1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Lisle Bowles

John Britton, in Autobiography (1850) 1:293-94.



His pathetic and simple Sonnets must be known to general readers, but his personal peculiarities could only be ascertained by intimate association, or from repeated interviews. Devoid of guile, as harmless as the dimpled infant, as bland and affable as courtesy and kindness in union, he gained the love and excited the sympathy of all who knew him; but he often aroused the pity and the fears of those who had witnessed or heard of the negligences and hair-breadth scrapes in which he was occasionally involved. Mr. Bowles was noted for absence of mind, abstraction from the affairs of every-day reality, whence the temper and stoicism of his good and truly philosophic wife were often tested, and, fortunately for her, were efficaciously exerted. When I was at Wells, surveying the Cathedral, for my Antiquities, I dined and spent an evening with him at the Bishop's palace, where he engaged me to breakfast with him the next morning, and afterwards visit Glastonbury, Wokey, and Cheddar. At the appointed time I was at the White Hart Inn, and was not a little surprised and mortified to learn, from the waiter, that Mr. Bowles had ordered his carriage at seven o'clock, and was gone to Bath. In an early part of his life, it has been related that he came to London for the express purpose of waiting on the Archbishop of Canterbury, to solicit a vacant living, but omitted to leave his address, and quitting London abruptly, could not be found when the prelate sought him a few days afterwards. At another time, I am assured he went to Bremhill, on horseback, to ride to Chippenham, dismounted to walk down a steep hill, leading the horse by the bridle slung across his arm, and continued to the turnpike gate, where he offered to pay the toll, and was not a little surprised when the man said, "We doont charge nothing for your honor, as you beant on osback." On turning round, he perceived the bridle dangling on his arm, but could not descry his horse. Many anecdotes of this kind, and others, far from being whimsical, have I heard of my once dear friend, and such as would have made wives of nervous irritability miserable, were borne by Mrs. Bowles with exemplary equanimity, and almost without a murmur. Hence she proved to be an invaluable wife and companion; and it is believed that she not only prolonged his life, but guarded him against many accidents that might have been fatal. After living together many years, she died in 1844, aged 72, leaving the bereaved poet disconsolate, forlorn, and almost helpless. He, however, lived, or rather existed, some years afterwards, at his official home, in the Cathedral Close of Salisbury, but was deprived of mental consciousness: his existence was a blank, a sort of mechanical routine of motion and action, devoid of all those sympathies and enjoyments which distinguish man from the lower race of animals. He continued in this deplorable condition for six years, and was relieved by death in April 1850, at the patriarchal age of 89. He was interred in the Cathedral of Salisbury, with his wife; and a handsome monument has been raised to commemorate both, from the designs of Osmond and Son, of that city.