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Dix, John (DNB00)


DIX, JOHN, alias John Ross (1800?–1865?), the biographer of Chatterton, was born in Bristol, and for some years practised as a surgeon in that city. He early showed talent in writing prose and verse, and published in 1837 a ‘Life of Chatterton,’ 8vo, which gave rise to great and bitter controversy. Prefixed to the volume was a so-called portrait of the ‘marvellous boy,’ engraved from a portrait found in the shop of a Bristol broker. On the back of the original engraving was found written the word ‘Chatterton.’ It was, says one of the opponents of Dix, ‘really taken from the hydrocephalous son of a poor Bristol printer named Morris’ (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ix. 294). Why the printer's boy should have his portrait engraved is not stated. Mr. Skeat, in the memoir of Chatterton prefixed to his edition of the poet's works, speaks highly of the appendix to Dix's ‘Life’ and its various contents. An account of the inquest held on the body of Chatterton, discovered by Dix, but which his assailants declare to be absolutely fictitious, appeared in ‘Notes and Queries’ (1853, p. 138). Leigh Hunt characterised Dix's biography as ‘heart-touching,’ adding that in addition to what was before known the author had gathered up all the fragements. Still, it is a fact that the disputed portrait was omitted from the second edition of Dix's biography, 1851. The report of the inquest was subjected to the criticism of Professor Masson and Dr. Maitland.

Dix went about 1846 to America, where he is supposed to have died, at a time not precisely ascertained. He published ‘Local Loiterings and Visits in Boston, by a Looker-on,’ 1846. Other works attributed to him are: ‘Lays of Home;’ ‘Local Legends of Bristol;’ ‘The Progress of Intemperance,’ 1839, obl. folio; ‘The Church Wreck,’ a poem on St. Mary's, Cardiff, 1842; ‘The Poor Orphan;’ ‘Jack Ariel, or Life on Board an Indiaman,’ 2nd edit. 1852, 3rd edit. 1859. In 1850 he sent forth ‘Pen-and-Ink Sketches of Eminent English Literary Personages, by a Cosmopolitan;’ in 1852 ‘Handbook to Newport and Rhode Island,’ as well as ‘Lions Living and Dead;’ and in 1853 ‘Passages from the Diary of a Wasted Life’ (an account of Gough, the temperance orator). The list of his known publications closes with ‘Pen Pictures of Distinguished American Divines,’ Boston, 1854. He is treated very severely as a literary forger by Mr. Moy Thomas in the ‘Athenæum’ (5 Dec. 1857 and 23 Jan. 1858), and by W. Thornbury and Mr. Buxton Forman in ‘Notes and Queries.’

[Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ix. 294, 365, x. 55.]

R. H.