Elizabeth Coltman, Leicester, to Anne Steele Tomkins, Bevis Hill, near Southampton, [Saturday] 1 October 1814.
Leicr Octbr 1st 18
My dr Madm,
I feel assured that you will [the] sooner pardon me, than I shall myself for this [apparent] negligence; but allow me to say, that the only reason of my silence has been the impossibility I found of complying with your request in a manner at all correspondent with my own wishes; the attempt I assure you has not been wanting, but a mere effusion of feeling, which (I was always sliding into) would not do; & the delineation of such a character in a few cramped lines was to me an impossibility. Has any one else made the attempt, or do you know any one sufficiently acquainted with our friend equal to it? The success of another would give me the sincerest pleasure, & I think whatever afforded you satisfaction on this subject, would please me. What you will find on the following page by no means satisfies me, but I transcribe it, because I could not rest without attempting something, & from the apprehension that I can do nothing better. You will make no use of them beyond your own family circle at present; & I trust you will have the goodness to point out the imperfections, or improprieties that may strike you.
Farewell! O ever honoured, & endeared,
By all who knew, beloved, esteemed, revered;
The cherished offspring of a sainted race,
Whose worth posterity in Thee may trace;
The high integrity, the noble thought;
The action that no flimsy covert sought,
Unshaken friendship, & unsullied truth,
Ardent, & generous in age, as youth;
Philanthropy unfettered & refined,
That beamed benevolence on all mankind,
A tenderness ineffable, exprest
By acting, living to make others blest;*
To feeling, firmness lent chastising aid,
And a sound judgment, fertile fancy swayed
Farewell, farewell¾expression is too faint
Thy worth, Maria, or thy loss to paint;
If blest, ’tis Heaven must bless those thus bereft,
No human friend can fill the void she left.
Time which in common cases heals the wounds made by death, only serves by its lapse to make me feel more deeply, my irreparable loss. I never met with a character very similar to that of our friend, & should such an one exist, it is not likely to come in contact with a being shrinking from society. Since I last addressed you, a friend of Mr Halls prevailed upon him to consent to the publication of minor pieces written in younger life. She applied to [him] for an Essay on Poetry, which I copied many years ago, from one in the possession of my dear Mrs Dunscombe. This I lent, & unfortunately it is either mislaid, or lost. Mr H¾ refuses to have the rest printed without this, & they cannot trace it in any other quarter. When the miscellaneous papers are looked over at B¾, it is likely this will be met with, for you well know how careful our friend was of her literary treasures; should this be the case, it will be an acquisition to the lady who so deeply interests herself in every thing of Mr Halls, & indeed the public will be indebted to you for permission to copy it. – Thus far had I written, when on calling upon Mrs Riley, to know (if procured) where it must be addressed in town, she tells me you have been applied to, (though not exactly in the way that could [have] been wished,) & an answer received. I have been for some weeks in Wales, & had written just before I left to the Lady to whom I lent my M:S:, hoping it might have been recovered; a mistake in a message sent to Mrs R¾ occasioned the premature application to you. – Pardon all this my dr Madm, & be assured it will give me sincere pleasure to hear of your welfare, & that of your family. Is the last addition to it spared to you & has it recovered strength & health? Miss Steele’s [final] state I fear scarcely allowed the hope of perfect restoration [to] find that she had regained a tolerable degree of health would afford me sincere pleasure. Have you the prospect of taking possession of Broughton soon? It will rejoice many to have the descendants of a family so respected amongst them; the spirit of the dear departed will seem to hover over the scene, & shed an hallowed influence around. – Probably you know that Miss Reid & Miss A– are still in Scotland, but are expected here soon & I believe think of this place as a residence. With kind & grateful remembrances to your family believe me my dr Madm, yours sincerely
The return of my worthless papers is not of the least consequence at present. I believe Mrs Buxtons family are now at Bath.
*Note by Coltman at side of page reads: “In the first copy, the former part terminated at blest. I wished not to omit the qualities mentioned in the two added lines. Does it terminate better without them; still retaining the four following the break?”
STE 6/3/ii. Postmark: Leicester, 3 October 1814. 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. 384-86. Letter is damaged along the edges. Anne Tomkins had asked Coltman to compose a ‘monumental inscription’ in honor of Mary Steele; though a poem was written, the inscription never materialized. Instead, Mary Steele’s stone in the parish churchyard at Broughton contained only the terse statement (now unreadable), ‘Mary, relict of Rev. Tho. Dunscombe and eldest daughter of William Steele D. November 14 1813 age 60’. Coltman at this time was a member at the Baptist meeting in Harvey Lane, Leicester, where Robert Hall ministered from 1807 to 1826. Hall’s early essay was republished in A Reverie, the Character of Cleander, and An Essay on Poetry and Philosophy (Leicester: T. Combe, 1815). Mary Reid, also a close friend at this time of Mary Hays, was living primarily in London. ‘Miss A – ,’ (Miss Atchison), was her cousin and close companion for most of her life. See Robert Reid, Old Glasgow, pp. 53-55.