Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wooddeson, Richard
WOODDESON, RICHARD (1745–1822), jurist, was born at Kingston-on-Thames on 15 May 1745. His father,
Richard Wooddeson (1704–1774), divine, baptised at Findon in Sussex on 21 Jan. 1703–4, was the son of Richard Wooddeson (d. 1726), vicar of Findon, by his wife Dorothy. He was a chorister at Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1712 to 1722, and a clerk from 1722 to 1725, matriculating from Magdalen College on 20 March 1718–19, and graduating B.A. on 16 Oct. 1722 and M.A. on 6 July 1725. From 1725 to 1728 he filled the office of chaplain, and soon after became a school assistant at Reading. In 1732 or 1733 he was chosen master of the free school at Kingston, where he continued until 1772, with a great reputation as a teacher. Among his scholars were Edward Lovibond [q. v.], George Steevens [q. v.], George Keate [q. v.], Edward Gibbon [q. v.], William Hayley [q. v.], Francis Maseres [q. v.], George Hardinge [q. v.], and Gilbert Wakefield [q. v.] Infirmity compelled him to resign his post in 1772, when he removed to Chelsea. He died ‘near Westminster Abbey’ on 15 Feb. 1774. He was the author of a Latin metrical prosody, a few single sermons, and some poetical pieces. Lovibond's ‘Poems on Several Occasions’ (1785) were dedicated to Wooddeson, and contained verses addressed to him (Gent. Mag. 1774 p. 95, 1823 i. 225; Bloxam, Reg. of Magdalen Coll. i. 136–43, ii. 88, 173; Wakefield, Memoirs, 1804, i. 42–51; Best, Personal and Literary Memoirs, 1829, pp. 77–8; Gibbon, Autobiographies, ed. Murray, 1896, pp. 43, 114, 221).
His only son, Richard, was educated at his father's school, and matriculated from Pembroke College, Oxford, on 29 May 1759. He was elected to a demyship at Magdalen College in 1759, graduating B.A. on 28 Jan. 1763, M.A. on 10 Oct. 1765, and D.C.L. on 31 May 1777. In 1772 he exchanged his demyship for a fellowship, which he held till his death. In 1766 he was elected to a Vinerian scholarship in common law, and he was called to the bar in 1767 by the society of the Middle Temple, who elected him a bencher in 1799. After acting for three years as deputy Vinerian professor, he was elected a Vinerian fellow in 1776, and served as proctor in the same year. On 4 March 1777 he was elected university lecturer on moral philosophy, and on 24 April, on the resignation of (Sir) Robert Chambers [q. v.], he was elected Vinerian professor, narrowly defeating (Sir) Giles Rooke [q. v.], who was also a candidate. During his sixteen years' tenure of office he published two legal works of some value. The first, which appeared in 1783, was entitled ‘Elements of Jurisprudence treated of in the preliminary Part of a Course of Lectures on the Laws of England’ (London, 4to; new edit. Dublin, 1792, 8vo). The second, published in 1792 and 1793, was ‘A Systematical View of the Laws of England’ (London, 3 vols. 8vo; Dublin, 1792–4, 3 vols. 8vo). Originally delivered as a series of Vinerian lectures commencing in Michaelmas term 1777, and extending over a course of years, the latter work was an important contribution towards systematising English law. Although it was overshadowed by the literary merit of Blackstone's ‘Commentaries,’ it is probable that Wooddeson's ‘Systematical View’ is in many respects superior as a legal treatise. A second edition was edited by William Rosser Williams in 1839 (London, 3 vols. 12mo; Philadelphia, 1842, 1 vol. 8vo).
Wooddeson acted for many years as counsel for the university of Oxford and as a commissioner of bankrupts. He was of silent and retired habits, but in his youth was a frequenter of ‘honest Tom Payne's house’ at Mews Gate, where he met many well-known authors and patrons of literature [see Payne, Thomas, 1719–1799]. In 1808 a fire broke out in his house in Chancery Lane and destroyed his valuable library, chiefly composed of legal works. He died, unmarried, on 29 Oct. 1822 at his house in Boswell Court, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and was buried on 5 Nov. in the benchers' vault in the Temple church. He left 300l. to the university as a mark of gratitude for the use of the Clarendon Press, and 400l. to Magdalen College.
Besides the works mentioned, Wooddeson was the author of ‘A Brief Vindication of the Rights of the British Legislature, in Answer to some Positions advanced in a Pamphlet entitled “Thoughts on the English Government, Letter the Second”’ [see Reeves, John, 1752?–1829], London, 1799, 8vo. He also made collections for a work on tithes, but, finding his purpose hindered by ill-health, he requested (Sir) Samuel Toller [q. v.] to carry out the undertaking which he had planned.[Gent. Mag. 1823, i. 181–3; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 332, iii. 704, viii. 520; Nichols's Lit. Illustrations, iii. 9, 36; Bloxam's Magdalen Coll. Reg. vi. 321–4.]