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

STUKELEY, WILLIAM (1687–1765), antiquary, born at Holbeach, Lincolnshire, on 7 Nov. 1687, was the son of John Stukeley, an attorney, by his wife Frances, daughter of Robert Bullen of Weston, Lincolnshire. He was sent in 1692 to the free school at Holbeach, and as a boy was fond of retiring into the woods to read and to collect plants. Occasionally he listened behind a screen to the learned conversation of his father with Mr. Belgrave, ‘an ingenious gent,’ in refutation of whose arguments he wrote a small manuscript book. He collected coins, bought microscopes and burning-glasses, and learnt something of wood-carving, dialling, ‘and some astrology withal.’ On 7 Nov. 1703 he was admitted to Bennet (Corpus Christi) College, Cambridge, became a scholar in the following April, and took the degree of M.B. on 21 Jan. 1707–8. In his undergraduate days he ‘went (he says) frequently a simpling, and began to steal dogs and dissect them.’ When at home, he ‘made a handsome sceleton’ of an aged cat. Stephen Hales of the Royal Society and Dr. John Gray of Canterbury were among his botanical associates, and he made large additions to Ray’s ‘Catalogus Plantarum circa Cantabrigiam.’

On leaving Cambridge he studied anatomy under Rolfe, a surgeon in Chancery Lane, and medicine under Dr. Mead at St. Thomas’s Hospital (1709). In May 1710 he went into medical practice at Boston, Lincolnshire. In May 1717 he removed to Ormond Street, London, where he lived next door to Powis House. On 20 March 1717–1718 he became a fellow of the Royal Society, and in January 1718 took part in establishing the Society of Antiquaries, of which body he acted as secretary for nine years. On 7 July he took the degree of M.D. at Cambridge, and on 30 Sept. 1720 was admitted a fellow of the College of Physicians, and became a freemason, suspecting freemasonry to be ‘the remains of the mysterys of the antients.’ In the same year he published an account of Arthur’s Oon and Graham’s Dyke. In 1722 he was elected a member of the Spalding Society, and at a later time (1745) founded the Brazen Nose Society (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. vi. 4).

In March 1722 he read as the Gulstonian lecture a discourse on the spleen, published in 1723. About this time he suffered from gout, which he cured partly by using Dr. Rogers’s ‘oleum arthriticum,’ and partly by long rides in search of antiquities. The first-fruits of his antiquarian expeditions appeared in 1724 in his ‘Itinerarium Curiosum.’ He was now well known to the Earl of Pembroke, the Earl of Winchilsea, and ‘all the virtuosos in London’ and had ‘a particular friendship’ with Sir Isaac Newton. His greatest friends were Roger Gale [q. v.] and Samuel Gale [q. v.] With the former he went on long antiquarian tours in various parts of England, and in 1725 traversed the whole length of the Roman Wall, and ‘drew out (for he was a respectable draughtsman) and described innumerable old cities, roads, altars,’ &c. His frequent visits to Stonehenge furnished material for his book on Stonehenge, published in 1740, and accounted at the time his principal work. Druidism was to him ‘the aboriginal patriarchal religion,’ and his intimates called him ‘Chyndonax’ and ‘the arch-druid of this age.’

In 1726 Stukeley went to live at Grantham, Lincolnshire, where he had a good practice. Here he laid out a garden and a sylvan ‘temple of the Druids,’ with an old apple-tree, overgrown with mistletoe, in the centre. Being encouraged by Archbishop Wake to enter the church, he was ordained at Croydon on 20 July 1729, and was presented in October to the living of All Saints at Stamford, a town to which he removed in February 1730. At Stamford, where he chiefly lived till 1748, he frequented the music clubs and had a beautiful garden, wherein he set up (circa 1746) a gate with ‘an inscription in vast capitals’ commemorating Culloden and ‘a delicate marble statue of Flora as white as milk, large as life [and] well cut.’ In 1736 he published his ‘Palæographia Sacra’ (pt. i.) to show ‘how heathen mythology is derived from sacred history, and that the Bacchus of the poets is no other than Jehovah in Scripture.’

In 1739 he was given the living of Somerby-by-Grantham. He resigned this living and that of All Saints, Stamford, in 1747, when he accepted from the Duke of Montagu the rectory of St. George-the-Martyr in Queen Square, London. From 1748 he lived in Queen Square and at his house at Kentish Town. He was an unconventional clergyman, and once (April 1764) postponed the service for an hour in order that his congregation might witness an eclipse of the sun. When he was nearly seventy-six he preached for the first time in spectacles, from the text ‘Now we see through a glass darkly,’ the sermon being on the evils of too much study. On 27 Feb. 1765 he was seized with paralysis, and died in Queen Square on 3 March 1765 in his seventy-eighth year. He was buried in the churchyard of East Ham, Essex, and, according to his desire, without any monument.

Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, one of Stukeley’s oldest acquaintances, describes him as a learned and honest man, but a strange compound of ‘simplicity, drollery, absurdity, ingenuity, superstition, and antiquarianism’ (Nicols. Lit. Anecd. ii. 60, cf. ib. pp. 1 ff.) Thomas Hearne says he was ‘very fanciful’ and ‘a mighty conceited man.’ Stukeley, in an autobiography written (in the third person) for Masters’s ‘History of Bennet College,’ says of himself: ‘He has traced the origin of Astronomy from the first ages of the world. He has traced the origin of Architecture, with many designs of the Mosaic Tabernacle . . . and an infinity of sacred antiquities . . . but the artifice of booksellers discorages authors from reaping the fruit of their labors.’ Stukeley’s plan of ‘Caesar’s Camp,’ at the Brill (Somers Town), seems to be purely imaginary; and Evans (Ancient British Coins, p. 7) pronounces his drawings and attributions of British coins untrustworthy. Gibbon says concerning his ‘History of Carausius,’ ‘I have used his materials and rejected most of his fanciful conjectures.’ Stukeley’s favourite discovery of Oriuna, the wife of Carausius, was due to his misreading the word ‘Fortuna’ on a coin of this emperor. A more serious error was his publication in 1757, as a genuine work of Richard of Cirencester, of the ‘De Situ Britanniæ,’ forged by Charles Bertram [q. v.] (Notes and Queries, 8th ser. viii. 1895, p. 250).

Stukeley married first, in 1728, Frances (d. 1737), daughter of Robert Williamson, of Allington, Lincolnshire; secondly, in 1739, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Gale, dean of York and father of Roger and Samuel Gale. By his first wife he had three daughters: one of them, Elizabeth, married Richard Fleming, a solicitor, and Stukeley’s executor; another married Thomas Fairchild, rector of Pitsea, Essex (Nichols, Lit. Illustr. ii. 47 n.)

Some volumes of Stukeley’s manuscripts and letters came into the possession of John Britton, but afterwards passed to a descendant of Stukeley’s, the Rev. H. Fleming St. John, of Dinmore House, near Leominster, who lent them to Mr. W. C. Lukis for his careful edition of the ‘Family Memoirs of Stukeley.’ These memoirs consist of diaries and autobiographical notices, written somewhat in the style of Pepys, and of commonplace books and of a mass of correspondence touching on antiquities, numismatics, and astronomy. Other manuscripts are in the possession of Mr. R. F. St. Andrew St. John of Ealing.

Stukeley’s coins (chiefly Roman), fossils, pictures, and antiquities were sold at Essex House, Essex Street, London, on 15 and 16 May 1766. ‘An antediluvian hammer, sundry Druids’ beads, &c.,’ and a model of Stonehenge, carved in wood by Stukeley, were among the objects sold (Sale Catalogue in Department of Coins, Brit. Mus.)

There is a mezzotint half-length portrait of Stukeley, by J. Smith, 1721, after a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1721 (reproduced, ‘Family Memoirs of Stukeley,’ frontispiece). A portrait, by Wills, of Stukeley in his robes, a miniature, and a bust are also mentioned. In the British Museum is a medal cast and chased by Gaab [1765]: (obverse) head of Stukeley wreathed with oak, æt. 54; (reverse) view of Stonehenge, ob. Mar. 4 [read 3] 1765, æt. 84 [read 78].

The following is a selection from Stukeley’s publications:

  1. An Account of a Roman Temple [Arthur’s Oon] and other Antiquities, near Graham’s Dike in Scotland,’ 1720, 4to.
  2. Of the Spleen,’ London, 1723, fol.
  3. Itinerarium Curiosum; or an Account of the Antiquitys and remarkable Curiositys in Nature or Art, observ’d in travels thro’ Great Brittan,’ 1724, fol.; 2nd edit. 1776, fol.
  4. A Treatise on the Cause and Cure of the Gout, with a New Rationale,’ 1734, 8vo (several editions).
  5. Palæographia Sacra,’ 1736, 4to; also London, 1763 (a different work).
  6. Stonehenge, a Temple restor’d to the British Druids,’ London, 1740, fol.
  7. Abury, a Temple of the British Druids,’ London, 1743, fol.
  8. Palæographia Britannica, or Discourses on Antiquities in Britain,’ 1743–52, 4to.
  9. The Philosophy of Earthquakes, Natural and Religious,’ London, 1750, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1756.
  10. A Dissertation upon Oriuna,’ 1751, 4to.
  11. An Account of Richard of Cirencester … with his Antient Map of Roman Brittain … the Itinerary thereof,’ &c., London, 1757, 4to.
  12. The Medallic History of M. A. V. Carausius,’ London, 1757–9, 4to.
  13. Twenty-three Plates of the Coins of the Ancient British Kings,’ London, T. Snelling; published posthumously, without date.

[Family Memoirs of Stukeley (Surtees Soc.), 1882, ed. Lukis; Munk’s Coll. of Physicians, ii. 71 sq.; Nichols’s Lit. Illustr. and Lit. Anecd. especially v. 499—510; Gent. Mag. 1765, p. 211 (memoir by P. Collinson); Lowndes’s Bibl. Manual; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. W.