Sarah Saunders

9 April 1819

Sarah Saunders (1807-25) was the niece of Joseph Cottle (1770-1853), Bristol bookseller and Baptist layman who befriended Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey in the 1790s and was an early publisher of their poetry. Sarah was the daughter of John Saunders of Plymouth Dock; from the age of four she lived in Bristol, where she was largely educated at the school operated by Cottle's sisters. During that time, her precociousness (as demonstrated in the letter below) endeared her to many of its inhabitants, including John Foster and Hannah More. John Foster wrote a series of nine letters to her just prior to her death by consumption, from Sept. 11, 1824 through Feb. 4, 1825, a touching tribute that was later published. Sarah Saunders died in Feb. 1825 at 18, six years after the date of this letter.

The letter transcribed below belongs to the Cottle Collection, ENG. MISC., c. 36, fols. 18-20, Bodleian Library, Oxford. The letter is a copy of a letter from Sarah to her father, dated April 9th, 1819, from Brunswick Square, Bristol (Cottle’s residence at the time). The letter is not in Cottle’s hand nor Sarah's. Persons of note mentioned in the letter include Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck (1778-1856). Her husband was Lambert Schimmelpenninck, a “Gentleman” living in Orchard Street according to Matthew’s Bristol Directory for 1794, p. 72. Apparently he owned Schimmelpenninck [Schimmelpenning] and Co., Insurance brokers, in the Exchange (ibid.). Miss Bath might be the daughter of Mr. Neville Bath of Clifton-hill, who owned Neville Bath and Co. in Thomas Street, which specialized in Cutlery, hardware, and iron works (Matthew’s Bristol Directory for 1794, p. 13). Schimmelpennick's analysis of young Sarah was probably spot on; had she lived, she might have joined the other Nonconformistwomen on this site as another representative of a woman writer worthy of remembrance.

My dear Papa,

Having lately written to Mamma by Mr Byers, and unwilling to have it said that I forget you, I now address myself to you, hoping to receive a reply by the first opportunity.

Miss Bath has been so kind as to have me spend a day with her on Saturday, and a most pleasant day it was. She took me [on] a walk around Berkeley Square, where she called upon a Lady of the name of Schemel-penning, she was a most extraordinary Lady indeed, both with regards to oddity, and intense study. In the course of conversation, she observed how the discoveries even in science seemed to illustrate the great antiquity, and truth of the Bible. “I suppose you have heard” said she, (addressing herself to Miss E. Bath) “of the great discovery lately made in London”? On Miss Bath’s replying in the negative, as far as I can recollect, she replied as follows. “There have of late been greater discoveries made in Egypt, than of any former period. On opening another pyramid, there has been found a head of [Momsoom?] 30 feet in height! With immense difficulty, they got it on board a ship, in order to convey it to England to be placed in the British Museum. On its arrival at London, they found it has sustained several injuries,” (inflicted by Old Time I suppose) and applied to several artists to see if they could remedy it, but their endeavours proved fruitless, owing to the extreme hardness of the Granite, on which none of their tolls could operate. They then applied to some French Chemists, to know if they knew any fluid which would so soften the granite, as to enable them to work upon it. After many vain experiments, it was discovered that a solution of lead would soften it, so as to be worked with greatest ease, thus explaining a passage in the 19th Job. 23d & 24. verses, the meaning of which the most learned persons had never been able to find out.” The passage I will here insert, to save you the trouble of looking for it. “Oh that my words were now written./ Oh that they were printed in a book. / That they were graven with an iron pen, & lead in the rock forever.”/ This proves to Deists the great antiquity of the Bible, for some of them assert, that the book of Job was not written till after the Babylonish Captivity, but this art was lost after the abolition of Hieroglyphics in Egypt, so that it carries the date back to time immemorial.” She then turned the conversation to the utility of the study of the Hebrew language, and said that it very much assisted those who understood it in enabling them to discern the importance of those parts in the Bible, which on a cursory reading we were disposed to consider as unimportant, particularly with regard to the geneologies. “Do you think, (said Miss E Bath) that this young Lady (looking at me) would understand Hebrew well”? “I will see, said the Lady,” (who I forget to tell you, was a great Chraneologist) “would you do me the favour to take off your bonnet”? When I had complied with her request, whe felt my head all over, but most particularly in front, and exclaimed, “this is a most extraordinary head indeed! very remarkable! I do not know when I have ever met with one so much so.” (You may suppose my dear Papa that my risibility was not a little excited at this speech.) This young lady she rejoined, has a turn for the knowledge of Facts, she would excel in Natural Philosophy, Biography, History, and Natural History and Geography.” She has also great Individuality,” (but I do not exactly recollect what she explained that to be. “She has also those faculties which qualify a person to shine in company, what I mean by this, is, that persons of this class, display their abilities in conversation, while on the contrary such persons as possess the Reflective Faculties do not show their talents in company, or conversation, but in an argument of 3 or four hours length, (in which it is not likely any person will engage.) such a person for instance, as Sir Isaac Newton. She does not excel in calculation, as in order (in which last she said indeed very true.) She has a great deal of faith; oh immense! immense! she has also great imitativeness to such a degree as to encroach greatly upon Conscience. For if you observe, the width of her head is large at the Forehead, from which it gradually narrows till it comes to the Crown, near which the organ of Conscience is situated, and which necessarily prevents its enjoying a larger space. She has great constructiveness, but I suppose she is too young to have shewn it yet. On feeling behind my ear, she noticed Covetousness, but said (for my consolation) that perhaps it would not shew itself in the money way, but in being covetous of peoples affection, and jealous lest another should engross more. She has Memory in a large degree, and Ideality, this young Lady said she, would compose well.” Here I imagine you exclaiming, “Oh what stuff.” She possesses Destructiveness, in a very large portion, which joined to the great determination here visible, would perhaps make her on some occasions a little harsh. She also possesses Courage in an eminent degree, and immense Secretiveness. If you were to tell that young Lady a secret, I don’t think you would ever find her betray it. This secretiveness joined to her determination, would be the means of her telling either a direct truth or a direct falsehood, for she has not the organ of timidity to prevent her. But now I will tell you a very good thing, which I observed at first sight, but purposely delay’d telling you, and chraneology is false, if she has any Vanity, the want of which quality will make up for many bad ones. But every quality has a bad, and good side to it. So has this, for it will not make her ready to oblige others for the sake of appearing agreeable, and what she does not do from her benevolence, and conscience, she will not do at all.” How do you discover the Temper said Miss Bath? Oh that is shewn by the temperament replied she. You and myself are Melancholic, your Sister Melancholic, and Sanguine, this young lady has a very happy temper indeed, she is Phlegmatic Sanguine. Those persons who are Melancholic are possessed of great sensibility, but this very sensibility makes them feel more acutely those trifles which daily occur in life. On the other hand, it possesses as great advantages, for as Melancholic persons live more in imagination than in reality, it enables them to form the most exalted ideas of Heaven, and a future state, but others may on the contrary, contract too high a relish for the enjoyment of this world, and though they have been disappointed over and over again in their pursuits of pleasure, yet they still pursue it hoping still to find what they have never yet found.

And here I cannot but observe, said she, the happy union of the tempers persons too phlegmatic are ready to sink under: any affliction is not supported by Sanguineness. Those too Choleric need Phlegmaticness, the latter of which, corrects the too great warmth of the former.

Those too Sanguine spring forward with too much vehemence, on their first emotion, it must be done as soon as thought. They are likewise too active, and unless Phlegmaticness comes in to their relief, they weary themselves with excessive exertion. Phlegmatic people are generally much wiser than others, not because they are naturally cleverer, but because they seize upon the main part of a subject, while others suffer the less important parts to occupy such a portion of their attention as in some measure to exclude the greater. She afterwards begged much to examine Miss Bath’s head, which after great reluctance she consented to, but would not have her cap taken off.

She has a great organ of Conscience and Secretiveness, but here my recollection begins to fail me, and I suppose my Retentive Faculties are all gone to sleep. But they are enough awake to serve you to say, that on wishing us good by, she said to me, “Remember your Faith, and your Organs.”

Thus my dear Papa, have I been an Egotist to please and entertain you and my dear Mamma, and I hope that when you write to me, you will follow my example in telling me as much about yourself, John & Charlotte, as I have told you about myself.

I have told you all the vices, and all the virtues which she ascribed to me, but most of them I believe are not at all correct. I think she particularly erred in describing my temper Phlegmatic Sanguine, for you as well as all who know me must see that Choleric predominates over every other.

It is a very long time since we last heard from home and I begin to think it is a little remiss in my Mamma to delay writing for so long a time. Yes it is verging towards 10 weeks since I received a letter and do you not think that enough my dear Papa to make me conclude that either I am always forgotten or that some very great misfortune has happened? Pray deliver me from such suspense. Let me know the cause for such a tedious and total silence. I hope John and Charlotte are quite well and that John is entertained with his sister; tell him that I am expecting his reply by the first opportunity. Give my kind love and duty to my dear Mamma and all my Plymouth Dock friends, not forgetting Patty Penkivil, who I hope to hear from soon.

I remain my dear Pap,

Your very affectionate and dutiful


Sarah Saunders

P.S. Please to excuse the writing as so long a letter has nearly wearied me out.

Brunswick Square Bristol April 9th 1819

[Note at bottom of letter says, “Sarah Saunders will be 15 June 1822 she was near 12 years old when she wrote this letter."]