Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cooke, William (1711-1797)

COOKE, WILLIAM (1711–1797), provost of King's College, Cambridge, was born in St. James's, Westminster, 15 Oct. 1711. He was sent to Harrow in 1718, and placed upon the foundation at Eton in 1721. In 1731 he became a scholar, and in 1734 a fellow, of King's College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. in 1735, and soon afterwards became an assistant-master at Eton. In May 1743 he was unanimously elected head-master, but found his health too weak for the place, and in 1745 took the college living of Sturminster-Marshall, Dorsetshire. In 1748 he was elected fellow of Eton College, and resigned Sturminster on being presented to the rectory of Denham, Buckinghamshire; he was also bursar of Eton. In 1765 he proceeded D.D., and was appointed chaplain to the Earl of Halifax. In 1768 he accepted the rectory of Stoke Newington. On 25 March 1772 he was unanimously elected provost of King's College, Cambridge. He was vice-chancellor of the university in 1773. In April 1780 he received a prebend in Ely, and on 9 Aug. was appointed to the deanery. He died at Bath 20 Oct. 1797.

He married Catherine, daughter of Richard Sleech, canon of Windsor, in January 1746, and had by her twelve children. His second daughter, Catherine, married Bishop Samuel Hallifax [q. v.], whose epitaph was written by Cooke. Cooke published a few sermons, and in 1732 a small (anonymous) collection of poems called ‘Musæ Juveniles,’ including a Greek tragedy upon Solomon, called Sophia Theēlatos. In one of the sermons (1750) upon the meaning of the expression in the second Epistle of St. Peter, ‘a more sure word of prophecy,’ he defends Sherlock against Conyers Middleton, and produced a little controversy. He composed an epitaph for himself in a south vestry of King's College Chapel, attributing whatever he had done to the munificence of Henry VI. One of his sons, Edward Cooke [q. v.], became secretary at war in Ireland. Another son, William Cooke, was fellow of King's College, Cambridge, professor of Greek at Cambridge from 1780 to 1792, and rector of Hempstead-with-Lessingham, Norfolk, from 1785 till his death, 3 May 1824. He published an edition of Aristotle's ‘Poetics’ in 1785, to which was appended the first translation of Gray's ‘Elegy’ into Greek verse, a performance which had many imitators at the time (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix. 154–5). Mathias praises Cooke's translation as equal to Bion or Moschus, and calls the author an ‘extraordinary genius’ (Pursuits of Literature, Dial. iii.); but De Quincey in ‘Coleridge and Opium Eating’ declares that ‘scores of modern schoolboys’ could do as well. In 1789 he also published ‘A Dissertation on the Revelation of St. John,’ comparing the Apocalypse to the ‘Œdipus Tyrannus’ of Sophocles and to Homer. He verified the old saying as to the result of such studies by afterwards becoming deranged (Gent. Mag. for 1798, p. 774, and 1824, ii. 183).

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 629, 630; Harwood's Alumni Etonenses, p. 50; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 349, 357; Gent. Mag. 1797, ii. 901, 953.]

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