William Gifford - Encyclopedia

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WILLIAM GIFFORD (1756-1826), English publicist and man of letters, was born at Ashburton, Devon, in April 1756. His father was a glazier of indifferent character, and before he was thirteen William had lost both parents. The business was seized by his godfather, on whom William and his brother, a child of two, became entirely dependent. For about three months William was allowed to remain at the free school of the town. He was then put to follow the plough, but after a day's trial he proved unequal to the task, and was sent to sea with the Brixham fishermen. After a year at sea his godfather, driven by the opinion of the townsfolk, put the boy to school once more. He made rapid progress, especially in mathematics, and began to assist the master. In 1772 he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and when he wished to pursue his mathematical studies, he was obliged to work his problems with an awl on beaten leather. By the kindness of an Ashburton surgeon, William Cooksley, a subscription was raised to enable him to return to school. Ultimately he proceeded in his twenty-third year to Oxford, where he was appointed a Bible clerk in Exeter College. Leaving the university shortly after graduation in 1782, he found a generous patron in the first Earl Grosvenor, who undertook to provide for him, and sent him on two prolonged continental tours in the capacity of tutor to his son, Lord Belgrave. Settling in London, Gifford published in 1794 his first work, a clever satirical piece, after Persius, entitled the Baviad, aimed at a coterie of secondrate writers at Florence, then popularly known as the Della Cruscans, of which Mrs Piozzi was the leader. A second satire of a similar description, the Maeviad, directed against the corruptions of the drama, appeared in 1795. About this time Gifford became acquainted with Canning, with whose help he in August 1 797 originated a weekly newspaper of Conservative politics entitled the Anti-Jacobin, which, however, in the following year ceased to be published. An English version of Juvenal, on which he had been for many years engaged, appeared in 1802; to this an autobiographical notice of the translator, reproduced in Nichol's Illustrations of Literature, was prefixed. Two years afterwards Gifford published an annotated edition of the plays of Massinger; and in 1809, when the Quarterly Review was projected, he was made editor. The success which attended the Quarterly from the outset was due in no small degree to the ability and tact with which Gifford discharged his editorial duties. He took, however, considerable liberties with the articles he inserted, and Southey, who was one of his regular contributors, said that Gifford looked on authors as Izaak Walton did on worms. His bitter opposition to Radicals and his onslaughts on new writers, conspicuous among which was the article on Keats's Endymion, called forth Hazlitt's Letter to W. Gifford in 1819. His connexion with the Review continued until within about two years of his death, which took place in London on the 31st of December 1826. Besides numerous contributions to the Quarterly during the last fifteen years of his life, he wrote a metrical translation of Persius, which appeared in 1821. Gifford also edited the dramas of Ben Jonson in 1816, and his edition of Ford appeared posthumously in 1827. His notes on Shirley were incorporated in Dyce's edition in 1833. His political services were acknowledged by the appointments of commissioner of the lottery and paymaster of the gentleman pensioners. He left a considerable fortune, the bulk of which went to the son of his first benefactor, William Cooksley.

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