Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cox, Robert

COX, ROBERT (1810–1872), author of several important works on the Sabbath question, was the son of Robert Cox, leather-dresser, of Gorgie Mills, near Edinburgh, and of Anne Combe, a sister of George and Dr. Andrew Combe [q. v.] He was born at Gorgie on 25 Feb. 1810, and received his early education at a private school and at the high school of Edinburgh. Besides attending the classes of law and of general science at the university of Edinburgh, he also studied anatomy under the not too reputable Dr. Robert Knox. For some years he was in the legal office of his uncle, George Combe, who so highly estimated his character and abilities that he wished him to become partner with him in the business, but Cox declined. He passed as a writer to the signet, but never went into general business, limiting himself to that pressed upon him by his family and friends, and occupying himself chiefly with scientific and literary matters, and with schemes for the general benefit of the community. He was the active editor of Combe's ‘Phrenological Journal’ from Nos. xxxiv. to l. of the first series, to which he also contributed many able articles. At about the age of twenty-five he accepted the secretaryship of a literary institution in Liverpool, but resigned it in 1839 from considerations of health, and returned to Edinburgh. Soon after his return he was induced by the Messrs. Black to undertake the compilation of the index to the seventh edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica.’ In 1841 he also resumed the editorship of the ‘Phrenological Journal;’ but the issue ceased in 1847, on the death of Dr. Andrew Combe, of whom he contributed a memoir to the last number.

The attention of Cox was first directed to the Sabbath question by the action of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company, in withdrawing a limited passenger service in connection with their Sunday trains. Having qualified as a shareholder, he attended two half-yearly meetings of the company in 1850, at each of which he moved that to the Sunday trains which were being regularly run passenger carriages should be attached. The substance of his speeches he formed into a small pamphlet, addressed to the directors, and entitled ‘A Plea for Sunday Trains.’ As the result of subsequent reading and study, it was afterwards expanded into an octavo volume of 560 pages, published in 1853 under the title of ‘Sabbath Laws and Sabbath Duties; considered in relation to their Natural and Scriptural Grounds, and to the Principles of Religious Liberty.’ Having accumulated during his reading a mass of material beyond the scope of this publication, he continued still further his studies and researches on the subject, and published in 1865 ‘The Literature of the Sabbath Question,’ in two volumes, a work equally remarkable for its minute erudition and its lucid exposition of somewhat dull and entangled controversies. In 1860 he published ‘The Whole Doctrine of Calvin about the Sabbath and the Lord's Day, extracted from his Commentaries,’ and in 1863 ‘What is Sabbath Breaking? a Discussion occasioned by the Proposal to open the Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh on Sunday Afternoons.’ He also contributed the chief portion of the article ‘Sabbath’ to ‘Chambers's Encyclopædia.’ He assisted his brothers Dr. Abram Cox of Kingston and Sir James Cox or Coxe, one of her majesty's commissioners in lunacy, in the revisal of reissues of Dr. Combe's popular physiological works, and those of George Combe's books specially dealing with the brain and nervous system. In 1869 he edited, along with Professor Nicol of Aberdeen, the ‘Select Writings’ of Charles Maclaren, editor of the ‘Scotsman.’

Especially fond of pedestrian exercise, Cox took an active part in the Right of Way Association, and was one of the parties to the action against the Duke of Athole, by which Glen Tilt was reopened to the public. A liberal in politics as well as in intellectual matters, he interested himself in every important social and philanthropic movement of an unsectarian kind connected with Edinburgh. He was practically the manager of the Phrenological Museum, a director and warm supporter of the United Industrial School, a director of the School of Arts, and an active promoter of university endowment and of schemes connected with the higher education of the country. He was a liberal patron of art, and a member of the Edinburgh Association for Promotion of the Fine Arts. Privately he secured the attachment of many friends, who, while they respected his abilities and his somewhat stern sense of justice, were attracted by his genial qualities and his considerate kindness of heart. He died, unmarried, on 3 Feb. 1872.

[Scotsman, 5 Feb. 1872; Charles Gibbon's Life of George Combe, 1878.]

T. F. H.