1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Scott of Amwell

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 6:51-52.



JOHN SCOTT, the poet of Amwell, was born in Southwark, in 1730, and was descended from a respectable family, of the quaker persuasion, of which society he continued a member.

When our poet was only ten years of age, his father removing to Amwell, near Ware, in Hertfordshire, he was put to school under an admirable penman, as it is said, but a person who had little classical knowledge. In fact, his education had been either neglected, or was conducted in a very desultory manner. When he was about 17 years of age, falling into company with a man of the name of Frogley, a bricklayer, but a man of reading and moral worth, his innate taste began to display itself, and a strong friendship took place between the future poet and his kind Mentor, to whose advice and instructions he owed so much, and whose sister he afterwards married.

After the removal of the family to Amwell, Scott lived a very retired life, being apprehensive of catching the small-pox; and for twenty years, it seems he was only once in London, though so near it. In 1760, his four Elegies, Descriptive and Moral, made their appearance, and were hailed with the most flattering marks of approbation by the best judges of poetic merit, particularly by the author of the Night Thoughts.

Soon after this, he became acquainted with Mr. Hoole, who in the sequel introduced him to Johnson, who always spoke of Scott with feeling regard.

Having lost his father, mother, wife, and child, all within three or four years, the tender heart of Scott was put to a severe trial, and he attempted to sooth his sorrow by verse.

In 1770, he however again entered into the married state, and being now wholly his own master, he settled at Amwell, which he improved with much taste and expence, and finally consecrated to fame in a beautiful poem under the same name.

Here he was twice visited by Dr. Beattie, and received many flattering marks of attention from other persons of distinguished worth and abilities. Having at length submitted to inoculation, he was no longer precluded from an occasional residence in Town, and he sometimes spent a great part of the winter there, dividing his time between the studies of elegant literature, and the society of a few friends.

It would be uninteresting to enumerate all the works of this amiable and ingenious man. Our selections from them attest the versatility of his powers, and his facility in the art of poetry. He was prematurely carried off by a putrid fever in 1783, in the 54th Year of his age, leaving behind him an only daughter, about six years of age.

In such an age as this, "when dissipation reigns, and prudence sleeps," too much cannot be said in favour of a man who was not less distinguished by the blameless simplicity of his manners, than the warmth of his friendship, and the activity of his benevolence. But his amiable worth and poetical genius, may be better known from his works, that truly reflect the author's mind, than any formal comments. Though a disciple of Barclay, he is also a legitimate son of Apollo, and holds a most respectable rank among the poets of our nation. His Compositions are characterized by elegance and harmony, more than invention or sublimity; neither of which are wanting. They breathe a spirit of tenderness and philanthropy, and display an amiable and virtuous mind. All his pieces shew a propriety of plan, and regularity of connexion; their component parts are homogeneous and concordant, and close in an easy and agreeable manner. They are distinguished by correctness and neatness of expression, and purity of style. But his poems have a merit of no common kind; they have no poetical Common-places, the sentiments and diction are unborrowed; and morality is so happily interwoven with them, as to seem almost necessarily connected with the subject.