234. Robert Bloomfield to Mary Lloyd Baker, 21 December 1808


234. Robert Bloomfield to Mary Lloyd Baker, 21 December 1808* 

The shortest day of ye year 1808

To Mrs Baker,

Dear Madam.

This, I hope will find you in your place at the fire side, and all who are dear to you, in the same circle, or a similar one. How does Mr B. & the boy? the little girls, and the elders of Stouts Hill? When I reflect on the times which have past since I wrote last I feel vex'd, and lower'd in my own estimation, and therefore I will proceed without reflection, at least without that of the retrospective kind, which I can least bear. Your venerable parents honourd me with a call twice, by whom I learnd that you were in health &c, and obtaind an address to Miss Sharp then on a visit, and of which I have made no use, but now write to her at her home. This is the way I treat my friends. Your father has been helping me with his advice as to the treatment of my boys knee, so as to obtain strength by degrees, he is healthy and strong except his lameness, and the rest are as I wish them, except when they give the rein to their tongues, and croud round the fire. And now you will exclaim 'but how are you yourself?' Then honestly my dear friend I am but so so, I have now and then a staunch, stupendous WindCliff* of a headache, that leaves me as weak and worthless as if I had been in a hot bath for a fortnight. Out of these fits I rise with a spirit that lasts——5 hours! or a day and half! I believe you know that I have not budg'd an inch after the Muses since April, but I have a strong notion that we shall be friends in the spring.

Many thanks for 'Marmion;' It comes, when compared with The Lay, like a round of beef after a Sirloin; [1]  it is not quite so tender, but it is right good stuff. In the 2d Canto I lookd and expected that he would, at least poetically, rescue the poor girl from the dungeon; and when I left her there I felt a burning indignation, A little of it was for the past, and the rest for the [word obscured] old lumps of iniquity who are saddled with the crime, or in case they call off, for the historians who have told the Tale! I think the passage of Marmion through the Scottish Camp is a masterly description; many other parts strike like lightning in a dark night, but I question if the local tales of superstition add here the interest they do in the Lay, and that for reasons I must leave you to find out.

I must now give you another proof of my great inattention of late to what would have spurd me once to immediate action. I had long ago, a letter from Miss Cooper, and I have never answerd it! I know many months ago that there were Songs for me at Dr Crotch's, and I never went for them untill the night before last. I know that Mr Baker beat me hollow at expedition and galantry for Miss C had the song at the time of its publication, and very glad was I to hear it. And now will you for me give them the essence of this letter, and all the apology you can pick out of it, saying moreover that I am above ground, and with a lively remembrance of pleasures and events, never more than now their humble servant.

I have my Musical brother in town for a while, and we are making Harps by the dozen.

With regard to Books, the first Vol of ye Steriotype Edition has past my hands, but not publishd; and the 2d vol is in great forwardness.

You will know that continuations or additions to popular Songs of acknowledged merit and pathos are not often successful, but I have lately been delighted with one on the subject of 'Robin Gray'. It work'd effectually at sensibility's pump, and did me a deal of good, and at some future lucky hour I will certainly copy it for you. [2] 

Once again pray speak to the good folks at Ferney-Hill, and believe me whither well or ill, [word deleted] sad or foolish, musical or out of tune, with true love to your self and family, Your sincere, but sulky friend and servant

Robert Bloomfield

* Windcliff is most stupendous cliff on the Wye near Chepstow [note added by T. J. Lloyd Baker]

* BL Add. MS 28268, ff. 261–62 BACK

[1] Walter Scott's second verse romance, Marmion: a Tale of Flodden Field was published in 1808, following the runaway success of The Lay of the Last Minstrel (London and Edinburgh, 1805). BACK

[2] Bloomfield's daughter copies out the continuation of Anne Lindsay's 'Auld Robin Grey: a Ballad' in Letter 236. Lindsay's ballad (1772):

When the sheep are in the fauld, when the cows come hame,
When a' the weary world to quiet rest are gane,
The woes of my heart fa' in showers frae my ee,
Unken'd by my gudeman, who soundly sleeps by me.

Young Jamie loo'd me weel, and sought me for his bride;
But saving ae crown-piece, he'd naething else beside,
To make the crown a pound, my Jamie gaed to sea;
And the crown and the pound, oh! they were baith for me!

Before he had been gane a twelvemonth and a day,
My father brak his arm, our cow was stown away;
My mother she fell sick—my Jamie was at sea—
And Auld Robin Gray, oh! he came a-courting me.

My father cou'dna work—my mother cou'dna spin;
I toil'd day and night, but their bread I cou'dna win;
Auld Rob maintain'd them baith, and, wi' tears in his ee,
Said, 'Jenny, oh! for their sakes, will you marry me?'

My heart it said na, and I look'd for Jamie back;
But hard blew the winds, and his ship was a wrack:
His ship it was a wrack! Why didna Jenny dee?
Or, wherefore am I spared to cry out, Woe is me!

My father argued sair—my mother didna speak,
But she look'd in my face till my heart was like to break:
They gied him my hand, but my heart was in the sea;
And so Auld Robin Gray, he was gudeman to me.

I hadna been wife, a week but only four,
When mournfu' as I sat on the stane at my door,
I saw my Jamie's ghaist—I cou'dna think it he,
Till he said, 'I'm come hame, my love, to marry thee!'

O sair, sair did we greet, and mickle say of a';
Ae kiss we took, nae mair—I bad him gang awa.
I wish that I were dead, but I'm no like to dee;
For O, I am but young to cry out, Woe is me!

I gang like a ghaist, and I carena much to spin;
I darena think o' Jamie, for that wad be a sin.
But I will do my best a gude wife aye to be.
For auld Robin Gray, oh! he is sae kind to me.