1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Vicesimus Knox

David Rivers, in Literary Memoirs of Living Authors (1798) 1:347-52.



Master of the Free School at Tunbridge, and late Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford. This gentleman is a character of high and deserved repute in the literary world. His first production was Essays, Moral and Literary, which appeared in an octavo volume, in 1777. Many of these papers had been written at College, as voluntary exercises, for the sake of improvement, before he had taken his batchelor's degree. The volume was sent anonymously as a gratuitous present to a publisher, from Oxford to London, and the publisher was unacquainted with the writer's name or person for several months after its publication. Upon its favourable reception the volume was republished with additions and the author's name, in the year following; and a second volume was added in the year 1779. They have since been frequently republished, and have obtained a certain standard estimation. In giving our sentiments upon these Essays, we shall bestow the first praise upon the manly reflections which, for the most part, they contain. They claim likewise considerable pretentions to merit, as finished specimens of Essay-writing, though they cannot be said to rank absolutely in the first class of that species of composition. Against a degree of illiberality of sentiment, however, which they here and there exhibit, and against the servility of the Johnsonian scent, which they now and then bear, we must enter a clause, while we confer every eulogium upon the excellence of their moral tendency. Dr. Knox's next publication was his excellent practical treatise, entitled, Liberal Education, which appeared in one volume, octavo, in 1781. It has, since that time, been enlarged and frequently reprinted, in two duodecimo volumes, &c. and is too well known to require and additional encomium from us. Some of the opinions which it contains have been controverted, in pamphlets, by Mr. Percival Stockdale and other writers. In 1788, Dr. Knox published Winter Evenings; or, Lucubrations on Life and Letters, in three duodecimo volumes; which have since been reprinted in two volumes, octavo. These Essays have, upon the whole, been less favourably received than the works of this writer already mentioned. Previous to this publication, Dr. Knox had edited, expurgate editions of Horace and Juvenal. In the year following he republished, in a six-penny pamphlet, his spirited and convincing Letter to the Right Hon. Lord North, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, which had been annexed to the tenth edition of his Liberal Education. His animadversions, in this Letter, have been warmly praised by some, and as violently censured by others. They shew him, however, to be endowed with the general intrepidity of a Martyr; and he is to be revered for his triumph over prejudice, for his noble and strenuous opposition to the barbarism of education, and the vices of his University, who infinitely disgraces herself by neglecting so competent and respectable a Monitor. This Letter was replied to (but not answered) by a half-crown pamphlet from the Clarendon press, signed, "a resident Member of the University." In 1792, Dr. Knox published a volume of Sermons, chiefly intended to promote Faith, Hope, and Charity. These Discourses did not completely answer the expectations excited by the name prefixed to them; and are, perhaps, justly amenable for a mixture of metaphysical dogmata, with the simple doctrines of practical religion, and a vein of prejudice, not to say bigotry, unharmonious with rational Christianity. Previous to this publication he received an American Diploma of D.D. and he dedicated his volume to Lord Eardley. In a prefixed advertisement he expressed an apprehension that his belief of the doctrine of the Trinity might expose him to the attacks of those who condemn, without justice or mercy, whatever militates against Unitarian opinions. He, therefore, solicited the general reader's candour against the Unitarian severity; hoping that he would allow him to retain the opinions in which he had been educated, and in which he was confirmed by choice, without loading him with the imputation of insincerity, irrational religion, or want of liberality. This was considered (and we confess not without reason) by Dr. Disney, as a severe attack on the Unitarians; and undertaking their justification, he wrote a temperate, but manly and judicious expostulation with Dr. Knox. In 1793, an excellent little volume, entitled, Personal Nobility; or, Letters to a young Nobleman, on the Conduct of his Studies and the Dignity of the Peerage, made its appearance, and was with confidence attributed to Dr. Knox. On the 18th of August of that year, he preached a Sermon before the Military of Brighthelmstone, which gave them so much offence, that, a few evenings afterward, when he and his family were at the Theatre, a note was handed to him, desiring him to withdraw. Not immediately complying with this demand, several officers came forward, insisting upon his quitting the Theatre, and he was actually turned out. This circumstance made a good deal of noise, and Dr. Knox published A Narrative of the transactions relative to a Sermon, preached in the Parish Church of Brighton, &c. with short Extracts from the Sermon and occasional Remarks, but, though repeatedly called upon, he never published this Sermon complete, a circumstance which has prevented his entire exculpation upon that occasion. In 1794, Dr. Knox published Antipolemus; or, the Plea of Reason, Religion, and Humanity against War, a fragment translated in a very masterly manner from Erasmus; and, in the year following Christian Philosophy; or, an Attempt to display the Evidence and Excellence of Revealed Religion, in two volumes, duodecimo, a performance which has been branded as a system of fanaticism. Dr. Knox was, moreover, the judicious compiler of those useful volumes, which have been so well received and, of late, so much improved, entitled, Elegant Extracts, in Verse and Prose; Elegant Epistles, and Family Lectures. We cannot close this article without complimenting Dr. Knox upon the real services which he has done the world by his literary labours; and particularly upon his industry, in having done so much in the midst of constant avocation, while so many learned men, of equal ability, wanting resolution for great endeavours, have passed unbounded leisure in indolence, or have sat still and done nothing because they disdained to do little.