Wodhull, Michael (DNB00)

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WODHULL, MICHAEL (1740–1816), book-collector and translator, son of John Wodhull (1678–1754) of Thenford, Northamptonshire, by his second wife, Rebeccah (1702–1794), daughter of Charles Watkins of Aynhoe, Northamptonshire, was born at Thenford on 15 Aug. 1740. He was sent from a private school at Twyford to Winchester College, where he was known as the ‘long-legged Republican’ (Wrangham, English Library, p. 520). On 13 Jan. 1758 he matriculated from Brasenose College, Oxford, but did not take a degree.

Wodhull was possessed of a large fortune. His town house was in Berkeley Square, and about 1765 he built the existing manor-house (replacing an Elizabethan mansion) near the church at Thenford, a good view of which is in Baker's ‘Northamptonshire.’ His figure, tall and handsome, with a military appearance, was familiar from 1764 at the chief book-sales of London. J. T. Smith describes him as ‘very thin, with a long nose and thick lips,’ and clad in a coat which was tightly buttoned from under his chin. He sat the whole day long with great patience and was very rigid in his bids, not advancing a sixpenny-bit beyond his reserve (Book for a Rainy Day, 1861, p. 100). Wodhull was a keen whig, ardent for the spread of civil and religious liberty, and his poems show sympathy with the views of Rousseau. He filled no public office save that of high sheriff for Northamptonshire in 1783. He deprecated the long war with France, and after the treaty of Amiens visited Paris to make acquaintance with its libraries. For a time he was among the détenus of Napoleon, and he suffered so much from the dampness of the prison and the confinement within its walls that he came back to England an invalid. His sight gradually failed and his voice became inaudible. Dibdin and Heber visited him in the winter of 1815 and found him in bad health. He died at Thenford on 10 Nov. 1816, and was buried in an altar-tomb under a fine yew-tree on the south side of the chancel. On 30 Nov. 1761 Wodhull married at Newbottle, near Banbury, Catherine Milcah, fourth daughter of the Rev. John Ingram of Wolford, Warwickshire. She died, leaving no issue, at Wolford on 28 May 1808, aged 64, and was buried at Thenford. A whole-length portrait of her, painted by Zoffany, was in the south library at Thenford, and a mezzotint engraving of it, by Richard Houston, was published on 28 May 1772 (see also Smith, Mezzo Portraits, ii. 692–3). By his will, dated 21 Aug. 1815, Wodhull devised Thenford, the library, and his other estates to Mary Ingram, his wife's sister, who died on 14 Dec. 1824, and left them to Samuel Amy Severne.

Wodhull was the first translator into English verse of all the extant writings, the nineteen tragedies and fragments, of Euripides. He advertised in February 1774 his intention of publishing this translation, and thought that one year would have sufficed for his task; but the work was not completed (in 4 vols.) until 1782; a new edition, ‘corrected throughout by the translator,’ was published in 1809 (3 vols.). His translation of the ‘Medea’ forms part of vol. lxix. of Sir John Lubbock's ‘Hundred Books;’ five more of the plays in his translation are in Henry Morley's ‘Universal Library’ (vol. lviii.), and ‘Hecuba,’ with seven others of his rendering, is in vol. lxi. His version is accurate, but not imbued with much poetic feeling.

His other writings included 2. ‘Ode to the Muses,’ 1760. 3. ‘A Poetical Epistle to xxxx xxxxxxx [John Cleaver] M.A., Student of Christ Church,’ 1761; 2nd edit. corrected, 1762. 4. ‘Two Odes,’ 1763. 5. ‘Equality of Mankind, a Poem,’ 1765; this, with the previous pieces, was included in his poems (1772 and 1804), and in Pearch's ‘Collection of Poetry’ (vol. iv.); it was also issued, ‘revised and corrected with additions,’ in 1798 and 1799. 6. ‘Poems,’ 1772; a collection of the pieces published separately (150 copies only printed for presents). 7. ‘Poems,’ revised edit. 1804; prefixed is a portrait of Wodhull, painted by Gardiner in 1801 and engraved by E. Harding; it is reproduced in Quaritch's ‘Collectors.’ Two of his poetical pieces are in the ‘Poetical Register’ for 1806–7 (pp. 241–4 and 481–3). He suppressed his ‘Ode to Criticism,’ which he wrote when very young, in satire of some peculiarities in Thomas Warton's poems; but Warton inserted it in ‘The Oxford Sausage’ (1814, pp. 131–8). He helped in the fourth edition of Harwood's ‘View of the Classics’ (1790) and Dibdin's ‘Introduction to the Classics’ (3rd edit.), and was a frequent correspondent of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ chiefly as ‘L.L.,’ the terminating letters of his name.

Some of the duplicates in Wodhull's library were sold in 1801 (a five days' sale), and more in 1803 (an eight days' sale). The rest of his collections, about four thousand volumes and many manuscripts, remained at Thenford, the property of the family of Severne, until 1886. The printed books were chiefly first editions of the classics and rare specimens of early printing in the fifteenth century, many being bound by Roger Payne in Wodhull's ‘favourite Russia leather’ with his arms on the cover. They also contained about fifteen hundred tracts of the seventeenth century, collected by Sir Edward Walker [q. v.], and many poems and pamphlets of the eighteenth century. They were sold in January 1886 (a ten days' sale), and realised 11,972l. 14s. 6d. The sale of his manuscripts took place on 29 and 30 Nov. 1886. Wodhull not only bought but read his books. He was an admirable Greek scholar, and without an equal in his knowledge of French editions and printers in the sixteenth century. His portrait is reproduced in Dibdin's ‘Bibliographical Decameron’ (iii. 363–6), and he figures in the ‘Bibliomania’ as Orlando (cf. also Bibliomania, 1876, pp. 575–7).

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. i. 164–5; Book Lore, iii. 76–82, 99–103; Athenæum, 1886, i. 103, 138, 167; Gent. Mag. 1816, ii. 463–4, 564–6; Quaritch's Book Collectors, pt. ix. by Frederick Clarke; Baker's Northamptonshire, i. 711–17.]

W. P. C.