1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Davies of Hereford

Joseph Haslewood, in British Bibliographer 2 (1812) 247-52.



John Davies usually distinguished himself from others then living, of the same name, by adding to his own that of the city "of Hereford," where he was born. This addition has not entirely prevented confusion. Very few particulars of his life have descended to us; those usually referred to, are registered by Wood: but that account seems impeachable from the following note, in the hand-writing of Dr. Farmer. "Davies, a writing-master, at Oxford retainer to Magdalen College. See Wood's mistakes: 1. 444 — died about 1 18." The list of our author's pieces, there given, is manifestly incorrect. In the subject of this and the two following articles I find his Muse addressing his relations and friends; trifling with his wife; more nonsensical with a supposed mistress; complimenting his pupils, adulating persons of distinction; gabbing with himself; and even furnishing his own epitaph without affording a glance at his personal history. As a writing-master he appears to have particularly excelled, and to have ranked among his pupils the high spirited Prince Henry. Wood repeats from Fuller, that "he was esteemed the greatest master of his pen that England in his age beheld; for fast writing, fair writing, which looked as if it had been printed; close writing, and various writing, as secretary, Roman, &c." Some of his contemporaries considered him a wit; but although "wit is eternal," that dubious title is not always a passport to extended fame. However, it may be recorded, that from the very uncommon collection, styled Wits Bedlam, now first noticed as his production, several coarse pieces of levity were selected and remodelled in prose, by Mottley, the dramatic writer when he formed the Gentleman's Jester, alias Joe Miller, and they continue to hold a place in those distinguished pages. Davies's poetical attempts are generally heavy, dull, obscure, and inharmonious; and his pages are remarkable for inconsistency. One while he is pouring forth celestial rhapsodies, and then "with jerkes of wit, (as he terms them) to whip every vice," blundering on expressions too gross for pen or press, while the reader, who may have been edified by his morality, is left to fill up the blank of a disgusting parenthesis. His witticisms are often feeble puns, double entendres, and occasionally have their point depending on a fabricated name. Yet though the whole of his pieces now class as rare, from their number it seems presumable they were not ill received. To us moderns, however, there seldom appears poignancy in his wit or nerve in his poetry.