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

DUNCOMBE, WILLIAM (1690–1769), miscellaneous writer, youngest son of John Duncombe of Stocks in the parish of Aldbury, Hertfordshire, was born in Hatton Garden, London, 9 Jan. 1690. He was educated at Cheney in Buckinghamshire and at Pinner in Middlesex, and in 1706 entered as clerk in the navy office. This he quitted in 1725, and being in easy circumstances was able to give the remainder of his long life to his favourite literary pursuits. He had already translated some parts of Horace (1715 and 1721), and the ‘Athaliah’ of Racine (1722), and he now wrote a number of fugitive pieces for the ‘Whitehall Evening Post,’ of which he was part proprietor. A somewhat curious incident (with which no doubt the resignation of his clerkship was connected) brought about or hastened his marriage. He held a lottery ticket for 1725 in partnership with a Miss Elizabeth Hughes. The ticket was ‘drawn a prize of 1,000l.,’ and the partners were married on 1 Sept. of the following year. In 1728 an attack by Duncombe in the ‘London Journal’ on the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ in which he showed ‘its pernicious consequences to the practice of morality and christian virtue,’ attracted some notice. It gained him the acquaintance and lifelong friendship of Dr. Herring, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury (their correspondence was edited by Duncombe's son in 1777), who warmly approved of Duncombe's position. In 1732 Duncombe's most ambitious effort, his tragedy of ‘Lucius Junius Brutus,’ founded on Voltaire's play, was approved of by ‘the theatrical triumvirate, Booth, Cibber, and Wilks,’ and its production promised. This did not take place till November 1734, ‘when the town was empty, the parliament not sitting, and Farinelli in full song and feather at the Haymarket.’ As the author said, ‘the quavering Italian eunuch proved too powerful for the rigid Roman consul.’ ‘Brutus’ ran six nights at Drury Lane. It obtained some applause, and we are assured ‘that there was scarcely a dry eye in the boxes during the last scene between Brutus and Titus’ (where Brutus condemns his son to death, act v. sc. 9). It was again acted in February 1735, and printed the same year. A second edition appeared in 1747.

When the Jacobite rising of 1745 occurred, Duncombe, who was a devoted friend of the Hanoverian succession, reprinted a sermon (really written by Dr. Arbuthnot) purporting to be ‘preached to the people at the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh.’ He prefixed to this an account of the advantages which had accrued to Scotland from the union with England. He also reprinted with a preface a tract which his relative Mr. Hughes had written in regard to the rising of 1715, but which had never appeared, ‘On the Complicated Guilt of Rebellion.’ In 1749 Duncombe was ‘accidentally instrumental to the detection of Archibald Bower [q. v.] ’, from whose account he had compiled a narrative of his escape from the inquisition. This being published attracted considerable notice, and was one of the circumstances which led to the damaging attack made by Douglas, bishop of Salisbury, on Bower's veracity (collection relating to Archibald Bower in British Museum MS.) Duncombe died in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, London, 26 Feb. 1769, and was buried near his wife (d. 1736) in Aldbury Church, Hertfordshire. He was survived by his only child, John Duncombe [q. v.]

In addition to the works already named and a number of occasional pieces in prose and verse, Duncombe edited his friend Henry Needler's ‘Original Poems, Translations, Essays, and Letters’ (1724), John Hughes's ‘Poems’ (1735), Jabez Hughes's ‘Miscellanies in Prose and Verse’ (1737), Samuel Say's ‘Essays and Poems’ (1743), and a volume of Archbishop Herring's sermons (1763). He also translated Werenfel's ‘On the Usefulness of Dramatic Interludes in the Education of Youth’ (1744).

[Biog. Brit. ed. Kippis, v. 504; Gent. Mag. for 1769, p. 168; Lond. Mag. for 1769, p. 333; Annual Register for 1769, p. 172; Addit. MS. 31588, f. 2.]

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