Oxenford, John (DNB00)

OXENFORD, JOHN (1812–1877), dramatic author, critic, and translator, born at Camberwell on 12 Aug. 1812, was almost entirely self-educated, though for upwards of two years he was a pupil of S. T. Friend (cf. Times, 26 Feb. 1877). Being intended for the legal profession, he was articled to a London solicitor; his name first appears in Clarke's ‘Law List’ in 1837. It is stated that his uncle, Mr. Alsager, intended him to write the money-market article for the ‘Times,’ and that he assisted in Alsager's office in Birchin Lane for some years, and that he wrote soundly on commercial and financial matters before devoting himself entirely to literature and the drama (cf. Era, 4 March 1877). He became well acquainted with German, Italian, French, and Spanish literature in the original, and he translated Calderon's ‘Vida es Sueño’ in such a manner as to evoke a eulogy from G. H. Lewes (cf. Lewes, Lope de Vega and Calderon). Among other works, Oxenford also translated a large portion of Boiardo's ‘Orlando Innamorato,’ Molière's ‘Tartuffe,’ Goethe's ‘Dichtung und Wahrheit’ (London, 1846), Jacobs's ‘Hellas,’ Kuno Fischer's ‘Francis Bacon,’ ‘Die Wahlverwandschaften,’ Eckermann's ‘Conversations of Goethe’ (London, 1850)—of which it was said that the translation possessed ‘qualities of style superior to the original’ (Athenæum, 24 Feb. 1877). He also edited Flügel's ‘Complete Dictionary of the German and English Languages,’ 1857, 8vo, and ‘The Illustrated Book of French Songs from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century,’ 1855, 8vo, and assisted Francis Hüffer to translate the words of the Wagner selections for the Albert Hall performances in 1877. An essay by him on ‘Iconoclasm in Philosophy’ for the ‘Westminster Review,’ based on Schopenhauer's ‘Parerga und Paralipomena,’ created a considerable amount of interest at a time when Schopenhauer was little known and less understood in England. Oxenford's essay ‘may be called without exaggeration the foundation of Schopenhauer's fame both in his own and in other countries’ (Fortnightly Review, December 1876).

But Oxenford's interests were largely absorbed by the stage, and as dramatist and dramatic critic he achieved his widest reputation. His earliest dramatic efforts were ‘My Fellow Clerk’ (1835) and ‘A Day well spent’ (English Opera House, 4 April 1835), which passed through many editions, and was translated into German and Dutch. An incomplete list, containing the titles of sixty-eight plays, &c., by Oxenford, ranging from the above-mentioned works to ‘The Porter of Havre’ (produced at the Princess's Theatre on 15 Sept. 1875), is given in the ‘Musical World’ for 10 March 1877 (cf. Brit. Mus. Cat.) A piece by him called ‘The Hemlock Draught,’ which is not generally included in the lists of his dramatic works, was produced about 1848, when the cast included the elder Farren, Leigh Murray, and Mrs. Stirling (cf. Era, 11 March 1877). Oxenford also wrote a large number of librettos, including those to Macfarren's operas, ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Helvellyn’ (see Macfarren, Sir G. A., and Banister, Life of G. A. Macfarren, passim), to Benedict's ‘Richard Cœur de Lion’ and ‘Lily of Killarney.’ His farce ‘Twice Killed’ was translated and played in Germany, and (in the form of an opera, ‘Bon Soir, Monsieur Pantalon,’ the music by A. Grisai) at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1851.

About 1850 Oxenford became dramatic critic to the ‘Times’ newspaper, and held that position for more than a quarter of a century. In 1867 he visited America, and subsequently made a tour in Spain. From each country he sent a series of articles to the ‘Times.’ Oxenford was at all times a voluminous writer to the periodical magazines of his day, and contributed the article ‘Molière’ to the ‘Penny Cyclopædia.’ Owing to ill-health, he was compelled to resign his professional appointments some time before his death, which took place, from heart-disease, at 28 Trinity Square, Southwark, on 21 Feb. 1877. Eighteen months previously he had joined the Roman catholic church, and after his death a requiem mass, with music by Herr Meyer Lutz, was performed at St. George's Cathedral, Southwark. He was buried at Kensal Green on 28 Feb. (cf. Catholic Standard; Musical World, 7 April 1877, p. 249).

Oxenford was amiable to weakness, and the excessive kindliness of his disposition caused him so to err on the side of leniency as to render his opinion as a critic practically valueless. It was his own boast that ‘none of those whom he had censured ever went home disconsolate and despairing on account of anything he had written.’ His literary work, in prose and verse alike, shows much facility.

[A sketch of Oxenford appeared in Tinsley's Magazine in March, 1874; Academy, 1877, ii. 194; Athenæum, 1877, i. 258; Walford's Men of the Time, 9th edit.; Annual Register, 1877, ii. 138; English Cyclopædia, London, 1857, vol. iv. col. 573; British Museum Catalogue; Times, 23 Feb. 1877, p. 5 col. 6, 26 Feb. p. 4 col. 4; authorities cited in the text.]

R. H. L.