Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dodington, George Bubb

DODINGTON, GEORGE BUBB, Lord Melcombe (1691–1762), represented the old Somerset family the Dodingtons of Dodington. A John Dodington (d. 1663) held an office under Thurloe, and married Hester, the daughter of Sir Peter Temple. By her he had a son, George Dodington (d. 1720), a lord of the admiralty under George I, and a daughter who married Jeremias Bubb, variously described as an Irish fortune-hunter and an apothecary at Weymouth or Carlisle, who was M.P. for Carlisle 1689–93. George Bubb, the son of this marriage, born in 1691, is said to have been at Oxford. In 1715 he was elected M.P. for Winchelsea, a family borough. He was sent as envoy extraordinary to Spain, succeeding Sir Paul Methuen in May 1715 in the conduct of the troublesome disputes which preceded the war of 1718, and remained there till 1717. A large collection of documents relating to this mission is in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 2170–5). In 1720 the death of his uncle, George Dodington, put him in possession of a fine estate. He took the name Dodington. He spent 140,000l. on completing a magnificent mansion, begun by his uncle at Eastbury in Dorsetshire, of which Vanbrugh was the architect. Sir James Thornhill painted a ceiling in 1719 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. App. iii. p. 8), and afterwards represented Weymouth as Dodington's nominee. Dodington's parliamentary influence was considerable, as he could command Winchelsea, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis (returning four members), and generally Bridgewater. He was lord-lieutenant of Somerset from 1721 till he resigned in 1744, and from 1722 to 1754 he sat for Bridgewater. In April 1724 he became a lord of the treasury, succeeding Henry Pelham, the new secretary at war, and he also held the sinecure, tenable for life, of the clerkship of the pells in Ireland.

Dodington began as an adherent of Walpole, to whom in 1726 he addressed complimentary poems. He afterwards made court to Frederick, prince of Wales, to whom he abused Walpole privately. According to Horace Walpole, the prince played rough practical jokes upon him, and made money out of him. ‘Dodington,’ he said, ‘is reckoned a clever man, and yet I have got 5,000l. from him which he will never see again.’ Dodington, however, was ousted from the prince's favour by Chesterfield and Lyttelton about 1734, to the general satisfaction, according to Lord Hervey (Memoirs, i. 431–3). He next formed a special connection with the (second) Duke of Argyll. In 1737 the Prince of Wales, supported by the opposition, demanded that his allowance from the civil list should be increased from 50,000l. to 100,000l. He applied personally to Dodington before Walpole or any others of the ministry had heard of the proposal. This was virtually an attempt to induce Dodington to change patrons again. He was not yet prepared to desert, and, after vainly protesting against the proposed step, voted against the motion for its adoption made by Pulteney (22 Feb. 1737). In 1739, however, Dodington's patron, Argyll, separated from Walpole, and Dodington followed him, lost his place at the treasury in 1740, and joined the opposition now gathered round the Prince of Wales. He is represented in a caricature of the time as a spaniel between the legs of Argyll, who is coachman of the opposition chariot. Sir C. Hanbury Williams ridiculed his subservience to Argyll in a versified dialogue between ‘Giles Earle and George Bubb Dodington.’ A long letter of his, advising Argyll as to the best tactics for attacking Walpole, is printed by Coxe (Walpole, iii. 565–80). In the great debate of 21 Jan. 1742 he attacked the ‘infamous administration’ of Walpole, who, in replying, taunted the ‘self-mortifying gentleman’ who had quietly taken his share of the infamy for sixteen years. Dodington did not immediately profit by Walpole's fall. His patron, Argyll, was unable to enforce his own claims, and soon resigned in disgust the office which he had received. Dodington's attack on his old friends brought him into special contempt (Walpole, Letters, Cunningham, i. 137, 217). The opposition gradually declined; Argyll had lost all influence before his death in October 1743. Upon the expulsion of Granville and the formation of the ‘broad bottom administration’ in December 1744, Pelham made Dodington treasurer of the navy, while other members of the prince's party received offices. In March 1749 the Prince of Wales resolved to overlook Dodington's last desertion (see Ralph's account appended to Dodington's Diary), and made overtures to him through James Ralph [q. v.], a well-known hack author. Ralph had been already in Dodington's employment, and composed a pamphlet upon ‘The Use and Abuse of Parliaments’ in 1744 under his direction. Dodington, after two days' reflection, accepted the proposals and resigned his office. To protect his character he avoided receiving any definite promise from the prince until 18 July, when the prince promised that upon coming to the crown he would give Dodington a peerage and the secretaryship of state. Dodington's new position at Leicester House was not easy, as he was opposed by many of the prince's household. He was supported by hopes of the king's death; but on 20 March 1751 the prince most provokingly died himself, and Dodington was left to his own resources. He kept upon friendly terms with the Princess of Wales, and joined with her in abusing the Pelhams, now in power. He also applied without loss of time to the Pelhams, promising to place himself entirely at their disposal. Henry Pelham listened to him, but told him that the king had a prejudice against him for his previous desertions. Pelham was anxious, however, to deal for Dodington's ‘merchantable ware,’ five or six votes in the House of Commons. On Pelham's death (6 March 1754) Dodington made assiduous court to the Duke of Newcastle. He returned members for Weymouth in Newcastle's interest, and did his best to retain Bridgewater, even at the peril of ‘infamous and disagreeable compliance with the low habits of venal wretches,’ the electors, which vexed his righteous soul. He was beaten at Bridgewater by Lord Egmont, but assured Newcastle of his sincerity, as proved by an expenditure which gradually rose in his statements from 2,500l. to 4,000l. He swore that he must be disinterested, because he had ‘one foot in the grave,’ and declared in the same breath that he was determined ‘to make some figure in the world’—if possible under Newcastle's protection, but in any case to make a figure (Diary, pp. 297, 299). He now sat for Weymouth. Throughout the complicated struggles which preceded Pitt's great administration Dodington intrigued energetically, chiefly with Lord Halifax. During 1755 even Pitt condescended to make proposals to Dodington with (if Dodington may be believed) high expressions of esteem (ib. 376). Pitt was dismissed soon afterwards from the paymastership, and on 22 Dec. 1755 Dodington kissed hands as treasurer of the navy under Newcastle and Fox. He tried to explain his proceedings to the Princess of Wales, but she ‘received him very coolly’ (ib. 379). He lost his place again in November 1756, when Pitt, on taking office under the Duke of Devonshire, demanded it for George Grenville. The most creditable action recorded of him was what Walpole calls a humane, pathetic, and bold speech in the House of Commons (22 Feb. 1757) against the execution of Byng. He returned to office for a short time from April to June 1757, during the interregnum which followed Pitt's resignation, but was again turned out for George Grenville when Pitt formed his great administration with Newcastle. To Dodington's great disgust his friend Halifax consented to resume office, but Dodington remained out of place until the king's death. He then managed to ally himself with the new favourite, Lord Bute, and in 1761 reached the summit of his ambition. In April of that year he was created Baron Melcombe of Melcombe Regis in Dorsetshire. He received no official position, however, and died in his house at Hammersmith 28 July 1762.

Besides his political activity Dodington aimed at being a Mæcenas. He was the last of the ‘patrons,’ succeeding Charles Montagu (Lord Halifax) in the character. It is curious that Pope's ‘Bufo’ in the epistle to Arbuthnot was in the first instance applied to Bubb or Dodington, who is also mentioned in the epilogue to the Satires, along with Sir W. Yonge, another place-hunter (Courthope, Pope, iii. 258–61, 462). Dodington was complimented by many of the best-known writers of his day. About 1726 Young (of the ‘Night Thoughts’) addressed his third satire to Dodington; he received verses from Dodington in return. Thomson's ‘Summer’ (1727) was dedicated to Dodington. Fielding addressed to him an epistle on ‘True Greatness’ (Miscellanies, 1743). Dodington was the patron of Paul Whitehead, who addresses a poem to the quack Dr. Thompson, another sycophant of Dodington's (Hawkins, Johnson, pp. 329–340). Richard Bentley (1708–1782) [q. v.] published an epistle to him in 1763. He offered his friendship to Johnson upon the appearance of the ‘Rambler,’ but Johnson seems to have scorned the proposal. ‘Leonidas’ Glover was another of his friends, and was returned for Weymouth when Dodington himself accepted a peerage. The first Lord Lyttelton also addresses an ‘eclogue’ to Dodington.

Dodington was himself a writer of occasional verses, and had a high reputation for wit in his day. The best description of him is in Cumberland's ‘Memoirs’ (1807, i. 183–96). Cumberland, as secretary to Lord Halifax, was concerned in the negotiations between them about 1757. He visited Dodington at Eastbury, at his Hammersmith villa, called by reason of the contrast La Trappe, and at his town house in Pall Mall. All these houses were full of tasteless splendour, minutely described by Cumberland and Horace Walpole. Dodington's state bed was covered with gold and silver embroidery, showing by the remains of pocket-holes that they were made out of old coats and breeches. His vast figure was arrayed in gorgeous brocades, some of which ‘broke from their moorings in a very indecorous manner’ when he was being presented to the queen on her marriage to George III. After dinner he lolled in his chair in lethargic slumbers, but woke up to produce occasional flashes of wit or to read selections, often of the coarsest kind, even to ladies. He was a good scholar, and especially well read in Tacitus.

In 1742 Dodington acknowledged that he had been married for seventeen years to a Mrs. Behan, who had been regarded as his mistress. According to Walpole he had been unable to acknowledge the marriage until the death of a Mrs. Strawbridge, to whom he had given a bond for 10,000l. that he would marry no one else (Walpole, Letters, i. 216, 296; ix. 91). Mrs. Dodington died about the end of 1756 (ib. iii. 54). Dodington left no children, and upon his death Eastbury went to Lord Temple, with whom he was connected through his grandmother (see above). All but one wing was pulled down in 1795 by Lord Temple (created Marquis of Buckingham in 1784), who had vainly offered 200l. a year to any one who would live in it. Dodington left all his disposable property to a cousin, Thomas Wyndham of Hammersmith. The Hammersmith villa was afterwards the property of the margrave of Anspach. His papers were left to Wyndham on condition that those alone should be published which might ‘do honour to his memory.’ They were left to Wyndham's nephew, Henry Penruddocke Wyndham, who published the diary in 1784, persuading himself by some judicious sophistry that the phrase in the will ought not to hinder the publication. It is the most curious illustration in existence of the character of the servile place-hunters of the time, with unctuous professions of virtuous sentiment which serve to heighten the effect. It also contains some curious historical information, especially as to the Prince and Princess of Wales during the period 1749–60.

Dodington more or less inspired various political papers and pamphlets, including the ‘Remembrancer,’ written by Rudolph in 1745; the ‘Test,’ attacking Pitt in 1756–7; and some, it is said, too indelicate for publication. He addressed a poem to Sir R. Walpole on his birthday, 26 Aug. 1726; and an epistle to Walpole is in Dodsley's collection (1775, iv. 223, vi. 129). A manuscript copy of the last is in Addit. MS. 22629, f. 1841. A line from it, ‘In power a servant, out of power a friend,' is quoted in Pope's 'Epilogue to the Satires' (dialogue ii. l. 161). It has been said that this poem is identical with an epistle addressed to Bute and published in 1776 with corrections by the author of 'Night Thoughts.' In fact, however, the two poems are quite different.

[Dodington's Diary; Walpole's Memoirs of George II, i. 87, 88, 437-42, ii. 320; H. Walpole's Letters; Coxe's Walpole; Coxe's Pelham Administration; Fitzmaurice's Shelburne, i. 120-2; Chesterfield's Letters (1853), v. 385; Harvey's Memoirs, i. 431-4; Seward's Anecdotes (under 'Chatham'), vol. ii.; Collinson's Somersetshire, iii. 518.]

L. S.