Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dobree, Peter Paul

DOBREE, PETER PAUL (1782–1825), Greek scholar, son of William Dobree of Guernsey, was born in Guernsey in 1782, and, after being educated under Dr. Valpy at Reading School, matriculated as a pensioner of Trinity College, Cambridge, in December 1800. He graduated as fourth senior optime in 1804, was elected fellow of Trinity in 1806, proceeded M.A. in 1807, and took holy orders in due course. Charles Burney gave him an introduction to Porson (Porson, Correspondence, p. 105), and thus began an acquaintanceship which led to Dobree's following closely the steps of his illustrious master. His first appearance as an author was in the ‘Monthly Review,’ where he wrote the review of Bothe's ‘Æschylus’ (app. to vol. lii. 1807), the collation of Porson's edition of the ‘Choephorœ’ with another published by Foulis (June 1807), the review of Burney's ‘Bentleii Epistolæ’ (April 1808), and that of Hodgkin's ‘Pœcilographia Græca’ (July 1808). On Porson's death he came forward as a candidate for the Greek professorship at Cambridge, and was to have read his probationary lecture on Aristophanes; but finding the electors unanimous, or nearly so, in favour of Monk, he withdrew from the contest; the same was done by Kaye (afterwards bishop of Lincoln), and Monk was elected without opposition. On Monk's resignation in June 1823, Dobree was the only candidate for the post, and was elected on June 26, after reading a prælection on the funeral oration ascribed to Lysias. This is published in the first volume of the ‘Adversaria.’ His health gave way almost immediately afterwards, and he died in his rooms in Trinity College on 24 Sept. 1825. He was buried close to Porson in the chapel, where a bust and tablet to his memory were erected; the inscription is given in the preface to the ‘Adversaria.’

Though a man of varied acquirements, Dobree's life was spent on classical, chiefly Greek, literature; vast stores were laid up for future years; besides a large body of notes on the Greek dramatists and Athenæus, he left very extensive collections on the historians and orators, and probably had meditated an edition of Demosthenes. To Greek inscriptions he gave a great deal of attention. When the annotated portion of Porson's library was bought by Trinity College, he was selected, with two of his brother-fellows, Monk and Blomfield, to edit the manuscripts. He was at first prevented by illness from taking a share in the work, and shortly after his recovery set out on a journey to Spain; and thus the volume of Porson's ‘Adversaria’ was edited by his two colleagues. But the whole of the papers on Aristophanes was entrusted to his care; and in 1820 he produced Porson's ‘Aristophanica,’ with the Plutus prefixed, chiefly from Porson's autograph. In 1822 he edited the lexicon of the patriarch Photius, from Porson's transcript of the Gale MS. in the library of Trinity College, which Porson had twice copied out, the first transcript having perished in the fire at Perry's. To this, he added an edition of a rhetoric lexicon, from the margin of one of the Cambridge MSS. Dobree had a share in the founding of Valpy's ‘Classical Journal’ in 1810, and occasionally wrote in it. He reviewed there Burney's ‘Tentamen de Metris Æschyli’ (September 1810), the paper in which his splendid emendation of γαμόρῳ for γ' εὐμοίρου (Eumen. 888) appears. His other papers are: ‘Inscription at Damietta’ (No. 1), ‘Inscription at Fenica’ (No. 10), ‘Classical Criticism’ (No. 14), ‘Fragment of Longus’ (No. 16), ‘De Hesychio Milesio’ (No. 18), ‘Epitaphium in Athenienses’ (No. 27), ‘Orchomenian inscription’ (No. 32) (see on this his remarks in Clarke, Travels, vii. 191–6, 8vo), ‘On a passage in Plato's Meno’ (No. 33); they are usually signed O. or Stelocopas. To Mr. Kidd's ‘Tracts and Criticisms of Porson’ (1815) he added the ‘Auctarium’ (pp. 381–93), and to Mr. Rose's ‘Inscriptiones Græcæ’ the letter on the Greek marbles in Trinity College Library. Thus, if the notes on inscriptions be excepted, everything he published in his lifetime was due to his reverence for Porson.

He bequeathed one thousand volumes to the library of his college, but his books with manuscript notes to that of the university; from these his successor, Professor Scholefield, published two volumes of ‘Adversaria’ (1831–3), containing very large selections from his notes on the Greek and Latin writers, especially the orators, and subsequently (1834–5) a small volume of notes on inscriptions, and a reissue of the ‘Lexicon Rhetoricum Cantabrigiense’ which he had appended to Photius. These amply justify his being classed in the first rank of English scholars. It was said of him: ‘Of all Porson's scholars none so nearly resembles his great master. His mind seems to have been of a kindred character; the same unweariable accuracy, the same promptness in coming to the point, the same aversion to all roundabout discussions, the same felicity in hitting on the very passage by which a question is to be settled, which were such remarkable features in Porson, are no less remarkable in Dobree. Both of them are preserved by their wary good sense from ever committing a blunder; both are equally fearful of going beyond their warrant, equally distrustful of all theoretical speculations, equally convinced that in language usage is all in all. Nay, even in his knowledge of Greek, of the meaning and force of all its words and idioms, Dobree is only inferior to Porson; his conjectural emendations, too, are almost always sound, and some of them may fairly stand by the side of the best of Porson's’ (Hare, Philological Museum, i. 205–6).

[Documents in the Cambridge University Registry; Museum Criticum, i. 116; Kidd's Preface to Dawes's Miscellanea Critica, 2nd ed. pp. xxxvii–xxxviii; Preface to Dobræi Adversaria, vol. i.; Catalogue of Adversaria in the Cambr. Univ. Library, pp. 66–80; information from the late A. J. Valpy.]

H. R. L.