An Oration by DODD, William (1729-1777).

DODD, William (1729-1777).

An Oration delivered at the Dedication of Free-Masons’ Hall, Great Queen-street, Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, on Thursday, May 23, 1776... Published by General Request, under Sanction of the Grand Lodge. London, Robinson, 1776.

First Edition. 4to, (275 x 220mm), pp. [iv], 16, [4], uncut throughout, partly unopened, stab-sewn in the original wrappers as issued.

An excellent, unsophisticated copy of this scarce speech given by the colourful and unfortunate William Dodd, poet, dramatist, cleric and forger. A prolific author, in addition to his theological works, Dodd wrote several plays, numerous poems, including The African Prince, 1749 (telling the story of the rescued slave, William Ansah Sessarakoo), a ‘rather loose novel’ called The Sisters, 1754 and a compilation, The Beauties of Shakespeare, thought to be where Goethe first discovered Shakespeare. Dodd’s greatest success lay in his powers of oratory. He was enormously popular and effective as a preacher and his sermons on behalf of charities, such as the ‘Magdalen House’, were much praised. Horace Walpole wrote in his Letters (iii, 282) that Dodd spoke ‘very eloquently and touchingly’, in the French style, and that many of his hearers were reduced to tears. However, scandal and increasing personal debt led him to forge a bond in the name of his patron, Lord Chesterfield, and he was arrested, committed for trial and convicted in February 1777. A flurry of pamphlets followed and there were numerous petitions on his behalf, one of which bore the signatures of twenty-three thousand people. Dr. Johnson tried to obtain a pardon for him, wrote several papers and petitions in his defence and wrote a sermon for him, which Dodd preached to his fellow-prisoners in Newgate chapel on 6th June. He was executed on 27th June 1777.
The scarce pamphlet gives a short history of masonry and a celebration of its achievements. The final four leaves contain, after a separate title-page but with continuous register, ‘Proposals for printing by subscription, Free-masonry: or, a general history of civilization. In which the rise and progress of arts, sciences, laws and religion, will be detailed: together with an account of the lives of such sages and philosophers, eminent men and masons, as have added to the improvement and cultivation of mankind’. This larger work on the history of freemasonry, intended to have been two volumes quarto, was never produced. At the foot of the title-page is the note: ‘Any profits arising from the sale of this Oration, will be given to the Hall fund’.

ESTC t105332, at BL, CUL, Bodleian, Folger, Grand Lodge of New York, Huntington, McMaster, North Carolina and Yale.

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