Every knell, the Baron saith, Wakes us up to a world of death—
or something like it. All I mean by this senseless interrupted tale, is, that by my central situation I am a little over-companied. Not that I have any animosity against the good creatures that are so anxious to drive away the harpy solitude from me. I like 'em, and cards, and a cheerful glass; but I mean merely to give you an idea between office confinement and after-office society, how little time I can call my own. I mean only to draw a picture, not to make an inference. I would not that I know of have it otherwise. I only wish sometimes I could exchange some of my faces and voices for the faces and voices which a late visitation brought most welcome, and carried away, leaving regret, but more pleasure, even a kind of gratitude, at being so often favoured with that kind northern visitation. My London faces and noises don't hear me—I mean no disrespect, or I should explain myself, that instead of their return 220 times a year, and the return of W.W., &c., seven times in 104 weeks, some more equal distribution might be found. I have scarce room to put in Mary's kind love, and my poor name ...—goes on lecturing.... I mean to hear some of the course, but lectures are not much to my taste, whatever the lecturer may be. If read, they are dismal flat, and you can't think why you are brought together to hear a man read his works, which you could read so much better at leisure yourself; if delivered extempore, I am always in pain, lest the gift of utterance should suddenly fail the orator in the middle, as it did me at the dinner given in honour of me at the London Tavern. 'Gentlemen,' said I, and there I stopped; the rest my feelings were under the necessity of supplying. Mrs. Wordsworth will go on, kindly haunting us with visions of seeing the lakes once more, which never can be realised. Between us there is a great gulf, not of inexplicable moral antipathies and distances, I hope, as there seemed to be between me and that gentleman concerned in the Stamp Office, that I so strangely recoiled from at Haydon's. I think I had an instinct that he was the head of an office. I hate all such people—accountants' deputy accountants. The dear abstract notion of the East India Company, as long as she is unseen, is pretty, rather poetical; but as she makes herself manifest by the persons of such beasts, I loathe and detest her as the scarlet what-do-you-call-her of Babylon. I thought, after abridging us of all our red-letter days, they had done their worst; but I was deceived in the length to which heads of offices, those true liberty-haters, can go. They are the tyrants; not Ferdinand, nor Nero. By a decree passed this week, they have abridged us of the immemorially-observed custom of going at one o'clock of a Saturday, the little shadow of a holiday left us. Dear W.W., be thankful for liberty.
To SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
The famous pigling
9 March, 1822.
It gives me great satisfaction to hear that the pig turned out so well: they are such interesting creatures at a certain age. What a pity such buds should blow out into the maturity of rank bacon! You had all some of the crackling and brain sauce. Did you remember to rub it with butter, and gently dredge it a little, just before the crisis? Did the eyes come away kindly with no Oedipean avulsion? Was the crackling the colour of the ripe pomegranate? Had you no complement of boiled neck of mutton before it, to blunt the edge of delicate desire? Did you flesh maiden teeth in it? Not that I sent the pig, or can form the remotest guess what part Owen could play in the business. I never knew him give anything away in my life. He would not begin with strangers. I suspect the pig, after all, was meant for me; but at the unlucky juncture of time being absent, the present somehow went round to Highgate. To confess an honest truth, a pig is one of those things which I could never think of sending away. Teal, widgeon, snipes, barn-door fowls, ducks, geese—your tame villatic things—Welsh mutton, collars of brawn, sturgeon, fresh or pickled, your potted char, Swiss cheeses, French pies, early grapes, muscadines, I impart as freely unto my friends as to myself. They are but self extended, but pardon me if I stop somewhere. Where the fine feeling of benevolence giveth a higher smack than the sensual rarity, there my friends (or any good man) may command me; but pigs are pigs, and I myself therein am nearest to myself. Nay, I should think it an affront, an undervaluing done to Nature who bestowed such a boon upon me, if in a churlish mood I parted with the precious gift. One of the bitterest pangs of remorse I ever felt was when a child—when my kind old aunt had strained her pocket-strings to bestow a sixpenny whole plum-cake upon me. In my way home through the Borough I met a venerable old man, not a mendicant, but thereabouts; a look-beggar, not a verbal petitionist; and in the coxcombry of taught charity I gave away the cake to him. I walked on a little in all the pride of an Evangelical peacock, when of a sudden my old aunt's kindness crossed me; the sum it was to her; the pleasure she had a right to expect that I—not the old impostor—should take in eating her cake; the ingratitude by which, under the colour of a Christian virtue, I had frustrated her cherished purpose. I sobbed, wept, and took it to heart so grievously, that I think I never suffered the like; and I was right. It was a piece of unfeeling hypocrisy, and it proved a lesson to me ever after. The cake has long been masticated, consigned to the dunghill with the ashes of that unseasonable pauper. But when Providence, who is better to us than all our aunts, gives me a pig, remembering my temptation and my fall, I shall endeavour to act towards it more in the spirit of the donor's purpose.
Yours (short of pig) to command in every thing.
To BERNARD BARTON
A blessing in disguise
9 Jan. 1823.
'Throw yourself on the world without any rational plan of support, beyond what the chance employ of booksellers would afford you'!!!
Throw yourself rather, my dear sir, from the steep Tarpeian rock, slap-dash headlong upon iron spikes. If you have but five consolatory minutes between the desk and the bed, make much of them, and live a century in them, rather than turn slave to the booksellers. They are Turks and Tartars when they have poor authors at their beck. Hitherto you have been at arm's length from them. Come not within their grasp. I have known many authors want for bread, some repining, others envying the blessed security of a counting-house, all agreeing they had rather have been tailors, weavers—what not? rather than the things they were. I have known some starved, some to go mad, one dear friend literally dying in a workhouse. You know not what a rapacious, dishonest set these booksellers are. Ask even Southey, who (a single case almost) has made a fortune by book-drudgery, what he has found them. Oh, you know not, may you never know, the miseries of subsisting by authorship! 'Tis a pretty appendage to a situation like yours or mine; but a slavery, worse than all slavery, to be a bookseller's dependant, to drudge your brains for pots of ale, and breasts of mutton, to change your FREE THOUGHTS and VOLUNTARY NUMBERS for ungracious TASK-WORK. Those fellows hate us. The reason I take to be, that contrary to other trades, in which the master gets all the credit (a jeweller or silversmith for instance,) and the journeyman, who really does the fine work, is in the background: in our work the world gives all the credit to us, whom they consider as their journeymen, and therefore do they hate us, and cheat us, and oppress us, and would wring the blood of us out, to put another sixpence in their mechanic pouches!...
Keep to your bank, and the bank will keep you. Trust not to the public; you may hang, starve, drown yourself, for anything that worthy personage cares. I bless every star, that Providence, not seeing good to make me independent, has seen it next good to settle me upon the stable foundation of Leadenhall. Sit down, good B.B., in the banking-office: what! is there not from six to eleven p.m. six days in the week, and is there not all Sunday? Fie, what a superfluity of man's time, if you could think so! Enough for relaxation, mirth, converse, poetry, good thoughts, quiet thoughts. O the corroding, torturing, tormenting thoughts, that disturb the brain of the unlucky wight who must draw upon it for daily sustenance! Henceforth I retract all my fond complaints of mercantile employment; look upon them as lover's quarrels. I was but half in earnest. Welcome dead timber of the desk, that makes me live. A little grumbling is a wholesome medicine for the spleen, but in my inner heart do I approve and embrace this our close, but unharassing way of life. I am quite serious. If you can send me Fox, I will not keep it six weeks, and will return it, with warm thanks to yourself and friend, without blot or dog's-ear. You will much oblige me by this kindness.
TO THE SAME
9 Jan. 1824.
Do you know what it is to succumb under an insurmountable day-mare,—'a whoreson lethargy', Falstaff calls it,—an indisposition to do anything, or to be anything,—a total deadness and distaste,—a suspension of vitality,—an indifference to locality,—a numb, soporifical, good-for-nothingness,—an ossification all over,—an oyster-like insensibility to the passing events,—a mind-stupor,—a brawny defiance to the needles of a thrusting-in conscience? Did you ever have a very bad cold, with a total irresolution to submit to water-gruel processes? This has been for many weeks my lot, and my excuse; my fingers drag heavily over this paper, and to my thinking it is three-and-twenty furlongs from here to the end of this demi-sheet. I have not a thing to say; no thing is of more importance than another; I am flatter than a denial or a pancake; emptier than Judge ——'s wig when the head is in it; duller than a country stage when the actors are off it; a cipher, an O! I acknowledge life at all, only by an occasional convulsional cough, and a permanent phlegmatic pain in the chest. I am weary of the world; life is weary of me. My day is gone into twilight, and I don't think it worth the expense of candles. My wick hath a thief in it, but I can't muster courage to snuff it. I inhale suffocation; I can't distinguish veal from mutton; nothing interests me. 'Tis twelve o'clock, and Thurtell is just now coming out upon the New Drop, Jack Ketch alertly tucking up his greasy sleeves to do the last office of mortality, yet cannot I elicit a groan or a moral reflection. If you told me the world will be at an end to-morrow, I should just say, 'Will it?' I have not volition enough left to dot my i's, much less to comb my eyebrows; my eyes are set in my head; my brains are gone out to see a poor relation in Moorflelds, and they did not say when they'd come back again; my skull is a Grub Street attic to let—not so much as a joint stool left in it; my hand writes, not I, from habit, as chickens run about a little, when their heads are off. O for a vigorous fit of gout, colic, toothache,—an earwig in my auditory, a fly in my visual organs; pain is life—the sharper, the more evidence of life; but this apathy, this death! Did you ever have an obstinate cold,—a six or seven weeks' unintermitting chill and suspension of hope, fear, conscience, and every thing? Yet do I try all I can to cure it; I try wine, and spirits, and smoking, and snuff in unsparing quantities, but they all only seem to make me worse instead of better. I sleep in a damp room, but it does me no good; I come home late o' nights, but do not find any visible amendment!...
It is just fifteen minutes after twelve; Thurtell is by this time a good way on his journey, baiting at Scorpion perhaps; Ketch is bargaining for his cast coat and waistcoat; the Jew demurs at first at three half-crowns, but, on consideration that he may get somewhat by showing 'em in the town, finally closes.
To Miss Sarah Stoddart
Tuesday night [Jan. 1808].
MY DEAR LOVE,
Above a week has passed, and I have received no letter—not one of those letters 'in which I live, or have no life at all'. What is become of you? Are you married, hearing that I was dead (for so it has been reported)? Or are you gone into a nunnery? Or are you fallen in love with some of the amorous heroes of Boccaccio? Which of them is it? Is it with Chynon, who was transformed from a clown into a lover, and learned to spell by the force of beauty? Or with Lorenzo, the lover of Isabella, whom her three brethren hated (as your brother does me), who was a merchant's clerk? Or with Federigo Alberigi, an honest gentleman, who ran through his fortune, and won his mistress by cooking a fair falcon for her dinner, though it was the only means he had left of getting a dinner for himself? This last is the man; and I am the more persuaded of it, because I think I won your good liking myself by giving you an entertainment—of sausages, when I had no money to buy them with. Nay now, never deny it! Did I not ask your consent that very night after, and did you not give it? Well, I should be confoundedly jealous of those fine gallants, if I did not know that a living dog is better than a dead lion; though, now I think of it, Boccaccio does not in general make much of his lovers: it is his women who are so delicious. I almost wish I had lived in those times, and had been a little more amiable. Now if a woman had written the book, it would not have had this effect upon me: the men would have been heroes and angels, and the women nothing at all. Isn't there some truth in that? Talking of departed loves, I met my old flame the other day in the street. I did dream of her one night since, and only one: every other night I have had the same dream I have had for these two months past. Now, if you are at all reasonable, this will satisfy you.
Thursday morning. The book is come. When I saw it I thought you had sent it back in a huff, tired out by my sauciness, and coldness, and delays, and were going to keep an account of dimities and sayes, or to salt pork and chronicle small beer as the dutiful wife of some fresh-looking, rural swain; so that you cannot think how surprised and pleased I was to find them all done. I liked your note as well or better than the extracts; it is just such a note as such a nice rogue as you ought to write after the provocation you had received. I would not give a pin for a girl 'whose cheeks never tingle', nor for myself if I could not make them tingle sometimes. Now, though I am always writing to you about 'lips and noses', and such sort of stuff, yet as I sit by my fireside (which I do generally eight or ten hours a day), I oftener think of you in a serious, sober light. For, indeed, I never love you so well as when I think of sitting down with you to dinner on a boiled scrag-end of mutton, and hot potatoes. You please my fancy more then than when I think of you in—no, you would never forgive me if I were to finish the sentence. Now I think of it, what do you mean to be dressed in when we are married? But it does not much matter! I wish you would let your hair grow; though perhaps nothing will be better than 'the same air and look with which at first my heart was took'. But now to business. I mean soon to call upon your brother in form, namely, as soon as I get quite well, which I hope to do in about another fortnight; and then I hope you will come up by the coach as fast as the horses can carry you, for I long mightily to be in your ladyship's presence—to vindicate my character. I think you had better sell the small house, I mean that at 4.10, and I will borrow L100. So that we shall set off merrily in spite of all the prudence of Edinburgh. Goodbye, little dear!
TO HIS SON
Marriage, and the choice of a profession
... If you ever marry, I would wish you to marry the woman you like. Do not be guided by the recommendations of friends. Nothing will atone for or overcome an original distaste. It will only increase from intimacy; and if you are to live separate, it is better not to come together. There is no use in dragging a chain through life, unless it binds one to the object we love. Choose a mistress from among your equals. You will be able to understand her character better, and she will be more likely to understand yours. Those in an inferior station to yourself will doubt your good intentions, and misapprehend your plainest expressions. All that you swear is to them a riddle or downright nonsense. You cannot by any possibility translate your thoughts into their dialect. They will be ignorant of the meaning of half you say, and laugh at the rest. As mistresses, they will have no sympathy with you; and as wives, you can have none with them.
Women care nothing about poets, or philosophers, or politicians. They go by a man's looks and manner. Richardson calls them 'an eye-judging sex'; and I am sure he knew more about them than I can pretend to do. If you run away with a pedantic notion that they care a pin's point about your head or your heart, you will repent it too late....
If I were to name one pursuit rather than another, I should wish you to be a good painter, if such a thing could be hoped. I have failed in this myself, and should wish you to be able to do what I have not—to paint like Claude, or Rembrandt, or Guido, or Vandyke, if it were possible. Artists, I think, who have succeeded in their chief object, live to be old, and are agreeable old men. Their minds keep alive to the last. Cosway's spirits never flagged till after ninety; and Nollekens, though nearly blind, passed all his mornings in giving directions about some group or bust in his workshop. You have seen Mr. Northcote, that delightful specimen of the last age. With what avidity he takes up his pencil, or lays it down again to talk of numberless things! His eye has not lost its lustre, nor 'paled its ineffectual fire'. His body is but a shadow: he himself is a pure spirit. There is a kind of immortality about this sort of ideal and visionary existence that dallies with Fate and baffles the grim monster, Death. If I thought you could make as clever an artist, and arrive at such an agreeable old age as Mr. Northcote, I should declare at once for your devoting yourself to this enchanting profession; and in that reliance, should feel less regret at some of my own disappointments, and little anxiety on your account!
To CHARLES COWDEN CLARKE
The Life of Napoleon
7 Dec. .
I thought all the world agreed with me at present that Buonaparte was better than the Bourbons, or that a tyrant was better than tyranny. In my opinion, no one of an understanding above the rank of a lady's waiting-maid could ever have doubted this, though I alone said it ten years ago. It might be impolicy then and now for what I know, for the world stick to an opinion in appearance long after they have given it up in reality. I should like to know whether the preface is thought impolitic by some one who agrees with me in the main point, or by some one who differs with me and makes this excuse not to have his opinion contradicted? In Paris (jubes regina renovare dolorem) the preface was thought a masterpiece, the best and only possible defence of Buonaparte, and quite new there! It would be an impertinence in me to write a Life of Buonaparte after Sir W. without some such object as that expressed in the preface. After all, I do not care a damn about the preface. It will get me on four pages somewhere else. Shall I retract my opinion altogether, and forswear my own book? Rayner is right to cry out: I think I have tipped him fair and foul copy, a lean rabbit and a fat one. The remainder of vol. ii will be ready to go on with, but not the beginning of the third. The appendixes had better be at the end of the second vol. Pray get them if you can: you have my Sieyes, have you not? One of them is there. I have been nearly in the other world. My regret was 'to die and leave the world "rough" copy'. Otherwise I had thought of an epitaph and a good end. Hic jacent reliquiae mortales Gulielmi Hazlitt, auctoris non intelligibilis: natus Maidstoniae in comi [ta] tu Cantiae, Apr. 10, 1778. Obiit Winterslowe, Dec., 1827. I think of writing an epistle to C. Lamb, Esq., to say that I have passed near the shadowy world, and have had new impressions of the vanity of this, with hopes of a better. Don't you think this would be good policy? Don't mention it to the severe author of the 'Press', a poem, but me thinks the idea arridet Hone. He would give sixpence to see me floating, upon a pair of borrowed wings, half way between heaven and earth, and edifying the good people at my departure, whom I shall only scandalize by remaining. At present my study and contemplation is the leg of a stewed fowl. I have behaved like a saint, and been obedient to orders.
Non fit pugil, &c., I got a violent spasm by walking fifteen miles in the mud, and getting into a coach with an old lady who would have the window open. Delicacy, moderation, complaisance, the suaviter in modo, whisper it about, my dear Clarke, these are my faults and have been my ruin.
To JOSEPH SEVERN
A belated letter
Vale of Health, Hampstead, 8 March, 1821
You have concluded, of course, that I have sent no letters to Rome, because I was aware of the effect they would have on Keats's mind; and this is the principal cause; for, besides what I have been told about letters in Italy, I remember his telling me upon one occasion that, in his sick moments, he never wished to receive another letter, or ever to see another face, however friendly. But still I should have written to you, had I not been almost at death's door myself. You will imagine how ill I have been, when you hear that I have but just begun writing again for the Examiner and Indicator, after an interval of several months, during which my flesh wasted from me with sickness and melancholy. Judge how often I thought of Keats, and with what feelings. Mr. Brown tells me he is comparatively calm now, or rather quite so. If he can bear to hear of us, pray tell him; but he knows it already, and can put it in better language than any man. I hear that he does not like to be told that he may get better; nor is it to be wondered at, considering his firm persuasion that he shall not survive. He can only regard it as a puerile thing, and an insinuation that he shall die. But if his persuasion should happen to be no longer so strong, or if he can now put up with attempts to console him, of what I have said a thousand times, and what I still (upon my honour) think always, that I have seen too many instances of recovery from apparently desperate cases of consumption not to be in hope to the very last. If he still cannot bear this, tell him—tell that great poet and noble-hearted man—that we shall all bear his memory in the most precious part of our hearts, and that the world shall bow their heads to it, as our loves do. Or if this, again, will trouble his spirit, tell him that we shall never cease to remember and love him; and that, Christian or infidel, the most sceptical of us has faith enough in the high things that nature puts into our heads, to think all who are of one accord in mind or heart are journeying to one and the same place, and shall unite somewhere or other again, face to face, mutually conscious, mutually delighted. Tell him he is only before us on the road, as he is in everything else; or, whether you tell him the latter or no, tell him the former, and add that we shall never forget that he was so, and that we are coming after him. The tears are again in my eyes, and I must not afford to shed them. The next letter I write shall be more to yourself, and more refreshing to your spirits, which we are very sensible must have been greatly taxed. But whether your friend dies or not, it will not be among the least lofty of your recollections by-and-by that you helped to smooth the sick-bed of so fine a being. God bless you, dear Severn.
[Footnote 1: Keats died in February.]
To PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
Outpourings of gratitude
Stonehouse, near Plymouth, 26 March, 1822.
MY DEAREST FRIEND,
Your letters always contain something delightful to me, whatever news they bring.
Surgit amici aliquid, quod in ipsis nubibus ardet.
But I confess your latter ones have greatly relieved me on the subject you speak of. They only make me long, with an extreme Homeric longing, to be at Pisa,—I mean such an one as Achilles felt when he longed to be with his father,—sharp in his very limbs. We have secured a ship, the David Walter, which will call for us here, and sets sail from London in a fortnight. I have written by to-day's post with intelligence of it to Mrs. Fletcher, enclosing her the letter, and giving her the option of going on board in London, or here. I need not say we shall attend to her comforts in every respect. The same post also carries a letter to Mr. Gisborne, stating your wishes, and wonders respecting Adonais. If it is not published before I leave England, I will publish my criticism upon the Pisa copy,—a criticism which I think you will like. I take the opportunity of showing the public why Gifford's review spoke so bitterly of Prometheus, and why it pretends that the most metaphysical passage of your most metaphysical poem is a specimen of the clearness of your general style. The wretched priest-like cunning and undertoned malignity of that review of Prometheus is indeed a homage paid to qualities which can so provoke it. The Quarterly pretends now, that it never meddles with you personally,—of course it never did! For this, Blackwood cries out upon it, contrasting its behaviour in those delicate matters with its own! This is better and better, and the public seem to think so; for these things, depend upon it, are getting better understood every day, and shall be better and better understood every day to come. One circumstance which helps to reconcile me to having been detained on this coast, is the opportunity it has given me to make your works speak for themselves wherever I could; and you are in high lustre, I assure you, with the most intelligent circles in Plymouth, [Greek: astaer epsos]. I have, indeed, been astonished to find how well prepared people of intelligence are to fall in with your aspirations, and despise the mistakes and rascally instincts of your calumniators. This place, for instance, abounds in schoolmasters, who appear, to a man, to be liberal to an extreme and esoterical degree. And such, there is reason to believe, is the case over the greater part of the kingdom, greatly, no doubt, owing to political causes. Think of the consequences of this with the rising generation. I delight in Adonais. It is the most Delphic poetry I have seen a long while; full of those embodyings of the most subtle and airy imaginations,—those arrestings and explanations of the most shadowy yearnings of our being—which are the most difficult of all things to put into words, and the most delightful when put. I do not know whether you are aware how fond I am of your song on the Skylark; but you ought, if Ollier sent you a copy of the enlarged Calendar of Nature, which he published separately under the title of the Months. I tell you this, because I have not done half or a twentieth part of what I ought to have done to make your writings properly appreciated. But I intended to do more every day, and now that I am coming to you, I shall be totus in you and yours! For all good, and healthy, and industrious things, I will do such wonders, that I shall begin to believe I make some remote approach to something like a return for your kindness. Yet how can that be? At all events, I hope we shall all be the better for one another's society. Marianne, poor dear girl, is still very ailing and weak, but stronger upon the whole, she thinks, than when she first left London, and quite prepared and happy to set off on her spring voyage. She sends you part of her best love. I told her I supposed I must answer Marina's letter for her, but she is quite grand on the occasion, and vows she will do it herself, which, I assure you, will be the first time she has written a letter for many months. Ask Marina if she will be charitable, and write one to me. I will undertake to answer it with one double as long. But what am I talking about, when the captain speaks of sailing in a fortnight? I was led astray by her delightful letter to Marianne about walks, and duets, and violets, and ladies like violets. Am I indeed to see and be in the midst of all these beautiful things, ladies like lilies not excepted? And do the men in Italy really leave ladies to walk in those very amiable dry ditches by themselves? Oh! for a few strides, like those of Neptune, when he went from some place to some other place, and 'did it in three!' Dear Shelley, I am glad my letter to Lord B. pleased you, though I do not know why you should so thank me for it. But you are ingenious in inventing claims for me upon your affection.
To HORACE SMITH
Pisa, 25 July, 1822.
I trust that the first news of the dreadful calamity which has befallen us here will have been broken to you by report, otherwise I shall come upon you with a most painful abruptness; but Shelley, my divine-minded friend, your friend, the friend of the universe, he has perished at sea. He was in a boat with his friend Captain Williams, going from Leghorn to Lerici, when a storm arose, and it is supposed the boat must have foundered. It was on the 8th instant, about four or five in the evening, they guess. A fisherman says he saw the boat a few minutes before it went down: he looked again and it was gone. He saw the boy they had with them aloft furling one of the sails. We hope his story is true, as their passage from life to death will then have been short; and what adds to the hope is, that in S's pocket (for the bodies were both thrown on shore some days afterwards,—conceive our horrible certainty, after trying all we could to hope!) a copy of Keats's last volume, which he had borrowed of me to read on his passage, was found open and doubled back as if it had been thrust in, in the hurry of a surprise. God bless him! I cannot help thinking of him as if he were alive as much as ever, so unearthly he always appeared to me, and so seraphical a thing of the elements; and this is what all his friends say. But what we all feel, your own heart will tell you....
It has been often feared that Shelley and Captain Williams would meet with some accident, they were so hazardous; but when they set out on the 8th, in the morning it was fine. Our dear friend was passionately fond of the sea, and has been heard to say he should like it to be his death-bed....
To MRS. PROCTER
Accepting an invitation
5 York Buildings, 13 March .
MY DEAR MRS. PROCTER (for Madam, somehow, is not the thing),
I am most pleased to be reminded of my promise, which I must have made if you say I did. I suppose I have been coming to keep it ever since; but it is a long road from sorrow to joy, and one is apt to get confused on the road. Do you know your letter brought the tears into my eyes? I hardly know why, unless it was that I saw Procter had been pouring his kind heart into yours, and you said:—'We must have him here instead of the coffee-house, and plant him by the fire, and warm him like a stray bird till he sings.' But indeed a kind word affects me where many a hard thump does not. Nevertheless, you must not tell this, except to the very masculine or feminine; though if you do not take it as a compliment to yourself,—I mean the confession of my weakness,—why, you are not Procter's wife, nor Mrs. Montagu's daughter, nor she who wrote the letter this morning to a poor battered author.
PS. I eat any plain joint, of the plainer order, beef or mutton:—and you know I care for nothing at dinner, so that it does not hurt me. Friends' company is the thing.
To A FRIEND
Offence and punishment
Wimbledon, 11 and 12 August, 1846.
... I find I made a great confusion of my portion of the legal expenses incurred by the Examiner, with the whole of them. That portion only amounted to L750, the whole being L1500. Of this L750 out of my pocket (which was quite enough), L250 went to pay for expenses (counsel, &c.) attendant on the failure of two Government prosecutions,—one for saying (totidem verbis) that 'of all monarchs since the Revolution, the successor of George III would have the finest opportunity of becoming nobly popular'; (think, nowadays, of being prosecuted for that!) and the other for copying from the Stamford News the paragraph against military flogging, alluded to the other day in the Daily News. (Think, now, this moment, of being prosecuted for That!) The L500 fine and two years' imprisonment was for ludicrously contrasting the Morning Post's picture of the Regent as an 'Adonis', &c. with the old and real fat state of the case, and for adding that his Royal Highness had lived for 'upwards of half a century without doing anything to deserve the admiration of his contemporaries or the gratitude of posterity'. Words to that effect, and I believe better,—but I do not quite remember them. They might be easily ascertained by reference to Peel's Coffee-house, and the words of the Post, too.
Besides the fine, my imprisonment cost me several hundred pounds (I can't exactly say how many) in monstrous douceurs to the gaoler for liberty to walk in the garden, for help towards getting me permission to fit up rooms in the sick hospital, and for fitting up said rooms, or rather converting them from sorts of washhouses, hitherto uninhabited and unfloored, into comfortable apartments,—which I did too expensively,—at least as far as papering the sitting-room with a trellis of roses went, and having my ceiling painted to imitate an out-of-door sky. No notice, however, could be taken, I suppose, of any of this portion of the expenses, governments having nothing to do with the secret corruptions of gaolers or the pastorals of incarcerated poets: otherwise the prosecutions cost me altogether a good bit beyond a thousand pounds.
But perhaps it might be mentioned that I went to prison from all but a sick bed, having been just ordered by the physician to go to the seaside, and ride for the benefit of my health (pleasing dramatic contrast to the verdict!). I also declined, as I told you, to try avoiding the imprisonment by the help of Perry's offer of the famous secret 'Book'; and I further declined (as I think I also told you) to avail myself of an offer on the part of a royal agent (made, of course, in the guarded, though obvious manner in which such offers are conveyed), to drop the prosecution, provided we would agree to drop all future hostile mention of the Regent. But of this, too, governments could not be expected to take notice—perhaps would regard it as an addition to the offence. This, however, I must add, that the whole attack on the Regent was owing, not merely to the nonsense of the Post, but to his violation of those promises of conceding the Catholic claims, to which his princely word stood pledged. The subject of the article was the 'Dinner on St. Patrick's day'. All the Whig world was indignant at that violation; so were the Irish, of course, vehemently; and it was on the spur of this publicly indignant movement that I wrote what I did,—as angrily and as much in earnest in the serious part of what I said as I was derisive in the rest. I did not care for any factious object, nor was I what is called anti-monarchical. I didn't know Cobbett, or Henry Hunt, or any demagogue, even by sight, except Sir Francis Burdett, and him by sight alone. Nor did I ever see, or speak a word with them, afterwards. I knew nothing, in fact, of politics themselves, except in some of those large and, as it appeared to me, obvious phases, which, at all events, have since become obvious to most people, and in fighting for which (if a man can be said to fight for a 'phase'!) I suffered all that Tories could inflict upon me,—by expenses in law and calumnies in literature;—reform, Catholic claims, free trade, abolition of flogging, right of free speech, as opposed by attorneys-general. I was, in fact, all the while nothing but a poetic student, appearing in politics once a week, but given up entirely to letters almost all the rest of it, and loving nothing so much as a book and a walk in the fields. I was precisely the sort of person, in these respects, which I am at this moment. As to George the Fourth, I aided, years afterwards, in publicly wishing him well—'years having brought the philosophic mind'. I believe I even expressed regret at not having given him the excuses due to all human beings (the passage, I take it, is in the book which Colburn called Lord Byron and his Contemporaries); and when I consider that Moore has been pensioned, not only in spite of all his libels on him, but perhaps by very reason of their Whig partisanship, I should think it hard to be refused a pension purely because I openly suffered for what I had earnestly said. I knew George the Fourth's physician, Sir William Knighton, who had been mine before I was imprisoned (it was not he who was the royal agent alluded to); and, if my memory does not deceive me, Sir William told me that George had been gratified by the book above mentioned. Perhaps he had found out, by Sir William's help, that I was not an ill-natured man, or one who could not outlive what was mistaken in himself or resentful in others. As to my opinions about Governments, the bad conduct of the Allies, and of Napoleon, and the old Bourbons, certainly made them waver as to what might be ultimately best, monarchy or republicanism; but they ended in favour of their old predilections; and no man, for a long while, has been less a republican than myself, monarchies and courts appearing to me salutary for the good and graces of mankind, and Americanisms anything but either. But nobody, I conceive, that knew my writings, or heard of me truly from others, ever took me for a republican. William the Fourth saw or heard nothing of me to hinder his letting Lord Melbourne give me L200 out of the Royal Fund. Queen Victoria gave me another, through the same kind friend. She also went twice to see my play; and everybody knows how I praise and love her. I do not think, therefore, in reference to the pension, that the public would care twopence about George the Fourth, one way or the other; or that if any remembered the case at all, they would connect the pension in the least with anything about him, but attribute it solely to the Queen's and Minister's goodness, and the wants of a sincere and not undeserving man of letters, distinguished for his loyal attachment. I certainly think the L500 fine ought not to have been taken out of my pocket, or the other two L125 either; and I think also, that a liberal Whig minister might reasonably and privately think some compensation on those accounts due to me. I have been fighting his own fight from first to last, and helping to prepare matters for his triumph. But still the above, in my opinion, is what the public would think of the matter, and my friends of the press could lay it entirely to the literary account.
GEORGE GORDON NOEL, LORD BYRON
To MR. HODGSON
Travel in Portugal
Lisbon, 16 July, 1809.
Thus far have we pursued our route, and seen all sorts of marvellous sights, palaces, convents, &c.,—which, being to be heard in my friend Hobhouse's forthcoming Book of Travels, I shall not anticipate by smuggling any account whatsoever to you in a private and clandestine manner. I must just observe, that the village of Cintra in Estremadura is the most beautiful, perhaps, in the world.
I am very happy here, because I loves oranges, and talks bad Latin to the monks, who understand it, as it is like their own,—and I goes into society (with my pocket pistols), and I swims in the Tagus all across at once, and I rides on an ass or a mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got bites from the mosquitoes. But what of that? Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a-pleasuring.
When the Portuguese are pertinacious, I say 'Carracho!'—the great oath of the grandees, that very well supplies the place of 'Damme!'—and when dissatisfied with my neighbour, I pronounce him 'Ambra di merdo'. With these two phrases, and a third,'Avra bouro', which signifieth 'Get an ass', I am universally understood to be a person of degree and a master of languages. How merrily we lives that travellers be!—if we had food and raiment. But, in sober sadness, anything is better than England, and I am infinitely amused with my pilgrimage, as far as it has gone.
To-morrow we start to ride post near 400 miles as far as Gibraltar, where we embark for Melita and Byzantium. A letter to Malta will find me, or to be forwarded, if I am absent. Pray embrace the Drury and Dwyer, and all the Ephesians you encounter. I am writing with Butler's donative pencil, which makes my bad hand worse. Excuse illegibility.
Hodgson! send me the news, and the deaths and defeats and capital crimes and the misfortunes of one's friends; and let us hear of literary matters, and the controversies and the criticisms. All this will be pleasant—'Suave mari magno, &c.' Talking of that, I have been sea-sick, and sick of the sea. Adieu.
TO THOMAS MOORE
Announces his engagement
Newstead Abbey, 20 Sept. 1814.
Here's to her who long Hath waked the poet's sigh! The girl who gave to song What gold could never buy.
MY DEAR MOORE,
I am going to be married—that is, I am accepted, and one usually hopes the rest will follow. My mother of the Gracchi (that are to be), you think too strait-laced for me, although the paragon of only children, and invested with 'golden opinions of all sorts of men', and full of 'most blest conditions' as Desdemona herself. Miss Milbanke is the lady, and I have her father's invitation to proceed there in my elect capacity,—which, however, I cannot do until I have settled some business in London, and got a blue coat.
She is said to be an heiress, but of that I really know nothing certainly, and shall not inquire. But I do know, that she has talents and excellent qualities; and you will not deny her judgement, after having refused six suitors and taken me.
Now, if you have anything to say against this, pray do; my mind's made up, positively fixed, determined, and therefore I will listen to reason, because now it can do no harm. Things may occur to break it off, but I will hope not. In the meantime I tell you (a secret, by the by,—at least till I know she wishes it to be public) that I have proposed and am accepted. You need not be in a hurry to wish me joy, for one mayn't be married for months. I am going to town to-morrow, but expect to be here, on my way there, within a fortnight.
If this had not happened, I should have gone to Italy. In my way down, perhaps you will meet me at Nottingham, and come over with me here. I need not say that nothing will give me greater pleasure. I must, of course, reform thoroughly; and, seriously, if I can contribute to her happiness, I shall secure my own. She is so good a person that—that—in short, I wish I was a better.
TO JOHN MURRAY
No bid for sweet voices
Venice, 6 April, 1819.
The second canto of Don Juan was sent, on Saturday last, by post, in four packets, two of four, and two of three sheets each, containing in all two hundred and seventeen stanzas, octave measure. But I will permit no curtailments.... You shan't make canticles of my cantos. The poem will please, if it is lively; if it is stupid, it will fail; but I will have none of your damned cutting and slashing. If you please, you may publish anonymously; it will perhaps be better; but I will battle my way against them all, like a porcupine.
So you and Mr. Foscolo, etc., want me to undertake what you call a 'great work'? an Epic Poem, I suppose or some such pyramid. I'll try no such thing; I hate tasks. And then 'seven or eight years'! God send us all well this day three months, let alone years. If one's years can't be better employed than in sweating poesy, a man had better be a ditcher. And works, too!—is Childe Harold nothing? You have so many 'divine' poems, is it nothing to have written a human one? without any of your worn-out machinery. Why, man, I could have spun the thoughts of the four cantos of that poem into twenty, had I wanted to book-make, and its passion into as many modern tragedies. Since you want length, you shall have enough of Juan, for I'll make fifty cantos....
Besides, I mean to write my best work in Italian, and it will take me nine years more thoroughly to master the language; and then if my fancy exist, and I exist too, I will try what I can do really. As to the estimation of the English which you talk of, let them calculate what it is worth, before they insult me with their insolent condescension.
I have not written for their pleasure. If they are pleased, it is that they chose to be so; I have never flattered their opinions, nor their pride; nor will I. Neither will I make 'Ladies' books' 'al dilettar le femine e la plebe'. I have written from the fullness of my mind, from passion, from impulse, from many motives, but not for their 'sweet voices'.
I know the precise worth of popular applause, for few scribblers have had more of it; and if I chose to swerve into their paths, I could retain it, or resume it. But I neither love ye, nor fear ye; and though I buy with ye and sell with ye, and talk with ye, I will neither eat with ye, drink with ye, nor pray with ye. They made me, without my search, a species of popular idol; they, without reason or judgement, beyond the caprice of their good pleasure, threw down the image from its pedestal; it was not broken with the fall, and they would, it seems, again replace it,—but they shall not.
You ask about my health: about the beginning of the year I was in a state of great exhaustion ... and I was obliged to reform my 'way of life', which was conducting me from the 'yellow leaf' to the ground, with all deliberate speed. I am better in health and morals, and very much yours, &c.—
PS. I have read Hodgson's 'Friends'. He is right in defending Pope against the bastard pelicans of the poetical winter day, who add insult to their parricide, by sucking the blood of the parent of English real poetry,—poetry without fault,—and then spurning the bosom which fed them.
TO THE SAME
The cemetery at Bologna
Bologna, 7 June, 1819.
... I have been picture-gazing this morning at the famous Domenichino and Guido, both of which are superlative. I afterwards went to the beautiful cemetery of Bologna, beyond the walls, and found, besides the superb burial-ground, an original of a Custode, who reminded me of the grave-digger in Hamlet. He has a collection of capuchins' skulls, labelled on the forehead, and taking down one of them, said, 'This was Brother Desiderio Berro, who died at forty—one of my best friends. I begged his head of his brethren after his decease, and they gave it me. I put it in lime, and then boiled it. Here it is, teeth and all, in excellent preservation. He was the merriest, cleverest fellow I ever knew. Wherever he went, he brought joy; and whenever any one was melancholy, the sight of him was enough to make him cheerful again. He walked so actively, you might have taken him for a dancer—he joked—he laughed—oh! he was such a Frate as I never saw before, nor ever shall again!'
He told me that he had himself planted all the cypresses in the cemetery; that he had the greatest attachment to them and to his dead people; that since 1801 they had buried fifty-three thousand persons. In showing some older monuments, there was that of a Roman girl of twenty, with a bust by Bernini. She was a princess Bartorini, dead two centuries ago: he said that, on opening her grave, they had found her hair complete, and 'as yellow as gold'. Some of the epitaphs at Ferrara pleased me more than the more splendid monuments at Bologna; for instance:—
'Martini Luigi Implora pace.' 'Lucrezia Picini Implora eterna quiete.'
Can anything be more full of pathos? Those few words say all that can be said or sought: the dead had had enough of life; all they wanted was rest, and this they implore! There is all the helplessness, and humble hope, and deathlike prayer, that can arise from the grave—'implora pace'. I hope, whoever may survive me, and shall see me put in the foreigners' burying-ground at the Lido, within the fortress by the Adriatic, will see those two words, and no more, put over me. I trust they won't think of 'pickling, and bringing me home to Clod or Blunderbuss Hall'. I am sure my bones would not rest in an English grave, or my clay mix with the earth of that country. I believe the thought would drive me mad on my deathbed, could I suppose that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcass back to your soil. I would not even feed your worms, if I could help it.
So, as Shakespeare says of Mowbray, the banished Duke of Norfolk, who died at Venice (see Richard II), that he, after fighting
Against black Pagans, Turks, and Saracens, And toiled with works of war, retired himself To Italy, and there, at Venice, gave His body to that pleasant country's earth, And his pure soul unto his captain, Christ, Under whose colours he had fought so long.
Before I left Venice, I had returned to you your late, and Mr. Hobhouse's sheets of Juan. Don't wait for further answers from me, but address yours to Venice, as usual. I know nothing of my own movements; I may return there in a few days, or not for some time. All this depends on circumstances. I left Mr. Hoppner very well.... My daughter Allegra was well too, and is growing pretty; her hair is growing darker, and her eyes are blue. Her temper and her ways, Mr. Hoppner says, are like mine, as well as her features: she will make, in that case, a manageable young lady.
I have never heard anything of Ada, the little Electra of my Mycenae.... But there will come a day of reckoning, even if I should not live to see it.... What a long letter I have scribbled!
PS. Here, as in Greece, they strew flowers on the tombs. I saw a quantity of rose-leaves, and entire roses, scattered over the graves at Ferrara. It has the most pleasing effect you can imagine.
TO THE SAME
In rebellious mood
Bologna, 24 Aug. 1819.
I wrote to you by last post, enclosing a buffooning letter for publication, addressed to the buffoon Roberts, who has thought proper to tie a canister to his own tail. It was written off-hand, and in the midst of circumstances not very favourable to facetiousness, so that there may, perhaps, be more bitterness than enough for that sort of small acid punch:—you will tell me. Keep the anonymous, in any case: it helps what fun there may be. But if the matter grow serious about Don Juan, and you feel yourself in a scrape, or me either, own that I am the author. I will never shrink, and if you do, I can always answer you in the question of Guatimozin to his minister—each being on his own coals.
I wish that I had been in better spirits; but I am out of sorts, out of nerves, and now and then (I begin to fear) out of my senses. All this Italy has done for me, and not England: I defy all you, and your climate to boot, to make me mad. But if ever I do really become a Bedlamite, and wear a strait waistcoat, let me be brought back among you: your people will then be proper company.
I assure you what I here say and feel has nothing to do with England, either in a literary or personal point of view. All my present pleasures or plagues are as Italian as the opera. And, after all, they are but trifles; for all this arises from my 'Dama's' being in the country for three days (at Capofiume). But as I could never live but for one human being at a time (and, I assure you, that one has never been myself, as you may know by the consequences, for the selfish are successful in life), I feel alone and unhappy.
I have sent for my daughter from Venice, and I ride daily, and walk in a garden, under a purple canopy of grapes, and sit by a fountain, and talk with the gardener of his tools, which seem greater than Adam's, and with his wife, and with his son's wife, who is the youngest of the party, and, I think, talks best of the three. Then I revisit the Campo Santo, and my old friend, the sexton, has two—but one the prettiest daughter imaginable; and I amuse myself with contrasting her beautiful and innocent face of fifteen with the skulls with which he has peopled several cells, and particularly with that of one skull, dated 1766, which was once covered (the tradition goes) by the most lovely features of Bologna—noble and rich. When I look at these, and at this girl—when I think of what they were, and what she must be—why then, my dear Murray, I won't shock you by saying what I think. It is little matter what becomes of us 'bearded men', but I don't like the notion of a beautiful woman's lasting less than a beautiful tree—than her own picture—her own shadow, which won't change so to the sun as her face to the mirror. I must leave off, for my head aches consumedly. I have never been quite well since the night of the representation of Alfieri's Mirra, a fortnight ago.
To PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
A trio of poets
Ravenna, 26 April, 1821.
The child continues doing well, and the accounts are regular and favourable. It is gratifying to me that you and Mrs. Shelley do not disapprove of the step which I have taken, which is merely temporary.
I am very sorry to hear what you say of Keats—is it actually true? I did not think criticism had been so killing. Though I differ from you essentially in your estimate of his performances, I so much abhor all unnecessary pain, that I would rather he had been seated on the highest peak of Parnassus than have perished in such a manner. Poor fellow! though with such inordinate self-love he would probably have not been very happy. I read the review of Endymion in the Quarterly. It was severe,—but surely not so severe as many reviews in that and other journals upon others.
I recollect the effect on me of the Edinburgh on my first poem; it was rage, and resistance, and redress—but not despondency nor despair. I grant that those are not amiable feelings; but, in this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena.
Expect not life from pain nor danger free, Nor deem the doom of man reserved for thee.
You know my opinion of that second-hand school of poetry. You also know my high opinion of your own poetry,—because it is of no school. I read Cenci—but, besides that I think the subject essentially un dramatic, I am not an admirer of our old dramatists, as models. I deny that the English have hitherto had a drama at all. Your Cenci, however, was a work of power, and poetry. As to my drama, pray revenge yourself upon it, by being as free as I have been with yours.
I have not yet got your Prometheus, which I long to see. I have heard nothing of mine, and do not know that it is yet published. I have published a pamphlet on the Pope controversy, which you will not like. Had I known that Keats was dead—or that he was alive and so sensitive—I should have omitted some remarks upon his poetry, to which I was provoked by his attack upon Pope, and my disapprobation of his own style of writing.
You want me to undertake a great poem—I have not the inclination nor the power. As I grow older, the indifference—not to life, for we love it by instinct—but to the stimuli of life, increases. Besides, this late failure of the Italians has latterly disappointed me for many reasons,—some public, some personal. My respects to Mrs. S.
PS. Could not you and I contrive to meet this summer? Could not you take a run here alone?
To LADY BYRON
A plain statement of facts
Pisa, 17 Nov. 1821,
I have to acknowledge the receipt of 'Ada's hair', which is very soft and pretty, and nearly as dark already as mine was at twelve years old, if I may judge from what I recollect of some in Augusta's possession, taken at that age. But it don't curl,—perhaps from its being let grow.
I also thank you for the inscription of the date and name, and I will tell you why;—I believe that they are the only two or three words of your handwriting in my possession. For your letters I returned; and except the two words, or rather the one word, 'Household', written twice in an old account book, I have no other. I burnt your last note, for two reasons:—firstly, it was written in a style not very agreeable; and, secondly, I wished to take your word without documents, which are the worldly resources of suspicious people.
I suppose that this note will reach you somewhere about Ada's birthday—the 10th of December, I believe. She will then be six, so that in about twelve more I shall have some chance of meeting her;—perhaps sooner, if I am obliged to go to England by business or otherwise. Recollect, however, one thing, either in distance or nearness;—every day which keeps us asunder should, after so long a period, rather soften our mutual feelings, which must always have one rallying-point as long as our child exists, which I presume we both hope will be long after either of her parents.
The time which has elapsed since the separation has been considerably more than the whole brief period of our union, and the not much longer one of our prior acquaintance. We both made a bitter mistake; but now it is over, and irrevocably so. For, at thirty-three on my part, and a few years less on yours, though it is no very extended period of life, still it is one when the habits and thought are generally so formed as to admit of no modification; and as we could not agree when younger, we should with difficulty do so now.
I say all this, because I own to you, that, notwithstanding everything, I considered our reunion as not impossible for more than a year after the separation;—but then I gave up the hope entirely and for ever. But this very impossibility of reunion seems to me at least a reason why, on all the few points of discussion which can arise between us, we should preserve the courtesies of life, and as much of its kindness as people who are never to meet may preserve perhaps more easily than nearer connexions. For my own part, I am violent, but not malignant; for only fresh provocations can awaken my resentments. To you, who are colder and more concentrated, I would just hint, that you may sometimes mistake the depth of a cold anger for dignity, and a worse feeling for duty. I assure you that I bear you now (whatever I may have done) no resentment whatever. Remember, that if you have injured me in aught, this forgiveness is something; and that, if I have injured you, it is something more still, if it be true, as the moralists say, that the most offending are the least forgiving.
Whether the offence has been solely on my side, or reciprocal, or on yours chiefly, I have ceased to reflect upon any but two things,—viz. that you are the mother of my child, and that we shall never meet again. I think if you also consider the two corresponding points with reference to myself, it will be better for all three.
To MR. BARFF
Sympathy with the Greeks
10 March, 1824.
Enclosed is an answer to Mr. Parruca's letter, and I hope that you will assure him from me, that I have done and am doing all I can to reunite the Greeks with the Greeks.
I am extremely obliged by your offer of your country-house (as for all other kindness) in case that my health should require my removal; but I cannot quit Greece while there is a chance of my being of any (even supposed) utility:—there is a stake worth millions such as I am, and while I can stand at all, I must stand by the cause. When I say this, I am at the same time aware of the difficulties and dissensions and defects of the Greeks themselves; but allowance must be made for them by all reasonable people.
My chief, indeed nine-tenths of my expenses here are solely in advances to or on behalf of the Greeks, and objects connected with their independence.
To S.R. PARRUCA
10 March, 1824.
Sir,—I have the honour of answering your letter. My first wish has always been to bring the Greeks to agree among themselves. I came here by the invitation of the Greek Government, and I do not think that I ought to abandon Roumelia for the Peloponnesus until that Government shall desire it; and the more so, as this part is exposed in a greater degree to the enemy. Nevertheless, if my presence can really be of any assistance in uniting two or more parties, I am ready to go anywhere, either as a mediator, or, if necessary, as a hostage. In these affairs I have neither private views, nor private dislike of any individual, but the sincere wish of deserving the name of the friend of your country, and of her patriots.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY 1792-1822
To T.J. HOGG
His first marriage
[No date. Postmark, Rhayader. Summer of 1811.]
MY DEAR FRIEND,
You will perhaps see me before you can answer this; perhaps not; Heaven knows! I shall certainly come to York, but Harriet Westbrook will decide whether now or in three weeks. Her father has persecuted her in a most horrible way, by endeavouring to compel her to go to school. She asked my advice: resistance, was the answer, at the same time that I essayed to mollify Mr. W. in vain! And in consequence of my advice she has thrown herself upon my protection.
I set off for London on Monday. How flattering a distinction!—I am thinking of ten million things at once.
What have I said? I declare, quite ludicrous. I advised her to resist. She wrote to say that resistance was useless, but that she would fly with me, and threw herself upon my protection. We shall have L200 a year; when we find it run short, we must live, I suppose, upon love! Gratitude and admiration, all demand that I should love her for ever. We shall see you at York. I will hear your arguments for matrimonialism, by which I am now almost convinced. I can get lodgings at York, I suppose. Direct to me at Graham's, 18, Sackville Street, Piccadilly.
Your inclosure of L10 has arrived; I am now indebted to you L30. In spite of philosophy, I am rather ashamed of this unceremonious exsiccation of your financial river. But indeed, my dear friend, the gratitude which I owe you for your society and attachment ought so far to overbalance this consideration as to leave me nothing but that. I must, however, pay you when I can.
I suspect that the strain is gone for ever. This letter will convince you that I am not under the influence of a strain.
I am thinking at once of ten million things. I shall come to live near you, as Mr. Peyton.
Ever your most faithful friend.
I shall be at 18, Sackville Street; at least direct there. Do not send more cash; I shall raise supplies in London.
To WILLIAM GODWIN
Keswick, 3 Jan. 1812.
You will be surprised at hearing from a stranger. No introduction has, nor in all probability ever will authorize that which common thinkers would call a liberty; it is, however, a liberty which, although not sanctioned by custom, is so far from being reprobated by reason, that the dearest interests of mankind imperiously demand that a certain etiquette of fashion should no longer keep 'man at a distance from man', or impose its flimsy fancies between the free communication of intellect.
The name of Godwin has been used to excite in me feelings of reverence and admiration. I have been accustomed to consider him a luminary too dazzling for the darkness which surrounds him. From the earliest period of my knowledge of his principles, I have ardently desired to share, on the footing of intimacy, that intellect which I have delighted to contemplate in its emanations.
Considering, then, these feelings, you will not be surprised at the inconceivable emotions with which I learned your existence and your dwelling. I had enrolled your name in the list of the honourable dead. I had felt regret that the glory of your being had passed from this earth of ours. It is not so; you still live, and, I firmly believe, are still planning the welfare of human kind.
I have but just entered on the scene of human operations; yet my feelings and my reasonings correspond with what yours were. My course has been short, but eventful. I have seen much of human prejudice, suffered much from human persecution, yet I see no reason hence inferable which should alter my wishes for their renovation. The ill-treatment I have met with has more than ever impressed the truth of my principles on my judgement. I am young, I am ardent in the cause of philanthropy and truth; do not suppose that this is vanity; I am not conscious that it influences this portraiture. I imagine myself dispassionately describing the state of my mind. I am young; you have gone before me—I doubt not, are a veteran to me in the years of persecution. Is it strange that, defying prejudice as I have done; I should outstep the limits of custom's prescription, and endeavour to make my desire useful by a friendship with William Godwin?
I pray you to answer this letter. Imperfect as may be my capacity, my desire is ardent and unintermitted. Half an hour would be at least humanely employed in the experiment. I may mistake your residence; certain feelings, of which I may be an inadequate arbiter, may induce you to desire concealment; I may not, in fine, have an answer to this letter. If I do not, when I come to London, I shall seek for you. I am convinced I could represent myself to you in such terms as not to be thought wholly unworthy of your friendship; at least, if desire for universal happiness has any claim upon your preference, that desire I can exhibit. Adieu! I shall earnestly await your answer.
To THOMAS HOOKHAM
A subscription for Hunt
MY DEAR SIR,
I am boiling with indignation at the horrible injustice and tyranny of the sentence pronounced on Hunt and his brother; and it is on this subject that I write to you. Surely the seal of abjectness and slavery is indelibly stamped upon the character of England.
Although I do not retract in the slightest degree my wish for a subscription for the widows and children of those poor men hung at York, yet this L1000 which the Hunts are sentenced to pay is an affair of more consequence. Hunt is a brave, a good, and an enlightened man. Surely the public, for whom Hunt has done so much, will repay in part the great debt of obligation which they owe the champion of their liberties and virtues; or are they dead, cold, stone-hearted, and insensible—brutalized by centuries of unremitting bondage? However that may be, they surely may be excited into some slight acknowledgement of his merits. Whilst hundreds of thousands are sent to the tyrants of Russia, he pines in a dungeon, far from all that can make life desired.
Well, I am rather poor at present; but I have L20 which is not immediately wanted. Pray, begin a subscription for the Hunts; put down my name for that sum, and, when I hear that you have complied with my request, I will send it you. Now, if there are any difficulties in the way of this scheme of ours, for the love of liberty and virtue, overcome them. Oh! that I might wallow for one night in the Bank of England!
Queen Mab is finished and transcribed. I am now preparing the notes, which shall be long and philosophical. You will receive it with the other poems. I think that the whole should form one volume; but of that we can speak hereafter.
As to the French Encyclopedie, it is a book which I am desirous—very desirous—of possessing, and if you could get me a few months' credit (being at present rather low in cash), I should very much desire to have it.
My dear sir, excuse the earnestness of the first part of my letter. I feel warmly on this subject, and I flatter myself that so long as your own independence and liberty remain uncompromised, you are inclined to second my desires.
PS. If no other way can be devised for this subscription, will you take the trouble on yourself of writing an appropriate advertisement for the papers, inserting, by way of stimulant, my subscription?
On second thoughts, I enclose the L20.
To MR. OLLIER
An article by Southey
Florence, 15 Oct. 1819.
The droll remarks of the Quarterly, and Hunt's kind defence, arrived as safe as such poison, and safer than such an antidote, usually do.
I am on the point of sending to you 250 copies of a work which I have printed in Italy; which you will have to pay four or five pounds duty upon, on my account. Hunt will tell you the kind of thing it is, and in the course of the winter I shall send directions for its publication, until the arrival of which directions, I request that you would have the kindness not to open the box, or, if by necessity it is opened, to abstain from observing yourself or permitting others to observe, what it contains. I trust this confidently to you, it being of consequence. Meanwhile, assure yourself that this work has no reference, direct or indirect, to politics, or religion, or personal satire, and that this precaution is merely literary.
The Prometheus, a poem in my best style, whatever that may amount to, will arrive with it, but in MS., which you can print and publish in the season. It is the most perfect of my productions.
Southey wrote the article in question, I am well aware. Observe the impudence of the man in speaking of himself. The only remark worth notice in this piece is the assertion that I imitate Wordsworth. It may as well be said that Lord Byron imitates Wordsworth, or that Wordsworth imitates Lord Byron, both being great poets, and deriving from the new springs of thought and feeling, which the great events of our age have exposed to view, a similar tone of sentiment, imagery, and expression. A certain similarity all the best writers of any particular age inevitably are marked with, from the spirit of that age acting on all. This I had explained in my Preface, which the writer was too disingenuous to advert to. As to the other trash, and particularly that lame attack on my personal character, which was meant so ill, and which I am not the man to feel, 'tis all nothing. I am glad, with respect to that part of it which alludes to Hunt, that it should so have happened that I dedicate, as you will see, a work which has all the capacities for being popular to that excellent person. I was amused, too, with the finale; it is like the end of the first act of an opera, when that tremendous concordant discord sets up from the orchestra, and everybody talks and sings at once. It describes the result of my battle with their Omnipotent God; his pulling me under the sea by the hair of my head, like Pharaoh; my calling out like the devil who was game to the last; swearing and cursing in all comic and horrid oaths, like a French postilion on Mount Cenis; entreating everybody to drown themselves; pretending not to be drowned myself when I am drowned; and lastly, being drowned.
You would do me a particular kindness if you would call on Hunt, and ask him when my parcel went, the name of the ship, and the name of the captain, and whether he has any bill of lading, which, if he has, you would oblige me by sending, together with the rest of the information, by return of post, addressed to the Post Office, Florence.
To MRS. HUNT
Keats and some others
[Pisa] 11 Nov. 1820.
MY BEST MARIANNE,
I am delighted to hear that you complain of me for not writing to you, although I have much more reason to complain of you for not writing to me. At least it promises me a letter from you, and you know with what pleasure we receive, and with what anxiety we expect intelligence from you—almost the only friends who now remain to us.
I am afraid that the strict system of expense to which you are limited annoys you all very much, and that Hunt's health suffers both from that and from the incredible exertions which I see by the Indicators and the Examiners that he is making. Would to Heaven that I had the power of doing you some good! but when you are sure that the wish is sincere, the bare expression of it may help to cheer you.
The Gisbornes are arrived, and have brought news of you, and some books, the principal part of which, however, are yet to arrive by sea. Keats's new volume has arrived to us, and the fragment called Hyperion promises for him that he is destined to become one of the first writers of the age. His other things are imperfect enough, and, what is worse, written in the bad sort of style which is becoming fashionable among those who fancy that they are imitating Hunt and Wordsworth. But of all these things nothing is worse than ——, in spite of Hunt's extracting the only good stanzas, with his usual good nature. Indeed, I ought not to complain of Hunt's good nature, for no one owes so much to it. Is not the vulgarity of these wretched imitations of Lord Byron carried to a pitch of the sublime? His indecencies, too, both against sexual nature, and against human nature in general, sit very awkwardly upon him. He only affects the libertine: he is, really, a very amiable, friendly, and agreeable man, I hear. But is not this monstrous? In Lord Byron all this has an analogy with the general system of his character, and the wit and poetry which surround hide with their light the darkness of the thing itself. They contradict it even; they prove that the strength and beauty of human nature can survive and conquer all that appears most inconsistent with it. But for a writer to be at once filthy and dull is a crime against gods, men, and columns. For Heaven's sake do not show this to any one but Hunt, for it would irritate the wasp's nest of the irritable race of poets.
Where is Keats now? I am anxiously expecting him in Italy, when I shall take care to bestow every possible attention on him. I consider his a most valuable life, and I am deeply interested in his safety. I intend to be the physician both of his body and his soul, to keep the one warm, and to teach the other Greek and Spanish. I am aware, indeed, in part, that I am nourishing a rival who will far surpass me; and this is an additional motive, and will be an added pleasure.
We are at this moment removing from the Bagni to Pisa, for the Serchio has broken its banks, and all the country about is under water. An old friend and fellow-townsman of mine, Captain Medwin, is on a visit to us at present, and we anxiously expect Keats, to whom I would write if I knew where to address.
Adieu, my dear Marianne. Write soon; kiss all the babes for me, and tell me news of them, and give my love to Bessy and Hunt.
To LEIGH HUNT
A literary collaboration
Pisa, 26 Aug. 1821.
MY DEAREST FRIEND,
Since I last wrote to you, I have been on a visit to Lord Byron at Ravenna. The result of this visit was a determination, on his part, to come and live at Pisa; and I have taken the finest palace on the Lung' Arno for him. But the material part of my visit consists in a message which he desires me to give you, and which, I think, ought to add to your determination—for such a one I hope you have formed—of restoring your shattered health and spirits by a migration to these 'regions mild of calm and serene air'.
He proposes that you should come out and go shares with him and me, in a periodical work, to be conducted here; in which each of the contracting parties should publish all their original compositions and share the profits. He proposed it to Moore, but for some reason it was never brought to bear. There can be no doubt that the profits of any scheme in which you and Lord Byron engage, must, from various, yet co-operating reasons, be very great. As for myself, I am for the present only a sort of link between you and him, until you can know each other, and effectuate the arrangement; since (to entrust you with a secret which, for your sake, I withhold from Lord Byron) nothing would induce me to share in the profits, and still less, in the borrowed splendour of such a partnership. You and he, in different manners, would be equal, and would bring, in a different manner, but in the same proportion, equal stocks of reputation and success. Do not let my frankness with you, nor my belief that you deserve it more than Lord Byron, have the effect of deterring you from assuming a station in modern literature which the universal voice of my contemporaries forbids me either to stoop or to aspire to. I am, and I desire to be, nothing.
I did not ask Lord Byron to assist me in sending a remittance for your journey; because there are men, however excellent, from whom we would never receive an obligation, in the worldly sense of the word; and I am as jealous for my friend as for myself. But I suppose that I shall at last make up an impudent face, and ask Horace Smith to add to the many obligations he has conferred on me. I know I need only ask.
I think I have never told you how very much I like your Amyntas; it almost reconciles me to translations. In another sense I still demur. You might have written another such a poem as the Nymphs, with no access of efforts. I am full of thoughts and plans, and should do something, if the feeble and irritable frame which incloses it was willing to obey the spirit. I fancy that then I should do great things. Before this you will have seen Adonais. Lord Byron, I suppose from modesty, on account of his being mentioned in it, did not say a word of Adonais, though he was loud in his praise of Prometheus, and, what you will not agree with him in, censure of the Cenci. Certainly, if Marino Faliero is a drama, the Cenci is not—but that between ourselves. Lord Byron is reformed, as far as gallantry goes, and lives with a beautiful and sentimental Italian lady, who is as much attached to him as may be. I trust greatly to his intercourse with you, for his creed to become as pure as he thinks his conduct is. He has many generous and exalted qualities, but the canker of aristocracy wants to be cut out.
To JOHN HAMILTON REYNOLDS
Maybole, 11 July .
MY DEAR REYNOLDS,
... I am approaching Burns's cottage very fast. We have made continual inquiries from the time we saw his tomb at Dumfries. His name, of course, is known all about: his great reputation among the plodding people is, 'that he wrote a good mony sensible things'. One of the pleasantest means of annulling self is approaching such a shrine as the Cottage of Burns: we need not think of his misery—that is all gone, bad luck to it! I shall look upon it hereafter with unmixed pleasure, as I do my Stratford-on-Avon day with Bailey. I shall fill this sheet for you in the Bardie's country, going no further than this, till I get to the town of Ayr, which will be a nine miles' walk to tea.
We were talking on different and indifferent things, when, on a sudden, we turned a corner upon the immediate country of Ayr. The sight was as rich as possible. I had no conception that the native place of Burns was so beautiful; the idea I had was more desolate: his 'Rigs of Barley' seemed always to me but a few strips of green on a cold hill—Oh, prejudice!—It was as rich as Devon. I endeavoured to drink in the prospect, that I might spin it out to you, as the silkworm makes silk from mulberry leaves. I cannot recollect it. Besides all the beauty, there were the mountains of Arran Isle, black and huge over the sea. We came down upon everything suddenly; there were in our way the 'bonny Doon', with the brig that Tam o' Shanter crossed, Kirk Alloway, Burns's Cottage, and then the Brigs of Ayr. First we stood upon the Bridge across the Doon, surrounded by every phantasy of green in tree, meadow, and hill: the stream of the Doon, as a farmer told us, is covered with trees 'from head to foot'. You know those beautiful heaths, so fresh against the weather of a summer's evening; there was one stretching along behind the trees.
I wish I knew always the humour my friends would be in at opening a letter of mine, to suit it to them as nearly as possible. I could always find an egg-shell for melancholy, and, as for merriment, a witty humour will turn anything to account. My head is sometimes in such a whirl in considering the million likings and antipathies of our moments, that I can get into no settled strain in my letters. My wig! Burns and sentimentality coming across you and Frank Floodgate in the office. Oh, Scenery, that thou shouldst be crushed between two puns! As for them, I venture the rascalliest in the Scotch region. I hope Brown does not put them in his journal: if he does, I must sit on the cutty-stool all next winter. We went to Kirk Alloway. 'A prophet is no prophet in his own country.' We went to the Cottage and took some whisky. I wrote a sonnet for the mere sake of writing some lines under the roof: they are so bad I cannot transcribe them. The man at the cottage was a great bore with his anecdotes. I hate the rascal. His life consists in fuzy, fuzzy, fuzziest. He drinks glasses, five for the quarter, and twelve for the hour; he is a mahogany-faced old jackass who knew Burns: he ought to have been kicked for having spoken to him. He calls himself 'a curious old bitch', but he is a flat old dog. I should like to employ Caliph Vathek to kick him. Oh, the flummery of a birthplace! Cant! cant! cant! It is enough to give a spirit the guts-ache. Many a true word, they say, is spoken in jest—this may be because his gab hindered my sublimity: the flat dog made me write a flat sonnet. My dear Reynolds, I cannot write about scenery and visitings. Fancy is indeed less than a present palpable reality, but it is greater than remembrance. You would lift your eyes from Homer only to see close before you the real Isle of Tenedos. You would rather read Homer afterwards than remember yourself. One song of Burns's is of more worth to you than all I could think for a whole year in his native country. His misery is a dead weight upon the nimbleness of one's quill; I tried to forget it—to drink toddy without any care—to write a merry sonnet—it won't do—he talked, he drank with blackguards; he was miserable. We can see horribly clear, in the works of such a man, his whole life, as if we were God's spies....
TO RICHARD WOODHOUSE
The poetic character
Hampstead, 27 Oct. 1818.
MY DEAR WOODHOUSE,
Your letter gave me great satisfaction, more on account of its friendliness than any relish of that matter in it which is accounted so acceptable in the genus irritabile. The best answer I can give you is in a clerklike manner to make some observations on two principal points which seem to point like indices into the midst of the whole pro and con about genius, and views, and achievements, and ambition, et coetera. 1st. As to the poetical character itself (I mean that sort, of which, if I am anything, I am a member; that sort distinguished from the Wordsworthian, or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se, and stands alone), it is not itself—it has no self—it is everything and nothing—it has no character—it enjoys light and shade—it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated—it has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things, any more than from its taste for the bright one, because they both end in speculation. A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity; he is continually in for, and filling, some other body. The sun, the moon, the sea, and men and women, who are creatures of impulse, are poetical, and have about them an unchangeable attribute; the poet has none, no identity. He is certainly the most unpoetical of all God's creatures. If, then, he has no self, and if I am a poet, where is the wonder that I should say I would write no more? Might I not at that very instant have been cogitating on the characters of Saturn and Ops? It is a wretched thing to confess, but it is a very fact, that not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature. How can it, when I have no nature? When I am in a room with people, if I ever am free from speculating on creations of my own brain, then, not myself goes home to myself, but the identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me, [so] that I am in a very little time annihilated—not only among men; it would be the same in a nursery of children. I know not whether I make myself wholly understood: I hope enough so to let you see that no dependence is to be placed on what I said that day.
In the second place, I will speak of my views, and of the life I purpose to myself. I am ambitious of doing the world some good: if I should be spared, that may be the work of maturer years—in the interval I will assay to reach to as high a summit in poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer. The faint conceptions I have of poems to come bring the blood frequently into my forehead. All I hope is, that I may not lose all interest in human affairs—that the solitary indifference I feel for applause, even from the finest spirits, will not blunt any acuteness of vision I may have. I do not think it will. I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the beautiful, even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning, and no eye ever shine upon them. But even now I am perhaps not speaking from myself, but from some character in whose soul I now live ...
TO PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
Hampstead, 10 Aug. 1820.
MY DEAR SHELLEY,
I am very much gratified that you, in a foreign country, and with a mind almost over-occupied, should write to me in the strain of the letter beside me. If I do not take advantage of your invitation, it will be prevented by a circumstance I have very much at heart to prophesy. There is no doubt that an English winter would put an end to me, and do so in a lingering, hateful manner. Therefore, I must either voyage or journey to Italy, as a soldier marches up to a battery. My nerves at present are the worst part of me, yet they feel soothed that, come what extreme may, I shall not be destined to remain in one spot long enough to take a hatred of any four particular bedposts. I am glad you take any pleasure in my poor poem, which I would willingly take the trouble to unwrite, if possible, did I care so much as I have done about reputation. I received a copy of the Cenci, as from yourself, from Hunt. There is only one part of it I am judge of—the poetry and dramatic effect, which by many spirits nowadays is considered the Mammon. A modern work, it is said, must have a purpose, which may be the God. An artist must serve Mammon; he must have 'self-concentration'—selfishness, perhaps. You, I am sure, will forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your magnanimity, and be more of an artist, and load every rift of your subject with ore. The thought of such discipline must fall like cold chains upon you, who perhaps never sat with your wings furled for six months together. And is not this extraordinary talk for the writer of Endymion, whose mind was like a pack of scattered cards? I am picked up and sorted to a pip. My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk. I am in expectation of Prometheus every day. Could I have my own wish effected, you would have it still in manuscript, or be but now putting an end to the second act. I remember you advising me not to publish my first blights, on Hampstead Heath. I am returning advice upon your hands. Most of the poems in the volume I send you have been written above two years, and would never have been published but for a hope of gain; so you see I am inclined enough to take your advice now. I must express once more my deep sense of your kindness, adding my sincere thanks and respects for Mrs. Shelley. In hope of soon seeing you—
To CHARLES BROWN
A despairing cry
Naples, 1 Nov. [1820.]
MY DEAR BROWN,
Yesterday we were let out of quarantine, during which my health suffered more from bad air and the stifled cabin than it had done the whole voyage. The fresh air revived me a little, and I hope I am well enough this morning to write to you a short calm letter;—if that can be called one, in which I am afraid to speak of what I would fainest dwell upon. As I have gone thus far into it, I must go on a little;—perhaps it may relieve the load of wretchedness which presses upon me. The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me. My dear Brown, I should have had her when I was in health, and I should have remained well. I can bear to die—I cannot bear to leave her. Oh, God! God! God! Everything I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear. The silk lining she put in my travelling cap scalds my head. My imagination is horribly vivid about her—I see her—I hear her. There is nothing in the world of sufficient interest to divert me from her a moment. This was the case when I was in England: I cannot recollect, without shuddering, the time that I was a prisoner at Hunt's, and used to keep my eyes fixed on Hampstead all day. Then there was a good hope of seeing her again—Now!—O that I could be buried near where she lives! I am afraid to write to her—to receive a letter from her—to see her handwriting would break my heart—even to hear of her anyhow, to see her name written, would be more than I can bear. My dear Brown, what am I to do? Where can I look for consolation or ease? If I had any chance of recovery, this passion would kill me. Indeed, through the whole of my illness, both at your house and at Kentish Town, this fever has never ceased wearing me out. When you write to me, which you will do immediately, write to Rome (poste restante)—if she is well and happy, put a mark thus +; if—
Remember me to all. I will endeavour to bear my miseries patiently. A person in my state of health should not have such miseries to bear. Write a short note to my sister, saying you have heard from me. Severn is very well. If I were in better health I would urge your coming to Rome. I fear there is no one can give me any comfort. Is there any news of George? O that something fortunate had ever happened to me or my brothers!—then I might hope,—but despair is forced upon me as a habit. My dear Brown, for my sake, be her advocate for ever. I cannot say a word about Naples; I do not feel at all concerned in the thousand novelties around me. I am afraid to write to her. I should like her to know that I do not forget her. Oh, Brown, I have coals of fire in my breast. It surprises me that the human heart is capable of containing and bearing so much misery. Was I born for this end? God bless her, and her mother, and my sister, and George, and his wife, and you, and all!...
To CHARLES DICKENS
17 Elm Tree Road, 12 Oct. 1842.
Can you let me have an early copy of the American Notes so that I may review it in the New Monthly? Is it really likely to be ready as advertised? I aim this at Devonshire Place, supposing you to be returned, for with these winds 'tis no fit time for the coast. But your bones are not so weather unwise (for ignorance is bliss) as mine. I should have asked this by word of mouth in Devonshire Place, but the weather has kept me indoors. It is no fiction that the complaint, derived from Dutch malaria seven years ago, is revived by Easterly winds. Otherwise I have been better than usual, and 'never say die'. Don't forget about the Yankee Notes. I never had but one American friend, and lost him through a good crop of pears. He paid us a visit in England; whereupon in honour of him, a pear tree, which had never borne fruit to speak of within memory of man, was loaded with ninety dozen of brown somethings. Our gardener said they were a keeping sort, and would be good at Christmas; whereupon, as our Jonathan was on the eve of sailing for the States, we sent him a few dozens to dessert him on the voyage. Some he put at the bottom of a trunk (he wrote to us) to take to America; but he could not have been gone above a day or two, when all our pears began to rot! His would, of course, by sympathy, and I presume spoilt his linen or clothes, for I have never heard of him since. Perhaps he thought I had done him on purpose, and for sartin the tree, my accomplice, never bore any more pears, good or bad, after that supernatural crop.
Pray present my respects for me to Mrs. Dickens. How she must enjoy being at home and discovering her children, after her Columbusing, and only discovering America!
TO THE MANCHESTER ATHENAEUM
The uses of literature
(From my bed)
17 Elm Tree Road, St. John's Wood, 18 July, 1843.
If my humble name can be of the least use for your purpose, it is heartily at your service, with my best wishes for the prosperity of the Manchester Athenaeum, and my warmest approval of the objects of that Institution.
I have elsewhere recorded my own deep obligations to Literature—that a natural turn for reading, and intellectual pursuits, probably preserved me from the moral shipwreck so apt to befall those who are deprived in early life of the paternal pilotage. At the very least my books kept me aloof from the ring, the dog-pit, the tavern, and the saloons, with their degrading orgies. For the closet associate of Pope and Addison, the mind accustomed to the noble, though silent discourse of Shakespeare and Milton, will hardly seek, or put up with low company and slang. The reading animal will not be content with the brutish wallowings that satisfy the unlearned pigs of the world. Later experience enables me to depose to the comfort and blessing that literature can prove in seasons of sickness and sorrow; how powerfully intellectual pursuits can help in keeping the head from crazing, and the heart from breaking; nay, not to be too grave, how generous mental food can even atone for a meagre diet; rich fare on the paper, for short commons on the cloth.
Poisoned by the malaria of the Dutch marshes, my stomach for many months resolutely set itself against fish, flesh, or fowl; my appetite had no more edge than the German knife placed before me. But luckily the mental palate and digestion were still sensible and vigorous; and whilst I passed untasted every dish at the Rhenish table-d'-hote, I could still enjoy my Peregrine Pickle, and the feast after the manner of the Ancients. There was no yearning towards calf's head a la tortue, or sheep's heart; but I could still relish Head a la Brunnen, and the Heart of Mid-Lothian. Still more recently it was my misfortune, with a tolerable appetite, to be condemned to Lenten fare, like Sancho Panza, by my physician, to a diet, in fact, lower than any prescribed by the Poor-Law Commissioners, all animal food, from a bullock to a rabbit, being strictly interdicted, as well as all fluids stronger than that which lays dust, washes pinafores, and waters polyanthus. But the feast of reason and the flow of soul were still mine!
Denied beef, I had Bulwer and Cowper; forbidden mutton, there was Lamb; and in lieu of pork, the great Bacon, or Hogg. Then as to beverage; it was hard, doubtless, for a Christian to set his face, like a Turk, against the juice of the grape. But, eschewing wine, I had still my Butler; and in the absence of liquor, all the Choice Spirits from Tom Browne to Tom Moore. Thus though confined physically to the drink that drowns kittens, I quaffed mentally, not merely the best of our own home-made, but the rich, racy, sparkling growths of France and Italy, of Germany and Spain; the champagne of Moliere, the Monte Pulciano of Boccaccio, the hock of Schiller, and the sherry of Cervantes. Depressed bodily by the fluid that damps everything, I got intellectually elevated with Milton, a little merry with Swift, or rather jolly with Rabelais, whose Pantagruel, by the way, is equal to the best gruel with rum in it.
So far can Literature palliate, or compensate, for gastronomical privations. But there are other evils, great and small, in this world, which try the stomach less than the head, the heart, and the temper; bowls that will not roll right, well-laid schemes that will 'gang aglee', and ill winds that blow with the pertinacity of the monsoon. Of these Providence has allotted me a full share, but still, paradoxical as it may sound, my burthen has been greatly lightened by a load of books. The manner of this will be best understood by a feline illustration. Everybody has heard of the two Kilkenny cats, who devoured each other; but it is not so generally known, that they left behind them an orphan kitten, which, true to its breed, began to eat itself up, till it was diverted from the operation by a mouse. Now the human mind, under vexation, is like that kitten, for it is apt to prey upon itself, unless drawn off by a new object, and none better for the purpose than a book. For example, one of Defoe's; for who, in reading his thrilling History of the Great Plague, would not be reconciled to a few little ones?