Capern, Edward (DNB01)

CAPERN, EDWARD (1819–1894), 'the rural postman of Bideford,' was born at Tiverton on 21 Jan. 1819. His parents were poor, and at eight he commenced to earn his living as a worker in a lace factory. The work tried his eyesight, he was compelled to abandon it during the 'famine' of 1847, and he suffered from privation until he secured the post of rural letter carrier at Bideford, upon wages of 10s. 6d. a week. He now began to write verse for the 'Poet's Corner' of the 'North Devon Journal,' and his poems were soon in great request at county gatherings. In 1856 William Frederick Rock of Barnstaple procured him a body of subscribers, including the names of Landor, Tennyson, Dickens, and Charles Kingsley, and in the same year was issued 'Poems by Edward Capern, Rural Postman of Bideford, Devon' (3rd edit. 1859). The little volume was received with lavish praise in unwonted quarters. Landor praised it in his 'Letters,' Froude eulogised Capern in 'Fraser's,' and the 'Athenæum' spoke no less highly of his work; the book is said to have brought the author over 150l., in addition to an augmentation of salary to 13s. per week. On 23 Nov. 1857 Palmerston bestowed upon him a civil list pension of 40l. (raised to 60l. on 24 Nov. 1865). In 1858 Capern issued his 'Ballads and Songs,' dedicated to (Lady) Burdett Coutts, and in 1862 was published his 'Devonshire Melodist,' a selection from his songs with his own musical airs. In 1865 appeared 'Wayside Warbles,' with portrait and introductory lines addressed to the Countess of Portsmouth (2nd edit. 1870), containing some of his best songs. Three years later he left Marine Gardens, Bideford, and settled at Harborne, near Birmingham, meeting with considerable success as a lecturer in the Midlands.

He returned to Devonshire and settled at Braunton, near Bideford, about 1884. His wife's death in February 1894 proved a great shock to him, and he died on 4 June 1894, and was buried in the churchyard at Heanton, overlooking the beautiful vale of the Torridge. Kingsley warmly praised his poem 'The Seagull,' an imitation of Hogg's 'Bird of the Wilderness.' Landor dedicated to him 'Antony and Octavius,' and always held him in high regard, as did also Elihu Burritt, who saw a great deal of Capern during his stay in England. He had two children, often celebrated in his verse — Milly, who predeceased him, and Charles, who went to America and edited the 'Official Catalogue of the World's Fair' at Chicago in 1894.

[Times, 6 June 1894; Ormond's Recollections of Edward Capern, 1860; Wright's West Country Poets, p. 72; Sunday Magazine, July 1896 (portrait); Academy, 9 June 1894; Fraser's Magazine, April 1856; Biograph, 1879, vol. ii.; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit.]

T. S.