Letter to Francis Towne


Edward Drewe, Letter to Francis Towne : Exeter, undated [ca. 1781-1793]

Fryday morning1


I must again express to you the Pleasure I rec’d from yr Views of Rome.2 If I declined entering into that historical Investigation you might have expected, it arose from my Perfect Knowledge of that History on which I founded my Military Principles3 and from my Delight in finding myself in Old Rome by the text & comment of yr Pencil. Tho no Painter I am a lover of Painting. I remember when I was last in Europe you hinted to me the favourable opinion of Mr Parr,4 form’d by some Subjects I had given him for History Pieces. The Compliment is perhaps (tho flattering) yet too much so, yet it encouraged me to beg a sight of yr other Sketches whenever you can shew them to me without Delay or Interruption, & be assured where I see truth and Nature I shall be contented, and not like the cobler who having properly found fault with the Sandal of the Venus of Apelles, forfeited his fame by making objections to her Instep.5 I shall not be the Sutor ultra Crepidan,6 but I beg to be, Sir yr most obedient serv

E. Drewe Jun:


  1. 1 Although undated, the letter postdates Towne's return to Devon in late September 1781 and predates Drewe's death in 1793.
  2. 2 A reference to Towne's drawings of Rome (FT171 to FT224).
  3. 3 A reference to Drewe's military background. Although Drewe dresses it with flattery, the purpose of his letter is to soften and excuse his rejection of Towne's discussion of Roman history, which evidently Towne had proposed as they examined his drawings. There is a hint here of the typical use Towne must have made of his Italian work, as a springboard to lessons about history and classical culture. Towne's assumption of his own superior knowledge is also implicit in this, and Drewe's rebuff questioned this; even in the letter he asserts his 'Perfect Knowledge of that History'. When Exeter residents called on Towne, no doubt they were not usually so assertive.
  4. 4 Given the context of foreign travel, this is presumably William Pars, although only one of Drewe's visits to Rome is recorded, on 12 December 1791 long after Pars's death (Ingamells 1997, p.313). Alternatively it may be Dr.Bartholomew Parr, a member of Drewe's literary circle.
  5. 5 In a story from Pliny the Elder's The Natural History, Apelles left his painting of Venus on public view, trusting to the public's judgement. A cobbler pointed out a small error of detail in Apelles's treatment of a sandal, which the painter corrected. The cobbler, so pleased that the painter had acted on his criticism, began to object to other parts of the painting, at which point Apelles complained that the cobbler had overreached himself. Pliny 1855, Book 35, Chapter 36. The ostensible modesty of Drewe's assurance not to stray into areas of art criticism which he was incompetent to make hides an implied warning to Towne to reciprocate. If Drewe has ceded the artistic ground, likewise Towne should leave matters of history to Drewe.
  6. 6 The cobbler's mistake gave rise to a saying "Ne sutor ultra crepidam," meaning 'let not the shoemaker go beyond his competence'.