Tom Paine’s Biographer – Thomas “Clio” Rickman, 1761- 1834

We’ve been clearing out cupboards, and this cutting from The Times from 27th July 1961 was in a book, in a tea chest full of papers, letters, and photographs. Thomas “Clio” Rickman is a great, great, great, great, great uncle. [The article is in normal font, comments in italics].

Thomas Clio Rickman 1761- 1834

TOM PAINE’S BIOGRAPHER

” CLIO ” RICKMAN, BOOKSELLER, PUBLISHER AND OCCASIONAL POET

FROM A CORRESPONDENT 

Thomas “Clio” Rickman, the intimate friend, publisher and biographer of Thomas Paine, who wrote the second part of the Rights of Man in Rickman’s London house, was born 200 years ago, on July 27, 1761. From 1768 to 1774 Paine lived as an exciseman in Rickman’s native town of Lewes in Sussex. It has been stated in the Dictionary of National Biography that their intimate friendship began in Lewes when both were members of the radical “Head- strong Club “, which met at the White Hart and of which Paine was ” the most obstinate haranguer”. But Rickman was only a lad of 12 when Paine left Lewes for good in 1774, and their close association only began when he returned from America in 1787, by which time Rickman had also left Sussex, though he continued to contribute much occasional verse to the Sussex Weekly Advertiser under the pen-name ” Clio “, which he added later to his real name.

DISOWNED BY RELATIVES.  He had left his native town disowned by his Quaker relatives and with a reputation for “revolutionary habits”. According to E. V. Lucas, who was his great- great-nephew, he was refused admission to a house in the neighbourhood where he had “eight impressionable nieces “. Instead, so the family story goes, their father often entertained him at a local inn. The London house where he lived, as bookseller and publisher, until his death at the age of 73, still stands, though the street has been renamed and renumbered, so that No. 7 Upper Marylebone Street is now No. 154 New Cavendish Street. The upper parts still preserve the original structure.

Tom Paine’s table

It was here, in the seventh house from Cleveland Street, that Tom Paine lodged with Rickman and his family in 1792, “playing at some game in the evening: chess. dominoes, drafts, but never cards” and writing part two of the Rights of Man on a table highly prized by Rickman and furnished by him with a brass plate inscription. The table appears to have been last seen in public at a Thomas Paine Exhibition held in 1896 at the Bradlaugh Institute in Newington Green Road. At that time it belonged to the daring publisher Edward Truelove, of Hornsey. Where is it now ? The late Adrian Brunel, a leading authority on Paine. made many unsuccessful efforts to trace it.

Clio was the youngest son of John Rickman (1715-1789) of The Cliffe, Lewes, by his wife, Elizabeth Peters (unknown -1795). He seems to have been the youngest of eight children; five sons, and three daughters. The twin brothers Richard Peters Rickman (1745-1801), and Joseph Peters Rickman (1745-1810) appear to have had the largest families; with Joe, apparently, having had eleven children, of which five had died in infancy. Richard had at least  at least nine, and possibly as many as sixteen children. I’ve traced nine, of which six were girls.The “eight impressionable nieces ” are probably the daughters of Richard Peters Rickman, because Joe only had, at best, three girls who survived infancy. Elizabeth Rickman (1768-1833) the eldest of theimpressionable nieces ” was the mother-in-law of Elizabeth Howard, whose father Luke Howard was the “Namer of Clouds”, and her granddaughter Elizabeth Hodkin was married to Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of amongst  other buildings, the Natural History Museum, Manchester Town Hall, Strangeways Prison in Manchester, and the National Liberal Club in London, among many other buildings.

“The table highly prized by Rickman”……”Where is it now ? The late Adrian Brunel, a leading authority on Paine made many unsuccessful efforts to trace it.”      The answer to the table is it is is the People’s History Museum in Manchester, beside the River Irwell, about four minutes walk away from the old Granada Studios, and about a mile away from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford where Adrian Brunel’s collection of Thomas Paine memorabilia is kept. Adrian Brunel was a playwright and film director whose career started in the silent era, and reached its peak in the latter half of the 1920s. So close, but still not together.

Edward Verrall Lucas

E. V. Lucas, his great- great-nephew was, according to Wikipedia; Edward Verrall Lucas, CH  (1868 – 1938). He was an English humorist, essayist, playwright, biographer, publisher, poet, novelist, short story writer and editor. He joined the staff of Punch in 1904 and stayed there for the next thirty four years, and also became the chairman of Methuen and Co in 1924.  Rather bizarrely, he seems to have been a Companion of Honour serving at the same time, as amongst others, Winston Churchill, Jan Smuts, Lilian Baylis, John Buchan, Frederick Delius, and Lady Astor. The Verrall in the name is the clue, and his great, great uncle and aunt  must also have been Richard Peters Rickman (1745-1801), and his wife Mary Verrall, or great great great granny and grandpa.

ADDITIONAL PUZZLES There are two further Rickman puzzles which the bicentenary of his birth may be an appropriate moment to discuss. What E. V. Lucas rightly called Clio Rickman’s ” finest poetic achievement “ is the epitaph on the scholarly brewer Thomas Tipper which may be seen, excellently preserved, on his tombstone in Newhaven churchyard. This epitaph was greatly admired by Charles Lamb but, according to Thomas Moore’s account (in his Diary) of the “singular dinner party “ at which he heard Lamb recite it on April 4, 1823, in the presence of Coleridge and Wordsworth. he misquoted the fourth line from the end. What Rickman wrote in 1785 was this: “He played through Life a varied comic part, And knew immortal Hudibras by heart.” Lamb changed the original to this: “He well performed the husband’s, father’s part, And knew immortal Hudibras by heart,”  thus spoiling one of Clio’s best lines.

ODD COINCIDENCE The other conundrum which awaits solution arises from a letter written by Rickman to his friend the surgeon Edward Dixon on December 23, 1829, the original of which has been discovered bound up with the copy of Rickman’s Life of Thomas Paine which now belongs to Mrs. Perceval Lucas, widow of another of Clio’s great- great-nephews, to whom I am indebted for her kindness in showing it to me. In this moving but hurriedly penned letter, Clio appealed to his friend on behalf of a poor man called if I have accurately deciphered the writing, ” Telford “, who was “severely ill “ and whose family, two days before Christmas, were ” literally starving”.  By what is presumably only an odd coincidence, John Rickman, the “inventor” of the census, was an intimate friend of Thomas Telford, the famous engineer, but the poor man for whom Clio was begging Edward Dixon’s “kindness, skill, assistance and friendship” can hardly have been that great and wealthy man. Who then was ” poor Telford “ ?

Mrs. Perceval Lucas, is Edward Lucas’s sister in law, and is a third cousin by marriage, probably three times removed. Perceval Lucas (1879-1916) played an important part in the revival of morris dancing in the early twentieth century, and edited the first two editions of “The Journal of the English Folk Dance Society” in 1914, and 1915. Even so, that didn’t stop him enlisting in 1914, being commissioned in the Infantry in 1915, and dying of his wounds in France in July 1916. Perceval and Madeline Lucas were the models for D.H.Lawrence’s characters Winifred  and Egbert in his short story “England, My England” first published in 1915. ” John Rickman, the ‘inventor’ of the census” is a more distant Rickman cousin we’ll come to separately.

IMPOSING LIST Hardly less puzzling is the fact that in 1803 Clio was able to obtain nearly 600 eminent subscribers for the two volumes of his collected verse, which he modestly but only too truly called Poetical Scraps.

Thomas Jefferson

The imposing list of the eminent, headed by the Prince of Wales and including the President of the United States, and, not least, Mrs. Fitzherbert (who had befriended Rickman when he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 1792) is certainly more enthralling than the very minor verse itself.

Perhaps the most remarkable item is the “free translation” of the “Marseillaise “ which Rickman made in France in 1792 after he had escaped from England and from imprisonment:

Haste, ye noble sons of France

See, the glorious days advance:

Tyrants, and their slavish train,

Raise the bloody flag in vain.

Tuileries gardens

“Occasional” poet seems indeed the apt name for one who admitted having first written his “Picture of Paris ” (” Dirt and splendour here combine, All that’s filthy, all that’s fine “) in pencil on a statue in the Tuileries and an unpleasant attack on Portsmouth with a diamond on an inn window in that “filthy” town itself. In pleasanter vein, some ” pastoral verses “ written at Barcombe Mills on the river near Lewes when he was a boy, go admirably to the tune of  “The Lass of Richmond Hill “, and may well have pleased the then owner of ” Glyndebourne” who was another of Rickman’s distinguished supporters and subscribers.

I rather love the idea of graffitiing poems onto statues, kind of like a poetic Banksy, and also “modestly but only too truly called Poetical Scraps” is a very back-handed compliment, but does make one rather want to seek out the poems.  Maria Fitzherbert (1756-1837) was a mistress of the prince of Wales, and went through a form of marriage to the future Prince Regent on 15 December 1785, in the drawing room of her house in Park Street, Mayfair. She was twenty eight, and twice widowed, he was twenty three. The marriage was considered invalid under the Royal Marriages Act 1772 because it had not been approved by King George III and the Privy Council, and she was a Catholic. The relationship lasted almost ten years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *