William Jackson of Exeter

P. W. Clayden, in The Early Life of Samuel Rogers (1887) 399-401.

The Jackson spoken of in the above letters was the eminent composer of Church music. One of the memorable events of this long winter exile at Exmouth was that Rogers made the acquaintance of this interesting and remarkable musician. He probably carried with him an introduction to Jackson from Sheridan or his wife. Jackson was then seventy years of age, and was in ill-health. He was fond of talking about his early days, and Rogers has made in his Commonplace Book a sketch of Jackson's life with extracts from his diary. Jackson was the son of an Exeter tradesman. At seventeen he went to London, riding on horseback as far as to Winchester, and from thence in the Winchester stage, in which he was robbed. Arrived at the Belle Sauvage in the dark he followed the porter through Ludgate to the Saracen's Head in Friday Street — a Devonshire house — where he had a wet bed in the attic. In the morning he called on a tradesman in Watling Street with a letter of credit from his father. The tradesman was collecting orders in the country, and was not expected home for three months; but Jackson was accommodated with two guineas by another person, to whom he was afterwards able to show his gratitude. He studied music under Dr. Travers, of the Chapel Royal. One of his recollections was of seeing the rebel lads executed on Tower Hill. He returned to Exeter to teach music, and was engaged as organist at the Cathedral. His compositions were popular, and he became famous. He composed his music, as he told Rogers, in the organ loft "during the intervals of the music," as he characteristically called all the other parts of the service. In these "intervals of the music," when less musical mortals were praying, or listening to the lessons or the sermon, Jackson occupied himself in writing original music with a pencil. He also composed at home for an hour after his family were in bed at night. He told Rogers some curious stories which give further musical views of the relation of music to the service. A man came on foot from Honiton to request him to play "They that in Ships," having heard it in the church there. Unable to refuse him, and ashamed to play it himself, as he had played it so often, Jackson left the church and got another to play it. The man came again and again; Jackson did not know him, but he always played "They that in Ships" whenever this auditor was there. "It is for those people," said he, "that we compose and play, and they must have their way." He was once struck with the fixed attitude of a waggoner's boy at church. One day an unknown person grasped his arm at the entrance of Willis's concert room and whispered "But a leaf in a whirlwind." Jackson was a great admirer of Defoe, and Rogers thought his imitation of him, "The Royalist," full of invention and written with a charming simplicity. Jackson was an intimate friend of the Sheridans. He had known Mrs. Sheridan before her marriage. He spoke of Mrs. Sheridan's countenance when singing as like nothing earthly. When he called on her in town after her marriage she entreated him to sing and play with her, and he did so for three hours. It was so unlike anything she had known for so long a time that she was exceedingly grateful. Sheridan had no ear or soul for music. His son Tom flourishing over a quire of paper before breakfast, and burning it sheet by sheet, drinking the cream and throwing wet wafers against the wall, was the picture, Jackson said, of a spoilt child. Jackson wished Rogers to remember that he looked forward with great composure to his end, though he could have wished for eleven years more, which would about suffice for finishing what he had in hand. "Sitting with him one day on the castle walls he drew a fresh elm leaf from his purse and said he had every year renewed it from a tree near Bristol," which had for him some tender associations. Jackson died in July 1803, and, as a token of his regard for Rogers, left to him his copies of the first edition of "Paradise Lost," and of the "Faerie Queen."