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William Dodd (29 May 1729 - 27 June 1777) was an Englishmarker Anglican clergyman and a man of letters. He lived extravagantly, and was nicknamed the "maccaroni parson". He dabbled in forgery in an effort to clear his debts, was caught, convicted, and, despite a public campaign for a Royal pardon, became the last person to be hanged at Tyburnmarker for forgery.


Early life

Dodd was born in Bournemarker in Lincolnshiremarker, the son of the local vicar. He attended Clare Hallmarker in the University of Cambridgemarker from 1745 to 1750, where he achieved academic success and graduated as a wrangler. He then moved to Londonmarker, 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 Hammarker, then as a preacher at St James Garlickhythemarker, and then at St Olave Hart Streetmarker. 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 Breconmarker, and was a tutor to Philip Stanhope, later 4th 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 Pimlicomarker, and bought a share of the Charlotte Chapel in Bloomsburymarker. Despite his profession, he continued his extravagant lifestyle, and became known as the "maccaroni parson". In 1772, he became rector of Hockliffemarker, in Bedfordshire, and vicar of Chalgrovemarker.

In 1774, in an attempt to rectify his depleted finances, he attempted to obtain the lucrative position of rector of St George's, Hanover Squaremarker. He wrote a letter to Lady Apsley, 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 Theatremarker. He spent two years abroad, in Genevamarker and Francemarker, while the scandal subsided. He returned to England in 1776.

In February 1777, he forged a bond for £4,200 in the name of his former pupil, Lord Chesterfield, to clear his debts. Trusting the honesty of the clergyman, the bond was encashed by a third party, but it was disowned by the Earl. The forgery was discovered, Dodd admitted his fault, and begged time to make amends. He was, however, imprisoned in the Wood Street Comptermarker pending trial. He was convicted, and sentenced to death. 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 Tyburnmarker on 27 June 1777.

Other works

He wrote several published works, including poems, a novel, and theological tracts, although it is thought that some were written by Samuel Johnson. The sermon "The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren" was largely written by Johnson to be used as Dodd's own, and it was when Dodd's authorship of this was doubted that Johnson 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". 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 Prisonmarker between his conviction and execution.


Further reading

  • Howson, Gerald, The Macaroni Parson: A Life of the Unfortunate Dr. Dodd. London, Hutchinson, 1973 ISBN 0-09-115170-8.
  • Boswell, James, Life of Johnson, 1777 passim, for more information on Johnson's work in behalf of Dodd.

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