413. George Bloomfield to William Hone, 5 December 1827


413. George Bloomfield to William Hone, 5 December 1827* 

2, High Baxter Street, Bury St Edmond's,

Dec. 5th, 1827.


A gentleman desires me to write to you, as editor of the Table Book, it being his wish that a view which he sent of the little cottage at Honington should appear in that very curious work [1]  The birth-place of Robert Bloomfield I think may excite the interest of some of your readers; but, sir, if they find out that you correspond with a superannuated cold water poet, [2]  your work will smell of poverty.

Lord Byron took pains to flog two of my brothers, as poachers on the preserves of the qualified proprietors of literature. [3]  It is thought, if he had not been wroth with the Edinburgh Reviewers, these poor poachers might have escaped; they, like me, had neither birth nor education to entitle them to a qualification.

If, sir, you ever saw an old wall blown down, or, as we have it here in the country, if the wall 'fall of its own accord,' you may have observed that the first thing the workmen do, is to pick out the whole bricks into one heap, the bats into another, and the rubbish into a third. Thus, sir, if in what falls from me to you, [4]  you can find any whole bricks, or even bats, that may be placed in your work, pick them out; but I much fear all will be but rubbish unfit for your purpose.

So much has been said, in the book published by my brothers, of 'the little tailor's four little sons,' who once resided in the old cottage, that I cannot add much that is new, and perhaps the little I have to relate will be uninteresting. But I think the great and truly good man, the late duke of Grafton, ought to have been more particularly mentioned. Surely, after near thirty years, the good sense and benevolence of that real nobleman may be mentioned. When in my boyhood, he held the highest office in the state that a subject can fill, and like all that attain such preeminence, had his enemies; yet the more Junius [5]  and others railed at him, the more I revered him. He was our 'Lord of the Manor,' and as I knew well his private character, I had no doubt but he was 'all of a piece.' I have on foot joined the foxchase, and followed the duke many an hour, and witnessed his endearing condescension to all who could run and shout. When Robert became known as the Farmer's Boy, the duke earnestly cautioned him on no account to change his habits of living, but at the same time encouraged him in his habits of reading, and kindly gave him a gratuity of a shilling a day, to enable him to employ more time in reading than heretofore. This gratuity was always paid while the duke lived, and was continued by the present duke till Robert's death.

Could poor Robert have kept his children in their old habits of living, he might have reserved some of the profits arising from his works, but he loved his children too tenderly to be a niggard; and, besides, he received his profits at a time when bread was six or seven shillings per stone: no wonder that with a sickly family to sup port, he was embarrassed.

The duke likewise strongly advised him not to write too much, but keep the ground he had gained, &c. As hereditary sealer of the writs in the Court of King's Bench, the duke gave Robert the situation of under sealer, but his health grew so bad he was obliged to give it up; he held it several months, however, and doubtless many a poor fellow went to coop under Robert's seal. It was peculiarly unfortunate be could not keep his place, for I think Mr Allen, the master-sealer, did not live above two years, and it is more than probable the duke would have made Robert master-sealer, and then he would have had sufficient income. The duke's condescension and kindness to my mother was very great, he learned her real character, and called on her at her own cottage, and freely talked of gone-by times, (her father was an old tenant to the duke.) He delicately left a half guinea at Mr. Roper's, a gentleman farmer, to be given to her after his departure, and when he heard of her death he ordered a handsome gravestone to be placed over her, at his expense, and requested the Rev. Mr. Fellowes to write an inscription. It is thus engraven:—


Are deposited the mortal remains of

ELIZABETH GLOVER who died Dec. 27th, 1803.

Her maiden name was MANBY, and she was twice married. By her first husband, who lies buried near this spot, she was mother of six children; the youngest of whom was ROBERT BLOOMFIELD, the pastoral Poet. In her household affairs she was a pattern of cleanliness, industry, and good management. By her kind, her meek, her inoffensive behaviour, she had conciliated the sincere good will of all her neighbours and acquaintance; nor amid the busy cares of time was she ever forgetful of Eternity. But her religion was no hypocritical service, no vain form of words; it consisted in loving God and keeping his commandments, as they have been made known to us by JESUS CHRIST.

Reader, go thou and do likewise.

If ever I was proud of any thing it was of my mother, nor do I think, strong as is the praise in the above, it is overdone. For solid strength of intellect she surpassed all her sons, and had more real practical virtues than all of them put together. Kind Providence spared her to bless me till I was far on the wrong side of fifty.

I must say a word or two on her sons, because Capel Loftt, Esq., in his preface to my brother Nat's poems, has said too much about them, viz. 'Beyond question, the brothers of this family are all extraordinary men.' Now, sir, as I am the oldest of these brothers, I will tell first of myself. I wrote a little poem, when near seventy, on the 'Thetford Spa'; but dreading those snarling curs, the critics, forebore to affix my name to it. Mr. Smith, of Cambridge, printed it gratuitously; but as soon as it was discovered I was the author, my acquaintance styled me the cold water poet. I think my title will do very well. Brother Nathaniel wrote some poems; [6]  unluckily they were printed and published here at Bury, and the pack of critics hunted down the book. Nat has had thirteen children, and most of them are living, and so is he. Brother Isaac was a machinist. John Boys, Esq. gave him in all twenty pounds, but he died a young man, and left his self-working pumps unfinished. Eight of his children are living.

The old cottage sold to Robert had been in the family near fourscore years. It proved a hard bargain to Robert; my mother and Isaac occupied the cottage, and could not pay rent; and after the death of my mother, poor Robert was in distress and sold it:—the lawyers would not settle the business, and Robert died broken-hearted, and never received sixpence!

The lawyers constantly endeavour to make work for the trade. I believe it to be true, as some say, that we are now as much law-ridden as we were priest-ridden some ages ago. I like Charlotte Smith's definition of the Law Trade. Orlando, in the 'Old Manor House,' says to Carr, the lawyer, 'I am afraid you are all rogues together;' Carr replies, 'More or less, my good friend;—some have more sense than others, and some a little more conscience—but for the rest, I am afraid we are all of us a little too much professional rogues: though some of us, as individuals, would not starve the orphan, or break the heart of the widow, yet, in our vocation, we give all remorse of that sort to the winds.' [7]  My last account from Robert's family says, the lawyers have not yet settled the poor old cottage!

Nat and I only survive of the little tailor's 'extraordinary' children—quite past our labour, and destitute of many comforts we used to enjoy in youth. We have but one step farther to fall, (i.e.) into the workhouse! Yet in the nature of things it cannot be long ere death will close the scene. We have had our day, and night must come. I hope we shall welcome it as heartily as Sancho in Don Quixote did sleep, 'Blessed be he who first invented sleep, it covers a man all over like a cloak.' [8] 

I shall indeed be agreeably disappointed if any one should bestow any thing upon Nat, or

Sir, your humble obedient servant.


* Published in William Hone, The Table Book, of Daily Recreation and Information: Concerning Remarkable Men, Manners, Times, Seasons, Solemnities, Merry-Makings, Antiquities and Novelties, Forming a Complete History of the Year (London, 1827–28), pp. 834–35 BACK

[1] The view of the cottage published in The Table Book is available here. BACK

[2] A nickname given George after he published the poem Thetford Chalybeate Spa. BACK

[3] Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (London, 1809), lines 765–94.

When some brisk youth, the tenant of a stall,
Employs a pen less pointed than his awl,
Leaves his snug shop, forsakes his store of shoes,
St. Crispin quits, and cobbles for the muse,
Heavens! how the vulgar stare! how crowds applaud!
How ladies read, and literati laud!
If chance some wicked wag should pass his jest,
'Tis sheer ill-nature—don't the world know best?
Genius must guide when wits admire the rhyme,
And Capel Lofft declares 'tis quite sublime.
Here, then, ye happy sons of needless trade!
Swains! quit the plough, resign the useless spade!
Lo! Burns and Bloomfield, nay, a greater far,
Gifford was born beneath an adverse star,
Forsook the labours of a servile state,
Stemm'd the rude storm, and triumph'd over fate;
Then why no more? if Phoebus smiled on you,
Bloomfield! why not on brother Nathan too?
Him too the mania, not the muse, has seized;
Not inspiration, but a mind diseased;
And now no boor can seek his last abode,
No common be enclosed without an ode.
Oh! since increased refinement deigns to smile
On Britain's sons, and bless our genial isle,
Let poesy go forth, pervade the whole,
Alike the rustic, and mechanic soul!
Ye tuneful cobblers! still your notes prolong,
Compose at once a slipper and a song;
So shall the fair your handywork peruse,
Your sonnets sure shall please—perhaps your shoes.
Byron added a footnote to these lines: 'See Nathaniel Bloomfield's ode, elegy, or whatever he or any one else chooses to call it, on the enclosure of "Honington Green."' For the text of Nathaniel's poem, see here. BACK

[4] Hone preceded the published text of this letter with selections from manuscripts George had enclosed with it, including verse written after the bankruptcy of William Austin (the younger) of Sapiston entitled 'The Unfortunate Farmer', and lines to the 'Psalm-singer, Parish Clerk, and Sexton' of Sapiston, Mr Wisset, entitled 'Dear Old Brother Bard' (Table Book, pp. 833–34). In a paragraph prefatory to the letter text, Hone stated: 'The MSS. from whence the present selections have been hastily made, were accompanied by a letter from George Bloomfield, written nearly a month ago. They were delayed by the person who transmitted the parcel till the opportunity of noticing them in this work had almost passed. All that could be done in an hour or two is before the reader; and no more has been aimed at than what appears requisite to awaken sympathy and crave assistance towards an aged and indigent brother of the author of the Farmer's Boy. George's present feelings will be better represented by his own letter than by extracting from it.' BACK

[5] Junius: the Whig pamphleteer, whose real identity has never been determined, who attacked the Duke of Grafton and others in his ministry. BACK

[6] Nathaniel Bloomfield, An Essay on War, in Blank Verse; Honington Green, a Ballad... and Other Poems (London, 1803). See 'The Culprit', 'Essay on War', 'Love's Triumph', and 'Elegy on the Enclosure of Honington Green'. BACK

[7] Charlotte Smith, The Old Manor House (London, 1793). The quotation appears on p. 304 of the 1820 edition, number 37 in the series The British Novelists, with an Essay, and Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Mrs. Barbauld, 2 vols (London, 1820), II. BACK

[8] Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605–15), part ii, chapter 48. BACK