St John’s College U.27

T.S. Whalley letters. English. 1779-1786


Twenty-one letters, mostly holograph, some of which appear to be parts of letters. The majority were written by Rev. Thomas Sedgewick Whalley (B.A. 1767), three by his wife Eliza, to Thomas’s cousin, Miss Sophy Weston during the period 1779 to 1786. Some letters are undated. Earlier letters are sent from the Whalleys’ Bath home or their country residence at Langford Court, but in 1783 the couple let their houses in England and embarked up on an extended European tour, with the aim of travelling for five years. Locations given at the head of subsequent letters include Dijon, Chambery, Avignon, Pisa, and Leghorn, although not all letters give an address. Mannheim, Mainz, Worms, Koblenz, Lucerne, Strasbourg, Toulon, and Brussels are all mentioned in the text. The letters express their affection for Cousin Sophy at length, give detailed descriptions of their travels, the countryside and towns through which they pass, their impressions of continental society and the people that they meet. News and opinions of mutual acquaintances are given, including the poets William Hayley and Anna Seward. Most of the letters are lengthy, and in some cases every margin is filled with close-written text.



A)  6 large pages, from Pisa, undated. Written in various orientations. Describes the countryside and weather, and recounts anecdotes of the society there. Outlines his itinerary for forthcoming travel through Italy to Zurich. Includes poetry.


B) a single loose sheet, undated, and evidently part of a longer missive, marked ‘read this last’. He enquires after Mr Hayley and ‘the dear muse’ [Julia]. He has changed his opinion of Mr Hayley and no longer wishes his acquaintance having realised how malicious his wit is and how Julia has been hurt.


C) 4 pages. No location given, signed off ‘yrs always my dear Maria, TSW’, undated, possibly incomplete. Gives a lengthy description of the environs of Thèvres, 9 miles from Toulon, which he refers to as paradise, full of citrus groves.


D) 8 pages, from Langford Court, October 26th, 1779. Expresses at length his affection for the recipient, Cousin Sophy, and describes the present ill health of Benignus. Enquires after a friend, Miss Davies, and encourages Sophy to write to them often, assuring her that the everyday details of her life interest him.


F) 4 large pages. No location given, undated. Written densely with much underlining, filling the borders of the page. Describes places visited on their travels, including Lucerne. Refers in a postscript to the marriage of Mr Leeves to Miss Watkyn. They leave Strasbourg the 2nd of August, post should be directed to Bruxelles Flandre, poste restante.


G) 8 pages, from Langford Court, June 14th 1781. Comments on Mr Hayley’s poem ‘Triumphs of temper’. Lists the guests who are staying with them and gives news of various acquaintances. His garden has a plague of cock chafers.


I) 13 pages, from Bath, May 14th 1782, from Mrs Eliza Whalley to Cousin Sophy. Writes of the shock of the sudden death of Harriet, following a soaking out riding, and describes her final days. Instructs Sophy to destroy part of the letter concerning the confidential news that due to money troubles Mr Whalley has decided to spend a few years on the continent where living according to a strict budget will enable him to clear his debts.They are leaving their affairs in the hands of Mr Jenkyns and have let their house in the Crescent to a good tenant. Their country house is also to be advertised to be let for five years. They regret being so far from Mrs Whalley at her age, and will present their trip as a pleasure jaunt, as they will too to most of their friends. Discusses various acquaintances: Miss Rokeby, Mrs Provis, Mrs Cornthwait, the Greenly family, their friend Benignus, and Mr Wm Leeves. Recounts a story regarding Billy Pennington’s conduct.


J) 8 pages. No location given, dated December 2nd, 1782. A separate accompanying sheet is labelled ‘Mr Whalleys description of his first interview with Miss Seward, 2nd Decr. 1782’ in ink, and in pencil ‘Raptures’. Describes Miss Seward as ‘glorious’, ‘a temple of genius’, a ‘daughter of the sun [who] stands sparkling with such a blaze of light… that every other object is cast into distance and shade’. After nearly five pages of rapture, Whalley goes on to describe Lichfield . Benignus has joined them and is listening to Julia reading poetry. Comments on Julia’s character, and the nature of friendship. Also refers to a friend Saville. Given the absence of any sign-off, this letter may be incomplete.


K) 4 large pages, sent from Dijon, June 2nd 1783. Managed to meet Sophy’s brother before leaving for Calais. Their journey went well, thanks to his sister’s excellent management. Describes their travelling arrangements in detail. Paris had an air of dirty finery and they tired of it in ten days. Compared French theatre unfavourably with English and performances such as that of Mrs Siddons. They enjoyed walking in the boulevards. Admired Versailles and the Queen and King and saw the Dauphin. Described a pretty maid, the countryside through which they travelled, and Dijon. Have taken rooms there for a month. Sends their respects to their tenants at Langford, and other acquaintances.


L) 6 pages, headed ‘copy of Mr Whalley’s letter from Dijon September 22nd, 1783.

They are more than contented, as they are free from cares, and are kept interested by the scenes around them. Have met all the best society, though find French hospitality ostentatious without being truly friendly. The Marchioness de Longecour and the President Brondeault and his lady are exceptions whose friendship they esteem. It is the vintage season and everyone is happy. They have stayed at a vineyard to see the whole process. They will shortly be travelling on to Chambery to meet the Baron de Chatillon, of whom he expresses admiration.


M) 8 pages, from Eliza Whalley dated October 8, 1783. Describes their stay in Dijon at Mr Chapentierre’s vineyard during the vintage, and their introduction to the best society. Would happily have stayed at Dijon the whole winter, but life in Lyon is significantly cheaper, and even there there are so many auxiliary expenses that they are instead going into Savoy, and have taken lodgings at Chambery until July, thanks in part to friendship with Baron Chatillon. Describes the home and family of the Baron, and the beauty of the countryside through which they travelled. Chambery has decayed since the Duke of Savoy became King of Sardinia and moved away. Describes the scenery, and her pleasure in it, though hopes to return to England, to her friends, and the free exercise of her religion in the future. Mentions mutual friends from whom she has received letters.


N) 8 pages, from Chambery, dated December 12th 1783. Gives a description of Lyons, which reminds him a little of Bristol. They attended the theatre the same night as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, who were accompanied by Almeria Carpenter and Miss Pitt, Lord Rivers’s daughter. Describes the scenery on the journey to Savoy. They are spending much time with their friend Baron Chatillon, whose character and appearance he praises at length.  Describes his climb up one of the mountains in the region and the splendour of the views, a picturesque village, and a meeting with a local curé who was ‘more than half mad’. Describes an excursion to a neighbouring province, ‘Bugg’ [Bourg?], where he stayed at the chateau of the Count d’Angerville,and then that of his sister, the Countess de Champdor, both of whom he describes. He is delighted with their accommodation in Chambery, its surrounding area, and the society there. Responds to matters raised in her last letter, and sends their regards to Julia.


O) 6 pages, from unspecified location in Europe, not dated. Fanny is with them and balls have been held for her. They leave for Brussels the first week of January. Describes their journey from Strasbourg, which was uninteresting until they reached Spire [Speyer], which was burnt by French troops in 1685 on the same day as Oppenheim, Frankenbourg, Worms, Heidelbourg, and Manheim on the orders of Louis XIV. Deplores the destruction which ‘the honest Germans’ will not soon forget. From Spire to Manheim they travelled through vineyards. Manheim stands on the Rhine, and is a handsome city. The Elector Palatine’s palace is more pleasing than Versailles and imparts a royal air to the city, though the city has declined since its sovereign moved to Munich on succeeding to the Electorate of Bavaria. Describes his tour of the palace, including the art gallery, library, and natural history collection. The route to Worms was dull, but from Oppenheim there were views of woods and mountains. Magence was full of Roman Catholic churches, the Cathedral being painted in a most unpleasant brick-coloured wash. They travelled by boat to Cologne and enjoyed the sights along the river, which he describes. They passed by Coblentz and Bonn, and stayed in Cologne, which was supposedly founded by Agrippina, observing that it had been little modernized since! He comments on the trade with the Low Countries, the Cathedral, the tomb of the eight kings and its history. They travelled 20 miles by road to Dusseldorf to see the famous art collection at the Elector’s palace, including the finest collection of Rubens known, and six rooms of Dutch, Brabant and Flemish masters, with a few fine big Italian paintings. Is most struck by the painting of St John. From Dusseldorf they travelled to Aix-en-Chapelle, which was very dirty. Liege is large and flourishing, but also dirty, and the surrounding countryside resembles England.


P) 16 pages, headed ‘extract from Mr Whalley’s letter Chambery January 5th, 1784’.

Describes his excursion into the neighbouring region ‘Bugg’ [Bourg?], presumably the same trip featured in letter N. Describes visiting the Bernardine monastery of St Suphrie, and his moving conversation with a young monk who had taken vows after his beloved fiancée had died suddenly at a dance. At the famous convent of Chartreuse, he saw a portrait which was claimed was the only original picture of Christ, and mused upon the nature of the monks’ life and beliefs. Describes the setting of a third monastery, and an intermittent natural fountain nearby, before giving further detailed descriptions of the scenery around his friend’s house in Savoy. Prefers the Savoyard nobility to the French.


Q) 4 large folded pages. Chambery June 16th 1784. Sympathises with Sophy over her brother’s misfortune. Delights in spring in the alps. Has already told Julia that he planned an excursion into Tarentese. His companions were two young Italian officers. After a night at St Pierre they visited the Castle of Miolans, now a prison. Tells the story of an unfortunate young prisoner whose face he saw at the window, before returning to describe the scenery. Moutiers is the ancient capital of Tarentese, though the profits from its salt industry are the King’s monopoly and are spent on his transalpine subjects with no benefit to the local population. Two rivers meet and threaten the town with destruction. They stayed at Moutiers, with excursions into the surrounding countryside, including a trip to silver mines, on the way to which he saw an extraordinary procession of figures in white, carrying lighted tapers, accompanied by solemn music and singing. The procession was a hundred poor peasants, led by their priest, en route to the cathedral to pray for rain, leading him to muse on the nature of faith in the efficacy of prayer. He has enjoyed the society of an Italian monk Pere Reinairi in Moutiers, with whom he discussed Ganganelli [Pope Clement XIV]. Describes the dress of the peasantry and his return to Chambery via various convents.


R) 6 pages, from Avignon October 13th 1784. Writes to assure Sophy of their continuing affection and approval of her future husband Major Taylor. His delay in writing has been due to the very severe illness of his friend Baron Chatillon, who was near death while the Whalleys were travelling in Geneva, and whose condition is still not hopeful for recovery. He apologises for such his sad theme, inappropriate to a bridal time. He compares the oppression and poverty of the countryside around Chambery with the prosperity and commerce of Geneva, where he formed an intimacy with two young Danes, with whom he visited the glaciers in the valley of Charmount. He gives a lengthy description of the scenery and the splendour of Mont Blanc, but was disappointed by the glaciers themselves, which resembled heaps of dirty snow. After his Danish friend left for Paris, they made a trip to Lausanne, which would have seemed like paradise had they not already seen Savoy. He sets  out on foot to explore the locations in Rousseau’s Heloise. They stay several days with Baron Prangeans, whose wife is the sister of Mr Cleveland of the Admiralty. Returned via Geneva, Lyon, and along the Rhone to Avignon, where they have settled for the winter.


S) 4 pages, from Avignon December 10th 1784. Shares her tears and speaks of her lucky escape from an unsuitable man. They lead a tranquil life in Avignon, where they determined not to enter into French society. Speaks of the inappropriate behaviour of the Duke of Cumberland, his distaste for any association with him, and the contrast with the pure beauty of the Fountain of Vaucluse which he visited recently. They intend staying in Avignon until March, when they will move a country house near Vaucluse, having two possibilities in mind, and hope to hire that once inhabited by Sterne. He has seen the pictures of Laura and Petrarch, and is sorry to say that they are not at all as he would imagine them. Sends an epigram to Julia on the subject of having seen her poetry criticised in the English Review.


T) 4 pages, from Eliza Whalley, Avignon, February 20th 1785. Expresses sympathy with Sophy’s recent trials, encourages her to enjoy social engagements, and be happy to have escaped from marriage with Major T., whose character was not good. They are glad that she has met an amiable friend in Madame de Peleve, but believe that only a long acquaintance can identify someone with whom one can live amicably. Comments on Sophy’s account of the Poetic Milkwoman, who enjoys the patronage of Miss Hannah More, and on news of Mrs Siddons and her family. They have participated in only a few of the social events in Avignon. They refused the offer of free accommodation in a castle, whose location would have required them to keep a carriage and which had not been lived in for three years, and have taken a house in the neighbourhood of Vaucluse, proposing to stay there until the autumn, before setting off for Italy, hoping that Mr Sage and Fanny will accompany them. Mr Whalley has been assisting a Mrs Wapshare of Salisbury when her husband died very shortly after arrival, and she is carrying this letter to England for them. They visited the Pont du Garde and Nimes, a trip which Mr Whalley has already described to Miss Seward. Discusses the weather in England and in France. Expresses sympathy for Mrs Light’s loss of her husband at Madras. Her eldest brother is there with them in an advanced state of consumption and they pray for his recovery.


U) 6 pages. No location given, May 30th 1785. Letter contains crossings out and much underlining. Refers to her situation, and is glad that she is staying with Mrs Langham Rookeby, as a change of scene is wise. Comments on the severity of the last winter and describes the environs of Vaucluse, which provides a pleasant and peaceful life. They have English neighbours: General & Mrs Morris, Captain & Mrs Byron, and Captain & Mrs Parker, whom he describes. The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland are still at Avignon and dined with the Whalleys, bringing with them Miss Luttrell, Lady Fenners and the Portuguese ambassador to Vienna, the latter being a natural grandson of George I and son-in-law to Lord Chesterfield. Asks Sophy to tell Lady Langham that he is charmed by her engravings, and that she has done his poem much honour in drawing royal favour down upon it, though he appreciates this primarily as a sign of friendship. He is not a person who would wish to gain preferment through fawning to potential patrons. Is saddened by the death of their dog, and expresses the opinion that animals have souls as humans do, a view shared by the philosopher [Charles] Bonnet whom he met in Geneva. It was an acquaintance he was unfortunately unable to pursue due to his friend Chatillion’s illness. His Danish friend is now ambassador in Naples, and he looks forward to seeing him and his wife there. Sends regards to mutual friends.


W) 4 pages. [By inference, Italy] no location given, August 23rd 1786. They travelled via Germany, and will stay a month before going to Brussels where they will see Fanny, whom he praises at length. Comments on Julia’s jealousy and her breach with Mr Hayley.


X) 4 pages, from Leghorn, January 22nd 1786. Is concerned not to have heard from Sophy and wonders if a letter has gone astray. They have returned to Leghorn, and have been there a month, though leave the following day. Describes the society they have encountered there and the entertainments that have amused them. Their society at Pisa was improved by the addition of Mr & Mrs Peter Beckford. He sought the company of the Pisan nobility in order to benefit from Italian conversation, and preferred the company there to that of Leghorn. They plan to return to Pisa for six more weeks.



Housed in a portfolio folder. Paper sizes vary. Some letters still bear their original wax seals.


Given by the Rev. Anthony Howe Denney, B.A. St John’s 1950.