Burley, Walter (DNB00)
|←Burley, Simon||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07
BURLEY, WALTER (1275–1345?), commentator on Aristotle in the fourteenth century, was born in the year 1274 or 1275 (Todd, Catalogue of Lambeth MSS, No. 143). It seems more probable that he was, as Bale states, a secular priest than a Franciscan, as the ‘Bibliotheca Universalis Franciscana’ and Bass Mullinger assert him to have been, or an Augustinian as Gandulphus reports on the authority of Burley’s contemorary, Alphonso Vargas, archbishop of Seville. For Leland (Collectanea, iii. 54) gives his name among a list of the fellows of Merton in the days of Edward I; and there are reasons for believing him to have been a beneficed priest in the later years of his life.
According to Holinshed, Walter Burley was a kinsman of Sir Simon Burley [q. v.], and hence was a member of the Herefordshire family of that name. He studied at Merton College, Oxford, whence he removed to Paris, where he had William of Ockham for a fellow-student and Duns Scotus for a teacher. Duns is generally supposed to have been in Paris from 1304 to 1307 (C. Werner, Die Scholastik des späteren Mittelalters, Bd. i. 8, 9). Stow tells us, without giving any authority, that Burley also studied in Germany, where he seems to have been a protégé of the Archbishop of Ulm, to whom in his old age, according to Gandulphus, he dedicated his shorter treatise on the ‘Ethics' (cf. Stow, Harl. MS 5415, and Holinshed, iii. 414). It would seem from Stow's account that Burley was still abroad when his fame reached the ears of the young Princess Philippa of Hainault, who appointed him her almoner before coming to England in December 1327. In the early months of the same year (1327) we gather from Rymer that he was despatched on a special mission to the papal court for the purpose of pleading for the canonisation of Edward III's cousin, Thomas of Lancaster; and again in 1330, on which occasion he is styled ‘Professor Sacræ Paginæ.’ Wood makes him die in 1337 (Hist. Oxon. ii. 87), and this statement is repeated in a note to one of Burley’s manuscripts in the British Museum (Royal MS. 12 B xix.) This, however, is probably only a false inference from the passage in the treatise on Aristotle referred to above (Lambeth MS. 143), and Tanner may be right in his conjecture that Burley survived till 1345. Holinshed tells us that he was appointed tutor to the Black Prince when the young Edward was of an age ‘to learne his booke’ (cf. Harl. MS. 545, ff. 128-9). While acting in this capacity, he adds, Burley introduced his little kinsman, Simon, though the prince's junior by some six years, to the notice of his young charge. These events cannot well have been anterior to 1342, and Walter may perhaps have owed his new post to the influence of Richard de Bury, at this time bishop of Durham (1333-45), who had himself been tutor to Edward III. Chambre assures us that Burley was one of this relate‘s most intimate friends, a fact which renders it very probable that the Walter Burley whose name occurs as prebendary of Shalford in the diocese of Wells when Richard de Bury held this deanery (1332) was the Aristotelean commentator (Le Neve, ii. 151, 199). In the household of the Bishop of Durham he must have made die acquaintance of Richard Fitz-Ralph, the future archbishop of Dublin, and ThomasBradwardine, like himself a fellow of Merton and soon to be archbishop of Canterbury. Tanner identifies him with a Walter de Burle who in August 134l became rector of Glemsford in exchange for Pighteslee in the diocese of Lincoln. Later (June 1342) Glemsford was resigned for Ashsted in the see of Winchester. Again, according to the same authority, still voting from the episcopal registers (Norwich), a certain Walter de Burley appears in 1345 begging to be appointed archdeacon of Richmond, but is refused on the plea that the office has already been filled up, whether this identification is right or not, Burley was certainly alive later than 1337, as he wrote his treatise on Aristotle's ‘Politics’ at the request of Richard Bentworth, bishop of London (1338-9), who was not consecrated till July 1338.
Burley is credited with having written 130 treatises on Aristotle alone, and great numbers of his manuscripts are still extant in various libraries at Oxford (Bodleian, Balliol, Oriel, New, Magdalen, &c.), Cambridge (Caius and Gonville, Peterhouse, &c.) and London (British Museum and Lambeth). His principal works are treatises on Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ (dedicated to Richard of Bury) and ‘Politics;’ on Aristotle`s ‘Topica’ (Merton, 295); ‘Problemata’ (Magdalen, 146); ‘Meteora’ (Ball. 93) and ‘The Organon;’ commentaries on Porphyry, Gilbert de la Porée, and many other works of Aristotle. Other treatises of some interest are ‘Expositio super Averroem de substantia orbis,’ and another ‘De fluxu et refluxu maris Anglicani,’ both of which are to be found in Oriel College library. The most interesting of Burley’s writings is a small volume entitled ‘De Vita et Moribus Philosophorum,’ first published by Ulric Zell, probably at Cologne in 1467. This work, the first of its kind, consists of short lives, together with illustrative anecdotes and opinions of some 120 poets and philosophers ranging from Thales, Zoroaster, and Homer to Priscian and Seneca. Though full of errors, as for example where Burley confounds Livius Andronicus with Livy the historian, and Horatius Flaccus with Horatius Pulvillus, this work soon achieved an immense popularity, especially abroad. Graesse reckons up some dozen separate editions in the latter half of the fifteenth century alone. Others of the same and later date may he discovered by comparison with Gandulphus, Kaim, &c. It was translated into Italian in 1475 (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 17523) and issued in a German dress by Anthony Sorg at Nuremberg in 1490. A curious history is attached to this work. Despite the number of times it had been reprinted in the fifteenth century, Bernard Grossus reproduced it in 1603 at the instance of a certain lawyer Antonius a Sala, who had the impudence to claim the work as his own (Labbe, Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum, ed. 1682, p. 27).
Hain reckons up nearly twenty separate editions of Burley’s philosophical treatises, all published before the close of the fifteenth century; including eight of the commentary on Porphyry, &c., printed chiefly at Venice; two of that on Aristotle’s ‘Logic;’ five on the ‘Physics;’ one of the ‘De Intentione et remissione formarum;’ one of the ‘Tractatus de materia et forma’ (Oxford, 1500); two of the ‘Ethics’ (Venice), &c. Early in the sixteenth century (1517-18), the two last-mentioned works were among the earliest books printed at Oxford (Wood, Annals, ed. Gutch, i. 625). Voss mentions among the writings of Burley a certain historical work, which may perhaps be the work to which Plot and Caius make reference in their disquisition on the origin of Oxford. But, in any case, it appears now to be lost.
Burley seems to have acquired an immense fame during his own lifetime. Even so far off as in Spain his contemporary Alphonso de Vargas, archbishop of Seville (fl. 1345), quotes from the ‘De Intentione.’ Gandulphus reports that in his old age he dedicated a compendium of his larger work on the ‘Ethics’ to Richard, bishop of Ulm, a statement which goes far towards corroborating Holinshed's account of his residence in Suabia. He had friends and scholars in Paris to whom he dedicated his treatise on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’ (Coxe, Calalogue of All Souls, 86). One copy of Burley’s ‘Ethics,’ still existing, belonged to a Suabian Jew at least as early as the fifteenth century; another was copied by a clerk in Lower Germany in 1424, and a third copy of a different commentary in 1453. Then came the day of his translation into Italian and German; and before the century closed be was cited by Pico della Mirandula in his famous nine hundred conclusions. At Oxford, a few years before the Reformation, his ‘Ethics’ and ‘Tractatus de Materia’ seem to have been text-books in the schools (Wood, Annals, ed. Gutch, i. 625); and, as such, are attacked by the royal injunction of 1535 which bids students substitute Aristotle for ‘the frivolous questions of Scotus, Burleus, &c.’ (Mullinger).
As a philosopher Burley is said to have been in later years a strong opponent of Duns Scotus, whose pupil he had been in earlier days. On the other hand, he is said to have been an antagonist of his once fellow-pupil, William of Ockham (cf. Bale, 411, with Mullinger, History of Cambridge, 197). M. Renan reckons him as an Averroist, and notices a tendency to supplant Aristotle by the Arabian commentator; while M. Hauréau quotes rival authorities for regarding him as a realist or a nominalist, but at the same time distinctly states that on certain points he is a ‘dogmatical realist.’ These conflicting opinions may be due to the fact that Burley did not always hold the same views, as may perhaps be inferred from the common report that be was once the pupil, and later the opponent, of Duns Scotus. M. Hauréau adds that ‘his style is particularly clear. Never proposing anything new, he has no need to make long discourses, and hisstatements are generally very precise. For a schoolman he is a good writer.’
[Leland’s Catalogue, 354, Collectanea, iii. 54; Bale’s Catalogus Script. Brit. 411; Pits’s Relationes. 435; Tanner’s Bibl. Brit. 141; Gandulphus de Scriptoribus Augustinianis, 141-4; Holinshed’s Chronicles, iii. 414; Rymer's Fœdera, iv, 269, 422; Voss, De Historicis Latinis, 515; Bibliotheca Universalis Franciscana; Wharton’s Appendix to Cave’s Script. Eccles. ii. 35; Coxe’s Catalogue of Oxford College MSS.; Coxe’s Catalogue of Bodleian MSS. iii. 231, 826; De Chambre’s Cont. Hist. Dunelm. ap. Wharton’s Anglia Sacra, i. 766; Caius, De Antiquitatibus Cantabrig. 191, 192; Wood’s History and Antiquities, 1676, ii. 87; Wood’s Colleges and Halls, ed. Gutch, i. 514, 625, &c.; Labbe’s Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum, Leipzig, 1682, p. 27; Le Neve’s Fasti, ed. Hardy; Hain's Repert. Bibliog. i. 574-8; Panzer’s Ann. Typog. v. 119, x. 204-5; Lowndes’s Bibliographer’s Manual, pt. i. 317; Dibdin’s Bibliotheca Spenceriana, iii. 229-32; Graesse’s Trésor des Livres Rares, i. For a sketch of Burley’s philosophical opinions the following works may be consulted:—Renan’s Averroes, 3rd ed. 320; Hauréau’s Histoire da la Philosophie Scolastique, pt. ii. vol. ii. pp. 443-4; Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie, viii. 906-8; Brucker, iii. 856; Rixner’s Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, ii. 147-9; Tiedemann’s Geschichte der spekulativen Philosophie, v. 215-27; Albert Stoeckl’s Geschichte der Philosophie der Mittelalters, ii. 1041-4; Prandtl, iii. 297-306.]