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Lisle, William (DNB00)


LISLE or L'ISLE, WILLIAM (1569?–1637), Anglo-Saxon scholar, born about 1569, was second of the five sons of Edmond Lisle of Tandridge in Surrey. The family probably took its name from the Isle of Ely. His mother was Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Rudston of Cambridgeshire. His father's sister Mary was mother by her second husband of Thomas Ravis [q. v.], afterwards bishop of London, at whose request William Lisle composed an epigram against Andrew Melvill [q. v.] He was also related to Sir Henry Spelman [q. v.] the antiquary. His eldest brother, George, settled at South Petherton in Somerset. Of his younger brothers, Edmund became sewer of the chamber to Queen Elizabeth, James I, and Charles I, and captain of Walmer Castle; Nicholas and Thomas respectively married the two daughters of Nicholas Brooke, sewer of the chamber to Elizabeth.

Lisle was a scholar at Eton, and in 1584 entered King's College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. and M.A. in 1592 and became a fellow of his college, but resigned the post after 1608 in order to take possession of an estate which had been left him in the ancestral home at Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire. In July 1593 he supplicated for incorporation as M.A. at Oxford (cf. Cole's MSS. xiv. ff. 193 v., and Wood), but his name does not appear in the university register. Subsequently he became one of the esquires extraordinary to James I. He must, however, have soon returned to Cambridge and spent most of his time there. In 1608 he took part in a ‘bloody quarrel’ in King's College in August 1608, which resulted in the wounding of the vice-chancellor, Dr. Roger Goad. Goad brought the matter to the notice of the chancellor, Lord Salisbury. Lisle wrote submitting to Salisbury's jurisdiction and begging not to be deprived for his offence, as such a punishment would frustrate the fruits of thirty years' study in the university. No action was apparently taken against Lisle (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1603–9, p. 459). Lisle was taken seriously ill at Chesterton in Cambridgeshire, and was removed to Wilbraham, where he died in September 1637. Like his younger brother Edmund, who died a month later, he was buried at Walmer, where a monument to their memory was erected in the church.

Lisle was a notable pioneer in the study of Anglo-Saxon. Anxiety to learn the doctrinal position of the early English church on various points in controversy in his day first led him in that direction. In 1623 he printed and published for the first time, with an English translation, the ‘Treatise on the Old and New Testament,’ by Ælfric Grammaticus [q. v.], whom Lisle wrongly identified with Ælfric [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury. Lisle found the manuscript in Sir Robert Cotton's library (Bodl. Laud E. 19). The long title begins ‘A Saxon Treatise concerning the Old and New Testament, written about the time of King Edgar (700 yeares agoe) by Ælfricus Abbas, thought to be the same that was afterward Archbishop of Canterbury, whereby appeares what was the canon of Holy Scripture here then received, and that the Church of England had it so long agoe in her mother-tongue.’ An appendix contained ‘the Homilies and Epistles of the fore-said Ælfricus,’ and a second edition of ‘A Testimonie of Antiquitie, etc., touching the Sacrament of the Bodie and Bloud of the Lord,’ first issued by Archbishop Parker and Parker's secretary, John Joscelyn [q. v.] in 1566. There follow two extracts from (a) Ælfric's ‘Epistle to Walfine, Bishop of Scyrburne,’ and (b) his ‘Epistle to Wulfstan, Archbishop of York,’ expressing disapproval of a long preservation of the consecrated elements after Easter day. The book concludes with the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and Ten Commandments in Anglo-Saxon, with a verbal interlinear translation intended to serve as easy exercises for beginners. The translation, though not free from minor errors, is wonderfully accurate when the difficulties under which Lisle laboured are remembered. He promised in the preface ‘ere long, if this be well accepted, to publish more of the same kind,’ but though he did much preliminary work by copying a number of old manuscripts, now in the Bodleian (Laud E. 33 and Laud D. 85), he never published anything more of the sort. There was a second edition of his ‘Saxon Treatise’ under the title of ‘Divers Ancient Monuments’ in 1638, the year after his death. The most important editions of Anglo-Saxon works which he had projected were Ælfric's translations of the Pentateuch, and the books of Joshua, Judges, and Job, also ‘The Saxon-English Psalter, to preserve the memory of our mother churche and language, and to further the studye of our antiquities and lawes.’

Lisle was also the author of some second-rate verse. In 1598 he published translations of parts of Du Bartas's ‘Weeks,’ but no copy is extant. In 1625 appeared a still larger instalment of Du Bartas in English and French, ‘so neare the French Englisshed as may teach an Englishman French, or a Frenchman English. With the commentary of S. G[oulart de] S[enlis].’ The portion translated includes the end of the fourth book of ‘Adam’ and all four books of ‘Noah,’ the subjects of the poems for the first two days of the second week. The volume closes with an ‘Epistle dedicatorie to the Lord Admirall,’ Lord Howard of Effingham, afterwards Earl of Nottingham, dated 1596, and evidently a reprint from the original edition. In 1619 he wrote two Latin hexameter poems addressed to his neighbour, Michael Dalton, and prefixed to the second edition of his ‘Countrey Justice’ published in that year. In 1628 appeared ‘Virgil's Eclogues, translated into English by W. L., Gent.,’ with the gloss of the learned Spaniard Ludovicus Vives. Part of these had been translated as early as 1600, though not published.

He brought out in 1631 a rhymed version, with abridgments and additions, of Heliodorus under the title ‘The Faire Æthiopian, dedicated to the King and Queene by their Maiesties most humble Subject and Seruant William L'isle.’ In 1638 there was a reissue of the work with the title ‘The Famous Historie of Heliodorus amplified, augmented, and delivered periphrastically in verse.’ Lisle also wrote the verse inscription on the tomb of William Benson, his aunt Mary Lisle's second son by her first husband, who lies buried in St. Olave's, Southwark.

Ritson suggests that a poem of small merit in six-lined stanzas signed ‘L. W.’ at the end of Spenser's first three books of the ‘Faerie Queene,’ published 1590, and addressed to the poet, is by Lisle. The lines are in a measure used more than once by him. Hunter (Chorus Vatum Anglicanorum, ii. 64) improbably suggests that Lisle was the editor of ‘Certain worthy MS. Poems of good antiquity reserved long in the study of a Norfolk gentleman. And now first published by J. S., imprinted by Robert Robinson, 1597,’ and inscribed to Edmund Spenser.

[Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, pt. i.; Harwood's Alumni Etonenses, 1797; Registrum Regale, 1774, &c., 4to; The Visitation of Somersetshire made in 1623, and now in the College of Arms, ed. Sir T. Phillipps, 1838; funeral certificate of William and Edmund Lisle in the Heralds' Office; British Museum Addit. MSS. (Hunter's Chorus Vatum Anglicanorum, ii. 64); Calendar of State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1603–10; Ritson's Bibl. Poetica; Arber's Registers of the Stationers' Company; Grundriss zur Geschichte der Angelsächsischen Litteratur von R. P. Wülcker, Leipzig, 1885; Wanley's Cat. of Anglo-Saxon MSS.]

H. F. H.