Saturday, April 12, 2008

Votaries of the Muses

Thomas Love Peacock to Edward Hookham

Maentwrog Lodge, March 22, 1810.

I sit down with a resolution to write a very long letter, so put on your nightcap and compose yourself at full length on the sofa. When your letter arrived last week, announcing the departure of my library and wardrobe, I resolved to devote the whole interval to exploring the vicinity, and have been climbing about the rocks and mountains, by the rivers and the sea, with indefatigable zeal, carrying in my mind the bardic Triad, that "a poet should have an eye that can see Nature, a heart that can feel Nature, and resolution that dares follow Nature;" in obedience to which latter injunction I have nearly broken my neck. Now were I to attempt a description of all I have seen, and felt, and followed, I might fill seven sheets of foolscap, and still leave the cream of the tale unskimmed. I shall therefore content myself with promising, when you come here in August (which may no evil genius prohibit!), to show you scenes of such exquisite beauty and of such overpowering sublimity, as, once beheld, can never be forgotten.

The other day I prevailed on my new acquaintance, Dr. Gryffyth, to accompany me at midnight to the Black Cataract, a favourite haunt of mine, about two and one-half miles from here. Mr. Lloyd, whom I believe I have mentioned to you more than once, volunteered to be of the party; and at twenty minutes past eleven, lighted by the full moon, we sallied forth, to the no small astonishment of mine host, who protested he never expected to see us all again. The effect was truly magnificent; the water descends from a mountainous glen down a winding rock, and then precipitates itself, in a sheet of foam, over its black base, into a capacious basin, the sides of which are all but perpendicular, and covered with hanging oak and hazel. Evans in the "Cambrian Itinerary," describes it as an abode of damp and horror, and adds that the whole cataract cannot be seen in one view, as the sides are too steep and slippery to admit of climbing up, and the tip of the upper fall is invisible from below. Mr. Evans seems to have laboured under a small degree of alarm, which prevented accurate investigation, for I have repeatedly climbed this unattemptable rock, and obtained this impossible view; as he or anyone else might do with very little difficulty, though Dr. Gryffyth, the other night, trusting to a rotten branch, had a fall of fifteen feet perpendicular, and but for an intervening hazel, would infallibly have been hurled to the bottom. But a similar mistake is not likely to occur in daylight. Let me advise you, while I think of it, to provide yourself for your journey with nails in the heels of your shoes, which may save you from the misadventures of the jolly miller who lived on the river Dee, who, according to the old song, had a bump upon his rump.

I make due allowance for the brevity of your epistles, in consideration that this is the depth of the London winter, and the Tramezzani and Catalan! must fill the King's Theatre on every night of performance, and that you are consequently knocking about the bones & skulls most furiously; but when you can find time to peep out of your grave, I shall be glad to know when "The Genius of the Thames" will be published, and when I may expect Kirwan, Berkley, Spence, &c. I just mention these, from an apprehension that your attention to my last list may induce you to forget the first, which consisted of these and of the Critical and Edinburgh Reviews, Dec., Jan., Feb., March; Massinger, and the mathematical instruments. Euclid would be a necessary accompaniment to the latter, and if you have not disposed of Ireland's "Wye and Medway," I shall now be glad to have them. I should be much pleased if you could make it convenient to send me a small box, or parcel, punctually every month, with the Critical Review, Graphic Illustrations, and what others you think proper; a certain regular literary novelty of this description is a thing to which I look forward with inconceivable satisfaction it is one of my hobby-horses.

There is more truth than poetry in the remark of Wordsworth that "as high as we have mounted in delight, in our dejection do we sink as low." You saw this exemplified in me last summer when I was sometimes skipping about the room, singing, and playing all sorts of ridiculous antics, at another doling out staves of sorrow, and meditating a dagger and laurel water. Such is the dispositions of all votaries of the Muses, and, in some manner, of all metaphysicians; for the sensitive and the studious are generally prone to melancholy, and the melancholy are usually subject to intervals of boisterous mirth. Poor Cowper was a lamentable instance, and Tasso, and Collins, and Chatterton a list that might be prolonged almost ad infinitum. I do not mean to say that the effects of this morbid disposition are always so fatally exemplified as in the four I have mentioned, of whom three were driven to insanity, and one to suicide. Cratinus, Democritus, Horace, and others, have opined that a certain degree of non-composity is essential to the poetic character, and I am inclined to think that there is considerable justice in the observation.

Oblige me by sending a copy of "The Genius of the Thames" neatly tied up in a parcel and directed R. Walrond, Esq. on searching for the address I find I have mis-laid it Oh my eggregious carelessness ! My packages are now at Dolgelly. They will arrive here tomorrow morning. Pray write soon, and excuse all the faults and follies of

To: Mr. E. T. HOOKHAM,
15 Old Bond St., London.
[Bookseller, stationer, bookbinder, publisher and purveyor of a circulating library]

-from Thomas Love Peacock Letters to Edward Hookham and Percy B. Shelley with Fragments of Unpublished MSS edited by Richard Garnett (Boston: Bibliophile Society, MCMX)

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