Saturday, June 9, 2018

Teedon and the poet Cowper

Samuel Teedon, an unremarkable school teacher at Olney, just southeast of Northampton, England, was buried 220 years ago today. He would certainly not be remembered today but for a diary he kept. The diary is not special either, yet it was edited and published a century or so after Teedon’s death because he had been a friend of the poet William Cowper, also once a resident of Olney, who is  mentioned several times in the diary.

Samuel was born in 1736, the son of William and Mary Teedon, in Bedford. He was educated for the church, and was able to read religious texts in Greek and Latin, and some French. It is possible he worked as a tradesman before, in 1775, arriving in Olney, where he took a position as school teacher. His household included three others: a cousin, Elizabeth Killingworth, who he called ‘Mammy’; her son Eusebius or ‘Worthy’ who helped him at the school and worked as a bookbinder; and Polly Taylor, another cousin, or, possibly, his natural daughter. Teedon died in 1798, and was buried in Olney churchyard on 9 June. A little further information can be found on the website of the Olney & District Historical Society.

Most of any information that is available comes from Teedon’s diary, as edited by Thomas Wright (also author of The Life of William Cowper) and published in 1902 by At the Sign of the Unicorn. The Diary of Samuel Teedon (freely available to read online at Internet Archive ) covers only two and a half years (from late 1791 to early 1794) but it is thought there may well have been other diaries, now lost. The extant diary, in fact, was lost for many years, but was rediscovered in 1890, and subsequently donated to the Cowper Museum at Olney in 1900. A number of letters exchanged between Teedon and Cowper have also survived, and it is these, rather than the diary, that provide more detailed information on the relationship between the two, as outlined in Wright’s introduction to the published diary:

‘Teedon, a not uncommon product of the Evangelical movement, had got it into his head that he was especially favoured by Providence, and, extraordinary to say, Teedon’s belief, by and by, came to be shared by Cowper, with the result that, by degrees, the refined and gifted poet got to regard the vain and eccentric schoolmaster as a kind of Delphic oracle. Cowper had seen visions, dreamed dreams, and heard voices. Teedon in like manner received, as he took them to be, revelations from God. But there was this difference; Cowper believed himself a man whom God abhorred; Teedon regarded himself as Heaven’s special favourite. Consequently, whenever in doubt, Cowper had recourse to Teedon. That Teedon was sincere in his convictions we have no reason to doubt. He endeavoured to use his influence for the poet’s good, urging him to keep continually occupied, encouraging him to be frequent in prayer, and assuring him that God in His own time would remove the terrible burden.’

Here are several extracts from Teedon’s diary.

19 October 1791
‘Mr Bean came about 10 of the clock to school to offer in Mr. Thornton’s name the Schoolmastership to the Colony of Sierra Leon[e]. I told him I would consider of it. This I informed my cousins of, & because I did not immediately reject it, a most terrible scene followed. He came again to school & read the letters of Mr Thronton & Mr. Newton writ to introduce him to accept the chaplainship. This was at 4 of the clock. I gave him a positive denial on the score of the climate, yet this did not allay the ferment occasioned. I went to Mr. Sutcliff’s meet.’

17 January 1792
‘I went down to Mr. Hillyard’s meet[in]g. I re[a]d a Note in a very kind manner [from Cowper] inform[in]g me Mrs. Unwin mended every day something, and yesterday walked in the orchard for the first time. I went to Hull’s & was desired to come to-morrow.’

10 November 1793
‘I went to Church in the morn but was taken very ill there just as the sermon was ended. Very ill at home but thro’ mercy compleatly cured by Drinking freely of Brandy. Did not go out on that Acc[oun]t all the day follow[in]g.’

21 December 1793
‘Broke up School to-day, set the Church boys the Collect for Christmas day & to write the Ep[istle] & Gos[pel]. I went to Mrs. Andrews & told her I gave nothing to the Sub[scription] for the Soldiers in Germany &c, & drank some Gin & water. The meet[in]g boys I set part of the 9 Chap of Isa.’

27 January 1794
‘I went to school, it proving a deep snow which came very suddenly. I had but 2 came which I dismissed, & in the afternoon I had but 6. Worthy so ill with his Cough we were all alarmed. I went down to Clark’s bought an handkerchief 2s 6d for Mammy & 4 Ells of cloth for myself 14d per Ell.’

The Diary Junction

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