of William Webster, merchant, of Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, resided at Oldacres, Sedgefield, in that county, and amused his leisure with rambling speculations in theology. A pupil of John Hutchinson (1674–1737) [q. v.], he survived him, edited his works, and wrote his life. He died on 20 Oct. 1761, leaving only female issue by his wife Anne, daughter of Robert Sharpe of Hawthorn, Durham. His own additions to the sum of human error are:
- ‘An Enquiry after Philosophy and Theology, tending to show when and whence mankind came at the knowledge of these two important points,’ Edinburgh, 1755, 8vo; 2nd ed. Dublin, 1757 (a polemic against the Newtonian physics).
- ‘Letters to a Friend concerning the Septuagint Translation and the Heathen Mythology,’ Edinburgh, 1759, 8vo (an attempt to derive all mythologies from a primeval revelation).
[Surtees's Durham, i. 96, iii. 48, 398; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iv. 171; Wesley's Journal, 27 April 1758, 13 March 1770; Orme's Bibliotheca Biblica; British Museum Cat.]
SPEDDING, JAMES (1808–1881), editor of Bacon's works, born 26 June 1808, was the son of John Spedding of Mirehouse, Cumberland, by Sarah, eldest daughter of Henry Gibson of Newcastle-on-Tyne. He was educated at the grammar school of Bury St. Edmunds, and in 1827 entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He won a ‘declamation prize,’ as appears from a printed ‘Apology for the moral and literary character of the 19th century, delivered in Trinity College Chapel, Commemoration day, 1830.’ Though a good classical scholar, he had not the smartness required for success in examinations. He graduated as a ‘junior optime,’ and was in the second class of the classical tripos of 1831. His merits were recognised by his contemporaries. He was an ‘apostle’ and became a warm friend of the Tennysons, Lord Houghton, Arthur Hallam, (Archbishop) Trench, Thackeray, and other young men of promise. Alfred Tennyson said of him, ‘He was the Pope among us young men—the wisest man I know’ (Lord Tennyson, Life of his father, i. 38). He resided chiefly at Cambridge, till in 1835 he entered the colonial office. The appointment was made by James Stephen (1789–1859) [q. v.], at the request of (Sir) Henry Taylor. A quotation by Taylor in a note to ‘Philip Van Artevelde’ of a speech made by Spedding at a Cambridge debating society had led to their acquaintance and a lifelong friendship. Spedding's appointment was temporary, and his pay only 150l. a year. He established a reputation as having ‘quite a genius for business;’ but though he would have accepted a permanent place, none was offered to him. He therefore left the colonial office in July 1841.
He now devoted himself to the study of Bacon, which was his main employment for over thirty years. The only interruptions were caused by his appointment as secretary to Lord Ashburton's mission to the United States in 1842, and to the civil service commission when it was first instituted in 1855. He resigned the last appointment as soon as the office was brought into working order. In 1847 the office of permanent under-secretary of state for the colonies, worth 2,000l. a year, was offered to him upon the retirement of Sir James Stephen. Stephen wrote that he could desire no better successor, ‘so gentle, so luminous, and, in his own quiet way, so energetic is he.’ But Spedding could not be persuaded to abandon Bacon. The first result of Spedding's Bacon studies was an elaborate examination of Macaulay's essay called ‘Evenings with a Reviewer’ (written in 1845). It was privately printed (though posthumously published), and never seen by Macaulay. In 1847 he agreed with Robert Leslie Ellis [q. v.] and D. D. Heath to bring out a complete edition of Bacon. Ellis, who was to edit the philosophical works, was disabled by illness, and in 1853 had to leave the completion of his task to Spedding. Heath edited the legal writings, but Spedding had to do far the greatest part of the editing, and was solely responsible for the biographical section. Bacon's works were published in seven volumes from 1857 to 1859, and the seven volumes of ‘Life and Letters’ appeared from 1861 to 1874. The work is an unsurpassable model of thorough and scholarlike editing. Taylor reports that about 1863 Spedding showed signs of declining interest in his task, but recovered after a long rest. His unflagging industry had made him familiar with every possible source of information, and his own writing is everywhere marked by slow but surefooted judgment, and most careful balancing of evidence. Spedding's qualities are in curious contrast with Macaulay's brilliant audacity, and yet the trenchant exposure of Macaulay's misrepresentations is accompanied by a quiet humour and a shrewd critical faculty which, to a careful reader, make the book more interesting than its rival. Critics have thought Spedding's judgment of his hero too favourable, but no one doubts that his views require the most respectful consideration. Venables states that the plan of Carlyle's ‘Cromwell,’ even to the typographical arrangements, was ‘borrowed from