Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knox, Vicesimus
KNOX, VICESIMUS (1752–1821), miscellaneous writer, only son of the Rev. Vicesimus Knox, B.C.L., by his wife Ann, daughter of Devereux Wall, was born at Newington Green, Middlesex, on 8 Dec. 1752. His father was a master at Merchant Taylors' from 1753 to 1772, when he was appointed head-master of Tunbridge School. In the probation lists of Merchant Taylors' his name is given as ‘Nock,’ and he signed himself ‘Knock’ until 1772, when he adopted the spelling of ‘Knox’ (Robinson, Merchant Taylors' School Register, ii. 90 n.) Young Knox was sent to Merchant Taylors' in 1764, whence he was elected to St. John's College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 13 July 1771, and graduated B.A. 1775, M.A. 1779. He was one of the speakers at the encœnia in July 1773, when Lord North was installed chancellor of the university (Gent. Mag. xliii. 351). Knox became a fellow of his college, and resided some four years after taking his bachelor's degree, devoting his attention chiefly to the study of English literature and composition. Before leaving Oxford Knox sent the manuscript of his ‘Essays Moral and Literary’ anonymously to Charles Dilly [q. v.] the publisher, giving him the option of publishing or destroying them. Dilly obtained a highly favourable opinion of them from Johnson, and published them in one volume in 1778. In 1778 Knox succeeded his father (who had resigned) as head-master of Tunbridge School. Resigning this post in 1812, he retired to London, where he purchased a house on the Adelphi Terrace, Strand. Knox was ordained priest by Bishop Louth about 1777 (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 503), and was rector of Runwell and Ramsden-Crays, Essex, receiving a dispensation to hold these livings, both of which were in his own patronage, in 1807 (Gent. Mag. vol. lxxvii. pt. ii. p. 1056). He was also minister of the parochial chapelry of Shipborne, Kent, to which he was presented by Lord Vane. The degree of D.D. was conferred on him by the university of Philadelphia. He died at Tunbridge on 6 Sept. 1821, aged 68, and was buried in the chancel of Tunbridge Church, where a monument was erected to his memory. An engraving by William Ward, after a portrait of Knox by A. J. Oliver, is prefixed to the first volume of his collected ‘Works,’ which were published in 1824 in seven volumes (London, 8vo). Knox married a daughter of Thomas Miller of Tunbridge, by whom he had three sons and an only daughter, Sarah, who became the wife of Robert Clement Sconce of Plymouth, and died on 17 June 1818. Mrs. Knox died on 29 May 1809. Vicesimus, the elder of their two surviving sons, was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1804, became the recorder of Saffron Walden and a bencher of his inn, and died on 25 Jan. 1855. Thomas, the younger son, succeeded his father as head-master of Tunbridge School, and held that post until his death, which occurred on 23 July 1843.
Knox was a good scholar, an impressive preacher, and a popular and voluminous writer. He was a staunch whig, and, though a strenuous supporter of the establishment, was strongly in favour of Roman catholic emancipation. A sermon which he preached on the unlawfulness of offensive war at the parish church at Brighton on 18 Aug. 1793 attracted notice, and some indignant militia officers drove him and his family out of the Brighton Theatre. He subsequently published extracts from this sermon in a ‘Narrative of Transactions’ (1793; 3rd edit., corrected, 1794), and the whole of it is printed at length in his ‘Works’ (vi. 351–70).
Boswell says that Knox ‘appears to have the imitari aveo of Johnson's style perpetually in his mind; and to his assiduous, though not servile, study of it we may partly ascribe the extensive popularity of his writings’ (Life of Johnson, iv. 390–1). Though as an original writer Knox has been forgotten, he is still remembered as the compiler of the once familiar ‘Elegant Extracts.’ Besides two single sermons and anonymously issued editions of ‘Juvenal and Persius’ (1784) and of ‘Catullus’ (1784; reprinted 1824), he published: 1. ‘Essays Moral and Literary,’ anon. Lond. 1778, 8vo; 2nd edition, corrected and enlarged, Lond. 1779, 8vo; ‘Volume the Second’ [containing thirty-nine additional essays] was published in 1779, Lond. 8vo, after the second edition of the original volume had appeared with Knox's name on the title-page; 12th edition, New York, 1793, 12mo, 2 vols.; another edition, Basil, 1800, 8vo; 17th edition, Lond. 1815, 12mo, 3 vols.; in Ferguson's ‘British Essayists,’ 2nd edition, vols. xxxv–vii. Lond. 1823, 12mo; new edition, Lond. 1823, 12mo, 3 vols., a duplicate of the preceding, without the collective title-pages; another edition in Lynam's ‘British Essayists,’ vol. xxii. and xxiii., Lond. 1827, 12mo. Other editions are given in Lowndes's ‘Bibliographer's Manual’ (Bohn). 2. ‘Liberal Education, or a Practical Treatise on the Methods of acquiring Useful and Polite Learning,’ Lond. 1781, 8vo; 10th edition, Lond. 1789, 8vo, 2 vols., with a letter to Lord North. 3. ‘Elegant Extracts, or Useful and Entertaining Passages in Prose, selected for the improvement of Scholars at Classical and other Schools in the Art of Speaking, in Reading, Thinking, Composing, and in the Conduct of Life,’ anon. Lond. 1783, 4to; 10th edition, anon. Lond. 1816, 8vo, 2 vols. ‘The Prose Epitome, or Elegant Extracts abridged,’ anon. Lond. 1791, 12mo. 4. ‘Winter Evenings, or Lucubrations on Life and Letters,’ anon. Lond. 1788, 12mo, 3 vols.; 2nd edition, Lond. 1790, 8vo, 2 vols.; 3rd edition, Lond. 1795, 12mo, 3 vols.; new edition, Basil [printed], Paris, 1800, 8vo, 2 vols.; new edition, Lond. 1823, 12mo, 3 vols.; another edition is contained in Lynam's ‘British Essayists,’ vols. xxix. and xxx., Lond. 1827, 12mo. 5. ‘Elegant Extracts, or Useful and Entertaining Pieces of Poetry, selected for the improvement of Youth,’ anon. Lond. 1789, 8vo; other editions, anon. Lond. 1801, 1805, and 1816; ‘The Poetical Epitome, or Elegant Extracts abridged,’ &c., anon. Lond. 1807, 12mo. 6. ‘Elegant Epistles, or a copious Collection of Familiar and Amusing Letters, selected for the improvement of young Persons, and for general Entertainment,’ Lond. 1790, 8vo; another edition, Dublin, 1791, 8vo. The ‘Elegant Extracts,’ both in prose and verse, and the ‘Elegant Epistles’ were frequently reprinted together; an edition was published by Sharpe in 1810, 18mo (18 vols.); ‘a new edition … prepared by J. G. Percival,’ 1842, Boston, Mass., 8vo (6 vols.); sometimes the ‘Family Lectures’ were added. 7. ‘Family Lectures, or Domestic Divinity; being a copious Collection of Sermons, selected from … Divines of the present century, for the Use of Schools,’ &c. [anonymously edited by Knox], Lond. 1791–5, 8vo, 2 vols.; the second, or ‘new volume,’ has a somewhat altered title; reprinted in 1815, and subsequently published in 1 vol. 8vo to match the ‘Elegant Extracts.’ 8. ‘Sermons, chiefly intended to promote Faith, Hope, and Charity,’ Lond. 1792, 8vo; 2nd edition, corrected, Lond. 1793, 8vo. 9. ‘Personal Nobility, or Letters to a young Nobleman on the Conduct of his Studies and the Dignity of the Peerage,’ anon. Lond. 1793, 16mo; this was dedicated to Charles James Fox. 10. ‘Antipolemus, or the Plea of Reason, Religion, and Humanity against War; a Fragment, translated from Erasmus and addressed to Aggressors,’ anon. Lond. 1794, 8vo. 11. ‘The Spirit of Despotism … London, printed in the year 1795; Philadelphia, reprinted … Nov. 28, mdccxcv,’ 12mo; four editions, ‘dedicated to Lord Castlereagh,’ and ‘edited by the author of the “Political House that Jack Built”’ [W. Hone], were published in 1821, Lond. 8vo; another edition by the same editor appeared in 1822, Lond. 8vo, with Knox's name on the title-page; the 10th edition appeared in the fifth volume of Knox's collected ‘Works;’ 11th edition, with ‘A Preliminary Dissertation on Government, Law, and Reform, and the Life and Character of Dr. Knox, the Author, &c.,’ Lond. 1837, 8vo, with portrait; Hone states that the book was ‘first privately printed at London in 1795, during the war against France, in a duodecimo volume of 360 pages;’ it is said to have been shortly afterwards suppressed by Knox, and that only three copies were left in existence, one of which went to America, and another subsequently fell into Hone's hands; no trace, however, of the three copies is now discoverable, and in all probability the American edition was really the first one (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 43, 174, 6th ser. vii. 407). 12. ‘Christian Philosophy, or an Attempt to Display the Evidence and Excellence of Revealed Religion,’ Lond. 1795, 12mo, 2 vols.; 3rd edition, with an appendix on Mr. Paine's ‘Pamphlet on Prayer, on Psalmody, and a short List of Books for the use of the … unlearned reader,’ &c., Lond. 1798, 12mo; ‘First American edition, with a translation of all the … quotations annexed,’ Philadelphia, 1804, 12mo; another edition, with an introductory essay by the Rev. Henry Stebbing, appeared in vol. xix. of Cattermole and Stebbing's ‘Sacred Classics,’ Lond. 1835, 8vo; other editions, Lond. 1854, 8vo, &c. 13. ‘Considerations on the Nature and Efficacy of the Lord's Supper,’ &c., Lond. 1799, 8vo; 2nd edition, abridged, Lond. 1800, 12mo. 14. ‘Remarks on the tendency of certain Clauses in a Bill now pending in Parliament to degrade Grammar Schools. With cursory Strictures on the national importance of preserving inviolate the Classical discipline prescribed by their Founders,’ Lond. 1821, 8vo; the ‘second edition … corrected,’ in the ‘Pamphleteer,’ Lond. 1822, 8vo, vol. xix.
[Biographical preface to the first volume of Knox's Works, 1824; Memoir prefixed to J. G. Percival's edition of Elegant Extracts, 1842; Life and Character prefixed to the eleventh edition of the Spirit of Despotism, 1837; Rivington's History of Tunbridge School, 1869, pp. 124–38; Annual Biography and Obituary for 1822, vi. 350–63; Monthly Magazine, 1821, pt. ii. vol. lii. pp. 275–6; European Magazine, 1822, lxxxi. 195–9 (with portrait); Public Characters of 1803–4, 1804, pp. 519–30; Gent. Mag. 1821, vol. xci. pt. II. pp. 279–81; Annual Register, 1821, App. to Chron. p. 242; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 222, iii. 13–14, iv. 330, 390–1; Georgian Era, 1834, iii. 569–70; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1888, pt. ii. p. 806; Robinson's Register of Merchant Taylors' School, 1882–3, ii. 90, 126; Clode's Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors, 1875, pp. 681, 682; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 448, 503–4, xi. 306, 414; Dictionary of Living Authors, 1816; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseudon. Lit. 1882–8; Watt's Bibl. Brit. 1824; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn); Allibone; Brit. Mus. Cat.; information from Mr. Alan H. Stenning.]