RURAL TALES, BALLADS AND SONGS (1802)
Bloomfield’s second publication was a collection of the poems he had been writing since the completion of The Farmer’s Boy in 1798. Rural Tales was a departure from that work: it featured shorter narrative poems—titled ‘tales’ and ‘ballads’—about villagers rather than loco-descriptive Georgic; some meditative poems in Bloomfield’s own voice were included; there were also several songs. This array resembled that of Lyrical Ballads, which Bloomfield admired for the naturalness of its observation (i.e. its plain colloquial diction—see Letters 52 and 94): the similarity was, however, not a result of direct imitation than of Bloomfield’s and Wordsworth’s mutual interest in collections of ballads and songs such as Burns’s.  After Percy’s Reliques and Ritson’s song garlands, such collections were in vogue: Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border also appeared in 1802. Thus whereas The Farmer’s Boy had harked back to the form and style that Thomson’s Seasons had popularized in the 1720s, Rural Tales met the current fashion for new verse in the vein of traditional ‘folk’ genres. It also fed public curiosity about the author, whom The Farmer’s Boy had encouraged them to identify with ‘Giles’, the boyish, gentle rustic who ‘sang’ pastoral verses as he had once sung while milking cows and scaring crows. Indeed by 1802 Bloomfield had become known, in polite London society, as a latterday, English, Burns—a guest who could be persuaded to sing or say his poems from memory. In a letter of 17 December 1801 (Letter 71) he describes being invited to the salon of Lord Buchan, former patron of Burns:
he askd me for a sight of some of the pieces of the coming Vollm; but this not being possible, Mr Park intimated that I could recite one. He fixed on Richard & Kate which I spoke with more effect than usual, for the water made its passage at my eyes, and I dare not stop, so I dash’d through it. L Buchan rose and shook my hand violently, and said several things which even to me, were new compliments.
Evidently, the new verse was aired in performance, and in magazines, before collection, by a now fashionable author (he began to receive letters of compliment from the likes of Charles James Fox, Sir Charles Bunbury and the Duke of York). Indeed, ‘Rosy Hannah’, set to a tune by his brother Isaac, was published with musical score for the drawing-room recital market.  Vernor and Hood capitalized on Bloomfield’s fame as the embodiment of a pastoral, rustic poet by commissioning for Rural Tales a frontispiece portrait of the author, engraved by William Ridley after a design by Henry Edridge.
With Bloomfield the hottest commercial property in the book market, Rural Tales brought the tension between Hood, Bloomfield’s publisher, and Lofft, his patron, to breaking point. As with The Farmer’s Boy, the dispute arose because Lofft wished to add comments of his own, framing the verse. In October 1801, Hood saw copies of the small octavo volumes from the first print run for a first edition that was to comprise small octavo, octavo, quarto and large quarto volumes at different prices. He at once pushed Bloomfield to gain Lofft’s consent to remove the notes, which consisted almost entirely of Lofft’s somewhat fulsome praise of the poems. The notes had been printed at the foot of the page, and Hood wished to exclude them from the print run of the octavo, quarto and large quarto volumes. Bloomfield sympathized, also finding the notes facile (‘a charming little story: excellently told’ is a typical example), and fearing that their inclusion would show him to be ‘not very averse to flattery’ (Letter 58). Writing to Lofft, however, brought only a piqued refusal either to alter the notes or to agree that they might be moved to the back of the book:
I will certainly not alter the form of the notes. I was excluded from any other part in this volume by your own express desire. I think I may say in future that it is not likely that I should thus strangely offend. I do not mean to write either note or essay to any future edition of any poems you may publish in my Life-time. I assure I can very ill spare the time short as the notes are. To have taken so avowed a part in the first publication and none except that of corrector of the press and occasional emendator in this would I think have had a strange and undesirable appearance for you and for the poems: as if I had changed my mind as to you or them or both. Mind, I could not well take any part that was more modest, or offer an opinion in fewer words. You, and you say your friends in general, are, or will be, dissatisfied with them and dislike my occupying even so small a space in your works and so unobtrusive a station as the bottom of the page. (Letter 59)
Bloomfield tried to placate him, and to justify Hood’s opinion (Letter 60), but Lofft made it clear that if they were moved, or dropped, his name should be removed from the publication and he would have nothing more to do with Bloomfield (Letter 61). This declaration plunged Bloomfield into a crisis:
Never to attempt to write to Mr Lofft again on such matters—Rose by favour, must expect trouble—Destress of mind—Fame is a bubble—Would this instant stop the publication, and all destressing desputes with it, were it possible to be done—What use to burn the MS?—Those who envy the reputation I may have acquired should have a relish of what it is to hear my friend censured and then not allowd to tell him so—Deviations in opinion ascribed to mercenary motives—What shall I say to Mr Hood—What power have I—No kind friend to take my place a moment between contending parties, to mount the pedestal and kick away the Rubbish from around, that hides and involves my actions in obscurity—I must look base and criminal—How can I engage in a quarrel which I have studiously avoided, Between Bookseller and Editor?—Was ever poor poet fixt as I am!—But fretting will bring sickness, not conviction to others; so says my Wife—Truth is in a Fogg—How can I send the Quarto proofs to Mr Lofft; denied—The place and not the matter of the notes disputed—Is not Mr Lofft a lover of peace?——
The matter stands thus—let me act which way I will, censure must ensue.—If I remain neuter, and give no answer should the subject of the notes be broachd by Mr Hood; that silence will give consent. If I say ‘you shall not omit them,’ how can I follow up the injunction? Should I say, ‘leave them out,’ Mr Lofft is no more amongst my correspondents! (Letter 62, 29 October 1801; cf Letter 65)
The soul-searching of this letter led Bloomfield to a moment of self-realisation that was pivotal. Writing to his mother and seeking to relieve her worry about him, he declared
I know of no Better balm for your mind, than recommending the words of Old Richard in the Ballad ‘We’ve nothing for u’n but our prayers’. Believe me, dear Mother that the inexpressable pleasure I feel in composing these tales and Ballads; and the honest pride of haveing proved; (against the imperious and unnatural opinions of some of the learned,) that a poor man may possess qualities which they are forced to admire, will allways be equal to any temporary vexations which are likely to fall to my lot (Letter 66, 1 November 1801)
Here, quoting his own ‘Richard and Kate’ from Rural Tales, Bloomfield discovered he could rely on his own verse as a source of maxims to live by in difficult times—both for himself and for others. It was a resource of his own invention—closer to hand and more within his control than the God invoked by prayer. Rural Tales, he discovered, proved his worth: they had won the admiration even of those educated men who looked down on the uneducated. Thus they evidenced not only his own ability, despite class snobbery, but also that of the poor in general. Bloomfield understands his poetry as a vindication of the merits of his class—a work, implicitly, of social levelling—as well as a proper source of personal pride. After this, he had the resolution to resist Lofft’s demands, despite his fears. On 5 November he reported that ‘the publisher has been to the printer’s, and orderd the notes to stand at the end’ of the octavo, quarto and large quartos (Letter 67). Correspondence with Lofft was then suspended.
After publication, reviewers reacted much as Hood and Bloomfield had feared they would. While they liked the poems, finding them scarcely inferior to The Farmer’s Boy, they saw no need for a patron to impose his own views so visibly. The British Critic, responding to the small octavo issue, where the notes were at the page foot, declared:
Those observations are certainly dictated by the same laudable zeal which led the writer first to protect and assist Bloomfield; but they are superfluous; and it is rather irksome to readers who can judge for themselves, to be told in every instance, what they ought to think, and how much they should admire. Bloomfield’s poetry does not require this aid; and it is hardly fair for the critic to jump up and ride behind him, wherever he may turn his Pegasus. (19 (April 1802), 338–43)
The Anti-Jacobin Review, also dealing with the small octavos, was more acerbic:
We cannot help smiling at the self-importance of the man, who, throughout the volume, has tacked his criticism to the end of each piece. But the public, perhaps, may not be dissatisfied with this; as, with the poems, they have also the annotations of the critic, by the assistance of which they will certainly be competent to form an opinion of their own. (11 (1802), 394–97)
The Poetical Register was forthright:
One thing only in the volume calls forth censure; but this censure does not affect Mr. Bloomfield. At the end of every poem, Mr. Capel Lofft has, with great kindness, given a sort of direction to the reader what opinion he must form on what he has just read. That impertinence of commentary cannot be too severely reprobated. We recommend to Mr. Bloomfield to expunge, as soon as possible, this obtrusive nonsense. ((January 1802), 426–27)
Lofft’s response to these confirmations of Bloomfield’s and Hood’s fears, if he made one, has not survived in Bloomfield’s correspondence. In 1802, as the second edition went to press, Bloomfield gathered up his courage and informed Lofft that the notes would be dropped from it, also taking the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’:
You Sir, I remember, said of these notes that ‘publication would be the best proof’. They are published Sir! and I can neither shut my ears against a company, nor stop the postman from bringing me public opinions.—I am not permitted to particularize, and may only say that the dislike of readers is just as I said it would be, and that dislike expresst without reserve to me, and of course to those who own the other half of the property.—I am persuaded that if you would have heard me 4 months ago on this subject that I should not now have to write thus, but as it is, I feel myself to be performing a Duty, and cannot forbear. (Letter 82)
With largely positive reviews, and with the reputation garnered by The Farmer’s Boy, Rural Tales was a success: as early as 16 February 1802, only five weeks after publication, Bloomfield was able to report that 5000 copies of the small octavos had been sold (Letter 80). By October Vernor and Hood were so pleased with the sale that they presented him with £100, over and above royalties from his share of the copyright (Letter 98).
The second edition (1802) was also a success, and a third followed in 1803 with Vernor and Hood now in partnership with Longman and Rees. The same partnership brought out further editions in 1805, 1806, 1809, and 1811. Vernor and Hood’s bankruptcy in 1812 (on which see the introduction to The Farmer’s Boy) meant that Bloomfield lost three quarters of outstanding royalties. The eighth edition, of 1815, was published by a group of booksellers, Longmans having split its share in the collection with Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, Darton, Harvey, & Co., and Walker and Edwards. Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy handled printing, advertising and distribution and accounted with Bloomfield for costs and profits. In January 1816, copyright reverted to Bloomfield, and in the post-war depression, finding himself short of money, he wondered whether he would be forced to sell, rather than keep for himself, a half share—thereby foregoing future royalties in exchange for an upfront lump sum (Letters 298, 299). In the end he did not do so; in 1820 he expected royalties for half of the ninth edition of 2000 copies, although income from the eighth (of 1815) had been small, profits having largely been used up in advances and in the costs of printing new editions (Letter 325).
By 1823, when Bloomfield died poor, having outlived the vogue for his work, Rural Tales was no longer capable of funding his family. His daughter agreed to another edition (1826), but this did not bring in enough to prevent Bloomfield’s books and household effects being sold at auction. The manuscript was knocked down for a mere £4 at that sale, with The Farmer’s Boy fetching only £14.  If neglected by the public, Rural Tales nevertheless survived as a seminal influence on a younger labourer-poet. John Clare paid tribute to it:
Whatever cause his friends may have to regret the death of the Poet—Fame is not one [of] them for he dyed ripe for immortality & had he written nothing else but ‘Richard & Kate’ that fine picture of Rural Life were sufficient to establish his name as the English Theocritus & the first of rural Bards in this country. (Letter 399, Clare to Joseph Weston, 7 March 1825).
Editions of Rural Tales, Ballads and Songs
1st edn London, 1802: Printed for Vernor and Hood, Poultry; and Longman and Rees, Paternoster Row. Issued in four sizes: pocket octavo (the first to be printed), and large quarto, quarto, octavo (these latter three sizes are printed from the same setting of type as each other—different from the pocket octavo). Many of Capel Lofft’s notes on the poems were dropped from the large quarto, quarto, and octavo printing.
2nd edn London, 1802: Printed for Vernor and Hood, Poultry; and Longman and Rees, Paternoster Row. Omits most of Lofft’s notes.
3rd edn London, 1803: Printed for Vernor and Hood, Poultry; and Longman and Rees, Paternoster Row.
4th edn London, 1805: Printed for Vernor and Hood, Poultry; and Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, Paternoster Row.
5th edn London, 1806: Printed for Vernor, Hood and Sharpe, Poultry; and Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, Paternoster Row.
6th edn London, 1809: Printed for Vernor, Hood and Sharpe, Poultry; and Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, Paternoster Row.
7th edn London, 1811: Printed for Vernor, Hood and Sharpe, Poultry; and Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row.
8th edn London, 1815: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; Darton, Harvey, & Co.; and Walker and Edwards.
9th edn London, 1820: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; Darton, Harvey, and Darton; J. Booker; G. Cowie and Co.; and Edwards and Knibb.
RURAL TALES, BALLADS, AND SONGS (1802)
The Poems here offered to the Public were chiefly written during the interval between the concluding, and the publishing of ‘the Farmer’s Boy’, an interval of nearly two years. The pieces of a later date are, ‘the Widow to her Hour-Glass’, ‘the Fakenham Ghost’, ‘Walter and Jane’, &c. At the time of publishing the Farmer’s Boy, circumstances occurred which rendered it necessary to submit these Poems to the perusal of my Friends: under whose approbation I now give them, with some confidence as to their moral merit, to the judgment of the public. And as they treat of village manners, and rural scenes, it appears to me not ill-tim’d to avow, that I have hopes of meeting in some degree the approbation of my Country. I was not prepar’d for the decided, and I may surely say extraordinary attention which The Public has shewn towards the Farmer’s Boy: the consequence has been such as my true friends will rejoice to hear; it has produc’d me many essential blessings. And I feel peculiarly gratified in finding that a poor man in England may assert the dignity of Virtue, and speak of the imperishable beauties of Nature, and be heard, and heard, perhaps, with greater attention for his being poor.
Whoever thinks of me or my concerns, must necessarily indulge the pleasing idea of gratitude, and join a thought of my first great friend Mr. Lofft. And on this head, I believe every reader, who has himself any feeling, will judge rightly of mine: if otherwise, I would much rather he would lay down this volume, and grasp hold of such fleeting pleasures as the world’s business may afford him. I speak not of that gentleman as a public character, or as a scholar. Of the former I know but little, and of the latter nothing. But I know from experience, and I glory in this fair opportunity of saying it, that his private life is a lesson of morality; his manners gentle, his heart sincere: and I regard it as one of the most fortunate circumstances of my life, that my introduction to public notice fell to so zealous and unwearied a friend. 
I have received many honourable testimonies of esteem from strangers; letters without a name, but fill’d with the most cordial advice, and almost a parental anxiety, for my safety under so great a share of public applause. I beg to refer such friends to the great teacher Time: and hope that he will hereafter give me my deserts, and no more.
One piece in this collection will inform the reader of my most pleasing visit to Wakefield Lodge: books, solitude, and objects entirely new, brought pleasures which memory will always cherish. That noble and worthy Family, and all my immediate and unknown Friends, will, I hope, believe the sincerity of my thanks for all their numerous favours, and candidly judge the Poems before them.
Sept. 29, 1801.
P.S. Since affixing the above date, an event of much greater importance than any to which I have been witness, has taken place, to the universal joy (it is to be hoped) of every inhabitant of Europe. My portion of joy shall be expressed while it is warm: and the reader will do sufficient justice, if he only believes it to be sincere.
Preface to Poems [Stereotype], Volume II
What now forms the first part of this Volume, was published in 1802 under the title of ‘Rural Tales,’ and the remainder in 1806 under the name of ‘Wild Flowers’. Several pieces in the first collection, which the Public have sanctioned by a long and generous approbation, were written before the publication of the ‘Farmer’s Boy;’ and consequently before I had friends to thank, or failures to dread. The original MSS. of these Poems are now in my possession, and I find therein, that seven years ago, I made memorandums which are now useful. Two or three of these detached sentences, as they are unvarnished truths, may afford amusement:—
‘Remember having a great conceit of the “Miller’s Maid;”—but of “Richard and Kate” I expected to hear a different account; was afraid it might be too low, as the critics call it, though for the life of me I can’t tell what they mean by it. ——— Began to think of the pleasure of an old couple meeting their grown-up children, and accordingly composed, or rather they composed themselves, the stanzas containing Richard’s speech to his Sons and Daughters, which always pleased me best of any in the Ballad; I then began the opening of the Ballad, and filled up the chinks; for I had arranged two or three stanzas descriptive of their journey, particularly the ninth and tenth.
When I began the “Miller’s Maid” I had no thought of making so long, or so good, a story of it. Had not thought of any plot or developement, but first of all wrote the girl’s story, to try how far I could make a child’s language touch my own feelings. The execrable usage of some Workhouse-Children, as stated in the newspapers, gave the thought at first. This plan was enlarged till it became the favourite of my heart, and cost me more tears than all the rest.
“The Widow,” though it stands next in the printed copies, was not written next; it has nothing remarkable belonging to it, but that it is the only piece in the book which was written quick. Had an Hour-glass before me; my wife singing softly; my girls at school. Made a shoe between dinner and tea-time, and composed the “Widow” beside.’
The Reader will perceive, from these specimens, the design and tenor of my entries; they were private: and he is not troubled with them entirely without cause. Inquiries, such as these memorandums are calculated to satisfy, have often been made; and as the parties are as welcome to the Anecdotes as to the Poems, I find this the most ready and general way of compliance. It will also be recollected, that I am not here writing for the purpose of introducing the Poems to notice; they are already known, and must stand or fall by themselves, in spite of this or any other kind of Preface.
Robert Bloomfield. City Road, March, 1809.
 Bloomfield recalled that he first saw Lyrical Ballads when Rural Tales was in press. See Anecdotes and Observations, Reflections and Critical Remarks BACK
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]). ‘Winter Song’, meanwhile, was published in a setting by John Langshaw as Dear boy, throw that icicle down: Ballad with an Accompaniment for the Piano Forte or Harp (London, 1801). BACK
 [1802 adds note:] I dare not take to myself a praise like this; and yet I was, perhaps, hardly at liberty to disclaim what should be mine and the endeavour of every one to deserve. This I can say, that I have reason to rejoice that Mr. George Bloomfield introduced the Farmer’s Boy to me. C. L.] Omitted in Poems [Stereotype] BACK