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Antique print of Pref. Edward Pocock -  Nash Ford PublishingProf. Edward Pocock (1604-1691)
Born: 1604 at Oxford, Oxfordshire
Professor of Arabic
: 10th September 1691 at Oxford, Oxfordshire.

Edward Pocock, the orientalist, was born in 1604 at Oxford, in a house near the Angel Inn, in the parish of St. Peter-in-the-East, and there baptised on 8th November 1604. His father, Edward Pocock Senior, matriculated (as 'pleb. fil.' of Hampshire) at Magdalen College in 1585, was demy from 1585 to 1591, held a fellowship from 1591 to 1604, proceeded BA 1588, MA 1592 and then BD 1602. A year later, he was appointed Vicar of Chieveley in Berkshire where the family had lived for at least a hundred years. With his wife, Grace, the sister of Henry Greatham, Edward Senior raised six sons and two daughters. Two other daughters died very young.

Edward, the eldest son, was educated at the free school at Thame in Oxfordshire, then under Richard Butcher, and matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 4th June 1619. In the following year, he migrated to Corpus Christi College, where he was admitted 'discipulus' (ie. scholar) on 11th December 1620, and where his tutor was Gamaliel Chase. Pocock graduated as a BA on 28th November 1622, and an MA on 28th March 1626, and was elected a probationer fellow of Corpus on 24th July 1628. He received priest's orders on 20th December 1629 from Bishop Richard Corbet, in accordance with the terms of his fellowship. He had already begun to devote his attention to oriental studies and had profited, first at Oxford, by the lectures of the German Arabist, Matthias Pasor, and later, near London, by the instruction of the learned Vicar of Tottenham High Cross, William Bedwell, the father of Arabic studies in England. The first result of these preparations was an edition of those parts of the Syriac version of the New Testament which were not included in the previous editions of 1555 and 1627. Pocock discovered the four missing catholic epistles (Pet. ii., John ii., iii., and Jude) in a manuscript at the Bodleian Library and transcribed them in Syriac and Hebrew characters, adding the corresponding Greek text, a Latin translation and notes. Gerard John Vossius, professor at Leyden, Canon of Canterbury and "dictator in the commonwealth of learning," after seeing Pocock's manuscript, on a visit to Oxford, warmly encouraged him to publish it and, by the influence of Vossius and under the supervision of Ludovicus de Dieu, the work appeared at Leyden in 1630, with the title of 'Versio et notae ad quatuor epistolas Syriace'.

In the same year, the chaplaincy to the English 'Turkey Merchants' at Aleppo became vacant by the retirement of Charles Robson of Queen's College. Pocock was appointed to the vacancy in 1629 and, in October 1630, arrived at Aleppo in Syria, where he resided for over five years. During this time, he made himself master of Arabic, which he not only read but spoke fluently, studied Hebrew, Samaritan, Syriac and Ethiopic, and associated on friendly terms with learned Muslims and Jews, who helped him in collecting manuscripts, which was one of the chief ends he had in view when accepting the post, and in which he was extraordinarily successful. Pusey remarked that, of all the numerous collectors of manuscripts whose treasures have enriched the Bodleian Library, Pocock alone escaped being deceived and cheated in his purchases. Besides acquiring a large number of Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopic and Armenian manuscripts, and a Samaritan penta-teuch, he brought back a copy of Meydani's collection of 6,013 Arabic proverbs, which he translated, in 1635, but never published, though a specimen was printed by Schultens in 1773 and another part in 1775. For travel and exploration, he confessed he had no taste, but his observation of eastern manners and natural history served him in good stead as a commentator on the Old Testament (cf. his famous correction of 'wailing like the dragons' in Micah i. 8, into 'howling like the jackals'). As a pastor, he was devoted and indefatigable; and when the plague raged at Aleppo in 1634, and many of the merchants fled to the mountains, Pocock remained at his post. Though personally a stranger to him, he had attracted the notice of Laud, then Bishop of London, who wrote to him several times with commissions for the purchase of ancient Greek coins and oriental manuscripts; and, after becoming Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of the University, Laud offered to appoint him the first professor of the Arabic 'lecture' which he was about to found at Oxford. Accordingly, Pocock returned to England, probably early in 1636, and, on 8th July of that year, he was admitted, after the necessary exercises, to the degree of B.D. The professorship was worth 40 a year, and Pocock was. to lecture on Arabic literature and grammar for one hour at eight a.m. every Wednesday in Lent and during the vacations (i.e. when the arts course did not fully occupy the time of the students, who in those days commonly resided during vacation as well as in term time), under penalty of a fine, and all bachelors were required to attend the lecture. On 10th August, the now professor "opened his lecture" with a Latin dissertation on the nature and importance of the Arabic language and literature (a small part of which was published as an appendix to his Lamiato 'l Ajam, 1661), and then began a course of lectures on the sayings of the Caliph 'Ali.

In 1637, at Laud's insistence, Pocock again set sail for the east, for the purpose of further study under native teachers, and to collect more manuscripts. This time, he travelled with his "dear friend" John Greaves. Pocock, besides his fellowship, now possessed private means by the recent death of his father and probably received some further assistance from Laud, or, through Greaves, from Lord Arundel. Thomas Greaves, 'lector humanitatis' (Latin reader) at Corpus was appointed his deputy in the Arabic lecture during his absence. From December 1637 to August 1640, Pocock resided at Constantinople, chiefly at the British embassy, where he acted as temporary chaplain to Sir Peter Wyche and Sir Sackville Crow. He enjoyed the friendship, and doubtless used the flue library, of the learned patriarch, Cyril Lucaris, until his assassination in 1638. He studied with Jacob Romano, 'Judaeorum, quos mihi nosse contigit, nemini vel doctrina vel ingenuitate secundus', and was assisted in his researches, among others, by Georgio Cerigo and by Nathaniel Canopius the protosyncellus, who afterwards resided in Balliol and Christ Church. He left Constantinople in August 1640 and, after a pause at Paris after Christmas, where he met Gabriel Sionita and Hugo Grotius, he reached London in the Spring of 1641. Laud was then in the Tower, where Pocock visited him. He found that the Archbishop had placed the endowment of the Arabic chair beyond the risk of attainder by settling (on 6th June 1640) certain lands in Bray in Berkshire, for its perpetual maintenance. In November 1641, Laud presented a further collection of manuscripts to the university, many of which were doubtless the fruits of Pocock's and Greaves' travels.

After a brief residence at Oxford, which was now disturbed by the Civil War, Pocock was presented, by his college in 1642, to the rectory of Childrey in Berkshire. He is represented as a devout and assiduous parish priest; but his connection with Laud and his Royalist convictions, coupled with an over-modest manner and lack of 'unction,' did not recommend him to his parishioners. They cheated him of his tithes and harassed him by quartering soldiers at the rectory. The sequestrators of Laud's estates, moreover, illegally laid hands on the endowment of the Arabic lecture, but were compelled to restore it under pressure from Dr. Gerard Langbaine, Provost of Queen's, John Greaves and John Selden. Selden, as burgess of the university, also procured, for Pocock, a special protection under the hand of Fairfax dated 5th December 1647, against the exactions of the parliamentary troops. The committee appointed (on 1st May 1647) for the visitation and reformation of the University of Oxford and the several colleges and halls thereof brought fresh troubles. At first it seemed as if Pocock was to be taken into favour by the visitors. For they appointed him to the professorship of Hebrew, vacant by the death of Dr. John Morris, on 21st March 1648, together with the canonry of Dr. Payne, whom they had ejected. The King, then a prisoner at Carisbrooke, had already nominated Pocock for the professorship and canonry. Pocock was one of the twenty delegates appointed by the committee of visitation, on 19th May 1648, to answer 'de omnibus quae ad rem Academic publicam pertinent', but, apparently under the advice of John Greaves, he omitted to appear before the visitors, or to reply to their summons. When he also failed to take the 'engagement' of 1649, he was dismissed from his canonry. Peter French, Cromwell's brother-in-law, was appointed in his place. On 30th November 1650, Pocock wrote to Horn of Gueldres: "I have learnt, and made it the unalterable principle of my soul, to keep peace, as far as in me lies, with all men; to pay due reverence and obedience to the higher powers, and to avoid all things that are foreign to my profession or studies; but to do anything that may ever so little molest the quiet of my conscience would be more grievous than the loss, not only of my fortunes, but even of my life". Accordingly, he was deprived of the two 'lectures,' probably in December 1650; for in that month, a petition was addressed to the visiting committee on his behalf, signed not only by his friends, but by many of the new men appointed by the visitors, including the vice-chancellor, proctors, several heads of houses and numerous fellows, masters of arts and bachelors of law, who begged that the "late vote, as to the Arabic lecture, at least," should be suspended in view of Pocock's great learning and peaceable conduct. Strongly seconded by Selden, this remonstrance was successful, and Pocock continued to hold both lectures, without the canonry, and resided at Balliol when he came to Oxford in the vacations to deliver his courses. In 1655, at the insistance of a few fanatical parishioners, he was cited before the commissioners at Abingdon under the new act for ejecting "ignorant, scandalous, insufficient and negligent ministers". The leading Oxford scholars, headed by Dr. John Owen (1616-1683), warned the commission of the contempt they would draw upon themselves if they ejected for "ignorance and insufficiency" a man whose learning was the admiration of Europe; and, after several months of examination and hearing witnesses on both sides, the charge was finally dismissed. In spite of such interruptions, Pocock continued his studies at Childrey. He had married, about 1646, Mary, daughter of Thomas Burdet, esq., of West Worldham in Hampshire, by whom he had six sons and three daughters.

At the end of 1649, he published at Oxford and dedicated to Selden, his 'Specimen historic Arabum,' in which an excerpt from the 'Universal History' of Abu-l-Faraj is used as a peg whereon are hung a series of elaborate essays on Arabian history, science, literature and religion, based upon prolonged researches in over a hundred Arabic manuscripts, and forming an epoch in the development of eastern studies. All later orientalists, from Reland and Ockley to S. de Sacy, have borne their testimony to the immense erudition and sound scholarship of this remarkable work, of which a second edition was edited by Joseph White in 1800. The 'Specimen' is interesting also for the history of printing, for Twells asserts, it is believed correctly, that Pocock's 'Specimen' and John Greaves' 'Bainbrigii Canicularia' (1648) were the first two books in Arabic type which issued from the Oxford University press. Similarly the 'Porta Mosis,' or edition (Arabic in Hebrew characters) of the six prefatory discourses of Maimonides on the Mishna, with Latin translation and notes (especially on Septuagint readings), on which Pocock had been engaged since 1650, but which was not published till 1655, is believed to be the first Hebrew text printed at Oxford from type specially founded by the university at Dr. Langbaine's insistence for Pocock's use. In 1658, another work of Pocock's appeared, the 'Contextio Gemmarum,' or Latin translation of the 'Annals' of Eutychius, which he had begun, somewhat reluctantly, in 1652 at the urgent request of Selden (who did not, as has been imagined, take any share in the labour). The great event for oriental learning in 1657 was the publication by Dr. Brian Walton of his 'Biblia Sacra Polyglotta,' in which Pocock had taken a constant interest for five years, advising, criticising, lending manuscripts from his own collection, collating the Arabic version of the Pentateuch and contributing a critical appendix to Volume Six. He translated and published, in 1659, a treatise "on the nature of the drink Kauhi or coffee . . . described by an Arabian physician." This was his last work completed at Childrey. The Restoration brought him into permanent residence at Christ Church; and, though he retained his rectory till his death, he appointed a curate to perform its duties. His memory is still preserved by a magnificent cedar in the rectory garden, said to have been imported and planted by him. Two cedars at Highclere, in Hampshire, are also believed to have been raised from cones brought from Syria by Pocock.

In June 1660, Pocock attended the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford when he waited upon Charles II with felicitations on his happy restoration; and, on the 20th of the same month, his Hebrew professorship, together with the canonry and lodgings at Christ Church properly assigned thereto, was formally granted him by letters patent. He was installed on 27th July and received the degree of D.D. by Royal letters on 20th September. Henceforward, he lived in studious ease at Christ Church in the lodgings of the Hebrew professor, in the garden of which is still seen the fig-tree, the famous 'Arbor Pocockiana,' imported by the professor from Syria, 'prima sui generis,' according to Dr. White's engraving preserved at Christ Church, and certainly the only ancient fig-tree on record still existing in England. In 1660, he published (at the cost of the Hon. Robert Boyle) an Arabic translation (with emendations and a new preface) of Grotius' tract, 'De veritate religionis Christianiae,' undertaken in the hope of converting Muslims. In 1661, appeared the text and translation of the Arabic poem, 'Lamiato 'l Ajam, Carmen.....Tograi,' with grammatical and explanatory notes, produced at the Oxford Press under the superintendence of Samuel Clarke, architypographus to the university, who appended a treatise of his own on Arabic prosody (separate pagination and title 1661); and, in 1663, Pocock brought out the Arabic text and Latin translation of the 'Historia compendiosa dynastiarum' of Abu-l-Faraj (Bar Hebraeus), of which an excerpt had formed the text of the 'Specimen' thirteen years before. Though dedicated to the King, this memorable work attracted little notice at the time. A severe illness, in 1663, left him permanently lame, but did not long arrest his energy. He lent Castell Ethiopia manuscripts for his great 'Lexicon Heptaglotton,' published in 1669, and translated the catechism (1671) and the principal parts of the liturgy of the Church of England into Arabic; but his chief work, in these later years, was his elaborate and comprehensive commentary on the minor prophets, which issued at intervals from the university press: Micah and Malachi in 1677, Hosea in 1685 and Joel in 1691.

Pocock shared in the cathedral and college work at Christ Church. He was censor theologiae in 1662, treasurer in 1665, and several times held proxies to act for the Dean or other authority. He was present at chapters as late as July 1688. When James II visited Oxford, in 1687, Pocock was the senior doctor present and he was long a delegate of the university press. John Locke (1632-1704), who was long intimate with him at Christ Church, wrote of him to Humphrey Smith (23 July 1703): "The Christian world is a witness of his great learning, that the works he published would not suffer to be concealed, nor could his devotion and piety be hid, and be unobserved in a college, where his constant and regular assisting at the cathedral service, never interrupted by sharpness of weather, and scarce restrained by downright want of health, shewed the temper and disposition of his mind; but his other virtues and excellent, qualities had so strong and close a covering of modesty and unaffected humility' that they were apt to be overlooked by the unobservant. Though the readiest to communicate to any one that consulted him," "he had often the silence of a learner where he had the knowledge of a master.....Though a man of the greatest temperance in himself, and the farthest from ostentation and vanity in his way of living, yet he was of a liberal mind, and given to hospitality.....His name, which was in great esteem beyond sea, and that deservedly, drew on him visits from all foreigners of learning who came to Oxford.....He was always unaffectedly cheerful.....His life appeared to me one constant calm".

Pocock died on 10th September 1691, at one o'clock in the morning. "His only distemper was great old age". He was buried in the north aisle of the cathedral, near his son Richard (who had died in 1666), but his monument, a bust erected by his widow, which was originally on the east of the middle window in the north aisle of the nave, was removed during the restorations to the south aisle of the nave undertaken in the of the 1860s Two portraits are preserved in the Bodleian Library: one, in the gallery, represents a man in the prime of life, with light hair, moustache and tuft on chin, dark eyes, and mild expression; the other, on the staircase, belongs to his old age, and shows white hair and pointed beard. His valuable collection of 420 oriental manuscripts was bought by the university in 1693 for 600, and is in the Bodleian, and some of his printed books were acquired by the Bodleian in 1822, by bequest from the Rev. C. Francis of Brasenose. His own annotated copy of the 'Specimen' is among these. There are also letters of Pocock in the British Museum.

Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1896)


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