Stevens, William (1732-1807) (DNB00)
STEVENS, WILLIAM (1732–1807), biographer and editor of the works of Jones of Nayland, born in the parish of St. Saviour's, Southwark, on 2 March 1732, was son of a tradesman. His mother was sister of the Rev. Samuel Horne of Otham, Kent. He was educated at Maidstone with his cousin, George Horne [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Norwich. In August 1746 he was apprenticed to a hosier in Old Broad Street, named Hookham, whose partner he afterwards became. Hookham's daughter married John Frere [q. v.], and was mother of John Hookham Frere [q. v.] After Hookham's death Stevens became the senior partner, but in 1801 he gave up a large share of his interest in the business, and a few years later retired altogether.
From the first Stevens devoted his leisure to literary studies, and soon acquired a good knowledge of French, Hebrew, and the classics. His chief study was theology. He kept up a constant correspondence with Bishop Horne, to whom he suggested the plan of his ‘Letters on Infidelity,’ which, when published, were dedicated to him. On Horne's death, Stevens published three volumes of his sermons, and supplied William Jones [q. v.] of Nayland with materials for his life. In 1772 Stevens made his first public appearance as a writer with ‘A new and faithful Translation of Letters from M. l'Abbé de ——, Hebrew Professor in the University of ——, to the Rev. Benjamin Kennicott [q. v.] ’. In this anonymous brochure he followed up Horne's attack upon Kennicott's project of a revised Hebrew text of the Old Testament. In the next year he published, in opposition to the recent effort to get rid of subscription to the thirty-nine articles, ‘An Essay on the Nature and Constitution of the Christian Church, wherein are set forth the form of its government, the extent of its powers, and the limits of our obedience, by a Layman.’ A new edition of Stevens's ‘Essay’ appeared in 1799, and it was reissued by the S.P.C.K. in vol. iv. of their ‘Religious Tracts’ in 1800, in 1807, and in 1833. In 1776 he published ‘A Discourse on the English Revolution, extracted from a late eminent writer, and applied to the present time;’ and in the following year attacked Richard Watson [q. v.], then regius professor of divinity at Cambridge, in ‘Strictures on a Sermon entitled the Principles of the Revolution vindicated.’ Daniel Wray [q. v.] described Stevens as ‘a tory of the old Filmer stamp’ (Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, i. 160–1).
Stevens identified himself with that section of churchmen who acknowledged William Jones of Nayland as their leader, and formed a link between the nonjurors and the Oxford tractarians. He joined with Jones and others in forming a ‘Society for the Reformation of Principles,’ to counteract the influence of the French revolution. The society published a collection of tracts for the younger clergy, and originated the ‘British Critic.’ In 1795 Jones dedicated to Stevens his ‘Life of Bishop Horne.’ In 1800, in a ‘Review of the Review of a new Preface to the Second Edition of Mr. Jones's Life of Bishop Horne,’ Stevens defended his cousin from an attack in the ‘British Critic.’ It was signed ‘Ain’ (Hebrew for ‘Nobody’), and suggested the title of a collection of Stevens's pamphlets issued in 1805 as ‘Oudenos erga, Nobody's Works.’ A club was also founded in his honour under this name about 1800. It met three times a year. Sir Richard Richards [q. v.] was the first president, and it contained many well-known clergymen, barristers, and doctors. It still flourishes under the name ‘Nobody's Friends.’
Stevens's last publication was his edition of Jones's works published in 1801 in twelve octavo volumes. Prefixed to it was a life of Jones after the manner of Izaak Walton (part of this had appeared in the ‘Anti-Jacobin Review’).
Stevens acted for many years as treasurer of Queen Anne's Bounty, liberally aided the work of the chief church societies, and actively interested himself in improving the position of the episcopal church in Scotland. Numberless instances of his benevolence are given by his biographer. Stevens died on 7 Feb. 1807 at his house in Old Broad Street, and was buried in Otham churchyard. He left the bulk of his property to his cousin, William Horne, the rector of Otham.
[A memoir of Stevens by Sir James Allan Park was published in 1812. The substance of it had already been given in an obituary notice in the Gent. Mag. 1807, i. 173–5. A second edition appeared in 1814, and a third in 1823. On these is founded the article in Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. The present article is mainly based upon the revised and enlarged edition of 1859, among the appendices to which are a list of books drawn up by Stevens for Jane Hookham (afterwards the wife of John Frere, the antiquary), and a description of Nobody's Friends. See also Watt's Bibl. Britannica; Lowndes's Bibliogr. Manual; Brit. Mus. Cat.; art. Jones, William; Horne, George; and Kennicott, Benjamin.]