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

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READING, WILLIAM (1674–1744), library keeper at Sion College, London Wall, London, the son of a refiner of iron, was born on 17 Sept. 1674 at Swin in the parish of Wombourne, Staffordshire. He matriculated at University College, Oxford, on 1 June 1693, graduated B.A. in 1696–7, and proceeded M.A. from St. Mary Hall in 1703 (Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1891, iii. 1242). He is said to have been vicar of Sixhills, Lincolnshire, between 1704–6, but this is doubtful. On 15 Nov. 1708 he was appointed, on the recommendation of Dr. Compton, bishop of London, library keeper at Sion College. He ‘gave the library a greater development than it had ever received before; he was full of proposals for its improvement, which were readily sanctioned by the court of governors, and which gave fresh importance to the library’ (Rev. W. H. Milman, Some Account of Sion College, 1880, p. 63). He was lecturer at the church of St. Alphage between 1712 and 1723, and preached the sermon at Westminster Abbey on the anniversary of the execution of Charles, 31 Jan. 1714. In 1716 came out his ‘History of our Lord, adorn'd with cuts,’ London, 16mo, of which a ‘second edition, to which is prefixed the Life of the B. Virgin Mary,’ was published in 1717. This work was reprinted at Leeds, 1849–50, 3 parts, 16mo, edited by Dean W. F. Hook, who recommends it as not only giving ‘the history as related by the four Evangelists, but it embodies much that commentators have collected concerning Jewish customs, and facts related by Josephus and contemporary historians.’

Reading's chief work, an excellent edition in Greek and Latin of the early ecclesiastical historians—Eusebius Pamphilus, Socrates Scholasticus, Hermias Sozomenus, Theodoretus, and Evragius Scholasticus, was printed at the Cambridge University Press in 1720, in three folio volumes (reprinted at Turin, 1746–7). The text of Eusebius was republished at Venice, 1770, 3 vols. 8vo, and again at Leipzig, 1827–8, under the care of F. A. Heinichen, who states (i. p. xxv), ‘Textum quidem Eusebii summa fide et cura exprimi curavit Readingus.’ In 1724 he printed ‘Twenty-three Sermons of Mortification, Holiness, and of the Fear and Love of God’ (London, for the author, 8vo), dedicated to the archbishop of Canterbury; the writer complained that he was ‘always destitute of any ecclesiastical dignity or revenue.’ On 15 Oct. of the same year he received the additional office of clerk or secretary of Sion College, possibly just after the publication of that useful compilation ‘Bibliothecæ Cleri Londinensis in Collegio Sionensi Catalogus, duplici forma concinnatus,’ of which the first part gives the titles arranged under subjects, and the second is an alphabetical index. Reading appended a history of the college. He was made lecturer at St. Michael's, Crooked Lane, in 1725, and printed in 1728 ‘Fifty-two Sermons for every Sunday of the Year,’ London, 2 vols. 8vo, also dedicated to the archbishop of Canterbury, who was asked ‘to put an end to those wretched addresses for preferment, those unchristian competitions,’ which indeed Reading himself practised. Two more volumes appeared in 1730, a second edition was printed in 1736, and a third edition, ‘One Hundred and Sixteen Sermons preached out of the First Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer for all Sundays in the Year,’ London, 1755, 4 vols. 8vo, a book of some rarity, formerly sought after. He published an edition of Origen ‘de Oratione, Gr. et Lat.’ (London, sumptibus editoris), in 1728, 4to, and a sermon on the act against profane swearing in 1731. He obtained a readership at Christ Church, London, in 1733. The impostor George Psalmanazar [q. v.] speaks of using the library at Sion College and of receiving attention from Reading (Memoirs, 1755, pp. 256–8).

Reading died on 10 Dec. 1744, ‘remarkable for his plain and honest manner of life and preaching’ (Gent. Mag. 1744, p. 676), a ripe and industrious scholar, a well learned man’ (Milman, ut supra, p. 64). His son Thomas, in consideration of the services of his father, was granted on 28 Jan. 1744 the places of ostiary, under librarian, and clerk assistant at Sion College.

[Information from Rev. W. H. Milman; see Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. ii. iii. iv. v.; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit. ii. 1755.]

H. R. T.