John Barrett, D.D.

Barrett, John, D.D., son of a clergyman at Ballyroan. When but six years of age his father died, and his mother removed to Dublin. He entered Trinity College as a pensioner in 1767, obtained a scholarship in 1773, a fellowship in 1778, and was elected Vice-Provost in 1807.

He was Professor of Oriental Languages. For the last fifty years of his life, he scarcely ever left the College — occupying a garret in the Library Square, allowing himself little light and no fire, but stealing down to the College kitchen to warm himself, where his presence was not acceptable to the servants, on account of his ragged and miserable appearance. He was of low stature, with a huge head and small feet, so that he looked like an equilateral triangle standing on its vertex. His habits were such as would perhaps effectually exclude him from decent society in the present day.

"He spent his life in almost solitary seclusion, devoted to the two passions that absorbed him — reading, and the most penurious hoarding of money - the latter habit being probably induced by the extreme poverty of his early life; yet, with all this, he was a man of the strictest integrity, and was never known to commit a dishonourable action. With strong feelings, he indulged in cursing and swearing as a thoughtless habit; he was ever ready to do kind actions, provided he was not called on to give money, and though ignorant of everything that pertained to the most ordinary affairs of life, his mind was a perfect storehouse of strange knowledge, and his memory so tenacious that he could remember almost everything he had seen or read."

His most important literary achievement was the discovery of an old palimpsest MS. of fragments of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Many stories are told of his uncouth ways and absence of mind concerning ordinary matters — of his being found absorbed in thought, attentively regarding an egg in his hand while his watch was boiling in the saucepan; of his wonder at finding that mutton was made from sheep; of the two holes in his door, a large one to let in his big cat, and a small one to let in his little cat; of his surprise at seeing a crow in the College Park, and his discovery, after some study among the classics, that it was "a corvus, by Jove." His principal works were concerning the Zodiac, an essay on the life of Swift, and comments on St. Matthew. In the first of these, he propounded the wildest and most fanciful theories. He died on 15th November 1821, leaving most of his property for charitable purposes.

Note from Addenda:

Barrett, John D.D., was born in 1753.[233]


16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

39. Biographical Dictionary, Imperial: Edited by John F. Waller. 3 vols. London, N.D.

116. Dublin University Magazine. Dublin, 1833-'77 (18).

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.