The Barn-Door Of Infamy

 

 

NOTES AND QUERIES

Notes and Queries-v-IX-1872, p. 294-296.

JOHN DIX, THE BIOGRAPHER OF CHATTERTON.

It is necessary to sometimes nail up fresh vermin on the barn-door of infamy, already sufficiently crowded. One of the most shameless literary forgers of the present century was John Dix, alias John Ross a man who wrote a short 8vo Life of Chatterton, which was published in Bristol in 1837. This writer, who many years ago fled to America, was first publicly exposed by that acute critic Mr. Moy Thomas in The Athenaeum of Dec. 5, 1857, when Mr. Thomas proved a report of the proceedings of the inquest on the body of Chatterton, forwarded by this Mr. Dix to Mr. J. M. Gutch of Worcester, and afterwards published in "N. & Q.," to be a shameless and badly invented forgery. Mr. Thomas, with the keen sagacity that distinguishes him, showed that except where Mr. Dix follows the scanty notes of Warton, or that not very scrupulous literary adventurer, Sir Herbert Croft (himself a great mixer of truth with fiction, vide his Love and Madness, his spurious and absurdly romantic imaginary letters of the Reverend Mr. Hackman and Miss Reay, the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich), he was always inventing.

Mr. Dix, in the aforesaid report, mentions the
" Three Crows "in Brooke Street a public-house
which there is every reason to suppose never existed,
and he makes the date of the inquest Friday,
August 27, 1770, when it happened, unfortunately,
to be a Monday, the 27th of that year. He also
makes the house where Chatterton died No. 17,
whereas, as Mr. Thomas most ingeniously and
convincingly proved, it was really No. 39.

In reply to this exposure, Mr. Dix, still in retirement
in America, wrote a letter to the Boston
Saturday Evening Gazette, impudently agreeing
with Mr. Thomas that the report of the inquest
was a fraud. It had been given to him, he said
(credat Judceus) by the late Robert Southey at
the time he, Dix, was writing the Life of Chatterton.
Considering it unauthentic, he, Dix, did not
use the copy of the report taken by him from the
anonymous document returned by him, or said to
be returned by him, to Southey, who was then,
by-the-bye, lying in a quiet place where no persons
are either asked or answered.

Mr. Thomas, in a second letter to The Athenaeum,
January 23, 1858, complained with natural
anger that Mr. Dix had let five years since the
publication of the report elapse without explanation
; and also that, considering the document a
forgery, he gave a copy of it without comment
to Mr. Gutch of Worcester; moreover, like all
literary men of London or Boston, that he must
have known that the romantic report of the
inquest had been interwoven into an elaborate
essay on Chatterton by Professor Masson, and had
been made the basis of an elaborate pamphlet on
the boy poet by Dr. Maitland.

In the above-named letter Mr. Dix had the
shamelessness to almost openly avow that the
portrait of Chatterton affixed to the first edition
of the Life was also a forgery. The likeness was
really taken from the hydrocephalous son of a
poor Bristol printer named Morris (?), who in mere
caprice had written "Chatterton " on the back of
the portrait and sold it for a mere song to a Bristol
broker. From him it reached Dix, -who instantly
jumping at it, had it engraved. No authentic
of Dec. 5, 1857, when Mr. Thomas proved a report
of the proceedings of the inquest on the body
of Chatterton, forwarded by this Mr. Dix to Mr.
J. M. Gutch of Worcester, and afterwards published
in " N. & Q.," to be a shameless and badly
invented forgery. Mr. Thomas, with the keen
sagacity that distinguishes him, showed that except
where Mr. Dix follows the scanty notes of
Warton, or that not very scrupulous literary
adventurer, Sir Herbert Croft (himself a great
mixer of truth with fiction, vide his Love and
Madness, his spurious and absurdly romantic imaginary
letters of the Reverend Mr. Hackman and
Miss Reay, the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich),
he was always inventing.

Mr. Dix, in the aforesaid report, mentions the
"Three Crows "in Brooke Street a public-house
which there is every reason to suppose never existed,
and he makes the date of the inquest Friday,
August 27, 1770, when it happened, unfortunately,
to be a Monday, the 27th of that year. He also
makes the house where Chatterton died No. 17,
whereas, as Mr. Thomas most ingeniously and
convincingly proved, it was really No. 39.

In reply to this exposure, Mr. Dix, still in retirement
in America, wrote a letter to the Boston
Saturday Evening Gazette
, impudently agreeing
with Mr. Thomas that the report of the inquest
was a fraud. It had been given to him, he said
(credat Judceus) by the late Robert Southey at
the time he, Dix, was writing the Life of Chatterton.
Considering it unauthentic, he, Dix, did not
use the copy of the report taken by him from the
anonymous document returned by him, or said to
be returned by him, to Southey, who was then,
by-the-bye, lying in a quiet place where no persons
are either asked or answered.

Mr. Thomas, in a second letter to The Athenaeum,
January 23, 1858, complained with natural
anger that Mr. Dix had let five years since the
publication of the report elapse without explanation
; and also that, considering the document a
forgery, he gave a copy of it without comment
to Mr. Gutch of Worcester; moreover, like all
literary men of London or Boston, that he must
have known that the romantic report of the
inquest had been interwoven into an elaborate
essay on Chatterton by Professor Masson, and had
been made the basis of an elaborate pamphlet on
the boy poet by Dr. Maitland.

In the above-named letter Mr. Dix had the shamelessness to almost openly avow that the portrait of Chatterton affixed to the first edition of the Life was also a forgery. The likeness was really taken from the hydrocephalous son of a poor Bristol printer named Morris (?), who in mere caprice had written " Chatterton " on the back of the portrait and sold it for a mere song to a Bristol broker. From him it reached Dix, - who instantly jumping at it, had it engraved. No authentic can temperance orator, Mr. John B. Gough. In 1854 this miserable man produced Pen Pictures of distinguished American Divines, and probably not long after died, for he has since that forged no more.

In his Lions Living and Dead, Dix says of Bristol that "It is a place which has damned more talent than perhaps any other place in Queen Victoria's dominions. I speak strongly, but I do so with all my heart and soul." There writes the exile of a city which had seen his disgrace. It is as well that American literary men should know how miserably unreliable are the imaginary conversations of this literary chevalier d'industrie, who has muddied so many subjects with wilful untruths.

It is curious to see how lies breed lies. As Macpherson led to Chatterton, so Chatterton was followed by Dix. It is to the eternal disgrace of this John Dix, alias John Ross, that he has confused, entangled, and corrupted the subject of Chatterton's life in such a way that only the last day can ever set it right.

WALTER THORNBURY.

- 30 -

 

Same, p. 365-366.

JOHN DIX. (4th S. ix. 294.)

Is John Dix dead ?

MR. WALTER THORNBURY
might deem it worth while to investigate this
question. I knew the man personally many years
ago ; knew his style, which had a peculiarity of
flavour; think I have recently recognised that
flavour in South Wales journalism. Perhaps he
reads "N. & Q.," and will show sign.

As to his romancing about Chatterton, does it
much matter? I sometimes wonder whether
Wordsworth had even tried to read the poetic
forger, when he wrote concerning
" the marvellous boy,
The sleepless soul that perished in its pride."
"
I have often wished I had asked Wordsworth
the question when he deigned in my mere boyhood
to talk to me. I have never been able to
find a verse of what I deem poetry in all Chatterton's
writings, and shall be infinitely obliged to
any one who will find one for me.
MAKROCHEIK.


MR. THORNBURY seems to me, in his paper on
John Dix, to have been guilty of a few inaccuracies.
I happen to have a copy of
" The Life of Thomas Chatterton, including his unpublished
Poems and Correspondence. By John Dix.
London : Hamilton & Adams, 1837," 12mo.
Such is the title-page of what I conclude must
be the first edition. No mention is made of its
being published at Bristol (as MR. THORNBURY
states), though a note at the end tells me that it
was printed there. The copy before me contains
viii. 336pp., pretty closely printed; and standing
as it does 6 x 4 inches, could hardly ever have
been an 8vo. Mine has been bound in calf; and
even if we make allowance for the maw of the
binder, ever voracious of margin, we must conclude
that it never came up to a medium-sized
octavo, like one of the Student's Manuals, 7$ inches
high, or Seeley's Livy, 9 inches high. MR. THORNBURY
seems neither to notice nor contradict the
words underneath the portrait, viz. " From a picture
in the possession of George Weare Brackenbridge,
Esq." It seems to me that a well-sifted
and truthful Life of Chatterton, and critical edition
of his works, are each a desideratum. As far
as I know, neither exist. I should also like to
ask if this edition of Dix's Life of Chatterton be
rare ?

H. S. SKIPTON.
Tivoli Cottage, Cheltenham.

- - -

Same, p. 429-430.

 

JOHN DIX. (4th S. ix. 294, 365.)

The question whether this person is dead,
asked by your correspondent MAKROCHEIR, is
not likely to occupy the mind of MR. THORNBURY
or any one else for long: as his death or life
cannot affect the question of his relations with
the name of Chatterton, from which alone he
derives what interest he may possess for the
lovers of literature. It is, however, well worth
the while of careful investigators to ascertain
whether the writer in question has succeeded in
producing so inextricable a confusion as MR.
THORNBURY despondently describes at the close
of his interesting paper. Surely in these days of
rigid and exact inquiry it is not beyond possibility
to separate fact from fiction, even in so "confused, entangled, and corrupted" a biography as Dix's Life of Chatterton ; and one need not hesitate to answer in the affirmative MAKROCHEIR'S question.

"As to his romancing about Chatteron,
does it much matter?" To MAKROCHEIR
personally, however, it clearly does not ; inasmuch
is he says he shall be "infinitely obliged to any
me who will find"
for him a verse of what he
deems poetry in all Chattertons writings which is something like asking to be shown particular
instances of dramatic power in Shakespeare. His
irreverent suggestion, that Wordsworth wrote
enthusiastically on a subject which he had not
studied sufficiently, accounts for his being unable
to appreciate Chatterton's poetry. If lie is blind
to Wordsworth's honesty, which lies on the very
face of all he ever did, he may well be blind to
the equally patent beauty of much of Chatterton's
poetry beauty which it is, therefore, bootless to
point out to him in detail.

MR. H. S. SKIPTON, in his search for small inaccuracies
in MR. THORNBURY'S paper, has shown
more alacrity than acumen. In the first place he
finds fault with MR. THORNBURY'S description of
the first edition of Dix's Life, as being an 8vo
published in Bristol, he himself describing it as
a 12mo. The fact is, that he has fallen into the
vulgar error of the bookseller's countermen, who
generally use the term 12mo to designate what
publishers rightly call foolscap 8vo, and what
MR. THORNBURY calls correctly enough a " short
8vo." If MR. SKIPTON had looked at the signatures,
he would have found that they occur once
in sixteen pages; thus showing the sheet to be
folded in eight, and not in twelve. As regards
the place of publication, he says "No mention is
made of its being published at Bristol"; but
neither is "any mention made of its being published
in" London. The title-page, which is
incorrectly transcribed by MR. SKIPTON, bears, it
is true, the imprint of Hamilton, Adams, & Co.
of London ; but the dedication is dated "
Bristol, 1837," and the preface "Bristol, October, 1837";
and, looking also at the fact that the book was
printed at Bristol, where Chatterton literature is
always worth more than elsewhere, it is not unreasonable
to suppose that the book was first
given to the public there, and just as much "published"
there as in London.

In the matter of the
portrait, did MR. SKIPTON observe MR. THORNBURY'S
statement that Dix had himself had " the
shamelessness almost openly to avow" that it
was a forgery ? That being the case, there does
not seem to be much necessity for any one else
" to notice or contradict the words underneath the
portrait/' viz. : "From a picture in the possession
of George Weare Brackenbridge, Esq.," especially
as "Brackenbridge" is not the name of the possessor
the word is an engraver's mistake for
Braikenridge. MR. THORNBURY gives the ludicrous
history of the picture, and it does not much
matter into whose hands it might have fallen.
For a "well-sifted and truthful Life of Chatterton/'
MR. SKIPTON might be referred to Professor
Wilson's rather than any other. It is dry
and has mistakes in it, but is certainly
" well-sifted and truthful" in the main : for "a critical edition" of
Chatterton's Works, one can scarcely imagine anybody
asking in a hopeless sense, when it was only
last year that we got the admirable edition of
Mr. Skeat ; which, by the bye, has an excellent!
well-sifted short memoir by Mr. Edward Bell.
Dix's Life, like all other Chatterton literature
is more or less hard to get at a moment's notice
It is worth about 3s. 6d., or perhaps os. if in fine
condition. Hardly what would be called rare !
ly copy has a leaf gummed into it, on which is
Tinted the following :

SONNET.

On Visiting the School at Bristol in winch the Poet Chatterton was Bred.

I've view'd the pit, where as in scorn were thrown
The bones of Chatterton ; and here I see,
Where first the Muses mark'd him for their own,
Emerging from the dawn of infancy.
Children, he once was blithe as now ye are,
The life-beam glitt'ring in his ardent eye :
But Guilt, and Melancholy, and Despair,
Pointing their future prey, pass'd darkling by.
Ah ! what is genius ? 'Tis a burning brand,*
Like that the cherub bore to guard the way
To Paradise. If grace support the hand
That wields it, then its radiant flame shall play
In glory round ; else shall its lightnings burst,
And beat their victim down scath'd and accurst.

"C. V. L. G."
Bristol, July 22nd, 1826."

Twelve years later, the author of this sonnet appears to have had another (though minor inspiration) ; for on the flysheet of my Dix's Life, apparently sent as a present, are written the two couplets :

" Dear Sharpe, this work by Mr. Dix
Perhaps will in your mem'ry fix
The trifles which did once engage
The ardours of our youthful
" C. V. LE GEICE, May 30, 1838."

These scraps may have some microscopic interest for Chatterton collectors.

H. BUXTON FORMAN.

 

_Notes and Queries-4_X_1872

Notes and Queries, 4th S. X., July 20 1872, p. 55.

Fourth Series, Volume, 10. (London: Notes and Queries Office, 1872). July - December, 1872.

[4th S. X. means 4th Series, Xth (10th) Volume. The reference below is to the 4th Series, 9th Volume, which would be January-June, 1872.]
[Plain Text from Google]

John Dix (4th S. ix. 294, 365, 429.)

I knew John Dix personally more than twenty years ago, as I believe did Mr. Thornbury; and, pace Mr. Forman, venture to think his curious career is of some interest to lovers of literature, apart from the Life of Chatterton.

Mr. Forman would really oblige me by quoting a good stanza from Chatterton: I am open to conviction. If asked for a "particular instance of dramatic power in Shakespeare," I would find one on any page of all his plays. Keats has often been named with Chatterton: if challenged to prove him a poet I could do so by a single line.

I am not "blind to Wordsworth's honesty," but I doubt his critical faculty. Of all our great poets he had the least power of self-criticism, or he would have suppressed much that he wrote. Mr. Forman would be rather surprised by some of the judgments I have heard him pass on his friends and contemporaries.

Makrocheir.

In answer to Makrocheir I beg to state that John Dix, author of the Life of Chatterton, died in America about seven years ago. For some time he practised as a surgeon in Bristol, but owing to his unfortunate habits, with very limited success. With more circumspection he might have obtained emolument as a literary writer. He published Lays of Home, Local Legends of Bristol, and other works; also a Treatise on Intemperance. He proceeded to America some twenty years ago, leaving his young family to be brought up by the relations of his wife, traders in Bristol. The family are reluctant to refer to him or his writings. His son, William Chatterton Dix, is an accomplished verse-writer; he has composed one of our best hymns, beginning "As with gladness men of old." It is included in Hymns Ancient and Modern, and other collections.'

Charles Rogers.
Snowdoun Villa, LewUham, S.E.

Editor's Note.

The following is a biography of John Dix from the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900):

DIX, JOHN, alias John Ross (1800?–1865?), the biographer of Chatterton, was born in Bristol, and for some years practised as a surgeon in that city. He early showed talent in writing prose and verse, and published in 1837 a ‘Life of Chatterton,’ 8vo, which gave rise to great and bitter controversy. Prefixed to the volume was a so-called portrait of the ‘marvellous boy,’ engraved from a portrait found in the shop of a Bristol broker. On the back of the original engraving was found written the word ‘Chatterton.’ It was, says one of the opponents of Dix, ‘really taken from the hydrocephalous son of a poor Bristol printer named Morris’ (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ix. 294). Why the printer's boy should have his portrait engraved is not stated. Mr. Skeat, in the memoir of Chatterton prefixed to his edition of the poet's works, speaks highly of the appendix to Dix's ‘Life’ and its various contents. An account of the inquest held on the body of Chatterton, discovered by Dix, but which his assailants declare to be absolutely fictitious, appeared in ‘Notes and Queries’ (1853, p. 138). Leigh Hunt characterised Dix's biography as ‘heart-touching,’ adding that in addition to what was before known the author had gathered up all the fragments. Still, it is a fact that the disputed portrait was omitted from the second edition of Dix's biography, 1851. The report of the inquest was subjected to the criticism of Professor Masson and Dr. Maitland.

Dix went about 1846 to America, where he is supposed to have died, at a time not precisely ascertained. He published ‘Local Loiterings and Visits in Boston, by a Looker-on,’ 1846. Other works attributed to him are: ‘Lays of Home;’ ‘Local Legends of Bristol;’ ‘The Progress of Intemperance,’ 1839, obl. folio; ‘The Church Wreck,’ a poem on St. Mary's, Cardiff, 1842; ‘The Poor Orphan;’ ‘Jack Ariel, or Life on Board an Indiaman,’ 2nd edit. 1852, 3rd edit. 1859. In 1850 he sent forth ‘Pen-and-Ink Sketches of Eminent English Literary Personages, by a Cosmopolitan;’ in 1852 ‘Handbook to Newport and Rhode Island,’ as well as ‘Lions Living and Dead;’ and in 1853 ‘Passages from the Diary of a Wasted Life’ (an account of Gough, the temperance orator). The list of his known publications closes with ‘Pen Pictures of Distinguished American Divines,’ Boston, 1854. He is treated very severely as a literary forger by Mr. Moy Thomas in the ‘Athenæum’ (5 Dec. 1857 and 23 Jan. 1858), and by W. Thornbury and Mr. Buxton Forman in ‘Notes and Queries.’

[Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ix. 294, 365, x. 55.]

Source: Harrison, Robert. "Dix, John." In Lee, Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography. 15. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Compiled from various sources, here are some of the publications authored or edited by John Dix, who also wrote under the pen name of George Spencer Phillips and John Ross Dix:

  1. Local Legends and Rambling Rhymes. 1834

  2. The Life of Thomas Chatterton: Including His Unpublished Poems. 1837

  3. Slavery Rhymes, Addressed to the Friends of Liberty Throughout the United States By A Looker On. John Ross Dix. New York : John S. Taylor, 1837.

  4. Local Legends and Rambling Rhymes. Bristol: George Davey, 1839.

  5. Progress of Intemperance. 1839

  6. The Sportsman in Ireland, John Ross Dix. Two Volumes.  (London: Henry Colburn, 1840)

  7. Local Loiterings and Visits in the Vicinity of Boston By A Looker On. (Boston: Redding & Co., 1845, 1846)

  8. Pen and Ink Sketches, To Which Is Added Chatterton: A Romance of Literary Life (Boston: William Hayden & Thos. M. Brewer, 1845). Individual literary sketches first appeared in the pages of the Boston Atlas. The author indicated that a second series was now in publication in the pages of the Atlas and when completed will be published in book form.

  9. Pen and Ink Sketches of Poets, Preachers and Politicians. (London : David Bogue, 1846)

  10. Jack Ariel; or, Life on Board an Indiaman. (New York: H. Long and Brother, 1848; London: C.H. Clarke, 1859)

  11. Pen and Ink Sketches of Eminent English Literary Personages. (London: J. S. Pratt, 1850)

  12. Pen Pictures of Popular English Preachers; with Limnings of Listeners in Church and Chapel. (London : Partridge & Oakey, 1851, 1852)

  13. A Handbook of Newport, And Rhode Island. (Newport: C.E. Hammett, Jr., 1852).

  14. Pen and Ink Sketches of Authors and Authoresses. (London: Partridge and Oakey, 1852)

  15. Lions: Living and Dead, or Personal Recollections of the Great and Gifted. (London: Tweedie, 1852, 1854)

  16. Transatlantic Tracings, or, Sketches of Persons and Scenes In America. (London: W. Tweedie, 1853)

  17. Passages From the History of A Wasted Life (Boston : B.B. Mussey, 1853). The Inscription reads: "To My Brethren of the Shakespeare Division (No. 46,) of The Sons of Temperance, Boston, Massachusetts." In the Preface, he observed that all but two of the chapters were previously published in a Massachusetts temperance newspaper, the Life Boat. The Preface included the following: "My object in writing these "Passages" (and at times the penning them was
    a painful effort) was to supply what appeared to me to be a want in the literature of temperance, namely, illustrations of the perils to which the young and intellectual are more peculiarly exposed."

  18. Pulpit Portraits, or Pen-Pictures of Distinguished American Divines. (Boston : Tappan and Whittemore, 1854)

  19. Lays of Home, n.d.

  20. The New Apostles; or, Irvingism, its history, doctrines, and practices. (London: J. Blackwood, 1859)

  21. A Hand book for Lake Memphremagog, With Route List. (Boston: Evans, 1860, Second Edition 1864)

  22. It is said that Dix published at least a dozen ballads that supported the Unionist cause in the Civil War in 1864. There is no record in Worldcat.org of a first publication by Dix in that year.

Pulpit portraits : or, Pen-pictures of distinguished American divines, with sketches of congregations and choirs, and incidental notes of eminent British preachers.

 

obtained a passage as surgeon in an emigrant ship

 

 

It appears that John Dix also contributed a poem to Poems on the loss and re-building of St. Mary's Church, Cardiff (Cardiff: W. Bird, 1842).

Worldcat.org listed the following titles under the names of John Dix, a.k.a. John Dix Ross:

Sources include:

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