William Combe

William Combe

English writer and poet.
Date of Birth: 25.03.1742
Country: Great Britain

  1. Biography of William Combe
  2. Works
  3. Final Years and Legacy

Biography of William Combe

William Combe, an English writer and poet, is best known as the author of the popular humorous poem "Dr. Syntax". Out of the 86 compositions he wrote between 1774 and 1824, only this poem, featuring a caricatured character, has not been forgotten. Combe's serious work is his "History of Westminster Abbey" (1812). The circumstances of his birth in Bristol in 1741 are truly unknown. It is also unclear whether he was the son of a wealthy Bristol merchant or a certain William Alexander, a member of the London municipal council who died in 1762. William received his education at Eton College, where he was contemporaries with Charles James Fox, the 2nd Baron Littleton, and William Thomas Beckford. Alexander bequeathed £2000 to Combe, which soon disappeared, spent on luxury and extravagance, earning William the nickname "Count Combe". He then served as a common soldier, worked as a cook and waiter, and eventually settled in London (around 1771), studying law and working as a bookseller.


In 1776, Combe achieved his first success in London with his satirical work "The Diaboliad". Four years later, in 1780, he was thrown into debtors' prison, where he spent a considerable part of his subsequent life. His fictional letters of "The Last Lord Littleton" (1780) impressed many of his contemporaries, and as early as 1851, a writer in Quarterly Review regarded these letters as genuine. His early acquaintance with Laurence Sterne resulted in the anonymously published "Letters, supposed to have been written by Yorick and Eliza" (1779). Combe then engaged in periodical literature of all genres: pamphlets, feuilletons, burlesques, and "two thousand columns of paper", which led to him receiving two hundred pounds sterling annually from William Pitt as a publicist by 1789.

In 1790 and 1791, for his six-volume work "Devil on Two Sticks in England", Combe was given the title "the English le Sage". From 1794 to 1796, he wrote the text for Boydell's "History of the River Thames", and in 1803, he began writing for The Times. From 1809 to 1811, Combe wrote the famous poem "Tour of Dr. Syntax in search of the Picturesque" for the Political Magazine by Ackermann, which was illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson and had enormous success. It was separately published in 1812, followed by two similar Tours: "in search of Consolation" and "in search of a Wife". The first Mrs. Syntax died at the end of the first tour. Combe also published "Six Poems in illustration of drawings by Princess Elizabeth" (1813), "The English Dance of Death" (1815-1816), "The Dance of Life" (1816-1817), and "The Adventures of Johnny Quae Genus" (1822) - all of which were written for Rowlandson's caricatures. In addition, Combe wrote books on the history of Oxford and Cambridge and the history of Westminster Abbey for Boydell, "Picturesque Tours along the Rhine and other rivers", Histories of Madeira, Antiquities of York, texts for Turner's book "Southern Coast Views", and numerous publications in the "Literary Repository".

Final Years and Legacy

In his later years, despite his less than ideal character, Combe was respected for his impressive speaking style and inexhaustible supply of anecdotes. He died in London on June 19, 1823.