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COMBE, W.—COMBES

treatment of the criminal classes. On his return in 1840 he published his Moral Philosophy, and in the following year his Notes on the United States of North America. In 1842 he delivered, in German, a course of twenty-two lectures on phrenology in the university of Heidelberg, and he travelled much in Europe, inquiring into the management of schools, prisons and asylums. The commercial crisis of 1855 elicited his remarkable pamphlet on The Currency Question (1858). The culmination of the religious thought and experience of his life is contained in his work On the Relation between Science and Religion, first publicly issued in 1857. He was engaged in revising the ninth edition of the Constitution of Man when he died at Moor Park, Farnham, on the 14th of August 1858. He married in 1833 Cecilia Siddons, a daughter of the great actress.


COMBE, WILLIAM (1741–1823), English writer, the creator of “Dr Syntax,” was born at Bristol in 1741. The circumstances of his birth and parentage are somewhat doubtful, and it is questioned whether his father was a rich Bristol merchant, or a certain William Alexander, a London alderman, who died in 1762. He was educated at Eton, where he was contemporary with Charles James Fox, the 2nd Baron Lyttelton and William Beckford. Alexander bequeathed him some £2000—a little fortune that soon disappeared in a course of splendid extravagance, which gained him the nickname of Count Combe; and after a chequered career as private soldier, cook and waiter, he finally settled in London (about 1771), as a law student and bookseller’s hack. In 1776 he made his first success in London with The Diaboliad, a satire full of bitter personalities. Four years afterwards (1780) his debts brought him into the King’s Bench; and much of his subsequent life was spent in prison. His spurious Letters of the Late Lord Lyttelton[1] (1780) imposed on many of his contemporaries, and a writer in the Quarterly Review, so late as 1851, regarded these letters as authentic, basing upon them a claim that Lyttelton was “Junius.” An early acquaintance with Lawrence Sterne resulted in his Letters supposed to have been written by Yorick and Eliza (1779). Periodical literature of all sorts—pamphlets, satires, burlesques, “two thousand columns for the papers,” “two hundred biographies”—filled up the next years, and about 1789 Combe was receiving £200 yearly from Pitt, as a pamphleteer. Six volumes of a Devil on Two Sticks in England won for him the title of “the English le Sage”; in 1794–1796 he wrote the text for Boydell’s History of the River Thames; in 1803 he began to write for The Times. In 1809–1811 he wrote for Ackermann’s Political Magazine the famous Tour of Dr Syntax in search of the Picturesque (descriptive and moralizing verse of a somewhat doggerel type), which, owing greatly to Thomas Rowlandson’s designs, had an immense success. It was published separately in 1812 and was followed by two similar Tours, “in search of Consolation,” and “in search of a Wife,” the first Mrs Syntax having died at the end of the first Tour. Then came Six Poems in illustration of drawings by Princess Elizabeth (1813), The English Dance of Death (1815–1816), The Dance of Life (1816–1817), The Adventures of Johnny Quae Genus (1822)—all written for Rowlandson’s caricatures; together with Histories of Oxford and Cambridge, and of Westminster Abbey for Ackermann; Picturesque Tours along the Rhine and other rivers, Histories of Madeira, Antiquities of York, texts for Turner’s Southern Coast Views, and contributions innumerable to the Literary Repository. In his later years, notwithstanding a by no means unsullied character, Combe was courted for the sake of his charming conversation and inexhaustible stock of anecdote. He died in London on the 19th of June 1823.

Brief obituary memoirs of Combe appeared in Ackermann’s Literary Repository and in the Gentleman’s Magazine for August 1823; and in May 1859 a list of his works, drawn up by his own hand, was printed in the latter periodical. See also Diary of H. Crabb Robinson, Notes and Queries for 1869.


COMBE, or Coomb, a term particularly in use in south-western England for a short closed-in valley, either on the side of a down or running up from the sea. It appears in place-names as a termination, e.g. Wiveliscombe, Ilfracombe, and as a prefix, e.g. Combemartin. The etymology of the word is obscure, but “hollow” seems a common meaning to similar forms in many languages. In English “combe” or “cumb” is an obsolete word for a “hollow vessel,” and the like meaning attached to Teutonic forms kumm and kumme. The Welsh cwm, in place-names, means hollow or valley, with which may be compared cum in many Scots place-names. The Greek κύμβη also means a hollow vessel, and there is a French dialect word combe meaning a little valley.


COMBERMERE, STAPLETON COTTON, 1st Viscount (1773–1865), British field-marshal and colonel of the 1st Life Guards, was the second son of Sir Robert Salusbury Cotton of Combermere Abbey, Cheshire, and was born on the 14th of November 1773, at Llewenny Hall in Denbighshire. He was educated at Westminster School, and when only sixteen obtained a second lieutenancy in the 23rd regiment (Royal Welsh Fusiliers). A few years afterwards (1793) he became by purchase captain in the 6th Dragoon Guards, and he served in this regiment during the campaigns of the duke of York in Flanders. While yet in his twentieth year, he joined the 25th Light Dragoons (subsequently 22nd) as lieutenant-colonel, and, while in attendance with his regiment on George III. at Weymouth, he became a great favourite of the king. In 1796 he went with his regiment to India, taking part en route in the operations in Cape Colony (July-August 1796), and in 1799 served in the war with Tippoo Sahib, and at the storming of Seringapatam. Soon after this, having become heir to the family baronetcy, he was, at his father’s desire, exchanged into a regiment at home, the 16th Light Dragoons. He was stationed in Ireland during Emmett’s insurrection, became colonel in 1800, and major-general five years later. From 1806 to 1814 he was M.P. for Newark. In 1808 he was sent to the seat of war in Portugal, where he shortly rose to the position of commander of Wellington’s cavalry, and it was here that he most displayed that courage and judgment which won for him his fame as a cavalry officer. He succeeded to the baronetcy in 1809, but continued his military career. His share in the battle of Salamanca (22nd of July 1812) was especially marked, and he received the personal thanks of Wellington. The day after, he was accidentally wounded. He was now a lieutenant-general in the British army and a K.B., and on the conclusion of peace (1814) was raised to the peerage under the style of Baron Combermere. He was not present at Waterloo, the command, which he expected, and bitterly regretted not receiving, having been given to Lord Uxbridge. When the latter was wounded Cotton was sent for to take over his command, and he remained in France until the reduction of the allied army of occupation. In 1817 he was appointed governor of Barbadoes and commander of the West Indian forces. From 1822 to 1825 he commanded in Ireland. His career of active service was concluded in India (1826), where he besieged and took Bhurtpore—a fort which twenty-two years previously had defied the genius of Lake and was deemed impregnable. For this service he was created Viscount Combermere. A long period of peace and honour still remained to him at home. In 1834 he was sworn a privy councillor, and in 1852 he succeeded Wellington as constable of the Tower and lord lieutenant of the Tower Hamlets. In 1855 he was made a field-marshal and G.C.B. He died at Clifton on the 21st of February 1865. An equestrian statue in bronze, the work of Baron Marochetti, was raised in his honour at Chester by the inhabitants of Cheshire. Combermere was succeeded by his only son, Wellington Henry (1818–1891), and the viscountcy is still held by his descendants.

See Viscountess Combermere and Captain W. W. Knollys, The Combermere Correspondence (London, 1866).


COMBES, [JUSTIN LOUIS] ÉMILE (1835–  ), French statesman, was born at Roquecourbe in the department of the Tarn. He studied for the priesthood, but abandoned the idea before ordination, and took the diploma of doctor of letters (1860),

  1. Thomas, 2nd Baron Lyttelton (1744–1779), commonly known as the “wicked Lord Lyttelton,” was famous for his abilities and his libertinism, also for the mystery attached to his death, of which it was alleged he was warned in a dream three days before the event.