Friday, February 29, 2008

All in a mist

John Keats to John Hamilton Reynolds

Winchester, 22d Sept., 1819.

My Dear Reynolds,

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

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

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


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

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

Ever your affectionate friend,
John Keats

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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

For the convenience of a library

John Keats to Benjamin Bailey

[Winchester, August 1819]

We* returned to Winchester for the convenience of a library and find it an exceedingly pleasant town, enriched with a beautiful cathedral, and surrounded by a fresh-looking country. We are in tolerably good and cheap lodgings. Within these two months I have written fifteen hundred lines, most of which, besides many more of prior composition, you will probably see by next winter. I have written two tales, one from Boccacio, called the "Pot of Basil," and another call "St. Agnes's Eve," on a popular superstition, and a third called "Lamia" (half-finished). I have also been writing parts of my "Hyperion," and completed four acts of a tragedy. It was the opinion of most of my friend that I should never be able to write a scene: I will endeavor to wipe away the prejudice. I sincerely hope you will be pleased when my labors, since we last saw each other, shall reach you. One of my ambitions is to make as great a revolution in modern dramatic writing as Kean has done in acting. Another, to upset the drawling of the blue-stocking literary world. If, in the course of a few years, I do these two things, I ought to die content, and my friends should drink a dozen of claret on my tomb. I am convinced more and more every day, that (excepting the human-friend philosopher), a fine writer is the most genuine being in the world. Shakespeare and the "Paradise Lost" every day become greater wonders to me. I look upon fine phrases like a lover.

I was glad to see, by a passage of one of Brown's letters, some time ago, from the North, that you were in such good spirits. Since that, you have been married, and in congratulating you, I wish you every continuance of them. Present my respects to Mrs. Bailey. This sounds oddly to me, and I dare say I do it awkwardly enough; but I suppose by this time it is nothing new to you.

Brown's remembrances to you. For as far as I know, we shall remain at Winchester for a goodish while.
Ever your sincere friend,
John Keats.

*Keats and his good friend Charles Brown (1787-1842), who he met in the summer of 1817.

-from Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats editied by R. Monckton Milnes (London: New York: 1848).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Chamber of Maiden-Thought

John Keats to J. H. Reynolds

Teignmouth May 3, 1818.

My dear Reynolds,
What I complain of is that I have been in so an uneasy a state of mind as not to be fit to write to an invalid. I cannot write to any length under a disguised feeling. I should have loaded you with an addition of gloom, which I am sure you do not want. I am now, thank God, in a humour to give you a good groats worth; for Tom, after a night without a wink of sleep, and overburthened with fever, has got up, after a refreshing day-sleep and is better than he has been for a long time; and you I trust have been again round the Common without any effect but refreshment. - As to the matter, I hope I can say, with Sir Andrew, "I have matter enough in my head" in your favor. And now, in the second place, for I reckon that I have finished my Imprimis, I am glad you blow up the weather; all through your letter there is a leaning towards a climate-curse, and you know what a delicate satisfaction there is in having a vexation anathematized. One would think there has been growing up for these last four thousand years, a grandchild Scion of the old forbidden tree, and that some modern Eve had just violated it; and that there was come, with double charge, "Notus and Afer black with thunderous clouds from Sierraliona." Tom wants to be in Town--we will have some such days upon the heath like that of last summer--and why not with the same book? or what do you say to a black-letter Chaucer printed in 1596: aye I have got one huzza! I shall have it bound gothique--a nice sombre binding; it will go a little way to unmodernize. And, also, I see no reason, because I have been away this last month, why I should not have a peep at your Spencerian - notwithstanding you speak of your office, in my thought, a little too early; for I do not see why a mind like yours is not capable of harbouring and digesting the whole Mystery of Law as easily as Parson Hugh does Pepins, which did not hinder him from his poetic canary. Were I to study physic, or rather Medicine again, I feel it would not make the least difference in my poetry; when the mind is in its infancy a bias is in reality a bias, but when we have acquired more strength, a bias becomes no bias. Every department of knowledge we see excellent and calculated towards a great whole. I am so convinced of this, that I am glad at not having given away my medical books, which I shall again look over to keep alive the little I know thitherwards; and moreover intend, through you and Rice, to become a sort of pip-civilian. An extensive knowledge is needful to thinking people; it takes away the heat and fever; and helps, by widening speculation, to ease the burden of the Mystery, a thing I begin to understand a little, and which weighed upon you in the most gloomy and true sentence in your letter. The difference of high sensations, with and without knowledge, appears to me this - in the latter case we are falling continually ten thousand fathoms deep, and being blown up again, without wings and with all [the] horror of a bare shouldered creature; in the former case, our shoulders are fledge, and we go thro' the same air and space without fear. This is running one's rigs on the score of abstracted benefit; when we come to human life and the affections, it is impossible how a parallel of breast and head can be drawn; (you will forgive me for thus privately treading out [of] my depth, and take it for treading as schoolboys tread the water;) it is impossible to know how far knowledge will console us for the death of a friend and the ill "that flesh is heir to." With respect to the affections and poetry, you must know by a sympathy my thoughts that way, and I dare say these few lines will be but a ratification. I wrote them on May-day, and intend to finish the ode all in good time.


Mother of Hermes! and still youthful Maia!
May I sing to thee
As thou was hymned on the shores of Baiæ?
Or may I woo thee
In earlier Sicilian? or thy smiles
Seek as they once were sought, in Grecian isles,
By bards who died content in pleasant sward,
Leaving great verse unto a little clan?
O give me their old vigour, and unheard,
Save of the quiet Primrose, and the span
Of Heaven, and few ears
Rounded by thee my song should die away
Content as theirs
Rich in the simple worship of a day.

You may be anxious to know for fact to what sentence in your letter I allude. You say "I fear there is little chance of any thing else in this life." You seem by that to have been going through, with a more painful and acute zest, the same labyrinth that I have--I have come to the same conclusion thus far. My branchings-out therefrom have been numerous: one of them is the consideration of Wordsworth's genius and as a help, in the manner of gold being the meridian line of worldly wealth, how he differs from Milton. And here I have nothing but surmises, from an uncertainty whether Milton's apparently less anxiety for Humanity proceeds from his seeing further or no than Wordsworth, and whether Wordsworth has, in truth, epic passion, and martyrs himself to the human heart, the main region of his song. In regard to his genius alone, we find what he says true, as far as we have experienced, and we can judge no further but by larger experience; for axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they have been proved upon our pulses. We read fine things, but never feel them to the full until we have gone [over] the same steps as the author. I know this is not plain; you will know exactly my meaning when I say, that now I shall relish Hamlet more than I ever have done--or better. You are sensible no man can set down venery as a bestial or joyless thing, until he is sick of it, and therefore all philosophizing in it would be mere wording. Until we are sick, we understand not; in fine, as Byron says, "Knowledge is Sorrow;" and I go on to say that "Sorrow is Wisdom;" and further, for aught we can know for certainty, "Wisdom is folly." So you see how I have run away from Wordsworth and Milton, and shall still run away from what was in my head, to observe, that some kind of letters are good squares, others handsome ovals, others orbicular, others spheroid--and why should there not be another species with two rough edges, like a rat-trap? I hope you will find all my long letters of that species, and all will be well; for by merely touching the spring delicately and ethereally, the rough-edged will fly immediately into a proper compactness; and thus you may make a good wholesome loaf, with your own leaven in it, of my fragments. If you cannot find this said rat-trap sufficiently tractable, alas! for me, it being an impossibility in grain for my ink to stain otherwise. If I scribble long letters I must play my vagaries; I must be too heavy, or too light, for whole pages; I must be quaint and free of tropes and figures; I must play my draughts as I please, and for my advantage and your erudition, crown a white with a black, or a black with a white, and move into black or white, far and near as I please; I must go from Hazlitt to Patmore, and make Wordsworth and Coleman play at leap-frog, or keep one of them down a whole half holiday at fly-the-garter; "From Gray to Gay, from Little to Shakespeare." I shall resume after dinner.

This crossing a letter is not without its association--for chequer-work leads us naturally to a milkmaid, a milkmaid to Hogarth, Hogarth to Shakespeare; Shakespear to Hazlitt, Hazlitt to Shakespeare; and thus by merely pulling an apron string we set a pretty peal of chimes at work. Let them chime on, while, with your patience, I will return to Wordsworth--whether or no he has an extended vision or a circumscribed grandeur-- whether he is an eagle in his nest or on the wing; and, to be more explicit, and to show you how tall I stand by the giant, I will put down a simile of human life as far as I now perceive it; that is, to the point to which I say we both have arrived at. Well, I compare human life to a large mansion of many apartments, two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being yet shut upon me. The first we step into we call the Infant or Thoughtless Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think. We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it, but are at length imperceptibly impelled by the awakening of the thinking principle within us. We no sooner get into the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden-thought, than we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere. We see nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in delight. However, among the effects this breathing is father of, is that tremendous one of sharpening one's vision into the heart and nature of man, of convincing ones nerves that the world is full of misery and heartbreak, pain, sickness, and oppression--whereby this Chamber of Maiden-thought become gradually darken'd, and at the same time, on all sides of it, many doors are set open--but all dark--all leading to dark passages. We see not the ballance of good and evil; we are in a mist, we are now in that state, we feel the "Burden of the Mystery." To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive, when he wrote 'Tintern Abbey,' and it seems to me that his genius is explorative of those dark passages. Now if we live, and go on thinking, we too shall explore them. He is a genius and superior [to] us, in so far as he can, more than we, make discoveries and shed a light in them. Here I must think Wordsworth is deeper than Milton, though I think it has depended more upon the general and gregarious advance of intellect than individual greatness of mind. From the "Paradise Lost" and the other works of Milton, I hope it is not too presuming, even between ourselves, to say, his Philosophy, human and divine, may be tolerably understood by one not much advanced in years. In his time, Englishmen were just emancipated from a great superstition - and men had got hold of certain points and resting places in reasoning which were too newly born to be doubted, and too much opposed by the rest of Europe, not to be thought etherial and authentically divine. Who could gainsay his ideas on virtue, vice, and chastity in Comus, just at the time of the dismissal of a hundred social disgraces? Who would not rest satisfied with his hintings at good and evil in the Paradise Lost, when just free from the inquisition and burning in Smithfield? The Reformation produced such immediate and great benefits, that Protestantism was considered under the immediate eye of heaven, and its own remaining dogmas and superstition, then, as it were, regenerated, constituted those resting places and seeming sure points of reasoning. From that I have mentioned, Milton, whatever he may have thought in the sequel, appears to have been content with these by his writings. He did not think with the human heart as Wordsworth has done; yet Milton, as a Philosopher, had surely as great powers as Wordsworth. What is then to be inferr'd? O! many things: it proves there is really a grand march of intellect; it proves that a mighty Providence subdues the mightiest minds to the service of the time being, whether it be in human knowledge or religion.

I have often pitied a tutor who has to hear "Nom. Musa" - so often dinn'd into his ears: I hope you may not have the same pain in this scribbling--I may have read these things before, but I never had even a thus dim perception of them; and, moreover, I like to say my lesson to one who will endure my tediousness for my own sake.

After all there is certainly something real in the world--Moore's present to Hazlitt is real. I like that Moore, and am glad I saw him at the theatre just before I left town. Tom has spit a leetle blood this afternoon, and that is rather a damper--but I know--the truth is, there is something real in the world. Your third Chamber of Life shall be a lucky and a gentle one, stored with the wine of Love and the bread of Friendship.

When you see George, if he should not have received a letter form me, tell him he will find one at home most likely. Tell Bailey I hope soon to see him. Remember me to all. The leaves have been out here, for many a day - I have written to George for the first stanzas of my Isabel - I shall have them soon, and will copy the whole out for you.
Your affectionate friend
John Keats


-from Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats editied by R. Monckton Milnes (London: New York: 1848).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Milton in the Meadow

John Keats to James Rice

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,
John Keats
-from Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats editied by R. Monckton Milnes (London: New York: 1848).

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Endymion Endeavour

John Keats to Benjamin Bailey

Hampstead, Oct. Wednesday

[8 October 1817.]

My dear Bailey,
After a tolerable journey, I went from coach to coach to as far as Hampstead where I found my brothers--the next morning finding myself tolerably well I went to Lambs Conduit Street and delivered your parcel--Jane and Marianne were greatly improved, Marianne especially, she has no unhealthy plumpness in the face--but she comes me healthy and angular to the chin--I did not see John. I was extremely sorry to hear that poor Rice after having had capital health during his tour, was very ill. I dare say you have heard from him. From No. 19 I went to Hunt's and Haydon's who live now neighbours. Shelley was there--I know nothing about any thing in this part of the world--every body seems at loggerheads. There's Hunt infatuated--there's Haydon's picture in statu quo. There's Hunt walks up and down his painting room criticising every head most unmercifully--There's Horace Smith tired of Hunt. "The web of our life is of mingled yarn." Haydon having removed entirely from Marlborough street, Crips must direct his letter to Lisson Grove, North Paddington. Yesterday morning while I was at Brown's in came Reynolds--he was pretty bobbish, we had a pleasant day--but he would walk home at night that cursed cold distance. Mrs Bentley's children are making a horrid row--whereby I regret I cannot be transported to your room to write to you. I am quite disgusted with literary men and will never know another except Wordsworth--no, not even Byron--Here is an instance of the friendships of such--Haydon and Hunt have known each other many years--now they live, pour ainsi dire, jealous neighbours. Haydon says to me, Keats, don't show your lines to Hunt on any account or he will have done half for you--so it appears Hunt wishes it to be thought. When he met Reynolds in the Theatre, John told him that I was getting on to the completion of 4000 lines. Ah! says Hunt, had it not been for me they would have been 7000! If he will say this to Reynolds what would he to other people? Haydon received a letter a little while back on this subject from some Lady--which contains a caution, to me thro' him, on this subject--Now, is not all this a most paultry thing to think about? You may see the whole of the case by the following extract from a letter I wrote to George in the spring--"As to what you say about my being a poet, I can return no answer but by saying that the high idea I have of poetical fame makes me think I see it towering too high above me. At any rate I have no right to talk until Endymion is finished - it will be a test, a trial of my powers of imagination and chiefly of my invention which is a rare thing indeed--by which I must make 4000 lines of one bare circumstance and fill them with poetry; and when I consider that this is a great task, and that when done it will take me but a dozen paces towards the Temple of Fame--it makes me say--God forbid that I should be without such a task! I have heard Hunt say, and may be asked--why endeavour after a long Poem? To which I should answer--Do not the lovers of poetry like to have a little region to wander in where they may pick and choose, and in which the images are so numerous that many are forgotten and found new in a second reading: which may be food for a week's stroll in the summer? Do not they like this better than what they can read through before Mrs. Williams comes down stairs?--a morning work at most.
Besides a long poem is a test of invention which I take to be the Polar Star of Poetry, as Fancy is the Sails, and Imagination the Rudder. Did our great Poets ever write short pieces? I mean in the shape of tales--This same invention seems indeed of late years to have been forgotten as a poetical excellence. But enough of this, I put on no laurels till I shall have finished Endymion, and I hope Apollo is not angered at my having made a mockery at Hunt's."

You see Bailey how independant my writing has been--Hunt's dissuasion was of no avail--I refused to visit Shelley that I might have my own unfettered scope--and after all I shall have the reputation of Hunt's elevé--His corrections and amputations will by the knowing ones be trased in the poem--This is to be sure the vexation of a day--nor would I say so many words about it to any but those whom I know to have my welfare and reputation at heart--Haydon promised to give directions for those casts and you may expect to see them soon--with as many letters. You will soon hear the dinning of bells--never mind you and Gleg will defy the foul fiend --But do not sacrifice your health to books, do take it kindly and not so voraciously. I am certain if you are your own physician your stomach will resume its proper strength and then, what great benefits will follow. . . My Brother's kindest remembrances to you--we are going to dine at Brown's where I have some hopes of meeting Reynolds. The little mercury I have taken has corrected the poison and improved my health--though I feel from my employment that I shall never be again secure in robustness--would that you were as well as
your sincere friend & brother,

John Keats


-from The Letters of John Keats edited by H. Buxton Forman (London: 1895)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Our Brazen Tombs

John Keats to Benjamin Robert Haydon

Margate Saturday Eve [10 May 1817]
[Postmark, 13 May 1817]
My dear Haydon,

Let Fame, which all hunt after in their lives,
Live register'd upon our brazen tombs,
And so grace us in the disgrace of death:
When spite of cormorant devouring time
The endeavour of this present breath may buy
That Honor which shall bate his Scythe's keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity.*

To think that I have no right to couple myself with you in this speech would be death to me me so I have e'en written it--and I pray God that our brazen tombs be nigh neighbors. It cannot be long first the endeavor of this present breath will soon be over--and yet it is as well to breathe freely during our sojourn--it is as well if you have not been teased with that money affair--that bill-pestilence. However I must think that difficulties nerve the Spirit of a Man--they make our prime objects a refuge as well as a passion. The trumpet of fame is as a tower of strength the ambitious bloweth it and is safe. I suppose by your telling me not to give way to forebodings George has mentioned to you what I have lately said in my letters to him--truth is I have been in such a state of mind as to read over my lines and hate them. I am "one that gathers samphire dreadful trade" the cliff of Poesy towers above me--yet when, Tom who meets with some of Pope's Homer in Plutarch's Lives reads some of those to me they seem like mice to mine. I read and write about eight hours a day. There is an old saying "well begun is half done" --'tis a bad one. I would use instead--"Not begun at all till half done" so according to that I have not begun my poem and consequently (a priori) can say nothing about it. Thank God! I do begin arduously where I leave off, notwithstanding occasional depressions: and I hope for the support of a High Power while I clime this little eminences and especially in my years of more momentous labor. I remember your saying that you had notions of a good genius presiding over you. I have of late had the same thought--for things which I do half at random are afterwards confirmed by my judgment in a dozen features of propriety. Is it too daring to fancy Shakspeare this presidor? When in the Isle of Whight I met with a Shakspeare in the passage of the house at which I lodged--it comes nearer to my idea of him than any I have seen--I was but there a week yet the old woman made me take it with me though I went off in a hurry--do you not think this is ominous of good? I am glad you say every man of great views is at times tormented as I am--

Sunday Aft.
This morning I received a letter from George by which it appears that money troubles are to follow us up for some time to come perhaps for always--these vexations are a great hindrance to one--they are not like envy and detraction stimulants to further exertion as being immediately relative and reflected on at the same time with the prime object--but rather like a nettle leaf or two in your bed. So now I revoke my promise of finishing my poem by the autumn which I should have done had I gone on as I have done--but I cannot write while my spirit is fevered in a contrary direction and I am now sure of having plenty of it this summer. At this moment I am in no enviable situation--I feel that I am not in a mood to write any to day; and it appears that the loss of it is the beginning of all sorts of irregularities. I am extremely glad that a time must come when every thing will leave not a wrack behind. You tell me never to despair--I wish it was as easy for me to observe the saying--truth is I have a horrid morbidity of temperament which has shown itself at intervals--it is I have no doubt the greatest enemy and stumbling block I have to fear--I may even say that it is likely to be the cause of my disappointment. However every ill has its share of good--this very bane would at any time enable me to look with an obstinate eye on the devil himself--ay to be as proud of being the lowest of the human race as Alfred could be in being of the highest. I feel confident I should have been a rebel angel had the opportunity been mine. I am very sure that you do love me as your own brother--I have seen it in your continual anxiety for me--and I assure you that your wellfare and fame is and will be a chief pleasure to me all my life. I know no one but you who can be fully sensible of the turmoil and anxiety, the sacrifice of all what is called comfort the readiness to measure time by what is done and to die in 6 hours could plans be brought to conclusions--the looking upon the sun the moon the stars, the earth and its contents as materials to form greater things--that is to say ethereal things--but here I am talking like a madman greater things that our Creator himself made!! I wrote to Hunt yesterday--scarcly know what I said in it. I could not talk about poetry in the way I should have liked for I was not in humor with either his or mine. His self delusions are very lamentable they have inticed him into a situation which I should be less eager after than that of a galley slave--what you observe thereon is very true must be in time.

Perhaps it is a self delusion to say so--but I think I could not be be deceived in the manner that Hunt is--may I die tomorrow if I am to be. There is no greater sin after the 7 deadly than to flatter oneself into an idea of being a great Poet--or one of those beings who are privileged to wear out their lives in the pursuit of honor--how comfortable a feel it is that such a crime must bring its heavy penalty? That if one be a selfdeluder accounts will be balanced? I am glad you are hard at work--t'will now soon be done--I long to see Wordsworth's as well as to have mine in: but I would rather not show my face in town till the end of the year--if that will be time enough--if not I shall be disappointed if you do not write for me even when you think best. I never quite despair and I read Shakspeare--indeed I shall I think never read any other book much--now this might lead me into a long confab but I desist. I am very near agreeing with Hazlit that Shakspeare is enough for us--by the by what a tremendous southean article his last was--I wish he had left out "grey hairs" It was very gratifying to meet your remarks of the manuscript --I was reading Anthony and Cleopatra when I got the paper and there are several passages applicable to the events you commentate. You say that he arrived by degrees and not by any single struggle to the height of his ambition--and that his life had been as common in particulars as other mens. Shakspeare makes Enobarb say-Where's Antony Eros--He's walking in the garden--thus: and spurns the rush that lies before him; cries fool, Lepidus! In the same scene we find: "let determined things to destiny hold unbewailed their way." Dolabella says of Antony's Messenger

"An argument that he is pluck'd when hither he sends so poor a pinion of his wing"--Then again, Eno--"I see men's judgments are a parcel of their fortunes; and things outward do draw the inward quality after them, to suffer all alike"--The following applies well to Bertram
"Yet he that can endure to follow with allegience a fallen Lord, does conquer him that did his master conquer, And earns a place i' the story"

But how differently does Buonap bear his fate from Antony!

'Tis good too that the Duke of Wellington has a good word or so in the Examiner. A man ought to have the fame he deserves--and I begin to think that detracting from him as well as from Wordsworth is the same thing. I wish he had a little more taste--and did not in that respect "deal in Lieutenantry". You should have heard from me before this--but in the first place I did not like to do so before I had got a little way in the 1st Book and in the next as G. told me you were going to write I delayed till I had heard from you. Give my respects the next time you write to the north and also to John Hunt--

Remember me to Reynolds and tell him to write--ay, and when you sent westward tell your sister that I mentioned her in this--so now in the name of Shakespeare Raphael and all our Saints I commend you to the care of heaven!
Your everlasting friend

John Keats
*quote from Love's Labours's Lost by William Shakespeare.

[On February 23, 1821, John Keats died in Rome.]
-from The Letters of John Keats edited by H. Buxton Forman (London: 1895)

Friday, February 22, 2008

passing through many clouds

Thomas Gray to Mrs. Dorothy Gray [his mother].

Lyons, October 13, N. S., 1739.

It is now almost five weeks since I left Dijon, one of the gayest and most agreeable little cities of France, for Lyons, its reverse in all these particulars. It is the second in the kingdom in bigness and rank, the streets excessively narrow and nasty; the houses immensely high and large (that, for instance, where we are lodged, has twenty-five rooms on a floor, and that for five stories); it swarms with inhabitants like Paris itself, but chiefly a mercantile people, too much given up to commerce to think of their own, much less of a stranger's diversions. We have no acquaint­ance in the town, but such English as happen to be passing through here, on their way to Italy and the south, which at present happen to be near thirty in number. It is a fortnight since we set out from hence upon a little excursion to Geneva. We took the longest road, which lies through Savoy, on pur­pose to see a famous monastery, called the grand Chartreuse, and had no reason to think our time lost. After having travelled seven days very slow (for we did not change horses, it being impossible for a chaise to go post in these roads) we arrived at a little village, among the mountains of Savoy, called Échelles; from thence we proceeded on horses, who are used to the way, to the mountain of the Chartreuse. It is six miles to the top; the road runs winding up it, commonly not six feet broad; on one hand is the rock, with woods of pine-trees hanging overhead; on the other, a monstrous precipice, almost perpen­dicular, at the bottom of which rolls a torrent, that sometimes tumbling among the fragments of stone that have fallen from on high, and sometimes pre­cipitating itself down vast descents with a noise like thunder, which is still made greater by the echo from the mountains on each side, concurs to form one of the most solemn, the most romantic, and the most astonishing scenes I ever beheld: add to this the strange views made by the craggs and cliffs on the other hand; the cascades that in many places throw themselves from the very summit down into the vale, and the river below; and many other particulars impossible to describe; you will conclude we had no occasion to repent our pains. This place St. Bruno chose to retire to, and upon its very top founded the aforesaid convent, which is the superior of the whole order. When we came there, the two fathers, who are commissioned to entertain strangers (for the rest must neither speak one to another, nor to any one else), received us very kindly; and set before us are past of dried fish, eggs, butter and fruits, all excellent in their kind, and extremely neat. They pressed us to spend the night there, and to stay some days with them; but this we could not do, so they led us about their house, which is, you must think, like a little city; for there are 100 fathers, besides 300 servants, that make their clothes, grind their corn, press their wine, and do everything among themselves: the whole is quite orderly and simple; nothing of finery, but the wonderful decency, and the strange situation, more than supply the place of it. In the evening we descended by the same way, passing through many clouds that were then forming themselves on the mountain's side. Next day we continued our journey by Chamberry, which, though the chief city of the duchy, and residence of the King of Sardinia, when he comes into this part of his dominions, makes but a very mean and insignificant appearance; we lay at Aix, once famous for its hot baths, and the next night at Annecy; the day after, by noon, we got to Geneva. I have not time to say anything about it, nor of our solitary journey back again. . . .


-from The Works of Thomas Gray in Prose and Verse edited by Edmund Gosse (London: 1890) vol. 2 - letters.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Common Streets and the Mysteries of Bacchus

Thomas Gray to Richard West.

Paris, April 12, 1739.

ENFIN done me voici à Paris. Mr. Walpole is gone out to supper at Lord Conway's,
and here I remain alone, though invited too. Do not think I make a merit of writing to you preferably to a good supper; for these three days we have been here, have actually given me an aversion to eating in general. If hunger be the best sauce to meat, the French are certainly the worst cooks in the world; for what tables we have seen have been so delicately served, and so pro­fusely, that, after rising from one of them, one im­agines it impossible ever to eat again.
And now, if I tell you all I have in my head, you will believe me mad, mais n'importe, courage, allons ! for if I wait till my head grow clear and settle a little, you may stay long enough for a letter.

Six days have we been have not been disagreeable ones; through a fine, open country, admirable roads, and in an easy conveyance ; the inns not absolutely intolerable, and images quite unusual presenting themselves on all hands. At Amiens we saw the fine cathedral, and ate paté de perdrix; passed through the park of Chantilly by the Duke of Bourbon's palace, which we only beheld as we passed; broke down at Lusarche; stopt at St. Denis, saw all the beautiful monuments of the Kings of France, and the vast treasures of the abbey, rubies, and emeralds as big as small eggs, cucifixes, and vows, crowns and reliquaries, of ines­timable value; but of all their curiosities the thing the most to our tastes, and which they indeed do the justice to esteem the glory of their collection, was a vase of an entire onyx, measuring at least five inches over, three deep, and of great thickness. It is at least two thousand years old, the beauty of the stone and sculpture upon it (representing the mysteries of Bacchus) beyond expression admirable; we have dreamed of it ever since. The jolly old Benedictine, that showed us the treasures, had in his youth been ten years a soldier; he laughed at all the relics, was very full of stories, and mighty obliging. On Satur­day evening we got to Paris, and were driving through the streets a long while before we knew where we were. The minute we came, voilà Milors Holder­nesse, Conway and his brother; all stayed supper, till two o'clock in the morning, for here nobody ever sleeps; it is not the way. Next day go to dine at my Lord Holdernesse's, there was the Abbé Prevôt, author of the Cleveland, and several other pieces much esteemed : the rest were English. At night we went to the Pandore; a spectácle literally, for it is nothing but a beautiful piece of machinery of three scenes. The first represents the chaos, and by degrees the separation of the elements. The second, the temple of Jupiter, the giving of the box to Pandora. The third, the opening of the box, and all the mischiefs that ensued. An absurd design, but executed in the highest perfection, and that in one of the finest theatres in the world; it is the grande sale des machines in the Palais des Tuileries. Next day dined at Lord Waldegrave's; then to the opera. Imagine to yourself for the drama four acts entirely uncon­nected with each other, each founded on some little history, skilfully taken out of an ancient author, e.g. Ovid's Metamorphoses, etc., and with great address converted into a French piece of gallantry. For in­stance, that which I saw, called the Ballet de la Paix, had its first act built upon the story of Nireus. Homer having said he was the handsomest man of his time, the poet, imagining such a one could not want a mis­tress, has given him one. These two come in and sing sentiment in lamentable strains, neither air nor recitative; only, to one's great joy, they are every now and then interrupted by a dance, or (to one's great sorrow) by a chorus that borders the stage from one end to the other, and screams, past all power of simile to represent. The second act was Baucis and Phile­mon. Baucis is a beautiful young shepherdess, and Philemon her swain. Jupiter falls in love with her, but nothing will prevail upon her; so it is all mighty well, and the chorus sing and dance the praises of Constancy. The two other acts were about Iphis and Ianthe, and the judgment of Paris. Imagine, I say, all this transacted by cracked voices, trilling divisions upon two notes and a half, accompanied by an orchestra of humstrums, and a whole house more attentive than if Farinelli sung, and you will almost have formed a just notion of the thing. Our astonishment at their absurdity you can never conceive; we had enough to do to express it by screaming an hour louder than the whole dramatis personæ. We have also seen twice the Comédie Françoise; first, the Mahomet Second, a tragedy that has had a great run of late; and the thing itself does not want its beauties, but the actors are beyond measure delightful. Mademoiselle Gaus­sin (M. Voltaire's Zara) has with a charming (though little) person the most pathetic tone of voice, the finest expression in her face, and most proper action imagin­able. There is also a Dufrêne, who did the chief character, a handsome man and a prodigious fine actor. The second we saw was the Philosophe Marié, and here they performed as well in comedy ; there is a Made­moiselle Quinault, somewhat in Mrs. Clive's way, anda Monsieur Grandval, in the nature of Wilks, who is the genteelest thing in the world. There are several more would be much admired in England, and many (whom we have not seen) much celebrated here. Great part of our time is spent in seeing churches and palaces full of fine pictures, etc., the quarter of which is not yet exhausted. For my part, I could entertain myself this month merely with the common streets and the people in them. . . .



-from The Works of Thomas Gray in Prose and Verse edited by Edmund Gosse (London: 1890) vol. 2-letters.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gray begins his Grand Tour

Thomas Gray to Mrs. Dorothy Gray.


Amiens, April I, N. S., 1739.

As we made a very short journey to-day, and came to our inn early, I sit down to give you some account of our expedition. On the 29th (according to the style here) we left Dover at twelve at noon, and with a pretty brisk gale, which pleased everybody mighty well, except myself, who was extremely sick the whole time , we reached Calais by five. The weather changed, and it began to snow hard the minute we got into the harbour, where we took the boat and soon landed. Calais is an exceeding old, but very pretty town, and we hardly saw anything there that was not so new and so different from England, that it sur­prised us agreeably. We went the next morning to the great Church, and were at high Mass (it being Easter Monday). We saw also the Convents of the Capuchius, and the Nuns of St. Dominic; with these last we held much conversation, especially with an English Nun, a Mrs. Davis, of whose work I sent you by the return of the Pacquet, a letter-case to remem­ber her by. In the afternoon we took a post-chaise (it still snowing very hard) for Boulogne, which was only eighteen miles farther. This chaise is a strange sort of conveyance, of much greater use than beauty, resembling an ill-shaped chariot, only with the door opening before instead of the side; three horses draw it, one between the shafts, and the other two on each side, on one of which the postillion rides, and drives too.

This vehicle will, upon occasion, go fourscore miles a-day, but Mr. Walpole, being in no hurry,chooses to make easy journeys of it, and they are easy ones indeed; for the motion is much like that of a sedan, we go about six miles an hour, and com­monly change horses at the end of it. It is true theyare no very graceful steeds, but they go well, and through roads which they say are bad for France, but to me they seem gravel walks and bowling-greens; in short, it would be the finest travelling in the world were it not for the inns, which are mostly terrible places indeed. But to describe our progress somewhat more regularly, we came into Boulogne when it was almost dark, and went out pretty early on Tuesday morning; so that all I can say about it is, that it is a large, old, fortified town, with more English in it than French. On Tuesday we were to go to Abbéville, seventeen leagues, or fifty-one short English miles; but by the way we dined at Montreuil, much to our hearts' con­tent, on stinking mutton cutlets, addled eggs, and ditch water. Madame the hostess made her appear­ance in long lappets of bone lace and a sack of linsey‐woolsey. We supped and lodged pretty well at Abbeville, and had time to see a little of it before we came out this morning. There are seventeen con­vents in it, out of which we saw the chapels of Minimsand the Carmelite Nuns. We are now come farther thirty miles to Amiens, the chief city of the province of Picardy. We have seen the cathedral, which is just what that of Canterbury must have been before the Reformation. It is about the same size, a huge Gothic building, beset on the outside with thousands of small statues, and within adorned with beautiful painted windows, and a vast number of chapels dressed out in all their finery of altar-pieces, embroidery, gilding, and marble. Over the high altar are pre­served, in a very large wrought shrine of massy gold, the relicks of St. Firmin, their patron saint. We went also to the chapels of the Jesuits and Ursuline Nuns, the latter of which is very richly adorned.


To‐morrow we shall lie at Clermont, and next day reach Paris. The country we have passed through hitherto has been flat, open, but agreeably diversified withvillages, fields well-cultivated, and little rivers. On every hillock is a windmill, a crucifix, or a Virgin Mary dressed in flowers, and a sarcenet robe; one sees not many people or carriages on the road; now and then indeed you meet a strolling friar, a countryman with his great muff, or a woman riding astride on a little ass, with short petticoats, and a great head‐dress of blue wool. . . .



-from The Works of Thomas Gray in Prose and Verse edited by Edmund Gosse (London: 1890), vol. 2.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An Aunt's Authorial Advice


Chawton: August 10, 1814


August 10, 1814.

MY DEAR ANNA,


I am quite ashamed to find that I have never answered some question of yours in a former note. I kept it on purpose to refer to it at a proper time and then forgot it. I like the name "Which is the Heroine" very well, and I daresay shall grow to like it very much in time; but "Enthusiasm" was something so very superior that my common title must appear to disadvantage. I am not sensible of any blunders about Dawlish; the library was pitiful and wretched twelve years ago and not likely to have anybody's publications. There is no such title as Desborough either among dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, or barons. These were your inquiries. I will now thank you for your envelope received this morning. Your Aunt Cass is as well pleased with St. Julian as ever, and I am delighted with the idea of seeing Progillian again.

Wednesday 17. -- We have now just finished the first of the three books I had the pleasure of receiving yesterday. I read it aloud and we are all very much amused, and like the work quite as well as ever. I depend on getting through another book before dinner, but there is really a good deal of respectable reading in your forty-eight pages. I have no doubt six would make a very good-sized volume. You must have been quite pleased to have accomplished so much. I like Lord Portman and his brother very much. I am only afraid that Lord P.'s good nature will make most people like him better than he deserves. The whole family are very good, and Lady Anne, who was your great dread, you have succeeded particularly well with. Bell Griffin is just what she should be. My corrections have not been more important than before; here and there we have thought the sense could be expressed in fewer words, and I have scratched out Sir Thos. from walking with the others to the stables, &c. the very day after breaking his arm; for, though I find your papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book. Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards forty miles from Dawlish and would not be talked of there. I have put Starcross instead. If you prefer Exeter, that must be always safe.

I have also scratched out the introduction between Lord Portman and his brother and Mr. Griffin. A country surgeon (don't tell Mr. C. Lyford) would not be introduced to men of their rank, and when Mr. P. is first brought in, he would not be introduced as the Honourable. That distinction is never mentioned at such times, at least I believe not. Now we have finished the second book, or rather the fifth. I do think you had better omit Lady Helena's postscript. To those that are acquainted with "Pride and Prejudice" it will seem an imitation. And your Aunt C. and I both recommend your making a little alteration in the last scene between Devereux F. and Lady Clanmurray and her daughter. We think they press him too much, more than sensible or well-bred women would do; Lady C., at least, should have discretion enough to be sooner satisfied with his determination of not going with them. I am very much pleased with Egerton as yet. I did not expect to like him, but I do, and Susan is a very nice little animated creature; but St. Julian is the delight of our lives. He is quite interesting. The whole of his break off with Lady Helena is very well done. Yes; Russell Square is a very proper distance from Berkeley Square. We are reading the last book. They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath. They are nearly 100 miles apart.

Thursday. -- We finished it last night after our return from drinking tea at the Great House. The last chapter does not please us quite so well; we do not thoroughly like the play, perhaps from having had too much of plays in that way lately [vide "Mansfield Park"], and we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland; but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home.
Your Aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather afraid yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequently a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be introduced of apparent consequence which will lead to nothing. It will not be so great an objection to me if it does. I allow much more latitude than she does, and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story, and people in general do not care so much about it, for your comfort.

I should like to have had more of Devereux. I do not feel enough acquainted with him. You were afraid of meddling with him I dare say. I like your sketch of Lord Clanmurray, and your picture of the two young girls' enjoyment is very good. I have not noticed St. Julian's serious conversation with Cecilia, but I like it exceedingly. What he says about the madness of otherwise sensible women on the subject of their daughters coming out is worth its weight in gold.
I do not perceive that the language sinks. Pray go on.


Yours affectionately,

J. AUSTEN
from Letters of Jane Austen, Braebourne Edition, ed. Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen (First Baron Braebourne & son of Fanny Knight), c.1884

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Aunt's advice to the lovelorn



Chawton: Friday (Nov. 18, 1814).


I feel quite as doubtful as you could be, my dearest Fanny, as to when my letter may be finished, for I can command very little quiet time at present; but yet I must begin, for I know you will be glad to hear as soon as possible, and I really am impatient myself to be writing something on so very interesting a subject, though I have no hope of writing anything to the purpose. I shall do very little more, I dare say, than say over again what you have said before.

I was certainly a good deal surprised at first, as I had no suspicion of any change in your feelings, and I have no scruple in saying that you cannot be in love. My dear Fanny, I am ready to laugh at the idea, and yet it is no laughing matter to have had you so mistaken as to your own feelings. And with all my heart I wish I had cautioned you on that point when first you spoke to me; but, though I did not think you then so much in love, I did consider you as being attached in a degree quite sufficiently for happiness, as I had no doubt it would increase with opportunity, and from the time of our being in London together I thought you really very much in love. But you certainly are not at all -- there is no concealing it.

What strange creatures we are! It seems as if your being secure of him had made you indifferent. There was a little disgust, I suspect, at the races, and I do not wonder at it. His expressions then would not do for one who had rather more acuteness, penetration, and taste, than love, which was your case. And yet, after all, I am surprised that the change in your feelings should be so great. He is just what he ever was, only more evidently and uniformly devoted to you. This is all the difference. How shall we account for it?

My dearest Fanny, I am writing what will not be of the smallest use to you. I am feeling differently every moment, and shall not be able to suggest a single thing that can assist your mind. I could lament in one sentence and laugh in the next, but as to opinion or counsel I am sure that none will be extracted worth having from this letter.

I read yours through the very evening I received it, getting away by myself. I could not bear to leave off when I had once begun. I was full of curiosity and concern. Luckily your At. C. dined at the other house; therefore I had not to manoeuvre away from her, and as to anybody else, I do not care.

Poor dear Mr. A.! Oh, dear Fanny! your mistake has been one that thousands of women fall into. He was the first young man who attached himself to you. That was the charm, and most powerful it is. Among the multitudes, however, that make the same mistake with yourself, there can be few indeed who have so little reason to regret it; his character and his attachment leave you nothing to be ashamed of.

Upon the whole, what is to be done? You have no inclination for any other person. His situation in life, family, friends, and, above all, his character, his uncommonly amiable mind, strict principles, just notions, good habits, all that you know so well how to value, all that is really of the first importance, everything of this nature pleads his cause most strongly. You have no doubt of his having superior abilities, he has proved it at the University; he is, I dare say, such a scholar as your agreeable, idle brothers would ill bear a comparison with.

Oh, my dear Fanny! the more I write about him, the warmer my feelings become -- the more strongly I feel the sterling worth of such a young man and the desirableness of your growing in love with him again. I recommend this most thoroughly. There are such beings in the world, perhaps one in a thousand, as the creature you and I should think perfection, where grace and spirit are united to worth, where the manners are equal to the heart and understanding, but such a person may not come in your way, or, if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a man of fortune, the near relation of your particular friend and belonging to your own county.

Think of all this, Fanny. Mr. A. has advantages which do not often meet in one person. His only fault, indeed, seems modesty. If he were less modest he would be more agreeable, speak louder, and look impudenter; and is not it a fine character of which modesty is the only defect? I have no doubt he will get more lively and more like yourselves as he is more with you; he will catch your ways if he belongs to you. And, as to there being any objection from his goodness, from the danger of his becoming even evangelical, I cannot admit that. I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be evangelicals, and am at least persuaded that they who are so from reason and feeling must be happiest and safest. Do not be frightened from the connection by your brothers having most wit -- wisdom is better than wit, and in the long run will certainly have the laugh on her side; and don't be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.

And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection; and if his deficiences of manner, &c. &c., strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once. Things are now in such a state that you must resolve upon one or the other -- either to allow him to go on as he has done, or whenever you are together behave with a coldness which may convince him that he has been deceiving himself. I have no doubt of his suffering a good deal for a time -- a great deal when he feels that he must give you up; but it is no creed of mine, as you must be well aware, that such sort of disappointments kill anybody.

Your sending the music was an admirable device, it made everything easy, and I do not know how I could have accounted for the parcel otherwise; for though your dear papa most conscientiously hunted about till he found me alone in the dining-parlour, your Aunt C. had seen that he had a parcel to deliver. As it was, however, I do not think anything was suspected.
We have heard nothing fresh from Anna. I trust she is very comfortable in her new home. Her letters have been very sensible and satisfactory, with no parade of happiness, which I liked them the better for. I have often known young married women write in a way I did not like in that respect...
Yours very affectionately,

JANE AUSTEN.


from Letters of Jane Austen, Braebourne Edition, ed. Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen (First Baron Braebourne & son of Fanny Knight), c.1884.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Elysian Fields

Percy Bysshe Shelley to Thomas Love Peacock
Naples. December 22, 1818. [Part Two]


We have made two excursions, one to Baiae, and one to Vesuvius, and we propose to visit, successively, the islands, Paestum, Pompeii, and Beneventum. We set off an hour after sunrise one radiant morning in a little boat; there was not a cloud in the sky, nor a wave upon the sea, which was so translucent that you could see the hollow caverns clothed with the glaucous sea-moss, and the leaves and branches of those delicate weeds that pave the unequal bottom of the water. As noon approached, the heat, and especially the light, became intense. We passed Posilipo, and came first to the eastern point of the Bay of Puzzoli, which is within the great Bay of Naples, and which again encloses that of Baiae. Here are lofty rocks and craggy islets, with arches and portals of precipice standing in the sea, and enormous caverns, which echoed faintly with the murmur of the languid tide. This is called La Scuola di Virgilio. We then went direftly across to the promontory of Misenum, leaving the precipitous island of Nisida on the right. Here we were conduced to see the Mare Morto, and the Elysian Fields; the spot on which Virgil places the scenery of the sixth Aeneid. Though extremely beautiful, as a lake, and woody hills, and this divine sky must make it, I confess my disappointment.

The guide showed us an antique cemetery, where the niches used for placing the cinerary urns of the dead yet remain. We then coasted the Bay of Baiae to the left, in which we saw many picturesque and interesting ruins ; but I have to remark that we never disembarked but we were disappointed, while from the boat the effect of the scenery was inexpressibly delightful. The colours of the water and the air breathe over all things here the radiance of their own beauty. After passing the Bay of Baiae, and observing the ruins of its antique grandeur standing like rocks in the transparent sea under our boat, we landed to visit Lake Avernus. We passed through the cavern of the sibyl, not Virgil's sibyl, which pierces one of the hills which circumscribe the lake, and came to a calm and lovely basin of water surrounded by dark woody hills and profoundly solitary. Some vast ruins of the temple of Pluto stand on a lawny hill on one side of it, and are reflected in its windless mirror. It is far more beautiful than the Elysian Fields, but there are all the materials for beauty in the latter, and the Avernus was once a chasm of deadly and pestilential vapours.

About half a mile from Avernus, a high hill called Monte Novo was thrown up by volcanic fire. Passing onward we came to Pozzoli, the ancient Dicaearchea, where there are the columns remaining of a temple to Serapis, and the wreck of an enormous amphitheatre, changed, like the Coliseum, into a natural hill of the overteeming vegetation. Here also is the Solfatara, of which there is a poetical description in the "Civil War" of Petronius, beginning "Est locus," and in which the verses of the poet are infinitely finer than what he describes, for it is not a very curious place.

After seeing these things we returned by moonlight to Naples in our boat. What colours there were in the sky, what radiance in the evening star, and how the moon was encompassed by a light unknown to our regions! Our next excursion was to Vesuvius. We went to Resina in a carriage, where Mary and I mounted mules, and Claire was carried in a chair on the shoulders of four men, much like a member of Parliament after he has gained his election, and looking, with less reason, quite as frightened. So we arrived at the hermitage of San Salvador, where an old hermit, belted with rope, set forth the plates for our refreshment. Vesuvius is, after the glaciers, the most impressive exhibition of the energies of nature I ever saw. It has not the immeasurable greatness, the overpowering magnificence, nor, above all, the radiant beauty of the glaciers ; but it has all their character of tremendous and irresistible strength. From Resina to the hermitage you wind up the mountain, and cross a vast stream of hardened lava, which is an actual image of the waves of the sea, changed into hard block by enchantment. The lines of the boiling flood seem to hang in the air, and it is difficult to believe that the billows which seem hurrying down upon you are not actually in motion. This plain was once a sea of liquid fire. From the hermitage we crossed another vast stream of lava, and then went on foot up the cone. This is the only part of the ascent in which there is any difficulty, and that difficulty has been much exaggerated. It is composed of rocks of lava and declivities of ashes; by ascending the former, and descending the latter, there is very little fatigue. On the summit is a kind of irregular plain, the most horrible chaos that can be imagined; riven into ghastly chasms, and heaped up with tumuli of great stones and cinders, and enormous rocks blackened and calcined, which had been thrown from the volcano upon one another in terrible confusion. In the midst stands the conical hill, from which volumes of smoke and fountains of liquid fire, are rolled forth for ever. The mountain is at present in a slight state of eruption ; and a thick heavy white smoke is perpetually rolled out, interrupted by enormous columns of an impenetrable black bituminous vapour, which is hurled up, fold after fold, into the sky with a deep hollow sound, and fiery stones are rained down from its darkness, and a black shower of ashes fell even where we sat. The lava, like the glacier, creeps on perpetually, with a crackling sound as of suppressed fire. There are several springs of lava; and in one place it gushes precipitously over a high crag, rolling down the half-molten rocks, and its own overhanging waves: a cataract of quivering fire. We approached the extremity of one of the rivers of lava; it is about twenty feet in breadth and ten in height; and as the inclined plane was not rapid, its motion was very slow. We saw the masses of its dark exterior surface detach themselves as it moved, and betray the depth of the liquid flame. In the day the fire is but slightly seen; you only observe a tremulous motion in the air, and streams and fountains of white sulphurous smoke.

At length we saw the sun sink between Capreae and Inarime, and, as the darkness increased, the effect of the fire became more beautiful. We were, as it were, surrounded by streams and cataracts of the red and radiant fire; and in the midst, from the column of bituminous smoke shot up into the air, fell the vast masses of rock, white with the light of their intense heat, leaving behind them through the dark vapour trains of splendour. We descended by torch-light, and I should have enjoyed the scenery on my return, but they conducted me, I know not how, to the hermitage in a state of intense bodily suffering, the worst effect of which was spoiling the pleasure of Mary and Claire. Our guides on the occasion were complete savages. You have no idea of the horrible cries which they suddenly utter no one knows why, the clamour, the vociferation, the tumult. Claire in her palanquin suffered most from it; and when I had gone on before they threatened to leave her in the middle of the road, which they would have done had not my Italian servant promised them a beating, after which they became quiet. Nothing, however, can be more picturesque than the gestures and the physiognomies of these savage people. And when, in the darkness of night, they unexpectedly begin to sing in chorus some fragments of their wild but sweet national music, the effect is exceedingly fine. Since I wrote this I have seen the Museum of this city. Such statues! There is a Venus; an ideal shape of the most winning loveliness. A Bacchus, more sublime than any living being. A Satyr making love to a youth, in which the expressed life of the sculpture, and the inconceivable beauty of the form of the youth, overcome one's repugnance to the subject. There are multitudes of wonderfully fine statues found in Herculaneum and Pompeii. We are going to see Pompeii the first day that the sea is waveless. Herculaneum is almost filled up; no more excavations are made; the King bought the ground and built a palace upon it.

You don't see much of Hunt. I wish you could contrive to see him when you go to town, and ask him what he means to answer to Lord Byron's invitation. He has now an opportunity, if he likes, of seeing Italy. What do you think of joining his party, and paying us a visit next year; I mean as soon as the reign of winter is dissolved? Write to me your thoughts upon this. I cannot express to you the pleasure it would give me to welcome such a party. I have depression enough of spirits and not good health, though I believe the warm air of Naples does me good. We see absolutely no one here.
Adieu, my dear Peacock,

Affectionately your friend,

P. B. S.


-from Selected Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited with an introduction by Richard Garnett (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1882)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vacancy and Oblivion

Percy Bysshe Shelley to Thomas Love Peacock.
Naples, 22 December, 1818. [Part One]

My dear Peacock,

I have received a letter from you here, dated November 1st; you see the reciprocation of letters from the term of our travels is more slow. I entirely agree with what you say about Childe Harold. The spirit in which it is written is, if insane, the most wicked and mischievous insanity that ever was given forth. It is a kind of obstinate and self-willed folly in which he hardens himself. I remonstrated with him in vain on the tone of mind from which such a view of things alone arises. For its real root is very different from its apparent one. Nothing can be less sublime than the true source of these expressions of contempt and desperation. The fad is that first, the Italian women with whom he associates are perhaps the most contemptible of all who exist under the moon, the most ignorant, the most disgusting, the most bigoted; countesses smell so strongly of garlic, that an ordinary Englishman cannot approach them. Well, L. B. is familiar with the lowest sort of these women, the people his gondolieri pick up in the streets. He associates with wretches who seem almost to have lost the gait and physiognomy of man, and who do not scruple to avow practices, which are not only not named, but I believe seldom even conceived in England. He says he disapproves, but he endures. He is heartily and deeply discontented with himself; and contemplating in the distorted mirror of his own thoughts the nature and the destiny of man, what can he behold but objects of contempt and despair? But that he is a great poet, I think the Address to Ocean proves. And he has a certain degree of candour while you talk to him, but unfortunately it does not outlast your departure. No, I do not doubt, and for his sake, I ought to hope, that his present career must end soon in some violent circumstance.

Since I last wrote to you, I have seen the ruins of Rome, the Vatican, St. Peter's, and all the miracles of ancient and modern art contained in that majestic city. The impression of it exceeds anything I have experienced in my travels. We stayed there only a week, intending to return at the end of February, and devote two or three months to its mines of inexhaustible contemplation, to which period I refer you for a minute account of it. We visited the Forum and the ruins of the Coliseum every day. The Coliseum is unlike any work of human hands I ever saw before. It is of enormous height and circuit, and arches built of massy stones are piled on one an- other, and jut into the blue air shattered into the forms of overhanging rocks. It has been changed by lime into the image of an amphitheatre of rocky hills overgrown by the wild olive, the myrtle, and the fig-tree, and threaded by little paths which wind among its ruined stairs and immeasurable galleries : the copse-wood overshadows you as you wander through its labyrinths, and the wild weeds of this climate of flowers bloom under your feet. The arena is covered with grass, and pierces, like the skirts of a natural plain, the chasms of the broken arches around. But a small part of the exterior circumference remains; it is exquisitely light and beautiful, and the effed of the perfection of its architecture, adorned with ranges of Corinthian pilasters, supporting a bold cornice, is such as to diminish the effect of its greatness. The interior is all ruin. I can scarcely believe that when encrusted with Dorian marble and ornamented by columns of Egyptian granite, its effect could have been so sublime and so impressive as in its present state. It is open to the sky, and it was the clear and sunny weather of the end of November in this climate when we visited it, day after day.

Near it is the Arch of Constantine, or rather the Arch of Trajan; for the servile and avaricious senate of degraded Rome ordered that the monument of his predecessor should be demolished in order to dedicate one to the Christian reptile, who had crept among the blood of his murdered family to the supreme power. It is exquisitely beautiful and perfect. The Forum is a plain in the midst of Rome, a kind of desert full of heaps of stones and pits, and though so near the habitations of men, is the most desolate place you can conceive. The ruins of temples stand in and around it, shattered columns and ranges of others complete, supporting cornices of exquisite workmanship, and vast vaults of shattered domes distinct with regular compartments, once filled with sculptures of ivory or brass. The temples of Jupiter, and Concord, and Peace, and the Sun, and the Moon, and Vesta, are all within a short distance of this spot. Behold the wrecks of what a great nation once dedicated to the abstractions of the mind! Rome is a city, as it were, of the dead, or rather of those who cannot die, and who survive the puny generations which inhabit and pass over the spot which they have made sacred to eternity.

In Rome, at least in the first enthusiasm of your recognition of ancient time, you see nothing of the Italians. The nature of the city assists the delusion, for its vast and antique walls describe a circumference of sixteen miles, and thus the population is thinly scattered over this space, nearly as great as London. Wide wild fields are enclosed within it, and there are lanes and copses winding among the ruins, and a great green hill, lonely and bare, which overhangs the Tiber. The gardens of the modern palaces are like wild woods of cedar and cypress and pine, and the negleded walks are overgrown with weeds. The English burying place is a green slope near the walls, under the pyramidal tomb of Cestius, and is, I think, the most beautiful and solemn cemetery I ever beheld. To see the sun shining on its bright grass, fresh when we first visited it, with the autumnal dews, and hear the whispering of the wind among the leaves of the trees which have overgrown the tomb of Cestius, and the soil which is stirring in the sun-warm earth, and to mark the tombs, mostly of women and young people who were buried there, one might, if one were to die, desire the sleep they seem to sleep. Such is the human mind, and so it peoples with its wishes vacancy and oblivion.

I have told you little about Rome; but I reserve the Pantheon, and St. Peter's, and the Vatican, and Raphael, for my return. About a fortnight ago I left Rome, and Mary and Claire followed in three days, for it was necessary to procure lodgings here without alighting at an inn. From my peculiar mode of travelling I saw little of the country, but could just observe that the wild beauty of the scenery and the barbarous ferocity of the inhabitants progressively increased. On entering Naples, the first circumstance that engaged my attention was an assassination. A youth ran out of a shop, pursued by a woman with a bludgeon, and a man armed with a knife. The man over-took him, and with one blow in the neck laid him dead in the road. On my expressing the emotions of horror and indignation which I felt, a Calabrian priest, who travelled with me, laughed heartily, and attempted to quiz me, as what the English call a flat. I never felt such an inclination to beat any one. Heaven knows I have little power. But he saw that I looked extremely displeased, and was silent. This same man, a fellow of gigantic strength and stature, had expressed the most frantic terror of robbers on the road: he cried at the sight of my pistol, and it had been with great difficulty that the joint exertions of myself and the vetturino had quieted his hysterics. But external nature in these delightful regions contrasts with and compensates for the deformity and degradation of humanity.

We have a lodging divided from the sea by the Royal Gardens, and from our windows we see perpetually the blue waters of the bay, for ever changing, for ever the same, and encompassed by the mountainous island of Capreae, the lofty peaks which overhang Salerno, and the woody hill of Posilipo, whose promontories hide from us Misenum and the lofty isle Inarime, which, with its divided summit, forms the opposite horn of the bay. From the pleasant walks of the garden we see Vesuvius; a smoke by day and a fire by night is seen upon its summit, and the glassy sea often reflects its light or shadow. The climate is delicious. We sit without a fire, with the windows open, and have almost all the productions of an English summer. The weather is usually like what Wordsworth calls " the first fine day of March;" sometimes very much warmer, though perhaps it wants that "each minute sweeter than before," which gives an intoxicating sweetness to the awakening of the earth from its winter's sleep in England. . . .

[P. B. S.]

-from Selected Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited with an introduction by Richard Garnett (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1882)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Art Bolognese, Part Two

Percy Bysshe Shelley to Thomas Love Peacock

Bologna, 6 November 1818. [Part Two]

There is another painter here, called Franceschini, a Bolognese, who, though certainly very inferior to Guido, is yet a person of excellent powers. One entire church, that of Santa Catarina, is covered by his works. I do not know whether any of his pictures have ever been seen in England. His colouring is less warm than that of Guido, but nothing can be more clear and delicate; it is as if he could have dipped his pencil in the hues of some serenest and star-shining twilight. His forms have the same delicacy and aerial loveliness; their eyes are all bright with innocence and love; their lips scarce divided by some gentle and sweet emotion. His winged children are the loveliest ideal beings ever created by the human mind. These are generally, whether in the capacity of cherubim or Cupid, accessories to the rest of the pidure; and the underplot of their lovely and infantine play is something almost pathetic, from the excess of its unpretending beauty. One of the best of his pieces is an Annunciation, of the Virgin; the angel is beaming in beauty; the Virgin, soft, retiring, and simple.


We saw, besides, one picture of Raphael St. Cecilia; this is in another and higher style; you forget that it is a picture as you look at it; and yet it is most unlike any of those things which we call reality. It is one of the inspired and ideal kind, and seems to have been conceived and executed in a similar state of feeling to that which produced among the ancients those perfect specimens of poetry and sculpture which are the baffling models of succeeding generations. There is an unity and a perfection in it of an incommunicable kind. The central figure, St. Cecilia, seems rapt in such inspiration as produced her image in the painter's mind; her deep, dark, eloquent eyes lifted up; her chestnut hair flung back from her forehead--she holds an organ in her hands-- her countenance, as it were, calmed by the depth of its passion and rapture, and penetrated throughout with the warm and radiant light of life. She is listening to the music of heaven, and, as I imagine, has just ceased to sing, for the four figures that surround her evidently point, by their attitudes, towards her; particularly St. John, who, with a tender yet impassioned gesture, bends his countenance towards her, languid with the depth of his emotion. At her feet lie various instruments of music, broken and unstrung. Of the colouring I do not speak; it eclipses Nature, yet it has all her truth and softness.


We saw some pictures of Domenichino, Carracci, Albano, Guercino, Elisabetta Sirani. The two former--remember I do not pretend to taste--I cannot admire. Of the latter, there are some beautiful Madonnas. There are several of Guercino, which they said were very fine. I dare say they were, for the strength and complication of his figures made my head turn round. One, indeed, was certainly powerful. It was the representation of the founder of the Carthusians exercising his austerities in the desert, with a youth as his attendant, kneeling beside him at an altar; on another altar stood a skull and a crucifix; and around were the rocks and the trees of the wilderness. I never saw such a figure as this fellow. His face was wrinkled like a dried snake's skin, and drawn in long hard lines; his very hands were wrinkled. He looked like an animated mummy. He was clothed in a loose dress of death-coloured flannel, such as you might fancy a shroud might be after it had wrapt a corpse a month or two. It had a yellow, putrefied, ghastly hue, which it cast on all the objects around, so that the hands and face of the Carthusian and his companion were jaundiced by this sepulchral glimmer. Why write books against religion, when we may hang up such pictures? But the world either will not or cannot see. The gloomy effect of this was softened, and at the same time, its sublimity diminished, by the figure of the Virgin and child in the sky, looking down with admiration on the monk, and a beautiful flying figure of an angel.

Enough of pictures. I saw the place where Guido and his mistress, Elisabetta Sirani, were buried. This lady was poisoned at the age of twenty-six, by another lover, a rejected one, of course. Our guide said she was very ugly, and that we might see her portrait to-morrow.


Well, good-night for the present. "To-morrow to fresh fields and pastures new."


November 10.

To-day we first went to see those divine pictures of Raphael and Guido again, and then rode up the mountains, behind this city, to visit a chapel dedicated to the Madonna. It made me melancholy to see that they had been varnishing and restoring some of these pictures, and that even some had been pierced by French bayonets. These are the symptoms of the mortality of man; and perhaps few of his works are more evanescent than paintings. Sculpture retains its freshness for twenty centuries. The Apollo and the Venus are as they were. But books are perhaps the only productions of man coeval with the human race. Sophocles and Shakespeare can be produced and reproduced for ever. But how evanescent are paintings, and must necessarily be! Those of Zeuxis and Apelles are no more, and perhaps they bore the same relation to Homer and Eschylus that those of Guido and Raphael bear to Dante and Petrarch. There is one refuge from the despondency of this contemplation. The material part, indeed, of their works must perish. But they survive in the mind of man, and the remembrances connected with them are transmitted from generation to generation. The poet embodies them in his creations. The systems of philosophers are modelled to gentleness by their contemplation; opinion, that legislator, is infected with their influence; men become better and wiser; and the unseen seeds are perhaps thus sown, which shall produce a plant more excellent even than that from which they fell. But all this might as well be said or thought at Marlow as Bologna.


The chapel of the Madonna is a very pretty Corinthian building—very beautiful, indeed. It commands a fine view of these fertile plains, the many-folded Apennines, and the city. I have just returned from a moonlight walk through Bologna. It is a city of colonnades, and the effect of moonlight is strikingly picturesque. There are two towers here—one 400 feet high—ugly things, built of brick, which lean both different ways; and with the delusion of moonlight shadows, you might almost fancy that the city is rocked by an earthquake. They say they were built so on purpose; but I observe in all the plain of Lombardy the church towers lean.


Adieu.—God grant you patience to read this long letter, and courage to support the expectation of the next. Pray part them from the Cobbetts on your breakfast table—they may fight it out in your mind.



Yours ever most sincerely,

P. B. S.


-from Selected Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited with an introduction by Richard Garnett (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1882)