Thomas Westwood

Thomas Westwood (1814–88)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 5, 375–376.

Described in DNB as a “minor poet and bibliographer of angling,” Thomas Westwood carried on a substantial correspondence with EBB, especially in the 1840’s prior to her marriage. His father, likewise named Thomas, had worked as a haberdasher but was retired and living in Enfield at the time of the son’s birth on 26 November 1814. The Westwoods were on friendly terms with Charles Lamb, who called the father “Gaffer” Westwood and who encouraged the son in his literary interests. These interests bore fruit, and over the years the younger Westwood produced a number of poetical works, at least three of which found their way into the Brownings’ library: Poems (1840), Beads from a Rosary (1843), and The Sword of Kingship (1866), (see Reconstruction, A2445–47). The 1840 volume prompted an Athenæum critic to credit Westwood with “a poetical eye, a poetical heart, and a musical ear.” Despite this, Westwood was not fully devoted to a poetical career, and on 10 December 1846 he wrote to EBB of having taken up a “mercantile” vocation. According to DNB he eventually became director of a railroad in Belgium and “spent most of his later life” in that country. However, EBB wrote to him at a London address as late as 2 October 1849. Meanwhile, through a lifelong interest in angling, he developed into a leading authority and bibliographer on that subject. He published A New Bibliotheca Piscatoria in 1861 and The Chronicle of the Compleat Angler in 1864. In 1883, with help from Thomas Satchell, he greatly expanded the 1861 volume into a work of more than 5,000 entries. Westwood died on 13 March 1888, in Belgium.

The earliest extant letter in the correspondence between Westwood and EBB is no. 895, which she wrote to him on 7 January 1842. From the context it is evident that he had requested a copy of her Essay on Mind (1826), which she was sending (Reconstruction, C34). Her next letter, no. 909, dated 5 February 1842, acknowledges a copy of his Poems (1840), (Reconstruction, A2446). In a letter to Mary Russell Mitford on 5 November 1842, EBB described Westwood as “the author of a volume of poems with poetical feeling in them & grace—not much power or originality.” She wrote to him on a wide variety of subjects, but seems never to have developed as much enthusiasm toward him as she did toward certain other intellectuals, for instance B.R. Haydon and R.H. Horne, with whom she corresponded. As was the case with Haydon, and with Horne until 1851, EBB and Westwood did not actually meet. After she began seeing RB, EBB’s correspondence with Westwood tapered off. The last known letter to him before her marriage was sent on 6 September 1845. It told of her plan, which never materialized, of going to Pisa for the winter of 1845–46. Over a year later, on 24 November 1846, after she finally did reach Pisa as the wife of RB, she wrote again to Westwood, acknowledging his “kind word of remembrance” which had been forwarded by her sister. On 10 December of the same year he sent a long letter saying “I honour the new name,” discussing his own current activities, and commenting on contemporary writers. In 1850, after the death of Poet Laureate William Wordsworth, the Athenæum at least twice recommended EBB as his successor. Then on 23 November, after Alfred Tennyson had been selected, the magazine argued—without actually mentioning EBB’s name—that she would have been a better choice. Westwood sent her a copy of the 23 November article, and on 12–13 December she wrote to him from Florence: “If you had not sent me the Athenæum article I never should have seen it probably, for my husband only saw it in the reading room, where women dont penetrate, (because in Italy we cant read, you see) & where the periodicals are kept so strictly … that none can be stolen away even for half an hour.” On 13 December she mentioned Westwood’s thoughtfulness in a letter to Miss Mitford and went on to describe him as “interesting & amiable—an old correspondent of mine & kind to me always.” The last extant letter between EBB and Westwood was written by her in February 1856. She mentioned “Mrs. Westwood” and went on to say: “Oh—it is all I ever wished for you, dear Mr. Westwood,—a happy marriage!” RB may have had some correspondence with Westwood after EBB’s death. A letter in RB’s handwriting dated 27 March 1880, and quite likely intended for Westwood, was found in the latter’s copy of RB’s Men and Women (Reconstruction, M163). Westwood knew the Brownings’ son, Pen, in Belgium in the 1870’s. A letter printed in Florence Compton’s A Literary Friendship: Letters … from Thomas Westwood (1914), p. 195, describes the young artist as “a droll little figure … very popular.”

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