Detail from a portrait by J Hoppner RA
Born on 9 Jun 1753 in York, where his father James Nares was organist and educated at Westminster, where he was elected a King's Scholar in 1767. He was then elected a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1771 where he graduated BA in 1775 and MA in 1778.
From 1779 to 1783 he was Tutor to Sir Watkins and Charles Wynn, living with them in London and at Wynnstay, Wrexham. In June 1782 he became Vicar of Easton Mandit, Northamptonshire. In 1784 he published his first Philological work, "The Elements of Orthoepy", which was highly commended by Boswell. In 1785 he received from the Lord Chancellor, the Vicariate of Great Doddington, in Northamptonshire. From 1786 to 1788 he was Usher at Westminster School, acting as tutor to the Wynns who had been sent there. in 1787 he was appointed Chaplain to the Duke of York and in 1788 he was Assistant preacher at Lincoln's Inn.
In 1793 he established the "British Critic", and edited the first 42 editions in commemoration of his life-long friend, the Rev. William Beloe. In 1795 he was appointed Assistant Librarian in the Department of Manuscript at the British Museum, and four years later became the Keeper of Manuscript. The third volume of the catalogue of the Harleian Manuscript was published under his editorship. He resigned his membership in 1807.
Robert Nares was a member, in 1791, of the Natural History Society in London, and was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians in 1795 and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, of which he became Vice-President in 1823. In 1822 he published his principal work, "Nares' Glossary", which was described in 1859, by Halliwell and Wright, as indispensable to readers of Elizabethan Literature. It contains numerous sensible criticisms of the text of Shakespeare.
He became Vicar of Dalbury, Derbyshire, in 1796, Canon Residentiary of Lichfield and Prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral in 1798, Arch Deacon of Stafford in 1801 and Vicar of St Mary's, Reading, from 1805 till his death in 1829. A monument, bearing some verses by L. Bowles, was erected to him in Lichfield Cathedral. He is described by Beloe as a sound and widely read Scholar and as a witty companion to his intimates. An engraving of the portrait above, by J Hoppner (who had known Nares well from his youth), is kept by the National Portrait Gallery.
His first wife, in 1784, was Elizabeth Bayley, who died a year later. His second wife, ten years later, was Miss Fleetwood, who died that same year in childbirth. His third wife, in 1800, was Elizabeth Smith, whose father was Headmaster of Westminster School, but they had no children.