1896 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Scott of Amwell

Evelyn Noble Armitage, in Quaker Poets (1896) 240-42.



JOHN SCOTT was born in 1730, at the Grange Walk, Bermondsey, and was the son of Samuel and Martha Scott. His father was a draper, but retired to Amwell, a village in Hertfordshire, when John was about ten years old. The boy was sent for a short time to a day school at Ware, but did not stay long enough to gain much instruction. He had never been inoculated for small pox, and as both he and his parents seem to have had a morbid terror of this disease, he was kept away from school at the first hint of infection. He seems to have retained this fear for a considerable part of his life, as it is said, he lived for twenty years within twenty miles of London, and yet only visited the city once!

His family had neither many books nor much literary knowledge, but John Scott being passionately fond of reading, became acquainted with a neighbour, a bricklayer, named Frogley, who seems to have been a very remarkable man, and who, although uneducated, had a large acquaintance with good authors, and placed Paradise Lost in Scott's hands. This seems to have given the lad his first knowledge of poetry, and he cemented his friendship with Frogley by marrying his daughter, who, however, died in less than a year after her marriage to the intense grief of her young husband. He retired to the house of a friend at Cockfield, and after a time seems to have devoted himself to writing verse. His first productions were sent to the Gentleman's Magazine, but when he was thirty, he published a small volume containing four elegies on the seasons, this little book was very favourably received. At considerable intervals appeared his poems, The Garden, Amwell, Collected Poems, and also Critical Essays on the English Poets, and Remarks on the Poems of Rowley. John Scott was an ardent patriot, full of public spirit, and enthusiasm, for what he considered right and just. He had an intimate acquaintance with the laws of his country, and although prevented by his Quakerism from becoming a magistrate, he acted as arbitrator in the disputes of his neighbours, and was most active in any schemes for local improvement. Ware and Hertford were indebted to him for the plan of making a good road between them, and he was most diligent in attending turnpike, land-tax, and navigation trust meetings. His prominent character and his verses gained him many eminent friends, amongst whom were Dr. Johnson, Sir W. Jones, Mrs. Montague, Lord Lyttelton, and many others.

Having in his thirty-sixth year submitted to inoculation, he went more frequently to London, and in 1770 married his second wife, Mary de Home, at Ratcliff Meeting House; they had one daughter, who was left an orphan at an early age, married a Mr. Hooper, but died without children.

John Scott himself died on the 12th December, 1783, in his house at Ratcliff, of a putrid fever, and was buried in the Friends' burial ground there. Amongst his works are the following [list omitted]. He also contributed many odes and other poems to various magazines.

John Scott was extremely fond of horticulture, and spent much time and thought in planting and building, and otherwise beautifying his place, Amwell House. In a paper which appeared in the Hertfordshire Illustrated Review, and from which many details of this sketch have been taken, we are told, "it was perhaps the intensely hot weather (1757) that gave him the idea of building the grotto, a most curious underground place of eight chambers dug out under a hill of solid chalk, and probably quite unique of its kind. The rooms are lined with shells and fossils, brought from many parts and ingeniously fitted together — a work requiring time, thought, and money — and he describes how he marched first, pickaxe in hand, to encourage his rustic assistants when the building was commenced. It still exists, and is well worth a visit ... he planted his grounds at Amwell House with great skill and taste, and there were some splendid trees there." Dr. Johnson who once visited him declared that "none but a poet could have made such a garden."