Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wheelocke, Abraham

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WHEELOCKE, WHEELOCK, WHELOCKE, WHELOCK, or WHELOC, ABRAHAM (1593–1653), linguist, was born in 1593 at Whitchurch, Shropshire, and spent his early years at Loppington in the same county. He graduated B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1614, M.A. in 1618, and B.D. from Clare College in 1625. In 1619 he contributed a Latin poem to a volume of elegies (‘Lachrymæ Cantabrigienses,’ p. 70), issued by the university of Cambridge on the death of Anne of Denmark, and in the same year obtained a fellowship at Clare Hall, which he retained till his marriage in 1632 to the widow Clemence Goad. He also contributed Latin verses to the ‘Epithalamium Caroli et Henriettæ Mariæ’ (1625, p. 76), ‘Genethliacum Illustrissimorum Principum, Caroli et Mariæ’ (1631, p. 66), and Greek verses to ‘Rex Redux’ (1633, p. 44), ‘Ducis Eboracensis Fasciæ’ (1633, p. 12), and ‘Irenodia Cantabrigiensis’ (1641), and has verses prefixed to Duport's Thrēnothriambos (1637). From 1622 to 1642 he was minister of St. Sepulchre's, Cambridge.

After election to his fellowship Wheelocke appears to have commenced the study of the oriental languages, then little known in England, and in connection with these studies he got into communication with Bedwell and Ussher, who occasionally gave him commissions to execute. Notwithstanding his appointments, he appears for many years of his life to have suffered from extreme poverty (see Letter 373 in Ussher's Works, vol. xvi.), and to have applied unsuccessfully for a variety of posts. At last, towards the end of 1629, he obtained, after considerable canvassing, those of public librarian and amanuensis at the Cambridge University Library, with emoluments amounting to 10l. per annum. These posts he retained till his death. His administration of the library was marked by zeal and ability. ‘There are traces of his hand,’ says his eminent successor Bradshaw, ‘almost throughout the collection as it existed in his day, and the library seems to have been well used and well cared for during his term of office.’ Shortly after his appointment he appears to have urged (Sir) Thomas Adams (1586–1667) [q. v.] to induce some city company to endow a chair of Arabic at Cambridge. This Adams declared to be impossible; but he offered to provide a stipend of 40l. for such a purpose for two or three years, Wheelocke to be the first professor, and he afterwards made this endowment permanent. Wheelocke appears to have both taught and studied Arabic diligently, and in Adams's letters to him (preserved in the Cambridge University Library) there are frequent references to his ‘Arabic mill;’ but he published little or nothing bearing on the subject, owing, he says, to the want of Arabic types and compositors capable of setting them up. In a letter to Ussher dated 1640 he mentions that he had prepared a refutation of the Koran, but that the missionary to whom he had shown a specimen of the work had discouraged him from proceeding with it.

Wheelocke also devoted much attention to the Persian language, and commenced printing in 1652 an edition of the Persian version of the Gospels from several manuscripts, one of which belonged to Edward Pococke [q. v.]; but he did not live to publish this work, which was finished and issued in 1657. The distinguished Persian scholar Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) [q. v.] was his pupil. He also took part in drawing up the plan of Walton's ‘Polyglot,’ and wrote a letter to the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, commending that work, of which he was to have corrected the Arabic and Persian texts, but death prevented his executing much of this scheme [see Walton, Brian]. As amanuensis of the public library he came to be employed by Sir Henry Spelman [q. v.] to copy Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, and in order to remunerate him for his services, as well as to found a school of Anglo-Saxon, Spelman (who had endeavoured without success to obtain promotion for him from the bishop of Ely) established in 1638 a chair for a ‘lecturer and reader of the Saxon language and the history of our ancient British churches,’ for which he provided a stipend, besides presenting Wheelocke to the living of Middleton in Norfolk. The motion for the establishment of the chair was brought before the university of Cambridge by Ussher. At Wheelocke's death, owing to political troubles, Spelman's heirs discontinued the endowment, and the readership lapsed.

Wheelocke's name is chiefly remembered in connection with the work he did as Anglo-Saxon reader. In 1643 he published the Anglo-Saxon translation of Bede ascribed to Alfred, with an edition and translation of the ‘Chronologia Saxonica,’ based on two manuscripts, of which one belonging to Sir Thomas Cotton has since, with the exception of a few pages, been destroyed; the pages that remain and are now in the British Museum show that Wheelocke was an accurate editor. Anglo-Saxon scholars speak less warmly of his work as a translator. This work was dedicated to Sir Thomas Adams (Sir Henry Spelman being then deceased), and was reissued in 1644, with a reprint of Lambarde's ‘Archaionomia’ and other matter. Wheelocke professes to have derived his knowledge of Anglo-Saxon mainly from the letters and published writings of Spelman, who also suggested several tasks to Wheelocke, among them a complete dictionary of Anglo-Saxon, which Wheelocke commenced, but never finished. And indeed Wheelocke's high standard of accuracy, together with the variety of the subjects which he pursued, seems to have hindered him from production.

He suffered from ill health at many periods of his life, and also, as has been seen, from pecuniary anxiety. He died apparently in London in September 1653, leaving five children. His funeral sermon, preached at St. Botolph's, Aldersgate Street, on 25 Sept. by William Sclater [see under Sclater, William, (1575–1626)], was published in 1654.

[Manuscripts of the Cambridge University Library, especially Dd. 312; Sir H. Ellis's Letters of Eminent Literary Men; Bodleian MSS. (Tanner and Ashmole Collection); Ussher's Letters (Works, vols. xv. xvi.); Trinity Coll. MSS. (transcript lent by the Cambridge Univ. librarian); notes kindly supplied by W. Aldis Wright, esq., D.C.L., Trinity College, Cambridge.]

D. S. M.