Gilbert, William (1763–c. 1825)

Poet and astrologer. Born in Antigua, son of Nathaniel Gilbert, speaker of the Antiguan House of Assembly. In 1788 he came to England to work as a lawyer, but suffered a mental collapse and was placed in an asylum run by Richard Henderson (1736/7–1792) at Hanham near Bristol. (In an earlier career as a schoolmaster, Henderson had numbered Joseph Cottle among his pupils.) Gilbert was released after a year and went to London, where he worked as an astrologer and maker of magic talismans. In 1795 he went to Bristol, where he became friends with Southey and Coleridge. In 1796 he published The Hurricane: a Theosophical and Western Eclogue. He disappeared in 1798. It was thought he had left Bristol in search of the ‘Gilberti’, an African tribe with whom he believed he had a spiritual affinity. Southey made enquiries after him, but to no effect. Although by 1820 Southey spoke of Gilbert as long dead, he was in fact probably still alive, dying c. 1825.

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