[Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, murderer, artist, essayist and dandy.] Autograph Letter Signed ('T. G Wainewright') to the wife of 'Mr. P.' [probably Ann Procter, wife of poet Bryan Waller Procter], in florid style, calling himself a 'verbal pauper'.

Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794-1847), murderer, artist, art critic and aesthete [Bryan Waller Procter ('Barry Cornwall'), poet, and his wife, nee Anne Skepper]
Publication details: 
Without place or date. Paper watermarked 1824, and written [probably at Turnham Green] about the same time.
SKU: 23168

Only a handful of letters (or less) by the artist, aesthete and murderer Thomas Griffiths Wainewright survive (None yet traced!). He holds the dubious distinction of being the first English murderer to employ strychnine; with his wife's help he first murdered her half-sister and then his uncle. Artist, essayist, connoisseur and dandy, friend of Charles Lamb and patron of William Blake, Wainewright is a fascinating and elusive figure who inspired Oscar Wilde, whose study of Wainewright, the essay 'Pen, Pencil and Poison', first appeared in 1889, cribbed from the introduction to W. Carew Hazlitt's edition of Wainewright's 'Essays and Criticisms' (1880). Between 1820 and 1823 Wainewright was a contributor - under the pseudonyms 'Janus Weathercock' and 'Cornelius van Vinkbooms' - to John Scott's 'London Magazine', and it is probable from the two references to 'Mr. P.' within the present letter that the recipient – referred to only as 'Madam' – is the wife of another of magazine's contributors, Wainewright's friend the poet Bryan Waller Procter ('Barry Cornwall'). Proctor married Anne Skepper, step-daughter of the jurist Basil Montagu (1770-1851) in 1824, and as the same date as the watermark of the present letter, it is likely that the letter was written around this time, and during what Charles Lamb called the Proctors' 'treacle-moon'. The letter is 3pp., 4to. Bifolium. On wove paper with watermark 'J WHATMAN | 1824'. It is in good condition, lightly aged, with stub from mount adhering to the edge of the blank reverse of the second leaf. Sixty lines of text in Wainewright's elegant hand. A revealing letter, written in Wainewright's customary bravura style: the florid conceits masking a marked solipsism. The fantastical and 'gallant' style of the letter masks an insincerity, but it nevertheless contains a number of revealing comments by Wainewright, who describes himself as a 'verbal pauper' employing 'an arbitrary irregularity'. There is no salutation to the letter: the first page is headed: 'You See how large a letter I have written to you, with my own hand | St Paul | This is a naughty quotation – so pray pass on'. What follows is a dialogue, in the style of Wainewright's favourite Laurence Sterne, referring allusively to the 'note' Wainewright is replying to, sent with a present of a tea cup: ' - - “And here is the sweetest cup! - & the prettiest note for you, in a lady's hand!” “And the prettiest words too! see!” “How kind! But I wouldn't separate that lovely one from its sisters for China; - Tea, silk, mandarins, pig-tails, & all! “You must write - - -” “But M – is waiting for me.” “Pshaw! Tomorrow I mean then – you must write the most elegant answer” “That's quite out of my way, my Dear!” “You must do your best then.” We all must do that: - & poor work some of us make notwithstanding! - but courage! - fetch me the London Letter-writer & the Spelling Dictionary, and we shall see, what we shall see.”' Addressing the recipient, Wainewright now explains that despite 'these aids' he finds it 'difficult to turn a sentence with any nicety or refinement when women in black, worsted stockings! Are arranging the mud into circlets with their x x x x x x pattens; - & when cat's meat is promulgated in tones not one of which finds itself (I love a quaint Gallicism) in either the Diatonic, the Chromatic or Enharmonic scale'. Another reason why he must fail to be 'intelligible to you; at least, by way of letter!', is that Wainewright is 'a verbal pauper; - The bellman is a Dives to me! - & though ideas are certainly the main objects of communication, & not the words; yet the laws of polished society are imperative as to their co-presence.' So in the matter of coats, &c – I don't care a cheeseparing for Mr. P's coat – still I must not see him without his coat! - This, Dear Madam! is not elegant: but it's very true.' He continues with his conceit, referring to his ideas as 'my naked urchins': 'Yet how shall I even insinuate it in these scolastic times? How spare my thinking vanity! I have a method – no! rather its reverse! - An arbitrary irregularity in sp – [sic]'. He describes himself as 'a dissenter (not on principle) in grammar […] being not orthographical, but heterographical, or rather positively cacographical!' A nine-line example of how he would have written if he 'wore a diamond ring, as Stern [sic] did' follows, after which he claims that what he has just written is 'none of mine; but one of Mons. -'s billets to Mlle. Rambouillet.' (The reference is to Sterne's 'Sentimental Journey.') He continues: 'You see now, Madam! on what an unworthy animal you waste your tasteful kindness'. There follows some verse of his own composing: 'The wheel-turned gift, where on diaphanous clay | Sinensian dragons hiss in verdant play'. To this he adds, 'Tell Mr. P. that this couplet is mine, & wants only a little meaning & polish to rival Pope.' The letter concludes: 'I kiss the silken hem of your beautiful gown, & beg you to discharge your insolent debtor; otherwise you shall speedily fret over another instalment of gratitude from | Dear Madam | Your very humble Servant | T. G Wainewright'.