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To George and Georgiana Keats (Winchester, September 17, 1819, Friday)
Winchester, September 17, 1819, Friday
My dear George
I was closely employed in reading and composition in this place, whither I had come from Shanklin for the convenience of a library, when I received your last dated 24th July. You will have seen by the short letter I wrote from Shanklin how matters stand between us and Mr. Jennings. They had not at all moved, and I knew no way of overcoming the inveterate obstinacy of our affairs. On receiving your last, I immediately took a place in the same night’s coach for London. Mr. Abbey behaved extremely well to me, appointed Monday evening at seven to meet me, and observed that he should drink tea at that hour. I gave him the enclosed note and showed him the last leaf of yours to me. He really appeared anxious about it, and promised he would forward your money as quickly as possible. I think I mentioned that Walton was dead…. He will apply to Mr. Gliddon the partner, endeavour to get rid of Mrs. Jennings’ claim, and be expeditious. He has received an answer from my letter to Fry. That is something. We are certainly in a very low estate—I say we, for I am in such a situation, that were it not for the assistance of Brown and Taylor, I must be as badly off as a man can be. I could not raise any sum by the promise of any poem, no, not by the mortgage of my intellect. We must wait a little while. I really have hopes of success. I have finished a tragedy, which if it succeeds will enable me to sell what I may have in manuscript to a good advantage. I have passed my time in reading, writing, and fretting—the last I intend to give up, and stick to the other two. They are the only chances of benefit to us. Your wants will be a fresh spur to me. I assure you you shall more than share what I can get whilst I am still young. The time may come when age will make me more selfish. I have not been well treated by the world, and yet I have, capitally well. I do not know a person to whom so many purse-strings would fly open as to me, if I could possibly take advantage of them, which I cannot do, for none of the owners of these purses are rich. Your present situation I will not suffer myself to dwell upon. When misfortunes are so real, we are glad enough to escape them and the thought of them. I cannot help thinking Mr. Audubon a dishonest man. Why did he make you believe that he was a man of property? How is it that his circumstances have altered so suddenly? In truth, I do not believe you fit to deal with the world, or at least the American world. But, good God! who can avoid these chances? You have done your best. Take matters as coolly as you can; and confidently expecting help from England, act as if no help were nigh. Mine, I am sure, is a tolerable tragedy; it would have been a bank to me, if just as I had finished it, I had not heard of Kean’s resolution to go to America. That was the worst news I could have had. There is no actor can do the principal character besides Kean. At Covent Garden there is a great chance of its being damm’d. Were it to succeed even there it would lift me out of the mire; I mean the mire of a bad reputation which is continually rising against me. My name with the literary fashionables is vulgar. I am a weaver-boy to them. A tragedy would lift me out of this mess, and mess it is as far as regards our pockets. But be not cast down any more than I am; I feel that I can bear real ills better than imaginary ones. Whenever I find myself growing vapourish, I rouse myself, wash, and put on a clean shirt, brush my hair and clothes, tie my shoestrings neatly, and in fact adonise as I were going out. Then, all clean and comfortable, I sit down to write. This I find the greatest relief. Besides I am becoming accustomed to the privations of the pleasures of sense. In the midst of the world I live like a hermit. I have forgot how to lay plans for the enjoyment of any pleasure. I feel I can bear anything,—any misery, even imprisonment, so long as I have neither wife nor child. Perhaps you will say yours are your only comfort; they must be. I returned to Winchester the day before yesterday, and am now here alone, for Brown, some days before I left, went to Bedhampton, and there he will be for the next fortnight. The term of his house will be up in the middle of next month when we shall return to Hampstead. On Sunday, I dined with your mother and Hen and Charles in Henrietta Street. Mrs. and Miss Millar were in the country. Charles had been but a few days returned from Paris. I daresay you will have letters expressing the motives of his journey. Mrs. Wylie and Miss Waldegrave seem as quiet as two mice there alone. I did not show your last. I thought it better not, for better times will certainly come, and why should they be unhappy in the meantime? On Monday morning I went to Walthamstow. Fanny looked better than I had seen her for some time. She complains of not hearing from you, appealing to me as if it were half my fault. I had been so long in retirement that London appeared a very odd place. I could not make out I had so many acquaintances, and it was a whole day before I could feel among men. I had another strange sensation. There was not one house I felt any pleasure to call at. Reynolds was in the country, and, saving himself, I am prejudiced against all that family. Dilke and his wife and child were in the country. Taylor was at Nottingham. I was out, and everybody was out. I walked about the streets as in a strange land. Rice was the only one at home. I passed some time with him. I know him better since we have lived a month together in the Isle of Wight. He is the most sensible and even wise man I know. He has a few John Bull prejudices, but they improve him. His illness is at times alarming. We are great friends, and there is no one I like to pass a day with better. Martin called in to bid him good-bye before he set out for Dublin. If you would like to hear one of his jokes, here is one which, at the time, we laughed at a good deal: A Miss ——, with three young ladies, one of them Martin’s sister, had come a-gadding in the Isle of Wight and took for a few days a cottage opposite ours. We dined with them one day, and as I was saying they had fish. Miss —— said she thought they tasted of the boat. “No” says Martin, very seriously, “they haven’t been kept long enough.” I saw Haslam. He is very much occupied with love and business, being one of Mr. Saunders’ executors and lover to a young woman. He showed me her picture by Severn. I think she is, though not very cunning, too cunning for him. Nothing strikes me so forcibly with a sense of the ridiculous as love. A man in love I do think cuts the sorriest figure in the world; queer, when I know a poor fool to be really in pain about it, I could burst out laughing in his face. His pathetic visage becomes irresistible. Not that I take Haslam as a pattern for lovers; he is a very worthy man and a good friend. His love is very amusing. Somewhere in the Spectator is related an account of a man inviting a party of stutterers and squinters to his table. It would please me more to scrape together a party of lovers—not to dinner, but to tea. There would be no fighting as among knights of old.
Pensive they sit, and roll their languid eyes,
Nibble their toast and cool their tea with sighs;
Or else forget the purpose of the night,
Forget their tea, forget their appetite.
See, with cross’d arms they sit—Ah! hapless crew,
The fire is going out and no one rings
For coals, and therefore no coals Betty brings.
A fly is in the milk-pot. Must he die
Circled by a humane society?
No, no; there, Mr. Werter takes his spoon,
Inserts it, dips the handle, and lo! soon
The little straggler, sav’d from perils dark,
Across the tea-board draws a long wet mark.
Romeo! Arise take snuffers by the handle,
There’s a large cauliflower in each candle.
A winding sheet—ah, me! I must away
To No. 7, just beyond the circus gay.
Alas, my friend, your coat sits very well;
Where may your Taylor live? I may not tell.
O pardon me. I’m absent now and then.
Where might my Taylor live? I say again
I cannot tell. Let me no more be teased;
He lives in Wapping, might live where he pleased.
You see, I cannot get on without writing, as boys do at school, a few nonsense verses. I begin them, and before I have written six the whim has passed—if there is anything deserving so respectable a name in them. I shall put in a bit of information anywhere, just as it strikes me. Mr. Abbey is to write to me as soon as he can bring matters to bear, and then I am to go to town and tell him the means of forwarding to you through Capper and Hazlewood. I wonder I did not put this before. I shall go on to-morrow; it is so fine now I must take a bit of a walk.
Saturday [September 18].
With my inconstant disposition it is no wonder that this morning, amid all our bad times and misfortunes, I should feel so alert and well-spirited. At this moment you are perhaps in a very different state of mind. It is because my hopes are ever paramount to my despair. I have been reading over a part of a short poem I have composed lately, called Lamia, and I am certain there is that sort of fire in it that must take hold of people some way. Give them either pleasant or unpleasant sensation—what they want is a sensation of some sort. I wish I could pitch the key of your spirits as high as mine is; but your organ-loft is beyond the reach of my voice.
I admire the exact admeasurement of my niece in your mother’s letter—O! the little span-long elf. I am not in the least a judge of the proper weight and size of an infant. Never trouble yourselves about that. She is sure to be a fine woman. Let her have only delicate nails both on hands and feet, and both as small as a May-fly’s, who will live you his life on a 3 square inch of oak-leaf; and nails she must have, quite different from the market-women here, who plough into butter and make a quarter pound taste of it. I intend to write a letter to your wife, and there I may say more on this little plump subject—I hope she’s plump. Still harping on my daughter. This Winchester is a place tolerably well suited to me. There is a fine cathedral, a college, a Roman Catholic chapel, a Methodist do., and Independent do.; and there is not one loom, or anything like manufacturing beyond bread and butter, in the whole city. There are a number of rich Catholics in the place. It is a respectable, ancient, aristocratic place, and moreover it contains a nunnery. Our set are by no means so hail fellow well met on literary subjects as we were wont to be. Reynolds has turn’d to the law. By the bye, he brought out a little piece at the Lyceum call’d One, Two, Three, Four: by Advertisement. It met with complete success. The meaning of this odd title is explained when I tell you the principal actor is a mimic, who takes off four of our best performers in the course of the farce. Our stage is loaded with mimics. I did not see the piece, being out of town the whole time it was in progress. Dilke is entirely swallowed up in his boy. It is really lamentable to what a pitch he carries a sort of parental mania. I had a letter from him at Shanklin. He went on, a word or two about the Isle of Wight, which is a bit of hobby horse of his, but he soon deviated to his boy. “I am sitting,” says he, “at the window expecting my boy from ——.” I suppose I told you somewhere that he lives in Westminster, and his boy goes to school there, where he gets beaten, and every bruise he has, and I daresay deserves, is very bitter to Dilke. The place I am speaking of puts me in mind of a circumstance which occurred lately at Dilke’s. I think it very rich and dramatic and quite illustrative of the little quiet fun that he will enjoy sometimes. First I must tell you that their house is at the corner of Great Smith Street, so that some of the windows look into one street, and the back windows into another round the corner. Dilke had some old people to dinner—I know not who, but there were two old ladies among them. Brown was there—they had known him from a child. Brown is very pleasant with old women, and on that day it seems behaved himself so winningly that they became hand and glove together, and a little complimentary. Brown was obliged to depart early. He bid them good-bye and passed into the passage. No sooner was his back turned than the old women began lauding him. When Brown had reached the street door, and was just going, Dilke threw up the window and called: “Brown! Brown! They say you look younger than ever you did!” Brown went on, and had just turned the corner into the other street when Dilke appeared at the back window, crying: “Brown! Brown! By God, they say you’re handsome!” You see what a many words it requires to give any identity to a thing I could have told you in half a minute.
I have been reading lately Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and I think you will be very much amused with a page I here copy for you. I call it a Feu de Joie round the batteries of Fort St. Hyphen-de-Phrase on the birthday of the Digamma. The whole alphabet was drawn up in a phalanx on the corner of an old dictionary, band playing, “Amo, amas,” etc.
“Every lover admires his mistriss, though she be very deformed of herself, ill-favoured, wrinkled, pimpled, pale, red, yellow, tan’d, tallow-faced, have a swoln juglers platter face, or a thin, lean, chitty face, have clouds in her face, be crooked, dry, bald, goggle-ey’d, blear-ey’d or with staring eys, she looks like a squis’d cat, hold her head still awry, heavy, dull, hollow-mouthed, Persean hook-nosed, have a sharp Jose nose, a red nose, China flat, great nose, nare simo patuloque, a nose like a promontory, gubber-tushed, rotten teeth, black, uneven, brown teeth, beetle browed, a witches beard, her breath stink all over the room, her nose drop winter and summer with a Bavarian poke under her chin, a sharp chin, lave eared, with a long cranes neck, which stands awry too, pendulis mammis, her dugs like two double jugs, or else no dugs in the other extream, bloody faln fingers, she have filthy long unpaired nails, scabbed hands or wrists, a tan’d skin, a rotten carkass, crooked back, she stoops, is lame, splea-footed, as slender in the middle as a cow in the waste, gowty legs, her ankles hang over her shooes, her feet stink, she breed lice, a mere changeling, a very monster, an aufe imperfect, her whole complexion savours, an harsh voyce, incondite gesture, vile gait, a vast virago, or an ugly tit, a slug, a fat fustilugs, a truss, a long lean rawbone, a skeleton, a sneaker (sí qua latent meliora puta), and to thy judgment looks like a Mard in a lanthorn, whom thou couldst not fancy for a world, but hatest, lothest, and wouldst have spit in her face, or blow thy nose in her bosome, remedium amoris to another man, a dowdy, a slut, a scold, a nasty, rank, rammy, filthy, beastly quean, dishonest peradventure, obscene, base, beggerly, rude, foolish, untaught, peevish, Irus’ daughter, Thersite’s sister, Grobian’s schollar; if he love her once, he admires her for all this, he takes no notice of any such errors, or imperfections of body or minde.”
There’s a dose for you. Fire!! I would give my favourite leg to have written this as a speech in a play. With what effect could Matthews pop-gun it at the pit! This I think will amuse you more than so much poetry. Of that I do not like to copy any, as I am afraid it is too mal à propos for you at present; and yet I will send you some, for by the time you receive it, things in England may have taken a different turn. When I left Mr. Abbey on Monday evening, I walked up Cheapside, but returned to put some letters in the post, and met him again in Bucklesbury. We walked together through the Poultry as far as the baker’s shop he has some concern in—He spoke of it in such a way to me, I thought he wanted me to make an offer to assist him in it. I do believe if I could be a hatter I might be one. He seems anxious about me. He began blowing up Lord Byron while I was sitting with him: “However, may be the fellow says true now and then,” at which he took up a magazine, and read me some extracts from Don Juan (Lord Byron’s last flash poem), and particularly one against literary ambition. I do think I must be well spoken of among sets, for Hodgkinson is more than polite, and the coffee German endeavoured to be very close to me the other night at Covent Garden, where I went at half price before I tumbled into bed. Every one, however distant an acquaintance, behaves in the most conciliating manner to me. You will see I speak of this as a matter of interest. On the next sheet I will give you a little politics.
In every age there has been in England, for two or three centuries, subjects of great popular interest on the carpet, so that however great the uproar, one can scarcely prophecy any material change in the Government, for as loud disturbances have agitated the country many times. All civilised countries become gradually more enlightened, and there should be a continual change for the better. Look at this country at present, and remember it when it was even thought impious to doubt the justice of a trial by combat. From that time there has been a gradual change. Three great changes have been in progress: first for the better, next for the worse, and a third for the better once more. The first was the gradual annihilation of the tyranny of the nobles, when kings found it their interest to conciliate the common people, elevate them, and be just to them. Just when baronial power ceased, and before standing armies were so dangerous, taxes were few, kings were lifted by the people over the heads of their nobles, and those people held a rod over kings. The change for the worse in Europe was again this: the obligation of kings to the multitude began to be forgotten. Custom had made noblemen the humble servants of kings. Then kings turned to the nobles as the adorners of their power, the slaves of it, and from the people as creatures continually endeavouring to check them. Then in every kingdom there was a long struggle of kings to destroy all popular privileges. The English were the only people in Europe who made a grand kick at this. They were slaves to Henry VIII, but were freemen under William III at the time the French were abject slaves under Louis XIV. The example of England, and the liberal writers of France and England, sowed the seed of opposition to this tyranny, and it was swelling in the ground till it burst out in the French Revolution. That has had an unlucky termination. It put a stop to the rapid progress of free sentiments in England, and gave our Court hopes of turning back to the despotism of the eighteenth century. They have made a handle of this event in every way to undermine our freedom. They spread a horrid superstition against all innovation and improvement. The present struggle in England of the people is to destroy this superstition. What has roused them to do it is their distresses. Perhaps, on this account, the present distresses of this nation are a fortunate thing though so horrid in their experience. You will see I mean that the French Revolution put a temporary stop to this third change—the change for the better—Now it is in progress again, and I think it is an effectual one. This is no contest between Whig and Tory, but between right and wrong. There is scarcely a grain of party spirit now in England. Right and wrong considered by each man abstractedly, is the fashion. I know very little of these things. I am convinced, however, that apparently small causes make great alterations. There are little signs whereby we may know how matters are going on. This makes the business of Carlisle the bookseller of great amount in my mind. He has been selling deistical pamphlets, republished Tom Paine, and many other works held in superstitious horror. He even has been selling, for some time, immense numbers of a work called The Deist, which comes out in weekly numbers. For this conduct he, I think, has had about a dozen indictments issued against him, for which he has found bail to the amount of many thousand pounds. After all, they are afraid to prosecute. They are afraid of his defence; it would be published in all the papers all over the empire. They shudder at this. The trials would light a flame they could not extinguish. Do you not think this of great import? You will hear by the papers of the proceedings at Manchester, and Hunt’s triumphal entry into London. It would take me a whole day and a quire of paper to give you anything like detail. I will merely mention that it is calculated that 30,000 people were in the streets waiting for him. The whole distance from the Angel at Islington to the Crown and Anchor was lined with multitudes.
As I passed Colnaghi’s window I saw a profile portrait of Sandt, the destroyer of Kotzebue. His very look must interest every one in his favour. I suppose they have represented him in his college dress. He seems to me like a young Abelard—a fine mouth, cheek bones (and this is no joke) full of sentiment, a fine, unvulgar nose, and plump temples.
On looking over some letters I found the one I wrote, intended for you, from the foot of Helvellyn to Liverpool; but you had sailed, and therefore it was returned to me. It contained, among other nonsense, an acrostic of my sister’s name—and a pretty long name it is. I wrote it in a great hurry which you will see. Indeed I would not copy it if I thought it would ever be seen by any but yourselves.
Give me your patience, sister, while I frame
Exact in capitals your golden name,
Or sue the fair Apollo, and he will
Rouse from his heavy slumber and instil
Great love in me for thee and Poesy.
Imagine not that greatest mastery
And kingdom over all the realms of verse
Nears more to Heaven in aught than when we nurse
And surety give to love and brotherhood.
Anthropopagi in Othello’s mood;
Ulysses storm’d, and his enchanted belt
Glowed with the Muse: but they are never felt
Unbosom’d so, and so eternal made,
Such tender incense in their laurel shade
To all the recent sisters of the Nine,
As this poor offering to you, sister mine.
Kind sister! aye, this third name says you are;
Enchanted has it been the Lord knows where;
And may its taste to you, like good old wine,
Take you to real happiness, and give
Sons, daughters, and a home like honied hive.
Foot of Helvellyn, June 27.
I sent you in my first packet some of my Scotch letters. I find I have one kept back, which was written in the most interesting part of our tour, and will copy part of it in the hope you will not find it unamusing. I would give now anything for Richardson’s power of making mountains of molehills.
Incipit epistola caledoniensa—
(I did not know the day of the month, for I find I have not added it. Brown must have been asleep). “Just after my last had gone to the post” (before I go any further, I must premise that I would send the identical letter, instead of taking the trouble to copy it; I do not do so, for it would spoil my notion of the neat manner in which I intend to fold these three genteel sheets. The original is written on coarse paper, and the soft one would ride in the post bag very uneasy. Perhaps there might be a quarrel)
I ought to make a large “?” here, but I had better take the opportunity of telling you I have got rid of my haunting sore throat, and conduct myself in a manner not to catch another.
You speak of Lord Byron and me. There is this great difference between us: he describes what he sees—I describe what I imagine. Mine is the hardest task; now see the immense difference. The Edinburgh Reviewers are afraid to touch upon my poem. They do not know what to make of it; they do not like to condemn it, and they will not praise it for fear. They are as shy of it as I should be of wearing a Quaker’s hat. The fact is, they have no real taste. They dare not compromise their judgments on so puzzling a question. If on my next publication they should praise me, and so lug in Endymion, I will address them in a manner they will not at all relish. The cowardliness of the Edinburgh is more than the abuse of the Quarterly.
Monday [September 20].
This day is a grand day for Winchester. They elect the mayor. It was indeed high time the place should have some sort of excitement. There was nothing going on—all asleep. Not an old maid’s sedan returning from a card party; and if any old women have got tipsy at christenings, they have not exposed themselves in the street. The first night, though, of our arrival here there was a slight uproar took place at about ten of the clock. We heard distinctly a noise patting down the street, as of a walking-cane of the good old dowager breed; and a little minute after we heard a less voice observe, “What a noise the ferril made—it must be loose.” Brown wanted to call the constables, but I observed it was only a little breeze, and would soon pass over. The side streets here are excessively maiden-lady-like; the door-steps always fresh from the flannel. The knockers have a very staid, serious, nay almost awful quietness about them. I never saw so quiet a collection of lions’ and rams’ heads. The doors most part black, with a little brass handle just above the keyhole, so that you may easily shut yourself out of your own house. He! He! There is none of your Lady Bellaston ringing and rapping here; no thundering Jupiter-footmen, no opera-treble tattoos, but a modest lifting up of the knocker by a set of little wee old fingers that peep through the gray mittens, and a dying fall thereof. The great beauty of poetry is that it makes everything in every place interesting. The palatine Venice and the abbotine Winchester are equally interesting. Some time since I began a poem called “The Eve of St. Mark,” quite in the spirit of town quietude. I think I will give you the sensation of walking about an old country town in a coolish evening. I know not whether I shall ever finish it; I will give it as far as I have gone. Ut tibi placeat—
THE EVE OF ST. MARK.
Upon a Sabbath-day it fell;
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell,
That call’d the folk to evening prayer;
The city streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains;
And, when on western window panes,
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatured green vallies cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge,
Of primroses by shelter’d rills,
And daisies on the aguish hills.
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell:
The silent streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies,
Warm from their fireside orat’ries;
And moving, with demurest air,
To even-song, and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch, and entry low,
Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet,
While play’d the organ loud and sweet.
The bells had ceas’d, the prayers begun,
And Bertha had not yet half done
A curious volume, patch’d and torn,
That all day long, from earliest morn,
Had taken captive her two eyes,
Among its golden broideries;
Perplex’d her with a thousand things,—
The stars of Heaven, and angels’ wings,
Martyrs in a fiery blaze,
Azure saints and silver rays,
Moses’ breastplate, and the seven
Candlesticks John saw in Heaven,
The winged Lion of St. Mark,
And the Covenantal Ark,
With its many mysteries,
Cherubim and golden mice.
Bertha was a maiden fair,
Dwelling in the old Minster-square;
From her fireside she could see,
Sidelong, its rich antiquity,
Far as the Bishop’s garden-wall,
Where sycamores and elm-trees tall,
Full-leav’d the forest had outstript,
By no sharp north-wind ever nipt,
So shelter’d by the mighty pile.
Bertha arose, and read awhile,
With forehead ’gainst the window-pane.
Again she try’d, and then again,
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the legend of St. Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin,
She lifted up her soft warm chin,
With aching neck and swimming eyes,
And dazed with saintly imageries.
All was gloom, and silent all,
Save now and then the still footfall
Of one returning homewards late,
Past the echoing minster-gate.
The clamorous daws, that all the day
Above tree-tops and towers play,
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in ancient belfry-nest,
Where asleep they fall betimes,
To music and the drowsy chimes.
All was silent, all was gloom,
Abroad and in the homely room:
Down she sat, poor cheated soul!
And struck a lamp from the dismal coal;
Lean’d forward, with bright drooping hair
And slant book, full against the glare.
Her shadow, in uneasy guise,
Hover’d about, a giant size,
On ceiling-beam and old oak chair,
The parrot’s cage, and panel square;
And the warm angled winter-screen,
On which were many monsters seen,
Call’d doves of Siam, Lima mice,
And legless birds of Paradise,
Macaw and tender Avadavat,
And silken-furr’d Angora cat.
Untir’d she read, her shadow still
Glower’d about, as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back,
And dance, and ruffle her garments black,
Untir’d she read the legend page,
Of holy Mark, from youth to age,
On land, on sea, in pagan chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains.
Sometimes the learned eremite,
With golden star, or dagger bright,
Referr’d to pious poesies
Written in smallest crow-quill size
Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme
Was parcelled out from time to time:
“… Als writith he of swevenis,
Man han beforne they wake in bliss,
Whanne that hir friendes thinke him bound
In crimped shroude farre under grounde;
And how a litling child mote be
A saint er its nativitie,
Gif that the modre (God her blesse!)
Kepen in solitarinesse,
And kissen devoute the holy croce.
Of Goddes love, and Sathan’s force,—
He writith; and thinges many mo
Of swiche thinges I may not show
Bot I must tellen verilie
Somdel of Saintè Cicilie,
And chieflie what he auctorethe
Of Saintè Markis life and dethe;”
At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine,
Exalt amid the tapers’ shine
I hope you will like this for all its carelessness. I must take an opportunity here to observe that though I am writing to you, I am all the while writing at your wife. This explanation will account for my speaking sometimes hoity-toity-ishly, whereas if you were alone, I should sport a little more sober sadness. I am like a squinty gentleman, who, saying soft things to one lady ogles another, or what is as bad, in arguing with a person on his left hand, appeals with his eyes to one on the right. His vision is elastic; he bends it to a certain object, but having a patent spring it flies off. Writing has this disadvantage of speaking—one cannot write a wink, or a nod, or a grin, or a purse of the lips, or a smile—O law! One cannot put one’s finger to one’s nose, or yerk ye in the ribs, or lay hold of your button in writing; but in all the most lively and titterly parts of my letter you must not fail to imagine me, as the epic poets say, now here, now there; now with one foot pointed at the ceiling, now with another; now with my pen on my ear, now with my elbow in my mouth. O, my friends, you lose the action, and attitude is everything, as Fuseli said when he took up his leg like a musket to shoot a swallow just darting behind his shoulder. And yet does not the word “mum” go for one’s finger beside the nose? I hope it does. I have to make use of the word “mum” before I tell you that Severn has got a little baby—all his own, let us hope. He told Brown he had given up painting, and had turned modeller. I hope sincerely ’tis not a party concern—that no Mr. —— or —— is the real Pinxit and Severn the poor Sculpsit to this work of art. You know he has long studied in the life Academy. “Haydon—yes,” your wife will say, “Here is a sum total account of Haydon again. I wonder your brother don’t put a monthly bulletin in the Philadelphia papers about him. I won’t hear—no. Skip down to the bottom, and there are some more of his verses—skip (lullaby-by) them too.”—“No, let’s go regularly through.”—“I won’t hear a word about Haydon—bless the child, how rioty she is—there, go on there.”
Now, pray go on here, for I have a few words to say about Haydon. Before this chancery threat had cut off every legitimate supply of cash from me, I had a little at my disposal. Haydon being very much in want, I lent him £30 of it. Now in this see-saw game of life, I got nearest to the ground, and this chancery business rivetted me there, so that I was sitting in that uneasy position where the seat slants so abominably. I applied to him for payment. He could not. That was no wonder; but Goodman Delver, where was the wonder then? Why marry in this: he did not seem to care much about it, and let me go without my money with almost nonchalance, when he ought to have sold his drawings to supply me. I shall perhaps still be acquainted with him, but for friendship, that is at an end. Brown has been my friend in this. He got him to sign a bond, payable at three months. Haslam has assisted me with the return of part of the money you lent him.
Hunt—“there,” says your wife, “there’s another of those dull folk! Not a syllable about my friends? Well, Hunt—What about Hunt? You little thing, see how she bites my finger! My! is not this a tooth?” Well when you have done with the tooth, read on. Not a syllable about your friends! Here are some syllables. As far as I could smoke things on the Sunday before last, thus matters stood in Henrietta Street. Henry was a greater blade then ever I remember to have seen him. He had on a very nice coat, a becoming waistcoat, and buff trousers. I think his face has lost a little of the Spanish-brown, but no flesh. He carved some beef exactly to suit my appetite, as if I had been measured for it. As I stood looking out of the window with Charles, after dinner, quizzing the passengers,—at which I am sorry to say he is too apt,—I observed that this young son of a gun’s whiskers had begun to curl and curl, little twists and twists, all down the sides of his face, getting properly thickest on the angles of the visage. He certainly will have a notable pair of whiskers. “How shiny your gown is in front,” says Charles. “Why don’t you see? ’tis an apron,” says Henry; whereat I scrutinised, and behold your mother had a purple stuff gown on, and over it an apron of the same colour, being the same cloth that was used for the lining. And furthermore to account for the shining, it was the first day of wearing. I guessed as much of the gown—but that is entre nous. Charles likes England better than France. They’ve got a fat, smiling, fair cook as ever you saw; she is a little lame, but that improves her; it makes her go more swimmingly. When I asked “Is Mrs. Wylie within?” she gave me such a large five-and-thirty-year-old smile, it made me look round upon the fourth stair—it might have been the fifth; but that’s a puzzle. I shall never be able, if I were to set myself a recollecting for a year, to recollect. I think I remember two or three specks in her teeth, but I really can’t say exactly. Your mother said something about Miss Keasle—what that was is quite a riddle to me now, whether she had got fatter or thinner, or broader or longer, straiter, or had taken to the zigzags—whether she had taken to or had left off asses’ milk. That, by the bye, she ought never to touch. How much better it would be to put her out to nurse with the wise woman of Brentford. I can say no more on so spare a subject. Miss Millar now is a different morsel, if one knew how to divide and subdivide, theme her out into sections and subsections, lay a little on every part of her body as it is divided, in common with all her fellow-creatures, in Moor’s Almanack. But, alas, I have not heard a word about her, no cue to begin upon: there was indeed a buzz about her and her mother’s being at old Mrs. So and So’s, who was like to die, as the Jews say. But I dare say, keeping up their dialect, she was not like to die. I must tell you a good thing Reynolds did. ’Twas the best thing he ever said. You know at taking leave of a party at a doorway, sometimes a man dallies and foolishes and gets awkward, and does not know how to make off to advantage. Good-bye—well, good-bye—and yet he does not go; good-bye, and so on,—well, good bless you—you know what I mean. Now Reynolds was in this predicament, and got out of it in a very witty way. He was leaving us at Hampstead. He delayed, and we were pressing at him, and even said “be off,” at which he put the tails of his coat between his legs and sneak’d off as nigh like a spaniel as could be. He went with flying colours. This is very clever. I must, being upon the subject, tell you another good thing of him. He began, for the service it might be of to him in the law, to learn French; he had lessons at the cheap rate of 2s. 6d. per fag, and observed to Brown, “Gad,” says he, “the man sells his lessons so cheap he must have stolen ’em.” You have heard of Hook, the farce writer. Horace Smith said to one who asked him if he knew Hook, “Oh yes, Hook and I are very intimate.” There’s a page of wit for you, to put John Bunyan’s emblems out of countenance.
Tuesday [September 21].
You see I keep adding a sheet daily till I send the packet off, which I shall not do for a few days, as I am inclined to write a good deal; for there can be nothing so remembrancing and enchaining as a good long letter, be it composed of what it may. From the time you left me our friends say I have altered completely—am not the same person. Perhaps in this letter I am, for in a letter one takes up one’s existence from the time we last met. I daresay you have altered also—every man does—our bodies every seven years are completely material’d. Seven years ago it was not this hand that clinched itself against Hammond. We are like the relict garments of a saint—the same and not the same, for the careful monks patch it and patch it till there’s not a thread of the original garment left, and still they show it for St. Anthony’s shirt. This is the reason why men who have been bosom friends, on being separated for any number of years meet coldly, neither of them knowing why. The fact is they are both altered.
Men who live together have a silent moulding and influencing power over each other. They interassimilate. ’Tis an uneasy thought, that in seven years the same hands cannot greet each other again. All this may be obviated by a wilful and dramatic exercise of our minds towards each other. Some think I have lost that poetic ardour and fire ’tis said I once had—the fact is, perhaps I have; but, instead of that, I hope I shall substitute a more thoughtful and quiet power. I am more frequently now contented to read and think, but now and then haunted with ambitious thoughts. Quieter in my pulse, improved in my digestion, exerting myself against vexing speculations, scarcely content to write the best verses for the fever they leave behind. I want to compose without this fever. I hope I one day shall. You would scarcely imagine I could live alone so comfortably. “Kepen in solitarinesse.” I told Anne, the servant here, the other day, to say I was not at home if any one should call. I am not certain how I should endure loneliness and bad weather together. Now the time is beautiful. I take a walk every day for an hour before dinner, and this is generally my walk: I go out the back gate, across one street into the cathedral yard, which is always interesting; there I pass under the trees along a paved path, pass the beautiful front of the cathedral, turn to the left under a stone doorway,—then I am on the other side of the building,—which leaving behind me, I pass on through two college-like squares, seemingly built for the dwelling-place of deans and prebendaries, garnished with grass and shaded with trees; then I pass through one of the old city gates, and then you are in one college street, through which I pass, and at the end thereof crossing some meadows, and at last a country alley of gardens, I arrive, that is my worship arrives, at the foundation of St. Cross, which is a very interesting old place, both for its gothic tower and alms square and for the appropriation of its rich rents to a relation of the Bishop of Winchester. Then I pass across St. Cross meadows till you come to the most beautifully clear river—now this is only one mile of my walk. I will spare you the other two till after supper, when they would do you more good. You must avoid going the first mile best after dinner—
[Wednesday, September 22.]
I could almost advise you to put by this nonsense until you are lifted out of your difficulties; but when you come to this part, feel with confidence what I now feel, that though there can be no stop put to troubles we are inheritors of, there can be, and must be, an end to immediate difficulties. Rest in the confidence that I will not omit any exertion to benefit you by some means or other—If I cannot remit you hundreds, I will tens, and if not that, ones. Let the next year be managed by you as well as possible—the next month, I mean, for I trust you will soon receive Abbey’s remittance. What he can send you will not be a sufficient capital to ensure you any command in America. What he has of mine I have nearly anticipated by debts, so I would advise you not to sink it, but to live upon it, in hopes of my being able to increase it. To this end I will devote whatever I may gain for a few years to come, at which period I must begin to think of a security of my own comforts, when quiet will become more pleasant to me than the world. Still, I would have you doubt my success. ’Tis at present the cast of a die with me. You say, “These things will be a great torment to me.” I shall not suffer them to be so. I shall only exert myself the more, while the seriousness of their nature will prevent me from nursing up imaginary griefs. I have not had the blue devils once since I received your last. I am advised not to publish till it is seen whether the tragedy will or not succeed. Should it, a few months may see me in the way of acquiring property. Should it not, it will be a drawback, and I shall have to perform a longer literary pilgrimage. You will perceive that it is quite out of my interest to come to America. What could I do there? How could I employ myself out of reach of libraries? You do not mention the name of the gentleman who assists you. ’Tis an extraordinary thing. How could you do without that assistance? I will not trust myself with brooding over this. The following is an extract from a letter of Reynolds to me:—
“I am glad to hear you are getting on so well with your writings. I hope you are not neglecting the revision of your poems for the press, from which I expect more than you do.”
The first thought that struck me on reading your last was to mortgage a poem to Murray, but on more consideration, I made up my mind not to do so; my reputation is very low; he would not have negotiated my bill of intellect, or given me a very small sum. I should have bound myself down for some time. ’Tis best to meet present misfortunes; not for a momentary good to sacrifice great benefits which one’s own untrammell’d and free industry may bring one in the end. In all this do never think of me as in any way unhappy: I shall not be so. I have a great pleasure in thinking of my responsibility to you, and shall do myself the greatest luxury if I can succeed in any way so as to be of assistance to you. We shall look back upon these times, even before our eyes are at all dim—I am convinced of it. But be careful of those Americans. I could almost advise you to come, whenever you have the sum of £500, to England. Those Americans will, I am afraid, still fleece you. If ever you think of such a thing, you must bear in mind the very different state of society here,—the immense difficulties of the times, the great sum required per annum to maintain yourself in any decency. In fact the whole is with Providence. I know not how to advise you but by advising you to advise with yourself. In your next tell me at large your thoughts about America—what chance there is of succeeding there, for it appears to me you have as yet been somehow deceived. I cannot help thinking Mr. Audubon has deceived you. I shall not like the sight of him. I shall endeavour to avoid seeing him. You see how puzzled I am. I have no meridian to fix you to, being the slave of what is to happen. I think I may bid you finally remain in good hopes, and not tease yourself with my changes and variations of mind. If I say nothing decisive in any one particular part of my letter, you may glean the truth from the whole pretty correctly. You may wonder why I had not put your affairs with Abbey in train on receiving your letter before last, to which there will reach you a short answer dated from Shanklin. I did write and speak to Abbey, but to no purpose. Your last, with the enclosed note, has appealed home to him. He will not see the necessity of a thing till he is hit in the mouth. ’Twill be effectual.
I am sorry to mix up foolish and serious things together, but in writing so much I am obliged to do so, and I hope sincerely the tenor of your mind will maintain itself better. In the course of a few months I shall be as good an Italian scholar as I am a French one. I am reading Ariosto at present, not managing more than six or eight stanzas at a time. When I have done this language, so as to be able to read it tolerably well, I shall set myself to get complete in Latin, and there my learning must stop. I do not think of returning upon Greek. I would not go even so far if I were not persuaded of the power the knowledge of any language gives one. The fact is I like to be acquainted with foreign languages. It is, besides, a nice way of filling up intervals, etc. Also the reading of Dante is well worth the while; and in Latin there is a fund of curious literature of the Middle Ages, the works of many great men—Aretino and Sannazaro and Machiavelli. I shall never become attached to a foreign idiom, so as to put it into my writings. The Paradise Lost, though so fine in itself, is a corruption of our language. It should be kept as it is—unique, a curiosity, a beautiful and grand curiosity, the most remarkable production of the world; a northern dialect accommodating itself to Greek and Latin inversions and intonations. The purest English, I think—or what ought to be purest—is Chatterton’s. The language had existed long enough to be entirely uncorrupted of Chaucer’s Gallicisms, and still the old words are used. Chatterton’s language is entirely northern. I prefer the native music of it to Milton’s, cut by feet. I have but lately stood on my guard against Milton. Life to him would be death to me. Miltonic verse cannot be written, but is the verse of art. I wish to devote myself to another verse alone.
Friday [September 24].
I have been obliged to intermit your letter for two days (this being Friday morning), from having had to attend to other correspondence. Brown, who was at Bedhampton, went thence to Chichester, and I am still directing my letters Bedhampton. There arose a misunderstanding about them. I began to suspect my letters had been stopped from curiosity. However, yesterday Brown had four letters from me all in a lump, and the matter is cleared up. Brown complained very much in his letter to me of yesterday of the great alteration the disposition of Dilke has undergone. He thinks of nothing but political justice and his boy. Now, the first political duty a man ought to have a mind to is the happiness of his friends. I wrote Brown a comment on the subject, wherein I explained what I thought of Dilke’s character, which resolved itself into this conclusion, that Dilke was a man who cannot feel he has a personal identity unless he has made up his mind about everything. The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing—to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts, not a select party. The genus is not scarce in population; all the stubborn arguers you meet with are of the same brood. They never begin upon a subject they have not pre-resolved on. They want to hammer their nail into you, and if you have the point, still they think you wrong. Dilke will never come at a truth as long as he lives, because he is always trying at it. He is a Godwin Methodist.
I must not forget to mention that your mother show’d me the lock of hair—’tis of a very dark colour for so young a creature. Then it is two feet in length. I shall not stand a barley corn higher. That’s not fair; one ought to go on growing as well as others. At the end of this sheet I shall stop for the present and send it off. You may expect another letter immediately after it. As I never know the day of the month but by chance, I put here that this is the 24th September.
I would wish you here to stop your ears, for I have a word or two to say to your wife.
My dear Sister—In the first place I must quarrel with you for sending me such a shabby piece of paper, though that is in some degree made up for by the beautiful impression of the seal. You should like to know what I was doing the first of May. Let me see—I cannot recollect. I have all the Examiners ready to send—they will be a great treat to you when they reach you. I shall pack them up when my business with Abbey has come to a good conclusion, and the remittance is on the road to you. I have dealt round your best wishes like a pack of cards, but being always given to cheat myself, I have turned up ace. You see I am making game of you. I see you are not all happy in that America. England, however, would not be over happy for you if you were here. Perhaps ’twould be better to be teased here than there. I must preach patience to you both. No step hasty or injurious to you must be taken. You say let one large sheet be all to me. You will find more than that in different parts of this packet for you. Certainly, I have been caught in rains. A catch in the rain occasioned my last sore throat; but as for red-haired girls, upon my word, I do not recollect ever having seen one. Are you quizzing me or Miss Waldegrave when you talk of promenading? As for pun-making, I wish it was as good a trade as pin-making. There is very little business of that sort going on now. We struck for wages, like the Manchester weavers, but to no purpose. So we are all out of employ. I am more lucky than some, you see, by having an opportunity of exporting a few—getting into a little foreign trade, which is a comfortable thing. I wish one could get change for a pun in silver currency. I would give three and a half any night to get into Drury pit, but they won’t ring at all. No more will notes you will say; but notes are different things, though they make together a pun-note as the term goes. If I were your son, I shouldn’t mind you, though you rapt me with the scissors. But, Lord! I should be out of favour when the little un be comm’d. You have made an uncle of me, you have, and I don’t know what to make of myself. I suppose next there will be a nevey. You say in my last, write directly. I have not received your letter above ten days. The thought of your little girl puts me in mind of a thing I heard a Mr. Lamb say. A child in arms was passing by towards its mother, in the nurse’s arms. Lamb took hold of the long clothes, saying: “Where, God bless me, where does it leave off?”
Saturday [September 25].
If you would prefer a joke or two to anything else, I have two for you, fresh hatched, just ris, as the bakers’ wives say by the rolls. The first I played off on Brown; the second I played on myself. Brown, when he left me, “Keats,” says he, “my good fellow” (staggering upon his left heel and fetching an irregular pirouette with his right); “Keats,” says he (depressing his left eyebrow and elevating his right one), though by the way at the moment I did not know which was the right one; “Keats,” says he (still in the same posture, but furthermore both his hands in his waistcoat pockets and putting out his stomach), “Keats—my—go-o-ood fell-o-o-ooh,” says he (interlarding his exclamation with certain ventriloquial parentheses),—no, this is all a lie—He was as sober as a judge, when a judge happens to be sober, and said: “Keats, if any letters come for me, do not forward them, but open them and give me the marrow of them in a few words.” At the time I wrote my first to him no letter had arrived. I thought I would invent one, and as I had not time to manufacture a long one, I dabbed off a short one, and that was the reason of the joke succeeding beyond my expectations. Brown let his house to a Mr. Benjamin—a Jew. Now, the water which furnishes the house is in a tank, sided with a composition of lime, and the lime impregnates the water unpleasantly. Taking advantage of this circumstance, I pretended that Mr. Benjamin had written the following short note—
Sir—By drinking your damn’d tank water I have got the gravel. What reparation can you make to me and my family?
By a fortunate hit, I hit upon his right—heathen name—his right pronomen. Brown in consequence, it appears, wrote to the surprised Mr. Benjamin the following—
Sir—I cannot offer you any remuneration until your gravel shall have formed itself into a stone—when I will cut you with pleasure.
This of Brown’s Mr. Benjamin has answered, insisting on an explanation of this singular circumstance. B. says: “When I read your letter and his following, I roared; and in came Mr. Snook, who on reading them seem’d likely to burst the hoops of his fat sides.” So the joke has told well.
Now for the one I played on myself. I must first give you the scene and the dramatis personæ. There are an old major and his youngish wife here in the next apartments to me. His bedroom door opens at an angle with my sitting-room door. Yesterday I was reading as demurely as a parish clerk, when I heard a rap at the door. I got up and opened it; no one was to be seen. I listened, and heard some one in the major’s room. Not content with this, I went upstairs and down, looked in the cupboards and watch’d. At last I set myself to read again, not quite so demurely, when there came a louder rap. I was determined to find out who it was. I looked out; the staircases were all silent. “This must be the major’s wife,” said I. “At all events I will see the truth.” So I rapt me at the major’s door and went in, to the utter surprise and confusion of the lady, who was in reality there. After a little explanation, which I can no more describe than fly, I made my retreat from her, convinced of my mistake. She is to all appearance a silly body, and is really surprised about it. She must have been, for I have discovered that a little girl in the house was the rapper. I assure you she has nearly made me sneeze. If the lady tells tits, I shall put a very grave and moral face on the matter with the old gentleman, and make his little boy a present of a humming top.
[Monday, September 27.]
My dear George
This Monday morning, the 27th, I have received your last, dated 12th July. You say you have not heard from England for three months. Then my letter from Shanklin, written, I think, at the end of June, has not reach’d you. You shall not have cause to think I neglect you. I have kept this back a little time in expectation of hearing from Mr. Abbey. You will say I might have remained in town to be Abbey’s messenger in these affairs. That I offered him, but he in his answer convinced me that he was anxious to bring the business to an issue. He observed, that by being himself the agent in the whole, people might be more expeditious. You say you have not heard for three months, and yet your letters have the tone of knowing how our affairs are situated, by which I conjecture I acquainted you with them in a letter previous to the Shanklin one. That I may not have done. To be certain, I will here state that it is in consequence of Mrs. Jennings threatening a chancery suit that you have been kept from the receipt of monies, and myself deprived of any help from Abbey. I am glad you say you keep up your spirits. I hope you make a true statement on that score. Still keep them up, for we are all young. I can only repeat here that you shall hear from me again immediately. Notwithstanding this bad intelligence, I have experienced some pleasure in receiving so correctly two letters from you, as it gives me, if I may so say, a distant idea of proximity. This last improves upon my little niece—kiss her for me. Do not fret yourself about the delay of money on account of my immediate opportunity being lost, for in a new country whoever has money must have an opportunity of employing it in many ways. The report runs now more in favour of Kean stopping in England. If he should, I have confident hopes of our tragedy. If he invokes the hot-blooded character of Ludolph,—and he is the only actor that can do it,—he will add to his own fame and improve my fortune. I will give you a half-dozen lines of it before I part as a specimen—
Not as a swordsman would I pardon crave,
But as a son: the bronz’d Centurion,
Long-toil’d in foreign wars, and whose high deeds
Are shaded in a forest of tall spears,
Known only to his troop, hath greater plea
Of favour with my sire than I can have.
Believe me, my dear brother and sister, your affectionate and anxious Brother