Obituary: Robert Dougan

Nicolas Barker
Wednesday 26 May 1999 23:02

THE DEATH of Robert Dougan at the age of 94 breaks the last direct link with Henry E. Huntington, the legendary founder of the library that bears his name at San Marino, California. As a young man in London, working for the distinguished emigre bookseller E.P. Goldschmidt in the 1920s, Dougan was responsible for sending some of the last books bought by the imperious railway magnate before his death in 1927. He was not to know that 30 years later he would become librarian of the collection whose shelves he had helped to fill.

Although of Scots origin, Dougan was born and schooled at Ilford, whence he went to London University. Always keen on books, he then took the diploma course at the School of Librarianship, University College. Armed with this, he looked for a job and was fortunate enough to find one with Goldschmidt. His grounding there - Goldschmidt was an authority on the medieval texts and their first appearance in print, and also on gothic and Renaissance bookbindings - was to provide an ideal training for the varied career in librarianship that followed.

Service with the RAF during the Second World War took him back to his Scottish roots. He spent it at Perth, and stayed on there after the war as the city's librarian, and mounted a notable exhibition of Scots literature for the Festival of Britain in 1951. In the following year he moved to Ireland, as Deputy Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin. It was his boast that he was its first professional librarian, and he certainly enlarged the scope of his duties, notably in engaging Roger Powell to study, conserve and rebind the Book of Kells, the most famous book in the college's collection.

His last move came in 1958. Dougan spent 14 years at the Huntington, during which he broadened and strengthened its primary collections, but characteristically paid special attention to the reference collection, rightly seeing this as much more than a useful supplement. He fitted easily into the community of scholars that regarded the library and its unique holdings of early English literature as home. When he came to retire in 1972, he said in his farewell speech, "There is a bond of unity here which I have not experienced anywhere else. It's as it everyone regards themselves as part of the Huntington family and are working to perpetuate what he began." He was very proud of what he regarded as his personal connection with the founder.

He also took General Macarthur's view of retirement and for many years after put his knowledge and experience at the disposal of anyone who came to the Huntington. He had a remarkably good memory, and could recall the incidents of a long life in the old book trade and the custody of rare books until well into his eighties. He was himself a considerable collector, taking an early, indeed pioneering interest in the early monuments of the history of photography, a course which did not conflict then with his bibliothecal duties.

His special interest - which first anchored his interest in the subject as a whole - was the topographic views of Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland taken by David Octavius Hill in the 1840s. He put together over 1000 prints and negatives by Hill and took a patriotic delight when his collection was acquired by Glasgow University. The rest of his historic collection of photographs was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of New York, which shares it with the Museum of Modern Art and Princeton University.

Robert Dougan became an American citizen in 1964, and, although he returned to his native country often during his time at the Huntington and afterwards, his roots in California ran strongest and deepest.

Nicolas Barker

Robert Ormes Dougan, librarian: born Ilford, Essex 21 August 1904; Deputy Librarian, Trinity College, Dublin 1952-58; Librarian, Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery 1958-72; married 1929 Olive McMicken (died 1963), 1964 Margaret Truax Hunter (died 1992), 1992 Terry Purcell; died Santa Barbara, California 8 May 1999.

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