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The Letters of Robert Bloomfield and His Circle, Edited By Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt

354. Robert Bloomfield to Thomas John Lloyd Baker, 31 May–1 June 1821* 

Shefford, Beds. May 31. 1821

Dear Sir

I am glad that your remaining scruples have thus enabled me to say a word on this important subject, for important it is and must be to me; but you must let me have my own stile of writing or I can do nothing. Put up with vulgarisms and take me as you find me.—I am realy glad that you approve of my original plan to silence, or keep at a distance all party, but I shall have to recur to this subject again—when I was first known in London I met, (without my seeking) a man related to Capel Lofft, who, I soon found was not only a deist but a writer in their cause. I soon found the shocking inconsistency of keeping him company and others his betters of different principles at the same time. I therefore dropd him, he thinking me a silly young fool who wanted a ring in my nose and he to hold the string, and I knowing him to be a boasting fellow whom I would not trust three hours.—From that time came to me people of all descriptions—the Unitarians were very busy. It is known that the late D of Grafton often attended the chapple in Essex Street, and a busy friend of mine thought perhaps that I too might make a pretty little Unitarian, He therefore wrote the D without my knowledge an intimation that I would attend there, but feard that my attendance would look like truckling to my great patron who sat in the gallery?—When I saw the D again he askd me if I knew a man of the name of ——? For he had recieved a letter respecting me &c. the good old man then said with an emphasis almost peculiar to himself, 'I never wish to exert either power of persuasion over the wills or opinion of any one living, I have never done so with my own children, nor ever will.' Now the man who took this great liberty to write, never to this days knows that I am acquainted with the affair!! What did he want with me I wonder? It is not usual to get money out of poets! No, no it is not the search after guineas, but proselites.—

You have lately been amused and perhaps grieved by a report. Now I will try to give you some of old date concerning myself.

1. The Morning Chronicle once said 'Bloomfield has a lucrative place in the Temple,' adding, 'thus it seems he has not courted the Muse unsuccessfully' [1] —This was copied into the American papers and most likely read by my sister in Virginia,—yet the place was not lucrative, and I never recieved but twenty pounds. Twice to our knowledge I have been reported to be dead. I have been advertised once to know if I was dead or alive!

2d Mr Cobbet has ventured to tell his readers that I have been 'taken in tow' by government to prevent me from writing in favour of the people  [2] 

3d—I once met with a painter in London who absolutely insisted that I had a place of three hundred a year in the Stamp Office! I thought then that I knew better, and my pocket has confirmd it since

See to what lengths party spirit will go!!!

But to the point,—I say then there is not a man or woman living who would or could say to my face that I have renounced the doctrines of Christ or his Miracles.—There is not a soul upon earth to say 'you are an enemy to the government of your country' Fools, cannot they see that the form of government of a country is rather different to the administration of it? Pray remember me to Mrs Baker and all who have patience to hear of me. Yours dr Sir most respectfully

Robt Bloomfield

P.S. June 1st 1821

Dear Sir,

My eyes will let me say a few words more on the subject which I hope will afterwards sleep for ever.—

Cobbett and Hunt [3]  are men whom I would not trust with power; they are too eager to obtain it.—Universal suffrage is an impracticable piece of nonscense;—Republicanism will only do in new establishd countrys: not in those which have been govern'd by Kings for a thousand years.—

It is the natural bent and practice of party to go to extreems. Thus they could not let me rest even on the intermediate shelf of Scepticism but made me a Deist at once!!—I have been in the presence of great and good men, the Bishops Watson and Porteous, [4]  but then it is equally true that I have taken snuff with Horne Tooke, [5]  and have held conversation with Hardy* the Boot maker, who was tried for high treason! [6] —Yea, more than all this, I had the misfortune to be born only six miles from the birthplace of Tom Paine!! This, to some ears would be horrible!—I shall go to worship again when I am well enough; and when my dear Daughter and Sons [7]  can leave me in the company of a Woman whom you know little about, they will go too.

*(on his visit to this County, where I was obliged to meet him, and from him came the report that 'I was writing a poem on Southill and Whitbread.'

Address: T. J. L. Baker Esq, / Rev'd Mr Ross's, / Maulden. / Ampthill, / Beds.

* BL Add. MS 28268, ff. 421–23 BACK

[1] See Letter 103. The Morning Chronicle report on Bloomfield's lucrative place at the Seal office appeared on 19 February 1803. BACK

[2] See Cobbett's Political Register of 24 April 1819, where, on pp. 980–81, Cobbett writes 'the cause of the people has been betrayed by hundreds of men, who were well able to serve the people, but whom a love of ease and of the indulgence of empty vanity have seduced into the service of the bribing usurpers, who have spared no means to corrupt men of literary talent from the authors of folios to the authors of baby-books and ballads. . . . None have escaped. BLOOMFIELD, the Farmer's-Boy author was taken in tow, and was pensioned for fear he should write for the people'. In a later work, Cobbett used Bloomfield as an example of the personal dangers run by men who abandoned their trades to depend on literature and, consequently, on the patronage of the aristocracy. See William Cobbett, Advice to Young Men and (Incidentally) to Young Women in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life. In a Series of Letters, Addressed to a Youth, a Bachelor, a Lover, a Husband, a Father, a Citizen, or a Subject (London, 1829), Letter 1, 'To a Youth', paragraph 42: 'Stick, therefore, to the shop; rely upon your mercantile or mechanical or professional calling; try your strength in literature, if you like; but, rely on the shop. If BLOOMFIELD, who wrote a poem called the FARMER'S BOY, had placed no reliance on the faithless muses, his unfortunate and much-to-be-pitied family would, in all probability, have not been in a state to solicit relief from charity. I remember that this loyal shoemaker was flattered to the skies, and (ominous sign, if he had understood it) feasted at the tables of some of the great. Have, I beseech you, no hope of this sort; and, if you find it creeping towards your heart, drive it instantly away as the mortal foe of your independence and your peace'. BACK

[3] Henry Hunt, the orator present at the Peterloo Massacre and the Spa Fields' 'riots', whose supporters Bloomfield feared encountering on the street in Letter 343. BACK

[4] Bishops Watson and Porteous: the Rt Rev Richard Watson (1737–1816) was a clergyman and academic, who served as the Bishop of Llandaff from 1782 to 1816. His 1796 An Apology for the Bible, a work written in response to the 1795 publication of the second part of Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, defended orthodox Christianity and the established church. In return, Wordsworth wrote (but did not publish) his 'Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff', attacking Watson and supporting Paine. Bishop Porteous: the Rt. Rev. Beilby Porteous, Bishop of London, notable preacher, supporter of the Evangelical movement and the Anti-Slavery campaign, opponent of Paine and revolutionary radicalism. Died 1809. BACK

[5] John Horne Tooke (1736–1812) was, by 1800, already a veteran campaigner for parliamentary reform. Initially radicalised by the establishment efforts to exclude newly-elected John Wilkes from parliament, Horne Tooke became an organiser of societies dedicated to widening suffrage—including the Society for Constitutional Information. He was arrested and charged with treason in 1794 when, in alliance with the London Corresponding Society, he attempted to organise a radical convention. Acquitted, despite the bias of the judge, he continued to argue for parliamentary reform, though in more moderate form. BACK

[6] Thomas Hardy (1752–1832), like Bloomfield a London shoemaker, was a campaigner for parliamentary reform and the extension of the franchise. As an organiser of the London Corresponding Society he, like Horne Tooke, was tried for treason in 1794. Although acquitted, he lost his wife and unborn child—both died in childbirth brought on prematurely by the stress of fleeing from a pro-government mob. After his release from custody, Hardy gave up politics and carried on his trade in Covent Garden. BACK

[7] Charles Bloomfield and Robert Henry Bloomfield. BACK

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Published @ RC

September 2009