MASON, WILLIAM (1724–1797), poet, born 12 Feb. 1724, was son of William Mason by his first wife, Sarah. The father was appointed vicar of Holy Trinity, Kingston-upon-Hull, in 1722, and held that benefice until his death on 26 Aug. 1753 (Tickell, Hist. of Kingston-upon-Hull, p. 804; cf. Foster, Yorkshire Pedigrees; Correspondence with Walpole, ii. 411). Mason's grandfather, Hugh Mason, was appointed collector of customs at Hull in 1696. His great-grand-father, Robert (1633-1719), son of Valentine Mason (1583-1639), successively vicar of Driffield and Elloughton, Yorkshire, was sheriff of Hull in 1675 and mayor in 1681 and 1696 respectively; one of his daughters, the poet's grandaunt, married an Erasmus Darwin, the great-uncle of the physician and poet (see Diary of Abraham de la Pryme, Surtees Soc., p. 219).
William entered St. John's College, Cambridge, 30 June 1743, was elected scholar in the following October, graduated B.A. 1745, and M.A. 1749. He had shown some literary and artistic tastes, which were encouraged by his father. In 1744 he wrote a 'monody' upon Pope's death in imitation of 'Lycidas.' It was not published till 1747. He had become known to Gray, then resident at Pembroke Hall, and by Gray's influence was elected fellow of Pembroke. He had entered St. John's with a view to a Platt fellowship, but the Pembroke fellowships were then `reckoned the best in the university.' The fellows voted for Mason in 1747, but the master disputed their right to choose a member of another college, and his final election did not take place till 1749 (Mason's letter of 13 Nov. 1747 in Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 710-11, and Gray to Wharton, 9 March 1748-9). He became intimate with Gray, who was a good deal amused with the simplicity, openness, and harmless vanity of his young admirer. Gray says that Mason `reads little or nothing, writes abundance, and that with a design to make a fortune by it' (Gray to Wharton, 8 Aug. 1749). In 1748 Mason published a poem called `Isis,' denouncing the Jacobitism of Oxford. Thomas Warton replied by `The Triumph of Isis,' which is thought by those who have read both to be the better of the two. Mason never republished this poem till he collected the volume which appeared posthumously. According to Mant (Life of Warton), he expressed pleasure some years later when he was entering Oxford that as it was after dark he was not likely to attract the notice of the victims of his satire. In 1749 he was employed to write an ode upon the Duke of Newcastle's installation as chancellor, which Gray (ib.) thought `uncommonly well on such an occasion.' Mason was also known by 1750 to Hurd, then resident at Cambridge. Cambridge was then divided between the `polite scholars' and the `philologists,' and the philologists thought that the 'polite scholars, including Gray, Hurd, and Mason, were a set of arrogant coxcombs' (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 613). Hurd introduced his young friend to Warburton, who had been pleased by the monody on Pope, and who condescended to approve Mason's `Elfrida,' a dramatic poem on the classical model, which appeared in the beginning of 1752. Warburton writes to Hurd (9 May 1752) of some offer made to Mason by Lord Rockingham.
In 1754 Mason was presented by Robert D'Arcy, fourth earl of Holderness [q. v.], to the rectory of Aston, near Rotherham, Yorkshire. He became chaplain to Holderness and resigned his fellowship at Pembroke. Warburton told him that if he took orders he should `totally abandon his poetry,' and Mason, says, agreed that decency and religion demanded the sacrifice. If so, Mason soon changed his mind. He visited Germany in 1755, and had hopes of appointments from various great men (correspondence with Gray). He was appointed one of the king's chaplains in ordinary, through the interest of the Duke of Devonshire, on 2 July 1757, and the appointment was renewed under George III on 19 Sept. 1761. On 6 Dec. 1756 he was appointed to the prebend of Holme in York Cathedral, was made canon residentiary on 7 Jan. 1762, and on 22 Feb. 1763 became precentor and prebendary of Driffield (resigning Holme) (Le Neve, Fasti, and Correspondence with Walpole, ii. 411). He held his living and his precentorship till his death. He built a parsonage at Aston, thereby, as he told Walpole (21 June 1777), making a `pretty adequate' return for the patronage of Lord Holderness, whose family retained the advowson. He resided three months in the year at York, and had, as chaplain, to make an annual visit to London. He resigned his chaplaincy in 1773 (to Walpole, 17 May 1772, and 7 May 1773; Correspondence with Walpole (Mitford), ii. 212), finding, as he said, that the journey to London was troublesome, and being resolved to abandon any thoughts of preferment. Holderness behaved so `shabbily' to him (to Walpole, 3 Feb. 1774), that he declined coming to Strawberry Hill at the risk of encountering his patron. Mason came into an estate in the East Riding upon the death of John Hutton of Marsh, near Rich-