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And from them comes a silver flash of light,
See! what is coming from the distance dim!
Three rows of oars are lightening, moment whiles,
A fear in the poor Herdsman, who doth bring
O, that our dreamings all, of sleep or wake,
Beyond its proper bound, yet still confin'd,
Of either earth or heaven? It is a flaw
Dear Reynolds! I have a mysterious tale, And cannot speak it: the first page I read Upon a Lampit rock of green sea-weed Among the breakers; 'twas a quiet eve,
The rocks were silent, the wide sea did wave
An untumultuous fringe of silver foam
Along the flat brown sand; I was at home
And should have been most happy, but I saw
Still am I sick of it, and tho', to-day,
I've gathered young spring-leaves, and flowers gay
Still do I that most fierce destruction see,--
You know I'd sooner be a clapping Bell
To some Kamtchatcan Missionary Church,
Than with these horrid moods be left i' the lurch.
TEIGNMOUTH, 25 March, 1818.
MY DEAR RICE,
Being in the midst of your favorite Devon, I should not, by right, pen one word but it should contain a vast portion of wit, wisdom, and learning; for I have heard that Milton, ere he wrote his answer to Salmasius, came into these parts, and for one whole month, rolled himself, for three whole hours a day, in a certain meadow hard by us, where the mark of his nose at equidistances is still shown. The exhibitor of the said meadow further saith, that, after these rollings, not a nettle sprang up in all the seven acres, for seven years, and that from the said time a new sort of plant was made from the whitethorn, of a thornless nature, very much used by the bucks of the present day to rap their boots withal. This account made me very naturally suppose that the nettles and thorns etherealized by the scholar's rotatory motion, and garnered in his head, thence flew, after a process of fermentation, against the luckless Salmasius, and occasioned his well-known and unhappy end. What a happy thing it would be if we could settle our thoughts and make our minds up on any matter in five minutes, and remain content, that is, build a sort of mental cottage of feelings, quiet and pleasant-to have a sort of
philosophical back-garden, and cheerful holiday-keeping front one. But, alas! this never can be; for as the material cottager knows there are such places as France and Italy, and the Andes, and burning mountains, so the spiritual cottager has knowledge of the terra semi-incognita of things unearthly, and cannot, for his life, keep in the check-rein—or I should stop here, quiet and comfortable in my theory of-nettles. You will see, however, I am obliged to run wild, being attracted by the lode-stone concatenation. No sooner had I settled the knotty point of Salmasius, than the devil put this whim into my head in the likeness of one of Pythagoras's questionings-Did Milton do more good or harm in the world? He wrote, let me inform you, (for I have it from a friend who had it of —,) he wrote "Lycidas," "Comus," "Paradise Lost," and other Poems, with much delectable prose; he was moreover an active friend to man all his life, and has been since his death. Very good. But, my dear fellow, I must let you know that, as there is ever the same quantity of matter constituting this habitable globe, as the ocean, notwithstanding the enormous changes and revolutions taking place in some or other of its demesnes, notwithstanding waterspouts, whirlpools, and mighty rivers emptying themselves into it, it still is made up of the same bulk, nor ever varies the number of its atoms; and, as a certain bulk of water was instituted at the creation, so, very likely, a certain portion of intellect was spun forth into the thin air, for the brains of man to prey upon it. You will see my drift, without any unnecessary parenthesis. That which is contained in the Pacific could not be in the hollow of the Caspian; that which was in Milton's head could not find room in Charles the Second's. He, like a moon, attracted intellect to its flow-it has not ebbed yet, but has left the shore-pebbles all bare-I mean all bucks, authors of Hengist, and Castlereaghs of the present day, who, without Milton's gormandizing, might have been all wise men. Now for as much as I was very predisposed to a country I had heard you speak so highly of, I took particular notice of every thing during my journey, and have bought some nice folio asses' skins for memorandums. I have seen every thing but the wind-and that, they say, becomes visible by taking a dose of acorns, or sleeping one night in a hogtrough, with your tail to the sow-sow-west.
I went yesterday to Dawlish fair.
"Over the Hill and over the Dale,
Your sincere friend,
Mr. Reynolds seems to have objected to a Preface written for
TEIGNMOUTH, April 9th, 1818.
MY DEAR REYNOLDS,
Since you all agree that the thing is bad, it must be so-though I am not aware that there is any thing like Hunt in it, (and if there is, it is my natural way, and I have something in common with Hunt.) Look over it again, and examine into the motives, the seeds, from which every one sentence sprang.
I have not the slightest feeling of humility towards the public, or to any thing in existence but the Eternal Being, the Principle of Beauty, and the Memory of Great Men. When I am writing for myself, for the mere sake of the moment's enjoyment, perhaps nature has its course with me; but a Preface is written to the public-a thing I cannot help looking upon as an enemy, and which I cannot address without feelings of hostility. If I write a Preface in a supple or subdued style, it will not be in character with me as a public speaker.
I would be subdued before my friends, and thank them for subduing me; but among multitudes of men I have no feel of stooping; I hate the idea of humility to them.
I never wrote one single line of poetry with the least shadow (of public thought.
Forgive me for vexing you, and making a Trojan horse of such a trifle, both with respect to the matter in question, and myself; but it eases me to tell you: I could not live without the love of my friends; I would jump down Ætna for any great public good-but I hate a mawkish popularity. I cannot be subdued
before them. My glory would be to daunt and dazzle the thousand jabberers about pictures and books. I see swarms of porcupines with their quills erect "like lime-twigs set to catch my winged book," and I would fright them away with a touch. You will say my Preface is not much of a touch. It would have been too insulting" to begin from Jove," and I could not [set] a golden head upon a thing of clay. If there is any fault in the Preface it is not affectation, but an undersong of disrespect to the public. If I write another Preface it must be done without a thought of those people. I will think about it. If it should not reach you in four or five days, tell Taylor to publish it without a Preface, and let the Dedication simply stand-"Inscribed to the Memory of Thomas Chatterton."
I had resolved last night to write to you this morning—I wish it had been about something else-something to greet you towards the close of your long illness. I have had one or two intimations of your going to Hampstead for a space; and I regret to see your confounded rheumatism keeps you in Little Britain, where I am sure the air is too confined.
Devonshire continues rainy. As the drops beat against my window, they give me the same sensation as a quart of cold water offered to revive a half-drowned devil-no feel of the clouds dropping fatness; but as if the roots of the earth were rotten, cold, and drenched. I have not been able to go to Kent's ca[ve ?] at Babbicomb; however, on one very beautiful day I had a fine clamber over the rocks all along as far as that place.
I shall be in town in about ten days. We go by way of Bath on purpose to call on Bailey. I hope soon to be writing to you about the things of the north, purposing to wayfare all over those parts. I have settled my accoutrements in my own mind, and will go to gorge wonders. However, we'll have some days together before I set out.
I have many reasons for going wonder-ways; to make my winter chair free from spleen; to enlarge my vision; to escape disquisitions on poetry, and Kingston-criticism; to promote digestion and economize shoe-leather. I'll have leather buttons and belt; and, if Brown holds his mind, "over the hills we go." If my books will keep me to it, then will I take all Europe in turn,