Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gaisford, Thomas

GAISFORD, THOMAS (1779–1855), dean of Christ Church, Oxford, classical scholar, born 22 Dec. 1779 at Iford in Wiltshire, was the eldest son of John Gaisford, esq. He was educated at Hyde Abbey School, Winchester, under the Rev. Charles Richards, was entered as a commoner of Christ Church, Oxford, in October 1797, and elected student in December 1800 by the dean, Dr. Cyril Jackson. He took the degrees of B.A. in 1801, and M.A. in 1804. After acting for some time as tutor of his college and as public examiner in 1809–11, he was appointed on 29 Feb. 1812 to the regius professorship of Greek by the crown, when his predecessor, Dr. W. Jackson, was made bishop of Oxford. In 1815 he was presented by his college to the living of Westwell in Oxfordshire, which he held till 1847. His other preferments were, a prebend of Llandaff in 1823, of St. Paul's in 1823, and of Worcester in 1825. In 1829 he was offered the bishopric of Oxford on the death of Bishop Lloyd, but refused it. The same year he was collated to a stall at Durham by Bishop Van Mildert, which in 1831 he exchanged for the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, with Dr. Samuel Smith, having the full consent of the two patrons, the Bishop of Durham and the crown. Here he spent the rest of his life. He took the degrees of B.D. and D.D. by diploma in April 1831.

During the twenty-four years in which he presided over Christ Church, his attention was by no means only given to the superintendence of that great foundation, but he took a leading part in all university affairs. As Greek professor he was an official curator of the Bodleian Library, and always had its interest at heart; as delegate of the press for nearly fifty years he never wearied in his care. It is said that, when he was first appointed a delegate, the press did not pay its expenses, was in debt, and an annual loss to the university. Through his management a great change was effected; it was due to him that foreign scholars, like Bekker and Dindorf, were employed as editors. Nor was it only in his own department of classical literature that the press became eminent for its publications; it was owing to his recommendation that the series of works on English history, chiefly of the period of the great rebellion, were issued; and certainly the Oxford Press has been at no time more fruitful in the production of valuable works than in the years during which Gaisford exercised so marked an influence.

But it is as a scholar, and especially as a Greek scholar, second to scarcely any one of his time, that Gaisford will be remembered. In editing many of the chief Greek classical authors and several of the Greek ecclesiastical writers, his best years, indeed his whole life, were spent. When what he actually produced is compared with the work of others, whether English or foreign scholars, it seems almost marvellous that one man, even in the course of a long life and with ample leisure, could have done so much.

His first work was an edition of Cicero's ‘Tusculan Disputations,’ in 1805, from Davies's edition, with additional notes of Bentley [see Davies, John, 1679–1732]. He superintended the reprint of Ernesti's edition of the ‘De Oratore’ in 1809, and probably of Davies's editions of the ‘De Natura Deorum’ in 1807, and the ‘De Finibus’ in 1809. In March 1806 he reviewed Walpole's ‘Comicorum Fragmenta’ in the ‘Monthly Review,’ his only contribution to periodical literature. He then turned his attention to the Greek drama, on which Porson had worked successfully at Cambridge, and to which Elmsley was devoting himself at Oxford, and edited several plays of Euripides. In 1810 appeared his edition of ‘Hephæstion de Metris,’ a work which at once made his name known as one of the foremost scholars of his day throughout Europe; even Reisig in his foolish attack on English scholarship spoke of this as ‘bonum opus, ut fertur.’ His ‘Poetæ Græci Minores,’ the first volume of which appeared in 1814, is described in the ‘Museum Criticum’ (i. 569) as a work on the acquisition of which every scholar is to be congratulated. In the course of the next few years appeared his editions of Stobæus, of Herodotus (which has formed the basis of all subsequent editions), of Sophocles, and above all of the Lexicon of Suidas (in which for the first time the manuscript in Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was collated), and lastly of the ‘Etymologicon Magnum.’ His first work on the ecclesiastical writers was an edition of the ‘Græcarum affectionum curatio’ of Theodoret, which appeared in 1839.

As a scholar he must be described as thoroughly judicious rather than brilliant. He was fonder of reprinting the notes of others, as in his variorum editions, than of producing notes of his own, and he has done little towards the emendation or interpretation of his authors as far as he was personally concerned. But his skill in collation and in bringing together all that he deemed valuable for the illustration of the authors he is editing is unrivalled, and perhaps no editions of classical works that this country has produced are so useful as Gaisford's.

Though all his published works are concerned with classical or patristic literature, his own studies were by no means confined to these. He was well read in history, theology, and civil law, and was a good Shakespearean scholar. A pleasing sketch of his conversation in 1815 is given in the ‘Extracts from the Portfolio of a Man of the World’ (Gent. Mag. October 1845, pp. 336–338). He married first, Helen Douglas, niece of the wife of Bishop Van Mildert; and, secondly, Miss Jenkyns, sister of Dr. Jenkyns of Balliol College. By his first wife he left three sons and two daughters. He died at Christ Church, 2 June 1855, and was buried in the nave of the cathedral on 9 June. In 1856 a prize was founded at Oxford to commemorate him, called the ‘Gaisford Prize,’ for composition in Greek verse and Greek prose.

The following is a list of his works: 1. ‘Ciceronis Tusculanæ Disputationes,’ from Davies's edition, with additional notes of Bentley from two Cambridge MSS., 1805. 2. ‘Codices Manuscripti et impressi cum notis MSS. olim D'Orvilliani qui in Bibl. Bodleiana apud Oxonienses adservantur,’ 1806. 3. ‘Euripidis Alcestis’ (for the use of Westminster School), 1806. 4. ‘Euripidis Electra ex editione Musgravii’ (for the use of Westminster School), 1806. 5. ‘Euripidis Andromache’ (for the use of Westminster School), 1807. 6. ‘Euripidis Hecuba, Orestes, Phœnissæ,’ with Musgrave's notes, and various readings from a manuscript formerly in the possession of W. Hunter, 1809. 7. ‘Cicero de Oratore ex editione Ernesti cum notis variorum,’ 1809. 8. ‘Hephæstionis Enchiridion de Metris, with Procli Chrestomathia,’ 1810. This was reprinted in two vols. after his death in 1855, with the addition of the work of Terentianus Maurus de Syllabis et Metris. 9. ‘Euripidis Supplices, Iph. in Aul., Iph. in Tauris,’ from Markland's edition, with many notes of Porson, some tracts of Markland, and his correspondence with D'Orville, 1811. 10. ‘Catalogus Manuscriptorum qui a cel. E.D. Clarke comparati in Bibl. Bodl. adservantur,’ 1812. This is the first part, containing the account of the Greek MSS. Some inedited scholia on Plato and St. Gregory Nazianzen are inserted. 11. ‘Poetæ Græci Minores,’ 4 vols., 1814–20. Besides Hesiod and Theocritus and the minor poets, this contains the scholia on Hesiod and Theocritus. 12. ‘Lectiones Platonicæ,’ 1820. This is a collation of the Patmos MS. of Plato, brought to England by Dr. Clarke. Porson's notes on Pausanias are added. 13. ‘Aristotelis Rhetorica, cum versione Latina et annott. variorum,’ 2 vols., 1820. 14. ‘Scapulæ Lexicon,’ 1820. This was edited by H. Cotton, but Dr. Gaisford gave considerable assistance. 15. ‘Stobæi Florilegium,’ 4 vols., 1822. 16. ‘Herodotus cum notis variorum,’ 4 vols., 1824. The text has been reprinted separate from the notes. 17. ‘Scholia in Sophoclem Elmsleii,’ 1825. This was edited by Gaisford soon after Elmsley's death, who had transcribed the Laurentian MS. at Florence, but had printed only as far as p. 64. 18. ‘Sophocles,’ 2 vols., 1826. This is a variorum edition, giving the whole of the notes of Brunck and Schæfer. It is especially valuable for the extracts from Suidas, and the collation of the two Laurentian MSS. 19. Index to Wyttenbach's ‘Plutarch,’ which he had left unfinished, 1830. 20. ‘Suidæ Lexicon,’ 3 vols., 1834. 21. ‘Parœmiographi Græci,’ 1836. 22. ‘Scriptores Latini rei metricæ,’ 1837. 23. ‘Theodoreti Græcarum affectionum curatio,’ 1839. 24. ‘Chærobosci Dictata in Theodosii canones necnon Epimerismi in Psalmos,’ 1842. 25. ‘Eusebii Eclogæ Propheticæ,’ 1842. This is the first edition, printed from a Vienna manuscript. 26. ‘Eusebii Præparatio Evangelica,’ 2 vols., 1843. 27. ‘Pearsoni Adversaria Hesychiana,’ 2 vols., 1844, from the manuscript in Trinity College Library, Cambridge. 28. ‘Etymologicon Magnum,’ 1848. 29. ‘Vetus Testamentum ex versione lxx. interpretum,’ 3 vols., 1848. 30. ‘Stobæi Eclogæ Physicæ et Ethicæ,’ 2 vols., 1850. To the second volume is added the Commentary of Hierocles on the golden verses of Pythagoras. This contains the whole of Ashton's notes from the edition published by R. W[arren] in 1742. 31. ‘Eusebii contra Hieroclem et Marcellum Libri,’ 1852. 32. ‘Eusebii Demonstratio Evangelica,’ 2 vols., 1852. 33. ‘Theodoreti Historia Ecclesiastica,’ 1854.

Gaisford's portrait, by Pickersgill, has been engraved by Atkinson.

[Gent. Mag. July 1855, p. 98; Literary Churchman, Oxford, 16 June 1855, an article (by Dr. Barrow), reprinted in the Cambridge Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology, ii. 343; Classical Journal, xxiv. 121; The Crypt, ii. 169, iii. 201.]

H. R. L.