Davis, John

, of Hereford, as he usually styled himself, a poet and schoolmaster, was born in that city, and sent when young from a grammar-school there, to the university of Oxford; but Wood has not discovered in what college he studied, nor does it appear that he took any degree. After leaving the university, he returned to his native place, where he obtained the character of a poet, and published several productions of the rhyming kind; but not finding, as it would indeed have been wonderful if he had found, much profit accrue, he set up a writing-school, first at Hereford, and afterwards in London, where he at length acquired the character of one of the first penmen in England. In 1611 we find him living in Fleet-street, and a Roman catholic. From Peck’s Desiderata it appears that Arthur Wilson was one of his pupils, and that the conversation of Davis and his family inspired him with some doubts of the religious kind. From his poems we learn that Davis left a brother, James, at Oxford, who was also a writing-master; and that he himself married a wife whose name was Croft, by whom, he says, he had a “crop of care,” meaning, probably, a large family. As a writing-master, he published some engraved books of instruction, or specimens, but Massey has seen only “The Writing School-master, or Anatomy of Fair Writing,” engraved, after his death, by Ingheenram, which he thinks does not support the high character given of his penmanship by his contemporaries. It is said he was some time tutor to prince Henry, who, according to Birch, wrote a | very fine hand. He died about 1618, and, Fuller informs us, was buried in the church or church-yard of St. Giles’s in the Fields.

His poetical works are numerous, but discover very little taste or talent: 1. “St. Peter’s Complaint, with other Poems,” Loud. 1595, 4to. 2. “Mirum in modo; a glimpse of God’s glory, and the soul’s shape,” ibid. 1602, and 1616, 8vo. 3. “Microcosmus, or the Discovery of the Little World,” Oxon. 1603, 4to. 4. “The Holy Rood of Christ’s Church,” Lond. 1609, 4to, with Sonnets. 5. “Humours Heaven and Earth, with the civil wars of Death and Fortune,” ibid. 1609, 8vo. 6. “Wit’s Pilgrimage,” Lond. 4to, no date. 7. “Muse’s Sacrifice, or Divine Meditations,” ibid. 1612, 12mo. 8. “The Muse’s Tears for the loss of their hope, the heroic and never too much praised Henry, prince of Wales,” ibid. 1613, 4to, &c. &c. &c. Four of these volumes are noticed in the Censura Literaria, one in Beloe’s Anecdotes, and one in the British Bibliographer, by Mr. Haslewood, whose character of Davis’s poetry may be adopted with confidence. “Davis’s poetical attempts are generally heavy, dull, obscure, and inharmonious and his pages are remarkable for inconsistency. One while he is pouring forth celestial rhapsodies, and then * with jerkes of wit (as he terms them) to whip every vice,‘ blundering on expressions too gross for pen or press, while the reader, who may have been edified by his morality, is left to fill up the blank of a disgusting parenthesis. His witticisms are often feeble puns, double entendres, and occasionally have their point depending on a fabricated name. Yet though the whole of his pieces now class as rare, from their number it seems presumable they were not ill received. To us moderns, however, there seldom appears poignancy in his wit, or nerve in his poetry.1


Ath. Ox. vol. I. Massey’s Origin and Progress of Letters. Censura Literatia, vol. I. II. and V. Bibliographer, vol. II. ’247. —Warton’s Hist, of Poetry, vol. IV. p. 15, 56, 87. Whalley’s Ben Jonson, vol. VI. p. 230.