Elizabeth Coltman, Raithby, to Anne Steele Tomkins, Bevis Hill, near Southampton, [Monday] 13 December 1813.
Raithby Decmbr 13 1813
It is not from me that you will expect sentiments of condolence, or consolation. Too severely have I suffered, too deeply do I feel my loss, not to know how ineffectual under such trials is all human aid. The heart that has known how to appretiate the value of such a friend, can never expect the void to be filled by any created object; & as the scene around us is so rapidly changing & our own continuance in it is uncertain we shall do well to raise our affections hopes, & expectations, to that world, where all is purity & perfection, & where sorrow & sighing shall flee away. Observation & experience confirm the conviction, that life is only happy when it is spent in a serious & habitual preparation for that state. It will give me pleasure to be informed that the trying scene you have passed through has not materially injured your health, & that the critical moment is happily over. Miss Steele & Miss Tomkins are I hope returned to you, that the journey may have answered the intended end, I most earnestly wish for your sake, as well as her own.
You will I trust pardon the liberty I am going to take, the bust which I believe has some value in the estimation of my friend, can no longer answer any purpose at Broughton, it is possible you may not be there, nor do I wish to occasion you the least trouble but as Mr Tomkins will probably be frequently going, I shall esteem it a favour, if he will see it packed with something around the face to prevent it being broken. A thick case in which it was sent, may possibly not be destroyed if it should, Mr T¾ will be kind enough to order one, & make a memorandum of the expence. – When the papers are looked over, allow me my Dr Madm to request, that all those in my hand may be made into a parcel, directed to me at Mrs Buxtons No 1 Chatham Place Walworth near London, & when a suitable opportunity presents, it may be sent to Town. The Bust I wish to be directed to Mrs Brackenbury, Raithby near Spilsby, Lincolnshire & sent by the carrier whenever it is convenient. When the box is sent off, I shall think myself obliged by a line addressed to me at Leicester, & the more particulars the letter contains respecting yourself, the more highly shall I think myself obliged, for to cease to be interested about a family whose name & virtues are indelibly written on my heart is impossible, till I cease to be
Text: STE 6/3/i. Postmark illegible. Address: Mrs Tomkins / Bevis Hill / near Southampton; for an annotated edition of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 3, pp. 383-84. Raithby is in Lincolnshire. References in the letter are to Martha Steele, Mary Steele Tomkins, Hannah Gurney Buxton (sister of the Quaker social philathropist, Elizabeth Gurney Fry, and the wife of Thomas Fowell Buxton, founder of the Anti-Slavery Society), and the Methodist leader Robert Carr Brackenbury (1752-1818). A bust of Elizabeth Coltman was made c. 1792 by the Baptist sculptor Elenor Coade of Battersby, London. Mary Steele had visited Leicester in 1794, and the bust was apparently presented to her at Broughton House the next year, where it remained until her death. Coltman’s request was fulfilled, and the bust was sent to Sarah Brackenbury of Raithby Hall, in Lincolnshire. Florence Skillington included a picture of the bust in her article on Coltman, but she incorrectly asserts that the bust ‘had been specially executed for Mrs. Brackenbury, from a cast of Elizabeth’s features taken for the purpose when she was thirty-four’. As the above letter reveals, that was not the case. Alicia Cooper saw the bust at Raithby Hall in 1827, when she was thirteen, and recorded the following description in her reminiscences:
It was placed upon a marble slab, was crowned with a wreath of honeysuckle, and the evening sun slanted its golden rays across it. As I skipped past it again and again, I was asked if I knew it, to which I always replied, (for I had been assured many times, by her whom it represented, that curls were sinful) ‘No, ma’am, not at all’. I never dreamed that she could ever have worn them.
According to Cooper, Elizabeth Coltman, in contrast to her extravagant, even eccentric, life in the 1780s and ’90s, became very severe toward any ostentation in dress or personal appearance in her latter years, ‘eschewing the simplest ornament’. ‘The vanity and wickedness of adorning the person’, Cooper adds, ‘was her constant theme; but she spoke with such lack of moderation that her remarks had little effect’. Even Coltman confessed a change in her life by the time of Steele’s death, describing herself as ‘a being shrinking from society’ See Skillington, ‘The Coltmans’, pp. 18-19 (Skillington also includes a picture of the bust, taken in the early 1930s); see below, letter 135.