Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/King, William (1663-1712)

KING, WILLIAM, D.C.L. (1663–1712), miscellaneous writer, born in 1663, was the son of Ezekiel King, gentleman, of London, from whom he inherited a small estate in Middlesex. In his ‘Adversaria’ he mentions his great-grandfather, a merchant named La Motte, and his cousin Harcourt; and he had some connection with the Hyde family. In 1678 he was admitted a scholar of Westminster, and was elected student of Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 16 Dec. 1681. On 8 Dec. 1685 he graduated B.A. as a grand compounder, proceeding M.A. on 6 July 1688, and B.C.L. and D.C.L. 7 July 1692. He early became fond of desultory reading. In 1688 he joined Edward Hannes [q. v.] in ‘Reflections upon Mons. Varillas's History of Heresy,’ chiefly in defence of Wycliffe. About 1690 he published an amusing ‘Dialogue shewing the way to Modern Preferment.’ In November 1692 he obtained a fiat from Archbishop Tillotson admitting him an advocate at Doctors' Commons. He continued to use his talents as a humorous writer upon the side of the tories and high church party. In 1693 he contributed a pamphlet to the famous Sherlock controversy (see Macaulay, Hist. chap. xvii.) In 1694 he published ‘Animadversions’ on the account of Denmark, by Robert (afterwards Lord) Molesworth [q. v.], a sound whig, who had attacked the Danish system of government. The Danish envoy supplied materials to King, and he received the thanks of the university of Copenhagen. Prince George of Denmark also obtained his appointment as secretary to the Princess Anne.

Charles Boyle, in the book commonly called ‘Boyle upon Bentley’ [see under Bentley, Richard, 1662–1742], mentions an interview between Bentley and a bookseller at which King was present, and gives a letter from King describing Bentley's insolence. Bentley attacked King in his famous ‘Dissertation’ (1699); and in the same year appeared ‘A Short Account of Dr. Bentley's Humanity and Justice,’ with a second letter from King to Boyle. King probably gave other help to Boyle, and, according to Pope, as reported by Warburton, contributed the droll argument to prove that Bentley was not the author of the ‘Dissertation’ and the index (Letters from an Eminent Prelate, 1809, p. 11). King's ‘Dialogues of the Dead,’ 1699, one of his cleverest productions, attacks Bentley in a series of ten dialogues.

Another very characteristic work appeared, probably a few months earlier than the ‘Dialogues of the Dead.’ This was ‘A Journey to London in the year 1698. After the ingenious method of that made by Dr. Martin Lister to Paris in the same year. Written originally in French, by Monsieur Sorbière, and newly translated into English,’ 1699. This was a travesty of a very recent book upon Paris by Martin Lister [q. v.] Sorbière had published a much-abused book of travels in England (1664), and King adopts the name to insinuate a comparison between their styles. He thought this his best work, and described many of his later writings as ‘by the author of “A Journey to London.”’ A poem, ‘The Furmetory,’ was published in 1699, and others were circulated in manuscript. In 1700 King published anonymously ‘The Transactioner, with some of his Philosophical Fancies, in two Dialogues,’ a satire upon Sir Hans Sloane, who edited the ‘Transactions’ of the Royal Society. In 1701 King defended his friend the Earl of Anglesea in an action for separation brought by the countess. He is said to have shown ability in spite of his usual indolence. Directly afterwards he was appointed judge of the admiralty court in Ireland, and, as appears by a letter in the British Museum (Add. MS. 28887, f. 369), was in Ireland by 13 Nov. 1701. He probably obtained his post through the influence of the Earl of Rochester, lord-lieutenant from 1700 to February 1703, or of Pembroke, then lord high admiral, to whose son he afterwards dedicated his ‘Miscellanies.’ On 10 Jan. 1703 King wrote to John Ellis, M.P., begging that an order might be sent to swear him, delay being caused by the obstinacy of a Scottish lord mayor, in whose hands was his commission. King also asked Ellis to support his request for the post (which he obtained) of vicar-general of Armagh (ib. 28890, f. 17). King was likewise sole commissioner of the prizes, but appears to have neglected all his duties. While idling at Mountown, near Dublin, the house of his friend Judge Upton, he wrote ‘Mully of Mountown,’ Mully being the red cow that furnished him with milk. It was surreptitiously published in 1704, together with another poem, ‘Orpheus and Eurydice,’ as the ‘Fairy Feast.’ King reprinted the poems, asserting that they had no hidden meaning, and added ‘Some Remarks on the Tale of a Tub.’

In 1705, or a little later, King published a collection of ‘Miscellanies.’ On 19 June 1707 he was appointed keeper of the records in the Birmingham Tower at Dublin Castle, but resigned on 28 Nov. (Lascelles, Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniæ, 1824, pt. ii. p. 78). Probably King returned to England at the close of 1707. It seems that he had by this time spent his private fortune, and had nothing to rely upon except his studentship at Christ Church. In February 1708 Lintot paid him 32l. 5s. for ‘The Art of Cookery, in imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry; with some Letters to Dr. Lister and others, occasioned principally by the title of a book published by the Doctor, being the Works of Apicius Cælius, concerning the Soups and Sauces of the Ancients.’ It was published in the following month without date (Daily Courant, 13 March 1708). Two spurious editions of this amusing poem, perhaps his best work, appeared, and it was coarsely attacked in ‘A Letter to Dr. W. King, occasioned by his Art of Cookery.’ In February 1709 Lintot paid King 32l. 5s. for ‘The Art of Love,’ in imitation of Ovid, but dealing with ‘innocent and virtuous’ love, if not always within modern bounds of propriety.

In 1709 appeared also the amusing ‘Useful Transactions in Philosophy and other sorts of Learning,’ which were ‘to be continued monthly, as they sell.’ Three parts appeared, for each of which King received only 5l. These ‘Transactions’ are a parody of the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ and the third part again satirises Sloane. The ‘Memoirs of Martin Scriblerus’ probably owe some hints to this book.

King supported the high church party in the Sacheverell controversy by several pamphlets, including ‘A Friendly Letter from honest Tom Boggy to the Rev. Mr. Goddard, Canon of Windsor;’ ‘A Second Letter to Mr. Goddard, occasioned by the late Panegyric given him by the Review,’ 1710; ‘A Vindication of the Rev. Dr. Sacheverell,’ 1711 (in which King was assisted by Charles Lambe of Christ Church, and probably by Sacheverell himself); ‘Mr. Bisset's Recantation, in a Letter to the Rev. Dr. Henry Sacheverell,’ 1711; and ‘An Answer to a second scandalous Book that Mr. Bissett is now writing, to be published as soon as possible.’ King contributed to the early numbers of the ‘Examiner,’ started in August 1710, but it is not known that he had any connection with the paper after Swift undertook the management of it in November.

At the end of 1710 King published his ‘Historical Account of the Heathen Gods and Heroes,’ a compilation which was used in schools for many years, and for which the author was paid 50l. In 1711 he wrote a bitter attack upon the Duke of Marlborough, which was published late in the year, with the date 1712, entitled ‘Rufinus, or an Historical Essay on the favourite Ministry under Theodosius and his son Arcadius,’ with a poem, ‘Rufinus, or the Favourite,’ annexed. In December 1711 King, on Swift's recommendation, was appointed to succeed Steele in the post of gazetteer. King had been in great difficulties. Gay, writing earlier in the year, says, in ‘The Present State of Wit,’ that King deserved better than to ‘languish out the small remainder of his life in the Fleet Prison.’ Swift, in the ‘Journal to Stella’ (19 Dec.), speaks of King as a ‘poor starving wit;’ but on 31 Dec. mentions the appointment to the ‘Gazette,’ which he values at 200l. a year. He afterwards (8 Jan. 1711–12) tells Archbishop King ‘that it will be worth 250l. per annum to him if he be diligent and sober.’ King, however, was incapable of diligence. Upon the influx of an unusual amount of matter he had to sit up till three or four in the morning to correct the proofs. King therefore resigned the office on 1 July 1712. On the same day Lintot paid him 4l. 1s. 6d. for the ‘Useful Miscellanies, Part the First,’ containing the tragi-comedy of ‘Joan of Hedington’ and an ‘Account of Horace's behaviour during his stay at Trinity College in Cambridge.’ In August he published some verses, ‘Britain's Palladium, or Lord Bolingbroke's Welcome from France.’

During the summer of 1712 King lived in a friend's house between Lambeth and Vauxhall. He visited his friends in London, especially his relation Lord Clarendon at Somerset House. In the autumn his health grew worse. Clarendon had him conveyed on 24 Dec. to a lodging opposite Somerset House. That night he made his will, by which he appointed his sister, Elizabeth King, sole executrix and residuary legatee; and on the following day he died. On 27 Dec. he was buried in the north cloister of Westminster Abbey. King seems to have been sincerely religious and moral in his life, though given to occasional conviviality. Pope told Lord Burlington in 1716, ‘I remember Dr. King would write verses in a tavern three hours after he could not speak.’ He sometimes said ill-natured things, but was generally amiable and easy-going. His ‘Adversaria’ proves the width of his general reading, and he was certainly well skilled in law. A eulogistic ‘Pindarick Ode to the memory of Dr. William King’ appeared after his death.

Many of King's writings were published anonymously, and some without date. Among the fragments left by him are an ‘Essay on Civil Government’ (reprinted by Dr. Johnson in 1776), and ‘Crapulia,’ translated from Joseph Hall's ‘Mundus alter et idem.’ King wrote also several papers for Harrison's continuation of the ‘Tatler,’ and a few songs and tales in verse, which are of little value. One of these, ‘Apple Pye,’ was printed in ‘The Northern Atalantis,’ 1713, and in the following year it was included in Hill's collection of ‘Original Poems and Translations.’ King in his early years translated some books from the French, and was one of the translators, from the French of De la Croix, of ‘The Persian and the Turkish Tales compleat,’ published in 1714, having begun the work, as the dedication states, at the request of Lady Theodosia Blye, baroness of Clifton. In 1732 King's ‘Remains’ were published, with an account of his life, and a dedication to Lord Orrery; and in 1734 they were edited as ‘Posthumous Works,’ by Joseph Browne, M.D. A portrait, engraved by J. Vandergucht from a painting by Dellow, was prefixed to both collections. In 1776 the ‘Original Works of William King, LL.D.,’ in three volumes, were published, carefully edited by John Nichols. On the title-page is a portrait in a circle, engraved by Cook.

[Memoirs of Dr. King, prefixed to Nichols's edition of the Original Works; Biog. Brit.; Add. MSS. 28883 ff. 137, 180, 255, 28885 f. 169, 28887 f. 369, 28890 f. 17 (Brit. Mus.); Welch's Alumni Westmonasterienses, 1852, pp. 147, 183, 190–2; Swift's Works, ed. Scott, 1824, vols. i. ii. vi. x. xv.; T. Cibber's Lives of the Poets, iii. 228; Gent. Mag. 1776, 465; European Mag. vii. 400; Johnson's Lives of the Poets; Coote's Catalogue of Civilians, pp. 104–5; Monk's Life of Bentley, 1833; Oxford Graduates; Chester's Registers of Westminster, 1876, p. 275; Noble's Continuation of Granger, ii. 260; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, x. 207, 295; Ideal Commonwealths, 1885 (Morley's Universal Library), pp. 273–84; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. 1812, i. 25, 32–5, 327, iii. 227, iv. 715; D'Israeli's Quarrels of Authors (Miscellanies, 1840), pp. 206, 219–21. Dr. King is constantly confused, especially in indexes, with Dr. William King [q. v.], archbishop of Dublin, or with Dr. William King [q. v.] of St. Mary Hall, Oxford, the author of ‘The Toast.’]

G. A. A.