Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Fleay, Frederick Gard

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FLEAY, FREDERICK GARD (1831–1909), Shakespearean scholar, born at Deptford Broadway on 5 Sept. 1831, was son of John Goss Fleay, linen-draper, by his wife Jane. Both parents were of Somerset families. Of seven children, three—two sons and a daughter — alone lived to maturity. Frederick, according to family tradition, was able to read at twenty months old. Entering, in 1843, King's College school, where Frederic Harrison was one of his companions, he rose to be captain, distinguishing himself alike in classics and mathematics. In Oct. 1849 he passed to Trinity College, Cambridge, his parents accompanying him in order to provide him with a home in the town. In his second year at Trinity he won an open mathematical scholarship, and after gaining several college prizes, graduated B.A. in 1853 as thirteenth wrangler, and sixth in the second class in the classical tripos. He was also placed third in the examination for Smith's prizes, and impressed the examiners with his aptitude for higher mathematics. Next year he obtained second place in the first class of the moral science tripos, and first place in the second class in the natural science tripos. Undergraduates dubbed him 'the industrious flea.' Despite the rare distinction of figuring in four tripos lists, Fleay just missed a fellowship at Trinity. He proceeded M.A. in 1856, and was ordained deacon in that year and priest in 1857.

Adopting a scholastic career, he was from 1856 to 1859 vice-principal of the Oxford Diocesan Training College at Culham. From 1860 to 1866 he was second master and head of the scientific side at Leeds grammar school. After six months in 1867 as second master and head of the modern division at King Edward's School, Birmingham, he was headmaster of Hipperholme grammar school from 1868 to 1872, and filled a like post at Skipton grammar school from 1872 to 1876, when he abandoned the teaching profession. Although his teaching was mainly devoted to mathematics and science, he was an efficient instructor in both classics and English and interested himself in educational theory. Much practical value attaches to his 'Hints on Teaching,' which he published in 1874 ; and there is ingenuity in his 'Elements of English Grammar: Relations of Words to Sentences (Word Building)' (1859, 2 parts), and 'Logical English Grammar' (1884).

Fleay issued, while a schoolmaster, 'The Book of Revelation' (1864), a collection of orthodox sermons. But his independent and speculative habit of 'mind gradually alienated him from the Church of England, and on 7 February 1884 he relinquished his orders. He had studied sympathetically Comte's philosophy without accepting the Positivist religion. 'Three Lectures on Education' which show Comte's influence were read at Newton Hall in Nov. 1882, and published with a preface by Frederic Harrison in 1883. His love of more recondite speculation he illustrated in 1889 by privately circulating a highly complex mathematical study : 'Harmonics of Sound and Colour : their Law identical, their Use convertible.' Meanwhile Fleay was devoting himself to literary work. From an early date he had interested himself in phonetics and in spelling reform. In 1858 he won the Trevelyan prize for an essay on phonetic spelling, which convinced one of the examiners. Max Müller, of his philological promise. There followed in 1878 his 'English Sounds and English Spelling.' In 1879 he joined the newly formed Spelling Reform Association and edited its journal, 'The Spelling Reformer' (1880-1). He devised two alphabets, the 'Victorian form' for educational purposes, and the 'Elizabethan form' for literary purposes. The former departed further than the latter from accepted orthography, but the method of both was sound. In 1874 Fleay joined the New Shakspere Society on its foundation by Frederick James Fumivall [q. v. Suppl. II], and he applied much of his manifold industry for some twenty years to the elucidation of Shakespearean and Elizabethan drama. He contributed many papers to the 'Transactions of the New Shakspere Society.' His Shakespearean books began modestly with an 'Introduction to Shakespeare Study' (1877). There followed a useful 'Shakespeare Manual' (1878), with editions of Marlowe's 'Edward II' (1877), and of Shakespeare's 'King John,' and of the anonymous play on the theme (1878), as well as two pamphlets, 'Actor Lists, 1578-1642' (reprinted from 'Royal Hist. Soc. Trans.' 1881), and 'History of Theatres in London' (1882). All these efforts were preliminary to his three imposing compilations : 'A Chronicle History of the Life and Work of William Shakespeare' (1886), 'A Chronicle History of the London Stage,' 1559-1642' (1890), and 'A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642' (2 vols. 1891). The three works were handsomely printed in limited editions and quickly became scarce books.

Fleay's Shakespearean labours were severely practical, even statistical. Literary criticism lay outside his scope. He analysed with minuteness the changes in Shakespeare's metre and phraseology, and rigidly applied metrical and linguistic tests to a determination not only of the chronology of Shakespeare's and his fellow-dramatists' acknowledged work but of the authorship of anonymous plays of the era. His arbitrary identifications of the writers of the anonymous Elizabeth drama were often startling. He was no less dogmatic in his alleged detection of concealed topical or political allusions in text, plot, and character. At the same time the immense care with which he traced the history of the playing companies in the Shakespearean period threw much new light on English dramatic and theatrical history. From Shakespearean and Elizabethan themes Fleay finally turned to Egyptology and Assyriology, chiefly in their bearing on biblical criticism. His main results were collected in 'Egyptian Chronology' (1899), dedicated to the memory of Edward White Benson [q. v. Suppl. I]. His latest inquiry concerned the Great Pyramid, on which he published a paper in 1905.

A self-denying and toilsome student who lived a secluded life, Fleay died at 27 Dafforne Road, Upper Tooting, London, on 10 March 1909, and was buried at Brookwood cemetery, Woking. He married on 14 Jan. 1869 Mary Ann Kite, who predeceased him in 1896. Their only child, John, survived him. Besides the works cited Fleay published 'Almond Blossoms,' verse, in 1857; translations of 'Breton Ballads' (1870), and the 'Poetry of Catullus' and 'Vigil of Venus' (1874); 'A Guide to Chaucer and Spenser' (Glasgow, 1877, in 'Collins's School and College Classics'); and 'The Land of Shakespeare illustrated' (1889).

[Private information; Testimonials collected by Fleay, 1803-70 (privately printed); Athenæum, March 1909 (by Dr. A. W. Ward); Frederic Harrison's Autobiographical Memoirs, 1911.]

S. L.