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William Wordsworth

Ernest De Selincourt and Chester L. Shaver (eds), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 1: The Early Years: 1787–1805 (Second Revised Edition)

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  • Address: Mr W. Mathews | Mr Mathews's Bookseller | No 7 Strand, | London
  • Postmark: 10 January 1795.
  • Stamp: Penrith.
  • MS. Brit. Mus. M(—), i. 85. P(—), iii. 234. L, i. 81 and 84 and iii. 355. EL, 128.

[Penrith, c. 24 Dec. 1794 and 7 Jan. 1795]2

Dear Mathews,

It is a forthnight since I received your Letter for which, as you are so much engaged, I am not a little indebted to you. I sat down pg 137to reply to it ten days ago and more than half finished my answer when I was called off, and have not till the present found an opportunity of resuming. I am still much engaged with my sick friend and sorry am I to add, that he worsens daily. I have a most melancholy office of it. But to other topics. I rejoice with you on the acquittal of the prisoners, and on the same grounds. I cannot say however that I entirely approve of the character of Tooke.1 He seems to me to be a man much swayed by personal considerations, one who has courted persecution, and that rather from a wish to vex powerful individuals, than to be an instrument of public good. Perhaps I am mistaken; if so, I could wish to have my opinion rectified; such he has appeared to me. I must add that I have not taken up this idea from this last event, for in his share of it I see nothing to blame, but from the tenour of his political conduct previous to that period. The late occurrences in every point of view are interesting to humanity. They will abate the insolence and presumption of the aristocracy by shewing it that neither the violence, nor the art, of power can crush even an unfriended individual, though engaged in the propagation of doctrines confessedly unpalatable to privilege; and they will force upon the most prejudiced this conclusion that there is some reason in the language of reformers. Furthermore, They will convince bigotted enemies to our present constitution that it contains parts upon which too high a value cannot be set. To every class of men occupied in the correction of abuses it must be an animating reflection that their exertions, so long as they are temperate will be countenanced and protected by the good sense of the country.

I will now turn to what more immediately concerns ourselves. I sincerely thank you for the exertions you are ready to make in my behalf. I certainly mean to visit London as soon as the case of my friend is determined; and request you would have the goodness to look out for me some employment in your way. I must premise however that I have neither strength of memory, quickness of penmanship, nor rapidity of composition, to enable me to report any part of the parliamentary debates. I am not conscious of any want of ability for translating from the French or Italian Gazettes and with two or three weeks reading I think I could engage for the Spanish. You speak of other departments of the paper;2 pray how are they in general disposed? I could furnish in the way of paragraph pg 138remarks upon measures and events as they pass, and now and then an essay upon general politics. I should prefer notwithstanding confining myself to the two former employments, at least till I had a little more experience. But I am ignorant of the arrangements of a newspaper, and therefore have to beg you would favour me with a fuller account the first time you have leisure.

There is still a further circumstance which disqualifies me for the office of parliamentary reporter, viz. my being subject to nervous headaches, which invariably attack me when exposed to a heated atmosphere or to loud noises and that with such an excess of pain as to deprive me of all recollection. I was aware of the objection drawn from the company one must partly be forced in [to]; but this when a man has his bread to earn may be easily surmounted. I saw that Grey and Perry1 associated very little with the other persons employed in that way. This post however at all events I must decline from the reasons already stated. I should be happy to hear that you could give me grounds to suppose you could find employment for me in any other part of a newspaper for which you think me qualified. I cannot be detained long by my present occupation, so that you are not likely to give yourself trouble to no purpose. I have now finished with business. I have no news to communicate; and not liking to send you so much blank paper as is now before me, I have paused for a moment to reflect in what way I must fill it up.

Penrith, Jan. 7th, 1795.

I was here interrupted and have most shamefully neglected, for upwards [of] a fortnight a business which to me was an urgent one, viz. the despatching of this letter. I have no apology to make; I have lately undergone much uneasiness of mind; but I have had sufficient time on my hands to write a folio Vol:! I am therefore without excuse. Parliament has now met, and you will have no leisure to attend to me.2 I am properly punished for my remissness. pg 139I am now at Penrith, where I have been some time, my poor friend is barely alive. I shall not stay here any longer than to see him interred; but as he may linger on for some days I must request if you can make time to write to me that you would address me at Mrs. Sowerbys, Robin H[ood] Inn, Penrith, Cumberland.1 Your paper I have heard is out.2 I have learned nothing further of it than that it is democratical, and full of advertisements! Perhaps you are allowed a copy of it yourself; if so, you would oblige me highly, very highly, by sending it down to me here, even if it were the day after its publication. I think also I might forward its circulation in this little place. I don't mention this as an inducement for you to comply with my request. I have spoken of it here to an acquaintance, and he says he should like to take it, if it proves a good one. You see things are beginning to turn with respect to the war. Wilberforce and Duncombe3 are men respected by a very numerous body of people. I have again to request you would excuse my procrastination and by no means imitate it. Farewell. Believe me, your affectionate friend,

W. Wordsworth.  

I fear you will be unable to decypher this scrawl. I must learn to write a better hand, before I can earn my bread by my pen.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
2 The date when W. W. began this letter may be inferred from his saying in the second part, written on 7 Jan., that he had been interrupted about a fortnight earlier.
Editor’s Note
1 Hardy was acquitted on 5 Nov., Tooke on 22 Nov., and Thelwall on 5 Dec. (Letter 40).
Editor’s Note
2 See below.
Editor’s Note
1 James Grey (or Gray) (d. 1796) and James Perry (1756–1821), since 1789 joint proprietors and editors of the Morning Chronicle, the chief whig newspaper in London. Grey, earlier a master at Charterhouse, was known as 'an eminent reporter of parliamentary debates'. Perry won a similar reputation for having begun, when editor of the Gazetteer, the practice of using reporters in relays so as to get full coverage. If W. W.'s 'saw' means 'observed' rather than 'know', he implies that he had become acquainted with Grey and Perry, perhaps on his return from France in 1792–3.
Editor’s Note
2 As a parliamentary reporter Mathews was now covering the session, which began on 30 Dec. In the Commons a main topic of debate during the first meetings was the recent trials for treason, and on 5 Jan., two days before this postscript was written, Sheridan moved, unsuccessfully, to repeal the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act.
Editor’s Note
1 In King Street.
Editor’s Note
2 The Telegraph, a London daily which first appeared on 30 Dec. and which continued until 18 Mar. 1797, when it was absorbed by the Morning Post. As early as 19 Jan. 1795 Coleridge thought of becoming a reporter for it, and by 8 Feb. Southey, already a contributor, was hoping to be its Bristol correspondent. It was published by George Robinson (1737–1801), a thriving bookseller who also published the whig New Annual Register. The chief proprietor was John King (c. 1753–1824), a money-lender and quasi-republican. The editor was an Irish lawyer named McDonnell, probably James Joseph McDonnell, who was admitted at the Middle Temple in the same year (1793) as Mathews and who met King perhaps through Mrs. King (1737–1838), formerly an Irish countess. The paper remained 'democratical' and carried a high proportion of news from the law courts, Ireland, and the Continent.
Editor’s Note
3 Having reluctantly accepted the necessity of the war with France, Wilberforce changed his mind in Nov. 1794, and when Parliament met on 30 Dec. he moved to amend the Address from the Throne with a statement looking towards a negotiated peace. His decision was made the night before, at a conference which included his colleague, Henry Duncombe (1728/9–1818), M.P. for Yorkshire from 1780 to 1796.
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