Monday, March 31, 2008

resign the rest

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey

Nether Stowey, July 29, 1799.
I am doubtful, Southey, whether the circumstances which impel me to write to you ought not to keep me silent, and, if it were only a feeling of delicacy, I should remain silent, for it is good to do all things in faith. But I have been absent, Southey! ten months, and if you knew that domestic affection was hard upon me, and that my own health was declining, would you not have shootings within you of an affection which ("though fallen, though changed") has played too important a part in the event of our lives and the formation of our character, ever to be forgotten? I am perplexed what to write, or how to state the object of my writing. Any participation in each other's moral being I do not wish, simply because I know enough of the mind of man to know that [it] is impossible. But, Southey, we have similar talents, sentiments nearly similar, and kindred pursuits; we have likewise, in more than one instance, common objects of our esteem and love. I pray and entreat you, if we should meet at any time, let us not withhold from each other the outward expressions of daily kindliness; and if it be no longer in your power to soften your opinions, make your feelings at least more tolerant towards me (a debt of humility which assuredly we all of us owe to our most feeble, imperfect, and self-deceiving nature). We are few of us good enough to know our own hearts, and as to the hearts of others, let us struggle to hope that they are better than we think them, and resign the rest to our common Maker. God bless you and yours.
S. T. Coleridge.

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

echoes the conceit

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Thomas Poole.

May 6, 1799, Monday morn.

My dear Poole, my dear Poole! I am homesick. Society is a burden to me; and I find relief only in labour. So I read and transcribe from morning till night, and never in my life have I worked so hard as this last month, for indeed I must sail over an ocean of matter with almost spiritual speed, to do what I have to do in the time in which I will do it or leave it undone! O my God, how I long to be at home! My whole Being so yearns after you, that when I think of the moment of our meeting, I catch the fashion of German joy, rush into your arms, and embrace you. Methinks my hand would swell if the whole force of my feeling were crowded there. Now the Spring comes, the vital sap of my affections rises as in a tree! And what a gloomy Spring! But a few days ago all the new buds were covered with snow; and everything yet looks so brown and wintry, that yesterday the roses (which the ladies carried on the ramparts, their promenade), beautiful as they were, so little harmonized with the general face of nature, that they looked to me like silk and made roses. But these leafless Spring Woods! Oh, how I long to hear you whistle to the Rippers! There are a multitude of nightingales here (poor things! they sang in the snow). I thought of my own verses on the nightingale, only because I thought of Hartley, my only Child. Dear lamb! I hope he won't be dead before I get home. There are moments in which I have such a power of life within me, such a conceit of it, I mean, that I lay the blame of my child's death to my absence. Not intellectually; but I have a strange sort of sensation, as if, while I was present, none could die whom I entirely loved, and doubtless it was no absurd idea of yours that there may be unions and connections out of the visible world.

Wordsworth and his sister passed through here, as I have informed you. I walked on with them five English miles, and spent a day with them. They were melancholy. W. was affected to tears at the thought of not being near me wished me of course to live in the North of England near Sir Frederick Vane's great library. I told him that, independent of the expense of removing, and the impropriety of taking Mrs. Coleridge to a place where she would have no acquaintance, two insurmountable objections, the library was no inducement to me for I wanted old books chiefly, such as could be procured anywhere better than in a gentleman's new fashionable collection. Finally I told him plainly that you had been the man in whom first and in whom alone I had felt an anchor! With all my other connections I felt a dim sense of insecurity and uncertainty, terribly incompatible. W. was affected to tears, very much affected; but he deemed the vicinity of a library absolutely necessary to his health, nay to his existence. It is painful to me, too, to think of not living near him; for he is a good and kind man, and the only one whom in all things I feel my superior and you will believe me when I say that I have few feelings more pleasurable than to find myself, in intellectual faculties, an inferior.

But my resolve is fixed, not to leave you till you leave me! I still think that Wordsworth will be disappointed in his expectation of relief from reading without society; and I think it highly probable that where I live, there he will live; unless he should find in the North any person or persons, who can feel and understand him, and reciprocate and react on him. My many weaknesses are of some advantage to me; they unite me more with the great mass of my fellow beings but dear Wordsworth appears to me to have hurtfully segregated and isolated his being. Doubtless his delights are more deep and sublime; but he has likewise more hours that prey upon the flesh and blood. With regard to Hancock's house, if I can get no place within a mile or two of Stowey I must try to get that; but I confess I like it not not to say that it is not altogether pleasant to live directly opposite to a person who had behaved so rudely to Mrs. Coleridge. But these are in the eye of reason trifles, and if no other house can be got in my eye, too, they shall be trifles.

O Poole ! I am homesick. Yesterday, or rather yesternight, I dittied the following horrible ditty; but my poor Muse is quite gone perhaps she may return and meet me at Stowey.

'Tis sweet to him who all the week
Through city-crowds must push his way,
To stroll alone through fields and woods,
And hallow thus the Sabbath-day.
And sweet it is, in summer bower,
Sincere, affectionate, and gay,
One's own dear children feasting round,
To celebrate one's marriage day.
But what is all to his delight,
Who having long been doomed to roam,
Throws off the bundle from his back,
Before the door of his own home?
Home-sickness is no baby pang
This feel I hourly more and more:
There 's only musick in thy wings,
Thou breeze that play'st on Albion's Shore.

The Professors here are exceedingly kind to all the Englishmen, but to me they pay the most flattering attentions, especially Blumenbach and Eichhorn. Nothing can be conceived more delightful than Blumenbach's lectures, and, in conversation, he is, indeed, a most interesting man. The learned Orientalist Tychsen has given me instruction in the Gothic and Theotuscan languages, which I can now read pretty well; and hope in the course of a year to be thoroughly acquainted with all the languages of the North, both German and Celtic. I find being learned is a mighty easy thing, compared with any study else. My God! a miserable poet must he be, and a despicable metaphysician, whose acquirements have not cost him more trouble and reflection than all the learning of Tooke, Person, and Parr united. With the advantage of a great library, learning is nothing methinks, merely a sad excuse for being idle. Yet a man gets reputation by it, and reputation gets money; and for reputation I don't care a damn, but money yes money I must get by all honest ways. Therefore at the end of two or three years, if God grant me life, expect to see me come out with some horribly learned book, full of manuscript quotations from Laplandish and Patagonian authors, possibly, on the striking resemblance of the Sweogothian and Sanscrit languages, and so on!

N. B. Whether a sort of parchment might not be made of old shoes; and whether apples should not be grafted on oak saplings, as the fruit would be the same as now, but the wood far more valuable? Two ideas of mine. To extract aquafortis from cucumbers is a discovery not yet made, but sugar from beet, oh! all Germany is mad about it. I have seen the sugar sent to Blumenbach from Achard the great chemist, and it is good enough. They say that an hundred pounds weight of beet will make twelve pounds of sugar, and that there is no expense in the preparation. It is the Beta altissima, belongs to the Beta vulgaris, and in Germany is called Runkelriibe. Its leaves resemble those of the common red beet. It is in shape like a clumsy nine pin and about the size of a middling turnip. The flesh is white but has rings of a reddish cast. I will bring over a quantity of the seed.

A stupid letter! I believe my late proficiency in learning has somewhat stupified me, but live in hopes of one better worth postage. In the last week of June, I trust, you will see me. Chester is well and desires love and duty to his family. To your dear Mother and to Ward give my kind love, and to all who ask after me. My dear Poole! don't let little Hartley die before I come home. That 's silly true and I burst into tears as I wrote it. Yours
S. T. Coleridge

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I ought to have written

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Rev. J. P. Estlin,

Monday, May 14, 1798.

My Dear Friend,
I ought to have written to you before; and have done very wrong in not writing. But I have had many sorrows and some that bite deep; calumny and ingratitude from men who have been fostered in the bosom of my confidence! I pray God that I may sanctify these events by forgiveness and a peaceful spirit full of love. This morning, half-past one, my wife was safely delivered of a fine boy*; she had a remarkably good time, better if possible than her last, and both she and the child are as well as can be. By the by, it is only three in the morning now. I walked in to Taunton and back again, and performed the divine services for Dr. Toulmin. I suppose you must have heard that his daughter, in a melancholy derangement, suffered herself to be swallowed up by the tide on the sea-coast between Sidmouth and Bere. These events cut cruelly into the hearts of old men; but the good Dr. Toulmin bears it like the true practical Christian, there is indeed a tear in his eye, but that eye is lifted up to the Heavenly Father.

I have been too neglectful of practical religion I mean, actual and stated prayer, and a regular perusal of scripture as a morning and evening duty. May God grant me grace to amend this error, for it is a grievous one! Conscious of frailty I almost wish (I say it confidentially to you) that I had become a stated minister, for indeed I find true joy after a sincere prayer; but for want of habit my mind wanders, and I cannot pray as often as I ought. Thanksgiving is pleasant in the performance; but prayer and distinct confession I find most serviceable to my spiritual health when I can do it. But though all my doubts are done away, though Christianity is my passion, it is too much my intellectual passion, and therefore will do me but little good in the hour of temptation and calamity.

My love to Mrs. E. and the dear little ones, and ever, O ever, believe me, with true affection and gratitude, Your filial friend,
S. T. Coleridge
* Berkeley Coleridge, born May 14, 1798, died February 10, 1799.
-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

counterfeit infinity

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to John Thelwall. *

Saturday morning [October 16], 1797.

y Dear Thelwall,

I have just received your letter, having been absent a day or two, and have already, before I write to you, written to Dr. Beddoes. I would to Heaven it were in my power to serve you; but alas! I have neither money or influence, and I suppose that at last I must become a Unitarian minister, as a less evil than starvation. For I get nothing by literature. . . . You have my wishes and, what is very liberal in me for such an atheist reprobate, my prayers. I can at times feel strongly the beauties you describe, in themselves and for themselves; but more frequently all things appear little, all the knowledge that can be acquired child's play; the universe itself! what but an immense heap of little things? I can contemplate nothing but parts, and parts are all little! My mind feels as if it ached to behold and know something great, something one and indivisible. And it is only in the faith of that that rocks or waterfalls, mountains or caverns, give me the sense of sublimity or majesty! But in this faith all things counterfeit infinity.

Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.
-from "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison."

It is but seldom that I raise and spiritualize my intellect to this height; and at other times I adopt the Brahmin creed, and say, "It is better to sit than to stand, it is better to lie than to sit, it is better to sleep than to wake, but Death is the best of all!" I should much wish, like the Indian Vishnu, to float about along an infinite ocean cradled in the flower of the Lotus, and wake once in a million years for a few minutes just to know that I was going to sleep a million years more. I have put this feeling in the mouth of Alhadra, my Moorish Woman. She is going by moonlight to the house of Velez, where the band turn off to wreak their vengeance on Francesco, but

She moved steadily on,
Unswerving from the path of her resolve.

A Moorish priest, who has been with her and then left her to seek the men, had just mentioned the owl, "Its note comes dreariest in the fall of the year." This dwells on her mind, and she bursts into this soliloquy:

The hanging woods, that touch'd by autumn seem'd
As they were blossoming hues of fire and gold,
The hanging woods, most lovely in decay,
The many clouds, the sea, the rock, the sands,
Lay in the silent moonshine; and the owl,
(Strange! very strange!) the scritch owl only waked,
Sole voice, sole eye of all that world of beauty!
Why such a thing am I?
Where are these men?
I need the sympathy of human faces
To beat away this deep contempt for all things,
Which quenches my revenge.
-from "Osorio," Act V., Sc. 1, 1. 39.

Hartley is well, and will not walk or run, having discovered the art of crawling with wonderful ease and rapidity. Wordsworth and his sister are well. I want to see your wife. God bless her ! . . . Oh, my Tragedy! it is finished, transcribed, and to be sent off to-day; but I have no hope of its success, or even of its being acted.
God bless, etc., .
S. T. Coleridge

* "During the French Revolution Thelwall was an outspoken member of the London Corresponding Society advocating radical, Jacobin politics. He publicly criticized the government for waging a war against France and thereby causing a financial drain directly affecting working and lower classes. Noting Thelwall's attention to lower classes, Coleridge claimed that "Thelwall [was] the voice of tens of thousands." For this activity, he was charged with high treason and imprisoned for seven months. During his imprisonment he gained notoriety as a hero. After his confinement he wrote "Poems written in close confinement in the Tower and Newgate." Despite his fame, his personal life suffered. When he visited Coleridge and Wordsworth at their home in Alfoxden in 1797, a spy investigated the visit and consequently the Wordsworths lost their lease." [this quote from The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester: note on John Thelwall]

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

lime-tree bower

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey

July, 1797.

Dear Southey,

ou are acting kindly in your exertions for Chatterton's sister; but I doubt the success. Chatterton's or Rowley's poems were never popular. The very circumstance which made them so much talked of, their ancientness, prevented them from being generally read, in the degree, I mean, that Goldsmith's poems or even Rogers' thing upon memory has been. The sale was never very great. Secondly, the London Edition and the Cambridge Edition, which are now both of them the property of London booksellers, are still in hand, and these booksellers will "hardly exert their interest for a rival." Thirdly, these are bad times. Fourthly, all who are sincerely zealous for Chatterton, or who from knowledge of her are interested in poor Mrs. Newton, will come forwards first, and if others should drop in but slowly, Mrs. Newton will either receive no benefit at all from those her friends, or one so long procrastinated, from the necessity of waiting for the complement of subscribers, that it may at last come too late. For these reasons I am almost inclined to think a subscription simply would be better. It is unpleasant to cast a damp on anything; but that benevolence alone is likely to be beneficent which calculates.

If, however, you continue to entertain higher hopes than I, believe me, I will shake off my sloth, and use my best muscles in gaining subscribers. I will certainly write a preliminary essay, and I will attempt to write a poem on the life and death of Chatterton, but the Monody must not be reprinted. Neither this nor the Pixies' Parlour would have been in the second edition, but for dear Cottle's solicitous importunity. Excepting the last eighteen lines of the Monody, which, though deficient in chasteness and severity of diction, breathe a pleasing spirit of romantic feeling, there are not five lines in either poem which might not have been written by a man who had lived and died in the self-same St. Giles' cellar, in which he had been first suckled by a drab with milk and gin. The Pixies is the least disgusting, because the subject leads you to expect nothing, but on a life and death so full of heart-going realities as poor Chatterton's, to find such shadowy nobodies as cherub-winged Death, Trees of Hope, bare-bosomed Affection and simpering Peace, makes one's blood circulate like ipecacuanha. But so it is. A young man by strong feelings is impelled to write on a particular subject, and this is all his feelings do for him. They set him upon the business and then they leave him. He has such a high idea of what poetry ought to be, that he cannot conceive that such things as his natural emotions may be allowed to find a place in it; his learning therefore, his fancy, or rather conceit, and all his powers of buckram are put on the stretch. It appears to me that strong feeling is not so requisite to an author's being profoundly pathetic as taste and good sense. . .

I am as much a Pangloss as ever, only less contemptuous than I used to be, when I argue how unwise it is to feel contempt for anything. I had been on a visit to Wordsworth's at Racedown, near Crewkerne, and I brought him and his sister back with me, and here I have settled them. By a combination of curious circumstances a gentleman's seat, with a park and woods, elegantly and completely furnished, with nine lodging rooms, three parlours, and a hall, in the most beautiful and romantic situation by the seaside, four miles from Stowey, this we have got for Wordsworth at the rent of twenty-three pounds a year, taxes included. The park and woods are his for all purposes he wants them, and the large gardens are altogether and entirely his. Wordsworth is a very great man, the only man to whom at all times and in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior, the only one, I mean, whom I have yet met with, for the London literati appear to me to be very much like little potatoes, that is, no great things, a compost of nullity and dullity.

Charles Lamb has been with me for a week. He left me Friday morning. The second day after Wordsworth came to me, dear Sara accidentally emptied a skillet of boiling milk on my foot, which confined me during the whole time of C. Lamb's stay and still prevents me from all walks longer than a furlong. While Wordsworth, his sister, and Charles Lamb were out one evening, sitting in the arbour of T. Poole's garden which communicates with mine, I wrote these lines, with which I am pleased. . .

I would make a shift by some means or other to visit you, if I thought that you and Edith Southey would return with me. I think indeed, I am almost certain that I could get a one-horse chaise free of all expense. I have driven back Miss Wordsworth over forty miles of execrable roads, and have been always very cautious, and am now no inexpert whip. And Wordsworth, at whose house I now am for change of air, has commissioned me to offer you a suite of rooms at this place, which is called "All-foxen;" and so divine and wild is the country that I am sure it would increase your stock of images, and three weeks' absence from Christchurch will endear it to you; and Edith Southey and Sara may not have another opportunity of seeing one another, and Wordsworth is very solicitous to know you, and Miss Wordsworth is a most exquisite young woman in her mind and heart. I pray you write me immediately, directing Stowey, near Bridgewater, as before. God bless you and your affectionate
S. T. Coleridge

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

composing in the fields

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Joseph Cottle

Redcliff Hill, February 22, 1796.

My Dear Sir,
t is my duty and business to thank God for all his dispensations, and to believe them the best possible; but, indeed, I think I should have been more thankful, if he had made me a journeyman shoemaker, instead of an author by trade.

I have left my friends; I have left plenty; I have left that ease which would have secured a literary immortality, and have enabled me to give the public works conceived in moments of inspiration, and polished with leisurely solicitude; and alas! for what have I left them? for who deserted me in the hour of distress, and for a scheme of virtue impracticable and romantic! So I am forced to write for bread; write the flights of poetic enthusiasm, when every minute I am hearing a groan from my wife. Groans, and complaints, and sickness! The present hour I am in a quick-set hedge of embarrassment, and whichever way I turn a thorn runs into me! The future is cloud and thick darkness! Poverty, perhaps, and the thin faces of them that want bread, looking up to me! Nor is this all. My happiest moments for composition are broken in upon by the reflection that I must make haste. I am too late! I am already months behind! I have received my pay before-hand! Oh, wayward and desultory spirit of genius! Ill canst thou brook a taskmaster! The tenderest touch from the hand of obligation wounds thee like a scourge of scorpions.

I have been composing in the fields this morning, and came home to write down the first rude sheet of my preface, when I heard that your man had brought a note from you. I have not seen it, but I guess its contents. I am writing as fast as I can. Depend on it you shall not be out of pocket for me! I feel what I owe you, and independently of this I love you as a friend; indeed, so much, that I regret, seriously regret, that you have been my copyholder.

If I have written petulantly, forgive me. God knows I am sore all over. God bless you, and believe me that, setting gratitude aside, I love and esteem you, and have your interest at heart full as much as my own.
S. T. Coleridge

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

At Clevedon

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Thomas Poole

Wednesday evening, October 7, 1795.

My Dear Sir,
God bless you; or rather, God be praised for that he has blessed you ! On Sunday morning I was married at St. Mary's Redcliff, poor Chatterton's church! The thought gave a tinge of melancholy to the solemn joy which I felt, united to the woman whom I love best of all created beings. We are settled, nay, quite domesticated, at Clevedon, our comfortable cot. Mrs. Coleridge! I like to write the name. Well, as I was saying, Mrs. Coleridge desires her affectionate regards to you. I talked of you on my wedding night. God bless you! I hope that some ten years hence you will believe and know of my affection towards you what I will not now profess.

The prospect around is perhaps more various than any in the kingdom. Mine eye gluttonizes the sea, the distant islands, the opposite coast! I shall assuredly write rhymes, let the nine Muses prevent it if they can. Cruikshank, I find, is married to Miss Bucle. I am happy to hear it. He will surely, I hope, make a good husband to a woman, to whom he would be a villain who should make a bad one.

I have given up all thoughts of the magazine, for various reasons. Imprimis, I must be connected with R. Southey in it, which I could not be with comfort to my feelings. Secundo, It is a thing of monthly anxiety and quotidian bustle. Tertio, It would cost Cottle an hundred pounds in buying paper, etc. all on an uncertainty. Quarto, To publish a magazine for one year would be nonsense, and if I pursue what I mean to pursue, my school plan, I could not publish it for more than a year. Quinto, Cottle has entered into an engagement to give me a guinea and a half for every hundred lines of poetry I write, which will be perfectly sufficient for my maintenance, I only amusing myself on mornings; and all my prose works he is eager to purchase. Sexto, In the course of half a year I mean to return to Cambridge (having previously taken my name off from the University control) and taking lodgings there for myself and wife, finish my great work of "Imitations," in two volumes. My former works may, I hope, prove somewhat of genius and of erudition. This will be better; it will show great industry and manly consistency; at the end of it I shall publish proposals for school, etc. Cottle has spent a day with me, and takes this letter to Bristol. My next will be long, and full of something. This is inanity and egotism. Pray let me hear from you, directing the letter to Mr. Cottle, who will forward it. My respectful and grateful remembrance to your mother, and believe me, dear Poole, your affectionate and mindful friend, shall I so soon dare to say? Believe me, my heart prompts it.

S. T. Coleridge.

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Friday, March 21, 2008

preponderating utility

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey

Monday morning, December, 1794.

My Dear Southey,

I will not say that you treat me coolly or mysteriously, yet assuredly you seem to look upon me as a man whom vanity, or some other inexplicable cause, has alienated from the system, or what could build so injurious a suspicion? Wherein, when roused to the recollection of my duty, have I shrunk from the performance of it? I hold my life and my feeble feelings as ready sacrifices to justice. I dismiss a subject so painful to me as self-vindication; painful to me only as addressing you on whose esteem and affection I have rested with the whole weight of my soul.

Southey! I must tell you that you appear to me to write as a man who is aweary of the world because it accords not with his ideas of perfection. Your sentiments look like the sickly offspring of disgusted pride. It flies not away from the couches of imperfection because the patients are fretful and loathsome.

Why, my dear, very dear Southey, do you wrap yourself in the mantle of self-centring resolve, and refuse to us your bounden quota of intellect? Why do you say, " /, /, / will do so and so," instead of saying, as you were wont to do, "It is all our duty to do so and so, for such and such reasons "?

For God's sake, my dear fellow, tell me what we are to gain by taking a Welsh farm. Remember the principles and proposed consequences of pantisocracy, and reflect in what degree they are attainable by Coleridge, Southey, Lovell, Burnett, and Co., some five men going partners together? In the next place, supposing that we have proved the preponderating utility of our aspheterizing in Wales, let us by our speedy and united inquiries discover the sum of money necessary, whether such a farm with so very large a house is to be procured without launching our frail and unpiloted bark on a rough sea of anxieties. How much is necessary for the maintenance of so large a family eighteen people for a year at least?

I have read my objections to Lovell. If he has not answered them altogether to my fullest conviction, he has however shown me the wretchedness that would fall on the majority of our party from any delay in so forcible a light, that if three hundred pounds be adequate to the commencement of the system (which I very much doubt), I am most willing to give up all my views and embark immediately with you.

If it be determined that we shall go to Wales (for which I now give my vote), in what time? Mrs. Lovell thinks it impossible that we should go in less than three months. If this be the case, I will accept of the reporter's place to the "Telegraph," live upon a guinea a week, and transmit the balance, finishing in the same time my "Imitations."

However, I will walk to Bath tomorrow morning and return in the evening. Mr. and Mrs. Lovell, Sarah, Edith, all desire their best love to you, and are anxious concerning your health. May God love you and your affectionate
S. T. Coleridge.

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a fool even to madness

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to the Rev. George Coleridge

Thursday, November 6, 1794.
My Dear Brother,

our letter of this morning gave me inexpressible consolation. I thought that I perceived in your last the cold and freezing features of alienated affection. Surely, said I, I have trifled with the spirit of love, and it has passed away from me! There is a vice of such powerful venom, that one grain of it will poison the overflowing goblet of a thousand virtues. This vice constitution seems to have implanted in me, and habit has made it almost Omnipotent. It is indolence!* Hence, whatever web of friendship my presence may have woven, my absence has seldom failed to unravel. Anxieties that stimulate others infuse an additional narcotic into my mind. The appeal of duty to my judgment, and the pleadings of affection at my heart, have been heard indeed, and heard with deep regard. Ah! that they had been as constantly obeyed. But so it has been. Like some poor labourer, whose night's sleep has but imperfectly refreshed his over wearied frame, I have sate in drowsy uneasiness, and doing nothing have thought what a deal I had to do. But I trust that the kingdom of reason is at hand, and even now cometh!

How often and how unkindly are the ebullitions of youthful disputations mistaken for the result of fixed principles. People have resolved that I am a democrat, and accordingly look at everything I do through the spectacles of prejudication. In the feverish distemperature of a bigoted aristocrat's brain, some phantom of Democracy threatens him in every corner of my writings. And Hubert's atheist crew, whose maddening hand hurl'd down the altars of the living God with all the infidel intolerance. "Are these lines in character" observed a sensible friend of mine, "in a speech on the death of the man whom it just became the fashion to style ' The ambitious Theocrat '?" "I fear not" was my answer, "I gave way to my feelings." The first speech of Adelaide, whose Automaton is this character? Who spoke through Le Gendre's mouth, when he says, "Oh, what a precious name is Liberty to scare or cheat the simple into slaves "? But in several parts I have, it seems, in the strongest language boasted the impossibility of subduing France. Is not this sentiment highly characteristic? Is it forced into the mouths of the speakers? Could I have even omitted it without evident absurdity? But, granted that it is my own opinion, is it an anti-pacific one? I should have classed it among the anti-polemics. Again, are all who entertain and express this opinion democrats? God forbid! They would be a formidable party indeed! I know many violent anti-reformists, who are as violent against the war on the ground that it may introduce that reform, which they (perhaps not unwisely) imagine would chant the dirge of our constitution. Solemnly, my brother, I tell you, I am not a democrat. I see, evidently, that the present is not the highest state of society of which we are capable. And after a diligent, I may say an intense, study of Locke, Hartley, and others who have written most wisely on the nature of man, I appear to myself to see the point of possible perfection, at which the world may perhaps be destined to arrive. But how to lead mankind from one point to the other is a process of such infinite complexity, that in deep-felt humility I resign it to that Being "Who shaketh the Earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble," "Who purifieth with Whirlwinds, and maketh the Pestilence his Besom," Who hath said, "that violence shall no more be heard of; the people shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; " "the wolf and the lamb shall feed together." I have been asked what is the best conceivable mode of meliorating society. My answer has been this: "Slavery is an abomination to my feeling of the head and the heart. Did Jesus teach the abolition of it? No! He taught those principles of which the necessary effect was to abolish all slavery. He prepared the mind for the reception before he poured the blessing." You ask me what the friend of universal equality should do. I answer: "Talk not politics. Preach the Gospel " Yea, my brother! I have at all times in all places exerted my power in the defence of the Holy One of Nazareth against the learning of the historian, the libertinism of the wit, and (his worst enemy) the mystery of the bigot! But I am an infidel, because I cannot thrust my head into a mud gutter, and say, "How deep I am!" And I am a democrat, because I will not join in the maledictions of the despotist because I will bless all men and curse no one! I have been a fool even to madness; and I am, therefore, an excellent hit for calumny to aim her poisoned probabilities at! As the poor flutterer, who by hard struggling has escaped from the bird-limed thorn bush, still bears the clammy incumbrance on his feet and wings, so I am doomed to carry about with me the sad mementos of past imprudence and anguish from which I have been imperfectly released.

Mr. Potter of Emanuel drives me up to town in his phaeton, on Saturday morning. Of course I shall see you on Sunday. Poor Smerdon! the reports concerning his literary plagiarism (as far as concerns my assistance) are falsehoods. I have felt much for him, and on the morning I received your letter I poured forth these incondite rhymes. Of course they are meant for a brother's eye. Smerdon! thy grave with aching eye I scan, etc.

God love you, dear brother, and your affectionate and grateful
S. T. Coleridge

*Compare with Coleridge's poem " Lines on a Friend Who Died of a Frenzy Fever Induced by Calumnious Reports," which accompanied this letter.

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

faculties and discernments

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey

Friday night, September 26, 1794.

My Dear, Dear Southey,
I am beyond measure distressed and agitated by your letter to Favell. On the evening of the Wednesday before last, I arrived in Cambridge; that night and the next day I dedicated to writing to you, to Miss F.*, etc. On the Friday I received your letter of phlogistic rebuke. I answered it immediately, wrote a second letter to Miss F., inclosed them in the aforesaid parcel, and sent them off by the mail directed to Mrs. Southey, No. 8 Westcott Buildings, Bath. They should have arrived on Sunday morning. Perhaps you have not heard from Bath; perhaps damn perhapses! My God, my God! what a deal of pain you must have suffered before you wrote that letter to Favell.

It is an Ipswich Fair time, and the Norwich company are theatricalizing. They are the first provincial actors in the kingdom. Much against my will, I am engaged to drink tea and go to the play with Miss Brunton (Mrs. Merry's sister). The young lady, and indeed the whole family, have taken it into their heads to be very much attached to me, though I have known them only six days. The father (who is the manager and proprietor of the theatre) inclosed in a very polite note a free ticket for the season. The young lady is said to be the most literary of the beautiful, and the most beautiful of the literatae. It may be so; my faculties and discernments are so completely jaundiced by vexation that the Virgin Mary and Mary Flanders, alias Moll, would appear in the same hues.

All last night, I was obliged to listen to the damned chatter of our mayor, a fellow that would certainly be a pantisocrat, were his head and heart as highly illuminated as his face. At present he is a High Churchman, and a Pittite, and is guilty (with a very large fortune) of so many rascalities in his public character, that he is obliged to drink three bottles of claret a day in order to acquire a stationary rubor, and prevent him from the trouble of running backwards and forwards for a blush once every five minutes. In the tropical latitudes of this fellow's nose was I obliged to fry. I wish you would write a lampoon upon him in me it would be unchristian revenge.

Our tragedy is printed, all but the title-page. It will be complete by Saturday night. God love you. I am in the queerest humour in the world, and am out of love with everybody.
S. T. Coleridge.

*Sarah Fricker, his future wife.

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest HartleyColeridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

a nightingale among owls

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey

[Glocester] July 1794.*

You are averse to gratitudinarian flourishes, else would I talk about hospitality, attention, &c. &c.; however, as I must not thank you, I will thank my stars. Verily, Southey, I like not Oxford, nor the inhabitants of it. I would say thou art a nightingale among owls; but thou art so songless and heavy towards night that I will rather liken thee to the matin lark, thy "nest" is in a blighted cornfield, where the sleepy poppy nods its red-cowled head, and the weak-eyed mole plies his dark work; but thy soaring is even unto heaven. Or let me add (for my appetite for similes is truly canine at this moment), that as the Italian nobles their new-fashioned doors, so thou dost make the adamantine gate of Democracy turn on its golden hinges to most sweet music.

[S. T. Coleridge]

*Coleridge, visiting an old school friend in Oxford, met Southey in June 1794. Southey was an undergraduate at Balliol.

-from Biographia Epistolaris by Samuel Taylor Coleridge edited by Arthur Turnbull (London-1911) vol. 1.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Prince of Lilliput

The Prince of Lilliput to Stella

[11 March 1726-27]

In European characters and English thus;
The high and mighty prince EGROEGO born to the most puissant empire of the East, Unto STELLA, the most resplendent glory of the Western hemisphere, sendeth health and happiness.

BRIGHTEST PRINCESS, That invincible heroe, the MAN MOUNTAIN, fortunately arriving at our coasts some years ago, delivered us from ruin by conquering the fleets and armies of our enemies, and gave us hopes of a durable peace and happiness. But now the martial people of Blefuscu, encouraged from his absence, have renewed the war, to revenge upon us the loss and disgrace they suffered by our valiant champion.

The fame of your superexcellent person and virtue, and the huge esteem which that great general has for you, urged us in this our second distress to sue for your favour. In order to which we have sent our able and trusty Nardac KOORNBNILOB requesting, That if our general does yet tread upon the terrestrial globe, you, in compassion for us, would prevail upon him to take another voyage for our deliverance.

And, lest any apprehensions of famine amongst us, should render Nardac MOUNTAIN averse to the undertaking, we signify to you, that we have stored our folds, our coops, our granaries and cellars with plenty of provision for a long supply of the wastes to be made by his capacious stomach.

And furthermore, because as we hear you are not so well as we could wish, we beg you would compleat our happiness by venturing your most valuable person along with him into our country; where, by the salubrity of our finer air and diet, you will soon recover your health and stomach.

In full assurance of your complying goodness, we have sent you some provision for your voyage, and we shall with impatience wait for your safe arrival in our kingdom. Most illustrious lady, farewel.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bells and Pomegranates

Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

Saturday.[Post-mark, October 18, 1845.]

I must not go on tearing these poor sheets one after the other,—the proper phrases will not come,—so let them stay, while you care for my best interests in their best, only way, and say for me what I would say if I could—dearest,—say it, as I feel it!

I am thankful to hear of the continued improvement of your brother. So may it continue with him! Pulses I know very little about—I go by your own impressions which are evidently favourable.

I will make a note as you suggest*—or, perhaps, keep it for the closing number (the next), when it will come fitly in with two or three parting words I shall have to say. The Rabbis make Bells and Pomegranates symbolical of Pleasure and Profit, the gay and the grave, the Poetry and the Prose, Singing and Sermonizing—such a mixture of effects as in the original hour (that is quarter of an hour) of confidence and creation. I meant the whole should prove at last. Well, it has succeeded beyond my most adventurous wishes in one respect—'Blessed eyes mine eyes have been, if—' if there was any sweetness in the tongue or flavour in the seeds to her. But I shall do quite other and better things, or shame on me! The proof has not yet come.... I should go, I suppose, and enquire this afternoon—and probably I will.

I weigh all the words in your permission to come on Monday ... do not think I have not seen that contingency from the first! Let it be Tuesday—no sooner! Meanwhile you are never away—never from your place here.

God bless my dearest.
Ever yours


*In a prior letter to Robert Browning, Elizabeth inquired as to the meaning of the title of his volumes of poetry, Bells and Pomegranates, and suggested he place a note for future readers.

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Enduring Comfort

Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

Sunday.[Post-mark, October 13, 1845].

These are bad news, dearest—all bad, except the enduring comfort of your regard; the illness of your brother is worst ... that would stay you, and is the first proper obstacle. I shall not attempt to speak and prove my feelings,—you know what even Flush is to me through you: I wait in anxiety for the next account.

If after all you do not go to Pisa; why, we must be cheerful and wise, and take courage and hope. I cannot but see with your eyes and from your place, you know,—and will let this all be one surprizing and deplorable mistake of mere love and care ... but no such another mistake ought to be suffered, if you escape the effects of this. I will not cease to believe in a better event, till the very last, however, and it is a deep satisfaction that all has been made plain and straight up to this strange and sad interposition like a bar. You have done your part, at least—with all that forethought and counsel from friends and adequate judges of the case—so, if the bar will not move, you will consider—will you not, dearest?—where one may best encamp in the unforbidden country, and wait the spring and fine weather. Would it be advisable to go where Mr. Kenyon suggested, or elsewhere? Oh, these vain wishes ... the will here, and no means!

My life is bound up with yours—my own, first and last love. What wonder if I feared to tire you—I who, knowing you as I do, admiring what is so admirable (let me speak), loving what must needs be loved, fain to learn what you only can teach; proud of so much, happy in so much of you; I, who, for all this, neither come to admire, nor feel proud, nor be taught,—but only, only to live with you and be by you—that is love—for I know the rest, as I say. I know those qualities are in you ... but at them I could get in so many ways.... I have your books, here are my letters you give me; you would answer my questions were I in Pisa—well, and it all would amount to nothing, infinitely much as I know it is; to nothing if I could not sit by you and see you.... I can stop at that, but not before. And it seems strange to me how little ... less than little I have laid open of my feelings, the nature of them to you—I smile to think how if all this while I had been acting with the profoundest policy in intention, so as to pledge myself to nothing I could not afterwards perform with the most perfect ease and security, I should have done not much unlike what I have done—to be sure, one word includes many or all ... but I have not said ... what I will not even now say ... you will know—in God's time to which I trust.

I will answer your note now—the questions. I did go—(it may amuse you to write on)—to Moxon's. First let me tell you that when I called there the Saturday before, his brother (in his absence) informed me, replying to the question when it came naturally in turn with a round of like enquiries, that your poems continued to sell 'singularly well'—they would 'end in bringing a clear profit,' he said. I thought to catch him, and asked if they had done so ... 'Oh; not at the beginning ... it takes more time—he answered. On Thursday I saw Moxon—he spoke rather encouragingly of my own prospects. I send him a sheetful to-morrow, I believe, and we are 'out' on the 1st of next month. Tennyson, by the way, has got his pension, £200 per annum—by the other way, Moxon has bought the MSS. of Keats in the possession of Taylor the publisher, and is going to bring out a complete edition; which is pleasant to hear.

After settling with Moxon I went to Mrs. Carlyle's—who told me characteristic quaintnesses of Carlyle's father and mother over the tea she gave me. And all yesterday, you are to know, I was in a permanent mortal fright—for my uncle came in the morning to intreat me to go to Paris in the evening about some urgent business of his,—a five-minutes matter with his brother there,—and the affair being really urgent and material to his and the brother's interest, and no substitute being to be thought of, I was forced to promise to go—in case a letter, which would arrive in Town at noon, should not prove satisfactory. So I calculated times, and found I could be at Paris to-morrow, and back again, certainly by Wednesday—and so not lose you on that day—oh, the fear I had!—but I was sure then and now, that the 17th would not see you depart. But night came, and the last Dover train left, and I drew breath freely—this morning I find the letter was all right—so may it be with all worse apprehensions! What you fear, precisely that, never happens, as Napoleon observed and thereon grew bold. I had stipulated for an hour's notice, if go I must—and that was to be wholly spent in writing to you—for in quiet consternation my mother cared for my carpet bag.

And so, I shall hear from you to-morrow ... that is, you will write then, telling me all about your brother. As for what you say, with the kindest intentions, 'of fever-contagion' and keeping away on Wednesday on that account, it is indeed 'out of the question,'—for a first reason (which dispenses with any second) because I disbelieve altogether in contagion from fevers, and especially from typhus fevers—as do much better-informed men than myself—I speak quite advisedly. If there should be only that reason, therefore, you will not deprive me of the happiness of seeing you next Wednesday.

I am not well—have a cold, influenza or some unpleasant thing, but am better than yesterday—My mother is much better, I think (she and my sister are resolute non-contagionists, mind you that!)
God bless you and all you love! dearest, I am your

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

rosicrucians and cloaks

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Wednesday.[Post-mark, October 1, 1845.]

I have read to the last line of your 'Rosicrucian'*; and my scepticism grew and grew through Hume's process of doubtful doubts, and at last rose to the full stature of incredulity ... for I never could believe Shelley capable of such a book (call it a book!), not even with a flood of boarding-school idiocy dashed in by way of dilution. Altogether it roused me to deny myself so far as to look at the date of the book, and to get up and travel to the other end of the room to confront it with other dates in the 'Letters from Abroad' **... (I, who never think of a date except the 'A.D.,' and am inclined every now and then to write that down as 1548 ...) well! and on comparing these dates in these two volumes before my eyes, I find that your Rosicrucian was 'printed for Stockdale' in 1822***, and that Shelley died in the July of the same year!!—There, is a vindicating fact for you! And unless the 'Rosicrucian' went into more editions than one, and dates here from a later one, ... which is not ascertainable from this fragment of a titlepage, ... the innocence of the great poet stands proved—now doesn't it? For nobody will say that he published such a book in the last year of his life, in the maturity of his genius, and that Godwin's daughter helped him in it! That 'dripping dew' from the skeleton is the only living word in the book!—which really amused me notwithstanding, from the intense absurdity of the whole composition ... descriptions ... sentiments ... and morals.

Judge yourself if I had not better say 'No' about the cloak! I would take it if you wished such a kindness to me—and although you might find it very useful to yourself ... or to your mother or sister ... still if you wished me to take it I should like to have it, and the mantle of the prophet might bring me down something of his spirit! but do you remember ... do you consider ... how many talkers there are in this house, and what would be talked—or that it is not worth while to provoke it all? And Papa, knowing it, would not like it—and altogether it is far better, believe me, that you should keep your own cloak, and I, the thought of the kindness you meditated in respect to it. I have heard nothing more—nothing.

I was asked the other day by a very young friend of mine ... the daughter of an older friend who once followed you up-stairs in this house ... Mr. Hunter, an Independent minister ... for 'Mr. Browning's autograph.' She wants it for a collection ... for her album—and so, will you write out a verse or two on one side of note paper ... not as you write for the printers ... and let me keep my promise and send it to her? I forgot to ask you before. Or one verse will do ... anything will do ... and don't let me be bringing you into vexation. It need not be of MS. rarity.

You are not better ... really ... I fear. And your mother's being ill affects you more than you like to admit, I fear besides. Will you, when you write, say how both are ... nothing extenuating, you know. May God bless you, my dearest friend.
Ever yours,

* St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian: a Romance by Percy Bysshe Shelley, originally published anonymously ["By a Gentleman of the Univesity of Oxford"] in 1811.

** Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Mary Shelley (London: Moxon, 1840) 2 vols.

*** Shelley's second gothic tale, St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian: a Romance originally published by Stockdale in 1811 and reissued with a new title page in 1822.

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

but one word before the silence

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Evening.[Post-mark, September 18, 1845.]

ut one word before we leave the subject, and then to leave it finally; but I cannot let you go on to fancy a mystery anywhere, in obstacles or the rest. You deserve at least a full frankness; and in my letter I meant to be fully frank. I even told you what was an absurdity, so absurd that I should far rather not have told you at all, only that I felt the need of telling you all: and no mystery is involved in that, except as an 'idiosyncrasy' is a mystery. But the 'insurmountable' difficulty is for you and everybody to see; and for me to feel, who have been a very byword among the talkers, for a confirmed invalid through months and years, and who, even if I were going to Pisa and had the best prospects possible to me, should yet remain liable to relapses and stand on precarious ground to the end of my life. Now that is no mystery for the trying of 'faith'; but a plain fact, which neither thinking nor speaking can make less a fact. But don't let us speak of it.

I must speak, however, (before the silence) of what you said and repeat in words for which I gratefully thank you—and which are not 'ostentatious' though unnecessary words—for, if I were in a position to accept sacrifices from you, I would not accept such a sacrifice ... amounting to a sacrifice of duty and dignity as well as of ease and satisfaction ... to an exchange of higher work for lower work ... and of the special work you are called to, for that which is work for anybody. I am not so ignorant of the right uses and destinies of what you have and are. You will leave the Solicitor-Generalships to the Fitzroy Kellys, and justify your own nature; and besides, do me the little right, (over the over-right you are always doing me) of believing that I would not bear or dare to do you so much wrong, if I were in the position to do it.

And for all the rest I thank you—believe that I thank you ... and that the feeling is not so weak as the word. That you should care at all for me has been a matter of unaffected wonder to me from the first hour until now—and I cannot help the pain I feel sometimes, in thinking that it would have been better for you if you never had known me. May God turn back the evil of me! Certainly I admit that I cannot expect you ... just at this moment, ... to say more than you say, ... and I shall try to be at ease in the consideration that you are as accessible to the 'unicorn' now as you ever could be at any former period of your life. And here I have done. I had done living, I thought, when you came and sought me out! and why? and to what end? That, I cannot help thinking now. Perhaps just that I may pray for you—which were a sufficient end. If you come on Saturday I trust you to leave this subject untouched,—as it must be indeed henceforth.

I am yours,
No word more of Pisa—I shall not go, I think.

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

shadow in the glass

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Post-mark, August 8, 1845.]

ust to show what may be lost by my crossings out, I will tell you the story of the one in the 'Duchess'—and in fact it is almost worth telling to a metaphysician like you, on other grounds, that you may draw perhaps some psychological good from the absurdity of it. Hear, then. When I had done writing the sheet of annotations and reflections on your poem I took up my pencil to correct the passages reflected on with the reflections, by the crosses you may observe, just glancing over the writing as I did so. Well! and, where that erasure is, I found a line purporting to be extracted from your 'Duchess,' with sundry acute criticisms and objections quite undeniably strong, following after it; only, to my amazement, as I looked and looked, the line so acutely objected to and purporting, as I say, to, be taken from the 'Duchess,' was by no means to be found in the 'Duchess,' ... nor anything like it, ... and I am certain indeed that, in the 'Duchess' or out of it, you never wrote such a bad line in your life. And so it became a proved thing to me that I had been enacting, in a mystery, both poet and critic together—and one so neutralizing the other, that I took all that pains you remark upon to cross myself out in my double capacity, ... and am now telling the story of it notwithstanding. And there's an obvious moral to the myth, isn't there? for critics who bark the loudest, commonly bark at their own shadow in the glass, as my Flush used to do long and loud, before he gained experience and learnt the γνωθι σεαυτον in the apparition of the brown dog with the glittering dilating eyes, ... and as I did, under the erasure. And another moral springs up of itself in this productive ground; for, you see, ... 'quand je m'efface il n'ya pas grand mal.'

And I am to be made to work very hard, am I? But you should remember that if I did as much writing as last summer, I should not be able to do much else, ... I mean, to go out and walk about ... for really I think I could manage to read your poems and write as I am writing now, with ever so much head-work of my own going on at the same time. But the bodily exercise is different, and I do confess that the novelty of living more in the outer life for the last few months than I have done for years before, make me idle and inclined to be idle—and everybody is idle sometimes—even you perhaps—are you not? For me, you know, I do carpet-work—ask Mrs. Jameson—and I never pretend to be in a perpetual motion of mental industry. Still it may not be quite as bad as you think: I have done some work since 'Prometheus'—only it is nothing worth speaking of and not a part of the romance-poem which is to be some day if I live for it—lyrics for the most part, which lie written illegibly in pure Egyptian—oh, there is time enough, and too much perhaps! and so let me be idle a little now, and enjoy your poems while I can. It is pure enjoyment and must be—but you do not know how much, or you would not talk as you do sometimes ... so wide of any possible application.

And do not talk again of what you would 'sacrifice' for me. If you affect me by it, which is true, you cast me from you farther than ever in the next thought. That is true.

The poems ... yours ... which you left with me,—are full of various power and beauty and character, and you must let me have my own gladness from them in my own way.

Now I must end this letter. Did you go to Chelsea and hear the divine philosophy?

Tell me the truth always ... will you? I mean such truths as may be painful to me though truths....
May God bless you, ever dear friend.

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Gender Issues vs. Robert Browning's attentions?

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Wednesday-Thursday Evening
[Post-mark, July 4, 1845.]

Yes—I know the first part of the 'Duchess' and have it here—and for the rest of the poem, don't mind about being very legible, or even legible in the usual sense; and remember how it is my boast to be able to read all such manuscript writing as never is read by people who don't like caviare. Now you won't mind? really I rather like blots than otherwise—being a sort of patron-saint of all manner of untidyness ... if Mr. Kenyon's reproaches (of which there's a stereotyped edition) are justified by the fact—and he has a great organ of order, and knows 'disorderly persons' at a glance, I suppose. But you won't be particular with me in the matter of transcription? that is what I want to make sure of. And even if you are not particular, I am afraid you are not well enough to be troubled by writing, and writing and the thinking that comes with it—it would be wiser to wait till you are quite well—now wouldn't it?—and my fear is that the 'almost well' means 'very little better.' And why, when there is no motive for hurrying, run any risk? Don't think that I will help you to make yourself ill. That I refuse to do even so much work as the 'little dessert-knife' in the way of murder, ... do think! So upon the whole, I expect nothing on Saturday from this distance—and if it comes unexpectedly (I mean the Duchess and not Saturday) let it be at no cost, or at the least cost possible, will you? I am delighted in the meanwhile to hear of the quantity of 'mala herba'; and hemlock does not come up from every seed you sow, though you call it by ever such bad names.

Talking of poetry, I had a newspaper 'in help of social and political progress' sent to me yesterday from America—addressed to—just my name ... poetess, London! Think of the simplicity of those wild Americans in 'calculating' that 'people in general' here in England know what a poetess is!—Well—the post office authorities, after deep meditation, I do not doubt, on all probable varieties of the chimpanzee, and a glance to the Surrey Gardens on one side, and the Zoological department of Regent's Park on the other, thought of 'Poet's Corner,' perhaps, and wrote at the top of the parcel, 'Enquire at Paternoster Row'! whereupon the Paternoster Row people wrote again, 'Go to Mr. Moxon'—and I received my newspaper.

And talking of poetesses, I had a note yesterday (again) which quite touched me ... from Mr. Hemans—Charles, the son of Felicia—written with so much feeling, that it was with difficulty I could say my perpetual 'no' to his wish about coming to see me. His mother's memory is surrounded to him, he says, 'with almost a divine lustre'—and 'as it cannot be to those who knew the writer alone and not the woman.' Do you not like to hear such things said? and is it not better than your tradition about Shelley's son? and is it not pleasant to know that that poor noble pure-hearted woman, the Vittoria Colonna of our country, should be so loved and comprehended by some ... by one at least ... of her own house? Not that, in naming Shelley, I meant for a moment to make a comparison—there is not equal ground for it. Vittoria Colonna does not walk near Dante—no. And if you promised never to tell Mrs. Jameson ... nor Miss Martineau ... I would confide to you perhaps my secret profession of faith—which is ... which is ... that let us say and do what we please and can ... there is a natural inferiority of mind in women—of the intellect ... not by any means, of the moral nature—and that the history of Art and of genius testifies to this fact openly. Oh—I would not say so to Mrs. Jameson for the world. I believe I was a coward to her altogether—for when she denounced carpet work as 'injurious to the mind,' because it led the workers into 'fatal habits of reverie,' I defended the carpet work as if I were striving pro aris et focis, (I, who am so innocent of all that knowledge!) and said not a word for the poor reveries which have frayed away so much of silken time for me ... and let her go away repeating again and again ... 'Oh, but you may do carpet work with impunity—yes! because you can be writing poems all the while.'!

Think of people making poems and rugs at once. There's complex machinery for you!

I told you that I had a sensation of cold blue steel from her eyes!—And yet I really liked and like and shall like her. She is very kind I believe—and it was my mistake—and I correct my impressions of her more and more to perfection, as you tell me who know more of her than I.

Only I should not dare, ... ever, I think ... to tell her that I believe women ... all of us in a mass ... to have minds of quicker movement, but less power and depth ... and that we are under your feet, because we can't stand upon our own. Not that we should either be quite under your feet! so you are not to be too proud, if you please—and there is certainly some amount of wrong—: but it never will be righted in the manner and to the extent contemplated by certain of our own prophetesses ... nor ought to be, I hold in intimate persuasion. One woman indeed now alive ... and only that one down all the ages of the world—seems to me to justify for a moment an opposite opinion—that wonderful woman George Sand; who has something monstrous in combination with her genius, there is no denying at moments (for she has written one book, Leila, which I could not read, though I am not easily turned back,) but whom, in her good and evil together, I regard with infinitely more admiration than all other women of genius who are or have been. Such a colossal nature in every way,—with all that breadth and scope of faculty which women want—magnanimous, and loving the truth and loving the people—and with that 'hate of hate' too, which you extol—so eloquent, and yet earnest as if she were dumb—so full of a living sense of beauty, and of noble blind instincts towards an ideal purity—and so proving a right even in her wrong. By the way, what you say of the Vidocq museum reminds me of one of the chamber of masonic trial scenes in 'Consuelo.' Could you like to see those knives?

I began with the best intentions of writing six lines—and see what is written! And all because I kept my letter back ... from a doubt about Saturday—but it has worn away, and the appointment stands good ... for me: I have nothing to say against it.

But belief in mesmerism is not the same thing as general unbelief—to do it justice—now is it? It may be super-belief as well. Not that there is not something ghastly and repelling to me in the thought of Dr. Elliotson's great bony fingers seeming to 'touch the stops' of a whole soul's harmonies—as in phreno-magnetism. And I should have liked far better than hearing and seeing that, to have heard you pour the 'cupful of Diderot's rinsings,' out,—and indeed I can fancy a little that you and how you could do it—and break the cup too afterwards!
Another sheet—and for what?

What is written already, if you read, you do so meritoriously—and it's an example of bad writing, if you want one in the poems. I am ashamed, you may see, of having written too much, (besides)—which is much worse—but one writes and writes: I do at least—for you are irreproachable. Ever yours my dear friend, as if I had not written ... or had!

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

mesmerism and mysticism

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Monday.[June 30, 1845.]

I send back the prize poems which have been kept far too long even if I do not make excuses for the keeping—but our sins are not always to be measured by our repentance for them. Then I am well enough this morning to have thought of going out till they told me it was not at all a right day for it ... too windy ... soft and delightful as the air seems to be—particularly after yesterday, when we had some winter back again in an episode. And the roses do not die; which is quite magnanimous of them considering their reverses; and their buds are coming out in most exemplary resignation—like birds singing in a cage. Now that the windows may be open, the flowers take heart to live a little in this room.

And think of my forgetting to tell you on Saturday that I had known of a letter being received by somebody from Miss Martineau, who is at Ambleside at this time and so entranced with the lakes and mountains as to be dreaming of taking or making a house among them, to live in for the rest of her life. Mrs. Trollope, you may have heard, had something of the same nympholepsy—no, her daughter was 'settled' in the neighbourhood—that is the more likely reason for Mrs. Trollope! and the spirits of the hills conspired against her the first winter and almost slew her with a fog and drove her away to your Italy where the Oreadocracy has gentler manners. And Miss Martineau is practising mesmerism and miracles on all sides she says, and counts on Archbishop Whately as a new adherent. I even fancy that he has been to see her in the character of a convert. All this from Mr. Kenyon.

There's a strange wild book called the Autobiography of Heinrich Stilling ... one of those true devout deep-hearted Germans who believe everything, and so are nearer the truth, I am sure, than the wise who believe nothing; but rather over-German sometimes, and redolent of sauerkraut—and he gives a tradition ... somewhere between mesmerism and mysticism, ... of a little spirit with gold shoebuckles, who was his familiar spirit and appeared only in the sunshine I think ... mottling it over with its feet, perhaps, as a child might snow. Take away the shoebuckles and I believe in the little spirit—don't you? But these English mesmerists make the shoebuckles quite conspicuous and insist on them broadly; and the Archbishops Whately may be drawn by them (who can tell?) more than by the little spirit itself. How is your head to-day? now really, and nothing extenuating? I will not ask of poems, till the 'quite well' is authentic. May God bless you always! my dear friend!
After all the book must go another day. I live in chaos do you know? and I am too hurried at this moment ... yes it is here.

-from The Life of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Friday, March 7, 2008

gathering of light on light

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

[Post-mark, June 17, 1845.]

Yes, I quite believe as you do that what is called the 'creative process' in works of Art, is just inspiration and no less—which made somebody say to me not long since; And so you think that Shakespeare's 'Othello' was of the effluence of the Holy Ghost?'—rather a startling deduction, ... only not quite as final as might appear to somebodies perhaps. At least it does not prevent my going on to agree with the saying of Spiridion, ... do you remember?... 'Tout ce que l'homme appelle inspiration, je l'appelle aussi revelation,' ... if there is not something too self-evident in it after all—my sole objection! And is it not true that your inability to analyse the mental process in question, is one of the proofs of the fact of inspiration?—as the gods were known of old by not being seen to move their feet,—coming and going in an equal sweep of radiance.—And still more wonderful than the first transient great light you speak of, ... and far beyond any work of reflection, except in the pure analytical sense in which you use the word, ... appears that gathering of light on light upon particular points, as you go (in composition) step by step, till you get intimately near to things, and see them in a fullness and clearness, and an intense trust in the truth of them which you have not in any sunshine of noon (called real!) but which you have then ... and struggle to communicate:—an ineffectual struggle with most writers (oh, how ineffectual!) and when effectual, issuing in the 'Pippa Passes,' and other master-pieces of the world.

You will tell me what you mean exactly by being jealous of your own music? You said once that you had had a false notion of music, or had practised it according to the false notions of other people: but did you mean besides that you ever had meant to despise music altogether—because that, it is hard to set about trying to believe of you indeed. And then, you can praise my verses for music?—Why, are you aware that people blame me constantly for wanting harmony—from Mr. Boyd who moans aloud over the indisposition of my 'trochees' ... and no less a person than Mr. Tennyson, who said to somebody who repeated it, that in the want of harmony lay the chief defect of the poems, 'although it might verily be retrieved, as he could fancy that I had an ear by nature.' Well—but I am pleased that you should praise me—right or wrong—I mean, whether I am right or wrong in being pleased! and I say so to you openly, although my belief is that you are under a vow to our Lady of Loretto to make giddy with all manner of high vanities, some head, ... not too strong for such things, but too low for them, ... before you see again the embroidery on her divine petticoat. Only there's a flattery so far beyond praise ... even your praise—as where you talk of your verses being liked &c., and of your being happy to bring them here, ... that is scarcely a lawful weapon; and see if the Madonna may not signify so much to you!—Seriously, you will not hurry too uncomfortably, or uncomfortably at all, about the transcribing? Another day, you know, will do as well—and patience is possible to me, if not 'native to the soil.'

Also I am behaving very well in going out into the noise; not quite out of doors yet, on account of the heat—and I am better as you say, without any doubt at all, and stronger—only my looks are a little deceitful; and people are apt to be heated and flushed in this weather, one hour, to look a little more ghastly an hour or two after. Not that it is not true of me that I am better, mind! Because I am.

The 'flower in the letter' was from one of my sisters—from Arabel (though many of these poems are ideal ... will you understand?) and your rose came quite alive and fresh, though in act of dropping its beautiful leaves, because of having to come to me instead of living on in your garden, as it intended. But I thank you—for this, and all, my dear friend.

-from The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

cacistography possible

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Friday.[Post-mark, June 14, 1845.]

Yes, the poem is too good in certain respects for the prizes given in colleges, (when all the pure parsley goes naturally to the rabbits), and has a great deal of beauty here and there in image and expression. Still I do not quite agree with you that it reaches the Tennyson standard any wise; and for the blank verse, I cannot for a moment think it comparable to one of the grand passages in 'Oenone,' and 'Arthur' and the like. In fact I seem to hear more in that latter blank verse than you do, ... to hear not only a 'mighty line' as in Marlowe, but a noble full orbicular wholeness in complete passages—which always struck me as the mystery of music and great peculiarity in Tennyson's versification, inasmuch as he attains to these complete effects without that shifting of the pause practised by the masters, ... Shelley and others. A 'linked music' in which there are no links!—that, you would take to be a contradiction—and yet something like that, my ear has always seemed to perceive; and I have wondered curiously again and again how there could be so much union and no fastening. Only of course it is not model versification—and for dramatic purposes, it must be admitted to be bad.
Which reminds me to be astonished for the second time how you could think such a thing of me as that I wanted to read only your lyrics, ... or that I 'preferred the lyrics' ... or something barbarous in that way? You don't think me 'ambidexter,' or 'either-handed' ... and both hands open for what poems you will vouchsafe to me; and yet if you would let me see anything you may have in a readable state by you, ... 'The Flight of the Duchess' ... or act or scene of 'The Soul's Tragedy,' ... I shall be so glad and grateful to you! Oh—if you change your mind and choose to be bien prié, I will grant it is your right, and begin my liturgy directly. But this is not teazing (in the intention of it!) and I understand all about the transcription, and the inscrutableness of rough copies,—that is, if you write as I do, so that my guardian angel or M. Champollion cannot read what is written. Only whatever they can, (remember!) I can: and you are not to mind trusting me with the cacistography possible to mortal readers.

The sun shines so that nobody dares complain of the east wind—and indeed I am better altogether. May God bless you, my dear friend.

-from The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1900) vol. 1.