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ISAAC BARROW, D. D.
In the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, is a heavy tablet, surmounted by a clerical bust of this eminent man, which, though neither a fine nor a pleasing performance, is yet strikingly expressed, and in all probability a faithful likeness. A well written inscription, in Latin, recapitulates the various appointments he filled, from which the following are the more interesting passages :
Chaplain to Charles II. A man almost divine, and truly great, if greatness be comprised In piety, probity and faith, the deepest learning, equal modesty, And morals, in every respect, sanctified and sweet.
* * * * * *
Born for greater ends,
He despised not, but resigned to the world :
Wanting little, and benefiting many;
Go, reader, and emulate them.
Isaac Barrow was born in the city of London during the year 1630. His father carried on a respectable business as a linendraper, and his first rudiments of knowledge were imbibed at the Charter-House, at which he was principally noted for pugilistic contests and confirmed idleness. From this establishment he was removed to a school at Felsted, in Essex, where some promise of his future studiousness was elicited from him, and he improved so much to his master's satisfaction, that he was appointed to act as a tutor. In due time, he was entered as a pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge: he obtained a scholarship in 1647, and enjoyed a very flattering prospect of preferment from the influence of his uncle and namesake, the Bishop of St. Asaph. The University, however, soon participated in the distractions of the country, and this prelate was ejected for his presbyterian antipathies from Peter-House College. Isaac's father, about the same time, suffered severe losses for his attachment to the royal cause; and the student became so much embarrassed, that he was obliged to stand indebted for his support to the generosity of Dr. Hammond. Although positively devoted to the principles upon which his family acted, yet such was the amiableness of his temper, and the respect already entertained for his attainments, that he was permitted to live undisturbed ; and this indulgence was even continued after a formal refusal to subscribe to the covenant; nay, so powerfully did his merits continue to force themselves upon the heads of his college, that in 1649 he was elected a fellow. Above this honour, however, he seems to have considered the dominant opinions in church and state to be too firmly rooted for him to expect any preferment, as he now turned his thoughts to the medical profession. With the view of qualifying himself for practice, he studied the sciences of anatomy, botany, and chemistry to a considerable depth; but upon a more mature deliberation abandoned the idea, and returned to the pursuits of divinity and mathematics. In 1652 he graduated as Master of Arts at Oxford, and was soon after recommended to the University of Cambridge by Dr. Duport, for his successor to the Greek professorship. A suspicion of Arianism occasioned his rejection from this rank; and at last, as if wearied with disappointments, he determined to travel on the Continent. Accordingly, selling his books to raise a fund for the undertaking, he set out in 1605, and almost immediately after his departure, an edition of Euclid, which was his first work, issued from the Cambridge press. After passing through France and Italy, he set sail for Smyrna, and was attacked on his passage by an Algerine Corsair. A fight ensued between the two ships, during which Barrow pricked up the dormant spirit of battle, for which his boyhood was remarkable, and stood manfully to his gun until the enemy were beaten off. From Smyrna he repaired to Constantinople, and spent a year in studying, with enthusiasm, the works of St. Chrysostom, on the spot where they were originally composed. At last turning his steps homeward, by the roads of Germany and Holland, he reached England in 1659.
A rich harvest of appointments now compensated for the mortifications by which his ambition had been hitherto repressed. In 1660 he celebrated the restoration of the monarchy and constitution in a Latin ode, and was about the same time episcopally ordained by Bishop Brownrigg. In this year he was raised to the post of his former ambition, the Greek professorship at Cambridge, without competition, and made Aristotle's Rhetoric the subject of his first course of lectures. Another preferment awaited his acceptance in 1662, when, at the recommendation of Bishop Wilkins, he was chosen professor of geometry at Gresham College, in London, where, in consequence of the absence of the gentleman appointed to that duty, he also lectured for a time on astronomy. '
The ensuing year is memorable for the incorporation of the Royal Society, among the first members of which Bishop Barrow was enrolled a member.
But the summit of his scientific promotions took place in the course of this year, when upon the foundation of Mr. Lucas's Mathematical Chair, at Cambridge, he was appointed to discharge its honours. At his inauguration he pronounced an oration upon the use and excellence of mathematical science, of which the brilliancy and information excited an intense admiration. Upon this occasion he resigned his Greek and Gresham Professorships, and continued to devote himself exclusively to the functions of this trust with the highest excellence, 'until the year 1669, when he relinquished the station in favour of Sir Isaac Newton; and after publishing his Lectiones Opticæ, finally quitted the depths of science for the disquisitions of divinity.
Similar success attended Barrow in this change of studies, and offices as numerous and of equal distinction and influence marked the esteem in which his labours were held. Already a King's Chaplain, in 1670 he was created a Doctor in Divinity by mandate; and in 1672 nominated to the mastership of Trinity College by the King, who accompanied the promotion with a declaration of bestowing upon it the best scholar in England. Dr. Barrow was a man delicate in conscience, and scrupulous in action, to a point of correctness, such as we are not often called upon to approve. At a former, and less prosperous period of his life, he had refused an incumbency, because the patron of it wished to secure his talents as tutor to his son, in return for the giftan undertaking which he deemed simoniacal; and now, with equal virtue, he had a clause of'marriage erased from his patent, because he found upon examination, that such a license was at variance with the intentions of the founder. In this new station, the same zeal and disinterestedness which had distinguished his conduct in all his former appointments, were still enviably displayed; he excused the college from the charge of many expenses to which it had been usually subjected on the master's account, and in particular refused to allow it to keep a coach for his convenience. The most memorable act of his administration was the foundation of the King's Library-a royal undertaking; after which, the Vice-chancellorship of the University becoming vacant, his talents and virtues were lifted to a rank which they were so eminently fitted to adorn. This event took place in 1675, and was the highest of his attainments; for the credit and utility anticipated from his exertions were here cut short by a fever, which terminated his life in London, during the month of May, 1677.
In science, Dr. Barrow has been placed only second to Newton; while, in divinity, he is acknowledged to have laid the foundation of all that has been since written on the subject. Charles II. used to call him, in good-natured irony, the unfuir preacher, because, by exhausting the topics of his sermons, he left nothing for others to add after him. Of his works in science, the principal aré Euclid's Elements, already mentioned, and remarkable for the conciseness of the demonstrations ; Euclid's Data, published in 8vo. at Cambridge, 1657; and in 1669, eighteen Optical Lectures, delivered in the public schools of Cambridge, printed at London, in 4to.-a book subsequently revised and enlarged by Newton, and still preserved in high esteem. In 1670, he gave in 4to. from the London press, Thirteen Geometrical Lectures, in which the general properties of curved lines are particularly expounded ; and in 1675, another 4to. containing the works of Archimedes, four books of the Conics of Apollonius, and Theodosius on Spheres, newly illustrated. These were the only works by Dr. Barrow that appeared during his life-time; they are all written in Latin, and were followed soon after his death by a “Lecture on Archimedes' Theorems of the Sphere and Cylinder,” and an octavo volume of Mathematical Lectures, both in the same language.
Dr. Barrow's theological works were all bequeathed in manuscript to Bishop Tillotson, who edited them in 3 vols. folio, during the year 1686, since when they have been frequently republished in a more convenient form. They comprise Sermons, Expositions of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Doctrine of the Sacraments, as well as Treatises on the Supremacy of the Pope, and the Unity of the Church; all distinguished by a profound copiousness of thought, and though occasionally laboured in the style, yet abounding with passages of singular greatness and simplicity.
Dr. Barrow is described by his contemporaries as a man despising the forms of worldly society to such an extreme, that his attire and personal appearance generally formed a caricature of the slovenly scholar. The unfavourableness of such habits was still more increased by the shortness of his figure, and a natural poverty of countenance.; but these are inferior considerations of a mind so highly gifted, particularly when the modesty of his manners and the amiableness of his disposition are remembered. While his circumstances were limited, he was remarkable for charity; and as his estate flourished, he was conspicuous for disinterestedness: he was serene in every stage of his fortunes, and always united the warmth of the divine with the calmness of the philosopher. Notwithstanding the prosperity of his latter days, he had little other property to bequeath than his library and his manuscripts, which, with his former works, have borne him the more valuable interest of placing his name among the prominent ornaments of his age and country.