Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dodwell, Henry (1641-1711)

DODWELL, HENRY, the elder (1641–1711), scholar and theologian, was born in 1641 at Dublin, though both his parents were of English extraction. His father, William Dodwell, was in the army; his mother was Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Francis Slingsby. At the time of his birth the Irish rebellion, which resulted in the destruction of a large number of protestants, was going on; and for the first six years of his life he was confined, with his mother, within the city of Dublin, while his father's estate in Connaught was possessed by the rebels. In 1648 the Dodwells came over to England in the hope of finding some help from their friends. They settled first in London and then at York, in the neighbourhood of which city Mrs. Dodwell's brother, Sir Henry Slingsby, resided. For five years Dodwell was educated in the free school at York. His father returned to Ireland to look after his estate, and died of the plague at Waterford in 1650; and his mother soon afterwards fell into a consumption, of which she died. The orphan boy was reduced to the greatest straits, from which he was at last relieved, in 1654, by his uncle, Henry Dodwell, the incumbent of Hemley and Newbourne in Suffolk. This kind relation paid his debts, took him into his own house, and helped him in his studies. In 1656 he was admitted into Trinity College, Dublin, and became a favourite pupil of Dr. John Stearn, for whom he conceived a deep attachment. He was elected in due time first scholar, and then fellow of the college; but in 1666 he was obliged to resign his fellowship because he declined to take holy orders, which the statutes of the college obliged all fellows to do when they were masters of arts of three years' standing. Bishop Jeremy Taylor offered to use his influence to procure a dispensation to enable Dodwell to hold his fellowship in spite of the statute; but Dodwell refused the offer because he thought it would be a bad precedent for the college. His reasons for declining to take orders were, his sense of the responsibility of the sacred ministry, the mean opinion he had of his own abilities, and, above all, a conviction that he could be of more service to the cause of religion and the church as a layman than he could be as a clergyman, who might be suspected of being biassed by self-interest. In 1674 he settled in London, ‘as being a place where was variety of learned persons, and which afforded opportunity of meeting with books, both of ancient and modern authors’ (Brokesby). In 1675 he made the acquaintance of Dr. William Lloyd, afterwards bishop of St. Asaph, and subsequently of Worcester; and when Dr. Lloyd was made chaplain to the Princess of Orange, he accompanied him into Holland. He was also wont to travel with his friend, when he became bishop, on his visitation tours, and on other episcopal business; but when Lloyd took the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, and Dodwell declined to do so, there was a breach between the friends which was never healed. He also spent much of his time with the famous Bishop Pearson at Chester. In 1688 he was appointed, without any solicitation on his part, Camden professor or prælector of history at Oxford, and delivered several valuable ‘prælections’ in that capacity. But in 1691 he was deprived of his professorship because he refused to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary. He was told ‘by learned counsel that the act seemed not to reach his case, in that he was prelector, not professor;’ but Dodwell was not the man to take advantage of such chances, and, as he had refused to retain his fellowship when he could not conscientiously comply with its conditions, so also he did in the case of the professorship or prælectorship. He still continued to live for some time at Oxford, and then retired to Cookham, near Maidenhead. Thence he removed to Shottesbrooke, a village on the other side of Maidenhead. He was persuaded to take up his abode there by Francis Cherry [q. v.], the squire of the place. Cherry and Dodwell used to meet at Maidenhead, whither they went daily, the one from Cookham and the other from Shottesbrooke, to hear the news and to learn what books were newly published. Being kindred spirits, and holding the same views on theological and political topics, they struck up a great friendship, and Mr. Cherry fitted up a house for his friend near his own. At Shottesbrooke Dodwell spent the remainder of his life. In 1694 he married Ann Elliot, a lady in whose father's house at Cookham he had lodged; by her he had ten children, six of whom survived him. Cherry and Dodwell, being nonjurors, could not attend their parish church; they therefore maintained jointly a nonjuring chaplain, Francis Brokesby [q. v.], who afterwards became Dodwell's biographer. But in 1710, on the death of Bishop Lloyd of Norwich, the last but one of the surviving nonjuring prelates, and ‘the surrendry of Bishop Ken, there being not now two claimants of the same altar of which the dispossessed had the better title,’ Dodwell, with Cherry and Mr. Robert Nelson, returned to the communion of the established church. They were admitted to communion at St. Mildred's, Poultry, by the excellent Archbishop Sharp. In 1711 Dodwell caught cold in a walk from Shottesbrooke to London, and died on 7 June in that year. He was universally esteemed as a most pious and learned man; his views were those of a staunch Anglican churchman, equally removed from puritanism on the one side and Romanism on the other. Thomas Hearne, the antiquary, was brought up at Shottesbrooke partly under his instruction, and constantly refers in his ‘Diary’ to ‘the great Mr. Dodwell’ as an unimpeachable authority on all points of learning. He speaks of the ‘reputation he [Dodwell] had deservedly obtained of being a most profound scholar, a most pious man, and one of ye greatest integrity;’ and yet more strongly: ‘I take him to be the greatest scholar in Europe when he died; but, what exceeds that, his piety and sanctity were beyond compare.’ His extensive and accurate knowledge won the admiration of some who had less sympathy than Hearne with his theological and political opinions. Gibbon, for instance, in his ‘Entraits raisonnés de mes Lectures,’ writes: ‘Dodwell's learning was immense; in this part of history especially (that of the upper empire) the most minute fact or passage could not escape him; and his skill in employing them is equal to his learning.’ This was a subject on which the great historian could speak with authority. That Dodwell's character and attainments were very highly estimated by his contemporaries is shown by testimonies too numerous to be quoted. That he was mainly instrumental in bringing back Robert Nelson to the established church is one out of many proofs. But that, in spite of his vast learning, his numerous works have now fallen into comparative oblivion is not to be wondered at. Gibbon gives one reason: ‘The worst of this author is his method and style—the one perplexed beyond imagination, the other negligent to a degree of barbarism.’ Other reasons may be that the special interest in many of the subjects on which Dodwell wrote has died away, and that he was fond of broaching eccentric theories which embarrassed his friends at least as much as his opponents. Bishop Ken, for instance, notices with dismay the strange ideas of ‘the excellent Mr. Dodwell,’ and even Hearne cannot altogether endorse them. Dodwell had a great veneration for the English clergy, and might himself have been described, with more accuracy than Addison was, as ‘a parson in a tye-wig.’ All his tastes were clerical, and his theological attainments were such as few clergymen have reached. Hearne heard that he was in the habit of composing sermons for his friend Dr. Lloyd; whether this was so or not, his writings show that he would have been quite in his element in so doing.

Dodwell was a most voluminous writer on an immense variety of subjects, in all of which he showed vast learning, great ingenuity, and, in spite of some eccentricities, great powers of reasoning. His first publication was an edition of his tutor Dr. Stearn's work ‘De Obstinatione,’ that is, ‘Concerning Firmness and not sinking under Adversities.’ Dr. Stearn finished the work just before his death, and expressed his dying wish that it should be published under the direction of his old pupil, Dodwell, who accordingly gave it to the world with prolegomena of his own. He next published ‘Two Letters of Advice, (1) for the Susception of Holy Orders, (2) for Studies Theological.’ These were written in the first instance for the benefit of a son of Bishop Leslie, and a brother of the famous Charles Leslie, who was a friend of Dodwell's at Shottesbrooke. His next publication (1673) was an edition of Francis de Sales's ‘Introduction to a Devout Life.’ Dodwell wrote a preface, but did not put his name to the work. In 1675 he wrote ‘Some Considerations of present Concernment,’ in which, like all the high churchmen of the day, he combated vehemently the position of the Romanists; and in the following year he published ‘Two Discourses against the Papists.’ His next publication was an elaborate work, entitled in full, ‘Separation of Churches from Episcopal Government, as practised by the present Nonconformists, proved schismatical,’ but shortly termed his ‘Book of Schism.’ This work, of course, stirred up great opposition. Among its opponents was the famous Richard Baxter, who called forth in 1681 Dodwell's ‘Reply to Mr. Baxter,’ and various other tracts. In 1683 he published ‘A Discourse of the One Altar and the One Priesthood insisted on by the Ancients in their Disputes against Schism.’ This was also occasioned by his dispute with Baxter. Two years earlier he added to his ‘Two Letters of Advice’ a tract concerning Sanchoniathon's ‘Phœnician History.’ In 1682 he published his ‘Dissertations upon St. Cyprian,’ undertaken at the desire of the well-known Dr. Fell, bishop of Oxford and dean of Christ Church, the editor of St. Cyprian's works. In 1685 he published a treatise ‘De Sacerdotio Laicorum’ (Of the Priesthood of Laics, against Grotius), again occasioned by the writings of Baxter; and in 1686 some dissertations added to those of his deceased friend, Bishop Pearson, on the succession of the bishops of Rome; and in 1689, again at the instigation of Dr. Fell, ‘Dissertations on Irenæus,’ which, however, was only a fragment of what he intended. In the interval between the suspension and the deprivation of the nonjuring bishops, Dodwell put forth ‘A Cautionary Discourse of Schism, with a particular Regard to the Case of the Bishops who are Suspended for refusing to take the New Oath,’ the title of which work tells its own tale. Of course Dodwell's ‘caution’ in his ‘Cautionary Discourse’ was not heeded; the bishops were deprived, and Dodwell presently put forth a ‘Vindication of the Deprived Bishops.’ Next followed a tract which was intended as a preface to the last work, but was afterwards published separately, and entitled ‘The Doctrine of the Church of England concerning the Independence of the Clergy in Spirituals,’ &c. In 1704 appeared his ‘Parænesis to Foreigners concerning the late English Schism;’ in 1705, ‘A Case in View considered,’ ‘to show that in case the then invalidly deprived fathers should all leave their sees vacant, either by death or resignation, we should not then be obliged to keep up our separation from those bishops who are in the guilt of that unhappy schism.’ In 1710–11 the supposed event occurred, and Dodwell wrote ‘The Case in View, now in Fact,’ urging the nonjurors to return to the national church; and there is little doubt that these two treatises induced many nonjurors (among whom Dodwell was much looked up to and reverenced) to give up their separation. The last treatise was preceded by ‘A farther Prospect of the Case in View,’ in which Dodwell answers some objections to his first work, especially those which related to joining in what were termed ‘immoral prayers.’ For convenience' sake the works of Dodwell which relate to the nonjuring controversy have been placed in order; but he wrote a vast quantity of books bearing upon historical, classical, and theological subjects, the principal of which are: ‘An Invitation to Gentlemen to acquaint themselves with Ancient History’ (1694), being a preface to the ‘Method of History’ by his predecessor in the Camden professorship; ‘Annales Thucydideani,’ to accompany Dr. Hudson's edition of Thucydides, and ‘Annales Xenophontiani,’ to accompany Dr. Edward Wells's edition of Xenophon (1696); ‘Annales Velleiani, Quintiliani, with two appendices on Julius Celsus and Commodianus’ (1698); ‘An Account of the lesser Geographers’ (vol. i. 1698, vol. ii. 1703, vol. iii. 1712, after his death); ‘A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Instrumental Musick in Churches’ (1698), occasioned by a dispute about the setting up of an organ in Tiverton church in 1696; ‘An Apology for Tully's (Cicero's) Philosophical Writings’ (1702); ‘A Discourse against Marriages in different Communions’ (1702), in support of his friend Charles Leslie's views on the subject; also in 1702 a work ‘De Cyclis,’ being an elaborate account of the Greek and Roman cycles; ‘A Discourse concerning the Time of Phalaris’ (1704), a contribution towards the great controversy between Bentley and Boyle on the subject, and also ‘A Discourse concerning the Time of Pythagoras;’ a treatise ‘Against Occasional Communion’ (1705), when the famous ‘occasional conformity’ dispute was raging; ‘Incense no Apostolical Tradition’ (dated 1709, published 1711); ‘An Epistolary Discourse concerning the Soul's Immortality,’ in which he maintains that the soul was made immortal in holy baptism; ‘Notes on an Inscription on Julius Vitalis and that on Menonius Calistus, and on Dr. Woodward's Shield.’ This last was published after Dodwell's death, as were also the letters which passed between him and Bishop Burnet. He also left several other unfinished works.

[Life of Mr. Henry Dodwell, with an Account of his Works, &c., by Francis Brokesby, B.D., 1715; Thomas Hearne's Diaries passim, and Dodwell's Works passim; information from the Rev. H. Dodwell Moore, vicar of Honington, and others connected with the Dodwell family.]

J. H. O.