February 24, 1805.
Dear Manning,--I have been very unwell since I saw you. A sad depression of spirits, a most unaccountable nervousness; from which I have been partially relieved by an odd accident. You knew Dick Hopkins, the swearing scullion of Caius? This fellow, by industry and agility, has thrust himself into the important situations (no sinecures, believe me) of cook to Trinity Hall and Caius College; and the generous creature has contrived, with the greatest delicacy imaginable, to send me a present of Cambridge brawn. What makes it the more extraordinary is, that the man never saw me in his life that I know of. I suppose he has heard of me. I did not immediately recognize the donor; but one of Richard's cards, which had accidentally fallen into the straw, detected him in a moment, Dick, you know, was always remarkable for flourishing. His card imports that "orders [to wit, for brawn] from any part of England, Scotland, or Ireland, will be duly executed," etc. At first I thought of declining the present; but Richard knew my blind side when he pitched upon brawn. 'Tis of all my hobbies the supreme in the eating way. He might have sent sops from the pan, skimmings, crumpets, chips, hog's lard, the tender brown judiciously scalped from a fillet of veal (dexterously replaced by a salamander), the tops of asparagus, fugitive livers, runaway gizzards of fowls, the eyes of martyred pigs, tender effusions of laxative woodcocks, the red spawn of lobsters, leverets' ears, and such pretty filchings common to cooks; but these had been ordinary presents, the everyday courtesies of dishwashers to their sweethearts. Brawn was a noble thought. It is not every common gullet-fancier that can properly esteem it. It is like a picture of one of the choice old Italian masters. Its gusto is of that hidden sort. As Wordsworth sings of a modest poet, "you must love him, ere to you he will seem worthy of your love," so brawn, you must taste it, ere to you it will seem to have any taste at all. But 'tis nuts to the adept,--those that will send out their tongues and feelers to find it out. It will be wooed, and not unsought be won. Now, ham-essence, lobsters, turtle, such popular minions, absolutely court you, lay themselves out to strike you at first smack, like one of David's pictures (they call him Darveed), compared with the plain russet-coated wealth of a Titian or a Correggio, as I illustrated above. Such are the obvious glaring heathen virtues of a corporation dinner, compared with the reserved collegiate worth of brawn. Do me the favour to leave off the business which you may be at present upon, and go immediately to the kitchens of Trinity and Caius, and make my most respectful compliments to Mr. Richard Hopkins, and assure him that his brawn is most excellent, and that I am moreover obliged to him for his innuendo about salt water and bran, which I shall not fail to improve. I leave it to you whether you shall choose to pay him the civility of asking him to dinner while you stay in Cambridge, or in whatever other way you may best like to show your gratitude to my friend. Richard Hopkins, considered in many points of view, is a very extraordinary character. Adieu. I hope to see you to supper in London soon, where we will taste Richard's brawn, and drink his health in a cheerful but moderate cup. We have not many such men in any rank of life as Mr. R. Hopkins. Crisp the barber, of St. Mary's, was just such another. I wonder he never sent me any little token,--some chestnuts, or a puff, or two pound of hair just to remember him by; gifts are like nails. Pręsens ut absens, that is, your present makes amends for your absence.
TO MISS WORDSWORTH.
June 14, 1805.
My Dear Miss Wordsworth,--I have every reason to suppose that this illness, like all Mary's former ones, will be but temporary. But I cannot always feel so. Meantime she is dead to me, and I miss a prop. All my strength Is gone, and I am like a fool, bereft of her co-operation. I dare not think, iest I should think wrong; so used am I to look up to her in the least and the biggest perplexity. To say all that I know of her, would be more than I think anybody could believe or ever understand; and when I hope to have her well again with me, it would be sinning against her feelings to go about to praise her; for I can conceal nothing that I do from her. She is older and wiser and better than I, and all my wretched imperfections I cover to myself by resolutely thinking on her goodness. She would share life and death, heaven and hell, with me. She lives but for me; and I know I have been wasting and teasing her life for five years past incessantly with my cursed ways of going on. But even in this upbraiding of myself I am offending against her, for I know that she has cleaved to me for better, for worse; and if the balance has been against her hitherto, it was a noble trade. I am stupid, and lose myself in what I write. I write rather what answers to my feelings (which are sometimes sharp enough) than express my present ones, for I am only flat and stupid. I am sure you will excuse my writing any more, I am so very poorly.
I cannot resist transcribing three or four lines which poor Mary made upon a picture (a Holy Family) which we saw at an auction only one week before she left home. They are sweet lines, and upon a sweet picture. But I send them only as the last memorial of her.
VIRGIN AND CHILD, L. DA VINCI.
"Maternal Lady, with thy virgin-grace, Heaven-born thy Jesus seemeth, sure, And thou a virgin pure. Lady most perfect, when thy angel face Men look upon, they wish to be A Catholic, Madonna fair, to worship thee."
You had her lines about the "Lady Blanch." You have not had some which she wrote upon a copy of a girl from Titian, which I had hung up where that print of Blanch and the Abbess (as she beautifully interpreted two female figures from L. da Vinci) had hung in our room. 'Tis light and pretty.
"Who art thou, fair one, who usurp'st the place Of Blanch, the lady of the matchless grace? Come, fair and pretty, tell to me Who in thy lifetime thou mightst be? Thou pretty art and fair, But with the Lady Blanch thou never must compare. No need for Blanch her history to tell, Whoever saw her face, they there did read it well; But when I look on thee, I only know There lived a pretty maid some hundred years ago,"
This is a little unfair, to tell so much about ourselves, and to advert so little to your letter, so full of comfortable tidings of you all But my own cares press pretty close upon me, and you can make allowance. That you may go on gathering strength and peace is my next wish to Mary's recovery.
I had almost forgot your repeated invitation. Supposing that Mary will be well and able, there is another ability which you may guess at, which I cannot promise myself. In prudence we ought not to come. This illness will make it still more prudential to wait. It is not a balance of this way of spending our money against another way, but an absolute question of whether we shall stop now, or go on wasting away the little we have got beforehand, which my evil conduct has already encroached upon one-half. My best love, however, to you all, and to that most friendly creature. Mrs. Clarkson, and better health to her, when you see or write to her.