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  Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798–1868), by John Boaden, exh. RA 1828 Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798–1868), by John Boaden, exh. RA 1828
Townshend, Chauncy Hare (1798–1868), poet and collector, was born on 20 April 1798, the only son (he had a younger sister) of Henry Hare Townsend (1765?–1827) of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, and Walpole, Norfolk, and his wife, Charlotte Winter Lake (c.1770–1831), daughter of Sir James Winter Lake of Edmonton (b. 1745). He was educated at Eton College (1811–15) and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA, 1821; MA, 1824). He won the chancellor's English medal for his poem ‘Jerusalem’ (1817). Although ordained, he never took a living, perhaps because of poor health, but he was a self-confessed hypochondriac. Townshend (he changed the spelling of his name in 1828) was determined to be a poet; he approached Robert Southey, the poet laureate, with his work in 1815. Southey offered encouragement and they corresponded for several years, Townshend visiting Southey in Keswick. Townshend's first volume, Poems (1821), followed, dedicated to Southey. This was revised and reprinted in 1825 as The Weaver's Boy. On 2 May 1826 Townshend married Eliza Frances, eldest daughter of Sir Amos Godsill Robert Norcott, of Hornsey. The marriage ended on 30 August 1843, confirmed by deed of separation on 6 September 1845, with ‘unhappy differences’ cited as the cause. There were no children.

In 1827 Townshend published anonymously The Reigning Vice: a Satirical Essay in Four Books. He also contributed to annuals and other periodicals. Through Southey, Townshend met Wordsworth, but upset their cordial relationship with critical articles on Wordsworth in Blackwood's during 1829. Townshend continued to contribute to Blackwood's, and, thanks to his friendship with Dickens, to Household Words, and later to All the Year Round. Dickens came to regard Townshend as a close friend, and was made his literary executor (thereby being required to publish Townshend's Religious Opinions, 1869). The two first met in 1840 at the home of Dr John Elliotson, a mesmerist. Mesmerism intrigued both Dickens and Townshend, who published Facts in Mesmerism (1840), dedicated to Elliotson, and Mesmerism Proved True, and the Quarterly Reviewer Reviewed (1854). In 1851 Townshend published two volumes of verse: Sermons in Sonnets and, under the pseudonym T. Greatley, Philosophy of the Fens, a lively satirical work drawing on contemporary life. A ballad, The Burning of the Amazon, was published in 1852, the profits going to those who suffered by the calamity. A further volume of verse, The Three Gates, followed in 1859, reprinted in 1861, dedicated to Dickens.

For long periods Townshend lived abroad for health reasons. When in London (about two months each summer), he dined regularly with Dickens, who also visited Townshend in his Lausanne villa. Dickens skilfully reflects Townshend's character when describing him aboard the Folkestone ferry, in his carriage, which he found ‘perforated in every direction with cupboards, containing every description of physic, old brandy, East India sherry, sandwiches, oranges, cordial waters, newspapers, pocket handkerchiefs, shawls, flannels, telescopes, compasses, repeaters … and finger-rings of great value’ (Letters of Charles Dickens, 8.177).

The latter were part of Townshend's collection of precious stones, which in his will he left to the South Kensington Museum, with collections of Swiss coins, cameos, photographs, drawings, and engravings. His remaining collections were left to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, including his library, with the manuscript of Great Expectations, the novel which Dickens ‘affectionately inscribed’ to Townshend. Townshend's death in his London home, 21 Norfolk Street, Park Lane, on 25 February 1868, upset Dickens, then in America: ‘It is not a light thing to lose such a friend, and I truly loved him’ (Letters of Charles Dickens, 1880, 372). Townshend was buried in the new cemetery, Godalming.

Bulwer Lytton described Townshend's ‘beauty of countenance’ as a young man, but noted that he became ‘plain in later life—an accomplished man—but effeminate and mildly selfish’ (Letters of Charles Dickens, 2.110n). Townshend's will hardly supports the latter charge. The bulk of his estate went to found the Burdett-Coutts and Townshend Foundation School in Rochester Street, Westminster, a charity school offering free evening education to 400 children over thirteen. Townshend remained a minor literary figure, with a wide acquaintance in the arts world and a considerable knowledge of the artefacts he collected. His lasting memorial is perhaps Wisbech Museum itself, rather than his writing.

Rosemary Scott


Wisbech Museum, Townshend papers · P. Cave, ed., The life and times of Chauncy Hare Townshend (1998) · W. L. Hanchant, ‘Chauncy Hare Townshend’, 23rd annual report of the Wisbech Society (1962) · R. S. Boddington, Pedigree of the family of Townsend (1881) · The letters of Charles Dickens, ed. M. House, G. Storey, and others, 2–11 (1969–99) · The Times (7 April 1868) · The Athenaeum (29 Feb 1868) · The Athenaeum (11 April 1868) · GM, 4th ser., 5 (1868) · The life and correspondence of Robert Southey, ed. C. C. Southey, 6 vols. (1849–50), vols. 4–5 · The letters of Charles Dickens, ed. [G. Hogarth and M. Dickens], 2 (1880) · H. E. C. Stapylton, The Eton school lists, from 1791 to 1850, 2nd edn (1864) · Venn, Alum. Cant. · Wellesley index · IGI


V&A, bequest · Wisbech Museum, Cambridgeshire, autograph collection, literary papers, and sketchbooks |  Herts. ALS, letters to Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, D/EK C1, C2, C6, C17, C25 · NL Scot., letters to Blackwoods


J. R. Smith, crayon drawing, c.1805, V&A · J. Boaden, oils, exh. RA 1828, V&A [see illus.] · S. Woodhouse, double portrait (as a child with his sister, Charlotte), V&A · stipple and line engraving, NPG

Wealth at death  

under £16,000 in England: probate, 27 March 1868, CGPLA Eng. & Wales