To Lady Olivia Sparrow, [20? October 1816]

To: The Lady Olivia B. Sparrow
Address: Sidmouth
Postmark: None
Seal: Black wax
Watermarks: Undetermined


MS: British Library, Egerton 1965 f. 55-6
Published: Undetermined

My dearest Lady Olivia

Lest our excellent Bishop should have left Sidmouth (which I hope he has found a salutary rest from his labours) I write strait to you. My reason for writing so soon is that you would naturally conclude Mr. Wilberforce would have been here and consequently you would expect to know somewhat of the result. But mark this fresh instance of the uncertainty of all human things! He had fixed the day of his coming to which we were looking forward with that pleasure which his presence never fails to give. But the day before yesterday when we were looking out for him from Bath, arrives instead of himself a letter dated Sunning Hill,[2] to which place he had been travelling nearly all night in order to take the last farewell of his beloved Sister Mrs. Stephen![3] She had been long declining but there was no reason to expect she was so near her end. Her most tender and affectionate husband implored Mr. W– to come to her, but it was too late, she expired while he was on the road. Worn out as she was with suffering and disease nothing could surpass the affection of Mr. Stephen, his grief is proportionally great. For my own part it is a new rent made in my friendships. For thirty years there has been subsisted between us the most entire and cordial friendship. /Tho/ Always sickly and very nervous, she had a great flow of wit and humour with strong reasoning powers. Her delight was to hold a religious debate with Dean Milner.[4] But tho fond of arguing, she was one of the humblest Christians I ever knew. Humility and self distrust were indeed distinguishing features in her character. She had for many years conquered entirely her love of the world, and spent a large portion of her time in religious exercises. She was often tormented with doubts of her own state when I should have been glad to have stood in her Shoes.

As to a certain subject, I hope your mind has now recovered its tone, and your delicate frame additional strength and vigour. I rejoyce truly to find that her affections had not been deeply engaged.[5] I do not much wonder at it, for as he had not sought to engage them by those particular and marked attentions which are apt to render young persons blind to every thing but the attachment they have inspired, I do not think the /manners of/ /the/ Gentleman in question calculated to insinuate themselves into the heart of a very young female. His worth, his good sense, his virtues and his piety would doubtless have won her heart completely afterwards, and I should not have doubted of a most perfect, because Christian Union, had the connexion taken place. It is only in the first interviews that person and manner are apt to produce more than their due effect.

I feel deeply for him on various Accounts. Independent of private views and personal interests, the Christian world would be affected by any serious and lasting injury to his mind. I pray God to avert it. Set your heart at rest about your letter. It is destroyed, as all shall be which treat on delicate subjects.

I hope you have seen a little poem called ‘Emigration’.[6] It is written by a young Clerical friend of mine, but is Anonymous. It is a Subject very important to the religious, moral, and patrio[tic] [tear] interests of this Country. The great and Opulent are flying from their own country to one which has brought our present miseries upon us. They have turned their numerous Servants upon the world to beg or to rob. They injure Government by escaping the Taxes, and starve the poor for want of labour. Lord Darlington who draws £6000 a year from this Parish has never given it a guinea while we little people are drained.[7] I have a large School in two adjoining parishes, the inhabitants are all /poor/ Miners, not one able to give a farthing and trade is so bad they cannot sell a single bag of Ore, they are near perishing.[8] In the mean time our very Curates are living at Paris. It really makes my heart Ach. I have several Correspondents on the Continent, all describe our Ladies as notoriously violating the Sabbath, this is not Mr. Marriott’s fault[9] The Pope himself expressed his disappointment at the character of the English ladies at Florence Naples and Rome the gayest Sunday assemblies are held by our Country women. Is it not making Religion a Geographical distinction to do in France or Italy what they would not do in London? If still with you thank the Bishop for his kind letter. I greatly love and esteem Mrs. Ryder

Love to dear Millicent

(Inserted upside down at head of letter.) My Sisters desire best respects. I fear P. is in a declining State I have not heard of Mr. Dunn. We have ten thousand Roses


This later is dated on the reference to the final illness of Sarah Wilberforce Clarke Stephen: she died on 18 October 1816. If this occurred ‘the day before yesterday’, the letter would have been sent on the 20th.


Sunninghill, near Ascot, had been the home of Wilberforce’s friend, George Ellis (1753-1815).


Sarah Wilberforce Clarke Stephen was Wilberforce’s only surviving sister.


Isaac Milner (1750-1820), Dean of Carlisle, had been a long-standing friend of William and Sarah Wilbeforce; he had been instrumental in William’s conversion to evangelical Christianity.


A mysterious subject runs between Lady Olivia Sparrow and Hannah More over several letters around this time. It seems to have centred on a misliked romantic attachment between Lady Olivia’s son, Robert, and an unknown ‘young lady’.


Emigration; Or, England and Paris: A Poem (1816). It was reviewed in The Critical Review: Or, Annals of Literature, 4 (1816), 319. (Read at Google Books)


William Harry Vane, Lord Darlington (later first duke of Cleveland, 1766-1842), owned an estate in Wrington parish of over 6,000 acres. The income from that estate was considerable, though Darlington himself was rarely in residence, preferring to spend much of the year at Raby Castle in County Durham.


More wrote a great deal about the plight of the miners of Shipham.


Possibly John Marriott (1780-1825), clergyman.