Bernard Barton.jpg

Many of Bernard's works are collected at, each accompanied with fascinating snippets of critical reviews and pertinent letters.


The following is Public Record Office reference RG 6/695:
bernard and lucy marriage 1807 SMALL.jpg

"On the sixth Day of the eighth Month, One Thousand eight hundred and seven.... Bernard Barton... of Woodbridge, Merchant.... Son of John Barton, late.... of London... and Mary.... his Wife, and Lucy Jesup... Daughter of Benjamin Jesup.... of Woodbridge in the County of Suffolk... and Martha.... his Wife.... took each other in Marriage, in a publick Assembly of the people called Quakers, in Woodbridge aforesaid.... in the presence of us.

Mr[?] Jesup Woodbridge, Merch.t
Wm. Alexander, Needham ?? Merchant
William Candles[?] Ipswich ?? Chandler

This Marriage was solemnized between us,
Bernard Barton
Lucy Jesup"

Barton's Cottage, Woodbridge, Suffolk

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Bernard Barton's house Barton Cottage in Woodbridge.jpg
(see here and here)

Biography (by Malcolm D. Barton)

Bernard Barton known in his own time as the Quaker Poet was granted a pension of £100 a year from the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, and had a schooner named after him, and yet forty years of his working life was spent sitting on the same stool as a bank clerk in Woodbridge Suffolk. Despite his poor circumstances he was known for his generosity to his customers offering them a pinch from his snuffbox made from the ‘Royal George’. He had once been allowed a fortnight’s holiday, but it was usually just a week every two years and in over forty years it amounted to less than eight months. He was never used to or fond of exercise. He wrote that he took as little exercise as a milestone and far less fresh air!

Bernard’s grandfather had invented a new spinning machine for use in the local flax industry in Carlisle. Bernard’s father John continued running the calico business that his father had built up somewhat reluctantly for he had more literary leanings and hoped to become a lawyer. The surviving painting shows him in March 1774 with his books and music at about the age of twenty one (according to Bernard) but in 1774 he would have been nearer to twenty four and before he married Maria Done a Quaker from Cheshire. The wedding took place in St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church which upset Maria’s relations and the Friends. Maria was suspended from the Carlisle Quaker Meeting house for two years but was reinstated in 1779 at a time when her husband was finally allowed to become a Quaker. Maria’s two eldest children were born in Carlisle, Maria in 1778 who became an author of children’s books under her married name Hack, and Elizabeth (Lizzie) who remained a spinster. In 1781 the family moved to London. Here at Kennington a son was born and named John, but he died of whooping cough at the age of eighteen months. Bernard was born in Clapham London but his mother Maria died soon afterwards so he never knew her. John married again, Elizabeth Horne the daughter of a well to do Quaker merchant, and they called their son John, and he and Bernard were brought up as brothers.

In his childhood Bernard remembers looking out of the parlour window of the town house on Bankside [44 Bankside, now occupied by the Globe Theatre.] across to St Paul’s, as well as the Horne old country house in a green lane in Tottenham.

In 1787 his father was one of the twelve signatories on the Anti-Slavery committee, but two years later they had moved to Hertfordshire where he had died. Bernard was just five.

Bernard was educated at a Quaker boarding school in Ipswich but left at the age of fourteen to serve a seven year apprenticeship in a shop at the top of Halstead Hill in Essex belonging to Samuel Jesup a Quaker. In 1806 he moved to Woodbridge in Suffolk and in the following year married Samuel’s niece Lucy Jesup and went into partnership with Lucy’s brother as a coal and corn merchant. Unfortunately his wife died giving birth to their daughter Lucy in 1808 so Lucy was brought up by her Jesup grandparents. After the death of his wife Bernard could not bear to stay in Woodbridge and he left the area to work as a private tutor for a year to Mr Waterhouse in Liverpool through the agency of the Roscoe family who had been close friends of his parents. William Roscoe lent him books and encouraged his writing.

Bernard returned to Woodbridge in March 1809 and took a post with Dykes and Samuel Alexander’s Bank His duties at the end of each day were to add up and reconcile the accounts, a task he maintained for the remainder of his life. Only when he was at home did he start work on his writing and it was not until the summer of 1824, that Lucy now aged sixteen set up house together in a ‘nutshell of a house’ now known as Barton Cottage in Cumberland Street.

His first poems were published as ‘Metrical Effusions’ in 1812 and he engaged in a wide correspondence. He preferred to write letters to meeting people in person as it gave him more time to think what he wanted to say. He kept up a correspondence with Mrs Sutton a fellow Quaker for twenty years without ever meeting her. He wrote to well known writers of the time, Walter Scott, Byron, Southey and Charles Lamb often sending them complimentary copies of his verses with what Lucy called ‘a boyish impetuosity’, asking them for advice both on their quality and on his health, and as to whether he should give up his work in the bank to concentrate full time on his writing. Today his letters are more valued that his poetry.

Byron advised, ‘Do not renounce writing but never trust entirely to authorship’. Robert Southey’s advice was to go to bed early!

Robert Southey’s letters from Keswick to Barton extended over a period from 1814 to 1837 and remain formal. Southey seems to be keeping his own somewhat critical feelings under control. Whereas Bernard addressed him as My Dear Friend, Southey sticks to the more formal My Dear Sir. The first letter for which Southey apologises for a belated reply infers that Bernard had written to offer a copy of his poems ['Metrical Infusions'] and knew little about his new correspondent. “I believe that the magazine has given you a portrait of me as little accurate as its information about my poem. I am a man of forty, younger in appearance and habits, older in my feelings and frame of mind. I have been married nearly nineteen years and have had seven children – two of whom are in a better world.”

The second letter acknowledges receipt of Barton’s book, but explains that there had been a lengthy delay in receiving it from his publishers. “I have read your poems with much pleasure; those which speak most of your own feelings.” In answer to Bernard’s question no doubt, he records that Wordsworth lives fifteen miles away. “He is a truly exemplary and admirable man. I declare my full conviction that posterity will rank him with Milton.”

The third letter written six years later is in answer to Bernard’s apparent question as to whether Quakers should write poetry. “You propose a question to me which I can no more answer with any grounds for an opinion than if you were to ask me whether a lottery ticket should be drawn a blank or prize. Judging, however, from the spirit of the age as affecting your Society, like everything else, I should think they be gratified by the appearance of a poet among them who confined himself within the limits of their general principles. They have been reproached with being the most illiterate sect that has ever arisen in the Christian world, and they ought to be thankful to any of their members who should assist in vindicating them from that opprobrium.”

The fourth letter was in response to Bernard dedicating a poem “Day in Autumn” to him. The second paragraph however refers to the fact that it had come to his attention that his friend Woodruffe Smith had a daughter who had married Bernard’s half brother John. “When you have an opportunity, it would oblige me if you would recall me to her remembrance.” It is doubtful that Bernard living in Woodbridge had such an opportunity. This letter also mentioned that Southey was writing a book about the early Quakers.

The next letter was in response to an ill informed note in a magazine which Bernard had sent which had implied that Southey did not have access to Fox’s Journal. Southey affirms that he has received offers of help from many friends including Mrs Fry who had access to manuscript collections. There is a suggestion of irritation in his final paragraph. “How came the prejudice against verse to arise among the Quakers, when so many of the primitive Quakers wrote verses them selves? miserable bad ones they were, but still they were intended for poetry.”

Bernard Barton’s reply survives. He thought it of sufficient importance to have kept a copy. It is a great deal longer than Southey’s letters. He excuses himself but is anxious to impart to the historian, “the apprehension as well as the hopes, excited by his undertaking. I would not, believe me, put either thy time or patience in wanton and needless requisition, but on one topic I could wish, both as respects our feelings and our faiths, to solicit thy serious, candid and patient thought.”

The subject which occupies Bernard’s concern is the part played by the Holy Spirit in the “internal consciousness of its teachings.” He ended with, “if I may ask such a favour, to know something of thy sentiments on the subject.”

Southey replied some months later. “I had not leisure to reply to your former letter when it arrived; a full reply to it indeed would require a dissertation rather than a letter.” He defends his position, “In all communities of Christians there has been, and are persons, who mistake their own imaginations for inspiration; and that this was done in some cases by the Quakers, the present members of that society would not deny”. He went on to state that his current book on the History of the Peninsular War was occupying his primary attention!

Bernard responded to this news by sending him his poem on Napoleon which was dedicated to George IV. It is criticised by Southey, “I like your specimen in everything, except the praise for Bertrand who was loyal to a wicked master. If this is to be admitted as virtue, the devil may have his saints and martyrs.”

The final letter in 1837 acknowledges the receipt of Lucy’s elegant little volume “Gospel History.”

In 1818 there had appeared Barton’s ‘Poems by an Amateur’ which was well received by Charles Lamb who was to write regularly to Barton every month for seven years. He would send him detailed criticisms. In 1824 there appeared ‘Poetical Vigils.’ Charles Lamb discouraged Barton from giving up his job in the bank. “Keep to your bank and your bank will keep you. The booksellers hate us!”

Bernard complained of fatigues and headaches through long hours of work. Charles Lamb had his own advice here too which amounted to remain as ignorant about your body as possible and take up smoking!

Even his daughter Lucy felt that the ‘activity of publication’ was mistaken and that some of the work would have benefited from revision. Apart from being Bernard’s housekeeper, Lucy taught in a school and was the first in the family to secede from Quakerism. Elizabeth Hack his niece followed and married an Anglican clergyman, and to Bernard’s surprise his sister Lizzie followed when she was nearly sixty. Bernard remained a Quaker but on good terms with all, and even assisted in raising money for (St John’s) the new Anglican church in Woodbridge.

In 1824 the Quakers in the area, led by Sherwell of Ipswich and with an important contribution from Joseph John Gurney, raised a sum of £1200 for Bernard, the annual income of which he was allowed to draw on and eventually in 1839 he was able to use the capital in the purchase of a house at the back of the bank. In the same year he was thrilled to receive from his cousin in Carlisle the picture of his father. He described the painting in great detail listing many of the titles of the books in a letter to his friend the Reverend Charles Turner. ‘My good cousins at Carlisle ….. have sent me my dear dear father’s picture. Oh how proud I am of him. My wife’s mother, a plain excellent Quaker never went anywhere to look at a picture before, has been to see it. She sees a likeness to my daughter in it.’

Bernard rarely travelled. ‘I have little more locomotion than a cabbage.’ But in 1840 he went to Hampshire to meet his brother John. He may have also visited Portsmouth where in the same year a schooner ‘Bernard Barton’ was launched. Bernard records in a letter that the Captain reported that wherever he went people would ask who was Bernard Barton.

It was towards the end of his life in 1846 that he heard again from his northern cousins that the gravestone in memory of his grandfather in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s Carlisle was in need to repair, of which he had known nothing. In a letter to his friend the Reverend George Crabbe he heard that it was ‘vastly out of perpendicular’. He did not want it ‘carried off for use as a doorstep or to assist in the pavement of some pig-stye - mayhap.’

The gravestone records Bernard Barton’s death, January 6th 1773 aged 45, Mary his wife May 20th 1786 aged 54 and five of their children, George, William, Abraham, Henry, and Bernard all of whom died in infancy. There is a further inscription ‘Repaired and re-erected by Bernard and John Barton. 1846.’

In the same year following the gift of a book of his poems to Sir Robert Peel, Bernard had occasion to write on the severity of Income Tax on clerks such as himself. He was invited up to Whitehall to meet the Prime Minister and a pension of £100 p.a. followed although he did not live long to enjoy it. In 1848 he agreed to the regulation of his diet but it was too late. He died on February 19th 1849. On his deathbed he asked his friend Edward FitzGerald the poet to look after Lucy who was facing destitution, and Fitzgerald believing himself to be under an obligation to his friend, agreed to marry Lucy. The marriage was delayed until 1856 by which time Fitzgerald had received £50,000 in his mother’s will. The marriage took place in Chichester but lasted only nine months. Fitzgerald had always described himself as a true bachelor, and at the reception he made a poor impression on the Bartons by comparing the bridesmaids to blancmanges! He however left Lucy with a pension of £300 per annum on which she was able to live quite comfortably until her death in 1894.

Appendix I: Two of Bernard’s poems.

To Lucy.

My child, this is thy natal day,
And might a father’s prayer
For thee inspire his votive lay,
What blessing should’st thou share?
Shall wit, or wealth, or beauty move
Thy sire to bend his knee?
I hold thee far too dear, my love,
To crave these things for thee.
If wish of mine might prove of worth,
Be this thy portion given,
Thy mother’s blameless life on earth,
Thy mother’s lot in heaven.

To a Grandmother.

‘Old age is dark and unlovely’ Ossian.

O say not so. A bright old age is thine.
Calm as the gentle light of summer eves,
Ere twilight dim her dusky mantle weaves;
Because to thee is given, in thy decline
A heart that does not thanklessly repine
At aught of which the hand of God bereaves
Yet all He sends with gratitude receives;-
May such a quiet thankful close be mine!
And hence thy fireside chair appears to me
A peaceful throne- which thou wert form’d to fill;
The children, ministers who do thy will;
And those grandchildren sporting round thy knee’
Thy little subjects, looking up to thee
As one who claims their fond allegiance still.


B.Barton. Selection of Poems and Letters. Edited Lucy Barton. Hall Virtue 1849.
Bernard Barton The Quaker Poet. Bob Merrett Woodbridge Museum 2009.
William Roscoe papers. Liverpool Public Library.


Bernard died 19 February 1849 and is buried in the Quaker burial ground off Turn Lane in Woodbridge, Suffolk

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(Image from, here)

After his death, his friend Edward Fitzgerald published a 'memoir' about the life of Bernard Barton (*Fitzgerald 1849) which was included in a volume of Bernard's letters and poetry edited by Bernard's daughter (*Barton 1850).