Letter to James White


Francis Towne, Letter to James White : Exeter, undated [6 July 1816]

side one, left

To / James White Esqr.
North Street

side one, right

[N]o31, Devonshire Street
[...]61   Portland Place

My D[ear ?Friend]
[...................................]d by this time that you
& Miss2 [Podger a]rrived, & I hope safe & well,
the ackn[owledgeme]nt of the pleasure I had on
Tuesday, [?will be al]ways in my mind, & the [...]
weather w[as...] the enjoyment perfect,
the next day [& t]he following was bad & great
quantity of Rac[...], I got to Hounslow after [?and]
parted in good [t]ime, & set off directly, the driver
I had set out at a furious rate & continued
it some distance, & whether it was owing to
that, or to any sudden jolt, I found a diffi
culty in making water, indeed I had a little
between Salt Hill & Hounslow3, but when I
came into Hyde Park, I could not make any,
after arriving at my House, I took a little walk
eat my supper, & went to bed, but not the
least sleep, & the most excuciating pain
I ever felt in my life the whole night.

side two, left

Early in the morning [.......] Mr Gilder4, who
sent me some medice[n ..........]ock came with
a Gentleman who is [.............] foot Guards,
who has an[..................................] intends
& must have had gre[..................] with the
Catheter drew the urine [.......bla]dder, which
eased me from the pain [........] & at night, he
did the same & I shall [.........]ght of it, this
morning he has repeated it [....] is coagulated
blood as there is an obstru[cti]on at the neck of
the bladder, which seems to have had some
injury, whether from any sudden jolt there
is no saying, but I remember the driver as
I have said before setting off at such a rate, tho'
at the time I do not remember to have felt any
thing, I keep myself quiet & drink only Barley
Water, & take my medicens generally every
three hours, I thought I should do right in not
keeping this from your knowledge, at the
time I am writing this the weather seems

side two, right

To be gettin[g...............] will remember me
most kin[dly to Miss P]odger, & tell her how
much [..............................]d to her for the
goo[]e gave me in regard to
my [.........?plea]sure of her company during
[.........................]London, & now believe me
when [.............]st affectionately your
sincere [........]
                            Francis Towne
Mr Carr5 who has been sitting with me
& is just go[n]e, desires his Compliments
to you & Miss Podger.


  1. 1 Given the letter's contents, which reveal that Towne was suffering terminal complications to a bowel infection, the letter must date from the middle of 1816. Possibly '6' represents the last digit of that year, or more probably Saturday 6 July, the day before Towne's death. Certainly the letter appears to have been written on a Saturday, as in recounting his condition over the past few days Towne refers to Tuesday, then "the next day & the following"(Wednesday, Thursday) and a very bad night on Thursday; Mr Gilder came on Friday morning and used a catheter, which he repeated at night and the following morning (ie Saturday), which was the same day that Towne was writing. Furthermore, Towne's shaky handwriting is similar, but not as distressed, as that in his final codicil, made on Thursday 4 July 1816.
  2. 2 Miss Ann Podger.
  3. 3 Salt Hill near Slough, Berkshire, and Hounslow, Middlesex. It seems that Towne was returning from an excursion West of London to meet James White and Ann Podger, as in the opening words of the letter Towne expresses his hope that they have arrived home safely and mentions his pleasure on Tuesday, presumably in their company.
  4. 4 James Gilder attended Towne at the end of his life, although in what capacity is unclear. His receipt acknowledging James White's payment of £99 15s lists the services of eminent surgeon Sir Everard Home (1756-1832) at £26 5s, Mr Simpson at £26 5s, Dr Andrew Bain at £15 15s and of himself at £31 10s. Dr Bain attended the death of his friend Richard Brinsley Sheridan on 7 July 1816, the same day Towne died, so was probably not present at Towne's deathbed. Bain, "one of the most eminent practitioners in London" trained at Edinburgh, and his country house was at Heffleton, Devon. Devon Record Office 3459M/F60. John Taylor, Records Of My Life, London, 1832, vol 2, pp.204-206
  5. 5 William Holwell Carr (1758-1830) of Exeter, art collector. In 1791 he became vicar of Menheniot in Cornwall, which provided him an income of £1134 per annum, which was augmented in 1797 when he married Lady Charlotte Hay, who died in 1801. With these resources he bought a collection of pictures, which he bequeathed to the National Gallery, and became an influential figure in the London art world. From at least 1801 Carr was one of Towne's close friends, as he wrote to Humphry then that "I see Towne at tea & supper three or four times a week." Carr's house in Devonshire Place was very close to Towne's house. After Towne's death Carr received from James White, Towne's executor, £50 stock and 12 of his drawings, each valued at 2 shillings. Asked by White to comment on Towne's "Pictures Prints & Drawings" for probate, he formally agreed with White's valuation of £1,000 but, unofficially, "being very well acquainted with the same... I think you have valued the property rather high". Devon Record Office 3459M/E36; Egerton b 2004; Royal Academy HU5/105.