WILLIAM BENSON EARLE, a very munificent benefactor, was born at Shaftesbury, July 7, 1740. He was possessed of literary endowments of the highest order; well versed in the whole circle of the belles lettres; and had an exquisite taste for music; yet while his time and talents seemed devoted to these engaging pursuits, amidst them he forgot pot the humble and lowly, but was ever relieving their necessities, and lessening their wants. The following bequests afford striking proofs of his extensive liberality. To the matrons of Bishop Seth Ward's college in the Close, he bequeathed the sum of two thousand guineas. To St. George's hospital, Hyde-park-corner, to Hetheringham's charity for the relief of the blind, to the Philanthropic society, and to the fund for the relief of decayed Musicians, a contingent legacy of one thousand guineas each. To the three hospitals established in Winchester, Salisbury, and Bristol, one hundred guineas each. To the respective parishes of the Close, St. Edmund, St. Thomas, and St. Martin in Salisbury, fifty guineas each. For different charitable purposes in the parish of Grately, Hants, the sum of four hundred guineas; and to the poor cottagers in Grately, his tenants, the fee simple of their cottages; and to the parish of North Stoke, in Somersetshire, thirty guineas. As a man of literature, and a friend to the arts, he also bequeathed to the royal society, two hundred guineas; to the society of antiquaries, two hundred guineas; and to the president of the society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, &c. two hundred guineas, all for the purchase of books for the public libraries of those three respectable societies. To the Bath agricultural society he gave one hundred guineas. Wishing to add a beauty to the many which now adorn one of the finest Gothic structures in the world, he also bequeathed the sum of four hundred guineas for erecting a window of painted glass in the great west nave of Salisbury cathedral. To encourage the art he loved, and give a grateful testimony of his partiality to the Salisbury concert, he left an annual subscription of five guineas for ten years, towards its support; and a further sum of one hundred and fifty guineas for the three next triennial musical festivals at Salisbury, after his decease. Besides the above public legacies, he amply remembered his friends, and bequeathed many others, with a view to the encouragement of merit, and the reward of industry and goodness. He died the 21st of March, 1796, at his house in the Close, Salisbury; and on the 30th his remains were privately interred in the parish-church of Newton Toney, near those of his ancestors, his own positive injunctions having prevented those public marks of respect to his memory, which would otherwise have been paid on the melancholy occasion by his numerous friends.
In 1775, Mr. Earle reprinted from a scarce pamphlet, An exact relation of the famous earthquake and eruption of Mount Aetna, in 1669, to which he added a letter from himself to lord Lyttelton, containing a description of the "late great eruption of Mount Aetna, in 1766." Of this he had been an eye-witness, and his description is minute, classical, and elegant.