1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Lisle Bowles

William Jerdan, in Men I have Known (1866) 24-25.



On his visits to town from Wiltshire, Mr. Bowles was in the habit of lodging at a bookseller's in Piccadilly; but, on arriving one evening late and unexpectedly, he found his usual accommodation forestalled. He was consequently transferred for the night to a mantuamaker's in Wigmore Street, and a comfortable bed made up for him in the airy first-floor apartment, where her fashionable dresses were liberally exposed to view. Was it extraordinary that the Poet should have a perturbed sleep? His weary eyelids might close, but his imagination could not be laid to rest, and in the morning he embodied his dreams in verse. The manuscript was given to me, and I very sincerely lament has disappeared from my possession, for it was as lively, animated, and amusing a production of its class as I ever saw. Only think of all the different and delicate articles of attire becoming instinct with life, leaping from their dummies, and dancing before the captivated eyes of the bewildered bard! — of petticoats, and tuckers, and jupons, and what not: none who did not, like Tam O'Shanter, see the bewitchings in action, can tell the pirouettes and vagaries. The bewildered Bowles declared he would not try to sleep in a fashionable milliner's show-room again for the value of the richest dress that made its approaches to him on that eventful occasion.

The rectory-house of Bremhill was a sweet and delightful spot. Nowhere could the help of the poor, or the education of the young, be more religiously and sedulously attended to. On a sunny summer day it looked like an Eden; and the agreeable manners and intellectual intercourse that reigned within were of a description not easily to be equalled. The playfulness of the rector was not its least amusing feature; and when occasionally heightened by the effect of some momentary fit of abstraction, or ludicrous contretemps, the cheery laugh rang loud and long in the peaceful mansion of the unconscious divine: it was sometimes like Lord Dudley's "Thinking Aloud."

I remember, one Saturday evening, when Dr. Croly had joined me in a visit to Bremhill, and had undertaken to preach in the parish church on the coming day, our host (whose own style was remarkable for its simplicity as Croly's was for powerful eloquence) woke up, as it were, from a dream, and addressed me: "I hope your friend will not preach to the Marquis to-morrow, but to the peasantry." The hint, however, was not lost, for, though the neighbour Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne were present, the preacher delivered one of the most pastoral and beautiful discourses I ever heard from any pulpit, alike instructive to peer and ploughman.