William Dodd (priest)

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William Dodd
William Dodd
William Dodd at the place of execution at Tyburn.
Born29 May 1729 (1729-05-29)
Bourne, Lincolnshire
Died27 June 1777 (1777-06-28) (aged 48)
Tyburn, London
OccupationBritish writer and clergyman, hanged for forgery
Portrait of William Dodd

William Dodd (29 May 1729 – 27 June 1777) was an English Anglican clergyman and a man of letters.[1] He lived extravagantly, and was nicknamed the "Macaroni Parson". He dabbled in forgery in an effort to clear his debts, and was caught and convicted. Despite a public campaign for a Royal pardon, in which he received the assistance of Samuel Johnson, he was hanged at Tyburn for forgery.


Early life[edit]

Dodd was born in Bourne in Lincolnshire, the son of the local vicar. He attended Clare Hall in the University of Cambridge from 1745 to 1750, where he achieved academic success and graduated as a wrangler.[2] He then moved to London, where his spendthrift habits soon left him in debt. He married impulsively on 15 April 1751, to Mary Perkins, daughter of a domestic servant, leaving his finances in an even more precarious position.


At the urging of his concerned father, he decided to take holy orders, and was ordained a deacon in 1751 and a priest in 1753, serving as a curate in a church in West Ham, then as a preacher at St James Garlickhythe, and then at St Olave Hart Street. He became a popular and fashionable preacher, and was appointed as a chaplain in ordinary to the King in 1763. He became a prebend in Brecon, and was a tutor to Philip Stanhope, later 5th Earl of Chesterfield. He became chaplain to the King, and became a Doctor of Laws at Cambridge University in 1766. After he won £1,000 in a lottery, he became involved in schemes to build the Charlotte Chapel in Pimlico, and bought a share of the Charlotte Chapel in Bloomsbury. Despite his profession, he continued his extravagant lifestyle, and became known as the "macaroni parson". In 1772, he became rector of Hockliffe, in Bedfordshire, and vicar of Chalgrave.[3]


In 1774, in an attempt to rectify his depleted finances, he attempted to obtain the lucrative position of rector of St George's, Hanover Square. He caused an anonymous letter to be sent to Lady Apsley,[4] wife of the Lord Chancellor, offering her £3,000 to secure the position. The letter was traced back to Dodd, and he was dismissed from his existing posts. He became an object of public ridicule, and was taunted as Dr Simony in a play by Samuel Foote in the Haymarket Theatre. He spent two years abroad, in Geneva and France, while the scandal subsided. He returned to England in 1776.[1] In The Luck of Barry Lyndon Thackeray has his protagonist refer to meeting "Dr Simony" in Soho and to a friendship with Foote.

Forgery and execution[edit]

In February 1777, he forged a bond for £4,200 in the name of his former pupil, the Earl of Chesterfield, to clear his debts. A banker accepted the bond in good faith, and lent him money on the strength of it. Later the banker noticed a small blot in the text and had the document re-written. When the clean copy was presented to the Earl to sign, in order to replace the old one, the forgery was discovered. Dodd immediately confessed, and begged time to make amends. He was, however, imprisoned in the Wood Street Compter pending trial. He was convicted, and sentenced to death (see the full record of the trial under External References below.) Samuel Johnson wrote several papers in his defence, and some 23,000 people signed a 37-page petition seeking a pardon. Nevertheless, Dodd was publicly hanged at Tyburn on 27 June 1777.

Published works[edit]

He wrote several published works, including poems, a novel, and theological tracts. His most successful work was The Beauties of Shakespeare (1752). He also wrote a Commentary on the Bible (1765–1770), and composed the blank verse Thoughts in Prison while in Newgate Prison between his conviction and execution.[1]

"It concentrates his mind wonderfully"[edit]

Dodd's sermon The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren was largely written by Samuel Johnson to be used as Dodd's own. When one of Johnson's friends doubted the authorship, Johnson, in order to protect Dodd, made his famous remark "Depend upon it Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully". James Boswell gives Johnson's explanation of the circumstances in his Life of Samuel Johnson:

Johnson disapproved of Dr. Dodd's leaving the world persuaded that The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren was of his own writing. 'But, Sir, (said I,) you contributed to the deception; for when Mr. Seward expressed a doubt to you that it was not Dodd's own, because it had a great deal more force of mind in it than any thing known to be his, you answered, --"Why should you think so? Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."' JOHNSON. Sir, as Dodd got it from me to pass as his own, while that could do him any good, there was an IMPLIED PROMISE that I should not own it. To own it, therefore, would have been telling a lie, with the addition of breach of promise, which was worse than simply telling a lie to make it be believed it was Dodd's. Besides, Sir, I did not DIRECTLY tell a lie: I left the matter uncertain. Perhaps I thought that Seward would not believe it the less to be mine for what I said; but I would not put it in his power to say I had owned it.'


  1. ^ a b c Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dodd, William". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 367–368.
  2. ^ "Dodd, William (DT745W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ The Newgate Calendar, ed. by Andrew Knapp & William Baldwin, 4 vols. (London: J. Robins, 1828), 3: 50-62
  4. ^ "Dr William Dodd". Newgate Calendar.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boswell, James, Life of Johnson, 1777 passim, for more information on Johnson's work in behalf of Dodd. ISBN 978-0-14-043662-4 (and several other editions with different ISBNs, as well as various public domain editions)
  • Brack, O. M., editor. The Macaroni Parson and the Concentrated Mind: Samuel Johnson's Writings for the Reverend William Dodd. Tucson: Chax Press, 2004
  • Howson, Gerald, The Macaroni Parson: A Life of the Unfortunate Dr. Dodd. London, Hutchinson, 1973 ISBN 0-09-115170-8.

External links[edit]