Henry Dodwell

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Dodwell, Henry, a distinguished author and non-juror. His parents fled from their estate in Connaught on the breaking out of the War of 1641-52, and during the first six years of his life they resided in Dublin, where he was born in October 1641. In 1648 they removed to England, and lived at York. His father, when on a visit to Ireland to look after his affairs, died of the plague at Waterford. His mother died soon after of consumption, and the lad was for a time left in the greatest poverty — until 1654, when he was adopted by his uncle, incumbent of Hemley. Two years afterwards he was entered at Trinity College, where he soon distinguished himself. "From his first entrance he was known by all to have been the eminentest example for studiousness, piety, and all virtues;.. he lived in bare frugality, and gave the rest of his whole estate in charity to the needy, and in liberality to his relations." He rapidly advanced to a fellowship, which he resigned in 1666, having scruples concerning taking orders. In 1674, already well known by his theological writings, he settled in London, to be nearer the great libraries and the company of congenial minds. He engaged in lengthened controversies against "Quakers, Deists, Papists, and Socinians, and other enemies of our church's and kingdom's peace." In 1688 he was appointed Camden Professor of History at Oxford, reading his inaugural lecture on 25th May. From this position he was expelled in November 1691 for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary. To him, we are told, "the preservation of a good conscience and the securing of inward peace were preferable to all such secular considerations, though ever so advantageous." He afterwards settled at Cookham, in Berkshire, and separated from the Church because new bishops were appointed to succeed non-jurors. Many of his writings were now directed against the new bishops, and towards the support of the position of those who, having sworn allegiance to James II., were unwilling to accept the new government. He married in 1694, solely, we are told, to prevent an estate passing out of the family. Although there was considerable disparity between the ages of his wife and himself, the marriage was happy, and they had numerous children. He was afterwards reconciled to the Church, and died at Shottesbrooke, 7th June 1711, aged 69. His character, as depicted by his biographer, was a mixture of simplicity and learning, genuine piety, and firm adherence to his principles. His constitution was vigorous — he was accustomed to say that he did not know what a headache was. He studied much when travelling, and to this end preferred walking, so that he could read unmolested and in quiet, and his clothes were furnished with large pockets specially for the reception of the small library He carried with him. His biographer enumerates fifty of his works, of which (including different editions) there are fifty-eight in the library of Trinity College, many of them in Latin. He was, perhaps, the most learned man Trinity College, Dublin, ever produced. Gibbon says: "Dodwell's learning was immense; in this part of history especially [that of the upper Empire] the most minute fact or passage could not escape him; and his skill in employing them is equal to his learning. The worst of this author is his method and style — the one perplexed beyond imagination; the other negligent to a degree of barbarism." His son Henry, a barrister, the anonymous author of Christianity not Founded on Argument (1742), died in 1763; and his son William, Archdeacon of Berks, a distinguished divine, died in 1785.

Sources

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

38. Biographical Dictionary: John Gorton. 3 vols. London, 1833.

105. Dodwell, Henry, Life, with Account of his Works: Francis Brokesby. 2 vols. London, 1815.

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