Leigh Hunt to Percy Bysshe Shelley in Italy
York Buildings, July, 1819.
My Dearest Friend,
y letter would have come off to you before I received yours, had I not been laid prostrate by a bilious fever, from which I am now recovering, and which, I think, has left me in a condition to get better than I was before, if I take care and take exercise, which with me are nearly the same thing. I had received the news of your misfortune, [the death of their son William from malaria in Rome] and thought of all which you and Mary must suffer. Marianne, I assure you, wept hearty tears of sympathy. He was a fine little fellow, was William; and for my part I cannot conceive that the young intellectual spirit which sat thinking out of his eye, and seemed to comprehend so much in his smile, can perish like the house it inhabited. I do not know that a soul is born with us; but we seem, to me, to attain to a soul, some later, some earlier; and when we have got that, there is a look in our eye, a sympathy in our cheerfulness, and a yearning and grave beauty in our thoughtfulness that seems to say, "Our mortal dress may fall off when it will; our trunk and our leaves may go; we have shot up our blossom into an immortal air." This is poetry, you will say, and not argument: but then there comes upon me another fancy, which would fain persuade me that poetry is the argument of a higher sphere. Do you smile at me? Do you, too, Marina, smile at me? Well, then, I have done something at any rate. My dear friends, I affront your understandings and feelings with none of the ordinary topics of consolation. We must all weep on these occasions, and it is better for the kindly fountains within us that we should. May you weep quietly, but not long; and may the calmest and most affectionate spirit that comes out of the contemplation of great things and the love of all, lay his most blessed hand upon you. I fear this looks a little like declamation; and yet I know that he would be a very mistaken critic who should tell me that it was so.
I can do nothing with my tragedy at least, not at present: I may do something when the new management at Drury Lane is settled, provided Kean likes it on perusal. He has rejected it, in a manner, at present, without perusing; for in my letter to him I unfortunately said that there were two characters in it, either of which, it was thought, would suit him; and it turned out just afterwards that he had a mortal antipathy to having any second Richard in the field. He returned me a very polite answer, in which he said that his hands were full. I then sent to Covent Garden; and here, it seems, the manager lives in the house of a bad dramatist, to whom he is under obligations, and who settles the destiny of all new comers. I had the honour to be rejected. You cannot suppose, of course, that I think my tragedy worse than those which are received. I know it to be a great deal better: but between ourselves, I think I have hurt it for publication, by keeping in mind its destination for the stage. At all events, I shall keep it myself, in hopes of future performance. What I most regret is the waste of my time, which I might have turned to more lucrative account; but I did my best, and most industrious. The two little poems (Hero and Leander, and Bacchus and Ariadne)* are out; and if Ollier does not bestir himself, I will make up a little packet next week, with these and one or two other things in it. Perhaps I had better do so at once, if Peacock does not send. Is it possible that you have never received even Ollier's first packet yet, with the portrait in it, which I thought, in my egotism, was to gratify you so? I guess as much, by your silence about it. You will see in the Examiner what I have said about your lovely poem of Rosalind and Helen, which is a great favourite of mine. I was rejoiced to find also that Charles Lamb was full of it. Your reputation is certainly rising greatly in your native country, in spite of its honest Promethean chains; and I have no doubt it will be universally recognized on its proper eminence. I long, by-the-by, to see Prometheus himself. I have no doubt you have handled his "wearied virtue" nobly. It is curious, but I had thought a little while ago of writing a poem myself, entitled Prometheus Throned; in which I intended to have described him as having lately taken possession of Jupiter's seat. But the subject, on every account, is in better hands. I am rather the son of one of Atlas's daughters, than of Atlas himself. I am glad you like the specimen of the Pocket-Book. As my old chat refreshes you, I think myself bound just now to write often; I shall despatch another letter next week addressed to Mary, which I hope will induce her to oblige me with one of those gigantic paragraphs which she entitles a letter. Won't you write to me frequently, too, if I write frequently? God bless you, my dear, dear friends, and take care of your health and spirits, if it be only for the sake of your affectionate
*Hero and Leander, and Bacchus and Ariadne (London: C. & J. Ollier, 1819)
-from The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt / edited by his eldest son (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1862) volume 1, pp. 130-32