1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Bampfylde

Richard Alfred Davenport, in Chiswick British Poets (1822) 73:183-84.



For several centuries the family of the BAMPFYLDES has been among the most respectable in the county of Devon. John Bampfylde, the subject of this brief memoir, was the third son of Sir Richard Bampfylde, of Poltimore, and was born on the twenty-fourth of August, 1754. He was educated at Cambridge, and it was, I believe, while he resided at that university, that he published his Sonnets. Bampfylde was a man of an amiable disposition, and was beloved by all who knew him. The concluding lines of his Sonnet to the Evening, place his character in a very pleasing light:

I, general friend, by turns am join'd with all,
Lover, and elfin gay, and harmless hind;
Nor heed the proud, to real wisdom blind,
So as my heart be pure, and free my mind.

The acquirements and intellectual powers of Bampfylde were of a very superior order. The bright hopes which they had inspired of his future eminence were, however, soon destroyed. While he was yet in the morning of life he became the victim of insanity, and nearly the last twenty years of his existence were spent in a private madhouse. He died about the year 1796.

In his Specimens of the later English Poets, Mr. Southey says that "Jackson of Exeter, a man whose various talents made all who knew him remember him with regret, designed to republish the little collection of Bampfylde's Sonnets, with what few of his pieces were still inedited, and to prefix to them an account of their author, who was truly a man of genius. From him I heard an interesting and melancholy history, all of which he would not have communicated to the public."

Jackson died without carrying his design into execution. What was the cause of the dreadful malady which afflicted Bampfylde, we can, therefore, only conjecture. His Stanzas to a Lady seem to show that he was the slave of a deep and hopeless passion, which he in vain sought to eradicate by foreign travel; and in his melancholy Ode to the River Teign, which speaks the language of a broken spirit, he alludes to his own conduct in a strain of self reproach:

Hail, holy sire! whilst keen remorse corrodes,
Sicken'd with pleasure's pangs, this aching
heart, Thy freshening streams impart.
And take, oh! take me to thy bless'd abodes!

It is not improbable that, by some youthful errors, he alienated the object of his affection, and that the loss of her was fatal to his reason.

Mr. Southey has described the Sonnets of Bampfylde as being "some of the most original in our language," and to this praise they are entitled. They are excellent in sentiment, in description, and in a graceful flow of verse.