Open main menu

KNOWLES, Sir JAMES THOMAS (1831–1908), founder and editor of the 'Nineteenth Century' and architect, born at Reigate, Surrey, on 13 Oct. 1831, was eldest child in the family of two sons and three daughters of James Thomas Knowles, architect, by his wife Susanna, daughter of Dr. Brown. About 1839 his father built for himself a large hoiMo in Clapham Park, and there or in tho near neighbourhood Knowles lived till 1884.

After education at University fellow, London, Knowles entered his father's office and spent some time in studying architecture in Italy. He published a prize essay on 'Architectural Education' in 1852, became an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1853, and a fellow in 1870. Knowles practised his profession with success for some thirty years. He built, according to his own account, 'many hundreds of houses, besides several churches, hospitals, clubs, warehouses, stores, roads, and bridges.' His chief commissions were three churches in Clapham (St. Stephen's, St. Saviour's, and St. Philip's), Albert Mansions, Victoria Street, The Thatched House Club in St. James's Street in 1865, and Sir Erasmus Wilson's enlargement of the Sea Bathing Hospital at Margate in 1882. Baron Albert Grant [q. v. Suppl. I] was at one time a client. In 1873 Knowles designed a palatial residence for Baron Grant which was erected in Kensington High Street on the site of demolished slums, but the house was never occupied and was pulled down in 1883, when its place was taken by Kensington (Jourt. In 1874, too, when Baron Grant purchased Leicester Square with a view to converting it into a public open space, he entrusted Knowles with the task of laying out the ground, and of adorning it architecturally.

But Knowles's activity and alertness of mind always ranged beyond the limits of his professional work. A little volume, compiled from the 'Morte d'Arthur' of Sir Thomas Malory, 'The Story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which he published in 1862, reached an eighth edition in 1895, and met with Tennyson's approval. In contributions to the magazines and periodicals he showed a varied interest in literary and philosophic questions, and he grew ambitious of the acquaintance of leaders of public opinion. In 1866 he called on Tennyson at Freshwater and became an intimate for life. He designed for the poet without charge his new house at Aldworth in 1869.

Early in the same year, when Knowles was entertaining Tennyson and a neighbour, Charles Pritchard [q. v.], at his house at Clapham, the possibility was canvassed of forming a representative 'theologioal society' for determining in discusson the bases of morality. With charaoteristic energy Knowles communicated with champions of all schools of thought, and obtained their assent to join such a society. A first meeting was held at Willis's Rooms on 21 April 1869 and the Metaphysical Society was then constituted. The original members included Dean Stanley, Manning, W. G. Ward, R. H. Hutton, James Martineau. Bishop Ellicott, Bagehot, Huxley, Tyndall, Gladstone, and Froude. Knowles acted as general secretary. Early anticipations of failure were belied, and under Knowles' s direction the society flourished for twelve years. The members dined together month by month at an hotel, and the discussion followed. Important recruits were Ruskin, who joined in 1870, and Fitz James Stephen. A chairman was elected annually, and he was occasionally re-elected. The chairmen were Sir John Lubbock, Manning, Huxley, Gladstone, W. G. Ward, James Martineau, Lord Selborne, and Lord Arthur Russell. The society dissolved in 1881 because, said Tennyson, the members failed to define what metaphysics meant. According to Knowles, all possible subjects had then been exhausted, while pressure of other work compelled his withdrawal from the direction.

Knowles's management of the Metaphysical Society brought him into personal touch with the chief intellectual men of the day. With Gladstone his relations were soon as close as with Tennyson. He turned such relationships to much public advantage. In 1870 he became editor of the 'Contemporary Review' in succession to Dean Alford, and he induced many members of the Metaphysical Society to contribute to the pages of the magazine either papers which they had read at the society's meetings or original] articles. Such contributions gave the magazine a high repute. In 1877 the 'Contemporary' changed hands, and a disagreement with the new proprietors led Knowles to sever his connection with it. Thereupon he founded under his sole proprietorship and editorship a new periodical which he called the 'Nineteenth Century.' The first number appeared in March and was introduced by a sonnet of Tennyson. Members of the Metaphysical Society continued to support Knowles, and Gladstone, Manning, Sir John Lubbock, Bishop Ellicott, and Fitzjames Stephen were early contributors to the new venture, whose professed aim was to provide a platform from which men of all parties and persuasions might address the public in their own names. 'Signed writing' was the essential principle of the 'Nineteenth Century.' No anonymous articles were admissible. Every topic of current interest was to be discussed openly by the highest authority. With diplomatic skill Knowles induced writers of renown to engage in controversy with one another in his magazine on matters of moment, at times in symposia, but commonly in independent articles. Gladstone, who was persuaded frequently to meet in religious debate Fitzjames Stephen and Huxley, deservedly complimented Knowles on his success in keeping 'the "Nineteenth Century" pot boiling' (13 May 1888, Morley's Life, iii. 360). The result was a triumph for periodical literature, and the profits were substantial. Few contemporaries of distinction in any walk of life failed to contribute to the magazine, over which Knowles exercised an active and rigorous control till his death. When the nineteenth century ended, he renamed the magazine 'The Nineteenth Century and After' (Jan. 1901).

Knowles, who gave up architectural practice in 1883, moved next year from Clapham to Queen Anne's Lodge by St. James's Park, where he constantly entertained a distinguished circle of friends and collected pictures and works of art. He caused to be painted for his collection Tennyson's portrait by Millais in 1881, and Gladstone's portrait by Troubetzkoi in 1893. Although his interests were mainly absorbed by the 'Nineteenth Century,' he found time to engage in a few other public movements. In 1871 he organised the Paris Food Fund for the relief of the besieged population in Paris, and induced Manning, Huxley, Lubbock, and Ruskin to act with him on the committee. In 1882 he energetically opposed the Channel Tunnel scheme ; he not merely condemned it in an article from his own pen in the 'Nineteenth Century,' but brought together in the magazine a vast number of adverse opinions from eminent persons. When the proposal was revived in 1890, Knowles repeated his denunciation in the 'Nineteenth Century,' and in Gladstone's view crushed the design. 'The aborted channel tunnel,' wrote Gladstone, 'cries out against you from the bottom of the sea.' In philanthropic enterprise Knowles was also active. He joined Lord Shaftesbury, the Baroness Burdett Coutts, and Miss Octavia Hill in starting the Sanitary Laws Enforcement Society, and he originated the first fund for giving toys to children in hospitals and workhouses.

Knowles was well known to Queen Alexandra and other members of the Royal Family. When on a visit to her and King Edward VII at Sandringham in 1903 he was made K.C.V.O. In his last years he had a house at Brighton as well an in London. He died at Brighton of heart failure on 13 Feb. 1908, and was buried in the extramural cemetery there.

Knowles was twice married: (1) in 1861 to Jane Emma, daughter of the Rev. Abraham Borradaile; (2) in 1865 to Isabel Mary, daughter of Henry William Hewlett. His second wife survived him with three daughters. His pictures and works of art were dispersed by sale at Christie's 26–29 May 1908.

[A short autobiographical MS. kindly lent by Lady Knowles; The Times, 14 Feb. 1908; Journal Roy. Institute Brit. Architects, Feb. 1908; Tennyson and his Friends, ed. Lord Tennyson, 1911; Lord Ronald Gower's Old Diaries, 1902. For the Metaphysical Society see Knowles's prefatory note to R. H. Hutton's paper, The Metaphysical Society, a Reminiscence (Nineteenth Century, Aug. 1885); Ruskin's Works, ed. E. T. Cook and Wedderburn, xxxiv. pp. xxviii–xxix; Macdonald's Life of W. C. Magee, i. 284; Tennyson's Life, 2 vols. 1897; Leslie Stephen's Life of Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen, 1895.]

S. L.