JOHN HUGHES was a native of Marlborough, in Wiltshire, where he was born in June 1677. His parents being dissenters, he was educated at an academy in London, under a minister of that persuasion, and had for his school-fellows, Watts, Say, and other distinguished names.
Poetry, painting, and music early engaged his mind; and at nineteen, he wrote a tragedy, which is still said to be preserved in manuscript.
His constitution was delicate; but this did not prevent him from study or business. He held a place in the office of Ordnance, yet found leisure to indulge himself in literature. The Triumph of Peace appeared in 1697, and was received with approbation. Two years after, he published The Court of Neptune, and continued at intervals to produce other pieces, among which the Birth of the Rose, and the Ecstasy, are particularly admired.
Acknowledged as a man of genius, he was now received among the wits of that attic age, and contributed several essays to the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian. He likewise produced several works of greater length, as editor, translator, or original writer, in all which capacities, he deservedly gained applause.
His circumstances hitherto had been far from easy; but, in 1717, Lord Chancellor Cowper appointed him secretary to the commission of the peace, which gave him a modest competence. His declining health, however, rendered this change in his condition of little avail. He died on the 17th of February 1720, the very night that his admired tragedy of the Siege of Damascus was performed, and just lived to hear of its success, though he was at that awful moment too devoutly employed in the meditations of a departing Christian, to regard sublunary fame.
Pope says of Hughes, "that what he wanted in genius, he made up as an honest man." Indeed his character appears to have been in every respect highly estimable, as a learned, upright, benevolent, and religious man. As a poet, he certainly is not entitled to rank in the highest class; but most of his pieces are pleasing and elegant, and all of them are friendly to virtue. As an essayist, he shares the praise with Steele and Addison.
The papers which Mr. Hughes contributed to the Tatler, are ascertained by Mr. Anderson, as follows, Nos. 64, 73, 113. And to the Spectator, Nos. 35, 53, 66, 91, 104, 141, 210, 220, 230, 231, 237, 252, 311, 375, 525, 537, 541, &c. In a late edition of the Spectator, No. 467, containing the character of Manlius, supposed to be intended for Lord Chancellor Cowper, is ascribed to Hughes, who was honoured with the patronage of that able and patriotic statesman.
Mr. Hughes died on the first night's performance of the play, 17 Feb. 1719-20, in the 43d year of his age, loved and lamented.