88. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 30 May 1802


88. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 30 May 1802* 

London. Sunday Evening May 30 1802

Dear George

How often I have threatened to write to you in such a strain as to admit of free observation, and to give you the characters of about fifty persons whose names I have, and may hereafter have occasion to mention in my letters; it would only be giving you necessary information. At other times I have lookd out themes for a monthly exchange of sentiments between us conducted with the freedom of friendship and a total exclusion of satire. All these self promises have faild in consequence of that perpetual round of alack, exercise, Bookselling, thinking, visiting, and composing, with which I have long been surrounded.

I thank you for your comical poem, and should have acknowledged it before—I have just read to Nat the 'Star's' account of the Bull baiting in the House of Commons, [1]  and I here send you a paper containing such extracts from different prints as may perhaps be entertaining to you; pray send it to me again. It was long ago expected that some publick notice would be taken of Mr. Lofft's reflections in the prefatory part of the Farmer s Boy. The lot has fallen to Mr.W I think the poor people of England have very little cause to thank him for his compliment on the score of their capabilities and pursuits. [2]  We might as well be totally without minds, for he seems to doubt the propriety of exerting them, or of making any inward store of pleasure for ourselves. So much of this speech is the most unadulterated aristocracy that I have ever seen. I cannot help thinking what an opposition of sentiment would be expressd between Mr. W___ and Mr. Southey both perhaps extraordinary men; the latter all fire and zeal in the cause of information and perfectability! All things are to be accomplished by teaching; passions that have their foundation in Nature are to be rendered tractable and tame; all are to be wonderfully wrought upon by instruction! whereas thousands of us are absolutely incapable of being taught. some never learn even to scrub a Room or to poke a fire: and with whom no new or improved practice even in trifles can turn the bent of early and narrow impressions. These would make wonderfull progress in their great work, the Empire of Mind, as they call it. In general information I think there is this great advantage. As God has given us all souls of some sort or other, without any regard to wealth or station, general information in a humble degree, a dispersion of total ignorance, is the way to let such souls as have the power, emerge to observation, and perhaps to actual service to their country, but it does not create such souls. If all the natural talents of a country are drawn into action, and if great talents be an ornament to the age in which they appear, then the system of general instruction seems calculated to produce in some measure that end; for if a heap of rough stones were ordered to be polished, and workmen were employed for that purpose they would find some porous, some brittle, some that would take a polish, and some on which labour would be thrown away, and in short find, as Rowe says, that

Unless souls, which differ like Human Faces,
Were alike in all, &c.—  [3] 

the polish would not be alike in all. The great Heap of Stones mentioned by Mr Windham, i.e., the common people of his native country, are a rough set no doubt, but I dislike the doctrine of keeping them in their dirt, for though it holds good as to the preservation of potatoes, it would be no grateful reflection to good minds to know that a man's natural abilities had been smother'd for want of being able to read and write. how can we consistently praise the inestimable blessing of letters and not wish to extend it? Or why should the great and the wealthy confine the probable production of intellectual excellence to their own class, and exclude, by withholding the polish, all that might amongst the poor by nature be intended to be Newtons and Lockes? I mean only by what I have said about perfectibility to let you know that I deem it wise, and deem it our duty to instruct, and to give every mind exercise, that it may enjoy pleasure from it if capable; but that this doctrine of teaching, when pushed to the strange expectation of the capability of the means (powerful as it is,) to effect a change in the principals of nature, is wrong; for though I look not on the Human Heart through the dark spectacles of Calvinism, I doubt we shall always find innate covetousness and innate ambition, the parents of crimes.— But I might write thus to the end of my life, and then leave somthing unsaid.

Mr. W.'s argument as to Hunting and Shooting has some truth in it; but they will not bear perhaps a close comparison with Bull-baiting. and after all our pity for animals I must think that when Mr. Sheridan said that 'we do not learn lessons of good from animals when forced and taught to be enemies to each other,' that it does not strictly apply to Bull Baiting, for, (though I never saw a Baiting) I can believe that the Dog at least likes it, and seeks it; and as to the Fox Hound, my Uncle kepd a puppy of the D of Grafton's, who used to absent himself in the woods alone for a whole day in pursuit of game, he was ordered to be confined that he might not run the flesh off his bones.—And after all I doubt not but Sir Richard and perhaps Mr.Wilberforce too, have travelled post, and caused more pain to two or four generous animals subjected to man's tyrany, than ever a Bull in England felt from dogs.

I feel much obliged to Mr Windham for so high an expression of approbation as to my self, though perhaps here I may be allowd to say, that his doctrine and his illustration are rather at variance. And realy I think it best to let those read and think who find a pleasure in it.

I had a shopmate once (Will Broders) who, in this great city, was connected with Bull baiting and its followers—that was his pleasure; but neither he nor Mr W. would ever make it mine! If we Bloomfields apply Mr W.'s advice to ourselves, we may say, where is the wisdom of saying that the little sons of a little Taylor should amuse themselves with athletic exercises? If we happen to think a moral page a better object to admire than the frizzled forehead of a bull, and like the ascending of a lark in preference to the mounting of a bull-dog, what has Mr. W— to do with it?

My dear little Muse, come along!! and we'll mount up to Heaven; and when out of sight and hearing of the athletic school, look down upon the spot, and call to mind the littleness of the strong sinew and the Bully's voice. The Grave will swallow them and their deeds! and thou wilt not give them the most glorious crown of mortal triumph; a name amongst the advocates of moral good, and the feelings that teach us Charity!!—

And now, after this flourish, I come down to Terry Firma again, to speak a word of Nat's new poem, 'The Culprit'. [4]  Though I am not calld upon for my opinion I cannot resist the impulse that tells me to declare my wonder at the surprising strength of mind evinced in this new and hasty sketch of an interesting subject. The stanzas are some of them not quite music, and this he will no doubt admit, I have been wiping my eyes over it, but perhaps Brothers should not be Criticks on Brothers' works, nor be trusted in their plaudits.—

I have just left 'Little Davy' at the Great House in Piccadilly. [5]  Yesterday brought me a very kind Letter from Troston, mentioning that a Mr Langshaw of Lancaster had set my Winter Song, [6]  and that a copy is sent to Mr Lofft.— Thus you see that Mr Guest is not alone. By Isaac's wishing so much to find a musical Lofft one would think that he is sensible of defects, or dubious of trusting wholly to himself, and yet he argues that my shewing them to professional men in constant habit of playing in concert, is not the right way of proceeding. I wish to God I could find him one, but as I have now found it too late to insert an advertisement in the poems, and have sung Rover accompanied with a Violin and Violoncello, the latter by a practicioner in the Bass, and they all agreed unanimously as to the merit of the tune, but as unanimously agreed that imperfections and errors exist in the Bass of this Song, and of Lucy, this must be proved and remedied before they can be printed, unless Isaac would wish to have them to stand untouch'd, which was more than I could or wishd to say to Mr. L as to The Farmer's Boy. [7]  It is very certain that I could have orderd them to be engraved as they stand, but would not Isaac rather have this said now, than after publication?? As I am no Musician myself, these things said are disagreeable, because if I insist upon it they are not defective, it would do the cause hurt; everybody persuades me to print them, and says that anyone in the habit of composing will correct the Bass for us—I am still acting thus contrary to Isaac's opinion; for I have hopes of seeing Mr. Shield to know from undoubted authority whither they are imperfect or not before anything can reasonably be resolved on.

I send the Critical Review for your inspection, and can say allmost for a certainty that the article respecting myself is written by Mr Southy. [8]  Send it back to me.— But if you can find that the paper containing the statements of Mr. W.'s speech would be wellcome at Troston, so be it; and then send it back next Month.

I did not see the Duke to day, but expect a letter very shortly.

Excuse me to my Mother, and remember us to your wife and children.


Robert Bloomfield.

* BL Add. MS 28268, ff. 98–101; published Hart, p. 27 BACK

[1] On 25th May the Star newspaper carried a report of the debate in the House of Commons on bull-baiting. During that debate William Windham alluded to Bloomfield as an instance of the dangers consequent upon the labouring classes abandoning such traditional sports as bull and bear-baiting in favour of literature. BACK

[2] Monday 24 May 1802 saw the second reading of the Bill to prevent Bull-Baiting and Bull-Running (see Parliamentary Register, 80 (1802), 485–95): Windham (490) opposed the motion on the grounds that the indulgence of these amusements was part of 'the old English character' which made the common people 'best fitted to resist the schemes of innovation' that Methodists and Jacobins were undertaking: it was 'among the labouring and illiterate part of the people that Jacobinical doctrines had made the smallest progress'. Windham (491–92) 'took occasion to quote a passage from the Memoirs of a rural poet of considerable celebrity (Bloomfield, author of the Farmer's Boy, &c. by a Gentleman of respectable literary talents, Capel Lofft,) in which it is mentioned, that the Poet was in the habit of spending his time in reading in his garret, or attending a debating society, which the editor recommends as a much more worthy mode of employing himself, than if he had been occupied with gambling, drinking, or fighting. Mr. W. paid some very handsome compliments to the originality of many of the thoughts of this Poet, to his natural simplicity and unaffected elegance of language. He wished what he now said to be considered as an unexaggerated declaration of his opinion of the merits of the poem; and he hoped it would be considered as nothing improper when he added, that he wished this opinion, thus publicly delivered, to be viewed as an advertisement of the merit of the poem. But with this high opinion of the merits of the poet, he had doubts how far it was proper to encourage ideas of literary profit or renown in those who had been bred to a useful trade. In particular instances it might not be prejudicial; but to inculcate such notions as those contained in the passage of the memoirs to which he had referred, could tend only to a mischievous purpose'. BACK

[3] Nicholas Rowe, Tamerlane, act 3, scene 2: 'differ like human faces'. The wording as Bloomfield gives it appears in Edward Bysshe, The Art of English Poetry, vol. 2, 7th edn. (London, 1724), p. 110. BACK

[4] Nathaniel Bloomfield's poem 'The Culprit' was published in his An Essay on War, in Blank Verse; Honington Green, a Ballad... and Other Poems (London, 1803), pp. 43–59. See the text here. BACK

[5] Presumably Bloomfield had taken a copy of The History of Little Davy's New Hat to Carlton House, home of the Prince of Wales. BACK

[6] 'Winter Song' from Rural Tales, pp. 117–19. Langshaw's setting was published as Dear boy, throw that icicle down: Ballad with an Accompaniment for the Piano Forte or Harp (London, 1801). BACK

[7] Isaac's musical settings of Bloomfield's 'The Shepherd and his Dog Rover' and 'Lucy' are not extant in the British Library. It seems that of Isaac's settings the one which saw print was Isaac Bloomfield, Rosy Hannah; a Favourite New Song The Words Written by Robert Bloomfield, Author of 'The Farmer's Boy', The Music, Composed by his Brother Isaac Bloomfield (London, [?1801]). 'Rosy Hannah' was also set by another composer, James Hook: Rosy Hannah, A Much Admired Song, with an Accompaniment, for the Harp or Pianoforte, Composed for Mr. Braham, by Mr. Hook (The Words from Bloomfield's Poems) (London, [?1810]). BACK

[8] Robert Southey's article on Bloomfield's poetry appeared in the Critical Review, 35 (May 1802), 67–75. See the text here. BACK