Friday, December 28, 2007

W. H. Hudson and the Mystery of Mr. W. H.

[W. H. Hudson to Morley Roberts]

23 North Parade, Penzance,
December 28th, 1919.

Yes, quite legible this time--probably more so than I shall ever be. It shows what you can do when you have the mind. That judgment of Gissing is brief--and brilliant--you couldn't have said more in half a dozen columns. Gissing himself, I believe, would have appreciated it as a true--the truest estimate of his genius. I agree with Naomi about Chesterfield--she cannot admire him more than I do. His letters in a very old 17th century edition was one of the strange books in our collection on the pampas when I was a boy: it was one of the first serious books I read and I have not outlived my esteem for it, in spite of the quarrel we all have with him in reference to the Dr. Johnson business. As to Landor, anyone who loves literature must come in time to think very highly of him. He is very great--but, taking literature in the sense in which we consider, say, sport, clothing, cookery and so on, it is not the greatest. Read a scene in Shakespear, a chapter of Tolstoi, and then the best dialogue in Imaginary Conversations and you remark the vast difference--the hot passionate palpitating world we exist in and the beautiful motionless picture of life, beautifully framed, varnished, and hanging on the wall. For the rest--I'm inclined to hope Naomi will never be a Peacockian. I admire certain things--but they are always the things I admire, and, thank God, I'm not what you call catholic in my tastes. I've just finished the whole huge Butler biography and it has sent me back to his books. What a pity we didn't meet him when we were at Shoreham and he was coming there often, when Gogin was painting his portrait. For some reason the biographer Festing Jones, who diligently goes out of his way in his memoir to say every nasty thing about people--mainly those Butler disliked--says not a word about a quarrel between Butler and Gogin. It was, I believe, about a lady. . . . Just now I'm reading S. B.'s Sonnets of Shakespear, and whether his theory is true, or wholly true, or not, it is to my mind the best exposition I have seen and has cleared my mind of the confounded tantalizing mystery of the Sonnets and the Mr. W. H. one has come to detest before knowing anything about Butler's notion. Then too his Ulysses--but Lord, what a many-sided mind he had! Rain, rain, rain here every day and all day long, so tho' always unwell, I must stay indoors and do a little writing each day.

[W. H. Hudson]

[photo of Samuel Butler circa 1858 while an undergraduate at Cambridge and from the portrait by Charles Gogin 1896]

-from Men, Books and Birds by W. H. Hudson; with notes, some letters, and an introduction by Morley Roberts (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928) p.214-15.


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