ROBERT HOLMES D.D., a learned English divine, rector of Stanton in Oxfordshire, canon of Salisbury and Christ church, and dean of Winchester, was horn in 1749, and educated at Winchester school. He was afterwards chosen to New-college, Oxford, where he took his degrees of M.A. 1774, of B.D. in 1787, and of D.D. in 1789. In 1790, on the death of Mr. Warton, he was appointed professor of poetry. His last ecclesiastical promotion was to the deanery of Winchester in 1804, which he did not long enjoy, dying at his house in St. Giles's, Oxford, Nov. 12, 1805.
His first publication was a sermon preached before the university of Oxford, entitled The Resurrection of the body deduced from the Resurrection of Christ, 1777, 4to, a very ingenious discourse, in which the subject is illustrated in a manner somewhat new. In the same year he published Alfred, an Ode, with six Sonnets, 4to, in which Gray's style is attempted with considerable success. In 1782 he was chosen the third Bampton lecturer, and in 1783 published his eight lectures On the prophecies and testimony of John the Baptist, and the parallel prophecies of Jesus Christ, in which he displayed great abilities and judgment. These were followed, in 1788, by a very able defence of some of the essential doctrines of the church, respecting the nature and person, death and sufferings of Christ, in Four Tracts; on the principle of religion, as a test of divine authority; on the principle of redemption; on the angelical message to the Virgin Mary, and on the resurrection of the body; with a discourse on humility, 8vo, the whole illustrated by notes and authorities. He published also one or two other single sermons, and an ode for the encoenia at the installation of the duke of Portland in 1793; but what confers the highest honour on his abilities, critical talents, and industry, was his collation of the MSS. of the Septuagint version, which he appears to have begun about 1786. Induced to think that the means of determining the genuine tenor of the Scriptural text would he much enlarged if the MSS. of the Septuagint version were carefully collated, as those of the Hebrew had been, and the collations published in one view, he laid down his plan, the essential parts of which were: that all MSS. known or discoverable at home or abroad, if prior to the invention of printing, should be carefully collated with one printed text; and all particularities in which they differed from it distinctly noted; that printed editions and versions made from all or parts of that by the seventy, and citations from it by ecclesiastical writers (with a distinction of those who wrote before the time of Aquila or after it), should also be collated with the same printed text, and all their variations from it respectively ascertained; and that these materials, when collected, should all be reduced to one plain view, and printed under the text with which the several collations have been made, as by Dr. Kennicott — or without the text, as by De Rossi. Upon these general principles, Dr. Holmes embarked on his enterprize, having in the first instance been patronized by the delegates of the Clarendon press, and by liberal subscriptions from other universities, and the public at large. The delegates of the press agreed to allow him £40 a year for three years, "on his exhibiting to them his collations annually, to be deposited in the Bodleian library, and when the whole was finished, to he printed at the university press, at his expence, and for his benefit, or of his assigns, if he should live to complete his collations; or if they were left imperfect, they were to be at the discretion of the delegates, they undertaking to promote the finishing of them to the best of their power, and to publish them when finished, allowing to his assigns a just proportion of the profits."
With these encouragements, Dr. Holmes exhibited in 1789 his first annual account, by which it appeared that eleven folio volumes of collations were deposited, at the end of that year, in the Bodleian library; subsequent annual accounts followed, and at the end of 1795, the total number of MS volumes deposited in that library was seventy-three, and the sum received by subscriptions £4445 which, liberal as it may seem, fell very far short of the expences incurred by the editor. Notwithstanding this he proceeded in the last-mentioned year to submit two folio specimens to the opinion of scholars and critics, the first containing chapters I. and II. of Genesis, and the second, chapter I. according to the Vatican text, the divisions of chapters and verses in which somewhat differs from the Vulgate. He was aware, however, that his original plan was so extensively laborious, that no perseverance or life would have been equal to its execution. He determined, therefore, to contract it, and in this form published in 1799 part of his first volume, containing the book of Genesis, which exhibits a very extraordinary monument of diligence. This was followed in 1801, by another portion of the same volume, containing Exodus and Leviticus; and in 1804 the volume was completed by the addition of Numbers and Deuteronomy, with a valuable preface, giving a history of the Septuagint and its various editions. Dr. Holmes then published the prophecy of Daniel, according to Theodotion and the Septuagint, departing from his proposed order, as if by a presentiment of his end. The loss of such a man at this critical time was unquestionably great, and was duly appreciated by every scholar who was a judge of his labours. They felt therefore a proportional gratification, in seeing the work resumed, in an uniform manner, after an interruption of only four years, by the rev. James Parsons, M.A. of Wadham college, who in 1810 published the first part of vol. II. containing the book of Joshua, and who appears in every respect qualified to carry on the laborious design with honour to himself and to the university.