SIR HENRY SAVILE, KNT
Some have doubted whether the “Mr. Savile,” on the list of Translators, was the renowned scholar afterwards known as Sir Henry Savile. But the matter is put beyond doubt by Anthony Wood and others. Savile was born at Bradley, in Yorkshire, November 30th, 1549, “of ancient and worshipful extraction.” He graduated at Brazen Nose College, Oxford; but afterwards became a Fellow of Merton College. In 1570, he read his ordinaries on the Almagest of Ptolemy, a collection of the geometrical and astronomical observations and problems of the ancients. By this exercise he very early became famous for his Greek and mathematical learning. In this latter science, he for some time read voluntary lectures.
In his twenty-ninth year, he travelled in France and elsewhere, to perfect himself in literature; and returned highly accomplished in learning, languages, and knowledge of the world and men. He then became tutor in Greek and mathematics to Queen Elizabeth, whose father, Henry VIII., is said by Southey to have set the example of giving to daughters a learned education. It is to her highest honor, that when she had been more than twenty years upon the throne, she still kept up her habits of study, as appears by this appointment of Mr. Savile.
In 1686, he was made Warden of Merton College, which office he filled with great credit for six and thirty years, and also to the great prosperity of the institution. Ten years later, he added to this office, that of Provost of Eton College, which school rapidly increased in reputation under him. “Thus,” as Fuller says, “this skilful gardener had, at the same time, a nursery of young plants, and an orchard of grown trees, both flourishing under his careful inspection.” He was no admirer of geniuses; but preferred diligence to wit. “Give me,” he used to say “the plodding student. If I would look for wits, I would go to Newgate; --there be the wits!” As might be expected, he was somewhat unpopular with his scholars, on account of the severity with which he urged them to diligence.
Soon after his nomination as one of the Translators, having declined all offers of other promotion, whether civil or ecclesiastical, he was knighted by the King. About the same time, he buried his only son Henry, at the age of eight years. In consequence of this bereavement, he devoted most of his wealth to the promotion of learning. He translated the Histories of Cornelius Tacitus, and published the same with notes. He also published, from the manuscripts, the writings of Bradwardin against Pelagius; the Writers of English history subsequent to Bede; Prelections on the Elements of Euclid; and other learned works in English and Latin.
He is chiefly known, however, by being the first to edit the complete works of John Chrysostom, the most famous of the Greek Fathers. He spent large sums in procuring from all parts of Europe, manuscripts, and copies of manuscripts. He not only made learned and critical notes on his favorite author, but procured those of Andrew Downes and John Bois, two of his fellow-laborers on the Translation of the Bible. His edition of one thousand copies was published in 1613, and makes eight immense folios. All his expenses in this labor of love amounted above eight thousand pounds, of which the paper alone cost a fourth part. * It was fifty years before all the copies were sold. The Benedictines in Paris, however, through their emissaries in England, succeeded in surreptitiously procuring the labors of the learned knight, sheet by sheet, as they came from the press. These they reprinted as they were received, adding a Latin translation, and some other considerable matter, and forming thirteen mighty folios. By this transaction, the friars may have gained the most glory, but surely are not entitled to much honor.
Sir Henry Savile also founded two professorships at Oxford, with liberal endowments; one of geometry, and the other of astronomy. It is related of him; that he once chanced to fall in with a Master Briggs, of the rival University of Cambridge. In a learned encounter, Briggs succeeded in demonstrated some point in opposition to the previous opinion of Sir Henry. This pleased the worthy knight so well, that he appointed Mr. Briggs to one of his professorships. He made other valuable benefactions to Oxford, in land, money, and books. Many of his books are still in the Bodleian library there.
Sir Henry Savile died at Eton College, where he was buried, February 19th, 1621, in his seventy-second year. He was styled, “that magazine of learning, whose memory shall be honorable among the learned and the righteous for ever.” He left an only daughter, Elizabeth, who was married to Sir John Sedley, a wealthy baronet of Kent. Sir Henry’s wife was Margaret, daughter of George Dacrews, of Cheshunt, Esq. It is said that Sir Henry was a singularly handsome man, and that no lady could boast a finer complexion.
He was so much of a book-worm, and so sedulous at his study, that his lady, who was not very deep in such matters, thought herself neglected. She once petulantly said to him, “Sir Henry, I would that I were a book, and then you would a little more respect me.” A person standing by was so ungallant as to reply, “Madam, you ought to be an almanac, that he might change at the year’s end.” At this retort, the lady was not a little offended. A little before the publication of Chrysostom, when Sir Henry lay sick, Lady Savile said, that if Sir Harry died, she would burn Chrysostom for killing her husband. To this, Mr. Bois, who rendered Sir Henry much assistance in that laborious undertaking, meekly replied, that “so to do were great pity.” To him, the lady said, “Why, who was Chrysostom?” “One of the sweetest preachers since the apostles’ times,” answered the enthusiastic Bois. Whereupon the lady was much appeased, and said, “she would not burn him for all the world.” From these precious samples, it may be inferred that your fine lady is much the same in all ages of the world, no matter whom she may marry.
It is enough for our purpose, that Sir Henry Savile was one of the most profound, exact, and critical scholars of his age; and meet and ripe to take a prominent part in the preparation of our incomparable version.
* Making the usual allowance for the difference in the value of money then and now, he expended to the value of more than three hundred thousand dollars!