Isaac Barrow

Aubrey's Brief Lives

Obituaries Index

His father, Thomas Barrow, was the second son of Isaac Barrow of Spinney Abbey in the county of Cambridge, esquire, who was a justice of the Peace there above forty years. The father of Thomas never designed him for a tradesman, but he was so severe to him he could not endure to live with him, and so came to London and was apprentice to a linen-draper He kept shop at the sign of the White Horse in Forster Lane near St Forster's Church in St Leonard's parish; and his son, Isaac Barrow was christened at St John Zachery's in Forster Lane, for at that time St Leonard's church was pulled down to be re-edified. He was born anno Domini l630 in October after King Charles II.

Dr Isaac Barrow had the exact day and hour from his father, which may be found among his papers. His father set it down in his English bible, a fair one, which they used at the king's chapel when he was in France and he could not get it again. His father travelled with the King, Charles II, whenever he went; he was scaler to the lord chancellor beyond sea [during the king's exile], and also when he came into England.

He went to school, first to Mr Brookes at Charterhouse two years. His father gave to Mr Brookes £4 per annum, whereas his pay was but £2, to be careful of him; but Mr Brookes was negligent of him, which the captain of the school acquainted his father (his kinsman) and said that he would not have him stay there any longer than he himself did, for the captain instructed him: afterwards to one Mr Holbitch, about four years, at Felsted in Essex: from whence he was admitted of Peterhouse College in Cambridge first, and went to school a year after. Then he was admitted of Trinity College in Cambridge at thirteen years old.

His humour when a boy and after: merry and cheerful and beloved whenever he came. His grandfather kept him till he was seven years old: his father was fain to force him away, for he would have been good for nothing there.

A good poet, English and Latin. He spoke eight several languages

His father dealt in his trade to Ireland, where he had a great loss, near £1000; upon which he wrote to Mr Holbitch, a Puritan, to be pleased to take a little pains more than ordinary with him, because the times growing so bad, and such a loss then received, he did not know how he might be able to provide for him, and so Mr Holbitch took him away from the house where he was boarded to his own house, and made him tutor to my lord Viscount Fairfax, ward of the lord Viscount Say and Sele, where he continued so long as my lord continued.

(This Viscount Fairfax died a young man.) This Viscount Fairfax, being a schoolboy, married a gentleman's daughter in the town there, who had but a thousand pounds So leaving the school, would needs have Mr Isaac Barrow with him, and told him he would maintain him. But the Lord Say was so cruel to Fairfax that he would not allow anything, that 'tis thought he died for want. (The thousand pounds could not serve him long.)

During this time Mr Thomas Barrow was shut up at Oxford and could not hear of his son. But young Isaac's master, Holbitch, found him out in London and courted him to come to his school and that he would make him his heir. But he did not care to go to the school again. When my Lord Fairfax ran into debt and that he grew heavy upon him, he went to see one of his schoolfellows, one Mr Walpole (a Norfolk gent.) who asked him 'What would he do?' He replied that 'he knew not what to do; he could not go to his father at Oxford'. Mr Walpole then told him 'I am going to Cambridge to Trinity College and I will maintain you there'; and so he did for half a year till the surrender of Oxford: and then his father enquired after him and found him at Cambridge. And the very next day after old Mr Barrow came to Cambridge, Mr Walpole was leaving the University, and (hearing nothing of Isaac's father) resolved to take Isaac along with him to his house. His father then asked him what profession he would be of, a merchant or etc? He begged of his father to let him continue in the University. His father then asked what would maintain him. He told him £20 per annum: 'I warrant you,' said he, 'I will maintain myself with it.' His father replied, 'I'll make a shift to allow you that.' So his father then went to his tutor and acquainted him of all this. His tutor, Dr Duport, told him that he would take nothing for his lectures, for that he was likely to make a brave scholar, and he would help him to half a chamber for nothing. And the next news his father heard of him was that he was made a fellow of the college. Dr Hill was then master of the college. He met Isaac one day and laid his hand upon his head and said.. 'Thou art a good boy; 'tis pity that thou art a cavalier.'

He was a strong and a stout man, and feared not any man He would fight with the butchers' boys in St Nicholas' shambles, and be hard enough for any of them.

He went to travel three or four years after the king was beheaded, upon the college account [because the college threatened to expel him as a royalist?]. He was a candidate for the Greek professor's place, but Oliver Cromwell put in Dr Widrington; and then he travelled.

He was abroad five years, viz in Italy, France, Germany, Constantinople As he went to Constantinople, two men-of-war (Turkish ships) attacked the vessel wherein he was. In which engagement he showed much valour in defending the vessel; which the men that were in that engagement often testify, for he never told his father of it himself Upon his return, he came in a ship to Venice, which was stowed with cotton wool, and as soon as ever they came on shore the ship fell on fire and was utterly consumed, and not a man lost, but not any goods saved -- a wonderful preservation.

His personal valour: at Constantinople, being in company with the English merchants there was a boaster that would fight with any man and bragged of his valour, and dared any man there to try him. So no man accepting his challenge, said Isaac (not then a divine) 'Why, if none else will try you, I will'; and fell upon him and chastised him handsomely, so that he vaunted no more amongst them.

After he had been three years beyond sea, his correspondent died, so that he had no more supply of money; yet he was so well beloved that he never wanted. At Constantinople, he waited on the consul, Sir Thomas Bendish, who kept him there a year and a half whether he would or no.

At Constantinople, Mr Dawes (afterwards Sir Jonathan Dawes, who died Sheriff of London), a Turkey merchant, desired Mr Barrow to stay but such a time and he would return to England with him, but when that time came he could not go; some business detained him. Mr Barrow could stay no longer; so Mr Dawes would have had Mr Barrow have a hundred gold coins. 'No,' said Mr Barrow, 'I know not whether I shall be able to pay you.' "Tis no matter,' said Mr Dawes. To be short, he forced him to take fifty pistols, which at his return he paid him again.

Memorandum, his pill (an opiate, possibly Matthews his pill), which he was wont to take in Turkey, which was wont to do him good; but he took it excessively at Mr Wilson's, the saddler's (near Suffolk House) where he was wont to lie and where he died, and 'twas the cause of his death. As he lay expiring in the agony of death, the standers-by could hear him say softly 'I have seen the glories of the world.'

I have heard Mr Wilson say that when he was at study, he was so intent at it that when the bed was made, or so, he heeded it not nor perceived it, was so completely absorbed; and would sometimes be going out without his hat on. He was by no means a spruce man, but most negligent in his dress. As he was walking one day in St James's Park, his hat up, his cloak half on and half off, a gent. came behind him and clapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Well, go thy ways for the veriest scholar that ever I met with.'

He was a strong man, but pale as the candle he studied by.
From John Aubrey's Brief Lives. (Edited by R Barber, Boydell Press, 1982)