Letter to Francis Towne


James White, Letter to Francis Towne : Exeter, 27 November 1780

Exeter. Nov 27th 1780

It is with very great pleasure that I sit down to answer your letters, both of which I receiv’d in due time, and the last of them a few days since. - It is not enough barely to thank you for them, for that would be only doing what is usually done for any common uninteresting Epistle, your's are of a very different Nature. In short I think I can scarcely give you a more proper Idea that I entertain of them, or the Pleasure which all your Friends have received from them, to whom I have communicated their contents, than the Opinion which Mr Jackson1 formed of them, particularly your first letter that it was one of the best he had ever read - that it gave him a truer Idea of the Countries you travelled through, and the manner of travelling through them than he had ever conceived before and he gave me most Express orders to tell you that you had nothing to do but go on in the way you had set out, to make the Expedition pleasing to yourself and most entertaining to all your friends and Acquaintances. I can assure you that you are not forgotten by them, they all make the most affectionate enquiries after you and receive the good accounts which I have been able to give them with unfeign’d Pleasure. It is but Justice to the Character which you have establis'd here to inform you that your Friends entertain the highest regard for you, & that your loss as a master of your Profession is consider’d as irreparable. It is the knowledge of having acquired such Genuine Esteem with the consciousness of having endeavoured to deserve it, that makes one of the greatest & purest enjoyments of human life. Long may you continue your Pursuits and long may you enjoy the Rewards of them!

While you are perpetually sollicited by new Objects of attention and feel your mind almost overwhelm’d by the magical scenes that have continually surrounded you - we remain in the same dull spot, treading the same beaten Track - living and seeing the same to day as yesterday without a Hope of tomorrow’s being in the least different from Today. Why should you not know that you may enjoy the difference of Situation if it were only respecting the Climate. - You have seen the gloomy month of November in England - I am now writing by the Fire Side, immediately after dinner - and tho’ but just three o’clock I can scarcely see the words that I am writing for the gloomy Fog in which we are involved, therefore if there should be anything remarkably stupid in this letter, your friendly Charity will of course impute it more to the unfavourableness of the Weather, than the want of ability or inclination to amuse you. - Indeed with the utmost stretch of my attention I can hardly tell upon what subjects to write to you - you will naturally wish to be transported hither for a few minutes to know how we Employ ourselves - But when I think of telling you that our Concerts are begun2, that our music is Excellent and our Company numerous and brilliant - my Spirit is damp’d in a moment by the thought of where you are, what you hear & what you see in Public - and when I would write you that we have our little weekly meetings at Mr Louis’s3 - Mr Granger’s4 - Mr Ragueneau’s5 and Mr Jackson’s (who all think and talk of you & still fancy they see you making one in the party) I am instantly stopp’d by the Recollection of the Difference of your Conversazioni which reduce our’s to mere Insignificance. As to Painting, you know this is no Place for it - but Mr Downman6 is again with us and keeps his Branch of the Art alive and flourishing - I gave him the Drawing you left with me for that Purpose, which he received with the greatest Pleasure and Satisfaction. He desires to be particularly remember’d to you and so does Mr & Mrs & Miss A. B. C. D. E. and as many different Persons as there are Letters in the Alphabet. - that is to say all you old Acquaintances, who are I think just as you left them all, except that Mr & Mrs Noguier7 who have been both very strong in their Expressions of Regard for you, but who are now in a most melancholy situation - He being extremely ill with the black Jaundice which has reduced him to almost a Skeleton and Poor Mrs Noguier had a most violent Seizure last week of the Paralytic kind, which deprived her several days of her Speech & Senses. Today I find she is somewhat better & has spoke several times, but there seems to be but little hope of her Recovery. - I shou’d have been much more pleased if I could have sent you no news but of the most comfortable Sort, but I know you are always so much interested both in the Welfare & misfortunes of your Friends that you wou’d wish to be informed of their true & real Situation. My Sister8 is just return’d from the Hot Wells at Bristol & has receiv’d all the Benefit from her Expedition & drinking the Water there, that tis possible to imagine [space indicating illegible words] It seems to me to be such an Age since you left us that I hardly know what news to think of telling you, however it will be no news to tell you that I am your Sincere Friend

James White.

Do let me know if this comes safe to your hands & write as often as you can.

A Montr
Monsieur Towne
a la Caffé d’Angleterre
Piazza d’Espagna
Rome.[fn]The cafe in Piazza di Spagna was the hub of the English community in Rome and commonly used as a 'poste restante' by visiting artists.[/fn

Nov 27 1780.


  1. 1 William Jackson (1730-1803). See the note at FT892.
  2. 2 This is probably a reference to Jackson's subscription concerts rather than the 'little weekly meetings' White describes later on. Jackson inherited the series from his precedessor as organist of Exeter cathedral, but "with many Pains and much Attention I had really brought it [the concert orchestra] to be the second Band out of London - that at Bath being the first." As White's letter suggests, the concert series, which began in late September or October, was "a powerful Inducement for Company to spend their Winter in Exeter." Jackson 1997, p.70; Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, 11 September 1778, 8 October 1779.
  3. 3 John Louis (1720-1815), dancing master of Exeter. He opened a boarding school for young ladies in Exeter, which in 1784 moved from near Southgate to larger premises in Magdalen Street. He, his wife and daughters taught there and his daughters continued it after his retirement, themselves retiring in 1822. He was also a visiting master at the Ottery St Mary grammar school, where he charged 2 guineas per year for dancing lessons, and worked at Powderham Castle between 1766 and 1788. In 1749 he married a Somerset widow, Elizabeth Atkinson (c.1724-1798) and he died at Alphington. Their son was Sir Thomas Louis Bt (1758-1807) and their daughters were Ann, Elizabeth, F.Fleanora and Sarah. Devon Record Office 1508M/Acc Bks/v13, v.14; Louis 1951; Owen 2004; Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, 1 January 1784, 15 January 1784, 26 December 1822.
  4. 4 Edmund Granger (1755-1840), wine merchant of Exeter and son of Rev Edmund Granger, Prebendary of Exeter. In 1798 Granger was Lieutenant Colonel of the volunteer regiment raised in expectation of a French invasion, in which John White Abbott also served as Captain, and was an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate in the general election of 1802. His interest in music endured and he was a leading social figure in Exeter; for example Harriet Gibbs wrote in 1804: "I was at a very pleasant concert at Mr Grangers last Monday, I went with Mrs and Miss Merivale... I sang two or three things with Miss Merivale and Mr Cornish..." Joseph Farington used Granger's house near Rougemont Castle on his visit to Exeter in 1810. Guildhall Library, Gibbs & Co Papers; Farington 1978, pp.3781, 3789; Gibbs 1922; Jackson 1997, p.130.
  5. 5 Edward Ragueneau, merchant of Exeter. In 1778 he married Grace Floud, daughter of a leading merchant. From this period onwards Edmund Granger was a close associate. From 1782 Ragueneau lived in the fashionable Bedford Circus and was Sherrif of Exeter in 1788 and Mayor in 1790; however he was declared bankrupt in 1792. Devon Record Office 53/6 Box 95; Newton 1984, p.70.
  6. 6 John Downman (1750-1824), portrait artist of North Wales. He had an important family link to Devon in Dr Hugh Downman, the Exeter poet, and he worked regularly in and around Exeter. The origins of Downman's friendship with Towne are unknown, but they shared addresses in St James's Street and Leicester Square during the 1780s and 1790s. See also the note at FT394.
  7. 7 Anthony and Margaret Noguier, of the parish of St Mary Major, Exeter. They were an affluent couple who owned land, buildings, horse and carriage, plate and who employed servants; their son John Anthony Noguier became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1809. Anthony Noguier's will, witnessed by James White, was written in February 1781 a few days before his death. In 1784 Mary Crocker was apprenticed to "Margrett Noguier, Widow." National Archives, PROB 11/1076; Devon Record Office, 971 A/PO 365
  8. 8 Mary White, who died unmarried in 1797.