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John Oxenford

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Dramatist, critic, translator, and song-writer, b. in London, 12 Aug., 1812; d. there 21 Feb., 1877. Mostly self-educated, for a time he was under the tuition of a brilliant and erratic scholar, S.T. Friend. His master recognizing his faculty for philosophy and his versatility wished to divert him from the dramatic career towards which he seemed inclined. In 1837 he was articled to a solicitor and is said to have spent some time in the London office of a relative and to have written on commerce and finance. He early read the literature of Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, and was always "a devourer of books". From the German he translated, amongst other things, Fischer's "Francis Bacon" (London, 1857); Goethe's "Autobiography" (London, 1888); Eckermann's "Conversations with Goethe" (London, 1904), the two last translations having almost become English classics and finding a place in Bohn's well-known series. From the French he translated Molière's "Tartuffe"; from the Italian Boyardo's "Orlando Innamorato" (in part), and from the Spanish a play of Calderon. But Oxenford's chief interest lay in the drama. Between 1835, when his first play was written, and his death he was producing dramatic work. Sixty-eight plays, at least, are attributed to him. Several have been translated into German, French, and Dutch. He also wrote librettos for operas etc. For the last twenty years of his life he was, in addition, dramatic critic to the "Times". He frequently contributed to newspapers and magazines, among others the "Athenæum". In April 1853, he wrote for the "Westminster Review" an essay on Schopenhauer's philosophy which is said to have founded the fame of that philosopher both in England and abroad. In late life Oxenford's health weakened. He died of heart failure in 1877. Eighteen months earlier he had been received into the Church.

An appreciative sketch of his life appeared in the "Times" of 23 Feb., 1877. The writer extols his originality and scholarship: "As an appreciator of others, and as a quick discovered of anything new likely to exercise a future influence on thought he had few equals". The value of Oxenford's criticism, however, is somewhat lowered by a too great leniency, proceeding from his natural kindliness. In private life he was much beloved. His conversational powers were remarkable; and he possessed an "unsurpassed sweetness of character and self-forgetting nobleness and childlikeness".

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