Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gavin, Antonio

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GAVIN, ANTONIO (fl. 1726), author of ‘A Master-Key to Popery,’ a native of Saragossa, was educated at the university of that city and graduated M.A. Before he was twenty-three years of age he received ordination as a secular priest in the church of Rome. He subsequently embraced protestantism, escaped from Spain disguised as an officer in the army, reached London, where he was hospitably entertained by Earl Stanhope, whom he had met in Saragossa, and on 3 Jan. 1715–16 was licensed by Robinson, bishop of London, to officiate in a Spanish congregation. For two years and eight months he preached first in the chapel in Queen's Square, Westminster, and afterwards in Oxenden's chapel, near the Haymarket. His first sermon, which is dedicated to Lord Stanhope, was published as ‘Conversion de las tres Potencias del alma, explicada en el Primer Sermon’ [on Deut. xxx. 9, 10], 8vo, London, 1716. Stanhope, wishing to obtain for him some settled preferment in the church of England, advised Gavin to accept in June 1720 the chaplaincy of the Preston man-of-war, in which capacity he would have ample leisure to master English. On the ship being put out of commission he went to Ireland ‘on the importunity of a friend,’ and while there heard of the death of Stanhope at London on 5 Feb. 1721. Soon afterwards, by favour of Palliser, archbishop of Cashel, and Dean Percival, he obtained the curacy of Gowran, near Kilkenny, which he served nearly eleven months. He then removed to Cork, where he continued almost a year as curate of an adjacent parish, occasionally preaching at Cork, Shandon, and Gortroe. Gavin acquired considerable notoriety by compiling a farrago of lies and libels, interspersed with indecent tales, to which he gave the title of ‘A Master-Key to Popery; containing … a Discovery of the most secret Practices of the secular and regular Romish Priests in their Auricular Confession,’ &c., 8vo, Dublin, 1724, dedicated, curiously enough, to a child, the Hon. Grace Boyle. The British public swallowed Gavin's inventions with avidity. Thus encouraged, he published a second edition, ‘carefully corrected from the errors of the first, with large additions,’ 3 vols. 12mo, London, 1725–6, of which a French translation by François Michel Janiçon appeared, 3 vols. 12mo, London [Amsterdam], 1726–7. In the preface to the third volume Gavin writes: ‘In less than two years 5,000 of my first and second volume are dispersed among the Protestants of Great Britain and Ireland; I shall assiduously apply myself to finish the fourth volume, which shall be a Master-Key both to Popery and to Hell,’ undeterred, as he wishes his readers to infer by the violent threats of the pope's emissaries. The concluding volume, which never appeared, was to have been entitled, according to the advertisement on the last page of vol. iii., ‘Dr. Gavin's Dreams, or the Masterpiece of his Master-Key.’

[Prefaces to vols. i. and iii. of A Master-Key.]

G. G.