Barnes, William (1801-86), poet and philologist, was born at Bagber Common in the Blackmore Vale, Dorset, England, and baptised on 20 March 1801, son of John Barnes, tenant farmer, and Grace Barnes (née Scott). After a variety of occupations, including the making of woodcuts, he was admitted a sizar and a ‘ten year man’ at St John's College, Cambridge (1838), eventually taking his degree. He was ordained in 1848, and proceeded to his BD (1851); he subsequently became rector of Winterborne Came, Dorset (1862), where he remained until his death in his sleep on 7 October 1886. He published a number of poems, as well as scholarly writings which demonstrated his interest in dialects, above all, the dialect of Dorset, to celebrate which he published Poems of rural life in Dorset (1st ed. 1844). It was this latter pursuit which led him to take an interest in the work of Jacob Poole (qv), whose Glossary of the dialect of Forth and Bargy he edited, with an introduction, for publication by John Russell Smith (London, 1867). The vocabulary of this dialect preserved many medieval English items, which probably accounted for Barnes's interest in it. Sensitive by nature, he was very happily married since c.1827 to the former Julia Miles, a down-to-earth, practical woman, by whom he had six children. As a philologist he was unfashionably determined to revive the purity of the Anglo-Saxon language in contemporary English, from which he tried to remove the foreign elements, much to the amazement of his many distinguished readers, including Gerard Manley Hopkins (qv). He ran a number of schools, moving on as his circumstances changed, and was a successful teacher, insisting on teaching Anglo-Saxon to his pupils, because it was ‘wit-sharpening’. He had a number of Irish connections. He was friendly with Richard Brinsley Sheridan, grandson of the dramatist and was visited in May 1864 by William Allingham (qv). His son, the Rev. William Miles Barnes, who matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge in 1859, was for a time tutor to the family of the McGillycuddy of the Reeks, in Co. Kerry. Other distinguished visitors included Coventry Patmore and his friend Thomas Hardy, who wrote his obituary for the Athenaeum (October 1886). Barnes's wonderful dialect verse had many other admirers such as Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Edmund Grosse, Hopkins, and Tennyson.
Alan Chedzoy, William Barnes, a life of the Dorset poet (1985); Bernard Jones (ed.), The poems of William Barnes(1962)