1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Bampfylde

Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 3 October 1799; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:26-28.



Exeter, Oct. 3. 1799.

Bonaparte was remarkably studious, and mathematics his particular study. He associated little, or not at all, with the other officers, and in company was reserved and silent. This is Mrs. Keenan's account, to whom I looked up with more respect because the light of his countenance had shone upon her. Banfill tells me that the mathematical tutor of Bonaparte is in Exeter — an emigrant. He says that he was an excellent mathematician — in the military branch chiefly — and that he was always the great man, always the first, always Bonaparte....

Jackson has taste to a certain extent.... His music I take for granted: his pictures are always well conceived, the creations of a man of genius; but he cannot execute; his trees are like the rustic work in a porter's lodge, seaweed landscapes, cavern drippings chiselled into ramifications — cold, cramp, stiff, stony. I thank him for his "Four Ages." A man with a name may publish such a book; but when a book is merely a lounging collection of scraps, the commonplace book printed, one wishes it to hold more than half an hour's turning over, a little turtle soup and a little pineapple; but one wants a huge basin of broth and plenty of filberts.... I soon talked of Bampfylde, and Jackson rose in my esteem, for he talked of him till I saw the tears. I have copied one ode, in imitation of Gray's Alcaic, and nineteen sonnets. After I had done, Jackson required a promise that I would communicate no copy, as he was going to publish them. He read me the preface; it will tell you what a miraculous musician Bampfylde was, and that he died insane; but it will not tell you Bampfylde's history.

His wish was to live in solitude and write a play. From his former lodging near Chudley, often would he come to town in winter before Jackson was up — and Jackson is an early riser — ungloved, open-breasted, with a pocket-full of music, and poems, to know how he liked them. His friends — plague on the word — his relations, I mean, thought this was a sad life for a man of family, so they drove him to London. "Poor fellow!" said Jackson, "there did not live a purer creature; and if they would have let him alone, he might have been alive now. In London his feelings took a wrong course, and he paid the price of debauchery."

His sixteen printed sonnets are dedicated to Miss Palmer, now Lady Inchiquin, a niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Her he was madly in love with. Whether Sir J. opposed this match on account of Bampfylde's own irregularities in London, or of the hereditary insanity, I know not; but this was the commencement of his madness. On being refused admittance at Sir Joshua's, he broke the windows, and was taken to Newgate! Some weeks after, Jackson, on knowing of what had passed, went to London, and inquired for BampfyIde. Lady B., his mother, said she knew little of him; she had got him out of Newgate; he was in some beggarly place. "Where?" In King Street, Holborn, she believed, but did not know the number. Away went Jackson, and knocked at every door till he found the right. It was a miserable place. The woman of the house was one of the worst class of women in London. She knew B. had no money, and that he had been there three days without food. Jackson found him with the levity of derangement; his shirt-collar black and ragged — his beard of two months' growth. He said he was come to breakfast, and turned to a harpsichord in the room, literally, he said, to let B. gorge himself without being noticed. He took him away, gave his mother a severe lecture, and left him in decent lodgings and with a decent allowance, earnestly begging him to write. He never wrote. The next news was his confinement, and Jackson never saw him more. Almost the last time they met, he showed him several poems; among others a ballad on the murder of David Rizzio. "Such a ballad!" said J. He came to J. to dinner, and was asked for copies. "I burnt them," was the reply; "you did not seem to like them, and I wrote them to please you, so I burnt them." After twenty years' confinement his senses returned, but he was dying in a consumption. He was urged by his apothecary to leave the house in Sloane Street, where he was well treated, and go into Devonshire. "Your Devonshire friends will be very glad to see you." He immediately hid his face. "No, sir," said he, "they who knew me what I was, shall never see me what I am,"

Yours affectionately,

R. S.