Earle, John (DNB12)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

EARLE, JOHN (1824–1903), philologist, born on 29 Jan. 1824 at Elston in the parish of Churchstowe near Kingsbridge, South Devon, was only son of John Earle, a small landed proprietor who cultivated his own property, by his wife Anne Hamlyn. Their other child, a daughter, married George Buckle, afterwards canon of Wells, and was mother of Mr. George Earle Buckle, editor of 'The Times.' John Earle received his earliest education in the house of Orlando Manley, then incumbent of Plymstock, whence he passed to the Plymouth new grammar school. He spent the year 1840-1 at the grammar school of Kingsbridge, and matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, in October 1841, graduating B.A. in 1845 with a first class in literse humaniores. In 1848 he won a fellowship at Oriel College, then one of the chief distinctions in the university. The colleagues with whom Earle was brought into contact at Oriel included Charles Marriott, Fraser (afterwards bishop of Manchester), Clough, Matthew Arnold, Henry Coleridge, Alexander Grant, Sellar, and Burgon—men of very varied schools of thought. In ecclesiastical matters Earle was never a partisan, though his historical sense made him value whatever illustrated the continuity of the English church or conduced to the seemliness of public worship. In 1849 he proceeded M.A., was ordained deacon, and was elected to the professorship of Anglo-Saxon, then tenable only for five years. At the time the chair was little more than an elegant sinecure, but Earle raised it to a position of real usefulness before his retirement in 1854. Thenceforth he assiduously pursued his Anglo-Saxon studies. Meanwhile in 1852 he became tutor of Oriel in succession to his future brother-in-law, George Buckle. In 1857, when he took priest's orders, he was presented by his college to the rectory of Swanswick, near Bath, which he retained till death. In 1871 he was appointed to the prebend of Wanstrow in Wells cathedral, and from 1873 to 1877 he was rural dean of Bath.

In 1876 he was re-elected professor of Anglo-Saxon by convocation; his competitor was Thomas Arnold [q. v. Suppl. I]. The tenure of this chair had then been made permanent, and he held the post for the rest of his life. His inaugural lecture, 'A Word for the Mother Tongue,' was one of many published pleas for the bestowal of a place in the university curriculum on English philological study.

Earle was an industrious writer, and combined devotion to research with a power of popularising its fruits. His earliest published work was 'Gloucester Fragments, Legends of St. Swithun and Sancta Maria Ægyptiaca' (1861, 4to). In 1865 appeared 'Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, with Supplementary Extracts from the Others, edited with Introduction, Notes, and a Glossarial Index.' This was in many ways his most important work, and was the first attempt to give a rational and connected account of the growth of the chronicle, and the relations of the different MSS. It was recast by the present writer in two volumes (1892, 1899). In 1866 appeared both 'A Book for the Beginner in Anglo-Saxon' (4th edit. 1902) and 'The Philology of the English Tongue' (5th edit. 1892). The latter volume was Earle's most popular work; it largely helped to popularise the results of the new science of comparative philology, as applied to the English language. With the later developments of comparative philology Earle hardly kept pace. He was always more interested in tracing the development of language as an instrument of thought, and in analysing the various elements which had contributed to the formation of English, than in purely philological science. In 1863 an abortive scheme was proposed for a 'final and complete critical edition' of 'Chaucer' to be published by the Clarendon Press, with Earle as general editor (Letters of Alexander Macmillan, 1908, pp. 160-1). Apart from English philology, Earle was an efficient Italian scholar. He wrote an introduction to Dr. Shadwell's translation of Dante's ' Purgatorio' (1892), and a remarkable essay on Dante's 'Vita Nuova' in the 'Quarterly Review' (1896).

A man of varied intellectual interests and of generous enthusiasms, Earle died on 31 Jan. 1903, at Oxford, and was buried in Holywell cemetery. A brass tablet was erected to his memory in Swanswick Church. In 1863 he married Jane, daughter of George Rolleston, vicar of Maltby, and sister of George Rolleston [q. v.], Linacre professor of anatomy at Oxford. By her Earle had three sons and four daughters. His second daughter, Beatrice Anne Earle, married her first cousin, Mr. George Earle Buckle. Earle's widow survived till 13 May 1911.

Besides the works cited, Earle's chief publications were: 1. 'Guide to Bath, Ancient and Modern,' 1864. 2. 'Rhymes and Reasons, Essays by J. E.,' 1871. 3. 'English Plant Names,' 1880. 4. 'Anglo-Saxon Literature,' 1884. 5. 'A Handbook to the Land Charters and other Saxonic Documents,' 1888. 6. 'English Prose, its Elements, History and Usage,' 1890. 7. 'The Deeds of Beowulf, done into Modern Prose, with an Introduction and Notes,' 1892. 8. 'The Psalter of 1539, a Landmark in English Literature,' 1894. 9. 'Bath during British Independence,' 1895. 10. 'A Simple Grammar of English now in Use,' 1898. 11. 'The Alfred Jewel,' 4to, 1901. To a volume on Alfred the Great (ed. Alfred Bowker, 1899) he contributed an article 'Alfred as a Writer,' and to an English miscellany presented to Dr. Furnivall (1901) an essay on 'The Place of English in Education.'

[Obituary notices in The Times, 2 Feb. 1903 (by his brother-in-law, Canon Buckle); and in Oxford Mag. 11 Feb. 1903, by present writer; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; personal knowledge; private information.]

C. P.