Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Downman's Infancy

Further to the previous post, Keats at Dawlish, I just managed to track down Dr Hugh Downman's 1776 poem Infancy, whose section on Dawlish ...

O Dawlish, though unclassic be thy name,
By every muse unsung ; should, from thy tide,
To keen poetic eyes alone reveal'd,
From the cerulean bosom of the deep,
(As Aphrodite rose of old) appear
Health's blooming goddess, and benignant smile
On her true votary; not Cythera's fame,
Not Eryx, nor the laurel boughs that wav's
On Delos, erst Apollo's natal soil,
However warm, enthusiastic youth
Dwelt on these seats enamour'd, shall to me
Be half so dear. To thee will I consign
Often the timid virgin to thy pure
Encircling waves; to thee will I consign
The feeble matron ; or the child on whom
Thou mayest bestow a second happier birth
From weakness into strength. And should I view,
Unfetter'd, with the firm sound judging mind,
Imagination to return array 'd
In her once glowing rest, to thee my lyre
Shall oft be tun'd, and to thy Nereids green,
Long, long unnotic'd in their haunts retir'd.
Nor will I cease to prize thy lovely strand,
Thy towering cliffs, nor the small babbling brook,
Whose shallow current laves thy thistled vale.

... makes an appearance in a number of early 19th century gazetteers whenever Dawlish is described. It's more than a little highbrow, but a testimonial is a testimonial.

To my slight surprise, Infancy turns out not to be a work of topographic or romantic poetry, but to be a medical treatise on baby and childcare in verse - Infancy, or, The management of children: a didactic poem in three books - by Hugh Downman, MD. Check it out at Google Books or at the Internet Archive, which has the 1809 six-book edition printed by Trewmans of Exeter (ID infancyormanage00downgoog).

It's pretty heavy going as a  poem, and there's a good summary in this paper: Hugh Downman, MD (1740–1809) of Exeter and his poem on infant care (P M Dunn, Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2003;88:F253-F254 doi:10.1136/fn.88.3.F253). From the account of the author, Professor Dunn of the Department of Child Health, University of Bristol, Infancy looks a sensible and enlightened work, that stresses breastfeeding, proper examination, avoidance of superstition, and the importance of smallpox inoculation. The paper also has a brief biography of the Devon-born Downman, whose family included his admiral nephew Hugh Downman and the artist John Downman A.R.A. WHK Wright's 1896 West-Country Poets has a fuller biography and bibliography:

HUGH DOWNMAN, M.D. was the son of Hugh Downman, of Newton House, St. Cyrus, Exeter, and was educated at the Exeter Grammar School. He entered Balliol College, Oxford, 1758, proceeded B.A. 1763, and was ordained in Exeter Cathedral the same year. His clerical prospects being very small, he went to Edinburgh to study medicine, and boarded with Thomas Blacklock. In 1768 he published The Land of the Muses; a Poem in the Manner of Spenser, by H. D. In 1769 he visited London, for hospital practice, and in 1770, after proceeding M.A. at Jesus College, Cambridge, he practiced medicine at Exeter, where he married the daughter of Dr. Andrew. A chronic complaint, in 1778, compelled him to retire for a time. His best-known poem, Infancy; or, The Management of Children, was published in three separate parts, in 1774, 1775, 1776; a seventh edition was issued in 1809. In 1775 appeared The Drama, An Elegy written under a Gallow, The Soliloquy, etc. During his retirement he also published Lucius Junius Brutus, in five acts (1779); Belisarius, played in Exeter Theatre for a few nights; and Editha, a Tragedy (1784), founded on a local incident, and performed for sixteen nights. These plays appeared in one volume, as Tragedies by H. Downman, M.D., Exeter, 1792. He also published Poems to Thespia (1781), and The Death-Song of Ragnar Lodbrach, translated from the Latin of Olaus Wormius (1781). He was one of the translators of an edition of Voltaire's Works, in English. In 1791 he published Poems, second edition, comprising the Land of the Muses. He was also a contributor to Polwhele's Collections of the Poetry of Devon and Cornwall.

Downman seems to have resumed medical practice at Exeter about 1790, and in 1796 he founded there a literary society of twelve members. A volume of the essays was printed [Essays by a society of gentlemen, at Exeter, 1796], and a second is said to exist in manuscript. In 1805 Downman finally relinquished his practice, on account of ill-health, and in 1808 the literary society was discontinued. He died at Alphington, near Exeter, September 23, 1809, with the reputation of an able and humane physician and a most amiable man. Two years before he died, an anonymous editor collected and published the various critical opinions and complimentary verses on his poems, Isaac D'Israeli (1792) being among them.

- pp 158-159, West-Country Poets, WHK Wright, 1896: Internet Archive ID westcountrypoet00wriggoog

I notice that the abovementioned 1809 edition of Infancy scanned by the Internet Archive has a handwritten dedication on the front page showing it changed hands in Topsham at some point in its history.

[words unclear] respectful compliments to Mrs Hoskins, and begs her acceptance of this poem.  Topsham, July 1820.

Can anyone make out those first two words?

- Ray (finding credit for the topic: Weird Materialism).

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