Winter Evenings: by KNOX, Vicesimus (1752 - 1821).

KNOX, Vicesimus (1752 - 1821).

Winter Evenings: Or, Lucubrations on Life and Letters. In Three Volumes. Vol. I [-III]. London, Charles Dilly, 1788.

First Edition. Three Volumes, 12mo (182 x 110 mm), pp. [xii], [iv], 311, [1]; [viii], 312; [viii], 311, [1], each volume with the half title and two leaves of contents, some light foxing throughout, in contemporary tree calf, single gilt filet to covers, spines with raised bands, gilt in compartments, red morocco labels lettered in gilt, black morocco labels lettered in gilt, Vols. I and II with new and uncomfortably shiny black labels, with a contemporary armorial bookplate in each volume.

A popular book of essays by the pacifist and enlightened educationalist, Vicesimus Knox. Following his degree at St. John’s College, Oxford, where he became a fellow and took orders, he became headmaster of Tonbridge School, taking over from his father who was suffering poor health. A charismatic headmaster whose works on practical education were very popular, the numbers of boys on the roll rose from 20 to 80 during his long tenure there (he was headmaster for 34 years), but they began to fall back again on account of his very public criticism of British foreign policy in a series of articles written for the Morning Chronicle and a number of sermons preached in Brighton on the subject of pacifism. ‘Offensive war’, he argued, was ‘at once detestable, deplorable and ridiculous’ and he criticised the ‘military machine’ as being created by a corrupt administration.
Knox’ political views grew out of his ‘benign religious vision’ (ODNB), which also informed his educational and conduct writings, such as the present collection. As an essayist, his style is easily accessible and he believed it to be the best genre for communicating his ideal of civic sensibility to the middle classes: ‘I address not my book to systematical and metaphysical doctors, to deep, erudite, and subtle sages, but to those who, without pretending to be among the seven wise men (a later edition adds ‘the liberal merchant, the inquisitive manufacturer, the country gentleman and the various persons who fill the most useful departments in life’) have no objection to kill a little time, by perusing at their leisure the pages of a modern volume’ (I, x).
The third volume has a diverting chapter, ‘Of Reading Novels and trifling Books without Discrimination’, in which Knox, well known for his dismissal of sentimental novels and his attacks on the morality of Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, satirises the world of the circulating library: ‘I have smiled at hearing a lady admire the delicacy of sentiment which the author of some novel, which she had just been reading, must possess, though I knew it to be the production of some poor hireling, destitute of learning and taste, knowledge of life and manners, and furnished with the few ideas he had by reading the novels of a few preceding years. He had inserted in the title-page, ‘By a Lady’, and various conjectures were often hazarded in my hearing concerning the authoress. Some hinted that they were acquainted with her, and that it was a lady of quality. Others knew it to be written by an acquaintance of their own; while all agreed in asserting, it must be by a lady, the sentiments were so characteristically delicate and refined. You may conjecture how much I was disposed to laugh when I knew it to be the production of a comb-maker in Black Boy Alley’ (III, 151-152).
This was a popular work, with a Dublin edition published in the same year and further London editions in 1790 and 1795. A ‘Basil’ edition was published by James Decker in conjunction with the Paris booksellers Levrault frères, in 1800 and it was reprinted as part of Robert Lynam’s British Essayists, vols. xxix and xxx, London, 1827.

ESTC t92823.

Keywords: English Literature
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