1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Jerningham

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 19:3-5.



EDWARD JERNINGHAM, an elegant English poet, descended from an ancient Roman catholic family in Norfolk, was the youngest brother of the late sir William Jerningham, bart, and was born in 1727. He was educated in the English college at Douay, and from thence removed to Paris, where he improved himself in classical attainments, becoming a good Latin scholar, and tolerably well acquainted with the Greek, while the French and Italian languages, particularly the former, were nearly as familiar to him as that of his native country. In his mind, benevolence and poetry had always a mingled operation. His taste was founded upon the best models of literature, which, however, he did not always follow, with respect to style, in his latter performances. The first production which raised him into public notice, was a poem in recommendation of the Magdalen hospital; and Mr. Jonas Hanway, one of its most active patrons, often declared, that its success was very much promoted by this poem. He continued occasionally to afford proofs of his poetical genius; and his works, which passed through many editions, are uniformly marked by taste, elegance, and a pensive character, that always excites tender and pleasing emotions; and in some of his works, as in "The Shakspeare Gallery," "Enthusiasm," and "The Rise and Fall of Scandinavian Poetry," he displays great vigour, and even sublimity. The first of these poems had an elegant and spirited compliment from Mr. Burke, in the following passage: — "I have not for a long time seen any thing so well-finished. He has caught new fire by approaching in his perihelium so near to the Sun of our poetical system." — His last work, published a few months before his death, was entitled "The Old Bard's Farewell." It is not unworthy of his best days, and breathes an air of benevolence and grateful piety for the lot in life which Providence had assigned him. — In his later writings it has been objected that he evinces a species of liberal spirit in matters of religion, which seems to consider all religions alike, provided the believer is a man of meekness and forbearance. With this view in his "Essay on the mild Tenour of Christianity" he traces historically the efforts to give an anchorite-cast to the Christian profession, and gives many interesting anecdotes derived from the page of Ecclesiastical history, but not always very happily applied. His "Essay on the Eloquence of the Pulpit in England," (prefixed to bishop Bossuet's Select Sermons and Orations) was very favourably received by the public, but his notions of pulpit eloquence are rather French than English. Mr. Jerningham had, during the course of a long life, enjoyed an intimacy with the most eminent literary characters in the higher ranks, particularly the celebrated earl of Chesterfield, and the present earl of Carlisle. The illness which occasioned his death, had continued for some months, and was at times very severe; but his sufferings were much alleviated by a course of theological study he had imposed on himself, and which he considered most congenial to a closing life. He died Nov. 17, 1812. He bequeathed all his manuscripts to Mr. Clarke, New Bond-street. Mr. Jerningham's productions are as follow: 1. "Poems and Plays," 4 vols. 9th edition, 1806. 2. "Select Sermons and Funeral Orations, translated from the French of Bossuet, bishop of Meaux," third edition, 1801. 3. "The mild Tenour of Christianity, an Essay, (elucidated from Scripture and History; containing a new illustration of the characters of several eminent personages,)" second edition, 1807. 4. "The Dignity of Human Nature, an Essay," 1805. 5. "The Alexandrian School; or, a narrative of the first Christian Professors in Alexandria," third edition, 1810. 6. "The Old Bard's Farewell," a Poem, second edition, with additional passages, 1812. His dramatic pieces, "The Siege of Berwick," the "Welsh Heiress," and "The Peckham Frolic," have not been remarkably successful.