Glossary J

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Universal Elements of Poetry


Jacobean era - A rebellious period during the reign of England’s James the first (1603-1625) following that of Good Queen Bess. The word "Jacobean" is derived from Jacobus, the Latin form of the English name, James. It started with a bang when the historic Gunpowder Plot organized by a group of Roman Catholics who sought to blow up the King and Parliament in the Palace of Westminster. This date, November 5, 1605, is known today as Guy Fawkes Day, named for this later champion of the Catholic movement in England.

It was an unsettling time as the population tried to assimilate the new scientific data which overturned much of the existing Ptolemaic belief that stipulated the Earth as center of the universe with planets and sun revolving round it. The new Copernicus theory countered very convincingly that the universe was heliocentric. Francis Bacon ushered in a key phase of modern science. Johannes Kepler in Germany, and Galileo of Italy helped to validate the Copernican theory.

Shakespeare wrote his greatest tragedies during this time: The Tempest (1610), King Lear (1603), and Macbeth (1603). Ben Jonson with Inigo Jones perfected the masques; Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher created comedies; two other mainstream groups of poets who emerged from this era were the Cavaliers beginning with Edmund Waller and the Metaphysicals led by John Donne. There were two extraordinary literary achievements of the age: the first was the King James Version of the Bible. The second was George Chapman’s English translation of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in 1616. And blank verse or unrhymed iambic pentameter was the choice for drama.

Anti-Jacobin poetry - This refers to poems published in the weekly paper Anti-Jacobin from 1797-1798 at the price of sixpence. A group of “radicals” led by William Gifford provided a voice in support of William Pitt the Younger, who was against English involvement in or support of the French revolution during the reign of George III. The title “Jacobin” is actually the name given for the French far-left revolutionaries who met in a Dominican Convent on Rue St. Jogues. Jogue being the Latin name for Jacobus. The bulk of the poems published in this paper attacked pro-French English prose and many satires, parodies, often didactic, mostly unidentified authorship. Here in the Sapphic meter is The Friend of Humanity and the Needy Knife Grinder (1797) by John Frere and George Canning:

Friend of Humanity

"Needy Knife-grinder! whither are you going?
Rough is the road, your wheel is out of order--
Bleak blows the blast;--your hat has got a hole in't,
So have your breeches!

"Weary Knife-grinder! little think the proud ones,
Who in their coaches roll along the turnpike-road,
what hard work 'tis crying all day "knives and
scissors to grind O!"

"Tell me, Knife-grinder, how you came to grind knives?
Did some rich man tyranically use you?
Was it the squire? or parson of the parish?
Or the attorney?

"Was it the squire, for the killing of his game? or
Covetous parson, for his tithes distraining?
Or roguish lawyer, made you lose your little
All in a lawsuit?

"(Have you not read the Rights of Man, by Tom Paine?)
Drops of compassion tremble on my eyelids,
Ready to fall, as soon as you have told your
Ppitiful story."

Knife-grinder

"Story! God bless you! I have none to tell, sir,
Only last night a-drinking at the Chequers,
This poor old hat and breeches, as you see, were
Torn in a scuffle.

"Constables came up for to take me into
Custody; they took me before the justice;
Justice Oldmixon put me in the parish
Stocks for a vagrant.

"I should be glad to drink your Honour's health in
A pot of beer, if you will give me sixpence;
But for my part, I never love to meddle
With politics, sir."

Friend of Humanity

“I give thee sixpence! I will see thee damn'd first
Wretch! whom no sense of wrongs can rouse to vengeance--
Sordid, unfeeling, reprobate, degraded,
Spiritless outcast!"

[Kicks the Knife-grinder, overturns his wheel, and exit in a transport of Republican enthusiasm and universal philanthropy.]


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Appendix