Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Field, Frederick (1801-1885)

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FIELD, FREDERICK (1801–1885), divine, born in London 20 July 1801, was the son of Henry Field [q. v.], an apothecary, and brother of Barron Field [q. v.], chief justice of Gibraltar. He was proud of being a direct descendant of Oliver Cromwell; his grandfather, John Field (who was also an apothecary), having married Anne Cromwell, a great-granddaughter of Henry Cromwell, the lord deputy of Ireland. His father was medical officer to Christ's Hospital, to which he was sent when he was only six years old as a private pupil of the head-master. Here he remained till 1819, and then went on to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1823 he was tenth wrangler, chancellor's classical medallist, and Tyrwhitt's Hebrew scholar, and in 1824 he was elected fellow of his college, in company with T. B. Macaulay, Henry Malden, and G. B. Airy. Owing probably to some degree of deafness (which began early in life, and which in his later years became so aggravated as to make him avoid all society), he took no part in the public tuition of his college, though he was examiner for the classical tripos in 1833 and 1837. He read with private pupils (among whom was F. D. Maurice), and having been ordained by Kaye, bishop of Lincoln, in 1828, he thenceforth devoted himself almost entirely to biblical and patristical studies. His name is inseparably connected with Chrysostom and Origen. He first undertook Chrysostom's homilies on St. Matthew, which were printed and published at Cambridge in 1839 in three volumes, with an improved Greek text, various readings, and explanatory notes. He shortly after ceased to reside in Cambridge, and for the next twenty-four years combined parochial work with his literary labours. For three years he had charge of the small parish of Great Saxham in Suffolk, and in 1842 he was presented by his college to the rectory of Reepham in Norfolk, with a population of five or six hundred, and with an income of 700l. or 800l. per annum. Here he lived an honoured and useful life for twenty-one years, dividing his time between his pastoral duties (latterly with the assistance of a curate) and various theological works. He was of simple, inexpensive habits, and unmarried; and during his incumbency he enlarged and improved the chancel of his church, and built a school, which was maintained chiefly at his expense, besides leaving behind him other memorials of his interest in his parish. His chief literary work while he was at Reepham was his edition of Chrysostom's ‘Homilies on St. Paul's Epistles,’ executed on the same plan as the ‘Homilies on St. Matthew,’ and published in seven volumes, between 1849 and 1862, in the Oxford ‘Library of the Fathers.’ He next undertook a new edition of the fragments of Origen's ‘Hexapla.’ As he was well aware that this design would require the whole of his time and attention for many years, he resigned his living in 1863, and removed to Norwich, where he continued to reside till his death. His wish was to utilise and embody in Montfaucon's edition the large mass of materials that had been brought to light since its publication in 1713; especially those derived from the Oxford edition of the Septuagint by Holmes and Parsons (1798–1827), and those from the Syro-hexaplar version, which had been partly published in fragments by various foreign scholars. These two chief sources of improvement had (as he himself expressly states) been sagaciously pointed out by J. G. Eichhorn in his ‘Introduction to the Old Testament.’ Accordingly in August 1864 he printed for private circulation a thin 4to pamphlet, entitled ‘Otium Norvicense,’ containing specimens of the kind and amount of assistance to be expected from the Syro-hexaplar version; and he also issued ‘Proposals’ for publishing the work by subscription, in five parts, price 12s. each, with the promise of sending the work to press as soon as two hundred copies were subscribed for. The number of subscribers, however, did not by the end of the following year amount to much more than one half of what was required, and the whole scheme would probably have been abandoned if Dr. Robert Scott, the Greek lexicographer, had not induced the delegates of the Oxford Clarendon Press (of which he was one) to take upon themselves the cost of the publication. It was accordingly issued in parts, and finished in 1874, in two large, handsome 4to volumes, with 101 pages of ‘Prolegomena’ full of information respecting the different versions and other critical matter, and seventy-six pages of auctarium and indices. The work, if not remunerative to the delegates in point of money, added much to their reputation for judicious liberality; for it was at once recognised as one of the most important contributions to patristic theology that had anywhere appeared for more than a century. He was immediately made an LL.D of Cambridge, and an honorary fellow of his college; the degree of D.C.L. was offered him by the university of Oxford, but declined, because on account of his age and deafness he shrank from the necessary formality of a personal attendance. He had been appointed in 1870 an original member of the Old Testament revision company. His age and his deafness prevented his attending any of their meetings, but he constantly sent written notes and suggestions, and in this way was one of their most useful colleagues. He lived to see the work practically finished, but died 19 April 1885, a few weeks before it was published.

At the end of the preface to his ‘Origen’ he gives a short account of his life and labours, written with dignified simplicity, and without any word of complaint at having been passed over in the distribution of ecclesiastical honours. He speaks of himself as holding firmly the catholic faith as set forth by the reformed church of England; as having avoided the errors both of (so-called) evangelicals, and of rationalists, and (which is the last ulcer) of ritualists and romanisers (Papizantium); and of having devoted his life to study without patronage, gain, or honour; and as ready, above all things, in his old age to assist younger students. In his own line of learning he was certainly not surpassed by any scholar of his age; and it was by a happy phrase that the Bishop of Lincoln (Christopher Wordsworth) designated him as ‘the Jerome of the Anglican church.’ The unusual combination of Greek with oriental scholarship made his opinion specially valuable. It is only due to his memory to state that ‘his estimate of the claims of the revised version [of the New Testament] as aiming to take the place of the authorised version was decidedly unfavourable;’ his objections being grounded partly on the great number of needless verbal alterations, and partly on the reconstruction of the Greek text by too exclusively relying on the ‘ancient authorities,’ without sufficiently taking into consideration in each case ‘the internal evidence of the good sense and propriety of the passage itself.’ On this subject he printed for private circulation (1881) ‘A Letter to the Rev. Philip Schaff, D.D., President of the American Committee on Revision.’

Field collected a very valuable library of books connected with biblical, classical, and general literature, which were sold by auction at Norwich for a very inadequate sum. It is believed that he left behind him no manuscripts of importance. A brass tablet to his memory was put up by his only surviving sister in Reepham Church, and another in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge; the Latin inscription on the latter was written by the master, Dr. William H. Thompson.

Field's other works (printed at his own expense but not published) were a volume of thirty-two sermons, 1878; a second part of the ‘Otium Norvicense,’ 1876, containing critical observations on some of the words in Dr. Payne Smith's ‘Thesaurus Syriacus;’ and a third part, 1881, containing ‘Notes on Select Passages of the Greek Testament, chiefly with reference to recent English Versions.’ All of these are favourable specimens of his learning and critical acumen, even if they are not all equally convincing; but one deserves especial notice. He claims to have been the first person to revive (in 1839) the ancient explanation of the true reading in St. Mark's Gospel, vii. 19, katharizōn for katharizon, which, after remaining almost unnoticed for about forty years, was adopted without even any marginal variation in the revised version of 1881. This third part of the ‘Otium Norvicense’ is about to be published shortly at the Oxford Clarendon Press. He edited for the Christian Knowledge Society Barrow's ‘Treatise on the Pope's Supremacy,’ 1851; a Greek Psalter, 1857; and the Septuagint, 1879, not a critical edition, nor on his own plan, but a revision of Grabe's text, with the order of the books changed in accordance with the English Bible, and with the apocryphal books separated from the canonical.

[Autobiography in Preface to Origen; F. Bateman in the Eastern Daily Press, 23 April 1885; W. Aldis Wright in the Cambridge Review, 6 May 1885; private information.]

W. A. G.