Pope’s Grotto in Twickenham

Scholars’ Grotto

Digital Day Thoughts
Editor Daniel J. Johnson

Click here to access main text of Digital Day Thoughts, an electronic edition of Henry Jones’s The Relief; or, Day Thoughts: a Poem. The web interface allows users to compare the 1754 quarto and octavo printings of the poem. More details on using the interface are available in the Notes on the edition and Usability and bug report sections of this introduction.

Links for simple html versions of the quarto or octavo editions are available in the box to the right.

A Brief Introduction to Digital Day Thoughts

Henry Jones (1721-1770) started life as a bricklayer in County Louth, Ireland, but in his early twenties, Jones’s literary accomplishments caught the attention of the Earl of Chesterfield, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Chesterfield brought this “natural genius” to London in 1748, where Jones met early encouragement. His poems sold fairly well, and his drama, The Earl of Essex, was, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, “the most popular” play dealing with Essex “in England and America through the early years of the nineteenth century.”

Financial success and literary recognition in the 1750s would not prove lasting supports, however. A retrospective in the May and June 1794 issues of The European Magazine, and London Review described Jones sliding into “dissipation” and eventually offending Lord Chesterfield by borrowing eight guineas from the Earl’s footman (349, 350). Jones would never recover his patronage. In his last years, Jones spent time in sponging houses before meeting with a rather ignominious end: “Jones, after being in a state of inebriety for two days, was found run over by a waggon on the night of the third, in St. Martin’s Lane, without his hat or his coat” (423).

The success of The Earl of Essex notwithstanding, Jones has virtually disappeared from literary history. William J. Christmas speculates that perhaps “no eighteenth-century poet, plebiean or otherwise, who wrote and published as much as Jones did has evaporated more completely from our critical discussions of the period” (130). Christmas should know: the third chapter of his monograph, The Lab’ring Muses, is the only extended treatment of Jones in modern criticism (Christmas also wrote the current DNB entry for Jones). If he is mentioned at all, it is usually in passing. The publisher Rayner Unwin, for example, discussing “uneducated poets” of the later eighteenth century, summarized Jones thus: “[s]ometimes mediocrity was inherent in the man, as in the case of Henry Jones, who was brought from Ireland by the Earl of Chesterfield, quarreled with his patron, failed to fulfil himself as a poet, and later had the misfortune to be run over when drunk” (77). Aside from The Lab’ring Muses, the only recent work that considers Jones at any length is Bridget Keegan’s anthology, Eighteenth-Century English Labouring-Class Poets (2003), which reprints selections from several of Jones’s poems, including parts of Day Thoughts.

Jones deserves further rehabilitation. Chronologically, he stands between early natural poets like Stephen Duck (1705-1756), Mary Collier (1688–1762), and Mary Leapor (1722–1746) on the one hand, and enduringly-popular laboring poets like Robert Burns (1759-1796) and John Clare (1793-1864) on the other. Jones made a ripple in literary history when Augustan values began confronting new Romantic sensibilities. Jones’s criticism of the graveyard school of poetry in Day Thoughts is an especially fascinating piece of reader response because the genre is often framed as a transitional proto-Romantic, proto-Gothic form. In this light, Jones seems rather retrograde—he is concerned that the allure of dark and supernatural imagery unfits the mind for mature reasoning and humble daytime pleasures.

Why he chose poet and Church of England minister, Edward Young, as chief target of criticism is a bit mystifying, however. Ostensibly, Jones should favor his work. Though Young’s The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts (1742-1745) is considered an examplar of the graveyard school, it does not dwell in the lurid detail which so irked Jones; that was rather the characteristic of poems like Robert Blair’s The Grave (1743). Where Young does dabble in churchyard imagery— “The Knell, the Shroud, the Mattock, and the Grave; / The deep damp Vault, the Darkness, and the Worm” —he is quick to subvert it and to turn thought to moral ends: “These are the Bugbears of a Winter’s Eve,” produced by “Imagination’s fool, and Error’s Wretch” (IV:10-11, 12, 14, his emphasis). This is very close to Jones’s judgment against “all this Din, about a Worm’s Concerns” as “the Vapours of a heated Brain” and “The sacred Bugbears of a frighted World.”

Indeed, Jones’s cheery portrayal of “radiant Gems of Heav’n, that nightly burn,” seems remarkably similar to Young’s own positive refiguration of night. “Darkness has more divinity for me,” writes Young, because “It strikes thought inward; it drives back the soul / To settle on herself, our point supreme!” (V.128-130). Quoting these same lines, Fred Botting writes, “Night Thoughts criticises ignorance and superstition” (34). Christmas too notes what should be a congruity between Jones and Young: “Jones’s moral didacticism is also concerned with the subject of religion, and he clearly champions the cultivation of Christian piety and religious values in a contemporary cultural setting. In this respect, Jones closely follows Young, whose nine ‘nights’ of Night Thoughts represent a sustained apology for Christian dogma in verse” (The Lab’ring 141). Could Jones have misread Young or lumped him in indiscriminately with more grisly graveyard poets?

Christmas registers these contradictions without offering much explanation: “Though Jones apparently lionized Young early in his career, imitating his views on ‘Ambition’ for instance, he too comes under fire later in this poem for his ‘horrid Scenes’ and ‘ghastly Images.’” (154). It is not clear how Young’s restrained use of horrid scenes and ghastly images for the sake of transforming them is any different from Jones’s reproduction of the same scenes for the sake of criticizing them. Jones’s main problem, Christmas suggests, centers on the function of death. Instead of portraying it “as the great social leveler, as both Gray and Young” had done, Jones views it as “only an end to worldly toil, pain, and grief.” (154). But here too, the opposition between the poets may not be as great as it seems, since Young also portrayed death as a positive good, not just a leveler: “Auspicious Æra! Golden Days, begin! / The Thought of Death, shall, like a God, inspire” (III.308-9).

If anything, Young overvalues the spiritual brightness of night and its concomitant thoughts of mortality. Young’s narrator aims to convert his atheistic interlocutor, Lorenzo, to Christianity by forcing his attention upon the permanent state of death, but death as glorious kingdom for the Christian, not as gloomy prison. Even death refigured may be thought of to excess, however. Jones asks, should ants and other creatures “to whom our jealous Pride denies Superior Talents, and immortal Thought” be granted the opportunity to “rejoice, / With fearless Hearts, of Shadows fearless made, / And fancy’d Terrors all? Imaginary / Phantoms! From these exempt, they live at Ease.” Humans, meanwhile—a race of “Beast and Angel join’d” —are scared by “Ravens, Vultures, and what Harpies cry,” all imaginary thoughts that are the “Property of Custom, Fraud, and Cunning!” Mankind is too apt to produce visions “by Melancholy seen.”

Jones thus seems to assert that lingering in darkness, however positively valued, incubates dejection, which is unnatural to immortal man. If he errs in lumping Young together with the more lurid graveyard poets, he wouldn’t be the last to overemphasize Young’s dolors. Cecil Moore in 1953 judged Young “the gloomiest of all poets in this period, if not in all English literature” (232). But another factor may be at work. Though Christmas argues that a Christian moral scheme undergirds Jones’s poetics, Day Thoughts hints at a universalist strain in its critique of night thoughts. Jones apostrophizes the sun, “Was it thy great, thy good Creator’s View, / (O Horrid Plan,) to cheat me into Being, / To gratify Revenge and Rage eternal, / In Tortures beyond Thought, and endless Woe.” The implicit “no” of Jones’s rhetorical question at the least de-emphasizes terror of sin, death, and avenging spirits.

Through this lens, Young’s attempt at poetic conversion of the infidel through meditation on mortality is misguided. The fearsome vision that death presents to an atheist (and, for that matter, to the immature Christian), before the reforming eyes of faith can refashion it into inspiration, is unnecessary. It might end in depression and superstition. Thus, while it does seem a misreading to attribute to Young the whole “dismal Pageantry of Death” which characterizes other strains of graveyard poetry, Jones’s criticism perhaps centers on Young’s apologetics. Jones offers an alternative: to “Let Fancy drive these Goblins from her Sight” and to look up to sunny skies where “Thy Gracious God awaits thee.”

This grace of God is nearly the final thought in Day Thoughts, but its relationship to God’s law is uncertain. Jones puts the relationship in play a few lines earlier when he declares death “No grisly Terror to the honest Heart: / If God be just. O Blasphemy, to doubt / His Justice or his Mercy!——Mercy all / (But not unjust) is God.” Is this a roundabout way of arguing against Calvinist double predestination that all humans are eligible for salvation—that they simply need be honest?1 Is it a declaration of universalism screened by a parenthetical qualifier about justice? Or is the universal salvation of mankind justice itself?

Eric Parisot’s argument that graveyard poetry becomes a replacement for the printed funeral sermon provides historical context for the thesis that Jones is offering doctrinal, rather than strictly poetic or societal, critique. Young and other graveyard poets were favorites of the Wesleys, for example, and Parisot documents the religious use of Young’s poetry among middle-class readers. Shopkeeper Thomas Turner read Night Thoughts aloud in its entirety to his family twice in four years, “a practice he reserves (according to his diary) for only three other works — Tillotson’s Sermons, Sherlock’s Practical Discourse Concerning Death, and Milton’s Paradise Lost” (89). Is Jones’s critique of morbid imagery also a critique of this catechetical aspect of graveyard poetry? If night thoughts undermine reason and common sense, it would certainly be provoking to witness Young being fed to families directly—and not just upper-crust literati, but humble tradesmen. Could there also be a class aspect to Jones’s criticism? Day Thoughts raises a host of fascinating questions which demand further analysis and debate. This digital version, while not a critical edition, is an attempt to encourage investigation through uniquely digital tools.

Works Cited

Aubin, Robert A. “Three Notes on ‘Graveyard’ Poetry.” Studies in Philology 32.1 (1935): 103-109. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

Botting, Fred. Gothic. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.

Christmas, William J. The Lab’ring Muses: Work, Writing, and the Social Order in English Plebeian Poetry, 1730-1830. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2001. Print.

Christmas, William J. “Jones, Henry (1721–1770).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Web. 15 Aug. 2014. <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/15012>.

The European Magazine, and London Review. Vol. 25. London, 1794. Web. 15 Aug. 2014. Google Books.

Keegan, Bridget, ed. Eighteenth-Century English Labouring-Class Poets: 1700-1800. Vol. 2. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2003. Print.

Moore, Cecil. Backgrounds of English literature, 1700-1760. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1953. Print.

Parisot, Eric. “The Historicity of Reading Graveyard Poetry.” Experiments in Genre in Eighteenth-Century Literature. Ed. Sandro Jung. Gent: Academia Press, 2011. 85-103. Print.

Unwin, Rayner. The Rural Muse. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954.

Young, Edward. Night Thoughts. Ed. Stephen Cornford. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.

Notes on the edition

Digital Day Thoughts aims to facilitate scholarship by offering clean transcriptions of two editions of the poem from 1754—the quarto and the octavo—but also by offering tools that allow the user to compare the differences between them. Since no genetic relationship between the publications can be established (there are no known manuscript or proof copies of Day Thoughts), the audience has to decide how meaning should be negotiated when the texts offer different readings.

Within the main Digital Day Thoughts interface, the user will find an information text box to the right, and a Text Toolbox to the left. The first two radio buttons on the Text Toolbox allow the user to switch the displayed base text between the quarto and octavo printings. (If Javascript is enabled in your browser, this toolbox should follow you down the screen as you scroll.) The radio buttons under Transformation allow the user to highlight different kinds of change between the two printings. All will select every change, both reddening the affected portions of the current base text and placing the non-base text differences into the right margin for comparison. The Inflection changes button will narrow the selection to changes in declension or conjugation. The Orthographic changes button will focus on spelling, Punctuation changes on pointing, and Other changes on differences that exceed, or are not adequately expressed by, the other options. These categorizations are not scientific divisions but interpretive decisions that invite critical reflection and critique.

Users are encouraged to download and remix the files in this edition. Digital Day Thoughts is offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License. Scholars’ Grotto offers no warranty of any kind for use of this website and its files.

Usability and bug report

As of the current beta release, there is a bug when trying to find text in the comparative interface using a web browser’s search functionality. The browser may return a no-results-found response for strings of text that are, in fact, present. The error is related to how all modern browsers treat hidden <span> tags. At this time, the best work-around is to search the individual quarto and octavo html or plain text files instead (links in the information text box on the right).

As first digital edition and proof of concept for Scholars’ Grotto, Digital Day Thoughts will remain in beta stage while the website goes through initial usage testing. Bug fixes, refinements, and potential expansions or contractions of the introduction and apparatus may be made, and some functionality may change before a 1.0 release. Such alterations will be recorded with a simple incrementing number (e.g. Beta 2, Beta 3, etc). Please note this Beta status and number if you wish to cite the edition in current form. The old beta versions, like all versions, will be archived when superseded with updates.

The web version of Digital Day Thoughts is built from standard web tools including PHP, HTML 5, CSS, and JQuery. For best display results, use a modern web browser with standard scripting capabilities. Digital Day Thoughts was originally tested on Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 31. If your web browser is incapable of displaying javascript, or is configured to block javascript, the comparative interface will not work correctly. Whitelist the website in any script-blocking plugin for full accessibility.


1. Compare Robert A. Aubin’s (unheeded) judgment in 1935 “that Jones deserves an eminent place among those who through the eighteenth century fought decadent Calvinism and ‘black’ melancholy in the name of common sense” (107).