Jones, Ebenezer (DNB00)

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JONES, EBENEZER (1820–1860), poet, was born in Canonbury Square, Islington, 20 Jan. 1820. His father was of Welsh extraction; his mother, Hannah Sumner, was of an Essex family. They were in comfortable circumstances, and professed the strictest form of Calvinism. Ebenezer's education at a dreary middle-class school was as unsuitable to a young poet as can be conceived; nor were his external circumstances more congenial to his aspirations when, after the family had become impoverished by the death of his father, he found himself, at seventeen, a clerk in a city firm connected with the tea-trade, working twelve hours a day, and obliged to witness grossly dishonest practices, a position from which he freed himself as soon as possible. He was, however, free to choose his own intellectual guides, and under the influence of Shelley and Carlyle rapidly developed the strenuous, but violently exaggerated, style of thinking and writing which long characterised his productions. He was for a short time a follower of Robert Owen; a chartist, in the strict sense of the term, he never was, and the assertion probably arises from a confusion between him and his namesake, Ernest Charles Jones [q. v.] While spending every leisure moment in study and composition, and saving every shilling to enable him to publish the poems which he fondly hoped were to emancipate him from the circumstances of his daily life, his existence was blighted by a domestic sorrow, delicately alluded to in Mr. Theodore Watts's mention of ‘one who did not requite his passion, but who passionately loved another man—a man to whom Ebenezer was very dear—and who soon afterwards died.’ The circumstances led Ebenezer in his despair ‘to throw,’ as his brother Sumner expresses it, ‘the medley of his poems into the caldron of his ill-fated book.’ ‘Studies of Sensation and Event’ were published in 1843, and met with the fate to be expected for anything so crude, so eccentric, and on a cursory inspection so ridiculous as a considerable portion of the book. The faults were patent to all, and blinded even the few who might otherwise have recognised the author's fire, passion, and picturesqueness. ‘When Jones writes a bad line,’ remarks Lord de Tabley, ‘he writes a bad one with a vengeance. It is hardly possible to say how excruciatingly bad he is now and then. And yet at his best, in organic rightness, beauty, and, above all, spontaneity, we must go among the very highest poetic names to match him.’ If any man of acknowledged literary standing had thus written in 1843, Ebenezer Jones would probably have been preserved to English literature; but he felt utterly crushed as a poet, not so much by the indifference of the public as by the slighting, or even unkindly, reception of his book by the eminent authors to whom he had offered copies. Procter and Horne, however, were exceptions. His distress was further augmented by an unhappy marriage contracted in the following year with Caroline Atherstone, niece of Edwin Atherstone [q. v.], author of the ‘Fall of Nineveh,’ which continued to harass him long after his separation from his wife. He destroyed his unpublished poems, and, while earning his living as an accountant, assisted his fast friend Mr. W. J. Linton in his political journalism, worked for the radical publishers Cleave and Hetherington, and published a tract on land reform, which passed unnoticed. Eventually he fell into a consumption, and as his health failed the old poetic impulse seemed to revive. Three poems written near the close of his life (‘Winter Hymn to the Snow,’ ‘When the World is Burning,’ and ‘To Death’) show the space his mind had traversed in the interval of silence. Daringly original in conception, these remarkable pieces are also almost perfect in expression; more striking than the most striking things in ‘Studies of Sensation and Event,’ and entirely exempt from the crude vehemence of that ill-starred book. Jones died on 14 Sept. 1860, and for a while was forgotten. In 1870, however, Dante Rossetti spoke in ‘Notes and Queries’ of his ‘vivid disorderly power,’ and prophesied that he would some day be disinterred. William Bell Scott followed to the same effect, and in 1878 Mr. R. H. Shepherd ‘issued a little brochure giving a brief account of Ebenezer Jones and his volume, and quoting some half-dozen of his most striking and remarkable lyrics.’ This occasioned a most interesting series of biographical papers in the ‘Athenæum’ of September and October 1878, by Mr. Theodore Watts; and in 1879 Mr. Shepherd published a nearly complete edition of ‘Studies of Sensation and Event,’ with corrections by the author himself, a few additional pieces, a memoir by Ebenezer's brother Sumner, and reminiscences by Mr. W. J. Linton. A second volume, containing Jones's prose writings and additional poems, preserved by his friend Horace Harral, was to have followed, but never appeared.

There can be no question of Jones's genius; his infirmities were those of most young poets, especially the self-taught; his latest productions show that his faults had gradually cured themselves, and that he needed nothing but fortitude to have taken a distinguished place among English poets. Personally he was as amiable as enthusiastic, deficient only in steadiness of purpose and virtues of the self-regarding order.

[Mr. Sumner Jones and Mr. W. J. Linton in Shepherd's edition of Studies of Sensation and Event, 1879; Theodore Watts in Athenæum, September and October 1878; William Bell Scott in Academy, November 1879; information from Mr. Sumner Jones.]

R. G.