Douce, Francis (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 15
Douce, Francis

by Arthur Henry Bullen
A later revision notes "the chest of manuscripts was not opened until 1 Jan. 1900, when nothing of great interest was revealed."

DOUCE, FRANCIS (1757–1834), antiquary, a son of Thomas Douce of the six clerks office, was born in London in 1757. His grandfather was probably Francis Douce, M.D., who was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians 31 March 1735, and died at Hackney 16 Sept. 1760, aged 84. Dr. Douce's portrait on horseback at the age of seventy-five was painted by W. Keeble, and is often met with in an engraving by James McArdell (Munk, Physicians, ii. 130; Bromley, Portraits, p. 290). He was educated at a school at Richmond, and afterwards ‘at a French academy kept by a pompous and ignorant life-guardsman, with a view to his learning merchants' accounts, which were his aversion’ (Gent. Mag.) In early life he studied for the bar, and for some time held an office under his father. But his tastes (with which his father had little sympathy) were wholly for literary and antiquarian research. In 1799, the year in which his father and mother died, Douce married. On his marriage, which was not productive of happiness, Douce gave up his rooms in Gray's Inn, and purchased a house in Gower Street. He succeeded to a smaller share of his father's property than he had anticipated, and attributed his disappointment to the ‘misrepresentation’ of his elder brother, ‘who used to say it was of no use to leave me money, for I should waste it in books.’ For a time Douce was keeper of the manuscripts in the British Museum, but resigned his appointment owing to some disagreement with the trustees. During his term of office he took part in cataloguing the Lansdowne MSS. and revising the catalogue of Harleian MSS. In 1807 he published his interesting and valuable ‘Illustrations of Shakespeare,’ 2 vols. 8vo. He contributed various articles to the ‘Archæologia’ (vols. xiii. xiv. xv. xvii. xxi.), ‘Vetusta Monumenta,’ and ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ In 1811 he edited ‘Arnold's Chronicle,’ and for the Roxburghe Club he edited ‘Judicium, a Pageant,’ &c., 1822, and ‘Metrical Life of St. Robert,’ 1824. He assisted Scott in the preparation of ‘Sir Tristram,’ prefixed an introduction, full of antiquarian learning, to J. T. Smith's ‘Vagabondiniana,’ 1817, and wrote some notes for the 1824 edition of Warton's ‘History of English Poetry.’ In 1823 Douce was left one of the residuary legatees of Nollekens, the sculptor, a large part of whose wealth he inherited. Always a diligent collector of books and artistic objects, he was now able to indulge his tastes freely. He had disposed of his house at Gower Street and had settled in Charlotte Street, Portland Place; but having become possessed of an ample fortune, he removed to Kensington Square. In 1833 he published ‘The Dance of Death,’ exhibited in elegant engravings on wood, to which he prefixed an elaborate dissertation, enlarged from an essay which he had published anonymously in 1774. He died 30 March 1834. By his will he left his magnificent collection of books, manuscripts, prints, and coins to the Bodleian Library. He had visited Oxford in 1830 with Isaac D'Israeli, and the courteous reception that he received from Dr. Bandinel led him to make the bequest. A catalogue of his books and manuscripts was published in 1840. To Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick of Goodrich Court, Herefordshire, he left ‘all my carvings in ivory or other materials, together with my miscellaneous curiosities of every description,’ &c., with certain reservations. These objects were described by Meyrick in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1836. To the British Museum he left his letters, commonplace books, and unpublished essays, with a direction that the chest of manuscripts should not be opened until 1 Jan. 1900. The first clause in his will runs, ‘I give to Sir Anthony Carlisle 200l., requesting him either to sever my head, or extract the heart from my body, so as to prevent any possibility of the return of vitality.’

Douce is said to have edited ‘The Recreative Review, or Eccentricities of Life and Literature,’ 3 vols. 1821–3 (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vii. 367). George Steevens (who for some years visited him daily at his rooms in Gray's Inn), Strutt, Dibdin, and others were indebted to his researches. He is introduced, under the name of Prospero, in Dibdin's ‘Bibliomania,’ and there are references to him in Dibdin's ‘Reminiscences’ and ‘Bibliographical Decameron.’ In manners and appearance he was singular and strange. Those who had but a slight acquaintance with him were repelled by his roughness, but his familiar friends held him in affectionate esteem.

[Obituary notice in the Athenæum, 1834, p. 256; Gent. Mag. for August 1834, with a letter in the September number containing strictures on the memoir; Catalogue of the Douce Collection, 1840; Lockhart's Life of Scott, 1845, pp. 102, 106, 112.]

A. H. B.