Sir James Ware

Born 1594 - Died 1666.

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 1 (1880), edited by Charles A. Read

Among all the men who have made posterity their debtors by preserving for its edification the relics of a dying past few deserve more credit than Sir James Ware, and few have had that credit accorded them with more of common consent. Living chiefly in a time when the air was full of horrors, and being himself, in consequence of the office he held, constantly brought in contact with these things, he yet found time to collect an enormous amount of Irish manuscripts, and to compile a series of works which every day renders more and more important, and which, though they may be added to, cannot be set aside. Though religious and political strife seethed all round him, and though he himself stood forth honourably for his political leaders and friends, he has kept his works almost absolutely free from any taint of either bigotry or intolerance.

Ware was born in Castle Street, Dublin, on the 26th November, 1594, his father being then auditor-general of Ireland after having already served as secretary to two different lord deputies. At sixteen he entered Trinity College as a student, and while there, much to his advantage, made the acquaintance of Usher, who had already started on the road to fame. Like Usher, Ware was quick at learning, and in regular course he took his degrees of Bachelor and Master of Arts. Like Usher also, he had already commenced the labours which were to make him famous, and before he was thirty years of age his collection of books and manuscripts was anything but contemptible. In 1626 he visited London, and in that same year the Antiquities of Ireland began to appear. It was published in parts, as were almost all his works, and, as Magee observes, still bears the external evidences of profound patchwork. In London he was introduced by Usher to Sir Robert Cotton, who gave him every help in his power, and who placed his library and collection at his service. He availed himself largely of the treasures thus placed before him, and he also made considerable researches among the state papers in the Tower and elsewhere. Soon after his return to Ireland he commenced the publication of his Lives of the Irish Bishops; and two years later, in 1628, he again visited London, where he this time made the acquaintance of Selden, and from whence he brought back to Ireland large additions to his collection. In 1629 he was knighted, and in 1632, when his father died, he succeeded to both the fortune and office of his parent. In 1639 he was made one of the privy-council, and the same year, despite the labours of his office and the distractions by which he was surrounded, he managed to publish his most quoted work, the Writers of Ireland. In this year also he was elected member of parliament for the university of Dublin, and in 1640, as the friend of Strafford, he strongly opposed the election of the Irish committee which was sent to London to assist in the accusation of the unlucky viceroy. During the rule of Borlase and Parsons and the succeeding viceroyalty of Ormond, the conduct of Ware was such as to be admired by friend and foe.

In 1644 Ware left Dublin for Oxford as one of the deputies from Ormond to the king, and while in Oxford he still continued his favourite studies, and was made a Doctor of Laws by the university. On his way back to Ireland the vessel in which he sailed was captured by a Parliamentarian vessel, and he was sent a prisoner to the Tower of London, where he remained ten months, until exchanged, and returned to Dublin. In 1647, on the surrender of Dublin, he was given up as one of the hostages and despatched to London, where he was detained two years. On his again returning home he lived privately for a time, but in 1649 the Puritan deputy ordered him to quit the kingdom, and with one son and a single servant he departed for France. In France Ware resided chiefly at Caen and Paris, and at both places busied himself, as might be expected, in his favourite pursuits of hunting for manuscripts and making extracts from those lent to him or which he was allowed to see. In 1651 he was permitted to return to London on family business, and in 1653 he was allowed to return to Ireland to visit his estate, which was then in a sad condition. In 1654 he published his final instalment of the Antiquities of Ireland, of which a second and improved edition appeared in 1659. In 1656 appeared his Works Ascribed to St. Patrick, in 1664 his Annals of Ireland, and in 1665 he saw the completion of his Lives of the Irish Bishops.

The Restoration brought restoration of his previous offices to Ware, and at the election for parliament he was again chosen member for the university. He was soon also appointed one of the four commissioners for appeals in excise cases, and he was offered the title of viscount, which he "thankfully refused." Two blank baronetcies were then presented to him, and these he filled up with the names of two friends. A little later, on the 1st December (Wills says the 3d), 1666, he died, famed for uprightness and benevolence. He was buried in the family vault in the church of St. Werburgh, Dublin.

Ware's works were all written and published in Latin, but in the following century they were translated into English by Walter Harris, who married Ware's great-granddaughter, and thereby inherited his manuscripts. His translation filled two massive folio volumes, which are to be found on the shelves of every library deserving the name. The very excellence of these important works--their brief accuracy and minute comprehensiveness--render them almost as unquotable as a dictionary. In them, also, the author rarely falls into theorizing, for which, says Wills, "he had too little genius, yet too much common sense." Magee speaks of him as "a great, persevering bookworm, a sincere receiver and transmitter of truth." Bishop Nicolson says of him, "To Sir James Ware (the Cambden of Ireland) this kingdom is everlastingly obliged for the great pains he took in collecting and preserving our scattered monuments of antiquities."