The Cornish Curate
by Berta Lawrence.
(The Coleridge Bulletin New Series No 2 (Autumn 1993), pp 2-4)
(We are pleased to print this revised version of a paper which originally appeared in The Charles Lamb Bulletin. It is now reprinted by permission of the editor.)
In the eighteenth century Roskillys
were fairly thick on the ground in
In December 1792 the register records the burial of William
Roskilly’s wife Frances. A year or two later he married, in Stowey church, a
widow Mrs Dyer. The baptism of their daughter Mary Elizabeth is recorded in
1796, the year when Coleridge’s son Hartley was born and when the Coleridges
took the cottage in
Tom Poole had a friend John Chubb, a prosperous merchant and talented amateur artist. a democrat in politics and a friend and political supporter of Charles James Fox. His hospitable house stood on the quayside by the tidal river Parret in Bridgwater and here he entertained Coleridge and his wife in 1807 when de Quincey met Coleridge at the supper-table and found his personality dazzling. John Chubb’s son - Morley aged seven - went to Mr Roskilly’s school in Stowey and his grave, childish letters to his father illustrate the constant fear of French invasion which in Stowey engendered the ‘spy-scare’ and consequent suspicions about Wordsworth and Coleridge. When there was an alarm the pupils were kept indoors. ‘Mr Wood - the music master, teaches us our exercises and we have little wooden guns’. In the time of inflated corn prices riots flared up in the village when ‘Sir Phillip Hales came to carry away the corn’ so that Mr Roskilly’s boys were not permitted to leave the premises. Sir Phillip Hales was ‘ the titled Dogberry’ who led the campaign against Wordsworth.
Mr Roskilly’s school ran into debt and failed.
There is no evidence that Mr Roskilly and Coleridge were
close friends. No doubt they found each other’s company congenial since men of
good education were not numerous in Stowey. Over the years, particularly when
he was in
‘Sincerely your friend
Sarah kept in touch with the Roskillys who proved kind and
helpful. In 1800, after Coleridge’s return to
joined us there but did not’ she wrote after making a six-week stay. For many years Sarah remembered the Roskillys, frequently mentioning them in letters to Tom Poole, chiefly a certain Miss Roskilly still living in Nether Stowey - Roskilly’s daughter, perhaps, judging by her age. ‘Is Miss Roskilly married yet?’ Sarah candidly enquires. At times she merely asks ‘how is Miss Roskilly?’ In 1830, after a Stowey visit, she writes ‘I am sorry to have missed a sight of Miss Roskilly’ and, in 1829, after the wedding of a Southey daughter at Southey’s home Greta Hall Mrs Coleridge writes to Poole, ‘I have indulged in scribbling an account of the wedding for the amusement of your young cousins and Miss Roskilly’.
Two intimate friends of the Coleridges during their Stowey
sojourn were young Mr and Mrs John Cruikshank who had. married the same day as
the Coleridges and occupied a nearby house communicating by a garden path.
Cruikshank’s father was agent to the Earl of Egmont (brother of Perceval the
Prime Minister) who lived in
In October 1807 William Roskilly and his wife paid a visit to Nether Stowey. The recently published interesting diary of William Holland, Vicar of Over Stowey ( it is called Paupers and Pig Killers) describes the visit in Mr Holland’s usual carping manner. He met the Roskillys at the house of a relative of Tom Poole whom he disliked intensely. He remarked that Mr Roskilly did well for himself by marrying the Bishop of Gloucester’s niece! He had. failed at everything else - his school had failed, he was a poor scholar,. a poor parson and a poor preacher, and a very mean-looking plain man. Yet marriage to the Bishop’s niece had ‘set him right again’.
William Roskilly died in 1810.