To George and Thomas Keats (Hampstead, 23d January, 1818)
Hampstead, Friday 23d January, 1818
My dear Brothers
I was thinking what hindered me from writing so long, for I have so many things to say to you, and know not where to begin. It shall be upon a thing most interesting to you, my Poem. Well! I have given the first Book to Taylor; he seemed more than satisfied with it, and to my surprise proposed publishing it in Quarto if Haydon would make a drawing of some event therein, for a Frontispiece. I called on Haydon, he said he would do anything I liked, but said he would rather paint a finished picture, from it, which he seems eager to do; this in a year or two will be a glorious thing for us; and it will be, for Haydon is struck with the 1st Book. I left Haydon and the next day received a letter from him, proposing to make, as he says, with all his might, a finished chalk sketch of my head, to be engraved in the first style and put at the head of my Poem, saying at the same time he had never done the thing for any human being, and that it must have considerable effect as he will put his name to it—I begin to-day to copy my 2nd Book—“thus far into the bowels of the land”—You shall hear whether it will be Quarto or non Quarto, picture or non picture. Leigh Hunt I showed my 1st Book to—he allows it not much merit as a whole; says it is unnatural and made ten objections to it in the mere skimming over. He says the conversation is unnatural and too high-flown for Brother and Sister—says it should be simple forgetting do ye mind that they are both overshadowed by a supernatural Power, and of force could not speak like Francesca in the Rimini. He must first prove that Caliban’s poetry is unnatural—This with me completely overturns his objections—the fact is he and Shelley are hurt, and perhaps justly, at my not having showed them the affair officiously and from several hints I have had they appear much disposed to dissect and anatomise any trip or slip I may have made.—But who’s afraid? Ay! Tom! Demme if I am. I went last Tuesday, an hour too late, to Hazlitt’s Lecture on poetry, got there just as they were coming out, when all these pounced upon me. Hazlitt, John Hunt and Son, Wells, Bewick, all the Landseers, Bob Harris, aye and more—the Landseers enquired after you particularly—I know not whether Wordsworth has left town—But Sunday I dined with Hazlitt and Haydon, also that I took Haslam with me—I dined with Brown lately. Dilke having taken the Champion Theatricals was obliged to be in town—Fanny has returned to Walthamstow. Mr. Abbey appeared very glum, the last time I went to see her, and said in an indirect way, that I had no business there—Rice has been ill, but has been mending much lately.
I think a little change has taken place in my intellect lately—I cannot bear to be uninterested or unemployed, I, who for so long a time have been addicted to passiveness. Nothing is finer for the purposes of great productions than a very gradual ripening of the intellectual powers. As an instance of this—observe—I sat down yesterday to read King Lear once again: the thing appeared to demand the prologue of a sonnet, I wrote it, and began to read—(I know you would like to see it.)
ON SITTING DOWN TO KING LEAR ONCE AGAIN.
O golden-tongued Romance with serene Lute!
Fair-plumed Syren, Queen of far-away!
Leave melodising on this wintry day,
Shut up thine olden volume and be mute.
Adieu! for once again the fierce dispute
Betwixt Hell torment and impassion’d Clay
Must I burn through; once more assay
The bitter sweet of this Shakspearian fruit.
Chief Poet! and ye clouds of Albion,
Begetters of our deep eternal theme,
When I am through the old oak forest gone
Let me not wander in a barren dream,
But, when I am consumed with the Fire,
Give me new Phœnix-wings to fly at my desire.
So you see I am getting at it, with a sort of determination and strength, though verily I do not feel it at this moment—this is my fourth letter this morning, and I feel rather tired, and my head rather swimming—so I will leave it open till to-morrow’s post.
I am in the habit of taking my papers to Dilke’s and copying there; so I chat and proceed at the same time. I have been there at my work this evening, and the walk over the Heath takes off all sleep, so I will even proceed with you. I left off short in my last just as I began an account of a private theatrical. Well it was of the lowest order, all greasy and oily, insomuch that if they had lived in olden times, when signs were hung over the doors, the only appropriate one for that oily place would have been—a guttered Candle. They played John Bull, The Review, and it was to conclude with Bombastes Furioso—I saw from a Box the first Act of John Bull, then went to Drury and did not return till it was over—when by Wells’s interest we got behind the scenes—there was not a yard wide all the way round for actors, scene-shifters, and interlopers to move in—for ‘Nota Bene’ the Green Room was under the stage, and there was I threatened over and over again to be turned out by the oily scene-shifters, there did I hear a little painted Trollop own, very candidly, that she had failed in Mary, with a “damn’d if she’d play a serious part again, as long as she lived,” and at the same time she was habited as the Quaker in the Review. There was a quarrel, and a fat good-natured looking girl in soldiers’ clothes wished she had only been a man for Tom’s sake. One fellow began a song, but an unlucky finger-point from the Gallery sent him off like a shot. One chap was dressed to kill for the King in Bombastes, and he stood at the edge of the scene in the very sweat of anxiety to show himself, but Alas the thing was not played. The sweetest morsel of the night moreover was, that the musicians began pegging and fagging away—at an overture—never did you see faces more in earnest, three times did they play it over, dropping all kinds of corrections and still did not the curtain go up. Well then they went into a country dance, then into a region they well knew, into the old boonsome Pothouse, and then to see how pompous o’ the sudden they turned; how they looked about and chatted; how they did not care a damn; was a great treat.
I hope I have not tired you by this filling up of the dash in my last. Constable the bookseller has offered Reynolds ten guineas a sheet to write for his Magazine—it is an Edinburgh one, which Blackwood’s started up in opposition to. Hunt said he was nearly sure that the ‘Cockney School’ was written by Scott so you are right Tom! There are no more little bits of news I can remember at present.
I remain, My dear Brothers,
Your very affectionate Brother