Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Charles (1749-1809)

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FOX, CHARLES (1749–1809), Persian scholar, was, according to one account, son of Joseph Fox, quaker and grocer at Falmouth, and was born there in 1749; but he may possibly be identified with Charles Fox, who was the eldest son of John Fox by his wife, Rebecca Steevens of High Wycombe (Foster, Fox Family, p. 15). He kept a bookseller's shop in his native town, and is the person mentioned in Southey's ‘Espriella’ (i. 6), who, when his house was on fire and he realised that nothing could be saved, ‘went upon the nearest hill and made a drawing of the conflagration—an admirable instance of English phlegm.’ Polwhele, who refers to this incident, adds that ‘his friend Wolcot saved the horses in the stable by muffling up their heads in blankets.’ After this loss, which does not seem to have involved him in pecuniary difficulties, Fox followed the bent of his inclination in landscape and portrait painting. He accompanied his brother, the master of a merchant vessel, on a voyage to the Baltic, and then made a tour, on foot and alone, through Sweden, Norway, and part of Russia, drawing hundreds of views on the way. On his return he stopped for a short time in London, but soon fixed his abode permanently in Bristol. He was facile in acquiring languages, and made a special study of oriental literature, collecting numerous Persian manuscripts. In 1797 Joseph Cottle published for him a volume of ‘Poems, containing the Plaints, Consolations, and Delights of Achmed Ardebeili, a Persian Exile, with notes historical and explanatory.’ The verses are said to have evinced much vigour of thought and beauty of expression, and the notes have been lauded for their illustration of Eastern subjects; but their value in a monetary sense may be judged from the fact that Cottle, after selling his copyrights to Longmans, found that Fox's ‘Achmed’ and Wordsworth's ‘Lyrical Ballads’ had been ‘reckoned as nothing.’ As both authors were his personal friends, Cottle begged them back again, and, the request being readily granted, returned to the former his receipt for twenty guineas, and to Coleridge, for Wordsworth, his receipt for thirty guineas. Fox's nominal profession made slight demand upon his time, and for many years before his death it was abandoned altogether for poetry. About 1803 he had prepared for the press two volumes of poems from the Persian, but growing weakness of health hindered their publication, though he still continued versifying. He died at Villa Place, Bathwick, Bath, on 1 March 1809. From the description in Hone's ‘Table Book’ (i. 762), he was ‘a great natural genius, which employed itself upon trivial and not generally interesting matters. He was self-taught, and had patience and perseverance for anything.’ His eccentricity is acknowledged, but he is credited with ‘the quickest reasoning power, and consequently the greatest coolness, of any man of his day who was able to reason.’ He married, in 1792, Miss Feniers, the daughter of a Dutch merchant, who survived him. They were hospitable people, and to young persons with literary tastes their house and conversation were ever open. Southey says: ‘I knew him well, and met Adam Clarke at his house. I have profiles of him, his wife, and the parrot, &c.’ Claudius James Rich, author of a memoir on the ruins of Babylon and other works, was attracted to the study of the oriental languages when a boy by accidentally seeing some Arabic manuscripts in Fox's library, and by constant access to these books, and the loan of an Arabic grammar and lexicon, he soon made himself master of the language. From him William Isaac Roberts, a young Bristol poet whose poems and letters were issued in 1811, ‘experienced continual kindness and encouragement in his literary pursuits.’ It was during Dr. Adam Clarke's second residence in Bristol, beginning in 1798, that he obtained much aid from Fox in his study of Persian; and he is said to have repaid these services by turning his friend into a ‘devout believer.’ Many of Fox's manuscripts, including the illustrated narrative of his travels, passed into the doctor's hands. They are described in J. B. B. Clarke's catalogue of the ‘European and Asiatic Manuscripts of the late Dr. Adam Clarke’ (1835), and the particulars are copied into the ‘Bibliotheca Cornubiensis,’ iii. 1186. Proofs of Fox's ‘humour and accurate observation of character’ are found in his Cornish dialogues printed by Polwhele and other authors.

[Gent. Mag. 1809, pt. i. 385; Corresp. of Southey and Caroline Bowles, p. 281; Polwhele's Reminiscences, ii. 182; Polwhele's Biog. Sketches in Cornwall, ii. 62–9; Annual Register, 1809, pp. 658–9; Monthly Mag. April 1809, pp. 311–312; Cottle's Early Recollections, ii. 26–7; Etheridge's Adam Clarke, pp. 265, 384; Memoir of Rich in Residence in Koordistan; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub.]

W. P. C.