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
THE apprehending of such a man as Doctor Dodd, on a charge of forgery, was a matter of surprise and conjecture among all ranks of people. He stood high in estimation as a divine, a popular preacher and an elegant scholar. He was the promoter of many public charities, and of some others he may be said to have been the institutor. The Magdalen for Reclaiming Young Women who had Swerved from the Path of Virtue, the Society for the Relief of Poor Debtors, and that of the Humane Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned, owed their institution to Dr Dodd. He was patronised by the King, and more immediately by Lord Chesterfield; and his Church preferments were lucrative. It, however, appeared that his expenses outran his income, and for a supply of cash he committed a forgery on his late pupil, the Earl of Chesterfield.
Another singular circumstance in the life of Dr Dodd was his publication, a few years previous to his execution, of a sermon, entitled The Frequency of Capital Punishment Inconsistent with Justice, Sound Policy and Religion. This, he said, 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 method adopted in this forgery was remarkable. He pretended that the noble lord had urgent occasion to borrow four thousand pounds, but did not choose to be his own agent, and begged that the matter might be secretly and expeditiously conducted.
The Doctor employed one Lewis Robertson, a broker, to whom he presented a bond, not filled up or signed, that he might find a person who would advance the requisite sum to a young nobleman. who had lately come of age. After applying to several persons who refused the business, because they were not to be present when the bond was executed, Mr Robertson, absolutely confiding in the Doctor's honour, applied to Messrs Fletcher & Peach, who agreed to lend the money. Mr Robertson returned the bond to the Doctor, in order to its being executed; and on the following day the Doctor produced it as executed, and witnessed by himself. Mr Robertson, knowing Mr Fletcher to be a particular man, and who would consequently object to one subscribing wit- ness only, put his name under the Doctor's. He then went and received the money, which he paid into the hands of Dr Dodd --- four thousand pounds --- and produced the bond.
Lord Chesterfield was surprised, and immediately disowned it. Upon this Mr Manly went directly to Mr Fletcher to consult what steps to take. Mr Fletcher, a Mr Innes and Mr Manly went to the Guildhall, to prefer an information respecting the forgery against the broker and Dr Dodd. Mr Robertson was taken into custody, while Fletcher, Innes, Manly and two of the Lord Mayor's officers went to the house of the Doctor in Argyle Street.
They opened the business, and the Doctor was very much affected. Manly told him that if he would return the money it would be the only means of saving him. He instantly returned six notes of five hundred pounds each, making three thousand pounds. He drew on his banker for five hundred pounds, the broker returned one hundred pounds, the Doctor gave a second draft on his banker for two hundred pounds and a judgment on his goods for the remaining four hundred pounds. 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. The Doctor declared he had no intention to defraud Lord Chesterfield or the gentleman who advanced the money. He hoped that the satisfaction he had made in returning the money would atone for his offence. He was pressed, he said, exceedingly for three hundred pounds to pay some bills due to tradesmen. He took this step as a temporary resource, and would have repaid it 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 nobody wishes to prosecute. I am sure my Lord Chesterfield does not 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 was put to the bar at the Old Bailey. When the evidence was gone through, the Court called upon the Doctor for his defence, which was as follows:--
'MY LORDS AND GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY, -- Upon the evidence which has been this day 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. 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 full and perfect amends, what, my Lords and gentlemen of the jury, can God and man desire further?
'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. 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 these whole, the considerations at all avail with you, my Lords, and you gentlemen of the jury -- if, upon the most impartial survey of matters, not the slightest intention of injury can appear to anyone -- 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.
The opinion of the judges was that he had been legally convicted.
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 counterfeit 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 that 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 a person in your situation by dwelling upon it. 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 that you will not attempt to palliate or extenuate, which would indeed add to the degree of 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 anything of that kind. Now, having said this, I am obliged to pronounce the sentence of the law, which is, that you, Dr William Dodd, be carried from hence to the place from whence you came; that from thence you are to be carried to the place of execution, when you are to be hanged by the neck until you are dead."
To this Dr Dodd replied: "Lord Jesus receive my soul."
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 on his behalf; 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, 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. But all this availed nothing: it was necessary to make an example of a man who had set but too bad an one to others; and who, from the fairest prospect of rising to the highest honours of the church, sunk to the lowest degree of abasement.
This unhappy clergyman was attended to the place of execution, in a mourning-coach, by the Rev. Mr Willette, ordinary of Newgate, and the Rev. Mr Dobey. Another criminal, named John Harris, was executed at the same time. Just before the parties were turned off the Doctor whispered to the executioner, and it was observed that the man had no sooner driven away the cart than he ran immediately under the gibbet and took hold of the Doctor's legs, as if to steady the body, and the unhappy man appeared to die without pain.
Dr Dodd was executed on the 27th of June, 1777.
Thus perished all that was mortal of William Dodd, doctor of divinity, late prebendary of Brecon, and chaplain in ordinary to his Majesty. This man, with all his faults, was not without his virtues; he was the promoter of many charities, and the institutor of some of them. The Magdalen hospital, the society for the relief of poor debtors, and that for the recovery of persons apparently drowned, will, we trust, be perpetual monuments to his credit: but it is our duty not to conceal or disguise his faults, the principal of which appear to have been vanity, and a turn for extravagance, which ruined his circumstances, and urged him to commit the crime which cost him his life. 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.'