William Jackson of Exeter was son of a tradesman of that city, where he was born about 1730. As he early discovered a great genius for music, he was educated to that profession under the organist of the cathedral there. He afterwards went to London, where he improved under eminent masters, and returned to teach music at the place of his nativity. At length, in 1777, he was appointed organist of Exeter cathedral.
In 1782 he rose at once to literary fame by the publication of Thirty Letters on various Subjects, 2 vols. 12mo. These principally consisted of Essays on the Belles Lettres, and evinced taste, learning, vivacity, originality, and even genius.
His celebrity in musical composition had already been widely extended, and he now held a considerable rank amongst authors.
In 1798 he published The Four Ages; together with Essays on various subjects. By William Jackson, of Exeter. 8vo. pp. 454. Printed for Cadell and Davies.
This work consisted of so much instructive, original, and entertaining matter, that it added much to the author's well-earned fame. It contained however some opinions on religion not sufficiently considered, and which gave offence to serious readers.
His account of Gainsborough the painter, will exhibit a characteristic and interesting specimen.
GAINSBOROUGH, THE PAINTER.
"In the early part of my life I became acquainted with Thomas Gainsborough, the painter; and as his character was perhaps better known to me, than to any other person, I will endeavour to divest myself of every partiality, and speak of him, as he really was. I am the rather induced to this, by seeing accounts of him and his works given by people, who were unacquainted with either, and, consequently, have been mistaken in both.
"Gainsborough's profession was painting, and music was his amusement; yet, there were times when music seemed to be his employment, and painting his diversion. As his skill in music has been celebrated, I will, before I speak of him as a painter, mention what degree of merit he possessed ml a musician.
"When I first knew him he lived at Bath, where Giardini had been exhibiting his then unrivalled powers on the violin. His excellent performance made Gainsborough enamoured of that instrument; and conceiving, like the servant-maid in the Spectator, that the music lay in the fiddle, he was frantic until he possessed the very instrument which had given him so much pleasure; but seemed much surprised that the music of it remained behind with Giardini!
"He had scarcely recovered this shock (for it was a great one to him) when he heard Abel on the viol-di-gamba. The violin was hung on the willow — Abel's viol-di-gamba was purchased, and the house resounded with melodious thirds and fifths from 'morn to dewy eve!' many an Adagio and many a minuet were begun, but none completed. This was wonderful, as it was Abel's own instrument, and therefore ought to have produced Abel's own music!
"Fortunately, my friend's passion had now a fresh object — Fischer's hauboy — but I do not recollect that he deprived Fischer of his instrument: and though he procured a hautboy, I never heard him make the least attempt on it. Probably his ear was too delicate to bear the disagreeable sounds which necessarily attend the first beginnings on a wind-instrument. He seemed to content himself with what he heard in public, and getting Fischer to play to him in private, not on the hautboy but the violin; but this was a profound secret, for Fischer knew that his reputation was in danger if he pretended to excel on two instruments.
"The next time I saw Gainsborough, it was in the character of King David. He had heard a harper at Bath; the performer was soon left harpless; and now Fischer, Abel, and Giardini, were all forgotten; there was nothing like chords and arpeggios! He really stuck to the harp long enough to play several airs with variations, and, in a little time, would nearly have exhausted all the pieces usually performed on an instrument incapable of modulation, (this was not a pedal-harp) when another visit from Abel brought him back to the viol-di-gamba.
"He now saw the imperfection of sudden sounds that instantly die away. If you wanted a staccato, it was to be had by a proper management of the bow, and you might also have notes as long as you please. The viol-di-gamba is the only instrument, and Abel the prince of musicians.
"This, and occasionally a little flirtation with the fiddle, continued some years; when, as ill luck would have it, he heard Crossdill; but, by some irregularity of conduct, for which I cannot account, he neither took up, nor bought the violoncello. All his passion for the bass was vented in descriptions of Crosdill's tone and bowing, which was rapturous and enthusiastic to the last degree."
"In this way he frittered away his musical talents; and though possessed of ear, taste, and genius he never had application enough to learn his notes. He scorned to take the first step; the second was of course out of his reach; and the summit became unattainable."
Mr. Jackson died at Exeter, 12 July, 1803. Thomas Jackson, Esq. now or lately Minister Plenipotentiary to Sardinia, is, I believe, one of his sons.