Henry Savile

Sir Henry Savile, knight, was born in Yorkshire. He was a younger, or son of a younger, brother, not born to a foot of land He came to Merton College, Oxford; he was made warden there.

He was a learned gentleman, as most of his time He would fain have been thought (I have heard Mr Hobbes say) to have been as great a scholar as Joseph Scaliger. But as for mathematics, I have heard Dr Wallis say that he looked on him to be as able a mathematician as any of his time. He was an extraordinarily handsome and beautiful man; no lady had a finer complexion. Queen Elizabeth favoured him much; (he read (I think) Greek and politics to her): he was also preferred to be provost of Eton College.

He was a very severe governor, the scholars hated him for his austerity. He could not abide wits: when a young scholar was recommended to him for a good wit, 'Out upon him, I'll have nothing to do with him; give me the plodding student. If I would look for wits I would go to Newgate, there be the wits'; and John Earles (afterwards Bishop of Salisbury) was the only scholar that ever he took as recommended for a wit, which was from Dr Goodwyn, of Christ Church.

He was not only a severe governor, but old Mr Yates (who was fellow in his time) would make lamentable complaints of him to his dying day, that he did oppress the fellows grievously, and he was so great and a favourite to the queen that there was no dealing with him,. his fault was that he was too much inflated with his learning and riches.

He was very munificent, as appears by the two chairs he had endowed of Astronomy and Geometry. Bishop Ward, of Salisbury, has told me that he first sent for Mr Gunter, from London, (being of Oxford University) to have been his professor of Geometry: so he came and brought with him his sector and quadrant, and fell to resolving of triangles and doing a great many fine things. Said the grave knight, 'Do you call this reading of Geometry? This is showing of tricks, man!' and so dismissed him with scorn, and sent for Briggs from Cambridge.

I have heard Dr Wallis say, that Sir H. Savile has sufficiently confuted Joseph Scaliger On tAe squaring of the circle, on the very margins of the book: and that sometimes when J. Scaliger says 'AB = CD by construction', Sir H. Savile writes sometimes in the margin, 'And your rule is an ass by construction'.

He left only one daughter, mother to this present Sir Charles Sedley, who well resembles his grandfather Savile in the face, but is not so proper a man.

He had travelled very well, and had a general acquaintance with the learned men abroad; by which means he obtained from beyond sea, out of their libraries, several rare Greek MSS., which he had copied by an excellent amanuensis for the Greek character.

Someone put a trick upon him, for he got a friend to send him weekly over to Flanders (I think), the sheets of the curious Chrysostom that were printed at Eton, and translated them into Latin, and printed them in Greek and Latin together, which quite spoiled the sale of Sir Henry's.

Memorandum: he gave his collection of mathematical books to a peculiar little library belonging to the Savilian professors.

From John Aubrey's Brief Lives. (Edited by R Barber, Boydell Press, 1982)