Radcliffe, William, 1763—1830
by Benjamin Colbert
William Radcliffe was born in December 1763 at Holborn, the son of William Radcliffe, haberdasher, and Deborah Radcliffe. He was educated at St. Paul’s School, and went up to university at Cambridge in 1780, but left soon after. He was entered at the Middle Temple in 1783, intending to pursue the law, but this too came to nothing. On 25 March 1783, he was admitted as a commoner to Oriel College, Oxford, and he finally did take a B.A. in 1785.
On 15 January 1787, he married Ann Ward at St. Michael’s Church in Bath. By this time, Radcliffe had turned to translation to support himself and his bride. His translated An Introduction to Universal History (1787) from Latin, The Natural History of East Tartary (1789) from French, and A Journey through Sweden (1790) also from French. In 1790 he began as a journalist and parliamentary reporter for the radical Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, where he remained until 1793, possibly rising to editor. He was editor and a proprietor for the English Chronicle from 1796.
By 1794, William Radcliffe’s literary career had been outstripped by that of his wife, whose Gothic romances had earned her renown and a wide readership. Probably on the proceeds of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), the couple left England that summer bound for Italy, but were turned back at the border for lack of proper passports. Back in England, William Radcliffe appears to have helped his wife with her Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (1795). In the preface, Ann Radcliffe credits the political sections to him and acknowledges his larger contributions to the fabric of the account: 'The title page would’, she writes, ‘have contained the joint names of her husband and herself, if this mode of appearing before the public [...] had not seemed liable to the imputation of a design to attract attention by extraordinary novelty'.
Little is known about William Radcliffe’s marital relations aside from the bare facts he portioned out to early biographers immediately after Ann Radcliffe’s death in 1823. They appear to have lived apart from 1812 to 1815, but the reason for this is unknown. After his wife died, William Radcliffe married their housekeeper (‘Elizabeth’) in 1826. In the final months of his life, late in 1829 or early in 1830, he left England for France. He died at Versailles in 1830.
Miles, Robert. 'Radcliffe [née Ward], Ann (1764–1823), novelist'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2005. Oxford University Press. Web. 9 Jan. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/22974
‘Mrs. Ann Radcliffe’. Annual Biography and Obituary 8 (1824): 89-105. Print.
Norton, Rictor. Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe. London: Leicester University Press, 1999. Print.
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