Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Busby, Richard

BUSBY, RICHARD (1606–1695), headmaster of Westminster School, was the second son of Mr. Richard Busby, a citizen of Westminster, but was born, 22 Sept. 1606, at Lutton, otherwise called Sutton St. Nicholas, in Lincolnshire. He obtained a king's scholarship at Westminster, and was educated at that school, whence he was elected, in 1624, to a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his B.A. degree in 1628 and his M.A. in 1631. He was for some time a tutor at Christ Church, and in 1639 was admitted to the prebend and rectory of Cudworth, with the chapel of Knowle annexed, in Somersetshire. He was appointed master of Westminster School provisionally when Osbolston was deprived of that office in 1638, but was not confirmed in it till 23 Dec. 1640. In the civil war he lost the profits of his rectory and prebend, but in spite of his staunch loyalty and churchmanship managed to retain both his studentship and his mastership. His only trouble during this period was of a local character. The second master, Edward Bagshaw the younger [q. v.], tried to supplant him, but 'was removed out of his place for his insolence' in May 1658. Bagshaw published in 1659 an account of the transaction from his own point of view. Upon the restoration Dr. Busby's services to the royal cause were immediately recognised. In July 1660 he was made by the king prebendary of Westminster, and in the following month canon residentiary and treasurer at Wells. At the coronation of Charles II he had the high honour of carrying the ampulla. He was elected proctor for the chapter of Bath and Wells, and in the convocation of 1661 was, of course, among the number of those who approved and subscribed to the Book of Common Prayer. Busby's name has become proverbial as a type of the severest of severe pedagogies; and though this character of him only rests upon general tradition, there appears to be little doubt that during his extraordinarily long reign at Westminster he ruled the school with a rod of iron, or rather of birch. But it is also clear that his rule was as successful as it was severe. He gained the veneration and even love of his pupils, among whom were numbered a vast majority of the most distinguished men in a distinguished era. John Dryden, John Locke, Robert South, Francis Atterbury, Philip Henry, and George Hooper were among his pupils. He is said to have boasted that at one time sixteen out of the whole bench of bishops had been educated by him; and, it may be added, at a time when the bench contained more brilliant men than it has perhaps ever contained before or since. His favourite pupil among those who afterwards became bishops was the friend and ultimately the successor of the saintly Ken, George Hooper, of whom he said: 'Hooper is the best scholar, the finest gentleman, and will make the compleatest bishop that ever was educated at Westminster.' It has been hinted that Busby's reputation for extreme severity arose from the malignity of party spirit. But it is remarkable that one of the strongest and most definite testimonies to the merits of Dr. Busby as a master comes from the mouth of a puritan. 'Dr. Busby,' writes Sir J. B. Williams in his 'Life of Philip Henry,' 'was noted as a very stern schoolmaster, especially in the beginning of his time. But Mr. Henry would say sometimes that as in so great a school there was need of a strict discipline, so for his own part, of the four years he was in the school, he never felt the weight of his hand but once, and then, saith he, I deserved it. . . . Dr. Busby took a particular kindness to him, called him his child, and would sometimes tell him he should be his heir; and there was no love lost betwixt them. . . . He often spoke of the great pains which Dr. Busby took to prepare, for several weeks before, all king's scholars who stood candidates for election to the university, and who, according to the ancient custom of Westminster, were to receive the Lord's Supper the Easter before. He himself was most deeply impressed with Dr. Busby's preparation. In fact, he dates his own conversion from that preparation and 'he frequently referred with the deepest gratitude to the earnest solicitude and care of his old master for his instruction in the best of all knowledge.' Other old pupils were equally grateful. Atterbury describes him as 'a man to be reverenced very highly,' and speaks of leaving his school for college 'loaded with his counsels, his warnings, and his gifts.' Dryden all through his life retained a deep respect for him. Dr. William King, one of the brilliant scholars whom he trained, referred to him many years later as 'the grave Busby, whose memory to me shall be for ever sacred.' Dr. Basire's letters, when he was in exile, evidently show that it was a real comfort to him to feel that his son was under the care of Dr. Busby. The traditions of his excessive severity are of rather a vague character. Dr. Johnson's saying, for instance, that Busby used to declare that his rod was his sieve, and that whosoever could not pass through that was not the boy for him, is often quoted. The unfavourable impression of public schools given in Locke's 'Thoughts upon Education' is thought to have been derived from his own experience under Dr. Busby. The story of his thrashing the sulkiness out of Robert South is not referred to by South's earliest biographer, who merely states that 'he was under the care of Dr. Richard Busby, who cultivated and improved so promising a genius with industry and encouragement.' The report, again, has been perpetuated by an epigram 'on Dr. Freind's appointment to Westminster' to the following effect:—

Ye sons of Westminster who still retain
Your antient dread of Busby's awful reign,
Forget at length your fears, — your panic end, —
The monarch of the place is now a Freind.

But too much importance must not be attached to such jeux d'esprit, nor yet to such stories as that of Dr. Busby refusing to take his hat off before Charles II in the presence of his scholars, lest they should think there was any man greater than himself. At any rate he was the most pious and benevolent of men. He took the deepest interest in the church life of the period, and was most intimate with other leading churchmen besides his old pupils. His neighbour Peter Barwick found his great solace in his later years, when his eyesight failed him, in Busby's society; Isaac Basire cultivated the closest friendsnip with him ; Busby's letters to Basire breathe a spirit of the most ardent piety. Anthony à Wood rightly describes him as being 'a person eminent and exemplary for piety and justice.' His liberality to the church, both in his lifetime and by his bequests, was not only most munificent, but also shows a most thoughtful consideration for the special wants of the age. He built in his lifetime a handsome church at Willan, and a library within the church filled with books, and gave 20l. a year for the vicar if he would perform the services in the church every Wednesday, Friday, and holy day throughout the year (White Kennet). He gave 250l. towards the 'repairing and beautifying of Christ Church and the cathedral' at Oxford. He offered to found 'two catechistical lectures, one in each university, for instructing undergraduates in the rudiments of religion, provided the undergraduates should be obliged to attend those lectures, and not receive the B.A. degree till they had been examined and approved by the catechist.' The offer was rejected by both universities, and Wood may be right in saying that they could not accept them consistently with their statutes. He died on 6 April 1695, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where there is a curious monument to his memory. His portrait by Riley is in the hall at Christ Church, and there are also portraits of him in the chapter-house and in the common room, where there is a bust by Rysbrac. All, however, are copied from a cast taken after death. By his will he left 520l. a year in trust for non-clergymen, who were to deliver thirty lectures, which are still known as the 'Busby Lectures.' Among numerous other bequests (see White Kennet's Case of Impropriations and Augmentation of Poor Benefices), he remembered his native place, leaving a sum of money for the erection of an elaborate pulpit in Sutton Church, and for the education of poor boys in Sutton and Gedney. Dr. Busby's literary works are not very important, or at any rate are now out of date ; but they too show the high moral character of the man. They consist for the most part of expurgated editions of the classics, and were published solely for the pious purpose of enabling his own pupils to imbibe the beauties without being polluted by the impurities of the ancients. The titles and dates are as follows: 1. 'A Short Institution of Grammar,' 1647. 2. 'Juvenalis et Persii Satiræ,' purged of all indecent passages, 1656. 3. 'An English Introduction to the Latin Tongue,' 1659. 4. 'Martialis Epigrammata selecta,' 1661. 5. ' Græcæ Grammaticæ Rudimenta,' 1663. 6. 'Nomenclatura Brevis Reformata,' and appended to this 'Duplex Centenarius Proverbiorum Anglo-Latino-Græcorum,' 1667. 7. 'Ανσρολογία δευτέρα, sive Græcorum Epigrammatum Florilegium novum,' 1673. 8. 'Rudimentum Latinum, Grammatica literalis et numeralis,' 1688. 9. 'Rudimentum Grammaticæ Græco-Latinæ Metricum,' 1689.

[Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), iv. 417-20; Fasti, i. 438, 460, 464, ii. 242, 258, 260, 360; Colleges and Halls (Gutch), 436, 448, app. 292, 301, 302; Biog. Brit. (Kippis), iii. 52-6; Noble's Continuation of Grainger, i. 98-9; Gent. Mag. lxv. 15-17; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. iv. 398; Evelyn's Memoirs, iii. 415; Seward's Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons; Basire's Correspondence; Williams's Life of Philip Henry; Warton's edition of Pope's Works; Welch's Alumni Westmon. (1852) pp. 95-7.]

J. H. O.