Wood, Anthony

, an eminent English antiquary and biographer, was the son of Thomas Wood, bachelor of arts and of the civil law; and was born at Oxford, December 17, 1632. He was sent to New-college school in that city | in 1641; and three years after removed to the free-school at Thame in Oxfordshire, where he continued till his admission at Merton, 1647. His mother in Tain endeavoured to prevail on him to follow some trade or profession; his prevailing turn was to antiquity: “heraldry, music, and painting, he says, did so much crowd upon him, that he could not avoid them; and he could never give a reason why he should delight in those studies more than others; so prevalent was nature, mixed with a generosity of mind, and a hatred to all that was servile, sneaking, or advantatageous, for lucre-sake.” He took the degree of B.A. 1652, and M.A. in 1655, As he resided altogether at Oxford, he perused all the evidences of the several colleges and churches, from which he compiled his two great worts, and assisted all who were engaged in the like designs; at the same time digesting and arranging all the papers he perused; thus doing the cause of antiquity a double service. His drawings preserved many things which soon after were destroyed. In 1665, he began to lay the foundation of “Historia & Antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis;” which was published in 1674, in 2 vols. folio. The first contains the antiquities of the university in general, and the second those of the particular colleges. This work was written by the author in English, and so well esteemed that the university procured it to be translated into Latin, the language in which it was published. The author spent eight years about it, and was, as we are told, at the pains to extract it from the bowels of antiquity. Of the Latin translation, Wood himself has given an account. He tells us, that Dr. Fell, having provided one Peers, a bachelor of arts of Christ-church, to translate it, sent to him for some of the English copy, and set the translator to work; who, however, was some time before he could make a version to his mind. “But at length having obtained the knack,” says Wood, “he went forward with the work; yet all the proofs, that came from the press, went through the doctor’s hands, which he would correct, alter, or dash out, or put in what he pleased; which created a great deal of trouble to the composer and author, but there was no help. He was a great man, and carried all things at his pleasure so much, that many looked upon the copy as spoiled and vitiated by him. Peers was a sullen, dogged, clownish, and perverse, fellow; and when he saw the author concerned at the altering of his copy, he would alter it the more, and | study to put things in that might vex him, and yet please his dean, Dr. Fell.” And he afterwards complains, how “Dr. Fell, who printed the book at his own charge, took so much liberty of putting in and out what he pleased, that the author was so far from dedicating or presenting the book to any one, that he would scarcely own it.” Among the “Genuine Remains of Barlow, bishop of Lincoln, published by sir Peter Pett in 1693,” 8vo, are two letters of that prelate, relating to this work. In the first letter we have the following passage: “What you say of our late antiquities is too true. We are alarmed by many letters, not only of false Latin, but false English too, and many bad characters cast on good men; especially on the Anti-Arminians, who are all made seditious persons, schismatics, if not heretics: nay, our first reformers are made fanatics. This they tell me; and our judges of assize, now in town, say no less^. I have not read one leaf of the book yet; but I see I shajl be necessitated to read it over, that I may with my own eyes see the faults, and (so far as I am able) endeavour the mending of them. Nor do I know any other way but a new edition, with a real correction of all faults; and a declaration, that those miscarriages cannot justly be imputed to the university, as indeed they cannot, but to the passion and imprudence, if not impiety, of one or two, who betrayed the trust reposed in them in the managing the edition of that book.” In the second letter, after taking notice that the translation was made by the order and authority of the dean of Christ-church; that not only the Latin, but the history itself, is in many things ridiculously false; and then producing passages as proofs of both; he concludes thus: “Mr. Wood, the compiler of those antiquities, was himself too favourable to papists; and has often complained to me, that at Christ-church some things were put in which neither were in his original copy nor approved by him. The truth is, not only th Latin, but also the matter of those antiquities, being erroneous in several things, may prove scandalous, and give our adversaries some occasion to censure, not only the university, but the church of England and our reformation. Sure I am, that the university had no hand in composing or approving those antiquities; and therefore the errors which are in them cannot de jure be imputed to the university, but must lie upon Christ-church and the composer of them.” This work, however, is now in a great measure | rescued from misapprehension by the publication of Wood’s ms. in English by the rev. John Gutch, 3 vols. 4to.

Mr. Wood afterwards undertook his more important work, which was published in 1691, folio; and a second edition in 1721. folio, with this title: “Athenæ Oxonienses. An exact history of all the writers and bishops who have had their education in the most ancient and famous university of Oxford, from the fifteenth year of king Henry the seventh, A.D. 1500, to the author’s death in November, 1695; representing the birth, fortune, preferment, and death of all those authors and prelates, the great accidents of their lives, and the fate and character of their writings. To which are added, the Fasti, or annals of the skid university. In two volumes. The second edition, very much corrected and enlarged; with the addition of above 500 new lives from the author’s original manuscript.” Impartiality and veracity being qualities so essential in an historian, that all other qualities without them cannot make a history good for any thing, Wood has taken some pains to prove, that these great qualities were not wanting in him; and for that purpose thought it expedient to prefix to his work the following curious account of himself. “As to the author himself,” says he, “he is a person who delights to converse more with the dead than with the living, and has neither interest with, nor inclination to flatter or disgrace, any man, or any community of men, of whatever denomination. He is such a universal lover of all mankind, that he could wish there was such a standing measure of merit and honour agreed upon among them all, that there might be no cheat put upon readers and writers in the business of commendations. But, since every one will have a double balance herein, one for himself and his own party, and another for his adversary and dissenters, all he can do is, to, amass and bring together what every side thinks will make best weight for themselves. Let posterity hold the scales and judge accordingly; suu m cuique decus. posteritas rependat. To conclude: the reader is desired to know, that this Herculean labour had been more proper for a head or fellow of a college, or for a public professor or officer of the most noble university of Oxford to have undertaken and consummated, than the author, who never enjoyed any place or office therein, or can justly say that he hath eaten the bread of any founder. Also, that it had been a great deal more fit for one who pretends to be a virtuoso, and to | know all men, and all things that are transacted; or for one who frequents much society in common rooms, at public fires, in coffee-houses, assignations, clubs, &c. where the characters of men and their works are frequently discussed; but the author, alas! is so far from frequenting such company and topics, that he is as it were dead to the world, and utterly unknown in person to the generality of scholars in Oxon. He is likewise so great an admirer of a solitary and retired life, that he frequents no assemblies of the said university, hath no companion in bed or at board, in his studies, walks, or journeys; nor holds communication with any, unless with some, and those very few, of generous and noble spirits, that have in some measure been promoters and encouragers of this work: and, indeed, all things considered, he is but a degree different from an ascetic, as spending all or most of his time, whether by day or night, in reading, writing, and divine contemplation. However, l>e presumes, that, the less his company and acquaintance is, the more impartial his endeavours -will appear to the ingenious and learned, to whose judgments only he submits them and himself.

But, as unconnected as Wood represents himself with all human things and persons, it is certain that he had his prejudices and attachments, and strong ones too, for certain notions and systems; and these prejudices and attachments will always be attended with partialities for or against those who shall be found to favour or oppose such notions or systems. They had their influence upon Wood, who, though he always spoke to the best of his judgment, and often with great truth and exactness, yet sometimes gave way to prejudice and prepossession. Among other, freedoms, he took some with the earl of Clarendon, their late chancellor, which exposed him to the censure of the university. He had observed in the life of judge Glynne, that “after the restoration of Charles II. he was made his eldest serjeant at law, by the corrupt dealing of the then chancellor,” who was the earl of Clarendon: for which expression, chiefty, the succeeding earl preferred an action in the vice-chancellor’s court against him for defamation of his deceased father. The issue of the process was a hard judgement given against the defendant; which, to be made the more public, was put into the Gazette in these words: “Oxford, July 31, 1693. On the-29th instant, Anthony Wood was condemned in the | vice-chancellor’s court of the university of Oxford, for having written and published, in the second volume of his book, entitled `Athense Oxonienses,‘ divers infamous libels against the right honourable Edward late earl of Clarendon, lord high chancellor of England, and chancellor of the said university; and was therefore banished the said university, until such time as he shall subscribe such a public recantation as the judge of the court shall approve of, and give security not to offend in the like nature for the future: and his said book was therefore also decreed to be burnt before the public theatre; and on this day it was burnt accordingly, and public programmas of his expulsion are already affixed in the three usual places.” An historian who has recorded this censure says, that it was the more grievous to the blunt author, because it seemed to come from a party of men whom he had the least disobliged. His bitterness had been against the Dissenters; but of all the zealous Churchmen he had given characters with a singular turn of esteem and affection. Nay, of the Jacobites, and even of Papists themselves, he had always t spoken the most favourable things; and therefore it was really the greater mortification to him, to feel the storm coming from a quarter where he thought he least deserved, and might least expect it. For the same reason, adds the historian, this correction was some pleasure to the Presbyterians, who believed there was a rebuke due to him, which they themselves were not able to pay. Wood was animadverted upon likewise by Burnet, in his “Letter to the bishop of Litchfield and Coventry, concerning a book of Anthony Harmer (alias Henry Wharton), called `A Specimen of some Errors and Defects in the History of the Reformation,’ &c.” upon which, in 1693, he published a vindication of himself, which is reprinted before the second edition of his “Athenæ Oxonienses.

As a collector Mr. Wood deserves highly of posterity indeed we know not any man to whom English biography is so much indebted, although we may allow, at the same time, that he is deficient in judgment and style. His errors, in other respects, have been corrected, and many valuable additions made, from genuine authorities, in the new edition (of which two volumes, quarto, have already been published), by Philip Bliss, Fellow of St. John’s-college.

Mr. Wood died at Oxford Nov. 29, 1695, of a retention of urine, under which he lingered above a fortnight. The | circumstances of his death are recorded in a letter of Dr. Arthur Charlett, rector of University-college, to archbishop Tenison: this letter, which was published by Hearne, in the appendix to his edition of “Johannis Confratris et Monachi Glastoniensis Chronica,” Oxon. 1726, illustrates the character of this extraordinary person, by minutely describing his behaviour at the most important and critical of all seasons. He left his papers and books to the charge of Dr. Charlett, Mr. Bisse, and Mr. (afterwards bishop) Tanner, to be placed in the Ashmolean library. 1


Life written by himself, and other information prefixed to the first volume of Mr. Bliss’s edition, and so copious as to render every other reference unnecessary.