Inverary, July 18, 1818
My dear Bailey
The only day I have had a chance of seeing you when you were last in London I took every advantage of—some devil led you out of the way—Now I have written to Reynolds to tell me where you will be in Cumberland—so that I cannot miss you. And when I see you, the first thing I shall do will be to read that about Milton and Ceres, and Proserpine—for though I am not going after you to John o’ Grot’s, it will be but poetical to say so. And here, Bailey, I will say a few words written in a sane and sober mind, a very scarce thing with me, for they may, hereafter, save you a great deal of trouble about me, which you do not deserve, and for which I ought to be bastinadoed. I carry all matters to an extreme—so that when I have any little vexation, it grows in five minutes into a theme for Sophocles. Then, and in that temper, if I write to any friend, I have so little self-possession that I give him matter for grieving at the very time perhaps when I am laughing at a Pun. Your last letter made me blush for the pain I had given you—I know my own disposition so well that I am certain of writing many times hereafter in the same strain to you—now, you know how far to believe in them. You must allow for Imagination. I know I shall not be able to help it.
I am sorry you are grieved at my not continuing my visits to Little Britain—Yet I think I have as far as a Man can do who has Books to read and subjects to think upon—for that reason I have been nowhere else except to Wentworth Place so nigh at hand—moreover I have been too often in a state of health that made it prudent not to hazard the night air. Yet, further, I will confess to you that I cannot enjoy Society small or numerous—I am certain that our fair friends are glad I should come for the mere sake of my coming; but I am certain I bring with me a vexation they are better without—If I can possibly at any time feel my temper coming upon me I refrain even from a promised visit. I am certain I have not a right feeling towards women—at this moment, I am striving to be just to them, but I cannot—Is it because they fall so far beneath my boyish Imagination? When I was a schoolboy I thought a fair woman a pure Goddess; my mind was a soft nest in which some one of them slept, though she knew it not. I have no right to expect more than their reality—I thought them ethereal above men—I find them perhaps equal—great by comparison is very small. Insult may be inflicted in more ways than by word or action—One who is tender of being insulted does not like to think an insult against another. I do not like to think insults in a lady’s company—I commit a crime with her which absence would not have known. Is it not extraordinary?—when among men, I have no evil thoughts, no malice, no spleen—I feel free to speak or to be silent—I can listen, and from every one I can learn—my hands are in my pockets, I am free from all suspicion and comfortable. When I am among women, I have evil thoughts, malice, spleen—I cannot speak, or be silent—I am full of suspicions and therefore listen to nothing—I am in a hurry to be gone. You must be charitable and put all this perversity to my being disappointed since my boyhood. Yet with such feelings I am happier alone among crowds of men, by myself, or with a friend or two. With all this, trust me, I have not the least idea that men of different feelings and inclinations are more short-sighted than myself. I never rejoiced more than at my Brother’s marriage, and shall do so at that of any of my friends. I must absolutely get over this—but how? the only way is to find the root of the evil, and so cure it “with backward mutters of dissevering power”—that is a difficult thing; for an obstinate Prejudice can seldom be produced but from a gordian complication of feelings, which must take time to unravel, and care to keep unravelled. I could say a good deal about this, but I will leave it, in hopes of better and more worthy dispositions—and also content that I am wronging no one, for after all I do think better of womankind than to suppose they care whether Mister John Keats five feet high likes them or not. You appeared to wish to know my moods on this subject—don’t think it a bore my dear fellow, it shall be my Amen. I should not have consented to myself these four months tramping in the highlands, but that I thought it would give me more experience, rub off more prejudice, use to more hardship, identify finer scenes, load me with grander mountains, and strengthen more my reach in Poetry, than would stopping at home among books, even though I should reach Homer. By this time I am comparatively a Mountaineer. I have been among wilds and mountains too much to break out much about their grandeur. I have fed upon oat-cake—not long enough to be very much attached to it.—The first mountains I saw, though not so large as some I have since seen, weighed very solemnly upon me. The effect is wearing away—yet I like them mainly.
Island of Mull, July 22
We have come this Evening with a guide—for without was impossible—into the middle of the Isle of Mull, pursuing our cheap journey to Iona, and perhaps Staffa. We would not follow the common and fashionable mode, from the great Imposition of Expense. We have come over heath and rock, and river and bog, to what in England would be called a horrid place. Yet it belongs to a Shepherd pretty well off perhaps. The family speak not a word but Gaelic, and we have not yet seen their faces for the smoke, which, after visiting every cranny (not excepting my eyes very much incommoded for writing), finds its way out at the door. I am more comfortable than I could have imagined in such a place, and so is Brown. The people are all very kind—We lost our way a little yesterday; and inquiring at a Cottage, a young woman without a word threw on her cloak and walked a mile in a mizzling rain and splashy way to put us right again.
I could not have had a greater pleasure in these parts than your mention of my sister. She is very much prisoned from me. I am afraid it will be some time before I can take her to many places I wish. I trust we shall see you ere long in Cumberland—At least I hope I shall, before my visit to America, more than once. I intend to pass a whole year there, if I live to the completion of the three next. My sister’s welfare, and the hopes of such a stay in America, will make me observe your advice. I shall be prudent and more careful of my health than I have been. I hope you will be about paying your first visit to Town after settling when we come into Cumberland—Cumberland however will be no distance to me after my present journey. I shall spin to you in a Minute. I begin to get rather a contempt of distances. I hope you will have a nice convenient room for a library. Now you are so well in health, do keep it up by never missing your dinner, by not reading hard, and by taking proper exercise. You’ll have a horse, I suppose, so you must make a point of sweating him. You say I must study Dante—well, the only Books I have with me are those 3 little volumes. I read that fine passage you mention a few days ago. Your letter followed me from Hampstead to Port-Patrick, and thence to Glasgow. You must think me by this time a very pretty fellow. One of the pleasantest bouts we have had was our walk to Burns’s Cottage, over the Doon, and past Kirk Alloway. I had determined to write a Sonnet in the Cottage. I did—but lawk! it was so wretched I destroyed it—however in a few days afterwards I wrote some lines cousin-german to the circumstance, which I will transcribe, or rather cross-scribe in the front of this.
Reynolds’s illness has made him a new man—he will be stronger than ever—before I left London he was really getting a fat face. Brown keeps on writing volumes of adventures to Dilke. When we get in of an evening and I have perhaps taken my rest on a couple of chairs, he affronts my indolence and Luxury by pulling out of his knapsack 1st his paper—2ndly his pens and last his ink. Now I would not care if he would change a little. I say now why not Bailey, take out his pens first sometimes—But I might as well tell a hen to hold up her head before she drinks instead of afterwards.
Your affectionate Friend,
LINES WRITTEN IN THE HIGHLANDS AFTER A VISIT TO BURNS’S COUNTRY
There is a charm in footing slow across a silent plain,
Where patriot Battle has been fought, where glory had the gain;
There is a pleasure on the heath where Druids old have been,
Where Mantles gray have rustled by and swept the nettles green;
There is a Joy in every spot made known by times of old,
New to the feet, although each tale a hundred times be told;
There is a deeper Joy than all, more solemn in the heart,
More parching to the tongue than all, of more divine a smart,
When weary steps forget themselves, upon a pleasant turf,
Upon hot sand, or flinty road, or sea-shore iron scurf,
Toward the Castle, or the Cot, where long ago was born
One who was great through mortal days, and died of fame unshorn.
Light heather-bells may tremble then, but they are far away;
Wood-lark may sing from sandy fern,—the sun may hear his Lay;
Runnels may kiss the grass on shelves and shallows clear,
But their low voices are not heard, though come on travels drear;
Blood-red the sun may set behind black mountain peaks;
Blue tides may sluice and drench their time in Caves and weedy creeks;
Eagles may seem to sleep wing-wide upon the Air;
Ring-doves may fly convuls’d across to some high-cedar’d lair;
But the forgotten eye is still fast lidded to the ground,
As Palmer’s, that, with weariness, mid-desert shrine hath found.
At such a time the Soul’s a child, in childhood is the brain;
Forgotten is the worldly heart—alone, it beats in vain.—
Aye, if a Madman could have leave to pass a healthful day
To tell his forehead’s swoon and faint when first began decay,
He might make tremble many a one whose spirit had gone forth
To find a Bard’s low cradle-place about the silent North.
Scanty the hour and few the steps beyond the bourn of Care,
Beyond the sweet and bitter world,—beyond it unaware!
Scanty the hour and few the steps, because a longer stay
Would bar return, and make a man forget his mortal way:
O horrible! to lose the sight of well remember’d face,
Of Brother’s eyes, of Sister’s brow—constant to every place;
Filling the Air, as on we move, with Portraiture intense;
More warm than those heroic tints that pain a Painter’s sense,
When shapes of old come striding by, and visages of old,
Locks shining black, hair scanty gray, and passions manifold.
No No, that horror cannot be, for at the cable’s length
Man feels the gentle anchor pull and gladdens in its strength:—
One hour, half-idiot, he stands by mossy waterfall,
But in the very next he reads his soul’s Memorial:—
He reads it on the mountain’s height, where chance he may sit down
Upon rough marble diadem—that hill’s eternal Crown.
Yet be his Anchor e’er so fast, room is there for a prayer
That man may never lose his Mind on Mountains black and bare;
That he may stray league after league some Great birthplace to find
And keep his vision clear from speck, his inward sight unblind.