Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jenkins, John (1592-1678)

JENKINS, JOHN (1592–1678), musical composer, born at Maidstone, Kent, in 1592, made an early choice of music as his profession, and was appointed musician in ordinary to Charles I. He owed his first advancement to the patronage of a Norfolk gentleman named Dering (or Deerham). For a great part of his life, probably until 1654, he lived in the family of Sir Hamon l'Estrange, whose son Roger he instructed in music. From 1660 he lived for six or seven years at Kirtling in Norfolk, the seat of Lord North, to whose sons Montagu and Roger he gave music lessons at a salary of 1l. per quarter. In January 1662 he was appointed musician in ordinary to Charles II, at a salary of 40l. per annum. The later years of his life were spent with Sir Philip Wodehouse at Kimberley in Norfolk, where he died on 27 Oct. 1678. He was buried 29 Oct. in Kimberley Church, where there is a rhyming inscription to his memory.

Roger North, in his ‘Autobiography,’ describes Jenkins as ‘a person of much easier temper than any of his faculty; he was neither conceited nor morose, but much of a gentleman, and had a very good sort of wit, which served him in his address and conversation, wherein he did not please less than in his compositions. … He was an innovator in the days of Alphonso, Lupo, Coperario, Lawes, &c., who were musicians of fame under King Charles I, and superinduced a more airy sort of composition, wherein he had a fluent and happy fancy. And his way took the age he lived in, which was a great happiness to him, but he lived so long that he saw himself outrun and antiquated.’ He was an intimate friend of the famous violist Stefkins, and was himself proficient on the lute, lyra-viol, and other bowed instruments.

Jenkins is credited with having been the earliest English composer of instrumental music. His only known publication of this description is ‘Twelve Sonatas for two Violins and a Base, with a Thorough Base for the Organ or Theorbo',’ London, 1660, reprinted at Amsterdam, 1664. He composed a large number of ‘Fancies,’ some for the viol and some for the organ. These were never printed in England, but many manuscript copies are preserved in the Christ Church Library and the Music School at Oxford, and in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. He also composed a number of lighter pieces called ‘Rants.’ Of these the ‘Mitter Rant’ was very popular, and was printed in Playford's ‘Musick's Handmaid,’ London, 1678, and other similar publications of the period. The ‘Fleece Tavern Rant’ and ‘Peterborough Rant’ were included in Playford's ‘Apollo's Banquet,’ London, 1690. Another favourite was ‘The Lady Katharine Audley's Bells, or, The Five Bell Consort,’ first printed in Playford's ‘Courtly Masquing Ayres,’ London, 1662. This piece, together with the ‘Mitter Rant,’ were reprinted by J. S. Smith in his ‘Musica Antiqua,’ London, 1812. It is possible that some of Jenkins's viol pieces were included in a collection reprinted at Amsterdam in 1664, under the title of ‘Engels Speel-Thresoor van 200 der nieuwste Allemanden, Couranten, Sarabanden, Ayres, &c.’

His vocal compositions include:

  1. ‘Elegy on the Death of William Lawes,’ printed at the end of H. and W. Lawes's ‘Choice Psalms,’ London, 1648.
  2. ‘Theophila, or Love's Sacrifice; a Divine Poem by E[dward] B[enlowe], esq., several parts thereof set to fit aires by Mr. J. Jenkins,’ London, 1652.
  3. Two rounds, ‘A boat, a boat,’ and ‘Come, pretty Maidens,’ printed in Hilton's ‘Catch that catch can,’ 1652.
  4. Songs contributed to ‘Select Ayres and Dialogues,’ 1659, and to ‘The Musical Companion,’ 1672.

Jenkins also composed some anthems. He contributed commendatory verses to Christopher Sympson's ‘Division Violist,’ 1659, and ‘Compendium of Practical Musick,’ 1667.

[Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 33; Brown's Biog. Dict. of Music, p. 347; Fétis's Biog. Univ. des Musiciens, iv. 439; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser., 1662; Hawkins's Hist. of Music, iv. 61, 62; Roger North's Autobiography (1887 edit.), pp. vi, viii, 79, 80.]

R. F. S.