Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Disgraceful Downfall of the Pasta Preacher

Yankee Doodle came to town, 
Riding on a pony, 
He stuck a feather in his cap, 
And called it Macaroni. 
                  A famous enough little rhyme, if somewhat curious. It stems from the Seven Years War and it thought to refer to the mockery of the colonial American troops by their British counterparts. Linguists are divided upon the origin of the word Yankee, as applied to an American, although it almost certainly is of Dutch origin, possibly an Anglicisation of Jankee meaning Little Johnny. Similarly, Doodle most likely comes from the German dudel meaning a simpleton. He rides a pony, not a horse, and he puts a feather in his cap, thinking this is enough to make him look like a macaroni. He puts on airs and graces, he reaches above his station but it is not enough and he merely looks ridiculous and affected. Furthermore, in aping a macaroni he looks effeminate and ineffectual. 

Yankee Doodle

A macaroni’, I hear you ask, ‘What has all this to do with pasta’? Well, in the past, it was usual for the sons of the English well-to-do to complete their education by taking the Grand Tour, a trip to the must-see locations of continental Europe. Some of these young gentlemen developed a taste for Italian pasta and brought the habit of eating it back with them to England. At their clubs they would dine on a dish of macaroni, something rare in England at the time, and these became known as macaroni clubs, the name becoming applied to the diners themselves. 

A Macaroni

They affected other Italianate ways, in manner, dress and speech, and became infamous for their foppish, exaggerated fashions. From about 1760, the word Macaroni superseded other such designations as Buck, Blood, Beau, Gallant, Dandy, Exquisite or Swell. The macaronis were noted for their excessive addiction to gambling and for their affected dress, wearing improbably fancy wigs, carrying long canes decorated with tassels, nosegays, eyeglasses and toothpicks. The fashion took London by storm; everything was à la macaroni, every song, every dance, every amusement. 

Dr William Dodd

There were turf macaronis, military macaronis, college macaronis and every other example of the macaroni race - not least there was Dr William Dodd, the Macaroni Parson. He was the son of country clergyman of the same name and a graduate of Clare Hall, Cambridge who came to London in about 1750. He had literary aspirations and tried his hand at comedic plays although his friends persuaded him to resume his clerical career and he was ordained as a deacon and took the position of curate at West Ham, Essex. He applied himself to his new life with enthusiasm and quickly became a popular and successful preacher, with a growing reputation. He preached the inaugural sermon at the opening of Magdalen House, an occasion described in a letter to George Montague dated January 28th 1760 by Horace Walpole, and Dodd’s reputation for his charitable works received a further boost. 

Dr Dodd - The Macaroni Preacher

He became chaplain there, and preached moving sermons to Princes, Lords and Ladies who were moved to tears by his words (Dodd wrote a poem to the tears shed by Lady Hertford). He began to publish a number of edifying books and became chief writer of the Christian Magazine, as well as contributing a weekly column to the Public Ledger, and writing a commentary on the Bible. In 1763, he was appointed chaplain to the King and to Bishop Samuel Squire, through whom he was also made tutor to Philip Stanhope, nephew of Lord Chesterfield. 
In 1751, Dodd had married Mary Perkins, a servant girl whom it was rumoured had once been the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, and in 1766 she received an annuity of £1,500 and was given a lottery ticket that won a prize of £1,000. Dodd invested the money in opening a chapel in Pimlico, called Charlotte Chapel after the Queen, and attracted a fashionable congregation (it was at this time he became  known famously as the Macaroni Preacher), which seems to have turned his head, as he began to write ‘dainty verses’ to ladies, attended city feasts and ran up debts, although no scandal was, as yet, attached to his name. 

The Macaroni Preacher

That came in 1774, when Mrs Dodd wrote an anonymous letter to Lady Apsley, wife of Henry Bathurst, the Lord Chancellor, offering £3,000 and an annual payment of £500 thereafter, if Dodd was given the living of St George’s, Hanover Square, said to be worth £1,500 per year. The letter was quickly traced back to the Dodds, and William was struck off the King’s list of chaplains. He fled to Europe, where his former pupil, now Lord Chesterfield in his own right, received him at Geneva and treated him well. He returned to London but growing debts caused him to sell Charlotte Chapel and on February 1st 1777, he offered a bond worth £4,200 in the name of Lord Chesterfield to a stockbroker named Robertson. This bond was transferred to the lender’s solicitor, who found some ink blots on it so had a clean copy made, which he took to Lord Chesterfield to have it signed. It was revealed immediately that the original bond was a forgery and warrants were issued for the arrest of Dodd and Robertson. 

Dr William Dodd - Thoughts in Prison - 1777

Dodd returned £3,000 and made arrangements were made to return the rest, apparently to the satisfaction of all concerned, but the Lord Mayor insisted that the case be brought to trial. Dodd was brought to trial on February 22nd, and was found guilty of forgery although a legal point delayed the passing of sentence until mid-May. In this interim, many attempts were made to obtain a pardon for Dodd, a petition with 23,000 signatures was presented and many influential people, including Dr Samuel Johnson, intervened on Dodd’s behalf (his case was the cause of Dr Johnson’s famous remark, 
Depend upon it Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”). 

Dr Dodd hanged at Tyburn

Dodd himself wrote Thoughts in Prison and preached sermons to the inmates of Newgate Prison but the King, swayed it was said by Lord Mansfield, eventually decided to carry out the sentence. On July 22nd 1777, Dr William Dodd, the Macaroni Preacher, was conveyed to Tyburn and was hanged by the neck until he was dead.

He was the last man to be hanged at Tyburn for the crime of forgery.

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