Evans, Abel (DNB00)

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EVANS, ABEL, D.D. (1679–1737), divine and poet, son of Abel Evans of London, gent. (Oxf. Mat. Reg.), was born in February 1679, and entered Merchant Taylors' School in the spring of 1685. He was elected probationary fellow of St. John's College, Oxford (1692), proceeded regularly to the degrees of B.A. (1696), M.A. (1699), B.D. (1705), D.D. (1711). These higher degrees were probably taken in mere obedience to the college statutes. Such reputation as Evans acquired was due rather to his powers as a satirist than to his abilities as a divine. He entered holy orders in 1700, and held successively the incumbencies of Kirtlington, St. Giles, Oxford, and Great Stoughton, Huntingdonshire. For a short time also he was chaplain to his college, but was ejected, says Hearne, because, in a speech made publicly in the hall of St. John's, he reflected upon Dr. Delaune, the president, and most of the members of the society. However, the Duchess of Marlborough espoused his cause, and, ‘though he was a loose, ranting gentleman, he was mightily caressed,’ and reinstated in his office. He then reformed his course of life, and turned upon his former friends, publishing (1710) a poem entitled ‘The Apparition; a dialogue betwixt the Devil and a Doctor concerning the rights of the Christian Church,’ in which Tindal and Kennett were roughly handled. Dr. T. Smith (Hearne's correspondent) speaks of the satire as displaying ‘great wit, good sense, and wonderful honesty,’ but it is of small literary worth or general interest. In 1713 Evans published a poetical epistle to Jacob Bobart [q. v.], entitled ‘Vertumnus,’ which was republished in Nichols's ‘Select Collection of Poems,’ vol. v.

Evans was presented by his college in 1725 to the rectory of Cheam, Surrey, a benefice which had been held by no less than six bishops, and died there 18 Oct. 1737. Political prejudice distorted Hearne's estimate of Evans's character, which there is no reason to suppose was other than honourable, even before he ceased to be a whig and a low churchman. He was a good preacher; his thanksgiving sermon preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, in 1705 was commended by Bishop Lloyd. As an epigrammatist he had considerable reputation, and was by no means the least among the nine Oxford wits whose names are preserved in the distich—

Alma novem genuit celebres Rhedycina poetas,
Bubb, Stubb, Gobb, Crabb, Trapp, Young, Carey,
  Tickell, Evans.

He was personally acquainted with the leading literary men of his time, and corresponded with Pope, who gave him a place beside Young and Swift in the second book of the ‘Dunciad:’ —

To seize his papers, Curll, was next thy care;
His papers, light, fly diverse, tost in air;
Songs, sonnets, epigrams, the winds uplift.
And whisk 'em back to Evans, Young, and Swift.

His best known epigram, the originality of which has been questioned, is that on Vanbrugh:—

Lie heavy on him, Earth, for he
Laid many a heavy load on thee.

[Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xiii. 40; Robinson's Reg. of Merchant Taylors' School; Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), iv. 137, 328, x. 106-8 (where five of Evans's letters are given); Hearne's Collections (Oxford, 1886), i. 33, ii. 332, &c. n. 459.]

C. J. R.