Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Mayor, John Eyton Bickersteth

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MAYOR, JOHN EYTON BICKERSTETH (1825–1910), classical scholar and divine, third son of the Rev. Robert Mayor (d. 1846), was born on 28 Jan. 1825 at Baddegama in Ceylon, where his father was a missionary of the Church Missionary Society from 1818 to 1828. His mother was Charlotte (1792-1870), daughter of Henry Bickersteth, surgeon, of Kirkby Lonsdale, and sister of Henry Bickersteth, Baron Langdale [q. v.], and Edward Bickersteth, rector of Watton [q. v.]. He was named John Eyton in memory of his father's friend, the Rev. John Eyton {d. 1823), rector of Eyton in Shropshire, who had prompted the elder Mayor to abandon the medical profession and to become a missionary (The Eagle, xxv. 333).

From his early boyhood Mayor delighted in books. At the age of six he 'revelled in Rollin (in default of Plutarch) 'and in English prose versions of Homer and Virgil (First Greek Reader, p. xxi, n. 2). After attending the grammar school of Newcastle-under-Lyme as a day boy, he was from 1833 to 1836 at Christ's Hospital, whence he was removed owing to an attack of scarlet fever. For several years he was at home, learning Greek, as well as Latin, from his mother. In 1838, with the aid of his uncle, Robert Bickersteth, a successful surgeon in Liverpool, he was sent to Shrewsbury, the school which won his lifelong devotion. He read much out of school, for his own improvement. He bought for himself and 'perused carefully' the works of Joseph Butler and Richard Hooker (The Latin Heptateuch, p. lxvii f.), and was familiar with the writings of 'Leighton and Burnet and Chalmers — from very early days' (The Eagle, xxiii. 106). He 'thumbed the "Corpus Poëtarum" from Lucretius to Ausonius.' Milton's verse, English and Latin, he 'nearly knew by heart' (First Greek Reader, p. xxxvi).

In Oct. 1844 he began residence at St. John's College, Cambridge (on his interests as an undergraduate, see ib. pp. xli seq. and The Eagle, xxiii. 308). His college tutor was the Rev. Dr. Hymers, his private tutor William Henry Bateson [q. v.], ultimately Master of St. John's. He also read classics with Richard Shilleto [q. v.]. In the classical tripos of 1848 he was third in the first class. An elder brother, Robert Bickersteth, was third wrangler in 1842; his younger brother, Joseph Bickersteth, was second classic in 1851; all the three brothers were elected fellows of the college, the date of John's admission as fellow being 27 March 1849.

From 1849 to 1853 Mayor was master of the lower sixth at Marlborough College, and there he prepared his erudite edition of 'Thirteen Satires of Juvenal.' This was first published in a single volume with the notes at the foot of the page (1853). A second edition was published in two volumes (1869–78) with the notes at the end of each, and a third edition (1881) with the text of the 'Thirteen Satires' and the notes on Satires i., iii.–v., vii. in the first volume, and the notes on Satires viii., x.–xvi. in the second. A fourth edition of the first volume appeared in 1886.

In 1853 Mayor returned for life to St. John's, at first as an assistant tutor or lecturer in classics, but the vastness of his learning prevented him from being a good lecturer. He was ordained deacon in 1855 and priest in 1857. He subsequently kept the act for the B.D. degree (taking the subject of vernacular services versus Latin), preached a Latin and an English sermon, but never took the degree (The Eagle, xxiii. 107). To the 'Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology,' founded by Hort, Lightfoot, and Mayor in 1854, he contributed two learned and comprehensive articles on Latin lexicography (Nov. 1865 and March 1857).

Throughout life Mayor applied himself with exceptional ardour to various forms of literary and antiquarian research, and he proved indefatigable in amassing information. He brought together an immense library, which he stoned until 1881 in his college rooms over the gateway of the second court. In that year he acquired a small house in Jordan's Yard to make room for the overflow of books and papers. An accomplished linguist, he was not only with Latin and Greek but with French, Italian, and Spanish, and notably with German and Dutch. To the collecting of biographical material he devoted immense energy, and in later life he placed his biographical notes at the disposal of contributors to this Dictionary.

His early publications include biographies of Nicholas Ferrar (1855), of Matthew Robinson (1856), of Ambrose Bonwicke (1870), and William Bedell (1871), as well as an edition of Roger Ascham's 'Scholemaster' (1863; new edit. 1883). But the history of his own university was one of his most absorbing interests, and he emulated the antiquarian zeal of Thomas Baker [q. v.], the ejected fellow of the 18th century. He printed the four earliest codes of the college statutes (1859). He transcribed the admissions to the college from 1630, and his transcript was edited as far as 1715 by himself (1882–93). and as far as 1767 by Mr. R. F. Scott (1903). He calendared Baker's voluminous MSS. in the university library. He supplied material to Prof. Willis and John Willis Clark [q. v. Suppl. II] for their 'Architectural History of Cambridge,' and he gave every aid and encouragement to Charles Henry Cooper [q. v.] in his labours on Cambridge history and biography, and accumulated manuscript notes for a continuation of Cooper's 'Athenæ Cantabrigienses.' Mayor foretold that his own biographical collections would survive with the manuscripts of Baker and Cole. In 1869 Mayor published for the first time Baker's 'History of St. John's College,' a solid work in two large volumes; he continued Baker's text, and added abundant notes to the lives of all the Masters of the college and of the Masters trained within its walls.

In 1864 Mayor was elected without a contest university librarian. He held the post for three years, and was never absent from his duties for more than eight days together. During his tenure of office the catalogue of MSS. was completed, and he substituted for the various series of classmarks a single series of Arabic numerals (a reform which was subsequently abandoned). Although his energy increased the life and vigour of the library, all his literary and antiquarian projects were in his own words put 'out of gear' by his duties, and in 1887 he withdrew to resume his private work. The revision of his 'Juvenal' chiefly occupied him between 1869 and 1872, and in the last year (1872) he was elected professor of Latin in succession to Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro [q. v.]. He remained professor till his death. His favourite subjects for lectures were Martial and the Letters of Seneca and the younger Pliny, with Minucius Felix and Tertullian. But, like his college lectures, those delivered before the university were too closely packed with references to parallel passages to be appreciated by the ordinary student. His lectures on Bede bore fruit in 1878 in a joint edition (with Dr. J. R. Lumby) of the 'Ecclesiastical History' (bks. iii. and iv.), in which the learned and multifarious commentary fills a little more space than the text.

Mayor pursued his studies unremittingly, 'taking no exercise for its own sake' and rarely going abroad except on academic or learned business. In 1875 he represented Cambridge University at the tercentenary of Leyden, where he met Madvig and Co bet. In the same year he paid his only visit to Rome, where, apart from its ancient associations, he was mainly interested in the modern schools, where the boys learnt by heart whole books of Virgil and Tasso. A keen interest in the Old Catholics led him to attend the Congress convened at Constance in 1873, when he delivered a German as well as an English discourse (Mayor's Report of Congress, 1873 ; also his edit, of Bishop Beinkens' Second Pastoral Letter and Speeches, and Prof. Messmer's Speech, 1874).

His physical constitution was remarkably strong. He attributed the vigour of his old age to his strict adherence to vegetarian diet, which he adopted in middle life and thenceforth championed with enthusiasm. He set forth his views on diet first in 'Modicus Cibi Medicus Sibi, or Nature her Own Physician' (1880); and subsequently in the selected addresses published in 'Plain Living and High Thinking' (1897). Li 1884 he became president of the Vegetarian Society, and held office till death. Throughout that period he was a frequent contributor to the 'Dietetic Reformer and Vegetarian Messenger' ; and the Vegetarian Society in 1901 printed selections by him from the Bible and from English poets under the title of ' Sound Mind in Body Sound : a Cloud of Witnesses to the Golden Rule of not too much.' He was also keenly interested in missionary work at home and abroad, and especially in the college mission in Walworth.

Mayor became president of his college in Oct. 1902, and at the fellows' table he charmed visitors of the most varied tastes by his old-fashioned courtesy, and by his learned and lively talk. His interests within their own lines remained alert to the last. When the National Library of Turin was partly destroyed by fire on 26 Jan. 1904, he promptly sent the library no fewer than 710 volumes (The Eagle, xxvi. 264 f.). In 1907 he easily mastered Esperanto.

Mayor's wide learning received many marks of respect in his later years. He received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from Oxford in 1895, that of LL.D. from Aberdeen in 1892 and from St. Andrews in 1906, and that of D.D. from Glasgow in 1901. He was one of the original fellows of the British Academy (1902). In 1905, on his 80th birthday, a Latin address of congratulation written by Prof. J. S. Reid and numerously signed, was presented to him at a meeting held in the Combination Room of St. John's, under the presidency of Sir Richard Jebb. Until 1908 he preached in the college chapel and occasionally in the university church. He printed his sermons immediately after delivery, without his name, but with the date and place, and with an appendix of interesting notes. His style in the pulpit reflected the best seventeenth and eighteenth century examples, and his sermons dealt exhaustively with subjects of importance. 'The Spanish Reformed Church' was the theme of two sermons in 1892 and 1895, the first of which was partly delivered in the university church and was published in 'Spain, Portugal, the Bible' (1895). His last sermon, that on 'The Church of Scotland' (1908), was in praise of Scottish learning and Scottish missionary enterprise. A selection of his sermons was edited for the Cambridge University Press by the Rev. H. F. Stewart in 1911, after his death.

Mayor, who was unmarried, died suddenly of heart failure within two months of completing the 86th year of his age, on 1 Dec. 1910, while he was preparing to leave his Cambridge residence, with a view to reading prayers in the college chapel. He was buried in St. Giles's cemetery, on the Huntingdon road, Cambridge. Mayor possessed an unusual power of accumulating knowledge. He had small faculty of construction, and much of the work that he designed was not attempted, or if attempted was uncompleted. A projected commentary on Seneca never appeared. A Latin dictionary, which might have been his magnum opus, was never seriously begun. Contemplated editions of Milton and of Boswell's 'Life of Johnson,' and an ecclesiastical history of the first three centuries came to nothing. Yet his publications are very numerous and cover a wide range. Some of these have been already mentioned. His scholarly reputation mainly rests on his edition of Juvenal. Apart from this, his chief contributions to classical learning are an edition of Cicero's 'Second Philippic,' founded on that of Halm (1861); a bibliography of Latin literature, founded on that of Hübner (1875); and an independent edition of the 'Third Book of Pliny's Letters' (1880). In 1868 he published an excellent 'First Creek Reader,' with a vigorous preface on classical education, interspersed with interesting touches of autobiography. Of proposed editions of 'The Narrative of Odysseus' ('Odyssey,' books ix.-xii.), and of the 'Tenth Book of Quintilian,' only a small portion was published (1872). His annotated editions of Burman's and Uffenbach's visits to Cambridge, printed in 1871, were posthumously published, as part of 'Cambridge under Queen Anne,' in 1911. In 1889 he published a critical review of the 'Latin Heptateuch' of Cyprian, the sixth-century poet and bishop of Toulon. Among miscellaneous works may be reckoned Mayor's edition of Richard of Cirencester's 'Speculum Historiale de gestis Regum Angliæ' for the Rolls series (2 vols. 1863-9), devoting many pages of the preface to indicating the exact sources of all the borrowed erudition of the forger of the treatise 'De Situ Britanniæ,' which its first editor (and, indeed, author), Charles Bertram [q. v.] of Copenhagen, had falsely attributed to Richard of Cirencester. In 1874 he edited Cooper's 'Memoir of Margaret Countess of Richmond and Derby,' and in 1876 pubhshed, for the Early English Text Society, 'The English Works of Bishop Fisher.' His latest work was a 'First German Reader, with Translation and Notes,' which he had printed for himself and published at the Cambridge University Press in Jan. 1910 with the title 'Jacula Prudentium. Verse and Prose from the German.'

His annotated copies of Juvenal and Seneca are among the books presented by his executors to the library of his college, and his interleaved Latin dictionaries are among those presented to the university library, which he named as the ultimate destination of his biographical collections. Of the rest of his library more than 18,000 volumes were sold in Cambridge after his death (Catling's catalogue of sale on 14–18 March 1911).

A presentation portrait printed by (Sir) Hubert (von) Herkomer in 1891 is in the hall of St John's College. An etching by the same artist formed the frontpiece of 'Minerva' (1003-4). and is reproduced in 'The Eagle' (xxv. 129).

[Autobiographical passages in prefaces to First Greek Reader, Juvenal (ed. 1886), The Latin Heptateuch, and in Spain, Portugal, the Bible; also in Commemoration Sermon, 1902, in The Eagle, xxiii. 307f. and 106f.; Report of Meeting of Subscribers to Portrait of Prof. Mayor, ib. xvi. 208–70, xvii. 81; Presentation of Address, ib. xxvi. 241–7, with reprint of articles on Prof. Mayor in National Observer, 26 Doc. 1891. and Daily Mail, 25 Aug. 1904; obituary notices by the present writer in The Times, 2 Dec. 1910; Guardian, 9 Dec. p. 1717; Cambridge Review, 8 Dec.; Classical Review, Feb. 1911; Proceeding of the British Academy, April; and The Eagle, xxxii. pp. 180-98, followed on pp. 199-232 by notices by Rev. C. E. Graves, Rev. H. F. Stewart, J. B. Mullinger, and others, and reprint of articles in The Athenæum, 10 Dec. 1910, and Blackwood's Magazine, Jan. 1911, with bibliography of contributions to Notes and Queries; writings on Vegetarianism, ib. pp. 232, 310f., and articles in classical periodicals, ib. xxxiii. pp. 58-62; university tributes to his memory in Cambridge University Reporter, xii. pp. 608, 1270, and xlii. 37; lastly, Memoir in Select Sermons, edit, by the Rev. H. F. Stewart (with portrait), Cambridge, 1911.]

J. E. S.