Letter to Francis Towne


William Pars, Letter to Francis Towne : Undated [ca. 1769-1775]

Dr Towne

I am alive as this will inform you, and that you’ll say is no news. But I didn't receive your letter until my return from the Country where I has pass’d sometime wh is the only possible reason of my long silence. - Indeed you are the last one in the World whose correspondence I ought to slight, for you are ever giving me good Advice, the surest mark of sincere & true Friendship: & out of gratitude I hope I shall always think so: it is the least I owe you. -

As for the incidental disappointments and misfortunes human Life is subject to, I come in for so large a share of them that they are so far from giving me any uneasiness, I declare they don’t even surprise me for ye time while they happen. - I think as you do every man would aim to get money, were it only to avoid the humbleness of poverty. It's a doubly wretched state, as it not only debars us every enjoyment & comfort in Life, but what is still more miserable gets us shun’d & even despised by the greater part of our acquaintance. It is very true such a Part is not worth preserving, but still you’ll own it must be most galling to a man of Spirit. Read how feelingly Cervantes speaks of Poverty in ye last P of his 10th B of D. Quixote, on Arms & Letters1 - But prey let me in my turn, beg of you not to be cast down & despond because a little cloud may seem to obscure you. Would you cut down a tender Plant after a refreshing Shower for drooping its head when it is then then it receives ye nourishment that brings it to maturity.

But now regarding yr things. Mr Sawney2 informs me He has some time ago sent yr Arms & Paper. The Cards you liked Mr Stubbs3 got from Cambell. You see how far prejudice may lead one. As you didn’t like what you saw there, I haven’t bought any for you. Your Seal4 I am ashamed to own Ned has not yet done: but in his behalf I must let you know he has been setting a couple of pictures for me round with diamonds, with a few other little jobs; However I assure you I shall be soon done. In the mean time let not your Friends suffer: put Wafers to yr letters - Yr Buckles I think will hardly be worth making a parcel of, however they shall be immediately sent. -

You tell me bad news of poor Swift.5 How sorry I am to hear he is lost. I don’t wonder that hw[sic] left you, its very well for a man of Study now & then to fast, but you should make some allowance for man & beast. Your friend Mungo5 grows as big and rough as a Bear. His first Onset is terrible. He is so rough unless you prepare yourself for his Salute he’ll knock you down.

I cannot conceive how I made a mistake in directing the Picture to you - do send me word. -

I had almost forgot a principal part of my Letter, which is, to tell you if the rough home you met with here was agreeable tis always at yr service. I should have thought an Invitation superfluous, between such Friends as I hope we are, had you not found it necessary to thank me for what’s past. -7
For want of room & not inclination to write I conclude with wishing you Fortitude & every good Quality; & I think I can wish you nothing better

W Pars
Percy Street

I cannot tell the day of the month but believe tis somewhere towards the middle of August8 and some Author says a Letter to be good ought never to see the Daylight, if so mine is a master piece.

Addresses to Mr Town
at Mrs Langworthy’s
Stepcote Hill


  1. 1 "I would have thee to know, Sancho, that it is the glory of knights-errant to go without eating for a month, and even when they do eat, that it should be of what comes first to hand; and this would have been clear to thee hadst thou read as many histories as I have, for, though they are very many, among them all I have found no mention made of knights-errant eating, unless by accident or at some sumptuous banquets prepared for them, and the rest of the time they passed in dalliance. And though it is plain they could not do without eating and performing all the other natural functions, because, in fact, they were men like ourselves, it is plain too that, wandering as they did the most part of their lives through woods and wilds and without a cook, their most usual fare would be rustic viands such as those thou now offer me; so that, friend Sancho, let not that distress thee which pleases me, and do not seek to make a new world or pervert knight-errantry." Cervantes 2000
  2. 2 Josiah Sarney, born in 1739/1740 the son of Benjamin Sarney, a farmer from Henley-on-Thames (perhaps also a brewer and maltster) who married. From 1754 to 1761 he was apprenticed to coach painter Thomas Brookshead, under whom Towne also studied 1752-1759. In 1769 Sarney married Sara Blackman at St George's, Hanover Square. He is listed in Great Queen Street in 1776 (Tomlin) and he is presumably the same Josiah Sarney of Henley who ran a highly successful business as a painter in Bishopsgate Street (listed in Wakefield's 1789 London Directory as Fairchild & Sarney, 202 Bishopsgate without), dying at Windsor in 1818 aged 79, worth £45,000. Among Sarney's clients was William Beckford, for whom he painted "the series of eschuteons on the frieze of St Michael's Gallery" at Fonthill, "the most chaste and beautiful specimens of heraldic illumination". [Gentleman's Magazine 1822, vol 2, pp.317-320]. In his final years (from 1810 or earlier) he lived in the High Street, Windsor. Sarney and Towne were lifelong friends; the latter bequeathed him "fifty Pounds Stock and a Drawing," the work described in probate records as "a Picture a Landscape in water colour Framed". See also the note at FT649. Sarney and his widow endowed a charity at Henley to provide bread and coal for the parish poor. Berkshire Record Office D/ESv/M/F28; National Archives PROB 11/1601; Hopkins 1776, p.152; The Times, 31 January 1818; Boyd's Marriage Index, Society of Genealogists, London; Appendix 4; Devon Record Office 3459M/E36; New Monthly Magazine, 1818, vol 9, p.172
  3. 3 George Stubbs (1724-1806), the leading painter, engraver and anatomist. Towne's acquaintance with Stubbs is documented only in this letter and in letter 3, from Stubbs's friend Cosway. From 1763 Stubbs lived on Somerset Street, very close to the address Cosway and Towne shared c.1766/1767. Stubbs was also friendly with Towne's friend Ozias Humphry. Stubbs's loyalty to the Society of Artists, of which he was President in 1772/1773, and his difficult relationship with the Royal Academy, mirror Towne's own experiences. Egerton 2004.
  4. 4 A letter sent by Towne to James White in 1816, bears the impression of Towne's seal.
  5. 5 unidentified
  6. 6 unidentified
  7. 7 Towne used Pars's Percy Street address when he exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1769 to 1773 and at the 1775 Royal Academy show. As Pars was writing in August after a 'long silence', it may be that his reference to 'ye rough home you met with here' describes Towne's use of Percy Street for one of these exhibitions, which opened in April or May.
  8. 8 Pars reached Rome by 21 December 1775 and died there in 1782, so the letter must have been written in or before 1775, but probably no earlier than 1769, when Pars began exhibiting from Percy Street. 1770 is also discounted as in August Pars was visiting Switzerland with Lord Palmerston. Ingamells 1997, pp.742-743; Wilton 1979, pp.9-18; Wilton 2004 (which states that Pars left for Switzerland in 1769).
  9. 9 Mrs Langworthy of Stepcote Hill is unidentified; a Mary Langworthy, widow of Exeter, died in 1768. Stepcote Hill was among the poorest areas of Exeter and Towne's presence there indicates the modesty of his spending.