The BARS ‘On This Day’ Blog series celebrates the anniversaries of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. Want to contribute a future post? Get in touch.
Today on 19th August 2023, we mark 200 years to the day of the death of Romantic poet Robert Bloomfield with this blog post by Emlyn David.
The 19th August marks the bicentenary of Robert Bloomfield’s death, with this anniversary offering an occasion to reflect on the poet’s works and his legacy. Bloomfield died in dire poverty at Shefford, Bedfordshire, aged fifty-six, forgotten by most of his contemporaries – but his death does not reflect the great popularity that some of his works enjoyed during his lifetime.
The poem that made Bloomfield’s reputation, The Farmer’s Boy (1800), can be considered as one of the bestselling poems of the Romantic era. Although Bloomfield first struggled to find a publisher, Capel Lofft finally agreed to publish the poem along with woodcuts by John Anderson, a Scottish wood-engraver and a pupil of Thomas Bewick. It sold an estimated 51,000 copies and was translated into French, German and Italian, with some excerpts translated into Latin. New editions regularly appeared throughout the nineteenth century. As the title of his major work suggests, Bloomfield is one of the many local or regional poets who are associated with the labouring-class tradition of poetry of the late eighteenth century. Many authors of humble origin found a place for their writings on the literary market of the time, a trajectory that Bloomfield describes with great humour in the epitaph he had written for himself (an epitaph dated April 1823, but which was never actually used):
First made a Farmer’s Boy, and then a snob / A poet he became, and here lies Bob.
Bloomfield nevertheless represented much more than the tail end of this poetic fashion. His poems reworked the pastoral and georgic traditions and inspired poets of a younger generation, most notably John Clare, to revive them in their poetry. Clare lamented the death of his “departed brother bard” in a letter dated 7 March 1825 to Joseph Weston:
“I deeply regret that ill health prevented our correspondence & that death prevented us from being better acquainted I sincerely loved the man & admired his Genius.”
Clare regularly mentions Bloomfield’s works in his correspondence. He praises him highly, especially when comparing him with other poets concerned with the depiction of rural life, like George Crabbe. Clare insists on Bloomfield’s proximity with and his intimate knowledge of the subjects of his poems, which endow his poetry with a sincerity that is absent from Crabbe’s works:
“[Crabbe] knows little or nothing about [the peasantry] compared to [Bloomfield], who not only lived among them, but felt and shared the pastoral pleasures with the peasantry of whom he sung”.
According to Clare, the authentic quality of Bloomfield’s works is what makes him “the most original poet of the age & the greatest Pastoral Poet England ever gave birth too [sic].”
Bloomfield’s works represent and celebrate his native landscapes and the customs of his village, giving pride of place to popular culture in literary texts destined to a polite readership. “It will be observed that all my pictures are from humble life, and most of my heroin’s servant maids”, he writes in the preface to his collection Wild Flowers; or Local and Pastoral Poetry (1806). Storytelling is at the centre of his poetry, and Bloomfield always underlines the role of old women as the repository of a cultural knowledge that is central to a community while depicting them as skilful narrators. His poems give a vivid and often enthusiastic description of rural life, while emphasizing the physical discomfort, exploitation and exhaustion that come with rural labour.
He inspired both poets and painters. John Constable – another artist known for his love of his native landscapes – used lines from The Farmer’s Boy as a poetic catalogue tag to his painting The Wheatfield, which he exhibited in 1816 :
No rake takes here what heaven to all bestows / Children of want, for you the bounty flows!
Bloomfield’s poetry reminds us that the places we know best can be an inexhaustible source of wonder and delight. His love of nature and of the landscapes he knew so well accompanied him during his entire life, and on his grave at All Saints’ Church, Campton, Bedfordshire, one can read:
Let his wild native wood notes tell the rest.
To help us leave behind this bicentenary and hope for future celebration of Bloomfield’s works, why not take the time to read and enjoy a poem that was published posthumously in The Remains of Robert Bloomfield, and let his own words “tell the rest”:
The Flowers of the Mead
How much to be wish’d that the flowers of the mead
The pleasures of converse could yield;
And be to our bosoms, wherever we tread,
The reasoning sweets of the field!
But silent they stand,—yet in silence bestow, 5
What smiles, and what glances impart;
And give, every moment, Joy’s exquisite glow,
And the powerful throb of the heart.
Emlyn David is a first-year English Literature PhD student at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne. Her PhD research focuses on the representation of folklore and popular culture in 19th-century Scottish literature, more specifically in the works of James Hogg, George MacDonald and R.L. Stevenson. Other research interests include Romantic poetry, labouring-class poetry and the representation of oral storytelling in the works of authors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
 Bloomfield, Robert. « The Farmer’s Boy (1800) ». The Collected Writings of Robert Bloomfield. Edited by Tim Fulford, John Goodridge and Sam Ward. Editorial Introduction. Pars 1-7. Romantic Circles, August 2023, https://romantic-circles.org/editions/bloomfield_poems/editions.2019.bloomfield_poems.8FarmersBoyPt1.html.
 Bloomfield, Robert. « The Author’s Epitaph ». The Collected Writings of Robert Bloomfield. Edited by Tim Fulford, John Goodridge and Sam Ward. Romantic Circles, August 2023, https://romantic-circles.org/editions/bloomfield_poems/editions.2019.bloomfield_poems.39AuthorsEpitaph.html.
 John Clare to Joseph Weston, 7 March 1825. The Letters of Robert Bloomfield and His Circle. Edited by Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt. Romantic Circles, August 2023, https://romantic-circles.org/editions/bloomfield_letters/HTML/letterEEd.25.399.html.
 Clare, John. The Letters of John Clare. Edited by Mark Storey, Oxford University Press, 1985, p.302.
 Clare, John. The Letters of John Clare. Edited by Mark Storey, Oxford University Press, 1985, p.300.
 Bloomfield, Robert. « Wild Flowers, or Pastoral and Local Poetry (1806) ». The Collected Writings of Robert Bloomfield. Edited by Tim Fulford, John Goodridge and Sam Ward. Romantic Circles, August 2023, https://romantic-circles.org/editions/bloomfield_poems/editions.2019.bloomfield_poems.21WildFlowersPt1.html.
 John Goodridge. « Storytellings: “Old Women’s Memorys” ». John Clare and Community, University Press., 2013, pp.169-189.
 Rosenthal, Michael. « Constable and Englishness ». The British Art Journal, vol. 7, no 3, 2006, p.43.
 Bloomfield, Robert. « Poems from the Remains of Robert Bloomfield (1824) ». The Collected Writings of Robert Bloomfield. Edited by Tim Fulford, John Goodridge and Sam Ward. Romantic Circles, August 2023, https://romantic-circles.org/editions/bloomfield_poems/editions.2019.bloomfield_poems.36RemainsPt11.html.