Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Temple, William Johnstone
TEMPLE, WILLIAM JOHNSTONE or JOHNSON (1739–1796), essayist, and friend of Gray and Boswell, was the son of William Temple of Allerdean, near Berwick-on-Tweed, of which borough the father was mayor in 1750 and again in 1754 (Sheldon, Berwick-upon-Tweed, p. 255). His mother was a Miss Stowe of Northumberland, connected with the family of Sir Francis Blake of Twizel Castle, near Norham, Northumberland, through Blake's aunt Anne, who married William Stowe of Berwick (Betham, Baronetage, iii. 439–40).
Temple was baptised at Berwick as ‘William Johnson’ on 20 Dec. 1739. He was a fellow-student at the university of Edinburgh with James Boswell, and they contracted in the class of Robert Hunter, the professor of Greek, an intimate friendship which was never interrupted. They differed, however, in politics and other respects, for Temple was a whig and a water-drinker (Leask, James Boswell, pp. 14–17). Their correspondence is in print from 29 July 1758, by which time Temple had left Edinburgh. On 22 May in that year he was admitted pensioner at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and on 5 Feb. 1759 he became a scholar on that foundation. Temple's name was taken off the books on 20 Nov. 1761, and he proceeded to London, where the two friends met as law students at the end of 1762. Temple took chambers in Farrar's Buildings, at the bottom of Inner Temple Lane, and in July 1763 he lent these rooms to Boswell.
His father having become a bankrupt towards the close of 1763, Temple felt obliged to contribute towards his relief more than half of the proceeds of the small estate which he had inherited from his mother. He was consequently forced to earn an income for himself, and this was found in the church. To obtain his qualification he returned to Trinity Hall, where he was admitted fellow-commoner on 22 June 1763, and took the degree of LL.B. on 28 June 1765, his name being taken off the books on 13 June 1766.
An amiable man of cultivated and literary tastes, Temple while at Cambridge was admitted into close friendship with Gray, and during a visit to London in February 1766 Boswell introduced him at the Mitre tavern in Fleet Street to Dr. Johnson. Through his association with these three men his name is remembered. On Sunday, 14 Sept. 1766, as William Johnson Temple he was ordained deacon at a particular ordination held in the chapel of the palace at Exeter, by Bishop Keppel, and on the following Sunday he was ordained priest by that bishop at a general ordination in the cathedral. Next day, on the presentation of Wilmot Vaughan, fourth viscount Lisburne (whose family were closely connected with Berwick-on-Tweed), he was instituted to the pleasant rectory of Mamhead, adjoining Starcross, and about ten miles from Exeter.
By August 1767 Temple was married in Northumberland to a lady with a fortune of 1,300l., but in the following year ‘by the bankruptcy of Mr. Fenwick Stow,’ and through the payment of an annuity to his father, he was again involved in pecuniary difficulty. He found time, however, to correct his friend Boswell's ‘Account of Corsica’ (1768). In May 1770 Temple contemplated separating from his wife, and by the following November he had sold part of his estate. After proceeding to Northumberland on this business, he visited Boswell at Chessel's Buildings, Canongate, Edinburgh (September 1770). In the spring of 1771 he was in great distress ‘through filial piety,’ and desired a chaplaincy abroad.
A character of Gray was written by Temple in a letter to Boswell a short time after the poet's death (30 July 1771), and was published by the recipient without authority in the ‘London Magazine’ for 1772 (p. 140). Mason incorporated the ‘character’ in his ‘Life’ of Gray, and Johnson deemed it worthy of insertion in his memoir of Gray in the ‘Lives of the Poets’ (cf. Gray's Works, ed. Mitford, 1836, i. lxx. sq.; Gosse, Life of Gray, p. 211).
During a visit to London in May 1773 Temple dined at the house of the brothers Dilly, the publishers in the Poultry, meeting Johnson, Goldsmith, Langton, Boswell, and others, and in April 1775 Boswell paid him a visit at Mamhead. In the meantime (1774) his essay on the clergy had revealed to his diocesan his literary skill. Bishop Keppel made him his chaplain, and by November 1775 he had received the specific promise of ‘the best living in the diocese of Exeter, and the present incumbent 86.’ This was the vicarage of Gluvias, with the chapelry of Budock, adjacent to the towns of Penryn and Falmouth in Cornwall, to which Temple was collated on Keppel's nomination on 9 Sept. 1776. As vicar of Gluvias, with an income from public and private sources of 500l. a year, Temple spent the rest of his days. In September 1780 he travelled through part of England, and had two pleasant interviews with Bishop Hurd. Boswell and his two eldest daughters visited him at Gluvias in September 1783, and Boswell came again in 1792. In that year the Cornwall Library and Literary Society was founded, mainly through Temple's energies, at Truro (Polwhele, Cornwall, v. 98–105; Wyvill, Political Papers, ii. 216–18, iv. 265–71; Courtney, Parl. Rep. of Cornwall, p. xxii). Upon his death in May 1795 Boswell left Temple a gold mourning ring, and Temple, under the signature ‘Biographicus,’ wrote appreciatively of his friend (Gent. Mag. a1795, ii. 634).
Temple died at Gluvias on 13 Aug. 1796. A monument in the churchyard was erected to the memory of their parents by ‘the seven remaining children.’ His second name is there given as ‘Johnstone.’ His wife died on 14 March 1793, aged 46; they had issue in all eleven children. One son, Francis Temple (d. 19 Jan. 1863), became vice-admiral; another, Octavius Temple (d. 13 Aug. 1834), was governor of Sierra Leone, and father of the present archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Frederick Temple).
Temple's writings were:
- ‘An Essay on the Clergy, their Studies, Recreations, Decline of Influence,’ 1774; this was much admired by Bishop Horne.
- ‘On the Abuse of Unrestrained Power’ [anon.], 1778.
- ‘Moral and Historical Memoirs’ [anon.], 1779, in which was included the essay on ‘Unrestrained Power.’ These memoirs contended for less foreign travel, less luxury, and for less variety of reading. Polwhele said that these works were ‘heavy from too much historic detail.’
- A ‘little pamphlet on Jacobinism,’ 1792? (Polwhele, Traditions, i. 327–8).
He left unfinished a work on ‘The Rise and Decline of Modern Rome.’ Some of his letters to Lord Lisburne are in Egerton MS. 2136 (Brit. Mus.). The ‘Letters of James Boswell, addressed to the Rev. W. J. Temple,’ appeared in 1857.
[Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. ii. 524, 709–10, ii. 1344; Boase's Collect. Cornub. p. 975; Gent. Mag. 1793 i. 479, 1796 ii. 791, 963, 1797 ii. 1110, 1798 i. 188, 1827 i. 472; Letters of Boswell to Temple, 1857, passim; Corresp. of Gray and Nicholls, pp. 62–165; Corresp. of Walpole and Mason, i. 195; Bisset's Sir A. Mitchell, ii. 356–8; Garrick Corresp. i. 435; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, i. 436–7, ii. 11, 247, 371, iii. 301, ib., ed. Napier, i. 357–8; Boswelliana, ed. 1874, passim; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 381–2; Fitzgerald's Boswell, i. 285; Parochial Hist. of Cornwall, ii. 84; information has been kindly furnished by Mr. Robert Weddell of Berwick, Mr. C. F. S. Headlam of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Mr. Arthur Burch, F.S.A., diocesan registry, Exeter, and Mr. J. D. Enys of Enys, Cornwall.]