Field, Barron (DNB00)

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FIELD, BARRON (1786–1846), lawyer and miscellaneous writer, second son of Henry Field [q. v.], treasurer to the Apothecaries' Company, by his wife, Esther, daughter of John Barron, was born 23 Oct. 1786. Through his father's intimate connection with Christ's Hospital, and through the fact that his brother Francis John Field was a clerk in the India Office, he became acquainted with Charles Lamb, had a large share in his affections, and was admitted a member of that distinguished cluster of literary men which included Coleridge, Wordsworth, Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt. He was entered on the books of the Inner Temple on 20 June 1809, and was called on 23 June 1814. At this period of his life he supported himself by literature. He contributed several essays to Leigh Hunt's ‘Reflector’ (1811), and among his compilations was an analysis of Blackstone's ‘Commentaries.’ His most lucrative engagement was that of theatrical critic to the ‘Times.’ He had sufficient influence with the proprietors to procure the place of parliamentary reporter for Thomas Barnes [q. v.], and the recruit ultimately obtained the position of editor. Field appreciated English poetry, both ancient and modern; his fondness for Wordsworth's writings was especially marked, and Mr. J. Dykes Campbell possessed a copy of Wordsworth's poems (1815–20, in 3 vols.) which contains Field's book-plate and elaborate variorum readings in his handwriting. He contributed to the ‘Quarterly Review’ for 1810 an article on Dr. Nott's edition of Herrick, and he made a close study of the dramatic works of Heywood. When he had realised the precarious character of literary work and his want of success in the law in England, he secured for himself the post of advocate-fiscal at Ceylon, and then of judge of the supreme court of New South Wales and its dependencies. He embarked at Gravesend on 28 Aug. 1816, with his wife, whom he had just married, and anchored in Sydney harbour on 24 Feb. 1817. His stay in the colony lasted for nearly seven years. He took ship for England on 4 Feb. 1824, and landed at Portsmouth on 18 June. Several articles, including narratives of the incidents on these voyages, were contributed by him to the ‘London Magazine’ (1822–5), and the journals of his voyages were subsequently included in the appendix to the ‘Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales.’ His discharge of his legal duties in New South Wales was marred by some drawbacks. His diligence and professional skill were generally recognised, but he was paid by fees, and this exposed him to the charge, an unjust charge as is acknowledged, of encouraging litigation to augment his income. A more serious error appeared in his readiness to embark in the party squabbles of the colony, which exposed him to the obloquy of his opponents; and when he retired from the presidency of the supreme court the complimentary address of the lawyers did not represent every shade of public opinion. An address which Field delivered to the Agricultural Society of New South Wales, as its president, on 3 July 1823, provoked a printed letter ‘in refutation of the groundless assertions put forth by him to the prejudice of Van Diemen's Land,’ by a colonist named Thomas Kent, who claimed a residence of ten years in the latter colony. Field's intimacy with Charles Lamb is twice shown in the ‘Essays of Elia.’ He was the friend with the initials of ‘B. F.’ who accompanied Lamb and his sister on their visit to ‘Mackery End in Hertfordshire,’ and to him when resident at Sydney was addressed under his initials the essay entitled ‘Distant Correspondents.’ Field returned ‘plump and friendly,’ and he resumed his practice at the bar, but was again driven through want of business into applying for a legal position in the colonies. His next appointment was to the chief-justiceship at Gibraltar, where Benjamin Disraeli called on him in 1830, and has left a disparaging account of his manners. He is pronounced ‘a bore and vulgar, a Storks without breeding; consequently I gave him a lecture on canes which made him stare, and he has avoided me ever since … a noisy, obtrusive, jargonic judge, ever illustrating the obvious, explaining the evident, and expatiating on the commonplace;’ but these harsh expressions of the young man of fashion must be contrasted with the liking of friends, like Crabb Robinson, who had seen many classes of men. Some years later Field returned home and withdrew from the active duties of his profession. He died without issue at Meadfoot House, Torquay, on 11 April 1846. His widow, Jane, daughter of Mr. Cairncross, died at Wimbledon in 1878, aged 86. In Lamb's opinion she was ‘really a very superior woman,’ and on her return from Gibraltar he honoured her with an acrostic. Field's analysis of Blackstone's ‘Commentaries,’ which was published in 1811, was frequently reprinted, and so lately as 1878 was included (ii. 653–709) in an edition of Blackstone which was published by George Sharswood at Philadelphia. The year after he was called to the bar he issued, under the disguise of ‘by a barrister,’ a little pamphlet of ‘Hints to Witnesses in Courts of Justice,’ 1815, which contained some practical advice on the advantages of answering clearly and directly the questions of counsel. His ‘First Fruits of Australian Poetry,’ consisting of two pieces entitled ‘Botany Bay Flowers’ and ‘The Kangaroo,’ was printed for private distribution in 1819 during his residence at Sydney, and was reviewed by Charles Lamb in Leigh Hunt's ‘Examiner’ for 16 Jan. 1820, the review being reprinted in R. H. Shepherd's ‘Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Lamb’ (1875), pp. 768–9, and in ‘Mrs. Leicester's School,’ &c. (Canon Ainger's ed.), pp. 235–7. On his return to England in 1825 he edited a volume of ‘Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales, by various hands.’ In the main portion of this work were comprised two articles by him (1) ‘On the Aborigines of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land,’ pp. 195–229; (2) ‘On the Rivers of New South Wales,’ pp. 299–312, but the appendix contained six more of his papers, including the narratives of his voyages and the ‘First Fruits of Australian Poetry,’ the latter being slightly augmented since their first appearance. His prose passed muster, but his verses did little credit to his literary abilities, and exposed him to an epigram with the obvious taunt that they were the products of a ‘barren field.’ Another legal tract of his composition was passed through the press in 1828; it was called ‘A Vindication of the practice of not allowing the Counsel for Prisoners accused of Felony to make Speeches for them.’ After his final settlement in England he edited for the Shakspere Society (1) The ‘First and Second Parts of King Edward IV Histories,’ by Thomas Heywood, 1842; (2) ‘The True Tragedy of Richard the Third, to which is appended the Latin play of “Richardus Tertius,” by Dr. Thomas Legge,’ 1844; (3) ‘The Fair-Maid of the Exchange, a Comedy,’ by Thomas Heywood; and ‘Fortune by Land and Sea, a Tragi-Comedy,’ by Thomas Heywood and William Rowley, 1846. The study of Heywood's writings was Field's chief pleasure, and it was his intention to have completed the publication of all his works and to have written his memoir. He prefixed an introduction signed ‘B. F.’ to the ‘Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, a Swindler and Thief, now transported to New South Wales for the second time and for life,’ which originally appeared in 1819, was included in Hunt & Clarke's series of autobiographies (vol. xiii. for 1827), and was reissued in 1830. Field wrote in the ‘Reflector’ numerous pieces (signed with three daggers), of which the most remarkable are the communications from a ‘Student of the Inner Temple,’ consisting of anecdotes on bench and bar; he contributed a short but excellent memoir of Charles Lamb to the ‘Annual Biography and Obituary’ of 1836, and he wished to undertake a life of Wordsworth, but the poet begged him to refrain. Three letters to him are among Lamb's correspondence; one from him to Leigh Hunt is printed in the latter's correspondence, and he is occasionally mentioned in Crabb Robinson's ‘Diary,’ which also contains (iii. 246–8) one of his letters to Robinson, written from Torquay in 1844.

[Cussan's Hertfordshire, I. pt. i. 88, II. pt. ii. 239; Gent. Mag. 1846, pt. i. 646; Lamb's Life, Letters, &c. (Fitzgerald's ed.), i. 74, 215, iii. 14–18, 121–3, vi. 225–7, 334; Collier's Old Man's Diary, pt. ii. 14–15; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. x. 27 (1854); Waylen's House of Cromwell, p. 48; Home Letters of Lord Beaconsfield, p. 27; Leigh Hunt's Corresp. i. 28–9, 250; Therry's Reminiscences of Residence in N. S. Wales, pp. 331–2; Essays of Elia (Ainger's ed.), pp. 402–3; Lamb's Letters (Ainger's ed.), ii. 4–5, 45–7, 108, 121, 184–185, 223, 305, 320.]

W. P. C.