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BOOK THE FIRST-WEST HAM.
CHAPTER THE FIRST.
The story of this unhappy clergyman has not been told before; yet its dim, indistinct outline is, in a sort of general way, familiar to many persons. This acquaintance seems to resolve itself into three main features—that of the centre figure being a clergyman, that his offence was a forgery, and that, through the terribly severe laws of his country, he suffered death for the crime. The “Execution of Doctor Dodd” is, perhaps, the idea most distinctly present to all, when they think of his name. The flurry of the days between his sentence and death has in it something almost lurid ; and idolators of Boswell's bookand there are such—will own to there being a sort of horrid fascination in the passages he devotes to this incident.
The story is worthy of being told, because no English social event of that character, before or since, ever excited so much absorbing interest. We may gather some faint notion of the sensation spread over the whole kingdom, if we were to read one morning of the arrest, say, of some graceful writer and popular preacher, and of his committal to a London gaol, charged with some barbarous crime, which was to bring with it the penalty of death. Yet, in those days, human life was judicially cheap, and London eyes were used to the spectacle of processions to the gallows. The extreme penalty of the law, as it is called, viewed from the present century, we are apt to accept as a measure of guilt, which, in those days of bloody dispensation, it was not.
The wretched clergyman was the victim of the old, stupid, mulish British complacency, which has so often fancied itself doing something Spartan and splendid, when it is only cruel and ridiculous; which, as Lord Macaulay has shown, must have its recurring fits of morality, and calls for a victim now and again, to waken up its slumbering complacency: which once shot an admiral “ to encourage the rest,” and hanged Doctor Dodd to show the surrounding world a spectacle of stern, unflinching morality.
For the offence which Doctor Dodd committed, such a punishment was unsuited—and almost unmerited. Even weighing the moral delinquency nicely, there was no such tremendous guilt involved in the offence. The details now about to be presented have never been collected before, and may be said to be new to a nineteenth-century reader.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
Down at Bourne, in Lincolnshire, a certain Reverend William Dodd was vicar, early in the reign of George the First. The little town was on the very edge of the Fens, and young William Dodd had before his eyes the quaint old Hôtel de Ville of the place, which was of some beauty, and of great antiquity. A thoughtful, studious man, with “a dear, pale face,” his son described him long after. This son
the eldest the notorious William Dodd, LL.D., was born there, on the 29th May, 1729. There was also a second son, who afterwards grew up to be the Reverend Richard Dodd, a working clergyman, but about whose story—there being no painful notoriety to make him stand out—history is almost silent.
Over this child, at its studies, the “dear, pale face” was bent very often, and succeeded in implanting a curious fancy for study and general reading. Young William Dodd took ardently to books; and, when only sixteen years old, was fit to be entered at Cam