Archdeacon Nares

Archdeacon Nares, The Venerable, National Portrait Gallery


(9th June, 1753 – 23rd March, 1829)

The death of this person, so justly celebrated, and respected in the republic of letters, was thus announced in the Literary Gazette of the 28th of March, 1829. " We have this week to record, and deplore, the death of the Rev. and Venerable Archdeacon Nares, who departed this life on Monday, (the 23rd,) at the age of seventy five. His health had been for some time visibly declining ; but be was only about a week confined to his chamber. It is oat of our power, at present, to attempt any thing like a biographical sketch of this eminent scholar and divine, of this truly amiable and excellent man. If ever an individual deserved pre-eminently the title of literary,' it was Archdeacon Nares : his habits had all reference to literature and its pursuits; his life was a life of letters, and the cultivation of valuable knowledge. His writings consist chiefly of divinity, classics, and philology—commencing with 1782, and finishing, we think, with his admirable Glossary in 1822 a long and distinguished career of industry, talent, learning, usefulness, and virtue."

We have transcribed this prompt and brief tribute to the memory of the lamented subject of our sketch, because, though it spoke in the fresh language of immediate sorrow, it yet spoke nothing but the truth of the departed. At whatever period written, every moment of that estimable being must re-echo these sentiments ; and hand him down to the latest posterity as an ornament to the literature of his age and country, a mild and steady hi a the Christian world ; and in all the relations of society, an honor to human nature.

It is to be regretted, that, amid the privacy which conceals the actions of men devoted to learned and peaceful avocations, we can find such scanty materials, on minutely tracing their exemplary course; but this is, as it has always been, the necessary consequence of life spent in the practice of useful and unostentatious goodness. While the forward, the presuming, the noisy, the vain, and the ambitious furnish employment for every pen and tongue, it is the fate of the retiring, the wise, the worthy, the modest, and the benefactors of their kind, to perform the noblest things in comparative obscurity, and produce immortal benefits in the calm and silence of unobserved seclusion.

The author lives only in his works ; and a few facts, beyond their sphere, is generally all that can reward the inquiries of the biographer.

ROBERT NARES, born at York, on the 9th of June, 1753, was the son of Dr. James Nares, a distinguished composer and teacher of music, of whom there is a Memoir in the Biographical Dictionary, from which we learn, that he was for many years organist to King- George II. and King George III., in whose service he composed many pieces of sacred harmony of a high order, and died in February, 1783. He was brother to the H. Sir George Nares, who sat during fifteen years as one of the judges in the Court of Common Pleas. Thus well connected la dowdy, Robert bean life with such fair prospects as were calculated to stimulate his exertions, and afford a cheering view to the exercise of the talents with which Providence had blessed him. He was placed at Westminster School, where he became a king's scholar, at the head of his election in 1767, when fourteen years of age. At eighteen, namely, in 1771, he was elected to a studentship of Christ Church, Oxford, where he pursued his studies with great assiduity and commensurate success. In 1775, he took his degree of B. A., and in 1778, that of 31. A. ; about which period he also entered into holy orders.

Being selected by the late Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, to be the tutor to his sons—the present Baronet, and the Right Hon. Charles Williams Wynn—Mr. Nares went to reside at the beautiful and splendid mansion of Wynnstay, where, and with the family during their winter abode in London, he sojourned from 1779 to 1783. While in this station he was called wpm, not merely to cultivate learned and scholastic studies, but to enter into light and elegant literature; he, accordingly,produced prologues, epilogues, and other accessories to the private dramatic entertainments with which the hospitalities of his patron's mansion were enlivened. At this period, too, he first courted more public fame by publishing his Periodical Essays ; and the Essay on the Demon or Divination of Socrates ; and soon after, his earliest philological work, the Elements of (Orthoepy, (1784) In the meanwhile, 1782, his Christ Church presented him with the small living of East Mauduit, in Northamptonshire: which was followed by the gift of that of Doddington, in the same county, and in the patronage of the Lord Chancellor. In 1784, his marriage to Elizabeth Bayley the youngest daughter of Thomas Bayley, Esq, of Chelmsford, (who died in childbed the following year,) interrupted his close connexion as a resident with the family of Wynn ; but he superintended the farther education of his pupils from 1786 to 1788, while they were at Westminster School, and he was an inhabitant of the metropolis as assistant preacher at Berkeley Chapel.

The unblemished character and literary accomplishments of Mr. Nares, which gradually becoming more generally appreciated, had surrounded him with friends, now produced the fruits which were to be anticipated from irreproachable conduct and uncommon ability. In 1787, he was appointed Chaplain to His Royal Highness the Duke of York, and in October of the ensuing year, Assistant Preacher to the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn_ It is well known that this is a station of severe trial, and of consequent eminence, if the performance of the duties required is approved by the enlightened judgment of such a congregation, as that by which the preacher is appreciated. Mr. Nar, during. fifteen years, gave entire satisfaction to his learned auditory : who, while they generally felt his powers of reasoning and his depth of erudition in the pulpit, acknowledged his claims upon their individual regard as a member of the social circle, distinguished for refined taste, sound sense, and genuine piety. There was no laxity in principle ; no ascetic austerities. Fit for the trust reposed in him, Mr. Nares combined the gentleman and the scholar, with the Christian and the divine. How many friendships were formed under these auspicious circumstances—which lasted him till that awful time when human friendships avail no more, and higher hopes brighten the last days of the good !

In 1790, (we do not break our narrative by enumerating minor publications, as we will add a list of the whole,) Mr. Nares assisted in the completion of Bridges' History of Northamptonshire; and wrote the Preface. The political agitation and danger which ensued at this era, and put all that was valuable in the establishments and constitution of the country in jeopardy, rallied our able writer as a publicist on the side of government, religion, and order. He published several timely pamphlets, well calculated to abate the torrent of revolution and infidelity. It was these writings, perhaps, which led, in 1793, to his commencing, in conjunction with Mr. Beloe, the British Critic—a review, which for a long period had great influence both in politics and literature. In the same year he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries; and also one of the librarians of the British Museum ; afterwards Librarian for the Manuscript Department, where he remained twelve rears, and prepared the third volume of the Harleian Catalogue of Manuscripts for the Record Commission, by which it was given to the world. During the preceding year, 1794, it was his misfortune to lose his second wife, Frances Maria, daughter of Charles Fletewood, Esq. of London, to whom he had been united little more than ten months, and who died after having given birth to a son, who survived only a few weeks.

In 1796, the Lord Chancellor, Loughborough, presented Mr. Nares to the rectory of Dalbury near Derby, and in 1798 to that of Sharnford, in Leicestershire ; which he held for only a few months, as he was, in about half a year, collated by the Bishop of Lichfield, Cornwallis, to a Canonry Residentiary in the Cathedral of that diocese. In the same year the Bishop of London, Porteus, gave him the small prebend of Islington, in the Cathedral of St. Paul in February 1799, he was nominated to preach the Warburton lecture in Lincoln's Inn ; and in 1800 the Bishop of Lichfield conferred upon him the Archdeaconry of Stafford. In the same year he married the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Smith, many years Head Master of Westminster school ; who after nearly thirty years of domestic felicity, is left to lament his loss.—In 1805, the Lord Chancellor, Eldon, without solicitation or interest, presented him to the Vicarage of St. Mary's, Reading ; whither he soon after went to reside, having resigned the Vicarage of East Mauduit, his situation at the British Museum, and other appointments which might have interfered with this purpose. Here he lived till 1818,* when, being desirous of returning to London, that he might enjoy the society best suited to his literary tastes and habits, he obtained permission to exchange his vicarage for Allhallows, London Wall, then vacant, to the duties of which he attended in person, till within three weeks of his death, during the greater part of the year ; being seldom absent from London more than three months annually, two of which he passed in his residence at Lichfield.

We copy the list of his numerous (nineteen) publications from the Gentleman's Magazine, to which we are also indebted for some of the particulars stated in the foregoing Memoir.
1. " Periodical Essays, No. I. Dec. 2, 1780.—No. X. Feb. 3, 1781."
2. " An Essay on the Demon or Divination of Socrates," 8vo. 1782.
3. " Elements of Orthoepy ; containing a distinct view of the whole Analogy of the English Language, so far as it relates to Pronunciation, Accent, and Quantity, 1784," 8vo.
4. " Remarks on the favourite Ballet of Cupid and Psyche; with some Account of the Pantomime of the Antients, 1788," 12mo.
5. " Principles of Government deduced from Reason, &c. 1792," 8vo.
6. " An Abridgment of the same, adapted to general instruction and use ; with a new Introduction, 1793, " 8vo.
7. " Man's best Right; a serious Appeal in the name of Religion, 1793," 8vo.

* We may say, the zealous benefactor of his charge. Among his other good works, the National School was indebted to him for its establishment.

The British Critic, commenced, as we have noticed, in 1793, in conjunction with the Rev. W. Beloe. The editorship was entrusted to the judgment, sagacity, learning, and acuteness of Mr. Nares ; and the vigour and perseverance with which this periodical was conducted through difficult and dangerous times, are well known. To each of the half-yearly volumes was prefixed a Preface, always written by Mr. Nares, recapitulating the literature of the period. He proceeded with the work till the end of the forty-second Volume, and then resigned it to others.
9. " Discourses preached before the Hon. Society of Lincoln's Inn, 1794," 8vo.
10. "A Thanksgiving for Plenty, and a Warning against Avarice; a Sermon, preached at the Cathedral at Lichfield, on Sunday Sept. 20,1801," 8vo.
11. " The Benefit of Wisdom, and the Evils of Sin. A Sermon preached before the Hon. Society of Lincoln's Inn, on Sunday Nov. 6, 1803, and published at the request of the Bench? Svo
12. " A connected and chronological View of the Prophecies of the Christian Church : in 12 Sermons, preached in Lincoln's Inn Chapel. from the year 1800 to 1804, at the Lecture founded by Bishop Warburton.
13. "Essays and other occasional Compositions, chiefly reprinted, 1810,- 2 vols. small Svo.
14. "Protestantism the Blessing of Britain ; a Fast Sermon, preached at the Cathedral of Lichfield, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1810," 8vo.
15. " On the Influence of Sectaries, and the Stability of the Church ; a Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of Stafford, on the days of Visitation, at Cheadle, Stafford, and Walsall, in June 1812," 4to.
16. " The Veracity of the Evangelists demonstrated, by a comparative View of their Histories, 1816," 12mo.
17. " A Glossary ; or Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, &c. which have been tbought to require Illustration in the Works of English Authors, particularly Shakspeare and his Contemporaries, 1822," 4to.
18. " A Volume of Sermons on Faith and other Subjects, 1825, 8vo.
19. In 1815, An Edition of Dr. Purdy's Lectures on the Church Catechism, &c. to which was prefixed a Biographical Preface, giving some account of the Author, and of two of his most intimate friends, the Rev. T. Butler, and Lawson Huddleston. Esq. men of distinuished talent and worth.

The late Dr. Vincent, the learned and much esteemed Dean of Westminister,* always spoke of Mr Nares as a profound Scholar, and a most able critic. Yet with all his depth of acquirement there was neither assumption. nor the slightest shade of pedantry in him, in his behaviour, or in his conversation- On the contrary, an innate modesty (which we can readily believe stood in the way of higher ecclesiastical dis-
tractions,) marked his demeanour throughout life. He possessed a vivacity as well as a simplicity of manner, which afforded no hint of the attainments and erudition that lay quietly below, and were only discovered by the force of casual circumstances—certainly never displayed.

Among his meritorious efforts in the cause of morality and learning, we can speak from experience of the active and efficient part he took in the formation of the Royal Society of Literature, the illustrious Institution of his late Majesty George IV. The difficulties attendant upon such a task, the framing of unexceptionable rules, the election of the fittest individuals for the enjoyment of the Royal bounty, or the honors of the Society, and the faithful and impartial discharge of all the duties entailed upon the founders of such a body, were overcome and executed by him in a manner entitled to the highest praise. The virtuous and exemplary President, the Bishop of Salisbury, to whom the Sovereign committed the whole charge, had no co-adjutor who rendered him more valuable aid than Mr. Nares. It was therefore but a just tribute to him that he was elected a Vice-President in 1823.

* To his sermons published in 1817, Archdeacon Nares prefixed the Life, &c. He was also a frequent contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine, and furnished some papers to the Archmologia, particularly observations on parts of a Sarcophagus discovered at Reading Abbey, and supposed to have contained the remains of Henry I.

He took a warm interest in all the councils and proceedings till the end of his life ; and contributed the interesting paper published in the first volume of its Transactions, entitled "An Historical Account of the Discoveries that have been made in Palimpsest (or Rescript) Manuscripts." He also supplied a Memoir on the religion and divination of Socrates.

In private life no man was ever more beloved than Archdeacon Nares. His friends from youth to old age were delighted by his talents, while they were compelled to set a still higher value upon his individual character, so estimable and honorable in every relation of life. To know him indeed was to be attached to him ; for the exemplary divine, the profound scholar, the judicious critic, and the elegant writer, was at the same time one of the most amiable, pleasing, and instructive companions into whose society good fortune could throw either the young or the old. No wonder then that his intimacy was zealously courted, and that he ranked among his most constant friends: a number of the foremost men of the times, which he himself lived to adorn.

Our Portrait is from Hoppner, with whom he was intimate from his youth; and it affords as a gratification to be able to accompany it with a specimen of the playful spirit which imbued the edema'. The subjoined is an unpublished Epigram on himself, written in 1826:—
" Time has not thinn'd my flowing hair, or laid my aged temples bare ; But he has play'd the barber's part, And powder'd me with wondrous art, Meaning, no doubt, to let me see, He thinks to make mere dust of me ; But let him know that on a day, God will re-animate this clay, And life unchangeable will give
When time himself shall cease to live."

We omitted to notice in its proper place, that Mr. Nares was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1804: at his demise, therefore, his literary and ecclesiastical honors might be given as follow : " The Rev. ROBERT NARES, M.A. F.R.S. FSA. V.P. R.S.L. Archdeacon of Stafford, Canon Residentiary of Lichfield, and Rector of Allhallows, London Wall."