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West Country Poets

REV. JOHN JOHNS (fl. 1828)

Mr. R. N. WORTH, in his 'West-Country Garland, (1875) says:  'The author of this striking ballad* was born at Plymouth, a son of Mr. A. B. JOHNS, artist.  He became a Unitarian minister, and died of cholera in the midst of his labours among the poor, during a cholera visitation in Liverpool. [See Notes below]  This poem, written, while the author resided at Crediton, was published in the New Monthly, then under CAMPBELL's editorship.  CAMPBELL was so struck with it, that on the night of its reception he walked up and down his room, continually repeating fragments.  It is founded on a tradition that during one of his banishments Gaveston was concealed on Dartmoor.  Crazey Well Pool, near Sheepstor, is the tarn described.'

In the year 1828 there was published at Exeter 'Dews of Castalie: Poems, composed on Various Subjects and Occasions' by J. Johns, the preface of which is dated, 'Crediton, 1828'.  The British Museum Catalogue of Printed Books says that this work was by 'John JOHNS, minister to the poor at Liverpool,' and records several other works written by him.  We are, therefore, led to conclude that the JOHNS mentioned by Mr. WORTH and the author of 'Dews of Castalie' were one and the same man.  Again, in the Biliotheca Cornubiensis' we find an entry of Rev. J. JOHNS, Unitarian minister, as the author of a sermon at Tavistock, in 1823; and again, in the companion work, 'Collectanea Cornubinensa,' is mentioned J. JOHNS, 'of Crediton,' author of 'Dews of Castalie.'  As a sort of interesting sequel to the above, we may further state that we have found an ably-written and critical article in the South Devon Monthly Museum for 1834, reviewing a new work, 'The Valley of Nymphs: a Dream of the Golden World,' by J. Johns; published in 1829, pp.48.  This also is, doubtless, by the same hand, although we can find no entry of it elsewhere, either in the British Museum Catalogue or in the bibliographical works of Messrs. BOASE and COURTNEY; or Mr. R.N. WORTH.  The writer of this article salutes him as a 'poet and Western worthy,' and speaks of the poem as a promising and praiseworthy performance.  'In the description of natural scenery,' says the writer, 'Mr. JOHNS is equal to CARRINGTON, and this is saying a great deal; but in elegance of language, and in originality and beauty of imagery he is far superior to the author of "Dartmoor".  The whole poem,' he says further, 'displays thought and talent of no common order, and it is very evident that the author has not lingered carelessly over the beauties of the ancient classic writers.'

The following lines from this fine poem are sufficient to give our readers a fair idea of the writer's powers:

THE VALLEY OF NYMPHS: A DREAM OF THE GOLDEN WORLD
[extract]

Down the tall mountain to the cradled vale
Swept a dark cloud of forest.  High above,
Where the gray rocks held commune with the sky,
The giant pines flung forth their antique boughs,
Hoar with eternal age.  Beneath, the sides
Of the cleft hills were covered with the glooms
Of woods coeval with the infant world.
Shade deepened after shade - the eye was lost
In that superb umbrageousness; it seemed
As darkness were transparent, and you saw
Interminable depth of glassy gloom.
Cork-trees spread out their huge fantastic limbs,
Obscuring the black crags with a fine horror.
The ilex reared its multitudinous leaves,
The sycamore its massy shade, the oak
Its immemorial boughs. The cedar towered
In glorious darkness; the majestic palm
Lifted its green crown, while the aspen shook
Its firmament of twinkling leaves beside.
There the grand cypress rose, a pyramid
Of sablest verdure, seen among the rest
As the thunder spot amid the summer clouds.
There waved the slender ash; and lower yet,
The willow dipt its long locks in the stream
That worked its way through the green night to day,
Giving their beauty to the beautiful,
Augmented with its own.  Lowest of all,
A fragrant labyrinth of leaf and bloom,
Rose and acanthus, myrtle, passion-flower,
Cystus and laurel, tufted thick the roots
Of the rent crags; ivy and eglantine
Matted the trunks and branches; and the vine
Traced o'er the brown rocks or the cavern's mouth,
Distilled her pendent nectar-drops, and wore
Meet shadows for the deathless.
 

TO THE FIRST PRIMROSE OF THE YEAR

Child of the early year,
  Thy stormy lullaby
Sweeps o'er  my ear
  In the rude wind's wintry sigh.

Thou look'st in beauty forth
  To tell the tale of spring,
Ere yet the north
  Has unfurled his cloudy wing -

In other zones to reign,
  Through polar pines to roar,
And lash the main
  On the sullen Arctic shore.

The winds thy cradle rock,
  To their stern melody
As if to mock
  At thy pale fragility,

Yet there thou bloomest on
  Like worth by sorrow tried,
Rearing its crown
  Mid the storms of time and tide,

And looking to the sky,
  Where all such flowers shall wave
(No more to die),
  In the winds beyond the grave.



* 'Gaveston on Dartmoor'

NOTES:   Patrick Neill has kindly brought my attention to his photograph of a plaque to the Rev. John JOHNS on the Liverpool Monuments website.  This plaque provides further biographical information, i.e. his birth and death dates (17/03/1801-23/06/1847).

and also suggests that Wright probably made an error in attributing the cause of death as cholera because it is more likely that the Rev. Johns died in the typhus epidemic which killed a number of clergy that year, see

Transcribed by Sandra Windeatt from: Wright,W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets:  Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp 275-277.

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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