1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Jerningham

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:160-73.



EDWARD JERNINGHAM, ESQ. This gentleman I consider as altogether one of the most amiable and intelligent persons 1 ever knew. I had admired his poems in general when I had not the least idea that I should ever become acquainted with him. He had received his education chiefly in France, and came to London about the twentieth year of his age, for the purpose of being present at the coronation of King George the Third. His family were Roman Catholics, and he was of the same persuasion. He told me that the first subject which engrossed his attention was the grounds of difference between the Protestants and Roman Catholics, and he therefore read attentively all that the most eminent advocates on both sides had said in support of their respective principles. The result was a firm conviction of the truth of the Protestant faith, to which he conformed; and such were the liberal sentiments of his family, that, as they knew he was not governed by any motives of worldly interest, they indeed regretted, but were not offended at his desertion of their traditional and hereditary religious creed.

He told me that he had been always a great admirer of poetry, and at a very early period had become a votary of the muse; that he therefore had felt great pleasure in bringing from France a letter of introduction to the celebrated Miss Martha Blount, the favourite of Pope. He described her as short, plump, and of rather a florid complexion, agreeable and lively in her manners, but not with such an understanding, or such marks of elegance and high-breeding, as might have been expected in the favourite of so distinguished a poet as Mr. Pope.

Mr. Jerningham was admitted to a familiar intercourse with the great Earl of Chesterfield, who told him that, seeing Miss Blount at a large party one evening when the report of the day had been that Mr. Pope was dead, he made his way to her in the room, and expressed the peculiar pleasure which he felt in seeing her, as her presence contradicted the melancholy rumour of the morning, concluding that if it had been well founded he should certainly not have seen her in that place. When the lady understood the nature of it, she affected some surprise that such a report should be expected to prevent her from visiting her friends, and displayed so much flippant indifference on the subject, that the nobleman, who had a great friendship for Mr. Pope, resented her levity so much that he never spoke to her again. Pope manifested his opinion of Lord Chesterfield by the following couplet on using his lordship's pencil, which ought to have been included in the poet's works.

Accept a miracle, instead of wit,
See two dull lines by Stanhope's pencil writ.

Mr. Jerningham used to dine very frequently with Lord Chesterfield towards the close of that nobleman's life. The dinner-hour was three. The party generally consisted of the earl, his countess, and an old Roman Catholic priest. The lady and the priest were perpetually jangling, chiefly on religious topics. They were both very violent, and though the earl could not hear them, he saw by their gestures that

they were engaged in controversy, and used to console himself that there was one advantage in his deafness, as it prevented him from hearing the grounds of their disputes, and consequently from being appealed to as an arbiter by either party. The disputants paid no regard to his lordship, or to his guest Mr. Jerningham, who, by the assistance of the earl's ear-trumpet, was enabled to converse with him, and described his conversation as a source of the most interesting and instructive observations. Here I may properly introduce a very elegant compliment which Mr. Jerningham paid to Lord Chesterfield in some verses, the whole of which would do honour to these pages. After a general reference to the earl's merits, he thus ingeniously adverts to his deafness

Though deafness, by a doom severe,
Steals from thine ear the murm'ring rill,
And Philomel's delightful air,
E'en deem not this a partial ill.

Ah! if anew thine ear was strung,
Awake to every voice around,
Thy praises, by the many sung,
Would stun thee with the choral sound.

I had once an opportunity of applying the last line very aptly to the author himself. We were at a concert together in the Hanover Square rooms, when, observing him lean on the orchestra during the performance, I softly asked him if it did not "Stun him with the choral sound." He did not at first recollect the reference, but in a moment turned away with a sort of laughing confusion.

In the prologue to his comedy of "The Welsh Heiress," which I wrote at his desire, I styled him "A modest minstrel of the plaintive choir." In the four volumes of his works will be found not only many pathetic poems, but several of them characterised by high and heroic sentiments. His poem entitled "The Shakespeare Gallery," that on "The rise and progress of Northern Poetry," that "On Enthusiasm," and, indeed, many others, are marked by such poetical genius as, in my opinion, give him a place among some of our celebrated poets. His works were very popular in the higher circles, particularly with those who added taste and learning to rank and affluence.

Horace Walpole, afterwards Lord Orford, complimented him in verse. He was intimate with the late Earl of Harcourt, at whose seat he was a frequent visitor, as well as with the late Earl of Carlisle, with whom he passed some months at Castle Howard. But what, indeed, proves the estimation in which his character and talents were held, is, that he was honoured with an invitation to the Pavilion at Brighton by his late Majesty George the Fourth, when Prince of Wales, remained there for two or three weeks, and, by desire of his Royal Highness, regulated the library.

When Mr. Jerningham published the last collection of his works, he introduced a note to his poem of "Abelard to Eloisa," which I venture to insert, because I was proud of the friendship of such a man, and could not but be highly gratified with his commendation. The note was as follows: — "The following poem has been distinguished by a beautiful sonnet, inserted in a volume of poems that does honour to modern poetry, by Mr. Taylor, a gentleman whose commendation is a passport to fame, except where it is directed (as in the present instance) by the amiable bias of friendship." Mr. Jerningham was not merely a gentleman, a scholar, and a poet, but a patriot and a politician. His poem, entitled "Peace, Ignominy, and Destruction," written during the time of the French revolution, displays an ardent devotion to his country and the British constitution, as well as a sound knowledge of its principles.

Mr. Burke having been alluded to in the poem, as the great champion of order and good government, says, in a letter to the author, "I read your poem with great pleasure. The conceptions are just, the sentiments affecting, and the pictures forcible and true. I can say that I am not particular in this opinion, nor am I bribed to it by your indulgence to me, your fellow-labourer in the same cause. Mr. Wyndham, I understand, (and he has a judgment not to be deceived or corrupted by praise,) thinks of your poem as I do. I have the honour to be, with the most sincere regard, dear sir, your most obliged and most faithful servant, Edmund Burke."

This poem, though one of his last, and written at an advanced age by the author, is one of his best and most vigorous productions. Mr. Burke pays him a still higher compliment on his poem of "The Shakespeare Gallery." Speaking of the author, he says, "I have not for a long time seen anything so well finished. He has caught new 'fire,' by approaching in his 'perihelium,' so near to the 'sun' of our our poetical system." Dr. Parr was liberal and even profuse in his eulogium on this poem, and more particularly on Mr. Jerningham's poem entitled "Enthusiasm," of which he says, "The general plan of the work is well formed. The imagery is striking, without glare; the texture of the whole style is easy, without feebleness. Almost all the lines flow melodiously. Many of the expressions are wrought up to an exquisite pitch of eloquence, and the debate for and against the claims of the enthusiasts is conducted at once with the perspicuity of argument and the animation of poetry."

Mr. Jerningham always experienced a liberal reception from "The Monthly Review," through the whole of his poetical life, and no unfavourable allusion to him appeared till my late friend William Gifford wrote a couplet in his poem of "The Baviad," which shows that he certainly was not acquainted with Mr. Jerningham's works, for he speaks of him as a pastoral poet, though Mr. Jerningham has not one pastoral poem in all his numerous productions. The author of "The Pursuits of Literature" also mentioned Mr. Jerningham unfavourably in a parody on a line of Pope. Mr. Jerningham answered them both with manly spirit, in one of the best of his poems. I had the pleasure of bringing Mr. Gifford and Mr. Jerningham together, and of exciting in them kind sentiments towards each other.

I dare say if Mr. Mathias, whom I have long had the pleasure of knowing, was really the author of "The Pursuits of Literature," he, upon reflection, would regret that he attacked a brother bard whose political sentiments and principles were the same as his own. Here I may say that in a conversation with Mr. Mathias, who was as well-bred a gentleman as I ever knew, referring to the suspicion and the report that he was the author of the poem in question, said to me, "They will find out their mistake some time or other." Mr. Mathias presented his tract to me on the subject of the poems attributed to Rowley; and I think he has fairly and fully proved that, however they may have been interpolated by Chatterton, they were not his productions. Mr. Mathias's reasoning is perfectly satisfactory, at least to me. I understand that this gentleman resides at Naples in good health. I hope he will long enjoy it, for the sake of his friends as well as of himself; for his learning, talents, and urbanity must render him the subject of respect, esteem, and admiration, to all who have the pleasure of knowing him.

There is so much spirit in Mr. Jerningham's vindication of his poem, and the allusion to Gray's elegy is so apt, that the following extract may he acceptable to the reader:

If each bold village Hampden may withstand
The little tyrant of his little land;
May not the Muse with equal right maintain
The long-earn'd honours of her small domain?
Ye great departed shades! who, when on earth,
Hail'd with benign applause the Muse's birth;
O CHESTERFIELD! O CHATHAM'S sacred sire!
O GRAY! thou lord of the enchanting lyre!
Beneath your fost'ring praise, a lowly Muse
Smiled, like the flow'ret fed with heavenly dews,
And shall this flow'ret perish in her noon,
Beneath the dull-ey'd peasant's clouted shoon?

I have seldom passed so agreeable a day as when I accompanied a lady and Mr. Jerningham on a visit to Mr. Pope's villa at Twickenham, before "the spoiler came," and destroyed every vestige of its interesting state as left by the poet. A rustic lad, when we entered the memorable grotto, pointed to an old deal table, and said with ludicrous simplicity, "There Mr. Pope used to sit and write a copy of verses." There was an impressive solemnity in that part of the grounds which was consecrated to the memory of the poet's mother. Mr. Jerningham, who had often visited the place, abounded with anecdotes of the bard, and with some accounts of his personal habits, which he learned from an old boatman who used to convey Mr. Pope from Twickenham to Richmond.

Towards the decline of life, Mr. Jerningham turned his attention to religious subjects, but without any tendency to fanaticism. His first publication on these subjects was a well-written tract on "The mild Tenour of Christianity," which soon passed through a second edition. He paid me the compliment of writing the following manuscript lines on the blank leaf of the book.

TO JOHN TAYLOR, ESQ.
Unvaried friend, through many a varying year,
Indulge the voice that courts religion's muse,
Nor thou (to virtue as to science dear)
Thy candid audience to my theme refuse.
EDWARD JERNINGHAM.
March 25, 1807.

This tract displays extensive reading and research, and is characterized by the same mild spirit which forms the subject. He also published about the same time a translation of "Select Sermons and Funeral Orations" from Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, with an original essay on the "Eloquence of the Pulpit in England." His next work was a tract on "The Dignity of Human Nature." The last of his religious tracts was entitled "The Alexandrian School; or a Narrative of the First Christian Professors in Alexandria." All these tracts were liberally received by the periodical critics, and passed through several editions. With the last work he again addressed me in manuscript in the following words. "To you, my amiable and long-tried friend, I present my little theological tract. They who have written half so well as you, will read me with less candour." If I am accused of vanity in having inserted these commendatory passages, I can only say that I am proud of such testimonies of friendship from so amiable, intelligent, and learned a character, and have only to regret that I do not deserve them."

I had not seen Mr. Jerningham for some time, and at length received a note from him earnestly requesting that I would call on him as early as convenient at night, as he had something particular to say to me. I of course went, and was shocked to hear that he was alarmingly ill. He was in bed, and I attended him in his chamber. Conceiving that an illness of some weeks had very much altered his person, the curtain was drawn before him, that I might not be shocked at the change, and I did not see him at this last meeting. He told me that he felt death was approaching, and that he had requested my presence to take a last farewell. As far as I can recollect, the following were his last words.

"I know that when I am no more, you will say something kind of my memory, but I am already dead to all the vanities of this world, and what I desire is, that you will say I was consistent in my religious creed and conduct. I am besieged by some Roman Catholic priests, who are anxious I should return to their persuasion, and, if there were no likelihood of contradiction, they would certainly make no scruple of asserting that I had done so. They would even think it meritorious so to do, for the honour of their religion. All, therefore, that I require of you, as the last testimony of friendship, is, to state in your newspaper that I took the sacrament on Wednesday last according to the rites of the Church of England." He then in the most friendly and affecting terms took leave of me, and died on the following day. After I left him, he ordered a whole-length drawing of himself to be sent to me without delay. I inserted a tribute to his literary and moral character in the Sun newspaper, and added all that he had desired me to say on the consistency of his religious principles. I sent the paper to his nephew, Mr. Edward Jerningham, and apologised for having adverted to the subject of his religion, as his creed differed from that of his family, declaring that I should not have done so, if it had not been in compliance with his uncle's last solemn desire. The gentleman called on me, to thank me for the tribute which I had paid to the memory of his uncle, and readily admitted that I had properly discharged the last duty of friendship.

I wrote to Mr. Combe, whose literary character I have previously noticed, and who was one of Mr. Jerningham's oldest friends, to give him the unwelcome tidings of his death. The following is his answer. "So Mr. Jerningham has bid us farewell! I was always confident that he had virtue enough, but I was not without an apprehension that he might want nerve, to meet the awful moment, as I find he did. I am infinitely gratified to hear that he died calm, resigned, and happy. But, as old Jeremy Taylor has said, and no man ever did or will say what is more applicable to human wants and weakness, or whose sentiments are more encouraging or consolatory to our nature, 'When God is pleased to send trials, he never fails to send strength.'"

In addition to the testimonies of Mr. Jerningham's poetical genius which I have given, I may properly show in what estimation he was held by the late Lord Byron, who, in a note to his vigorous satire, entitled "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," has the following passage: "I hear that Mr. Jerningham is about to take up the cudgels for his Maecenas, Lord Carlisle; I hope not: he was one of the few who, in the very short intercourse I had with him, treated me with kindness when a boy, and whatever he may say or do, 'pour on, I will endure.'" No person was more able to appreciate a character than Lord Byron, or less disposed to spare those whom he might think deserving of censure; therefore the submissive respect with which he treats Mr. Jerningham, will justify the conclusion that he thought highly of his moral qualities, as well as of his poetical powers, as he must have been well aware of his rank among the English bards.

A more affectionate relative than Mr. Jerningham could hardly exist. He lived many years with his mother till she died at a very advanced age; and by his tenderness and filial affection, illustrated all that his poetical predecessor, Pope, has so beautifully said of his own attention to his venerable parent, under the same circumstances.

In a letter which I received from Mr. Jerningham, at Cossey, dated 1809, he says, "Since I had the pleasure of seeing you, I have dragged through a long and melancholy scene. I found my brother (the late Sir William Jerningham) at my arrival at Cossey, in a state that excluded the least indulgence of hope. A gradual and visible decay, at the expiration of five weeks, terminated in his death. If it be a salutary thing to go into the house of mourning, I ought to be the better for what I have beheld. On Tuesday last, my brother was deposited in the vault of the new Gothic Chapel, (the first inhabitant of that dreary mansion,) to take his long repose. I will venture to say that, at his resurrection, he will not find himself outdone in acts of benevolence by any who may be summoned to the same awful tribunal."

In another letter, received from the same place, dated 1811, he says, "My nephew (the present Lord Stafford) and his wife, who is very accomplished, live in a higher rank of splendour than my late brother, and equal him, if possible, in all the milder attractions that beam from benevolence and generosity." In the same letter he gives an interesting account of the manner in which he passed his time. Having the indulgence of breakfasting by himself at his own time, he enjoyed a long studious morning. He says, "If you ask me what I have been reading, I answer that I have seen nothing new, but the excellent library here is more than sufficient for the most omnivorous appetite. I have had some intercourse with Gibbon. I have read all his notes to his history, which show his extensive reading and his investigating spirit. I have amused myself with a second perusal of Godwin's Chaucer, which contains frequently deep reflections. Chaucer is only the text, while the interesting facts of the age are made to rally round the poet. St. Bernard's moral discourses have been part of my reading. He has warmth and energy, but his Latin is inferior to that of Lactantius, of whom I read half a volume last year. St. Bernard appears to me to have thought in old French, while he wrote in Latin; but you will think me an old pedantic monk, if I should proceed, and so I will leave off and begin my walk."

I cite these passages out of many others of the same description, merely for the purpose of showing that Mr. Jerningham was a scholar and a critic, as well as a poet. He was a warm and steady friend, and to his servants a kind and indulgent master. Some years after his death, I heard them speak of him with great respect, gratitude, and affection.

I have dwelt the longer on the memory of Mr. Jerningham, because, as I have before said, I consider him one of the most amiable characters I ever knew. He was my warm and sincere friend; to him I was indebted for many happy hours, and for much interesting and valuable information. No person ever enjoyed a more familiar intercourse with the learned world, as well as with the ranks of fashion; and, with a slight alteration, what Pope says of himself in his imitation of Horace, Book ii. Sat. 1, is strictly applicable to Mr. Jerningham.

Envy must own I live, among the great,
No tool of party and no spy of state,
With eyes that pry not, tongue that ne'er repeats,
Fond to spread friendships, but to cover heats,
To help who want, to forward who excel:
This all who know me know, who love me tell;
And who unknown defame me, let them be
Scribblers or peers, alike are mob to me.