Charles was the second son of John Herman Merivale and Louisa Heath Drury, daughter of Dr Drury, head master of Harrow. His father (1770-1844) was a barrister, and, from 1831, a commissioner in bankruptcy; he collaborated with Robert Bland (1770-1825) in his Collections from the Greek Anthology, and published some excellent translations from Italian and German. Charles Merivale was at Harrow School (1818 to 1824) under Dr Butler. His chief friends were Charles Wordsworth, afterwards Bishop of St Andrews, and Richard Chenevix Trench, afterwards Archbishop of Dublin.
In 1824 he was offered a post in the Indian civil service, and went for a short time to Haileybury College; where he was did well in Oriental languages. Deciding against an Indian career, he went up to St John's College, Cambridge in 1826. Among other distinctions he came out as fourth classic in 1830, and in 1833 was elected fellow of St John's. He was a member of the Apostles' Club, his fellow-members including Tennyson, AH Hallam, Monckton Milnes, WH Thompson, Trench and James Spedding. He was fond of athletic exercises, had played for Harrow against Eton in 1824, and in 1829 rowed in the first Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, when Oxford won. Having been ordained in 1833, he undertook college and university work successfully, and in 1839 was appointed select preacher at Whitehall.
In 1848 he took the college living of Lawford, near Manningtree, in Essex; in 1850 he married Judith Mary Sophia, youngest daughter of George Frere. In 1863 he was appointed chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. He declined the professorship of modern history at Cambridge in 1869, but in the same year accepted from Gladstone the deanery of Ely, and until his death devoted himself to the best interests of the cathedral, also receiving many honorary academical distinctions.
His principal work was A History of the Romans under the Empire, in seven volumes, which came out between 1850 and 1862; but he wrote several smaller historical works, and published sermons, lectures and Latin verses. Merivale as a historian cannot be compared with Edward Gibbon, but he takes an eminently common-sense and appreciative view. The chief defect of his work, inevitable at the time it was composed, is that he relies on literary gossip rather than on factual evidence. The dean was an elegant scholar, and his rendering of the Hyperion of John Keats into Latin verse (1862) has received high praise.
See Autobiography of Dean Merivale, with selections from his correspondence, edited by his daughter, Judith A Merivale (1899); and Family Memorials, by Anna W Merivale (1884).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.