94. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 2 September 1802


94. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 2 September 1802* 

City Road, London, Sep. 2, 1802

Dear George

After some prefatory matter as follows, I hope to have time to fill this sheet with the poetical notions which I believe I mentioned in my last.

* * * * *

I send you a feast from Nat, but I cannot begrudge you the pleasure which I have had before you. Mr Gedge no doubt will show you the plate of Honington Green; I had two this morning from Mr Hurst, and pointed out to them where either Mr B___ or the engraver had misplaced the pantry window; they say it might be easily amended by punching out, as it is called, and it will be a very popular and desirable ornament to a Book of such admirable merit as Nat's is likely to prove. [1]  Give my Love to Mother and all friends; Charlotte runs alone strongly at sixteen months old, and is the treasure of our hearts, but to the point.

We all know that a good cook will reject such ingredients as he finds to have a tendency to flatten his flavours and spoil his broth; so, in this sense of the matter, there is an art in Poetry, though I do not like the expression. I mean then to state what, according to my notion are bad ingredients in composition and first, Inversion of Sentences, which may be instanced by recurring to a line in the Rehearsal, by the Duke of Buckingham, 'And me her dear parthenope she calls' now when this is rendered into plain English it is—'And she calls me her dear Parthenope'. [2]  Again, a less violent inversion occurs in Dibden's Poor Jack—'Nought's a hardship from Duty that springs', [3]  that springs from duty—The more these are indulged in, the more will appear the strain and endeavour after rhime, and the appearance of any endeavour to accomplish that which is itself so secondary an object must be wrong; besides there is much truth in Wordsworth's preface where he says that he had tried to come near the language of Men, and the language of Men is not backwards ! [4]  I have a full persuasion that this is the greatest blemish of many poems, and has often a tendency to weaken the force of the line and diminish the ardour of the reader. Milton, no doubt, has done it to advantage; and when there comes another Milton he shall have my permission to do it too. Perhaps as inversions abound generally in sonnets, it may be the principal cause of my disrelish for them.

The conclusion of poetical pieces, and the conclusion of sections and divisions therein certainly ought to improve, line by line, so as to finish with a twang, as the Boy said of his whip. A weak line at a close, is like a dying note of a weak voice when it should be full and sonorous; and full of soul; I could easily find instances but will leave the application to be made as you read whatever may next come into your hand.

I have perhaps an unfounded aversion to tying three lines together in a measure where the ear expects but two. In Dryden's Virgil I find it very frequent, and cannot see the advantage of it, you will of course not wonder that there are none to be found in what I have ventured into the world; and as I have thus far succeeded without, will not begin now.

The choice of phrases in Ballads and Songs, and perhaps more in serious pieces, is of much importance; a common use of old worn out words I do not like, such as erst, whilom, and a thousand more; and yet to take up and use a word but just getting into circulation, newly adopted, or new coined, is like placing a new bright penny piece among a range of old ones, it will look like a broken rank, and besides run great hazard of rousing the risibility that arises from contempt rather than the smile due to true humour, suppose by way of illustrating this point, I had said originally in the Suffolk Ballad

And laid aside her Lucks and twitches
And to the Hutch she reach'd her hand
And gave him out his Sunday small-clothes! [5] 

Perhaps Breeches will one day be as old fashioned as doublet and jerkin, as in another case though the song says 'With good old leathern bottle, and ale that looks so brown' [6]  and yet I doubt that in another fifty years a leather bottle will not be found but in the song.

Compound Epithets I do not much like; because they are often such as we never use in conversation; there are three in my 'Word to the young ladies' [7]  which I deem such as are often used in conversation, 'full blown,' 'out-run' but 'half-expanded' is not so common. In a poem by Mrs. Opie I find the following which are not used in conversation, Grief-impeded, fragrance-breathing, &c and I think many may be found in most poems, but I am only telling you my notions of excellence, let every one chuse his own path. [8] 

Something of this kind may be traced in some pictures which I have occasionally seen, which indeed relates more to the foregoing wrong adaptation of words, than to compound epithets—A scene extremely rustic, the Death of the Fox in a Cottage-yard would you there expect to see up against the wall what in London are called Bird-bottles for the sparrows to build in? Country people know sparrows too well; the same picture has the error of chimney pots to the cottage, which I never saw in reality; these are London and Country ideas mixed.

With regard to Adulation, and short-lived subjects, you may, and I know others will remark that out of all my numerous friends, none have got even a Sonnet from me, flattery is a poor way of paying debts, and as readers do not know the parties though the writer does, they cannot feel as they would on general subjects; and as to their stability what do we know of who were the friends of Cowley or Prior? or if we wish to know let us know in prose where the authors have not the privelege of lying. The Duke of Grafton gave me most fatherly advice on this head, which only would have given me an high opinion of his sincerity and penetration.

I own that I have resolutely endeavoured to get at the disposal of my own pieces, I have burnt several, and my proof of the wisdom of the deed is by referring you to one which is now irrecoverable, a foolish story called John Brown printed in the [MS torn], though I left it out of my collection, how can I leave [MS torn] future collections when I am gone;—look sharp Robin.

Call this letter [Ms torn] my time is expired, and my pen weary so I have no more to say and may omit to refer [MS torn]


* Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmunds 317/3. Copy in BL Add. MS 28268, ff. 445–46 BACK

[1] Nathaniel Bloomfield's book was published as An Essay on War, in Blank Verse; Honington Green, a Ballad ... and Other Poems (London, 1803). It featured a frontispiece engraving of Honington Green made by Cook after a sketch by E. V. Blomfield. BACK

[2] George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, The Rehearsal (1672), act 3, scene 2: 'And me her dear Parthenope she calls'. BACK

[3] Charles Dibden (1745–1814), composer of many sea songs, published 'Poor Jack' in 1788:

Go, patter to lubbers and swabs, do you see,
'Bout danger, and fear, and the like;
A tight-water boat and good sea-room give me,
And it an't to a little I'll strike.
Though the tempest top-gallant mast smack smooth should smite,
And shiver each splinter of wood,
Clear the deck, stow the yards and house every thing tight,
And under reefed foressail we'll scud:
Avast! nor don't think me a milksop so soft,
To be taken for trifles aback;
For they say there's a providence sits up aloft,
To keep watch for the life of poor Jack!

I heard our good chaplain palaver one day
About souls, heaven, mercy, and such;
And, my timbers! what lingo he'd coil and belay;
Why, 'twas just all as one as High Dutch;
For he said how a sparrow can't founder, d'ye see,
Without orders that come down below;
And a many fine things that proved clearly to me
That providence takes us in tow:
For, says he, do you mind me, let storms e'er so oft
Take the topsails of sailors aback,
There's a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft,
To keep watch for the life of poor Jack!

I said to our Poll –– for, d'ye see, she would cry—
When last we weighed anchor for sea,
What argufies snivelling and piping your eye?
Why, what a damned fool you must be!
Can't you see, the world's wide, and there's room for us all,
Both for seamen and lubbers ashore?
And if to old Davy I should go, friend Poll,
You never will hear of me more.
What then? All's a hazard: come, don't be so soft:
Perhaps I may laughing come back;
For, d'ye see, there's a cherub sits smiling aloft,
To keep watch for the life of poor Jack!

D'ye mind me, a sailor should be every inch
All as one as a piece of the ship,
And with her brave the world, not offering to flinch
From the moment the anchor's a-trip.
As for me, in all weathers, all times, sides and ends,
Nought's a trouble from duty that springs,
For my heart is my Poll's, and my rhino's my friend's,
And as for my life, 'tis the king's.
Even when my time comes, ne'er believe me so soft,
As for grief to be taken aback,
For the same little cherub that sits up aloft
Will look out a good berth for poor Jack!

[4] Wordsworth's Preface to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads. BACK

[5] Bloomfield quotes lines 30–32 from 'Richard and Kate: or, Fair-Day. A Suffolk Ballad'. In the version printed in Rural Tales, the lines read: 'And laid aside her Lucks and Twitches: / And to the Hutch she reach'd her hand, / And gave him out his Sunday Breeches'. BACK

[6] The folk song 'The Good Old Leathern Bottle':

Come all you lads and lasses, together let us go
Into some pleasant cornfield, our courage for to shew,


With the good old leathern bottle, and the beer it shall be brown,
We'll reap and skip together, boys, till bright Phoebus does go down.

With reaphook and the sickle so well we'll clear the land,
The farmer says, 'Well done, my lads, here's liquor at your command.'


By daylight in the morning, when birds do sweetly sing,
They are such charming creatures, they make the valley ring,


Then in comes lovely Nancy, the corn all for to lay,
She is my charming creature, I must begin to pray;


She how she gathers, binds it, she folds it in her arms,
Then she gives it to some waggoner to fill the farmer's barns.


Now harvest's done and ended, the corn secure from harm,
All for to go to market, boys, we must thresh in the barn.


With the good old leathern bottle, and the beer it shall be brown,
We'll reap and skip together, boys, till bright Phoebus does go down.

Here's a health to all you farmers, likewise to all you men,
I wish you health and happiness till harvest comes again.


With the good old leathern bottle, and the beer it shall be brown,
We'll reap and skip together, boys, till bright Phoebus does go down.

Text from Lucy Broadwood, English Country Songs (London, 1893).


[7] 'A Word to two Young Ladies' was published in Rural Tales, pp. 101–103. BACK

[8] Bloomfield is referring to Amelia Opie's 'Lines for the Album at Cossey, The Seal of Sir William Jerningham, Bart', first published in her Poems (London, 1802), pp. 77–84: 'Nor longer murmurs grief-impeded prayers' (line 60); 'Then, as the Ixia's fragrance-breathing flowers' (line 89). BACK