Letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon, May 10, 1817
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From Hampstead, c. 25. October 1818
My dear George, -
There was a part in your Letter which gave me a great deal of pain, that where you lament not receiving Letters from England - I intended to have written immediately on my return from Scotland (which was two Months earlier than I had intended on account of my own as well as Tom' health) but then I was told by Mrs. W that you had said you would not wish any one to write till we had heard from you. This I thought odd and now I see that it could not have been so; yet at the time I suffered my unreflection head to be satisfied and went on in that sort of abstract careless and restless Life with which you are well acquainted. This sentence should it give you any uneasiness do not let it last for before I finish it will be explained away to your satisfaction -
I am grieved to say that I am not sorry you had not Letters at Philadelphia; you could have had no good news of Tom and I have been withheld on his account from beginning these many days; I could not bring myself to say the truth, that he is no better but much worse - However it must be told and you must my dear Brother and Sister take example from me and bear up against any Calamity for my sake as I do for your's. Our's are ties which independent of their own Sentiment are sent us by providence to prevent the deleterious effects of one great, solitary grief. I have Fanny and I have you - three people whose Happiness to me is sacred - and it does annul that selfish sorrow which I should otherwise fall into, living as I do with poor Tom who looks upon me as his only comfort - the tears will come into your Eyes - let them - and embrace each other - thank heaven for what happiness you have and after thinking a moment or two that you suffer in common with all Mankind hold it not a Sin to regain your cheerfullness -
I will relieve you of one uneasiness of overleaf: I returned I said on account of my health - I am now well from a bad sore throat which came of bog trotting in the Island of Mull - of which you shall hear by the coppies I shall make from my Scotch Letters -
Your content in each other is a delight to me which I cannot express - the Moon is now shining full and brilliant - she is the same to me in Matter, what you are to me in Spirit - If you were here my dear Sister I could not pronounce the words which I can write to you from a distance; I have a tenderness for you, and an admiration which I feel to be as great and more chaste than I can have for any woman in the world. You will mention Fanny - her character is not formed, her identity does not press upon me as yours does. I hope from the bottom of my heart that I may one day feel as much for her as I do for you - I know not how it is, but I have never made any acquaintance of my own - nearly all through your medium my dear Brother - through you I know not only a Sister but a glorious human being - And now I am talking of those to whom you have made me known I cannot forbear mentioning Haslam as a most kind and obliging and constant friend - His behaviour to Tom during my absence and since my return has endeared him to me for ever - besides his anxiety about you. Tomorrow I shall call on your Mother and exchange information with her - On Tom's account I have not been able to pass so much time with her as I would otherwise have done - I have seen her but twice - once I dined with her and Charles - She was well, in good Spirits and I kept her lauging at my bad jokes - We went to tea at Mrs. Millar's and in going were particularly struck with the light and shade through the Gate way at the Horse Guards. I intend to write you such Volumes that it will be impossible for me to keep any order or method in what I write: that will come first which is uppermost in Mind, not that which uppermost in my heart - besides I should wish to gove you a picture of our Lives here whenever by a touch I can do it; even as you must see by the last sentence our walk past Whitehall all in good health and spirits - this I am certain of, because I felt so much pleasure from the simple idea of your playing a game at Cricket - At Mrs. Millars I saw Henry quite well - there was Miss Keasle - and the good-natured Miss Waldegrave - Mrs. Millar began a long story and you know it is her Daughter's way to help her on as though her tongue were ill of the gout - Mrs. M. certainly tells a Story as though she had been taught her Alphabet in Crutched Friars. Dilke has been very unwell; I found him very ailing on my return - he was under Medical care for some time, and then went to the Sea Side whence he has returned well - Poor little Mrs. D - has had another gall-stone attack; she was well ere I returned - she is now at Brighton - Dilke was greatly pleased to hear from you and will write a Letter for me to enclose - He seems greatly desirous of hearing from you of the Settlement itself - I came by ship from Inverness and was nine days at Sea without being Sick - a little Qualm now and then put me in mind of you - however as soon as you touch the shore all the horrors of Sickness are soon forgotten; as was the case with a Lady on board who could not hold her head up all the way. We had not been in the Thames an hour before her tongue began to some tune; paying off as it was fit she should all old scores. I was the only Englishman on board. There was a downright Scotchman who hearing that there had been a bad crop of Potatoes in England had brought some triumphant Specimens from Scotland - these he exhibited with national pride to all the Lightermen and Watermen from the Nore to the Bridge. I fed upon beef all the way; not being able to eat the thick Porridge which the Ladies managed to manage with large awkward horn spoons into the bargain. Severn has had a narrow escape of his Life from a Typhous fever: he is now gaining strength - Reynolds has returned from a six weeks enjoyment in Devonshire, he is well and persuades me to publish my pot of Basil as an answer to the attacks made on me in Blackwood's Magazine and the Quarterly Review. There have been two Letters in my defence in the Chronicle and one in the Examiner, coppied from the Alfred Exeter paper and written by Reynolds - I do not know who wrote those in the Chronicle - This is a mere matter of the moment - I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death. Even as a Matter of present interest the attempt to crush me in the Quarterly has only brought me more into notice and it is a common expression among book men "I wonder the Quarterly should cut its own throat.' It does me not the least harm in Society to make me appear little and rediculous: I know when a Man is superior to me and give him all due respect - he will be the last to laugh at me and as for the rest I feel that I make am impression upon them which insures me personal respect while I am in sight whatever they may say when my back is turned - Poor Haydon's eyes will not suffer him to proceed with his picture - he has been in the Country - I have seen him but once since my return - I hurry matters together here because I do not know when the Mail sails - I shall enquire tomorrow and then shall know whether to be particular or general in my letter - you shall have at least two sheets a day till it does sail whether it be three days or a fortnight - and then I will begin a fresh one for the next Month. The Miss Reynoldses are very kind to me - but they have lately displeased me much and in this way - Now I am coming the Richardson. On my return the first day I called they were in a sort of taking or bustle about a Cousin of theirs who having fallen out with her Grandpapa in a serious manner was invited by Mrs. R- to take Asylum in her house - She is an east indian and ought to be her Grandfather's Heir. At the time I called Mrs. R. was in conference with her up stairs and the young Ladies were warm in her praises down stairs calling her genteel, interesting and a thousand other pretty things to which I gave no heed, not being partial to 9 days wonders - Now all is completely changed - they hate her; and from what I hear she is not without faults - of a real kind: but she has others which are more apt to make women of inferior charms hate her. She is not a Cleopatra, but she is at least a Charmian. She has a rich eastern look; she has fine eyes and fine manners. When she comes into a room she makes an impression the same as the Beauty of a Leopardess. She is too fine and too conscious of her Self to repulse any Man who may address her - from habit she thinks that nothing particular. I always find myself more at ease with such a woman; the picture before me always gives me a life and animation which I cannot possibly feel with any thing inferior - I am at such times too much occupied in admiring to be awkward or on a tremble. I forget myself entirely because I live in her. You will by this time think I am in love with her; so before I go any further I will tell you I am not - she kept me awake one Night as a tune of Mozart's might do - I speak of the thing as a passtime and an amuzement than which I can feel none deeper than a conversation with an imperial woman the very 'yes' and 'no' of whose Lips is to me a Banquet. I dont cry to take the moon home with me in my Pocket nor do I fret to leave her behind me. I like her and her like because one has no sensations - what we both are is taken for granted - You will suppose I have by this had much talk with her - no such thing - there are the Miss Reynoldses on the look out - They think I dont admire her because I did not stare at her - They call her a flirt to me - What a want of Knowledge? She walks across a room in such a manner that a Man is drawn towards her with magnetic Power. This they call flirting! they do not know things. They do not know what a Woman is. I believe tho' she has faults - the same as Charmian and Cleopatra might have had. Yet she is a fine thing speaking in a worldly way: for there are two distinct tempers of mind in which we judge of things - the worldly, theatrical and pantomimical; and the unearthly, spiritual and etherical - in the former Buonaparte, Lord Byron and this Charmian hold the first place in our Minds; in the latter John Howard, Bishop Hooker rocking his child's cradle and you my dear Sister are the conquering feelings. As a Man in the world I love the rich talk of a Charmian; as an eternal Being I love the thought of you. I should like her to ruin me, and I should like you to save me. Do not think my dear Brother from this that my Passions are headlong or likely to be ever of any pain to you - no
"I am free from Men of Pleasure's cares, By dint of feelings far more deep than theirs"
This is Lord Byron, and is one of the finest things he has said - I have no town talk for you, as I have not been much among people - as for Politics they are in my opinion only sleepy because they will soon be too wide awake - Perhaps not - for the long and continued Peace of England itself has given us notions of personal safety which are likely to prevent the re-establishment of our national Honesty - There is of a truth nothing manly or sterling in any part of the Government. There are many Madmen in the Country, I have no doubt, who would like to be beheaded on tower Hill merely for the sake of eclat, there are many Men like Hunt who from a principle of taste would like to see things go on better, there are many like Sir F. Burdett who like to sit at the head of political dinners - but there are none prepared to suffer in obscurity for their Country - the motives of our worst Men are interest and of our best Vanity - We have no Milton, no Algernon Sidney - Governers in these days loose the title of Man in exchange for that of Diplomat and Minister We breathe in a sort of Officinal Atmosphere - All the departments of Government have strayed far from Spimpicity which is the gratest of Strength - there is as much difference in this respect between the present government and Oliver Cromwell's as there is between the 12 Tables of Rome and the volumes of Civil Law which were digested by Justinian. A Man now entitled Chancellor has the same honour paid to him whether he be a Hog or a Lord Bacon. No sensation is created by Greatness but by the number of orders a Man has at his Button holes Notwithstanding the part which the Liberals take in the Cause of Napoleon I cannot but think he has done more harm to the life of Liberty than any one else could have done: not that the divine right Gentlemen have done or intend to do any good - no they have taken a Lesson of him and will do all the further harm he would have done without any of the good - The worst thing he has done is, that he has taught them how to organize their monstrous armies - The Emperor Alexander it is said intends to divide his Empire as did Diocletian - creating two Czars besides himself, and continuing the supreme Monarch of the whole - Should he do this and they for a series of Years keep peacable to China - I think it a very likely thing that China itself may fall Turkey certainly will. Meanwhile european north Russia will hold its horns against the rest of Europe, intrieguing constantly with France. Dilke, whom you know to be a Godwin perfectibility Man, pleases himself with the idea that America will be the country to take up the human intellect where england leaves off - I differ there with him greatly - A country like the united states whose greatest Men are Franklins and Washingtons will never do that - They are great Men doubtless but how are they to be compared to those our countreymen Milton and the two Sidneys - The one is a philosophical Quaker full of mean and thrifty maxims the other sold the very Charger who had taken him through all his Battles. Those Americans are great but they are not sublime Man - the humanity of the United States can never reach the sublime - Birkbeck's mind is too much in the American Stryle - you must endeavour to infuse a little Spirit of another sort into the Settlement, always with great caution, for thereby you may do your descendents more good than you may imagine. If I had a prayer to make for any great good, next to Tom's recovery, it should be that one of your Children should be the first American Poet. I have a great mind to make a prophecy and they say prophecies work out their own fullfillment -
'tis 'the witching time of night' Orbed is the Moon and bright And the Stars they glisten, glisten Seeming with bright eyes to listen For what listen they? For a song and for a charm See they glisten in alarm And the Moon is waxing warm To hear what I shall say. Moon keep wide thy golden ears Hearken Stars, and hearken Spheres Hearken thou eternal Sky I sing an infant's lullaby A pretty Lullaby! Listen, Listen, listen, listen Glisten, glisten, glisten, glisten And hear my lullaby? Though the Rushes that will make Its cradle still are in the lake: Though the linnen then that will be Its swathe is on the cotton tree; Though the wollen that will keep It warm, is on the sille sheep; Listen Stars light, listen, listen, Glisten, Glisten, glisten, glisten And hear my lullaby! Child! I see thee! Child I've found thee! Midst of the quiet all around thee! Child I see thee! Childe I spy thee And thy mother sweet is nigh thee!- Child I know thee! Child no more But a Poet evermore See, See the Lyre, the Lyre In a flame of fire Upon the little cradle's top Flaring, flaring, flaring Past the eyesight's bearing - Awake it from its sleep And see if it can keep Its eyes upon the blaze. Amaze! Amaze! It stares, it stares, it stares It dares what no one dares If lifts its little hand into the flame Unharm'd, and on the strings Paddles a little tune and sings With dumb endeavour sweetly! Bard art thou completely! Little Child O' the western wild Bard art thou completely!- Sweetly with dumb endeavour - A Poet now or never! Little Child O' the western wild A Poet now or never!
This is friday, I know not what day of the Month - I will enquire tomorrow for it is fit you should know the time I am writing. I went to Town yesterday, and calling at Mrs. Millar's was told that your Mother would not be found at home - I met Henry as I turned the corner - I had no leisure to return, so I left the letters with him - He was looking very well. Poor Tom is no better to-night - I am affraid to ask him what Message I shall send from him - And here I could go on complaining of my Misery, but I will keep myself cheerfull for your Sakes. With a great deal of trouble I have succeeded in getting Fanny to Hampstead - She has been several times. Mr. Lewis has been very kind to Tom all the Summer there has scarce a day passed but he has visited him, and not one day without bringing or sending some fruit of the nicest kind. He has been very assiduous in his enquiries after you. It would give the old Gentleman a great pleasure if you would send him a Sheet enclosed in the next parcel to me, after you receive this - how long it will be first - Why did I not write to Philadelphia? Really I am sorry for that neglect - I wish to go on writing ad infinitum, to you - I wish for interresting matter, and a pen as swift as the wind - But the fact is I go so little into the Crowd now that I have nothing fresh and fresh every day to speculate upon, except my own Whims and Theories. I have been but once to Haydon's, once to Hung's, once to Rice's, once to Hesse's. I have not seen Taylor, I have not been to the Theatre - Now if I had been many times to all these and was still in the habit of going I could on my return at night have each day something new to tell you of without any stop - But now I have such a dearth that when I get to the end of this sentence and to the bottom of this page I must wait till I can find something interesting to you before I begin another.- After all it is not much matter what it may be about; for the very words from such a distance penned by this hand will be grateful to you - even though I were to coppy out the tale of Mother Hubbard or Little Red Riding Hood - I have been over to Dilke's this evening - there with Brown we have been talking of different and indifferent Matters - of Euclid, of Metaphisics of the Bible, of Shakspeare, of the horrid System and consequences of the fagging at great Schools - I know not yet how large a parcel I can send - I mean by way of Letters - I hope there can be no objection to my dowling up a quire made into a small compass - That is the manner in which I shall write. I shall send you more than Letters - I mean a tale - which I must begin on account of the activity on my Mind; of its inability to remain at rest. It must be prose and not very exciting. I must do this because in the way I am at present situated I have too many interruptions to a train of feeling to be able to write Poetry - So I shall write this Tale, and if I think it worth while get a duplicate made before I send it off to you -
This is a fresh beginning the 21st October. Charles and Henry were with us on Sunday and they brought me your Letter to your Mother - we agreed to get a Packet off to you as soon as possible. I shall dine with your Mother tomorrow, when they have promised to have their Letters ready. I shall send as soon as possible without thinking of the little you may have from me in the first parcel, as I intend as I said before to begin another Letter of more regular information. Here I want to communicate so largely in a little time that I am puzzled where to direct my attention. Haslam has promised to let me know from Capper and Hazlewood. For want of something better I shall proceed to give you some extracts from my Scotch Letters - Yet now I think on it why not send you the letters themselves - I have three of them at present. I believe Haydon has two which I will get in time. I dined with your Mother & Henry at Mrs. Millar's on thursday when they gave me their Letters Charles's I have not yet - he has promised to send it. The thought of sending my scotch Letters has determined me to enclose a few more which I have received and which will give you the best clue to how I am going on better than you could otherwise know - Your Mother was well and I was sorry I could not stop later. I called on Hunt yesterday - it has been always my fate to meet Ollier there - On thursday I walked with Hazlitt as far as covent Garden: he was going to play Rackets - I think Tom has been rather better these few last days - he has been less nervous. I expect Reynolds tomorrow Since I wrote thus far I have met with that same Lady again, whom I saw at Hastings and whom I met when we were going to the English Opera. It was in a Street which goes from Bedford Row to Lamb's Conduit Street - I passed her and turned back - she seemed glad of it; glad to see me and not offended at my passing her before. We walked on towards Islington where we called on a friend of her's who keeps a Boarding School. She has always been an enigma to me - she has been in a Room with you and with Reynolds and wishes we should be acquainted without any of our common acquaintance knowing it. As we went along, some times through shabby, sometimes through decent Streets I had my guessing at wort, not knowing what it would be and prepared to meet any surprise - First it ended at this House at Islington: on parting from which I pressed to attend her home. She consented, and then again my thoughts were at work what it might lead to, tho' now they had received a sort of genteel hint from the Boarding School. Our Walk ended in 34 Gloucester Street, Queen Square - not exactly so for we went up stairs into her sitting room - a very tasty sort of place with Books, Pictures a bronze statue of Buonaparte, Music, aeolian Harp; a Parrot, a Linnet - a Case of choice Liqueurs &c. &c. &c. She behaved in the kindest manner - made me take home a Grouse for Tom's dinner - Asked for my address for the purpose of sending more game - As I had warmed with her before and kissed her - I thought it would be living backwards not to do so again - she had a better taste: she perceived how much a thing of course it was and shrunk from it - not in a prudish way but in as I say a good taste. She contrived to disappoint me in a way which made me feel more pleasure than a simple Kiss could do - She said I should please her much more if I would only press her hand and go away. Whether she was in a different disposition when I saw her before - or whether I have in fancy wrong'd her I cannot tell. I expect to pass some pleasant hours with her now and then: in which I feel I shall be of service to her in matters of knowledge and taste: if I can I will. I have no libidinous thought about her - she and your George are the only women à peu près de mon age whom I would be content to know for their mind and friendship alone. I shall in a short time write you as far as I know how I intend to pass my Life - I cannot think of those things now Tom is so unwell and weak. Notwithstanding your Happiness and your recommendation I hope I shall never marry. Though the most beautiful Creature were waiting for me at the end of a Journey or a Walk; though the Carpet were of Silk, the Curtains of the morning Clouds; the chairs and Sofa stuffed with Cygnet's down; the food Manna, the Wine beyond Claret, the Window opening on Winander mere, I should not feel - or rather my Happiness would not be so fine, as my Solitude is sublime. Then instead of what I have described, there is a sublimity to welcome me home - The roaring of the wind is my wife and the Stars through the window pane are my Children. The mighty abstract Idea I have of Beauty in all things stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness - an amiable wife and sweet Children I contemplate as a part of that Beauty, but I must have a thousand of those beautiful particles to fill up my heart. I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds - No sooner am I alone than shapes of epic greatness are stationed around me, and serve my Spirit the office which is equivalent to a King's bodyguard - then "Tragedy with scepter'd pall comes sweeping by." According to my state of mind I am with Achilles shouting in the Trenches or with Theocritus in the Vales of Sicily. Or I throw my whole being into Troilus, and repeating those lines, "I wander like a lost Soul upon the stygian Banks staying for waftage," I melt into the air with a voluptuousness so delicate that I am content to be alone. These things, combined with the opinion I have of the generality of women - who appear to me as children to whom I would rather give a sugar plum than my time, form a barrier against Matrimony which I rejoice in. I have written this that you might see I have my share of the highest pleasures and that though I may choose to pass my days alone I shall be no Solitary. You see there is nothing spleenical in all this. The only thing that can ever effect me personally for more than one short passing day, is any doubt about my powers for poetry - I seldom have any, and I look with hope to the nighing time when I shall have none. I am as happy as a Man can be - that is in myself I should be happy if Tom was well, and I knew you were passing pleasant days - Then I should be most enviable - with the yearning Passion I have for the beautiful, connected and made one with the ambition of my intellect. Think of my Pleasure in Solitude, in comparison of my commerce with the world - there I am a child - there they do not know me not even my most intimate acquaintance - I give into their feelings as though I were refraining from irritating a little child - Some think me middling, others silly, other foolish - every one thinks he sees my weak side against my will - I am content to be thought all this because I have in my own breast so graet a resource. This is one great reason why they like me so; because they can all show to advantage in a room, and eclipese from a certain tact one who is reckoned to be a good Poet - I hope I am not here playing tricks 'to make the angels weep': I think not: for I have not the least contempt for my species; and though it may sound paradoxical: my greatest elevations of Soul leave me every time more humbled - Enough of this - though in your Love for me you will not think it enough. Haslam has been here this morning, and has taken all the Letters except this sheet, which I shall send him by the Twopenny, as he will put the Parcel in the Boston post Bag by the advice of Capper and Hazlewood, who assure him of the safety and expedition that way - the Parcel will be forwarded to Warder and thence to you all the same. There will be not a Philadelphia Ship for these six weeks - by that time I shall have another Letter to you. Mind you I mark this Letter A. By the time you will receive this you will have I trust passed through the greatest of your fatigues. As it was with your Sea sickness I shall not hear of them till they are past. Do not set to your occupation with too great an anxiety - take it calmly - and let your health be the prime consideration. I hope you will have a Son, and it is one of my first wishes to have him in my Arms - which I will do please God before he cuts one double tooth. Tom is rather more easy than he has been: but is still so nervous that I cannot speak to him of these Matters - indeed it is the care I have had to keep his Mind aloof from feelings too acute that has made this Letter so short a one - I did not like to write before him a Letter he knew was to reach your hands - I cannot even now ask him for any Message - his heart speaks to you - Be as happy as you can. Think of me and for my sake be cheerful. Believe me my dear Brother and Sister
Your anxious and affectionate Brother
This day is my Birth day -
All our friends have been anxious in their enquiries and all send their remembrances.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.