Cleaver, William (DNB00)

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CLEAVER, WILLIAM (1742–1815), bishop of St. Asaph, is a remarkable instance of a man with many substantial claims to remembrance being principally remembered through a trivial accident. He was the eldest son of the Rev. W. Cleaver, master of a private school at Twyford in Buckinghamshire, and was the elder brother of Archbishop Cleaver [q. v.] He was at Magdalen College, Oxford, and after taking his B.A. degree, 1761, was a fellow of Brasenose College; he became M.A. on 2 May 1764, and in 1768 was a candidate for the Bodleian librarianship. The votes between him and his competitor Price were equal, and the latter was appointed on account of being a few months the senior.

Cleaver became tutor to the Marquis of Buckingham. He was successively made vicar of Northop in Flintshire, prebendary of Westminster (1784), master of Brasenose College (1785), bishop of Chester (1787), of Bangor (1800), and of St. Asaph (1806). He retained the headship of Brasenose until 1809, and almost constantly lived there, 'such,' observes his biographer in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' 'was his attachment to the place of his education.' He must, however, have occasionally resided in his diocese, for it was at Bangor that, in 1802, he cautioned an old servant who let apartments against a stray lodger who the bishop thought might be no better than a swindler. This suspicious personage was no other than Thomas De Quincey, whose wrath blazed up immediately, and who in turn exasperated his landlady by 'a harsh and contemptuous expression, which I fear that I applied to the learned dignitary himself.' He had to quit his lodgings, and, after abandoning his original intention of remonstrating with his lordship in Greek, dismissed the matter from his mind till he came to write the 'English Opium-eater,' when, feeling that he had been somewhat unreasonable, he indemnified the bishop by recording that to him 'Brasenose was indebted for its leadership at that era in scholarship and discipline,' which reputation after his retirement' ran down as suddenly as it had run up;' and that in his academic character ' he might almost be called a reformer, a wise, temperate, and successful reformer.' This encomium, founded no doubt on facts ascertained by De Quincey during his subsequent residence at Oxford, protects Cleaver's name from the oblivion which has overtaken his writings.

The most important of these were 'De Rhythmo Græcorum,' 1775, and 'Directions to the Clergy of the Diocese of Chester on the Choice of Books,' 1789. He also edited the beautiful Homer printed at Oxford by the Grenville family. As a bishop he is commended for benevolence, for discrimination in the exercise of patronage, and for encouraging among his clergy, by the erection of parsonage houses, that residence of which he did not set the example. He was also a good deal interested in the higher education of women. Cleaver died 15 May 1815 in Bruton Street, London.

[Gent. Mag. vol. lxxxiii. pt. i. pp. 563, 564, ii. 213; De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-eater, pp. 122-8, ed. 1862; Abbey's English Church and its Bishops, 1700-1800, ii.273.]

R. G.