Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burney, Charles (1757-1817)

BURNEY, CHARLES, D.D. (1757–1817), classical critic, the son of Charles Burney, the historian of music [q. v.] was born on 4 Dec. (his monument in Deptford church says the 3rd) 1757, at Lynn in Norfolk. In 1760 his father removed to London, and in 1768, on the presentation of the Earl of Holdernesse, the son was admitted to the Charterhouse. Thence he proceeded to Caius College, Cambridge, but left the university without taking a degree. He then became a student of King's College, Old Aberdeen, where he graduated M.A. in 1781; he received the degree of LL.D. from Aberdeen and Glasgow in 1792; of M.A. from Cambridge in 1808, and of D.D. from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1812.

In 1782 Burney became an assistant master at Highgate School, and soon after joined Dr. Rose, the translator of Sallust, in his school at Chiswick. In 1783 he married Rose's daughter, and in 1786 he opened a school of his own at Hammersmith. Here he amassed considerable wealth and remained till 1793, when he removed his school to Greenwich; in 1813 he resigned in favour of his son, the Rev. Charles Parr Burney, afterwards known as an author. Burney took orders late in life, and was appointed to the rectory of Cliffe in Kent, and of St. Paul's, Deptford, while carrying on his school at Greenwich; he was collated to a prebendal stall in Lincoln Cathedral 10 June 1817. He was also chaplain to the king, and shared his father's and his sister Madame d'Arblay's intimacy with the court. The prince regent accepted from him his father's bust, and remarked that ‘it was curious for the father to be the best judge of music and the son the best Greek critic in the kingdom’ (Mme. d'Arblay, Memoirs of Dr. Burney). He died of apoplexy at Deptford, on 28 Dec. 1817.

Burney commenced his career as a classical critic about 1783, by writing articles in the ‘Monthly Review,’ which had been founded by Rose in conjunction with Cleveland. Burney's connection with this periodical lasted for about three years. His most important contribution was an attack on the ‘Monostrophica’ of Huntingford. About the same time, on the recommendation of Dr. Parr, he became editor of the ‘London Magazine,’ and continued to write for it till 1800. In that year he concluded his article on Porson's ‘Hecuba’ and Wakefield's ‘Diatribe.’ This attracted the notice of Hermann; part of it was translated into Latin by Gaisford, and inserted in a note appended to a reprint of Markland's ‘Supplices’ of Euripides. Burney's separately published works are the following: 1. ‘Tentamen de Metris Æschyli,’ 1809. This, though praised by contemporary critics, adopts a theory which has since been exploded. 2. ‘Appendix in Lexicon Græcum a Scapula constructum,’ in Latin, 1789. 3. ‘Philemonis Lexicon Technologicum,’ 1812; taken from Boissonade's translation of a Paris manuscript; the whole, as Bast (Epistola Critica, p. 37, n.) points out, had appeared in the Lexicon of Plavorinus, and contains little information, though reprinted by Osann at Berlin in 1821. 4. ‘Epistolæ ineditæ R. Bentleii,’ 1807, printed for presentation only. It was reprinted by Friedemann in 1825 with the press errors corrected. 5. ‘Remarks on the Greek Verses of Milton,’ printed separately in 1790, and appended to Warton's edition in 1791. This criticism establishes against Milton's Greek verses the same thing that Dr. Johnson said of his Latin, ‘that they are not secure against a stern grammarian.’ 6. Abridgment of ‘Dr. Pearson on the Creed,’ published in 1810, and probably written as a thesis for his degree in divinity. 7. Verses on the threatened invasion. Burney's classical writings, however, were not equal to the reputation he enjoyed in his own day as forming with Parr and Porson one of the three representatives of English scholarship (v. Beloe, Anecdotes of Literature, and the Sexagenarian, ch. xv.) The latter years of his life were devoted to the accumulation of his vast and, from its systematic completeness, most valuable library.

On his death his representatives, to prevent the dispersal of these treasures and to provide for his family, suggested to parliament that the whole should be bought for the use of the nation. A committee recommended its purchase at 14,000l. After a spirited debate in the House of Commons, in which Sir J. Mackintosh declared that the restoration of ‘a single passage in Demosthenes was alone worth the sum in the eyes of a free nation,’ it was agreed to purchase the whole for 13,500l.; and the collection was deposited in the British Museum under the name of the ‘Burney Library.’ Its contents were thus classified by the committee of the House of Commons appointed to report upon it:—1. The printed books numbered from 13,000 to 14,000, and consisted mostly of classical editions bought by Burney at sales beginning with that of the Pinelli collection. The margins are covered with notes in Burney's hand, in addition to those by Stephanus, Bentley, Markland, and others. The volumes were so arranged that the state of the classical texts could be seen from their first known production to their latest change. The editions of the leading classics, especially the Greek tragedians, exceeded in number those in the British Museum before the accession of the former. 2. The manuscripts included the Townley Homer, considered to be of the thirteenth century, and valued by the commissioners at 1,000l.; and two manuscripts of the Greek orators assigned respectively to the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. 3. A collection of newspapers from 1603. 4. A collection of from 300 to 400 volumes in quarto, containing materials for a history of the stage. 4. Theatrical prints from the time of Elizabeth.

[Cat. Brit. Museum; Forshall's Preface to Burney Catalogue in Brit. Museum; Watt's Biblioth. Brit.; European Mag. vol. lxxiii.; Gent. Mag. lxxxv. i. 369, lxxxviii. i. 419, lxxxix. i. 93; Annual Biog. and Obituary, 1819; Madame d'Arblay's Memoirs of Dr. Burney; Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature, and Sexagenarian, ch. xv.; Parliamentary Debates and Report of Committee, 1818.]

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