Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stevens, William Bagshaw

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STEVENS, WILLIAM BAGSHAW (1756–1800), poet, son of William Stevens, apothecary and surgeon, of Abingdon, Berkshire, was born there on 15 March 1756. He was educated at the grammar school of his native town and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 29 July 1772, and held a demyship from 1772 to 1794. He graduated B.A. 2 July 1776, M.A. 2 June 1779, and D.D. 26 Jan. 1797. For a short period in 1794 and 1795 he was a fellow of his college, and he held in 1795 the post of prælector of moral philosophy.

About 1778 Stevens accepted the place of second master, under Dr. William Prior, at Repton school, and took holy orders in the English church. In July 1779 he succeeded as headmaster, and remained in that position until his death. But the school did not prosper in his hands. He was naturally of an indolent and abstracted disposition, and as years increased he lapsed into idleness and neglect of his duties, until at the end only one or two boys remained in his charge. His most distinguished pupils were Joseph Bosworth [q. v.], Lieutenant-colonel Hans Francis Hastings, eleventh earl of Huntingdon [q. v.], and Stebbing Shaw [q. v.]

The pre-eminence of Stevens as a scholar and talker made him a frequent guest with the family of Burdett at their seat of Foremark, near Repton, where he officiated as domestic chaplain. Early in 1799 he was presented by Sir Francis Burdett [q. v.] to the rectory of Seckington in Warwickshire, and through the interest of Thomas Coutts [q. v.], father-in-law of Sir Francis, he was appointed by the crown to the adjacent vicarage of Kingsbury. But he did not live long to enjoy this improvement in his resources. He died unmarried, at Repton on 28 May 1800 from apoplexy, which was said to have been caused by an immoderate fit of laughter, and was buried near other members of his family, on the west side of the churchyard. A tablet in the chancel bears an epitaph by Anna Seward [q. v.]

In 1775, while an undergraduate, Stevens published ‘Poems, consisting of Indian Odes and Miscellaneous Pieces.’ Most of the pieces were in imitation of Collins, who was also a demy of Magdalen College. His second and last volume of ‘Poems,’ including ‘Retirement,’ came out in 1782 and met with a very severe reception in the ‘Critical Review’ (June 1782).

Translations by Stevens subsequently appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1786 (i. 426–7), and for years he was a frequent correspondent, with the initials of M. C. S. (i.e. ‘Magdalen College Semisocius’), of that periodical on subjects poetical and critical. Stanzas by him ‘to the author of the poem on the loves of the plants’ were prefixed to the first book of Darwin's ‘Botanic Garden,’ and a sonnet, first printed in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ 1783 (ii. 784), is in Shaw's ‘Staffordshire’ (i. 343–4). Three idylls written by him at Anchor Church, Derbyshire, appeared in ‘The Topographer’ (ii. 39–41), and were reprinted in the ‘Poetical Register’ (ii. 387–8). Some others of his compositions were included in the ‘Register.’ Stevens had some descriptive talent, but his verse lacks freedom and energy.

An epistle in verse to Stevens is in Miss Seward's ‘Poems’ (1810, ii. 165–71), and letters to him are in that lady's collected correspondence (i. 278–81, ii. 47–50, iv. 198–202).

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Bloxam's Magdalen College, vii. 39–43; Hipkins's Repton School Reg. xvi. xviii. 44; Gent. Mag. 1786 ii. 1109–1110, 1792 i. 506, 1800 ii. 699, 897, 1801 i. 106–9 (by Sir S. E. Brydges), 316; Brydges's Censura Literaria, v. 387–98.]

W. P. C.