Roberts, William Hayward (DNB00)


ROBERTS, WILLIAM HAYWARD, D.D. (d. 1791), poet and biblical critic, said to be of Gloucestershire origin, was educated at Eton, whence he was elected to a scholarship at King's College, Cambridge. In 1755 he contributed English verses to the university collection, on the visit of the Duke of Newcastle. He graduated B.A. in 1757, became an assistant master at Eton School in the same year, and in 1758 gained the members' prize at Cambridge on the subject, ‘Utrum diversarum Gentium Mores et Instituta a diverso earum situ explicari possint?’ Cambridge, 1758, 4to. While Hayley was at Eton his poetical aspirations were encouraged by Roberts, then an usher in the school. In 1760 Roberts commenced M.A., and in 1771 he was appointed to a fellowship at Eton College. He was created D.D. at Cambridge in 1773, was presented to the rectory of Everdon, Northamptonshire, in 1778, and was inducted to the rectory of Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, on 3 June 1779 (Baker, Northamptonshire, i. 367; Lipscomb, Buckinghamshire, iii. 279). On the death of Dr. Edward Barnard he was appointed provost of Eton College on 12 Dec. 1781 (Harwood, Alumni Eton. pp. 30, 340). For many years he was one of the king's chaplains. He died at Eton on 5 Dec. 1791 (Gent. Mag. 1791, ii. 1165).

Roberts was twice married. By his first wife he had six or seven children; his second wife was sister of Thomas Chamberlayne, fellow of Eton College. According to Cole, he was ‘a portly man and of much pride and state, and was used to have routs, as they are called, in the college apartments, for card playing, which filled the college court with carriages and tumult, not much to the edification of a place of education’ (Addit. MS. 5879, f. 38 b). Madame D'Arblay wrote: ‘The provost is very fat, with a large paunch and gouty legs. He is good-humoured, loquacious, gay, civil, and parading. I am told, nevertheless, he is a poet, and a very good one’ (Diary and Letters, 23 Nov. 1786, iii. 226, edit. 1842).

His principal work is: 1. ‘Judah Restored, a poem in six books’ and in blank verse, two vols. London, 1774, 12mo. Selections from this poem are printed in Walsh's ‘Works of the British Poets,’ vol. xxxvii. (New York, 1822). Southey, who numbers Roberts ‘with the same respectable class as the author of “Leonidas” and the “Athenaid,”’ mentions ‘Judah Restored’ as one of the first books he possessed in his boyhood. ‘I read it often,’ he adds, ‘and can still recur to it with satisfaction, and perhaps I owe something to the plain dignity of its style, which is suited to the subject, and everywhere bears the stamp of good sense and erudition.’ Robert Aris Willmott (Lives of Sacred Poets, ii. 324, 327) remarks that ‘“Judah Restored” is such a work as might be produced by a scholar familiar with the treasures of antiquity, whose fancy had been formed and regulated by the best models, and whose ear was attuned to the majestic rhythm of our British epic;’ but the utmost that can be finally admitted of Roberts's achievement, from a purely literary point of view, is that it was well-intentioned.

His other works are: 2. ‘A Poetical Essay on the Existence, the Attributes, and the Providence of God,’ 3 parts, London, 1771, 4to. 3. ‘A Poetical Epistle to Christopher Anstey, Esq., on the English Poets, chiefly those who have written in Blank Verse’ (anon.), London, 1773, 4to. 4. ‘Corrections of various Passages in the English Version of the Old Testament; upon the authority of ancient Manuscripts and ancient Versions,’ London, 1794, 8vo, a posthumous work published by his son, William. The leading object of the author was to reduce the number of italicised supplementary words which occur in the authorised version (Orme, Bibl. Biblica, p. 376). A collection of Roberts's ‘Poems’ appeared at London in 1774, 8vo; new edit. 1776. His eldest son, the Rev. William Roberts, fellow and vice-provost of Eton College and rector of Worplesdon, Surrey, died on 1 Jan. 1833, aged 71 (Gent. Mag. 1833, i. 280).

[Addit. MS. 5879, f. 148; Campbell's Specimens of the British Poets, 1841, p. 628; Gent. Mag. 1791 ii. 852, 1015, 1792 i. 1350, 1842 ii. 578; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn); Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ix. 187; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

T. C.