Birkhead, Henry (DNB00)

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BIRKHEAD, HENRY (1617?–1696) Latin poet, was born in the parish of St. Gregory, near St. Paul's Cathedral. Aubrey (Tanner MS. 24, f. 159) states that he was born in 1617, 'at the Paul's Head, which his father kept,' but Wood fixes the date of his birth four years earlier. Having been educated in grammar learning by the most famous schoolmaster of that time, Thomas Farnabie, he became a commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in Midsummer term 1633, and was admitted scholar on 28 May 1635. Induced by the persuasions of a Jesuit, he shortly afterwards entered the college of St. Omer. But he soon abandoned Romanism, and in 1638, by the influence of Archbishop Laud, was elected fellow of All Souls, being then bachelor of arts, 'and esteemed a good philologist,' After taking his master's degree (5 June 1641), he devoted himself to the study of law. In May 1643 he submitted to the authority of the visitors appointed by parliament. In 1653 he was allowed by the delegates of the university to propose a dispensation in convocation for taking the degree of doctor of physic by accumulation, provided that he should perform the necessary exercises; but it is uncertain whether he took the degree. He resigned his fellowship in 1657, and at the Restoration became registrar of the diocese of Norwich, an office which he continued to hold until 1681. He also had a chamber in the Middle Temple, where he frequently resided. In 1645 he issued at Oxford a quarto volume of 'Poemata,' printed for private circulation. In 1656 appeared 'Poematia in Elegiaca, Iambica, Polymetra Antitechnemata et Metaphrases membratim quadripertita,' Oxonii, 8vo. He joined with Henry Stubbe, of Christ Church, in publishing another volume of Latin verse in the same year, 'Otium Literatum sive Miscellanea quaedam Poemata ab H. Birchead et H. Stubbe edita,' Oxon., 16mo. A second edition of this little volume appeared in 1658. Birkhead also edited, with a preface, some philological works of Henry Jacob in 1652; and wrote several Latin elegies, 'scatteredly printed in various books, under the covert letters sometimes of H. G.,' to persons who had suffered for their devotion to Charles I. An unpublished allegorical play by Birkhead, 'The Female Rebellion,' is preserved among the Tanner MSS. (466); it has little merit. In 1643 there was published at Oxford a collection of 'Verses on the death of the right valiant Sir Bevill Grenvill, knight. Who was slaine by the rebells, on Lansdowne-hill neare Bath, July 5, 1643,' 4to. Birkhead was one of the contributors to this collection, which included elegies by Jasper Mayne, William Cartwright, Dudley Digges, and others. Forty-one years afterwards, in 1684, the collection was reprinted, and Henry Birkhead, the only survivor with one exception of the thirteen contributors, addressed a long 'Epistle Dedicatory' to the Earl of Bath, son of Sir Bevill Grenvill. Wood vaguely says that after the Restoration he 'lived ... in a retired and scholastical condition,' adding that he 'was always accounted an excellent Latin poet, a good Grecian, and well vers'd in all human learning.' He died on Michaelmas Eve, 1696, and was buried at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. The professorship of poetry at Oxford was founded in 1708 from funds bequeathed by Birkhead.

[Tanner MS. 24, f. 159; Wood's Athenae Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, iv. 573-4; Wood's Hist. and Antiquities of the University of Oxford, ed. Gutch, ii. 434; Martin's Archives of All Souls, 381; Burrows's Register of the Visitors of the University of Oxford, 1647-58 (Camden Society), pp. 43, 117; Hazlitt's Handbook; Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica, ii. 285-8.]

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