Bryant, Jacob

, one of the most learned English scholars of the eighteenth century, who adds a very illustrious name to the “Worthies of Devon,” was born at Plymouth in that county in 1715. His father held an office in the custom-house, but before his son arrived at his seventh year, was removed thence into Kent, a circumstance which may be mentioned as a proof of Mr. Bryant’s extraordinary memory; for, in a conversation with the late admiral Barrington, not long before his death, when some local circumstances in respect to Plymouth were accidentally mentioned, Mr. Bryant discovered so perfect a recollection of them, that his friend could scarcely be persuaded he had not been very recently on the spot, though he had never visited the place of his nativity after the removal of hi* father. Mr. Bryant received his grammatical education first under the rev. Sam. Thornton of Ludsdown in Kent, and afterwards at Eton, and undoubtedly was one of the brightest luminaries of that institution. The traditions of his extraordinary attainments still remain, and particularly of some verses which he then wrote. From Eton he proceeded to King’s college, Cambridge, where he took his degree of A. B. in 1740, and A. M. in 1744, obtained 3 fellowship, and was equally distinguished by his love of learning, and his proficiency in every branch of the academic course. He was afterwards first tutor to sir Thomas Stapylton, and then to the marquis of Blandford, now duke of Marlborough, and to his brother lord Charles Spencer, when at Eton school, which office, on account of an inflammation in his eyes, he quitted in 1744, and his place was supplied by Dr. Erasmus Saunders; but Mr. Bryant, after his recovery in 1746, again returned to his office, and in 1756 was appointed secretary to the late duke of Marlborough, when master-general of the ordnance, and ac-< companied him into Germany. His grace also promoted him to a lucrative appointment in the ordnance-office.

As Mr. Bryant had long outlived his contemporaries, few particulars, except what we have just related, are known of his early life and habits. He appears, even while connected with the late duke of Marlborough, whose | family remained his kind patrons during the whole of his life, to have devoted himself to study, and to that particular branch which respects the ancient history of nations. Whatever his fortune might be, he appears to have been satisfied if it supplied the means of extending his studies in retirement, and we do not find that he ever inclined to pursue any of the learned professions. One of his contemporaries, the late rev. William Cole of Milton, informs us, in his ms Athenae Cantab, (in Brit. Mus.) that he had twice refused the mastership of the Charter-house, which one time was actually granted to him by a majority of the governors; and notice of his nomination was sent to him by Mr. Hetherington, a gentleman who afterwards left him his executor and 3,000l. as a legacy; but at what time these offers were made, Mr. Cole has not specified. It is certain, however, that he early formed his plan of life, a long life spent entirely in literary pursuits, and persevered in it with uncommon assiduity and steadiness, consecrating his talents to the best purposes of learning and religion.

His first publication was “Observations and Inquiries relating to various parts of Ancient History: containing Dissertations on the wind Euroclydon, and on the Island Melite, together with an account of Egypt in its most early state, and of the Shepherd Kings; wherein the time of their coming, the province which they particularly possessed, and to which the Israelites afterwards succeeded, is endeavoured to be stated. The whole calculated to throw light on the history of that ancient kingdom, as well as on the histories of the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, Edomites, and other nations,1767, 4to. In this volume, with great modesty, and yet with well-grounded resolution, he attacks Bochart, Grotius, and Bentley, who supposed that Euroclydon, the name of a wind mentioned in Acts xxvii. 14th verse, is a misnomer, and ought to be read Euroaquilo, and very ably supports the present reading. In proving that the island Melite, mentioned in the last chapter of the Acts, is not Malta, he has to contend with Grotius, Cluverius, Beza, Bentley, and Bochart, and his arguments on this question are upon the whole conclusive. It happened that the hypothesis he suggested was brought forward about the same time by an ingenious Frenchman, and neither of them was acquainted with the opinion of the other. The remainder of this volume evinces uncommon research and acuteness, but not unmixed with that | inclination to bold conjecture and fanciful speculation which more or less influenced the composition of all Mr. Bryant’s works. His next communication to the public, and the work on which his character as a scholar must ultimately rest, was his “New System or Analysis of Ancient Mythology; wherein an Attempt is made to divest Tradition of Fable, and to reduce Truth to its original Purity.” Of this publication the first and second volumes came forth together, in 1774, and the third followed two years after. It being his professed design to present a history of the Babylonians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Canaanites, Helladians, lonians, Leleges, Dorians, Pelasgi, and other ancient nations, his researches for this purpose were not only of necessity recondite, but in many instances uncertain; but to facilitate his passage through the mighty labyrinth which led to his primary object, he not only availed himself of the scattered fragments of ancient history wherever he could find them, but also of a variety of etymological aids; for being persuaded that the human race were the offspring of one stock, and conceiving thence that their language in the beginning was one, this favourite notion was exemplified by him in the investigation of radical terms, and application of these as collateral aids. As his knowledge of the oriental dialects was very confined, upon some occasions he has indulged too freely to fancy; yet his defects in this kind of learning form a strong plea in his favour; for if, without fully understanding these languages, he has succeeded in tracing out so many radicals as his table of them exhibits, and more especially if he has been right in explaining them, it will follow that his explanations must be founded on truth, and therefore are not chimerical. In opposition, however, to them, Mr. Bryant experienced some severe and petulant attacks: first, from a learned Dutchman, in a Latin review of his work; and shortly after from the late Mr. Richardson, who was privately assisted by sir William Jones; a circumstance which there is reason to think Mr. Bryant never knew. Mr. Richardson, in the preface to his Persian Dictionary, has no doubt successfully exposed some of Mr. Bryant’s etymological mistakes with regard to words of eastern origin. Bryant had a favoyrite theory with regard to the Amonians, the original inhabitants of Kgypt^ whose name, as well as descent, he derives from Ham, but Richardson has stated an insuperable objection to the derivation of the name, for | though the Greeks and Latins used Ammon and Hammou indifferently, yet the Heth in Ham is a radical, not mutable or omissible; and had the Greeks or Latins formed a word from it, it would have been Chammon, and not Ammon, even with the aspirate. To these and other strictures, Mr. Bryant replied in an anonymous pamphlet, of which he printed only a few copies for the perusal of his friends*; and that part of his work which relates to the Apamean. medal having been particularly attacked, especially in the Gentleman’s Magazine, he defended himself in “A Vindication of the Apamean Medal, and of the inscription NilE, together with an illustration of another coin struck at the same place in honour of the emperor Severus.” This was first published in the Archaeologia, and afterwards separately, 1775, 4to, and although what he offered on the subject was lightly treated by some, whose knowledge in inedallic history is allowed to be great, yet the opinion of professor Eckhel, the first medallist of his age, is decidedly in favour of Mr. Bryant. And whatever may be the merit, in the opinion of the learned, of Mr. Bryant’s “New System” at large, no person can possibly dispute, that a very uncommon store of learning is perceptible through the whole; that it abounds with great originality of conception, much perspicacious elucidation, and the most happy explanations on topics of the highest importance: in a word, that it stands forward amongst the first works of its age.

About this time was published Mr. Wood’s “Essay on. the original genius and writings of Homer.” Of this posthumous work, Mr. Bryant was the editor, the author having left his Mss. to his care; and in the same year, the “Vindiciae Flavians),” a tract on the much disputed testimony of Josephus to Christ, was printed, and a few copies sent to a bookseller in either university; but as the pamphlet appeared without the name of its author, and no attention was shewed it, Mr. Bryant recalled them, and satisfied himself with distributing the copies thus returned


Mr. Richardson returned to the charge in 1778, by publishing “A Dissertation on the Languages, Literatare, and Manners of Eastern Nations, Originally prefixed to his Dictionary, &c. Together with further remarks on a New Analysis of Ancient Mythology, in answer to An Apology, ad dressed to the Author, by Jacob IJryant, esq.” 8vo. It appears by this work that both parties had now lost their temper, and justice obliges us to say that Mr. Bryant shewed the first symptoms of a defect in that article.

| amongst a few particular friends. The new light, however, which Mr. Bryant threw upon the subject, and the acuteness with which the difficulties attending it were discussed, soon brought the work into notice, and Mr. Bryant published it with his name in 1780, and has effectually vindicated the authenticity of the passage in question. It is no mean testimony of his success in this undertaking, that Dr. Priestley confessed that Mr. Bryant had made a complete convert of him. That his conversion, however, extended no farther than the present subject, appeared in the same year, when Mr. Bryant published “An Address to Dr. Priestley, upon his doctrine of Philosophical Necessity illustrated,” 8vo, which the doctor with his usual rapidity, answered in “A Letter to Jacob Bryant, esq.” Dr. Priestley, indeed, was not likely to be persuaded by a writer who insinuated that his “necessity” of philosophers was no other than the “predestination” of Calvinists. With respect to the “Vindiciae Flavians,” it yet remains to be mentioned that there is a great affinity between this publication, and the observations on the same subject of a learned Frenchman. See a letter to Dr. Kippis, at the end of his life of Dr. Lardner, by Dr. Henley, where the arguments for and against the authenticity of the passage are distinctly stated.

The poems attributed to Rowley having been published by Mr. Tyrwhitt, Mr. Bryant’s attention was next drawn to them, and in 1781 he published “Observations on the Poems of Thomas Rowley, in which the authenticity of these poems is ascertained,” 2 vols. 12mo. From the communications of his friend Dr. Glynn, and his own inquiries at Bristol, Mr. Bryant acquired such information as convinced him, that they had their foundation in reality, and were not entirely of Chatterton’s fabrication; but though he failed to produce conviction, his book discovers considerable talent, as well as much knowledge of English antiquities and literature.

The hypothesis of Mr. Bryant in reference to one original language was always kept in view by him, and as researches were extended on all sides to obtain elucidations, the language of the gypsies engaged his attention; accordingly the collections which he made from it, were published in the Archaeologia, vol. Yii. entitled “Collections on the Zingara, or Gypsey language.

In 1783 was printed, at the expence of the duke of | Marlborough, for private distribution, that splendid work, “The Maryborough Gems,” under the title of “Gemmarum antiquarurn delectus ex prsestantioribus desumptus in Dactylotheca Ducis Marburiensis.” The first volume of the exposition of these gems was written in Latin by Mr. Bryant, and translated into French by Mr. Maty. That of the second was written by Dr. Cole, prebendary of Westminster, and translated by Mr. Dutens. The friendship which subsisted between Mr. Bryant and the family of his patron, prompted him on all occasions to attend to their wishes, and to this disposition the public owe his “Treatise on the Authenticity of the Scriptures, and the Truth of the Christian Religion,1792, 8vo, which was written at the request of the dowager lady Pembroke, and is an excellent book for popular instruction. In two years after he published a large volume, entitled “Observations upon the Plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians; in which is shewn the peculiarity of those judgments, and their correspondence with the rites and idolatry of that people; with a prefatory Discourse concerning the Grecian Colonies from Egypt,” 8vo. This is certainly to be reckoned amongst Mr. Bryant’s best performances, and as such will be studiously read.

Professor Dalzel having communicated to the royal society of Edinburgh, and afterwards published in a separate volume, M. le Chevalier’s “Description of the Plain of Troy,” Mr. Bryant, who many years before had not only considered, but written his sentiments on the Trojan war, first published, in 1795, his Observations on M. le Chevalier’s treatise, and, in 1796, a Dissertation concerning the war itself, and the expedition of the Grecians as described by Homer; with the view of shewing that no such expedition was ever undertaken, and that no such city in Phrygia existed. Of this singular publication we shall only notice, that on the one side it has been remarked that “for the repose” of Mr. Bryant’s well-earned fame, it probably would have been better had this dissertation never been written. Even the high authority with which he is armed could not warrant him in controverting opinions so long maintained and established among historians, and in disproving facts so well attested by the most extensive evidence. Great and natural was the surprize of the literary world on the appearance of this publication; and very few, if any, were the proselytes to the new doctrine which it | inculcates. It was answered by Mr. Gilbert Wakefield, in a very indecent letter to Mr. Bryant; and in a style more worthy of the subject by J. B. S. Morrit, esq. of Rokeby park, near Greta bridge;“and by Dr. Vincent. On the other hand, it has been suggested, that” the testimony of antiquity goes for nothing in this case, as the whole depends on the authority of Homer; and unless authors can be cited anterior to him, or coeval with him, or who did not derive their information from him, or some of his transcribers, the whole history of the warm ust rest on his authority; and if his authority were equal to his genius, the transactions which he records would stand in need of no other support. But, certainly, as the subject stands at present, were the alternative proposed to us, we would rather reject the whole as a fable, than receive the half as authentic history."

In the following year Mr. Bryant submitted to the public a work of a different kind and character, under the title of “The sentiments of Philo Judaeus concerning the Λογοσ, or Word of God, together with large extracts from his writings, compared with the scriptures in many other particular and essential doctrines of the Christian religion,” 1797, 8vo. But, learned and curious as this treatise unquestionably is, it appears to have interested the general reader less, perhaps, than any of his other productions* In addition to those already noticed may be added his “Observations on famous controverted passages in JustinMartyr and Josephus,” and a pamphlet addressed to Mr. Melmoth, written with less temper than might have been wished. Mr. Bryant closed his labours with a quarto volume of “Dissertations on the prophecy of Balaam; the standing still of the sun in the time of Joshua; the jawbone of the ass with which Samson slew the Philistines; and the history of Jonah and the whale:” subjects in themselves exceedingly curious, and treated with much ingetiuity; but these tracts having been written above thirty years before, Mr. Bryant, in revising, made so many alterations, as, through a defect of memory, render the remarks in one part inconsistent with those in another, which materially diminished the value of the whole. Other writings to a considerable extent remain in the hands of his executor, and various small poems, verses, &c. are still recollected as the production of his early years. Of this sort were his incomparable verses to Bel Cooke; his | ludicrous dissertation on pork, and his apotheosis of a cat, juvenile pieces, which show that he had a considerable talent for humour.

In forming a general estimate of Mr. Bryant’s literary character, it will be found that, as a classical scholar, he had few equals; his acquaintance with history, and the topics of general information, was of very uncommon extent, but from the want of Oriental literature, and the stricter sciences, he yielded too often to the impulses of a vigorous fancy. It will, notwithstanding, be found from repeated perusals of his writings, that he deservedly ranks amongst the first men of his age, and from having consecrated his great talents and acquisitions to the service; of religion, will be ever entitled to the veneration of mankind.

In his person Mr. Bryant was lower and more delicately formed than men in general, and, consequently, less capable of strong exercise: but in early life he had great agility, particularly in swimming, a circumstance which enabled him to save Dr. Barnard, afterward head-master of Eton, when drowning. In his ordinary habits of life he was remarkable for his temperance, and though his time and studies were principally devoted to literature and the pursuit of truth, yet his conversation with those he received and conversed with was uncommonly sprightly, as he never failed to mix entertaining anecclote with instruction. In his person he was particularly neat, and in his deportment courteous. His liberality was often conspicuous, and the spirit of religion diffused itself through all his actions. As few comparatively live so long, instances of such exemplary merit can but rarely be found. He died, after a, long residence at Cypenham, near Windsor, Nov. 14, 1804, of ajnortification in his leg, occasioned by a hurt from the tilting of a chair in reaching down a book from its shelf. At his own desire, Mr. Bryant was interred in his parish church, beneath the seat he there occupied. He left his valuable library to King’s college, Cambridge; 2000l. to the society for propagating the gospel, and 1000/, to the superannuated collegers of Eton school, to be disposed of as the provost and fellows think proper. 1


From various periodical Journals. Rees’s and Brewster’s Cyclopedia. Baldwin’s Literary Journal, vol. IV. Monthly and Crit. Reviews. Nichols’s Life of Bowyer. Gent, Mag &c.