Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hawkins, John (1719-1789)

HAWKINS, Sir JOHN (1719–1789), author, youngest son of a carpenter who rose to be a surveyor, and claimed descent from the famous seaman, by Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Gwatkin, was born in London 30 March 1719. He learnt some Latin at school; and after studying under Hoppus for his father's business, changed his mind and was articled as clerk to John Scott, an attorney in Bishopsgate. By early rising he managed to find time for studying both law and literature. He wrote for the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ his earliest contribution being an ‘Essay on Honesty,’ in the number for March 1739, and published verses in this and other periodicals. About 1741 he became a member of the Madrigal Society, and soon afterwards of the Academy of Ancient Music. In 1742 he wrote the words for five cantatas, which (with another written by his friend Foster Webb) were set to music by John Stanley, and a few months later wrote six more. They became popular at Vauxhall and Ranelagh, and led to his making acquaintance with several musical amateurs; one of them introduced him to Peter Storer of Highgate. Hawkins's business as an attorney had increased, and about the winter of 1749 he ceased to live with his father and shared a house in Clement's Lane, Lombard Street, with Dr. Munckley, a physician. In the spring of 1753 he married Peter Storer's youngest daughter, Sidney, with a fortune of 10,000l., and transferred his business to a house in Austin Friars. Upon the death of his wife's brother, Peter Storer, in 1759, she inherited a fortune, and he then parted with his business to Richard Clark (1739–1831) [q. v.], afterwards city chamberlain, and took a house at Twickenham and another in Hatton Street for a town residence. At Twickenham he made the acquaintance of Horace Walpole, Garrick, and other distinguished neighbours.

He was placed in 1761 in the commission of peace for Middlesex and was an active magistrate. He declined to accept fees until he found that his generosity encouraged litigation, when he took the money and gave it to the poor of the parish. In 1763 he published ‘Observations on the State of the Highways and on the Laws for keeping them in repair,’ recommending a new statute for the purpose, which was afterwards passed into law. He opposed successfully (1764) a bill for rebuilding Newgate by which an undue share of the expense would be thrown upon the county of Middlesex. His fellow-magistrates showed their gratitude by electing him chairman of quarter sessions on 19 Sept. 1765. He left Twickenham in 1771 upon the death of his father, who was fond of the house. His services in suppressing the election riots at Brentford in 1768 and the Moorfield riots in 1769 recommended him to the king, by whom he was knighted 23 Oct. 1772. In November 1777 he was frightened from Hatton Street by three successive attempts at burglary, and settled in Queen Square, Westminster. In 1785 he was forced to move by a fire which destroyed his valuable library and many prints and drawings. He settled in Broad Sanctuary, Westminster, where he lived until 1789, when he was attacked by paralysis, and died on 21 May. He was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey under a stone engraved, by his direction, with nothing but his initials, the date of his death, and his age. The wits had composed an epitaph in ridicule of his drawl:

Here lies Sir John Hawkins
Without his shoes and ‘stawkins.’

Hawkins was a keen fisherman, and in 1760 published an edition of Walton's ‘Compleat Angler,’ in competition with Moses Browne [q. v.], who had modernised the text. Hawkins prefixed a life of Walton, and Oldys contributed a life of Charles Cotton [q. v.] A fourth edition, revised by Hawkins, appeared in 1784, and a fifth, edited by his son, in 1792.

Hawkins then began his ‘History of Music’ at the instigation of Horace Walpole, who ordered Italian books for him through Sir Horace Mann (Walpole, Letters, Cunningham, iii. 371). He had bought materials collected by Pepusch, which he presented to the British Museum in 1778. After leaving Twickenham he visited the Bodleian and other Oxford libraries in 1771, taking an engraver to copy portraits in the Music School. In 1772–3 he visited William Gostling [q. v.] at Canterbury, from whom he received much intelligence. The book was finally published in 1776 as ‘The General History of the Science and Practice of Music.’ The history of Charles Burney (1726–1814) [q. v.] appeared in the same year, which gave rise to unpleasant comparisons. Hawkins's book was savagely attacked by George Steevens in the ‘St. James's Chronicle,’ to the injury of the sale (Nichols, Illustrations, v. 428). Hawkins, though a worse writer than Burney, was a more painstaking antiquary, and his book has therefore a more permanent value for students of musical history.

Hawkins's early connection with Cave and the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ had brought him the acquaintance of Johnson. He was one of the nine members of the club formed by Johnson in the winter of 1748–9 at the King's Head, Ivy Lane. He was also one of the original members of the famous club founded in 1763. The other members showed so much annoyance at his rudeness to Burke upon one occasion that he ceased to attend the meetings. Johnson called him a ‘most unclubable man.’ He stated his belief that Hawkins was ‘an honest man at the bottom; but to be sure he is penurious and he is mean, and it must be owned he has a degree of brutality and a tendency to savageness that cannot easily be defended’ (D'Arblay, Diary, i. 65). Hawkins persuaded Johnson to execute a will in 1784, and drew it up for him. Hawkins was one of the executors, and Johnson left him a copy of ‘Baronius.’ He afterwards undertook to write Johnson's life and to edit his works. The life and works appeared in 1787–9 in eleven volumes. The works were carelessly edited and the life soon extinguished by Boswell's. It was ridiculed by Porson in a ‘panegyrical epistle’ to Hawkins (Gent. Mag. 1787, ii. 652, 751, 847), and in the ‘Critical Review,’ vols. lxxvi. lxxvii. The rival biographers were comically jealous of each other. Hawkins's book preserves a few anecdotes which would otherwise have been lost, but is pompous and feeble. Hawkins was a man of coarse fibre, absurdly proud of ‘my coach,’ rough to inferiors, and humble to men like Walpole, but not without solid good qualities. A portrait (very bad according to his daughter) was painted for the Music School at Oxford. A silhouette profile is prefixed to her memoirs. He also published two charges to the grand jury of Middlesex (1770 and 1780), and a ‘Dissertation on the Armorial Ensigns of the County of Middlesex and the Abbey and City of Westminster’ (1780). Hawkins left a son, John Sidney Hawkins [q. v.], and a daughter, Letitia Matilda, who published a volume of anecdotes in 1822.

[Chalmers's Dictionary (information supplied by family); Miss Hawkins's Anecdotes, 1822, pp. 46, 118–44, &c.; Forster's Life of Goldsmith, i. 312–14, &c.; Grove's Dictionary of Music; Boswell's Johnson; Walpole's Letters, iii. 320, 371, vi. 313, 395–6, 428, 442, vii. 252, viii. 159, 163, 169, 170, 213, 557. Nichols's Illustrations (viii. 242–7) gives three letters to Bishop Percy; there are other references in the Anecdotes and Illustrations of little importance.]

L. S.