1810 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Dodd

Alexander Chalmers, in "Life of Samuel Johnson" Works of the English Poets (1810) 16:565.



Not long after he undertook this work [Lives of the Poets], he was invited to contribute the aid of his eloquent pen in saving the forfeited life of Dr. William Dodd, a clergyman, who was convicted of forgery. This unhappy man had long been a popular preacher in the metropolis: and the public sentiment was almost universal in deprecating so shameful a sight as that of a clergyman of the church of England suffering by a public execution. Whether there was much in Dodd's character to justify this sentiment, or to demand the interference of the corporation of London, backed by the petitions of thousands of the most distinguished and wealthy citizens, may perhaps be doubted. Johnson, however, could not resist what put every other consideration out of the question, "a call for mercy," and accordingly contributed every thing that the friends of Dodd could suggest as useful. He wrote his Speech to the Recorder of London, delivered at the Old Bailey when sentence of death was about to be passed on him: The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren, a sermon delivered by Dodd in the chapel of Newgate: two letters, one to the lord chancellor Bathurst, and one to lord chief justice Mansfield: a petition from Dr. Dodd to the king: another from Mrs. Dodd to the queen: observations inserted in the newspapers, on occasion of earl Percy's having presented to his majesty a petition for mercy to Dodd, signed by twenty thousand persons: a petition from the city of London; and Dr. Dodd's last solemn declaration, which he left with the sheriff at the place of execution. All these have been printed in Dr. Johnson's works, with some additional correspondence which Mr. Boswell inserted in his life. Every thing is written in a style of pathetic eloquence, but as the author could not be concealed, it was impossible to impress a stronger sense of the value of Dodd's talents than had already been entertained. The papers, however, contributed to heighten the clamour which was at that time raised against the execution of the sentence, and which was confounded with what was then thought more censurable, the conduct of those by whom the unhappy man might have been saved before the process of law had been begun.