Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barker, Edmund Henry

BARKER, EDMUND HENRY (1788–1839), a classical scholar of greater industry than judgment, was the eldest son of the Rev. Robert Barker, vicar of Hollym and Welwick, and rector of Holmpton-in-Holderness, and was born at Hollym vicarage December 1788. He was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1807 as a pensioner, and afterwards became a scholar of his college. Whilst at the university he gained medals for Greek and Latin epigrams, but quitted it through religious scruples without taking a degree. From 1810 to 1815 he lived in Dr. Parr's vicarage of Hatton, in Warwickshire; but at the end of that time the doctor's wife quarrelled with her guest, and Mr. Barker left the house. Shortly after this event he married Miss Manley, a lady who fortunately had some property settled on herself, and went to reside at Thetford in Norfolk, a circumstance which led him to append to his name on the title-pages of his works the mysterious letters O. T. N., which puzzled the scholars of foreign countries; but they meant nothing more than Of Thetford, Norfolk. His grandfather was the Rev. Thomas Barker, rector of Cherry-Burton, Yorkshire; but there had long been doubts whether Robert Barker, the vicar of Hollym, was born in wedlock or not. After ten years had been spent in accumulating evidence, E. H. Barker brought an action at the York assizes to prove his father's legitimacy, and gained a verdict in his favour. He thereupon endeavoured, on the ground of an alleged but lost will of his great-uncle, to establish his claim to the family estates of Potternewton, estates worth 3,000l. a year; but in this he was unsuccessful. Both Brougham and Scarlett were engaged in this cause (the tracts relating to which are now preserved in a bound volume in the British Museum), and its failure involved Barker in ruin. His library was sold, and he was cast into the Fleet prison. After some years he was released. But prudence and he were strangers to one another. He became more and more involved in rash adventures, and ultimately died, 21 March 1839, in a mean lodging-house near Covent Garden Market, leaving two daughters, who survived him. Five days later he was buried in the churchyard of St. Andrew's, Holborn.

Barker edited a vast number of editions, long since superseded, of the works of Greek and Latin authors, from the fables of Æsop to the speeches of Demosthenes. He translated Philip Buttmann's Greek grammar and C. J. Sillig's dictionary of the artists of antiquity. In conjunction with Professor George Dunbar, of Edinburgh, he compiled a Greek and English lexicon, which was well received by the public, and the same good fortune attended his edition of Lemprière's ‘Classical Dictionary.’ Many of the essays in his ‘Classical Recreations’ (1812) were written at Hatton and dedicated to Dr. Parr. Whilst living there he conceived the idea of reprinting the ‘Thesaurus Græcæ Linguæ,’ the famous work of Henry Stephens, the French printer of the sixteenth century. This enormous labour was finished in 1826, in twelve folio volumes, but the name of Barker did not appear as its editor. The omission was due to a very severe review by C. J. Blomfield, afterwards bishop of London, which appeared in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ xxii. 302–48 (1820). Barker retorted with an ‘Aristarchus Anti-Blomfeldianus;’ but it fell flat, though it was deemed of sufficient importance to be answered by J. H. Monk, subsequently bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, in the same review, xxiv. 376–400 (1821). In Barker's ‘Parriana; or Notices of the Rev. Samuel Parr, LL.D.,’ 1828–9, 2 vols., and in his posthumous ‘Literary Anecdotes and Contemporary Reminiscences of Professor Porson,’ 1852, 2 vols., may be found considerable information about those two scholars; but both works are deficient in discrimination and method. In the ‘Pamphleteer,’ xxi. 189–205 (1822), is the second edition of a vigorous and manly argument from Barker in support of the Greek cause; and in the same collection of pamphlets (xxvii. 415–30, 1826) is a tract to disprove the claims of Sir Philip Francis to the authorship of ‘Junius,’ a subject on which he addressed numerous printed letters to his friends between 1826 and 1830. To A. J. Valpy's ‘Classical Journal’ he was a frequent contributor from its third number to its close, and he also wrote in the ‘British Critic’ and the ‘Monthly Magazine.’ He is sometimes credited with the authorship of a few books for children, of some popularity in their day; but this statement can hardly be accepted by those who are familiar with his recognised volumes. Barker's powers of application were unbounded; but his critical acumen was inferior to his industry. He must rank in the annals of classical scholarship with Joshua Barnes.

[Literary Anecdotes of Porson, with Memoir of Barker in vol. i.; Gent. Mag. xi. 543–7 (1839), by B., i.e. George Burges; A. Blomfield's Life of C. J. Blomfield, i. 27–36.]

W. P. C.