1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Scott of Amwell

Anonymous, "Anecdotes of the Author" European Magazine 2 (September 1782) 195-96.



Mr. Scott, the ingenious author of the foregoing work, is descended from two ancient and genteel families, as we have been informed; the one of the county of York, the other of Warwickshire. His father, Mr. Samuel Scott, was a Linen Draper, and Citizen of London; in the environs of which City, on the Surry side, our author was born, about the year 1732. He was early placed under the care of a private tutor, by whom he was initiated in the rudiments of classical learning. His father soon after retiring from business, and removing to Amwell, near Ware, in Herefordshire, his son's education was pursued at a public school in a lax and desultory manner. Whatever disadvantages might result from these circumstances, he must have repaired by his own application, as no mark of it is visible in his writings. With an ardent propensity to the study and practice of poetry, he appears to have possessed such caution, that he happily passed the critical period in which many a young genius exposes his own weakness, and irretrievably precludes a reputation which otherwise might have been obtained.

The Elegies, descriptive and moral, reprinted in the present collection of his poetical works, were his first productions, so far as we know; and though the author could not be much known among the Literati at that time, his poems were honoured with a very particular and liberal approbation, and were publicly praised and recommended by the late Dr. Young, Mrs. Talbot, Mrs. Carter, and other eminent characters of the times.

We do not find that this success stimulated our author into a vain cacoethes scribendi; one might imagine that his diffidence was augmented, or that he was fearful of forfeiting the fame he had acquired; for, if we recollect right, he did not again appear as an author till about the year 1768, soon after the death of his parents, and of his wife, to whom he had been married not many months; we learn by his elegy on these domestic afflictions, that she died in child-bed; and if we were to estimate the poignancy of his grief by the pathetic effusions of this poetical performance, we cannot doubt the ardour of a passion, which is, of all others, the most tender and sympathetic. The writer of this, though not the most intimately acquainted with the author, and therefore uninfluenced by partial sentiment, ventures to risk his reputation as a critic, in declaring this funeral elegy is one of the most pathetic performances in the English language: And we are happy to see it published amongst his works, as previously it was only privately distributed among his friends. One of this number was the late Dr. Langhorne, and whom we understand sustained a similar misfortune near the same period. That poet, writing to a friend, who has favoured us with the anecdote, speaks of this Elegy in these words: "Mr. Scott's poem came so near my own feelings, that it hurt my peace of mind, and while I admired the writer and pitied the man, I saw my own miseries in the strongest point of view. The horrible grandeur of the solitary reflection of despair that follows, strike to the soul."

The above similarity of circumstances gave rise to a friendship betwixt the two poets, which was only interrupted by the death of the amiable Langhorne.

Mr. Scott chiefly resides at his seat at Amwell; and though the writer of these anecdotes has rarely visited his villa, he has seen sufficient to admire. It is situated in a pleasant and fertile country, and has somewhat peculiarly romantic and beautiful in its aspect. The village, with several of the adjacent situations and prospects, he has celebrated in a descriptive poem, published in 1776. This poem is rendered interesting by the introduction of historical particulars, and moral reflections, which are brought forward with propriety. It is also enriched with notes, that contain some well-selected and curious information; and we add, that it likewise met with a favourable reception from the public.

Mr. Scott's walk as an author is not confined to poetry. In 1778 he published a benevolent and judicious essay, entitled, "Observations on the present state of the vagrant and parochial poor;" in which the cause of that unhappy part of the community is pleaded with much energy against oppressive or defective laws, and avaricious parish officers. This pamphlet proposes, though with much diffidence, a system of regulations for the prevention of imposition on one hand, and tyranny on the other. How far this system might be eligible in practice is difficult to determine; as it is much easier to point out an evil than to discover a remedy. Mr. Gilbert, in a bill, or bills, brought into Parliament last session, seems to have offered expedients in some cases rather similar. Our author also favoured the public, in 1778, with a work of great labour and general utility, entitled, "A Digest of the Highway and general Turnpike Laws." In this work all the Acts of Parliament in force are collected together, placed in one point of view, and their contents arranged under distinct heads, or articles. It is executed with precision, and the clear arrangement of legal matter, with the addition of numerous notes, and an appendix, containing a complete and scientific treatise on road-making (perhaps the only one extant) render the whole a valuable vade mecum for Magistrates, Trustees, and Surveyors. He is said also to have employed his pen in several anonymous pamphlets and essays; and he was the first writer who publicly disputed the authenticity of Rowley's poems [note: Gentleman's Mag. for July and August, 1777]; and here we cannot but wish, that these, and many other fugitive pieces, which have been ascribed to this ingenious writer, were collected together in one publication.

He, some years ago, amused many of his vacant hours in embellishing, with plantations, a few acres of his premises at Amwell. Among these plantations is a grotto of his own designing, for size, if not the first, the second in our kingdom. A pleasing view of its front is engraved by Woollett.

Mr. Scott devoted much of his time to public business in the vicinity of his residence; his attendance at Meetings of Turnpike, Navigation Trusts, Commissioners of Land-Tax, being not often dispensed with. He has, in this line, taken the lead in several important undertakings, in which his plans have proved successful; and the county of Hereford is indebted to him for the opening of a pleasant and spacious coach road between the towns of Hereford and Ware, now justly esteemed one of the greatest conveniences of that part of the county.

Mr. Scott's poems, as we have said, are ornamented with many elegant engravings adapted to the design of various essays, as well as with an engraving of the author; a practice which we are pleased to observe is again becoming fashionable. There is a pleasure in meeting with a friend when living, if introduced to him only by the engraver; and after his decease, it becomes yet more interesting, as our author expresses it in his elegant Essay on Painting. Another reason may be given why writers of eminence should not be scrupulous in this particular, viz. that after their deaths, the public are often deceived by portraits, which, in fact, have no resemblance of the originals.