16 May 1755
Anne Steele, Broughton, to William Steele, [Yeovil], 16 May 1755.
As the news of your being ill & so far from us was very painful to me, so your last much desir’d Letter brought me great pleasure in the account of your being better and I wish & hope Almighty Goodness will restore your perfect health and bring you home in safety with my Sister & ye Child
I am to go next Tuesday to Ringwood in compliance with Mr Manfields & his Daughters repeated importunities, he din’d with us Tuesday last, I purpose staying about fortnight & hope at my return to meet you here –
Mr Furneaux came yesterday a little before noon, preach’d in the evening & return’d to Andover this morning we had a great deal of chatt intermingled with reading my papers & canvassing the printing affair in which his opinion corresponds with yours I wish’d you here, he says he will call on us again if he can on his return from the west about fortnight hence. I hope you will be at home, Bror & Sis. Wakeford were with him, we walk’d in your Garden which is now in its gayest dress, yet lively as it is, wants its living Ornaments, I can’t but regret your not being here to enjoy the company of your flowery visitants, the Tulips array’d in all their party colour’d pride seem to vie with each other in their various glossy dyes, and yet methinks the unfolding bloom of the Espalier affords a pleasure superior to that inspir’d by the beauties of the Parterre, perhaps tis the indication of a fruitful Season which contributes to make these lovely blossoms so agreeable, in the transient bloom of Flowers Nature has finish’d her Annual task and we expect no more entertainment from them till the slow, revolving year brings round the destin’d Season for their next appearance, but the Apple Tree, while it presents us with a rich profusion of beauty & fragrance, gives us no uneasiness in the thought of its being soon depriv’d of that amiable dress, for while the blossoms drop, Nature is but advancing in her operations nearer to perfection, soon we discover the infant Fruit and mark its gradual increase till it ripens into ruddy beauty and Autumn almost rivals the charms of Spring, but still tis novelty, tis variety we admire, and both Spring and Autumn owe half their attraction to intervening Winter. How kind is Providence, which while with unbounded Beneficence it sustains the wide Creation, presents us with such an agreeable variety of delightful amusement! O for the Spirit of Herveys Aspasio to contemplate in the various Scenes of rural beauty the Infinite Perfections of the Great, the Wise, the Bountiful Creator!—Can you not my dear Brother unbend a little from Business and write to me as you did heretofore? You do not know how much pleasure it wou’d give me, but if you have no time to spare let me at least have a line to tell me if you are well – We are all here favour’d by kind Providence with a pretty good share of Health and join in affectionate Commendats to you and yours, wishing you the enjoyment of Health and every needful Blessing I am
Dear Brother most sincerely
Your affectionate Sister & Friend
Broughton 16th May 1755
Text: STE 3/8/vi, Steele Collection, Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford; for an annotated version of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, gen. ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 2, ed. Julia B. Griffin, pp. 284-85. Philip Furneaux (1726-83) was for many years a friend and correspondent of Anne Steele, assisting in seeing her Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional through the press in London during 1759. Furneaux's family were Independents from Devon and were apparently known to the Wakefords, also a family of Independents. Furneaux studied in London at the Moorfields Academy under John Eames and David Jennings from 1743 to 1749, after which he became the assistant to Henry Read and the Presbyterian congregation at St. Thomas’s, Southwark. In 1753 he became minister to the Independent congregation at Clapham, Surrey, where he would remain until 1777, when he was struck by mental illness. He died in an insane asylum in Hoxton, London, in 1783. He may have been an orthodox Calvinist in his early years, but by the 1750s he had moved into Arianism. His Arianism was most likely known to the congregation at Broughton in 1755, but like many Particular Baptist congregations at that time, Arians were not excluded as members nor were they prohibited from preaching in their pulpits, as this letter makes clear. Like the Steeles and Attwaters in the West Country, Furneaux’s Whig politics during the 1770s reflected an antagonism toward religious tests, a desire for parliamentary reform, and support for the American colonies against the policies of George III.