September 24, 1802
My Dear Manning,--Since the date of my last tetter, I have been a traveller, A strong desire seized me of visiting remote regions. My first impulse was to go aod see Paris. It was a trivial objection to my aspiring mind that I did not understand a word of the language, since I certainly intend some time in my life to see Paris, and equally certainly never intend to learn the language; therefore that could be no objection. However, I am very glad I did not go, because you had left Paris (I see) before I could have set out. I believe Stoddart promising to go with me another year prevented that plan. My next scheme (for to my restless, ambitious mind London was become a bed of thorns) was to visit the far-famed peak in Derbyshire, where the Devil sits, they say, without breeches. This my purer mind rejected as indelicate. And my final resolve was a tour to the Lakes. I set out with Mary to Keswick, without giving Coleridge any notice; for my time, being precious, did not admit of it. He received us with all the hospitality tality in the world, and gave up his time to show us all the wonders of the country. He dwells upon a small hill by the side of Keswick, in a comfortable house, quite enveloped on all sides by a net of mountains,--great floundering bears and monsters they seemed, all couchant and asleep. We got in in the evening, travelling in a post-chaise from Penrith, in the midst of a gorgeous sunshine, which transmuted all the mountains into colors, purple, etc. We thought we had got into fairy-land. But that went off (as it never came again; while we stayed, we had no more fine sunsets); and we entered Coleridge's comfortable study just in the dusk, when the mountains were all dark, with clouds upon their heads. Such an impression I never received from objects of sight before, nor do I suppose that I can ever again. Glorious creatures, fine old fellows, Skiddaw, etc. I never shall forget ye, how ye lay about that night, like an intrenchment; gone to bed, as it seemed for the night, but promising that ye were to be seen in the morning. Coleridge had got a blazing fire in his study, which is a large, antique, ill-shaped room, with an old-fashioned organ, never played upon, big enough for a church, shelves of scattered folios, an Ĉolian harp, and an old sofa, half-bed, etc.; and all looking out upon the last fading view of Skiddaw and his broad-breasted brethren. What a night! Here we stayed three full weeks, in which time I visited Wordsworth's cottage, where we stayed a day or two with the Clarksons (good people and most hospitable, at whose house we tarried one day and night), and saw Lloyd. The Wordsworths were gone to Calais. They have since been in London, and passed much time with us; he has now gone into Yorkshire to be married. So we have seen Keswick, Grasmere, Ambleside, Ulswater (where the Clarksons live), and a place at the other end of Ulswater,--I forget the name, --to which we travelled on a very sultry day, over the middle of Helvellyn. We have clambered up to the top of Skiddaw, and I have waded up the bed of Lodore. In fine, I have satisfied myself that there is such a thing as that which tourists call romantic, which I very much suspected before; they make such a spluttering about it, and toss their splendid epithets around them, till they give as dim a light as at four o'clock next morning the lamps do after an illumination. Mary was excessively tired when she got about half way up Skiddaw; but we came to a cold rill (than which nothing can be imagined more cold, running over cold stones), and with the reinforcement of a draught of cold water she surmounted it most manfully. Oh, its fine black head, and the bleak air atop of it, with a prospect of mountains all about and about, making you giddy; and then Scotland afar off, and the border countries so famous in song and ballad! It was a day that will stand out like a mountain, I am sure, in my life. But I am returned (I have now been come home near three weeks; I was a month out), and you cannot conceive the degradation I felt at first, from being accustomed to wander free as air among mountains, and bathe in rivers without being controlled by any one, to come home and work. I felt very little. I had been dreaming I was a very great man. But that is going off, and I find I shall conform in time to that state of life to which it has pleased God to call me. Besides, after all, Fleet Street and the Strand are better places to live in for good and all than amidst Skiddaw. Still, I turn back to those great places where I wandered about, participating in their greatness. After all, I could not live in Skiddaw. I could spend a year,--two, three years among them; but I must have a prospect of seeing Fleet Street at the end of that time, or I should mope and pine away, I know. Still, Skiddaw is a fine creature.
My habits are changing, I think,--i.e., from drunk to sober. Whether I shall be happier or not, remains to be proved. I shall certainly be more happy in a morning; but whether I shall not sacrifice the fat and the marrow and the kidneys,--i.e., the night,--glorious, care-drowning night, that heals all our wrongs, pours wine into our mortifications, changes the scene from indifferent and flat to bright and brilliant? O Manning, if I should have formed a diabolical resolution, by the time you come to England, of not admitting any spirituous liquors into my house, will you be my guest on such shameworthy terms? Is life, with such limitations, worth trying? The truth is, that my liquors bring a nest of friendly harpies about my house, who consume me. This is a pitiful tale to be read at St. Gothard; but it is just now nearest my heart.
October 23, 1802.
I read daily your political essays. I was particularly pleased with "Once a Jacobin;" though the argument is obvious enough, the style was less swelling than your things sometimes are, and it was plausible ad populum. A vessel has just arrived from Jamaica with the news of poor Sam Le Grice's death. He died at Jamaica of the yellow fever. His course was rapid, and he had been very foolish; but I believe there was more of kindness and warmth in him than in almost any other of our schoolfellows. The annual meeting of the Blues is to-morrow, at the London Tavern, where poor Sammy dined with them two years ago, and attracted the notice of all by the singular foppishness of his dress. When men go off the stage so early, it scarce seems a noticeable thing in their epitaphs, whether they had been wise or silly in their lifetime.
I am glad the snuff and Pi-pos's books please. "Goody Two Shoes" is almost out of print. Mrs. Barbauld's stuff has banished all the old classics of the nursery; and the shopman at Newberry's hardly deigned to reach them off an old exploded corner of a shelf, when Mary asked for them. Mrs. B.'s and Mrs. Trimmer's nonsense lay in piles about. Knowledge insignificant and vapid as Mrs. B.'s books convey, it seems, must come to the child in the shape of knowledge, and his empty noddle must be turned with conceit of his own powers when he has learned that a horse is an animal, and Billy is better than a horse, and such like; instead of that beautiful interest in wild tales which made the child a man, while all the time he suspected himself to be no bigger than a child. Science has succeeded to poetry no less in the little walks of children than with men. Is there no possibility of averting this sore evil? Think what you would have been now, if instead of being fed with tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with geography and natural history!
Hang them!--I mean the cursed Barbauld crew, those blights and blasts of all that is human in man and child.
As to the translations, let me do two or three hundred lines, and then do you try the nostrums upon Stuart in any way you please. If they go down, I will bray more. In fact, if I got or could but get £50 a year only, in addition to what I have, I should live in affluence.
Have you anticipated it, or could not you give a parallel of Bonaparte with Cromwell, particularly as to the contrast in their deeds affecting foreign States? Cromwell's interference for the Albigenses, B[onaparte]'s against the Swiss. Then religion would come in; and Milton and you could rant about our countrymen of that period. This is a hasty suggestion, the more hasty because I want my supper. I have just finished Chapman's Homer. Did you ever read it? It has most the continuous power of interesting you all along, like a rapid original, of any, and in the uncommon excellence of the more finished parts goes beyond Fairfax or any of 'em. The metre is fourteen syllables, and capable of all sweetness and grandeur, Cowper's ponderous blank verse detains you every step with some heavy Miltonism; Chapman gallops off with you his own free pace. Take a simile, for example. The council breaks up,--
"Being abroad, the earth was overlaid With fleckers to them, that came forth; as when of frequent bees Swarms rise out of a hollow rock, repairing the degrees Of their egression endlessly,--with ever rising new From forth their sweet nest; as their store, still as it faded, grew,
"And never would cease sending forth her dusters to the spring. They still crowd out so: this flock here, that there, belaboring The loaded flowers. So," etc.
What endless egression of phrases the dog commands!
Take another.--Agamemnon, wounded, bearing hiss wound, heroically for the sake of the army (look below) to a woman in labor:--
"He with his lance, sword, mighty stones, poured his heroic wreak On other squadrons of the foe, whiles yet warm blood did break Thro' his cleft veins: but when the wound was quite exhaust and crude, The eager anguish did approve his princely fortitude. As when most sharp and bitter pangs distract a laboring dame, Which the divine Ilithiĉ, that rule the painful frame Of human childbirth, pour on her; the Ilithiĉ that are The daughters of Saturnia; with whose extreme repair The woman in her travail strives to take the worst it gives; With thought, it must be, 'tis love's fruit, the end for which she lives; The mean to make herself new born, what comforts will redound! So," etc.
I will tell you more about Chapman and his peculiarities in my next. I am much interested in him.
Yours ever affectionately, and Pi-Pos's,
My Dear Manning,--I must positively write, or I shall miss you at Toulouse. I sit here like a decayed minute-hand (I lie; that does not sit), and being myself the exponent of no time, take no heed how the clocks about me are going. You possibly by this time may have explored all Italy, and toppled, unawares, into Etna, while you went too near those rotten-jawed, gap-toothed, old worn-out chaps of hell,--while I am meditating a quiescent letter to the honest postmaster at Toulouse. But in case you should not have been felo de se, this is to tell you that your letter was quite to my palate; in particular your just remarks upon Industry, cursed Industry (though indeed you left me to explore the reason), were highly relishing.
I've often wished I lived in the Golden Age, before doubt, and propositions, and corollaries, got into the world. Now, as Joseph Cottle, a Bard of Nature, sings, going up Malvern Hills,--
"How steep, how painful the ascent! It needs the evidence of close deduction To know that ever I shall gain the top."
You must know that Joe is lame, so that he had some reason for so singing. These two lines, I assure you, are taken totidem literis from a very popular poem. Joe is also an epic poet as well as a descriptive, and has written a tragedy, though both his drama and epopoiea are strictly descriptive, and chiefly of the beauties of nature, for Toe thinks man, with all his passions and frailties, not: a proper subject of the drama. Joe's tragedy hath the following surpassing speech in it. Some king is told that his enemy has engaged twelve archers to come over in a boat from an enemy's country and way-lay him; he thereupon pathetically exclaims,--
"Twelve, dost thou say? Curse on those dozen villains!"
Cottle read two or three acts out to as, very gravely on both sides, till he came to this heroic touch,--and then he asked what we laughed at? I had no more muscles that day. A poet that chooses to read out his own verses has but a limited power over you. There is a bound where his authority ceases.