Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dubois, Edward

DUBOIS, EDWARD (1774–1850), wit and man of letters, son of William Dubois, a merchant in London, originally from the neighbourhood of Neufchatel, was born at Love Lane, in the city of London, 4 Jan. 1774. His education was carried on at home, and he became possessed of a considerable knowledge of the classics and a fair acquaintance with French, Italian, and Spanish. He adopted literature as his profession, and although he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, on 5 May 1809, he did not meet with sufficient success to abandon his pen. He was a regular contributor to various periodicals, and especially to the ‘Morning Chronicle’ under Perry. Art notices, dramatic criticisms, and verses on the topics of the day were his principal contributions; and to the last day of his life he retained his position of art critic on the staff of the ‘Observer.’ When the ‘Monthly Mirror’ was the property of the eccentric Thomas Hill, it was edited by Dubois, and on Hill's death he was benefited as one of the two executors and residuary legatees by a considerable accession of fortune. Theodore Hook was among his assistants on that periodical, and from Dubois Barham obtained, when writing Hook's life, ‘many of the most interesting details’ of the wit's early history. He assisted Thomas Campbell in editing the first number of Colburn's ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ but before the second number could be issued differences broke out and they separated (Redding, Fifty Years' Recollections, ii. 161–5). For a few years he was the editor of the ‘Lady's Magazine,’ and for the same period he conducted the ‘European Magazine.’ He is sometimes said to have been ‘a connection’ of Sir Philip Francis, at other times his private secretary, and they were certainly on intimate terms of friendship from 1807 until Francis's death in 1818. If Francis had gone out as governor of Buenos Ayres in 1807, Dubois would have accompanied him as private secretary. He compiled Francis's biography in the ‘Monthly Mirror’ for 1810, and wrote the life of Francis which appeared in the ‘Morning Chronicle’ for 28 Dec. 1818. When Lord Campbell was composing his ‘Memoir’ of Lord Loughborough, Dubois obtained for him a long memorandum from Lady Francis on the authorship of the ‘Letters of Junius’ (Campbell, Chancellors, vi. 344–7). The first of these lives is said to have prompted the publication of John Taylor's ‘Junius Identified,’ and it has more than once been insinuated that Dubois was the real author of that volume. Considerable correspondence and articles on the general subject of the ‘Letters of Junius’ and on Mr. Taylor's work appeared in the ‘Athenæum’ and ‘Notes and Queries’ for 1850 (some of which will be found in Dilke's Papers of a Critic, vol. ii.), but the connection of Dubois with the authorship of ‘Junius Identified’ was set at rest by the assurance of Mr. Taylor (Notes and Queries, 1850, pp. 258–9) that he ‘never received the slightest assistance from Mr. Dubois.’ For many years, at least twenty years, he was assistant to Serjeant Heath, judge of the court of requests, a ‘strange and whimsical court,’ as it has been designated. When county courts were established a judgeship was offered to Dubois, but he preferred to continue as Mr. Heath's deputy. In 1833 he was appointed by Lord Brougham to the office of treasurer and secretary of the Metropolitan Lunacy Commission, and on the abolition of that body in 1845 was employed under the new commission without any special duties. These appointments he retained until his death, and their duties were discharged by him with success; for although he loved a joke, even in court, he never allowed this propensity to get the mastery over his natural astuteness. His face was naturally droll, his wit was caustic, and he was ‘capital at the dinner table.’ He died at Sloane Street, Chelsea, on 10 Jan. 1850, aged 76. He married at Bloomsbury Church in August 1815 Harriet Cresswell, daughter of Richard Cheslyn Cresswell, registrar of the Arches Court of Canterbury. By her, who survived him, he had three sons, and one daughter. One of his last acts was to raise a subscription for the family of the late R. B. Peake, the dramatist.

Dubois's works were of an ephemeral character, and appeared when he was a young man. They were: 1. ‘A Piece of Family Biography,’ dedicated to George Colman, 3 vols., 1799. 2. ‘The Wreath; Selections from Sappho, Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, with a Prose Translation and Notes. To which are added remarks on Shakespeare, and a comparison between Horace and Lucian,’ 1799. In this compilation he was assisted by Capel Lofft. The remarks on Shakespeare chiefly show coincidences and imitations between his works and those of the ancient classics. 3. ‘The Fairy of Misfortune, or the Loves of Octar and Zuleima, an Italian Tale translated from the French, by the author of “A Piece of Family Biography,”’ 1799. The original work, ‘Mirza and Fatimé,’ was published at the Hague in 1754. 4. ‘St. Godwin; a Tale of the 16th, 17th, and 18th Century, by Count Reginald de St. Leon,’ 1800. A skit on Godwin's novel of St. Leon. 5. ‘Old Nick; a Satirical Story in Three Volumes,’ 1801; 2nd ed. 1803. Dedicated to Thomas Hill. This story showed the possession of much vivacity and humour. 6. ‘The Decameron, with remarks on the Life and Writings of Boccaccio, and an Advertisement by the Author of “Old Nick,”’ 1804. The translation, which was suggested by Thomas Hill, was a revision of that issued anonymously in 1741, and the task of supervision was entrusted to Dubois. 7. ‘Rhymes’ [anon. by Octavius Gilchrist of Stamford, and edited by Dubois], 1805. 8. ‘Poetical Translations of the Works of Horace, by Philip Francis. New Edition, with Additional Notes, by Edward Du Bois,’ 4 vols., 1807. The booksellers required the immediate publication of a corrected ‘copy of the most approved edition of Dr. Francis's Horace,’ and Dubois was aided in his undertaking by Capel Lofft, Stephen Weston, and Sir Philip Francis, the last of whom furnished three ingenious notes. 9. When the travels of Sir John Carr were attracting attention, Dubois undertook, at the instance of the publishers of the ‘Monthly Mirror,’ to write a satirical pamphlet in ridicule of the knight's efforts in literature. It was called ‘My Pocket-book, or Hints for a “Ryghte merrie and conceitede tour, in quarto; to be called, ‘The Stranger in Ireland,’ in 1805. By a Knight Errant,”’ 1807. This satire quickly passed through two editions, and was followed by ‘Old Nick's Pocket-book,’ 1808, written in ridicule of Dubois, by a friend of Carr, who was stung by these strokes of satire into bringing an action against Hood and Sharpe, in vindication of his literary character. The case came before Lord Ellenborough and a special jury, at Guildhall, 1 Aug. 1808, when the judge summed up strongly in favour of the defendants, and the verdict was given for them. Two reports of the trial were issued, one on behalf of the plaintiff and the other in the interest of the defendants, and the latter report was also appended to a third edition of ‘My Pocket-book.’ 10. ‘The Rising Sun.’ 11. ‘The Tarantula, or the Dance of Fools; by the Author of “The Rising Sun,”’ 1809. An overcharged satire on fashionable life in 1809, which is sometimes, but probably without sufficient reason, attributed to Dubois. 12. ‘Facetiæ, Musarum Deliciæ, or the Muses' Recreation, by Sir J. M. [Mennis] and Ja. S. [James Smith] … with Memoirs [by Dubois] of Sir John Mennis and Dr. James Smith,’ 1817, 2 vols. He also edited Harris's ‘Hermes’ (6th edit. 1806); ‘Fitzosborne's Letters,’ by Melmoth (11th edit. 1805); ‘Burton's Anatomy’ (1821); ‘Hayley's Ballads,’ with plates by William Blake (1805); and ‘Ossian's Poems’ (1806).

[Life of Sir P. Francis, by Parkes and Merivale, i. xxiii, 327, ii. 384–5; Collier's Old Man's Diary, pt. iv. p. 23; Maclise's Portrait Gallery, p. 265; Literary Gazette, 1850, pp. 52–3; Halkett and Laing's Anonymous Lit. iii. 1911, 2207, 2250; New Monthly Mag. lxxxi. 83–4 (1847); Gent. Mag. xxxiii. 326–7 (1850); information from his son, Mr. Theodore Dubois.]

W. P. C.