Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dodd, William

DODD, WILLIAM (1729–1777), forger, born 29 May 1729, was son of William Dodd, vicar of Bourne in Lincolnshire (d. 1756, aged 54). He was entered as a sizar at Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1746. In 1749-50 he was fifteenth in the mathematical tripos. He had already published some facetious poems. He now went to London to try his hand at authorship, and indulged in the gaieties of the town. On 15 April 1751 he married Mary Perkins, whose reputation was perhaps doubtful (Walpole, Letters, vi. 55). Her father was a verger at Durham. Dodd took a house in Wardour Street, published an elegy on the death of Frederick, prince of Wales, and wrote a comedy. His friends, however, persuaded him to return the money received from a manager and to resume a clerical career. He was ordained deacon on 19 Oct. 1751, and became curate at West Ham, Essex. He was appointed to a lectureship at West Ham in 1752 and to a lectureship at St. James's, Garlick Hill, in May 1753, exchanging the last for another at St. Olave's, Hart Street, in April 1754. A rather loose novel called 'The Sisters,' published in the same year, seems to have been written by him, though it has been attributed to W. Guthrie [q. v.] (see Gent. Mag. 1777, p. 389). He was at this time inclined to the 'Hutchinsonians,' with two of whom, Bishop Horne and Parkhurst, a college contemporary, he had some acquaintance. He became a popular preacher, and his sermons on behalf of charities were very successful. Upon the opening of the 'Magdalen House' in 1758 he preached the inaugural sermon. He acted as chaplain, and in 1763 a regular salary of 100l. a year was voted to him. The new charity was popular; princes and fine ladies came to hear the sermons, and Dodd, according to Horace Walpole' (Letters, iii. 282), preached 'very eloquently and touchingly' in the 'French style.' The 'lost sheep,' says Walpole, wept; Lady Hertford followed their example, and Dodd wrote a poem upon the countess's tears. He published a variety of edifying books, and became the chief writer or editor of the 'Christian Magazine' (1760-1767). Some of his letters to Newbery, the proprietor, are in Prior's 'Life of Goldsmith' (i. 410-14). He contributed a weekly paper called 'The Visitor' to Newbery's 'Public Ledger.' In 1763 he was appointed chaplain to the king and also to Bishop Samuel Squire of St. David's, who in the same year gave him a prebend at Brecon. He published a commentary on the Bible from manuscripts attributed to Locke, which appeared in monthly parts (1765–70), and was collected in the last year in 3 vols. fol. Through Squire he had obtained the tutorship of Philip Stanhope, nephew to Lord Chesterfield. In 1766 he took the LL.D. degree. He resigned West Ham and his lectureships. He took a house in Southampton Row and a country house at Ealing, to receive pupils of good families, to accommodate whom he changed his chariot for a coach. His wife received a legacy of 1,600l. about this time, and a lottery ticket given to lier brought a prize of 1,000l. (Gent. Mag. 1790, p. 1006). Dodd invested these sums in a chapel in Pimlico, called Charlotte Chapel, after the queen. He attracted a fashionable congregation, and had the assistance of Weeden Butler the elder [q. v.], who had been his amanuensis from 1764. He also took turns with a Dr. Trusler in preaching at a chapel in Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury. He 'fell into snares,' wrote dainty verses to ladies, attended city feasts, and incurred debts. Scandals began to attach to him, though his congregation still believed in him, and he was nicknamed the 'macaroni parson' (Town and Country Magazine, 1773). In 1772 he was preferred to the rectory of Hockliffe, Bedfordshire, worth about 160l. a year, to which was joined the vicarage of Chalgrove. In 1774 Mrs. Dodd wrote an anonymous letter to Lady Apsley, wife of the lord chancellor [see Bathurst, Henry, 1714–1794], offering 3,000l. and an annuity of 500l. for a promise of the living of St. George's, Hanover Square, vacated by the promotion of Dr. Moss to the see of Bath and Wells, and said to be worth 1,600l. a year. The letter was soon traced to the writer. Dodd was struck off the list of chaplains, and wrote a weak letter to the papers (10 Feb. 1774) protesting that the matter would be cleared up in time. Foote introduced 'Mrs. Simony' into his farce 'The Cozeners.' Dodd went abroad for a time, visited his pupil, now Lord Chesterfield, at Geneva, was well received by his patron, and presented to the living of Wing in Buckinghamshire. He returned to London, and his portrait was soon afterwards presented to the Magdalen House and placed in the boardroom (Fitzgerald, p. 88). In August, however, he ceased to be chaplain (ib. p. 92). He was deeply involved in debt, and it was doubtless to raise some ready money that in 1776 he disposed of Charlotte Chapel, retaining an interest in 'the concern.' He is even said to have 'descended so low as to become the editor of a newspaper.' On 1 Feb. 1777 he offered a bond for 4,200l. in the name of Lord Chesterfield to a stockbroker named Robertson. Robertson procured the money, for which, according to Dodd, Chesterfield would pay an annuity of 700l. Dodd then brought the bond apparently signed by the earl. The bond was transferred to the lender's solicitor, who noticed some odd marks on the document, saw the earl personally, learnt that the signature was a forgery, and instantly obtained warrants from the lord mayor against Dodd and Robertson. Dodd was at once arrested, returned 3,000l. of the money received, and promised 500l. more. He offered security for the rest, and the parties concerned apparently wished to arrange the matter. The mayor, however, insisted upon going into the case, and Dodd was committed for trial. Extraordinary interest was excited by the charge. Dodd put forth a piteous appeal protesting his good intentions. He was tried on 22 Feb. and convicted upon the clearest evidence. A legal point had been raised which was not decided against him till the middle of May. Attempts were meanwhile made to obtain a pardon, especially by Dr. Johnson, who composed several papers for him, although they had only once met (Croker, Boswell,vi. 275–87, vii. 121). Dodd was sentenced on 20 May. He had written 'Prison Thoughts' in the interval, and had applied to Woodfall the printer to get his old comedy 'Sir Roger de Coverley' produced on the stage. 'They will never hang me,' he said, in answer to Woodfall's natural comment (Taylor, Records of my Life, ii. 250). Petitions (one signed by twenty-three thousand people) and pamphlets swarmed; but the king finally decided to carry out the sentence, under the influence, it was said, of Lord Mansfield, or because, in words attributed to himself, 'If I pardon Dodd, I shall have murdered the Perreaus' (executed on 17 Jan. 1776). Dodd preached to his fellow-prisoners in Newgate chapel (6 June) a sermon written by Johnson. He sent a final petition to the king, also composed by Johnson, who wrote a very sensible and feeling letter to Dodd himself, and also wrote in his own name an appeal to Jenkinson, the secretary at war. The sentence, however, was carried out on 27 June 1777. Dodd spoke some last words to the hangman which, it is said, were connected with a plan for preventing fatal effects. It is added that the body was carried to a surgeon, who tried to restore life; but the delay caused by the enormous crowd made the attempts hopeless (Gent. Mag. 1777, p. 346, 1790, pp. 1010, 1077). Dodd was buried at Cowley, Middlesex. His widow lived in great misery at Ilford in Essex, and died on 24 July 1784.

A list of fifty-five works by Dodd is given in the 'Account' appended to his 'Thoughts in Prison.' They include: 1. 'Diggon Davie's Resolution on the Death of his Last Cow,' 1747. 2. 'The African Prince in England,' 1749. 3. 'Day of Vacation in College, a Mock Heroic Poem,' 1750. 4. 'Beauties of Shakespeare,' 1752 (often reprinted till 1880). (It was through this collection that Goethe first acquired a knowledge of Shakespeare.) 5. 'The Sisters' (?), 1754. 6. 'Hymns of Callimachus translated,' 1754. 7. 'Sinful Christian condemned by his own Prayers' (sermon, 1755). 8. 'Account of Rise and Progress of the Magdalen Charity,' 1759. 9. 'Conference between a Mystic, an Hutchinsonian, a Calvinist,' &c., 1761. 10. 'Three Sermons on the Wisdom and Goodness of God in the Vegetable Creation,' 1760-1. 11. 'Reflections on Death,' 1763 (many editions till 1822). 12. 'Commentary on the Bible,' 1765-70. 13. 'Collected Poems,' 1767. 14. 'Frequency of Capital Punishments inconsistent with Justice, Sound Policy, and Religion,' 1772. 15. 'Thoughts in Prison,' in 5 parts, 1777. 16. 'Selections from "Rossell's Prisoners' Director" for the . . .comfort of Malefactors,' 1777; besides many sermons, 4 vols. of which were collected in 1755 and 1756.

[A Famous Forgery, being the Story of the unfortunate Dr. Dodd, by Percy Fitzgerald, 1865, collects all the information. Original authorities are: Historical Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Dodd (attributed to Isaac Reed), 1777; Account of Life and Writings, &c., 1777 (read by Dodd himself, but suppressed by advice of his friends till after his death); Account of the author, prefixed to edition of Prison Thoughts in 1779; Genuine Memoirs, with account of Trial, 1777; Account of Behaviour and Dying Words, by John Villette, ordinary of Newgate, 1777. See also Gent. Mag. xlvii. 92-4, 116, 136, 227, 293, 339-41, 346, 421, 489, li. 234, lx. 1010, 1066, 1077; Nichols's Illustrations, vol. v. (correspondence of Weeden Butler); Archenholtz's Pictures of England, 1797, pp. 249-52; Thicknesse's Memoirs and Anecdotes, 1788, i. 220- 230; Hawkins's Life of Johnson, pp. 434, 520-6; Wraxall's Posthumous Memoirs (1836), ii. 24-6.]

L. S.