Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stockdale, Percival

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STOCKDALE, PERCIVAL (1736–1811), miscellaneous writer, born on 26 Oct. (O. S.) 1736 at Branxton, Northumberland, was the only child of Thomas Stockdale, vicar of that parish and perpetual curate of Cornhill, near the Tweed, by his wife, Dorothy Collingwood of Murton, Northumberland. After spending six years in the grammar school at Alnwick, he was removed in 1751 to the grammar school at Berwick-upon-Tweed. He became intimately acquainted with the Greek and Latin classics, and acquired a taste for poetry. He never harboured a doubt that he was a poetical genius of the highest order, and the indifference of the public to his pretensions embittered his life. In 1754 he proceeded to the university of Aberdeen, having obtained a bursary in the united colleges of St. Leonard and St. Salvador. The death of his father in 1755 left the family in pecuniary difficulties, and he accepted the offer of a lieutenancy in the 22nd or royal Welsh fusiliers. He joined Admiral Byng's fleet, which anchored in the bay of Gibraltar in May 1756. Stockdale, with part of his regiment, was on board the Revenge, in the expedition sent, under the command of Admirals Byng and West, to the relief of the besieged garrison of St. Philip in the island of Minorca. He returned to England in October 1756, and in November 1757 he left the army on the ostensible ground of ill-health.

On his way to his mother's house at Berwick he stayed at Durham, and was introduced to Dr. Thomas Sharp (1693–1758) [q. v.], archdeacon of Northumberland, who persuaded him to take holy orders. At Michaelmas 1759 he was ordained deacon by Dr. Richard Trevor [q. v.], bishop of Durham. Immediately afterwards he came to London as Sharp's substitute in the curacy and lectureship of Duke's Place, near Aldgate. Henceforth he mixed in the best literary society of the metropolis, and became intimate with Garrick, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Browne, Goldsmith, Hawkesworth, and Lord Lyttelton. He published ‘A Poetical Address to the Supreme Being’ (Berwick [1764]), 4to, and ‘The Constituents: a poem,’ London, 1765, 4to. In 1767, being without church employment, he visited Italy, and resided for two years at Villafranca, where he read and wrote assiduously. He returned to London in 1769, and in the following year published a translation of Tasso's ‘Amyntas.’ He succeeded Dr. Guthrie in the management of the ‘Critical Review,’ edited the ‘Universal Magazine’ in 1771, and wrote a ‘life’ of Waller, prefixed to the poet's ‘Works’ (1772). He also translated the ‘Antiquities of Greece’ from the Latin of Lambert Bos (1772), and in 1773 he published ‘Three Discourses: two against Luxury and Dissipation, one on Universal Benevolence.’ In the summer of 1773 his most important work appeared—a poem entitled ‘The Poet.’

At this period Lord Sandwich, first lord of the admiralty, appointed him chaplain of the Resolution, guardship, lying at Spithead. He was attached to that vessel for three years. He composed some characteristic minor poems, besides translating into English Sabbathier's ‘Institutions, Manners, and Customs of the Ancient Nations,’ and publishing ‘Six Discourses, to which is prefixed an introduction containing a view of the genuine Ancient Philosophy,’ London, 1777, 8vo. Afterwards he wrote ‘An Enquiry into the Nature and Genuine Laws of Poetry; including a particular defence of the Writings and Genius of Mr. Pope’ (London, 1778, 12mo), against the essay by Warton. He published in the same year ‘Miscellanies in Prose and Verse’ and a translation of Riccoboni's ‘Letters from Lord Rivers to Sir C. Cardigan.’ In 1779 he contributed to the ‘Public Advertiser’ political letters under the signature of ‘Agricola.’ According to his own doubtful story, the principal London booksellers, having resolved to bring out a new edition of the ‘English Poets,’ with biographies, requested Stockdale to undertake the work. An agreement was made, but, by some ‘strange misunderstanding,’ Stockdale was deprived of this employment, and Dr. Johnson wrote the ‘Lives of the Poets.’

After a brief experience as tutor to the eldest son of Lord Craven, he was presented in 1780 by Sir Adam Gordon to the rectory of Hinxworth, Hertfordshire. While there he took priest's orders—twenty-three years after his admission to the diaconate. In 1782 he wrote ‘An Examination of the Important Question whether Education at a Great School or by Private Tuition is preferable,’ London, 1782, 8vo. In 1783 Lord-chancellor Thurlow presented him to the vicarage of Lesbury, Northumberland, and to this the Duke of Northumberland added the vicarage of Long Houghton in the same county. There Stockdale composed an ‘Essay on Misanthropy,’ 1783. On 28 Oct. 1784 Archbishop More conferred upon him the Lambeth degree of M.A. (Gent. Mag. June 1864, p. 770).

His tragedy of ‘Ximenes,’ in five acts and in verse, was printed in 1788, but was not acted, as the manager of Covent Garden Theatre declined to accept it. After paying a visit to Tangier for the sake of his health, Stockdale returned to Lesbury in 1790. Subsequently he published ‘Thirteen Sermons to Seamen, preached on board H.M.S. Leander in the Bay of Gibraltar,’ 1791; a ‘Letter to Granville Sharp, suggested by the present Insurrection of the Negroes in the Island of St. Domingo,’ 1791; ‘Observations on the Writings and Conduct of our present Political and Religious Reformers,’ 1792; ‘Poetical Thoughts and Views on the Banks of the Wear,’ 1792; an amusing correspondence with Shute Barrington, bishop of Durham, 1792; a ‘Letter to Mr. Bryant, occasioned by his late Remarks on Mr. Pope's Universal Prayer,’ 1793; an edition of Thomson's ‘Seasons,’ with biography, 1793; a ‘Letter to a Gentleman of the Philanthropic Society on the Liberty of the Press,’ 1794; ‘The Invincible Island: a poem, with introductory Observations on the present War,’ 1797; ‘A Discourse on the Duties and Advantages of Old Age,’ Alnwick, 1801, 4to; ‘A Remonstrance against Inhumanity to Animals, and particularly against the Savage Practice of Bull-Baiting,’ Alnwick, 1802, 8vo; ‘Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets,’ 1807, which present a strange combination of good and bad sense, of just and petulant criticism; a selection of his best ‘Poems,’ 1808; and ‘Memoirs of his Life and Writings, containing many interesting Anecdotes of the Illustrious Men with whom he was connected,’ 2 vols. 8vo, London, 1809, with his portrait, engraved by Fitler from a painting by Downman. Unbounded egotism, conceit, and yearning for poetical fame are exhibited in these ‘Memoirs.’ ‘I know,’ he exclaims, ‘that this book will live and escape the havoc that has been made of my literary fame.’ He died at Lesbury on 14 Sept. 1811, and was buried at Cornhill-on-the-Tweed.

[Stockdale's Memoirs; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Hill; Baker's Biogr. Dram. 1812, i. 694, ii. 27, iii. 426; Gent. Mag. 1810 ii. 248, 1811 ii. 384, 528, 667; D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors, 1812, ii. 313; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 14, 18.]

T. C.