Bourne Archive: People: William Dodd

http://boar.org.uk/abiwxo1Marrat’sDodd.htm                          Latest edit 27 Jul 2009

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The Bourne Archive.


Marrat’s Biographies: William Dodd.


From the Bourne entry in volume III of William Marrat’s History of Lincolnshire.

The copy used here was lent by the Willoughby Memorial Library, to the trustees of which I offer my thanks.


Transcript (pp. 115 – 119)

William Dodd, an English divine, who for many years, was a celebrated and popular preacher in the metropolis, and in his disgraceful death afforded a striking lesson of the fatal effects of extravagance and dissipation, was born in the year 1729, at Bourne, Lincolnshire, of which place his father was the vicar. After receiving a classical education at a private school, he was entered, in 1745, a sizer at Clare-hall, Cambridge; where he appears to have prosecuted his studies with diligence, and in he year 1750 took his degree of B.A. with much reputation. During the following year he imprudently entered into matrimonial connection, before he posessed the means of supporting a wife, and with a lady who was neither distinguished by the gifts of fortune, nor by those prudent and economical qualities so peculiarly necessary in his situation. In the year 1753 he was admitted into orders, when he fixed upon London for his scene of action, where his impressive pulpit talents soon rendered him one of the most admired and popular preachers of the day. His successively obtained several lectureships, and increased his popularity by publication of sermons and devotional pieces, which met with very favourable reception. By these means he came into the possessson of an handsome income, but not proportioned to the style and manner of living in which he indiscreetly embarked. His popularity made him vain, and his vanity led him into expences to which an opulent fortune would have been unequal. To augment his income he entered more largely into the line of an author, or editor, and during the course of several years published, or superintended the publication of, various original pieces, new editions of esteemed works, transcriptions, and compilations, by which he acquired considerable sums of money. In the year 1757 he took his degree M.A. at Cambridge. About this time he sustained an active part in the institution of the Magdalen hospital, which owed much of the support which it received to the zeal and ability with which he recommended it, particularly in his sermons as preacher to the charity, which were attended by very numerous and respectable audiences, For his services in this situation he was presented with a genteel annual stipend. In the year 1763, Dr. Squire, Bishop of St. David’s, who had before made him his chaplain, procured for him a collation to a prebend of Brecon; and in the same year the late earl of Chesterfield, at the recommendation of Bishop Squire, gave him the appointment of tutor to his godson, Philip Stanhope, esq. the present earl. In the following year he was made one of his majesty’s chaplains and in 1766 took the degree of LL.D. at Cambridge. In the year 1772 he set on foot a subscription, and gave rise to the truly benevolent society for the relief of prisoners confined for small debts; and in the same year was presented to the rectory of Hockliffe in Buckinghamshire [sic] . His increace of honours, however, and of lucrative situations, unhappily ministered fresh food to his vanity, and tempted him to indulge to a ruinous extavagance, by which he was involved in debts which he could not discharge. To extricate himself from this situation he had recourse, in the year 1774, to a scandalous expedient, by which he hoped to procure the rich rectory of St. George’s Hanover-square, which had fallen to the disposal of the crown. With this view he caused an anonymous letter to be sent to the lord chancellor’s lady, making her an offer of 3000l. if, by her means, he might be presented to the living. The letter was immediately communicated to the chancellor, and, after being traced to the person who sent it, laid before the king, who ordered Dr. Dodd’s name to be ignominiously struck off the list of his chaplains. The public disgrace and shame which followed this event had for a short time such an effect on Dr. Dodd, that he withdrew from the kingdom, and went to Geneva, where his pupil than was. By him he was received with more kindness than under the circumstances in which he was placed he had reason to expect, and, as the means of relief, was presented with the living of Winge in Buckinghamshire which a dispensation enabled him to hold in conjunction with that at Hockliffe. But the shame and distress in which he had involved himself did not cure him of his follies, or check his habits of profusion. The consequence was, that his embarrassment by degrees became greater than ever, and tempted him at length, in the year 1777, to the commission of a criminal act, by which he forfeited his life. That was, the forgery of lord Chesterfield’s name to a bond, on the credit of which he obtained a large sum of money, vainly flattering himself that the transaction would remain unknown till he should be in circumstances to redeem and destroy the fatal pledge. Detection, however, almost immediately followed the crime: and the wretched divine was committed to prison, tried, convicted, and executed at Tyburn. He died with all the marks of deepest remorse for the follies and vices of which he had been guilty, and with expressions of the most bitter regret for the scandal which, by his conduct, he had brought on his profession, and on the religion of which he was a minister.                         


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