Thomas Poole (tanner)

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Portrait of Thomas Poole, c. 1815, by Thomas Barber (1771-1843) Tom Poole.JPG
Portrait of Thomas Poole, c. 1815, by Thomas Barber (1771–1843)

Thomas Poole (14 November 1766 – 8 September 1837) was a Somerset tanner, Radical philanthropist, and essayist, who used his wealth to improve the lives of the poor of Nether Stowey, his native village. He was a friend of several writers in the British Romantic movement, a benefactor of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his family, and an influence on the poems of Wordsworth.

Somerset County of England

Somerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Its traditional border with Gloucestershire is the River Avon. Somerset's county town is Taunton.

Tanning (leather) process of treating animal skin to produce leather

Tanning is the process of treating skins and hides of animals to produce leather. A tannery is the place where the skins are processed.

The term "Radical", during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, identified proponents of democratic reform, in what subsequently became the parliamentary Radical Movement.



Poole was born in 1766 in the village of Nether Stowey, Somerset, the son of a successful tanner and farmer. He was, against his own wishes, denied much formal education by his father, who instead apprenticed him to the family tanning business. In spite of his dislike for tanning he became a master of the trade, well thought of by his competitors, and in his spare time studied French, Latin and the humanities and social sciences. [1] In 1790 he went to London as delegate to a tanners' conference, and in 1791 was chosen by the conference to express their concerns to the Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger. [2] His London experiences did much to radicalize Poole, and he returned to Somerset a confirmed advocate of the cause of democracy, though he hoped to promote it by peaceful means rather than revolution. [1] [3] In 1793 he started a local reading club which spread the teachings of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and the same year he toured the Midlands dressed as a workman to research the living and working conditions of the poor. [4] Within a few years he had attracted the hostile interest of the Home Office, who thought him a revolutionary agitator and are said to have rated him as the most dangerous person in the county. [5] [6] Even his relatives were thoroughly exasperated with him: "I wish he would cease to torment us with his democratick sentiments", his cousin Charlotte complained after one argument, while another cousin, with whom he had fallen in love, refused to marry him on political grounds. [7] [8] In the event, he never married. [1]

Nether Stowey village in the United Kingdom

Nether Stowey is a large village in the Sedgemoor district of Somerset, South West England. It sits in the foothills of the Quantock Hills, just below Over Stowey. The parish of Nether Stowey covers approximately 4 km², with a population of 1,373.

William Pitt the Younger 18th/19th-century British statesman

William Pitt the Younger was a prominent British Tory statesman of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. He became the youngest UK Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24. He left office in 1801, but served as Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer for most of his time as Prime Minister.

Thomas Paine English and American political activist

Thomas Paine was an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution and inspired the patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era ideals of transnational human rights. Historian Saul K. Padover described him as "a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination". Born in Thetford in the English county of Norfolk, Paine migrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), proportionally the all-time best-selling American title, which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain. His The American Crisis (1776–1783) was a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said: "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain". Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote Rights of Man (1791), in part a defense of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on Irish conservative writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in England in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel.

The Coleridge circle

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1795.gif
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge Cottage Coleridge Cottage 1797.jpg
Coleridge Cottage
The gravestone of Poole and his parents in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Nether Stowey. His age at death is given inaccurately. Tom Poole's grave.jpg
The gravestone of Poole and his parents in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Nether Stowey. His age at death is given inaccurately.

In August 1794 Poole was visited by two young men, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, whose political views bore some similarity to his own. Both were fired up by doctrines of their own devising which they called Pantisocracy and aspheterism, respectively involving government by the whole of society and common ownership of property by society. They planned to realize these ideals in a commune in Kentucky made up of some two dozen of their friends and relations, though the scene was later shifted first to the Susquehanna River and then to Wales. [9] Poole sympathized with the political idealism of this scheme, though he was too practical a man to have much faith in its chances of succeeding. He was deeply impressed by Coleridge's personality and "splendid abilities", and thought Southey "a mere Boy" by comparison. On another visit by Coleridge in 1795 Poole was inspired to write a poem of his own in tribute to his friend. [10] In 1796 Poole wrote an article against the slave trade, which Coleridge published in his journal The Watchman , and when that journal failed he organized an annuity to be paid Coleridge by himself and a group of friends. [1] At the end of that year, rather against his better judgement, he found a cottage in Nether Stowey for Coleridge, who now wanted to live a rustic life with his wife Sara and baby son Hartley. [11] A gate was built to connect Coleridge’s new garden with Poole's, and Coleridge became a frequent visitor, sometimes studying in Poole's book parlour and sometimes writing, as with his poem "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison", which was composed in Poole's garden. [12] Much local suspicion of Poole was roused by his housing such a notorious radical as Coleridge, and this only increased when in 1797 he was persuaded to look for a home for Coleridge's new friends William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Poole helped to secure them Alfoxton House a few miles away, which enabled Coleridge and the Wordsworths to visit each other and interchange ideas on an almost daily basis. [13] Poole had, on first meeting Wordsworth, decided that he was the greatest man he had ever known, and Wordsworth in turn grew to hugely admire his probity, charity and genuineness. [14] [15] Poole was able to tell Wordsworth stories of Somerset life which later re-emerged in "The Somersetshire Tragedy" (an unpublished fragment), "Poor Susan", "The Idiot Boy", "The Farmer of Tilbury Vale", and probably "The Last of the Flock", while according to Wordsworth himself he had had Poole in mind when writing his poem "Michael". [15] [1] [16] Poole may have promoted the literary partnership that produced the Lyrical Ballads , but in doing so he also weakened Coleridge's ties to him; realizing this, he found himself for a while in rivalry with Wordsworth for Coleridge's friendship. The two poets departed for Germany together in 1798, leaving Poole to look after Coleridge's wife Sara, and though Coleridge returned the next year he soon went off to join Wordsworth in the Lake District. [1] [17] [18]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge English poet, literary critic and philosopher

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He also shared volumes and collaborated with Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, and Charles Lloyd. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on William Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge coined many familiar words and phrases, including suspension of disbelief. He had a major influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and on American transcendentalism.

Robert Southey British poet

Robert Southey was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the Lake Poets along with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and England's Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 until his death in 1843. Although his fame has been eclipsed by that of Wordsworth and Coleridge, his verse still enjoys some popularity.

Pantisocracy was a utopian scheme devised in 1794 by the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey for an egalitarian community. It is a system of government where all rule equally. They originally intended to establish such a community on the banks of the Susquehanna River in the United States, but by 1795 Southey had doubts about the viability of this and proposed moving the project to Wales. The two men were unable to agree on the location, causing the project to collapse.

Poole's friendship with the two men was thereafter largely conducted through letters and very occasional visits, and though Coleridge was able to be useful to Poole by getting a series of essays by him, called "Monopolists and Farmers", published in the Morning Post , their personal relationship was never again so close. During the Stowey years their association had brought Poole into contact with men in the larger world of literature and ideas, who admired his sterling qualities. These included not only the three Lake Poets but also Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, John Thelwall, and Humphry Davy. In return he provided Coleridge with much-needed sympathy, practical help and sage advice. [1] "We were well suited for each other", Coleridge later recalled. "[M]y animal Spirits corrected his inclinations to melancholy; and there was some thing both in his understanding & in his affection so healthy & manly, that my mind freshened in his company, and my ideas & habits of thinking acquired day after day more of substance & reality." [19]

The Lake Poets were a group of English poets who all lived in the Lake District of England, United Kingdom, in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a group, they followed no single "school" of thought or literary practice then known. They were named, only to be uniformly disparaged, by the Edinburgh Review. They are considered part of the Romantic Movement.

Charles Lamb English essayist

Charles Lamb was an English essayist, poet, and antiquarian, best known for his Essays of Elia and for the children's book Tales from Shakespeare, co-authored with his sister, Mary Lamb (1764–1847).

William Hazlitt 19th-century English essayist and critic

William Hazlitt was an English essayist, drama and literary critic, painter, social commentator, and philosopher. He is now considered one of the greatest critics and essayists in the history of the English language, placed in the company of Samuel Johnson and George Orwell. He is also acknowledged as the finest art critic of his age. Despite his high standing among historians of literature and art, his work is currently little read and mostly out of print.

Later years

In 1802, having handed over the management of his business to an assistant, he travelled widely on the Continent, meeting Thomas Paine in Paris. In London he became acquainted with the civil servant John Rickman, and at his suggestion did a good deal of statistical work in London intended to help implement the Poor Laws. [1] He also continued to put his liberal theories into practice in Stowey, establishing the Female Friendly Society in 1807, the elementary school in 1812–13 (he donated the building for it), and the Co-operative Bank in 1817, and from 1814 until his death he was an active justice of the peace. [20] [1] [21] Thomas De Quincey, who visited him in 1807, wrote that he "had so entirely dedicated himself to the service of his humble fellow countrymen, the hewers of wood and drawers of water in this southern region of Somersetshire, that for many miles round he was the arbiter of their disputes, the guide and counsellor of their daily lives". In 1817 Poole founded the Quantock Savings Bank.

John Rickman English statistician and civil servant

John Rickman was an English government official and statistician of the early nineteenth century.

Poor relief Village sign language of Marthas Vineyard Island, Massachusetts

In English and British history, poor relief refers to government and ecclesiastical action to relieve poverty. Over the centuries various authorities have needed to decide whose poverty deserves relief and also who should bear the cost of helping the poor. Alongside ever-changing attitudes towards poverty, many methods have been attempted to answer these questions. Since the early 16th century legislation on poverty enacted by the English Parliament, poor relief has developed from being little more than a systematic means of punishment into a complex system of government-funded support and protection, especially following the creation in the 1940s of the welfare state.

Friendly society

A friendly society is a mutual association for the purposes of insurance, pensions, savings or cooperative banking. It is a mutual organization or benefit society composed of a body of people who join together for a common financial or social purpose. Before modern insurance and the welfare state, friendly societies provided financial and social services to individuals, often according to their religious, political, or trade affiliations. These societies are still widespread in many parts of the developing world, where they are referred to as ROSCAs, ASCAs, burial societies, chit funds, etc.

de Quincy later agreed with Coleridge's description of Poole as an ideal model for a useful Member of Parliament. [22] [1] Coleridge himself continued to benefit from the old friendship: Poole helped to finance the poet's newspaper The Friend in 1809, and later young Hartley Coleridge's education at Oxford. In 1834 Coleridge died, leaving in his will four gold mourning rings to his wife and his three closest friends, including Poole. Poole himself died on 8 September 1837 at Nether Stowey, of pleurisy, at the age of 70. [23]

A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the voters to a parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, this category includes specifically members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title. Member of Congress is an equivalent term in other jurisdictions.

Mourning ring finger ring worn in memory of someone who has died

A mourning ring is a finger ring worn in memory of someone who has died. It often bears the name and date of death of the person, and possibly an image of them, or a motto. They were usually paid for by the person commemorated, or their heirs, and often specified, along with the list of intended recipients, in wills. Stones mounted on the rings were usually black, and where it could be afforded jet was the preferred option. Otherwise cheaper black materials such as black enamel or vulcanite were used. White enamel was used on occasion particularly where the deceased was a child. It also saw some use when the person being mourned had not married. In some cases a lock of hair of the deceased person would be incorporated into the ring. The use of hair in mourning rings was not as widespread as it might have been due to concerns that the hair of the deceased would be substituted with other hair.

De Quincey described Poole as "a stout plain-looking farmer". He was short and prematurely balding; slow and deliberate of speech; and his voice, the quality of which had been spoiled by snuff-taking, had a strong Somerset accent. [1] [8] His character is described by the Coleridge scholar Molly Lefebure as combining "idealism with strong practical common-sense, sound business acumen with a keen and stimulating intellect, and a robust sense of humour with great delicacy of feeling". [24] This last characteristic was not invariable for he could be sententious and overbearing, so that his long-term friend Southey complained that "he was never content to be your friend, but he must be your saviour", nor was his temper to be implicitly relied on. [1] [8] He owes his place in literary history to his profound respect for the intellectual elite of his time, which, combined with his many fine personal qualities, enabled him to be an invaluable friend to Coleridge and others, and to live up to his own maxim, "Happy is the genius who has a friend ever near of good sense". [25] [8]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Mayberry 2004.
  2. Lefebure 1977, pp. 136–137.
  3. Lefebure 1986, pp. 44–45.
  4. Holmes I p. 71
  5. Lefebure 1977, p. 137.
  6. Holmes 1990, p. 159.
  7. Gill 1990, p. 123.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Holmes 1990, p. 72.
  9. Holmes 1990, pp. 59–98.
  10. Holmes 1990, pp. 72–74, 101.
  11. Lefebure 1986, pp. 84–85.
  12. Holmes 1990, pp. 137–138, 145, 153.
  13. Holmes 1990, pp. 152–153, 159.
  14. Pinion, F. B. (1988). A Wordsworth Chronology. Basingstoke: Macmillan. p. 24. ISBN   0816189501 . Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  15. 1 2 Gill 1990, pp. 123–124.
  16. Johnston, Kenneth (2000) [1998]. The Hidden Wordsworth. London: Pimlico. p. 368. ISBN   0712667520.
  17. Holmes 1990, pp. 197–199, 238, 245, 273–275.
  18. Lefebure 1986, pp. 97, 126–127.
  19. Holmes 1990, p. 294.
  20. Holmes 1990, p. 71.
  21. "Tom Poole – A Staunch and Faithful Friend". The Friends of Coleridge. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  22. Courtney, Winifred F. (1982). Young Charles Lamb 1775–1802. London: Macmillan. p. 360. ISBN   0333315340 . Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  23. Holmes, Richard (1999) [1998]. Coleridge: Darker Reflections. London: Flamingo. pp. 171, 452, 518, 559. ISBN   0006548423 . Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  24. Lefebure 1977, p. 205.
  25. Lefebure 1986, p. 71.

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