20. George Bloomfield to Capel Lofft, before 1 March 1800 

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Letters of Robert Bloomfield and His Circle, Edited By Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt
TEI

20. George Bloomfield to Capel Lofft, before 1 March 1800* 


As I spent five years with the Author, from the time he was thirteen years and a half old till he was turned of eighteen, the most interesting time of life (I mean the time that instruction is acquired, if acquired at all), I think I am able to give a Better account of him than any one can, or than he can of himself: for his Modesty would not let him speak of his Temper, Disposition, or Morals.

Robert was the younger Child of George Bloomfield, a Taylor, at Honington. His Father died when he was an infant under a year old. His Mother was a Schoolmistress, and instructed her own Children with the others. He thus learned to read as soon as he learned to speak.

Though the Mother was left a Widow with six small Children, yet with the help of Friends she managed to give each of them a little schooling.

Robert was accordingly sent to Mr. Rodwell, [1]  of Ixworth, to be improved in Writing: but he did not go to that School more than two or three months, nor was ever sent to any other; his Mother again marrying when Robert was about seven years old.

By her second husband, John Glover, she had another family.

When Robert was not above eleven years old, the late Mr. W. Austin, of Sapiston, took him. And though it is customary for Farmers to pay such Boys only 1s. 6d. per week, yet he generously took him into the house. This relieved his Mother of any other expence than only of finding him a few things to wear: and this was more than she well knew how to do.

She wrote, therefore to me and my brother Nat (then in London), to assist her; mentioning that he, Robert, was so small of his age that Mr. Austin said he was not likely to be able to get his living by hard labour.

[Mr. G. Bloomfield on this informed his Mother that, if she would let him take the Boy with him, he would take him, and teach him to make shoes: and Nat promised to clothe him. The Mother, upon this offer, took coach and came to London, to Mr. G. Bloomfield, with the Boy: for she said, she never should have been happy if she had not put him herself into his hands.]

She charged me as I valued a Mother's Blessing, to watch over him, to set good Examples for him, and never to forget that he had lost his Father.

[Mr. G. Bloomfield then lived at Mr. Simm's, No. 7, Fisher's-court, Bell-alley, Coleman-street.] It is customary in such houses as are let to poor people in London, to have light Garrets fit for Mechanics to work in. In the Garret, where we had two turn-up Beds, and five of us worked, I received little Robert.

As we were all single Men, Lodgers at a Shilling per week each, our beds were coarse, and all things far from being clean and snug, like what Robert had left at Sapiston. Robert was our man, to fetch all things to hand. At Noon he fetched our Dinners from the Cook's Shop: and any one of our fellow workmen that wanted to have any thing fetched in, would send him, and assist in his work and teach him, for a recompense for his trouble.

Every day when the Boy from the Public-house came for the pewter pots, and to hear what Porter was wanted, he always brought the yesterday's Newspaper. The reading of the Paper we had been used to take by turns; but after Robert came, he mostly read for us,... because his time was of least value.

He frequently met with words that he was unacquainted with: of this he often complained. I one day happened at a Book-stall to see a small Dictionary, which had been very ill used. I bought it for him for 4d. By the help of this he in little time could read and comprehend the long and beautiful speeches of Burke, Fox, or North.

One Sunday, after an whole day's stroll in the country, we by accident went into a dissenting Meeting-house in the Old Jewry, where a Gentleman was lecturing. This Man filled little Robert with astonishment. The House was amazingly crowded with the most genteel people; and though we were forced to stand still in the Aisle, and were much pressed, yet Robert always quickened his steps to get into the Town on a Sunday evening soon enough to attend this Lecture.

The Preacher lived somewhere at the West End of the Town... his name was Fawcet. His language was just such as the Rambler [2]  is written in; his Action like a person acting a Tragedy; his Discourse rational, and free from the Cant of Methodism.

Of him Robert learned to accent what he called hard words; and otherwise improved himself; and gained the most enlarged notions of Providence.

He went sometimes with me to a Debating Society at Coachmaker's-hall, [3]  but not often; and a few times to Covent-garden Theatre. These are all the opportunities he ever has to learn from Public Speakers. As to Books, he had to wade through two or three Folios, an History of England, British Traveller, and a Geography. But he always read them as a task, or to oblige us who bought them. And as they came in sixpenny numbers weekly, he had about as many hours to read as other boys spend in play.

I at that time read the London Magazine; and in that work about two sheets were set apart for a Review... Robert seemed always eager to read this Review. Here he could see what the Literary Men were doing, and learn how to judge of the merits of the Works that came out. And I observed that he always looked at the Poet's Corner. And one day he repeated a Song which he composed to an old tune. I was much surprised that a boy of sixteen should make so smooth verses: so I persuaded him to try whether the Editor of our Paper would give them a place in Poet's Corner. And he succeeded, and they were printed. And as I forget his other early productions, [4]  I shall copy this.


THE MILK-MAID,

ON THE FIRST OF MAY.


Hail, MAY! lovely MAY! how replenish'd my pails!
The young Dawn overspreads the East streak'd with gold!
My glad heart beats time to the laugh of the Vales,
And COLIN'S voice rings through the woods from the fold.

The Wood to the Mountain submissively bends,
Whose blue misty summits first glow with the sun!
See thence a gay train by the wild rill descends
To join the glad sports:... hark! the tumult's begun.

Be cloudless, ye skies!... Be my Colin but there,
Not the dew-spangled bents on the wide level Dale,
Nor Morning's first blush can more lovely appear
Than his looks, since my wishes I could not conceal.

Swift down the mad dance, while blest health prompts to move,
We'll count joys to come, and exchange Vows of truth;
And haply when Age cools the transports of Love,
Decry, like good folks, the vain pleasures of youth. [5] 

[...] I remember a little piece which he called the Sailor's Return: in which he tried to describe the feelings of an honest Tar, who, after a long absence, saw his dear native Village first rising into view. This too obtain'd a place in the Poet's Corner.

And as he was so young it shews some Genius in him, and some Industry, to have acquired so much knowledge of the use of words in so little time. Indeed at this time myself and my fellow workmen in the Garret began to get instructions from him, though not more than sixteen years old.

About this time there came a Man to lodge at our Lodgings that was troubled with fits. Robert was so much hurt to see this poor creature drawn into such frightful forms, and to hear his horrid screams, that I was forced to leave the Lodging, We went to Blue Hart-court, Bell-alley. In our new Garret we found a singular character, James Kay, a native of Dundee. He was a middle-aged man, of a good understanding, and yet a furious Calvinist. He had many books,... and some which he did not value: such as the Seasons, Paradise Lost, and some Novels. These Books he lent to Robert; who spent all his leisure hours in reading the Seasons, which he was now capable of reading. I never heard him give so much praise to any Book as to that. [6] 

I think it was in the year 1784 that the Question came to be decided Between the journeyman Shoemakers; whether those who had learn'd without serving an Apprenticeship could follow the Trade.

The Man by whom Robert and I were employ'd, Mr. Chamberlayne, of Cheapside, took an active part against the lawful Journeymen; and even went so far as to pay off every man that worked for him that had joined their Clubs. This so exasperated the men, that their acting Committee soon looked for unlawful men (as they called them) among Chamberlayne's workmen.

[They found out little Robert, and threatened to prosecute Chamberlayne for employing him, and to prosecute his Brother, Mr. G. Bloomfield, for teaching him. Chamberlayne requested of the Brother to go on and bring it to a Trial; for that he would defend it; and that neither George nor Robert should be hurt.

In the mean time George was much insulted for having refused to join upon this occasion those who called themselves, exclusively, the Lawful Crafts. George, who says he was never famed for patience, took his pen, and addressed a letter to one of the most active of their Committee-men (a man of very bad character). In this, after stating that he took Robert at his Mother's request, he made free as well with the private character of this man as with the views of the Committee.]

This was very foolish; for it made things worse: but I felt too much to refrain.

Robert naturally fond of Peace, and fearful for my personal safety, begged to be suffered to retire from the storm.

He came home; and Mr. Austin kindly bade him take his house for his home till he could return to me. And here, with his mind glowing with the fine Descriptions of rural scenery which he found in Thomson's Seasons, he again retraced the very fields where first he began to think. Here, free from the smoke, the noise, the contention of the City, he imbibed that Love of rural Simplicity and rural Innocence, which fitted him, in a great degree, to be the writer of such a thing as the Farmer's Boy.

Here he lived two Months:... at length, as the dispute in the trade still remained undecided, Mr, Dudbridge offered to take Robert Apprentice, to secure him, at all events, from any consequences of the Litigation.

[He was bound by Mr. Ingram, of Bell-alley, to Mr. John Dudbridge. His Brother George paid five shillings for Robert, by way of form, as a premium. Dudbridge was their Landlord, and a Freeman of the City of London. He acted most honourably, and took no advantage of the power which the Indentures gave him. George Bloomfield staid with Robert till he found he could work as expertly as his self.]

When I left London he was turned of eighteen; and much of my happiness since has arisen from a constant correspondence which I have held with him.

After I left him, he studied Music, and was a good player on the Violin,

But as my brother Nat had married a Woolwich woman, it happened that Robert took a fancy to a comely young woman of that Town, whose Father is a boat-builder in the Government yard there. His name is Church.

Soon after he married, Robert told me, in a Letter, that 'he had sold his Fiddle and got a Wife'. Like most poor men, he got a wife first, and had to get household stuff afterward. It took him some years to get out of ready furnished Lodgings. At length, by hard working, &c., he acquired a Bed of his own, and hired the room up one pair of stairs at 14, Bell-alley, Coleman-Street. The Landlord kindly gave him leave to sit and work in the light Garret, two pair of stairs higher.

In this Garret, amid six or seven other workmen, his active Mind employed itself in composing the Farmer's Boy.

In my correspondence I have seen several poetical effusions of his; all of them of a good moral tendency; but which he very likely would think do him little credit: on that account I have not preserved them.

Robert is a Ladies Shoemaker, and works for Davies, Lombard-street. He is of a slender make; of about 5 F. 4 I. high; very dark complexion... His Mother, who is a very religious member of the Church of England, took all the pains she could in his infancy to make him pious: and as his Reason expanded, his love of God and Man increased with it. I never knew his fellow for mildness of temper and Goodness of Disposition. And since I left him, universally is he praised by those who know him best, for the best of Husbands, an indulgent Father, and quiet Neighbour. He is about thirty-two years old, and has three Children.

[George concludes in praying]: ... that God, the Giver of thought, may, as mental light spreads, raise up many who will turn a listening ear, and not despise

The short and simple Annals of the Poor. [7] 

* Quoted in the first edition (London, 1800) of The Farmer's Boy, pp. iii–vii; Capel Lofft's paraphrases selectively included in square brackets BACK

[1] Lofft adds a note: 'This respectable Man is senior Clerk to the Magistrates of the Hundred of BLACKBOURN, in which Honington is situated, and has conducted himself with great propriety in this and other public employments.' BACK

[2] The Rambler (1750–52) was the magazine with which Samuel Johnson made his name as a critic and rhetorician. BACK

[3] Debating societies met at Coachmakers' Hall throughout the 1780s and early 1790s. See Mary Thale, 'London Debating Societies in the 1790s', The Historical Journal, 32.1 (March 1989), 57–86. BACK

[4] B. C. Bloomfield has identified some of these early magazine verses: 'A Village Girl', The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertizer (May 24, 1786), p. 4; 'An Harvest Scene', The General Advertizer (October 5, 1786); 'The Soldier's Return', The General Advertizer (November 11, 1786). See B. C. Bloomfield, 'Robert Bloomfield: A Provisional Checklist of His Published Work, with Some Bibliographical Notes and a Record of Later Editions', in Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon, eds. Simon White, John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan (Lewisburg, 2006), pp. 288–301. BACK

[5] Lofft added the following stanza in the Preface to The Farmer's Boy:

No, no; the remembrance shall ever be dear!
At no time LOVE with INNOCENCE ceases to charm:
It is transport in Youth... and it smiles through the tear,
When they feel, in their children, its first soft alarm.
BACK

[6] James Thomson's The Seasons (1726–30). For a discussion of the relationship between Bloomfield's and Thomson's poems, see John Strachan, '"That is true fame": A Few Words about Thomson's Romantic Period Popularity', James Thomson: Essays for the Tercentenary, ed. Richard Terry (Liverpool, 2000), pp. 247–70. BACK

[7] Line 32 of Thomas Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard (London, 1751). BACK

Published @ RC

September 2009

City