Hildebrand Jacob (1693–1739) was a British poet and playwright, whose major works include the epic poem Brutus the Trojan and the tragic verse drama The Fatal Constancy. His collected works were published in 1735. His father was Sir John Jacob, third baronet of Bromley, Middlesex (c.1665–1740) and his mother was Dorothy (c.1662–1749). Sir John served in the army from 1685 to 1702, seeing action at the Battle of Killiecrankie and in Ireland. Hildebrand Jacob was named after his mother’s brother, Hildebrand Alington, fourth lord Alington (d. 1722). During 1728 and 1729 he visited Paris, Vienna, and the chief towns of Italy. Following his father, Hildebrand served in the army until at least 1715, then in 1717 he married Meriel, daughter of another baronet, Sir John Bland of Kippax-Park, Yorkshire. They had a son, also Hildebrand, and a daughter, Anne. They made their home at West Wratting, Cambridgeshire. He died, in the lifetime of his father, on 25 May 1739.
Jacob published anonymously in 1720–1 a clever but indelicate poem, ‘The Curious Maid,’ which was frequently imitated and parodied. ‘The Fatal Constancy,’ a tragedy, acted five times at Drury Lane, was published in 1723. ‘Bedlam: a Poem,’ and ‘Chiron to Achilles: a Poem,’ appeared in 1732. His scattered writings were collected, with large additions, in 1735 as ‘The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq., containing Poems on various Subjects and Occasions, with the “Fatal Constancy,” a Tragedy, and several Pieces in Prose. The greatest Part never before publish’d.’ In the dedicatory epistle to James, earl of Waldegrave, ambassador extraordinary at the court of France, Jacob states that he published the book because incorrect copies had been circulated, and because he wished to convince his friends that he was not the author of ‘some, perhaps, less pardonable Productions that were laid to my charge here at home while I had the advantage of living under your Lordship’s protection abroad.’ In the essay, ‘How the Mind is rais’d to the Sublime,’ Jacob shows himself to have been an enthusiastic admirer of Milton. The National Portrait Gallery in London has an engraving of him by Jacobus Houbraken after George Knapton (see image above).
MISTS AND WISPS
“The only thing certain about us is that we are too many.” That was Yeats commenting on his companions, other poets, in the Rhymers’ Club. While Yeats has survived, most of his companions are now forgotten. It was ever thus. Like most poets, Hildebrand Jacob has disappeared into the mists of time. There is no mention of him in the more than one thousand pages of Margaret Drabble’s The Oxford Companion to English Literature and he has no representation, either, in the six volumes of The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. Like a wisp, the odd poem comes out of the mist. I first encountered his work in a couplet (epigram XV below) included in The Faber Book of Comic Verse, edited by Michael Roberts. Slightly intrigued I searched for further epigrams and found them in The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq. (W. Lewis, 1735). These epigrams may lack the classicism of Ben Jonson, the balance of John Donne, the power of Alexander Pope or the imaginative scope of William Blake. But, in their old-fashioned wit, they may repay a second, even a third reading. I have included the briefest and the best of the thirty-four epigrams below.
Brief Poems by Hildebrand Jacob
O Love! what pains do I endure?
Have patience, Swain, they’ll soon be passed,
Your very passion brings its cure,
Since all philosophers assure,
Nothing that’s violent, can last.
Corinna dies for grief; but still
She frets, her weeds are made so ill.
Phillis, I a plot discover!
You have taken a new lover:
For his comfort I can tell,
Let him use you ne’er so well,
You will change him for another.
Collin, for love expiring, cries,
To see the Nymph, before he dies.
She went in pity, ’tis confessed
She went; but decked in all her best.
Titus reads neither prose, nor rhyme,
He writes himself; he has no time.
Hamor in six months time, no more,
Has almost travelled Europe o’er:
Hamor must be changed, no doubt?
No; he’s come home, as he went out.
Why weary of a single Life?
I would advise you, Charles, to stay,
Friend Limber married th’ other day;
You like his table, and his wife.
Sly keeps a mistress of his own.
You jest, she’s kept for half the town.
Geron at four score married! ’tis too late.
No; but he wants an heir to his estate.
Why all this stir at Myra’s house?
She took last night a second spouse.
Then why that hatchment, Friend, I pray?
Her first was buried but today.
‘Tis strange, Prudilla, you accuse
Of too much warmth my wanton Muse,
While you read on with all your spite,
And practice, what I only write.
Poetic Works, you say, are vain,
Infants of a distempered brain,
What then? My verses still you read;
And I my labouring mind have freed.