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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

V. Thomson and Natural Description in Poetry

§ 13. Jago’s Edge-Hill

In the Edge-Hill of Richard Jago, a strong taste for moralising was combined with appreciation of “Britannia’s rural charms, and tranquil scenes.” Warwickshire, a fertile nurse of poets, was his native county and provided him with his subject. His father, a member of a Cornish family, was rector of Beaudesert near Henley-in-Arden, where Jago was born in 1715. Somerville, whose estate Edstone lay some three miles distant, was a friend of his boyhood. At Solihull, where he went to school, he made the friendship of Shenstone, a year his senior, which he continued to share at Oxford and long afterwards. He entered University college as servitor, and, about 1739, took holy orders and became curate of Snitterfield near Stratford-on-Avon. In 1746, he was presented to the vicarage of Harbury, with which he held the perpetual curacy of the neighbouring church of Chesterton. To these, he added, in 1754, the vicarage of Snitterfield; and, in 1771, resigning Harbury vicarage, he was presented to the rectory of Kimcote near Lutterworth. He retained his three livings until his death in 1781. He was buried at Snitterfield.

His poems consist of a few miscellaneous pieces, an oratorio called Adam—a canto from Paradise Lost intended to combine the passages of that poem most suitable for music—and Edge-Hill. The design of the last poem is very simple. In four books, he describes the prospect of Warwickshire as seen at various times in the day from the famous ridge which separates the vale of the Cherwell from the plain through which the Avon flows to meet the Severn. At morning, he looks westward over the vale of Red Horse to Stratford and Alcester. At noon, afternoon and evening, from different standpoints on the hill, his eye, to some extent aided by imagination, roams over other portions of the county and dwells upon its principal towns and gentlemen’s seats. These comprehensive panoramas are broken up by a large amount of digressive morality; and a large portion of the third book is a scientific discourse on the theory of sight, addressed to Lord Clarendon, and pointed by an extremely long, if appropriate, anecdote of a blind youth restored to sight by the help of a gentle friend named Lydia. When the fourth book has run a third of its course, and the survey of Warwickshire has been completed by the compliments to the owners of Arbury and Packington, Jago turns the sober evening hour to account by reviewing the scene “with moral eye,” and descants upon the instability of human affairs. This is well illustrated by the death of the seventh earl of Northampton, the master of Compton Wynyates—an allusion which shows that this part of the poem, at any rate, was written in 1763; and the local calamity introduces the chief memory of the place, the battle of Edge-Hill and the lessons and warnings to be derived from it. Jago’s moralising has a distinctly religious end. His master was Milton, whose phraseology he copies closely and even borrows, although, in such lines as

  • Nature herself bids us be serious,
  • his ear can hardly be said to have caught the charm of Milton’s verse. His topography is conscientious: he mentions every country seat of any importance in the county, and adds footnotes with the owners’ names. In such passages, he may have felt the influence of Thomson; but his catalogues have little picturesqueness or colour; while his verse, although it is not without the accent of local association, is typical, as a whole, of the decadence of the Miltonic method of natural description in the eighteenth century. Every group of trees is a grove, every country house a dome, and every hill a precipice. The classicism of the renascence has degenerated into a fixed and stilted phraseology.