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MEADLEY, GEORGE WILSON (1774–1818), biographer, was born at Sunderland, co. Durham, on 1 Jan. 1774. He was an only son; his father died in 1775, and his mother soon afterwards removed with her five children to the adjoining town of Bishop Wearmouth. In 1783 he was placed at the grammar school of Witton-le-Wear, under John Farrer; he had a remarkable memory and a turn for rhyme, which he cultivated till 1791. At the end of 1788 he was apprenticed to Chipchase (afterwards alderman), a banker and general dealer at Durham, where Meadley became an ardent liberal in politics. Leaving Durham in 1793 he remained at home, learning Italian, improving his French, and founding a subscription library at Sunderland (1795) with the help of his old schoolmaster, now rector of Sunderland. In March 1795 he made the acquaintance of William Paley, D.D. [q. v.], then made rector of Bishop Wearmouth. Next year Meadley went on a mercantile voyage to the Levant. He made some stay at Naples, Smyrna, and Constantinople, collected a library of books, fell into the hands of the French on his return voyage, and was for some time a prisoner in Spain. He now learned German, and made mercantile voyages to Danzig (1801) and Hamburg (1803), travelling thence on foot with a friend through north Germany (see accounts in Monthly Magazine, xiv. 127 sq., 218 sq., 412 sq.). Disgusted with trade, and having a competence, he devoted himself to a literary life.

Three years after Paley's death (1805) he began to collect materials for his biography, applying, among others, to John Disney, D.D. [q. v.], who introduced him to Thomas Jervis [q. v.] Intercourse with these men led to his adoption of unitarian views. The first edition of his ‘Memoirs’ of Paley was entirely rewritten before publication, on the advice of a friend who blamed its florid style. When bringing out a second and amended edition he spent the winter (1810–11) in Edinburgh to see it through the press. Here he attended the moral philosophy lectures of Thomas Brown (1778–1820) [q. v.] He wrote several other lives, and projected more; but his biographies were more accurate than judicious. Personally he was amiable, but not prepossessing, and somewhat fanatical in his liberalism.

In 1818 he returned from literary researches in London and the south of England in ill-health. He died unmarried at Bishop Wearmouth on 28 Nov. 1818, and was buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Sunderland. A marble tablet to his memory was placed in the Sunderland Subscription Library. An attempt at the annual meeting (2 Feb. 1819) to have this tablet removed, on the ground of Meadley's religious views, led to an angry local controversy.

He published: 1. ‘Memoirs of … Paley,’ &c., Sunderland, 1809, 8vo; 2nd edit. Edinburgh, 1810, 8vo. 2. ‘A Sketch of … Proposals for … Reform in Parliament,’ &c., 1812, 8vo (reprinted by Jeremy Bentham in his ‘Plan of Parliamentary Reform,’ 1817). 3. ‘Memoirs of Algernon Sydney,’ &c. 1813, 8vo. 4. ‘A Letter to the Bishop of St. David's [Thomas Burgess] … by a Lay Seceder,’ &c., 1814, 8vo. 5. ‘A Second Letter to the Bishop of St. David's. By a Lay Seceder,’ &c., 1816, 8vo. To the ‘Monthly Repository’ he contributed lives of Ann Jebb [see under Jebb, John, M.D.], Robert Clarke, and Robert Waugh, vicar of Bishop Middleham; also some verses, ‘The Little Chimney Sweeper,’ ‘Monthly Repository,’ 1818, p. 454. He made collections for the lives of John Hampden and John Disney, D.D., and had ready for press a sketch of the political character of Sir William Jones, and a parallel between Bonaparte and Rienzi.

[Monthly Repository, 1818 p. 772, 1819 pp. 5 sq., 121 sq., 137 sq. (memoir by V. F., i.e. William Turner of Newcastle-on-Tyne), pp. 281 sq., 465; Monthly Magazine, 1819, pp. 86 sq.]

A. G.