J. B. Bury

Life
1861-1927 [John Bagnell Bury]; b. Monaghan, ed. Foyle College, Derry, and TCD; Erasmus Smith Prof. Mod. Hist., TCD, 1893; Greek, 1898; succeeded Lord Acton as history Prof. at Cambridge, 1902; History of the Later Roman Empire (1889), at twenty-eight, paved way for prolific output; later issed histories of Rome (1899) and Greece (1900); Life of St. Patrick (1905); Ancient Greek Historians (1909); A History of the Freedom of Thought (1914); A History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius to the Death of Justinian (1923); ed. Cambridge Ancient History [q.d.]; he was an anti-determinist, sometimes credited with coining the remark about on the world being altered if Cleopatra’s nose were shorter, which he quoted from Blaise Pascal in a paper before the Rationalist Press Association in 1916; was Yeats’s classics master at High School, Dublin and may have interested him in Byzantium, acc. Richard Ellmann. ODNB DIB DIW

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Works
Nemean Odes of Pindar (1890); Isthmian Odes of Pindar (1892); History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene (1889); History of the Roman Empire ... to the death of Marcus Aurelius (1893); ed., Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, 7 vols. (1896-1900); History of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great (1900); Life of St. Patrick (1905); History of the Eastern Empire form the fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I (1912); History of the Freedom of Thought (1914); Idea of Progress (1920); History of the later Roman Empire from the death of Theodosius to the death of Justinian (1923). Also, a series of papers on law and public administration in later Roman Empire (1906-11). For bibliography, see New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, 4 (1972) pp.1143-5 [cited in Eager]

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Commentary
W. B. Stanford
, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; this ed. 1984), JB Bury, an infant prodigy; b. Foyle College, Derry, and TCD; edited Hyppolytus of Euripides with Mahaffy at 21 in 1881; Fellow in 1885; History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene (1889); editions of Pindar’s Nimean and Isthmian odes in 1890 and 1892, severely criticised for over-insistence on a special stylistic feature; earlier period treated in his History of Greece (1900), The Ancient Greek Historians (1909), and his chapters of the Cambridge Ancient History, which he edited. Resigned his double tenure of chairs of Greek and Modern History in Dublin to take Regius Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge; in his inaugural lecture, he proposed that ‘history is a science, no less and no more’, challenging the moral and literary approaches. ‘To clothe the story in a literary dress is no more the part of a historian than it is the part of an astronomer to present in an artistic shape the story of the stars.’ He advocated for historians ‘a systematic and minute method of analysing their source’ and ‘microscopic criticism’ [155]. His own Life of St Patrick has a preface containing a partial retraction; ‘In vindicating the claims of history to be regarded as a science or Wissenschaft, I never meant to suggest a proposition so indefensible as that the presentation of historical research is not an art, requiring the tact and skill in selection and arrangement which belong to the literary faculty.’ In a Quarterly Review article of 1900 he put the Greeks above the Romans, ‘The Romans of the Empire originated nothing. It is not too much to say that, form Augustus to Augustulus, poverty of ideas, incapacity for hard thinking and excessive deference to authority, characterises the Roman world ...’. Stanford considers that his diction about history as science has to be taken in a Pickwickian sense. Nevertheless his inaugural address was also epochal for historians. [157] Bibl., N. H. Baynes, Bibliography of the Works of J. B. Bury (Cambridge UP 1929), with biographical introduction; PBAcad. xiii (368-78); H. Temperley, Selected Essays of JB Bury (Cambridge UP 1930); JP Whitney, Cambridge Historical Journal 2 (1927), 1991-97; also ODNB. And see Arnold Toynbee, Experiences (London 1969), 109-10 on influence of and disagreement with Bury’s view of history as science [CHP. NOTES].

Oliver St John Gogarty, I Follow St. Patrick (London: Rich & Cowan 1938), p.60.f: cites Bury’s Life of Patrick (1905), and remarks of the author: ‘To the layman Bury may be recommneded in the words of one who writes of him as a “great scholar bred in Ireland but standing aloof from all creeds and parties”. In Ireland that is one way of calling a man an agnostic. But Bury was an atheist, as I discovered when I studied under him and found that he preferred Bacchylides to Pindar, the nightly guest-friend of the god! However, that is an aside. The suggestion in the statement of his aloofness from all creeds is that he had no axe to grind. The paradoxical [61] idea that no one can hold a fair or detached view of another until he disbelieves in him and his creed, may be indigenous. On the understanding that I do not subscribe to it, I will give our aloof scholar’s reasons why Alcluith could not be the home of Patrick …’ [quotes extensively].

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Quotations
J. B. Bury
, MA, The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History (Macmillan & Co. 1905), pp.404, pref., v-x; text, 1-224pp.; appendix, 225-end [small type with sects.]. The Preface makes grateful reference to Prof. Gwynn’s simultaneous involvement in a diplomatic edition of the Codex Armachanus ‘which constitute the principal body of evidence.’ Appendix A, I-III, deals with bibliographical material; Appendix B contains chapter notes; App. C., called Excursus, deals with Gaelic background and with Prof. Zimmer’s theory. [Bury opposed by Mrs. Concannon and others.] Of Todd, ‘The radical vice of the book is that the indispensable substructure is lacking. The preliminary task of criticising the sources methodically was never performed. Todd showed his scholarship and historical insight in dealing with this particular passage or that particular statement, but such sporadic criticism was no substitute for methodical Quellenkritik. Hence his results might be right or wrong but they could not be convincing. [vi]. Further, ‘To understand the conversion of Ireland, which we are here considering as an episode in the histor of Europe, we musst glance at the general conditions o the early propagation of the Christian idea. [2] It would be easy to determine how much Christianity owes to the Roman Empire, and we can hardly imagine what the rate and the mode of its progress through southern and western Europe would have been if these lands had not been united and organised by the might of Rome. [3] ... Among the independent neighborus of the Roman Empire, Ierland occupies a singular place as the only part of the Celtic world which had not been gathered under the sceptre of Rome. it may be suspected that an erroneous opinion is prevalent, just because it lay outside the Empire, that this outlying island was in early times more separate and aloof from Europe than its geographical position would lead us to suppose. [10] ... it will not astonish us to learn that Christian communities exist which are ripe for organisation, or to find this religion penetrating into the house of the High Kings. We shall see reasons for supposing that the Latin alphabet had already made its way to Ireland, and th reception of the alphabet generally means the reception of other influences from the same source. [here cites Victor Berard]. For the present it is enough to have brought the relations of the Empire to Ireland somewhat in line with its relations to other independent neighbours. [15] [Chap. II: Captivity and Escape of Patrick; ‘The conversion of Ireland to Christianity has, as we have seen, its modest place among those manifold changes by which a new Europe was being formed in the fifth century.’ [16]; ‘St Patrick did not do for the Scots what Wulfilas did for the Goths and the Slavonic apostles did for the Slavs; he did nto translate the sacred books of his religion into Irish or found a national church literature. ... What Patrick did, on the other hand, and his foreign fellow-workers did was to diffuse a knowledge of Latin in Ireland. To the circumstance that he adopted this policy, and did not attempt to create a national ecclesiastical language, must be ascribed the rise of the schools of learning whcih distinguished Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries. For a national point of [217] view the policy may be criticised; from a theologian’s point of view the advantages may be urged of opening to the native clergy the whole body of patristic literature, and saving the trouble of translation and the chances of error. But the point is that the policy was entirely consonant with the development of wester, as contrasted with eaastern, Christianity. .... [218] On the other hand, if Gaelic had been established by Patrick as the ecclesiastical tongue of Ireland, the reformers who in the seventh century sought to abolish idiosyncrasies and restore uniformity might have caused a rupture in the Irish Church, which would have needed long years to heal. The Latin language is one of the arcana imperii of the Catholic Church. It is true that the Irish Church moved on certain lines which Patrick did not contemplate and would not have approved. The development of the organisation wich it was is task to institute was largely modified in colouring and conformation by the genius terrae. But it would be untrue to say that his work was undone. The schools of learning, for which the Scots became famous a few generations after his death, learning which contrasts with his own illiterateness, owe their rise to the contact with Roman ideas and the acquaintance with Roman literature whcih his labours, more than anything else, lifted within the horizon of Ireland. It was not only the religion but also the language which was attached to it, that inaugurated a new period of culture for the island, and opeend a wider outlook on the univerise. The Irish were soon busily engaged in trying to work their own past into the wook of ecumenical history, to synchronise their insular memories with the annals fo Rome and Greece, and find a nook for their remote land in the story of the world [220]. ... He brought a new land into a spiritual confederation which was so closely boudn up with Rome, nexuque pio longinqua reuinxit. [END; 224]

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References
Dictionary of National Biography calls him an objective historian who emphasised continuity and unity of European history. [DIW err: b. Derry.]

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