Webster, William (DNB00)

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WEBSTER, WILLIAM (1689–1758), divine, born at Cove in Suffolk in December 1689, was the son of Richard Webster (d. 1722), by his wife Jane, daughter of Anthony Sparrow [q. v.], bishop of Norwich. His father was a nonjuring clergyman, who afterwards submitted and became vicar of Poslingford in Suffolk. Webster was educated at Beccles, and was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, on 2 March 1707–8. He graduated B.A. in 1711–12, M.A. in 1716, and D.D. in 1732. He was ordained deacon on 24 June 1713 as curate of Depden in Suffolk, and priest on 26 Feb. 1715–16 as curate of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, London. In 1723 he edited ‘The Life of General Monk’ (London, 8vo), from the manuscript of Thomas Skinner (1629?–1679) [q. v.], contributing a preface in vindication of Monck's character. A second edition appeared in 1724. In 1730 he translated ‘The New Testament, with Critical Remarks’ (London, 2 vols. 4to), from the French of Richard Simon. Leaving St. Dunstan's in 1731, he was appointed in August 1732 to the curacy of St. Clement, Eastcheap, and in February 1732–3 was presented to the rectory of Depden. On 16 Dec. 1732, under the pseudonym of ‘Richard Hooker of the Inner Temple,’ he began to edit a periodical entitled ‘The Weekly Miscellany.’ Not being very successful, it was discontinued on 27 June 1741. From the number of religious essays it contained it became known as ‘Old Mother Hooker's Journal.’ It is chiefly memorable for the attacks made in its columns on William Warburton's ‘Divine Legation of Moses.’ Webster's contributions to the controversy were republished probably in 1739, under the title of ‘Remarks on the Divine Legation’ (London, 8vo). They earned him a place in the ‘Dunciad,’ Pope, in 1742, inserting a passage (bk. ii. l. 258) in which Webster was coupled with George Whitefield, who had also criticised Warburton (Pope, Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iv. 17, 333, ix. 205, 207).

In 1740, from materials furnished by a merchant in the trade, Webster published a pamphlet on the woollen manufactory, entitled ‘The Consequences of Trade to the Wealth and Strength of any Nation. By a Draper of London’ (London, 8vo). It had a large sale, and when the demand began to subside he penned a refutation of his own arguments, under the title ‘The Draper's Reply’ (London, 1741, 8vo), which went through several editions.

In July 1740 he was instituted to the vicarages of Ware and Thundridge in Hertfordshire, which he retained till his death, resigning his rectory and curacy. In later life he fell into great poverty, and after vainly petitioning the archbishops and bishops for charity, he opened his woes to the public in ‘A plain Narrative of Facts, or the Author's case fairly and candidly stated’ (London, 1758, 8vo). He died unmarried at Ware on 4 Dec. 1758. Christopher Smart [q. v.] addressed to him his seventh ode, complimenting him on his ‘Casuistical Essay on Anger and Forgiveness’ (London, 1750, 12mo). Webster was a voluminous writer. Among his works not already mentioned are: 1. ‘The Clergy's Right of Maintenance vindicated from Scripture and Reason,’ London, 1726, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1727. 2. ‘The Fitness of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ considered,’ London, 1731, 8vo. 3. ‘The Credibility of the Resurrection of Christ,’ London, 1735, 8vo. 4. ‘A Complete History of Arianism from 306 to 1666. To which is added the History of Socinianism, translated from the French of the learned Fathers Maimbourg and Lamy,’ London, 1735, 2 vols. 4to. 5. ‘Tracts, consisting of Sermons, Discourses, and Letters,’ London, 1745, 8vo. 6. ‘A Vindication of his Majesty's Title to the Crown,’ London, 1747, 8vo. 7. ‘A Treatise on Places and Preferments,’ London, 1757, 8vo.

[Nichols's Anecdotes of Bowyer, 1782, pp. 83, 539–42; Venn's Biogr. Hist. of Gonville and Caius Coll. 1897, i. 427, 518; George III, his Court and Family, 1821, i. 99; Clutterbuck's History of Hertfordshire, iii. 280, 308; Davy's Suffolk Collections in Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 19166, pp. 269–73.]

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