94. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 2 September 1802*
City Road, London, Sep. 2, 1802
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.
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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.  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'.  Again, a less violent inversion occurs in Dibden's Poor Jack—'Nought's a hardship from Duty that springs',  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 !  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
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'  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'  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. 
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]
 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
 Charles Dibden (1745–1814), composer of many sea songs, published 'Poor Jack' in 1788:
 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
 The folk song 'The Good Old Leathern Bottle':
Text from Lucy Broadwood, English Country Songs (London, 1893).BACK