Donne, William Bodham (DNB00)

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DONNE, WILLIAM BODHAM (1807–1882), examiner of plays, was born 29 July 1807. His grandfather was an eminent surgeon at Norwich. The poet John Donne [q. v.] was his direct ancestor. The mother of the poet Cowper, whose maiden name was Donne, was great-aunt to both his parents; and his own great-aunt, Mrs. Anne Bodham, was the poet's cousin. William Bodham Donne was educated at the grammar school of Bury St. Edmunds, where he formed lasting friendships with his schoolfellows James Spedding, Edward Fitzgerald (translator of 'Omar Khayyam'), and John Mitchell Kemble, the Anglo-Saxon scholar. His friendship in after life with the Kemble family helped to turn his attention to the drama. He went to Caius College, Cambridge, but conscientious scruples against taking the tests then imposed prevented him from graduating. After leaving Cambridge he retired to Mattishall, near East Dereham, Norfolk, Mrs. Anne Bodham's estate. Here (15 Nov. 1830) he married Catharine Hewitt, whose mother was a sister of Cowper's cousin and friend, John Johnson. He became a contributor to the leading reviews, including the ‘Edinburgh,’ ‘Quarterly,’ ‘Fraser's Magazine,’ and the ‘British and Foreign Review,’ of which his friend Kemble was editor. In 1846 he moved to Bury St. Edmunds for the education of his sons. Here he became intimate with John William Donaldson [q. v.], then head-master of the school. Other friends were William Taylor of Norwich, H. Crabb Robinson, Bernard Barton, Lamb's friend Manning, and George Borrow.

In 1852 Donne declined the editorship of the ‘Edinburgh Review’ on the ground that his habits of life were too retired to keep him in the current of public opinion. In the same year he accepted the librarianship of the London Library; and in 1857 resigned that post to become examiner of plays in the lord chamberlain's office, in succession to his friend J. M. Kemble, who died in that year. He had previously acted as Kemble's deputy. He held this office till 1874, when he was succeeded by Mr. Pigott. He died on 20 June 1882.

Donne's writings are chiefly in the periodicals of the day. Besides those already mentioned he was a frequent contributor to the ‘Saturday Review.’ He wrote some articles in Bentley's ‘Quarterly Review’ (1859–60), edited by the present Marquis of Salisbury. He was a good classical scholar, and a man of fine taste and delicate humour. Familiarity with the earlier drama gave a peculiar colouring to his style, as to Charles Lamb's. He published in 1852 ‘Old Roads and New Roads,’ a book in which his wide knowledge of classical literature and of modern history is turned to good account. His ‘Essays upon the Drama,’ collected from various periodicals, were published in 1858, and reached a second edition in 1863. In 1867 he edited the ‘Letters of George III to Lord North,’ a book of great historical interest. He contributed to Dr. Smith's classical dictionaries; he edited selections from several classical writers for Weale's series; and contributed the ‘Euripides’ and ‘Tacitus’ to Mr. Lucas Collins's ‘Classics for English Readers.’ An edition of ‘Tacitus’ and a sketch of Byzantine history which he contemplated were never completed.

Donne was a liberal in politics. He strongly supported the repeal of the corn laws, and spoke on behalf of Kossuth; but he was too much of a scholar to be a party man. Donne's eldest son, Charles Edward Donne, vicar of Faversham, Kent, married first, Mildred, daughter of J. M. Kemble; secondly, Augusta, daughter of W. Rigden of Faversham. His other children were William Mowbray and Frederick Church (a major in the army, now deceased), and three daughters.

[Information from the Rev. C. E. Donne; Saturday Review, 4 July 1882; Times, 22 June 1882; Guardian, 27 June 1882; Fanny Kemble's Records of Later Life, iii. 341; H. Greville's Diary, 11 Oct. 1855.]