1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hoole

John Nichols, in Literary Anecdotes of the XVIII Century (1812-15) 2:404-07.



The fondness of this benevolent Poet for literature shewed itself when he was a boy, so as to make him a favourite with his schoolmaster, while his harmless and gentle disposition caused him to be beloved by his schoolfellows. He quitted school well versed in the Latin and French languages, with a small portion of the Greek. He was perfectly master of arithmetick, a most excellent penman, and possessed a good talent in drawing; but his knowledge of Italian was entirely his own acquiring after he quitted school. His father, Mr. Samuel Hoole, who then carried on a branch of the watch-making business (which, by the use of some newly-invented engines, of his own construction, he had rendered very profitable), wished to have brought him up in his own trade, and actually began to teach him the use of his tools; but to this way of life Nature had opposed an insuperable bar, for John Hoole was so very short-sighted that he could not practice the trade without great inconvenience, nor, in some respects, without danger, from the fragments of brass and stelle to which his eyes, by their near approach to his work, were exposed. He was not, however, wanting in mechanical talents, for he not only completed some pieces of work with his own hands, but, in many respects, was assisting to his father in the machinery which he constructed for Mr. Rich, the then proprietor of Covent-garden theatre. Being prevented from exercising any mechanical calling, he was placed in the service of the East-India Company, in the Accomptants' office, under Mr. Hort, the chief accomptant; of whose abilities, integrity, and kind treatment of the young men under his care, he always spoke with respect. While in this office, Mr. Hoole formed an intimate connexion with several clerks in the Company's service of his own age, particularly Mr. Peter Corbett, Mr. John Winter, Mr. Raceford Tookey, and Mr. John Tristram; young men of good sense, but all singular or eccentric characters; and with them he spent many of his leisure hours. They used frequently to dine and sup together; but were never guilty of any such nocturnal revels as frequently disgrace the characters of young gentlemen. Their youthful parties were always entertaining, and often whimsically diverting. Mr. Hoole's principal amusement, however, was at the theatre, where he had free access behind the scenes, in virtue of his father's being machinist; but thence arose an inconvenience which his father had not foreseen; namely, that the son had begun to conceive a great relish for a theatrical life, so as to form serious thoughts of appearing on the stage; but his father having declared his entire disapprobation of such a measure, he would not indulge his propensity any father than by privately amusing himself and his friends with the rehearsal of different plays. Mr. Hoole used to tell a story of a whimsical distress he was brought into by his short-sightedness, while performing the part of the Ghost in Hamlet, at the Little Theatre in Lincoln's-inn-fields (now Spode's China warehouse); for, having almost finished his speech to young Hamlet, and coming near to the period when the Ghost descends, he was not able to discern the place where the trap-door would open, and, fearing either to miss the spot, and to be left standing on the stage, or of meeting with some accident, by the trap-door opening where he did not expect it, he protracted his speech as much as he could — "But soft — methinks I scent the morning air — brief let me be," &c. at the same time feeling about the stage with his foot for the trap-door, while his friend, who acted as prompter, in as great distress as himself, cried, in a whisper, "Here Jack, here Jack, a little more this way." He, however, luckily hit the right place, and descended with proper ghostly dignity. — Together with his attachment to poetry, Mr. John Hoole was not indifferent to Loves and Graces; his heart was early susceptible of the tender passion. In 1757 he married Miss Susannah Smith, of Bishop Stortford, who was frequently called the handsome Quaker; and in marriage with her, he formed a connexion with two very worthy families, the Smiths of Bishop Stortford, and the Etheredges of Buningford; and through them he became acquainted with Mr. John Scott, of Amwell, by profession a Quaker, but a good poet, and author of many pleasing and well-known productions. He also received every testimony of regard from the Quakers in general; for, though that society are averse to marriages with those of a different persuasion, yet no sect whatever could have refused their cordial friendship to a man of Mr. John Hoole's disposition. During the early part of Mr. Hoole's marriage his appointments at the India-house were but slender. This, however, he supplied by his industry; and, at his leisure hours, laboured indefatigably in making out the invoices for the Company's outward-bound ships, and moreover employed himself in translating French publications relative to the transactions of that nation in India during the war of 1756, commonly called the Seven Years War. Upon Mr. Hoole's removal from the Accomptants-office to that of the Auditor of India Accompts, he not only enjoyed a more lucrative post than in his former station, but also the constant company of Mr. Oldmixon, the chief of that office, who, like himself, was a reader of the Italian language, and an admirer of poetry in general. It was probably at the instance of this gentleman that Mr. Hoole determined on writing his tragedy of Cyrus; and, that he might complete it without interruption, he, in the autumn of 1767, having obtained leave of absence from the India-house, suddenly disappeared from among his friends and acquaintance in London, till they began to be seriously alarmed about him, particularly his mother, who then lived in Moorfields with her youngest son and daughter. She was, however, at length relieved from her anxiety, by a letter from Mr. John Hoole to his brother, inviting him to his retreat, which proved to be a small house at the Thames side, at Wandsworth, in the neighbourhood of Mr. Oldmixon; and upon Mr. Samuel Hoole's repairing thither, he found his brother in good health, who merrily acquainted him with the cause of his absconding. This rural retirement was so much to Mr. John Hoole's taste, that he continued in the house for several years, and took great pleasure in passing to and fro by water, having, at the same time, chambers in Clement's-inn. In September, 1770, Mr. Hoole had the misfortune to break the patella or knee-pan of his leg by a fall, in the dusk of the evening, down a flight of steps, which were then at the end of George's-court, Clerkenwell, but which, soon afterwards, as if it had been to save others from a like accident, were taken away, and the place made a gradual slope. This fracture, which is deemed by the faculty very difficult to treat, and very tedious in the cure, confined him to his bed in Clement's-inn for several months, during which time he was constantly and carefully attended by that eminent surgeon Mr. Richard Grindall, who had a great friendship for him; and his long confinement was alleviated by frequent visits from his numerous friends and acquaintance. As soon as he was so far recovered as to be able to quit his chamber, he removed to his mother's house in Moorfields, where a bed was provided for him on the ground-floor, to save the necessity of going up and down stairs, and two chairmen came regularly every day, with what is called a boot-chair, having an extended cavity at the bottom, to permit the leg being placed in a straight posture; and thus he was conveyed to attend his duties at the India-house. This fracture of the patella generally produces a stiffness in the joint, which ever afterwards prevents the patient from walking without difficulty; and this was a cause of great anxiety on the part of Mr. Hoole. He did indeed, for some time, experience that inconvenience, though not to so great a degree as he expected. But, a few years afterward, he had the misfortune (if it is to be so called) of breaking his knee-pan a second time; and, after this second fracture was healed, he found the joint become more flexible; and, consequently, he could walk with more ease. The same accident befell him a third time, and with the like success; for, the joint of his now allowed full motion to the leg, by which means he walked, and with little or no appearance of limping in his gait. — He died Aug. 2, 1803, in his 76th year. Mr. Hoole first displayed his poetical talents in an elegy on the death of Mrs. Woffington, the celebrated actress. He translated the works of Tasso, Ariosto, and Metastasio, if not with congenial fervour of imagination, yet with correctness, elegance, and taste. His Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered has gone through several editions. In 1767 he published The Works of Metastasio, translated from the Italian, 2 vols. 12mo. In 1773, the first volume of a Translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso; and, ten years after, he published it complete, in 5 vols. 8vo; in 1791, the Orlando of Ariosto, reduced to 24 books, the narrative connected, and the stories disposed, in a regular series, 2 vols. 8vo; and, in 1792, a Translation of Tasso's Rinaldo, in 1 vol. 8vo. He was the author of three dramatic pieces, the tragedies of Cyrus, Timanthes, and Cleonice, Princess of Bythinia. The first two pieces were derived from Metastasio. They were performed with tolerable success, particularly the tragedy of Cyrus, the fable of which is very interesting, and which was animated by noble sentiments, well expressed. This play had the advantage of being supported by the talents of Powell, in the zenith of his fame; and those of Smith, when he was a great favourite with the publick; and by those of Mrs. Yates, when she was in the maturity of beauty and theatrical repute. The tragedy of Cleonice was by no means so successful. Indeed, it fell a victim to the severity of Criticism, which has capriciously suffered many worse performances to enjoy a better fate. Mr. Hoole conducted himself very liberally on this occasion, by returning a considerable part of the money which he had received for the copy-right, alleging, that, as the piece was not successful on the stage, it could not be very profitable to the bookseller, and ought not to be a loss.