Ellis, John

, a miscellaneous writer of some reputation in the last age, and well known to the scholars of that period, was the son of Mr. James Ellis, and was born in the parish of St. Clement Danes, March 22, 1698. His father was a man of an eccentric character, roving, and unsettled. At one time he was clerk to his uncle and guardian, serjeant Denn, recorder of Canterbury, and kept his chambers in Gray’s-inn, on a starving allowance, as Mr. Ellis used to declare, for board-wages. Leaving his penurious relation, who spent what his father left him in a litigious process, he obtained a place in the post-office at Deal in Kent, from whence he was advanced, to be searcher of the customs in the Downs, with a boat; but being imposed upon, as he thought, in some way by his patron, he | quitted his employment and came to London. He was represented by his son as particularly skilful in the use of the sword, to which qualification he was indebted, through the means of a nobleman, for one of his places. He was also much famed for his agility, and could at one time jump the wall of Greenwich park, with the assistance of a staff. At the trial of Dr. Sacheverel he was employed to take down the evidence for the doctor’s use. His wife, Susannah Philpot, our author’s mother, was so strict a dissenter, that when Dr. Sacheverel presented her husband with his print, framed and glazed, she dashed it on the ground, and broke it to pieces, calling him at the same time a priest of Baal; and at a late period of our author’s life, it was remembered by him, that she caused him to undergo the discipline of the school, for only presuming to look at a top on a Sunday which had been given to him the day preceding. The qualifications which Mr. Ellis’s father possessed, it will be perceived, were not those which lead to riches; and indeed so narrow were his circumstances, that he was unable to give his son the advantages of a liberal education. He was first sent to a wretched day-school in Dogwell-court, White Fryars, with a brother and two sisters; and afterwards was removed to another, not much superior, in Wine-office-court, Fleet-street, where he learned the rudiments of grammar, more by his own application than by any assistance of his master. He used, however, to acknowledge the courtesy of the usher, who behaved well to him. While at this school he translated “Mars ton Moore; sive, de obsidione praelioque Eboracensi carmen. Lib. 6. 1650, 4to. Written by Payne Fisher;” which, as it has not been found among his papers, we suppose was afterwards destroyed. At what period, or in what capacity he was originally placed with Mr. John Taverner, an eminent scrivener*


This Mr. Taverner was cousin to a Mr. William Taverner, proctor in Doctors’ Commons, who died Oct. 20, 1772. Lord Orford, in his Anecdotes of Painting, says, “he painted landscapes for his amusement, but would have made considerable figure amongst ”the renowned professors of the art." The earl of Harcourt and Mr. Fr. Fauquier have each two pictures by him, that may be mistaken for, and are not unworthy of, Gaspar Poussin.

in Threadneedlestreet, we have not learned; but in whatever manner the connexion began, he in due time became clerk or apprentice to him; and during his residence had an opportunity of improving himself in the Latin tongue, which he availed himself of with the utmost diligence. The son of his | master, then at Merchant Taylors’ school, was assisted by his father in his daily school-exercises; which being conducted in the presence of the clerk, it was soon found that the advantage derived from the instructions, though missed by the person for whom it was intended, was not wholly lost. Mr. Ellis eagerly attended, and young Taverner being of an indolent disposition, frequently asked his assistance privately; which at length being discovered by the elder Taverner, was probably the means of his first introduction to the world, though it cannot be said much to his advantage, as old Taverner had the address to retain him in the capacity of his clerk during his life-time, and at his death incumbered him with his son as a partner, by whose imprudence Mr. Ellis was a considerable sufferer both in his peace of mind and his purse, and became involved in difficulties which hung over him a considerable number of years. His literary acquisitions soon, as it might be expected, introduced him to the acquaintance of those who had similar pursuits. In 1721, the rev. Mr. Fayting, afterwards of Merchant Taylors’ school, rector of St. Martin Outwich, and prebendary of Lincoln, being then about to go to Cambridge, solicited and obtained his correspondence, part of which was carried on in verse. With this gentleman, who died 22d Feb. 1789, in his eighty-sixth year, Mr. Ellis lived on terms of the most unreserved friendship, and on his death received a legacy of 100l. bequeathed to him by his will. At a period rather later, he became also known to the late Dr. King of Oxford. Young Taverner, who probably was not at first intended for a scrivener, was elected from Merchant Taylors’ school to St. John’s college, Oxford, and by his means Mr. Ellis was made acquainted with the tory orator. By Dr. King he was introduced to his pupil lord Orrery; and Mr. Ellis atone time spent fourteen days in their company at college, so much to the satisfaction of all parties, that neither the nobleman nor his tutor ever afterwards came to London without visiting, and inviting Mr. Ellis to visit them. In, the years 1742 and 1713, Dr. King published “Templum Libertatis,” in two books, which Mr. Ellis translated into verse with the entire approbation of the original author. This translation still remains in ms. Of his poetical friends, however, the late Moses Mendez, esq. appears to have been the most intimate with him. Several marks of that gentleman’s friendship are to be found scattered | through his printed works; and about 1749 he addressed a beautiful epistle to him from Ham, never yet published. In 1744 Mr. Mendez went to Ireland, and on July 5 sent a poetical account of his journey to Mr. Ellis. This epistle was afterwards printed in 1767, in -a collection of poems, and in the same miscellany Mr. Ellis’s answer appeared. Soon after Mr. Mendez addressed a poetical epistle to his friend, Mr. S. Tucker, at Dulwich, printed in the sam collection.

Mr. Ellis, though there ‘is good reason to believe that he never discontinued writing verses for more than seventy years, was not one of those poets who are led by their attention to the muses to neglect their private affairs. As a scrivener he was employed by a number of families, to whom he afforded great satisfaction in conducting his business; and his friends and acquaintance were such as did credit to him as a citizen, and honour as a man. Dr. Johnson once said to Mr. Boswell, “It is wonderful, sir, what is to be found in London. The most literary conversation that I ever enjoyed was at the table of Jack Ellis, a moneyscrivener behind the Royal Exchange, with whom I at one period used to dine generally once a week.” But though Mr. Ellis for so long a course of years never discontinued writing, he was by no means eager after the fame derived from publishing. The greater part of his performances still remain in manuscript. He was, however, not insensible to the praises of his friends, and, being blessed with a very retentive memory, would with little solicitation repeat poems of considerable length with great accuracy. He has been heard to recite with much energy and vivacity, poems of not less than a hundred lines, after the age of eighty-eight years. The work which he appears to have taken the most pains with, is a translation of Ovid’s Epistles, which he left ready for the press. Dr. Johnson frequently recommended the publication of this performance; and Dr. King, who read it with some attention, commended it in very warm terms, and declared, as the translator used to mention with a laudable degree of exultation, “that he differed from other translators so much as to warrant him to say, what he read was not Ellis, but Ovid himself.

In 1720 Mr. Ellis wrote a poem entitled “The Soutlj Sea Dream,” in Hudibrastic verse. In 1739 he translated a whimsical performance from the Latin, which he received | from Cambridge, entitled “The Surprise, or the gentleman turned apothecary.” This was a tale written originally in French prose, and afterwards translated into Latin. Mr. Ellis’s versification of it was printed in 12mo, and is to be found in some of the libraries of the curious. Of the translation of Dr. King’s “Templum Libertatis,” in 1742, we have already spoken. In 1758 he was prevailed upon to permit the publication of his travesty of Maphacus.*


Which appeared in that year with the following title: “The canto added by Miphcut To Virgil’s twelve books of Æneas, From the original bombastic, Done into English Hudibrastic, With notes beneath, and Latin text, In every other page annexed.” nd ung Maphseus was born at Lodi, in the Milanese, in 1407, and was secretary of the briefs to pope Martin V. and afterwards datary. He was likewise endowed with a canonry of St. Peter’s, with which he was so well contented, that ha refused a rich bishopric, Popes Eugenius IV. and Nicholas V. out of regard for his learning, and affection to his person, continued him in his office of datary. He died at Rome in 1459. In the collection called “Mendez’s Poems,” is a translation by that author. In the same year he contributed three small pieces to Mr. Dodsley’s Collection of Poems, which were printed with his name in the sixth volume of that work; and one of them “The Cheat’s Apology,” was afterwards set to music, we believe by Mr. Hook, with great applause at Vauxhall, by Mr. Vernon. “Tartana; or the Plaiddie,” built upon a jacobite poem. When we have added to these a number of verses composed at various times for Messrs. Boydell, Bowles, and other venders of prints, we have enumerated the whole of his printed works. His manuscripts, which he bequeathed to one of his executors, are numerous besides the translation of Ovid’s Epistles, there are some parts of the Metamorphoses, a versification of Æsop, and Cato, and many small original compositions.

In 1750, Mr. Ellis was elected into the common-council for the ward of Broad-street, and continued from thit time to be regularly re-chosen on St. Thomas’s day, to that immediately preceding his death. For many years he had been appointed deputy of the ward, and it was at his own request that he was not re-chosen just before his death. He had also the honour of being chosen four times master of the scriveners’ company; which body had so great a respect for him, that they caused his picture to be painted, from which a print was made at their expence by Mr. Pether in the year 1781.

Mr. Ellis always enjoyed a good state of health, to which his temperance, exercise, and cheerfulness, without doubt contributed. He had, however, a defect in his eye-sight, which was attended with so remarkable a circumstance, that we deem it not improper to relate it below in his own words, from a letter sent to his friend Dr. Johnson, whose sight | being also defective, he was very curious to have a particular account of it.*


" To my much esteemed Friend, Dr. S. Johnson. Worthy Sir, In my late conversation with you at your house, on my congratulating you on yonr recovery of health, as I chanced to mention a remarkable alteration I had found of my eye-sight for the better, by a removal of it from my right eye to my left, (for they were always unequal in faculty from my cradle, when ’injured by the small-pox,) you was pleased to express a curiosity to know when and how I received this extraordinary event; then, thanks in the first place to the Almighty goodness I shall give you the best account of it I can, viz. In or about the beginning of September, 1778, Mr. Sewell, bookseller in Cornhill, and I, at his request, went by water in a hoy to Margate, in Kent, where we took lodging for the few days we intended to stay; and, after a night’s rest, in the morning took a walk over the marsh or common to Ramsgate, where, after viewing the pier, lighthouse, and nunnery, as they call it, we went to dinner in the town of Ramsgate, where we staid till night, when by moonlight we set out on return to Margate, Mr. Sewell being my guide; but he stopping a few minutes to speak with a farmer whom we met, I went on alone; when to my surprise, though I plainly saw the foot-path, I could not well keep it, but was apt to deviate to the right hand; whereupon, turning and viewing the moon behind me, I discerned it sharply with my left eye, and only a dim glimpse of its light with my right, which 1 had ever before with the help of spectacles used to draw pictures in miniature, writing, &c. My companion overtaking me, I was constrained to make use of his arm to keep me in the path to our lodgings at Margate, where that night and the next day the spires and other objects appeared out of place, till after much care, and steadily looking at objects before my departure homeward, I looked on my face in a glass, and saw my left eye fixed straight, and my right eye dimly and almost dark waving off. And thus with my left eye restored, and as it were a new eye, I write this, and do all my writing business, and subscribe myself in the 86th year of my age, the 10th day of May, 1784, dear Sir,

your most devoted friend,

and humble servant,

John Ellis."

After the age of eighty, he frequently walked thirty or more miles in a day but at the age of eighty- five he met with an accident which threatened at first very serious consequences. A friend going to see him home in an evening, took hold of his arm to lead him, in doing which he was unfortunately pushed so as to strike his leg against the corner of the Bank-buildings. By this unlucky accident the skin from the knee to the ankle was entirely stripped off, and the surgeons apprehended the wound would prove mortal. Contrary, however, to all expectation, it granulated, and healed as in a young man, and no further consequence ensued than that his walks of thirty miles a day were reduced to about twenty.

The last year of his life was that which his friends look back to with concern. Having entrusted a sum of money to an artful person who was declared a bankrupt, he became alarmed, and apprehensive that he should be left to want in his old age. With a degree of delicacy which | belongs only to those who think above the vulgar, it is feared that he suffered these doubts to prey upon his mind, without disclosing the state of it to any of those whose assistance he had every reason to rely on. At length an accident brought his situation to the notice of one of his friends, and measures were taken to make him easy in his circumstances for the remainder of his life, by means which would certainly have been effectual. From this time he resigned the conduct of himself to his friends, and resumed his accustomed cheerfulness. He received visits, and conversed with the same gaiety he had been used to in his best days; and from the vigour of his constitution, afforded hopes that he would pass a few years with comfort. These expectations were not realized: nature at length gave way. On the 17th of December, 1791, he had a fit, from which he recovered, and was well enough on the 20th to remove to lodgings which had been taken for him. For a few days he seemed to be well, and at ease both in mind and body, but shortly after appeared to have caught a cold, and gradually grew worse. On the SjOth he was cold, his lips black, and his countenance much altered. To a friend who called on him be said he had lost his feeling; and being told it was probable it would return, he replied “That I don’t know.” His friend then said, “As it has always been your maxim, sir, to look on the brightest side, we may draw this conclusion, that if you have no feeling, you feel no pain;” to which he answered with great earnestness, “‘Tis very true.” The next day, about 12 o’clock, sitting in his chair, he without any struggle leaned his head back, and expired. On the 5th day of January he was buried in the parish church of St. Bartholomew, Exchange, accordingto the directions of his will, and was attended by the majority of the common-council, who voluntarily acted as pall-bearers, to pay respect to his memory. A mural tablet, with an inscription to his memory, has since been erected.

Mr. Ellis in his person was below the middle size, with hard features, which at the first appearance were rather forbidding, but on a nearer acquaintance he was hardly ever known to fail of conciliating the regard of those whom he desired to please. He lived a bachelor, as he used often to declare, from a disappointment early in life; but he was particularly attentive to the fair-sex, whose favour hfe seemed earnest to acquire and in general was successful | to obtain. Temperate, regular, and cheerful, he was always a pleasing companion, and joined in the conversation of his friends with ease, freedom, and politeness. He abounded in anecdote, and told a story with great success. He was charitable to the poor and unfortunate, and benevolent in an extraordinary manner, to some of his relations who wanted his assistance. He early acquired a disgust to the cant and hypocrisy which he thought he had discovered in the sectaries among whom he was bred; and, from disJiking the obnoxious parts of his early religious practice, he carried his aversion much further than some of his friends would be willing to defend, and became an infidel; his opinions, however, he seldom obtruded, or ostentatiously brought forwa’rd for the purpose of controversy. His aversion to sectaries he seems to have retained to the end of his life .*


The following anecdote he used frequently to tell his friends. Dr. Wright, pastor of the meeting at Black Friars, took a lease of the ground, and rebuilt the meeting-house there. A communicant, aunt to Mr. Ellis, putting forth her hand to partake of the sacrament, the pastor interposed, saying, “Thou hast no part in this matter: Jesus knows his own flock.” This harsh usage, which arose from a gossiping story that the lady had made a present to the parson of the parish, had such an effect upon her, that she became desponding, and afterwards went mad. Mr. Ellis procured her reception into Bedlam, and became security for her, where she died. On this occasion he wrote a satirical poem, entitled “Black Fryars Meeting,” which is printed in Mist’s Journal, and. which irritated some of the congregation to break the printer’s windows.

As a man of business he was careful and attentive, and from his accuracy afforded no opportunity for controversies among his clients on the score of errors or mistakes.

The preceding account of Mr. Ellis was written by Mr. Isaac Reed, for the European Magazine. The executor to whom Mr. Ellis left his Mss. w.as the late Mr. Sewell, bookseller in Cornhill, and proprietor of that Magazine, who gave many of these Mss. to Mr. Reed, with whose curious library they were sold in 1807. Among these was a volume of Fables, the Translation of Dr. King’s “Ternplum Libertatis,” the “Squire of Dames,” and “The Gospel of the Infancy, or the Apocryphal Book of the Infancy of our Saviour, translated from the Latin version of Henry Sike, from the Arabic ms.” On this last, Mr. Heed wrote the following note: “Ellis was a determined unbeliever in the Scriptures, which, I suppose, was his inducement to this translation.” Mr. Ellis, however, must have taken some pains to conceal his sentiments from Dr. Johnson, who appears to have been once intimate with | him, and who resented no insult to company with more indignation than the intrusion of infidel sentiments, accompanied, as they generally are, with the pert ignorance that is ever disgusting to a scholar. 1


Life in Europ. Mag. n9’2.