John Bampfylde

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. VII, (1912-1913), Exeter: James G. Commin. 1913, pp. 219-222.


Offley H. Cary

Prepared by Michael Steer

John Codrington Warwick Bampfylde or Bampfield (27 August 1754 – 1796/7) the poet came from a prominent Devon family, his father being Sir Richard Bampfylde, 4th Baronet, and was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He had financial problems He had made romantic advances to Mary Palmer, niece of Joshua Reynolds, which she had refused, and spent the latter part of his life in a psychiatric hospital in London. He died of tuberculosis. His only published work was Sixteen Sonnets (1778), which attracted the attention of Robert Southey. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 156. JOHN BAMPFYLDE. - In looking through some papers that formerly belonged to my grandfather, Henry Francis Cary, the translator of Dante, commonly called ‘Dante Cary,' I lately came across some memoirs of English poets written by him, and evidently copied out for the printer. Among them was a memoir of John Bampfylde, which you may possibly think likely to interest readers of D.&C.N.&Q. They are portions of a series written for the London Magazine between the years 1821 and 1824. Several of the series were afterwards collected by his son, Henry Cary, and published in one volume as Lives of the British Poets, in the year 1845. Others, including that of John Bampfylde, remained on hand when the arrangement with the proprietors of the London Magazine terminated.

With reference to the ‘Jackson ' whose name appears in the MS., I can only conjecture that he may very probably have been the well-known organist of Exeter Cathedral, Dr. Jackson, but there is nothing in the narrative whereby to identify him. The memoir is as follows: -

"John Bampfylde, third son of Sir Richard Bampfylde, Baronet, of Poltimore in Devon, was born on the 24th August, 1754. He received his academical education at Cambridge. The early expectations that had been raised of his virtues, attainments and genius, were blasted by the most awful of human calamities. He was insane for nearly twenty years preceding his death, which happened about the year 1796.

The few short poems he has left, not amounting to 300 verses in all, are in a sweet, natural and elegant vein.

"The ode to the river Teign appears to have been suggested by the farewell address of Philoctetes in the Grecian Tragedy.

"One of the sonnets paints strongly the nightly terrors to which he was subject. It is read with additional interest when we know the event in which they terminated.

This morn, ere yet had rung the Matin peal The cursed Merlin with his potent spell, Aggrieved me sore, and from his wizard cell (First fixing on mine eyes a magic seal) Millions of ghosts and shadowy shapes let steal. Who, swarming round my couch with horrid yell, Chattered and moe'd, as though from deepest hell They had escaped. - I oft, with fervent zeal, Essayed, with prayer, to mar the enchanter's power. In vain; for thicker still the crew came on, And now had weighed me down; but that the clay Appeared, and Phoebus from his eastern tower, With new tricked beam, like Truth immortal shone, And chased the visionary forms away.

"Another of them describes in a beautiful manner that love of seclusion, which had taken hold of his mind, but which he perhaps could not have indulged in without danger.

Around my porch and lowly casement spread The myrtle never sere and gadding vine, With fragrant sweet briar loved to intertwine ; And in my garden box-encircled bed, The pansy pied, and musk-rose white and red, The pink, the lily chaste, and sweet woodbine Fling odours round; thick woven eglantine Decks my trim fence, in which, by silence led, The wren hath wisely placed her mossy cell, Sheltered from storms, in courtly land so rife, And nestles o'er her young, and warbles well. 'Tis here with Innocence in peaceful glen I pass my blameless moments, far from men, Nor wishing death too soon, nor asking life.

"From the Autobiography, &c, of Sir E. Brydges, v. II.

"At the time when Jackson became intimate with him, he was just in his prime, and had no other wish than to live in solitude and amuse himself with poetry and music. He lodged in a farmhouse near Chudleigh, and would often times come to Exeter in a winter morning ungloved and open-breasted, before Jackson was up (though he was an early riser), with a pocket full of music or poems, to know how he liked them. His relations thought this was a sad life for a man of family, and forced him to London. The tears ran down Jackson's cheeks when he told me the story. 1 Poor fellow ' said he, there did not live a purer creature, and, if they would have let him alone, he might have been alive now.' When he was in London, his feelings having been forced out of their proper channel, took a wrong direction. The Miss Palmer, to whom he dedicated his sonnets (afterwards, and perhaps still Lady Inchiquin), was niece to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Why Sir Joshua objected to his addresses I know not, but this was the commencement of his madness. He was refused admittance into the house. Upon this, in a fit of half anger and half derangement, he broke the windows, and was (little to Sir Joshua's honour), sent to Newgate. Some weeks after this had happened, Jackson went to London, and one of his first enquiries was for Bampfylde.

"Lady Bampfylde, his mother, said she knew little or nothing about him ; that she had got him out of Newgate and he was now in some beggarly place, Where ?  In King Street, Holborn, she believed, but she did not know the number of the house.' Away went Jackson and knocked at every door till he found the right. It was a truly miserable place ; the woman of the house was one of the worst class of women in London. She knew that Bampfylde had no money, and that at that time he had been three days without food. When Jackson saw him, there was all the levity of madness in his manner, his shirt was ragged and black as a coal-heaver's, and his beard of a two-months' growth.

"Jackson sent out for food and said he was to come to breakfast with him, and he turned aside to a harpsichord in the room, literally, he said to let him gorge himself without being noticed. He removed him from hence, and after giving his mother a severe lecture, obtained for him a decent allowance and left him, when he himself quitted town, in decent lodgings, earnestly begging him to write. But he never wrote ; the next news was that he was in a private madhouse and Jackson never saw him since. Almost the last time they met, he shewed him several poems, among others a ‘Ballad on the Murder of David Rizzio,'  such a ballad! ' said he. He came that day to dine with Jackson and was asked for copies. 1 1 burned them,' was the reply. 4 1 wrote them to please you ; you did not like them, so I threw them into the fire.' After twenty years confinement he recovered his senses, but not till he was dying of consumption.

"The Apothecary urged him to leave Sloane Street (where he had always been as kindly treated as he could be), and go into his own country, saying that his friends in Devonshire would be very glad to see him. But he hid his face and answered, ‘No, sir ; they who knew me what I was, shall never see me what I am.' Some of these facts I should have inserted in the specimens had not Coleridge mislaid the letter in which I had written them down, and it was not found till too late. I remember that it dwelt much upon his miraculous genius for music, and even made it intelligible to me, who am no musician. He knew nothing of the science, but would sit down to the harpsichord and produce combinations so wild that no composer would have ventured to think of, and yet so beautiful in their effect that Jackson (an enthusiast concerning music) spoke of them after the lapse of twenty years with astonishment and tears."

                                                                   OFFLEY H. CARY.