Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 03.djvu/293

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And unfitted though he himself was to work out these ideas, he added a link, as Burke did, to the chain which connects Montesquieu, whose writings he knew and admired, with the historical school of our own day. Another of his suggestions is being gradually realised. While not believing codification to be practicable, he proposed that the danger of the revival of obsolete statutes should be obviated by formally repealing them, and that different acts of parliament relating to one subject should be reduced into one consistent statute. As to the book itself, its ingenuity and curious learning still save it from being forgotten.

In his next work of any importance he was less fortunate. Elstob had intended to publish King Alfred's version of ‘Orosius,’ and had made a transcript, but for some reason—want of encouragement by subscription is Barrington's surmise—the design was never carried out. The transcript ultimately came into Barrington's hands, and in 1773 he printed the text, together with a translation of his own, ‘chiefly,’ he says in his preface, ‘for my own amusement and that of a few antiquarian friends.’ The work had interested him greatly, as appears from his correspondence with Gough (Nichols's Illustrations, v. 582 et seq.), but he came to it with inadequate knowledge. Neither on the text nor on his translation can reliance be placed (see Alfred's Orosius, by Bosworth, pref. 1). It was in a note to this translation that he confessed his ignorance of the story of Astyages and Harpagus, a confession of which he was often reminded.

His versatile mind was meanwhile engrossed with Arctic exploration. After studying the records of former expeditions, and collecting evidence from the masters of whalers, he submitted his views to the Royal Society, and succeeded in inducing the society to lay the matter before Lord Sandwich, then first lord of the admiralty. The result was that the government despatched two ships, the Racehorse and the Carcass, under the command of Captain Phipps, afterwards Lord Mulgrave, and Captain Lutwidge. Though the expedition failed, Barrington was not discouraged. He collected fresh evidence, and published his papers (which do not appear in the Royal Society's ‘Transactions’) in 1775 and 1776 (translated in Engel's ‘Neuer Versuch über die Lage der nördlichen Gegenden von Asia und Amerika,’ &c.). In 1818 the matter again provoked great interest, and they were reprinted by Colonel Mark Beaufoy [q.v.] .

Barrington's other works consist of numerous papers read before the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries, of the latter of which he was made vice-president. Like the ‘Observations on the Statutes,’ they are apropos of everything. Besides a number of sketches in the byways of natural history, there are papers on such different subjects as the landing of Cæsar and the passage of the Thames (in which he maintains that the Tamesis is the Medway); the deluge (his opinion that the deluge was not universal being vigorously attacked in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ xlvii. 407, xlviii. 363); Dolly Pentreath, the old woman with whom the Cornish language expired (his investigations thereon exciting the ridicule of Horace Walpole and Peter Pindar); patriarchal customs and manners; and the antiquity of card playing (‘Barrington … is singularly unfortunate in his speculations about cards,’ says Chatto in his ‘History of Playing Cards’). These essays give us an insight into a mind of restless activity, which turned wide though not accurate learning to most ingenious uses. He was by no means free from the antiquarian's credulity. Referring to Bruce's ‘Abyssinian Tour,’ George Steevens writes to Bishop Percy: ‘It will be dedicated to the Honourable Daines Barrington, with singular propriety, as he is the only one who possesses credulity enough for the author's purposes’ (Nichols's Illustrations, vii. 4). And in ‘Peter's Prophecy,’ a dialogue between Peter Pindar and Sir Joseph Banks upon the approaching election of a president of the Royal Society, he is treated thus (Peter Pindar's Works, ii. 74; see also iii. 186):

Sir Joseph. Pray then, what think ye of our famous Daines?
Peter. Think, of a man denied by Nature brains!
Whose trash so oft the Royal leaves disgraces;
Who knows not jordens brown from Roman vases!
About old pots his head for ever puzzling,
And boring earth, like pigs for truffles muzzling.
Who likewise from old urns to crotchets leaps,
Delights in music, and at concerts sleeps.

(See also Mathias's Pursuits of Literature, 16th edition, p. 82 and note.) Barrington himself did not over-estimate his work. ‘I have, perhaps, published too many things,’ was his own reflection. To many who are not acquainted with his writings he is known, at least by name, as one of the correspondents of Gilbert White. And he is more worthy to be remembered than his contemporaries imagined if the report be true that through his encouragement White was induced to write the ‘Natural History of Selborne.’ Bentham, too, placed him in good company in saying that ‘Montesquieu, Barrington, Beccaria, and Helvetius, but most of all Helvetius, set