Letter to Francis Towne


James White, Letter to Francis Towne : Exeter, 12 March 1781

Exeter March 12. 1781

Your last letter came safe to hand and was equally pleasing and amusing to me and your other Friends with the last. it would be taking up your time to very little Purpose if I was to tell you the variety of little as well as great Business which has prevented my answering it till now. You may easily imagine that the latter part of your letter could not be displeasing to me as it gives me the Hope of seeing you again soon, a Pleasure which I am sure you will not suppose me indifferent to - but at the same time if you see with the same eyes that I do I think you will find sufficient reasons for making your Absence longer than you hint at in your letters - In the first place you have by this time got the better of the principal Difficulties that attended your Tour - you must not only have acquired a fluency of Expression in those languages which were necessary but you must in a great measure become sufficiently habituated to the manner of life that Artists when travelling are obliged to accustom themselves to, and which at first must be rather awkward & inconvenient to them - You are in the next Place in the very Country where you ought to spend as much Time as possible upon every account and where the wonders of Both Art and Nature cannot be properly and thoroughly examined in a very short time - add to this the present Situation of Artists in England - all of them, but particularly those in your line, complaining of the little encouragement which is given to them.

Possibly we may see the Olive Branch supplant the Sword and feel all the blessings of Peace ‘tis then only that the Arts will flourish and flourish with redoubled Vigour.1 If therefore you can with any Convenience to yourself prolong your Tour I shou’d sincerely advise you to do so. Whenever you return, if you shall condescend to make Exeter your abode I believe you will find all its inhabitants nearly the same as you left them. There has been no Person as yet to fill the Vacancy your absence occasioned nor do I hear of the least Probability of any Master coming hither to supply your Place. All that I have said above to persuade you to stay longer than you intended is arguing to my own loss as you well know how much I should rejoice to see you, but I have thoroughly considered the matter and it appears to me so advantageous and I shou’d imagine so pleasant to yourself that I could not satisfy myself without giving you my sincere opinion on the Subject leaving you to act in such a manner as shall appear most prudent & advisable to yourself - Mr Downman is still here and as much employed as ever - he desires to very particularly remember’d to you as do all your old Friends and Acquaintances. One of them indeed we have lost since I last wrote - Mr Noguier - who used to make frequent enquiries about you and was really much interested in your Welfare - All the Rest are just the same as they were - Possibly the newspapers may reach Rome & you may have seen some account of our Friend Mr Jackson’s Success at Drury Lane2 - but as it is also possible you may still be a Stranger to it and as it is far from being an unpleasant subject I shall proceed to give you some Particulars which I hope will afford you some entertainment - There was a Comic Opera called "The Lord of the Manor" written by a Person of high Fashion and Rank as a man of letters (suppos’d to be Genl Burgoyne)3 which Sheridan4 sent about Six months ago to Mr Jackson desiring him to give his Opinion of the words and if he approv’d of them to set them to Music - He was much pleas’d with the Opera and set immediately to work - in a Short time he had completed his Composition and went to London where it was immediately put into rehearsal and performed with amazing applause - the Consequence of which was that our Friend experienc'd a very considerable acquisition of Profit as well as of Fame - That you may be able to judge somewhat for yourself how well the words were adapted to Mr Jackson’s peculiar Talents, I think I cannot do better than transcribe a couple of the songs for your satisfaction. The first is sung by a Lady, the Second by a Gentleman.

‘Rest beauteous Flower & bloom anew
To court my passing Love
Glow in his Eye with brighter blue
And all thy Form improve -
And while thy belmy Odours steal
To meet his equal Breath
Let thy soft Blush for mine revealed
The imprinted Kiss beneath. -

‘Encompased in an Angel’s Frame
An Angel’s Virtues lay
Too soon did Heaven assert its claim
And called its own away
My Anna’s worth my Anna’s charms
Oh! never can retain!
What now shall fill these widow’s arms?

I wish I cou'd as easily send you the Music with which the Audience was so delighted that the songs were encored in the most amazing manner. - I must now bid you Adieu - but my Sister would never forgive me if I did not join her best wishes with those of

Yr affectionate friend

James White

Monsr Towne
à La Caffé d’Angleterre
Piazza d’Espagna

[Emily Buckingham's commentary:"note by Mr Towne on outer cover"] Rece’d April 3.5


  1. 1 From 1778 to 1782 Britain was at war with France and Spain
  2. 2 The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was one of London's major theatrical venues whose fortunes rose in the 3rd quarter of the eighteenth century under the guidance of David Garrick.
  3. 3 John Burgoyne (1723-1792), army officer, politician and playwright. An arrangement of the opera for voice and harpsichord was published in 1781. Jackson 1781; Mintz 2004.
  4. 4 Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), playwright and politician. From 1777 he was proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
  5. 5 Towne set out from Naples by courier on 3 April 1781 and, judging by Towne's inscription, he reached Rome the same day. If Towne left Naples especially to receive the letter, it would indicate the weight Towne attached to the issue of his early return to England, and White's advice about it. Jones 1951, p.103.