Treasure 49: a letter from Congreve Butt, 1839

This letter (D5605/2/6) was written by a medic, Congreve Butt, to his brother Revd George Butt, who was vicar of Chesterfield from 1851 until his death in 1888.  It was nominated as one of our 50 Treasures by Vicky, a Record Assistant at Derbyshire Record Office, who picked it out for our “Thank You For Your Letter” outreach project in 2009. “I was surprised to find the content of this letter much richer than described in the catalogue entry”, says Vicky. “Although George went onto become a much respected Vicar of Chesterfield we don’t hear directly from the louche doctor again. Relatives say in much later correspondence that he became a ship’s surgeon bound for Calcutta – I just wonder what he got up to there?”

The letter is an entertaining read, but the handwriting is not easy – Vicky’s transcript follows beneath the scanned copy.

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Martley [Worcestershire] Nov 4th 1839

My Dear George,

Enclosed in some rough envelopes I have sent you a ham – which I trust will turn out well- and if it will not be unacceptable to you – I have received your two last letters which gave me great satisfaction as I wanted to hear from you having been kept in a long continued state of ignorance as to your state of health and progression in other matters. In fact I have not had any family communication since we met. With the exception of seeing Ewen whom I heard address a jury the other day. He performed his part far better than I could have expected, from the little I heard only at the fag end of the learned counsel’s speech –and I should not be surprised to see him worming his way to some eminence “nator fit” we all know & the youth possesses perseverance – Speaking of orators – what do you think of the poet Kilpins production? I have not yet read it but I have heard some persons speak of it in high terms – Kilpin says you are very amusing and find him matters for his wit – Did you find matter for “the man in the moon ?”

I heard of Lovery lately from the hearths of Wick – I think the second sister is staying in Oxford – Pray tell me if she is, and what you think of her – she took wonderfully with me not so much for her personal appearance as for her good qualities – which were remarkable – I found a strong contrast to some other members of her family . If old Conway Lovery (or rather, young ) is in Oxford pray tell me & remember me to him as I should like him to come a & spend two or three days at Xmas.

As I am now getting established in the opinions of many of my neighbours – and I am progressing as this thinly populated and poor neighbourhood will admit of – I am making enough to keep myself in pocket money & boot leather & not of any fresh debts – having received perhaps £20 altogether – and If I get the remaining £10 in my books paid by Xmas – I think I can strain a point to see an old friend for a day or two – especially as I have been requested to take my friends to some neighbouring families – where I always have a knife & fork & a welcome. Old Captain S when he sees me always sneaks away like a canine animal in a quandary – leaving my circle of acquaintance almost confined to Mrs Sparkes, Mr Kenton, Eginton,& Archy[…]

We have a pleasant curate just arrived. He was at East Garlton in the summer months cooking at the curacy – His name is Davis – he is very gentlemanly – keeps two carriages & preaches extempore in a manner not unwitting of a metropolitan pulpit – I have not visited Price recently – I rather think that he has voted me a bore, as he has hinted two or three times on the expense of going to Worcester to see Mr Lechmore, so I trouble him as little as possible – I suppose you know old Sir Winnington is translated to another world – I do not know his son.

[The curate referred to was Revd Edward Acton Davies M.A., who was rector of Areley Kings by the time he died in 1880, aged 74.]

It is a great difficulty this to lie by and let my “wanton zeal mould in roosted sloth” – but I groan & endure & read books of a voluminous size from the library being relieved from my monotony by being visited by about one patient a day – & an occasional bit of cheating at vingt un with some of the fair agricultural nymphs of this vicinity – among whom I am sorry to say that I cannot help maintaining my ancient character for being fond of a bit of “getting upstairs and playing the fiddle”. I say sorry, because all the world expects a medical man to be always wrapt up in an odour of gravity – in fact to assume a humbugging puritanical deportment which it is my misfortune to lack – time, however, which will soon turn me bald, may perchance give me a due share of that other inestimable quality.

[Vingt-et-un is the French version of the card game known as blackjack or pontoon – but somehow I don’t think this is what he is alluding to.]

In your letter of October 4th – you describe my letter as a non descript one – What will call this? – Something of the same sort. My hand is quite out – I have written to no one & for no one. I am obliged to take up with the subjects of conversation I meet with, instead of enjoying the company of any rationally educated people – It is therefore marvelous that the product of my brain should be a rambling hodge podge , a pot pourri as the Gauls have it. Besides when I take up my pen in your behalf I have so much to ask you & so much to say that I scarcely know where to begin far less where to end. I thought therefore that your reverence will not measure my feeble epistolary power by your own signature ones – but will be taken into your generous consideration that, however great a jumble & even concentration of ideas – distinct or otherwise there may be in my cranium – yet I am not weekly exercised by the utterance of them in writing of humour (not that I mean to say you with your own nor anything to the contrary) as you are. Nor am I in a classical soil – Genius within this country – men whose talk is of bullocks abound here to the exclusion of all others.

I wish you would lend me your pistols for a short time when you don’t want them – they would afford me a small variety in my retreat & I want to shoot a dog or two which always fly at me – & in kicking of whom I hurt my toe – you shall have them back honor bright.

The day after I sent your box , Perrott sent me a new copy of Coleridge – all three vols which is the one you have – as I may as well keep the other I send you the two. You did not tell me whether all the books were right – I think my “Bacot on Syphilis” is amongst your books – Please take care of it. [John Bacot’s “A Treatise On Syphilis” (London, 1829).]Can you tell me how long Henry will be in Paris ? I would like to commission him to get some bougies [A thin flexible surgical instrument] if I knew his address – Bloxham knows a gentleman in the customs at Dover who would pass anything for him – It is the india rubber bougies & catheters which I mean and which are made so much better in Paris than anywhere else. Plague upon it – I just see by referring to your letter that Henry is in London – when we get the penny postage I’ll write him a letter. Apropos Remember me to Penny – and B.M.

Your very affectionate brother Congreve

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