William Duncombe

John Dyer to William Duncombe, 24 November 1756; in Duncombe, Letters of Eminent Persons (1772; 1773) 3:56-61.

Conigsby, Nov. 24, 1756.


You have most agreeably increased my obligations: and it was very kind and ingenuous to inform me somewhat of yourself, as in the generous freedom of your spirit, you broke through the little vulgarity of fashion, and wrote to one whom you never saw, and to one who has been long out of the world.

Your invitation is exceedingly engaging. The simplicity of your manner of life, and your regular hours, to me are luxuries. And how well do you set forth your entertainment in the names of Mr. Hawkins Browne and the author of Clarissa; and, if I am not mistaken, in those of Miss Carter and Miss Talbot [John Duncombe's note: "a mistake — probably for Miss Mulso, now Mrs. Chapone"]! What a bill of fare! Yet old Barzillai, though invited by David in the highest elegances of life, held it vain to go to Jerusalem, when he could "no longer hear the voice of singing men and singing women." Frailties also are troublesome in company — except in Frith-street, where they are carried into the arms of humanity. I may quit my solitude here, and venture abroad with an hundred infirmities upon my head; and sacrifice my vanity to one so benevolent as Mr. Duncombe.

.... I have not met with Dodsley's two last volumes, and have hitherto missed the pleasure of seeing the "Ode to health" [by John Duncombe]. Though head-achs and sickness make me fearful of reading much, yet I will haste to see it; it will particularly suit me: I will seek it, as I seek health, which, alas! I very much want. Your humble servant is become a deaf, and dull, and languid creature; who, however, in his poor change of constitution, being a little recompensed with the critic's phlegm, has made shrift, by many blottings and corrections, and some helps from his kind friend, Dr. Akenside, to give a sort of finishing to the "Fleece," which is just sent up to Mr. Dodsley; but as people are so taken up with politics, and have so little inclination to read any thing but satire and news-papers, I am in doubt whether this is a proper time for publishing it.

I have read none of the Connoisseurs — No papers reach this lonely place. I know not how the world goes — but with Mr. Hughes, as an author, I am well acquainted, and am glad that we are to have a fuller account of the life of so beautiful a poet.

Lord chancellor has been favourable to me. This living is 120 per ann. The other, called Kirkby, 110. But my preferments came in this course: Calthorp in Leicestershire, (80 a year,) was given me by one Mr. Harper in 1741. That I quitted in 1751 for a small living of 75 called Belchford, ten miles from hence, and given my by lord chancellor, through Mr. Wray's interest. A year after, through the same interest, Sir John Heathcote gave me this, and lately procured me Kirkby of lord chancellor, without my sollicitation. I was glad of this, on account of its nearness to me, though I think myself a loser by the exchange, through the expenses of the seal, dispensations, journeys, &c. and the charge of an old house, half of which I am going to pull down. More of myself, (which your good-natured curiosity draws from me) is this: After having been an itinerant painter in my native country (S. Wales,) and in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, &c. &c. I married, and settled in Leicestershire. My wife's name was Ensor, whose grandmother was a Shakespear, descended from a brother of every body's Shakespear. We have four children living; three are girls; the youngest a boy, six years old. I had some brothers, have but one left. He is a clergyman, lives at Marybone, and has such a house full of children as puts me in mind of a noted statue at Rome of the river Nile, on the arms, legs, and body of which are crawling, and climbing, ten or a dozen little boys and girls.

Believe me to be, Sir,

Your most obliged humble servant,