Scott, John

, a poet of considerable genius, and a very amiable man, was the youngest son of Samuel and Martha Scott, and was born January 9, 1730, in the GrangeWalk, in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey. His father was a draper and citizen of London, a man of plain and irreproachable manners, and one of the society of the people called quakers, in which persuasion our poet was educated, and continued during the whole of his life, although not with the strictest attention to all the peculiarities of that sect. In the seventh year of his age he was put under the tuition of one John Clarke, a native of Scotland, who kept a school in Bermondsey-street, attended young Scott at his father’s house, and instructed him in the rudiments of the Latin tongue. In his tenth year his father retired with his family, consisting of Mrs. Scott and two sons, to the village of Amwell in Hertfordshire, where, for some time, he carried on the malting trade. Here our poet was sent to a private day-school, in which he is said to have had few opportunities of polite literature, and those few were declined by his father from a dread of the smallpox, which neither he nor his son had yet caught* This terror, perpetually recurring as the disorder made its appearance in one quarter or another, occasioned such frequent removals as prevented his son from the advantages of regular education. The youth, however, did not neglect to cultivate his mind by such means as were in his power. About the age of seventeen he discovered an inclination to the study of poetry, with which he combined a | delight in viewing the appearances of rural nature. At this time he derived much assistance from the conversation and opinions of one Charles Frogley, a person in the humble station of a bricklayer, but who had improved a natural taste for poetry, and arrived at a considerable degree of critical discernment. This Mr. Scott thankfully acknowledged when he had himself attained a rank among the writers of his age, and could return with interest the praise by which Frogley had cheered his youthful attempts. The only other adviser of his studies, in this sequestered spot, was a Mr. John Turner, afterwards a dissenting preacher. To him he was introduced in 1753 or 1754, and, on the removal of Mr. Turner to London, and afterwards to Colleton in Devonshire, they carried on a friendly correspondence on matters of general taste.

Mr. Scott’s first poetical essays were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, “.the great receptacle for the ebullitions of youthful genius.” Mr. Hoole, his biographer, has not been able to discover all the pieces inserted by him in that work, but has reprinted three of them, which are added to his works in the late edition of the English poets. With the taste of the public during his retirement at Arnwell he could have little acquaintance. He had lived here about twenty years, at a distance from any literary society or information. His reading was chiefly confined to books of taste and criticism; but the latter at that time were not many nor very valuable. In the ancient or modern languages it does not appear that he made any progress. Mr. Hoole thinks he knew very little of Latin, and had no knowledge of either French or Italian. Those who know of what importance it is to improve genius by study, will regret that such a man was left, in the pliable days of youth, without any acquaintance with the noble models on which English poets have been formed. They will yet more regret, that the cause of this distance from literary society, the source of all generous and useful emulation, was a superstitious dread of the small-pox, already mentioned as obstructing his early studies, and which continued to prevail with his parents to such a der gree, that although at the distance of only twenty miles, their son had been permitted to visit London but once in twenty years. His chief occupation, when not in a humour to study, was in cultivating a garden, for which he had | a particular fondness, and at length rendered one of trie most attractive objects to the visitors of Amwell.

About the year 1760, he began to make occasional; though cautious and short visits to London; and in the spring of this year, published his “Four Elegies, Descriptive and Moral,” epithets which may be applied to almost all his poetry. These were very favourably received, and not only praised by the public critics, but received the valuable commendations of Dr. Young, Mrs. Talbot, and Mrs. Carter, who loved poetry, and loved it most when in conjunction with piety. But for many years he abstained from farther publication, determined to put in no claims that were not strengthened by the utmost industry and frequent and careful revisal. This, probably, in some cases checked nis enthusiasm, and gave to his longer poems an appearance of labour.

In 1761, during the prevalence of the small-pox at Ware, he removed to St. Margaret’s, a small hamlet about two miles distant from Amwell, where, Mr. Hoole informs us, he became first acquainted with him, and saw the first sketch of his poem of Amwell, to which he then gave the title of “A Prospect of Ware and the Country adjacent,” In 1766, he became sensible of the many disadvantages he laboured under by living in continual dread of the smallpox, and had the courage to submit to the operation of inoculation, which was successfully performed by the late baron Dimsdale. He now visited London more frequently, and Mr. Hoole had the satisfaction to introduce him, among 'others, to Dr. Johnson. “Notwithstanding the great difference of their political principles, Scott had too much love for goodness and genius, not to be highly gratified in the opportunity of cultivating a friendship with that great exemplar of human virtues, and that great veteran of human learning; while the doctor, with a mind superior to the distinction of party, delighted with equal complacency in the amiable qualities of Scott, of whom he always spoke with feeling regard.

In 1767, he married Sarah Frogley, the~daughter of his early friend and adviser Charles Frogley. The bride was, previous to her nuptials, admitted a member of the society of quakers. For her father he ever preserved the highest respect, and seems to have written his Eleventh Ode with a view to relieve the mind of that worthy man from the | Apprehension of being neglected by bim. The connection he had formed in his family, however, was not of long duration. His wife died in childbed in 1768, and the same year he lost his father and his infant-child. For some time he was inconsolable, and removed from Amwell, where so many objects excited the bitter remembrance of all he held dear, to the house of a friend at Upton. Here, when time and reflection had mellowed his grief, he honoured the memory of his wife by an elegy in which tenderness and love are expressed in the genuine language of nature. As he did not wish to make a parade of his private feelings, a few copies only of this elegy were given to his friends, nor would he ever suffer it to be published for sale. It procured him the praise of Dr. Hawkesworth, and the friendship of Dr. Langhorne, who, about this time, had been visited by a similar calamity. His mother, it ought to have been mentioned, died in 1766; and, in 1769, he lost his friend and correspondent Mr. Turner.

In November 1770, he married his second wife, Mary de Home, daughter of the late Abraham de Home: “a lady whose amiable qualities promised him many years of uninterrupted happiness.” During his visit in London, he increased his literary circle of friends by an introduction to Mrs. Montagu’s parties. Among those who principally noticed him with respect, were lord Lyttelton, sir William Jones, Mr. Potter, Mr. Mickle, and Dr. Beattie, who paid him a cordial visit at Amwell in 1773, and again in 1781, and became one of his correspondents.

Although we have hitherto contemplated our author as a student and occasional poet, he rendered himself more conspicuous as one of those reflectors on public affairs who employ much of their time in endeavouring to be useful. Among other subjects, his attention had often been called to that glaring defect in human polity, the state of the poor; and having revolved the subject in his mind, with the assistance of many personal inquiries, he published in 1773 “Observations on the present state of the parochial and vagrant Poor.” It is needless to add, that his advice in this matter was rather approved than followed. Some of his propositions, indeed, were incorporated in Mr. Gilbert’s Bill, in 1782; but the whole was lost for want of parliamentary support.

In 1776 he published his “Amwell,” a descriptive poem, which he had long been preparing, and in which he fondly | hoped to immortalize his favourite village. His biographer, however, has amply demonstrated the impossibility of communicating local enthusiasm by any attempt of this kind. The reflections occasionally introduced, and the historical or encomiastic digressions, are generally selected as the most pleasing passages in descriptive poetry; but all that is really descriptive, all that would remove us from the closet to the scene, is a hopeless attempt to do that by thte pen which can only be done by the pencil.

At, such intervals as our author could spare, he wrote various anonymous pamphlets and essays, on miscellaneous subjects, and is said to have appeared among the enemies of the measures of government who answered Dr. Johnson’s “Patriot,” “False Alarm,” and “Taxation no Tyranny.” On the commencement of the llowleian controversy, he took the part of Chatterton, and was among the first who questioned the authenticity of the poems ascribed to Rowley. This he discussed in some letters inserted in the Gentleman’s Magazine. Of course he was led to admire the wonderful powers ~of the young impostor, and in his XXIst ode pays a poetical tribute to his memory, in which, with others of his brethren at that time, he censures the unfeeling rich for depriving their country of a new Shakspeare or Milton.

These, however, were his amusements; the more valuable part of his time was devoted to such public business as is ever best conducted- by men of his pure and independent character. He gave regular attendance at turnpike-meetings, navigation trusts, and commissions of land tax*, and proposed and carried various schemes of local improvement, particularly the fine road between Ware and Hertford, and some useful alterations in the streets of Ware. Among his neighbours he frequently, by a judicious interference or arbitration, checked that spirit of litigation which destroys the felicity of a country life. During the meritorious employments of his public and political life, it can only be imputed to him that in his zeal for the principles he espoused, he sometimes betrayed too great warmth; and in

* When once asked whether he was that an oath and an affirmative are subin the commission of the peace, he stantially the same, and that the mode

snswerrd without hesitation that his of appeal to the Searcher of hearts is

principal objection to taking the oath, of li<t!e consequence, though he cerwas the offence which it would give to tainly preferred the latter. Monthly

the Society, His own opinion was, Review, yol. VII. N. S. p. 257. | answering Dr. Johnson’s pamphlets, it has been allowed that he made use of expressions which would better become those who did not know the worth of that excellent character.

In 1778, he published a work of great labour and utility, entitled “A Digest of the Highway and general Turnpike laws.” In this compilation, Mr. Hoole informs us, all the acts of parliament in force are collected together, and placed in one point of view; their contents are arranged under distinct heads, with the addition of many notes, and an appendix on the construction and preservation of public roads, probably the only scientific treatise on the subject. A part of this work appeared in 1773, under the title of a “Digest of the Highway Laws.” In the spring of 1782, he published what he had lorfg projected, a volume of poetry, including his elegies, Amwell, and a great variety of hitherto^unpublished pieces. On this volume it is evident he had bestowed great pains, and added the decorations of some beautiful engravings. A very favourable account was given of the whole of its contents in the Monthly Review; but the Critical having taken some personal liberties with the author, hinting that the ornaments were not quite suitable to the plainness and simplicity of a quaker, Mr. Scott thought proper to publish a letter addressed to the authors of that journal, in which he expostulated with them on their conduct, and defended his poetry. Every friend, however, must wish he had passed over their strictures in silence. His defence of his poetry betrays him into the error of which he complained, and we see far more of the conceited egotist than could have been supposed to belong to his simple and humble character.

After this contest, he began to prepare a work of the critical kind. He had been dissatisfied with some of Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, and had amassed in the course of his own reading and reflection, a number of observations on Denham, Milton, Pope, Dyer, Goldsmith, and Thomson, which he sent to the press, under the title of “Critical Essays,” but did not live to publish them. On the 25th of October 1783, he accompanied Mrs. Scott to London for the benefit of medical advice for a complaint under which she laboured at that time; but on the 1st of December, while at his house at Radtliff, he was attacked by a putrid fever, which proved fatal on the 12th of that month, and he was interred on the 18th in the Quaker | burying-­ground at Radcliff. He had arrived at his fifty-fourth year, and left behind a widow and a daughter, their only child, then about six years old. His death was the more lamented as he was in the vigour of life, and had the prospect of many years of usefulness. “In his person he was tall and slender, but his limbs were remarkably strong and muscular he was very active, and delighted much in the exercise of walking his countenance was cheerful and animated.” The portrait prefixed to his works is not a very correct likeness, nor was he himself satisfied with it.

His public and private character appears to have been in every respect worthy of imitation, but what his religious opinions were, except that he cherished a general reverence for piety, is somewhat doubtful. Professedly, he was one of the society called Quakers, but the paper which that society, or some of his relations, thought it necessary to publish after his death, seems to intimate that in their opinion, and finally in his own, his practice had riot in all respects been consistent.

His “Critical Essays” were published in 1785 by Mr, Hoole, who prefixed a life written with much affection, yet with impartiality. As a poet, Mr. Scott seems to rank among those who possess genius in a moderate degree, who please by short efforts and limited inspirations, but whose talents are better displayed in moral reflection and pathetic sentiment than flights of fancy. His “Elegies,” as they were the first, are among the best of his performances. Simplicity appears to have been his general aim, and he was of opinion that it was too little studied by modern writers. In the “Mexican prophecy,” however, and in “Serim,” there is a fire and spirit worthy of the highest school. His “Amwell” will ever deserve a distinguished place among descriptive poems, but it is liable to all the objections attached to descriptive poetry. His feeblest effort is the “Essay on Painting,” a hasty sketch, in which he professed himself, and that not in very humble terms, to be the rival of Hayley. Upon the whole, however, the vein of pious and moral reflection, and the benevolence and philanthropy which pervade all his poems, will continue to make them acceptable to those who read to be improved, and are of opinion that pleasure is not the sole end of poetry. 1


Life by Mr. Hoole. English Poets, 1810, new edit. 21 vols. 8vo.