Teignmouth, 25 March 1818.
My Dear Rice,
Being in the midst of your favorite Devon, I should not, by right, pen one word but it should contain a vast portion of wit, wisdom, and learning; for I have heard that Milton, ere he wrote his answer to Salmasius, came into these parts, and for one whole month, rolled himself, for three whole hours a day, in a certain meadow hard by us, where the mark of his nose at equidistances is still shown. The exhibitor of the said meadow further saith, that, after these rollings, not a nettle sprang up in all the seven acres, for seven years, and that from the said time a new sort of plant was made from the whitethorn, of a thornless nature, very much used by the bucks of the present day to rap their boots withal. This account made me very naturally suppose that the nettles and thorns etherealized by the scholar's rotatory motion, and garnered in his head, thence flew, after a process of fermentation, against the luckless Salmasius, and the occasioned his well-known and unhappy end. What a happy thing it would be if we could settle our thoughts and make our minds up on any matter in five minutes, and remain content, that is, build a sort of mental cottage of feelings, quiet and pleasant--to have a sort of philosophical back-garden, and cheerful holiday-keeping front one. But, alas! this never can be; for as the material cottager knows there are such places as France and Italy, and the Andes, and burning mountains, so the spiritual cottager has knowledge of the terra semi-incognita of things unearthly, and cannot, for his life, keep in the check-rein--or I should stop here, quiet and comfortable in my theory of--nettles. You will see, however, I am obliged to run wild, being attracted by the lode-stone concatenation. No sooner had I settled the knotty point of Salmasius, than the devil put this whim into my head in the likeness of one of Pythagoras's questionings--Did Milton do more good or harm in the world? He wrote, let me inform you, (for I have it from a friend who had if of_________,) he wrote "Lycidas," "Comus," "Paradise Lost," and other Poems, with much delectable prose; he was moreover an active friend to man all his life, and has been since his death. Very good. But, my dear fellow, I must let you know that, as there is ever the same quantity of matter constituting this habitable globe, as the ocean, notwithstanding the enormous changes and revolutions taking place in some or other of its demesnes, notwithstanding waterspouts, whirlpools, and mighty rivers emptying themselves into it, it still is made up of the same bulk, nor ever varies the number of its atoms; and, as a certain bulk of water was instituted at the creation, so, very likely, a certain portion of intellect was spun forth into the thin air, for the brains of man to prey upon it. You will see my drift, without any unnecessary parenthesis. That which is contained in the Pacific could no be in the hollow of the Caspian; that which was in Milton's head could not find room in Charles the Second's. He, like a moon, attracted to its flow--it has not ebbed yet, but has left the shore-pebbles all bare--I mean all bucks, authors of Hengist, and Castlereaghs of the present day, who, without Milton's gormandizing, might have been all wise men. Now for as much as I was very predisposed to a country I had heard you speak so highly of, I took particular notice of every thing during my journey, and have bought some nice folio asses' skins for memorandums. I have seen every thing but the wind--and that, they say, becomes visible by taking a dose of acorns, or sleeping one night in a hog-trough, with your tail to the sow-sow-west.
I went yesterday to Dawlish fair.
"Over the Hill and over the Dale,
And over the Bourne to Dawlish,
Where ginger-bread wives have a scanty sale,
And ginger-bread nuts are smallish, " &c. &c.
Your sincere friend,
-from Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats editied by R. Monckton Milnes (London: New York: 1848).