1902 Encyclopedia > William Combe

William Combe
English miscellaneous writer
(1741-1823)




WILLIAM COMBE, (1741-1823), an anonymous hack writer of great fertility and of some merit, was born at Bristol in 1751. The circumstances of his birth and parent-age are somewhat doubtful, and it is questioned whether his father was a rich Bristol merchant, or a certain William Alexander, a London alderman, who died in 1763. Be this as it may, it is certain that Combe was educated at Eton, with Fox, Lyttelton, and William Beckford; that Alexander bequeathed him some £2000—a little fortune that soon disappeared in a course of splendid extravagance, which gained him the nickname of Count Combe; and that he finally fixed his residence in London (about 1771), as a law student and bookseller's hack. In 1775 he pub-lished The Philosopher in Bristol, a series of essays of merely local interest; and in 1776 he made his first success in London with The Diaboliad, a satire full of bitter person-alities. Four years afterwards (1780) he became an inmate of the King's Bench; and much of his subsequent life was spent in prison. He appears to have written a correspon-dence between Sterne and Eliza Draper, and also the Letters of the Late Lord Lyttelton (1780). Periodical literature of all sorts—pamphlets, satires, burlesques, "two thousand columns for the papers," " two hundred biographies," The Origin of Commerce-—filled up the next years, and about 1789 Combe was receiving £200 yearly from Pitt. Six volumes of a Devil on Two Sticks in England caused him to be saluted as "the English Le Sage;" in 1794-96 he wrote the text for Boydell's History of the River Thames; in 1803, he was placed on The Times. In 1807 All the Talents, a satire, appeared; it ran through twenty editions and is generally attributed to Combe. In 1809-11 he wrote for Ackermann's Political Magazine the famous Three Tours of Dr Syntax, which, owing greatly to Piowlandson's designs, had an immense success. Then came poems in illustration of drawings by Princess Elizabeth, The Military Adventures of Johnny Newcome (1815), The English Dance of Death (1815-16), The Dance of Life (1816-17), The Adventures of Johnny Quce Genus (1822)—all written for Rowlandson's caricatures ; together with Histories of Oxford and Cambridge, Picturesque Tours along the Rhine and other rivers, Histories of Madeira, Antiquities of York, texts for Turner's Southern Coast Views, and contributions innumerable to the Literary Repository. In his later years, notwithstanding a by no means unsullied character, Combe was courted for the sake of his charming conversation and inexhaustible stock of anecdote. He is said to have written and burned his autobiography; but it does not appear that the loss of this memorial is to be regretted. He died in London in 1823.

Brief obituary memoirs of Combe appeared in Ackermann's Literary Repository and in the Gentleman's Magazine for August 1823 ; and in May 1859 a list of his works, drawn up by his own hand, was printed in the latter periodical. See also Diary of H. Crabb Robinson, Notes and Queries for 1869, and a paper in the Churchman's Shilling Magazine for the same year.








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