Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Osborne, Francis (1593-1659)
OSBORNE, FRANCIS (1593–1659), miscellaneous writer, born, according to his epitaph, on 26 Sept. 1593, was fifth and youngest son of Sir John Osborne of Chicksands Priory, Shefford, Bedfordshire, by his wife Dorothy, daughter and coheiress of Richard Barlee, esq., of Effingham Hall, Essex [see under Osborne, Peter]. Francis was educated privately at Chicksands. Coming to London as a youth, he hung about the court, and attracted the notice of William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke, who made him his master of the horse. Subsequently he was for a time employed in the office of the lord treasurer's remembrancer, which was presided over successively by his father and his eldest brother Peter (cf. Advice to a Son, pt. ii. § 45). In politics and religion he sympathised with the popular party in parliament; but, although a close observer of public life, took no active part in it. After residing for a time at North Fambridge, Essex (cf. Misc. Works, i. 15), he removed about 1650 to Oxford, to superintend the education of his son, and there printed a series of historical, political, and ethical tracts. His wife was Anna, sister of William Draper, colonel in the parliamentary army, and a parliamentary visitor of the university. Through Draper's influence Osborne obtained some small official employment under the Commonwealth, becoming 'one of the seven for the countie and city of Oxon., that was a judge as to all prisons and persons committed to any prisons in comitatu vel civitate Oxon. 1653' (Wood, Life, ed. Clark, i. 185). After the publication of his 'Advice to a Son' in 1656, he gained a wide reputation, and paid many visits to London, he reckoned the philosopher Hobbes among his friends. He died at Drapers house at Nether Worton, near Deddington, Oxfordshire, on 11 Feb. 1658-9, and was buried in the church there. His wife died in 1657. He had three daughters and a son. His son John was a demy of Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1648 to 1651; was installed in 1650, on his uncle Draper's nomination, fellow of All Souls' College, after a struggle between the parliamentary visitors at Oxford and the parliamentary committee dealing with university business in London; proceeded B.C.L. in 1654, became a barrister of the Inner Temple in 1657, and a bencher in 1689 (Burrows, Parliamentary Visitation, pp. 476, 517-18; Bloxam, Reg. of Magdalen College, Oxford, v. 211-13). He was prime serjeant-at-law in Ireland from 1680 till 1686, when he was deprived of the office. But he was restored to it under William III in 1690, and was again dismissed in 1692 (Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 617). He married a daughter of William Draper. One John Osborne published 'An Indictment against Tithes' in 1659. Francis Osborne's chief publication was his 'Advice to a Son,' in two parts, of which the first was published in 1656, 'printed for H. Hath, printer to the university for Thomas Robinson,' and the second in 1658. The first part, which was divided into five sections, headed respectively 'Studies,' 'Love and Marriage,' 'Travel,' 'Government,' and 'Religion,' appeared without any author's name; it at once became popular, and after it had passed through five editions within two years Osborne declared himself the author. In 1658 the second part—of marked inferiority to the first—appeared, and he dedicated it under his own name to Draper, at the same time issuing a new edition of the first part, with his name on the title-page. Like the superior production of Lord Chesterfield, Osborne's book combined in apophthegmatic form some sound sense and perspicuous observation with much that was obvious and commonplace. The warnings against women with which he plied his son form the most interesting passages. The book's misogynic character was ridiculed by John Heydon [q. v.] in his 'Advice to a Daughter, in opposition to Advice to a Son,' 1658, and Heydon's venture produced a defence of Osborne, 'Advice to Balaam's Ass,' by Thomas Pecke [q. v.], whom Heydon castigated in a second edition of his 'Advice to a Daughter,' 1659. In Osborne's day his 'Advice to a Son' found its most enthusiastic admirers among the young scholars at Oxford. 'The godly ministers,' moreover, soon detected 'principles of atheism' in its vague references to religion, and denounced its evil influence both on students and on country gentlemen. On 27 July 1658 the vice-chancellor, Dr. John Conant, accordingly summoned the Oxford booksellers before him, and bade them sell no more copies of Osborne's book; but this direction caused the 'Advice,' according to Wood, to 'sell the better' (Wood, Life, i. 257; Hist, of Oxford).
At a later date Pepys studied it with affectionate care (Diary, 19 Oct. 1661), and Sir William Petty told the diarist that the three most popular books of his time were Osborne's 'Advice,' Browne's 'Religio Medici,' and Butler's 'Hudibras.' Swift wrote of Osborne as one who, affecting the phrases in fashion at court in his day, soon became either unintelligible or ridiculous (Tatler, No. 230). Boswell found the 'Advice' as shrewd, quaint, and lively as an ancient gentleman's conversation. Johnson told Boswell that Osborne was 'a conceited fellow.' 'Were a man to write so now, the boys would throw stones at him.'
Next in interest to Osborne's 'Advice' was his 'Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Q. Elizabeth and King James 1,' 1658, 4to, which supplies much attractive court gossip. This tract was reprinted by Sir Walter Scott in his 'Secret History of James I' (Edinburgh, 1811). Other works by Osborne were: 1. 'A Seasonable Expostulation with the Netherlands, declaring their Ingratitude to and the Necessity of their Agreement with the Commonwealth of England,' Oxford, 1652, 4to. 2. 'Persuasive to mutual Compliance under the present Government, and Plea for a Free State compared with Monarchy,' 1652. 3. 'Political Reflections upon the Government of the Turks,' with 'discourses' on Machiavelli, Luther, Nero's death, and other topics, 1656. 4. 'Miscellany of sundry Essays, Paradoxes, Problematical Discourses, Letters, and Characters, together with political Deductions from the History of the Earl of Essex,' London, 1659, 12mo, dedicated to Osborne's niece, Elizabeth Draper. All these works were subsequently bound together, and entitled Osborne's 'Works.' The collective edition of 1673 was brought—without much result—to the notice of the House of Lords on 13 March 1676, on the ground that its incidental vindication of a republican form of government in England rendered it a seditious and treasonable publication. Reissues followed in 1682 (8th edit.), 1689 (9th edit.), 1701 (10th edit.), and 1722, in 2 vols. (11th edit.) To the last are prefixed a memoir of Osborne and many previously unprinted letters addressed by him to Colonel Draper between 1653 and 1658.
Osborne has also been credited, apparently in error, with 'Private Christian's non ultra, or a Plea for the Layman's interpreting the Scriptures,' Oxford, 1650, 4to (anon.); with 'A Dialogue of Polygamy' (London, 16.57, 4to), translated from the Italian of Bernardino Ochino [q. v.] by 'a person of quality,' and dedicated to the author of the 'Advice;' and William Sprigge's 'A modest Plea for an equal Commonwealth against Monarchy,' 1659 (Wood, Athenæ, iv. 561).
[MS. preface to a proposed reprint of Osborne's Advice, by his Honour Judge Parry, kindly lent by the writer; Memoirs prefixed to Osborne's Miscellaneous Works, 1722; Wood's Athenæ, i. 705-7, s. v. Henry Cuff; Burke's Baronetage; Osborne's Works.]