Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bryant, Jacob
BRYANT, JACOB (1715–1804), antiquary, was born in 1715 at Plymouth, where his father was an officer in the customs, but before his seventh year was removed to Chatham. The Rev. Samuel Thornton of Luddesdon, near Rochester, was his first schoolmaster, and in 1730 he was at Eton. Elected to King's College, Cambridge, in 1736, he took his degrees, B.A. in 1740, M.A. in 1744, and he became a fellow of his college. He was first private tutor to Sir Thomas Stapylton, and then to the Marquis of Blandford, afterwards duke of Marlborough, and his brother, Lord Charles Spencer. In 1756 he was appointed secretary to the Duke of Marlborough, master-general of ordnance, and went with him to Germany, where the latter died while commander-in-chief. At the same time Bryant held an office in the ordnance department worth 1,400l. a year. Mr. Hetherington made him his executor with a legacy of 3,000l., and the Marlborough family allowed him 1,000l. a year, gave him rooms at Blenheim, and the use of the famous library. He twice refused the mastership of the Charterhouse, although once actually elected. His first work was 'Observations and Enquiries relating to various parts of Ancient History, ... the Wind Euroclydon, the island Melite, the Shepherd Kings,' &c. (Cambridge, 1767, 4to), in which he attacked the opinions of Bochart, Beza, Grotius, and Bentley. He next published the work with which his name is chiefly associated, 'A New System or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology,' with plates, London, 1774, two vols. 4to; second edition, 1775, 4to; and vol. iii. 1776, 4to. His research is remarkable, but he had no knowledge of oriental languages, and his system of etymology was puerile and misleading. The third edition, in six vols. 8vo, was published in 1807. John Wesley published an abbreviation of the first two vols, of the 4to edition. Richardson, assisted by Sir William Jones, was Bryant's chief opponent in the preface to his 'Persian Dictionary.' In an anonymous pamphlet, 'An Apology,' &c., of which only a few copies were printed for literary friends, Bryant sustained his opinions, whereupon Richardson revised the dissertation on languages prefixed to the dictionary, and added a second part: 'Further Remarks on the New Analysis of Ancient Mythology,' &c., Oxford, 1778, 8vo. Bryant also wrote a pamphlet in answer to Wyttenbach, his Amsterdam antagonist, about the same time. His account of the Apamean medal being disputed in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' he defended himself by publishing 'A Vindication of the Apamsean Medal, and of the Inscription Nωη,' London, 1775, 4to. Eckhel, the great medallist, upheld his views, but Daines Barrington and others strongly opposed him at the Society of Antiquaries (Archæologia, ii.) In 1775, four years after the death of his friend, Mr. Robert Wood, he edited, 'with his improved thoughts,' 'An Essay on the Original Genius and Writings of Homer, with a Comparative View of the Troade,' London, 4to. The first edition, of seven copies only, was a superb folio, privately printed in 1769. Bryant published in 1777, without his name, 'Vindiciæ Flavianæ: a Vindication of the Testimony of Josephus concerning Jesus Christ,' London, 8vo; second edition, with author's name, London, 1780, 8vo. This work converted even Dr. Priestley to his opinions. In 1778 he published 'A Farther Illustration of the Analysis ... ,' pp. 100, 8vo (no place). He next published 'An Address to Dr. Priestley ... upon Philosophical Necessity,' London, 1780, 8vo, to which Priestley printed a rejoinder the same year. When Tyrwhitt issued his work 'The Poems supposed to have been written at Bristol by Thomas Rowley and others,' Bryant, assisted by Dr. Glynn of King's College, Cambridge, followed with his 'Observations on the Poems of Thomas Rowley in which the Authenticity of those Poems is ascertained,' 2 vols., London, 1781, 8vo, a work that did not add to his reputation. In 1783, at the expense of the Duke of Marlborough, the splendid folio work on the Marlborough gems, 'Gemmarum Antiquarum Delectus,' was privately printed, with exquisite engravings by Bartolozzi. The first volume was written in Latin by Bryant, and translated into French by Dr. Maty; the second by Dr. Cole, prebendary of Westminster, and the French by Dr. Dutens. In 1785 a paper 'On the Zingara or Gypsey Language' was read by Bryant to the Royal Society, and printed in the seventh volume of 'Archæologia.' He next published, without his name, 'A Treatise on the Authenticity of the Scriptures,' London, 1791, 8vo; second edition, with author's name, Cambridge, 1793, 8vo; third edition, Cambridge, 1810, 8vo. This work was written at the instigation of the Dowager Countess Pembroke, daughter of his patron, and the profits were given to the hospital for smallpox and inoculation. Then followed 'Observations on a controverted passage in Justyn Martyr; also upon the 'Worship of Angels,' London, 1793, 4to; 'Observations upon the Plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians,' with maps, London, 1794, 8vo, pp. 440. Professor Dalzel's publication in 1794 of M. Chevalier's 'Description of the Plain of Troy' elicited Bryant's fearless work, 'Observations upon a Treatise ... (on) the Plain of Troy,' Eton, 1795, 4to, and 'A Dissertation concerning the War of Troy' (? 1796), 4to, pp. 196; second edition, corrected, with his name, London, 1799, 4to. Bryant contended that no such war was ever undertaken, and no such city as the Phrygian Troy ever existed; but he won no converts, and was attacked on all sides by such men as Dr. Vincent, Gilbert Wakefield, Falconer, and Morritt. In 1799 he published 'An Expostulation addressed to the British Critic,' Eton, 4to, mistaking his antagonist Vincent for Wakefield, and for the first time losing his temper and using strong and unjustifiable language. His next work, 'The Sentiments of Philo-Judæus concerning the Logos or Word of God,' Cambridge, 1797, 8vo, pp. 290, is full of fanciful speculation which detracted from his fame. In addition to these numerous works he published a treatise against the doctrines of Thomas Paine, and a disquisition 'On the Land of Goshen,' written about 1767, was published in Mr. Bowyer's 'Miscellaneous Tracts,' 1785, 4to; and his literary labours closed with 'Observations upon some Passages in Scripture' (relating to Balaam, Joshua, Samson, and Jonah), London, 1803, 4to. It is apparent, however, from the preface to Faber's 'Mysteries of the Cabiri,' 1803, 8vo, that Bryant had written a kind of supplement to his 'Analysis of Ancient Mythology,' a work on the Gods of Greece and Rome, which, in a letter to Faber, he said, 'may possibly be published after his death,' but his executors have never produced the work. Some of his humorous poems are found in periodicals of his time, but are of little interest except as examples of elegant Latin and Greek verse.
Bryant, who was never married, had resided a long time before his death at Cypenham, in Farnham Royal, near Windsor. There the king and queen often visited him, and the former passed hours alone with him enjoying his conversation. A few months before his end came he said to his nephew, 'All I have written was with one view to the promulgation of truth, and all I have contended for I myself have believed.' While reaching a book from a shelf he hurt his leg, mortification set in, and he died 14 Nov. 1804. His remains were interred in his own parish church, beneath the seat he had occupied there, and a monument was erected to his memory near the same.
In person he was a delicately formed man of low stature; late in life he was of sedentary habits, but in his younger days he was very agile and fond of field sports, and once by swimming saved the life of Barnard, afterwards provost of Eton. To the last he was attached to his dogs, and kept thirteen spaniels at a time. He was temperate, courteous, and generous. His conversation was very pleasing and instructive, with a vein of quiet humour. There are many pleasant anecdotes of him in Madame d'Arblay's 'Diary and Letters.' In his lifetime his curious collection of Caxtons went to the Marquis of Blandford, and many valuable books were sent from his library to King George III. The classical part of his library was bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge; 2,000l. to the Society for Propagating the Gospel, 1,000l. to superannuated collegers of Eton School, 500l. to the poor of Farnham Royal, &c.
The English portrait prefixed to the octavo edition of his work on ancient mythology is from a drawing by the Rev. J. Bearblock, taken in 1801. All literary authorities, and his monument, give the year of his birth as above, but in the Eton register-book he is entered as '12 years old in 1730.'
[Bryant's Works; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 672, iii. 7, 42, 84, 148, 515, iv. 348, 608, 667, v. 231, viii. 112, 129, 218, 249, 427, 505, 531, 540, 552, 614, 635, ix. 198, 290, 577, 714; Nichols's Lit. Illust. ii. 651, iii. 132, 218, 772, vi. 36, 249, 670, vii. 401, 404, 469; Gent. Mag. xlviii. 210, 625; New Monthly Mag. i. 327; Archæologia, iv. 315, 331, 347, vii. 387; Cole's MSS., Brit. Mus. vols. xx. xxiii.; Martin's Privately Printed Books, 85; Mme. d'Arblay's Diary, 1846, iii. 117, 228, 323, 375, 401.]