Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kenrick, William

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KENRICK, WILLIAM (1725?–1779), miscellaneous writer, born about 1725, was the son of a staymaker at or near Watford, Hertfordshire. He was brought up as a scalemaker, or in some such employment, but early became a hack writer. He had a strong love of notoriety, a jealous and perverse temper, and was often drunk and violent. He became the enemy of every decent and successful person, and so notorious as a libeller that few condescended to answer him. His vanity led him to fancy himself equal to any task without serious study.

His first publication was a verse satire called ‘The Town,’ 4to, London, 1748. He next edited a miscellany of prose and verse, ostensibly contributed by various writers, entitled ‘The Kapélion, or Poetical Ordinary; consisting of great variety of Dishes in Prose and Verse; recommended to All who have a good Taste or keen Appetite. By Archimagírus Metaphoricus,’ 8vo, London. It was published in sixpenny numbers from August to December 1750. He wrote a ‘Monody’ on the death of Frederick, prince of Wales, London, 1751; 2nd edition, same year. Under the pseudonym ‘Ontologos’ he published a tract called ‘The Grand Question Debated; or, an Essay to Prove that the Soul of Man is not, neither can it be, Immortal,’ 8vo, Dublin, 1751; which was followed by ‘A Reply to the Grand Question Debated; fully Proving that the Soul of Man is, and must be, Immortal,’ 8vo, London, 1751, dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was his first experiment in the plan of answering himself when no one else cared to do so (cf. his Pasquinade, p. 18 n.) In 1752 he published a burlesque called ‘Fun: a Paroditragi-comical Satire,’ attacking Fielding and Dr. John Hill (1716?–1775) [q. v.] An intended private performance at the Castle Tavern, Paternoster Row, on 13 Feb. 1752, was suppressed, at Fielding's desire, by a special order from the lord mayor and court of aldermen. It was anonymously printed, and copies were presented to all who had taken tickets (Baker, Biog. Dram. 1812, ii. 253). Kenrick next attacked Hill (anonymously) in ‘The Pasquinade. With Notes variorum. Book the First,’ 4to, London, 1753. A second book, apparently never written, was to have libelled Christopher Smart, with whom he was at the time involved in controversy. According to Kenrick's account, Smart had advertised an ‘Old Woman's Dunciad,’ directed against Kenrick, but Kenrick had immediately published a piece under the same title, upon which Smart abandoned his design (Pasquinade, p. 20 n.) During the same year Kenrick wrote an imitation of Dodsley's ‘Œconomy of Human Life’ (which then passed for Lord Chesterfield's), called ‘The Whole Duty of Woman. By a Lady. Written at the desire of a Noble Lord,’ 12mo, London, 1753; 3rd edition the same year. In 1756 he published without his name a few copies of a philosophical poem in octosyllabics, called ‘Epistles to Lorenzo,’ 8vo, London, which obtained the praises of the ‘Critical Review’ (iii. 162–7). It was republished with alterations as ‘Epistles, Philosophical and Moral,’ 8vo, London, 1759 [1758]; 4th edition, as ‘Epistles to Lorenzo,’ 1773. Its sceptical tone having been censured in the ‘Critical Review’ (vi. 439–53), Kenrick defended himself in an anonymous pamphlet called ‘A Scrutiny, or the Criticks criticis'd,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1759.

In January 1759 Kenrick was appointed to succeed Goldsmith as a writer in the ‘Monthly Review,’ and states that he contributed the review of foreign literature for vols. xxiii. to xxxiii. He also reviewed Goldsmith's ‘Enquiry’ in November 1759 (xxi. 389), inserting at the request of the proprietor, Ralph Griffiths [q. v.], so vile an attack upon Goldsmith that even Griffiths was ashamed of it. Kenrick was therefore instructed to explain away his insinuations in a favourable critique of Goldsmith's ‘Citizen of the World,’ which appeared in the ‘Monthly Review’ for June 1762 (xxvi. 477).

Kenrick (anonymously) translated Rousseau's ‘Eloisa,’ 4 vols. 12mo, Dublin, 1761, and ‘Emilius,’ 3 vols. 12mo, Edinburgh, 1763. For the ‘Eloisa’ he received the degree of LL.D. from Marischal College and University of Aberdeen. He also translated Rousseau's ‘Miscellaneous Works,’ 5 vols. 12mo, London, 1767.

Kenrick assailed Johnson's ‘Shakespeare’ (published October 1765), not without a certain coarse smartness, in ‘A Review of Dr. Johnson's new edition of Shakespeare; in which the Ignorance, or Inattention of that Editor is exposed, and the Poet defended from the Persecution of his Commentators,’ 8vo, London, 1765 (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 497). A threatened continuation never appeared, nor did a promised castigation of Johnson's ‘Dictionary,’ to be entitled ‘A Ramble through the Idler's Dictionary: in which are picked up several thousand Etymological, Orthographical, and Lexicographical Blunders.’ Kenrick's attention was diverted by a pamphlet written by an Oxford student named Barclay, entitled ‘An Examination of Mr. Kenrick's Review’ [of Johnson's ‘Shakespeare’], 1766. He retaliated with ‘A Defence of Dr. Kenrick's Review. … By a Friend,’ subscribed ‘R. R.,’ 8vo, London, 1766. Johnson was displeased with Barclay for doing what he disdained to do for himself (ib. ii. 209, v. 273). Kenrick again attacked Johnson in ‘An Epistle to J. Boswell, Esq., occasioned by his having transmitted the Moral Writings of Dr. S. Johnson to Pascal Paoli: with a Postscript, containing Thoughts on Liberty; and a Parallel after the manner of Plutarch, between the celebrated Patriot of Corte and John Wilkes, Esq., M.P. By W. K., Esq.,’ 8vo, London, 1768. At Johnson's request Boswell refrained from answering that and another scurrilous libel by Kenrick, called ‘A Letter to James Boswell, Esq., on the Moral System of the Idler,’ 8vo.

Kenrick used to lecture at the ‘Devil,’ Temple Bar, and other taverns on every conceivable subject, from Shakespeare to the perpetual motion, which he thought he had discovered. Soon after his attack on Johnson he issued proposals for a new edition of ‘Shakespeare,’ with a commentary ‘in a manner hitherto unattempted.’ A few people were foolish enough to subscribe. After eight years had passed he informed them that, in consequence of George Steevens's commentary, the ‘intended publication’ was for the present ‘laid aside.’ To console his subscribers he presented them with a meagre instalment of his public lectures, called an ‘Introduction to the School of Shakespeare. … To which is added a Retort Courteous on the Criticks,’ &c., 8vo, London [1774].

Kenrick wrote for the stage, and for a time was patronised by Garrick. An abridgment of his comedy ‘Falstaff's Wedding,’ in continuation of Shakespeare's ‘Henry IV’ (published in 1760), was performed once at Drury Lane, 12 April 1766 (Genest, v. 95). Two editions were issued in 1766; others in 1773 and 1781. Garrick's refusal to risk a further representation produced Kenrick's ‘Letter to David Garrick, Esq., on the non-performance of “Falstaff's Wedding,” &c.,’ 4to (two editions). Another of his comedies, ‘The Widow'd Wife’ (printed in 1767 and 1768), was acted on 5 Dec. 1767, and reached a ninth night, though only through Garrick's judicious alterations (ib. iii. 405–7). Garrick is said to have acted ungenerously in the division of the profits (European Mag. x. 19–21), and a quarrel followed. Kenrick challenged Garrick to a duel, but had not the courage to fight (Garrick Correspondence, ii. 341). When in 1772 Isaac Bickerstaffe [q. v.] was driven from society, Kenrick grossly connected it by allusion with Garrick in a satire entitled ‘Love in the Suds; a Town Eclogue. Being the Lamentation of Roscius for the Loss of his Nyky,’ fol. London, 1772, ostensibly edited for an anonymous author. Prefixed is a most impudent letter to Garrick signed ‘W. K.’ Despite Garrick's attempts to suppress it, five editions of the libel were published during the year, each with additional papers and letters. The last edition contains ‘The Poetical Altercation between Benedick and Beatrice,’ extracted from the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ and written in defence of Garrick by Joseph Reed, the ropemaker and dramatist, though he had himself quarrelled with Garrick (Lysons, Environs, ii. 431; Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix. 118). Kenrick gave a minute account of his quarrel in ‘A Letter to David Garrick, Esq.; occasioned by his having moved the Court of King's Bench against the publication of “Love in the Suds,”’ &c., 4to, London, 1772. Kenrick finally inserted an abject apology in the newspapers for 26 Nov. 1772, with which Garrick professed to be satisfied (Garrick Correspondence, i. 477). Kenrick afterwards told Thomas Evans (1742–1784) [q. v.], the bookseller, that he did not believe Garrick guilty, but ‘did it to plague the fellow.’ Evans never spoke to him again. In 1773 Kenrick published a venomous anonymous ‘Letter to D. Garrick, Esq., on his Conduct as principal Manager and Actor at Drury Lane. With a Preface and Notes by the Editor,’ 4to, London [1773].

Kenrick now offered his plays to Colman at Covent Garden. He had had in 1768 a violent quarrel with Colman, who in his ‘True State of the Differences, &c.,’ 1768 (p. 60) had ridiculed the ‘philosophical experiments’ of Kenrick, and hinted that Kenrick was treacherously trying to supplant him as manager. Kenrick retorted with a verse ‘Epistle to G. Colman,’ 4to, London, 1768; 2nd edition same year. By March 1771 they had composed their differences (Colman, Posthumous Letters, 1820, pp. 158–61), and on 20 Nov. 1773 (Genest, v. 414) Colman produced Kenrick's comedy ‘The Duellist,’ of which three editions were printed in the same year. The play was damned at once, on account, says Kenrick in his preface, of the resentment of the audience at Macklin's discharge. His comic opera, ‘The Lady of the Manor,’ with music by James Hook, altered from Charles Johnson's ‘Country Lasses,’ failed in 1778 (ib. vi. 89). Three editions and an altered version appeared in the same year. Another farce, called ‘The Spendthrift, or a Christmas Gambol’ (not printed), was acted for two nights also in 1778 according to the ‘Biographia Dramatica’ (iii. 295).

It was perhaps with some desire to propitiate Kenrick that Goldsmith consented in 1768 to take part in editing Griffin's ‘Gentleman's Journal,’ in which Kenrick was a leading writer. In 1771 Kenrick, having grossly libelled Goldsmith in the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ was forced by Goldsmith, upon an accidental meeting in the Chapter Coffee-house, to admit that he had lied. As soon as Goldsmith had left the room Kenrick abused him to the company, repeating various slanders. He was probably also the author of the atrocious attack upon Goldsmith and Miss Horneck, published in the ‘London Packet’ in 1773, for which Goldsmith thrashed the publisher, Evans [see under Goldsmith, Oliver, where the date is misprinted 1771]. Kenrick is said to have been in the house at the time, and to have separated the combatants, and sent Goldsmith home in a coach (Forster, Life of Goldsmith, 1888, ii. 347–351).

Kenrick ceased writing for the ‘Monthly Review’ in 1766, when he announced in the newspapers that he was about to establish a new literary review. The first number of his ‘London Review of English and Foreign Literature’ did not appear until January 1775. In the editing Kenrick was latterly assisted by his son, William Shakespeare Kenrick, who carried it on after his father's death until June 1780. The review contains attacks upon members of every profession. Kenrick's ‘Observations on S. Jenyns's “View of the Internal Evidences of the Christian Religion”’ (vol. iii., appendix), was reissued in an enlarged form, 12mo, London, 1776.

In 1770 Kenrick published ‘An Account of the famous Wheel of Hesse-Cassel, invented by Orffyreus,’ 4to; and in 1771 ‘Two Lectures on the Perpetual Motion, as discovered by the Author,’ 4to. In 1774 he collected in part the ‘Poetical Works’ of Robert Lloyd in two octavo volumes, with a life of the author, remarkable for being written without dates. In 1775 he commenced a translation of Buffon's ‘Natural History,’ and in 1778 a translation of some of Voltaire's works. His last undertaking was an anonymous translation of Millot's ‘Elements of General History,’ 2 pts. 8vo, London, 1778–1779. On 19 May 1779 he petitioned the attorney-general for a patent for a mechanical principle of self-motion (Gent. Mag. xlix. 269). He died on 10 June 1779 (ib. xlix. 327), and was buried on the 13th in Chelsea Old Church (Lysons, ii. 141). His portrait was engraved by Worlidge in 1766.

In his later years Kenrick seldom wrote without a bottle of brandy at his elbow. Though a superlative scoundrel, he was clever, and especially proud of the rapidity of his writing; even his more serious works seldom occupied him more than two days (Pasquinade, p. 20 n.) His other writings are: 1. ‘Poems; Ludicrous, Satirical, and Moral,’ 8vo, London, 1768; new edition, with additions, 1770. 2. ‘A new Dictionary of the English Language. … To which is prefixed a Rhetorical Grammar,’ 4to, London, 1773. 3. ‘An Address … respecting an Application to Parliament for the farther Encouragement of new Discoveries and Inventions …,’ with an appendix upon ‘the late decision on literary property,’ 4to, London, 1774. 4. ‘Observations, Civil and Canonical, on the Marriage Contract, as entered into conformably to the Rites … of the Church of England,’ 8vo, London, 1775. 5. ‘Free Thoughts on Seduction, Adultery, and Divorce,’ 8vo. 6. ‘Rural Poems, translated from the German of Gesner,’ 8vo.

[Prior's Life of Goldsmith, 1837, pp. 293–6; Forster's Life of Goldsmith, 1888, passim; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xix. 323–7; Baker's Biog. Dram. 1812, i. 430–1; Faulkner's Chelsea, 1829, ii. 137; Georgian Era, iii. 546–7; Goldsmith's Miscellaneous Works, 1801, i. 103; Davies's Life of Garrick, ii. 132; Murphy's Life of Garrick, ii. 32, 33; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi. 480, 4th ser. x. 9, 5th ser. iv. 209, 6th ser. viii. 267, 410; Cat. of Advocates' Library, iv. 331–2; The Recantation and Confession of Dr. Kenrick (a satirical piece), 1772; The Kenrickiad (a satire by ‘Ariel’), 1772; Poetical Review … a Satirical Display of the literal Characters of Dr. K*nr**k (no date); Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, ii. 231.]

G. G.