Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dobbs, Francis

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DOBBS, FRANCIS (1750–1811), Irish politician, was a descendant of Richard Dobbs, fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and second son of Richard Dobbs of Castletown, whose elder son, Arthur Dobbs [q. v.], was the governor of North Carolina. He was born on 27 April 1750, and after taking his degree at Trinity College was called to the Irish bar in 1773, and in the following year produced a tragedy, ‘The Patriot King, or the Irish Chief.’ It was published in London, but does not seem ever to have been acted. On his return to Dublin, after publishing this tragedy, he took a leading part in the brilliant social life of the Irish capital, and was noted for his wit and poetical ability, and also for a growing eccentricity. He took a keen interest in the independent political life of Ireland which existed during the last quarter of the last century and published his first political pamphlets during the volunteer agitation. The pamphlets are all worth reading, and all essentially the author's; they are: ‘A Letter to Lord North,’ 1780; ‘Thoughts on Volunteers,’ 1781; ‘A History of Irish Affairs from 12 Oct. 1779 to 15 Sept. 1782,’ 1782; and ‘Thoughts on the present Mode of Taxation in Great Britain,’ 1784. Throughout this stirring period he was a noted political personage, a leading volunteer, a friend of Lord Charlemont, and the representative of a northern volunteer corps at the Dungannon convention in 1782. Dobbs then turned for a time from politics, and his eccentricity taking the shape of a belief in the millennium, he published in 1787 four large volumes of a ‘Universal History, commencing at the Creation and ending at the death of Christ, in letters from a father to his son,’ in which he exerted himself to prove historically the exact fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies. He also published in 1788 a volume of poems, most of which had appeared in various periodicals, and many of which possess great merit. Dobbs was fanatically opposed to the legislative union with England, and believed it not only inexpedient but impious. Lord Charlemont and the other national leaders determined to make use of him, and in 1797 he was returned to the Irish House of Commons for Lord Charlemont's borough of Charlemont. He soon delivered an important speech and submitted five propositions for tranquillising the country, which were published in 1799, but the success of that speech was quite overshadowed by the enormous popularity of his great speech delivered against the Union Bill on 7 June 1800, of which, it is said, thirty thousand copies were immediately sold. This popularity was due as much to the eccentric nature of Dobbs's arguments against the union as to its eloquence, for he devoted himself to proving that the union was forbidden by scripture, by quoting texts from Daniel and the Revelation. This popular speech was published by Dobbs as ‘Substance of a Speech delivered in the Irish House of Commons 7 June 1800, in which is predicted the second coming of the Messiah,’ and he took advantage of the attention he had attracted to publish in the same year his ‘Concise View of the Great Predictions in the Sacred Writings,’ and his ‘Summary of Universal History,’ in nine volumes, on which he had been long engaged. With the passing of the Act of Union Dobbs sank into obscurity; he could not get any more of his books published, his circumstances became embarrassed, his eccentricities increased to madness, and he died in great pecuniary difficulties on 11 April 1811.

[Barrington's Historic Anecdotes of the Union; Hardy's Life of Lord Charlemont; Coote's History of the Union.]

H. M. S.