1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wakefield, Gilbert

25641141911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28 — Wakefield, Gilbert

WAKEFIELD, GILBERT (1756–1801), English classical scholar and politician, was born at Nottingham on the 22nd of February 1756. He was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge (fellow, 1776). In 1778 he took orders, but in the following year quitted the church and accepted the post of classical tutor at the Nonconformist academy at Warrington, which he held till the dissolution of the establishment in 1783. After leaving Warrington, he took private pupils at Nottingham and other places, and also occupied himself with literary work. His most important production at this period was the first part of the Silva critics, the design of which was the “illustration of the Scriptures by light borrowed from the philology of Greece and Rome.” In 1790 he was appointed professor of classics at the newly-founded Unitarian college at Hackney, but his proposed reforms and his objection to religious observances led to unpleasantness and to his resignation in the following year. From this time he supported himself by his pen. His edition of Lucretius, a work of high pretensions and little solid performance, appeared in 1796–1799, and gained for the editor a very exaggerated reputation (see Munro’s Lucretius, i. pp. 19, 20). His light-hearted criticism of Porson’s edition of the Hecuba was avenged by the latter’s famous toast: “Gilbert Wakefield; what’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?” About this time Wakefield, who hated Pitt and condemned war as utterly unchristian, abandoned literature for political and religious controversy. After assailing with equal bitterness writers so entirely opposed as William Wilberforce and Thomas Paine, in January 1798 he “employed a few hours” in drawing up a reply to Bishop Watson’s Address to the People of Great Britain, written in defence of Pitt and the war and the new “tax upon income.” He was charged with having published a seditious libel, convicted in spite of an eloquent defence, and imprisoned for two years in Dorchester gaol. A considerable sum of money was subscribed by the public, sufficient to provide for his family upon his death, which took place on the 9th of September 1801. While in prison he corresponded on classical subjects with Charles James Fox, the letters being subsequently published.

See the second edition of his Memoirs (1804). The first volume is autobiographical; the second, compiled by J. T. Rutt and A. Wainewright, includes several estimates of his character and performances from various sources, the most remarkable being one by Dr Parr; see also Gentleman’s Magazine (September 1801); Henry Crabb Robinson’s Diary (3rd ed., 1872); John Aikin in Aiken’s General Biography (1799–1815).