Edward Loveden Loveden

Edward Loveden Loveden was born Edward Loveden Townsend, probably in 1750, and attended Winchester School then Trinity College, Oxford (W.M. 1822; Foster 1888). The manor of Buscot was bequeathed to him by his uncle, Edward Loveden, on the condition that he took the Loveden surname—which he did in 1772 (Fisher 1986). He died at his country house, Buscot Park, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) in 1822.

As a prominent public figure, and protagonist in a spectacularly unpleasant divorce case, there is considerable evidence concerning Loveden and his life. Loveden married three times: first in 1773 to Margaret Pryse; widowed in 1784, he married Elizabeth Nash in 1785; widowed again in 1785, he married Anne Lintall in 1794 and separated from her in 1808 (Fisher 1986). Loveden's public interests were many, and Mavor's obituary of him concluded with typical sympathy that "Few country gentlemen have performed a more honourable part in life than the deceased" (W.M. 1822:89). He was a member of the Board of Agriculture from 1793, Sheriff of Berkshire from 1781 to 1782, Sheriff of Brecon from 1799 to 1800, and Lieutenant Colonel of the Berkshire militia from 1794 to 1796, he was also Member of Parliament for Abingdon from 1783 to 1796 and for Shaftesbury from 1802 to 1812 (Fisher 1986).

Loveden seems to have been perceived by his contemporaries as a generous and cultured man. According to W.M. (1822:89) "Mr Loveden was hospitable to a great degree, and his establishment at Buscot Park was on a scale of considerable expense." From school he "always delighted in Classical literature", and after his father's death he attended Trinity College as a Gentlemen Commoner. Nathaniel Wraxall concluded that "His figure, manners, and dress all bespoke a substantial yeoman rather than a person of education and condition; but he did not want plain common sense, nor language in which to clothe his ideas" (Wheatley 1884:251). And W.M. added that "to the last, his appearance, his manners, and useful knowledge, always devoted to the best interests of society, caused him to be regarded as no common man" (1822:89).

Loveden was a man of ambiguous political allegiance (Fisher 1986) which W.M. (1822:89) interpreted as acting with "independence characteristic of his fortune and his principles". Originally elected an opponent of the Coalition, he declared in Parliament that he "considered himself as a free agent" (Parliamentary History of England: vol. 27, col. 908). A particularly interesting insight into his motivation is given in that same speech by his claim that his maxim was "Nullis addictus jurare in verba magistri". That quotation, from Horace's Epistles (vol. I, part i, 1. 14), translated as "I am not bound over to swear as any master dictates" (Horace 1926:251-253). Loveden, who "always delighted" in Classical literature, would assuredly have been familiar with the continuation of the paragraph which propounds an eclectic mixture of Stoic participation in public life and the Cyrenian teaching that individuals should control the world around themselves: "wherever the storm drives me I turn in for comfort. Now I become all action, and plunge into the tide of civil life, stern champion and follower of true Virtue; now I slip back stealthily into the rules of Aristippus, and would bend the world to myself, not myself to the world" (p. 253).

Despite the ambiguity of Loveden going "wherever the storm drives", his public claim was to be led by "an honest zeal for the promotion of the public welfare". This "honest zeal" he described as "a better principle, and a more becoming motive than either self-interest or ambition" (Parliamentary History of England: vol. 27, col. 908). The pride that Loveden felt in the comeliness of his motivation did not, however, protect him from political danger. Many of his constituents found him anything but W.M.'s generous host, with them "resentful of his parsimony" (Fisher 1986:457) and there was strong opposition to his re-election at Abingdon in 1790.

Turning from Loveden's public to his private self, there is evidence that Loveden's sense of manliness was important to his character. Writing to Samuel Selwood he passed the then-common slur on William Pitt's unsexual (therefore unmanly) demeanour that he "appears to me of the doubtful gender" (BRO, A/AET 11). Significantly, Loveden also exerted or attempted to exert quite considerable manly control over the lives of the women in his household, as his relations with his daughters Margaret and Jane show. Loveden's elder daughter Margaret was married at the age of 21 against her father's wishes (BRO, D/ELV, catalogue entry) to the Reverend Samuel Wilson (The Times 1796). Loveden attempted to disinherit her, and a marriage settlement was only negotiated in 1803 (D/ELV L23/1 to 8). More suggestive still is the forbidden engagement of Loveden's handicapped daughter Jane in 1809 to Mr R.Weeks, his protégé. On finding out from Jane about the proposal, Loveden wrote a curt one-sentence note requiring Weeks to leave Buscot Park immediately (D/ELV F 33/4). There is no evidence the rift was ever healed.

The most important evidence on Loveden's character is provided by the details on his divorce, a case that Stone (1993:248) described as "a somewhat banal story of a bored, neglected, and childless young wife falling in love with a lively and attractive young man". Divorce then required, first, a civil suit for "criminal conversation" at the Court of King's Bench, then a suit of separation at the London Consistory Court, then finally a bill for divorce in the House of Lords. Loveden's case for criminal conversation failed, but he won at the London Consistory Court (Gurney 1811). Loveden had married Anne when he was 43 and she was 21. According to Stone (1993), Anne was an affectionate woman, but neglected and lonely; at the trial there was the hint that sexual relations between the couple were unsatisfactory. Although the jury at the Court of King's Bench had been unable to find against Barker, Scott's judgement was that there was "fair inference" of adultery between Anne and Barker (p. 2). In the end, the divorce was never finalized, apparently because Loveden objected to paying an annuity to Anne of £400 (Fisher 1986).

Loveden's responses to Margaret's and Jane's independence, and above all the events surrounding his divorce indicate he was a man who was prone to great anger, and even litigious revenge in response to hurt. In acting in this way he was, though, within his legal rights—and might be said to have been responding to his moral duty. Right and duty, as the example of Buscot Park shows, were issues that occasioned Loveden to act in a controlling way.

Loveden's desire for control was clear in his running of his estate. Buscot Park house was probably designed by Loveden himself and James Darley, and begun in 1779 (Hollings and Alexander 1924:512). Some aspects of Loveden's management of the estate, particularly some of its innovations, hint further at a controlling desire. Witness the design of his weirkeeper's cottage which contained a fish house that "when locked, even the person who inhabits the cottage connected with them, could not open.without the certainty of detection" (Mavor 1808:46).

Water was a necessary feature of Buscot Park, and something of Loveden's ostentatious experimentalism can be seen in his relationship with it. The estate also included Buscot Lock and a short canal from the Thames (called Buscot Pill) with a wharf, as well as rights over Eaton Weir. In addition to the Thames and Buscot Pill, the grounds had what Mavor described as "two fine pieces of water.in a pleasing natural style" (p. 44). The "pleasing" naturalness of the water features in Buscot Park were reinforced by Loveden's attitude to the control and display of water. Finding Buscot Park's wellwater brackish, he described himself as "determined to make a spring" (p. 45)—and pumped the house's water from subsurface drains.

Loveden's interest in the river was considerable in extent and proprietary in nature. Famously, the first barge that passed through the Thames and Severn Canal was greeted by a twelve-gun salute from Buscot Park (Gentleman's Magazine 1789). Loveden was a Commissioner from 1783 and most active in the years 1789 to 1792 (BRO, Commissioners of the Thames, Minutes). According to W.M. (1822:89) he was:

a principal promoter of the junction of the Thames and Severn; and the Thames Navigation was indebted to him for almost every real improvement in the upper districts; which has been made within a period of fifty years. So much was he attached to the prince of British streams, on whose banks a large portion of his estate lay, that he used to be called, jocularly by his friends, "Old Father Thames," an application which he did not dislike on suitable occasions.

Loveden ensured his revenue from Buscot Lock was that of a rack-renter, for which he was subjected to a thinly-veiled attack by Vanderstegen (1794a: 5) and Thacker (1968) gave Buscot as consistently the most expensive weir on the Thames above Oxford. Loveden's actions promoting navigation are likewise indicative of his enthusiasm for remunerative improvements—every increase in trade on the river increased his considerable revenue. In his essay on the threats posed to the Thames by canals Loveden claimed they would be "a robbery of the Thames" (1811:3-4). More personal, indeed personalized, was his conclusion that urged the Commissioners to "unite in resisting the confederacy and conspiracy against old Father Thames" (p. 9).

Loveden chaired the meeting in 1781 to set up the Thames and Severn Canal, and was what Hadfield (1969) called a "very active proprietor" of the company (p. 34). But, Hadfield believed, he was also an opinionated partisan—most egregiously as chair of the Parliamentary Enquiry of 1793 into the Thames which Loveden made "a validation of his policy" (p. 25). When there was a proposal for the Wilts and Berks Canal to bypass the Thames (including Buscot) above Abingdon, Loveden argued for an extension of the Grand Junction Canal to Pinkhill—obliging barges to continue to use his own lock. In this counterproposal, according to Hadfield "he was in fact moved entirely by self-interest" (p. 124) and acted in a way that was "utterly unscrupulous" (p. 127). In order to win the vote he untruthfully claimed that the Commissioners were about to improve the Thames above Abingdon, but he was later defeated and the breathtaking consequences are worth quoting:

Unable to conceal his chagrin or restrain his anger he defaced the minute book, the company's clerk recording in the margin: "After this Meeting was over Mr Loveden came to the Table, took the Book out of my hands, and struck his name out, saying he would not have his name appear when he did not approve the Resolutions."

In conclusion, Loveden was clearly "no common man"—he was able to depict himself plausibly as a man of especial talents and especial value. Fundamental to understanding him is his inference that he was a man who would turn for comfort "wherever the storm drives".

Loveden may have been a "substantial yeoman" but he was also a man of some intellectual sophistication—the member of learned societies, the active reformer of agriculture—and "utterly unscrupulous" in his pursuit of control and profit. In his politics, Loveden may well have claimed "disinterested independence", but this seems to have been at least at times, disingenuous. His ambition for power seems to have been betrayed by the egregiousness of his purported disinterest, for it is hard to imagine Loveden would have involved himself in the world of power had he felt no temptation for it. In his relationships with women, Loveden seems to have been haunted by his failures of control. When Anne found her own amusements Loveden seems to have been involved in the precipitation of that infidelity, absent about his public duties while she was asserting her desire for criminal abandon at home.

At Buscot Park Loveden displayed his taste and his control over landscaped nature in a very direct fashion. In the opulence of the house, the control of the landscaping, the barred fish house, and the use of water in the mimicked freedom, Buscot Park demonstrated the labour Loveden expended to subjugate nature. Each demonstrated his identity as an enlightened gentleman, each was a fiction of enlightened self-interest. But when Loveden was checked in his desires for prosperous, self-interested control, his uncontrolled rage was considerable—as the divorce proceedings and the Thames and Severn Canal's defaced minute book testify. Loveden may have enjoyed and been flattered by the nickname Old Father Thames, but his paternal authority seems to have been less than disinterested and to have been desperate for the satisfaction of his own wants, to prevent the "robbery" of.. .his own self.

A principled man who was unprincipled. A man sometimes a Stoic actively and self-sacrificingly engaged in public life, at other times a Cyrenian seeking to control life and others for his own purposes. As the storm blew him. A man who sought control, according to the needs of his uncontrolled controlling passions. A man, therefore, both extraordinary in public and ordinary inside.

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