RICHARD, the third son of Richard Jago, Rector of Beaudesert, in Warwickshire, was born on the 1st of October, 1715. His mother was Margaret, daughter of Wm. Parker, a gentleman of Henley in Arden, a neighbouring town in the same county. He received the earlier part of his education at Solihull, under Mr. Crumpton, whom Johnson, in his life of Shenstone, calls an eminent schoolmaster. Here Shenstone, who was scarcely one year older, and who, according to Johnson, distinguished himself by the quickness of his progress, imparted to Jago his love of letters. As the one, in his Schoolmistress, has delivered to posterity the old dame who taught him to read; the other has done the same for their common preceptor, but with less ability and less kindness, in his Edgehill, where he terms him "Pedagogue morose."
At the usual time he was admitted a servitor of University College, Oxford. His humble station in the University, though it did not break off his intimacy with Shenstone, must have hindered them from associating openly together.
In 1738, he took the degree of Master of Arts, having been first ordained to the curacy of Snitterfield, a village near the benefice of his father, who died two years after. Soon after that event, he married Dorothea Susannah, daughter of John Fancourt, Rector of Kimcote, in Leicestershire. In 1746, he was instituted to Harbury, where he resided; and about the same time was presented, by Lord Willoughby de Broke, to Chesterton, which lay at a short distance; both livings together amounting to about £100 a year. In 1754, Lord Clare, afterwards Earl Nugent, obtained for him, from Dr. Madox, Bishop of Worcester, the vicarage of Snitterfield, worth about £140. After having inserted some small poems in Dodsley's Collection, he published (in 1767) Edgehill, for which he obtained a large subscription; and in the following year, the fable of Labour and Genius. In 1771, his kind patron, Lord Willoughby de Broke, added to his other preferment the rectory of Kimcote, worth nearly £300 in consequence of which he resigned Harbury.
His first wife died in 1751, leaving him seven children. He had known her from childhood. The attention paid her by Shenstone shews her to have been an amiable woman. In eight years after, he married Margaret, daughter of James Underwood, Esq. of Rugeley, in Staffordshire, who survived him. During the latter part of his life, his infirmities confined him to the house. He died, after a short illness, on the 8th of May, 1781, and was buried in the church of Snitterfield. In his person he was above the middle stature. His manner was reserved before strangers, but easy even to sprightliness in the society of his friends. He is said to have discharged blamelessly all the duties of his profession and of domestic life. As a poet, he is not entitled to very high commendation. The distinguishing feature of his poetry is the ease of its diction. Johnson has observed, that if blank verse be not tumid and gorgeous, it is crippled prose. To disprove this, it would be sufficient to quote the greater part of that story from the Tatler of the Young Man restored to Sight, which Jago has introduced into his Edge-hill. Nothing can be described more naturally, than his feelings and behaviour on his first recovery.
The friendly wound was given; th' obstructing film
Drawn artfully aside; and on his sight
Burst the full tide of day. Surprised he stood,
Not knowing where he was, nor what he saw.
The skilful artist first, as first in place,
He view'd, then seized his hand, then felt his own,
Then mark'd their near resemblance, much perplex'd,
And still the more perplex'd the more he saw.
Now silence first th' impatient mother broke,
And, as her eager looks on him she bent,
"My son (she cried), my son!" On her he gazed
With fresh surprise. "And what!" he cried, "art thou
My mother? for thy voice bespeaks thee such,
Though to my sight unknown." — "Thy mother!
(She quick replied); thy sister, brother, these."—
"O! 'tis too much (he said); too soon to part,
Ere well we meet! But this new flood of day
O'erpowers me, and I feel a death-like damp
Chill all my frame, and stop my faltering tongue."
Now Lydia, so they call'd his gentle friend,
Who, with averted eye, but in her soul
Had felt the lancing steel, her aid applied,
"And stay, dear youth (she said), or with thee take
Thy Lydia, thine alike in life or death!"
At Lydia's name, at Lydia's well known voice,
He strove again to raise his drooping head
And ope his closing eye, but strove in vain,
And on her trembling bosom sunk away.
Now other fears distract his weeping friends:
But short their grief! for soon his life return'd,
And, with return of life, return'd their peace.— (B. iii.)
The country which he has undertaken to describe in this poem is fertile and tame. There was little left to him, except to enlarge on its antiquities, to speak of the habitations that were scattered over it, and to compliment the most distinguished among their possessors. Every day must detract something from the interest, such as it is, that arises from these sources. A poet should take care not to make the fund of his reputation liable to be affected by dilapidations, or to be passed away by the hands of a conveyancer.
It would seem as if he had never visited a tract of land much wilder than that in which he was bred and born. In speaking of "embattled walls, raised on the mountain precipice," he particularises "Beaudesert; Old Montfort's seat;" — a place, which, though it is pleasantly diversified with hill and dale, has no pretensions of so lofty a kind. This, he tells us, was "the haunt of his youthful steps;" and here he met with Somerville, the poet of the Chase, to whom both the subject and the title of his poem might have been suggested by that extensive common, known by the name of Cannock Chase, on the border of which Beaudesert is situated.
The digressions, with which he has endeavoured to enliven the monotony of his subject, are sometimes very far-fetched. He has scarcely finished his exordium, when he goes back to the third day of the creation, and then passes on to the deluge. This reminds one of the Mock Advocate in the Plaideurs of Racine, who, having to defend the cause of a dog that had robbed the pantry, begins, "Avant la naissance du monde" — on which the judge yawns and interrupts him, "Avocat, ah! passons au deluge."
Of his shorter pieces, the three Elegies on Birds are well deserving of notice. That entitled the Blackbirds is so prettily imagined, and so neatly expressed, that it is worth a long poem. Thrice has Shenstone mentioned it in his Letters, in such a manner as to show how much it had pleased him. The Goldfinches is only less excellent. He has spoiled the Swallows by the seriousness of the moral, "Nunc non erat his locus." The first half of Peytoe's Ghost has enough in it to raise a curiosity, which is disappointed by the remainder.