Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Disney, John (1779-1857)

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DISNEY, JOHN (1779–1857), collector of classical antiquities, born at Flintham Hall, Nottinghamshire, on 29 May 1779, was the eldest son of the Rev. John Disney, D.D. (1746–1816) [q. v.], by Jane, daughter of Archdeacon Blackburne. On 26 Dec. 1816 he came into possession of his father's estate, the Hyde, Ingatestone, Essex, inheriting with it the collection of antiquities formed in Italy by Hollis and Brand, chiefly from 1748 to 1753. Disney made additions to this collection, acquiring many of the smaller antiquities from Pompeii through a relative. In 1818 he began a catalogue of it, which he completed after his return from Rome in 1827, and afterwards published with corrections as ‘Museum Disneianum,’ London, 4to, pt. i. 1846 (sculptures); pt. ii. 1848; pt. iii. 1849. The book contains numerous engravings, but the text is not very critical: thus, Pl. lxvii., a mirror with handle, is described as ‘A stew-pan’ (cp. Gerhard, Arch. Zeitung, 1849, pp. 157–60; Wieseler, Göttingische gel. Anzeig. 1849, 441–62; Classical Museum, v. 262–72, vi. 71–91). Nearly all the marbles were bequeathed by Disney to the university of Cambridge, and they now form one of the principal sections of the Fitzwilliam Museum. The bronzes, terra-cottas, glass objects, vases, &c., remained at the Hyde. Professor Michaelis, who has redescribed (Anc. Marbles) the sculptures, considers that Disney showed more zeal than discernment as a collector, for, though a friend of Flaxman, Combe, and Christie, he acquired many poor or spurious marbles. Michaelis thinks the ‘Statuette of a Youthful Satyr’ the most graceful piece of statuary in the collection. In 1851 Disney founded the Cambridge University chair of archæology, called by his name. The professor is required to deliver at least six lectures annually on some subject connected with classical and other antiquities and the fine arts. The original endowment, amounting to 1000l., was increased in 1857 by Disney's bequest to 3250l. Disney held the honorary degree of LL.D. (Cambridge), and was a fellow of the Royal Society. He was barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple, and published: 1. ‘A Collection of Acts of Parliament relative to County and Borough Elections,’ &c., London, 1811, 8vo. 2. ‘Outlines of a Penal Code,’ London, 1826, 8vo. He unsuccessfully contested (as a liberal) Harwich in 1832 and North Essex in 1835. He died at the Hyde on 6 May 1857. Disney married on 22 Sept. 1802 his cousin-german Sophia, youngest daughter of Lewis Disney-Ffytche, of Swinderby, Lincolnshire, and had issue: John (d. 1819), Edgar (his successor, d. 1881), Sophia.

[Burke's Hist. of the Landed Gentry (1837), ii. 151; Walford's County Families (1886); Gent. Mag. 1857, 3rd ser. ii. 741; Annual Reg. xcix. 307; Michaelis's Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, §§ 41, 87, 91, pp. 241, 255–67, 333; Cambridge Univ. Calendar (1885), pp. 328–9; Mus. Disneianum; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

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