Jennings, James (1772–1833)

Writer. Born in Huntspill, Somerset, son of a village shopkeeper, John Jennings, and his wife Elizabeth Fear. Educated locally and at North Petherton School. Apprenticed to a Bristol apothecary in 1786. He contributed poems to the European Magazine and in 1794 published The Times, a satire. Jennings moved to London shortly after his marriage to Charlotte Sawier, probably the only daughter of Southey’s landlady Mary Sawier, in 1795. He returned to work in his family’s shop in 1801 and remained in Huntspill until the mid-1810s, when economic depression led to the failure of the business. He continued with his literary pursuits, contributing to the Monthly Magazine (from 1807) and publishing Poems, Consisting of the Mysteries of Mendip, the Magic Ball (1810). He returned to London in 1817 and worked as a professional writer, with some support from Sir William Paxton, a wealthy banker. His works included the Family Cyclopaedia (1821), Observations on Some of the Dialects of the West of England (1825) and Ornithologia (1828). He founded the short-lived Metropolitan Literary Institution in 1823 and was editor of the Metropolitan Literary Journal (1824). Jennings met Southey (and Coleridge) in Bristol in c. 1794. Although they were not close friends, he and Southey corresponded (the correspondence has not survived) and remained in contact until c. 1828. Jennings was a great admirer of Southey’s writing, but the admiration was not reciprocated. Southey nicknamed him ‘poor Trauma’ and ‘the traumatic poet’, though he admired Jennings’s ‘moral character’. Jennings shared Southey’s interest in educational methods, and in 1813, in collaboration with the local rector at Huntspill, established a school conducted on Lancaster and Bell’s monitorial systems. Jennings included anecdotes of Southey and Coleridge’s early careers in the Metropolitan Literary Journal (1824).

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