Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Allsop, Thomas

ALLSOP, THOMAS (1795–1880), stockbroker, author, commonly described as the ‘favourite disciple of Coleridge,’ was born 10 April 1795 at Stainsborough Hall, near Wirksworth, Derbyshire, a property which belonged to his grandfather. Allsop was educated at Wirksworth grammar school. Though originally intended to follow his father's profession, an irresistible desire to see more of the world than was possible in a secluded Derbyshire village led him to abandon farming for the experience of London, whither he went at the age of seventeen. There he entered the large silkmercery establishment of his uncle, Mr. Harding, at Waterloo House, Pall Mall, with whom he remained some years. Ultimately he left for the Stock Exchange, where he acquired a moderate competency during the early years of railway construction; he promoted those lines, other things being equal, best calculated to insure the social intercourse of the people. At eighty-two he remembered vividly circumstances occurring when he was but nine years old. Resting at the gate of a large field, half gorse and bog, on the farm of Stainsborough in the autumn of 1804, there came to him an impression that the life he saw around him was as unreal as the scenes of a play. He was not conscious in after days that this experience had any effect upon him, but the course of his inner life seemed coloured by it. Such a man would be naturally attracted to lectures by Coleridge, and he heard those delivered by him in 1818. Struck by the qualities of that remarkable speaker, Allsop addressed a letter to him of such pertinence and suggestiveness, so ‘manly, simple, and correct,’ as Coleridge described it, that he asked to meet the writer, and thereupon grew up an acquaintanceship which lasted all the life of the poet, who became a constant guest at Allsop's house, and maintained an intimacy with him as remarkable as any of the better-known friendships of great men. On the poet's death Allsop published in two volumes his most considerable work, entitled the ‘Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.’ As is often the case with ardent disciples, themselves of independent force of character, Allsop read into his master's mind thoughts which were his own alone, and included in his volumes some things needful to those who would judge of the many-mindedness of Coleridge, but which seemed inconsistent with the general impression of him. These things being alone dwelt upon by the reviews caused the public to remain unacquainted with the many noble and generous thoughts and fine criticisms of Coleridge, which Allsop alone has recorded. It is impossible to read the poet's letters and be insensible to the personal value he set upon Allsop's companionship. Mrs. Allsop, who had great charms of manner and mind, as Coleridge's letters to her show, made her home so attractive to her husband's eminent associates, that it was a favourite resort also of Lamb, Hazlitt, Barry Cornwall, and others of similar mark. The letters of Lamb, no less than those of Coleridge, and the remarks of Talfourd in his ‘Memorials of Lamb,’ testify to a personal estimation of Allsop different from and much higher than that which a man entertains for a mere host, however generous. Allsop's power of seeing forward in public affairs, as well as in things intellectual, was shown in his ‘Budget of Two Taxes only,’ addressed to the then chancellor of the exchequer in 1848. His last work was ‘California and its Gold Mines’ in 1852–3—mines which he during two years personally explored. The book consists of letters addressed to his son Robert, after the manner of his friend Cobbett's letters to his son James. While Allsop's letters display remarkable practical judgment, similar to that of Cobbett on the subject of which he wrote, there is a brightness and vivacity of philosophic reflection in them without parallel in commercial reports. The expression of Allsop's admiration was always a gift which he had the art of making with that rare grace which imparted to the receiver the impression that it was he who conferred the favour by accepting it. And this was true, as Allsop regarded himself as personally indebted to all who, by sacrifice and persistence, made the world wiser and happier, and it was to him of the nature of a duty to acknowledge it by more than mere words. It was this alone that enabled Coleridge and Lamb to accept what Talfourd describes as Allsop's ‘helpful friendship.’ Besides men like Lamb or Robert Owen, who would remain weeks at will, the chief men of thought and action of his day, at home and abroad, were received at his house. He shared the personal friendship of men as dissimilar as Cobbett, Mazzini, and the Emperor of Brazil, who, after a pilgrimage to the grave of Coleridge, sent to Allsop a costly silver urn inscribed with words of personal regard. When Feargus O'Connor was elected member for Nottingham, Allsop gave him his property qualification, then necessary by law, that Chartism might be represented in parliament. Seeing the culpable insensibility of the state to the condition of the people, he, when on a grand jury about 1836, startled London by informing the commissioners at the Old Bailey that he should think it unjust ‘to convict for offences having their origin in misgovernment,’ since society had made the crime. He despaired of amelioration from the influence of the clergy, and, when needing a house in the country, stated in an advertisement that preference would be given to one situated where no church or clergyman was to be found within five miles. Deploring the subjugation of France under the late emperor, he, like Landor, entertained and showed sympathy for Orsini. On the trial of Dr. Bernard for being concerned in what was called the ‘attempt of Orsini,’ it transpired that the shells employed were ordered by Allsop in Birmingham; but as he used no concealment of any kind and gave his name and address openly, it did not appear that he had any other Knowledge than that the shells were intended as an improvement in a weapon of military warfare. The government offered a reward of 500l. for his apprehension, when Mr. G. J. Holyoake and Dr. Langley had an interview with the home secretary, and brought an offer from Mr. Allsop to immediately surrender himself if the reward was paid to them to be applied for the necessary expenses of his defence, as he did not at all object to be tried, but objected to be put to expense without just reason. The reward was withdrawn, and Allsop returned to England. By reason of his friendships, his social position, and his boldness, he was one of the unseen forces of revolution in his day, and his sentiments are instructive. He despised those who willed the end and were so weak as not to will the means; he regarded those as, in a sense, criminal, who willed an end, ignorant of what the means were which alone could compass it. His favourite ideal was the man who was ‘thorough’—who saw the end he aimed at, and who knew the means and meant their employment. He had a perfect scorn for propitiation when a wrong had to be arrested. Without expecting much from violence, he thought it ought to be tried when there was no other remedy. On the night before the famous 10th of April 1848, he, being the most trusted adviser of Feargus O'Connor, wrote to him as follows from the Bull and Mouth hotel, St. Martin's-le-Grand, London: ‘Nothing rashly. The government must be met with calm and firm defiance. Violence may be overcome with violence, but a resolute determination not to submit cannot be overcome. To remain in front, en face of the government, to watch it, to take advantage of its blunders, is the part of an old general who will not be guided like a fish by the tail. Precipitate nothing, yield nothing. Aim not alone to destroy the government, but to render a class government impossible. No hesitation, no rash impulse, no egotism; but an earnest, serious, unyielding progress. Nothing for self, nothing even for fame, present or posthumous. All for the cause. Upon the elevation of your course for the moment will depend the estimation in which you will henceforth be held; and the position you may attain and retain will be second to none of the reformers who have gone before you.’ This was advice beyond the capacity of the receiver. It was to Allsop a sort of duty to the dead who had done something for mankind to testify at their burial the obligation due to them from the living. Not merely at the burial of greatness which he knew before the world discerned it, but at the grave of unregarded but honest heroism, his tall form was to be seen on the outskirts of the throng. He united in an unusual degree personal tenderness to intellectual thoroughness. Yet in these seemingly revolutionary fervours he was all the while a conservative, and only sought the establishment of right and justice. His merit—which is not common—was that he adopted no opinion which he had not himself well thought over, and he expressed none of the truth and relevance of which he was not well assured in his own mind. He died at Exmouth in 1880, and his body was removed to Woking, that his friend George Jacob Holyoake, to whom he left autobiographical papers, might speak at his grave, which could only be done on un-consecrated ground.

[Allsop's Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of S. T. Coleridge; Objections presented to Commissioners at the Old Bailey, 27 Nov. 1836; Budget of Two Taxes only, 1848; California and its Gold Mines, 1852–3; Letters and Writings of Charles Lamb, edited by Percy Fitzgerald, M.A., F.S.A., vol. iii. (1876); Talfourd's Memorials of Charles Lamb; Holyoake's Life of Joseph Rayner Stephens, 1880.]

G. J. H.