1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Thelwall

Henry Crabb Robinson, 1799; Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence (1870; 1872) 1:37.



John Thelwall, to whom I have already alluded, as having had a narrow escape of conviction for high treason, had settled down in a farm in a beautiful place near Brecon. His history is known to all who care to inform themselves of the personal occurrences of this eventful period. He had left his shop (that of a silk mercer) to be one of the Reformers of the age. After his acquittal he went about the country lecturing, and was exposed to great varieties of fortune. Sometimes he was attended by numerous admirers, but more frequently hooted and pelted by the mob. In order to escape prosecution for sedition he took as his subject Greek and Roman History, and had ingenuity enough to give such a coloring to events and characters as to render the application to living persons and present events an exciting mental exercise. I had heard one or two of these lectures, and thought very differently of him then from what I thought afterwards. When, however, he found his popularity on the wane, and more stringent laws to have been passed, to which he individually gave occasion, he came to the prudent resolution of abandoning his vagrant habits and leading a domestic life in the country. It was at this period that my visit was paid, and I received a most cordial welcome. His wife was a very pleasing woman, a great admirer of her husband, — never a reproach to a wife, though the kind of husband she has chosen may sometimes be so. But Thelwall was an amiable man in private life; an affectionate husband, and a fond father. He altogether mistook his talents, — he told me without reserve that he believed he should establish his name among the epic poets of England; and it is a curious thing, considering his own views, that he thought the establishment of Christianity and the British Constitution very appropriate subjects for his poem.