Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bosworth, Joseph

BOSWORTH, JOSEPH, D.D. (1789–1876), Anglo-Saxon scholar, was born in Derbyshire in the early part of 1789. He was educated at Repton grammar school, and thence proceeded to the university of Aberdeen, where at an early age he took the degree of M.A., and subsequently that of LL.D. He afterwards became a member of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was ordained deacon in 1814, and priest in 1815. After having served as curate of Bunny in Nottinghamshire, he was in 1817 presented to the vicarage of Little Horwood, in Buckinghamshire, a preferment which he held for twelve years.

In 1821 Bosworth published two educational works entitled respectively: ‘Latin Construing, or Lessons from Classical Authors,’ and ‘An Introduction to Latin Construing,’ the former of which went through six and the latter through five editions. In 1823 appeared his ‘Elements of Anglo-Saxon Grammar,’ which was the earliest work of its kind in the English language. Although this grammar showed no more scientific knowledge of the structure of the language than did the works of Hickes and Lye, from which it was compiled, it rendered important service in awakening amongst Englishmen an interest in the earliest form of their native tongue. In 1826 Bosworth published ‘A Compendious Grammar of the primitive English or Anglo-Saxon Language,’ which is an abridgment of the former work, with some improvements. The author having become acquitted with the epoch-making grammar of Rask, he was able to correct several of the most important errors of the original ‘Elements,’ though he seems very imperfectly to have apprehended the philological discoveries of the Danish scholar.

During his residence at Little Harwood, Bosworth took great interest in the measures then proposed for the diminution of pauperism, and published several pamphlets on this suspect. In 1829 he became chaplain in Holland, first at Amsterdam, and afterwards at Rotterdam. In 1831 the degree of Ph.D. was conferred on him by the university of Leyden. He continued to reside in Holland until 1840, making occasion visits to England. In 1834 he took at Cambridge the degree of B.D., and in 1839 that of D.D. While in Holland Bosworth was engaged in the preparation of his principal work, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Dictionary,’ which was published in 1838. Prefixed to this dictionary are ‘An Essay on the Origin of the English, German, and Scandinavian Languages and Nations’ (reprinted separately in 1848), and a sketch of Anglo-Saxon grammar. The latter, which is condensed from Rask and Grimm, is well arranged, and in general accurate; but the dictionary itself shows that the author had only a very superficial acquaintance with the new philology which has been founded by the eminent men just named. Notwithstanding, however, its extremely unscientific character, and its many errors of detail (no doubt due in part to the author's not having had access to English public libraries), the work was a great advance on any dictionary previously existing. Amongst the other works which Bosworth published during his residence in Holland may be mentioned ‘The Origin of the Dutch, with a Sketch of their Langue and Literature’ (1836); ‘Scandinavian literature’(1839), and a translation of the Book of Common Prayer into Dutch, the copyright of which he made over to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. In 1840 Bosworth became vicar of Waith in Lincolnshire, and in 1848 he published, under the title of ‘A Compendious Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon,’ an abridgment of his larger work, omitting the references, but furnishing many additional words and corrections. This smaller dictionary has been several times reprinted: in 1852, 1856, 1859, and 1882. In 1855 he published an English translation of King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon version of ‘Orosius,’ and also a facsimile of a portion of the two manuscripts of this work with a literal English translation and notes. In 1857 he was presented to the rectory of Water Shelford, in Buckinghamshire, and was incorporated a member of Christ Church College, Oxford. In 1858 he was appointed Rawlinson Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, and in the following year he issued an edition of the Anglo-Saxon text of Ælfred's ‘Orosius.’ His only subsequent publication of importnnce was an edition in parallel columns of the Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels, and the versions of Wycliffe and Tyndale.

Bosworth's works realised for him (according to his own statement quoted in the ‘Academy,’ 10 June 1876) the sum of 18,000l. In 1867 he gave to the university of Cambridge 10,000l. to establish professorship of Anglo-Saxon.

After being appointed professor, Bosworth resided either at Oxford or at his rectory of Water Shelford. Until a few days before his death, which occurred on 27 May 1876, he was accustomed to work from nine in the morning till six in the evening, his principal task being the preparation of the new edition of his larger dictionary, the publication of which had been undertaken by the Clarendon Press. He also left behind him a large mass of annotations on the Anglo-Saxon charters, which still remain unpublished. Bosworth was a fellow of the Royal Society, and a member of many learned societies both at home and abroad. He was three times married, but left no children.

After Bosworth’s death the Anglo-Saxon dictionary was committed by the delegates of the Clarendon Press to the editorship of Professor Toller, of Manchester, and the first and second instalments of the new edition appeared in 1882. Unfortunately the matter, as prepared by the author, a considerable portion of which had already been printed, was very far behind the advanced philological knowledge of the time, and the work was received with general dissatisfaction, especially as the long-standing announcement of its appearance had prevented the preparation of any rival dictionary.

[Athenæum, 3 June 1876; Academy, 3 June and 10 June 1876; information from Prof. Earle; T. O. Cockayne in The Shrine, 1864; Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1875.]

H. B.