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

OLDISWORTH, WILLIAM (1680–1734), miscellaneous writer, son of the Rev. William Oldisworth, vicar of Itchen-Stoke, Hampshire, and prebendary of Middleton, alias Longparish, in Winchester, matriculated at Hart Hall, Oxford, on 4 April 1698, when aged 18. He left the university without taking a degree, and probably, like his friend Edmond Smith, with a greater reputation for wit than for steadiness of character. According to Rawlinson, he ‘served an uncle, a Justice of the Peace in Hampshire, as his clerk,’ and about 1706 he drifted to London, where he became a hack-writer for the booksellers. His chief success arose through his connection with the tory paper the ‘Examiner,’ of which he edited vols. ii. iii., iv., and v., and nineteen numbers of vol. vi., when the queen's death put an end to it. Swift asserted that he had never exchanged a syllable with Oldisworth, nor even seen him above twice, and that in mixed company (Scott, Life of Swift,, p. 134); and in the ‘Journal to Stella,’ 12 March 1712–13, wrote that ‘the chancellor of the exchequer sent the author of the “Examiner” [i.e. Oldisworth] twenty guineas. He is an ingenious fellow, but the most confounded vain coxcomb in the world; so that I dare not let him see me, nor am acquainted with him.’ Through attachment to the Stuarts, Oldisworth was present at the battle of Preston, and, according to the ‘Weekly Pacquet’ of 17 Jan. 1715–16, was killed with his sword in hand, being determined not to live any longer. This rumour was incorrect; for he survived the defeat, and resumed his life in London, but with less good fortune. Hearne wrote to Rawlinson, on 28 Aug. 1734, to inquire whether Oldisworth was dead, and on 11 Nov. states that he ‘dyed above four months since.’ But this appears to have been an error, as the exact date is given as 15 Sept. 1734. Rawlinson mentions Carshalton in Surrey as the place of death, though a letter to him from Alderman John Barber says that ‘for many years before he dy'd, Oldisworth liv'd upon the Charity of his friends. He had several sums of me … and, poor man, ran into debt with every Body that would trust him; and at last would get into an Alehouse or Tavern Kitchin, and entertain all Comers and Goers with his Learning and Criticisms. He at last was sent to the King's Bench Prison for Debt, where he dy'd. And Mr. …, the non-juring Parson, that was corrector to Mr. Bowyer's Press, came and told me he was dead, and I gave him a Guinea to buy a coffin. This is all I know of that unhappy Man, who had great abilities, and might have been an Ornament to his Country.’ Spence remarked of Oldisworth that he had extraordinary fluency in extempore Latin verse, and would ‘repeat twenty or thirty verses at a heat’ (Anecdotes, p. 267); while Pope said of him that he could translate an ode of Horace ‘the quickest of any man in England’ (Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, x. 207).

To Oldisworth are attributed:

  1. ‘The Cupid,’ a poem, 1698.
  2. ‘The Muses Mercury; or the Monthly Miscellany,’ consisting of poems, prologues, songs, &c., never before printed. January 1707 to January 1708, both inclusive. But the epistles dedicatory are signed J. O.
  3. ‘A Dialogue between Timothy and Philatheus, in which the Principles and Projects of a late whimsical Book, “The Rights of the Christian Church” [by Matthew Tindal, 1706], are fairly stated and answered. Written by a Layman,’ vol. i. 1709, ii. 1710, and iii. 1711. The last volume has numerous supplements, each with title-page. From Lintot's ‘Pocket-book’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 298) it appears that Oldisworth received 75l. for the three volumes. The title was probably suggested by John Eachard's ‘Dialogue between Philautus and Timothy,’ attacking Hobbes.
  4. ‘Vindication of the Bishop of Exeter, occasioned by Mr. Benjamin Hoadly's Reflections on his Lordship's two Sermons of Government,’ 1709. This was answered by Hoadly in ‘The Divine Rights of the British Nation and Constitution Vindicated,’ 1710, pp. 81–8.
  5. ‘Annotations on the “Tatler,” written in French by Monsieur Bournelle, and translated into English by Walter Wagstaff,’ 1710, 2 pts. They were marked by great eccentricity.
  6. ‘Essay on Private Judgment in Religious Matters’ (anon.), 1711. Lintot paid 15l. 1s. for it.
  7. ‘Reasons for restoring the Whigs’ (anon.), 1711. Probably satirical. The sum paid for it by Lintot was 2l. 12s.
  8. ‘The Iliad of Homer,’ a prose translation, with notes, 1712, 5 vols.; 1714 and 1734, 5 vols. Oldisworth translated books 16 to end; his coadjutors were John Ozell [q. v.] and William Broome [q. v.]
  9. ‘The Odes, Epodes, and Carmen Sæculare of Horace, in Latin and English. With a translation of Dr. Bentley's Notes. To which are added Notes upon Notes, done in the Bentleian stile and manner’ (24 pts., 6d. each), 1712–13, 3 vols. Reissued with title-page dated 1713, 2 vols., as ‘by several hands,’ though some of the parts are dated 1725. The translations were published separately as ‘The Odes, Epodes, and Carmen Sæculare of Horace in English verse. By Mr. William Oldisworth,’ 2nd edit. 1719. These versions are described in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 3rd ser. viii. 229, as ‘uniformly good, and frequently very elegant.’ Monk, however, in his ‘Life of Bentley,’ condemns the ‘Notes upon Notes’ as ‘miserably vapid; and their unvaried sneer is tiresome and nauseous.’
  10. ‘State Tracts,’ 1714.
  11. ‘Works of late Edmund Smith. With his Character by Mr. Oldisworth,’ 1714; embodied by Johnson in the ‘Lives of the Poets’ as written ‘with all the partiality of friendship,’ though, he adds, ‘I cannot much commend the performance. The praise is often indistinct, and the sentences are loaded with words of more pomp than use.’
  12. ‘State and Miscellany Poems, by Author of “Examiner,”’ 1715.
  13. ‘Callipædia; or the Art of getting pretty children. Translated from Latin of Claudius Quilletus,’ 1729.
  14. ‘Delightful Adventures of Honest John Cole, that Merry Old Soul’ (anon.), 1732.
  15. ‘The Accomplished Senator; from the Latin of Bishop Laurence Grimald Gozliski,’ 1733. In an elaborate preface Oldisworth defends his character and asserts his independence.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 151–2; Hearne's Collections, ed. Bliss, ii. 837, 849, ed. Doble, ii. 190, 395, 463; Rawlinson MSS. (Bodl. Libr.), v. 108, per Mr. F. Madan.]

W. P. C.