Needham, Peter (DNB00)

NEEDHAM, PETER (1680–1731), classical scholar, born at Stockport in 1680, was son of the Rev. Samuel Needham, who, after keeping a private school at Bradenham, Norfolk, was appointed master of Stockport grammar school. Peter attended his father's school at Bradenham until he matriculated at St. John's College, Cambridge, on 18 April 1693 (Mayor, Admissions, pt. ii. p. 129). He was elected Billingsley scholar in 1693 on the same day as Ambrose Phillips became a foundation scholar, and he was a fellow of his college from 12 April 1698 until March 1716 (Baker, Hist. of St. John's College, i. 301–3). He graduated B.A. in 1696, M.A. in 1700, B.D. in 1707, and D.D. in 1717. In 1706 he left Cambridge to become rector of Ovington, Norfolk. He was appointed vicar of Madingley in 1711, and rector both of Whatton, Leicestershire, and Conington, Cambridgeshire, in 1713. In the following year a prebend in the church of St. Florence, Pembrokeshire, was conferred on him, and in 1717 the rectory of Stanwick, Northamptonshire. He rebuilt the rector's house at a cost of 1,000l., and died at Stanwick on 6 Dec. 1731.

Needham was an accomplished scholar in both Latin and Greek. He published editions of the ‘Geoponica;’ of the ‘Commentary on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras,’ by Hierocles the neoplatonist; and of Theophrastus's ‘Characters.’ Bentley is said to have supplied some notes for the Hierocles (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, iv. 271). Needham also devoted much labour to the text of Æschylus, and his manuscript collections were freely used by Anthony Askew [q. v.], Samuel Butler (1774–1839) [q. v.], and Bishop Blomfield in their editions of that dramatist. Bernard de Montfaucon, the editor of the Benedictine edition of ‘St. Chrysostom’ (1718), acknowledged much assistance from Needham, whom he described as ‘vir doctissimus amicissimusque.’

Needham was a frequent correspondent of Thomas Hearne [q. v.], who complained in 1705 of his failure to acknowledge in his ‘Geoponica’ the help that he derived from Oxford libraries, but afterwards described him as ‘an ingenious, learned gentleman,’ and examined many Greek manuscripts for him in the Bodleian Library (Hearne, Collections, i. 78, iii. 123). Hearne credited him with being a ‘most rash whig’ (ii. 93). A letter from Needham to Richard Rawlinson, another Oxford scholar, dated 18 Oct. 1715, is in the Bodleian Library (MS. Rawl. 268, No. 107). Cole, the Cambridge antiquary, represents Needham as ‘a great epicure,’ and relates some anecdotes by way of proof.

Besides a sermon preached at Cambridge in 1716, Needham published: 1. ‘Γεοπονικά. Geoponicorum sive de re rustica libri xx., Cassiano Basso Scholastico Collectore, antea Constantino Porphyrogesmeto a quibusdam adscripti. Gr. et Lat. cum notis et emendationibus. Cantab. Typis Academicis. Impensis A. et J. Churchill Bibliopolarum Londinensium, 1704;’ dedicated to John Moore (1646–1714) [q. v.], bishop of Norwich. 2. ‘Hieroclis philosophi Alexandrini Commentarius in Aurea Carmina de Providentia et Fato quæ supersunt et reliqua fragmenta Græce et Latine. Græca cum MSS. collata castigavit versionem recensuit notas et Indicem adjecit Pet. Needham. Cantab. Typis Academicis. Impensis A. et J. Churchill Bibliopolarum Londinensium,’ 1709, 8vo; dedicated to William, lord Cowper, lord chancellor. 3. ‘Θεουφραστου Χαρακτηρες Ηθικοι. Theophrasti Characteres Ethici Græce et Latine, Cantab. Typ. Acad.,’ by Cornelius Crownfield, 1712, with the notes of Isaac Casaubon, and the ‘Prælectiones’ of James Duport [q. v.], which Needham printed for the first time. It is a fine specimen of typography, extending to nearly five hundred pages, and is dedicated to John Moore, bishop of Ely. This edition was thrice reissued at Glasgow by Robert Foulis in 1743, 1748, and 1785, in each case without Duport's ‘Prælectiones.’

[Cole's MS. Athenæ Cantab. in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 5877, f. 7; manuscript epitaph in British Museum copy of Needham's Geoponica, 1704, once belonging to Thomas Tyrwhit; Needham's works, and authorities cited.]

S. L.