Open main menu

Hawkins, William (1722-1801) (DNB00)

HAWKINS, WILLIAM (1722–1801), theologian and poet, was eldest son of William Hawkins, serjeant-at-law [q. v.], by his first wife, a daughter of Sir Robert Jenyns and sister of Soame Jenyns. Through his grandmother he was descended from Thomas Tesdale, one of the founders of Pembroke College, Oxford, and, to avail himself of the advantages of founder's kin, he matriculated there on 12 Nov. 1737. He graduated B.A. on 26 Feb. 1741–2, and on 2 March following was admitted a fellow on the Tesdale foundation. Boswell mentions Hawkins as one of the distinguished alumni of Pembroke College, when commenting on Johnson's description of the college as ‘a nest of singing-birds.’ The serjeant lived in the city of Oxford, and for some years his son dwelt at the university, busying himself with the composition of sermons, poems, and tragedies. On 10 April 1744 he proceeded M.A., and, when Lowth vacated the professorship of poetry in 1751, Hawkins succeeded to the chair (6 June 1751 to 1756). He had been for some years ordained in the English church before he was instituted on 27 Aug. 1764 to the small rectory of Little Casterton, Rutlandshire. He removed at the close of 1764 to the valuable rectory of Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorsetshire, which he retained until his death. He held the prebendal stall of Combe (seventh) in Wells Cathedral from his collation on 7 March 1767 to his decease in 1801. Throughout his life Hawkins was indefatigable in writing and preaching, and he was one of the earliest Bampton lecturers. He died in a fit at Oxford on 13 Oct. 1801.

Very early in life Hawkins contributed ‘a few trifling pieces to the magazines,’ and in 1743, when he was only twenty-one, he published his first work, ‘The Thimble, an heroi-comical Poem in four cantos, by a Gentleman of Oxford,’ which was reissued in the following year. This obvious imitation of Pope's ‘Rape of the Lock’ was dedicated to Miss Anna Maria Woodford, ‘the compleatest housewife in Europe.’ His next venture was in play-writing, and it remained his passion for nearly twenty-five years. ‘Henry and Rosamond, a Tragedy,’ was published in 1749, and was at once pirated by the Dublin printers. It was offered to the managers of Drury Lane Theatre and declined, but ‘though never acted it is not a bad piece.’ It is a laborious attempt in the manner of Shakespeare, whose play of ‘Cymbeline,’ with alterations by Hawkins, was acted at Covent Garden Theatre and condemned as being ‘entirely ruined by his unpoetical additions and injudicious alterations.’ The mangled play was printed in 1759. Of a third play, the ‘Siege of Aleppo,’ which was never acted, Hawkins alleged that it had met the approval of ‘Judge Blackstone, Mr. Smart of Cambridge, Mr. Samuel Johnson, and Mr. Thomas Warton.’ Garrick, to whom it was submitted, rejected the piece as ‘wrong in the first concoction,’ and an amusing account of his quarrel with its author appears in Boswell's ‘Johnson’ (Napier's ed. ii. 510–11). Hawkins had further correspondence with Garrick respecting three more plays, ‘The Queen of Lombardy, or the Ambitious Lover,’ ‘Troilus and Cressida,’ and ‘Alfred.’ The last had been altered to meet the manager's objections. The letters are printed in Forster's ‘Goldsmith’ (i. 187–8) and Garrick's ‘Correspondence’ (i. 440–1, 656–8, ii. 6–13). Hawkins accounted for the rejection of his pieces by alleging that he had given Garrick some offence in connection with the previous play of ‘Henry and Rosamond.’ A volume issued in 1754 under the pseudonym of Gyles Smith, containing ‘Serious Reflections on the Dangerous Tendency of the Common Practice of Card-playing,’ is attributed to Hawkins. In 1758 he collected and published in three volumes his separate publications. The first volume consisted of tracts on divinity; the second of dramatic and other poems, including the ‘Thimble,’ ‘Henry and Rosamond,’ and the ‘Siege of Aleppo;’ and the last of his lectures on poetry and his Creweian orations, delivered as professor of poetry at Oxford. Goldsmith wrote a review of these productions for the ‘Critical Review,’ which is included in Gibbs's edition of his ‘Works’ (iv. 392–9). On most of them he commented severely, but he singled out the play of ‘Aleppo’ as deserving applause. Hawkins replied in a maladroit defence, signed ‘Veridicus,’ and styled ‘A Review of the Works of the Rev. W. Hawkins and of the Remarks made on the same in the “Critical Review” for August and in the “Monthly Review” for September 1759.’ Goldsmith rejoined in the ‘Critical Review’ (Works, ed. J. W. M. Gibbs, iv. 399–403). The translation by Hawkins of the first six books of the ‘Æneid,’ which appeared in 1764, is now a scarce volume. It was pointed out by Professor Conington that a copy of it could not be consulted either at the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, or at Pembroke College (Conington, Miscellaneous Writings, i. 160). Though the translation of the rest of the books was ready for the press, the reception given to the first portion did not warrant the printing of the remainder. Hawkins's failures did not restrain him from issuing in 1781 a collection of ‘Poems on Various Subjects.’ Hawkins was an indefatigable writer of sermons, and he printed: 1. ‘A Sermon before the University of Oxford on 30 Jan.,’ 1752. 2. ‘The Nature, Extent, and Excellence of Christian Charity’ (a Colston sermon), 1755. 3. ‘The Reasonableness of our Belief in Christianity’ (two sermons at St. Mary's, Oxford), 1756. 4. ‘Pretences of Enthusiasts considered and confuted’ (two sermons preached at St. Mary's, one on 26 June 1768 and the other on 6 Aug. 1769). The first was answered by ‘The Oxford Confutation confuted, by Philologos,’ Cambridge [1769]. 5. ‘Discourses on Scripture Mysteries’ (Bampton lectures, 1787, which led him into a controversy with Samuel Palmer on the proceedings of the dissenters). 6. ‘Regal Rights consistent with National Liberties,’ 1795.

[Gent. Mag. 1801, pt. ii. p. 966; Foster's Alumni Oxon. ii. 630; Woolrych's Serjeants, ii. 512–13; Blore's Rutland, p. 12; Hutchins's Dorset, 1864, ii. 273; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 207, iii. 529; Burke's Commoners, ii. 215; Biog. Dramatica, i. 319–20, ii. 149, 291, iii. 269; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 163–4, 196, 217; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, i. 75.]

W. P. C.