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West Country Poets

E. E. FOOT (1828-)

Mr. Edward Edwin FOOT, from whom we have had some difficulty in procuring an account of himself - his modest reticence pleading very strongly to be excused from being immortalized among the 'Poets of the West' - was born at Ashburton, Devonshire, in 1828 (the birth place of several eminent men, including the great GIFFORD,of 'Juvenal', 'Baviad', and 'Maeviad' fame), where his father, the late Mr. Peter FOOT, carried on the business of a boot and shoe maker, hatter, etc., and enjoyed a considerable reputation as a musical composer, vocalist, and instrumentalise.  There were five sons and a daughter, all of whom, with the exception of the youngest brother, Frederick [Frederick FOOT], a well-known landscape painter, inherited their father's musical gift - more especially Edward, the subject of the present sketch, who at the age of twelve, had attained some notoriety as a classIcal flautist, being a private pupil of the late Henry CAUNTER, Esq., of the same town, who was also a very clever portrait-painter.  The boy, however, seems to have had but a very indifferent amount of education at the Free School, simply acquiring reading, writing, and arithmetic;  after trying his hand at several occupations (being always of a restless disposition), he eventually was apprenticed to the trade of a house-painter, glazier, etc. of which he ultimately became a master tradesman.  In the meantime, possessing rather an inventive genius, he, in the year 1854, designed and submitted to the War Office the drawing of a breech-loading man-of-war's gun, which received the careful attention of the authorities, by the direction of the Duke of Newcastle, but without success.  Later on, during the Crimean campaign, he submitted to the Inspector-General of Fortifications plans and specifications of a military hut of his invention, executing the drawings to scale himself for which he was awarded the sum of £50.  Again, in 1865, he forwarded to the Postmaster-General his design of a postal exchange stamp, which, although unsuccessful, no doubt, had something to do with the origin of the present postal order.  In the year 1855 Mr. Foot went to Australia, returning in 1857, shortly afterwards obtaining an appointment in Her Majesty's Customs, London, also following his musical instincts as a theatrical bandsman and a paid church-singer.  We find him expressing great regret that his school education was so limited, as in after-years he had to educate himself.

It appears that, although 'dabbling', as he calls it, in verse at an early period of his life, it was only at the commencement of his London career that he turned his more earnest attention toe the Muse, and made his first poetical adventure in sending manuscript poem, entitled 'Evening', to Lord Palmerston, who a few days afterwards sent the author a sovereign in acknowledgement.  This acted as a stimulant, causing him to devote more of his leisure time in that direction - sending various pieces to members of the Royal Family, receiving most gratifying letters in reply.

In 1867 he resolved upon publishing a book of poems by subscription, and was successful in procuring 540 subscribers at 3s. 6d. per volume before going to press, which more than cleared the expense of the the thousand copies printed, leaving the remainder as profit.  His volume printed by Messrs. Cassell, Petter and Galpin, consists of 264 pages, containing an allegorical poem, 'The Death, Burial, and Destruction of Bacchus,' 'Jane Hollybrand', a romance in rhyme, and other miscellaneous poems.*  The Queen graciously accepted a copy of this book, and sent the author a present of £2.  Mr. Foot's poem 'Dudley Castle', which appeared in the Western Guardian, December 1883, does him great credit. His 'Life of John SIMPSON, the octogenarian shoeblack,' in pamphlet form in prose, is very interesting.  John SIMPSON had been a sailor, eventually having the privilege of a station in the London Customs House as a shoeblack, which brought him under the author's notice, who published his 'Life' for the benefit of the poor old sailor, which procured for him (Simpson) a donation of £9 from the Admiralty.

We should like to see another edition of Mr. Foot's poems, and the publication of other manuscripts which he has in hand; but it appears that the pension he is now receiving from the Government is insufficient to warrant his risking such an enterprise.  He therefore now confines himself to Ashburton, contributing occasional pieces to the Totnes papers, which are much appreciated by the readers of those local journals, the Totnes Times and the Western Guardian.

Mr. Foot's poems are numerous, and the majority of them are lengthy.  We were particularly desirous of inserting his poem entitled 'The Lover's Leap', but space forbids, and we therefore select one which has a good old English ring about it, and will give our readers a fair idea of the ability of this minor Devonshire poet.

*The Original Poems of Edward Edwin Foot, of her Majesty's Customs, London, published by the author, 1867, 8vo., pp.264.  Dedicated to Henry William DOBELL, Esq., Comptroller General of Her Majesty's Customs.


The bugle is sounding, its echo rebounding, -
 Up, up and away to the camp on the Down;
Volunteering is cheering, its friendship endearing,
 And the air is more bracing than down in the town;
 O, give us the life of a bold volunteer,
 Or that of a brave British solider!

. . . . seven more verses in the same vein . . .

Transcribed by Sandra Windeatt from: Wright, W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets:  Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock. pp.175-177.

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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