Mary Steele Dunscombe, Broughton, to Anne Steele Tomkins, Bath, [Saturday] 24 December 1808.
I am in debt to all my kind Correspondents at Bath but you My Dear Sister are not only my oldest Creditor – but I hope are now sufficiently recovered to receive my Congratulations on the happy Event that has given us all such delight – I hope your recovery has met with no interruptions tho the severity of the weather will I doubt rather retard it – may we ^be^ all truly grateful to the Great Fountain of all our Blessings for this new instance of his Mercy! – as to the little Stranger, I do not know that I can form a better wish for him than that he may inherit the virtues of both the excellent Men whose names he bears – Yes My Dr Sister
I am I own (tho it may be deemed a kindness in this philosophic Age) that I am gratified that you have bestowed the name of our revered Father on him
Phythagorean fables say,
When human Spirits quit their day
Into some other Forms they enter
And on lifes toils again they venture
Oh, if within that Infant Frame
The Mind existed with the Name
Sweet Babe, could thy fond Parents shower
Titles & Honors, Wealth & Power
Poor were the proudest Pedigree
Compared with what is given to Thee.
I should have written some days ago but Mr Mullett has paid us a visit & as I wished to send some Letters by him I was induced to defer it having nothing particular to say but what you already know that I often think of you all with the tender solicitude of Affection. I want to see the young Gentm but not so much as I do his Sisters notwithstanding he is a rarity for they are Old Friends & that is always better than new ones – Tell Mary I do not wonder that she is so fond of nursing – for at very nearly her Age I was equally fond of nursing her Mother & I thank her for her Letter, & tell Martha I am much obliged by hers which came after Mr T left us – Mary forgot to say one word about his Journey but no news we contended in this case was good news – Mrs Evans too has added a Son to her family & is doing very well – but another unpleasant circumstance has occurred relating to Mrs Tobin. They are going to the West Indies, this Mr M foresaw – she has now solicited him to see her & he intends complying with ^her^ request but it will be a painful scene as he considers it as a last interview tho the hope is held out
if that their residence abroad will not be permanent. He thinks it probable it will prove so – poor Sally Mullett who now sees her Sister frequently with her Fathers approbation feels much on this occasion & I believe the prospect of it & the interview oppresses Mr M greatly. He left us Thursday.
Today is a sort of festival with the poor here the Beef to which Mr T subscribed is given away today & the Gift ^money from^ which you know of late years the Dissenters were excluded Mr Thistlethwayte has now given to Mr Scully with permission to do what he pleased with it. He has purchased wood with it & today it is put down without distinction at every Poor ^persons^ Door that they may ^have^ the Comfort of food & fire together & never was the latter more needed, we are all covered in Snow here & I suppose it is general – I hope improving here a little – what will you say when I tell you that a Book Society is about to be established at Broughton! We have actually got 7 Guineas subscribed towards ^it^ & tho’ I do not expect many of the Books to suit my taste yet I am much pleased with it – Knowledge you see like light can penetrate into the darkest Corner & tho’ it may be but a faint dawn at first it may increase.
Betty Sheppard is going on very well her Leg is almost well & she has her little Scholars about her again. – Mr Ds Leg too I have the Comfort to tell you is much better both as to the wounds & swelling & his health tolerably good tho the confinement within doors has somewhat diminished his appetite – I am too at present thro Mercy well – but want the Snow gone that I may have a little more Air & Exercise – there is no riding to Birch Wood yet except it be on Pegasus – When are we to see Mr T again? How goes off the Houghton Speculation? Pardon this little parcel of Chit Chat – I hope one or other of our Friends will write soon as we begin to be anxious to hear again – Mr D joins in love & best wishes to all with your ever affect
Decr 24th 1808
Text: STE 5/11/vii. Postmark: Stockbridge. Address: To / Mrs Tomkins / No 9 Grosvenor Place / Bath. For an annotated text of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 3, pp. 376-78. References here are to the birth of William Steele Tomkins (1808-55), Mary Steele's nephew, and to Mrs. Joseph Jeffries Evans (1777-1857) of London (formerly Mary Anne Mullett), who had recently given birth to her sixth child, Hugh Caleb Evans (1808-58). Her younger sister, Jane Mullett (1784-1837), had married James Webbe Tobin (1767-1814) of Bristol, son of a West Indies planter and brother to the playwright John Tobin (1770-1804), on 8 September 1807. James Tobin became friends with several literary figures in Bristol in the 1790s, including Joseph Cottle, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, and was sympathetic to Coleridge’s pantisocratic scheme. James Tobin died at Nevis in 1815, and Mrs. Tobin returned immediately to England, but not in time to see her father again, for he had died the previous year. Henry Crabb Robinson continued to take an interest in Jane Tobin’s affairs long after the death of her father and husband. He writes in his diary on Friday, 17 May 1817: ‘I afterw.s called on M.rs C. Aiken – Mrs Tobin from Nevis was there – A very sensible woman & indeed a very superior person – Ag.t her father – Mr Mullet’s consent – she married T. by no means a rich man, suffering under almost entire blindness. They went to Nevis – He distingd himself by his exertions in favour of the slaves – She transacted all his bus.s for him with great credit to herself & to the advantage of the property. Incumbrances were paying off when he died – By her father’s death & her brother’s bankruptcy wch took place ab.t the time of her husb.s death she was reduced to a state of dependency on M.r Tobin of Bristol And it is feared that her condition will be a sad one. Mr T. Senr her husb.s father is
in a state of bad heart expected to survive but a short time and it is feared that his affairs are embarrassed. I enjoyed Mrs Tobin’s convers.n She spoke sensibly on the condn of the colonies. She represents the administrn of justice as corrupt & the habits of the colonists as most unfavourable to the wishes of the Abolitionists here. She thinks the slave-registry bill necessary & that it will be efficient, if carried into a law.’ See Evans, Family Chronicle, pp. 64-65; Crabb Robinson Diary, vol. 5 (1 January 1816-6 July 1817), f. 50, Dr. Williams’s Library, London.