William Dodd - Encyclopedia

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WILLIAM DODD (1729 - 1 777), English divine, was born at Bourne in Lincolnshire in May 1729. He was admitted a sizar of Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1745, and took the degree of B.A. in 1750, being fifteenth wrangler. On leaving the university he married a young woman of a more than questionable reputation, whose extravagant habits helped to ruin him. In 1751 he was ordained deacon, and in 1753 priest, and he soon became a popular and celebrated preacher. His first preferment was the lectureship of West-Ham and Bow. In 1754 he was also chosen lecturer of St Olave's, Hart Street; and in 1757 he took the degree of M.A. at Cambridge, subsequently becoming LL.D. He was a strenuous supporter of the Magdalen hospital, founded in 1758, and soon afterwards became preacher at the chapel of that charity. In 1763 he obtained a prebend at Brecon, and in the same year he was appointed one of the king's chaplains, - soon after which the education of Philip Stanhope, afterwards earl of Chesterfield, was committed to his care. In 1768 he had a fashionable congregation and was held in high esteem, but indiscreet ambition led to his ruin. On the living of St George's, Hanover Square, becoming vacant in 1774, Mrs Dodd wrote an anonymous letter to the wife of the lord chancellor, offering three thousand guineas if, by her assistance, Dodd were promoted to the benefice. This letter having been traced, a complaint was immediately made to the king, and Dodd was dismissed from his office as chaplain. After residing for some time at Geneva and Paris, he returned to England in 1776. He still continued to exercise his clerical functions, but his extravagant habits soon involved him in difficulties. To meet his creditors he forged a bond on his former pupil Lord Chesterfield for &4200, and actually received the money. He was detected, committed to prison, tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty, and sentenced to death; and, in spite of numerous applications for mercy, he was executed at Tyburn on the 27th of June 1777. Samuel Johnson was very zealous in pleading for a pardon, and a petition from the city of London received 23,000 signatures. Dr Dodd was a voluminous writer and possessed considerable abilities, with but little judgment and much vanity. He wrote one or two comedies, and his Beauties of Shakespeare, published in 1752, was long a well-known work; while his Thoughts in Prison, a poem in blank verse, written between his conviction and execution, naturally attracted much attention. He published a large number of sermons and other theological works, including a Commentary on the Bible (1765-1770). A list of his fifty-five writings and an account of the writer is included in the Thoughts in Prison. See also P. Fitzgerald, A Famous Forgery (1865).

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