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Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
How can I help bringing to your mind the line
"In the dark backward and abysm of time."
I find I cannot exist without Poetry-without eternal Poetry; half the day will not do the whole of it. I began with a little, but habit has made me a leviathan. I had become all in a tremble from not having written any thing of late: the Sonnet over-leaf (i. e. on the preceding page) did me good; I slept the better last night for it; this morning, however, I am nearly as bad again. Just now I opened Spenser, and the first lines I saw were these
"The noble heart that harbors virtuous thought
Let me know particularly about Haydon, ask him to write to me about Hunt, if it be only ten lines. I hope all is well. I shall forthwith begin my "Endymion," which I hope I shall have got some way with before you come, when we will read our verses in a delightful place, I have set my heart upon, near the Castle. Give my love to your sisters severally.
MY DEAR HAYDON,
Your sincere friend,
(Without date, but written early in May, 1817.)
"Let Fame, that all pant after in their lives,
To think that I have no right to couple myself with you in this speech would be death to me, so I have e'en written it, and I pray God that our "brazen tombs" be nigh neighbors.* It cannot be long first; the "endeavor of this present breath" will soon be over, and yet it is as well to breathe freely during our sojourn it is as well if you have not been teased with that money affair, that bill-pestilence. However, I must think that difficulties nerve the spirit of a man; they make our prime objects a refuge as well as a passion; the trumpet of Fame is as a tower of strength, the ambitious bloweth it, and is safe. I suppose, by your telling me not to give way to forebodings, George has been telling you what I have lately said in my letters to him; truth is, I have been in such a state of mind as to read over my lines and to hate them. I am one that "gathereth samphire, dreadful trade:" the cliff of Poetry towers above me; yet when my brother reads some of Pope's Homer, or Plutarch's Lives, they seem like music to mine. I read and write about eight hours a-day. There is an old saying, "Well begun is half done;" 'tis a bad one; I would use instead, "Not begun at all till half done;" so, according to that, I have not begun my Poem, and consequently, à priori, can say nothing about it; thank God, I do begin ardently, when I leave off, notwithstanding my occasional depressions, and I hope for the support of a high power while I climb this little eminence, and especially in my years of momentous labor. I remember your saying that you had notions of a good Genius presiding over you. I have lately had the same thought, for things which, done half at random, are afterwards confirmed by my judgment in a dozen features of propriety. Is it too daring to fancy Shakspeare this presider? When in the Isle of Wight I met with a Shakspeare in the passage of the house at which I lodged. It comes nearer to my idea of him than any I have seen; I was but there a week, yet the old woman made me take it with me, though I went off in a hurry. Do you not think this omin
*To the copy of this letter, given me by Mr. Haydon on the 14th of May, 1810, a note was affixed at this place, in the words "Perhaps they may be." -Alas! no.
ous of good? I am glad you say every man of great views is at times tormented as I am.
(Sunday after.) This morning I received a letter from George, by which it appears that money troubles are to follow up for some time to come-perhaps for always: those vexations are a great hinderance to one; they are not, like envy and detraction, stimulants to further exertions, as being immediately relative and reflected on at the same time with the prime object; but rather like a nettle-leaf or two in your bed. So now I revoke my promise of finishing my Poem by autumn, which I should have done had I gone on as I have done. But I cannot write while my spirit is fevered in a contrary direction, and I am now sure of having plenty of it this summer; at this moment I am in no enviable situation. I feel that I am not in a mood to write any to-day, and it appears that the loss of it is the beginning of all sorts of irregularities. I am extremely glad that a time must come when every hing will leave not a wreck behind. You tell me never to despair. I wish it was as easy for me to observe this saying: truth is, I have a horrid morbidity of temperament, which has shown itself at intervals; it is, I have no doubt, the greatest stumbling-block I have to fear; I may surer say, it is likely to be the cause of my disappointment. However, every ill has its share of good; this, my bane, would at any time enable me to look with an obstinate eye on the very devil himself; or, to be as proud to be the lowest of the human race, as Alfred would be in being of the highest. I am very sure that you do love me as your very brother. I have seen it in your continual anxiety for me, and I assure you that your welfare and fame is, and will be, a chief pleasure to me all my life. I know no one but you who can be fully aware of the turmoil and anxiety, the sacrifice of all that is called comfort, the readiness to measure time by what is done, and to die in six hours, could plans be brought to conclusions; the looking on the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, and its contents, as materials to form greater things, that is to say, ethereal things-but here I am talking like a madman,greater things than our Creator himself made.
I wrote to yesterday: scarcely know what I said in it; I could not talk about poetry in the way I should have liked, for
I was not in humor with either his or mine. There is no greater sin, after the seven deadly, than to flatter one's self into the idea of being a great poet, or one of those beings who are privileged to wear out their lives in the pursuit of honor. How comfortable a thing it is to feel that such a crime must bring its heavy penalty, that if one be a self-deluder, accounts must be balanced! I am glad you are hard at work; it will now soon be done. I long to see Wordsworth's, as well as to have mine in; but I would rather not show my face in town till the end of the year, if that would be time enough; if not, I shall be disappointed if you do not write me ever when you think best. I never quite despair, and I read Shakspeare, indeed, I shall, I think, never read any other book much; now this might lead me into a very long confab, but I desist. I am very near agreeing with Hazlitt, that Shakspeare is enough for us. By the by, what a tremendous Southean article this last was. I wish he had left out " gray hairs." It was very gratifying to meet your remarks on the manuscript. I was reading Antony and Cleopatra when I got the paper, and there are several passages applicable to the events you commentate. You say that he arrived by degrees, and not by any single struggle, to the height of his ambition, and that his life had been as common in particular as other men's. Shakspeare makes Enobarbus say,
Eros. He's walking in the garden, and spurns
In the same scene we find
"Let determined things To destiny hold unbewailed their way."
Dolabella says of Antony's messenger,
"An argument that he is plucked, when hither
Then again Enobarbus:
"men's judgments are
A parcel of their fortunes; and things outward
The following applies well to Bertrand :
"Yet he that can endure
To follow with allegiance a fallen Lord,
Does conquer him, that did his master conquer,
'Tis good, too, that the Duke of Wellington has a good word or so in the "Examiner;" a man ought to have the fame he deserves; and I begin to think that detracting from him is the same thing as from Wordsworth. I wish he (Wordsworth) had a little more taste, and did not in that respect "deal in Lieutenantry." You should have heard from me before this; but, in the first place, I did not like to do so, before I had got a little way in the first Book, and in the next, as G. told me you were going to write, I delayed till I heard from you. So now in the name of Shakspeare, Raphael, and all our Saints, I commend you to the care of Heaven.
Your everlasting friend,
In the early part of May, it appears from the following extract of a letter to Mr. Hunt,* written from Margate, that the sojourn in the Isle of Wight had not answered his expectations: the solitude, or rather the company of self, was too much for him.
"I went to the Isle of Wight, thought so much about poetry, so long together, that I could not get to sleep at night; and, moreover, I know not how it is, I could not get wholesome food. By this means, in a week or so, I became not over capable in my upper stories, and set off pell-mell for Margate, at least a hundred and fifty miles, because, forsooth, I fancied I should like my old lodgings here, and could continue to do without trees. Another
* Given entire in the first volume of "Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries."