01 February 2023

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 1 February 2023

Sir Brooke Boothby by Joseph Wright of Derby (1781)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation tomorrow (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I have been reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on poems written in Lichfield and Tamworth, which I returned to last week. These included two poems by Mal Dewhirst, ‘We are Tamworth’ and ‘Our Town’, and two poems by Anna Seward (1742-1809), the poet known as the ‘Swan of Lichfield’, ‘Sonnet 52’ and ‘Eyam’.

In my choice of poem this morning, ‘Sonnet XII’ by Brooke Boothby, the poet mourns the death of his young child, an appropriate reflection on the Eve of the Feast of the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple.

The Herkenrode windows in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral … rescued by Sir Brooke Boothby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sir Brooke Boothby, 6th Baronet (1744-1824), was a linguist, translator, poet and landowner. He lived at Ashbourne Hall, Derbyshire, but was part of the intellectual and literary circle in Lichfield that included Anna Seward, Samuel Johnson and Erasmus Darwin.

Brooke Boothby was born in 1744. He inherited his unusual forename from Hill Brooke, second wife of Sir William Boothby of Broadlow Ash. He was educated at Saint John’s College, Cambridge, became active in cultural and intellectual life in Lichfield, and was also involved in the Lunar Society.

Boothby also had a family connection with the Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street in Tamworth.

The Moat House was ransacked after the sieges of Lichfield and Tamworth during the Cromwellian era. When the English Civil War was finally over, the Comberford family was forced to sell the house, and it was bought by Thomas Fox (1622-1666), a Roundhead captain, for £160. Over the centuries that followed, the Moat House was bought and sold several times.

Thomas Fox had married Judith Boothby in 1654 and they moved into the Moat House between 1656 and 1659. Fox was MP for Tamworth in 1659-1660, and was Town Clerk of Tamworth until 1663. In a list of Staffordshire gentry (1662-1663), he is described as a ‘violent Presbyterian, very able and dangerous, being bred to the law.’

After the Restoration, Fox was removed from office by the commissioners of corporations. In April 1663, sold his estate, including the Moat House, to his brother-in-law, Sir William Boothby (1638-1707), of Ashbourne Hall, Derbyshire, for £1,540. Fox then moved from Tamworth to London. He died in Dublin in 1666.

Unlike his brother-in-law, Sir William Boothby was a royalist. He was made a baronet at the restoration, and was High Sheriff of Derbyshire (1661-1662) immediately before he bought the Moat House. His second wife, Dame Hill Boothby, was a daughter of Sir William Brooke, hence the unusual first name of Brooke Boothby.

William Boothby (1664-1731), son of Sir William and Dame Hill Boothby, was born in the Moat House. Sir William Boothby, who later succeeded his nephew as the third baronet in 1710, sold the Moat House in 1671 to Sir Edward Littleton of Pillaton Hall.

He welcomed the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Ashbourne in 1766, after Rousseau visited David Hume in London. Ten years later, Boothby visited Rousseau in Paris in 1776, and was given the manuscript of the first part of Rousseau’s three-part autobiographical Confessions. Boothby translated this and published it in Lichfield in 1780, and donated the document to the British Library in 1781.

A portrait of Boothby by Joseph Wright of Derby in 1781, shows him reclining in a wooded glade with a book carrying on its cover simply the name Rousseau. Two other paintings by Wright of Dovedale were sold to Brooke Boothby who had helped Wright to put on the first one-man exhibition in London. Boothby also bought two views of nearby Matlock, two paintings of bridges in Rome as well as the unusual portrait of himself.

Wright also painted ‘A grotto in the Gulf of Salerno, with the figure of Julia, banished from Rome’. The painting raised £665,000 at auction by Sotheby’s in 2015 to support the work of USPG and the Anglican chaplaincy in Athens with refugees in Greece.

Boothby married Susanna Bristoe in 1784 and moved into Ashbourne Hall, using his wife’s dowry to renovate the house, remodel the parkland, purchase rare plants and obtain works of art. He inherited the Boothby family title in 1789 as the sixth baronet.

Boothby’s daughter Penelope was painted by Joshua Reynolds and sculpted by Thomas Banks. But disaster Penelope died at the age of five on 19 March 1791. Her grieving father later published a book of poetry, Sorrows Sacred to the Memory of Penelope. Boothby’s life went into decline after her death and his wife Susanna returned to her parents’ home in Hampshire. He found consolation in travel, and spent much of the rest of his life wandering Europe.

He came across the Herkenrode windows in 1802, which he bought after the abbey had been dissolved during the Napoleonic wars, He wrote to the Dean of Lichfield, ‘I have contracted for the purchase of 17 windows of what appears to be the finest painted glass which I have almost ever seen.’

Boothby sold the glass to the cathedral on a not-for-profit basis. He sent the windows to Rotterdam and on to Hull, from where they were sent by river to the Midlands. Some of the glass ended up in Saint Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury, but the rest arrived in Lichfield.

The Herkenrode glass fills seven of the nine expansive windows at the east end. The other two windows are filled with restored glass from Antwerp. Next to the windows of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, this is the finest Renaissance glass in an English church setting.

However, Boothby was ruined financially by his extravagance and his self-indulgence. Ashbourne Hall was leased in 1814 and he lived in exile in Boulogne where he died in 1824.

Penelope Boothby by Joshua Reynolds

Sonnet XII, by Sir Brooke Boothby:

Well has thy classick chisel, Banks, express’d
The graceful lineaments of that fine form,
Which late with conscious, living beauty warm,
Now here beneath does in dread silence rest.
And, oh, while life shall agitate my breast,
Recorded there exists her every charm,
In vivid colours, safe from change or harm,
Till my last sigh unalter’d love attest.

That form, as fair as ever fancy drew,
The marble cold, inanimate, retains;
But of the radiant smile that round her threw
Joys, that beguiled my soul of mortal pains,
And each divine expression’s varying hue,
A little senseless dust alone remains.

Sir Brooke Boothby’s memorial window in south quire aisle in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Opening Our Hearts.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by James Roberts, Christian Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews, who reflected on Holocaust Memorial Day last Friday and World Interfaith Harmony Week, which begins today.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for people of other faiths. May we reach out to one another to discover what we hold in common and explore the riches of our differences.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street, Tanworth, was owned by the Boothby family in the late 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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