Wise, Francis (DNB00)


WISE, FRANCIS (1695–1767), archæologist, son of Francis Wise, mercer, of Oxford, was born in the parish of All Saints, Oxford, on 3 June 1695. He was educated at New College school and at Trinity College, Oxford, being admitted commoner on 3 Jan. 1710–11. He became scholar of his college on 31 May 1711, probationer fellow on 12 June 1718, and full fellow a year later. He graduated B.A. 1714, M.A. 1717, and B.D. 1727. In December 1719 he was appointed under-keeper of the Bodleian Library, and about this time he collated a manuscript in the Laud collection for the 1729 edition of Plutarch's ‘Lives.’

Wise was ordained deacon by the bishop of Oxford at Cuddesdon on 3 Sept. 1721, and priest at the public ordination at Oxford on 24 Sept. 1721. He took pupils at this time, and among them was Francis North (afterwards Baron and Earl of Guilford), who conferred on him in 1723 the curacy of Wroxton in Oxfordshire, and bestowed on him early in 1726 the small donative of Elsfield, about three miles from Oxford, where he much improved the residence and laid out the grounds in a fantastic manner. A view of the place is given in the tailpiece of the preface to his work on coins (1750). Later in 1726 the same patron presented him to the vicarage of Harlow in Essex, but after a few months he resigned the living, as he preferred to dwell at Oxford, where he had been appointed in April 1726 to the post of keeper of the archives.

On 2 Dec. 1729 Wise stood for the librarianship at the Bodleian Library, but after a party contest, in which he was the whig candidate, was defeated by fifteen votes (Rel. Hearnianæ, 1857 edit. ii. 711–713). His connection with the library did not thereupon cease, for so late as 1746 special payments were made to him for work done in cataloguing and arranging the books given by Nathaniel Crymes. He published in 1738 ‘A Letter to Dr. Mead concerning some Antiquities in Berkshire, particularly shewing that the White Horse is a Monument of the West Saxons.’ This was answered by ‘Philalethes Rusticus’ (sometimes said to be Rev. William Asplin, at other times a layman called Bumpsted) in 1740 in a tract called ‘The Impertinence and Imposture of Modern Antiquaries display'd,’ in which he attributed to Wise a design to alter the arms of the royal family, sneered at his eulogies of Alfred, and pointed out that he had omitted to praise the reigning monarch. Wise resented these attacks, believing that they might damage his chance of future preferment. An anonymous defence of him, ‘An Answer to a Scandalous Libel intituled “The Impertinence and Imposture, &c.”’ (1741), was published by the Rev. George North, and he himself issued in 1742 ‘Further Observations upon the White Horse and other Antiquities in Berkshire.’

Wise was appointed by his college to the rectory of Rotherfield Greys, near Henley-on-Thames, on 7 Aug. 1745, thus vacating his fellowship in 1746. From 10 May 1748 he was Radcliffe librarian at Oxford. These preferments he retained, with that of Elsfield, until his death. He was elected F.S.A. on 6 April 1749, and collected an excellent library, particularly rich in works of northern literature. In 1754 Thomas Warton and Johnson, who liked his society, paid him several visits at Elsfield, and Wise took much interest in obtaining for Johnson from his university the degree by diploma of M.A. (Wooll, Joseph Warton, p. 228). He became ‘a cripple in every limb’ from the gout, and died at Elsfield on 5 Oct. 1767, being buried in the churchyard, but without stone or monument. He gave during his lifetime many coins to the Bodleian Library, and after his death his sister gave to the Radcliffe Library ‘a large and valuable cabinet of his medals.’

The other works of Wise comprised: 1. ‘Annales rerum gestarum Ælfredi Magni auctore Asserio Menevensi,’ 1722. A copy, with many notes, supposed to be by William Huddesford [q. v.], is in Gough's ‘Oxfordshire’ (57) at the Bodleian Library. The editing is ‘unusually careful,’ but the authenticity of the original has often been questioned (Speaker, 18 March 1899, pp. 313–14). 2. ‘Epistola ad Joannem Masson de nummo Abgari regis,’ 1736. 3. ‘Nummorum antiquorum Scriniis Bodleianis reconditorum Catalogus,’ 1750; dedicated to Lord Guilford. 4. ‘Some Enquiries on the First Inhabitants, Language, Religion, Learning, and Letters of Europe, by a Member of the Society of Antiquaries in London,’ 1758; signed at end ‘F. W. R. L.’ 5. ‘History and Chronology of the Fabulous Ages,’ 1764; also anonymous and similarly signed. This had been drawn up for some years, having been read to Johnson and Warton to their amusement. Printed letters to and from him are in Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes’ (v. 452, ix. 617), Nichols's ‘Literary Illustrations’ (iii. 632–7, iv. 206–7, 225–6, 433–55, 668–9); two of his manuscript letters are in Gough's ‘Berkshire’ (5, Bodl. Libr.)

Wise assisted Warton in his ‘Life of Dr. Bathurst.’ The passages stated by Thomas Warton in his ‘Life of Sir Thomas Pope’ (1st and 2nd edits. pref.) to have been copied by Wise from other manuscripts are forgeries by some one (Blakiston in Engl. Hist. Rev. xi. 282–300). In reference to them Mr. Blakiston calls Wise ‘a competent, perhaps too competent, archæologist.’

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Gent. Mag. 1767, p. 524; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 512, v. 527–8; Lit. Illustr. iv. 479–80; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, i. 273–82, 322; Madan's Western MSS. (Bodl. Libr.) iv. 189, 259; Macray's Bodl. Libr. 2nd ed. pp. 34, 199, 207, 221, 372, 484; Blakiston's Trin. Coll. pp. 194, 196; information from Rev. H. E. D. Blakiston of Trinity College.]

W. P. C.