link to Talbot Project home page link to De Montfort University home page link to Glasgow University home page
Project Director: Professor Larry J Schaaf

Back to the letter search >

Document number: 2961
Date: 24 Jul 1834
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: ATKINS John
Collection: British Library, London, Manuscripts - Fox Talbot Collection
Collection number historic: LA34-31
Last updated: 1st May 2012


It may appear strange that a person utterly unknown to you, should take the liberty of trespassing upon your multifarious engagements, but I trust an apology will not be deemed necessary, when the sorrows of a Soldier claim your benevolence.

Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur cum illis – sad vicissitudes, <1> Sir, have haplessly marked my career within the last few years, and to the credulous folly of estimating men, by the analogy of my own feelings, I may attribute my first sad reverses of fortune. –

After a long and honorable career of twenty-two years as Captain in two Dragoon Regiments (the 19th and 17th Lancers) the greater part of which time was spent in India, I find myself the victim of credulity, by handing over as a loan, Two Thousand Three Hundred Pounds, to two Half-pay Officers, on a security of chattel property, over which neither possessed ownership, and one farthing either of principal or interest, I have not since received – thus, Sir, has the honor and credulity of a Soldier been his ruin, aye, even to the humiliation that compels my present application –

I am now, Sir, confined here for the non-payment of a Bill of Exchange, accepted by me nearly five years since, for the accommodation of a person who has basely deceived me, and for which Bill I never received any consideration. –

I have been reduced, Sir, from the highest walk in society, to the most destitute and abject condition, and not from any extravagance of mine, but from my willingness to serve my fellow-men – I am sure, Sir, your heart would bleed, if you knew the history of my wrongs and sufferings, and to add to it, I am dragging on a miserable existence in Prison, and thrown into the society of the lowest and worst of men. –

Would, Sir, that the destiny of the all-ruling Providence had directed my death with the same ball with which my Horse fell at the Battle of Assaye in September 1803, under the Duke of Wellington, <2> before every [natal?] feeling of my heart had snapped under the pressure of accumulated sorrow, but yet my last years shall not terminate with a cowardly and inglorious act of self-destruction. –

Happy, Sir, would I have been, had my health permitted me to remain in the Army, but the designs of Providence are inscrutable, and his decrees no earthly wisdom can foresee or withstand. – under [sic] these most distressing circumstances, Sir, I am reluctantly compelled to appeal to the benevolent protectors of injured humanity, to enable me to struggle through difficulties of the most appalling kind – Delicacy forbids the faithful portraiture of my present distress – suffice it to say, Sir, that the smallest donation, (even a few Shillings) would be most gratefully acknowledged, and would satisfy the few hopes of a stranger in the land for which he has bled, but in which distress is likely to effect a fate which would not have been shunned, if it had pleased God to demand such sacrifice in the Field.

It is, Sir, with the deepest regret that I am constrained to the adoption of the present galling mode of relief, having indulged a hope till the frequency of disappointment had rendered it painful that the Government of a Country to which my youthful vigour and hard services since my boyhood had been dedicated in a Foreign Land, would not have refused me some minor occupation, that at last might prevent this outrage on my feelings as a Man and a Soldier, which uncontrolled necessity has forced me to adopt –

I beg to assure you, Sir, that a Soldiers prayers and gratitude, the only offering in my power shall daily mark the sense of my obligation. –

For the truth of my statement as to former Rank, and the facts above detailed, I beg leave most respectfully to refer you to the Honorable Colonel Lincoln Stanhope, my late Commanding Officer – also to the following Officers with whom I have served at home and abroad – [text missing]<3> General Sir I. O. Vandeleur – Colonel Sir A. T. Dalrymp[le,] Colonel Thompson, and Major Fancourt MP. <4> – [I should] not presume, Sir, to address you, could not the respectability of my references testify to my former Rank and Services as an Officer in the 19th and 17th Lancers –

I beg most respectfully to claim your kind indulgence for the liberty I have presumed to take, and humbly relying on your charitable feeling for an old Soldier, to whom the Almighty has afforded this opportunity of a tranquil transeat to the Tomb, I shall anxiously count the moments that must intervene, before you will inspire new hope in a heart nearly corroded by despair –

I have the honor to be Sir Your Most Obedient Humble Servant
John Atkins
late Captain 17th Lancers

Lancaster Castle
24th July 1834

Henry Fox Talbot Esqre M.P.
31 Sackville Street
Lacock Abbey <5>


1. ‘Times change, and let us change with them’. A proverb with medieval origins, which reflects the poetry of Ovid. A slightly different version is attributed to Kaiser Lothar I (795-855): ‘omnia mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis’. ‘Omnia mutantur’ is a famous Latin quote in a well-known passage of Ovid’s Metamorphose (15, 165).

2. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852).

3. Text torn away under seal.

4. Major Charles St. John Fancourt, MP.

5. Readdressed in another hand.