Purser, Louis Claude (1854–1932), classical scholar, was born 28 September 1854 at Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, the youngest son of Benjamin Purser, a merchant of Dungarvan, and his wife, Anne, daughter of John Mallet, an ironmonger originally from Devon. Anne's brother was the engineer Robert Mallet (qv). Purser was educated at Midleton College, Co. Cork, and Portora Royal School, Enniskillen. In 1871 he entered TCD where he became part of a respected group of classical scholars that included Robert Tyrrell (qv) and J. P. Mahaffy (qv). Family finances compelled Purser to begin teaching before finishing his degree, but he graduated as senior moderator in classics (1875), later graduating MA (1879) and D.Litt (1891). He was elected fellow of TCD in 1881, and by the following year he was working with Tyrrell on the second volume of The correspondence of Cicero (1886; he played a greater role in subsequent volumes, published in 1890, 1894, 1897, and 1899). His academic work tended to be collaborative, and his meticulous attention to detail and wide-ranging historical and literary knowledge were most productively deployed in the revision and completion of scholarly texts. He edited critical texts of Cicero's letters (Ad familiares, 1901, and Ad Atticum, 1903) and Apuleius’ The story of Cupid and Psyche (1910), and contributed articles to Hermathena and the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.
Purser tutored at TCD from 1881 until his appointment as professor of Latin in 1898. As a teacher he was enthusiastic and generous, operating a lending library for his students from his private rooms in college. He was, however, vulnerable to anxiety (partly a legacy of the hardship of his undergraduate years), and his conscientiousness rendered him incapable of delegation. The stress of his professorial role forced him to resign in 1904, and he concentrated instead on college administrative duties. He was appointed junior bursar (1904), auditor (1914), and senior fellow (1914), and served as bursar (1917–21). In 1923 he was elected a fellow of the British Academy, and he received honorary degrees from the universities of Glasgow (1914), Oxford (1923), and Durham (1931). Elected a member of the RIA (1884), he was secretary (1902–14) and vice-president (1916, 1922, 1924, 1927–8), but refused the presidency. His election as vice-provost of Trinity in 1924, aged seventy, again aggravated his anxious temperament, and he resigned both this post and his fellowship in 1927. He moved out of his rooms at TCD to live at 8 Waterloo Road, Dublin, but continued to maintain a prodigious work rate, submitting the corrected proofs of the sixth volume of The correspondence (1933) to his publishers just five days before his death on 20 March 1932.
A genial and sociable character who was immensely popular, Purser was devoted to Trinity College and regularly attended college functions. Other family members shared this fondness for the university; his brother Dr John Mallet Purser and his sister Sarah Purser (qv) were both connected to the college. His other interests included ancient law, the history of modern Irish literature, and cricket.
Two portraits of Purser, by Leo Whelan (qv) (1906) and Sarah Purser (n.d.), are in Trinity College, Dublin. There is a list of his articles in Richard J. Hayes (qv) (ed.), Sources for the history of Irish civilization: articles in Irish periodicals, 9 vols (1970), and some of his correspondence can be found in the NLI (R. I. Best Papers, Ms. 11,003) and in the TCD library.