From Hampstead, February 19th, 1818
My dear Reynolds
I had an idea that a Man might pass a very pleasant life in this manner – Let him on a certain day read a certain page of full Poesy or distilled Prose, and let him wander upon it, and bring home to it, and prophesy upon it, and dream upon it: until it becomes stale – But when will it do so? Never – When Man has arrived at a certain ripeness in intellect any one grand and spiritual passage serves him as a starting-post towards all ‘the two-and-thirty Palaces.’ How happy is such a voyage of concentration, what delicious diligent Indolence! …Nor will this sparing touch of noble Books be any irreverence to their Writers – for perhaps the honors paid by Man to Man are trifles in comparison to the Benefit done by great works to the ‘spirit and pulse of good’ by their mere passive existence. Memory should not be called Knowledge – Many have original minds who do not think it – they are led away by Custom. Now it appears to me that almost any Man may like the spider spin from his own inwards his own airy Citadel – the points of leaves and twigs on thich the spider begins her work are few, and she fills the air with a beautiful ciruiting. Man should be content with as few points to tip with the fine Web of his Soul, and weave a tapestry empyrean full of symbols for his spiritual eye, of softness for his spiritual touch, of space for his wandering, of distinctness for his luxury. But the Minds of Mortals are so different and bent on such diverse journeys that it may at first appear impossible for any common taste and fellowship to exist between two or three under these suppositions. It is however quite the contrary. Minds would leave each other in contrary directions, traverse each other in numberless points, and at last greet each other at the journey’s end. An old Man and a child would talk together and the old Man be led on his path and the child left thinking. Man should not dispute or assert but whisper results to his neighbour and thus by every germ of spirit sucking the sap from mould ethereal every human might become great, and Humanity instead of being a wide heath of Furze and Briars with here and there a remote Oak or Pine, would become a grand democracy of Forest Trees! It has been an old comparison for our urging on – the Beehive; however, it seems to me that we should rather be the flower than the Bee – for it is a false notion that more is gained by receiving than giving – no, the receiver and the giver are equal in their benefits. The flower, I doubt not, receives a fair guerdon from the Bee – its leaves blush deeper in the next spring – and who shall say between man and woman which is the most delighted? Now it is more noble to sit like Jove than to fly like Mercury – let us not therefore go hurrying about and collecting honey, bee-like buzzing here and there impatiently from a knowledge of what is to be aimed at; but let us open our leaves like a flower and be passive and receptive – budding patiently under the eye of Apollo and taking hints from every noble insect that favours us with a visit – sap will be given us for meat and dew for drink. I was led into these thoughts, my dear Reynolds, by the beauty of the morning operating on a sense of Idleness – I have not read any books – the Morning said I was right – I had no idea but of the morning, and the thrush said I was right – seeming to say,
O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist,
And the black elm-tops ‘mong the freezing stars,
To thee the Spring will be a harvest-time.
O thou, whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness which thou feddest on
Night after night when Phoebus was away,
To thee the Spring shall be a triple morn.
O fret not after knowledge – I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge – I have none,
And yet the Evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.
Now I am sensible all this is a mere sophistication (however it may neighbor to any truths), to excuse my own indolence – so I will not deceive myself that man should be equal with Jove – but think himself very well off as a sort of scullion-Mercury, or even a humble Bee. It is no matter whether I am right or wrong, either one way or another, if there is sufficient to lift a little time from your shoulders.
Your affectionate friend,