Bloomfield, Robert, 1766-1823. The farmer's boy: a rural poem, in four books. By Robert Bloomfield. With ornaments engraved in wood by Anderson. London: printed by T. Bensley; for Vernor and Hood; T. C. Rickman; Ingram, Bury; and Booth, Norwich, 1800. [4],xvi,102,[2]p.,plate: ill.; 8⁰. (ESTC T154018; OTA K116451.000)

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  • [Illustration]

    A Shepherd's Boy .... he seeks no better name.

    With Ornaments engraved in Wood by Anderson.




    HAVING the satisfaction of introducing to the Public this very pleasing and characteristic POEM, the FARMER's BOY, I think it will be agreeable to preface it with a short Account of the manner in which it came into my hands: and, which will be much more interesting to every Reader, a little History of the Author, which has been communicated to me by his Brother, and which I shall very nearly transcribe as it lies before me.

    In November last year I received a MS. which I was re quested to read, and to give my opinion of it. It had before been shewn to some persons in London: whose indifference to ward it may probably be explained when it is considered that it came to their hands under no circumstances of adventitious recommendation. With some a person must be rich, or titled, or fashionable as a literary name, or at least fashionable in some respect, good or bad, before any thing which he can offer will be thought worthy of notice.

    I had been a little accustomed to the effect of prejudices: and I was determined to judge, in the only just and reasonable way, of the Work, by the Work itself.

    [Page ii]

    At first I confess, seeing it divided into the four Seasons, I had to encounter a prepossession not very advantageous to any writer, that the Author was treading in a path already so ad mirably trod by THOMSON; and might be adding one more to an attempt already so often, but so injudiciously and unhap pily made, of transmuting that noble Poem from Blank Verse into Rhime; .... from its own pure native Gold into an alloyed Metal of incomparably less splendor, permanence, and worth.

    I had soon, however, the pleasure of finding myself relieved from that apprehension: and of discovering that, although the delineation of RURAL SCENERY naturally branches itself into these divisions, there was little else except the General Qualities of a musical car; flowing numbers, Feeling, Piety, poetic Imagery and Animation, a taste for the picturesque, a true sense of the natural and pathetic, force of thought, and liveliness of imagina tion, which were in common between Thomson and this Author. And these are qualities which whoever has the eye, the heart, the awakened and surrounding intellect, and the diviner sense of the Poet; which alone can deserve the name, must posses.

    But, with these general Characters of true Poetry, "The Far mer's Boy" has, as I have said, a character of its own. It is discriminated as much as the circumstances and habits, and situation, and ideas consequently associated, which are so widely diverse in the two Authors, could make it different. Simplicity, sweetness, a natural tenderness, that molle atque facetum which HORACE celebrates in the Eclogues of VIRGIL, will be found to belong to it.

    [Page iii]

    I intend some farther and more particular CRITICAL RE MARKS on this charming Performance. But I now pass to the Account of the Author himself, as given me by his Bro ther: .... a Man to whom also I was entirely a stranger: .... but whose Candor, good Sense, and brotherly Affection, appear in this Narrative; and of the justness of whose Understanding, and the Goodness of his Heart, I have had many Proofs, in consequence of a correspondence with him on different occa sions which have since arise, when this had made me ac quainted with him, and interested me in his behalf.

    In writing to me, Mr. GEORGE BLOOMFIELD, who is a Shoemaker also, as his Brother, and lives at BURY, thus ex presses himself.

    "As I spent five years with the Author, from the time he was thirteen years and a half old till he was turned of eighteen, the most interesting time of life (I mean the time that instruc tion is acquired, if acquired at all), I think I am able to give a better account of him than any one can, or than he can of him self: for his Modesty would not let him speak of his Temper, Disposition, or Morals."

    "ROBERT was the younger Child of GEORGE BLOOM FIELD, a Taylor, at HONINGTON. * This Village is between Euston and Troston, and about nine miles N.E. of Bury. L.His Father died when he was an infant under a year old. His Mother** ELIZABETH, Daughter of ROBERT MANBY. Vide Note at the end of this Preface. was a School mistress, and instructed her own Children with the others. He thus learned to read as soon as he learned to speak. "

    [Page iv]

    "Though the Mother was left a Widow with six small Children, yet with the help of Friends she managed to give each of them a little schooling."

    "ROBERT was accordingly sent to Mr. RODWELL,* This respectable Men is senior Clerk to the Magistrates of the Hundred of BLACKBOURN, in which Honington is situated, and has conducted himself with great propriety in this and other public employments, L. of Ixworth, to be improved in Writing: but he did not go to that School more than two or three months, nor was ever sent to any other; his Mother again marrying when ROBERT was about seven years old. "

    "By her second Husband, JOHN GLOVER, she had an other Family."

    "When Robert was not above eleven years old, the late Mr. W. AUSTIN, of SAPISTON, This little Village adjoins to HONINGTON. L. took him. And though it is customary for Farmers to pay such Boys only is, 6d per week, yet he generously took him into the house. This re lieved his Mother of any other expence than only of finding him a few things to wear: and this was more than she well knew how to do. "

    "She wrote therefore," Mr. G. BLOOMFIELD continues, "to me and my Brother NAT (then in London), to assist her; mentioning that he, ROBERT, was so small of his age that Mr. AUSTIN said he was not likely to be able to get his living by hard labour."

    [Page v]

    Mr. G. BLOOMFIELD on this informed his Mother that, if she would let him take the Boy with him, he would take him, and teach him to make shoes: and NAT promised to clothe him. The Mother, upon this offer, took coach and came to LONDON, to Mr. BLOOMFIELD, with the Boy: for she said, she never should have been happy if she had not put him herself into his hands.

    "She charged me," he adds, "as I valued a Mother's Blessing, to watch over him, to set good Examples for him, and never to forget that he had lost his Father." I religiously confine myself to Mr. G. BLOOMFIELD's own words; and think I should wrong all the parties concerned if in mentioning this pathetic and successful Admonition, I were to use any other.

    Mr. G. BLOOMFIELD then lived at Mr. Simm's, No. 7, Tisher's-court, Bell-alley, Coleman-street. "It is customary", he continues, "in such houses as are let to poor people in London, to have light Garrets fit for Mechanics to work in. In the Garret, where we had two turn-up Beds, and five of us worked, I received little ROBERT."

    "As we were all single Men, Lodgers at a Shilling per week each, our beds were coarse, and all things far from being clean and snug, like what Robert had left at SAPISTON. Robert was our man, to fetch all things to hand. At Noon he fetched our Dinners from the Cook's Shop: and any one of our fellow workmen that wanted to have any thing fetched in, would send him, and assist in his work and teach him, for a recompense for his trouble."

    [Page vi]

    Every day when the Boy from the Public-house came for the pewter pots, and to hear what Porter was wanted, he always brought the yesterday's Newspaper. * There was then, neither as a resource for the exigencies of finance, nor as a Principle of supposed Policy, that unhappy Check which prevails now on the cir culation of Newspapers, and other means of popular Information. L.The reading of the Paper we had been used to take by turns; but after Robert came, he mostly read for us, .... because his time was of least value. "

    "He frequently met with words that he was unacquainted with: of this he often complained. I one day happened at a Book-stall to see a small Dictionary, which had been very ill used. I bought it for him for 4d. By the help of this he in little time could read and comprehend the long and beautiful speeches of BURKE, FOX, or NORTH.

    "One Sunday, after an whole day's stroll in the country, we by accident went into a dissenting Meeting-house in the Old Jewry, where a Gentleman was lecturing. This Man filled little Robert with astonishment. The House was amazingly crowded with the most genteel people; and though we were forced to stand still in the Aisle, and were much pressed, yet Robert always quickened his steps to get into the Town on a Sunday evening soon enough to attend this Lecture.

    "The Preacher lived somewhere at the West End of the Town .... his name was FAWCET. His language," says Mr. G. BLOOMFIELD, "was just such as the Rambler is written in; his Action like a person acting a Tragedy; his Discourse ra tional, and free from the Cant of Methodism.

    [Page vii]

    "Of him Robert learned to accent what he called hard words; and otherwise improved himself; and gained the most enlarged notions of PROVIDENCE.

    "He went sometimes with me to a Debating Society* It is another of the Constitutional Refinements of these times to have fettered, and as to every valuable purpose, silenced, these Debating Societies. They were at least, to say the lowest of them, far better amusements than drunkenness, gam bling, or fighting. They were no useless Schools to some of our very celebrated Speakers at the Bar and in Parliament: and, what is of infinitely more importance, they contributed to the diffusion of Political Knowledge and Public Sentiment. L. at coachmaker's-hall, but not often; and a few times to Covent-garden Theatre. These are all the opportunities he ever had to learn from Public Speakers. As to Books, he had to wade through two or three Folios: an History of England, British Traveller, and a Geography. But he always read them as a task, or to oblige us who bought them. And as they came in sixpenny numbers weekly, he had about as many hours to read as other boys spend in play. "

    "I at that time," proceeds his Brother, "read the London Magazine; and in that work about two sheets were set apart for a Review .... Robert seemed always eager to read this Review. Here he could see what the Literary Men were doing, and learn how to judge of the merits of the Works that come out. And I observed that he always looked at the Poet's Corner. And one day he repeated a Song which he composed to an old tune. I was much surprised that a boy of sixteen should make so smooth verses; so I persuaded him to try whether the Editor of our Paper would give them a place in Poel's Corner. And he succeeded, and they were printed. And as I forget his other early productions, I shall copy this."

    [Page viii]



    Hail, MAY! lovely MAY! how replenish'd my pails!
    The young Dawn overspreads the East streak'd with gold!
    My glad heart beats time to the laugh of the Vale,
    And COLIN's voice rings through the woods from the sold.
    The Wood to the Mountain submissively bends,
    Whose blue misty summits first glow with the sun!
    See thence a gay train by the wild rill descends
    To join the glad sports: .... hark! the tumults begun.
    Be cloudless, ye skies! .... Be my Colin but there,
    Not the dew-spangled bents on the wide level Dale,
    Nor Morning's first blush can more lovely appear
    Than his Looks, since my wishes I could not conceal.
    Swift down the mad dance, while blest health prompts to move,
    Well count joys to come, and exchange Vows of truth;
    And haply when Age cools the transports of Love,
    Decry like good folks the rain pleasures of youth.
    No, no; the remembrance shall ever be dear!
    At no time LOVE with INNOCENCE ceases to charm:
    It is transport in Youth .... and it smiles through the tear,
    When they feel, in their children, it's first soft alarm.
    [Page ix]

    The Writer of this Preface doubts whether he has been suc cessful in adding the last Stanza to this beautiful and simply expressive Song. But he imagined that some thought of this kind was in the mind of the Author: and he was willing to endeavour to express it. The Breast which has felt Love, justly shrinks from the idea of its total extinction, as from annihi lation itself. And there is even an high social and moral use in that order of Providence which exalts Sensations into tender and benign Passions; those Passions into habitual Affections yet more tender; and raises from those Affections Virtues the most permanent, the most necessary and beneficent, and the most endearing: thus expanding the sentiment into all the Cha rities of domestic and social Life.

    "I remember," says Mr. G. BLOOMFIELD, continuing his Narrative, "a little piece which he called the Sailor's Return:* It is much to be wished that this may be discovered. L. in which he tried to describe the feelings of an honest Tar, who, after a long absence, saw his dear native Village first rising into view. This too obtain'd a place in the Poet's Corner. "

    "And as he was so young," his Brother proceeds, "it shews some Genius in him, and some Industry, to have acquired so much knowledge of the use of words in so little time. Indeed at this time myself and my fellow workmen in the Garret began to got instructions from him, though not more than sixteen years old." What simple magnanimity and benevolence in this Remark. L.

    "About this time there came a Man to lodge at our Lodg ings that was troubled with fits. ROBERT was so much hurt[Page x] to see this poor creature drawn into such frightful forms, and to hear his horrid screams, that I was forced to leave the Lodg ing. We went to Blue Hart-court, Bell-alley. In our new Garret we found a singular character, James Kay, a native of Dundee. He was a middle-aged man, of a good understanding, and yet a furious Calvinist. He had many Books, .... and some which he did not value: such as the SEASONS, PARADISE LOST, and some Novels. These Books he lent to ROBERT; who spent all his leisure hours in reading the Seasons, which he was now capable of reading. I never heard him give so much praise to any Book as to that."

    "I think it was in the year 1784 that the Question came to be decided between the journeymen Shoemakers; whether those who had learn'd without serving an Apprenticeship could follow the Trade." * That is as journeymen: for there was no Question that they could not as Masters on their own account. That a person may work as a journeyman without having served an apprenticeship, had already been determined, T. 9. G. 3. Beach v. Turner. Burr. Mans. 2419. A person also who has not served an Apprenticeship may be a partner, contributing money, or advice and attention to the accounts and general concerns of the Trade, provided that he does not actually exercise the Trade, and that the acting partner has served. Vide Reynolds v. Chase, M. 30. g. 2. Burr. Mansf. 2. 1 Burn J.P. Apprent. § 12. L.

    "The Man by whom Robert and I were employ'd, Mr. CHAMBERLAYNE, of Cheapside, took an active part against the lawful journeymen; and even went so far as to pay off every man that worked for him that had joined their Clubs. This so exasperated the men, that their acting Committee soon looked for unlawful men (as they called them) among Chamberlayne's workmen."

    [Page xi]

    They found out little Robert, and threatened to prosccute Chamberlayne for employing him, and to prosecute his Brother, Mr. G. Bloomfield, for teaching him. Chamberlayne requested of the Brother to go on and bring it to a Trial; for that he would defend it; and that neither George nor Robert should be hurt.

    In the mean time George was much insulted for having re fused to join upon this occasion those who called themselves, exclusively, the Lawful Crafts. George, who says he was never famed for patience, (it is not indeed so much as might be sometimes wished, very often the lot of strong and acute minds to possess largely of this virtue,) took his pen, and addressed a Letter to one of the most active of their Committee-men (a man of very bad character). In this, after stating that he took Robert at his Mother's request, he made free as well with the private character of this man as with the views of the Committee. "This," says George, "was very foolish; for it made things worse: but I felt too much to refrain."

    What connects this episodical circumstance with the cha racter of our Author follows in his Brother's words.

    "Robert naturally fond of Peace, and fearful for my per sonal safety, begged to be suffered to retire from the storm.

    "He came home; and Mr. AUSTIN kindly bade him take his house for his home till he could return to me. And here, with his mind glowing with the fine Descriptions of rural scenery which he found in THOMSON'S SEASONS, he again retraced the very fields where first he began to think. Here,[Page xii] free from smoke,* But one word is altered in this Description; which reminds one of the〈1 line〉Fun••m〈◊◊〉Stpitume••e Romae. L. the noise, the contention of the City, he imbibed that Love of rural Simplicity and rural Innocence, which fitted him, in a great degree, to be the writer of such a thing as the Farmer's Boy. "

    "Here he lived two Months: .... at length, as the dispute in the trade still remained undecided, Mr. DUDBRIDGE offered to take Robert Apprentice, to secure him, at all events, from any consequences of the Litigation."

    He was bound by Mr. Ingram, of Bell-alley, to Mr. John Dudbridge. His Brother George paid five shillings for Robert, by way of form, as a premium. Dudbridge was their Land lord, and a Freeman of the City of London. He acted most honourably, and took no advantage of the power which the In dentures gave him. George Bloomfield staid with Robert till he found he could work as expertly as his self.

    Mr. GEORGE BLOOMTIELD adds, "When I left London he was turned of eighteen; and much of my happiness since has arisen from a constant correspondence which I have held with him."

    "After I left him, he studied Music, and was a good player on the Violin."

    "But as my Brother Nut had married a Wooluich woman, it happened that Robert took a fancy to a comely young woman MARY. Her surname before marriage is mentioned in the next Page.[Page xiii] of that Town, whose Father is a boat-builder in the Government yard there. His name is CHURCH. "

    "Soon after he married, Robert told me, in a Letter, that 'he had sold his Fiddle and got a Wife.' Like most poor men, he got a wife first, and had to get household stuff after ward. It took him some years to get out of ready furnished Lodgings. At length, by hard working, &c. he acquired a Bed of his own, and hired the room up one pair of stairs at 14, Bell-alley, Coleman-street. The Landlord kindly gave him leave to sit and work in the light Garret, two pair of stairs higher."

    "In this Garret, amid six or seven other workmen, his active Mind employed itself in composing the Parmer's Boy".

    "In my correspondence I have seen several poetical effu sions of his; all of them of a good moral tendency; but which he very likely would think do him little credit: on that account I have not preserved them."

    "ROBERT is a Ladies Shoemaker, and works for DAVIES, Lomlard-street. He is of a slender make; of about 5. T. 4 I. high; very dark complexion .... His MOTHER, who is a very religious member of the Church of England, took all the pains she could in his infancy to make him pious: and as his Reason expanded, his love of God and Man increased with it. I never knew his fellow for mildness of temper and Good ness of Disposition. And since I left him, universally is he praised by those who know him best, for the best of Husbands,[Page xiv] an indulgent Father, and quiet Neighbour. He is about thirty-two years old, and has three Children."

    Mr. GEORGE BLOOMFIELD concludes this clear, affec tionate, and interesting Narrative, by a very kind Address to the Writer of this Preface. But, pleased as I am with the good opinion of a Man like him, I must not take praise to myself for not having neglected or suppressed such a Work when it came into my hands. And I have no farther merit than that of seeing what it was impossible for an unprejudiced Mind not to see, and of doing what it was impossible not to do.

    But I join with him cordially in his prayer, "that GOD, the Giver of thought, may, as mental light spreads, raise up many who will turn a listening ear, and will not despiseThe short and simple Annals of the Poor.

    Very few words will complete what remains to be added.

    Struck with the Work, but not less struck with the Remark, which is become a Proverb, of the Roman Satirist, that "it is not easy* Hand facile emergunt quorum virtutibus obstat Res augusta domi. for those to emerge to notice whose circumstances obscure the observation of their Merits, "I sent it to a Friend, whom I knew to be above these prejudices, and who has de served, and is deserving, well of the Public, in many other in stances, by his attention to Literature and the elegant Arts. He immediately expressed an high satisfaction in it, and com municated it to MESERS. VERNOR and HOOD. They adopted[Page xv] in upon terms honorable to themselves, and satisfactory to the Author, and to me in his behalf. They have published it in a manner which speaks abundantly for itself; both as to the typo graphical accuracy and beauty, and the good taste and execution of the Ornaments in Wood.

    My part has been this, and it has been a very pleasing one: to revise the MS. making occasionally corrections with respect to Orthography, and sometimes in the grammatical construc tion. The corrections, in point of Grammar, reduce themselves almost wholly to a circumstance of provincial usage, which even well educated persons in Suffolk and Norfolk do not wholly avoid; and which may be said, as to general custom, to have become in these Counties almost an established Dialect: .... that of adopting the plural for the singular termination of verbs, so as to exclude the s. But not a line is added or substantially alter'd through the whole Poem. I have requested the MS. to be preserv'd for the satisfaction of those who may wish to be satisfied on this head.

    The Proofs have gone through my bands. It has been printed slowly: because most carefully; as it deserv'd to be printed.

    I have no doubt of its Reception with the Public: I have none of its going down to Posterity with honor; which is not always the Fate of productions which are popular in their day.

    Thus much I know: .... that the Author, with a spirit amiable at all times, and which would have been revered by Antiquity,[Page xvi] seems far less interested concerning any Fame or Advantage he may derive from it to himself, than in the pleasure of giving a printed Copy of it, as a tribute of duty and affection, to his MOTHER; in whose pleasure, if it succeeds, his filial heart places the gratification of which it is most desirous. It is much to be a POET, such as he will be found: .... it is more to be such a MAN.


    TROSTON, n. BERY, SURROLK. 21 Dec. 1799. ** ELIZABETH MANBY, the Mother of the Author of this POLM, was sister to the wife of Mr. WILLIAM AUSTIN. I had written to Mr. GEORGE BLOOMFIELD to request the name, before Marriage, of his Mother. This gained me an Answer, which I have great pleasure in adding. "The late Mr AUSTIN's wife was a Manby 'my Mother's sister. And it may seem strange that, in the FARMER's BOY, Giles no where calls him Uncle, but Master ..... The treatment that my Brother Robert experienced from Mr. Austin did not differ in any respect from the treatment that all the Servant Boys experienced who lived with him. Mr. Austin was Father of fourteen Children by my Aunt (he never had any other wife). He left a decent provision for the five Children that survived him: so that it could not be expected he should have any thing to give to poor Relations. And I don't see a possibility of making a difference between GILES and the Boys that were not related to Mr. Austin: for he treated all his Servants exactly as he did his Sons. They all worked hard; all lived well. The DUKE had not a better Man Tenant to him than the late Mr. Austin I saw numbers of the Husbandmen in tears when he was buried. He was beloved by all who knew him. But I imagine Robert thought that when he was speaking of Benevolence that was universal, he had no occasion to mention the accidental circumstance of his being related to the Good Man of whom he sung"


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