4 MAY 1923, Page 14


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] S112,—I feel impelled to take up the cudgels on behalf of the memory of the Rev. Joseph Townsend, which you so maltreated in your review of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb's book, The Decay of Capitalism. It appears you have been misled through basing your judgment on a short extract from a pamphlet, separated from its context, which so often totally misrepresents the spirit of the article and still more of the author.

Joseph Townsend was a notable person who by character and ability was the very opposite of the immortal Mr. Collins, to whom you unkindly compare him. He was famed in his county for benevolence and public spirit, was a close friend and supporter of John and Charles Wesley, an active advocate, in advance of his time, of Reform of the Poor Laws, and was a noted geologist in his day. He wrote on Divinity, Science, Medicine, Social Science, and so on. One cannot read a few chapters of Townsend's Travels in Spain—two volumes published in 1790 and still very readable—without being convinced that the author was a man of powerful intellect and wide sympathies. He studied medicine for the purpose, and then assiduously doctored his parishioners and poor neighbours for miles round—as he did the monks and even nuns in Spain. I have in my possession his case books, kept with beautiful neatness and precision : they show the immense benefit his people derived from his care and skill. He pub- lished two medical handbooks, which certainly went into four and ten editions respectively. His activity in pushing forward the repair of the roads in the county, together with his great stature (Oft. 4in.), earned him the nickname of the Colossus of Roads. I have also his designs for improved agricultural instruments, which were successfully applied in his neighbourhood. The Dictionary of National Biography has a column devoted to him. He was scholar, author, doctor, geologist, man of science, social reformer, theologian and devoted parish priest.

Mr. Sidney Webb must be indeed hard up for evidence if he is reduced to lifting a paragraph out of a note made by Marx to his book some seventy years ago, which note was an extract from a pamphlet already some fifty years old ; and this ancient paragraph, shorn of its context, is to be used to illustrate the spirit informing people at the present day.

P.S.—The Editor will doubtless concur in one of the dicta in Townsend's Medical Treatise : "Be persuaded a horse is the best physician."