111. Capel Lofft to Robert Bloomfield, 10 July 1803


111. Capel Lofft to Robert Bloomfield, 10 July 1803* 

Troston 10 Jul: 1803.

Dear Sir

Two letters I have received one of which was principally an account of what is going forward with all the pomp of military preparation at Woolwich, with your reasons for retiring thither for some days. I hope this retirement has answered for your health. And by your second letter it seems in a good degree to have done so. That 2d was in part an intimation of some poetical compositions of yours which were to come down by Mrs. Philips. These have not yet reacht me.

Your brother Mr Go. Bloomfields sonnet on the birth of my daughter is much admird. [1]  There ought, however, to have been no stop after 'fear.' And in the Bury paper 'To thee' has been strangely printed instead of 'For thee.'

Your third letter I ought now more particularly to notice. Many of Dr Drake's objections to particular lines (indeed most of them, I believe) had occurred to me in reading the poem. And most of his proposed amendments satisfy me very well. I must object notwithstanding to his saying that Heaven cannot be a dissyllable. It closes a couplet and rhimes to a complete dissyllable in one of the most finishd productions of one of our most correct poets in the mechanism of versification.

Yet simple Nature to his hope has given,
Behind the cloud topt hill, an humbler heaven

Ess: on Man. I  [2] 

And I think Mrs Lofft has been very right in doing the same in one of her sonnets.

As to the title, I dislike The Vaccine Rose. I think there is more of a trifling allusion in it than of any thing beside. And that founded on a very slight affinity.

And I would make the title simply

Vaccine Inoculation

a Poem

By Robert Bloomfield

without adding author of—— For who knows not now that you are author of the Farmer's Boy and of the Rural Tales. [3] 

Generally I can not see the objection to Dr Drake's Essay being prefixt. Two paragraphs in it I do, however, most earnestly hope that he will omit. They appear to me quite incompatible with liberty civil & religious: And with good policy as to this very object. These are those in which he recommends that inoculation for the small pox be prohibited by authority. And that every Minister be enjoin'd to recommend to his parishioners vaccine inoculation as a moral & religious duty.

Now as to the first Inoculation for the small pox is almost always a great mitigator of the evils of that disease. And frequently it reduces them as it did in the case of three out of four of my children who were thus inoculated to work to no evil or inconvenience. And the one who had it most had it with what would have been called great mildness for the natural small pox; though with comparative severity for the inoculated. Now where a practice so greatly reduces Danger and Mischief to the individuals who use it, I do not see the right which Government & Legislature have to prohibit this practice entirely and to force persons to run the risque of the natural small pox for themselves & their children or to submit to a new mode of inoculation which to them may be much less agreeable & satisfactory. And against which if they have any prejudices, those prejudices may be very greatly encreased by having all choice between the two modes of inoculation taken away from them. For a century medical reasoning & general benevolence have been exerted to conquer the repugnance to inoculation for the smallpox. And now that repugnance is very nearly annihilated how strange it would be to say we forbid you under severe legal restrictions from using this precaution which has been so long, so diffusively, so earnestly and so effectually recommended. What should we think of a law to compel the use of Bark or of James's Powder unspeakably beneficial as both those medicines have been! [4]  Men will find out at last what is best in what most concerns them: but they neither will nor ought to be forced into it. All that seems necessary or allowable in this instance is to regulate the places where persons shall be received for inoculation and to publish such rules for the conduct of persons under it as shall make them least likely to endanger themselves or to communicate the infection.

Then as to the other step. Is it impossible for any minister who may be a prudent & good man to doubt whither vaccine inoculation be a moral & religious duty. If it is impossible a duty so clear may be surely trusted to its own clearness & the general comprehension. But if a man may doubt it, think how great a force upon reason and conscience to compell him to enjoin on his parishioners what he disbelieves. How it degrades his character & office as a minister of truth & freedom!

No; if vaccine inoculation be right Reason & Experience are sufficient to establish it. Of any thing worth having, compulsion is a most unsuitable instrument for conveying it to mankind.

I had much my doubts on vaccine inoculation. These doubts in a great measure give way. And its not being infectious is assuredly an important consideration. I incline to think we shall have our little Sarah inoculated with the matter which communicates the vaccine inflammation. But if such Prohibitions & Injunctions were imposd they might perhaps cause me not to inoculate her at all.

With the omission of this part I should think the Essay might be properly and usefully prefixt to the poem.

My objections to the latter part of the poem are not so much on the ground of incorrectness as of thinking that it is not in general equal in originality and animation & pathetic effect to the beginning.

I know not that I am quite satisfied with the expression the cause is up. I cannot think it very elegant poetical or correct. I cannot change I believe my opinion that the embellishment of the peal of thunder at the funeral should be wholly rejected. And without it this is a natural & awfully affecting passage.

I rather incline to publication. But hope if the Essay is publisht with the poem as I think it should, that Dr Drake will see the force of these objections....

I am, yours sincerely,

Capel Lofft

* BL Add. MS 28268, ff. 128–30; extract published in Hart, p. 32 BACK

[1] George's 'Quatduorzain to the new-born Daughter of Capel Lofft Esq.' was published in The Monthly Mirror, 15 (1803), 413. BACK

[2] Lofft quotes lines 99–100 from the First Epistle of Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (London, 1734). BACK

[3] The poem as published was entitled Good Tidings; or, News from the Farm (London, 1804). BACK

[4] Bark = quinine; James's Powder: one of the most-advertised and best-selling patent medicines of the era. BACK