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Barrett, John (1753-1821) (DNB00)


BARRETT, JOHN, D.D. (1753–1821), vice-provost and professor of oriental languages of Trinity College, Dublin, was the son of an Irish clergyman, entered Trinity College as a pensioner in 1767 when fourteen years of age, was scholar in 1773, B.A. in 1775, fellow and M.A. in 1778, B.D. in 1786, D.D. in 1790, and senior fellow in 1791. Having been sub-librarian and librarian, he was elected in 1807 vice-provost. His first publication was a thin duodecimo volume, ‘Queries to all the Serious, Honest, and Well-meaning People of Ireland,’ put forth in 1754 under the pseudonym ‘Phil. Hib.’ (Brit. Mus. Cat.). In 1800 he published ‘An Enquiry into the Origin of the Constellations that compose the Zodiac, and the Uses they were intended to promote,’ in which he is said to have been more happy in opposing the hypotheses of Macrobius, La Pluche, and La Nauze than in establishing his own, ‘which consisted of the wildest and most fanciful conjectures’ (London Monthly Review). He is one of the latest writers on astrology, and the book is an extraordinary example of learned ingenuity. In 1801 Barrett edited a much more important publication, ‘Evangelium secundum Matthæum,’ known as ‘Codex Z Dublinensis Rescriptus.’ It appears that in 1787, while examining a manuscript in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, he noticed some more ancient writing under the more recent Greek, which turned out to be part of Isaiah, some orations of Gregory of Nazianzen, and a large portion of the gospel of St. Matthew. Barrett set himself with great assiduity to decipher the portions of St. Matthew, and they were engraved for publication at the expense of the college. Barrett assigned the codex to the sixth century, at latest, and this date has been adopted by most subsequent critics. His reasons are given in detail in the ‘Transactions of the Irish Royal Academy,’ vol. i. In 1853 S. P. Tregelles obtained, by the chemical restoration of the manuscript, some valuable additions which were illegible to Barrett, and published them as a supplement; and in 1880 an edition by T. K. Abbott appeared, bringing to light some other important omissions of his two predecessors in the work. Abbott tries to make out a case for a more remote antiquity of Codex Z. In 1808 Barrett published ‘An Essay on the earlier part of the Life of Swift,’ which contains some interesting facts about the dean's college career.

Barrett was as remarkable for his eccentricities and personal deportment as for the extent and profundity of his philological and classical learning. He was a man of great acquirements, and his memory was so exceedingly tenacious that he could recollect almost everything he had ever seen or read, and yet he was so ignorant of the things of common life that he literally did not know a duck from a partridge, or that mutton was the flesh of sheep. He could speak and write Latin and Greek with fluency, but scarcely ever uttered a sentence of grammatical English. He was kind and good-natured, but was never known to give a penny in charity, and allowed his brother and sisters to live almost in want, leaving at his death some eighty thousand pounds to various charitable purposes and a mere pittance to his relatives. He allowed himself no fire, even in the coldest weather, and only a candle when he was reading. On one very severe night some fellow students found him sitting doubled up, very lightly clad, apparently reading for his Greek lecture, growing stiff and torpid with cold, a rushlight stuck in the back of his chair, and they claim to have saved his life by pouring hot rum-punch down his throat. He would sometimes go down to the kitchen to warm himself, but to this the servants objected on account of his dirty and ragged condition. He was very attentive to his religious duties, but freely indulged in cursing and swearing. The anecdotes about him are endless. At a dinner party in the hall of Trinity College, the scholar for the week (who stood too far from the high table to be distinctly heard), in place of the Latin grace, repeated to the proper length ‘Jackey Barrett thinks I'm reading the grace, Jackey Barrett thinks I'm reading the grace,’ &c., at the termination of which Barrett uttered a very pompous and grand ‘Amen.’ A student having dazzled his eyes with a looking-glass, the doctor fined him five shillings for ‘casting reflections on the heads of the college.’

[Dublin University Magazine, xviii. 350; The Academy, vol. xviii.; Forster's Life of Swift; Horne's Introduction to the Scriptures; Abbott's Codex Rescriptus Dublinensis; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. viii. 374; Catalogue of Graduates of Trinity College, Dublin.]

P. B.-A.