Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Caroline

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1044197Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 20 — Fox, Caroline1889Richard Garnett

FOX, CAROLINE (1819–1871), diarist, born at Falmouth on 24 May 1819, was second daughter of Robert Were Fox of Penjerrick. From her earliest years she displayed great intelligence and refinement of mind. In 1835 she began to keep the journal which has rendered her celebrated, not so much from its considerable literary merits, as from its association with distinguished persons. Most of these were men of science, attracted by Robert Were Fox's scientific reputation, and his especial knowledge of Cornish mineralogy; but the most remarkable were thinkers and men of letters brought to her remote nook of Cornwall by their own delicacy of constitution or that of their friends. At the beginning of 1840 John Sterling was staying at Falmouth, partly on account of his own health, partly in attendance on his sick friend, Dr. Calvert; Stuart Mill's mother, with her daughters Clara and Harriet, was nursing her youngest son Henry in a hopeless illness, and was soon joined by Mill himself. Sterling and Mill soon became exceedingly intimate with the Fox family, especially with Caroline and her brother Barclay, to whom Mill wrote several letters published in the second edition of Caroline's journal. Caroline's account of their conversations is exceedingly interesting, and adds considerably to our knowledge of both, especially of Mill, who has not elsewhere found a Boswell. The intimacy was the means of introducing her to Carlyle and other remarkable persons, few of whom are mentioned without some bright touch of appreciative portraiture. Her tendency was always to admiration and sympathy, recognising what seemed to her excellent, ignoring or minimising points of difference; it would not be possible to point out a cavil or an ill-natured expression from one end of the record to the other. The intimacy with Mill gradually diminished, while that with Sterling increased in warmth, and his death in 1844 may not have been unconnected with the depression into which Caroline fell in that year, and which left its traces on all her subsequent life. From this time her diary becomes less copious and interesting, partly from the comparative infrequency of remarkable acquaintances, partly from the interruptions occasioned by ill-health, but partly also from a loss of buoyancy and a comparative limitation and timidity of thought. Every line nevertheless indicates the gentle, spiritual, and at the same time intellectual and accomplished woman, and it will always be valued as a highly important illustration of the most characteristic thought of the Victorian era. Caroline died on 12 Jan. 1871, having never married, or quitted her home except for occasional visits to the continent. With her sister, Anna Maria Fox (d. Dec. 1897), she translated into Italian several English religious works, of which the latest, ‘Il Mozzo Bertino,’ was published in Florence in 1867.

[Memories of Old Friends, being extracts from the Journals and Letters of Caroline Fox, edited by Horace N. Pym (London, 1882); Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, pp. 160, 1189.]

R. G.