Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jackson, William (1730-1803)

JACKSON, WILLIAM (1730–1803), musical composer, known as Jackson of Exeter, born 28 May 1730, was the son of an Exeter grocer, who afterwards became master of the city workhouse. After receiving some musical instruction from John Silvester, organist of Exeter Cathedral, Jackson was sent in 1748 to London, to become a pupil of John Travers, organist to the Chapel Royal. In 1767 he wrote the music for an adaptation of Milton's ‘Lycidas,’ which was produced at Covent Garden on 4 Nov. of the same year, on the occasion of the death of Edward Augustus, duke of York and Albany, brother to George III. While in London Jackson was a visitor at the meetings of the Madrigal Society. On his return to Exeter he devoted himself to teaching music until Michaelmas 1777, when he was appointed subchanter, organist, lay vicar, and master of choristers to the cathedral, in succession to Richard Langdon.

On 27 Dec. 1780 Jackson achieved a great success by the production at Drury Lane of his opera ‘The Lord of the Manor,’ the libretto to which was written by General John Burgoyne [q. v.] One of its numbers, ‘Encompassed in an angel's frame,’ became very popular, and the opera held the stage for fifty years. On 5 Dec. 1783 was first performed a comic opera, ‘The Metamorphosis,’ of which Jackson wrote the music and probably the words also.

In 1792, with the help of one or two friends, he started a Literary Society in Exeter. At its meetings, which were held at the Globe Inn, Fore Street, each member present read an original prose or verse composition. A volume of the compositions was published in 1796. By means of an introduction from the Sheridans, with whom he was intimate, Jackson contracted in his seventieth year a friendship with Samuel Rogers, the poet. Writing to Richard Sharp on 5 Feb. 1800, the poet says, ‘His [Jackson's] kindness has affected me not a little. Among other proofs of his regard, he requested me to take charge of his papers.’ Dr. Wolcot was another of Jackson's intimate friends. Jackson died of dropsy on 12 July 1803. A contemporary account describes him as ‘pleasant, social, and communicative.’ He possessed some skill as a painter of landscape after the style of his friend Gainsborough, and was an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy. Early in life he married Miss Bartlett of Exeter. His wife, two sons, and one daughter survived him.

Jackson's music displays refinement and grace, but little character. Its insipidity is most obvious in his church music; nevertheless his ‘Service in F’ was popular, and is still to be heard. Besides the works already mentioned, his published compositions include: 1. ‘Twelve Songs,’ op. 1, London [1765?]. 2. ‘Elegies for Three Voices,’ op. 3, London, 1767. 3. ‘Twelve Songs,’ op. 4, London [1767?]. 4. ‘Twelve Songs,’ op. 7, London [1768?]. 5. A setting of Warton's ‘Ode to Fancy,’ op. 8, London [1768?]. 6. ‘Twelve Canzonets for Two Voices,’ op. 9, London [1770?]. 7. ‘Six Quartets for Voices,’ op. 11, London [1775?]. 8. ‘Twelve Canzonets for Two Voices,’ op. 13, London [1780?]. 9. A setting of Pope's ode ‘A Dying Christian to his Soul’ [London, 1780?]. 10. ‘Twelve Pastorals for Two Voices,’ op. 15, London [1784?]. 11. ‘Twelve Songs,’ op. 16, London [1785?]. 12. ‘Six Epigrams for 2, 3, and 4 Voices,’ op. 17, London [1786?]. 13. ‘Six Madrigals for 2, 3, and 4 Voices,’ op. 18, London [1786?]. 14. ‘Services in C, E, E flat, and F.’ 15. ‘Hymns in three parts.’ He also published two small collections of sonatas for the harpsichord, and various separate glees and songs.

Jackson was also the author of ‘Thirty Letters on Various Subjects’ (three of them on music), anon., London, 1782; 2nd edit. London, 1784; 3rd edit. London, 1785, with author's name; ‘Observations on the Present State of Music in London’ (a pamphlet), London, 1791; ‘Four Ages, together with Essays on Various Subjects,’ London, 1798; ‘A First Book for Performers on Keyed Instruments;’ and various anonymous letters and essays contributed to periodicals.

Posthumous publications were: ‘Anthems and Church Services by the late W. Jackson of Exeter, edited by J. Peddon’ (organist to the cathedral), 3 vols., Exeter, 1819; ‘The Year: a Cantata,’ London, 1859; and selections from his works, sacred and secular, 4 vols., published in London without date.

[Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 27; Brown's Biog. Dict. of Music, p. 343; Bemrose's Choir Chant Book, App. p. xxi; Georgian Era, iv. 246; Clayden's Early Life of Samuel Rogers, p. 399; Public Characters of 1798–9, p. 242; John Taylor's Records of My Life; Madrigal Soc. Records; Jackson's music in Brit. Mus.]

R. F. S.