Phreas, John (DNB00)

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PHREAS or FREE, JOHN (d. 1465), scholar, was a native of London, though his family seems to have belonged to Bristol. He was a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was admitted B.A. on 26 June 1449, determined in 1450, was dispensed on 15 June 1453, and incepted as M.A. on 11 April 1454 (Boase, Reg. Univ. Oxon. i. 1, Oxford Hist. Soc.). After leaving Oxford he was rector of St. Michael in Monte at Bristol. According to Leland, he there made the acquaintance of Italian merchants, and so was induced to go to Italy. But, in point of fact, he seems to have gone abroad to study at the expense of William Grey [q. v.], bishop of Ely, and in the company of John Gunthorpe [q. v.], both Balliol scholars like himself. With Gunthorpe he studied under Guarino of Verona (d. 1460) at Ferrara, and was specially commended by Carbo of Ferrara in his funeral oration on Guarino. Afterwards he taught medicine at Ferrara, Florence, and Padua, and by this means is said to have acquired a large fortune. About 1465 he went to Rome under the patronage of John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester [q. v.], and there attracted so much notice that within a month he was provided by Paul II to the bishopric of Bath and Wells. But before he could be consecrated he died at Rome, not without some suspicion that he had been poisoned.

As a scholar, Free was perhaps the most eminent of the little band of Englishmen who thus early went to study in Italy; he was distinguished for his knowledge of philosophy, medicine, and the civil law, and had a high repute for scholarship, both in Greek and Latin. Warton says that Free's letters ‘show uncommon terseness and facility of expression.’ Free wrote: 1. ‘Cosmographia Mundi cum Naturis Arborum.’ This is merely a collection of excerpts from the ‘Natural History’ of Pliny, bks. ii. to xx. It is contained in Balliol College MS. 124. 2. ‘Epistolæ.’ Ten of Free's letters are contained in Bodleian MS. 2359, together with some of the writings of John Gunthorpe. Five of them are addressed to William Grey; in one he complains that the bishop's remittances of money had failed him, and that he had had to pawn his books to the Jews at Ferrara. There is a letter from John Tiptoft to Phreas in a manuscript in the Lincoln Cathedral Library. 3. ‘Petrarchæ Epitaphium,’ inc. ‘Tuscia me genuit;’ written for Petrarch's tomb at the request of Italian scholars. 4. ‘Expostulatio Bacchi ad Tiptoft,’ in verse. 5. ‘Carmina.’ 6. ‘Epigrammata.’ 7. ‘De Coma.’ 8. ‘Contra Diodorum Siculum poetice fabulantem.’ He translated the Phalakras egkōmion of Synesius of Cyrene. The ‘De laude Calvitii’ in Free's translation was printed with the ‘Encomium Moriæ’ of Erasmus at Basle in 1519, 1520, and 1521, with a prefatory epistle commencing ‘Solent qui in librorum.’ Free's translation formed the basis of the English version published by Abraham Fleming [q. v.] in 1579 as ‘A Paradoxe, proving by reason and example that Baldnesse is much better than Bushie Haire.’ Free is also said to have translated ‘Xenophontis quædam’ and ‘Diodori Siculi Libri sex.’ But it seems clear that the last was translated by Poggio, under whose name it was printed in 1472 and 1493; it is, however, ascribed to Free in Balliol College MS. 124, which is no doubt the manuscript to which Leland refers as his authority.

[Some biographical notes of nearly contemporary date are contained in Balliol College MS. 124; see Coxe's Cat. MSS. in Coll. Aulisque Oxon. i. 35–6; Leland's Comment. de Scriptoribus, pp. 466–8, and Collectanea, iii. 60; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. pp. 597–8; Bale's Centuriæ, viii. 614; Savage's Balliofergus, p. 103; Warton's History of English Poetry, ii. 555–7, ed. Price; Zeno's Dissertazioni Vossiane, i. 41–3; Hallam's Literature of Europe, i. 146, 167.]

C. L. K.