William Wordsworth

Ernest De Selincourt and Alan G. Hill (eds), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 4: The Later Years: Part I: 1821–1828 (Second Revised Edition)

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  • Address: The Viscount Lowther, Spring Gardens, London.
  • Postmark: 28 Mar. 1821.
  • Stamp: Kendal Penny Post.
  • MS. Lonsdale MSS.
  • K (—). LY i. 31 (—).

[28 Mar. 1821]

My dear Lord Lowther,

It is a pleasure to be attacked by such an intermeddling Demagogue as Hume,1 since he has called forth so prompt and friendly pg 55a defender as yourself. I have sent you (as briefly as I could to be intelligible) an account of my duties and responsibilities as Stamp-Distributor. It would be well if such babbling Patriots as Hume would make their seats in Parliament sinecures and the public would be less frequently misled both as to things and Persons.

I am truly sorry for what you say as to the probable fate of the Catholic Question;1 and feel grateful to you as an Englishman for your persevering exertions. Canning's speech2 as given in the Morning Chronicle and Courier, is a tissue of glittering declamation and slender sophistry. He does not appear to look at the effect of this measure upon the Dissenters at all; and as to the inference that the Catholics will be quiet when possessed of their object, because they have been patient under long privation, first we may deny the premises—has not every concession been employed as a vantage-ground for another attack; and had it been otherwise, were it true that they had been patient, what says History as to the long-enduring quiet of Men who have an object in view. The Grandees of the Puritans, says Heylin,3 in his life of Archbishop Laud, after the first heats were over in Queen Elizabeth's time, carried their work for thirty years together, like Moles under the ground, not casting up any earth before them, till they had made so strong a party in the House of Com: as was able to hold the King to their own conditions. Mr Canning finds the Catholic Peers supporters of Episcopacy in Charles lst's time, and concluded therefore that they were friends to the Church of England because Bishops make a part of its constitution. Would it not have been more consonant to History to ascribe this care of Reformed Bishopricks to the love of an institution favorable to that worldly exaltation of Religion by which abuses were produced that wrought pg 56the overthrow of Papacy in England, and to some lurking expectations that if the Sees could be preserved they might not improbably be filled at no distant time by Catholic Prelates.

I apprehend that there will soon be an explosion in Prussia, and the whole of North Germany;1 so that the troubles of our time will be perhaps renewed as formidably as ever.

  • Excuse this long scrawl—         
  • Ever faithfully yours   
  • W Wordsworth 

Mrs W. will be obliged to Lord Lowther to direct the enclosed and to allow his St to put it into the Post Off.

[W. W. sent on a separate sheet the following account, in John Carter's hand, of the duties of a Distributor of Stamps]2

The duty of a Distributor of Stamps is, upon application made by him to receive Stamps from the Head Office to supply the demands of his District. These Stamps are forwarded by him to his Subdistributors in the quantity required by them.

At the close of every quarter, an account is sent to the Head Office in London of the Stamps on Hand, and at the same time Money is remitted to the amount of those sold.

The Collection of Legacy Duty which is naturally attached to this Office is performed by supplying to Executors and Administrators certain papers called Forms to be by them filled up according to the directions contained in them and returned to the Distributor. These papers are forwarded by him once a month to the Head Office where (if found correct) they are stamped, then returned to the Distributor, and from him forwarded through his Subdistributors to the Executors, who in these papers receive a Discharge for the Duty due under the Will.

The performance of the above two principal branches of duty requires either the constant attendance of a Distributor himself or that of some confidential and competent representative. The time to be given to his duty depends upon the extent of his district or rather the quantity of Stamps consumed in it, but as it is uncertain pg 57when the Stamps will be called for, he or his representative, as I have said, must be constantly on the spot.

The keeping of the accounts is a matter that requires much care and attention, and the quarterly returns must be made with the most exact Classification of the Stamps under the Heads of their several duties and the Legacy Papers demand a minute attention to Rules not a little difficult to apply without mistake.

So much for the trouble.—Now for the responsibility. Sureties upon undertaking the Office are required in proportion to the Profit, but even where the Profit is small they are so heavy that if there should arise a necessity to act upon them the forfiet would ruin many times over a Person of small Fortune as he must be to whom such small profit can be an object, and even where the consumption of Stamps is small it is necessary to keep on hand a large Stock, the preservation of which from Robbery, Fire or other accidents is a cause of great anxiety. For my own part so much have I felt this and the necessity of vigilance in every branch of this concern that notwithstanding I have a Clerk in whom I repose the utmost confidence, not twentyfour hours have passed during seven years in which either myself or some one of my nearest connections has not been on the spot to superintend the concern.

I was absent for some months last summer but this was by Medical advice and with the permission of the Board.

The poundage is at the rate of 4 Per Cent, from which must be deducted the Poundage to Subdistributors which varies according to circumstances.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 Joseph Hume (1777–1855), radical politician, who devoted himself to questions of public expenditure. He was briefly Tory M.P. for Weymouth in 1812, and then radical M.P. for Aberdeen (1818–30), Middlesex (1830–7), Kilkenny (1837–41), and Montrose (1842–55). In a speech in the House of Commons on 22 Mar. 1821, he moved the abolition of the Offices of Receivers-General and Distributors of Stamps in the interests of economy and to reduce the baneful influence of patronage. The Distributors were sinecurists, he maintained, and received too generous a rate of poundage on their transactions—besides the interest they could earn on public money while it was passing through their hands. 'The distributors of stamps did not discharge their duties in person, but by deputy, and the consequence was, that when an idle poet (Mr Wordsworth) was appointed one of their number, he minded little in what manner his deputy made his profits, provided he received his share of them.' The House set up a Select Committee to look into the matter; and from now on W. W. lived in some anxiety about the future of the office on which his financial security depended.
Editor’s Note
1 In an undated letter to W. W. of mid-Mar. 1821, Lord Lowther had written: 'I regard the Catholic Question in the same view as yourself … I fear all opposition is now hopeless for we find the majority of the House is in its favor by 15 or 16. So it is mere accident whether the Question is carried or lost by a few. In another Parliament we shall have no chance, as all the young men are inoculated with liberal ideas … ' (WL MSS.)
Editor’s Note
2 On 26 Mar., during the Committee stage of the Roman Catholic Disability Removal Bill.
Editor’s Note
3 Peter Heylyn (1600–62), Royalist, Churchman, and controversialist. His Cyprianus Anglicus, or the History of the Life and Death of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1668, is a defence of Laud against the aspersions of the Puritan William Prynne, and an important source for Laud's personal character and private life. W. W. had a copy in his library.
Editor’s Note
1 After a period of unrest and repression, the King of Prussia was preparing to introduce a form of representative government based on provincial assemblies elected by the landed interest.
Editor’s Note
2 This is the fullest account we have of W. W.'s office, the nature of which is still occasionally misrepresented. Lord Lowther wrote in reply 'that he had laid William's statements before the Solr. Genl., who told him that from them he had gained more knowledge of the Nature of the Office—the responsibilities, etc., than from any other quarter whatever' (MW, p. 80).
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