A new look at the correspondence of Thomas Pennant and Richard Bull (1773–1798)

Ffion Mair Jones

The rich correspondence between Thomas Pennant and the print collector Richard Bull, one-time MP for Newport in Cornwall and resident for most of the duration of his epistolary relations with Pennant either at 10 Stratton Street, London, or North Court on the Isle of Wight, spans a quarter of a century. Located at the National Library of Wales, mostly in the bound volume numbered NLW 5500C but with additional letters in NLW 2591E and 5502E, and in a collection at Warwickshire County Record Office (CR2017/TP189 with one addition at TP23/1), they number 149 letters from Pennant and an answering 70 from Bull. They offer us an unprecedentedly close view of Pennant the man, in his relations with his four children and his contact with his in-house artist Moses Griffith. This is balanced by a similar perspective on Bull's family relations, together with his rather convoluted relationship with Griffith. Pennant's Tours are ever-present in the letters, which offer us a glimpse of their afterlife through the process of extra-illustration, and show us the committed and often whirlwind-like work processes in which Pennant involved himself in creating new material, most notably his 'Outlines of the Globe'.

At the tentative beginning of the correspondence (the earliest letter is just a brief note from Pennant; ct1000, 13 June 1773), the two men were in their late forties, and Bull was able to refer with reverence to Pennant in a letter to his friend James Granger as 'my ingenious acquaintance'.1 Pennant was fresh from the exhilaration and success of his second Scottish tour of 1772 and either on the very verge of embarking on or just returned from the 'home-travels' of 1773 in his native north Wales, tours which he assured his readers in the first edition of A tour in Wales 'were actually performed in the year mentioned in the title page'.2 Bull was still tinkering with his ambitious exertions to collect portrait heads for James Granger's A Biographical History of England.3 Pennant's flurry of interest in transferring portraiture viewed and copied by his personal artist Moses Griffith during his recent Scottish tour into print form was thus an immediate point of contact between them in 1773–4 (ct1001, 16 April [1774]).4

The two men's positions were soon to change, however, as Bull decided, during 1774, to disengage himself from his five-year-long involvement with Granger's work, making arrangements between June and November for the sale of his extra-illustrated collection relating to the Biographical History.5 The vacuum left by the sale of the Bull-Granger was slowly but surely filled by Bull's new interest in extra-illustrating the tours of Thomas Pennant, copies of which, adorned by Pennant, were by the late 1770s–1780 evidently circulating among antiquarian print-collectors (ct1005, 20 April 1780; ct1006, 16 May 1780). A key ingredient in the development of Pennant's preoccupation with his A tour in Wales, by now partially published, was his reliance on his in-house artist Moses Griffith to provide drawings of a broad range of subjects, from coats of arms, to churches, castles, bridges and views (ct1009, 12 September 1780).6 Bull was able to enlist the services of John Ingleby, a Flintshire artist known to Pennant, to provide him with an imitation of the latter's extra-illustrating ventures.7 The debt was mutual, however, since Bull's two daughters (and possibly his step-daughter) were paid by Pennant 'for pasting prints on paper' on his own and Moses Griffith's behalf: 'we bungle dreadfully', Pennant ruefully noted on 8 June 1781 (ct1011).

Whereas Pennant was initially wary of allowing his hard-pressed personal artist to work for Bull (see for example ct1006, 16 May 1780), by the mid-1780s he was committed to permitting Moses Griffith's time to be shared between the two of them. Another privileged friend, Paul Panton, junior (ct1039, 14 May 1784) was mentioned alongside Bull as a co-beneficiary of Griffith's services, one of a very few other names who shared this favour. The other exception mentioned is Anthony Morris Storer, to whom Pennant conveyed the message that 'No delay shall be made about his little owl' in a letter to Bull on 16 June 1787 (ct1061). The 'little owl' was one of the staples of Pennant's first volume of A tour in Wales, included on the final page in both his first and second edition extra-illustrated copies of this publication.8 This suggests that Pennant's extra-illustrated volumes were circulated among a small number of friends, who proceeded to create imitation-productions, either with or without some degree of assistance from Pennant's artist.9 Pennant's arrangement for sharing the services of Moses Griffith between himself and Bull so as to further their extra-illustration of his publications held firm throughout the 1780s and into the early 1790s, or through 'the days of [Moses's] humility', as the ever critical Bull put it in 1797 (ct1204, 16 August 1797).10 Pennant saw Moses Griffith's determination to branch out into work as a miniature painter for prominent north-east Wales families such as the Mostyn family from 1792 as a threat to his commitment, however (ct1158, 2[?8] October 1792; ct1186, 14 September 1795; ct1187, 17 September 1795). He also initially considered miniature painting as an insecure prospect for Griffith financially, although by May 1796 he had changed his view and conceded that this venture was the beginning of a late 'harvest' for his artist (ct1192, 12 May 1796). As 'Moses the great' (ct1218, 19 March 1798) found pastures new during the last three years of Pennant's life ('Moses seems to have cut us all' Bull remarked in August 1797; ct1204, 16 August 1797), John Ingleby came back into play. He was newly released from his service to the merchant banker and enthusiastic extra-illustrator of Pennant's work, Trent Chiswell, who committed suicide in February 1797, leaving behind him 'vast stores [of drawings] for Wales' (ibid.).11

Extra-illustration was of course not predicated solely on artists' drawings, whether copies or originals. The use of published prints constituted a vital part of any engagement to illustrate a volume. The evidence of the Bull-Granger and the earliest letters from the Bull-Pennant correspondences show that Pennant was initially thinking in terms of the book-buying public, by strategically enlarging the stock of engraved portrait heads and feeding them directly to the purchasers of his authored volumes of tours through his published works (ct1000, 13 June 1773; ct1001, 16 April [1774]; ct1003, 15 September 1778). Later, though, he seems to have become increasingly focused on his own personal 'desiderata' in terms of extra-illustration (e.g. items from Francis Grose, ct1031, 9 December 1783; 'for Cumberland and Lancashire', ct1032, 21 December 1783; from Bull through his visits to London print shops, ct1131,16 April 1791). By the time he came to publish his hugely popular account of London (which ran to three editions between 1791 and 1793) he could report 'I did last year anticipate much respecting London in Seagos & other shops: so really think my wants will be very few' (ct1121, 17 February 1791). Thus, an awareness of what his personal needs might be in the increasingly competitive world of print seems to have become an ingrained part of Pennant's approach as he drew near to releasing his own work through publication.12

Pennant's practice of seeking visual images of his subjects was grounded in his early work as a natural historian, a discipline which encouraged the use of the visual as records of, or substitutes for, fieldwork.13 During the course of the correspondence with Bull it is seen functioning firstly as a keystone of the extra-illustration of his published works, and secondly as a method of seeking information for new works, which concurrently develop as projects of extra-illustration. Bull's influence on the second process in particular is signalled in Pennant's later letters by the use of metaphors of madness, inspiration and fury to describe his working processes. He is 'infected' by a 'rapacity after prints' relating to France, Spain, Portugal and Africa, as he embarks on the 'imaginary' journeys of his magnum opus, 'Outlines of the Globe' (ct1121 17 February 1791; ct1092, 5 December 1789); and it is 'Don Rdo de Toro' who supplies him with 'the food of this delicious frenzy', filling his portfolios, way beyond the calls of duty or friendship, with materials useful to his pursuits (ct1173, 8 November 1793).

The correspondence of the final decade of Pennant's life shows his apparently deliberate efforts at withdrawal from the public sphere of print culture in favour of 'glid[ing] through the globe a harmless sprite', pursuing his work on 'Outlines of the Globe'.14 His efforts in this respect were, in the event, not successful, as recorded by the reference to his resurrection on the title page and the shadowy rendering of his name at the foot of the 'Advertisement' of his 1793 Literary life. His letter of 30 January 1792 records his frustration at finding himself 'given to the public much malgré moy', through the sale of the papers of deceased friends, and his consequent decision to publish his autobiography (ct1148, 30 January 1792). This change in tack led to plans to publish the 'Outlines', although a 1794 draft agreement with Benjamin White, junior, for the publication of the work in its entirety was replaced by a plan to publish The view of Hindoostan alone: this was 'meant only as a pattern to David', the elder son entrusted with the care of his father's posthuma (ct1192, 12 May 1796).15 Pennant's other late work, The histor[ies] of the parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, he described to Bull as 'most welshy busineses', copies of which he intended to offer as gifts to deserving 'poor compatriotes [sic]' (ct1117, 21 January 1796). To centre his publication efforts on an area of personal, familial and local interest to himself and fellow-Welshmen may suggest a drawing-in, a self-conscious concentration on origins, not seen in the broad span of experience commemorated in the enlightenment Pennant's Literary life. If the apparently unflattering description of The history of the parishes of Whiteford and Holywell was intended to dissuade Bull from taking it up as another project for extra-illustration, however, it did not succeed: Pennant reported to Bull in May 1796 that Moses Griffith 'has engaged to undertake yr Whiteford & Holywell in the time prescribed. & He shall do another for myself', simultaneously engaging his friend's service in acquiring 'one hot pressed copy for myself' to be sent to Downing along with Bull's own (ct1192, 12 May 1796).

To a certain extent, a partial change in the relation to the public world of print was mirrored by a corresponding diminution in travel proper, as Pennant the dynamic traveller of the 1760s, 70s and 80s mutated into the armchair tourist of the 1790s, whose active days were largely over.16 Pennant embraced a second marriage (from 1777) and fatherhood once again (in 1779 and 1780), subsequently beginning to cut down on journeys and to choose shorter ones. Among these was a 'jaunt to Leverpool' in August 1788 where, notwithstanding a bout of influenza, he reported that 'by dint of spirits I clambered over the slave ships' (ct1080, 23 August 1788). There were trips to visit his relation, the slave-plantation owner Richard Pennant at Penrhyn Castle near Bangor in 1790, and to the Vale of Clwyd in 1791 (ct1111, 4 September 1790; ct1121, 17 February 1791; ct1142, 15 December 1791); and to the home of another friend, the antiquary Treadway Russell Nash, at Bevere in Worcestershire in 1782, 1791 and 1796 (ct1020, 21 June [1783]; ct1133, 25 April 1791; ct1193, 26 May 1796). Among the more protracted journeys of these years were the 'iter Sabrinum' of 1783, the completion of 'an attempt long since begun & in great part finished' (ct1020, 21 June [1783], but see ibid., n. 3, for the date of this journey). And there were of course the numerous journeys from Chester to London which gave rise to Pennant's 1782 The journey from Chester to London; and Pennant's tour with his son, David, from 'the Temple Stairs to Dover' in 1787 (ct1092, 5 December 1789), which was undertaken to record fatherly satisfaction at the return of David from his first continental tour and to serve as a starting point for a meaningful comparison between the 'naval strength and commercial advantages and disadvantages' of Britain and 'her two powerful rivals' of France and Spain, to be visited on his next.17 Such journeys were the exception rather than the norm, however. Pennant also writes of occasionally eschewing the habit of wintering in London, opting to stay at Downing instead (for example in 1791, according to his plans on 5 December 1789; see ct1092). Always mindful of his own expansionist projects as an author but heedless of his advancing years, he took the opportunity to perform 'a jig, Cheshire round & others of our most agile dances' alongside Woollarawarre Bennelong, a native of New South Wales, at the British Museum in August 1793 (ct1168, 22 August 1793). But this was one of his last happy visits to the capital: by 1794, London was odious to both Pennant and his wife, the latter refusing to go there again after the death of their daughter Sarah at Brighton in 1794: 'she cannot bear the reminding scene', wrote Pennant of Ann (née Mostyn), 'nor will it be grateful to me' (ct1180, 21 December 1794).

Sarah's death is one of the twin tragedies which bind Pennant and Bull together during the mid-1790s. Pennant is largely silent, stoical, on the subject; one rare reference mentions a miniature of Sarah in her parents' dressing room, on which 'In my passage I often steel a look; & think with envy of her blessed situation' (ct1205, 2 September 1797). Bull's loss of his younger daughter, Catherine, in 1795, is somewhat more fully to the fore in the correspondence, often through her father's reflections on the pain caused the 'wretched' elder daughter, Elizabeth, by the bereavement, and his fears that the latter's poor health may signal ... of the same sort as destroy'd the delicate frame of her poor Sister' (ct1189, 21 December 1795; ct1215, 15 January 1798). Bull is usually less forthcoming in his references to the daily lives of his daughters. We have already seen how the Miss Bulls apparently profited (in the acquisition of skill and materially) from their father's proficiency as an extra-illustrator and were able to assist Pennant with pasting drawings into volumes (ct1011, 8 June 1781); there may have been an intention that they should tutor female members of Pennant's household (probably his wife and elder daughter, Arabella) in this art (ct1027, 25 July 1783). Bull is reticent on this subject, however,18 and Elizabeth's appearance in the narrative in 1797, albeit in the shadow of her father, is comparatively uncommon. When Pennant reports in December of that year of low spirits, 'having lost my daughter [Arabella] by matrimony in a manner I far from approve' (ct1209, 3 December 1797; see also ct1216, 22 January 1798), Bull tactfully and consolingly expresses his own and Miss Bull's view 'that there is nothing materially wrong in your Girls conduct' (ct1213, 1 January 1798).

Pennant's sons are more openly discussed. Pennant became closely involved in the travels of his son David on the continent from May 1785. David's experiences in France were worked up into his father's 'imaginary continuation' of the 1787 journey 'from the Temple stairs to Dover', 'along the coast of France' (ct1092, 5 December 1789) and the use of his travel journals is gratefully acknowledged in his father's Literary life.19 Pennant was proud to report in January 1797 that his elder son returned 'much improved & uncontaminated' from his first tour of 1785–6 (ct1057, 21 January 1787). The education of his younger brother, Thomas (Tom), is much under discussion, with the progressive school of William Gilpin at Cheame mentioned as a possible choice (ct1151, 13 March 1792), prior to his eventual matriculation at Oxford in October 1797. Progression to university, Bull confidently predicted, was unlikely to lead Tom astray 'by bad examples', not least because 'he has David's exemplary conduct to look up to' (ct1210, 4 December 1797). Alongside the discussion of the education of Pennant's younger son and the advancement of his elder to adulthood lie references to the conduct of the Prince of Wales, whom Pennant hoped would embrace maturity, like a second Ascanius, or 'the young Henry V', and finally dismiss 'the misguiding companions of his youth' upon the news of his father's illness in 1788 (ct1082, 23 November 1788; but see also ct1096, 9 January 1790 and ct1131, 16 April 1791, where Pennant's view of the Prince is less sanguine).

The Prince of Wales is one of a host of public figures who appear in the exchanges between Pennant and Bull. In March 1793 Bull lamented the fact that the greater efficiency and 'early intelligence' of newspaper publishers had 'completely ruin'd all private informations', making news 'from a private pen, [come] in, lagging, like a distanc’d horse' (ct1164, 8 March 1793). Yet there is little evidence that his pen was stopped by this concern. Often writing from a London base at his Stratton Street home, he offered not only copies of and regular updates from the press, but also first-hand 'politics' of the kind preferred by Pennant to what he heard 'thro' the medium of news papers' (ct1079, 12 July 1788). As the revolutionary decade of the 1790s erupted, interest in politics led to strong opinions on issues and personalities from both men. Pennant developed an obsession with Catherine the Great, 'that dreadful woman of the north', whom he wished to see extirpated ('DELENDA sit CATHERINA!!!'; ct1131, 16 April 1791). This was matched by Bull's invectives against 'Monsr. Egalité', Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d'Orléans, whom he described as having 'improv'd upon Satan himself in wickedness' (ct1162, 25 January 1793), or his contempt for 'the Braggard Buonaparte', whom he believed regularly to be exaggerating the extent of his military successes (ct1197, 6 February 1797).

The correspondence also offers information acquired through direct personal experience. Bull's account of the presentation of their colours to the Isle of Wight's volunteer force in July 1798 is described as a subject which 'luckily fell in my way', enabling him to fill his 'unimportant letter decently full' (ct1222, 20 July 1798); his depiction of an evening passed in London in the company of four aristocratic French émigrés in January 1793 is more insightful, and offers a pitiful view of the representatives of a whole class dispossessed by revolution (ct1162, 25 January 1793). Both men report on accidents at sea, Pennant on being awakened late at night to assist in saving the goods 'of a Rotterdamer wreckd under my house' (ct1145, 31 December 1791), and Bull, memorably, on viewing both a 'french Sloop' and a 'Smugler [sic] boat' come ashore off the coast of the Isle of Wight, and on his conversation with one of the latter's crew, a 'kind of desperado, that Newgate would have bar'd her condemn'd hole against' (ct1091, 17 November 1789). Pennant's most striking anecdote, perhaps, is a witty and entertaining account of a 'dream', which sees him knocked off his horse and torn to pieces by a market-day mob at Holywell, before being miraculously restored through the medium of the 'blessed winefrid', the seventh-century saint closely associated with the town (ct1160, 27 December 1792). Typically, Pennant the magistrate and public figure quickly pulls this flight of fancy back into the steadier territory of his involvement with the propagation of a loyal response to the crisis as Britain responded to the events across the channel in France.

With its dense, often cryptic, detail, the Bull Pennant correspondence can be challenging work for the editor, but it offers us a unique view of the processes at work in the extra-illustration of Pennant's work during the last quarter of a century of his life. Alongside extra-illustration lies the preparation, at a furious pace, of new works: Bull's comment to Granger in December 1774 that Pennant 'is going on with unusual Despatch in his Pursuits' as he prepares 'another Volume for the Press' holds good as a paradigm for much of the period,20 although the printed word is partially replaced by manuscript work, enabled through the employment of reliable amanuenses writing 'in a rather fairer hand than my own', as Pennant concedes in September 1787 (ct1066, 16 September 1787). There are occasional points of disagreement, as when Pennant comes protectively to the defence of his servant Moses Griffith in a row over the size of drawings made for Bull (ct1022, 20 September 1782). In one instance Bull endorses a letter of Pennant's as 'Epistola objurgatoria', realizing that he has offended his friend in refusing to approve what a piqued Pennant now refers to as his 'eccentrical benevolence in the petition I preferred to you in favor of my widow & her ten orphans' (ct1173, 8 November 1793). Bull had tactlessly referred to Pennant's involvement in the plight of the family of a close friend, John Lloyd, Caerwys, as one of a typical host of 'engagements of this sort' which beset people such as themselves 'without end' (ct1171, 3 September 1793). He had clearly failed to gauge the degree of loyalty which Pennant felt for his fellow-countrymen (even though he was not averse to mocking them on occasion, as in his parroting of his miners and colliers' roar of ''Cot pless Kink Shorge'' in a letter of April 1789 (ct1083, 23 April 1789); or his reporting of the poets' efforts at a Caerwys eisteddfod of 1798 as 'the most stupid imaginable' (ct1221, 8 June 1798)).

As they age, Bull often complains about the state of his health, declaring as early as December 1786 that he is grown 'old, quite deaf, and almost blind, and of course my family ought to kill me and eat me, as I have read the children of some parts in Africa, do their parents, when they grow old, and good for nothing' (ct1056, 27 December 1786). Pennant seems more upset by the loss of good friends, including servants of the Downing household: he declares in June 1797, following the 'death of a faithful humble companion', whom he compares to Don Quixote's Sancho Panza, 'I better cd have spared a better man' (ct1202, 17 June 1797). This correspondence presents two men who, as Pennant puts it in February 1791, value 'epistolary conversation' with each other over and above 'oral' interchanges with others (ct1121, 17 February 1791). Their drive to carry out their 'elegant amusements' (ct1086, 19 May 1789) in spite, or because, of approaching infirmity creates an unusually intimate correspondence in which each values the other's companionship. Rarely does Pennant share feelings and intimate thoughts as freely with other correspondents, making this one of the truly valuable qualities of this body of letters.


1 Richard Bull to James Granger, 5 April 1773, in Lucy Peltz, 'Engraved Portrait Heads and the Rise of Extra-illustration: The Eton Correspondence of the Revd James Granger and Richard Bull 1769–1774', The Volume of the Walpole Society, 66 (2004), 1–161, esp. p. 114. The letters of Pennant and Bull are given their numbers in Ffion Mair Jones, 'The Correspondence of Thomas Pennant and Richard Bull, 1773–1794' on the 'Curious Travellers' website, http://curioustravellers.ac.uk, prefaced by the letters 'ct'.
2 A tour in Wales. MDCCLXX (London: Henry Hughes, 1778), 'Advertisement'. The year given in the title page is 1770, the date of a tour of Merionethshire (see NLW 2532B), but this was probably given in error for 1773, when most of the tour published in 1778 took place.
3 Peltz, 'Engraved Portrait Heads and the Rise of Extra-illustration'.
4 Pennant was of immediate interest to both Bull and Granger on account of his 'very large list of English Portraits, not yet engraved, which he saw at the several houses he visited [in Scotland]'. Richard Bull to James Granger, 5 April 1773, in ibid., p. 114. Pennant's 'Drawing of Catherine Tudor, commonly called Kate of Beren, done from an original picture in the possession of Owen Wynne Esqr of Llwyn painted Anno 1568 which Mr Pennant talked also of having engrav'd' was also of interest to Bull according to his letter to Granger on 26 April 1773. Ibid., p. 120.
5 Ibid., pp. 38–9, 142.
6 See Ailsa Hutton and Nigel Leask, ''The first antiquary of his country': Robert Riddell's extra-illustrated and annotated volumes of Thomas Pennant's Tours in Scotland', in Mary-Ann Constantine and Nigel Leask (eds.), Enlightenment travel and British identities: Thomas Pennant's Tours in Scotland and Wales (London: Anthem, 2017), pp. 123–39; Paul Joyner, 'Some Sandby drawings of Scotland', NLWJ, 23, no. 1 (1983), 1–16.
7 While accepting the replacement, Bull described Ingleby as 'next to Moses Gryfith, longo sed proximus intervallo [next but by a long distance]' (ct1201, 8 June 1797).
8 NLW, Pennant's extra-illustrated A tour in Wales 1770 [1773] (1778) p. 229; A tour in Wales (2nd edn., 1784), p. 238.
9 See Pennant's reference to William Burrell's having made 'instances at his table for my copy of the scotch tour' (ct1026, 6 July 1783), and his apparent intention of gifting Burrell with a copy of the 2nd edn. of A tour in Wales, vol. I (ct1035, 16 January 1784).
10 The Pennant publications extra-illustrated included the volumes of A tour in Wales in both editions (1778, 1781, 1783; 1784), The journey from Chester to London (1782), Arctic zoology (1784; 1792), Of London (1791; later Some account of London), The history of the parishes of Whiteford and Holywell (1796), and a manuscript presentation copy of 'The Literary Life of Thomas Pennant Esqr: Copy of the Original M.S. Signed by himself' (NLW 5502E).
11 An avid traveller in his own right, Chiswell had visited Pennant at Downing as part of a tour of Wales undertaken the year before he took his own life.
12 On competitiveness and anti-clubbable behaviour among print collectors and its resultant effect on prices see Peltz, 'The Eton Correspondence of the Revd James Granger and Richard Bull', 34–8.
13 Peltz, 'The Extra-Illustration of London', II, p. 456; eadem, 'The extra-illustration of London: the gendered spaces and practices of antiquarianism in the late eighteenth century', in Myrone and eadem (eds.), Producing the Past: Aspects of Antiquarian Culture and Practice 1700–1850 (Ashgate: Aldershot, Hants, 1999), pp. 115–134, esp. pp. 121–2.
14 Pennant, Literary life, 'Advertisement'.
15 Evans, 'The life and work of Thomas Pennant', p. 620.
16 See Lucy Peltz, 'Antiquarian Topography or Armchair Tourism: Thomas Pennant's "Labors", in eadem, Facing the Text: Extra-illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain 1769–1840 (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2017).
17 Literary life, p. 31.
18 On Bull's apparent reluctance to refer to his daughters' activities as extra-illustrators, see Lucy Peltz, 'The Extra-Illustration of London: Leisure, Sociability and the Antiquarian City in the late Eighteenth Century' (unpublished University of Manchaster PhD thesis, 1997), pp. 502–9.
19 Literary life, pp. 42–3.
20 Richard Bull to James Granger, 13 December 1774, in Peltz, 'Engraved Portrait Heads', p. 143.