[Charles Waterton, naturalist.] Three Autograph Letters Signed to Lady Cullum, regarding: his approach to natural history, shipwreck, indisposition, temperance campaigner Father Mathew in Wakefield, lions and lion cubs, 'little roman owls'.

Charles Waterton (1782-1865), naturalist and explorer [Lady Ann Cullum (1807-1875), wife of Sir Thomas Gery Cullum (1777-1855), 8th Baronet of Hardwick House]
Publication details: 
12 July 1842; 17 July 1843; 17 April 1853. All three addressed from Walton Hall [Wakefield, Yorkshire].
SKU: 22376

Three excellent and characteristic long letters, neatly and closely written, in the first of which he describes 'the little tide of misfortune' which has befallen him, including shipwreck and indisposition; in the second he gives a vivid account of a visit to Wakefield by the temperance campaigner Father Mathew; and in the last he explains is reluctance to dissect the body of a bird she has sent him, exclaiming: 'I never do things by halves in Natural History'. Along the way there are references to 'my little roman owls' and 'my lions and my lion cubs'. The last two letters are in good condition, lightly aged and worn. The first letter is in like condition, apart damage by careless cutting of a thin strip from the inner margin, with an accompanying parallel closed cut, slightly affecting text, which is nevertheless entirely legible. All three are signed 'Charles Waterton'. The first two letters are bifoliums, addressed on reverse of second leaf, with penny red stamps, postmarks, and remains of red wax seal, to Lady Cullum at Hardwick House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. ONE: 12 July 1842. 2pp, 4to. The start of the letter sets the tone: 'My dear Lady Cullum, | Remember you and Sir Thomas! - yes, “while memory holds a place”, in this stormbeaten frame. Tis but a fortnight ago, that Elisa and Helen [i.e. Waterton's sisters-in-law Elisa and Helen Edmonstone, who lived with him at Walton Hall] and myself were descanting upon your cleverness in opening the lock to the baker's tomb, by means of a silver key: - and lately, when report informed me, that the worthy Sir Thomas was expected in this part of Yorkshire, I sent a message to Mr Foljambe by a friend, and begged that he would offer Sir Thomas my house and all that is in it, during his stay in our neighbourhood. Many and many a time again, in passing up and down the Corso, after you had left the Eternal City, we cast a longing, lingering look on your lodgings, and thought with a pleasing melancholy, on the happy hours we had once spent there.' He proceeds to describe 'the little tide of misfortune, which broke open upon us, for our sins, towards the close of our sejourn [sic] in Italy.' He includes the failure of Wright's, explaining how he was helped in this case 'by the friendly foresight of a Quaker'. 'Our next disaster, was heavier far than this. We were shipwrecked off the isle of Elba, and we lost everything but the clothes on our backs, having only fifteen minutes to save our lives by getting into the steamer which had run into us'. When the ship returned to Rome for a refit, Waterton contracted malaria, and then dysentry. He explains how, on return to England, following a journey across Europe, he had a relapse, but 'Our celebrated Doctor Hobson of Leeds [Richard Hobson (1795-1868)] put me on my legs again'. He is now unable to 'wander far from home', but 'could wish that my Sisters would go and see you'. He thanks her 'for the intended present of the owl. Perhaps it is as well that it has died, for I have no convenience here for captive birds; - and to have turned it loose, would have answered no good end. - I succeeded in bringing here, five of the little roman owls. They are now inhabitants of the woods, and there is an account of their adventures, published in Loudon's Gardener's magazine for the month of June. He comments on 'my little boy' and 'Elisa and Helen', whose 'hearts and souls are centred in his happiness. When our ship was foundering, Helen had him close by her side; and Elisa kept crying out, “oh save the poor boy”; - “never mind me,” - “let me perish.”' TWO: 17 July 1843. 1p, 4to. Written in a similar tone. The subject of the letter is a visit to Wakefield by 'Father Mathew', i.e. Theobald Mathew (1790–1856), an Irish Catholic priest and temperance campaigner. Waterton writes: 'I am past the elbows in brick and mortar, and being my own architect, I am obliged to be most punctual in attending the workmen, in order that things may go on in a proper way. Hence, I am regularly at the scene of work, from six in the morning, till the same hour in the evening; and I could ill afford to be absent on the day that Father Mathew proposed to shew to the drunkards of this neighbourhood, the beauty and immense adavantages of temperance. He was listened to by an immense assemblage of people with an attention which I could not have expected. Sectarianism seemed to have been forgotten. All was peace, regularity and concord; and all present, hailed him as a common benefactor.' He praises Mathew in the highest terms, before continuing: 'He pourtrayed [sic] the horrors of intoxication so forcibly, and conveyed his own sentiments of this horrible vice, in a manner so engaging, so gentle, and so masterly withall, that the whole assembly in loud and repeated cheers, testified their entire approbation of his labours in the good work which he had in view.' Turning to his neighbourhood, he writes: 'Perhaps no town in England exhibits more frequent and more detestable instances of drunkenness than Wakefield. Its jail, which is for the Westriding of Yorkshire, contains just now, above one thousand prisoners. The depravity of nearly the whole of these can be traced to the use of intoxicating liquors. […] there was once a time not quite fifty years ago, when there was not a single prisioner in the House of correction at Wakefield.' He continues with reference to his 'Sisters in law', and continued recovery under Doctor Hobson. On both sides of the second leaf of this letter is an Autograph Letter Signed to Lady Cullum from Helen Edmonstone, signed 'H. J. Edmonstone', dated from Walton Hall, 22 July 1843. She refers to the indisposition of her sister 'Eliza', and Waterton's son Edmund, who is 'growing fast and is I am sorry to say losing his Strength […] he has not forgot your & Sir Thomas's kindness during the carnival at Rome'. She also comments: 'Three of the little civettas Mr. Waterton brought from Rome are alive'. THREE: 17 April 1853. 1p, 4to. He thanks her 'for the bird which you have been so kind as to send me', regretting that he has 'not sufficient pluck and resolution to commence the dissection. I never do things by halves in Natural History; and I feel quite certain that were I to attempt to give the bird its pristine form and feature, I should fail at every point. When the Roman poet was mashed up in mind and body, and could not produce good verses, he exclaimed, that poetry required calmness and repose; whereas, he himself was knocked to and fro, by tempests and vexations. So it is with me just now.' He describes further indisposition, including a 'stubborn attack of English cholera'. He hopes that Sir John will soon go down 'to see his Yorkshire property', and his family hopes that she will come too, 'and make our rural wigwam her head quarters, whilst the worthy Baronet is attending to his business. - We would do our best to amuse you; and vast indeed would be my pleasure in exhibiting my lions and my lion cubs.'