Rev. John Bidlake

Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1842 ca.; Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon (1853) 1:7-8, 11.

My father now sent me to the grammar school under the Rev. Dr. Bidlake, a man of some taste. He painted and played on the organ, patronised talent, was fond of country excursions, wrote poems which nobody ever read, one on The Sea, another on The Year.

I remember him with his rhyming dictionary, composing his verses, and scanning with his fingers. He was not a deep classic, but rather encouraged a sort of idle country-excursion habit in the school; perhaps, however, he thus fostered a love of nature.

All I know of hydraulics, pneumatics, astronomy, geography, and mechanics I learnt of him; but it is so very little, that I suspect he put us off with amusement for instruction.

Finding that I had a taste for art, he always took me, with another boy, from our studies to attend his caprices in painting. Here his odd and peculiar figure, for his back was bent from fever, induced us to play him tricks. As he was obliged to turn round and walk away to study the effect of his touches, we used to rub out what he had done before he returned, when his perplexity and simplicity were delightful to mischievous boys. Once he sent my companion to cut off the skirt of an old coat to clean his palette with, and the boy cut off the skirt of his best Sunday coat. Poor dear Dr. Bidlake went to Stonehouse Chapel in his great coat the next Sunday, and when he took it off to put on the surplice, the clerk exclaimed in horror, "Good God, sir, somebody has cut off the skirt of your coat!"

He was a kind eccentric man of considerable talent. He brought forward several youths, especially Howard, a charity boy, who has translated Dante, and published many useful school books....

The time rolled on till I was thirteen years old. My leisure hours were passed in drawing, my master Bidlake sometimes taking us to Bickley Vale (a beautiful spot to the right of Roborough Down) to sketch and drink tea.

In classical knowledge I was not disciplined. He was kind-hearted, but a smatterer, and I do not think any man left his school without lamenting the time lost in getting a little of everything, without knowing correctly the principles of anything.