1808 August 28

Eliza Flower [in London] to Benjamin Flower at Harlow, undated [probably Sunday, 28 August 1808].

Sunday evening

My dear Benjamin

I have prevailed on Miss Fuller to come through to Harlow in the carriage so you will not be sorry that your Journey will be spared, but you must not expect us till half past 6 oclock when you will have tea quite ready & let Sarah make a piece of dry toast & have the water boiling and the tea things ready on the table. I called at Mr Wilks’s & he said he would write to you. I find he has seen your brother who told him you had better not take care what you said as Claytons talked of printing likewise—he said you had lost 9 or 10 thousand pounds of your mothers property & was not aware that he had before stated it at twelve. He told Wilks he was sure of the fact as your Mother was left by your father a proportion of 3 times as much as her children. I saw Mr Flight who is quite anxious to see the trial out. He told me he would converse with Mrs Flight & write to you immediately so that you may expect to hear from him on Tuesday morning. I dined at Rileys on Saturday they abuse Palmer most soundly & say the evidence he gave ought to knock up his character—it is very true that Claytons have broke with him—several letters passed between them one or two of which Mr Jones saw who told Mr Flight—many people think the account of the trial in the Times was sent by Claytons—it is they say more of a private statement than an account of the trial.

Mamma Gurney said to Mr Flight at Maze pond last Sunday—What do [you] think of MrPalmers evidence? I think replied he that he conducted himself very badly but I know who conducted himself worse—I mean the Counsellor she so felt it he said as to make no reply. I went to Conders twice about the Books—the sermon on the test act is not to [be] had they had sent to one place for the other but could not get it but if it was to be procured they would send it down.

Conder is certainly breaking up he is very ill & looks as tho he has not long to live his spirits seem broken. Flight wants us to come to Bromley soon. People talk much about the bad management of your cause & in consequence of which the judge had a misconception of the affair from beginning to end. The third part of the charge should not have been suppressed respecting your brothers writing to you as that would have proved the malignity of John Clayton & have marked the baseness of the family. It has always struck me as extraordinary that when you so expressly told Mr Wilks what you would have him state that he only stated the perjury & forgery but he told me Mr Gurney did not wish him to state the latter. I have no doubt this was because your brothers name was implicated & he must have been brought to have substantiated the matter—it is ridiculous to say it was not actionable that expression alone would have been an actionable expression for instance if John Clayton had only made use of that expression would you not have prosecuted him for so doing

I hope the young folks go on well tell Sarah & Eliza I have bought them a beautiful China box each with a looking glass in the cover. I forgot to desire Betsey to keep the bed room windows fastened down particularly that in the little bed room adieu

your affectionate

E Flower

Mrs Creak tells me Clayton charged you with forgery in a coach in which his mother was & said you had ruined Mr Creak she did not discover [this] herself but came to Town next day in a great fright to enquire into the matter.

Note: This letter is postmarked August 1808. It was written in the aftermath of Flower’s libel suit against John Clayton, Jr., his brother, George, and his father, John, Sr., which took place in late July 1808. John Wilks (d.1846) of Hoxton Square, London, one of Flower’s attorneys during his court proceedings against the Claytons in 1808. Wilks, a Dissenter, may have been a member of Samuel Palmer’s congregation at St. Thomas’s Square; he authored An apology for the Missionary Society (1799). Bannister Flight, Flower’s long-time friend and member of the Baptist congregation at Maze Pond. At the time of this letter, he was a coal-merchant living in Hackney. He would be a material witness in Flower’s libel case against the Claytons in 1808. The Rev. Samuel Palmer (1741-1813) proved a reluctant and damaging witness to Flower, largely due to the ineptitude of John Wilks. Originally from Bedford, Palmer was educated at Daventry Academy (1758-62) under Dr. Caleb Ashworth. After a year as the afternoon preacher at the Independent (formerly Presbyterian) congregation at Mare Street, Hackney, Palmer became William Langford’s assistant at the Independent meeting at the Weigh-House, London, the same congregation John Clayton would later pastor. In 1767 he returned to Mare Street (later St. Thomas’s Square) and remained there until his death in 1813. Palmer’s most prominent publications were The Protestant Dissenters’ Catechism (1772) and The Nonconformist’s Memorial (2 vols., 1775-78). The account of the trial in the Tory London Times, 26 July 1808, was clearly pro-Clayton. After a summary of John Clayton’s testimony, the Times closed with a very damaging statement about Flower: “It appeared not only from the evidence, but from the statement of the plaintiff’s Counsel, that the mother had actually been reduced from affluence to poverty by the stock-jobbing speculations of the Plaintiff about twenty years ago.” The account in the Morning Chronicle (26 July 1808) was considerably more balanced, noting that Clayton, Jr., was forced to change his story from an accusation of “forgery” by Flower against his mother to one of “fraud.” The Chronicle story, unlike the Times article, however, did not leave the reader with the impression that Flower’s mother had been reduced to poverty because of Flower’s actions.

In early August 1808, just after the Flower-Clayton suit, Robert Aspland visited the Flowers in Harlow. He records some of Eliza’s feelings about the affair in his diary entry for 8 August 1808: “This morning, after breakfast, Mrs. Flower set me to work. She had before importuned me to write for B. F.’s Political Register, and I had offered to give her a paper if she would furnish me with a subject; upon which she took me to the counting-house, gave me a pipe of tobacco, and told me to write on the Impudence of Counsel at the Bar; a subject suggested by her husband’s late proceedings against- [Clayton]. I was obedient, and penned the letter which appeared on the subject in the next No. of the Political Register” (Aspland, Memoir 221). Aspland’s letter, “Licence of Tongue at the Bar,” appeared in the August 1808 issue of Flower’s Political Review (96-97), signed “An Englishman.” He attacked the judge for allowing Clayton’s two counselors to “libel” Flower during the closing arguments of the trial, without any possibility of redress by Flower. For the complete annotated text, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Politics, Religion, and Romance: The Letters of Benjamin Flower and Eliza Gould Flower, 1794-1808 (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 2008), pp. 333-35.