Letter to Francis Towne


James White, Letter to Francis Towne : Exeter, 4 May 1781

Exeter May 4 1781

Once more I take up my Pen to thank you for the Great Entertainment which your last letter gave me.1 I take it for granted that our Letters met upon the Road possibly upon the Alps - those wonderful Mountains of whose Form & Magnitude I trust I shall have a perfect Idea when you return & lay your Sketches before me For I cannot help fancying that your Present Tour is only a Welch Expedition upon a grander Scale, and that your daily & hourly Employments are of the same Kind as when we were travelling together2 - Possibly you may have met with some Companion by this Time, who Inclination and Disposition may sometimes call to your Remembrance your absent English Friends - If my last letter has come to your Hands, tis probable my Arguments for your extending the Time of your Return may have had some weight but whether they shou'd be attended to or not, you alone must be the Judge; however I cannot help saying that my Opinion remains unaltered.3 - All your Friends here are quite delighted with the accounts you give of your Expedition which you know is the principal Pleasure they can receive - till your Return when your Drawings and Descriptions will go hand in hand together and mutually illustrate & explain one another. - I am fully persuaded you have done yourself great service by being so particular in your Journal.4 It is the only method to gain that Impression which every object shou’d make on you, and which will continue equally strong and clear in you during the Whole of Life. By this means you may at any time renew your Travels and taking all the pleasantest parts of your Expedition, live over again almost every minute of that Time which has been so delightful to you in the Passing. What surprizes me most is to think how indefatigable you must have been in every respect, not only to have attended to the more immediate objects of your Pursuit with so much Care as I am satisfied you must have done - but that in the midst of such rapid Travelling & thro’ Countries where every object was new to you shou’d have found the Time and Resolution to keep so exact an account of your Proceedings. - By the way your Journey hitherto has been much more extensive than I imagin'd it had been ‘till I received your last letter. I had not the least Idea of your having taken Geneva in your Way to Rome5 - but I am very glad you did so, as I shou’d think the Expedition from Lyons thither must have been as fine a Part of your Tour as any you have gone through.6 - With us it has been as forward & delightful a Spring as I ever remember & if there is that real difference of Climate between England and Italy, which we are taught to believe you must long ere now have enjoyed all the coolness of Frascati & Tivoli, studying the beauties of their Woods & Rocks & Waters with all the Genius & under the immediate Influence of Gaspar himself.7 While you are thus enjoying yourself amid such delicious Scenes I have been immersed in all the tumult & Confusion of contested Elections - I just mention this Circumstance that you may compare the Situation & be thankful for the difference of your Employment [space, indicating illegible words]

From yr affectionately & Sincerely

James White

A Montr
Monsieur Towne
a la Caffé d’Angleterre
Piazza d’Espagna


  1. 1 Towne had sent two letters to White before White wrote on 27 November 1780. In one of these Towne had given "a truer Idea of the Countries you travelled through, and the manner of travelling through them than he [Jackson] had ever conceived before"; even so, Towne evidently neglected to mention his visit to Geneva. Humphry also acknowledged a letter from Towne "giving me a long Account of your Journey thither wch must have been delightful to you". In addition to these three letters, in his letter of 12 March 1781 White appears to refer to a further two letters from Towne sent in the intervening period. White's statement in the 4 May letter implies that a further, sixth, letter from Towne existed, which was in transit either at the same time as the 12 March letter from White or as another, unknown, letter from White.
  2. 2 Towne visited North Wales in June and July 1777 (FT066 to FT118). White's letter is the only evidence that White accompanied Towne.
  3. 3 White argued in his letter of 12 March 1781 that Towne should remain in Italy. Humphry's letter of 17 April 1781 may also have had the same purpose.
  4. 4 Towne's journal is unknown. Wilcox suggests that it was the "5 M.S. books" noted in Towne's library in 1816. Wilcox 1997, p.17.
  5. 5 Two drawings survive, one dated 7 September 1780 (FT165, FT166).
  6. 6 Probably a reference to Towne's progress through Savoy to Chambery and over Mount Cenis. White himself visited Savoy with Jackson in 1785 (see the note at FT893).
  7. 7 It is unclear here whether White was alluding to knowledge of Towne having already visited Tivoli and Frascati, or whether he was guessing more generally that he 'must long ere now have' been there. Towne's sketches of Frascati are dated '1781'