The Literary Papers of the Reverend Jermyn Pratt (1723-1791)
The Reverend Jermyn Pratt was a close friend of the poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771), who mentions Pratt and his sister Harriot in several of his poems, including the poem for which he is most famous, Jubilate Agno (1759-1763). But Jermyn Pratt was himself a highly idiosyncratic writer of comic and satirical literature. His often hilarious writings provide new insights into the distinctive literary culture in Norfolk and the ways the Anglican clergy participated in church and national politics. Pratt’s dramatic, poetic, and essayistic writings also complement the diary of James Woodforde (1740-1803), painting a vivid picture of the pressures and pleasures of parish life in rural Norfolk.
The Reverend Jermyn Pratt was a close friend of the poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771), who mentions Pratt and his sister Harriot in several of his poems, including the poem for which he is most famous, Jubilate Agno (1759-1763). But Jermyn Pratt (1723-1791) was himself a highly idiosyncratic writer of comic and satirical literature. His often hilarious writings provide new insights into the distinctive literary culture in Norfolk and the ways the Anglican clergy participated in church and national politics. Pratt’s dramatic, poetic, and essayistic writings also complement James Woodforde’s (1740-1803) diary, painting a vivid picture of the pressures and pleasures of parish life in rural Norfolk. Pratt’s literary papers are contained within a large folder which has been held at the Norfolk Record Office in Norwich since 1965, when it was handed over to the Norfolk Record Society by the Pratt family for preservation. This volume presents a carefully transcribed and extensively annotated edition of Pratt’s literary work, much of which has only been available in manuscript. The editors’ introduction presents Pratt’s biography from his childhood at Ryston Hall, his studies at Edward VI School in Bury St. Edmunds and Caius College Cambridge, to his work as a clergyman in Norfolk parishes. It also provides an analysis of Pratt’s writings, setting them in the context of intertwined anxieties about commercialisation and the changing social order in the countryside, opposition to the American War of Independence, and debates over the role of the clergy in the Anglican church. The volume begins with Pratt’s unpublished five-act play The Grange (?1771), which presents a unique portrait of a parish in the Norfolk countryside. The play is especially interesting for the way it incorporates the Norfolk dialect into the dialogue. Next comes the poetry section, beginning with the three longer poems: The Inundation or the Life of a Fen-Man (1771), a satirical portrayal of the precarious life in the Norfolk fens, September: A Rural Poem (1780), Pratt’s satire on hunting, and The Coal-Heavers (1774), which inflates a small riot in King’s Lynn into an epic battle between labourers and dignitaries. Twelve shorter poems reveal Pratt’s interest in the relationship between the human and natural worlds in rural Norfolk. The final section of prose writings includes the short tract A Modest Address to Lewis Lord Bishop of Norwich (c. 1784), written in reply to the Bishop of Norwich’s public criticism of the clergy for their failure to live in their own parishes and to uphold their parishioners’ morals. This section also includes the playful essay The Zgubbs, a mock-serious disquisition on the mischievous sprites Pratt calls “Zgubbs,” who are supposedly responsible for the small mishaps that plague daily life, which develops in its last section into a serious defence of liberty of thought and expression. The Appendix includes manuscript versions of the three poems that also exist in print, the catalogue of Pratt’s library, as well as a letter and accompanying poem based on the medieval lyric “Sumer is icumen in,” written to Pratt by his friend and fellow clergyman Charles Davy (1722/3-1797), which shows how the practice of circulating imaginative literature sustained Pratt in his grief and illness at the end of his life.
This publication was supported by funding from the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society.
‘This noteworthy and enterprising volume, carefully prepared and annotated by Ema Vyroubalová and James Robert Wood, brings Pratt’s dramatic, poetic, and essayistic works into print, establishing him as ‘an imaginative and idiosyncratic writer in his own right’. From the uproarious comedy The Grange to the sobering tract A Modest Address to Lewis, Pratt’s literary papers provide fresh and lively insights into the culture, society, and politics of provincial Norfolk in the eighteenth century.’
Phillip Trotter, The Review of English Studies
‘The introduction to the whole collection constitutes a beautifully crafted account of a life and a world. Pratt was pluralist rector of a handful of Norfolk fen villages — poor, isolated, and beautiful in their plain sort of way. The images drawn from nature are sublime…Pratt’s skill as a satirist shines through the centuries.’
The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, Church Times