Williams, George James (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, GEORGE JAMES (1719–1805), wit and correspondent of Walpole and Selwyn, known as ‘Gilly Williams,’ born at Denton in Lincolnshire in 1719, was a younger son of William Peere Williams [q. v.], by Anne, daughter and coheiress of Sir George Hutchins [q. v.] Through the influence of Lord North, who married in 1756 a daughter of Williams's sister, he obtained on 8 Nov. 1774 the post of receiver-general of excise, which he held until 1801.

Williams was one of the gayest and wittiest of his set in London society. He was one of the famous partie quarrée consisting, besides himself, of George Selwyn, Dick Edgecumbe, and Horace Walpole, who met at stated periods in the year at Strawberry Hill, and constituted what Walpole styles his ‘out-of-town party.’ In November 1751 Williams informed Selwyn that he had desired Lord Robert Bertie to put him up for White's: ‘Don't let any member shake his head at me for a wit.’ It was not, however, until 1754 that ‘Gilly Williams’ was elected. When White's was ‘deserted’ in summer after parliament had risen, Williams continued to meet his friends ‘at wit and whist’ in George Selwyn's Thursday Club at the Star and Garter in Pall Mall, a favourite resort in the past of Swift and of Smollett.

Williams was the steadiest of all Selwyn's correspondents down to the close of 1766. In March 1765 he gives a humorous account of Walpole's ‘Castle of Otranto,’ then in process of completion, and he furnishes an amusing picture of Brighthelmstone in the sixties of the eighteenth century. He adopted as his motto a sentiment derived from Sir William Temple, ‘Old wood to burn, old friends to converse with, and old books to read.’ He seems, however, to have dropped out of his old circle, and little is heard of him after 1770. He died in Cleveland Court, St. James's, near the house where his old friend Selwyn had lived, on 28 Nov. 1805. He married, on 30 July 1752, Diana, daughter of William Coventry, fifth earl of Coventry, who appears to have died early without issue.

In December 1761 Horace Walpole wrote of ‘the charming picture Reynolds painted for me of Edgecumbe, Selwyn, and Gilly Williams.’ This picture was bought by Henry Labouchere at the Strawberry Hill sale for 157l. 10s., and is now in the possession of Lord Taunton. It was engraved in line by Greatbach for Wright's edition of 'Walpole's Letters,' and is reproduced in Cunningham's edition and in Jesse's 'Selwyn.' A mezzotint was executed by J. Scott for the 'Engravings of Works by Sir Joshua Reynolds' of 1865, and this is reproduced in the 'History of White's.'

[Gent. Mag. 1805, ii. 1176; Burke's Extinct Baronetage, p. 570; Walpole's Corresp. and Memoirs of the Reign of George III; Warburton's Horace Walpole and his Contemporaries, 1851; Jesse's Selwyn and his Contemporaries, 1844, vols. i. and ii. passim; Dobson's Horace Walpole, 1890, pp. 166, 205, 241; History of White's Club; Wheatley and Cunningham's London, iii. 305.]

T. S.