Friday, February 29, 2008

All in a mist

John Keats to John Hamilton Reynolds

Winchester, 22d Sept., 1819.

My Dear Reynolds,

I was very glad to hear from Woodhouse that you would meet in the country. I hope you will pass some pleasant time together; which I wish to make pleasanter by a brace of letters, very highly to be estimated, as really I have had very bad luck with this sort of game this season. I "kepen in solitarinesse," for Brown has gone a-visiting. I am surprised myself at the pleasure I live alone in. I can give you no news of the place here, or any other idea of it, but what I have to this effect writen to George. Yesterday, I say to him, was a grand day for Winchester. They elected a mayor. It was indeed high time the place should receive some sort of excitement. There was nothing going on--all asleep--not an old maid's sedan returning from a card-party; and if any old women got tipsy at christenings they did not expose it in the streets.

The side streets here are excessively maiden-lady like; the door-steps always fresh from the flannel. The knockers have a staid, serious, nay, almost awful quietness about them. I never saw so quiet a collection of lions' and rams' heads. The doors [are] most part black, with a little brass handle just above the keyhole, so that in Winchester a man may very quietly shut himself out of his own house.

How beautiful the season is now. How fine the air--a temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather--Dian skies. I never liked stubble-fields so much as now--aye, better than the chilly green of the Spring. Somehow, a stubble-field looks warm, in the same way that some pictures look warm. This struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it,

I hope you are better employed than in gaping after weather. I have been, at different times, so happy as not to know what weather it was. No, I will not copy a parcel of verses. I always somehow associate Chatterton with Autumn. He is the purest writer in the English language. He has no French idiom or particles, like Chaucer; 'tis genuine English idiom in English words. I have given up "Hyperion,"--there were too many Miltonic inversions in it--Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful, or, rather, artist's humor. I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English ought to be kept up. It may be interesting to you to pick out some lines from "Hyperion," and put a mark, +, to the false beauty, proceeding from art, and 1, 2, to the true voice of feeling. Upon my soul, 'twas imagination; I cannot make the distinction--every now and then there is a Miltonic intonation--but I cannot make the division properly. The fact is, I must take a walk; for I am writing a long letter to George, and have been employed at it all the morning. You will ask, have I heard from George? I am sorry to say, not the best news--I hope for better. This is the reason, among others, that if I write to you it must be in such a scrap-like way. I have no meridian to date interests from, or measure circumstances. To-night I am all in a mist: I scarcely know what's what. But you, knowing my unsteady and vagarish disposition, will guess that all this turmoil will be settled by to-morrow morning. It strikes me to-night that I have led a very odd sort of life for the two or three last years--here and there, no anchor--I am glad of it. If you can get a peep at Babbicomb* before you leave the country, do. I think it the finest place I have seen, or is to be seen in the south. There is a cottage there I took warm water at, that made up for the tea. I have lately shirk'd some friends of ours, and I advise you to do the same. I mean the blue-devils--I am never at home to them. You need not fear them while you remain in Devonshire. There will be some of the family waiting for you at the coach-office--but go by another coach.

I shall beg leave to have a third opinion in the first discussion you have with Woodhouse--just half-way between both. You know I will not give up any argument. In my walk to-day, I stoop'd under a railing that lay across my path, and asked myself "why I did not get over." "Because," answered I, "no one wanted to force you under." I would give a guinea to be a resonable man--good, sound sense--a says-what-he-thinks-and-does-what-he-says-man--and did not take snuff. They say men near death, however mad they may have been, come to their senses: I hope I shall here in this letter; there is a decent space to be very sensible in--many a good proverb has been in less--nay, I have heard of the statutes at large being changed into the statutes at small, and printed for a watch-paper. . . .

Ever your affectionate friend,
John Keats

*Babbacombe, district of Torquay, Devonshire.
-from Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats edited by R. Monckton Milnes (London: New York: 1848)

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