Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Costard, George

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COSTARD, GEORGE (1710–1782), astronomical writer, was born at Shrewsbury in 1710, entered, about 1726, Wadham College, Oxford, of which body he became fellow and tutor, having taken degrees of B.A. and M.A. in 1731 and 1733. He was chosen proctor of the university in 1742, and on the death of Dr. Wyndham, in 1777, declined the wardenship of his college, on the ground of advanced age. His first ecclesiastical employment was the curacy of Islip, near Oxford, whence he was promoted to be vicar of Whitchurch, Dorsetshire. Finally, Lord Chancellor Northington, struck by the unusual attainments displayed in his writings, procured for him, in June 1764, the presentation to the vicarage of Twickenham, in which he continued until his death.

His two earliest works appeared anonymously—‘Critical Observations on some Psalms’ in 1733; ‘A Critical Dissertation concerning the words Daimōn and Daimonion, occasioned by two late Enquiries into the Meaning of Demoniacks in the New Testament’ in 1738. His learned researches into the history of astronomy opened in 1746 with ‘A Letter to Martin Folkes, Esq., concerning the Rise and Progress of Astronomy amongst the Ancients.’ The subject was continued in ‘A Further Account of the Rise and Progress of Astronomy among the Ancients, in three Letters to Martin Folkes, Esq.’ (Oxford, 1748), treating severally of the Astronomy of the Chaldeans, of the Constellations in the Book of Job, and of the Mythological Astronomy of the Ancients. The drift of his arguments was to show that exact astronomy was a product of Greek genius, beginning with Thales, and owed little either to Egypt or Babylon.

His essay on ‘The Use of Astronomy in History and Chronology, exemplified in an Inquiry into the Fall of the Stone into the Ægospotamos, said to have been foretold by Anaxagoras’ (London, 1764), served as a further preparation for the work by which he is chiefly remembered. ‘The History of Astronomy, with its Application to Geography, History, and Chronology, occasionally exemplified by the Globes’ (London, 1767, 4to), received a distinctive value from the ample stores of Greek and Oriental erudition displayed in it. Designed chiefly for the use of students, demonstration accompanied narrative, the purpose of discovery being thus illustrated as well as its origin related. An ‘Account of the Arabian Astronomy,’ extracted from its pages, was included in the first volume of the ‘Asiatic Miscellany,’ printed at Calcutta in 1785.

Costard died at Twickenham, on 10 Jan. 1782, aged 71, in such poverty that the expenses of his funeral were defrayed by a subscription among his parishioners (Monthly Review, 1787, lxxvi. 419). By his particular desire he was buried, without monument or inscription to mark his grave, in Twickenham Churchyard. His library, oriental manuscripts, and philosophical instruments were sold by auction in March 1782.

Besides the works already mentioned, he wrote: 1. ‘Some Observations tending to illustrate the Book of Job …’ Oxford, 1747. 2. ‘Two Dissertations (i.) containing an Enquiry into the Meaning of the Word Kesitah, mentioned in Job xlii. 11; (ii.) on the Signification of the Word Hermes,’ Oxford, 1750, criticised the same year in a tract from an unknown hand, entitled ‘Marginal Animadversions,’ &c. 3. ‘Dissertationes duæ Critico-Sacræ: quarum prima explicatur Ezek. xiii. 18, altera vero 2 Reg. x. 22,’ Oxford, 1752, of which the latter was the object of a bitter anonymous attack in ‘A Dissertation upon 2 Kings x. 22, translated from the Latin of Rabbi C——d’ (Costard). 4. ‘A Letter to Nathaniel Brassey Halhead, Esq., containing some Remarks on his Preface to the Code of Gentoo Laws lately published,’ Oxford, 1778, disputing the high antiquity claimed for them; besides some papers in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (xliii. 522, xliv. 476, xlviii. 17, 155, 441, lxvii. 231). Costard edited the second edition of Dr. Hyde's ‘Veterum Persarum, et Parthorum, et Medorum Religionis Historia,’ issued under his superintendence from the Clarendon Press in 1760, and published, with a preface by himself, Halley's translation of the ‘Spherics’ of Menelaus (Oxford 1758). He contributed to the first edition of Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes,’ and his correspondence with Mr. Jacob Bryant touching the locality of the land of Goshen is published in ‘Miscellaneous Tracts by the late William Bowyer and several of his learned friends,’ London, 1785, p. 681. A letter written by Costard, 29 March 1761, to Dr. Birch on the meaning of the phrase ‘Sphæra Barbarica,’ used by Julius Firmicus and Scaliger, is preserved in manuscript at the British Museum (Birch MS. 4440, f. 89). His works are still worth consulting for the frequent references to and citations from Hebrew, Arabic, and the less-known Greek authors contained in them.

[Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Phil. Trans. Abridg. ix. 168 (1809); Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 428 (1812); Ironside's Twickenham, in Nichols's Bibl. Topogr. Brit. x. 125; Gent. Mag. lxxv. i. 305 (with portrait from a drawing by J. C. Barnes); Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Lysons's Environs, iii. 586, suppl. 319.]

A. M. C.