'Then might I frequent climb yon tower crowned steep,

And yield to thee and Fancy every thought' 

- Noble, Blackheath

 

Two years after Bloomfield published ‘Shooter’s Hill’, Severndroog also featured prominently in Thomas Noble’s poem Blackheath (1808). Noble’s poem is a poetic walking tour of his hometown and the surrounding area, including Greenwich Park, Charlton and Shooter’s Hill. He dedicated the poem to Caroline, Princess of Wales, the estranged wife of the future King George IV, who lived in Blackheath.

 

Caroline, Princess of Wales (1768-1821).

John Murphy after Thomas Stothard, Caroline Princess of Wales, 1795, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

       

Like Thelwall and Bloomfield, Noble encountered Severndroog during a time of personal crisis, which he describes in the poem’s preface as ‘a period of my life particularly marked with [...] oppression’. He describes returning to the castle with each new season and, like his fellow poets, being revived and inspired by the view from the top of the tower:

 

Then might I frequent climb yon tower crowned steep,

And yield to thee and Fancy every thought,

Wide wafted on the rapid solar beams,

That glance across the prospect

[...]

Nature with mental pleasure fills each hour,

And pours a current of perpetual joy

Thro’ all her vast variety of scene:

Each moment, silent, works some magic change.

 

Severndroog from Woolwich Common, with the Royal Military Academy in the foreground.

Detail of John Grant, after Thomas H. Jones, Royal Horse Artillery, 1843, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.       

       

However, whereas Bloomfield had identified Severndroog's woodland surroundings as the source of his poetic inspiration, Noble was inspired by the way in which the urban and the rural harmonised in Blackheath and the wider Greenwich area during the early nineteenth century. In the preface to Blackheath, he wrote:

 

Where will you [...] elsewhere behold the magnificence of a mighty city, so intimately united with the rural cottages of surrounding peasantry? ---the awful waters of a great commercial river [the Thames], and the abundant labours of agriculture? In what other situation can your eye seize, in the same glance [...] science and astronomical research [the Royal Observatory], and [...] orchards, garden-ground, meadows, and corn-land?

 

With its celebration of the city ‘so intimately united’ with the countryside, Noble's poem is a striking early example of a suburb providing a source of poetic inspiration.

 

A suburban view of Blackheath in the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century.

Francis Nicholson, London from Blackheath, c. 1780-1830, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

 

Noble’s poem also contemplates Severndroog’s colonial history. Whereas Thelwall had treated the East India Company’s capture of Suvarnadurg Fort as an example of British mercy and compassion, Noble’s version of the story is more sceptical. Instead of representing Severndroog as a memorial to James's exploits, Noble echoes the local workman whom Thelwall had encountered by imagining the castle as the real Suvarnadurg, dragged across the seas from India and held captive as a trophy of war:

   

Of yon broad hill, where INDIA’s captive tower       

Frowns, like a bondaged giant, o’er the steep,       

Who, mocked with trophies of his former strength,       

Is borne aloft, the triumph of his foe.

 

Noble’s depiction of Severndroog as a piece of colonial plunder perhaps deliberately leaves little to distinguish James’s conduct from the accusations made against Tulaji Angre, the governor of Suvarnadurg, whom the East India Company had falsely accused of piracy because of his seizure of a number of British Ships that had passed through his territory. Indeed, as Noble indicates in a footnote to his poem, the hypocrisy of James's colonial venture was made apparent by the fact that Severndroog’s interior was originally ‘ornamented with armour and trophies’ that Sir William had taken from Suvarnadurg.

Thomas Noble

Thomas Noble