Wild, Henry

, a tailor, who, from an extraordinary love of study, became a professor of the Oriental languages, was born in the city of Norwich about 1684, where he was educated at a grammar-school till he was almost qualified for the university; but his friends, wanting fortune and interest to maintain him there, bound him apprentice to a tailor, with whom he served seven years, and afterwards worked seven years more as a journeyman. About the end of the last seven years, he was seized with a fever and ague, which continued with him two or three years, and at last reduced him so low as to disable him from working at his trade. In this situation he amused himself with some old books of controversial divinity, in which he found great stress laid on the Hebrew original of several texts of scripture; and, though he had almost lost the learning he had obtained at school, his strong desire of knowledge excited him to attempt to make himself master of that language. He was at first obliged to make use of an English Hebrew grammar and lexicon; but, by | degrees, recovered the knowledge of the Latin tongue, which he had learned at school. On the recovery of his health, he divided his time between his business and his studies, xvhich last employed the greatest part of his nights. Thus, self-taught, and assisted only by his great genius, he, "by dint of continual application, added to the knowledge of the Hebrew that of all or most of the oriental Ianguages, but still laboured in obscurity, till at length he was accidentally discovered. The worthy Dr. Prideaux, dean of Norwich, being offered some Arabic manuscripts in parchment, by a bookseller of that city, thinking, perhaps, that the price demanded for them was too great, declined buying them; but, soon after, Mr. Wild hearing of them, purchased them; and the dean, on calling at the shop and inquiring for the manuscripts, was informed of their being sold. Chagrined at this disappointment, he asked of the bookseller the name and profession of the person who had bought them; and, being told he was a tailor, he bad him instantly to run and fetch them, if they were riot cut in pieces to make measures: but he was soon relieved from his fears by Mr. Wild’s appearance with the manuscripts, though, on the dean’s inquiring whether he would part with them, he answered in the negative. The dean then asked hastily what he did with them: he replied, that he read them. He was desired to read them, which he did. He was then bid to render a passage or two into English, which he readily performed, and with great exactness. Amazed at this, the dean, partly at his own expence, and partly by a subscription raised among persons whose inclinations led them to this kind of knowledge, sent him to Oxford; where, though he was never a member of the university, he was by the dean’s interest admitted into the Bodleian library, and employed for some, years in translating or making extracts out of Oriental manuscripts, and thus bad adieu to his needle. This appears to have been some time before 1718. At Oxford, he was known by the name of the Arabian tailor. He constantly attended the library all the hours it was open, and, when it was shut, employed most of his leisure-time in teaching the Oriental languages to young gentlemen, at the moderate price of half a guinea a lesson, except for the Arabic, for which he had a guinea, and his subscriptions for teaching amounted to no more than 20 or 30l. a year. Unhappily for him, the branch of learning in which he | excelled was cultivated but by few; and the reverend Mr. Gagnier, a Frenchman, skilled in the Oriental tongues, was in possession of all the favours the university could Bestow in this way, being recommended by the heads of colleges to instruct young gentlemen, and employed by the professors of these languages to read public lectures in their absence.

Mr. Wild’s person was thin and meagre, and his stature moderately tall. He had an extraordinary memory; and, as his pupils frequently invited him to spend an evening with them, he would often entertain them with long and curious details out of the Roman, Greek, and Arabic, histories. His morals were good; he was addicted to no vice, but was sober, temperate, modest, and diffident of himself, without the least tincture of vanity. About 1720 he removed to London, where he spent the remainder of his life under the patronage of Dr. Mead. When he died is not known, but in 1734, which is supposed to have been after his death, was published his translation from the Arabic of “Mahomet’s Journey to Heaven,” which is the only piece of his that was ever printed. The writer of his life informs us that it was once suspected that he was a Jesuit in disguise, but for this there appears to have been no foundation. Before he went to Oxford, we have the following notice respecting him in a letter from Dr. Turner to Dr. Charlett, dated Norwich, March 4, 1714. “A taylor of this town, of about thirty years of age, ha within seven years, mastered seven languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldaic, Syriac, Arabic, and Persic. Mr. Professor Ockley being here since Christmas has examined him, and given him an ample testimonial in writing of his skill in the Oriental languages. Our dean also thinks him very extraordinary. But he is very poor, and his landlord lately seized a Polyglot Bible (which he had made shift to purchase) for rent. But there is care taken to clear his debts, and if a way could be thought of to make him more useful, I believe we could get a subscription towards part of his maintenance.” This we find by the above narrative was accordingly done. 1


Gent. Mag. vol. XXV.~-“Letters by Eminent Persons,” 3 vols. 8vo. 1811.