Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nares, Robert

NARES, ROBERT (1753–1829), philologist, was born on 9 June 1753 at York, of the minster of which city his father, James Nares [q. v.], Mus. Doc., was then organist. He was the nephew of Sir George Nares [q. v.] the judge. He was sent to Westminster School, where in 1767 he was elected a king's scholar. In 1771 he was elected to a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. 1775, M.A. 1778. From 1779 to 1783 he was tutor to Sir Watkin and Charles Williams Wynn, living with them in London and at Wynnstay, Wrexham. George Colman the younger mentions him as one of the actors in the Wynnstay theatricals of that period. In 1782 he was presented by his college to the small living of Easton Mauduit, Northamptonshire, and in 1784 received from the lord chancellor the vicarage of Great Doddington, Northamptonshire. In 1784 he published his first philological work, ‘The Elements of Orthoepy,’ which was highly commended by Boswell. From 1786 to 1788 he was usher at Westminster School, acting as tutor to the Wynns, who had been sent to the school. In 1787 he was appointed chaplain to the Duke of York, and from 1788 till 1803 was assistant preacher at Lincoln's Inn.

In 1793 Nares established the ‘British Critic,’ and edited the first forty-two numbers (May 1793–December 1813), in conjunction with the Rev. William Beloe [q. v.], his lifelong friend. In 1795 he was appointed assistant librarian in the department of manuscripts at the British Museum, and in 1799 was promoted to be keeper of manuscripts. The third volume of the ‘Catalogue of the Harleian MSS.’ was published under his editorship. He resigned his keepership in 1807.

Nares was a member in 1791 of the Natural History Society in London (ib. vi. 835), and was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1795, and fellow of the Royal Society in 1804. He was a founder of the Royal Society of Literature and vice-president in 1823. In 1822 he published his principal work, the ‘Glossary’ (No. 9 below), a book described in 1859 by Halliwell and Wright as indispensable to readers of Elizabethan literature, and it contains numerous sensible criticisms of the text of Shakespeare. Nares says that he collected the various illustrative passages in a somewhat desultory way during a long course of reading. The correspondence of Nares with Bishop Percy and others, dealing with a variety of literary topics, is printed in Nichols's ‘Literary Illustrations’ (vii. 578). During this period he received the following preferment: he was vicar of Dalby, Leicestershire, 1796; rector of Sharnford, Leicestershire, 1798 to 1799; canon residentiary of Lichfield from 1798 till his death; prebend of St. Paul's Cathedral, 1798; archdeacon of Stafford from 28 April 1801 till his death; vicar of St. Mary's, Reading (having in 1805 resigned Easton-Mauduit), from 1805 till 1818, when he exchanged to the rectory of Allhallows, London Wall. There he ministered till within a month of his death, which took place at his house, 22 Hart Street, Bloomsbury, London, on 23 March 1829. A monument bearing some verses by W. L. Bowles was erected to him in Lichfield Cathedral. Nares is described by Beloe (Nichols, Lit. Illustr. vii. 585–7) as a sound and widely read scholar, and as a witty and cheerful companion to his intimates (cp. ib. vii. 584). A portrait, engraved in the ‘National Portrait Gallery,’ vol. ii., is taken from the painting by J. Hoppner, R.A., who had known Nares well from his youth.

Nares married, first, Elizabeth Bayley, youngest daughter of Thomas Bayley of Chelmsford, died 1785; secondly, a daughter of Charles Fleetwood, died 1794; thirdly, the youngest daughter of Dr. Samuel Smith, head-master of Westminster School, who survived her husband. He left no children.

Nares's principal publications, excluding separately issued sermons, are:

  1. ‘An Essay on the Demon or Divination of Socrates,’ London, 1782, 8vo.
  2. ‘Elements of Orthoepy, containing … the whole Analogy of the English Language, so far as it relates to Pronunciation, Accent, and Quantity,’ London, 1784, 8vo.
  3. ‘General Rules for the Pronunciation of the English Language,’ London, 1792, 8vo.
  4. ‘Principles of Government deduced from Reason,’ London, 1792, 8vo.
  5. ‘A short Account of the Character and Reign of Louis XVI,’ 1793, 8vo.
  6. ‘A Connected and Chronological View of the Prophecies relating to the Christian Church’ (the Warburtonian Lecture, 1800–2), London, 1805, 8vo.
  7. ‘Essays … chiefly reprinted,’ 2 vols. London, 1810, 8vo.
  8. ‘The Veracity of the Evangelists demonstrated by a comparative View of their Histories,’ London, 1816, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1819, 12mo.
  9. ‘A Glossary, or Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, &c., which have been thought to require Illustration in the Works of English Authors, particularly Shakespeare and his Contemporaries,’ London, 1822, 4to; another edit. Stralsund, 1825, 8vo; edit. by Halliwell and Wright, London, 1859, 8vo; also London, 1888, 8vo. ‘A Thanksgiving for Plenty and Warning against Avarice,’ published in 1801, was reviewed by Sydney Smith in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ for 1802, and ridiculed as illogical.

In 1790 Nares assisted in completing Bridges' ‘History of Northamptonshire.’ In 1798, in conjunction with W. Tooke and W. Beloe, he revised the ‘General Biographical Dictionary,’ himself undertaking vols. vi. viii. x. xii. and xiv. He also edited Dr. W. Vincent's ‘Sermons’ (1817), and Purdy's ‘Lectures on the Church Catechism’ (1815), writing memoirs. He was a contributor to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ the ‘Classical Journal,’ and the ‘Archæologia.’

[Preface to Nares's Glossary, ed. Halliwell and Wright; Gent. Mag. 1829, pt. i. pp. 370, 371; Nichols's Lit. Illustrations, vii. 598 ff.; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816, p. 248; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Welch's Alumni Westmonast.; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, iv. 389; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. W.