Wise, John Richard de Capel (DNB00)

WISE, JOHN RICHARD de CAPEL (1831–1890), author and ornithologist, born in 1831, was eldest son of John Robert Wise (1792–1842), British consul-general in Sweden, by his wife Jane, daughter of Richard Ellison of Sudbrooke. The eldest branch of the Wise family has been long seated at Clayton Hall, Staffordshire. John Wise (1751–1807), the author's grandfather, was a younger son; he was recorder of Totnes, and married Elizabeth, sister of Robert Hurrell Froude, archdeacon of Totnes, the father of James Anthony Froude the historian. After attending Grantham grammar school, Wise proceeded to Lincoln College, Oxford, whence he matriculated on 15 March 1849 at the age of eighteen. He took no degree, and left the university to travel abroad. Deeply interested in ornithology, he began at an early age to collect birds' eggs, and he devoted much energy through life to perfecting his collection. At the same time all aspects of nature attracted him, and wherever he wandered he studied carefully the zoology, botany, and scenery of the district. Nor did he neglect the dialect of the inhabitants. He was also a devoted student of literature, and wrote both prose and verse with directness and feeling.

On returning to England he wandered through country districts, frequently changing his residence and maintaining little communication with his friends. In 1855 he published a pamphlet of poems called ‘Robin Hood,’ and in 1857 a lecture on ‘The Beauties of Shakespeare,’ which he delivered at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1860 he issued a novel in two volumes called ‘The Cousin's Courtship;’ but it achieved little success. Repeated visits to the neighbourhood of Shakespeare's birthplace suggested a different kind of literary work—a description of the local scenery, the natural history, the literary associations and dialect of Stratford-on-Avon. Wise's wide reading in Shakespeare's works, his powers of observation, and his skill as a naturalist, gave genuine charm to his volume on ‘Shakspere: his Birthplace and its Neighbourhood’ (1861), which was published in December 1860. There were twenty-five illustrations engraved by W. J. Linton, and a tentative glossary of words to be found in Shakespeare which were peculiar to Warwickshire districts. This book Wise followed up next year in a volume in the same vein called ‘The New Forest: its History and its Scenery; with sixty-two Views by Walter Crane’ (December 1862, sm. 4to; 2nd ed. 1863; 3rd ed. 1867; and 4th ed. 1883, with twelve additional etchings by Heywood Sumner). Wise walked through the district with Mr. Crane, then a lad of sixteen, and the young artist's illustrations of the sylvan scenery are excellent. The book, which includes a glossary of local words, is admirable also from the naturalist's point of view, and remains a standard work. Wise's friend George Henry Lewes favourably reviewed it, on its appearance, in the ‘Cornhill Magazine’ (December 1862).

Wise, who held advanced views on religion and politics, came to know Dr. John Chapman, editor of the ‘Westminster Review.’ For many years he wrote the section on ‘Belles-Lettres’ in that magazine, but withdrew suddenly owing to political differences with Chapman. His relations with the ‘Westminster’ brought him the acquaintance of George Henry Lewes and George Eliot. Subsequently he was a contributor to the ‘Reader,’ a weekly periodical which also advocated advanced views. To the ‘Cornhill Magazine’ Wise contributed in July 1865 an admirable paper on ‘The Poetry of Provincialisms.’

It is said that in 1870 he went out as a newspaper correspondent to the Franco-German war, and met with many stirring adventures. Subsequently he resumed his wanderings in England. In 1875 he was settled at Sandsend, near Whitby. Some years later he had migrated to Edwinstow, Nottinghamshire, whence he explored Sherwood Forest, with the apparent intention, which he abandoned, of writing on it in the same manner as he had written on the New Forest. In 1881 he came into some property by the death of his mother's brother, Henry Ellison, author (under the pseudonym of Henry Browne) of ‘Stones from a Quarry’ (1875). A part of his newly acquired wealth he expended in the production of an elaborate volume called ‘The First of May: a fairy Masque,’ which he dedicated to Charles Darwin (1881, oblong folio). The text, a collection of lyrics from Wise's pen, was elaborately illustrated by Mr. Walter Crane. Mr. Crane's fifty-two designs, of which a transcription of the author's text by the artist formed part, were finely reproduced in photogravure. Wise's name did not appear in the volume, which was financially unsuccessful. His latest years were passed at Lyndhurst in Hampshire, and there he died, unmarried, on 1 April 1890, aged 59. He was buried in Lyndhurst cemetery.

[Private information.]

S. L.