Day, Thomas

, a poetical and miscellaneous writer, of an eccentric character, was born in Wellclose-square, London, June 22, 1748. His father was an officer in the custom-house, and had been twice married. This son was the issue of his second marriage to Miss Jane Bonham, the only daughter of Samuel Bonham, esq. a merchant in the | city. His father died when he was little more than a year old, leaving him a fortune of 1200l. a year, including 300l. as a jointure to his mother, who in a few years married Thomas Phillips, esq. another officer in the customhouse. To this gentleman, who died in 1782, young Day behaved with decent respect, but felt no great attachment. His mother, however, chiefly superintended his education, and accustomed him early, we are told, to bodily exertions, on which he afterwards set so high a value. He was first put to a child’s school at Stoke Newington, and when admissible, was sent to the Charter-house, where he resided in the house and under the instructions of Dr. Crusius, until his sixteenth year. He now entered as a gentleman commoner of Corpus college, Oxford, where he remained three years, but left it without taking a degree.

As soon as he came of age, his property and conduct devolved upon himself. At an early period of life, we are told, he manifested a particular fondness for scrutinizing the human character; and, as if such knowledge could not be acquired at home, he took a journey in 17G6 from Oxford to Wales, that he might contemplate that class of men who, “as still treading the unimproved paths of nature, might be presumed to have the qualities of the mind pure and unsophisticated by art.” What of this description he found in Wales we are not informed; but in pursuit of the same investigation of men and manners, he determined, on coming of age, to go abroad; and accordingly he spent one winter at Paris, another at Avignon, and a third at Lyons, a summer in the Austrian Netherlands, and another in Holland. At Lyons, as every where else, he was distinguished by his humanity and generosity, which made his departure from those places be sincerely regretted, and at Lyons produced an effect singularly characteristic of the class of people on whom he bestowed his bounty. A large body of them assembled at his departure, and very justly considering that they would now be in a worse condition than if he had never relieved them, requested that he would leave a sum of money behind for their future wants. It is probable that these returns to his imprudent liberality had a considerable share in producing the misanthropy which appeared in his future conduct.

He had already formed some very absurd notions of the state of society in England, and had accustomed himself to mistake the reveries of Rousseau for the result of | experience. He bad been early rejected by a young lady to whom he paid his addresses, and considering her as a fair sample of her sex, despaired of finding among them a wife such as he would chuse; one that should have a taste for literature and science, for moral and patriotic philosophy; fond of retirement “from the infectious taint of human society;” simple as a mountain girl, in her dress, her diet, and her manners; and fearless and intrepid as the Spartan wives and Roman heroines. Observation soon taught him that there was no such creature ready made, and he must therefore mould some infant into the being his fancy had imaged.

From a comparison of dates it appears to have been in 1769, when he came of age, that he formed this curious project. Accompanied by a Mr. Bicknell, a barrister, rather older than himself, he went to Shrewsbury to explore the Foundling hospital, and from these children, Mr. Day, in the presence of Mr. Bicknell, selected two girls of twelve years each; both beautiful: one fair, with flaxen locks and light eyes, whom he called Lucretia; the other, a clear auburn brunette, with darker eyes, more glowing bloom, and chesnut tresses, he called Sabrina. These girls were obtained on written conditions, for the performance of which Mr. Bicknell was guarantee. They were to this effect: that Mr. Day should, within the twelvemonth after taking them, resign one into the protection of some respectable tradeswoman, giving one hundred pounds to bind her apprentice; maintaining her, if she behaved well, till she married, or began business for herself. Upon either of these events he promised to advance four hundred pounds more. He avowed his intention of educating the girl he should retain, with a view to make her his future wife: solemnly engaged never to violate her innocence; and if he should renounce his plan, to maintain her decently in some creditable family till she married, when he promised five hundred pounds as her wedding portion. It would, probably, be quite unnecessary to make any appeal to the feelings of parents, or to offer any remarks on the conduct of the governors of this hospital respecting this strange bargain, for the particulars of which we are indebted to Miss Seward. The narrative goes on to inform us, that Mr. Day went instantly into France with these girls, not taking an English servant, that they might receive no ideas, except those which himself might | chuse to impart, and which he soon found were not very acceptable. His pupils teazed and perplexed him; they quarrelled; they sickened of the small pox; they chained him to their bed-side, by crying if they were ever left alone with any person who could not speak English. Hence he was obliged to sit up with them many nights, and to perform for them the lowest offices of assistance. They lost no beauty, however, by their disease, and came back with Mr. Day in eight months, when Sabrina was become the favourite. He placed Lucretia with a chamber milliner, and she afterwards became the wife of a linendraper in London. With Sabrina he actually proceeded during some years, in the execution of his favourite project; but none of his experiments had the success he wished. Her spirit could not be armed against the dread of pain and the appearance of danger, a species of courage which, with him, was a sine qua non in the character of a wife. When he dropped melted sealing-wax upon her arms, she did not endure it heroically; nor when he fired pistols at her petticoats, which she believed to be charged with balls, could she help starting aside, or suppress her screams. When he tried her fidelity in secret-keeping, by telling her of well-invented dangers to himself, in which greater danger would result from its being discovered that he was aware of them, he once or twice detected her having imparted them to the servants, and to her play-fellows. He persisted, however, in these foolish experiments, and sustained their continual disappointment during a whole year’s residence in the vicinity of Lichfield. The difficulty seemed to be in giving her motive to self-exertion, self-denial, and heroism. It was against his plan to draw it from the usual sources, pecuniary reward, luxury, ambition, or vanity. His watchful cares had precluded all knowledge of the value of money, the reputation of beauty, and its concomitant desire of ornamented dress. The only inducement, therefore, which this girl could have to combat and subdue the natural preference in youth of ease to pain, and of vacant sport to the labour of thinking, was the desire of pleasing her protector, though she knew not how, or why he became such; and in that desire fear had greatly the ascendant of affection. At length, however, he renounced all hopes of moulding Sabrina into the being which his disordered imagination had formed; and, ceasing now to behold her as a wife, placed her at a | boardingschool at Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, where, durin^ three years, she gained the esteem of her instructress, grew feminine, elegant, and amiable. She is still living, an ornament to the situation in which she is placed.

After this, Mr. Day paid his addresses to two sisters in succession, both of whom rejected him. His appearance and manners were indeed not much calculated to charm, and the austere singularities of his sentiments, and the caprices of his temper, all which were parts of the system of happiness he had formed to himself, were tolerable, even by his friends, for a very short period. With the second of these ladies, indeed, he was so enamoured as to tell her that he would endeavour to acquire external refinements; but, finding the progress he made insufficient to abate her dislike, he returned to his accustomed plainness of garb and neglect of his person; and, notwithstanding these disadvantages, he found a lady, a Miss Milnes of Yorkshire, then residing in London, to whom, after a singular courtship, he was united in 1778. The best part of his conduct in this affair was his settling her whole fortune, which was as large as his own, upon herself, totally out of his present or future controul. What follows is of a less amiable complexion. They retired soon after their marriage, first to Stapleford Abbots in Essex, and afterwards to Anningsley, near Chertsey, in Surrey. Here they had no carriage; no appointed servant about Mrs. Day’s own person; no luxury of any sort. Music, in which she was a distinguished proficient, was deemed trivial. She banished her harpsichord and music books. Frequent experiments upon her temper, and her attachment, were made by him whom she lived but to obey and love. Over these, we are told, she often wept, but never repined; and no wife, bound in the strictest fetters, as to the incapacity of claiming a separate maintenance, ever made more absolute sacrifices to the most imperious husband than did this lady, whose independence had been secured. She is even said to have died broken-hearted for his loss, about two years after his departure.

The whole of their residence at Anningsley, however, was not passed in inflicting or tolerating caprice. Some of Mr. Day’s experiments were of a more praiseworthy kind. His neighbours of the lowest class, being as rough and as wild as the commons on which they dwelt, he tried if by mutual attrition he could not polish both and, though | the event fell short of his expectation, he was not wholly unsuccessful. Many of the peasants he took to work on, his farm, and in his selection of them it was always his object to accommodate those who could not find employmerit elsewhere, until they could meet with some fresh job. But so fond were they of their new master, that they wanted frequently to be reminded that their stay was only intended to be temporary. During the winter season they were so numerous, that it was scarcely in the power of a farm of more than two hundred acres, of a family on the spot, and of the contiguous neighbourhood, to raise for them a shadow of employment from day to day. Mr. Day, whenever he walked out, usually conversed with them in the fields, and questioned them concerning their families. To most of them, in their turn, he sent blankets, corn, and butchers meat. He gave advice and medicines to the sick, and occasionally brought them into his kitchen to have their meals for a few weeks among the servants. Once or twice he took them into his service in the house, on the sole account of their bad health, a circumstance which by many persons would have been deemed an ample cause for dismission. When the cases of sickness which came before him were difficult and critical, he frequently applied to London for regular advice; but good diet was often found more salutary than all the materia medica. Mrs. Day aided the benevolent exertions of her husband by employing the neighbouring poor in knitting stockings, which were occasionally distributed amongst the labourers. Mr. Day’s modes and habits of life were such as the monotony of a rural retirement naturally brings upon a man of ingenuity and literary taste. To his farm he gave a personal attention, from the fondness which he had for agriculture, and from its being a source to him of health and amusement. It was an additional pleasure to him, that hence was derived employment for the poor. He had so high an opinion of the salutary effects of taking exercise on horseback, that he erected a riding-house for the purpose of using that exercise in the roughest weather. Though he commonly resided in the country during the whole of the winter season, and was fond of shooting as an art, he for many years totally abstained from field sports, apprehending them to be cruel; but, at last, from, the same motive of humanity, he resumed the gun. He rose about eight, and walked out into his grounds soon | after breakfast. But much of the morning, and still more of the afternoon, were usually passed at his studies, or in literary conversations when he was visited by his friends.

At length, Mr. Day, who suffered no species of controul to interfere with whatever he fancied, or undertook, fell a victim to a part of his own system. He thought highly of the gratitude, generosity, and sensibility of horses; and that whenever they were disobedient, unruly, or vicious, it was owing to previous ill usage from men. Upon. his own plan therefore he reared, ted, and tamed a favourite foal, and when it was time it should become serviceable, disdaining to employ a horse-breaker, he would use it to the bit and the burthen himself. The animal, however, disliking his new situation, heeded not the soothing voice to which he had been accustomed, but plunged, threw his master, and instantly killed him with a kick. This melancholy accident happened on Sept. 28, 1789, as he was returning from Anningsley to his mother’s house at Bare-hill, where he had left Mrs. Day. He was interred at Wargrave, in Berkshire, in a vault which had been built for the family.

In the very flattering, and by no means just or discriminative, character of Mr. Day, given in the Biographia Britannica, his life is represented to have been “one uniform system of exertions in the cause of humanity. He thought nothing mis-spent or ill-bestowed, which contributed, in any degree, to the general sum of happiness. In his pursuit of knowledge, though he deemed it highly valuable as a private and personal acquisition, he had a particular view to the application of it to the purposes of philanthropy. It was to be able to do good to others, as well as to gratify the ardent curiosity and activity of his own mind, that he became an ingenious mechanic, a wellinformed chemist, a learned theoretical physician, 'and an expert constitutional lawyer. But though his comprehensive genius embraced almost the whole range of literature, the subjects to which he was the most attached, and which he regarded as the most eminently useful, were those that are comprehended in historical and ethical science. Indeed, every tiling was important in his eyes, not merely as it tended to advance the individual, but in proportion to its ability in disclosing the powers, and improving the general interests, of the human species.

On this high character, after the facts we have exhibited, | it will not be necessary to offer any remarks. As the epithet “constitutional lawyer” is here employed, it remains to be mentioned, that he was admitted of the Middle Temple in 1765, and called to the bar in 1779. Much of this time, we have seen, elapsed in his travels, and pursuits of another kind j nor, although his name remained on the books of the society, did he ever enter seriously into the business of the profession. In politics he attached himself to no party, properly so called; he was neither whig nor tory; but joined many of the popular associations about the close of the American war, to which he was a decided opponent, and wrote some political pamphlets on peace, reform of parliament, and other topics which agitated the nation at that period.

His poetical talents, if not of the first rate, evinced considerable taste and elegance, but were not always equally usefully employed. His first publication, “The Dying Negro,” published in 1773, some part of which was written by his friend Mr. Bicknell, contributed its share to create that general abhorrence of the slave-trade which ended at length in the abolition of a traffic so disgraceful to the nation. His other poems were, “The Devoted Legions,1776, and “The Desolation of America,1777, both of the political cast. His prose effusions on national affairs consist of “The Letters of Marius, or reflections upon the Peace, the East India Bill, and the present crisis,1784; the “Fragment of a letter on the Slavery of the Negroes,” expressing his regret that the friends of freedom in America had not learned to share that blessing with their slaves; “A Dialogue between a justice of peace and a farmer,1785; and “A Letter to Arthur Young, esq. on the bill then depending in parliament to prevent the Exportation of Wool,1788.

The only works, however, which Mr. Day published that are likely to prolong his name, are those upon education. This was a subject in which we have already seen he tried some bold and ridiculous experiments. His notions, however, became at last more moderate, and his schemes a little more practicable. He had a particular dislike to the fashionable modes of education that prevail in this country. Youth, he thought, should be inspired with a hardy spirit, both of passive and active virtue, and led to form such habits of industry and fortitude as would produce a manly independence of character, and a mind | superior to the enticements of luxurious indulgence. With this view he wrote “The History of Sandford and Merton,” 12mo, a work intended for the use of children; the first volume of which appeared in 1783, the second in 1786, and the third in 1789. These soon acquired great p.-polarity, which is now on the decay. They are harmless at least, and amusing, although ill accommodated to the actual state of manners. He published also “The History of little Jack,” a story, the moral of which is this simple truth, that “it is of very little consequence how a man comes into the world, provided he behaves well, and discharges his duty when he is in it.1


Biog. Brit. Miss Sewarcl’s Life of Dr. Darwin, p. 17 et seqq. See also Miss Seward’s Letters, vol. II. p. 330.