John Dovaston of The Nursery, West Felton, Shropshire, was born on 25 April 1740 and pursued wide-ranging interests as an attorney, antiquarian, naturalist, astronomer, musician and planter of trees. In 1795 he was successful as the plaintiff in the case of Dovaston v. Payne, the judgement in which has had lasting significance for the law of trespass. He was the father of the naturalist and poet John Freeman Milward Dovaston (1782-1854).
The following obituary notice of Dovaston appeared in 'The Gentleman's Magazine: and Historical Chronicle. For the year 1808', volume LXXVIII (London: John Nichols and Son, June 1808), pp. 563-4:
'Lately, at his elegant villa, "The Nursery," West Felton, near Oswestry, co. Salop, aged 68, John Dovaston, esq., a gentleman of learning, science and ingenuity. He was born in the year 1740, of humble though respectable parents, who lived on their small estate at West-Felton. He was taught to read by an old woman in the village, and that was the whole of his education; every other acquirement, which he afterwards possessed in so eminent a degree, was entirely his own acquisition. He was the eldest of seven children, all of whom he brought up to respectable professions, who might otherwise have drudged in servitude. From his father he received his little estate, almost swallowed up by mortgages and incumbrances, which he redeemed at a very early period of life by two voyages to the West Indies, and afterwards considerably increased by prudence and industry. Though he left scarcely any science untouched, his turn of mind was principally directed to Antiquities, Natural Philosophy, Music, Mechanism, and Planting. Of the first he has left a large collection of MSS; historical observations relating to Shropshire, and Welsh borders; on Druidical relicks, and Stonehenge, tracing many traditional vulgar errors from the remote ages of superstition. In Mechanism he has left a set of philosophical and musical instruments made by his own hands; among which are a large reflecting telescope, solar microscope, and an organ on a new principle; an electrical machine on the plan of Dr Franklin; and just before his death he projected an Orrery to shew the Satellites, on a new method. In Planting he has cloathed the country round him with forest and fruit trees; and his little villa (which from his partiality to planting he called "the Nursery") is laid out with much taste and rural elegance. He was well versed in the Hebrew, Anglo-Saxon, British [i.e., Welsh], and Latin tongues; and had some knowledge of the Greek. His reading was very extensive, and his application intense: to the very last day of his life he rose at five in the morning. He has never appeared as an Author before the publick; but the Writer of this article is informed by his son, that though he ordered that none of his works be published, his library is always open for the inspection of the curious, and any information from his MSS. at their service. He was remarkable for his plainness of dress, yet his person always appeared dignified: his mind was vigorous and his memory retentive; both of which remained unimpaired to the last hour of his life. Though the Writer of this article was warmly his friend, there is no reader who knew him but will be aware of the strictest adherence to truth; and will remember the subject of it with affection and esteem. He has left one son, just called to the Bar, from the University of Oxford.'
A further account of Dovaston is given in a footnote to Charles Hulbert, 'The History and Description of the County of Salop, comprising Original Historical and Topographical Notices of the Hundreds, Towns, Parishes, and Villages, with their Dependencies, in Shropshire...', ([Charles Hulbert]: Providence Grove, near Shrewsbury, 1837), p. 222, where it is recorded that he was:
'a very singular and estimable character, and a striking proof of the successful progress of industry and ingenuity. He was born in 1740, the eldest of seven children of a wheelwright, a good-natured but imprudent man, a small freeholder, but who spent all in the ale-house, and left his little estate almost swallowed up with debts and mortgages, which his son, the late Mr. John Dovaston, afterwards redeemed and improved. He was apprenticed to his father's trade, and early evinced a powerful turn to mechanics. He was taught to read by an old woman; and long after learned to write by copying from a printed book upon a planed board, with the juice of dock leaves squeezed into a pen. He was then sent as a cow-boy to Thomas Milward, Esq. an opulent and highly reputable attorney, of Wollescott Hall, near Stourbridge; but who practised agriculture with more fondness than he did law. The clerk of this gentleman dying, the cow-boy was "degraded" (as he used to express it) to the office; and was afterwards admitted. Like his master, however, he had a rooted disgust to the practice of an attorney; which he soon gave up to his second brother; whom, with the other children, on the death of his parents, he brought up. He now turned his attention to planting, and converted his little estate into a Nursery, which name it still bears. This trade was then very profitable, and he sold trees to a very considerable amount; as well as planted his own little property. He was also eminently successful in two voyages he made to the West Indies, to settle an arbitration amicably, and prevent litigation. Here he received great kindness from Lord Lyttelton, the then governor of Jamaica [1761-1766], and was always gratefully attached to that nobleman. On his return he resumed his planting, and built a house in his Nursery, even the bricks whereof he made with his own hands. This house is full of small rooms, each of which he erected from time to time, as he could get in a little money. He now took to collect books, and studied many languages, particularly the Hebrew, Welsh, and Anglo-Saxon, in which he made great progress, with very little and feeble assistance. The Sciences opened their light to him, which he followed with ardent success: particularly Astronomy, Optics, and Music: and he has left a large collection of philosophic and musical instruments constructed entirely with his own hands; among which are a long refracting, and two large reflecting telescopes; solar, lucernal, and many other microscopes; air-pump, copious electrical apparatus; a pair of manuscript globes, &c. and a noble organ of fourteen stops, being the fourth he built. A large collection of manuscripts and Druidical and Roman Antiquities, and Arboriculture; with a library of about 5,000 volumes. Of his taste and judgment in planting, his trees are living testimonies, in value, curiosity, and beauty; and all who visit them lament he had not a larger field for the display of his talent in ornamental gardening and rural decorations: when he has done so much and so well on so small and merely a flat situation. In his youth he was a close friend of the poet Shenstone, to whose memory he was always much attached; and from whom he probably caught his early ideas in elegantly disposing of grounds. His reading was very extensive, and his application intense; his mind vigorous, and memory retentive; both of which remained unimpaired to the last hour of his useful and cheerful life. He was remarkable for the plainness of his dress, yet his person always appeared dignified and clean; and his manners were courteous, gentlemanly, and even graceful. He was fond of a cheerful glass, remarkably communicative and sociable, full of facetious anecdotes and songs, which he had a singularly agreeable manner of imparting. To the very last day of his life he rose at five; it being one of his maxims always to get the start of the sun. He died at midnight, 31st March, 1808, in his sixty-eighth year. Though he lived to a fair age, and had almost constant health and good spirits, it was the opinion of his medical friends, that his excessive and laborious application of mind and body brought on a somewhat premature decay. It was his invariable rule to pay ready money; and though at his death, his income scarcely exceeded two hundred a-year, he fancied himself rich, and felt that he was a happy man. On his death-bed he spoke to his son these remarkable words: "Jack, I believe in my soul, it has pleased God to prosper all my undertakings: my lad, be honest, and you will be independant: be liberal, and you will be esteemed: deserve God's blessing, and you will be happy!"'
A collection of poems and prose by William Shenstone, Henry Jones and others, written in the hand of John Dovaston and with illustrations by him. Most of the texts are apparently from printed sources, from which there are many deviations.
Front pastedown: Nursery Library bookplate of John Freeman Milward Dovaston, printed in brown ink
[iii r] ownership inscription, date (1765), note of price paid, 'M:S Poems by William Shenstone Esqr and Others', epigraph "So we thro' life with calm content should roam..." [from Henry Jones, 'On the vain pursuits and imperfect enjoyments of human life', with the omission of one couplet]
[iii v and iv r] blank
[iv v] pencil sketch by Dovaston of a bust of William Shenstone, after the frontispiece to 'The Works in Verse and Prose, of William Shenstone, Esq; most of which were never before printed. In two volumes, with decorations...' (London: printed for R. and J. Dodsley, 1764), volume 1
[vi r] 'POEMS by W. Shenstone Esqr and others' with epigraph "Tale tuum carmen nobis, divine poeta...", from Virgil, Eclogue V, 45
[vi v-vii] blank
[viii r] 'Miscellanious Pieces of POETRY' with pencil sketch by Dovaston of a kingfisher, after the title pages of 'The Works in Verse and Prose, of William Shenstone', 1764
[viii v] blank
pp.1-5, 'Advice to a Lady. Written by Lord Lyttleton 1731' ("The Counsels of a Friend, Belinda, hear...")
p. 5, 'Verses makeing part of an Epitaph on Lucy the Lady of George Lord Lyttleton - by the same'
pp. 5-7 [two consecutive pages are numbered 5], 'The Rape of the Trap. by Wm. Shenstone Esqr. 1737'
pp. 7-8, 'Stanzas to the Memory of an Agreeable Young lady, buried in Marriage to a person Undeserving her (By the same)'
pp. 8-11, 'An Elegy. In Memory of a private family in Worcestershire (By the same)'
p. 12, 'The Halcyon by the Same'
pp. 13-16, 'An Elegy by the Same' ['Elegy XXIII'], with a note probably by Dovaston on p. 13
pp. 16-19, 'An Elegy by the same wrote in the year 1746' ['Elegy XXI']
p. 19, 'Song by the same. The Scholar's Relapse'
p. 20, 'A Common Case. The Progress of Adonis - by the same'
pp. 20-21, 'A Ballad - by the same' ("From Lincoln to London rode forth our young squire...")
pp. 21-29, 'Fragments from different authors', possibly assembled from an edition of Wellins Calcott, 'Thoughts Moral and Divine; Collected and Intended for the Better Instruction and Conduct of Life'
p. 21, "He that committs a sin, shall quickly find..." [from Juvenal, 13th Satire, translated by Thomas Creech], "Hence almost ev'ry Crime, nor do we find..." [from Juvenal, 14th Satire, translated by John Dryden], p.22, "Heav'n from all Creatures hides the book of fate..." [from Alexander Pope, 'Essay on Man'], "Long night will over all, its darkness spread" [unidentified], "Cold Death my heart Invades, my life doth fly..." [Musculus, meditation to his soul in his last moments, translator unidentified], pp. 22-23, "If fate so ordain..." [attributed by Dovaston to Pope], p. 23, "Thro' all its ages, the whole world pretends..." [from Manilius, book 2, translator unidentified], "A wit's a feather and a chief's a rod" [from Alexander Pope, 'Essay on Man'], "Hope springs Eternal in the Human breast" [from Alexander Pope, 'Essay on Man'], "Great Love, thy Empire o'er the World extends..." [ from Lucan, book 1, translated by John Dryden], p. 24, "But, that false fruit..." [from John Milton, 'Paradise Lost'], "What signifies to man, that he from Heaven..." [from Claudian, translator unidentified], "Whilst all the mute creation downward bend..." [from Ovid, 'Metamorphoses', book 1, translated by John Dryden], "Men, the inhabitants of earth, are endowed..." [from Aristotle, translator unidentified], "Climb at court for me that will..." [from Seneca, 'Thyestes', translated by Andrew Marvell], p. 25, "Place me, ye powers! in some obscure retreat..." [a paraphrase on the foregoing passage from Seneca by Lord Landsdown], pp. 25-26, "Fortune made up of toys and impudence..." [a paraphrase on four lines from Horace, book 3, ode 29, by the Duke of Buckingham], p. 26, "Ask for what end the Heav'nly bodies shine..." [from Alexander Pope, 'Essay on Man'], "Among the worst of cowards let him be nam'd" [from Daniel Defoe, attributed, 'Reformation of Manners, a Satyr'], "I shunn'd with caution the officious tale..." [from Ausonius, 'Epicedion in Patrem', a translation of the lines "Non occursator, non garrulus, obvia cernens...", translator unidentified], "If I am believ'd, shall I turn pale for this?..." [from Horace, book 1, epistle 16, translator unidentified], "Let men of others to speak ill forbear" [from Terence, 'Andria'], "Wisdom's an eveness of soul..." [variously attributed to John Oldham and John Dryden], p. 27, "These are thy glorious Works, parent of Good..." [from John Milton, 'Paradise Lost'], pp. 27-28, "The Complaint of Adam turn'd out of Paradise" [by John Norris], pp. 28-29, "Consider Man in ev'ry sphere..." [from John Gay, Fable XV, 'The Cook-Maid, the Turnspit and the Ox'], p. 29, "Hail wedded love! Mysterious Law! true source..." [from John Milton, 'Paradise Lost'], "In the Choice of a wife..." [from Wellins Calcott, Thoughts Moral and Divine; Collected and Intended for the Better Instruction and Conduct of Life, 1756 edition]
p. 30, 'Miss Wheatly to Mr. L - - - - upon his desiring her to paint his Character Decer 13th 1760'
pp. 30-33, 'A letter' [from Frances Seymour, Countess of Hertford to Henrietta Knight, Lady Luxborough] with a note by Dovaston added at some point subsequent to the publication of 'Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Lady Luxborough, to William Shenstone, Esq.' (London: printed for J. Dodsley, 1775)
pp. 33-36, 'Verses Written towards the Close of the year 1748, to Wm Lyttleton Esqr by Mr Shenstone'
pp. 36-37, John Cunningham, 'Corydon, a pastoral - To the Memory of William Shenstone Esqr.'
[unpaginated], folding map of the Leasowes, after that in 'The Works in Verse and Prose, of William Shenstone', 1764, volume 2, facing p. 333
pp. 38-56, [Robert Dodsley], 'A Description of the Leasow's the Seat of the late Mr. Shenstone, near HalesOwen in Shropshire', with substantial omissions and divergences from the text published in 'The Works in Verse and Prose, of William Shenstone', 1764, volume 2, and with [unpaginated, between pp. 39 and 40], a sheet of drawings of the Leasowes, not earlier than 1779
p. 56, 'Verses left on a Seat, the hand Unknown' printed in 'The Works in Verse and Prose, of William Shenstone', 1764, volume 2, p. 390
pp. 56-68, 'Loose Thoughts by Mr Shenstone', consisting of passages in 'The Works in Verse and Prose, of William Shenstone', 1764, volume 2, from 'Unconnected thoughts on gardening' and other parts of the 'Essays on men, manners and things'
pp. 68-9, 'On Mr Nash publishing the History of his life by Subscription - by Mr Shenstone', as printed in 'The Jests of Beau Nash, Late Master of the Ceremonies at Bath. Consisting of a Variety of Humorous Sallies of Wit, Smart Repartees, and Bons Mots...' (London: W. Bristow, 1763) but with the addition of the couplet "Ye stoic's here indulge your melancholly/ Superior smile and pity humane folly"
pp. 70-71, [Henry Jones], 'A Farewell to Apollo and the Muses'
pp. 71-73, [Henry Jones], 'On Maurice's Pease Spoild by a Storm'
pp. 73-74, [Henry Jones], 'On the Spring'
pp. 74-75, [Henry Jones], 'Flora and her Sparrow' [published as 'Lesbia and her Sparrow: or Cupid Turn'd Fowler' in Henry Jones, 'Poems on Several Occasions' (London: printed for R. Dodsley, and W. Owen, 1749), pp. 105-107]
pp. 76-77, [Henry Jones], 'Song'
pp. 77-79, [Henry Jones], 'On the Death of a Favourite Nightingale'
pp. 79-84, [Henry Jones], 'Solitude a Poem' [published as 'Tempe, a Poem, inscrib'd to Solitude' in Henry Jones, 'Poems on Several Occasions' (London: printed for R. Dodsley, and W. Owen, 1749), pp. 125-134], with the omission of 26 lines of the printed version
pp. 84-87, [Henry Jones], 'Health a Poem', [published as 'Bath, a Poem; inscrib'd to Dr Nugent, Physician at Bath' in Henry Jones, 'Poems on Several Occasions' (London: printed for R. Dodsley, and W. Owen, 1749), pp. 144-151], with the omission of six stanzas of the printed version
p. 88, 'Rural Contemplation' [published as 'To a Friend' in Henry Jones, 'Poems on Several Occasions' (London: printed for R. Dodsley, and W. Owen, 1749), pp. 202-206], with the omission of thirteen stanzas of the printed version
pp. 89-90, 'The Gentleman's Skull' and 'The Lady's Skull'. The source of Dovaston's text is unidentified. The poems occur in John Hackett, 'Select and Remarkable Epitaphs on Illustrious and Other Persons, in Several Parts of Europe. With translations...' London, 1757, Vol. 2, pp. 93-95; 'Kill-Care, A Select Collection of Epitaphs: Carefully Collected from the Tombstones of the Most Eminent Personages in England, Scotland and Ireland...' [London], 1759, pp. 88-90; 'The Annual Register, or A View of the History, Politicks, and Literature, of the Year 1761', London, 1762, pp. 252-3 (but with a different ending to the Gentleman's poem, therefore unlikely to have been Dovaston's source); the 1779 4th ed. reprint of 'The Annual Register'; Wellins Calcott, 'Thoughts Moral and Divine; upon Various Subjects. Dedicated by permission to the Right Hon. the Earl of Powis, by Wellins Calcott, Gent.', the fourth edition with improvements, Manchester, 1761; 'A Collection of Thoughts, Moral and Divine, upon Various Subjects, in Prose and Verse. Dedicated, ... to the Right Honourable Earl of Powis', the fifth edition, 1764, and the sixth edition, with improvements, London, 1766, pp. 179-180, the order of the poems being reversed in all; 'The General Magazine of Arts and Sciences, Philosophical, Philological, Mathematical, and Mechanical ... By Benjamin Martin', volume III, London, 1764, the order of the poems being reversed; Andrew Hervey Mills, 'Bagatelles...', London, 1767, pp. 20-23; 'A Companion for a Leisure Hour: being a Collection of Fugitive Pieces, in Prose and Verse. By several gentlemen', London, 1769 (possibly the Gentleman's poem only); 'A Collection of the Best Modern Poems', [London?], 1771, pp. 118-119; 'The Ambulator; or, the Stranger's Companion in a Tour round London; within the circuit of twenty-five miles...', London, 1774, pp. 43-44; 'A New Select Collection of Epitaphs...', London, 1775, vol. 1, pp. 83-85; Jane Elizabeth Moore, 'Genuine Memoirs of Jane Elizabeth Moore. Late of Bermondsey, in the County of Surry...', London, [1786?], pp. 222-224; Talbot Keene, 'Miscellaneous Pieces: Original and Collected; by a Clergyman of Northamptonshire, late of Trinity College, Cambridge', London, 1787 (possibly the Lady's poem only); James Fordyce, 'A Collection of Hymns and Sacred Poems, in two parts', Edinburgh, 1788; 'Frobisher's New Select Collection of Epitaphs; Humorous, Whimsical, Moral, & Satyrical', London, [1790?], pp. 83 et sqq.; John Fallowfield, 'The Moral Instructor; Consisting of Miscellaneous Essays, Poems, Anecdotes, Maxims, &c. Calculated to Inform the Ignorant, Reform the Reprobate...', Penrith, 1795 (possibly the Gentleman's poem only); 'The Instructor: or An Introduction to Reading & Spelling the English Language. By the author of the Elementary Principles', Glasgow, 1798, pp 130-131; and elsewhere. None of these printings have the footnotes provided by Dovaston in the manuscript. Those that have the poems with the titles 'The Gentleman's Skull' and 'The Lady's Skull' include: Wellins Calcott, 'Thoughts Moral and Divine; Upon Various Subjects. Dedicated by permission to the Right Hon. the Earl of Powis, by Wellins Calcott, Gent.', the fourth edition with improvements, Manchester, 1761; 'A Collection of Thoughts, Moral and Divine, upon Various Subjects, in Prose and Verse. Dedicated ... to the Right Honourable Earl of Powis', the fifth edition, with improvements, Exeter, 1764, p. 179, and the sixth edition, with improvements, London, 1766, pp. 179-180, the order of the poems being reversed in all; 'The General Magazine of Arts and Sciences, Philosophical, Philological, Mathematical, and Mechanical ... By Benjamin Martin', volume III, London, 1764; 'The Beauties of Thought, on Various Subjects, in Prose and Verse. Selected from the Best Authors. Consisting of a Variety of Matter...', Bridlington, 1793, pp. 136 et sqq., where the positioning of the epitaphs in alcoves is mentioned; 'Variety. A Collection of Miscellanies, in Verse and Prose. With Original Poetry and Fugitive Pieces. In two volumes', Dublin, 1795, pp. 94 et sqq., which appears to provide information on the Tyers connection (which Dovaston apparently had no knowledge of); 'The Instructor: or An Introduction to Reading & Spelling the English Language. By the author of the Elementary Principles', Glasgow, 1798.
p. 91, 'Contemplation'
pp. 91-93, 'The Batchelor'
pp. 93-, [items termed 'Fragments' in the Index]
p. 93: Shakespeare, from King Henry VIII, Act I, scene 1, p. 93, from Samuel Garth, 'The Dispensary', canto VI
pp. 94-97, [Frances] Greville 'Ode to Indifference'
pp. 97-98, 'The Married Man'
pp. 98-99, 'Winifreda from the Welsh'
pp. 100-101, 'On love', ("Love is ever on the wing...")
pp. 101-110, 'The hunting of Chevy Chase'
pp. 110-113, 'Ode - the Fatall Sisters from the Norse tongue in the Orcades of Thormodus, Torfæn and Hafricæ 1679 folio'
pp. 113-114, 'An Epitaph in a Church at Coventry Augt 12th 1767, coppied'
pp. 115-119, 'Copy of a Letter Wrote by Wm Shenstone Esqr. (to Mr. Graves) on the Death of his Brother'
pp. 119-123, 'Copy of a Letter Written by Mr Wynne of Cwrt near Brynkynalt to his apothecary'
pp. 123-124, John Horn, 'To James Townsend Esq.' [dedicatory letter in John Horne Tooke, 'A Sermon. By the Rev. John Horne, Minister of New-Brentford', London, 1769]
pp. 125-142, 'A Sermon' [John Horne Tooke, 'A Sermon. By the Rev. John Horne, Minister of New-Brentford' London, 1769]
pp. 142-157, C[harles] Churchill, 'Night a Poem'
pp. 157-158 'Thoughts on Death'
p. 158, [John Free] 'Wish on the Marriage State'
p. 159, 'To a Pipe of Tobacco'
p. 160, 'On a Romish Priest's Being Refus'd Admission in Hell'
p. 161, 'The Wishes of a Friend', poetry. This was published under the title 'To Laura. 1742' in Francis Fawkes, 'Original Poems and Translations. By Francis Fawkes, M.A.', London, 1761 (unpaginated). The excised name in line 2 of the manuscript is, in Fawkes's printed poem, given as 'Laura', and this is what may be scratched out beneath Dovaston's crosses.
pp. 162-3, 'My wishes', poetry. The earliest identified printing of this piece is as 'Song XCVI' in 'The Chearful Linnet. A Choice Collection of Songs, taken from the Most Approv'd Operas, and Polite Miscellanies. The Whole interspersed with Several Genteel Originals, Never Before Printed', London, 1771, pp. 97-98; it was published in several other miscellanies between then and 1785, as well as having the opening couplet quoted in the 'London Magazine' of 1780.
p.163, "I wish you all this mortal life can give", poetry
'An Index', prose, unpaginated
'Philosophy a Poem', poetry, unpaginated. This is by Henry Jones, and was published anonymously in Dublin in 1746 and again in Jones's 'Poems on Several Occasions', London, 1749.
After Dovaston's death the volume passed into the custody of his son, John Freeman Milward Dovaston, whose bookplate it bears. It was purchased by Cambridge University Library from Mrs A. Glaiyser and Mrs S. Riley, 5 August 1981.