Selected English Letters (XV - XIX Centuries)

Part 5 out of 7

more spiritual than London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden
gates: her windows are not obstructed by vapours; voices of celestial
inhabitants are more distinctly heard, and their forms more distinctly
seen; and my cottage is also a shadow of their houses. My wife and
sister are both well, courting Neptune for an embrace.

Our journey was very pleasant; and though we had a great deal of
luggage, no grumbling. All was cheerfulness and good humour on the
road, and yet we could not arrive at our cottage before half-past
eleven at night, owing to the necessary shifting of our luggage from
one chaise to another; for we had seven different chaises and as many
different drivers. We set out between six and seven in the morning of
Thursday, with sixteen heavy boxes and portfolios full of prints.

And now begins a new life, because another covering of earth is
shaken off. I am more famed in heaven for my works than I could well
conceive. In my brain are studies and chambers filled with books and
pictures of old, which I wrote and painted in ages of eternity
before my mortal life; and those works are the delight and study of
archangels. Why then should I be anxious about the riches or fame of
mortality? The Lord our Father will do for us and with us according to
His divine will, for our good.

You, O dear Flaxman! are a sublime archangel,--my friend and companion
from eternity. In the divine bosom is our dwelling-place. I look back
into the regions of reminiscence, and behold our ancient days before
this earth appeared in its vegetated mortality to my mortal vegetated
eyes. I see our houses of eternity which can never be separated,
though our mortal vehicles should stand at the remotest corners of
heaven from each other.

Farewell, my best friend! Remember me and my wife in love and
friendship to our dear Mrs. Flaxman, whom we ardently desire to
entertain beneath our thatched roof of rusted gold.


_Trouble in the path_

Felpham, 10 _Jan._ 1802.

Dear Sir,

Your very kind and affectionate letter, and the many kind things you
have said in it, called upon me for an immediate answer. But it found
my wife and myself so ill, and my wife so very ill, that till now I
have not been able to do this duty. The ague and rheumatism have been
almost her constant enemies, which she has combated in vain almost
ever since we have been here, and her sickness is always my sorrow,
of course. But what you tell me about your sight afflicted me not a
little, and that about your health, in another part of your letter,
makes me entreat you to take due care of both. It is a part of our
duty to God and man to take due care of His gifts; and though we ought
not to think _more_ highly of ourselves, yet we ought to think _as_
highly of ourselves as immortals ought to think.

When I came down here, I was more sanguine than I am at present;
but it was because I was ignorant of many things which have since
occurred, and chiefly the unhealthiness of the place. Yet I do not
repent of coming on a thousand accounts; and Mr. Hayley, I doubt not,
will do ultimately all that both he and I wish--that is, to lift me
out of difficulty. But this is no easy matter to a man who, having
spiritual enemies of such formidable magnitude, cannot expect to want
natural hidden ones.

Your approbation of my pictures is a multitude to me, and I doubt not
that all your kind wishes in my behalf shall in due time be fulfilled.
Your kind offer of pecuniary assistance I can only thank you for at
present, because I have enough to serve my present purpose here. Our
expenses are small, and our income, from our incessant labour, fully
adequate to these at present. I am now engaged in engraving six small
plates for a new edition of Mr. Hayley's _Triumphs of Temper_, from
drawings by Maria Flaxman, sister to my friend the sculptor. And it
seems that other things will follow in course, if I do but copy these
well. But patience! If great things do not turn out, it is because
such things depend on the spiritual and not on the natural world; and
if it was fit for me, I doubt not that I should be employed in greater
things; and when it is proper, my talents shall be properly exercised
in public, as I hope they are now in private. For till then I leave no
stone unturned, and no path unexplored that leads to improvement in
my beloved arts. One thing of real consequence I have accomplished by
coming into the country, which is to me consolation enough: namely,
I have re-collected all my scattered thoughts on art, and resumed
my primitive and original ways of execution in both painting and
engraving, which in the confusion of London I had very much lost and
obliterated from my mind. But whatever becomes of my labours, I would
rather that they should be preserved in your greenhouse (not, as you
mistakenly call it, dunghill) than in the cold gallery of fashion. The
sun may yet shine, and then they will be brought into open air.

But you have so generously and openly desired that I will divide my
griefs with you that I cannot hide what it has now become my duty to
explain. My unhappiness has arisen from a source which, if explored
too narrowly, might hurt my pecuniary circumstances; as my dependence
is on engraving at present, and particularly on the engravings I have
in hand for Mr. Hayley, and I find on all hands great objections to
my doing anything but the mere drudgery of business, and intimations
that, if I do not confine myself to this, I shall not live. This has
always pursued me. You will understand by this the source of all my
uneasiness. This from Johnson and Fuseli brought me down here, and
this from Mr. Hayley will bring me back again. For that I cannot live
without doing my duty to lay up treasures in heaven is certain and
determined, and to this I have long made up my mind. And why this
should be made an objection to me, while drunkenness, lewdness,
gluttony, and even idleness itself, does not hurt other men, let Satan
himself explain. The thing I have most at heart--more than life, or
all that seems to make life comfortable without--is the interest of
true religion and science. And whenever anything appears to affect
that interest (especially if I myself omit any duty to my station as
a soldier of Christ), it gives me the greatest of torments. I am not
ashamed, afraid, or averse to tell you what ought to be told--that I
am under the direction of messengers from heaven, daily and nightly.
But the nature of such things is not, as some suppose, without trouble
or care. Temptations are on the right hand and on the left. Behind,
the sea of time and space roars and follows swiftly. He who keeps not
right onwards is lost; and if our footsteps slide in clay, how can we
do otherwise than fear and tremble? But I should not have troubled you
with this account of my spiritual state, unless it had been necessary
in explaining the actual cause of my uneasiness, into which you are so
kind as to inquire: for I never obtrude such things on others unless
questioned, and then I never disguise the truth. But if we fear to do
the dictates of our angels, and tremble at the tasks set before us;
if we refuse to do spiritual acts because of natural fears or natural
desires; who can describe the dismal torments of such a state!--I
too well remember the threats I heard!--'If you, who are organized
by Divine Providence for spiritual communion, refuse, and bury
your talent in the earth, even though you should want natural
bread,--sorrow and desperation pursue you through life, and after
death shame and confusion of face to eternity. Every one in eternity
will leave you, aghast at the man who was crowned with glory and
honour by his brethren, and betrayed their cause to their enemies. You
will be called the base Judas who betrayed his friend!'--Such words
would make any stout man tremble, and how then could I be at ease? But
I am now no longer in that state, and now go on again with my task,
fearless though my path is difficult. I have no fear of stumbling
while I keep it.

My wife desires her kindest love to Mrs. Butts, and I have permitted
her to send it to you also. We often wish that we could unite again
in society, and hope that the time is not distant when we shall do so,
being determined not to remain another winter here, but to return to

I hear a Voice you cannot hear, that says
I must not stay,
I see a Hand you cannot see, that beckons
me away.

Naked we came here--naked of natural things--and naked we shall
return: but while clothed with the Divine mercy, we are richly clothed
in spiritual, and suffer all the rest gladly. Pray, give my love to
Mrs. Butts and your family.

PS. Your obliging proposal of exhibiting my two pictures likewise
calls for my thanks; I will finish the others, and then we shall judge
of the matter with certainty.


_The wonderful poem_

(Felpham), 25 _April_, 1803.


I write in haste, having received a pressing letter from my Brother.
I intended to have sent the Picture of the _Riposo_, which is nearly
finished much to my satisfaction, but not quite. You shall have it
soon. I now send the four numbers for Mr. Birch with best respects to
him. The reason the _Ballads_ have been suspended is the pressure of
other business, but they will go on again soon.

Accept of my thanks for your kind and heartening letter. You have
faith in the endeavours of me, your weak brother and fellow-disciple;
how great must be your faith in our Divine Master! You are to me
a lesson of humility, while you exalt me by such distinguishing
commendations. I know that you see certain merits in me, which, by
God's grace, shall be made fully apparent and perfect in Eternity.
In the meantime I must not bury the talents in the earth, but do my
endeavour to live to the glory of our Lord and Saviour; and I am
also grateful to the kind hand that endeavours to lift me out of
despondency, even if it lifts me too high.

And now, my dear Sir, congratulate me on my return to London with the
full approbation of Mr. Hayley and with promise. But alas! now I may
say to you--what perhaps I should not dare to say to anyone else--that
I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoyed, and
that I may converse with my friends in Eternity, see visions, dream
dreams, and prophesy and speak parables, unobserved, and at liberty
from the doubts of other mortals: perhaps doubts proceeding from
kindness; but doubts are always pernicious, especially when we doubt
our friends. Christ is very decided on this point: 'He who is not with
me is against me.' There is no medium or middle state; and if a man is
the enemy of my spiritual life while he pretends to be the friend of
my corporeal, he is a real enemy; but the man may be the friend of my
spiritual life while he seems the enemy of my corporeal, though not
vice versa.

What is very pleasant, every one who hears of my going to London again
applauds it as the only course for the interest of all concerned in
my works; observing that I ought not to be away from the opportunities
London affords of seeing fine pictures, and the various improvements
in works of art going on in London.

But none can know the spiritual acts of my three years' slumber on the
banks of Ocean, unless he has seen them in the spirit, or unless he
should read my long Poem descriptive of those acts; for I have in
these years composed an immense number of verses on one grand theme,
similar to Homer's _Iliad_ or Milton's _Paradise Lost_; the persons
and machinery entirely new to the inhabitants of earth (some of the
persons excepted). I have written this Poem from immediate dictation,
twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without
premeditation, and even against my will. The time it has taken in
writing was thus rendered nonexistent, and an immense Poem exists
which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without
labour or study. I mention this to show you what I think the grand
reason of my being brought down here.

I have a thousand and ten thousand things to say to you. My heart
is full of futurity. I perceive that the sore travail which has been
given me these three years leads to glory and honour. I rejoice and
tremble: 'I am fearfully and wonderfully made.' I had been reading the
CXXXIX Psalm a little before your letter arrived. I take your advice.
I see the face of my Heavenly Father; He lays His hand upon my head,
and gives a blessing to all my work. Why should I be troubled? Why
should my heart and flesh cry out? I will go on in the strength of the
Lord; through Hell will I sing forth His praises: that the dragons of
the deep may praise Him, and that those who dwell in darkness, and in
the sea coasts may be gathered into His Kingdom. Excuse my perhaps too
great enthusiasm. Please to accept of and give our loves to Mrs. Butts
and your amiable family, and believe me ever yours affectionately.


_The poet and William Hayley_

Felpham, 6 _July_, 1803.

... We look forward every day with pleasure toward our meeting again
in London with those whom we have learned to value by absence no less
perhaps than we did by presence; for recollection often surpasses
everything. Indeed, the prospect of returning to our friends is
supremely delightful. Then, I am determined that Mrs. Butts shall have
a good likeness of you, if I have hands and eyes left; for I am become
a likeness-taker, and succeed admirably well. But this is not to be
achieved without the original sitting before you for every touch, all
likenesses from memory being necessarily very, very defective; but
Nature and Fancy are two things, and can never be joined, neither
ought any one to attempt it, for it is idolatry, and destroys the

I ought to tell you that Mr. H. is quite agreeable to our return,
and that there is all the appearance in the world of our being fully
employed in engraving for his projected works, particularly Cowper's
_Milton_--a work now on foot by subscription, and I understand that
the subscription goes on briskly. This work is to be a very elegant
one, and to consist of all Milton's Poems with Cowper's Notes, and
translations by Cowper from Milton's Latin and Italian poems. These
works will be ornamented with engravings from designs by Romney,
Flaxman, and your humble servant, and to be engraved also by
the last-mentioned. The profits of the work are intended to be
appropriated to erect a monument to the memory of Cowper in St. Paul's
or Westminster Abbey. Such is the project; and Mr. Addington and Mr.
Pitt are both among the subscribers, which are already numerous and of
the first rank. The price of the work is six guineas. Thus I hope that
all our three years' trouble ends in good-luck at last, and shall be
forgot by my affections, and only remembered by my understanding, to
be a memento in time to come, and to speak to future generations by a
sublime allegory, which is now perfectly completed into a grand Poem.
I may praise it, since I dare not pretend to be any other than the
secretary; the authors are in Eternity. I consider it as the grandest
Poem that this world contains. Allegory addressed to the
intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal
understanding, is my definition of the most sublime Poetry. It is
also somewhat in the same manner defined by Plato. This Poem shall,
by Divine assistance, be progressively printed and ornamented with
prints, and given to the public. But of this work I take care to say
little to Mr. H., since he is as much averse to my Poetry as he is to
a chapter in the Bible. He knows that I have writ it, for I have shown
it to him, and he has read part by his own desire, and has looked with
sufficient contempt to enhance my opinion of it. But I do not wish to
imitate by seeming too obstinate in poetic pursuits. But if all the
world should set their faces against this, I have orders to set my
face like a flint (Ezek. iii. 8) against their faces, and my forehead
against their foreheads.

As to Mr. H., I feel myself at liberty to say as follows upon this
ticklish subject. I regard fashion in Poetry as little as I do in
Painting: so, if both Poets and Painters should alternately dislike
(but I know the majority of them will not), I am not to regard it
at all. But Mr. H. approves of my Designs as little as he does of my
Poems, and I have been forced to insist on his leaving me, in both,
to my own self-will; for I am determined to be no longer pestered with
his genteel ignorance and polite disapprobation. I know myself both
Poet and Painter, and it is not his affected contempt that can move to
anything but a more assiduous pursuit of both arts. Indeed, by my late
firmness, I have brought down his affected loftiness, and he begins
to think I have some genius: as if genius and assurance were the same
thing! But his imbecile attempts to depress me only deserve laughter.
I say thus much to you, knowing that you will not make a bad use of
it. But it is a fact too true that, if I had only depended on mortal
things, both myself and my wife must have been lost. I shall leave
every one in this country astonished at my patience and forbearance
of injuries upon injuries; and I do assure you that, if I could have
returned to London a month after my arrival here, I should have done
so. But I was commanded by my spiritual friends to bear all and be
silent, and to go through all without murmuring, and, in fine, to hope
till my three years should be almost accomplished; at which time I was
set at liberty to remonstrate against former conduct, and to demand
justice and truth; which I have done in so effectual a manner that my
antagonist is silenced completely, and I have compelled what should
have been of freedom--my just right as an artist and as a man. And
if any attempt should be made to refuse me this, I am inflexible, and
will relinquish any engagement of designing at all, unless altogether
left to my own judgement, as you, my dear friend, have always left me;
for which I shall never cease to honour and respect you.

When we meet, I will perfectly describe to you my conduct and the
conduct of others towards me, and you will see that I have laboured
hard indeed, and have been borne on angels' wings. Till we meet I beg
of God our Saviour to be with you and me, and yours and mine. Pray
give my and my wife's love to Mrs. Butts and family, and believe me to

Yours in truth and sincerity.




_Reply to his last letter_

28 _May_, 1797.

With a heart melted to overflowing, I cannot restrain the attempt to
express my grateful sensations on receiving the greatest, and, alas!
I fear, the last proof of that unvarying friendship with which our
ever-loved, our ever-honoured friend has favoured us! I may transgress
the bounds by intruding at this awful period; but I cannot help it. My
affection and my sorrow will be excused, I believe, for thou hast ever
looked kindly and partially upon me, and so has thy beloved wife, with
whose feelings I sympathize, could that avail. This day's post brought
me thy letter of the 23rd instant, dictated and signed by thee. Such
attention, at such a time, and in such a situation! It was like Edmund
Burke! It was like few others, but it is not bestowed upon hearts who
do not feel it.--I look back on that friendship formed in the precious
days of innocent childhood, between thee and my lamented parent.--I
trace its progress, which is so imprinted on my mind, that I almost
seem to myself to have been a witness to it.--I see it continue
unabated, notwithstanding the different sphere of life in which you
moved, to the period of it;--and may we not hope that there is an
union of souls beyond the grave? The composure and fortitude displayed
in thy letter, is the greatest consolation we could receive with the
tidings it conveyed of thy health. Since thou dost not allow us to
hope for its restoration, we will hope better things than is in the
power of this world to bestow.--My mother appears to decline, and
looks to the end of her race as near. All the other branches of
this family, I believe, are well in health. My brother continues
the school, which, I believe, was never in higher estimation than at
present. My husband regrets very much that he never shared with us
the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with thee. We all unite in
cordial, unaffected love to thee. I thought I would say how we were,
believing thou would be pleased to hear of our welfare, though how
long that may be continued, seems doubtful.--The general fermentation
throughout this nation, forebodes some sudden and dreadful eruption,
and, however obscure or retired our situations may be, there is little
prospect of escaping the calamity. This may cause us to admire, nay,
adore the mercy, as well as wisdom of Him, who gives and takes life,
in removing those so dear to us from the evil to come. My mother
desires thou may accept as much love as she is capable of sending
thee; her heart is full of it towards thee; and she bids me say, she
hopes thou hast lived such a life, that thy end will be crowned with
peace! So be it, with my whole heart! Thy affectionate and obliged

Our best wishes, and dear love to thy wife.

Abraham Shackleton has the melancholy satisfaction of perusing dear
Edmund Burke's account of his poor state of health. He hopes (trusts)
that a quiet resting place is prepared for him. The memory of E.
Burke's philanthropic virtues will out-live the period when his
shining political talents will cease to act. New fashions of political
sentiment will exist; but philanthropy,--_immortale manet!_


_She writes to remind him_

Ballitore, 7th of Eleventh-month, 1816.

I believe it will surprise George Crabbe to receive a letter from an
entire stranger, whom most probably he does not remember to have ever
seen or heard of, but who cannot forget having met him at the house of
Edmund Burke, Charles Street, James's Square, in the year 1784. I
was brought thither by my father, Richard Shackleton, the friend
from their childhood of Edmund Burke. My dear father told thee that
Goldsmith's would now be the _deserted village_; perhaps thou dost not
remember this compliment, but I remember the ingenuous modesty which
disclaimed it. He admired '_The Village', 'The Library_,' and '_The
Newspaper_' exceedingly, and the delight with which he read them to
his family could not but be acceptable to the author, had he known
the sound judgement and the exquisite taste which that excellent
man possessed. But he saw no more of the productions of the Muse he
admired; whose originality was not the least charm. He is dead--the
friend whom he loved and honoured, and to whose character thou dost so
much justice in the preface to '_The Parish_ _Register_', is also gone
to the house appointed for all living. A splendid constellation of
poets arose in the literary horizon; I looked around for Crabbe. Why
does not he, who shines as brightly as any of these, add his lustre?
I had not long thought thus when, in an Edinburgh Review, I met
with reflections similar to my own, which introduced '_The Parish
Register_'. Oh, it was like the voice of a long-lost friend, and glad
was I to hear that voice again in '_The Borough_'!--still more in
'_The Tales_,' which appear to me excelling all that preceded them!
Every work is so much in unison with our own feelings, that a wish for
information concerning them and their author is strongly excited.

One of our friends, Dykes Alexander, who was in Ballitore in 1810, I
think, said he was personally acquainted with thee, and spoke highly
of thy character. I regretted I had not an opportunity of conversing
with him on this subject, as perhaps he would have been able to decide
arguments which have arisen; namely, whether we owe to truth or to
fiction that 'ever new delight' which thy poetry affords us. The
characters, however singular some of them may be, are never unnatural,
and thy sentiments so true to domestic and social feelings, as well as
to those of a higher nature, have the convincing power of reality
over the mind, and _I_ maintain that all thy pictures _are drawn from
life_. To inquire whether this be the case is the excuse which I make
to myself for writing this letter. I wish the excuse may be accepted
by thee, for I greatly fear I have taken an unwarrantable liberty in
making the inquiry. Though advanced in life, yet from an education of
peculiar simplicity, and from never having been long absent from my
retired native village, I am too little acquainted with decorum. If I
have now transgressed the rules it prescribes, I appeal to the candour
and liberality of thy mind to forgive a fault caused by a strong

PS. Ballitore is the village in which Edmund Burke was educated by
Abraham Shackleton, whose pupil he became in 1741, and from whose
school he entered the college of Dublin in 1744. The school is still




_Marriage with Jean_

Ellisland, near Dumfries, 16 _Sept_. 1788.

Where are you? and how are you? and is Lady M'Kenzie recovering her
health? for I have had but one solitary letter from you. I will not
think you have forgot me, Madam; and for my part--

When thee, Jerusalem, I forget,
Skill part from my right hand!

'My heart is not of that rock, nor my soul careless as that sea.' I
do not make my progress among mankind as a bowl does among its
fellows--rolling through the crowd without bearing away any mark or
impression, except where they hit in hostile collision.

I am here, driven in with my harvest-folks by bad weather; and as you
and your sister once did me the honour of interesting yourselves
much _a l'egard de moi_, I sit down to beg the continuation of your
goodness.--I can truly say that, all the exterior of life apart,
I never saw two, whose esteem flattered the nobler feelings of my
soul--I will not say, more, but so much as Lady M'Kenzie and Miss
Chalmers. When I think of you--hearts the best, minds the noblest, of
human kind--unfortunate, even in the shades of life--when I think I
have met with you, and have lived more of real life with you in
eight days, than I can do with almost any body I meet with in eight
years--when I think on the improbability of meeting you in this world
again--I could sit down and cry like a child!--If ever you honoured me
with a place in your esteem, I trust I can now plead more desert.--I
am secure against that crushing grip of iron poverty, which, alas!
is less or more fatal to the native worth and purity of, I fear, the
noblest souls; and a late, important step in my life has kindly taken
me out of the way of those ungrateful iniquities, which, however
overlooked in fashionable license, or varnished in fashionable phrase,
are indeed but lighter and deeper shades of VILLAINY.

Shortly after my last return to Ayrshire, I married 'my Jean'. This
was not in consequence of the attachment of romance perhaps; but I
had a long and much-loved fellow creature's happiness or misery in my
determination, and I durst not trifle with so important a deposit. Nor
have I any cause to repent it. If I have not got polite tattle, modish
manners, and fashionable dress, I am not sickened and disgusted with
the multiform curse of boarding-school affectation; and I have got the
handsomest figure, the sweetest temper, the soundest constitution, and
the kindest heart in the county. Mrs. Burns believes, as firmly as her
creed, that I am _le plus bel esprit, et le plus honnete homme_ in
the universe; although she scarcely ever in her life, except the
Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and the Psalms of David in
metre, spent five minutes together on either prose or verse.

I must except also from this last, a certain late publication of Scots
poems, which she has perused very devoutly; and all the ballads in
the country, as she has (O the partial lover! you will cry) the finest
'wood-note wild' I ever heard.--I am the more particular in this
lady's character, as I know she will henceforth have the honour of a
share in your best wishes. She is still at Mauchline, as I am building
my house; for this hovel that I shelter in, while occasionally here,
is pervious to every blast that blows, and every shower that falls;
and I am only preserved from being chilled to death, by being
suffocated with smoke. I do not find my farm that pennyworth I was
taught to expect, but I believe, in time, it may be a saving bargain.
You will be pleased to hear that I have laid aside idle _eclat_, and
bind every day after my reapers.

To save me from that horrid situation of at any time going down, in
a losing bargain of a farm, to misery, I have taken my excise
instructions, and have my commission in my pocket for any emergency
of fortune. If I could set _all_ before your view, whatever disrespect
you in common with the world, have for this business, I know you would
approve of my idea.

I will make no apology, dear Madam, for this egotistic detail: I know
you and your sister will be interested in every circumstance of it.
What signify the silly, idle gewgaws of wealth, or the ideal trumpery
of greatness! When fellow partakers of the same nature fear the same
God, have the same benevolence of heart, the same nobleness of soul,
the same detestation at every thing dishonest, and the same scorn at
every thing unworthy--if they are not in the dependance of absolute
beggary, in the name of common sense are they not EQUALS? And if the
bias, the instinctive bias of their souls run the same way, why may
they not be FRIENDS?...


_A gauger_

Ellisland, 1 _Nov_. 1789.


I had written you long ere now, could I have guessed where to find
you, for I am sure you have more good sense than to waste the precious
days of vacation time in the dirt of business and Edinburgh. Wherever
you are, God bless you, and lead you not into temptation, but deliver
you from evil!

I do not know if I have informed you that I am now appointed to an
excise division, in the middle of which my house and farm lie. In this
I was extremely lucky. Without ever having been an expectant, as they
call their journeymen excisemen, I was directly planted down to all
intents and purposes an officer of excise; there to flourish and bring
forth fruits--worthy of repentance.

I know not how the word exciseman, or still more opprobrious, gauger,
will sound in your ears. I too have seen the day when my auditory
nerves would have felt very delicately on this subject; but a wife
and children are things which have a wonderful power in blunting these
kind of sensations. Fifty pounds a year for life, and a provision for
widows and orphans, you will allow is no bad settlement for a _poet_.
For the ignominy of the profession, I have the encouragement which
I once heard a recruiting sergeant give to a numerous, if not a
respectable audience, in the streets of Kilmarnock.--'Gentlemen,
for your further and better encouragement, I can assure you that
our regiment is the most blackguard corps under the crown, and
consequently with us an honest fellow has the surest chance for

You need not doubt that I find several very unpleasant and
disagreeable circumstances in my business; but I am tired with and
disgusted at the language of complaint against the evils of life.
Human existence in the most favourable situations does not abound with
pleasures, and has its inconveniences and ills; capricious foolish man
mistakes these inconveniences and ills as if they were the peculiar
property of his particular situation; and hence that eternal
fickleness, that love of change, which has ruined, and daily does
ruin many a fine fellow, as well as many a blockhead; and is, almost
without exception, a constant source of disappointment and misery....


_Witch tales_

Dumfries, 1792.

Among the many witch stories I have heard relating to Alloway Kirk, I
distinctly remember only two or three.

Upon a stormy night, amid whistling squalls of wind and bitter blasts
of hail--in short, on such a night as the devil would choose to take
the air in--a farmer, or farmer's servant, was plodding and plashing
homeward, with his plough irons on his shoulder, having been getting
some repairs on them at a neighbouring smithy. His way lay by the Kirk
of Alloway, and being rather on the anxious look-out in approaching
a place so well known to be a favourite haunt of the devil and the
devil's friends and emissaries, he was struck aghast by discovering
through the horrors of the storm and stormy night a light, which, on
his nearer approach, plainly showed itself to proceed from the haunted
edifice. Whether he had been fortified from above, on his devout
supplication, as is customary with people when they suspect the
immediate presence of Satan; or whether, according to another custom,
he had got courageously drunk at the smithy, I will not pretend to
determine; but so it was that he ventured to go up to, nay, into, the
very kirk. As luck would have it, his temerity came off unpunished.

The members of the infernal junto were all out on some midnight
business or other, and he saw nothing but a kind of kettle or
cauldron, depending from the roof over the fire, simmering some heads
of unchristened children, limbs of executed malefactors, &c., for the
business of the night. It was in for a penny, in for a pound, with the
honest ploughman; so, without ceremony, he unhooked the cauldron from
off the fire, and pouring out the damnable ingredients, inverted it
on his head, and carried it fairly home, where it remained long in the
family, a living evidence of the truth of the story.

Another story, which I can prove to be equally authentic, was as
follows: On a market day, in the town of Ayr, a farmer from Carrick,
and consequently whose way lay by the very gate of Alloway Kirkyard,
in order to cross the river Doon at the old bridge, which is about
two or three hundred yards further on than the said gate, had been
detained by his business, till by the time he reached Alloway it was
the wizard hour between night and morning.

Though he was terrified with a blaze streaming from the kirk, yet
as it is a well-known fact that to turn back on these occasions is
running by far the greatest risk of mischief, he prudently advanced
on his road. When he had reached the gate of the kirkyard he was
surprised and entertained through the ribs and arches of an old Gothic
window which still faces the highway, to see a dance of witches,
merrily footing it round their old sooty blackguard master, who was
keeping them all alive with the power of his bagpipe. The farmer,
stopping his horse to observe them a little, could plainly descry the
faces of many old women of his acquaintance and neighbourhood. How the
gentleman was dressed tradition does not say, but that the ladies were
all in their smocks; and one of them, happening unluckily to have a
smock which was considerably too short to answer all the purposes of
that piece of dress, our farmer was so tickled that he involuntarily
burst out with a loud laugh: 'Weel luppen, Maggy wi' the short sark!'
and recollecting himself, instantly spurred his horse to the top of
his speed. I need not mention the universally known fact, that no
diabolical power can pursue you beyond the middle of a running stream.
Lucky it was for the poor farmer that the river Doon was so near, for,
notwithstanding the speed of his horse, which was a good one, against
he reached the middle of the arch of the bridge, and consequently the
middle of the stream, the pursuing vengeful hags were so close at his
heels, that one of them actually sprang to seize him; but it was too
late, nothing was on her side of the stream but the horse's tail,
which immediately gave way at her infernal grip, as if blasted by a
stroke of lightning; but the farmer was beyond her reach. However, the
unsightly tailless condition of the vigorous steed was, to the last
hour of the noble creature's life, an awful warning to the Carrick
farmer not to stay too late in Ayr markets.

The last relation I shall give you, though equally true, is not so
well identified as the two former, with regard to the scene; but as
the best authorities give it for Alloway, I shall relate it.

On a summer's evening, about the time that nature puts on her sables
to mourn the expiry of the cheerful day, a shepherd boy, belonging
to a farmer in the immediate neighbourhood of Alloway Kirk, had just
folded his charge and was returning home. As he passed the kirk, in
the adjoining field, he fell in with a crew of men and women, who
were busy pulling stems of the plant ragwort. He observed that as each
person pulled a ragwort, he or she got astride of it, and called out,
'Up, horsie', on which the ragwort flew off, like Pegasus, through the
air, with its rider. The foolish boy likewise pulled his ragwort and
cried with the rest, 'Up, horsie', and, strange to tell, away he flew
with the company. The first stage at which the cavalcade stopped was
a merchant's wine-cellar in Bordeaux, where, without saying by your
leave, they quaffed away at the best the cellar could afford, until
the morning, foe to the imps and works of darkness, threatened to
throw light on the matter, and frightened them from their carousals.

The poor shepherd lad, being equally a stranger to the scene and the
liquor, heedlessly got himself drunk; and when the rest took horse he
fell asleep, and was found so next day by some of the people belonging
to the merchant. Somebody that understood Scotch, asking him what he
was, he said he was such-a-one's herd in Alloway, and by some means or
other getting home again, he lived long to tell the world the wondrous




_A brother's character_

Grasmere, 20 _Feb_. 1805.

Having spoken of worldly affairs, let me again mention my beloved
brother. It is now just five years since, after a separation of
fourteen years (I may call it a separation, for we only saw him four
or five times, and by glimpses), he came to visit his sister and me
in this cottage, and passed eight blessed months with us. He was then
waiting for the command of the ship to which he was appointed when he
quitted us. As you will have seen, we had little to live upon, and he
as little (Lord Lonsdale being then alive). But he encouraged me to
persist, and to keep my eye steady on its object. He would work for me
(that was his language), for me and his sister; and I was to endeavour
to do something for the world. He went to sea, as commander, with
this hope; his voyage was very unsuccessful, he having lost by it
considerably. When he came home, we chanced to be in London, and saw
him. 'Oh!' said he, 'I have thought of you, and nothing but you; if
ever of myself, and my bad success, it was only on your account.' He
went again to sea a second time, and also was unsuccessful; still
with the same hopes on our account, though then not so necessary,
Lord Lowther having paid the money. Lastly came the lamentable voyage,
which he entered upon, full of expectation, and love to his sister
and myself, and my wife, whom, indeed, he loved with all a brother's
tenderness. This is the end of his part of the agreement--of his
efforts for my welfare! God grant me life and strength to fulfil mine!
I shall never forget him--never lose sight of him: there is a bond
between us yet, the same as if he were living, nay, far more sacred,
calling upon me to do my utmost, as he to the last did his utmost
to live in honour and worthiness. Some of the newspapers carelessly
asserted that he did not wish to survive his ship. This is false. He
was heard by one of the surviving officers giving orders, with all
possible calmness, a very little before the ship went down; and when
he could remain at his post no longer, then, and not till then,
he attempted to save himself. I knew this would be so, but it was
satisfactory for me to have it confirmed by external evidence. Do not
think our grief unreasonable. Of all human beings whom I ever knew, he
was the man of the most rational desires, the most sedate habits, and
the most perfect self-command. He was modest and gentle, and shy even
to disease; but this was wearing off. In everything his judgements
were sound and original; his taste in all the arts, music and poetry
in particular (for these he, of course, had had the best opportunities
of being familiar with), was exquisite; and his eye for the beauties
of nature was as fine and delicate as ever poet or painter was gifted
with, in some discriminations, owing to his education and way of life,
far superior to any person's I ever knew. But, alas! what avails it?
It was the will of God that he should be taken away....

I trust in God that I shall not want fortitude; but my loss is great
and irreparable....



Patterdale, 7 _Nov_. 1805.


I was much pleased to hear of your engagement with Dryden: not that he
is, as a poet, any great favourite of mine: I admire his talents and
genius highly, but his is not a poetical genius. The only qualities
I can find in Dryden that are _essentially_ poetical, are a certain
ardour and impetuosity of mind, with an excellent ear. It may seem
strange that I do not add to this, great command of language: _that_
he certainly has, and of such language too, as it is most desirable
that a poet should possess, or rather that he should not be without.
But it is not language that is, in the highest sense of the word,
poetical, being neither of the imagination nor of the passions; I mean
the amiable, the ennobling, or the intense passions. I do not mean to
say that there is nothing of this in Dryden, but as little, I think,
as is possible, considering how much he has written. You will easily
understand my meaning, when I refer to his versification of _Palamon
and Arcite_, as contrasted with the language of Chaucer. Dryden had
neither a tender heart nor a lofty sense of moral dignity. Whenever
his language is poetically impassioned, it is mostly upon unpleasing
subjects, such as the follies, vices, and crimes of classes of men or
of individuals, That his cannot be the language of imagination, must
have necessarily followed from this,--that there is not a single image
from nature in the whole body of his works; and in his translation
from Virgil, wherever Virgil can be fairly said to have had his _eye_
upon his object, Dryden always spoils the passage.

But too much of this; I am glad that you are to be his editor.
His political and satirical pieces may be greatly benefited by
illustration, and even absolutely require it. A correct text is the
first object of an editor, then such notes as explain difficult or
obscure passages; and lastly, which is much less important, notes
pointing out authors to whom the poet has been indebted, not in the
fiddling way of phrase here and phrase there, (which is detestable as
a general practice), but where he has had essential obligations either
as to matter or manner.

If I can be of any use to you, do not fail to apply to me. One thing
I may take the liberty to suggest, which is, when you come to the
fables, might it not be advisable to print the whole of the Tales of
Boccace in a smaller type in the original language? If this should
look too much like swelling a book, I should certainly make such
extracts as would show where Dryden has most strikingly improved upon,
or fallen below, his original. I think his translations from Boccace
are the best, at least the most poetical, of his poems. It is many
years since I saw Boccace, but I remember that Sigismunda is not
married by him to Guiscard (the names are different in Boccace in both
tales, I believe--certainly in Theodore, &c.). I think Dryden has much
injured the story by the marriage, and degraded Sigismunda's character
by it. He has also, to the best of my remembrance, degraded her still
more, by making her love absolute sensuality and appetite; Dryden had
no other notion of the passion. With all these defects, and they are
very gross ones, it is a noble poem. Guiscard's answer, when first
reproached by Tancred, is noble in Boccace--nothing but this: _Amor
puo molto piu che ne voi ne io possiamo_. This, Dryden has spoiled. He
says first very well, 'the faults of love by love are justified,' and
then come four lines of miserable rant, quite _a la Maximin_.


_The destiny of his poems_

Coleorton, 21 _May_, 1807.


Though I am to see you so soon, I cannot but write a word or two, to
thank you for the interest you take in my poems, as evinced by your
solicitude about their immediate reception. I write partly to thank
you for this, and to express the pleasure it has given me, and partly
to remove any uneasiness from your mind which the disappointments you
sometimes meet with, in this labour of love, may occasion. I see that
you have many battles to fight for me--more than, in the ardour and
confidence of your pure and elevated mind, you had ever thought of
being summoned to; but be assured that this opposition is nothing more
than what I distinctly foresaw that you and my other friends would
have to encounter. I say this, not to give myself credit for an eye of
prophecy, but to allay any vexatious thoughts on my account which this
opposition may have produced in you.

It is impossible that any expectations can be lower than mine
concerning the immediate effect of this little work upon what is
called the public. I do not here take into consideration the envy and
malevolence, and all the bad passions which always stand in the way of
a work of any merit from a living poet; but merely think of the pure,
absolute, honest ignorance in which all worldlings of every rank and
situation must be enveloped, with respect to the thoughts, feelings
and images on which the life of my poems depends. The things which I
have taken, whether from within or without, what have they to do with
routs, dinners, morning calls, hurry from door to door, from street to
street, on foot or in carriage; with Mr. Pitt or Mr. Fox, Mr. Paul
or Sir Francis Burdett, the Westminster election or the borough of
Honiton? In a word--for I cannot stop to make my way through the hurry
of images that present themselves to me--what have they to do with the
endless talking about things nobody cares anything for except as far
as their own vanity is concerned, and this with persons they care
nothing for but as their vanity or _selfishness_ is concerned?--what
have they to do (to say all at once) with a life without love? In such
a life there can be no thought; for we have no thought (save thoughts
of pain) but as far as we have love and admiration.

It is an awful truth, that there neither is, nor can be, any genuine
enjoyment of poetry among nineteen out of twenty of those persons who
live, or wish to live, in the broad light of the world--among
those who either are, or are striving to make themselves, people of
consideration in society. This is a truth, and an awful one, because
to be incapable of a feeling of poetry, in my sense of the word, is to
be without love of human nature and reverence for God.

Upon this I shall insist elsewhere; at present let me confine myself
to my object; which is to make you, my dear friend, as easy-hearted
as myself with respect to these poems. Trouble not yourself upon their
present reception; of what moment is that compared with what I trust
is their destiny?--to console the afflicted; to add sunshine to
daylight, by making the happy happier; to teach the young and the
gracious of every age to see, to think, and feel, and therefore, to
become more actively and securely virtuous; this is their office,
which I trust they will faithfully perform, long after we (that is,
all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves. I am well aware
how far it would seem to many I overrate my own exertions, when I
speak in this way, in direct connexion with the volume I have just
made public.

I am not, however, afraid of such censure, insignificant as probably
the majority of those poems would appear to very respectable persons.
I do not mean London wits and witlings, for these have too many foul
passions about them to be respectable, even if they had more intellect
than the benign laws of Providence will allow to such a heartless
existence as theirs is; but grave, kindly-natured, worthy persons,
who would be pleased if they could. I hope that these volumes are
not without some recommendations, even for readers of this class: but
their imagination has slept; and the voice which is the voice of my
poetry, without imagination, cannot be heard....

My letter (as this second sheet, which I am obliged to take,
admonishes me) is growing to an enormous length; and yet, saving that
I have expressed my calm confidence that these poems will live, I have
said nothing which has a particular application to the object of it,
which was to remove all disquiet from your mind on account of the
condemnation they may at present incur from that portion of my
contemporaries who are called the public. I am sure, my dear Lady
Beaumont, if you attach any importance to it, it can only be from an
apprehension that it may affect me, upon which I have already set you
at ease; or from a fear that this present blame is ominous of their
future or final destiny. If this be the case, your tenderness for me
betrays you. Be assured that the decision of these persons has nothing
to do with the question; they are altogether incompetent judges. These
people, in the senseless hurry of their idle lives, do not _read_
books, they merely snatch a glance at them, that they may talk about
them. And even if this were not so, never forget what, I believe, was
observed to you by Coleridge, that every great and original writer, in
proportion as he is great or original, must himself create the taste
by which he is to be relished; he must teach the art by which he is to
be seen; this, in a certain degree, even to all persons, however wise
and pure may be their lives, and however unvitiated their taste. But
for those who dip into books in order to give an opinion of them, or
talk about them to take up an opinion--for this multitude of unhappy
and misguided, and misguiding beings, an entire regeneration must
be produced; and if this be possible, it must be a work of time. To
conclude, my ears are stone-dead to this idle buzz, and my flesh as
insensible as iron to these petty stings; and after what I have said,
I am sure yours will be the same. I doubt not that you will share with
me an invincible confidence that my writings (and among them these
little poems) will co-operate with the benign tendencies in human
nature and society, wherever found; and that they will in their degree
be efficacious in making men wiser, better, and happier. Farewell.
I will not apologize for this letter, though its length demands an


_The language of poetry_

[c. 1807.]


I am quite delighted to hear of your picture for _Peter Bell_; I was
much pleased with the sketch, and I have no doubt that the picture
will surpass it as far as a picture ought to do. I long much to see
it. I should approve of any engraver approved by you. But remember
that no poem of mine will ever be popular; and I am afraid that the
sale of _Peter_ would not carry the expense of the engraving, and that
the poem, in the estimation of the public, would be a weight upon
the print. I say not this in modest disparagement of the poem, but in
sorrow for the sickly taste of the public in verse. The _people_ would
love the poem of _Peter Bell_, but the _public_ (a very different
being) will never love it. Thanks for dear Lady B.'s transcript from
your friend's letter; it is written with candour, but I must say a
word or two not in praise of it. 'Instances of what I mean,' says your
friend, 'are to be found in a poem on a Daisy' (by the by, it is on
_the_ Daisy, a mighty difference!) 'and on _Daffodils reflected in the
Water_'. Is this accurately transcribed by Lady Beaumont? If it
be, what shall we think of criticism or judgement founded upon, and
exemplified by, a poem which must have been so inattentively perused?
My language is precise; and, therefore, it would be false modesty to
charge myself with blame.

Beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the _breeze_.
The _waves beside_ them danced, but they
Outdid the _sparkling waves_ in glee.

Can expression be more distinct? And let me ask your friend how it
is possible for flowers to be _reflected_ in water when there are
_waves_? They may, indeed, in _still_ water; but the very object of my
poem is the trouble or agitation, both of the flowers and the water.
I must needs respect the understanding of every one honoured by your
friendship; but sincerity compels me to say that my poems must be more
nearly looked at, before they can give rise to any remarks of much
value, even from the strongest minds. With respect to this individual
poem, Lady B. will recollect how Mrs. Fermor expressed herself upon
it. A letter also was sent to me, addressed to a friend of mine, and
by him communicated to me, in which this identical poem was singled
out for fervent approbation. What then shall we say? Why, let the poet
first consult his own heart, as I have done, and leave the rest
to posterity--to, I hope, an improving posterity. The fact is, the
English _public_ are at this moment in the same state of mind with
respect to my poems, if small things may be compared with great, as
the French are in respect to Shakespeare, and not the French alone,
but almost the whole Continent. In short, in your friend's letter,
I am condemned for the very thing for which I ought to have
been praised, viz., that I have not written down to the level of
superficial observers and unthinking minds. Every great poet is
a teacher: I wish either to be considered as a teacher, or as




_Marriage with Miss Carpenter_



I should very ill deserve the care and affection with which you
have ever regarded me, were I to neglect my duty so far as to omit
consulting my father and you in the most important step which I
can possibly take in life, and upon the success of which my future
happiness must depend. It is with pleasure I think that I can avail
myself of your advice and instructions in an affair of so great
importance as that which I have at present on my hands. You will
probably guess from this preamble, that I am engaged in a matrimonial
plan, which is really the case. Though my acquaintance with the young
lady has not been of long standing, this circumstance is in some
degree counterbalanced by the intimacy in which we have lived, and by
the opportunities which that intimacy has afforded me of remarking her
conduct and sentiments on many different occasions, some of which were
rather of a delicate nature, so that in fact I have seen more of her
during the few weeks we have been together, than I could have done
after a much longer acquaintance, shackled by the common forms of
ordinary life. You will not expect from me a description of her
person,--for which I refer you to my brother, as also for a fuller
account of all the circumstances attending the business than can be
comprised in the compass of a letter. Without flying into raptures,
for I must assure you that my judgement as well as my affections are
consulted upon this occasion; without flying into raptures then, I
may safely assure you, that her temper is sweet and cheerful, her
understanding good, and what I know will give you pleasure, her
principles of religion very serious. I have been very explicit
with her upon the nature of my expectations, and she thinks she can
accommodate herself to the situation which I should wish her to hold
in society as my wife, which, you will easily comprehend, I mean
should neither be extravagant nor degrading. Her fortune, though
partly dependent upon her brother, who is high in office at Madras, is
very considerable--at present L500 a-year. This, however, we must,
in some degree, regard as precarious,--I mean to the full extent; and
indeed when you know her you will not be surprised that I regard
this circumstance chiefly because it removes those prudential
considerations which would otherwise render our union impossible for
the present. Betwixt her income and my own professional exertions, I
have little doubt we will be enabled to hold the rank in society which
my family and situation entitle me to fill.

My dear Mother, I cannot express to you the anxiety I have that you
will not think me flighty nor inconsiderate in this business. Believe
me, that experience, in one instance--you cannot fail to know to what
I allude--is too recent to permit my being so hasty in my conclusions
as the warmth of my temper might have otherwise prompted. I am also
most anxious that you should be prepared to show her kindness, which I
know the goodness of your own heart will prompt, more especially
when I tell you that she is an orphan, without relations, and almost
without friends. Her guardian is, I should say _was_, for she is of
age, Lord Downshire, to whom I must write for his consent, a piece
of respect to which he is entitled for his care of her--and there the
matter rests at present. I think I need not tell you that if I assume
the new character which I threaten, I shall be happy to find that
in that capacity, I may make myself more useful to my brothers, and
especially to Anne, than I could in any other. On the other hand, I
shall certainly expect that my friends will endeavour to show every
attention in their power to a woman who forsakes for me, prospects
much more splendid than what I can offer, and who comes into Scotland
without a single friend but myself. I find I could write a great deal
more upon this subject, but as it is late, and as I must write to my
father, I shall restrain myself. I think (but you are the best judge)
that in the circumstances in which I stand, you should write to her,
Miss Carpenter, under cover to me at Carlisle.

Write to me very fully upon this important subject--send me your
opinion, your advice, and above all, your blessing; you will see the
necessity of not delaying a minute in doing so, and in keeping this
business _strictly private_, till you hear farther from me, since you
are not ignorant that even at this advanced period, an objection on
the part of Lord Downshire, or many other accidents, may intervene; in
which case, I should little wish my disappointment to be public.


_The Lay of the Last Minstrel_

Edinburgh, 21 _March_, 1805.


I am truly happy that you found any amusement in the _Lay of the Last
Minstrel_. It has great faults, of which no one can be more sensible
than I am myself. Above all, it is deficient in that sort of
continuity which a story ought to have, and which, were it to write
again, I would endeavour to give it. But I began and wandered forward,
like one in a pleasant country, getting to the top of one hill to see
a prospect, and to the bottom of another to enjoy a shade, and what
wonder if my course has been devious and desultory, and many of my
excursions altogether unprofitable to the advance of my journey.
The Dwarf Page is also an excrescence, and I plead guilty to all the
censures concerning him. The truth is, he has a history, and it is
this: The story of Gilpin Horner was told by an old gentleman to
Lady Dalkeith, and she, much diverted with his actually believing so
grotesque a tale, insisted that I should make it into a Border ballad.
I don't know if you ever saw my lovely chieftainess--if you have,
you must be aware that it is _impossible_ for any one to refuse her
request, as she has more of the angel in face and temper than any one
alive; so that if she had asked me to write a ballad on a broomstick I
must have attempted it. I began a few verses, to be called the Goblin
Page; and they lay long by me, till the applause of some friends
whose judgement I valued induced me to resume the poem; so on I wrote,
knowing no more than the man in the moon how I was to end. At length
the story appeared so uncouth, that I was fain to put it into
the mouth of my old minstrel--lest the nature of it should be
misunderstood, and I should be suspected of setting up a new school of
poetry, instead of a feeble attempt to imitate the old. In the process
of romance the page, intended to be a principal person in the work,
contrived (from the baseness of his natural propensities, I suppose)
to slink downstairs into the kitchen, and now he must e'en abide

I mention these circumstances to you, and to any one whose applause I
value, because I am unwilling you should suspect me of trifling with
the public in _malice prepense_. As to the herd of critics, it is
impossible for me to pay much attention to them; for, as they do not
understand what I call poetry, we talk in a foreign language to each
other. Indeed, many of these gentlemen appear to me to be a sort of
tinkers, who, unable to _make_ pots and pans, set up for _menders_ of
them, and, God knows, often make two holes in patching one. The sixth
canto is altogether redundant; for the poem should certainly have
closed with the union of the lovers, when the interest, if any, was
at an end. But what could I do? I had my book and my page still on my
hands, and must get rid of them at all events. Manage them as I would,
their catastrophe must have been insufficient to occupy an entire
canto; so I was fain to eke it out with the songs of the minstrels. I
will now descend from the confessional, which I think I have occupied
long enough for the patience of my fair confessor. I am happy you are
disposed to give me absolution, notwithstanding all my sins. We have a
new poet come forth amongst us--James Graham, author of a poem called
_The Sabbath_, which I admire very much. If I can find an opportunity
I will send you a copy.


_An amiable blue-stocking_

Edinburgh, 16 _June_, 1808.


Nothing will give us more pleasure than to have the honour of showing
every attention in our power to Mr. and Mrs. Morritt, and I am
particularly happy in a circumstance that at once promises me a great
deal of pleasure in the acquaintance of your Ladyship's friends, and
affords me the satisfaction of hearing from you again. Pray don't
triumph over me too much in the case of Lydia. I stood a very
respectable siege; but she caressed my wife, coaxed my children,
and made, by dint of cake and pudding, some impression even upon
the affections of my favourite dog: so, when all the outworks
were carried, the mere fortress had no choice but to surrender on
honourable terms. To the best of my thinking, notwithstanding the
cerulean hue of her stockings, and a most plentiful stock of eccentric
affectation, she is really at bottom a good-natured woman, with much
liveliness and some talent. She is now set out to the Highlands, where
she is likely to encounter many adventures. Mrs. Scott and I went as
far as Loch Catrine with her, from which jaunt I have just returned.
We had most heavenly weather, which was peculiarly favourable to my
fair companions' zeal for sketching every object that fell in their
way, from a castle to a pigeon-house. Did your Ladyship ever travel
with a _drawing_ companion? Mine drew like cart-horses, as well in
laborious zeal as in effect; for, after all, I could not help hinting
that the cataracts delineated bore a singular resemblance to haycocks,
and the rocks much correspondence to large old-fashioned cabinets
with their folding-doors open. So much for Lydia, whom I left on her
journey through the Highlands, but by what route she had not resolved.
I gave her three plans, and think it likely she will adopt none
of them: moreover, when the executive government of postilions,
landlords, and Highland boatmen devolves upon her English servant
instead of me, I am afraid the distresses of the errant damsels will
fall a little beneath the dignity of romances. All this nonsense is
_entre nous_, for Miss White has been actively zealous in getting me
some Irish correspondence about Swift, and otherwise very obliging.

It is not with my inclination that I fag for the booksellers; but what
can I do? My poverty and not my will consents. The income of my office
is only reversionary, and my private fortune much limited. My poetical
success fairly destroyed my prospects of professional success, and
obliged me to retire from the bar; for though I had a competent share
of information and industry, who would trust their cause to the author
of the _Lay of the Last Minstrel_? Now, although I do allow that an
author should take care of his literary character, yet I think the
least thing that his literary character can do in return is to take
some care of the author, who is unfortunately, like Jeremy in _Love
for Love_, furnished with a set of tastes and appetites which would
do honour to the income of a Duke if he had it. Besides, I go to work
with Swift _con amore_; for, like Dryden, he is an early favourite
of mine. The _Marmion_ is nearly out, and I have made one or two
alterations on the third edition, with which the press is now
groaning. So soon as it is, it will make the number of copies
published within the space of six months amount to eight thousand,--an
immense number, surely, and enough to comfort the author's wounded
feelings, had the claws of the reviewers been able to reach him
through the _steel jack_ of true Border indifference.



Edinburgh, 13 _Nov._ 1813.

I do not delay, my dear Southey, to say my _gratulor_. Long may you
live, as Paddy says, to rule over us, and to redeem the crown of
Spenser and of Dryden to its pristine dignity. I am only discontented
with the extent of your royal revenue, which I thought had been L400,
or L300 at the very least. Is there no getting rid of that iniquitous
modus, and requiring the _butt_ in kind? I would have you think of it:
I know no man so well entitled to Xeres sack as yourself, though many
bards would make a better figure at drinking it. I should think that
in due time a memorial might get some relief in this part of the
appointment--it should be at least L100 wet and L100 dry. When you
have carried your point of discarding the ode, and my point of getting
the sack, you will be exactly in the situation of Davy in the
farce, who stipulates for more wages, less work, and the key of the
ale-cellar. I was greatly delighted with the circumstances of
your investiture. It reminded me of the porters at Calais with Dr.
Smollett's baggage, six of them seizing upon one small portmanteau,
and bearing it in triumph to his lodgings. You see what it is to
laugh at the superstitions of a gentleman-usher, as I think you do
somewhere. 'The whirligig of Time brings about his revenges.'

Adieu, my dear Southey; my best wishes attend all that you do, and my
best congratulations every good that attends you--yea even this, the
very least of Providence's mercies, as a poor clergyman said when
pronouncing grace over a herring. I should like to know how the prince
received you; his address is said to be excellent, and his knowledge
of literature far from despicable. What a change of fortune even
since the short time when we met! The great work of retribution is now
rolling onward to consummation, yet am I not fully satisfied--_pereat
iste_--there will be no permanent peace in Europe till Buonaparte
sleeps with the tyrants of old.


_A small anonymous sort of a novel_

Edinburgh, 9 _July_, 1814.


I owe you many apologies for not sooner answering your very
entertaining letter upon your Parisian journey. I heartily wish I had
been of your party, for you have seen what I trust will not be seen
again in a hurry; since, to enjoy the delight of a restoration, there
is a necessity for a previous _bouleversement_ of everything that is
valuable in morals and policy which seems to have been the case in
France since 1790. The Duke of Buccleugh told me yesterday of a very
good reply of Louis to some of his attendants, who proposed shutting
the doors of his apartments to keep out the throng of people. 'Open
the door,' he said, 'to John Bull; he has suffered a great deal in
keeping the door open for me.'

Now, to go from one important subject to another, I must account for
my own laziness, which I do by referring you to a small anonymous sort
of a novel, in three volumes, _Waverley_, which you will receive by
the mail of this day. It was a very old attempt of mine to embody some
traits of those characters and manners peculiar to Scotland, the last
remnants of which vanished during my own youth, so that few or no
traces now remain. I had written great part of the first volume, and
sketched other passages, when I mislaid the MS., and only found it by
the merest accident as I was rummaging the drawers of an old cabinet;
and I took the fancy of finishing it, which I did so fast, that the
last two volumes were written in three weeks. I had a great deal of
fun in the accomplishment of this task, though I do not expect that it
will be popular in the south, as much of the humour, if there be any,
is local, and some of it even professional. You, however, who are an
adopted Scotchman, will find some amusement in it. It has made a very
strong impression here, and the good people of Edinburgh are busied in
tracing the author, and in finding out originals for the portraits it
contains. In the first case, they will probably find it difficult to
convict the guilty author, although he is far from escaping suspicion.
Jeffrey has offered to make oath that it is mine, and another great
critic has tendered his affidavit _ex contrario_; so that these
authorities have divided the Gude Town. However, the thing has
succeeded very well, and is thought highly of. I don't know if it has
got to London yet. I intend to maintain my _incognito_. Let me know
your opinion about it....

24 _July_.

... I had just proceeded thus far when your kind favour of the
21st reached Abbotsford. I am heartily glad you continued to like
_Waverley_ to the end. The hero is a sneaking piece of imbecility;
and if he had married Flora, she would have set him up upon the
chimney-piece, as Count Borowlaski's wife used to do with him. I am
a bad hand at depicting a hero properly so called, and have an
unfortunate propensity for the dubious characters of borderers,
buccaneers, Highland robbers, and all others of a Robin-Hood
description. I do not know why it should be, as I am myself, like
Hamlet, indifferent honest; but I suppose the blood of the old
cattle-drivers of Teviotdale continues to stir in my veins.


_Acceptance of a baronetcy_

Edinburgh, 7 _Dec._, 1818.


... There is another thing I have to whisper in your faithful ear. Our
fat friend being desirous to honour Literature in my unworthy person,
has intimated to me, by his organ the Doctor, that, with consent ample
and unanimous of all the potential voices of all his ministers,
each more happy than another of course on so joyful an occasion, he
proposes to dub me Baronet. It would be easy saying a parcel of fine
things about my contempt of rank, and so forth; but although I would
not have gone a step out of my way to have asked, or bought, or
begged, or borrowed a distinction, which to me personally will rather
be inconvenient than otherwise, yet, coming as it does directly from
the source of feudal honours, and as an honour, I am really gratified
with it;--especially as it is intimated, that it is his Royal
Highness's pleasure to heat the oven for me expressly, without waiting
till he has some new _batch_ of Baronets ready in dough. In plain
English, I am to be gazetted _per se_. My poor friend Carpenter's
bequest to my family has taken away a certain degree of
_impecuniosity_, a necessity of saving cheese-parings and candle-ends,
which always looks inconsistent with any little pretension to rank.
But as things now stand, Advance banners in the name of God and St.
Andrew. Remember, I anticipate the jest, 'I like not such grinning
honours, as Sir Walter hath.' After all, if one must speak for
themselves, I have my quarters and emblazonments, free of all stain
but Border theft and High Treason, which I hope are gentleman-like
crimes; and I hope Sir Walter Scott will not sound worse than Sir
Humphry Davy, though my merits are as much under his, in point of
utility, as can well be imagined. But a name is something, and mine
is the better of the two. Set down this flourish to the account
of national and provincial pride, for you must know we have more
Messieurs de Sotenville in our Border counties than anywhere else in
the Lowlands--I cannot say for the Highlands.


_Prince Leopold's visit_

Abbotsford, 3 _Oct._ 1819.


I am honoured with your Buxton letter.... _Anent_ Prince Leopold, I
only heard of his approach at eight o'clock in the morning, and he
was to be at Selkirk by eleven. The magistrates sent to ask me to help
them to receive him. It occurred to me he might be coming to Melrose
to see the Abbey, in which case I could not avoid asking him to
Abbotsford, as he must pass my very door. I mentioned this to Mrs.
Scott, who was lying quietly in bed, and I wish you had heard the
scream she gave on the occasion. 'What have we to offer him?'--'Wine
and cake,' said I, thinking to make all things easy; but she
ejaculated, in a tone of utter despair, 'Cake!! where am I to get
cake?' However, being partly consoled with the recollection that his
visit was a very improbable incident, and curiosity, as usual, proving
too strong for alarm, she set out with me in order not to miss a peep
of the great man. James Skene and his lady were with us, and we gave
our carriages such additional dignity as a pair of leaders could add,
and went to meet him in full puff. The Prince very civilly told me,
that, though he could not see Melrose on this occasion, he wished to
come to Abbotsford for an hour. New despair on the part of Mrs. Scott,
who began to institute a domiciliary search for cold meat through the
whole city of Selkirk, which produced _one shoulder of cold lamb_. In
the meanwhile, his Royal Highness received the civic honours of the
BIRSE[1] very graciously. I had hinted to Bailie Lang, that it ought
only to be licked _symbolically_ on the present occasion; so he
flourished it three times before his mouth, but without touching it
with his lips, and the Prince followed his example as directed. Lang
made an excellent speech, sensible, and feeling, and well delivered.
The Prince seemed much surprised at this great propriety of expression
and behaviour in a magistrate, whose people seemed such a rabble, and
whose whole band of music consisted in a drum and fife. He noticed to
Bailie Anderson, that Selkirk seemed very populous in proportion
to its extent. 'On an occasion like this it seems so,' answered the
Bailie, neatly enough I thought. I question if any magistrates in the
kingdom, lord mayors and aldermen not excepted, could have behaved
with more decent and quiet good-breeding. Prince Leopold repeatedly
alluded to this during the time he was at Abbotsford. I do not know
how Mrs. Scott ultimately managed; but with broiled salmon, and
black-cock, and partridges, she gave him a very decent lunch; and I
chanced to have some very fine old hock, which was mighty germain to
the matter.

The Prince seems melancholy, whether naturally or from habit, I do not
pretend to say; but I do not remember thinking him so at Paris, where
I saw him frequently, then a much poorer man than myself; yet he
showed some humour, for alluding to the crowds that followed him
everywhere, he mentioned some place where he had gone out to shoot,
but was afraid to proceed for fear of 'bagging a boy'. He said
he really thought of getting some shooting-place in Scotland, and
promised me a longer visit on his return. If I had had a day's
notice to have _warned the waters_, we could have met him with a very
respectable number of the gentry; but there was no time for this, and
probably he liked it better as it was. There was only young Clifton
who could have come, and he was shy and cubbish, and would not, though
requested by the Selkirk people. He was perhaps ashamed to march
through Coventry with them. It hung often and sadly on my mind that
_he_ was wanting who could and would have received him like a Prince
indeed; and yet the meeting betwixt them, had they been fated to meet,
would have been a very sad one. I think I have now given your
lordship a very full, true, and particular account of our royal visit,
unmatched even by that of King Charles at the Castle of Tillietudlem.
That we did not speak of it for more than a week after it happened,
and that that emphatic monosyllable, _The Prince_, is not heard
amongst us more than ten times a-day, is, on the whole, to the credit
of my family's understanding. The piper is the only one whose brain he
seems to have endangered; for, as the Prince said he preferred him to
any he had heard in the Highlands--(which, by the way, shows his
Royal Highness knows nothing of the matter),--the fellow seems to have
become incapable of his ordinary occupation as a forester, and has cut
stick and stem without remorse to the tune of _Phail Phranse_, i.e.
the Prince's welcome.

[Footnote 1: Bundle of hog's bristles; symbol of the soutars.]


_Progress at Abbotsford_

Abbotsford, 10 _Nov_. 1822.

My dear Terry,

I got all the plans safe, and they are delightful. The library
ceiling will be superb, and we have plenty of ornaments for it without
repeating one of those in the eating-room. The plan of shelves is also
excellent, and will, I think, for a long time suffice my collection.
The brasses for the shelves I like--but not the price: the notched
ones, after all, do very well. I have had three grand hawls since I
last wrote to you. The pulpit, repentance-stool, King's seat, and
God knows how much of carved wainscot, from the kirk of Dunfermline,
enough to coat the hall to the height of seven feet:--supposing
it boarded above, for hanging guns, old portraits, intermixed with
armour, &c.--it will be a superb entrance-gallery: this is hawl the
first. Hawl second is twenty-four pieces of the most splendid Chinese
paper, twelve feet high by four wide, a present from my cousin Hugh
Scott, enough to finish the drawing-room and two bedrooms. Hawl third
is a quantity of what is called Jamaica cedar-wood, enough for fitting
up both the drawing-room and the library, including the presses,
shelves, &c.: the wood is finely pencilled and most beautiful,
something like the colour of gingerbread; it costs very little more
than oak, works much easier, and is never touched by vermin of any
kind. I sent Mr. Atkinson a specimen, but it was from the plain end of
the plank; the interior is finely waved and variegated. Your kind
and unremitting exertions in our favour will soon plenish the
drawing-room. Thus we at present stand. We have a fine old English
cabinet, with china, &c.-and two superb elbow-chairs, the gift of
Constable, carved most magnificently, with groups of children, fruit,
and flowers, in the Italian taste: they came from Rome, and are much
admired. It seems to me that the mirror you mention, being framed in
carved box, would answer admirably well with the chairs, which are of
the same material. The mirror should, I presume, be placed over
the drawing-room chimney-piece; and opposite to it I mean to put an
antique table of mosaic marbles, to support Chantrey's bust. A good
sofa would be desirable, and so would the tapestry screen, if really
fresh and beautiful; but as much of our furniture will be a little
antiquated, one would not run too much into that taste in so small an
apartment. For the library I have the old oak chairs now in the little
armoury, eight in number, and we might add one or two pair of the
ebony chairs you mention. I should think this enough, for many seats
in such a room must impede access to the books; and I don't mean
the library to be on ordinary occasions a public room. Perhaps the
tapestry-screen would suit better here than in the drawing-room. I
have one library table here, and shall have another made for atlases
and prints. For the hall I have four chairs of black oak. In other
matters we can make it out well enough. In fact, it is my object
rather to keep under my new accommodations at first, both to avoid
immediate outlay, and that I may leave room for pretty things which
may occur hereafter. I would to Heaven I could take a cruise with you
through the brokers, which would be the pleasantest affair possible,
only I am afraid I should make a losing voyage of it. Mr. Atkinson has
missed a little my idea of the oratory, fitting it up entirely as
a bookcase, whereas I should like to have had recesses for
curiosities--for the Bruce's skull--for a crucifix, &c., &c.-in short,
a little cabinet instead of a book-closet. Four sides of books would
be perfectly sufficient; the other four, so far as not occupied by
door or window, should be arranged tastefully for antiquities, &c.,
like the inside of an antique cabinet, with drawers, and shottles, and
funny little arches. The oak screen dropped as from the clouds: it is
most acceptable; I might have guessed there was only one kind friend
so ready to supply hay to my hobby-horse. You have my views in these
matters and your own taste; and I will send the _needful_ when
you apprise me of the amount total. Where things are not quite
satisfactory, it is better to wait a while on every account, for the
amusement is over when one has room for nothing more. The house is
completely roofed, &c., and looks worthy of Mrs. Terry's painting. I
never saw anything handsomer than the grouping of towers, chimneys,
&c. upon the roof, when seen at a proper distance.

Once more, let me wish you joy of your professional success. I can
judge, by a thousand minute items, of the advance you make with the
public, just as I can of the gradual progress of my trees, because I
am interested in both events. You may say, like Burke, you were not
'coaxed and dandled into eminence' but have fought your way gallantly,
shown your passport at every barrier, and been always a step in
advance, without a single retrograde movement. Every one wishes to
advance rapidly, but when the desired position is gained, it is far
more easily maintained by him whose ascent has been gradual, and whose
favour is founded not on the unreasonable expectations entertained
from one or two seasons, but from an habitual experience of the power
of pleasing during several years. You say not a word of poor Wattles.
I hope little Miss has not put his nose out of joint entirely.

I have not been very well--a whoreson thickness of blood, and a
depression of spirits arising from the loss of friends (to whom I
am now to add poor Wedderburne), have annoyed me much; and _Peveril_
will, I fear, smell of the apoplexy. I propose a good rally, however,
and hope it will be a powerful effect. My idea is, _entre nous_, a
Scotch archer in the French King's guard, _tempore_ Louis XI, the most
picturesque of all times.


_A brave face to the world_

Edinburgh, 6 _Feb._ 1826.


It is very true I have been, and am in danger, of a pecuniary loss,
and probably a very large one, which in the uncertainty I look at as
to the full extent, being the manly way of calculating such matters,
since one may be better, but can hardly be worse. I can't say I
feel overjoyed at losing a large sum of hard-earned money in a most
unexpected manner, for all men considered Constable's people secure as
the Bank; yet, as I have obtained an arrangement of payment convenient
for every body concerned, and easy for myself, I cannot say that I
care much about the matter. Some economical restrictions I will make;
and it happened oddly that they were such as Lady Scott and myself
had almost determined upon without this compulsion. Abbotsford will
henceforth be our only establishment; and during the time I must be
in town, I will take my bed at the Albyn Club. We shall also break
off the rather excessive hospitality to which we were exposed, and no
longer stand host and hostess to all that do pilgrimage to Melrose.
Then I give up an expensive farm, which I always hated, and turn
all my odds and ends into cash. I do not reckon much on my literary
exertions--I mean in proportion to former success--because popular
taste may fluctuate. But with a moderate degree of the favour which
I have always had, my time my own, and my mind unplagued about other
things, I may boldly promise myself soon to get the better of this
blow. In these circumstances, I should be unjust and ungrateful to ask
or accept the pity of my friends. I for one, do not see there is much
occasion for making moan about it. My womankind will be the greater
sufferers,--yet even they look cheerily forward; and, for myself, the
blowing off my hat in a stormy day has given me more uneasiness.

I envy your Brighton party, and your fine weather. When I was at
Abbotsford the mercury was down at six or seven in the morning more
than once. I am hammering away at a bit of a story from the old affair
of the _diablerie_ at Woodstock in the Long Parliament times. I don't
like it much. I am obliged to hamper my fanatics greatly too much
to make them effective; but I make the sacrifice on principle; so,
perhaps, I shall deserve good success in other parts of the work.
You will be surprised when I tell you that I have written a volume in
exactly fifteen days. To be sure, I permitted no interruptions. But
then I took exercise, and for ten days of the fifteen attended the
Court of Session from two to four hours every day. This is nothing,
however, to writing _Ivanhoe_ when I had the actual cramp in my
stomach; but I have no idea of these things preventing a man
from doing what he has a mind. My love to all the party at
Brighton--fireside party I had almost said, but you scorn my
words--seaside party then be it. Lady Scott and Anne join in kindest
love. I must close my letter, for one of the consequences of our
misfortunes is, that we dine every day at half-past four o'clock;
which premature hour arises, I suppose, from sorrow being hungry as
well as thirsty. One most laughable part of our tragic comedy was,
that every friend in the world came formally, just as they do here
when a relation dies, thinking that the eclipse of _les beaux yeux de
ma cassette_ was perhaps a loss as deserving of consolation.


_Time's revenges_

Edinburgh, 23 _June_, 1830.


Nothing would be so valuable to me as the mark of kindness which you
offer, and yet my kennel is so much changed since I had the pleasure
of seeing you, that I must not accept of what I wished so sincerely
to possess. I am the happy owner of two of the noble breed, each of
gigantic size, and the gift of that sort of Highlander whom we call a
High Chief, so I would hardly be justified in parting with them even
to make room for your kind present, and I should have great doubts
whether the mountaineers would receive the Irish stranger with due
hospitality. One of them I had from poor Glengarry, who, with all the
wild and fierce points of his character, had a kind, honest, and
warm heart. The other from a young friend, whom Highlanders call
MacVourigh, and Lowlanders MacPherson of Cluny. He is a fine spirited
boy, fond of his people and kind to them, and the best dancer of a
Highland reel now living. I fear I must not add a third to Nimrod and
Bran, having little use for them except being pleasant companions. As
to labouring in their vocation, we have only one wolf which I know
of, kept in a friend's menagerie near me, and no wild deer. Walter
has some roebucks indeed, but Lochore is far off, and I begin to
feel myself distressed at running down these innocent and beautiful
creatures, perhaps because I cannot gallop so fast after them as to
drown sense of the pain we are inflicting. And yet I suspect I am like
the sick fox; and if my strength and twenty years could come back, I
would become again a copy of my namesake, remembered by the sobriquet
of Walter _ill tae hauld_ (to hold, that is). 'But age has clawed
me in its clutch,' and there is no remedy for increasing disability
except dying, which is an awkward score.

There is some chance of my retiring from my official situation upon
the changes in the Court of Session. They cannot reduce my office,
though they do not wish to fill it up with a new occupant. I shall be
therefore _de trop_; and in these days of economy they will be better
pleased to let me retire on three parts of my salary than to keep me a
Clerk of Session on the whole; and small grief at our parting, as the
old horse said to the broken cart. And yet, though I thought such a
proposal when first made was like a Pisgah peep at Paradise, I cannot
help being a little afraid of changing the habits of a long life all
of a sudden and for ever. You ladies have always your work-basket and
stocking-knitting to wreak an hour of tediousness upon. The routine of
business serves, I suspect, for the same purpose to us male wretches;
it is seldom a burden to the mind, but a something which must be done,
and is done almost mechanically; and though dull judges and duller
clerks, the routine of law proceedings, and law forms, are very unlike
the plumed troops and the tug of war, yet the result is the same.
The occupation's gone. The morning, that the day's news must all be
gathered from other sources--that the jokes which the principal Clerks
of Session have laughed at weekly for a century, and which would not
move a muscle of any other person's face, must be laid up to perish
like those of Sancho in the Sierra Morena--I don't above half like
forgetting all these moderate habits, and yet

Ah, freedom is a noble thing!

as says the old Scottish poet. So I will cease my regrets, or lay them
by to be taken up and used as arguments of comfort, in case I do not
slip my cable after all, which is highly possible. Lockhart and Sophia
have taken up their old residence at Chiefswood. They are very fond of
the place; and I am glad also my grandchildren will be bred near the
heather, for certain qualities which I think are best taught there.




_A sympathetic reply_[1]

28 _Sept._ 1796.

Your letter, my friend, struck me with a mighty horror. It rushed upon
me and stupefied my feelings. You bid me write you a religious letter;
I am not a man who would attempt to insult the greatness of your
anguish by any other consolation. Heaven knows that in the easiest
fortunes there is much dissatisfaction and weariness of spirit:
much that calls for the exercise of patience and resignation; but
in storms, like these, that shake the dwelling and make the heart
tremble, there is no middle way between despair and the yielding up of
the whole spirit unto the guidance of faith. And surely it is a matter
of joy, that your faith in Jesus has been preserved; the Comforter
that should relieve you is not far from you. But as you are a
Christian, in the name of that Saviour, who was filled with bitterness
and made drunken with wormwood, I conjure you to have recourse in
frequent prayer to 'his God and your God'; the God of mercies, and
father of all comfort. Your poor father is, I hope, almost senseless
of the calamity; the unconscious instrument of Divine Providence knows
it not, and your mother is in heaven. It is sweet to be roused from
a frightful dream by the song of birds, and the gladsome rays of
the morning. Ah, how infinitely more sweet to be awakened from the
blackness and amazement of a sudden horror by the glories of God
manifest and the hallelujahs of angels.

As to what regards yourself, I approve altogether of your abandoning
what you justly call vanities. I look upon you as a man called by
sorrow and anguish and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness,
and a soul set apart and made peculiar to God. We cannot arrive at any
portion of heavenly bliss without in some measure imitating Christ;
and they arrive at the largest inheritance who imitate the most
difficult parts of His character, and, bowed down and crushed under
foot, cry in fullness of faith, 'Father, Thy will be done.'

I wish above measure to have you for a little while here--no visitants
shall blow on the nakedness of your feelings--you shall be quiet, and
your spirit may be healed. I see no possible objection, unless your
father's helplessness prevent you, and unless you are necessary to
him. If this be not the case, I charge you write me that you will

I charge you, my dearest friend, not to dare to encourage gloom or
despair--you are a temporary sharer in human miseries, that you may
be an eternal partaker of the Divine nature. I charge you, if by any
means it be possible, come to me.

[Footnote 1: See Letter, p. 355.]


_Literary adventurers_



Neither Wordsworth nor myself could have been otherwise than
uncomfortable, if any but yourself had received from us the first
offer of our tragedies, and of the volume of Wordsworth's poems. At
the same time, we did not expect that you could with prudence and
propriety, advance such a sum as we should want at the time we
specified. In short, we both regard the publication of our tragedies
as an evil. It is not impossible but that in happier times they may be
brought on the stage: and to throw away this chance for a mere trifle,
would be to make the present moment act fraudulently and usuriously
towards the future time.

My tragedy employed and strained all my thoughts and faculties for
six or seven months; Wordsworth consumed far more time, and far more
thought, and far more genius. We consider the publication of them
an evil on any terms; but our thoughts were bent on a plan for the
accomplishment of which a certain sum of money was necessary, (the
whole) at that particular time, and in order to do this we resolved,
although reluctantly, to part with our tragedies: that is, if we
could obtain thirty guineas for each, and at less than thirty guineas
Wordsworth will not part with the copyright of his volume of poems. We
shall offer the tragedies to no one, for we have determined to procure
the money some other way. If you choose the volume of poems, at
the price mentioned, to be paid at the time specified, i.e. thirty
guineas, to be paid sometime in the last fortnight of July, you may
have them; but remember, my dear fellow! I write to you now merely as
a bookseller, and entreat you, in your answer, to consider yourself
only; as to us, although money is necessary to our plan [that of
visiting Germany], yet the plan is not necessary to our happiness; and
if it were, W. would sell his poems for that sum to some one else,
or we could procure the money without selling the poems. So I entreat
you, again and again, in your answer, which must be immediate,
consider yourself only.

Wordsworth has been caballed against _so long and so loudly_, that
he has found it impossible to prevail on the tenant of the Allfoxden
estate to let him the house, after their first agreement is expired,
so he must quit it at midsummer; whether we shall be able to procure
him a house and furniture near Stowey, we know not, and yet we must:
for the hills, and the woods, and the streams, and the sea, and the
shores would break forth into reproaches against us, if we did not
strain every nerve to keep their poet among them. Without joking, and
in serious sadness, Poole and I cannot endure to think of losing him.

At all events, come down, Cottle, as soon as you can, but before
midsummer, and we will procure a horse easy as thy own soul, and we
will go on a roam to Lynton and Lynmouth, which, if thou comest in
May, will be in all their pride of woods and waterfalls, not to speak
of its august cliffs, and the green ocean, and the vast valley of
stones, all which live disdainful of the seasons, or accept new
honours only from the winter's snow. At all events come down, and
cease not to believe me much and affectionately your friend.


_A public example_

Bristol, 26 _June_, 1814.


For I am unworthy to call any good man friend--much less you, whose
hospitality and love I have abused; accept, however, my entreaties for
your forgiveness, and for your prayers.

Conceive a poor miserable wretch, who for many years has been
attempting to beat off pain, by a constant recurrence to the vice that
reproduces it. Conceive a spirit in hell, employed in tracing out for
others the road to that heaven, from which his crimes exclude him! In
short, conceive whatever is most wretched, helpless, and hopeless, and
you will form as tolerable a notion of my state, as it is possible for
a good man to have.

I used to think the text in St. James that 'he who offendeth in one
point, offends in all,' very harsh; but I now feel the awful, the
tremendous truth of it. In the one crime of OPIUM, what crime have
I not made myself guilty of! Ingratitude to my Maker! and to my
benefactors--injustice! _and unnatural cruelty to my poor children!
_--self-contempt for my repeated promise-breach, nay, too often,
actual falsehood!

After my death, I earnestly entreat that a full and unqualified
narration of my wretchedness, and of its guilty cause, may be made
public, that, at least, some little good may be effected by the
direful example!

May God Almighty bless you, and have mercy on your still affectionate,
and, in his heart, grateful



_Himself and his detractors_

2 _Dec._ 1818.


I cannot express how kind I felt your letter. Would to Heaven I had
had many with feelings like yours, 'accustomed to express themselves
warmly and (as far as the word is applicable to you), even
enthusiastically'. But alas! during the prime manhood of my intellect
I had nothing but cold water thrown on my efforts. I speak not now of
my systematic and most unprovoked maligners. On _them_ I have retorted
only by pity and by prayer. These may have, and doubtless have, joined
with the frivolity of 'the reading public' in checking and almost in
preventing the sale of my works; and so far have done injury to
my _purse_. _Me_ they have not injured. But I have loved with
enthusiastic self-oblivion those who have been so well pleased that
I should, year after year, flow with a hundred nameless rills into
_their_ main stream, that they could find nothing but cold praise and
effective discouragement of every attempt of mine to roll onward in a
distinct current of my own; who _admitted_ that the _Ancient Mariner_,
the _Christabel_, the _Remorse_, and some pages of the _Friend_
were not without merit, but were abundantly anxious to acquit their
judgements of any blindness to the very numerous defects. Yet they
_knew_ that to _praise_, as mere praise, I was characteristically,
almost constitutionally, indifferent. In sympathy alone I found at
once nourishment and stimulus; and for sympathy _alone_ did my heart
crave. They knew, too, how long and faithfully I have acted on the
maxim, never to admit the _faults_ of a work of genius to those who
denied or were incapable of feeling and understanding the _beauties_;
not from wilful partiality, but as well knowing that in _saying_ truth
I should, to such critics, convey falsehood. If, in one instance, in
my literary life I have appeared to deviate from this rule, first,
it was not till the fame of the writer (which I had been for fourteen
years successfully toiling like a second Ali to build up) had been
established; and secondly and chiefly, with the purpose and, I may
safely add, with the _effect_ of rescuing the necessary task from
Malignant Defamers, and in order to set forth the excellences and the
trifling proportion which the defects bore to the excellences. But
this, my dear sir, is a mistake to which affectionate natures are too
liable, though I do not remember to have ever seen it noticed--the
mistaking those who are desirous and well pleased to be loved _by_
you, for those who love you. Add, as a more general cause, the fact
that I neither am nor ever have been of any party. What wonder, then,
if I am left to decide which has been my worst enemy, the broad,
pre-determined abuse of the _Edinburgh Review_, &c., or the cold and
brief compliments, with the warm _regrets_, of the _Quarterly_? After
all, however, I have now but one sorrow relative to the ill success of
my literary toils (and toils they have been, _though not undelightful
toils_), and this arises wholly from the almost insurmountable
difficulties which the anxieties of to-day oppose to my completion
of the great work, the form and materials of which it has been the
employment of the best and most genial hours of the last twenty years
to mature and collect.

If I could but have a tolerably numerous audience to my first, or
first and second Lectures on the _History of Philosophy_, I should
entertain a strong hope of success, because I know that these lectures
will be found by far the most interesting and _entertaining_ of any
that I have yet delivered, independent of the more permanent interest
of rememberable instruction. Few and unimportant would the errors of
men be, if they did but know, first, _what they themselves meant_;
and, secondly, what the _words_ mean by which they attempt to convey
their meaning, and I can conceive no subject so well fitted to
exemplify the mode and the importance of these two points as the
History of Philosophy, treated as in the scheme of these lectures.


_The Great Work described_

_Jan._ 1821.

... I have already the _written_ materials and contents, requiring
only to be put together from the loose papers and commonplace or
memorandum books, and needing no other change, whether of omission,
addition, or correction, than the mere act of arranging, and the
opportunity of seeing the whole collectively bring with them of course
(1) Characteristics of Shakespeare's dramatic works, with a critical
review of each play; together with a relative and comparative critique
on the kind and degree of the merits and demerits of the dramatic
works of Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger. The
History of the English Drama; the accidental advantages it afforded
to Shakespeare, without in the least detracting from the perfect
originality or proper creation of the Shakespearian Drama; the
contradistinction of the latter from the Greek Drama, and its still
remaining _uniqueness_, with the causes of this, from the combined
influences of Shakespeare himself, as man, poet, philosopher, and
finally, by conjunction of all these, dramatic poet; and of the age,
events, manners, and state of the English language. This work, with
every art of compression, amounts to three volumes of about five
hundred pages each. (2) Philosophical Analysis of the Genius and Works
of Dante, Spenser, Milton, Cervantes, and Calderon, with similar, but
more compressed criticisms on Chaucer, Ariosto, Donne, Rabelais, and
others, during the predominance of the Romantic Poetry. In one large
volume. These two works will, I flatter myself, form a complete code
of the principles of judgement and feeling applied to works of Taste;
and not of Poetry only, but of Poesy in all its forms, Painting,
Statuary, Music, &c., &c. (3) The History of Philosophy considered
as a Tendency of the Human Mind to exhibit the Powers of the Human
Reason, to discover by its own Strength the Origin and Laws of Man and
the World, from Pythagoras to Locke and Condillac. Two volumes.
(4) Letters on the Old and New Testament, and on the Doctrine
and Principles held in common by the Fathers and Founders of the
Reformation, addressed to a candidate for Holy Orders, including
advice on the Plan and Subjects of Preaching, proper to a Minister of
the Established Church.

To the completion of these four works, I have literally nothing more
to do than to _transcribe_; but, as I before hinted, from so many
scraps and _sibylline_ leaves, including margins of books and blank
pages, that, unfortunately, I must be my own scribe, and not done by
myself, they will be all but lost; or perhaps (as has been too often
the case already) furnish feathers for the caps of others; some for
this purpose, and some to plume the arrows of detraction, to be let
fly against the luckless bird from whom they had been plucked or

In addition to these--of my GREAT WORK, to the preparation of which
more than twenty years of my life have been devoted, and on which
my hopes of extensive and permanent utility, of fame, in the noblest
sense of the word, mainly rest--that, by which I might,

As now by thee, by all the good be known,
When this weak frame lies moulder'd in the grave,
Which self-surviving I might call my own,
Which folly cannot mar, nor hate deprave--
The incense of those powers, which, risen in flame,
Might make me dear to Him from whom they came.

Of this work, to which all my other writings (unless I except my
Poems, and these I can exclude in part only) are introductory and
preparative; and the result of which (if the premises be, as I, with
the most tranquil assurance, am convinced they are--insubvertible,
the deductions legitimate, and the conclusions commensurate, and only
commensurate, with both) must finally be a revolution of all that has


Back to Full Books