1899 to 1902 as editor of the Mt Lyell Standard, and was associate-editor of the Mining Standard, Melbourne, from 1903 to 1906. He visited England again and wrote a series of papers for the Modern Language Review on "Shakespeare's Plays: an Examination" which appeared in the July 1908 and January and April 1909 issues. These were also issued separately. Oliphant returned to Melbourne again and became the editor of the Australian Mining Standard in 1911. He held the position, with changes in the name of the journal, until 1918. At the beginning of the war he wrote an able piece of propaganda, Germany and Good Faith, which was published in Melbourne in 1914 and later in London. In the same year, in giving the annual lecture of the Melbourne Shakespeare Society, he made a plea for the fuller recognition of the other dramatists of the Elizabethan period. The lecture was published separately under the title, The Place of Shakespeare in Elizabethan Drama. He was himself writing plays about this time, and two of them were produced at Melbourne by McMahon (q.v.); The Taint in 1915, and The Superior Race in 1916. These were well received, but have neither been revived since nor published in book form. Oliphant was president of the Melbourne Shakespeare Society from 1919 to 1921.
In 1925 Oliphant went to America, was appointed a lecturer at Stanford university, California, and subsequently lectured on his own special department at other leading universities in the United States. His most important work, The Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, An Attempt to determine their respective shares and the shares of others, was published by the Yale university press in 1927. Two years later he brought out in New York Shakespeare and his Fellow Dramatists: A selection of plays illustrating the glories of the golden age of English drama. This was in two large volumes and included 15 plays by Shakespeare and 30 by other dramatists, with introduction and notes on the writers of the plays. Oliphant was then associated with New York university. In 1931 a one volume edition of this work was brought out with the plays by Shakespeare omitted, under the title of Elizabethan Dramatists other than Shakespeare. Oliphant was back in Melbourne in 1932 and did some public lecturing and broadcasting. In this year he was appointed Sidney Myer (q.v.) lecturer in Elizabethan literature at the university of Melbourne, and held this position until his death at Melbourne on 20 April 1936. He married in 1887 Catherine Lavinia, daughter of Peter McWhae, who survived him with two daughters.
Oliphant who had a genial nature with touches of cynicism, was an admirable scholar, able, widely read, and thorough. To these qualities he added humour and common sense, had the courage of his opinions, and was always interesting.
The Argus, and The Age, Melbourne, 22 April 1936; The Herald, Melbourne, 21 April 1936. E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature; Melbourne Public Library Records; The English Catalogue; Who's Who in Australia, 1935; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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