Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stevenson, William (1772-1829)

STEVENSON, WILLIAM (1772–1829), keeper of the records in the treasury, son of a captain in the royal navy, was born at Berwick-upon-Tweed on 26 Nov. 1772. He was educated at the grammar school there under Joseph Romney. In 1787 he entered the academy at Daventry as a student for the ministry, and in 1789 the academy was removed to Northampton, where he completed his course of study. After a short sojourn at Bruges as tutor to an English family, the outbreak of the war in 1792 compelled him to return to England, where he obtained the post of classical tutor at Manchester academy. While at Manchester he became an Arian under the influence of Thomas Barnes, D.D. (1747–1810) [q. v.] For a short time he preached at Doblane, near that town, but, becoming convinced of the impropriety of a paid ministry, he resigned his posts and went as a pupil to a farmer in East Lothian. In 1797 he took a farm at Laughton, near Edinburgh; but after four or five years he relinquished farming, and set up a boarding-house for students in Drummond Street, Edinburgh. Shortly after he became editor of the ‘Scots Magazine,’ to which he contributed numerous essays. In 1806 James Maitland, eighth earl of Lauderdale, who had been offered by Fox the post of governor-general of India, invited Stevenson to accompany him as private secretary. Owing to the strenuous opposition of the East India Company, Lord Lauderdale withdrew his claims to the governor-generalship, but he compensated his secretary by obtaining for him the office of keeper of the records to the treasury. Soon after Stevenson declined the czar's offer of the professorship of technology at the university of Kharkov. He continued to reside in the neighbourhood of London till his death, at his house at Chelsea, on 20 March 1829. He was twice married. By his first wife, Eliza Holland of Sandlebridge in Cheshire, he had two children, a son John and a daughter Elizabeth Cleghorn, who married William Gaskell [q. v.], and became well known as a novelist [see Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn].

Stevenson's first wife died in 1810, and in 1814 he married Catherine, daughter of Alexander Thomson of Savannah in Georgia. By her he had a son and daughter. Stevenson was the author of:

  1. ‘Remarks on the very inferior Utility of Classical Learning,’ London, 1796, 4to.
  2. ‘A System of Land-Surveying,’ 1805, 4to; London, 1810, 4to.
  3. ‘General View of the Agriculture of the County of Surrey,’ London, 1809, 8vo.
  4. ‘General View of the Agriculture of the County of Dorset,’ London, 1812, 8vo.
  5. ‘Historical Sketch of Discovery, Navigation, and Commerce,’ Edinburgh and London, 1824, 8vo.

He also contributed the article on chivalry to Dr. Brewster's ‘Edinburgh Encyclopædia,’ wrote the life of Carton and other treatises for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, besides writing numerous articles for the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ the ‘Retrospective Review,’ and other magazines, and compiling the greater part of the ‘Annual Register’ for several years.

[Annual Biography and Obituary, 1830, pp. 208–14; Gent. Mag. 1829, i. 644; Macculloch's Literature of Political Economy, p. 148; Donaldson's Agricultural Biography, p. 97; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.]

E. I. C.