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mother's errand boy, he was at the age of ten promoted to the dignity of driving the plough at the squire's, and occasionally solaced his labours by reading the Bible, “the Mournful Lady's Guardian,” and such stories as are generally hawked about in a pedlar's basket, with which he was particularly delighted. He next became a servant of all work at a small inn in Chepstow, where he accumulated, in three years, the sum of four guineas; with this he set off for Bath, and, by the aid of a friend, procured a place as a foot-boy to a family, consisting of two ladies, only. He had over him an old Frenchman as butler, but it being the time of the commencement of the French revolution, the butler was more devoted to politics than to his pantry, and spent most of his time in quest of news. Thus the cares of his office devolved almost exclusively upon young Jones, who every day entered upon the business of preparing the dinner table an hour or two before it was necessary, in order that he might himself dine intellectually upon the contents of a wellstored bookcase, which was left open in that most interesting apartment. Plays chiefly absorbed his attention, especially those of Shakspeare, some of which he read twice over. He next engaged as footman with a lady, who kept only two female servants, and as she had no books in her house, he thought it high time to begin to make some for himself, and forthwith he conceived the ambition of writing a tragedy! Having laid out almost all his capital in the purchase of a dictionary, paper, pens, &c., he laboured hard for two years, and finished the work, which he hoped was destined to immortalize his name. It would have been something so new, to see a tragedy from the pen of a footman, that his nights, we have no doubt, were often illumined by visions of the glory, which, as he hoped, was now within his grasp. We dare to say, that they were two of the happiest years of his life; for he kept his tragical operations a profound secret from his fellow servants, who must often have wondered at what John could have found in his garret, that was preferable, in his notions, to their most sweet conversation. With his tragedy in his pocket, John went to see his friends, among them his old schoolmaster, the stone-cutter, whom he paid for making out a clean copy of it. The stone-cutter was, of course, astonished at the production of his scholar, which he commended with so much praise, that John's ambition of renown became impatient of further obscurity, and he sent off the tragedy by coach to London, addressing it to the manager of the Haymarket theatre. In due managerial time, that is to say, after a very long time, he received back his composition with a polite letter, informing him that it would not do for representation, to which was appended a word of advice, against continuing to spend his time in such difficult undertakings. He here observes, with great naiveté, that he could hardly bring himself ‘to believe that they had not copied it off, or stole the plot, or played him some dirty trick,’ with respect to it. The worst of the matter was, that while he was thus castle-build
ing in the air, he spent all his money, and he was obliged to descend from his tragic throne, and once more to resume his menial capacity. The tragedy was in anger consigned to the fire, and all that remains of its once gorgeous pageantry is a song or glee, which he had put into the mouths of some soldiers just before entering the field of battle. It is, in its way, a curiosity, at which the reader may laugh, if he likes, provided he can laugh in a really good-natured manner.
““Come, come, my boys, let's prepare to meet the foe,
Attempts in Verse, p. 175.
Our defunct tragedian now limited his poetical flights to lower regions, and occasionally amused his leisure hours, while serving with different families, in the production of the verses which are
collected in the present volume. It is highly creditable to him to
be able to state, that in the place which he occupied (in the hospitable establishment, we believe, of Mrs. Lawrence, of Studley Park, Yorkshire) when he made Mr. Southey acquainted with his poetical existence, he had lived nearly twenty years. And truly, when we come to examine his different productions, we cannot but feel the more willing to acknowledge the truth of the often-repeated maxim, that the poet is born, not made. We perceive, in every one of these artless compositions, a natural facility of appealing to the beautiful objects which, wherever we go, we find constantly around us, and that facility we take to be the most essential ingredient in the poetic character. It is not improbable, that if Jones had been more employed in the fields than amid the bustle of household duties, and if he had had a few more hours to himself, than he seems to have been able to command, his language would have expressed his feelings in a more simple and a more touching style, than circumstances enabled him to attain. A writer must be either a perfect master of language, or his knowledge of it must be confined only to its most obvious and familiar idioms, to produce such poems, for instance, as those of Burns. We never
heard that Burns bought a dictionary. If he had, we doubt if we
should have found so much to enchant us in his works; for, when
ever he wanted a word, instead of pursuing it through the laby
rinths of his fancy, and expressing it, as it were, from the imagery
visioned to his mental eye, he would, probably, have then selected
the word which would have most readily filled up the harmony of his WOL. III. NO. II. Q
line, rather than that which would have best reflected his idea. This is exactly the error into which Jones has fallen; and it is this that Mr. Southey felt, when he wished that these poems had been ‘either better or worse.’ To none of them would the remark have been applied with greater propriety than to a long fragment, containing a fanciful description of a passage down part of the river Wye, in which, though the imagery is everywhere natural, the language walks constantly upon the stilts of the dictionary. There may also be detected by a mind that is unskilled in the artifice of words, or has risen beyond it, something of the same fault in the following lines, in which, nevertheless, the objects collected for the purpose of picturing the approach of summer, are perfectly appropriate.
‘Hark! hark 1 sweetly the nightingale
‘Hark! hark ] still hear the nightingale
‘Hark! hark still sings the nightingale,
The summer is coming,
All nature's expanding in beauty and order;
And where the blue violets bloom on their border.’
Attempts in Verse, pp. 227, 228.
We suspect, after all, that Jones's real vein ran towards comedy rather than tragedy; and that if he had tried his theatrical fortunes, in the first instance, in the former line, he might have received less discouragement from the Aristarchus of the Haymarket. It is to this department of literature, rather than to strict satire, that we should say his lines on Stevenson's stuffed owls belong. We may perperceive his comic turn, also, in his epitaph on Gaffer Gun, a thresher, whose departure from the scene of his labours Jones celebrates in verse, characteristic of the operations in which the Gaffer's life had been engaged, concluding with a stanza of which Cunningham might not have been ashamed :
“And when to be tried,
Jones's best effort in this way is, however, his address to his In OSe.
“What leads me on where’er I go,
“In youth's most ardent reckless day,
“And should my tongue rude blows provoke,
“And falling in an airy bound,
“When some dark pass I would explore,
“And when in want I yearn'd to eat,
“Each eye may need in age a guide,
‘And can I or in care or glee,
Of the uneducated poets, predecessors of Jones, noticed by Mr. Southey, it is not our purpose to speak at any length. Those who feel a curiosity, with respect to versifiers of that class, may easily gratify it, by purchasing the book; and by laying out half a guinea in this way, they will also render some little assistance to the benevolent object which prompted Mr. Southey to give his attention to this subject. His favourite amongst them all is, evidently, Taylor, called the water poet, from having been a Thames waterman in those days, happy for that calling, when steam-boats were not, and bridges were but few. He, like our friend Jones, was also a native of Gloucestershire, and having been the first person who gained notoriety as an uneducated inditer of verse in our language, he was much signalized in his day, and highly patronized. He flourished in the reigns of Elizabeth, and James I., and Charles I. ; but though steam-boats did not interfere with his trade, many circumstances occurred, from time to time, to render it not worth pursuing. In fact, it was overdone by the multitudes who endeavoured to earn a pittance by it, and then, when plots, or pestilence, or other circumstances, occurred to thin the metropolis, so many of the watermen were thrown out of work, that they were obliged to try their hands, for a season, at other tasks. Taylor took to that of a strolling poet, which seems to have, for a while, very well answered his purpose. From his own account, as recorded in verse, he seems to have been a most zealous reader of poetry, especially of Homer and Virgil in translations; of Chaucer, Sidney, and Spenser; and to have dipped into Plutarch, Josephus, Seneca, Suetonius, and other foreign authors, “done into English,” not omitting, as he tells us,
& 4 & that sole Book of Books which God hath given, The blest eternal Testaments of Heaven.”’’
But with all this reading, it was his care, he says, not to addle