Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hughes, John (1677-1720)

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For works with similar titles, see John Hughes.

HUGHES, JOHN (1677–1720), poet, born at Marlborough, Wiltshire, on 29 Jan. 1677, was elder son of John Hughes, clerk in the Hand-in-Hand Fire Office, Snow Hill, London, by his wife Anne, daughter of Isaac Burges of Wiltshire. His grandfather, William Hughes, graduated at New Inn Hall, Oxford, in 1638, was ejected from his living at Marlborough in 1662, and died 14 Feb. 1687 (Palmer, Nonconf. Mem. iii. 365; Peck, Desid. Cur.) Jabez Hughes [q. v.] was John's younger brother. John Hughes was educated at a dissenting academy, apparently in Little Britain, London, under Thomas Rowe, where he was the contemporary of Isaac Watts. Hughes showed a taste for literature at an early age, and at nineteen wrote a tragedy entitled ‘Amalasont, Queen of the Goths,’ which was never acted, and still remains in manuscript (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. x. 266, 413). He obtained a place in the ordnance office, and acted as secretary to several commissions for the purchase of lands for the royal dockyards. In 1706 he collected the materials for the first two volumes of ‘A Complete History of England … to the death of … King William III’ (London, 1706, fol., 3 vols.; 2nd edit. London, 1719, fol., 3 vols.), and translated ‘The Life of Queen Mary, written in Latin by Francis Godwin, Lord Bishop of Hereford,’ which appears in the second volume. The third volume was written by White Kennett [q. v.], bishop of Peterborough, by whose name this history is generally known. In 1708 Hughes published his translation, made some six years previously, of Fontenelle's ‘Dialogues of the Dead.… With a Reply to some Remarks in a Critique call'd the Judgment of Pluto, &c., and two original Dialogues,’ London, 8vo (the second edition, London, 1730, 12mo; a new edition, Glasgow, 1754, 12mo). Hughes, ‘though not only an honest but a pious man’ (Lives of the Poets, ii. 184), dedicated the book to the Earl of Wharton, who, upon his appointment as lord-lieutenant of Ireland in the following year, offered to take Hughes with him. Hughes, however, relying upon the promises of another patron, which were never realised, declined the offer, and thus lost the chance of preferment. In 1712 his opera of ‘Calypso and Telemachus’ (London, 1712, 8vo; second edition, London, 1717, 8vo; another edition, London, 1781, 8vo), the music for which was composed by John Ernest Galliard, was performed at the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, in spite of the strenuous opposition of most of the Italian performers to a musical entertainment in the English language. In 1715 he published ‘The Works of Mr. Edmund Spenser … with a Glossary explaining the old and obscure words’ (London, 8vo, 6 vols.; another edition, London, 1750, 12mo, 6vols.) Hughes was a constant invalid, and during the greater part of his life was in narrow circumstances. In 1717, however, he was appointed by Lord-chancellor Cowper secretary to the commissions of the peace in the court of chancery, a post which procured him independence for the remainder of his life. His finely written and successful tragedy, ‘The Siege of Damascus,’ was his best, as well as his last work (London, 1720, 8vo; other editions, London, 1770, 12mo, and London, 1778, 8vo; reprinted in Bell's ‘British Theatre,’ vol. i., London, 1776, 8vo, and several other collections of plays; translated into French in ‘Le Théâtre Anglois,’ tom.7, London,1749, 12mo). The play, the plot of which was obviously suggested by Sir William D'Avenant's ‘Siege,’ was dedicated to Lord Cowper, and was produced at Drury Lane Theatre on 17 Feb. 1720, and received with great applause. Hughes, who had been too ill to attend the rehearsals, died of consumption on the same night a few hours after its production, and was buried in the vault under the chancel of St. Andrew's, Holborn. His only sister, Elizabeth, married William Duncombe [q. v.] 1 Sept. 1726, and died in 1735–6. His portrait was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1718, and was given by Hughes shortly before his death to Lord Cowper (Duncombe, Letters, &c., i. 266). An engraving of this portrait by Gerard Vandergucht is prefixed to the first volume of Hughes's ‘Poems on Several Occasions,’ &c.

Johnson, in his ‘Life of Hughes,’ does not enter into any criticism of his works. Swift, in a letter to Pope, dated 3 Sept. 1735, says: ‘Hughes is too grave a poet for me, and I think among the mediocribus in prose as well as verse.’ To which Pope replied: ‘To answer your question as to Mr. Hughes; what he wanted in genius he made up as a honest man; but he was of the class you think him’ (Swift, Works, 1814, xviii. 402–3). Steele devoted the fifteenth number of ‘The Theatre’ to a panegyric of Hughes, and declared that ‘his head, hand, or heart was always employ'd in something worthy imitation; his pencil, his bow-string, or his pen, each of which he us'd in a masterly manner, were always directed to raise and entertain his own mind, or that of others, to a more cheerful prosecution of what was noble and virtuous.’ Hughes contributed to the ‘Tatler,’ ‘Spectator,’ and ‘Guardian,’ and with Sir Richard Blackmore [q. v.] wrote ‘The Lay Monk,’ a series of forty essays, the first of which was published on 16 Nov. 1713, and the last on 15 Feb. 1713–14. A second edition of these essays was published in 1714 under the title of ‘The Lay Monastery,’ &c., London, 12mo. (For lists of these contributions see Duncombe, Letters by Several Eminent Persons Deceased, i. xi–xii, 122–5, 143–144; and Chalmers, British Essayists, i. lxx–lxxi, v. li–liii, xiii. xxx, xlv–xlvi.) Several of his translations appeared in a periodical publication called ‘The Monthly Amusement.’ Hughes persuaded Addison to put his ‘Cato’ on the stage, and undertook at his request to supply the fifth act, which was, however, ultimately written by Addison himself. Hughes withdrew most of his contributions to Steele's ‘Poetical Miscellanies’ (London, 1714, 8vo) upon hearing that Pope's ‘Wife of Bath, her Prologue, from Chaucer,’ and some other pieces, which were inconsistent with his ideas of propriety, were to be included, ‘and would only allow two small poems, and those without a name, to appear there’ (Duncombe, Letters, i. xiii). Hughes was a friend of Thomas Britton [q. v.], and used to play the violin at ‘the musical small coalman's’ concerts. His ‘Venus and Adonis,’ and several other cantatas, were set to music by Handel. Pepusch and Haym also composed music for his poetical pieces.

A collection of his ‘Poems on Several Occasions, with some Select Essays in Prose,’ &c., edited by his brother-in-law, was published in 1735 (London, 12mo, 2 vols.) His poems are included in the tenth volume of Chalmers's ‘Works of the English Poets’ (1810), and in many other poetical collections. His correspondence, ‘with some pieces by Mr. Hughes never before published, and the original plan of the Siege of Damascus,’ will be found in ‘Letters by several Eminent Persons Deceased,’ edited by his nephew, the Rev. John Duncombe [q. v.] (second edition 1773). Hughes is said to have left in manuscript two acts of a tragedy entitled ‘Sophy Mirza,’ which was subsequently completed by William Duncombe (Baker, Biog. Dram. 1812, i. 211, 379).

He also wrote: 1. ‘The Triumph of Peace: a poem,’ London, 1698, fol. In the dedication to Sir Richard Blackmore, Hughes states that this was the first poetical essay which he had ‘ventur'd to make publick.’ 2. ‘The Court of Neptune. On King William's Return from Holland, 1699,’ 1699. 3. ‘The House of Nassau: a Pindaric ode,’ London, 1702, fol. 4. ‘An Ode in praise of Musick, set for variety of Voices and Instruments by … P. Hart,’ London, 1703, 4to. Reprinted (without the music) with Hughes's ‘Cupid and Hymen's Holiday,a pastoral masque’ [London,1781?], 8vo. 5. ‘A Review of the Case of Ephraim and Judah, and its application to the Church of England and the Dissenters. In a letter to Dr. Willis, Dean of Lincoln, occasioned by his Thanksgiving Sermon, preached before her Majesty at St. Paul's, on 23 Aug. 1705,’ 1705. 6. ‘Advices from Parnassus.… Written by Trajano Boccalini. To which is added a continuation of the Advices by Girolamo Briani of Modena. All translated from the Italian by several Hands. Revis'd and Corrected by Mr. Hughes,’ &c., London, 1706, fol. 7. Translation of Molière's ‘Misanthrope,’ with a preface, 1709. It was afterwards reprinted (without the preface) with Molière's other plays translated by Ozell. 8. ‘The History of the Revolution in Portugal.… By the Abbot de Vertot … Translated from the French’ (anon.), London, 1712. 9. ‘An Ode to the Creator of the World. Occasion'd by the Fragments of Orpheus’ (anon.), London, 1713, fol. 10. ‘Apollo and Daphne: a masque. Set to musick by [Dr. Pepusch], and perform'd at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane’ (anon.), London, 1716, 4to; another edition [London, 1781?], 8vo. 11. ‘An Ode for the Birthday of Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales,’ London, 1716, 4to. 12. ‘A Layman's Thoughts on the late Treatment of the Bishop of Bangor, in the charge made against him by Dr. Snape, and undertaken to be proved by the Bishop of Carlisle [Dr. Nicolson]. In a letter to the Bishop of Carlisle,’ 1717. 13. ‘A Discourse concerning the Antients and Moderns. Written by the same author, and translated by Mr. Hughes,’ appended to Glanvill's translation of ‘Conversations with a Lady on the Plurality of Worlds. Written in French by M. Fontenelle,’ London, 1719, 12mo. 14. ‘Charon; or the Ferry-Boat. A vision. Dedicated to the Swiss Count —— [John James Heidegger],’ London, 1719, 8vo. Reprinted in second volume of Samuel Croxall's ‘Select Collection of Novels and Histories,’ London, 1829, 12mo. 15. ‘The Ecstacy: an ode,’ London, 1720, fol. 16. ‘Letters of Abelard and Heloise. To which is prefix'd a particular account of their lives, amours, and misfortunes. Extracted chiefly from Monsieur Bayle. Translated from the French. The fourth edition corrected’ (anon.), London, 1722, 12mo; the seventh edition, London, 1743, 12mo; the tenth edition, London, 1765, 12mo; ditto, Dublin, 1769, 12mo; another edition, London, 1788, 8vo; another edition, London, 1805, 12mo; another edition, Edinburgh, 1806, 12mo. 17. ‘The Complicated Guilt of the late Rebellion,’ 1745. This was written by Hughes in 1716, but was not published until 1745, when it was printed with a preface by William Duncombe.

[Preface to Hughes's Poems on Several Occasions, &c., 1735, pp. i–xxxvii; Duncombe's Letters by Several Eminent Persons Deceased (2nd edit. 1773); Johnson's Lives of the English Poets (ed. P. Cunningham, 1854), ii. 183–8; Boswell's Life of Johnson (ed. G.B.Hill, 1887), i. 270, iii. 259, 314, iv. 36–7; Spence's Anecdotes (ed. S. W. Singer, 1858), p. 229; Biog. Brit. 1757, iv. 2697–2709; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. 1814, xviii. 294–7; Chalmers's British Essayists, 1823, v. xlix–liii, xiii. xxxv–vi; Bisset's Biographical Sketch of the Authors of the Spectator, 1793, pp. 217–39; Calamy and Palmer's Nonconformist's Memorial, 1803, iii. 365–7; Sir John Hawkins's History of Music, 1853, ii. 789, 791, 809, 817, 829, 831; Baker's Biog. Dramat. 1812, vol. i. pt. i. pp. 378–9; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, 1812–15, i. 396, v. 597, viii. 265, 266, 268, 277, 495; The Georgian Era, 1834, iii. 516; Historical Register, 1720, vol. v. Chron. Diary, p. 10; Gent. Mag. 1779, xlix. 456–7, 549; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. x. 108, 187, 195, 249, 255, 268; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseud. Lit. 1882–8; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.