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

388. Joseph Weston to George Bloomfield, with a postscript from Hannah Bloomfield, 5 June 1824* 

Shefford, June 5, 1824

Sir,

It was the wish of your late brother, Mr. Robert Bloomfield, my much lamented friend, that I should prepare the materials for a sketch or memoir of his life; should such be thought useful, and publish such parts of his correspondence and other papers as I might deem fit for the purpose. These, with a preface and a few tributary verses to his memory, will compose two moderate-sized volumes, and will serve to complete what may properly be called his works. They have received the approbation of Mr. Park, and I shall now send them to the booksellers for theirs. In the preface I have thought it my duty to notice the cowardly attack made on your brother's character and writings, in the Monthly Magazine for September 1823, and have little doubt of making the libeller either look very silly or retract his slander. [1]  I wish, however, to march on solid ground; and the only tender place I as yet apprehend, is contained in that sentence of Robert's letter to you, where he says—'I took the manuscript of the Farmer's Boy to your Magazine Man', without saying who this man was. If your memory serves, I will thank you to inform me what Magazine it was to which your brother alludes, and who was at that time the editor of it; and whether you have any reason for thinking that the person who wrote the libel above alluded to can possibly be the same; [2]  or if you are quite sure it must be some other person; for if the latter be the case, I have other evidence to prove that nearly the whole is a collection of willful misrepresentations, the exposure of which may tend to place the reputation of your brother, and that of his traducer, in their proper light.

It is my present intention to blend the account of your brother's early life, published in the stereotype edition, with certain historical memoranda which he has left in considerable abundance, together with his correspondence, and such authentic anecdotes as I can collect among his friends and acquaintance, into a Biographical Sketch, and perhaps leave the composition and style to some abler pen. I hope, however, in my ministerial office to do impartial justice to a man whose talents I admired, whose virtues I venerate, and whose untimely death I shall always deplore. I forsee, however, that it must be a cloudy concern—perhaps you will allow me to enliven the detail now and then with an extract from your poetry, which I think is often excellent, and abounds in your letters. I beg to add, that any anecdotes or other communications from you will always be received with thankfulness. I shall remain here until the 12th, but a letter at any time addressed for me to Mr. Bristow, Park-street, Windsor, will be sure to reach me safely.

I remain sir,

Your humble servant,

Joseph Weston

It is very extraordinary that we can get no intelligence either from Mr. Lockwood or Mr. Wayman as to the cottage business. It would save great trouble and expense if they would conclude it while I am here, having induced the creditors to accept a moderate composition, under the promise that the proceeds of this estate should be added—for the performance of which I consider my honour and credit both pledged. At any rate I should like to know how the matter stands, and if it is not giving you too much trouble, should feel much obliged if you would urge Mr. Lockwood to send such information.

My Dear Uncle

This little space will serve to tell you we are all well, and that is as much as I have to say now except we hope you are.

Your affectionate niece,

Hannah Bloomfield

* Remains, II, pp. 195–98 BACK

[1] Weston refers to the following article in the Monthly Magazine, September 1823:

At Shefford, 57, Mr Robert Bloomfield, author of the Farmer's Boy, once very popular, and of other poems. He was the son of a poor taylor in Suffolk, originally employed as a farmer's boy, and afterwards followed the employment of a shoe-maker. Having, about 1800, finished his four Poems on the rural employments of the seasons, be brought them to London to endeavour to get them published. His first application was to Mr. Charles Dilly, who recommended him to the editor of the Monthly Magazine. He brought his Poems to our office; and, though his unpolished appearance, his coarse hand-writing, and wretched orthography, afforded no prospect that his production could be printed, yet he found attention by his repeated calls, and by the humility of his expectations, which were limited to half a-dozen copies of the Magazine. At length on his name being announced when a literary gentleman, particularly conversant in rural economy, happened to be present, the poem was formally re-examined, and its general aspect excited the risibility of that gentleman in so pointed a manner, that Bloomfield was called into the room, and exhorted not to waste his time, and neglect his employment, in making vain attempts, and particularly in treading on the ground which Thomson had sanctified. His earnestness and confidence, however, led the editor to advise him to consult his countryman, Mr. Capel Lofft, of Troston, to whom he gave him a letter of introduction. On his departure, the gentleman present warmly complimented the editor on the sound advice which he had given 'the poor fellow;' and, it was mutually conceived, that an industrious man was thereby likely to be saved from a ruinous infatuation. Bloomfield, however, visited Mr. Lofft, and that kind-hearted and erudite man, entering sanguinely into his views, edited the work through the press, wrote a preface, and the poem appeared as a literary meteor. Its success was prodigious. The author was to divide the profits with the bookseller, and they soon shared above £1000 a-piece. The reputation of the poem at length seemed so thoroughly established, that the bookseller offered to give Bloomfield an annuity of £200 per annum for his half; but this he refused, in the confidence that it would produce him double. At length, however, new objects caught the public attention; the sale died away; and, in three or four years, a small edition per annum only was required. All this was in the usual course; but Bloomfield, whose expectations had been unduly raised, keenly felt the reverse; he was obliged to seek other employment, and his health and spirits suffered in consequence. Other attempts produced but moderate recompense; and, becoming peevish, he entered into a paper war with his patron Mr. Lofft, and lost the sympathy of many of his first friends. He was nevertheless a man of real genius; and, though the bloated popularity of his Farmer's Boy led to no permanent advantage, yet it had, and still has, admirers, some of whom never ceased to be kind to the author. His ambition, however, was disappointed; and, for some years, be was in a state of mental depression, which, it is stated, rendered his death consolatory to his connections. Under these circumstances, and they are such as constantly attend genius without pecuniary independence, the editor of this Magazine is not ashamed of the advice which he gave Bloomfield at his outset. The world would have lost nothing by the non-appearance of the Farmer's Boy, as it then existed in Bloomfield's original manuscript, and the poet would have enjoyed the comforts of an industrious life, enhanced by his love of the Muses. Bloomfield, however, never forgave the adviser, and the phrase with which the conversation ended. 'I earnestly advise you to stick to your last,' which was used without any suspicion that such was his real employment, he often quoted with indignation in the hey-day of his subsequent popularity.
Weston replied to it in the Preface to the Remains but also in the November number of The Monthly Magazine, 1823, pp. 182–83:
We have been favoured with the following remarks on the works of the late Robert Bloomfield, and with pleasure give place to them. Our correspondent errs through over zeal, in supposing that our former notice was written in the spirit of detraction. That spirit has never disgraced the Monthly Magazine, and never will. 'His "Farmer's Boy," though his first, on the whole, may, I think, be deemed his best production; in which he displayed, not only great poetical talent, but also great practical knowledge of agriculture. The account of the early life of the author, prefixed to this work by his ingenious friend Mr. Lofft, is highly interesting, and shows the native excellence of his moral character in a striking point of view. His next production was the "Rural Tales," which are many of them truly excellent; and of his "Wild Flowers," the same may be justly said. His poem of "Good 'Tidings, or News from the Farm," intended as a tribute of respect and gratitude to Dr. Jenner, for the discovery of the Cow Pox,—which contains also a just and eloquent acknowledgment to Lady Wortley Montague, who first introduced Inoculation for the Small Pox into this country, from Turkey,—has I think been less noticed than it deserves—it possesses many glowing beauties—many poetic excellencies, feeling, generous, and pathetic sentiments. In 1807, Mr. Bloomfield accompanied a select party of friends down the romantic river Wye, in Wales; and of this pleasing excursion, he afterwards published, under the title of "Banks of Wye," a poetical journal, divided into four books; the account of this voyage is interspersed with the history of surrounding antiquities, and the traditions of the country. In this volume, if not as a whole equal to his preceding productions, there are occasional touches of real poetry, and some truly interesting episodes; the little piece on the departure of Mr. Morris, the beloved but unfortunate possessor of the beautiful gardens of Piercefield in Monmouthshire, is truly affecting. In 1822, Mr. Bloomfield once more appeared before the public; and notwithstanding, as he tells us in his preface, "May-day with the Muses, was written under great anxiety of mind, and in a wretched state of health," it will be found to possess considerable merit. The idea which supplied our author with materials for this poem, is something novel and unique; if too much so to be probable, when we have perused the interesting tales to which it introduces us, I think we may very well excuse it. The first piece of "The Drunken Father," is quite in the author's own style; though there are two or three stanzas very imperfect, which might probably be omitted advantageously. The allusion, in "The Forester," to the melancholy events at Claremont, is truly happy,—the following lines from this piece are very admirable:

"Empires may fall, and nations groan,
Pride be thrown down, and states decay!
Dark Bigotry may rear her throne,
But science is the light of day."

—"The Shepherd's Dream," and "The Soldier's Home," are also pieces of great merit; and the last tale of "Alfred and Janet," written, as the author says, for the express purpose of convincing a female friend, "that it is possible for a blind man to be in love," adds another laurel to the many before entwined round the brow of the writer. The poetical fame of Bloomfield is fixed upon an imperishable basis; and in despite of the censures of puny critics and self-sufficient commentators, his works will be read in after ages, with pleasure and delight. Even those who do not admire his poetry, must assent to the moral tendency of all his productions:—if he erred in his pictures of human nature in the lower walks of life, it was indeed by looking on its brighter side, and painting man not as he is, but as he ought to be.'
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[2] George's identification of 'the Magazine Man' appears in Letter 389. BACK

Published @ RC

September 2009