Sheepshanks, William

, a learned English clergyman, was born in the village of Linton in Craven, Yorkshire, March 18, 1740. His father, who, having no trade or profession, lived upon and farmed his own estate, was a rery sensible and intelligent man, so far superior to those among whom he lived, and so disinterested in the application of his talents, that he was highly popular and useful in his native village. His mother was a woman of very superior understanding. He was educated at the grammarschool of the parish; and in 176 1 was admitted of St. John’s college, Cambridge, where his singular facility in the acquirement of philosophical knowledge quickly became so conspicuous, that, at a time when other under-graduates find sufficient employment in preparing for their own exercises and examinations, he had no less than six pupils. At this time also he laid the foundation of a lasting friendship with two young men of great promise in the university, John Law and William Paley, both of Christ’s college; the one afterwards bishop of Elphin, the other the late celebrated writer. In St. John’s he lived upon terms of almost equal intimacy with Mr. Arnald, the senior wrangler of his year, whose genius, always eccentric, after a short career of court ambition, sunk in incurable lunacy. His academical exercises also connected him more or less with the late lord Aivanley, the present Mr. baron Graham, and the learned and pious Joseph Milner, afterwards of Hull; all of whom, as well as Law, took their first degrees at the same time with himself. Such a constellation of talent has scarcely been assembled in any single year from that time to the present.

In January 1766, he took the degree of A. B.; and in 1767 was elected fellow of 1 his college, on the foundation of Mr. Platt. In 1767, he took the degree of A. M. In part of the years 1771 and 1772, he served the office of moderator for the university with distinguished applause. | During this period he numbered among his pupils several whom he lived to see advanced to high stations in their respective professions, particularly the present bishop of Lincoln and the chief justice of the King’s Bench. In 1773> he accepted from the University the rectory of Ovington in Norfolk; and, having married an highly respectable person, the object of his early attachment, settled at the village of Grassington, where he received into his house a limited number of pupils, among whom, in the years 1774 and 1775, was Dr. Thomas Dunham Whitaker, the learned author of the “History of Craven.” In 1777, he removed to Leeds; and in the same year, by the active friendship of Dr. John Law, then one of the prebendaries of Carlisle, he was presented by that chapter to the living of Sebergham in Cumberland. In 1783 he was appointed to the valuable cure of St. John’s church in Leeds; and in 1792 he was collated, by his former pupil Dr. Pretyman, bishop of Lincoln, to a prebend in his cathedral, which, by the favour of the present archbishop of York, he was enabled to exchange, in 1794 or 1795, for a much more valuable stall at Carlisle, vacated by the promotion of Dr. Paley to the subel eanery of Lincoln. This was the last of his preferments, and probably the height of his wishes; for he was in his own nature very disinterested. After having been afflicted for several years with calcukms complaints, the scourges of indolent and literary men, he died at Leeds, July 26, 1810, and was interred in his own church.

In vigour and clearness of understanding, Mr. Sheepshanks was excelled by few. His spirits were lively, and his conversation was inexhaustibly fertile in anecdote and reflection. His knowledge of common life, in all its modes, was that of an original and acute observer his eyes were most penetrating and expressive. In short, nature had endowed him with faculties little, if at all, inferior to those of the two great men with whom he lived in habits of most intimate friendship. His conversation had much of the originality and humour which distinguished that of Dr. Paley; and, when he thought proper, it was equally profound and sagacious with that of Dr. Law. When he could be prevailed upon to write at all, he wrote with the clearness and force peculiar to his school; so that, if his industry had borne any proportion to his natural talents, and if these had been sedulously applied to elucidate and expand those branches of science in which he so much excelled, he would | have wanted no other memorial. But a constitutional indo<­lence, adds his biographer, “robbed him of the fame which he might have attained the privation, however, occasioned neither a struggle nor a pang for his want of ambition was at least equal to his hatred of exertion andj as far as could be gathered from a conversation in the highest degree open and undisguised, he was equally careless of living and of posthumous reputation. Had the same indifference extended to his surviving friends, this short account would not have been written.1


Whitaker’s Hist, of Craven, p. 473.