Costard, George

, a learned clergyman of the church of England, was born at Shrewsbury about the year 1710. He was educated at Wadham-college, Oxford, of which he was admitted a member in 1726, if not earlier; and on^ the 28th of June 1733, took the degree of master of arts. He also became a tutor, and fellow of his college; and, indeed, seems to have spent a great part of his life there, though the fellows of Wadham-college hold their fellowships only for a limited number of years. The same year in which he took the degree of M.A. he published, in 8vo, “Critical observations on some Psalms.” The first ecclesiastical situation in which he was placed, was that of curate of Islip in Oxfordshire. He afterwards became vicar of Whitchurch, in Dorsetshire, where he served two churches | for some years. Part of a letter written by him to Mr. John Catlain, containing an account of a fiery meteor seen by him in the air, on the 14th of July 1745, was read at the Royal Society on the 7th of November in that year, and published in the Philosophical Transactions, No. 477. The following year he published at London, in 8vo, “A Letter to Martin Folkes, esq. president of the Royal Society, concerning the rise and progress of Astronomy amongst the Ancients,” in which he endeavoured to prove, that the Greeks derived but a very small portion of their astronomical knowledge from the Egyptians or Babylonians; and that though the Egyptians and Babylonians may be allowed, by their observations of the heavens, to have laid the foundation of astronomy; yet, as long as it continued amongst them, it consisted of observations only, and nothing more; till Geometry being improved by the Greeks, and them alone, into Sl science, and applied to the heavens, they became the true and proper authors of every thing deserving the name of astronomy.

In 1747, Mr. Costard published, in 8vo, “Some observations tending to illustrate the book of Job; and in particular the words, I know that my Redeemer liveth, &c.” To which was annexed, “The third chapter of Habakkuk, paraphrastically translated into English verse.” The same year a curious letter written by him to the Rev. Dr. Shaw, principal of St. Edmund hall, relative to the Chinese chronology and astronomy, was read at the Royal Society, and published in the Philosophical Transactions, No. 483. In this letter he took notice, that it had been the affectation of some nations, and particularly of the Babylonians and Egyptians, to carry up their histories to so immoderate a height, as plainly to shew those accounts to be fictitious. This also was die case with the Chinese; and Mr. Costard urged a variety of arguments to prove, that the mathematical and astronomical knowledge of the Chinese was inconsiderable, and that little dependance was to be placed on the pretended antiquity of their history. The following year he published, at Oxford, in 8vo, “A farther account of the rise and progress of Astronomy among the Ancients, in three letters to Martin Folkes, esq.” Of these, the first treats of the astronomy of the Chaldeans; the second is an elaborate inquiry concerning the constellations spoken of in the book of Job; and the fourth is on the mythological astronomy of the ancients; and in all he has displayed a | considerable extent both of oriental and of Grecian literature.

His next publication, which appeared in 1750, in 8vo, was “Two dissertations: I. Containing an inquiry into the meaning of the word Kesitah, mentioned in Job, ch. xlii. ver. 11.” attempting to prove, that though it most probably there stands for the name of a coin, yet that there is no reason for supposing it stamped with any figure at all; and, therefore, not with that of a lamb in particular. II. “On the signification of the word Hermes; in which is explained the origin of the custom, among the Greeks, of erecting stones called Hermae; together with some other particulars, relating to the mythology of that people.” At the conclusion, Mr. Costard observes, that the study of the oriental languages seems to be gaining ground in Europe every day; and provided the Greek and Latin are equally cultivated, we may arrive in a few years at a greater knowledge of the ancient world, than may be expected, or can be imagined; and he adds, that for such researches few places, if any, in Europe are so well adapted as the university of Oxford.

In 1752, he published, in 8vo, at Oxford, “Dissertationes II. Critico^Sacrae, qnarum prima explicatur Ezek. xiii. 18. Altera vero, 2 Reg. x. 22.” The same year a translation was published of the latter of these dissertations, under the following title “A Dissertation on 2 Kings x. 22, translated from the Latin of Rabbi C———d (i. e. Costard), with a dedication, preface, and postscript, critical and explanatory, by the translator.” In the preface and dedication to this publication, the satirical author has placed Mr. Costard in a very ludicrous light. On the 25th of January, in the year following, a letter written by Mr. Costard to Dr. JBevis, concerning the year of the eclipse foretold by Thales, was read at the Royal Society, and was afterwards published in the Philosophical Transactions, as was also another letter written by him to the-same gentleman, concerning an eclipse mentioned by Xenophon. At the close of the same year, another letter written by Mr. Costard, and addressed to the earl of Macclesfield, concerning the age of Homer and Hesiod, was likewise read at the Royal Society, and afterwards published in the Philosophical Transactions for the year 1754, in which he fixes the ages of Homer and Hesiod much lower than the ordinary computations. He endeavours to make it appear, from | astronomical arguments, that Homer and Hesiod both probably lived about the year before Christ 589; which is three centuries later than the computation of sir Isaac Newton, and more than four later than that of Petavius. In 1755, he wrote a letter to Dr. Birch, which is preserved in the British Museum, respecting the meaning of the phrase Sphacra Barbarica. Some time after this, he undertook to publish a second edition of Dr. Hyde’s “Historia religionis veterutn Persarum eorumque Magorum;” and which was accordingly printed, under his inspection, and with his corrections, at the Clarendon press at Oxford, in 4to, in 1760. Mr. Costard’s extensive learning having now recommended him to the notice of lord Chancellor Northington, he obtained, by the favour of that nobleman, in June 1764, the vicarage of Twickenham, in Middlesex, in which situation he continued till his death. The same year he published, in 4to, “The use of Astronomy in history and chronology, exemplified in an inquiry into the fall of the stone into the Ægospotamos, said to be foretold by Anaxagoras in which is attempted to be shewn, that Anaxagoras did not foretell the fall of that stone, but the solar eclipse in the first year of the Peloponnesian war. That what he saw was a comet, at the time of the battle of Salamis: and that this battle was probably fought the year before Christ 478; or two years later than it is commonly fixed by chronologers.

In 1767, he published, in one volume 4to, “The History of Astronomy, with its application to geography, history, and chronology; occasionally exemplified by the globes,” chiefly intended for the use of students, and containing a distinct view of the several improvements made in geography and astronomy, at what time, and by whom, the principal discoveries have been made in geography and astronomy, how each discovery has paved the wav to what followed, and by what easy steps, through the revolution of so many ages, these very useful sciences have advanced towards their present state of perfection. The following year he published, in 4 to, “Astronomical and philological conjectures on a passage in Homer:” but these conjectures appear to be fanciful and ill grounded. About this time a correspondence took place between the learned Jacob Bryant, esq. and Mr. Costard, concerning the. land of Goshen, which was afterwards published by Mr. Nichols, in his “Miscellaneous Tracts by Mr. Bowyer.” We do not find | that from this period our author printed any work for some years; but in 1778, he published, in 8vo, “A Letter to Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, esq. containing some remarks on his Preface to the code of Gentoo laws.” This appears to have been the last of his publications; and its object was, to invalidate Mr. Halhed‘ s opinion concerning the great antiquity of the Gentoo laws, and to refute the notion which had been adopted by several writers, drawn from the observation of natural phenomena, that the world is far more ancient than it is represented to be by the Hebrew chronology. Mr. Costard died on the 10th of January 1782, and was buried on the South side of Twickenham church-yard, but without any monument or inscription, agreeably to his own desire *. He was a man of uncommon learning, and eminently skilled in Grecian and oriental literature; but upon the whole dealt too much in conjectures, and appears to have been possessed of more erudition than judgment. His private character was amiable, and he was much respected in the neighbourhood in which he lived for his humanity and benevolence. From some passages in his writings, he appears to have been strongly attached to the interests of public freedom. He had a great veneration for the ancient Greeks; of whom he says, that “’Tis to the happy genius of that once glorious people, and that people alone, that we owe all that can properly be styled astronomy.” And in another place, he says of the Greeks, that “their public spirit and love of liberty claim both our admiration and imitation. How far the sciences suffer where oppression, superstition, and arbitrary power prevail, that once glorious nation affords at this day too melancholy a proof.” Mr. Costard’s library, oriental manuscripts, and philosophical instruments, were sold by auction by Mr. Samuel Paterson, in March, 1782. 1


Biog Brit. Nichols’s Bowyer. Ironside’s Twickenham, and —Gent. Mag. LXXV. with a characteristic portrait. la the Phil. Trans, are some papers not enumerated above.