Date Of Execution: 27 Jul 1777
Execution Place: unknown
DR WILLIAM DODD
Doctor of Divinity, Prebendary of Brecon, Chaplain-in-Ordinary to his Majesty, and Minister to the Magdalen Hospital. Executed at Tyburn, 27th of June, 1777, for Forgery
Dr Dodd at the place of execution
THE character and the offence of this unfortunate divine are too well known to render it necessary that any introduction to the recital of the circumstances of his case should be attempted.
Dr Dodd was the eldest son of a clergyman who held the vicarage of Bourne in the county of Lincoln, and was born at Bourne on the 29th of May, 1729; and after finishing his school education, was admitted a sizar of Clare Hall, Cambridge, in the year 1745, under the tuition of Mr John Courtail, afterwards Archdeacon of Lewes. At the University he acquired the approbation of his superiors by his close attention to his studies; and at the close of the year 1749 he took his first degree of bachelor of arts with considerable reputation, his name being included in the list of wranglers. It was not only in his academical pursuits, however, that he was emulous of distinction. Having a pleasing manner, a genteel address, and a lively imagination, he was equally celebrated for his accomplishments and his learning. In particular he was fond of the elegances of dress, and became, as he ludicrously expressed it, "a zealous votary of the god of Dancing," to whose service he dedicated much of that time which he could borrow from his more important avocations.
The talent which he possessed was very early displayed to the public; and by the time he had attained the age of eighteen years, prompted by the desire of fame, and perhaps also to increase his income, he commenced author, in which character he began to obtain some degree of reputation. At this period of his life, young, thoughtless, volatile and inexperienced, he precipitately quitted the University, and, relying entirely upon his pen, removed to the metropolis, where he entered largely into the gaieties of the town, and followed every species of amusement with the most dangerous avidity. In this course, however, he did not continue long. To the surprise of his friends, who least suspected him of taking such a step, without fortune, and destitute of all means of supporting a family, he hastily united himself, on the 15th of April, 1751, in marriage with Miss Mary Perkins, daughter of one of the domestics of Sir John Dolben, a young lady then residing in Frith-street, Soho, who, though endowed with personal attractions, was deficient in those of birth and fortune. To a person circumstanced as Mr Dodd then was, no measure could be more imprudent, or apparently more ruinous and destructive to his future prospects in life. He did not, however, seem to view it in that light, but, with a degree of thoughtlessness natural to him, he immediately took and furnished a house in Wardour-street. His friends now began to be alarmed at his situation, and his father came to town in great distress upon the occasion; and in consequence of the advice which he gave him, his son quitted the house before the commencement of winter, and, urged by the same preceptor, he was induced to adopt a new plan for his future subsistence. On the 19th of October in the same year, he was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Ely, at Caius College, Cambridge; And, with more prudence than he had ever shown before, he now devoted himself with great assiduity to the study and duties of his profession. In these pursuits he appeared so sincere, that he even renounced all his attention to his favourite objects -- polite letters. At the end of his preface to the "Beauties of Shakspeare," published in this year, he says, "For my own part, better and more important things henceforth demand my attention; and I here with no small pleasure take leave of Shakspeare and the critics. As this work was begun and finished before I entered upon the sacred function in which I am now happily employed, let me trust this juvenile performance will prove no objection, since graver, and some very eminent, members of the Church have thought it no improper employ to comment upon, explain, and publish the works of their own country poets."
The first service in which he was engaged as a clergyman was to assist the Rev Mr Wyatt, vicar of West Ham, as his curate thither he removed, and there he spent the happiest and more honourable moments of his life. His behaviour was proper, decent, and exemplary. It acquired for him the respect and secured for him the favour of his parishioners so far, that on the death of their lecturer, in 1752, he was chosen to succeed him. His abilities had at this time every opportunity of being shown to advantage; and his exertions were so properly directed, that he soon became a favourite and popular preacher. Those who were at this period of his life acquainted with his character and his talents, bear testimony to the indefatigable zeal which he exhibited in his ministry, and the success with which his efforts were crowned. The follies of his youth seemed entirely past, and his friends viewed the alteration in his conduct with the greatest satisfaction; while the world promised itself an example to hold out for the imitation of others. At this early season of his life, he entertained sentiments favourable towards the opinions of Mr Hutchinson, and he was suspected to incline towards Methodism; but subsequent consideration confirmed his belief in the doctrines of the Established Church. In 1752 he was selected lecturer of St James, Garlick-hill, which, two years afterwards, he exchanged for the same post at St Olave, Hartstreet; and about the same time he was appointed to preach Lady Moyer's lectures at St Paul's, where, from the visit of the three angels to Abraham, and other similar passages in the Old Testament, he endeavoured to prove the commonly-received doctrine of the Trinity. On the establishment of the Magdalen House in 1758, he was amongst the first and most active promoters of that excellent charitable institution, which derived great advantage from his zeal for its prosperity, and which, even up to the unhappy termination of his life, continued to be materially benefited by the exercise of his talents in its behalf. His exertions, however, were not confined to this hospital, but he was also one of the promoters of the Society for the Relief of Poor Debtors, and of the Humane Society for the recovery of persons apparently drowned.
From the time he entered upon the service of the Church, Dr Dodd had resided at West Ham, and made up the deficiency in his income by superintending the education of a few young gentlemen who were placed under his care; an occupation for which he was well fitted. In 1759 he took the degree of Master of Arts, and in 1763 he was appointed chaplain in ordinary to the King; and about the same time he became acquainted with Dr Squire, the bishop of St David's, who received him into his patronage, presented him to the prebend of Brecon, and recommended him to the Earl of Chesterfield as a proper person to be intrusted with the tuition of his successor in the title. The following year saw him chaplain to the King; and in 1766 he took the degree of Doctor of Laws at Cambridge.
The expectations which he had long entertained of succeeding to the rectory of West Ham now appeared hopeless; and having given up all prospect of their being realised, after having been twice disappointed, he resigned his lectureship both there and in the City, and quitted the place -- "a place," said he to Lord Chesterfield in a dedication to a sermon entitled "Popery inconsistent with the natural Rights of Men in general, and Englishmen in particular," published in 1768, "ever dear, and ever regretted by me, the loss of which, truly affecting to my mind (for there I was useful, and there I trust I was loved), nothing but your lordship's friendship and connection could have counterbalanced." The "Thoughts in Prison" of the unfortunate gentleman contain a passage of a similar tendency, from which it maybe inferred that he was compelled to quit this, his favourite residence; a circumstance which he pathetically laments, and probably with great reason, as the first step to that change in his situation which led him insensibly to his last fatal catastrophe.
On his quitting West Ham, he removed to a house in Southampton-row; and at the same time he launched out into scenes of expense, which his income, although now by no means a small one, was inadequate to support. He provided himself with a country-house at Ealing, and exchanged his chariot for a coach, in order to accommodate his pupils, who, besides his noble charge, were in general persons of family and fortune. About the same time it was his misfortune to obtain a prize of 1000l. in the state lottery; and elated with this success, he engaged with a builder in a plan to erect a chapel near the palace of the Queen, from whom it took its name. He entered also into a like partnership at Charlotte Chapel, Bloomsbury, and both these schemes were for some time very beneficial to him, though their proceeds were much inferior to his expensive habits of living. His expectations from the former of these undertakings were extremely sanguine. It is reported that in fitting up his chapel near the palace, he flattered himself with the hopes of having some young royal auditors, and in that expectation assigned a particular pew or gallery for the heir-apparent. But in this, as in many other of his views, he was disappointed.
In the year 1772 he obtained the rectory of Hockliffe, in Bedfordshire, the first cure of souls he ever had. With this also he held time vicarage of Chalgrove; and the two were soon after consolidated An accident happened about this time, from which he narrowly escaped with his life. Re turning from Barnet, he was stopped near St Pancras by a highwayman, who discharged a pistol into the carriage, which, happily, only broke the glass. For this fact the delinquent was tried, and, on Mrs Dodd's evidence, convicted and hanged. Early in the next year Lord Chesterfield died, and was succeeded by Dr Dodd's pupil, who appointed his preceptor to be his chaplain.
At this period Dr Dodd appears to have been in the zenith of his popularity and reputation. Beloved and respected by all orders of people, he would have reached, in all probability, the situation which was the object of his wishes, had he possessed patience enough to have waited for it, and prudence sufficient to keep himself out of those difficulties which might prove fatal to his integrity. But the habits of dissipation and expense had acquired too great an influence over him; and he had by their means involved himself in considerable debts. To extricate himself from them, he was tempted to an act which entirely cut off every hope which he could entertain of rising in his profession, and totally ruined him in the opinion of the world. On the. translation of Bishop Moss, in February, 1774, to the see of Bath and Wells, the valuable rectory of St George, Hanover-square, fell to the disposal of the Crown, by virtue of the King's prerogative. Whether from the suggestion of his own mind, or from the persuasion of some friend, is uncertain; but on this occasion he took a step of all others the most wild and extravagant, and the least likely to be attended with success. He caused an anonymous letter to be sent to Lady Apsley, offering the sum of three thousand pounds if by her means he could be presented to the living. The letter was immediately communicated to the chancellor, and, after being traced to the writer, was laid before his majesty. The insult offered to so high an officer by the proposal was followed by instant punishment. Dr Dodd's name was ordered to be struck out of the list of chaplains. The press teemed with satire and invective; he was abused and ridiculed in time papers of the day; and to crown the whole, the transaction became a subject of entertainment in one of Mr Foote's pieces at the Haymarket.
As no explanation could justify so absurd a measure, so no apology could palliate it. An evasive letter in the newspapers, promising a justification at a future day, was treated with universal contempt; and stung with remorse, and feelingly alive to the disgrace he had brought on himself, he hastily quitted the place where neglect and insult only attended him, and going to Geneva to his late pupil, he was presented by him with the living of Winge in Buckinghamshire, which he held with that of Hockliffe, by virtue of a dispensation. Though encumbered with debts, he might still have retrieved his circumstances, if not his character, had he attended to the dictates of prudence; but his extravagance continued undiminished, and drove him to pursue schemes which overwhelmed him with additional infamy. He became the editor of a newspaper; and it is said that he even attempted, by means of a commission of bankruptcy, to clear himself from his debts; an attempt in which, how ever, he failed. From this period it would appear that every step which he took led to complete his ruin. In the summer of 1776 he went to France, and there, with little regard to decency or the observances proper to be maintained by a minister of religion, he paraded himself in a phaeton at the races on the plains of Sablons, dressed in all the foppery of the kingdom in which he was temporarily resident. At the beginning of winter he returned to London, and continued there to exercise the duties of his profession until the very moment of his committing the offence for which his life was subsequently forfeited to the offended laws of his country. On the 2nd of February, 1777, he preached his last sermon at the Magdalen Chapel, where he was still heard with approbation and pleasure; and on the 4th of the same month he forged a bond, purporting to be that of his late pupil, the Earl of Chesterfield, for 4200l. Pressed by creditors, and unable any longer to meet their demands or soothe their importunities, he was driven to commit this crime, as the only expedient to which he could have recourse to aid him in his escape from his difficulties. The method which he adopted in completing the forgery was very remarkable. He pretended that the noble earl had urgent occasion to borrow 4000l., but that he did not choose to be his own agent. and he begged that the matter therefore might be secretly and expeditiously conducted. A person named Lewis Robertson was the person whom he employed as broker to negotiate the transaction and he presented to him a bond, not filled up or signed, that he might find a person ready to advance the sum required, as he directed him to say, to a young nobleman who had lately come of age. Several applications were made by Robertson without success, the persons refusing because they were not to be present when the bond was executed; but at length the agent, confiding in the honour and integrity of his employer, went to Messrs Fletcher and Peach, who agreed to advance the money. Mr Robertson then carried the bond back to the doctor, in order that it might be filled up and executed; and on the following day it was returned, bearing the signature of the Earl of Chesterfield, and attested by the doctor himself. Mr Robertson, knowing that Mr Fletcher was a man who required all legal observances to be attended to, and that he would therefore object to the bond as bearing the name of one witness only, put his name under that of Dr Dodd, and in that state he carried the bond to him, and received from him the sum of 4000l. in return, which he paid over to his employer.
The bond was subsequently produced to the Earl of Chesterfield; but immediately on his seeing it, he disowned it, and expressed himself at a loss to know by whom such a forgery upon him could have been committed. It was evident, however, that the supposed attesting witnesses must, if. their signatures were genuine, he acquainted with its author; and Mr Manly, his lordship's agent, went directly to consult Mr Fletcher upon the best course to be taken; and after some deliberation, Mr Fletcher, a Mr Innis, and Mr Manly proceeded to Guildhall to prefer an information with regard to the forgery against Dr Dodd and Mr Robertson. Mr Robertson was without difficulty secured; and then Fletcher, Innis, and Manly, accompanied by two of the lord mayor's officers, went to the house of Dr Dodd in Argyle-street, whither he had recently removed.
Upon their explaining the nature of their business to him, he appeared much struck and affected, and declared his willingness to make any reparation in his power. Mr Manly told him that his instantly returning the money was the only mode which remained for him to save himself; and he immediately gave up six notes of 500l. each, making 3000l. and he drew on his hanker for 500l. more. The broker then returned 100l. and the doctor gave a second draft on his banker for 200l., and a judgment on his goods for the remaining 400l. All this was done by the doctor in full reliance on the honour of the parties that the bond should be returned to him cancelled; but, notwithstanding this restitution, he was taken before the lord mayor, and charged with the forgery. The doctor declared that he had no intention to defraud Lord Chesterfield or the gentlemen who advanced the money, and hoped that the satisfaction he had made in returning it would atone for his offence. He was pressed, he said, exceedingly for 300l. to pay some bills due to tradesmen, and took this step as a temporary resource, and would have repaid the money in half a year. "My Lord Chesterfield," added he, cannot but have some tenderness for me as my pupil. I love him, and he knows it. There is no body wishes to prosecute. I am sure my Lord Chesterfield don't want my life, -- I hope he will show clemency to me, Mercy should triumph over justice." Clemency, however, was denied; and the doctor was committed to the Compter in preparation for his trial. On the 19th of February, Dr Dodd, being put to the bar at the Old Bailey, addressed the Court in the following. words:--
"My. lords,-- I am informed that the bill of indictment against me has been found on the evidence of Mr Robertson, who was taken out of Newgate, without any authority or leave from your lordships, for the purpose of procuring the bill to be found. Mr Robertson is a subscribing witness to the bond, and, as I conceive, would he swearing to exculpate himself if he should be admitted as a witness against me; and as the bill has been found upon his evidence, which was surreptitiously obtained, I submit to your lordships that I ought not to be compelled to plead on this indictment; and upon this question I beg to he heard by my counsel. I beg leave also further to observe to your lordships, that the gentlemen on the other side of the question are bound over to prosecute Mr Robertson."
Previously to the arguments of the counsel, an order which had been surreptitiously obtained from an officer of the court, dated Wednesday, February 19, and directed to the keeper of Newgate, commanding him to carry Lewis Robertson to Hicks's Hall, in order to his giving evidence before the grand inquest on the present bill of indictment -- as well as a resolution of the Court, reprobating the said order -- and also the recognizance entered into by Mr Manly, Mr Peach, Mr Tunis, and the Right Hon. the Earl of Chesterfield to prosecute and give evidence against Dr Dodd and Lewis Robertson for forgery -- were ordered to he read; and the clerk of the arraigns was directed to inform the Court whether the name "Lewis Robertson" was indorsed as a witness on the back of the indictment, which was answered in the affirmative.
The counsel now proceeded in their arguments for and against the prisoner. Mr Howarth, one of Dr Dodd's advocates, contended that no person ought to plead or answer to an indictment, if it appeared upon the face of that indictment that the evidence upon which the bill was found was not legal, or competent to have been adduced before the grand jury.
Mr Cooper and Mr Bailer, on the same side pursued the same line of argument with equal ingenuity, and expressed a hope that Dr Dodd would not be called upon to plead to an indictment found upon such evidence as had been pointed out but that the indictment would be ordered to be quashed.
The counsel for the prosecution advanced various arguments in opposition to those employed on the other side, and the learned judge having taken note of the objection, it was agreed that the trial should proceed, the question of the competency of Mr Robertson as a witness being reserved for the consideration of the twelve judges.
The doctor was then arraigned upon the indictment which charged him in the usual terms with the forgery upon the Earl of Chesterfield; and the evidence in proof of the facts above stated having been given, the Court called upon the prisoner for his defence. He addressed the Court and jury in the following terms
"My lords and gentlemen of the jury, -- Upon the evidence which has this day been produced against me, I find it very difficult to address your lordships. There is no man in the world who has a deeper sense of the heinous nature of the crime for which I stand indicted than myself: I view it, my lords, in all its extent of malignancy towards a commercial state like ours; but, my lords, I humbly apprehend, though no lawyer, that the moral turpitude and malignancy of the crime always, both in the eye of the law and of religion, consists in the intention. I am informed, my lords, that the act of parliament on this head runs perpetually in this style, with an intention to defraud. Such an intention, my lords and gentlemen of the jury, I believe, has not been attempted to be proved upon me, and the consequences that have happened, which have appeared before you, sufficiently prove that a perfect and ample restitution has been made. I leave it, my lords, to you and the gentlemen of the jury to consider, that if an unhappy man ever deviates from the law of right, yet if in the single first moment of recollection he does all that he can to make a full and perfect amends, what, my lords and gentlemen of the jury, can God and man desire further? My lords, there are a variety of little circumstances too tedious to trouble you with, with respect to this matter. Were I to give loose to my feelings, I have many things to say which I am sure you would feel with respect to me; but as it appears on all hands, that no injury, intentional or real, has been done to any man living, I hope that you will consider the case in its true state of clemency. I must observe to your lordships, that though I have met with all candour in this court, yet I have been pursued with excessive cruelty; I have been prosecuted after the most express engagements, after the most solemn assurances, after the most delusive, soothing arguments of Mr Manly; I have been prosecuted with a cruelty scarcely to be paralleled. A person avowedly criminal in the same indictment as myself has been brought forth as a capital witness against me; a fact, I believe, totally unexampled. My lords, oppressed as I am with infamy, loaded as I am with distress, sunk under this cruel prosecution, your lordships and the gentlemen of the jury cannot think life a matter of any value to me. No, my lords, I solemnly protest, that death of all blessings would be the most pleasant to me after this pain. I have yet, my lords, ties which call upon me -- ties which render me desirous even to continue this miserable existence. I have a wife, my lords, who, for twenty-seven years, has lived an unparalleled example of conjugal attachment and fidelity, and whose behaviour during this trying scene would draw tears of approbation, I am sure, even from the most inhuman. My lords, I have creditors, honest men, who will lose much by my death. I hope, for the sake of justice towards them, some mercy will be shown to me. If, upon the whole, these considerations at all avail with you -- if, upon the most impartial survey of matters, not the slightest intention of injury can appear to any one -- (and I solemnly declare it was in my power to replace it in three months -- of this I assured Mr Robertson frequently, and had his solemn assurances that no man should be privy to it but Mr Fletcher and himself) -- and if no injury was done to any man upon earth, I then hope, I trust, I fully confide myself in the tenderness, humanity, and protection, of my country."
The jury retired for about ten minutes, and then returned with a verdict that "the prisoner was guilty;" but at the same time presented a petition, humbly recommending the doctor to the royal mercy.
It was afterwards declared that upon the reserved point, the opinion of the judges was, that he had been legally convicted. On the last day of the sessions Dr Dodd was again put to the bar to receive judgment. The clerk of the arraigns then addressed him, saying,
"Dr William Dodd, you stand convicted of forgery, what have you to say why this court should not give you judgment to die, according to law?"
In reply Dr Dodd addressed the court as follows:--
"My lord, -- I now stand before you a dreadful example of human infirmity. I entered upon public life with the expectations common to young men whose education has been liberal, and whose abilities have been flattered; and, when I became a clergyman, I considered myself as not impairing the dignity of the order. I was not an idle, nor, I hope, a useless minister: I taught the truths of Christianity with the zeal of conviction and the authority of innocence.
"My labours were approved, my pulpit became popular, and I have reason to believe that, of those who heard me, some have been preserved from sin, and some have been reclaimed. Condescend, my lord, to think, if these considerations aggravate my crime, how much they must embitter my punishment! Being distinguished and elevated by the confidence of mankind, I had too much confidence in myself; and, thinking my integrity -- what others thought it -- established in sincerity, and fortified by religion, I did not consider the danger of vanity, nor suspect the deceitfulness of mine own heart. The day of conflict came, in which temptation seized and overwhelmed me! I committed the crime, which I entreat your lordship to believe that my conscience hourly represents to me in its full bulk of mischief and malignity. Many have been overpowered by temptation, who are now among the penitent in heaven! To an act now waiting the decision of vindictive justice I will now presume to oppose the counterbalance of almost thirty years (a great part of the life of man) passed in exciting and exercising charity -- in relieving such distresses as I now feel -- in administering those consolations which I now want. I will not otherwise extenuate my offence than by declaring, what I hope will appear to many, and what many circumstances make probable, that I did not intend finally to defraud: nor will it become me to apportion my own punishment, by alleging that my sufferings have been not much less than my guilt; I have fallen from reputation which ought to have made me cautious, and from a fortune which ought to have given me content. I am sunk at once into poverty and scorn; my name and my crime fill the ballads in the streets; the sport of the thoughtless, and the triumph of the wicked! It may seem strange, my lord, that, remembering what I have lately been, I should still wish to continue what I am! but contempt of death, how speciously soever it may mingle with human virtues, has nothing in it suitable to Christian penitence. Many motives impel me to beg earnestly for life. I feel the natural horror of a violent death, the universal dread of untimely dissolution. I am desirous to recompense the injury I have done to the clergy, to the world, and to religion, and to efface the scandal of my crime, by the example of my repentance: but, above all, I wish to die with thoughts more composed, and calmer preparation. The gloom and confusion of a prison, the anxiety of a trial, the horrors of suspense, and the inevitable vicissitudes of passion, leave not the mind in a due disposition for the holy exercises of prayer and self-examination. Let not a little life be denied me, in which I may, by meditation and contrition, prepare myself to stand at the tribunal of Omnipotence, and support the presence of that Judge, who shall distribute to all according to their works: who will receive and pardon the repenting sinner, and from whom the merciful shall obtain mercy! For these reasons, my lords, amidst shame and misery, I yet wish to live; and most humbly implore, that I may be recommended by your lordship to the clemency of his majesty."
Here he sunk down overcome with mental agony, and some time elapsed before he was sufficiently recovered to hear the dreadful sentence of the law, which the Recorder pronounced upon him in the following words:
"Dr William Dodd,
"You have been convicted of the offence of publishing a forged and countefeit bond, knowing it to be forged and counterfeited; and you have had the advantage which the laws of this country afford to every man in your situation, a fair, an impartial, and an attentive trial. The jury, to whose justice you appealed, have found you guilty; their verdict has undergone the consideration of the learned judges, and they found no ground to impeach the justice of that verdict; you yourself have admitted the justice of it; and now the very painful duty that the necessity of the law imposes upon the court, to pronounce the sentence of that law against you, remains only to be performed. You appear to entertain a very proper sense of the enormity of the offence which you have committed; you appear, too, in a state of contrition of mind, and I, doubt not, have duly reflected how far the dangerous tendency of the offence you have been guilty of is increased by the influence of example, in being committed by a person of your character, and of the sacred function of which you are a member. These sentiments seem to be yours; I would wish to cultivate such sentiments; but I would not wish to add to the anguish of your mind by dwelling upon your situation. Your application for mercy must be made elsewhere; it would be cruel in the court to flatter you; there is a power of dispensing mercy, where you may apply. Your own good sense, and the contrition you express, will induce you to lessen the influence of the example by publishing your hearty and sincere detestation of the offence of which you are convicted; and will show you that to attempt to palliate or extenuate it, would indeed add to the influence of a crime of this kind being committed by a person of your character and known abilities. I would therefore warn you against any thing of that kind. Now, having said this, I am obliged to pronounce the sentence of the law, which is -- That you, Doctor William Dodd, be carried from hence to the place from whence you came; that from thence you be carried to the place of execution, and that there you be hanged by the neck until you are dead." To this Dr Dodd replied, " Lord Jesus, receive my soul I " and was immediately conveyed from the bar.
Great exertions were now made to save Dr Dodd. The newspapers were filled with letters and paragraphs in his favour; individuals of all ranks exerted themselves in his behalf; the members of several charities which had been benefited by him joined in application to the throne for mercy; parish officers went in mourning from house to house, to procure subscriptions to a petition to the king; and this petition, which, with the names of nearly thirty thousand persons, filled twenty-three sheets of parchment. was actually presented. Even the lord mayor and common council went in a body to St James's, to solicit mercy for the convict. These were, however, of no avail. On the 15th of June the privy council assembled, and deliberated on the cases of the several prisoners then under condemnation; and in the end a warrant was ordered to be made out for the execution of Dr Dodd, with two others (one of whom was afterwards reprieved), on the 27th of the same month.
Having been flattered with the hopes of a pardon, he appeared to be much shocked at the intimation of his approaching destiny; but resumed in a short time a degree of fortitude sufficient to enable him to pass through the last scene of his life with firmness and decency. On the 26th he took leave of his wife and some friends, and he afterwards declared himself ready to atone for the offence he had given to the world. His deportment was meek, humble, and devout, expressive of resignation and contrition, and calculated to inspire sentiments of respect for his person, and concern for his unhappy fate.
He was attended to the fatal spot, in a mourning-coach, by the Rev Mr Villette, Ordinary of Newgate, and the Rev Mr Dobey. Another criminal, named John Harris, was executed at the same time. It is impossible to give an idea of the immense crowds of people that thronged the streets from Newgate to Tyburn. When the prisoners arrived at the fatal tree, and were placed in the cart, Dr Dodd exhorted his fellow sufferer in so generous a manner, as testified that he had not forgotten his duty as a clergyman; and he was also very fervent in the exercise of his own devotions. Just before he was turned off, he was observed to whisper to the executioner; and, although we have not the means of ascertaining the precise purport of his remark, it is pretty obvious from the fact, that as soon as the cart had been drawn away from the gibbet, he ran immediately under the scaffold and took hold of the doctor's legs as if to steady his body, and the unfortunate gentleman appeared to die without pain.
Of his behaviour before execution a particular account was given by Mr Villette, Ordinary of Newgate, in the following terms:--
"On the morning of his death I went to him, with the Rev Mr Dobey, Chaplain of the Magdalen, whom he desired to attend him to the place of execution. He appeared composed; and when I asked him how he had been supported, he said that he had had some comfortable sleep, by which he should be the better enabled to perform his duty,
"As we went from his room, in our way to the chapel, we were joined by his friend, who had spent the foregoing evening with him, and also by another clergyman. When we were in the vestry adjoining the chapel, he exhorted his fellow-sufferer, who had attempted to destroy himself, but had been prevented by the vigilance of the keeper. He spoke to him with great tenderness and emotion of heart, entreating him to consider that he had but a short time to live, and that it was highly necessary that he, as well as himself, made good use of their time, implored pardon of God under a deep sense of sin, and looked to that Lord by Whose merits alone sinners can he saved. He desired me to call in the other gentlemen, who likewise assisted him to move the heart of the poor youth; but the Doctor's words were the most pathetic and effectual. He lifted up his hands, and cried out 'Oh I Lord Jesus, have mercy upon us! and give, oh! give unto him, my fellow sinner, that, as we suffer together, we may go together to Heaven!' His conversation to this poor youth was so moving, that tears flowed from the eyes of all present.
"When we went into the chapel to prayer and the holy communion, true contrition and warmth of devotion appeared evident in him throughout the whole service. After it was ended, he again addressed himself to Harris in the most moving and persuasive manner, and not without effect; for he declared that he was glad that he had not made away with himself, and said he was easier, and hoped he should now go to Heaven. The Doctor told him how Christ had suffered for them; and that he himself was a greater sinner than he, as he had sinned against light and conviction, and there fore his guilt was greater; and that as he was confident that mercy was shown to his soul, so he should look to Christ and trust in His merits.
"He prayed God to bless his friends who were present with him, and to give his blessing to all his brethren the clergy; that he would pour out His spirit upon them, and make them true ministers of Jesus Christ, and that they might follow the divine precepts of their heavenly Master. Turning to one who stood near him, he stretched out his hand, and said, 'Now, my dear friend, speculation is at an end; all must be real! What poor ignorant beings we are!' He prayed for the Magdalens, and wished they were there, to sing for him the 23d Psalm.
"After he had waited some time for the officers, he asked what o'clock it was; and, being told that it was half an hour after eight, he said 'I wish they were ready, for I long to be gone.' He requested of his friends, who were in tears about him, to pray for him; to which he was answered, by two of them, 'We pray more than language can utter.' He replied, ' I believe it.'
"At length he was summoned to go down into a part of the yard which is enclosed from the rest of the gaol, where the two unhappy convicts and the friends of the doctor were alone. On his seeing two prisoners looking out of the windows, he went to them, and exhorted them so pathetically, that they both wept abundantly. He said once, 'I am now a spectacle to men, and shall soon he a spectacle to angels.'
"Just before the sheriff's officers came with the halters, one who was walking with him told him that there was yet a little ceremony he must pass through before he went out. He asked 'What is that?' -- 'You will be bound.' He looked up, and said, 'Yet I am free; my freedom is there,' pointing upwards. He bore it with Christian patience, and beyond what might have been expected; and, when the men offered to excuse tying his hands, he desired them to do their duty, and thanked them for their kindness. After he was bound, I offered to assist him with my arm in conducting him through the yard, where several people were assembled to see him; but he replied, with seeming pleasure,' No, I am as firm as a rock.' As he passed along the yard, the spectators and prisoners wept and bemoaned him; and he, in return, prayed God to bless them.
"On the way to execution he consoled himself in reflecting and speaking on what Christ had suffered for him; lamented the depravity of human nature, which made sanguinary laws necessary; and said he could gladly have died in the prison-yard, as being led out to public execution tended greatly to distress him. He desired me to read to him the 51st Psalm, and also pointed out an admirable penitential prayer from ' Rossell's Prisoner's Director.' He prayed again for the king, and likewise for the people.
"When he came near the street where he formerly dwelt he was much affected, and wept. He said, probably his tears would seem to be the effect of cowardice, but it was a weakness he could not well help; and added, he hoped he was going to a better home.
"When he arrived at the gallows he ascended the cart, and spoke to his fellow-sufferer. He then prayed, not only for himself, but also for his wife, and the unfortunate youth that suffered with him; and, declaring that he died in the true faith of the Gospel of Christ, in perfect love and charity with all mankind, and with thankfulness to his friends, he was launched into eternity, imploring mercy for his soul for the sake of his blessed Redeemer."
A paper, of which the following is a copy, had been delivered by Dr Dodd to Mr Villette to be read at the place of execution, but was omitted as it seemed impossible to make all present aware of its contents.
"To the words of dying men regard has always been paid. I am brought hither to suffer for an act of fraud, of which I confess myself guilty with shame, such as my former state of life naturally produces, and I hope with such sorrow as He, to Whom the heart is known, will not disregard. I repent that I have violated the laws by which peace and confidence are established among men; I repent that I have attempted to injure my fellow creatures; and I repent that I have brought disgrace upon my order, and discredit upon religion: but my offences against God are without number, and can admit only of general confession and general repentance.. Grant, Almighty God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, that my repentance, however late, however imperfect, may not be in vain !
"The little good that now remains in my power is to warn others against those temptations by which I have been seduced. I have always sinned against conviction; my principles have never been shaken; I have always considered the Christian religion as a revelation from God, and its Divine Author as the Saviour of the world; but the laws of God, though never disowned by me, have often been forgotten. I was led astray from religious strictness by the delusion of show and the delights of voluptuousness. I never knew or attended to the calls of frugality, or the needful minuteness of painful economy. Vanity and pleasure, into which I plunged, required expense disproportionate to my income; expense brought distress upon me; and distress, importunate distress, urged me to temporary fraud.
"For this fraud I am to die; and I die declaring, in the most solemn manner, that, however I have deviated from my own precepts, I have taught others, to the best of my knowledge, and with all sincerity, the true way to eternal happiness. My life, for some few unhappy years past, has been dreadfully erroneous; but my ministry has been always sincere. I have constantly believed; and I now leave the world solemnly avowing my conviction, that there is no other name under Heaven by which we can be saved but only the name of the Lord Jesus; and I entreat all who are here to join with me in my last petition, that, for the sake of that Lord Jesus Christ, my sins may be forgiven, and my soul received into His everlasting kingdom.
"June 27, 1777." "WILLIAM DODD,"
The body of the Doctor was on the Monday following carried to Cowley, in Buckinghamshire, and deposited in the church there.
During the doctor's confinement in Newgate (a period of several months) he chiefly employed him self in writing various pieces, which show at once his piety and talent. The principal of these were his "Thoughts in Prison," in five parts, from which we cannot doubt but that our readers, in finishing our life of so eminent, yet unfortunate, a man, will be gratified by the insertion of a few short extracts.
"I began these Thoughts," says the unhappy man, writing in Newgate, under date of the 23d of April, 1777, after his condemnation, "merely from the impression in my mind, without plan, purpose, or motive, more than the situation of my soul.
"I continued thence on a thoughtful and regular plan; and I have been enabled wonderfully, in a state which in better days I should have supposed would have destroyed all power of reflection, to bring them nearly to a conclusion. I dedicate them to God, and the reflecting serious among my fellow-creatures; and I bless the Almighty for the ability to go through them amidst the terrors of this dire place (Newgate), and the bitter anguish of my disconsolate mind. The thinking will easily pardon all inaccuracies, as I am neither able nor willing to read over these melancholy lines with a curious or critical eye. They are imperfect, but in the language of the heart; and, had I time and inclination, might, and should be, improved. -- But --
(Signed) "W. D."
The unfortunate author's Thoughts on his Imprisonment are thus introduced:--
"My friends are gone! harsh on its sullen hinge
Grates the dread door: the massy bolts respond
Tremendous to the surly keeper's touch:
The dire keys clang, with movement dull and slow,
While their behest the ponderous locks perform:
And, fasten'd firm, the object of their care
Is left to solitude -- to sorrow left.
"But wherefore fasten'd? Oh! still stronger bonds
Than bolts or locks, or doors of molten brass,
To solitude and sorrow could consign
His anguish'd soul, and prison him, though free
For whither should he fly, or where produce
In open day, and to the golden sun,
His hapless head! whence every laurel torn,
On his bald brow sits grinning infamy:
And all in sportive triumph twines around
The keen, the stinging arrows of disgrace"
After dwelling on the miseries of that dreary confinement, at sight of which he formerly started back with horror, he adds
O dismal change! now not in friendly sort
A Christian visitor, to pour the balm
Of Christian comfort in some wretch's ear --
I am that wretch myself! and want, much want,
That Christian consolation I bestow'd;
So cheerfully bestow'd! Want, want, my God,
From Thee the mercy, which, Thou know'st my gladsome soul
Ever sprang forth with transport to impart.
"Why then, mysterious Providence, pursued
With such unfeeling ardour? Why pursued
To death's dread bourn, by men to me unknown!
Why -- stop the deep question; it o'erwhelms my soul:
It reels, it staggers! Earth turns round! My brain
Whirls in confusion! My impetuous heart
Throbs with pulsation not to be restrain'd;
Why? -- Where? -- O Chesterfield, my son, my son!"
The unfortunate divine afterwards thus proceeds: --
"Nay, talk not of composure! I had thought
In older time, that my weak heart was soft,
And pity's self might break it. I had thought
That marble-eyed Severity would crack
The slender nerves which guide my reins of sense,
And give me up to madness! 'Tis not so;
My heart is callous, and my nerves are tough;
It will not break; they will not crack; or else
What more, just heaven! was wanting to the deed,
Than to behold -- Oh! that eternal night
Had in that moment screened from myself!
My Stanhope to behold! Ah! piercing sight!
Forget it; 'tis distraction speak who can!
But I am lost! a criminal adjudged!"
It is not a little singular that Dr Dodd, a few years before his death, published a sermon, intitled, "The frequency of capital punishments inconsistent with justice, sound policy, and religion." This, he says, was intended to have been preached at the Chapel Royal, at St James's; but omitted on account of the absence of the court, during the author's month of waiting.
The following extract will show the unfortunate man's opinion on this subject, although there is no reason to suppose that he then contemplated the commission of the crime for which he suffered. He says:-- "It would be easy to show the injustice of those laws which demand blood for the slightest offences; the superior justice and propriety of inflicting perpetual and laborious servitude; the greater utility hereof to the sufferer, as well as to the state, especially wherein we have a variety of necessary occupations, peculiarly noxious and prejudicial to the lives of the honest and industrious, and in which they might be employed, who had forfeited their lives and their liberties to society."
Surely this tale will be a lesson against extravagance, and will teach us t9 be content in the station of life in which Providence hath placed us. The fate of this unhappy man furnishes, likewise, the strongest argument against the crime of forgery; for if all the interest that was exerted to save Dr Dodd could have no weight, no one hereafter guilty of it ought to expect a pardon. If, then, any one should be tempted to the commission of it, let him reflect on this case; let him, moral and religious considerations apart, stay the hasty hand, and let him retract the rash resolution.
We shall conclude this narrative with an extract from an address which Dr Dodd wrote, after conviction, to his fellow prisoners; because we deem it well worthy the public attention. -- 'There is always,' says the doctor, 'a danger lest men, fresh from a trial in which life has been lost, should remember with resentment and malignity the prosecutor, the witnesses, or the judges. It is indeed scarcely possible, with all the prejudices of an interest so weighty, and so affecting, that the convict should think otherwise than that he has been treated, in some part of the process, with unnecessary severity. In this opinion he is perhaps singular, and therefore probably mistaken: but there is no time for disquisition; we must try to find the shortest way to peace. It is easier to forgive than to reason right. He that has been injuriously or unnecessarily harrassed, has one opportunity more of proving his sincerity, by forgiving the wrong, and praying for his enemy.
'It is the duty of a penitent to repair, as far as he has the power, the injury he has done. What we can do is commonly nothing more than to leave the world an example of contrition. On the dreadful day, when the sentence of the law has its full force, some will be found to have affected a shameless bravery, or negligent intrepidity. Such is not the proper behaviour of a convicted criminal. To rejoice in tortures is the privilege of a martyr; to meet death with intrepidity is the right only of innocence, if in any human being innocence could be found. Of him whose life is shortened by his crimes, the last duties are humility and self-abasement. We owe to God sincere repentance; we owe to man the appearance of repentance. Men have died with a steadfast denial of crimes, of which it is very difficult to suppose them innocent. By what equivocation or reserve they may have reconciled their consciences to falsehood it is impossible to know: but if they thought that, when they were to die, they paid their legal forfeit, and that the world had no farther demand upon them; that there fore they might, by keeping their own secrets, try to leave behind them a disputable reputation; and that the falsehood was harmless because none were injured; they had very little considered the nature of society. One of the principal parts of national felicity arises from a wise and impartial administration of justice. Every man reposes upon the tribunals of his country the stability of possession, and the serenity of life. He therefore who unjustly exposes the courts of judicature to suspicion, either of partiality or error, not only does an injury to those who dispense the laws, but diminishes the public confidence in the laws them selves, and shakes the foundation of public tranquillity.
'For my own part, I confess, with deepest compunction, the crime which has brought me to this place; and admit the justice of my sentence, while I am sinking under its severity.'