1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Vicesimus Knox

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 91 (September 1821) 279-81.



Sept. 6. This eminent author died while on a visit at his son's at Tunbridge, after a short but very painful illness. He was born Dec. 8, 1752. His father, the Rev. Vicesimus Knox, like him, was a fellow of St. John's College Oxford, and afterwards master of Tunbridge-school. Merchant Tailor's school has the honour of having been the place of his education, during the period when the Rev. James Townley was head-master. Of Mr. Townley, Dr. Knox ever spoke with affectionate regard. Though this gentleman did not possess the profound erudition of his pupil, he was singularly happy in imparting among his scholars a taste for polite literature, and a spirit of refined urbanity. Of Dr. Dennis, the President of St. John's, Dr. Knox always spoke in the same terms. He was equally successful in instilling into the youthful mind, by his example as well as precept, principles of the most perfect probity, and sentiments of the highest independence. Both foresaw in Dr. Knox indications of future excellence, and gave him every possible encouragement.

From College Dr. Knox, at the death of his father, was elected to Tunbridge-school, where he presided 33 years; during this long period, his pupils, of course, were numerous, and few of them mention his name, but with the veneration due to a patent. He retired from this laborious, but honourable employment in 1812, when he was himself succeeded by his son, the present master. He was Rector of Rumwell and Ramsden Crays in Essex (of which livings he was the patron), and Minister of the Chapelry of Shipbourne in Kent, to which he was presented by the late Viscount Vane. The duties of a parish priest he discharged for nearly forty years, with a regularity, an ability, and a zeal, never surpassed; scarcely during that long period requiring any assistance in the performance of the service of the Church. After his retirement, while he lived in London (the situation of his benefices in Essex not permitting residence), he never withheld his powerful aid from the pulpit, whenever it was solicited in favour of the various charities with which the metropolis abounds. There are few of these institutions which have not greatly benefited by his exertions. As a preacher he will long be remembered. His matter was always excellent — and his manner possessed a dignity, propriety, and impressiveness, that riveted the attention of his congregations. He enjoyed a long course of uninterrupted health, and retained his mental faculties, in their full vigour, to the last moment of his life; within the three last days of it, he was as capable as ever of any laborious literary research, or professional exertion. The cause of his death was an obstruction in the bowels, that resisted all medical treatment.

To enter into a detailed account of Dr. Knox's various writings, would exceed the space allotted for articles of this nature, and indeed would be unnecessary, few having been more generally known, or better received. Many of them have been translated into the different languages of Europe. The order in which they have appeared, is as follows:

"Essays Moral and Literary," 3 vols. 8vo. and 12mo. — "Liberal Education," 2 vols. 8vo. and 12mo. — "Winter Evenings," 3 vols. 8vo. and 12mo. — "Personal Nobility, or Letters to a Young Nobleman on the Conduct of his Studies, and the best means of maintaining the dignity of the Peerage," 1 vol. 12mo. — "Sermons on Faith, Hope, and Charity," 1 vol. 8vo." — "Christian Philosophy," 2 vols. 12mo. — "Considerations on the nature and efficacy of the Lord's Supper," 1 vol. 8vo. — And a Pamphlet published a few months since "On the national importance of Classical Education," occasioned by a bill then pending in Parliament.

Dr. Knox has published some single sermons. In one, which he preached at the opening of the Chapel of the Philanthropic Society, in St. George's Fields, he first called attention to the necessity of increasing the places of public worship, on the establishment. A very eloquent sermon from his pen, is to be found at the end of the collection, entitled, "Domestic Divinity," upon the duty and advantage of educating the poor. During his mastership of Tunbridge-school, for the use of his classes, he published valuable editions of Horace and Juvenal, upon the "expurgata" plan; and compiled that useful series of selections, so well known under the name of "Elegant Extracts, Elegant Epistles," &c. &c. About the period of the first breaking out of the French Revolution, some political tracts, on the popular side, were attributed to him. At that time he translated and printed, under the title of "Antipolemus," the adage of Erasmus, "Bellum dulce inexpertis." He was ever forcibly struck with the wickedness and folly of war, and reprobated it on all occasions. His famous sermon at Brighton was upon the "Unlawfulness of Offensive War." One of his earliest efforts was to procure a reform in the discipline of the English universities; he lived to express great satisfaction at the present admirable state of them; the statute passed a few years since embraced his principal suggestions.

Dr. Knox's politics were those of the Whigs, which placed the present Royal Family upon the throne. His steadiness and consistency were remarkable, and he possessed an independence of sentiment that scorned any concealment of his opinions, however personally disadvantageous to himself might be the avowal of them. Mr. Fox sought his acquaintance, and there is no doubt, if political events had afforded the opportunity, but that Dr. Knox would have filled the highest station in the Church. Preferment, however, was never his object, nor occupied his thoughts. He was, from conscientious conviction, a firm friend of the Establishment. His strenuous support of its doctrines in his theological works, excited the hostility of the Socinians and other separatists. Dr. Disney addressed a letter to him upon the publication of his sermons. On the other hand, though of political sentiments diametrically opposite, that distinguished prelate, Bishop Horsley, publicly eulogized his treatise on the "Lord's Supper," in his episcopal charges, "recommending it to the general attention of the clergy, and describing it as no inconsiderable monument of the learning and piety of the writer." Another prelate, of inferior reputation indeed to Dr. Horsley, as a polemic, scholar, and divine, but justly held in universal esteem for his amiable character and his useful labours in the Church, Bishop Porteus, entertained a high sense of the value of Dr. Knox's religious works, and recommended them for perusal, as containing the most attractive delineations of the pure spirit of Christianity. Notwithstanding his strong attachment to the Establishment, Dr. Knox was a friend to religious as well as civil liberty, and therefore an advocate for a very liberal toleration. Entertaining much respect for the private character of the late Bishop Dampier, he felt it his duty publicly to protest against an Address, which that Bishop proposed for the adoption of the Clergy of the Diocese of Rochester, at a visitation, thanking the Crown for requiring a pledge from Administration, that they would never again agitate the Catholic question. He was aware, that differences of opinion might very conscientiously be entertained upon what is called Catholic emancipation; but thought, that with proper securities, that it was contrary to sound policy and justice, no less than to the benign spirit of the Gospel, to impose civil disabilities upon so many millions of the Christian subjects of the united kingdom, merely because they remain faithful to the religion of their forefathers.

Dr. Knox's facility of composition was remarkable. He wrote Latin with the most classical purity in prose and verse, and was particularly happy in epigrammatic point. He was a great student of the harmony of language, forming his sentences invariably with a regard to rhythmical proportion. His style displays an union of force with exquisite polish. As a standard of his powers as a writer, as well as a specimen of the energy of his mind, his last production (the pamphlet upon Classical education) may be fairly taken. To a splendour of diction that has rarely been equalled, there is added an harmony in the periods that is perhaps exclusively his own. The style as well as the matter of the "Essays" has long been universally admired. They appeared, originally, in one volume, in the life-time of Dr. Johnson. In speaking of them to Mr. Dilly, the publisher, that great critic expressed himself in terms of high panegyrick, and predicted the future reputation of the author.

In private life, Dr. Knox was universally beloved. There was a grand simplicity in his character, that abhorred anything bordering on simulation or disguise. He had none of that morose reserve which is sometimes found to alloy the agreeable qualities of those, who devote themselves, so much as he did, to learned contemplation. He was frequently, however, silent from depression. Possessing a heart of the keenest sensibility, his feelings in the latter years of his life were grievously wounded by the loss of a son and daughter, in the flower of their age, and by the death of his wife, at no very distant intervals. To the long seasons of sorrow, which these calamities occasioned, it is owing, that the obligations of the public to him are even yet still more numerous. He married the daughter of Thomas Miller, esq. of Tunbridge. She died in 1809. Two sons survive him; Mr. Knox, the barrister, and the Rev. Thomas Knox. His remains were deposited in the chancel of Tunbridge Church, on the 13th of September; the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood attending in a very numerous body in deep mourning to evince their affectionate respect for his memory.