Vincent, William (DNB00)
|←Vincent, Thomas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58
VINCENT, WILLIAM (1739–1815), dean of Westminster, born on 2 Nov. 1739 in Limehouse Street Ward, London, was the fifth surviving son of Giles Vincent, packer and Portugal merchant, by Sarah (Holloway).
William was admitted at Westminster school as a ‘town boy’ in 1747; he became a king's scholar in 1753, and in 1757 was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge. After graduating as B.A. in 1761, he returned to Westminster as usher. He became second master in June 1771, and in the same year was made chaplain in ordinary to the king. He graduated M.A. in 1764 and D.D. in 1776, and two years later received the vicarage of Longdon, Wiltshire, which, however, he exchanged within six months for the rectory of All Hallows, Thames Street. In 1784 he became sub-almoner to the king. He shared the tory views of his family, and in 1780 published anonymously a ‘Letter’ in reply to a sermon preached at Cambridge by Richard Watson (1737–1816) [q. v.] A sermon preached by him in 1792 at St. Margaret's, Westminster, for the benefit of the greycoat charity, attracted attention, and when reprinted in the following year by the Patriotic Association against republicans and levellers, twenty thousand copies were sold.
Meanwhile, in 1788, Vincent had been appointed headmaster of Westminster. He held the position with credit for fourteen years, respected alike for both scholarship and character. His swinging pace, sonorous quotations, and especially his loud call of ‘Eloquere, puer, eloquere’ (‘Speak out, boy!’) dwelt long in the memory of his scholars; and his name is perpetuated by that part of Tothill Fields which his influence preserved for his old school as a playground, being called after him Vincent Square. In his love for the rod he resembled Busby, and he expelled Robert Southey [q. v.] in 1792 for his authorship of the ‘Flagellant.’ The particular attention which he devoted to the religious education of his pupils rendered him well qualified to answer the attacks of Thomas Rennell [q. v.], master of the Temple, and Thomas Lewis O'Beirne [q. v.], bishop of Meath, who had charged headmasters with neglecting this branch of their duties. Vincent's ‘Defence of Public Education,’ issued as a reply to the latter in 1801, reached a third edition two years later, and occasioned some controversy. In April 1801 he was nominated by Pitt to a canonry of Westminster. When in the following year (1802) Vincent was offered by Addington the deanery of Westminster, ‘as a public reward for public services,’ this was understood to refer to his recent publication. The see of Rochester was now for the first time for many years severed from the deanery.
In 1805 Vincent obtained the rectory of St. John's, Westminster, and resigned that of All Hallows to his son. In 1807 he exchanged St. John's for the rectory of Islip, Oxfordshire, where he made his country residence. He had been appointed president of Sion College in 1798, and acted as prolocutor of the lower house of convocation in 1802, 1806, and 1807. The fire which broke out in the roof of the lantern of Westminster Abbey on 9 July 1803 necessitated repairs to the fabric. They were all paid for by the dean and chapter; but in 1805 Vincent addressed a letter to Pitt praying for a national grant for the restoration of Henry VII's Chapel. Fourteen annual grants, beginning from 1807, were received, and the work was proceeded with under the direction of Thomas Gayfere and Benjamin Wyatt. The restoration was not completed till 1822. The manner in which it was carried out, especially the interference with the tomb of Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, in order to make way for the new Addison monument, was severely criticised in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ by John Carter [q. v.], the architect. Vincent replied by the jeux d'esprit ‘Woodstock's Ghost’ and ‘Addison's Ghost,’ satirical verses directed against Carter and William Capon [q. v.], the scene-painter (in Gent. Mag. 1808 ii. 1105–6, 1809 i. 157). Dean Vincent also directed the restoration of the great rose or marigold window; and caused the enormous monuments of Captains Harvey, Hutt, and Montagu (who fell in Howe's victory of 1 June 1794) to be removed from between the pillars of the nave to their present positions. Pitt and Charles James Fox were buried in the abbey in 1806, and the Duc de Montpensier (brother of Louis-Philippe) in Henry VII's Chapel in the following year. Minute accounts of the repairs executed at the abbey and of the chapter business while he was dean are given in a manuscript notebook of Vincent's, which is still preserved at the deanery. The book also contains an account by him of the sixteenth and seventeenth century chapter-books, and an analysis and criticism of Flete's manuscript ‘Chronicle of the Abbey.’
Vincent made his reputation as a classical scholar by the publication of a Latin treatise entitled ‘De Legione Manlianâ Quæstio ex Livio desumta, et rei militaris Romanæ studiosis proposita.’ In this, by means of an ingenious emendation, he reconciled the apparently conflicting statements of Livy and Polybius respecting the legion. Porson and Heyne gave a general assent to his views. Only four copies of the work are said to have been sold. In the next year Vincent published ‘The Origination of the Greek Verb: an Hypothesis,’ followed in 1795 by ‘The Greek Verb Analysed: an Hypothesis in which the Source and Structure of the Greek Language in general is considered.’ He found the reasons for the inflections of the verbs in their derivations from ‘a simple and very short original verb signifying to do or exist,’ which being afterwards subjoined to radicals, denoting various actions and modes of being, formed their tenses, modes, and other variations. Vincent had to defend his work against the charges of insufficient research and plagiarism (from a writer in the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’), advanced in the ‘Hermes Unmasked’ of Thomas Gunter Browne. His views did not succeed in holding their ground.
But ancient geography was the subject which Vincent made his chief study. In 1797 he issued his commentary on Arrian's ‘Voyage of Nearchus’ (contained in the ‘Indica’), which he terms ‘the first event of general importance to mankind in the history of navigation.’ Schneider, a later editor of Arrian, translated Vincent's arguments into Latin and subjoined them as a complete answer to the objections of Dodwell. Vincent had the assistance of Alexander Dalrymple [q. v.], hydrographer to the admiralty, who prepared charts, and of Samuel Horsley [q. v.], then dean of Westminster, who furnished two astronomical dissertations. The subject was pursued in ‘The Periplus of the Erythræan Sea,’ which appeared in two parts in 1800 and 1805. These three commentaries, which occupied Vincent's leisure during eight years, were dedicated to George III. ‘The Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients in the Indian Ocean,’ 2 vols., issued in 1807, forms a second edition of the whole work. It was dedicated to Lord Sidmouth. It contains contributions by Professor Heyne, Dr. Schneider, and Niebuhr, as well as by Sir Gore Ouseley, Dr. Burney, and William Wales. McCulloch termed it a most valuable contribution to the geography of antiquity and the history of commerce. An English translation of the ‘Voyage of Nearchus’ and of the ‘Periplus’ was published separately by Vincent in 1809.
‘Gleanings from the Asiatick Researches of the learned Dr. Vincent,’ &c., was privately printed in 1813 by Joseph Thomas Brown. Vincent also contributed notes to Gibbon's ‘Inquiry into the Circumnavigation of Africa,’ and to the ‘Classical Journal’ articles on ‘Ancient Commerce,’ ‘China as known to Classic Authors,’ ‘The Geography of Susiana,’ and ‘Theophilus an African Bishop.’ For the first series of the ‘British Critic,’ conducted by his friend Nares, he wrote several important reviews, and, in connection with the Troad controversy, attacked the views of Jacob Bryant [q. v.], whom he charged with falsifying passages in Diodorus Siculus. Vincent was also a frequent contributor to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’
Vincent died at Islip on 21 Dec. 1815, and was buried in St. Benedict's Chapel, Westminster Abbey, where his monument, between those of South and Busby, bears a Latin inscription from his own hand. He married, in 1771, Hannah, fourth daughter of George Wyatt, chief clerk of the vote office, House of Commons. She died on 17 Feb. 1807, leaving issue. There is a mural tablet to her with inscription by her husband in the north transept of the abbey.
Beloe thought Vincent one of the soundest scholars in Europe, an opinion corroborated by Mathias in ‘Pursuits of Literature’ (third dialogue). The dramatist Cumberland also speaks of him in high terms in his ‘Memoirs.’ The poet Cowper made an English translation of some Latin verses written by Vincent, when second master at Westminster, on his predecessor Pierson Lloyd. A French version of Vincent's great work on ancient navigation was made under Bonaparte's sanction by M. Billecoq; and in Germany, where his works were well known, his scholarship was recognised by a degree from Göttingen in 1814. ‘Next to Rennell, and beyond him in some respects,’ says Sir Clements Markham, ‘Vincent was the greatest comparative geographer of his time.’
A three-quarter-length portrait of Vincent by Owen was engraved by Meyer, and prints were executed by Turner and Ackermann. Nares thinks the latter, a stippled engraving executed for his ‘Views of Westminster Abbey,’ the finer of the two. In Neale's ‘Westminster Abbey’ there is also an engraving by J. Stow, from a drawing by G. P. Harding. Another fine portrait is mentioned by Nichols as having been engraved in 1807 from a painting by Howard. A fourth portrait, by Edridge, was engraved by Picart for the second of the two volumes of Vincent's sermons, published respectively in 1817 and 1836.[The Life of Vincent by Archdeacon Nares, prefixed to vol. i. of his Sermons, originally appeared in the Classical Journal, xiii. 222, xiv. 210. See also Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 126–30, and Lit. Illustr. iii. 766–74, iv. 742 n., vii. 55 n.; Gent. Mag. 1815 ii. 633–4, 1816 i. 83–4; Sargeaunt's Hist. of Westminster School, 1898, pp. 207–14, with portrait after Owen; Welch's Alumni Westmon. pp. 367–9, &c.; Westminster School Reg. ed. Barker and Stenning; Chester's Westminster Abbey Reg.; Stanley's Memorials of Westminster Abbey, pp. 170 n., 238 n., 275; Neale and Brayley's Westminster Abbey, i. 219–226, ii. 15, 152, 205, 267; Mrs. Murray Smith's Annals of Westminster Abbey, pp. 343–5; Evans's Cat. Engr. Portraits; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]