CHEDWORTH, Howe, John, 4th Baron Chedworth (1754–1804), eccentric. ALS to unnamed lady. [1802]

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CHEDWORTH  -  Howe, John, fourth Baron Chedworth (1754–1804), eccentric. Autograph letter signed to an unnamed correspondent ‘Dear Madam’, 4 sides 4to, no date [1802], apologizing for his late reply having been away from home, and responding to questions she raised; commenting upon recent elections in Norfolk; and detailing a visit to the Earl of Bristol’s mansion Ickworth House:-

“I do not know that I am able to give an account of the Turk's Tribute which you will think satisfactory.  Mahomet laid it down as a Fundamental of his law that all the World sh'd pay him Tribute: this, I suppose, was exacted by his successors & was paid with the utmost scrupulosity by the Musselmen from religious Motives.  This w'd I think suffic tly explain the performance: but I confess I never thought much about the Passage & if this be not the true Explanation to give one.  & I have had no Opportunity of consulting any body on this Point & the Books are silent.”……… 

“Sir Frs. Burdett's triumph seems to have been a very formidable one.  I am however inclin'd to believe that it will not be lasting, as from what I understand it seems probable that he will be disseated ………. He is, I believe a very violent visionary Gentleman, & more likely to hurt than to serve the side he espouses …..…  You know probably that the scrutiny for the county of Norfolk is still going on at Norwich …. The last Acct. I had was that Sir J. Astley's Majority over Col Wodehouse was considerably increas'd ……..  I had yesterday a visit from Mr. Smith the new Member for Norwich [1802] when pass'd through in his way from that City.  I confess I rejoic'd much at the exclusion of Mr. Windham, whose Apostacy & excessive Violence I abhor”.

While I was from home I visited Ld Bristol's new Erection at Ickworth …….I was much pleas'd with the Paintings in the old House & you will believe that I was particularly gratified by finding in one Apartment Portraits of Milton, Addison, Arbuthnot, Congreve, Prior, Voltaire, & Rousseau, which the Housekeeper said were Originals, whether truly or not I doubt.  There were 2 very old heads which She said were Petrarch & Laura …….. Ld. Hervey's Picture was among those of the family: I mean the famous ld. Hervey who was Pope's Sporus …… There was a Picture of which I much wish'd from an Explanation: it was a group of Statesmen, in the Dress of the early Part of the last Century  (I mean the Time of Q. Anne or George 1st) who are amusing themselves with looking at Plans of Architecture &d while a Clergyman in full Canonicals is standing on a chair behind them & looking over their Heads through a spying glass: one of the company who sits before him is slily pushing behind him his with his Cane at the Chair on which the Clergyman stands & has already tilted it, so that his reverence is in Danger of falling.  The Figures are manifestly portraits.  The housekeeper pretended to give an Explanation of it, but it was manifestly so erroneous that I was convinc'd she knew nothing at all about the Matter”.

John Howe, fourth Baron Chedworth, was born in 1754, the second and only surviving child of the Revd Thomas Howe (1716–1776), rector of Great Wishford and Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire, and his wife, Frances White. Educated at Harrow School, he matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford in 1772 and left after three years' residence without taking a degree. Upon the death of his uncle in 1781 he succeeded to the title and estates, but continued to live in Suffolk and took no interest in Stowell Park, the family seat in Gloucestershire. Of peculiar appearance and negligent in his dress, Chedworth was singled out as an eccentric, and rejected fashionable society, frequenting theatres and racecourses. He never married but had many women friends.(ODNB)

Chedworth’s comments upon the elections allows us to date this letter to 1802. ‘Mr. Smith the new Member for Norwich’ was the politician William Smith (1756 – 1835), who in 1802 successfully stood as MP for Norwich, defeating the Whig politician William Windham (1750 –1810). Furthermore, Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844) won a seat for the county of Middlesex in 1802, although this was short-lived (as predicted by Chedworth) as the election was subsequently voided.

The reference to the ‘Turk’s Tribute’ possibly alludes to the subject found in Shakespeare's Othello, whose works Chedworth took a special interest in, leaving behind Notes upon some of the Obscure Passages in Shakespeare's Plays, published posthumously in 1805. Chedworth was in regular correspondence with the actress Elizabeth Edmead on the subject of plays at this time (1802). She had performed for some years in Norwich in the 1790s (Chedworth was a benefactor of the Norwich Theatre), and it is quite likely that this letter is to her. Chedworth left Elizabeth Mead £1,300 in his will.

Chedworth’s visit to Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds the home of Frederick Augustus Hervey, fourth earl of Bristol (1730–1803), is interesting for the commentary upon the pictures he saw on his visit. At the time of Chedworth’s visit the collections were still in the old house, but major new additions to the earl’s designs were begun in 1795. The earl died in 1803, just a year after Chedworth’s visit, and the house was completed by his successors. The collections in the house included some very fine works by the old masters, and some particularly fine 18th century portraits of the family. The painting of the group of Statesmen that Chedworth took a special interest in was in fact William Hogarth’s famous conversation piece The Holland House Group painted in 1738 which features the fourth earl.

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