Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barnes, Joshua

BARNES, JOSHUA (1654–1712), Greek scholar and antiquary, the son of a London tradesman, was born on 10 Jan. 1654. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and admitted a servitor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, on 11 Dec. 1671. He graduated B.A. in 1675, was elected to a fellowship in 1678, took the degree of M.A. in 1679, and of B.D. in 1686 (incorporated at Oxford July 1706). He was chosen professor of Greek in 1695.

At Christ's Hospital Barnes was remarkable for his precocity. When only fifteen years of age he published ‘Sacred Poems in Five Books,’ and in the following year a poem on the ‘Life of Oliver Cromwell the Tyrant.’ To the same date belong some dramatic pieces, in English and Latin, on Xerxes, Pythias and Damon, and similar subjects; a Latin poem on the fire of London and the plague; and a Latin elegy on the beheading of John the Baptist. In 1675 he published ‘Gerania, or the discovery of a little sort of people anciently discoursed of, called Pygmies,’ a whimsical voyage imaginaire that may perhaps have given Swift some hints for the ‘Voyage to Lilliput.’ His next publication was ‘Αὐλικοκάτοπτρον, sive Estheræ Historia, Poetica Paraphrasi, idque Græco carmine, cui versio Latina opponitur, exornata,’ 1679. In the preface to this book he states that he found it easier to write in Greek than in Latin, or even English, ‘since the ornaments of poetry are almost peculiar to the Greeks, and since he had for many years been extremely conversant in Homer, the great father and source of Greek poetry.’ Bentley used to say of him that he ‘knew as much Greek as a Greek cobbler’—a doubtful compliment. In 1688 he published a ‘Life of Edward III,’ dedicated and personally presented to James II. This work has been praised for the fulness of its information, but the author's practice of introducing long speeches into the narrative has not escaped censure. Barnes had also planned a poem, in twelve books, on the subject of Edward III, but the work was never completed. His edition of Euripides, in folio, appeared in 1694. As a contribution to scholarship it is of small importance; but it no doubt helped to procure him the Greek professorship in the following year.

In 1700 Barnes married a Mrs. Mason, a widow lady of some property, living at Hemingford, near St. Ives, Hunts. The tale goes that the lady came to Cambridge, and expressed a desire to settle 100l. per annum on Barnes after her death; and that the professor gallantly refused to avail himself of the offer unless Mrs. Mason (who was between forty and fifty years of age, and ill-favoured withal) would become his wife. In 1705 he published an edition of ‘Anacreon,’ to which he appended a list of forty-three works that he intended to publish. Some of the titles are curious, as ‘Ἀλεκτρυομαχία, or a poem on cock-fighting;’ ‘Σπειδηριάδος, a poem in Greek macaronic verse upon a battle between a spider and a toad;’ ‘Φληιάδος, or a supplement to the old ludicrous poem under that title at Trinity House in Cambridge, upon the battle between the fleas and a Welshman.’ He began now to work at an edition of Homer which was issued in 1710. The expense connected with the publication of this book involved him in considerable difficulties; and there are preserved in the British Museum two letters (printed by George Steevens in the St. James's Chronicle, October 1781), written to solicit the assistance of the Earl of Oxford. In one of these he says: ‘I have lived the university above thirty years fellow of a college, now above forty years standing and fifty-eight years of age; am bachelor of divinity, and have preached before kings.’ A friend of his, Dr. Stukeley, wrote thus of his later years: ‘He was very poor at last. I carried my great frd, the learned Ld Winchilsea, to see him, who gave him money, & after that Dr. Mead.’ Barnes died on 3 Aug. 1712, and was buried at Hemingford, where a monument was erected to him by his widow. Dr. Savage wrote a Latin inscription for the monument and some Greek anacreontics, in which it is stated that Barnes read ‘a small English Bible 120 times at his leisure.’ According to Dr. Stukeley, Barnes's death followed quickly after a quarrel with another classical scholar, William Baxter [see Baxter, William], editor of a rival Anacreon. ‘A club of Critics,’ Stukeley writes, ‘meeting at a tavern in London, they sent for Mr. Baxter, who made Jos. ask his pardon before all the company, & in a fortnight after he died: which made people say Mr. Baxter killd him.’

Barnes was a man of wide reading, but his scholarship was inexact. He had a good memory but weak judgment, whence somebody proposed as his epitaph (after Menage's satire on Pierre Montmaur) the inscription—

Joshua Barnes,
Felicis memoriæ, judicium expectans.

Bentley, in the famous ‘Dissertation on Phalaris,’ describes him as ‘one of a singular industry and a most diffuse reading.’ His enthusiasm led him to undertake work for which he was in no degree qualified. Not content with writing a life of Edward III and editing Homer, he had determined to write the life of Tamerlane, though he had no knowledge of oriental languages (Cole's Athenæ). His ‘Gerania’ shows that he had some fancy and could write with ease and fluency. He is said to have been possessed of no little vanity; but this fault can readily be forgiven to one whose charity was such that he gave his only coat to a poor fellow who begged at his door.

In addition to the works already mentioned Barnes was the author of a ‘Spital Sermon (on Matthew ix. 9), to which is added an Apology for the Orphans in Christ's Hospitall, written in 1679,’ 1703, 4to; ‘The Good Old Way, or three brief Discourses tending to the Promotion of Religion, and the Glory, Peace, and Happiness of the Queen and her Kingdoms in Church and State: 1, The Happy Island; 2, A Sure Way to Victory; 3, The Case of the Church of England truly represented and fully vindicated,’ 1703. He prefixed copies of English verse to Ellis Walker's paraphrase of Epictetus's ‘Enchiridion,’ 1691, Dr. John Browne's ‘Myographia,’ 1698, and Thomas Heyrick's ‘Poems,’ 1690. According to Cole he ‘sent the account of manuscripts in Emmanuel College in 1697 for the manuscript catalogue of English books.’ In Emmanuel College library are three unpublished plays by Barnes—‘The Academie, or the Cambridge Duns’ (circ. 1675); ‘Englebert;’ and ‘Landgartha, or the Amazon Queen of Denmark and Norway’ (1683). He also wrote a copy of verses, preserved in the college library, to show that Solomon was the author of the ‘Iliad.’ He is said to have perpetrated this absurdity in order to humour his wife and induce her to contribute more freely towards defraying the expenses of his edition of Homer. But his most notorious exploit was the dedication, in 1685, of a ‘Pindarick Congratulatory Poem’ to Judge Jeffreys on his return from the bloody western circuit. Some letters of Barnes are preserved among the ‘Rawlinson MSS.’ (c. 146) in the Bodleian Library.

[Biographia Britannica; Gent. Mag. 1779, 546, 640; St. James's Chronicle, October 1781; Halliwell's Dictionary of Old Plays, pp. 2, 84, 141; Cole's MS. Athenæ; Memoirs of William Stukeley, M.D., published by the Surtees Society, i. 95–6; Hearne's Collections (Oxford Hist. Soc.). In the Monthly Review for March 1756 there is printed a letter of Bentley's, containing a severe criticism on Barnes's Homer.]

A. H. B.