16. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 8 September-6 October 1799


16. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 8 September–6 October 1799* 

London. Sepm y. 8th 1799

Dear George,

I am very much in your debt with regard to writing. I received your parcell in June, and am every way gratifiy'd and oblidged by its contents; you seem to express so much good will and earnest solicitude about my poetical welfare, that I think it incumbent on me to say a few words on that subject first.——

You know that I have naturally (in common with the rest of the family) an inclination for Music, and that I was formerly a beginer in the practice of it; and you likewise know that when I am at work I often indulge myself in whistling and singing; now if I leave off the practical part of music, as I have done years ago; and then again can find something to amuse my mind with as much as by singing, or perhaps more; I reckon it but amusement still. My wife and I agree that during the two years that I was breeding with Giles [1]  we got on smoother than before, our girls were both out of hand, our rest was sound, &c, but it unfortunately happened that by the time I was brought to Bed with my Boy, my wife was breeding another;! We some times see a ball of wax with so small a portion of the buoyant quality that it knows not whither to sink or swim; if you put your finger on it when at the surface, it will dive deep and be a long time in rising again; so it was with my Boy Charles, he dived me into some debts this time twelvemonth, from which I am not yet free, but I have great hopes I shall be free by the end of November. It is true we are none of the shining part of the community. — [three lines deleted] they go to market with the fruit of other people's labour, and then with a double chalk score it up to their own industry and hard striving; Last midsummer twelfth's month I was out of debt with respect to rent; I had hired a little house in an alley in Grub Street, (a bad place for a poet) but being disappointed we continued at Horton's a year longer, and a groaning, and a long Winter have thrown us behind; this Sumer Horton's House was going to be repaird, we left them by consent leaving some rent unpaid, after living there seven years and a quarter, and paying most part of the time seven pound pr year. — We now hired on the spot, a dining room, bed room, kitchen, washhouse, nursery, workshop, &c; that is to say, a large two pair stairs room with two north windows, and one south, at No. 1 Mulbery Court, our north prospect is terminated by a high range of chimney pots in Coleman Street buildings, but here is a throrough air (cockney air) and excellent light. All our endeavours are to get clear, and to live happy, and to hope humbly, and thereby blunt the edge of disappointments. — perhaps your Wife when she speaks of 'doubts that I should be unsettled' have entertaind notions as to the reputation and profit too; to be coming from my book, such as never can be realized. If you yourself have doubts of my discretion, I know it is from the kindest motives, if it should bring me five pound you would be glad to hear that I had made my Wife and Children happy. Perhaps after all you only mean, for fear I should slacken my hand now at shoemaking, that I may make poetry the faster; this is a groundless fear: If I had leisure hours I should read, but in this I debar myself as much as I possibly can; the only extravagance I have been guilty of in this way is the purchase of 2 Numbrs. of the 'Monthly Magazine,' and I am not a little pleased to find Mr. L a well-known correspondent of theirs. ——

I suspected Mr. L was concerned in the new Review, from his friend saying (the 'respectable Gentleman in London to whom he had communicated his sentiments respecting the poem') — he says, 'I read that part of your letter to Messrs Vernor and Hood, my publishers,' and in Mr. L's letter to you he expressed it, our publishers. —

I thank you for the account of Dyer. [2]  Dr. Johnson, I think, is a 'Thwackum' [3]  amongst criticks; I allways look at him and his abilities with a mixture of reverence and anger. —

I have read Gay's 'Trivia;' [4]  it decends to minute descriptions of London, more minute than mine do of the country; his minutia must be more subject to change than mine, less dependant on Nature. —

From the many letters I have recieved from you on poetical subjects, I find that our taste of those things agrees surprisingly, even to little particulars, I can allways, therefore, speak to you with the confidence of being understood; and when I find you and Mr. L, use the same high epithets of praise for my poetry, I am oblidged to believe you, from knowing and observing that though some would read or hear Ramsay's piece [5]  unmovd, I cannot. — An Ear for Music, and a Voice, are by Nature somtimes given jointly, somtimes separately, and more frequently totally withheld. Dr Johnson was unmoved by the powers of Music, the 'concord of sweet sounds,' [6]  and yet could write musical poetry! If you feel the same pleasure in reading mine which I and you and all of us feel in reading other poetry, you have a right to use what expressions you please without being accused of flattery. —

I often thought of 'Hail, May,' [7]  and whether Mr. L would ever see it, and determined not to speak of such things till I was forced; but it is now, with its accompanying information, got into his hands; in the best manner it could have gone; and though I dont think so highly of it as you seem to do, I am convinced it will do me no hurt. —

I shall see in what manner the Farmer's Boy is advertised, not in the papers but on the covers of the monthly publications from that house, the 'Monthly Mirror,' 'Ladies' Museum,' &c. — they insert their advertisements in the Chronicle, &c. — Relative to its ornamental part, the Cuts, I send the following from the 'Monthly Magazine.' I write this letter at different opportunities; it is now Oct. ye 6th, and I have lent the magazine to Nat, which contains my intended extract. It is to this effect, 'That the art of engraving on Woodden Blocks, which formerly constituted the only ornaments for Books; have lately been revived by the "Bewicks" of Newcastle; one of them is dead, but the art is not dead; for we understand that a son of Dr. Anderson, and several other young men have carried the art to very great perfection; their performances rival in brilliancy and spirit the finest productions on copper. Every one acquainted with the trouble and delays of printing with plates of Copper is sensible of the advantages and convenience of this way, as the prints are impressed at the same time with the letter-press.' [8] 

Not long after you left London, Buckler; or, as we called him, Buckle, the shoemaker of Pitcher's Court, impertuned me repeatedly to write out for him my scraps of poetry which had been inserted in the papers, I did it, and I remember that he approvd most 'an Harvest scene', in blank verse; but this, and all the rest, but that which you have sent to Mr. L, I have forgot, and if you have any more by you should be particularly oblig'd to you if you will put your thumb upon them and not let them see the daylight again. Buckle was a poetical enthusiast, he went to America, and I heard that he carried on a roaring trade at New York, but broke during the first visitation of the fever, wrote to Charles Jones since, that he was going to purchase land in the back settlements and turn farmer, since which, accounts have come that he is dead, and left a Wife and 2 or 3 children.

Mr. Dilly's is nearly opposite to Vernor and Hoods, (perhaps he will rather wonder how I came by the patronage of a critick,) the name of Vernor you may perhaps remember in Fore Stt, Between the Castle and the end of Coleman Stt, when we lived at Syms's; he was here only a Bookseller; he moved to Birchin Lane and opend a Circulating Library, and I afterwards found the name of Hood added to his; from hence they moved to their present situation and became publishers; but I see nothing of Mr Vernor. I imagine him to be old, for Mr Hood is the acting partner — he seems about 40, and with what we call a gentlemanlike carriage; he seems naturally good-naturd, and perhaps would have told me more particulars if I had found heart enuff to ask them. I doubt we shall never know who the 'Respectable Gentleman' is, to whom Mr. L wrote his first sentiments of the poem; I judge it was the same Gentleman who borrowed it to read before it went to the designer and engraver, &c. —  [9] 

You may perhaps sometimes wish to know whither when it comes out it will be a sudden surprise to my London acquaintance, or whether they know it allready? you may remember I told you that Mr Hood told me to call again in a month and I should see some of it printed; this was last February. — as Horton and my shopmates did not recon me close and uncommunicative, I did not like that they should; my wife and I consulted about it, that as it was to come so soon, we had Better tell them now, and not let them say we were close &c., and perhaps more, that I wanted to cut the greater shine over them; I therefore told Horton, and he carried it to the Blew Last, and I soon found myself obliged to explain to Robinson, &c., but, as it has been detaind so long, I have often repented of devulging it at all, as it is, I must take all that follows. —

If the piece is really ever so intrinsically good, and my reputation raised by it to public notice, there are thousands who would still cry 'what do he get by it' to these 'lovers of gain,' gain is the sum total of all other arguments and considerations. To silence those it is no small triumph to me that Mr. L has ensured to me half the profits, if profits should arise from it; and if no profits arise, Mr. Hood will make a worse job of it than I.

It must be obvious to you what a great advantage we gaind, or rather you gaind, by showing the book to Mr. L. As every book applys itself more or less to the experience and judgment of its readers, so does this, perhaps neither Mr Bent nor Mr Dilly ever saw a spring morning in the country; or if they did, not with the eyes, and the feelings of Mr. L, to whom

Say, ye that know, ye who have felt and seen,
Spring's morning smiles, and soul-enlivning green;
Say, did you give the thrilling transport way?
Did your eye brighten, when young Lambs, at play,
Leapd oer your path?' &c. [10] 

These images being familiar to him gave him patience to read it through, and I consider myself highly indebted to you as well as him —

I have long promised myself the pleasure of writing to you some notions of mine on 'Originality of composition' comparing it with music, and other things, but I shall never find time I doubt to do it, — I sometimes think of a criticism and remarks on some well known songs, &c. proverbial sayings &c at other times I think if you and I was to keep a journal of the weather we might find whither you have more thunder than we. But I have no leisure for any thing but thinking.

I have lately been sadly troubled with the Rhumatism and other complaints, I have not been right well since the beginning of August, — We are happy to hear that your affectionate pertner was spar'd for your future comfort, and that of your children, to whom we wish to be mentiond with Love and good wishes

R. Bloomfield —

my Son looks a very promising boy, but he has got but one tooth, in cutting which he had four very strong fitts, we are apprehensive they may continue, at least with the rest of his teeth

* BL Add. MS 28268, ff. 19–23; extract published in Hart, p. 1 BACK

[1] Bloomfield's pet name for The Farmer's Boy and for his fictionalised younger self, its main character. BACK

[2] George Dyer was an early admirer of The Farmer's Boy (see Letters 37, 50 and 86), and a friend of Bloomfield's supporters, Lofft and Granville Sharp, as well as Coleridge and Lamb. BACK

[3] Thwackum: Henry Fielding's The Histroy of Tom Jones (London, 1749). BACK

[4] John Gay, Trivia: or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London (London, 1716). BACK

[5] Probably Allan Ramsay's The Gentle Shepherd, A Scots Pastoral Comedy (Edinburgh, 1725); see Letter 15. BACK

[6] Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, act 5, scene 1. BACK

[7] 'Hail, May' refers to the opening lines of 'The Milk-Maid, On The First Of May', one of the earliest poems Bloomfield had published in a magazine, and included in the preface of the first edition of The Farmer's Boy: 'Hail, MAY! lovely MAY! how replenish'd my pails!' BACK

[8] Thomas Bewick (1753–1828) and his younger brother John (1760–1795), revived the art of woodcut illustration, with animals, birds and rural scenes their speciality. The Bewicks illustrated editions of poems by Gay and by Goldsmith. Bloomfield admired Thomas's A General History of Quadrupeds (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1790). Here, Bloomfield is quoting The Monthly Magazine, 8.2 (September 1799). The Farmer's Boy was first published with woodcuts by Thomas Bewick's former apprentice John Anderson (1775–?). On illustrations of the poem see Bruce Graver, 'Illustrating The Farmer's Boy', in Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon, eds. Simon White, John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan (Lewisburg, 2006), 49–69. BACK

[9] Probably Thomas Hill. BACK

[10] Lines 309–313 of 'Spring' from The Farmer's Boy. BACK