Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wood, Anthony

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WOOD, ANTHONY, or, as he latterly called himself, Anthony à Wood (1632–1695), antiquary and historian, was the fourth son of Thomas Wood (1581–1643) of St. John Baptist's parish, Oxford, by his second wife, Mary Petty (d. 1667), of a family widely dispersed in Oxfordshire. His father, a Londoner by birth, graduated B.C.L. in 1619, but followed no profession, having capital invested in leasehold property in Oxford, and adding to his income by letting lodgings and keeping a tennis-court. Anthony was born on 17 Dec. 1632, in a quaint old house opposite the gate of Merton College, held under long leases from Merton College by his father, and afterwards by the Wood family. He received his school education partly (1641–4) in New College school, partly (June 1644–September 1646) in Lord Williams's school, Thame [see Williams, John, Baron Williams]; but in both places his studies were greatly disturbed by the tumult of the civil war.

Baffling the efforts of his family to engage him in a trade, he matriculated at Merton College in May 1647. The Wood family, both as college tenants and by personal friendship with the warden and fellows, had good interest in that college, and Wood was in a few months made a postmaster. He passed through college without distinction, being a dull pupil, and five years elapsed before he graduated B.A. (July 1652). He submitted to the parliamentary visitors in May 1648, though, in deference to post-Restoration opinion, he represents that submission as forced from him by his mother's tears. In May 1650 he was promoted to a bible clerkship, and proceeded M.A. in December 1655. His family influence might have secured for him, as it had done for his elder brother Edward (d. May 1655), a fellowship in Merton, had it not been for his notoriously peevish temper. At the end of his college course Wood found himself modestly provided for under his father's will, and he refused to adopt any profession, giving himself up to the idle enjoyment of music and of books on heraldry and English history.

Fraternal piety induced him to make a first essay in literature by editing, in March 1656 (second edition 1674), five of Edward Wood's sermons. But he was in great danger of becoming a mere idler and boon companion. From this he was saved by the fascination of Dugdale's ‘Warwickshire,’ which came to Oxford, a noble folio, in the summer of 1656, and fired his ambition to attempt a similar book for his own Oxfordshire. He began to collect inscriptions in Oxford towards that end. Fortunately at this very moment he was helped in his purpose by his mother's movements. She was connected with a great many families of yeomen and lower gentry in Oxfordshire, and, being for the time less embarrassed in money matters than for many years, she made (1657–9) several long visits in different parts of the county. Anthony, her companion, industriously collected inscriptions and noted antiquities wherever they went. These collections are still among his manuscripts in the Bodleian Library.

In the division of the family property Anthony had had assigned to him as his own rooms two garrets in the family house opposite Merton College gate. To enable him to pursue his studies unmolested he had a chimney built (February 1660) in one of them, so providing himself with the hermit's cell in which the rest of his life was passed.

In July 1660 he obtained access to the university archives, and so came to know the great Oxford collections of Brian Twyne [q. v.] (see Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark, iv. 202–26). Wood's book, in consequence, took a wider scope than the mere collection of inscriptions he had at first designed. He planned out an historical survey of the city of Oxford, including histories of the university, the colleges, the monasteries, the parish churches. The scheme was a cumbrous one, and Wood had afterwards to divide it into sections: (1) the city treatise, including the ecclesiastical antiquities; (2) the annals of the university, with accounts of the buildings, professorships, &c.; (3) the antiquities of the colleges. On the different sections of this work Wood laboured very hard for some six years (1661–6). There was no originality in his work, for he merely put into shape Twyne's materials; but he was very conscientious in looking up Twyne's citations in the originals, in the muniment chests of the parishes, the colleges, and the university, as well as in the Bodleian and college libraries.

During these years Wood's life was exceedingly simple. The whole morning was spent in work, either in his study, where he had manuscripts very freely lent him, or in college rooms, where he was allowed to consult documents, or in the Bodleian, where he had leave to wander about at will. In the afternoon he prowled round booksellers' shops, picking up old books, ballads, broadsides, pamphlets, of which he left a rich collection to the university; afterwards he walked with some congenial spirit a few miles out of Oxford, and drank his pot of ale at Botley, Headington, or Cumnor. In the evening there was occasionally a music meeting or cards in some common room, and always the gossip of the coffee-house or tavern. At the end of this time there came long visits (1667–70) to London to verify Twyne's citations from the Cottonian and Royal libraries and the Public Record offices.

The city portion of Wood's treatise remained in manuscript till his death, receiving constantly additional notes as Wood came upon new facts and references. At his death it was placed in the Ashmolean Library. In 1773 appeared ‘The Antient and Present State of the City of Oxford … collected by Mr. Anthony à Wood; with additions by the Rev. Sir J. Peshall, bart.;’ a handsome 4to, with a good map of Oxford in 1773 and plates. But the editorial work was most shamefully done; Wood's text is garbled beyond recognition, and every page is full of gross errors. Wood's city treatise was at last printed in full, from a careful collation of the original manuscript, in the Oxford Historical Society's series, 1889–99 (see below).

The university treatise was more fortunate. Oxford was at the time dominated by the commanding spirit of Dr. John Fell [q. v.], dean of Christ Church since 1660, whose mind shadowed forth great schemes for the glory of Oxford in buildings and in literature. Probably through Ralph Bathurst [q. v.], president of Trinity, who had some kindness of kindred to Wood, Fell was made aware of the young student's collections. He obtained acceptance of the university treatise by the university press (October 1669), and ultimately took on himself the entire charge of printing it. The terms were very favourable to Wood. He was to provide a fair copy of his manuscript, taking greater pains with his citations from manuscripts, and adding, apparently on Fell's suggestion, short biographies of writers and bishops. He received 100l. on his original bargain, and 50l. for his additional pains. Fell also provided and paid for the translation into Latin, by Richard Peers [q. v.] of Christ Church, and Richard Reeve [q. v.] of Magdalen College school. In the biographical notices Wood received very large help from John Aubrey [q. v.]

The disagreeable side of Wood's nature now became predominant. The severity of his studies had given him exaggerated ideas of his own importance; his increasing deafness cut him off from social intercourse, and he became ill-natured, foolishly obstinate in his own opinion, and violently jealous of his own dignity. He quarrelled with his own family; he quarrelled with the fellows of Merton. He quarrelled with his good friend Bathurst, with his patron Fell, with every one who sought either to help him or to shun him. It was said of him, not untruly, that he ‘never spake well of any man.’ Of John Aubrey, the chief contributor to his fame, whose biographical notes he annexed page by page, his language is ungenerous and most ungrateful. He shut himself up more and more in his study, very busy but very unhappy, the antitype of the alchemist's dragon, killing itself in its prison by its own venom.

Wood's book appeared in July 1674, in two great folios with engraved title and numerous head-pieces. It was entitled ‘Historia et Antiquitates Univ. Oxon.;’ vol. i. contains the annals of the university, and vol. ii. gives accounts of university buildings and institutions, historical notices of the colleges and their famous men, and ‘Fasti Oxonienses,’ that is, lists of the chancellors, vice-chancellors, and proctors. Fell distributed copies broadcast, often with the addition of David Loggan's ‘Oxonia Illustrata,’ Oxford, 1675.

Wood, professing himself thoroughly dissatisfied with the form his book had taken, set himself to rewrite it in English. This version was most faithfully published from his manuscripts by John Gutch [q. v.] (see below).

The later years of Wood's life were occupied by the development of Fell's idea, the composition of a biographical dictionary of Oxford writers and bishops. Towards this he unwearyingly searched university and college registers, booksellers' shops, the Wills Office and Heralds' Office in London, public and private libraries, auction catalogues, and newspapers, and he sent letters of inquiry, from 1681 onwards, all over England and even abroad. He received also immense help, very imperfectly acknowledged by him, from Andrew Allam [q. v.] and from John Aubrey.

Wood had in the meantime formed the acquaintance of Ralph Sheldon [see under Sheldon, Edward], at whose house at Weston Park, near Long Compton in Warwickshire, he yearly (1674–81) paid visits of several weeks' duration till the Sheldons were heartily tired of him and his petulant ways. Sheldon, in return for Wood's work in cataloguing his books and manuscripts at Weston, promised Wood help towards the printing of his ‘Athenæ.’ Wood afterwards had several disputes with him about the amount, but received 30l. from Sheldon in his lifetime, 40l. in 1684 under his will, and 50l. in 1690 from his heir.

Wood was ready for press about the beginning of 1690, but found the undertaking costly. It swallowed up not only the money he received from the Sheldons, but 30l. which he received in October 1690 from the university for twenty-five manuscripts sold to the Bodleian. Afterwards, in view of the second volume appearing, he twice tried to sell a further portion of his library. He at last came to terms with Thomas Bennet of London, and the book was published in two folio volumes, vol. i. in June 1691, and vol. ii. in June 1692. In each case Wood had added to the biographical portion proper, i.e. the ‘Athenæ Oxonienses,’ a new draft of his ‘Fasti Oxonienses,’ as a convenient way of bringing in some of his surplus material. Volume i. contained 634 columns of ‘Athenæ’ and 270 columns of ‘Fasti,’ and brought the lives down to 1640. Volume ii., ‘compleating the whole work,’ had 686 columns of ‘Athenæ’ and 220 columns of ‘Fasti,’ and came down to 1690.

The book not unnaturally excited very bitter feelings. Wood was himself fond of severe reflections, and all through his work had adopted reckless charges and criticisms from spiteful correspondents. In November 1692 Henry Hyde, second earl of Clarendon [q. v.], caused Wood to be prosecuted in the vice-chancellor's court at Oxford for libelling his father Edward, the first earl, Wood having printed a statement by John Aubrey accusing the lord chancellor of selling offices at the Restoration. In July 1693 Wood was found guilty, condemned in costs, and expelled the university. The offending pages were publicly burned.

This touched the old antiquary to the quick. But he still laboured at a continuation of his Oxford biographies, to be published as an ‘appendix’ to the ‘Athenæ.’ Among his friends at this time were Arthur Charlett, master of University College, White Kennett, and Thomas Tanner. Wood had a sharp illness on 1 Nov. 1695; about the 11th he again fell ill; Charlett saw him on the 22nd, and told him he was dying. Wood manfully settled his affairs and prepared for death. He died on 29 Nov., aged almost sixty-three, and was buried in Merton College outer chapel, where Thomas Rowney, a personal friend, M.P. for Oxford city, placed a monument to his memory. The Bodleian has a pen drawing of Wood, æt. 45, reproduced in Wood's ‘Life,’ ed. Clark, vol. ii. Michael Burghers about 1691 took a sketch from the life, and engraved it for a headpiece to a privately printed preface to the ‘Athenæ,’ vol. ii., and published an engraved portrait from it after Wood's death. Both are reproduced in Gutch's edition of Wood's ‘Annals;’ but Burghers admitted that Wood ‘was displeased because it was no more like him.’

Wood's printed books and manuscripts (of which a Latin catalogue was published by William Huddesford at Oxford in 1761) were mostly bequeathed by him to the Ashmolean, whence they passed in 1858 to the Bodleian. Many of the manuscript papers which he disposed of otherwise have also found their way thither. The printed books are shortly described in Wood's ‘Life and Times,’ ed. Clark, i. 6–21; and the manuscripts, ib. iv. 228–50.

Wood prided himself on having helped Henry Savage in his ‘Balliofergus,’ 1668; Thomas Blount, in his ‘Law Dictionary,’ 1670; Thomas Gore, in his ‘Catalogus … Authorum … de re Heraldica,’ 1674; and especially Sir William Dugdale in the ‘Monasticon’ and ‘Baronagium.’

The following is a list of Wood's works:

  1. ‘Historia et Antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis, duobus voluminibus comprehensæ: Oxonii, e Theatro Sheldoniano, mdclxxiv,’ fol. No name appears on the title-page, but the preface is signed ‘Antonius à Wood;’ the standard edition is ‘The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford … by Anthony à Wood … by John Gutch, Oxford, vol. i., mdccxci,’ 4to, vol. ii. mdccxcvi, 4to.
  2. ‘Athenæ Oxonienses, an exact History of all the Writers and Bishops who have had their Education in … Oxford from … 1500 to … 1690, to which are added the Fasti … for the same time. The first volume, extending to … 1640, London, printed for Tho. Bennet … mdcxci,’ fol. Perhaps as a precaution against libel suits, no name was set to either this or the second volume, although the prospectus, issued in October 1690, had run ‘Proposals for printing Athenæ Oxonienses … written by … Anthony à Wood. …’ ‘The second volume compleating the whole Work’ appeared at London in 1692, fol. A second edition was published in 1721 by R. Knaplock and J. Tonson, printers, of London, in two volumes folio. It professes to have thousands of corrections and additions from Wood's proof-copy in the Ashmolean, and ‘above five hundred new lives from the author's original manuscript’ (now lost, but then in the hands of Thomas Tanner). Thomas Hearne vehemently, but erroneously, impugns the honesty of this edition. The additions from Wood's copy are often clumsily but always faithfully made, and there is no good ground for suspecting that the ‘new lives’ were tampered with, beyond the deletion of some ill-natured remarks. Dr. Philip Bliss [q. v.] took this as the basis of his edition, 1813–20; and he added much matter of literary interest and bibliographical value. He did not, however, avail himself of Wood's corrected copy or his numerous ‘Athenæ’ collections. He began a reissue of his edition in 1848. One volume (containing Wood's autobiography) was published; a second volume, beginning the text, is in the Bodleian, but shows few changes from the earlier issue. A new edition of the ‘Athenæ’ is much needed, corrected by Wood's own papers and citing Wood's authorities.
  3. ‘Modius Salium, a Collection of such Pieces of Humour as prevailed at Oxford in the time of Mr. Anthony à Wood, collected by himself …,’ Oxford, 1751, 12mo.
  4. ‘The Antient and Present State of the City of Oxford … by Anthony à Wood … by … Sir J. Peshall, London, mdcclxxiii,’ 4to; a new edition by the Rev. Andrew Clark entitled ‘Survey of the Antiquities of the City of Oxford …’ (Oxford Hist. Soc.) was published in octavo, vol. i. 1889, vol. ii. 1890, vol. iii. 1899.
  5. ‘The History and Antiquities of the Colleges and Halls … of Oxford, by Antony Wood … by John Gutch, Oxford, mdcclxxvi,’ 4to; an ‘Appendix containing Fasti Oxonienses … by Anthony Wood’ was edited by John Gutch, Oxford, 1790, 4to.
  6. Among the papers which Wood committed to the care of his executors were an autobiography and his diaries for the years 1657–95, full of interesting matter for contemporary Oxford history. The autobiography was published in 1730 by Thomas Hearne at p. 438 of his edition of ‘Thomæ Caii Vindic. Antiq. Acad. Oxon.’ It was reprinted, with the addition of some diary notes, in 1772 by William Huddesford, and repeated in Dr. Bliss's editions of the ‘Athenæ.’ Subsequently, an accurate edition has recently been brought out with the title ‘The Life and Times of Anthony Wood … collected from his Diaries … by Andrew Clark, for the Oxford Hist. Soc.,’ 8vo, vol. i. 1891, vol. ii. 1892, vol. iii. 1894, vol. iv. 1895. A fifh volume is to complete the work. [Wood's autobiography and diaries, in the Oxford Hist. Soc. series, are full and minute. It may be questioned whether a man ever lived of whose life we have more intimate details. After Wood's death his work and character were much discussed at Oxford, and Thomas Hearne's Diaries (now appearing in the Oxford Hist. Soc. series) have numerous references to him. But they must be received with caution. Wood was a recluse who made numerous enemies. Many untrue and malicious statements respecting him were long in circulation.]

    A. C.-k.