Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stephens, Alexander

STEPHENS, ALEXANDER (1757–1821), biographical writer, born in 1757, was son of Thomas Stephens, provost of Elgin. His mother's maiden name was Fordyce. At the age of eighteen he left Aberdeen University for the West Indies, and stayed some time in Jamaica. On his return to England he bought a commission in the 84th regiment, but never joined it. At twenty-one he entered the Middle Temple, but gave more time to literature than to law, though he for some time conducted a legal journal called ‘The Templar,’ and is said to have pleaded successfully before the House of Lords the claim of the Duke of Roxburgh (a distant relative) to the title [see Ker, James Innes-, fifth Duke of Roxburgh]. Stephens's first essay in literature was a poem on Jamaica. In 1803 he published in two quarto volumes, with maps and appendices, a ‘History of the Wars which arose out of the French Revolution.’ The narrative is clear and impartial, but somewhat diffuse. In 1813 appeared his chief work, the ‘Memoirs of John Horne Tooke,’ 2 vols. 8vo, founded on original letters and papers, as well as upon an acquaintance of several years. The quarrel between Tooke and Wilkes and the controversy with ‘Junius’ are dealt with in great detail, and the latter part of the book contains reports of conversations with Tooke at Wimbledon. Stephens's book had been preceded only by the wretched compilation of W. Hamilton Reid. It remains the best life of Horne Tooke.

Stephens was a frequent contributor to the ‘Analytical Review’ and the ‘Monthly Magazine’ of literary and biographical articles. The ‘Monthly Magazine’ published after his death (October 1821–August 1824) ‘Stephensiana,’ a series of articles consisting of anecdotes of his contemporaries collected by him. Stephens edited the first five volumes of the ‘Annual Biography and Obituary,’ and contributed most of the contents of the first nine volumes of ‘Public Characters’ issued by Sir Richard Phillips in 1823. He published numerous anonymous pamphlets, including a brief memoir of Curran (1817). As a biographer he was painstaking, accurate, and scrupulously fair. This is the more to his credit inasmuch as he was a strong whig. He lived at first near Primrose Hill, but afterwards built for himself Park House in Upper Church Lane, Chelsea. Stephens died at his house in Chelsea on 24 Feb. 1821, and was buried ‘in the new burial-ground south of the new church.’ By his marriage in 1792 with Miss Lewin, daughter of Samuel Lewin of Broadfield House, Hertfordshire, he had three children. One of his sons, Thomas Algernon, was wounded at Waterloo, where he carried the colours of the 3rd battalion of royal Scots.

[Ann. Biogr. and Obituary, 1822, pp. 412–22 (with list of works); Faulkner's Chelsea, i. 151, 254, 273–4; Ann. Reg. 1821 (App. to Chron.), p. 231; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 71; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit. ii. 2237; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Dict. of Living Authors.]

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