Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knowles, James (1759-1840)

KNOWLES, JAMES (1759–1840), lexicographer, born in 1759, was son of John Knowles of Dublin, by Frances, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Sheridan of Quilca, the friend of Swift. His mother's brother, Thomas Sheridan, author of a ‘Pronouncing Dictionary,’ and father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, directed his education and intended him for the church; but an early marriage led Knowles to establish a school in Cork in 1780, which prospered until 1793. In that year Knowles, who was a liberal as well as a protestant, first signed a petition for catholic emancipation, and a little later went bail for the editor of a liberal paper, who had been prosecuted at the instance of the government. His pupils, who were the sons of protestant gentry, deserted him, and he went to London, where, according to his son's account, he was helped by his first cousin, Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He continued his career as a schoolmaster, and in 1813, mainly by his son's influence, he was appointed head-master of the English department in the Belfast Academical Institution. In 1816 he was dismissed by the directors, on the ground of inability to maintain discipline. Knowles declined to be dismissed, and prepared to resist ejectment; but eventually he gave way, and in 1817 published ‘An Appeal to the Dignified Visitors, and the Noblemen and Gentlemen, Proprietors,’ invoking the principles of the British constitution to prove that he had suffered injustice. Before leaving Belfast he received a testimonial from some of the leading citizens. He returned to London, where he appears to have carried on his profession as ‘teacher of reading, elocution, grammar, and composition’ for several years. In 1829 he seems to have joined his son in Glasgow, where he brought out a little book on ‘Orthoëpy and Elocution.’ About this time, though he was now seventy and suffering from a painful disease, he began the compilation of a dictionary. This was published in London in 1835, under the name of ‘A Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language.’ A dispute with the printer led to a protracted lawsuit, of which most of the expenses were borne by his son, James Sheridan Knowles [q. v.] Knowles died at his son's house, Alfred Place, Bedford Square, London, on 6 Feb. 1840, and was buried at Highgate.

Knowles married, first, Jane, daughter of Andrew Peace, medical practitioner, of Cork, widow of a Mr. Daunt, and after her death, in 1800, a Miss Maxwell. James Sheridan was the offspring of the first marriage.

[R. B. Knowles's Life of James Sheridan Knowles; Gent. Mag. 1840.]

T. B. S.