Close, John (DNB01)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

CLOSE, JOHN (1816–1891), 'Poet Close,' born at Gunnerside, Swaledale, on the estate of Lord Wensleydale, in 1816, was the son of Jarvis Close, a butcher, who was well known all over the countryside as a Wesleyan local preacher. Soon after 1830, while still a butcher's lad, Close began issuing little paper tracts of verse of the cheap-jack order 'Sam Dowell,' 'The Little Town Poet,' 'Dr. Caxton and Dr. Silverpen,' 'The Old Farm House,' 'The Satirist,' 'Book of the Chronicles,' 'A Month in London,' 'Adventures of an Author,' and many fly-sheets. In 1846 he established himself as a printer in Kirkby Stephen. He had not a spark of literary talent of any kind, but his assiduity in be- rhyming his friends and neighbours, and more especially the gentlefolk of the district, won him patrons who in April 1860 obtained for him a civil list pension of 50l on the recommendation of Lord Palmerston. The bestowal of such recognition on so incompetent a writer excited widespread amazement. In the House of Commons on 2 May 1861 William Stirling asked the first lord of the treasury if a pension of 50l. had been recently granted to J. Close of Kirkby Stephen, who styled himself 'Poet Laureate to his Majesty the King of Grand Bonny' (Hansard, 3rd ser. clxiv. 1375). Palmerston replied that he had conferred the pension upon the recommendation of Lord Carlisle, Lord Lonsdale, and other gentlemen. Lonsdale remained faithful to his 'lake-poet,' but most of Close's other noble patrons, after the fusillade of banter and quotation in the London press, seem to have grown ashamed of the countenance they had given to such a doggerel bard, and Close had to exchange his pension (the warrant for which was cancelled in May 1861) for a grievance, of which he made the best possible use. He received a grant of 100l. from the Royal Bounty in June 1861, as a measure of compensation, but he continued for thirty years longer to issue little pamphlets of metrical balderdash, interspersed with documents relating to his wrongs, from the 'Poet's Hall,' Kirkby Stephen, and a little stall near the landing stage, Bowness; by these means he extorted shillings from thousands of summer visitors to Windermere, and stamps from numerous sympathisers all over the country. He may be termed a survival of the old packman-poet in the last stages of his degradation. He died at Kirkby Stephen on 15 Feb. 1891, and was buried on 18 Feb. in the cemetery there; he left a widow, a married daughter, and two sons. The amusing reference to 'Poet Close' in 'Ferdinando and Elvira; or, the Gentle Pieman,' is familiar to readers of Mr. W. S. Gilbert's 'Bab Ballads.'

[Times, 17 Feb. 1891; Illustrated London News, 21 Feb. 1891 (portrait); Penrith Observer, 17 and 24 Feb. 1891; Daily News, Yorkshire Post, Newcastle Leader, and St. James's Gazette, 17–18 Feb. 1891; Close's Poet Close and his Pension, in 3 pts. 1861; Poetical Works of J. Close, 'Under Royal Patronage,' Kirkby Stephen, 1860, pts. 1–5; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.