Dodsley, Robert (DNB00)
DODSLEY, ROBERT (1703–1764), poet, dramatist, and bookseller, was born in 1703, probably near Mansfield, on the border of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire; but there is no record of his birth in the parish register of Mansfield (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 237). His father, Robert Dodsley, kept the free school at Mansfield, and is described as a little deformed man, who, having had a large family by one wife, married when seventy-five a young girl of seventeen, by whom he had a child. One son, Alvory, lived many years, and died in the employment of Sir George Savile. Isaac died in his eighty-first year, and was gardener during fifty-two years to Ralph Allen of Prior Park, and Lord Weymouth of Longleat. The name of another son, John, was, with those of the father and Alvory, among the subscribers to 'A Muse in Livery.' A younger son was James [q. v.], afterwards in partnership with his elder brother. Harrod states that Robert Dodsley the younger was apprenticed to a stocking-weaver at Mansfield, but was so starved and illtreated that he ran away and entered the service of a lady (History of Mansfield, 1801, p. 64). At one time he was footman to Charles Dartiquenave [q. v.] While in the employment of the Hon. Mrs. Lowther he wrote several poems; one 'An Entertainment designed for the Wedding of General Lowther and Miss Pennington.' The verses were handed about and the writer made much of, but he did not lose his modest self-respect. In the 'Country Journal, or the Craftsman,' of 20 Sept. 1729 was ad- vertised 'Servitude, a poem,' Dodsley's first publication. It consists of smoothly written verses on the duties and proper behaviour of servants. An introduction in prose, covering the same ground, is considered by Lee to have been written by Defoe (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ix. 141-2, and Daniel Defoe, his Life, i. 449-51). Dodsley appears to have been sent by the bookseller to whom he first showed his verses to Defoe, who consented to write the title, preface, introduction, and postscript, the latter bantering his own tract, 'Every Body's Business is No Body's Business.' Eighteen months afterwards, when Mrs. Lowther and her friends were getting subscribers for Dodsley's next volume, it was thought desirable to bring out 'Servitude' with a new title-page, 'The Footman's Friendly Advice to his Brethren of the Livery ... by R. Dodsley, now a footman.' Two short 'Entertainments' were printed in pamphlet form, and in 1732 included in 'A Muse in Livery,' a volume of verse with one trifling exception. A second edition was issued in the same year as 'by R. Dodsley, a footman to a person of quality at Whitehall.' His lady patrons exerted themselves, and the list of subscribers exhibits a remarkable array of names, including three duchesses, a duke, and many other fashionable people.
Dodsley next composed a dramatic satire, 'The Toy-shop.' There must have been great charm in his manner. It captivated Defoe, and even Pope, perhaps influenced by the duchesses, received the young footman in a very friendly way. When asked to read the manuscript he answered, 5 Feb. 1732-3, 'I like it as far as my particular judgment goes,' and recommended it to Rich. 'This little piece was acted [at Covent Garden, 3 Feb. 1735] with much success; it has great merit, but seems better calculated for perusal than representation' (Genest, Account of the English Stage, iii. 460). The hint of the plot was taken from Thomas Randolph's 'Conceited Pedlar' (1630), who, like the toyman, makes moral observations to his customers on the objects he sells.
With the profit derived from his books and play, and the interest of Pope, who assisted him with 100l. (Johnson, Lives in Works, 1823, viii. 162), and other friends, Dodsley opened a bookseller's shop at the sign of Tully's Head in Pall Mall in 1735. 'The King and the Miller of Mansfield' was acted at Drury Lane 1 Feb. 1737, 'a neat little piece . . . with much success' (Genest, iii. 492). The plot turns upon the king losing his way in Sherwood Forest, when John Cockle, the miller, receives and entertains his unknown guest, and is ultimately knighted for his generosity and honesty. A sequel, 'Sir John Cockle at Court,' was produced at the same theatre 23 Feb. 1738. During this time Dodsley was active in his new business. In April 1737 he published Pope's 'First Epistle of the Second Book of Horace Imitated,' and in the following month Pope made over to him the sole property in his letters. Curll, in a scurrilous epistle to Pope, 1737, says:—
Tis kind indeed a 'Livery Muse' to aid,
Who scribbles farces to augment his trade.
Young and Akenside also published with him. In May 1738, through Cave, he issued Johnson's 'London, a poem,' and gave ten guineas for it (Boswell, Life, i. 121-4). Next year he printed 'Manners,' a satire by Paul Whitehead, which 'was voted scandalous by the lords, and the author and publisher ordered into custody, where Mr. Dodsley was a week, but Mr. Paul Whitehead absconds' (Gent. Mag. 1739, ix. 104). Dodsley had to pay 70l. in fees for his lodgings (Ben Victor, Letters, i. 33), and was only released on the petition of the Earl of Essex. Many influential persons made offers of assistance.
There was published in 1740 'The Chronicle of the Kings of England written by Nathan Ben Saddi,' the forerunner of a swarm of sham chronicles in mock-biblical style. Among them are 'Lessons of the Day,' 1742; 'The Chronicle of James the Nephew,' 1743; 'Chronicles of the Duke of Cumberland,' 1746; and 'Chronicles of Zimri the Refiner,' 1753. Nathan Ben Saddi was said to be a pseudonym of Dodsley, and his chronicle, a continuation of which appeared in 1741, is, like the 'Economy of Human Life,' reprinted in his collected 'Trifles.' It contains the much-quoted sentence about Queen Elizabeth, 'that her ministers were just, her counsellors were sage, her captains were bold, and her maids of honour ate beefstakes to breakfast.' Dodsley could not have written a work showing so much wit and literary force, and Chesterfield is usually credited with the authorship. The first number of the 'Publick Register,' one of the many rivals of the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' came out on 3 Jan. 1741, and it appeared for twenty-four weeks. The reason given by Dodsley for its discontinuance was 'the additional expense he was at in stamping it; and the ungenerous usage he met with from one of the proprietors of a certain monthly pamphlet, who prevailed upon most of the common newspapers not to advertise it.' One novel feature is a description of the counties of England, with maps by J. Cowley, continued week after week. Genest says 'The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green' was played at Drury Lane 3 April 1741, 'a pleasing little piece by Dodsley; the dialogue is written with much neatness' (Account, iii. 629-30). It was only represented once. The songs have merit.
Dodsley attempted literary fame in many branches, but among all his productions nothing is so well known as his 'Select Collection of Old Plays,' 1744, dedicated to Sir Clement Cotterel Dormer, who probably contributed some of its contents. The great ladies who first patronised Dodsley had not forgotten him, and the subscription list displays a host of aristocratic names. The art of collation was then unknown, and when he first undertook the work the duties of an editor of other than classical literature were not so well understood as in more recent times. 'Rex et Pontifex, a new species of pantomime,' was not accepted by any manager, and the author printed it in 1745. 'The Museum,' of which the first number was issued 29 March 1746, was projected by Dodsley. He had a fourth share of the profits, the remainder belonging to Longman, Shewell, Hitch, and Rivington. It consists chiefly of historical and social essays, and possesses considerable merit. Among the contributors were Spence, Warburton, Horace Walpole, Joseph and Thomas Warton, Akenside, Lowth, Smart, Merrick, and Campbell, whose political pieces were augmented and republished as 'The Present State of Europe,' 1750. It was continued fortnightly to 12 Sept. 1747. Another specimen of Dodsley's commercial originality was 'The Preceptor,' 'one of the most valuable books for the improvement of young minds that has appeared' (Boswell, Life, i. 192). Johnson supplied the preface, and 'The Vision of Theodore the Hermit,' which he considered the best thing he ever wrote. The work is a kind of self-instructor, with essays on logic, geometry, geography, natural history, &c. Johnson says: 'Dodsley first mentioned to me the scheme of an English dictionary' (Life, iii. 405, i. 182, 286); but Pope, who had some share in the original proposals, did not live to see the prospectus issued in 1747. The firm of Robert & James Dodsley was one of the five whose names appear on the first edition in 1755. The first edition of 'A Collection of Poems' came out in 1748, and the publisher took great pains to obtain contributions from nearly every fashionable versifier of the day. It has been frequently reprinted and added to, and forms perhaps the most popular collection of the kind ever produced. In the same year Dodsley collected his dramatic and some other pieces under the title of 'Trifles' in two volumes, dedicated 'To Morrow,' who is asked to take into 'consideration the author's want of that assistance and improvement which a liberal education bestows, 'the writer hoping his productions' may be honoured with a favourable recommendation from you to your worthy son and successor, the Next Day.' To celebrate the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle he composed a masque, which was performed at Drury Lane on 21 Feb. 1749, with music by Dr. Arne, and Mrs. Clive as first shepherdess. Johnson's 'Vanity of Human Wishes' and 'Irene' were published by him in the same year.
The first edition of 'The Economy of Human Life' came out in 1750, and was for some time attributed to Dodsley. It has long been recognised to have been written by the Earl of Chesterfield (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. x. 8, 74, 318). Dodsley's connection with the publication of the first separate edition of Gray's 'Elegy' in February 1751 has been investigated by the late E. Solly (The Bibliographer, 1884, v. 57-61). He suggested the title of the 'World,' a well-printed miscellany of the 'Spectator' class, for a new periodical established with the help of Moore in 1753 and produced for four years. It was extremely successful, both in its original form and when reprinted. Chesterfield, Horace Walpole, Soame Jenyns, the Earl of Bath, and Sir C. H. Williams were among the contributors. The last number is signed by Mary Cooper, who published many of Dodsley's books. He had long meditated an ambitious poem on agriculture, commerce, and the arts, entitled 'Public Virtue,' of which the first part alone was published in 1753. This laboured didactic treatise in blank verse was not very favourably received, although the author assured the world that 'he hath taken some pains to furnish himself with materials for the work; that he hath consulted men as well as books.' It was sent to Walpole, who answered, 4 Nov. 1753: 'I am sorry you think it any trouble to me to peruse your poem again; I always read it with pleasure' (Letters, ix. 485).
Johnson wrote to Warton, 21 Dec. 1754: 'You know poor Mr. Dodsley has lost his wife; I believe he is much affected' (Life, i. 277). Johnson wrote for Dodsley the introduction to the 'London Chronicle' in 1756. 'Melpomene,' an ode, which was published anonymously in 1758, is on a much higher level of thought than any other of his compositions. On 2 Dec. of the same year his tragedy of 'Cleone' was acted for the first time at Covent Garden. Garrick had rejected it as 'cruel, bloody, and unnatural' (Davies, Life, i. 223), and Johnson, who supported it, 'for Doddy, you know, is my patron, and I would not desert him,' thought there was 'more blood than brains' in it (Life, i. 325-6, iv. 20-1). The night it was produced Garrick; did his best to injure it by appearing for the first time as Marplot in the 'Busybody,' and his congratulations were accordingly resented by Dodsley (Garrick Correspondence, vol. i. pp. xxxv, 79-80). Warburton, however, writing to Garrick, 18 Jan. 1759, accuses Dodsley of being a wretched fellow, and no man ever met with a worse return than you have done for your endeavours to serve him' (ib. i. 96). The play ran sixteen nights, owing much of its popularity to the acting of Mrs. Bellamy (Apology, 1786, iii. 105-12; Genest, iv. 559-60). Two thousand copies of the first printed edition were sold at once, and five weeks later the fourth edition was being prepared. It is based upon the legend of Ste. Geneviève, translated by Sir William Lower. The original draft in three acts had been shown to Pope, who said that he had burnt an attempt of his own on the same subject, and recommended Dodsley to extend his own piece to five acts. Mrs. Siddons revived it with much success at Drury Lane, 22 and 24 Nov. 1786. His most important commercial achievement was the foundation of the 'Annual Register' in 1758, which is still published with no great variation from its early form. Burke was paid an editorial salary of 100l. for some time, and had a connection with it for thirty years. In this year Dodsley accompanied Spence on a tour through England to Scotland. On their way they stayed a week at the Leasowes.
The Dodsley s published Goldsmith's 'Polite Learning' in 1759, and, with Strahan and Johnson, Johnson's 'Rasselas' in March or April of the same year. Kinnersley having produced an abstract of 'Rasselas' in the 'Grand Magazine of Magazines,' an injunction was prayed for by the publishers, and refused by the master of the rolls, 15 June 1761, on the ground that an abridgment is not piracy (Ambler, Reports of Chancery Cases, 1828, i. 402-5). In 1759 Dodsley retired in favour of his brother, whose name had been for some time included in the firm as Robert & James Dodsley, and gave himself up to the preparation of his 'Select Fables,' which were tastefully printed by Baskerville two years later. The volume is in three books, the first consisting of ancient, the second of modern, and the third of 'newly invented' fables; with a preface, and a life from the French of M. de Méziriac. The fables are decidedly inferior to those of Samuel Croxall [q. v.] Writing to Graves, 1 March 1761, Shenstone says: 'What merit I have there is in the essay; in the original fables, although I can hardly claim a single fable as my own; and in the index, which I caused to be thrown into the form of morals, and which are almost wholly mine. I wish to God it may sell; for he has been at great expence about it. The two rivals which he has to dread are the editions of Richardson and Croxall' (Works, iii. 360-1). In a few months two thousand were disposed of, but even this sale did not repay the outlay. He then began to prepare for a new edition, which was printed in 1764. Among the contributors to the interesting collection of 'Fugitive Pieces' edited by him in 1761 were Burke, Spence, Lord Whitworth, and Sir Harry Beaumont. When Shenstone died, 11 Feb. 1763, Dodsley erected a pious monument to the memory of his old friend in an edition of his works, 1764, to which he contributed a biographical sketch, a character and a description of the Leasowes. He had long been tormented by the gout, and died from an attack while on a visit to Spence at Durham on 25 Dec. 1764, in his sixty-first year. He was buried in the abbey churchyard at Durham.
'Mr. Dodsley (the bookseller)' was among Sir Joshua Reynolds's sitters in April 1760 (C. R. Leslie and Tom Taylor's Life, 1865, i. 187). Writing to Shenstone 24 June he says: 'My face is quite finished and I believe very like' (Hull, Select Letters, ii. 110). The picture was engraved by Ravenet and prefixed to the collected 'Trifles,' 1777.
He only took one apprentice, who was John Walter (d. 1803) of Charing Cross, not to be confounded with the founder of the 'Times' of the same name. Most of the publications issued by the brothers came from the press of John Hughs (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 35).
Personally Dodsley is an attractive figure. Johnson had ever a kindly feeling for his 'patron,' and thought he deserved a biographer. His early condition lent a factitious importance to some immature verse, and his unwearied endeavours for literary fame gained him a certain contemporary fame. Some of his songs have merit—'One kind kiss before we part' being still sung—and the epigram on the words 'one Prior' in Burnet's 'History' is well known. As a bookseller he showed remarkable enterprise and business aptitude, and his dealings were conducted with liberality and integrity. He deserves the praise of Nichols as 'that admirable patron and encourager of learning' (Lit. Anecd. ii. 402). 'You know how decent, humble, inoffensive a creature Dodsley is; how little apt to forget or disguise his having been a footman,' writes Walpole to George Montagu 4 May 1758 (Letters, iii. 135). A volume of his manuscript letters to Shenstone in the British Museum has written in it by the latter 22 May 1759, that Dodsley was 'a person whose writings I esteem in common with the publick; but of whose simplicity, benevolence, humanity, and true politeness I have had repeated and particular experience.'
The following is a list of his works: 1. 'Servitude, a Poem, to which is prefixed an introduction, humbly submitted to the consideration of all noblemen, gentlemen, and ladies who keep many servants; also a postscript occasioned by a late trifling pamphlet, entitled "Every Body's Business is No Body's" [by D. Defoe], written by a Footman in behalf of good servants and to excite the bad to their duty,' London, T. Worrall , 8vo. 2. 'The Footman's Friendly Advice to his Brethren of the Livery . . . by R. Dodsley, now a footman,' London , 8vo (No. 1 with a new title-page). 3. 'An Entertainment designed for Her Majesty's Birthday,' London, 1732, 8vo. 4. 'An Entertainment designed for the Wedding of Governor Lowther and Miss Pennington,' London, 1732, 8vo. 5. 'A Muse in Livery, or the Footman's Miscellany,' London, printed for the author, 1732, 8vo (second edition 'printed for T. Osborn and T. Nourse,' 1732, 8vo, not so well printed as the first). 6. 'The Toy-shop, a Dramatick Satire,' London, 1735, 8vo (reprinted). 7. 'The King and the Miller of Mansfield, a Dramatick Tale,' London, printed for the author at Tully's Head, Pall Mall , 8vo (reprinted). 8. 'Sir John Cockle at Court, being the sequel of the King and the Miller of Mansfield,' London, printed for R. Dodsley and sold by M. Cooper, 1738, 8vo. 9. 'The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green,' London, 1741, 8vo. 10. 'The Publick Register, or the Weekly Magazine,' London, 1741, 4to (Nos. 1 to 24, from Saturday, 3 Jan. 1741 to 13 June 1741). 11. 'Pain and Patience, a Poem,' London, 1742, 4to (dedicated to Dr. Shaw). 12. 'Colin's Kisses, being twelve new songs design'd for music,' London, 1742, 4to (see Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ix. 220; the words reprinted by Chalmers). 13. 'A Select Collection of Old Plays,' London, 1744, 12 vols. 12mo (with introduction on the history of the stage reprinted in 'second edition, corrected and collated with the old copies, with notes by Isaac Reed,' London, J. Dodsley, 1780, 12 vols. 8vo, twelve plays rejected and ten added, see Gent. Mag. 1. 237-8. 'A new edition [the third] with additional notes and corrections by the late Isaac Reed, Octavius Gilchrist, and the editor' [J. P. Collier], London, 1825-8, 13 vols. sm. 8vo, including supplement. 'Fourth edition, now first chronologically arranged, revised, and enlarged, with the notes of all the commentators and new notes, by W. Carew Hazlitt,' London, 1874-6, 15 vols. 8vo). 14. 'Rex et Pontifex, being an attempt to introduce upon the stage a new species of pantomime,' London, 1745, 4to. 15. 'The Museum, or the Literary and Historical Register,' London, 1746-7, 3 vols. 8vo (No. 1, Saturday, 29 March 1746, to No. 39, 12 Sept, 1747). 16. 'The Preceptor, containing a general course of education,' London, 1748, 2 vols. 8vo (reprinted). 17. 'A Collection of Poems by Several Hands,' London, 1748, 3 vols. 12mo (a second edition with considerable additions and some omissions the same year; a fourth volume was added in 1749. A fourth edition, 4 vols., appeared in 1755. The fifth and sixth volumes were added in 1758; other editions, 1765, 1770, 1775, 1782. Pearch, Mendez, Fawkes, and others produced supplements. For the contributors see Gent. Mag. 1. 122-4, 173-6, 214, 406-8, and Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi. 172; see also 1st ser. ii. 264, 343, 380, 485; 2nd ser. i. 151, 237, ii. 274, 315). 18. 'The Art of Preaching, in imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry,' London, n. d. folio (anonymous, but attributed to Dodsley by Chalmers, who includes it in his collection; the authorship is doubtful). 19. 'Trifles,' London, 1748, 2 vols. 8vo; 2nd edit. 1777, 2 vols. 8vo, with portrait (reprint of pieces issued separately). 20. 'The Triumph of Peace, a masque perform'd at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on occasion of the General Peace concluded at Aix-la-Chapelle,' London, 1749, 4to (Chalmers was unable to obtain a copy). 21. 'The World,' London, 1753-6, 4 vols. fol. (No. 1, Thursday, 4 Jan. 1753, to No. 209, 30 Dec. 1756; frequently reprinted in 8vo; No. 32 by Dodsley; for an account of the contributors see N. Drake, Essays illustrative of the Rambler, &c. 1810, ii. 253-316). 22. 'Public Virtue, a Poem, in three books—i. Agriculture, ii. Commerce, iii. Arts,' London, 1753,4to (only book i. published). 23. 'Melpomene, or the Regions of Terror and Pity, an Ode,' London, 1757, 4to (without name of author, printer, or publisher). 24. 'Cleone, a Tragedy as it is acted at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden,' London, 1758, 8vo (5th edit. 1786). 25. 'Select Fables of Esop and other Fabulists, in three books,' Birmingham, printed by J. Baskerville for R. & J. Dodsley, 1761, 12mo (2nd edit. 1764, by Baskerville, eighteen pages less and inferior in appearance). 26. 'Fugitive Pieces on various subjects,' by several authors, London, 1761, 2 vols. 8vo (reprinted; see Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 373-80). 27. 'The Works in Verse and Prose of William Shenstone, most of which were never before printed,' London, 1764, 2 vols. 8vo.
[Most of the biographical notices are full of errors; the best is by Alex. Chalmers, who knew Dodsley; it is prefixed to a selection of his poems in Chalmers's English Poets, 1810, xv. 313-23, reprinted in Gen. Biogr. Dict. xii. 167-78. A somewhat different selection and biography are in Anderson's British Poets, 1795, xi., and R. Walsh's Works of the British Poets, New York, 1822, vol. xxvi. Kippis, in Biogr. Brit. 1793, v. 315-19, and Baker's Biographia Dramatica, 1812, i. 192-3. There are numerous references in H. Walpole's Letters, Boswell's Life of Johnson, and Nichols's Lit. Anecd. and Illustrations. See also Gent. Mag. 1. 237, lxvii. (pt. i.) 346; Ben Victor's Letters, 1776, 3 vols.; T. Hull's Select Letters, 1778, 2 vols. (containing correspondence between Dodsley and Shenstone); Timperley's Encyclopædia, 1842, pp. 711-13, 815; P. Fitzgerald's Life of Garrick, i. 376-8; W. Roscoe's Life of Pope, 1824. pp. 488, 505; R. Carruthers's Life of Pope, 1857, pp. 350, 409; Forster's Life of Goldsmith, 1854, i. 96, 180, 191, 282, 316. In the British Museum are original agreements between him and various authors (1743-53), Egerton MS. 738, and an interesting correspondence with Shenstone (1747-59), Addit. MS. 28959.]