TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 7 December 1838; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18381207-TC-JOST-01; CL 10: 232-235
TC TO JOHN STERLING
Cheyne Row, Chelsea, 7th Decr 1838—
My dear Sterling,
You ran off from me in Autumn altogether on the sudden; instead of finding you at Hastings on my return from Scotland, I learned while sojourning there that you were over the seas again for a winter in Italy. That midnight interview in the box-cab, on the pavement of London streets,1 was the the last I was to get of you for some time! We hear duly of your progress; across the Alps, thro' Picture-galleries, Lombard or Tuscan cities, beautiful Italian Nature and Art; an articulate Good-speed goes now and then from us, and many an unarticulated one: what more could a Letter do? However I will this morning write you a Letter too, that you may have it in both ways.
I remained in all some eight weeks in Scotland; three in Fife, diligently riding over green paths there, or walking silent by the shore of the many-sounding sea, with a due proportion of bathings,—with many unutterable meditations. Then I saw Scotch Parsons2 at dinner, in “Yarrow visited” or therabouts [sic];3 but hastily quitted these. I spent a night with Jeffrey;4 looked on the stones of Edinburgh City; wondered whether it was solid or a dream. Then I saw my good Mother and Kinsfolk, my native soil of Annandale. Finally I came drifting back hither, foolish “drift-log on the sea of accident”;5 where I ever since lie high and dry, not a whit wiser. Ah my friend, you know little about Silence, much as you argue with me about it! How many tragedies, epics, Haynes-Baily ballads,6 and bursts of parliamentary eloquence7 would it take to utter this one tour into the South of Scotland by an atrabiliar lecturer on things in general?8 Pauca verba [few words]:9 that is the only utterance for it.
On one subject however I must speak a word: the subject of wine. Standing duly ranged for my return there waited me here two dozen elegant-looking pint bottles; which, on being proved by the cork-screw, gave evidence of containing Port, of as excellent a quality as I ever tasted in my time. By a hint dropt from you before, and only by that, I recognised the beneficent hand of your fellow-traveller Dr Calvert,10 a gentleman whom I have only seen once for a moment, but whom I ought not for a long course of years to cease remembering. How have I deserved this at his hands? Greater faith I have not found in Israel.11 Better wine I do believe was not drunk in this century. Pray say all that is handsome to him on my part, and in the dialect grave or sportful that you know will suit him best: I am much flattered and obliged; and know not what to say, or do, except blush almost as red as the liquor.— Another individual too, I find, has sent Malmsey Madeira hither; addressed to my wife!12 No end of strong drink? Always new mystery in the doings of men? If you fall in with this mysterious individual, at any quiet time, pray give him a hint of what I think, for you know it well enough. He is a very strange fellow, I suspect; and you have the way of him better than I.—
Since my return I have been as idle as man could well be. A Book I suppose will grow in me if I live some years. But as yet it lies swimming over Infinitude; sunk beyond sounding in Chaos and Night.13 Really I find it a dreadful piece of work to write anything that is worth writing. One is alone too; every man is alone in that matter, more or less. The difference with me of this year from last is that I feel afar off as if the desire and necessity of writing might again declare itself in me; last year it seemed impossible forevermore. You are to consider more over that I am sick, continually dyspeptic, sleepless weak and sickly while I live in this London. If the gods would grant me bread and water anywhere with a kind of approximate health—? The gods know better what they are about, and will do no such thing. However, here is one fact: my American friends have sent me £50 gained by the Revolution book in Transatlantic land; is not that worth noting? England has not yielded any coin of money, tho' the “first edition,” says Fraser, is near done. We shall learn cunning by degrees. But now, with this American fifty pounds, partly for the humour of the thing, I have a real thought of purchasing a horse (my sole medicine, with which I am approximately well always), and riding the same, in the name of Heaven. You remember our gallop on the heights of Hampstead? But in truth I think if I were rightly healthy, rightly as in old young days, I should fly out of the world; nothing under the Zodiac would contain me.
My brother, who joined me in Annandale, who followed me hither, and has had much fluctuation in his outlooks since then, is gone for Italy eight days ago; I expect a Paris Letter from him one of those mornings. He goes to Naples, Physician to his Grace of Buccleuch; carries messages for you, whom he eagerly counts on meeting somewhere. The good Jack! He has left me very lonely here for the time being; but his work, it appea[rs,] did not lie here, one has to follow his work. John Mill also talks of going abroad [one] of these days; to Malta, Mrs Buller told me.14 He has got a dyspepsia; for which his Doctors imagine a winter in some better climate might be effectual at once in this early stage of it. I have small faith in that prognosis; but Mill naturally hopes in it, and ought to try it, if he can,—which latter circumstance, however, I believe is still uncertain. I have seen simply one half hour of him since that night when we all parted in Lincoln's Inn Fields.15 I have not yet read his Article on Durham16 even; whom indeed one hears enough of without reading.17 But speaking of Articles, will you signify to the writer of Simonides18 that he seems to be considered a brilliant man, and ought to take care of himself. A right brilliant set of colours he does carry on his palette; brilliant as rainbow; and has made a little enamel picture of the life, locality, action and speech of that old Greek, such as it does one good to read. Had he but, here as in other cases, stood by his prose! I incline to call it his best piece of prose this enamel painting; but, for the verse—ach Gott! I have read also the first portion of the Onyx Ring.19 Good: but why preternaturalize; could you not have done without the miracle of the ring, all but just as well? On the whole, I will repeat to this author that his palette has colours of the rainbow on it; that he must draw a figure worthy of them and be memorable enough. O Heavens, could the “sheet-lightning,” with its far darting corruscations [sic] and diamond play of colours, but concentrate itself,—what a bolt were there; fit to pierce mountains! I commit him to his Good Genius; we shall see what is in him, whether this too. Adieu, my dear Friend! The world has not many men in it for whom I care half as much. Be happy, grow well, and let me see you again. I am to leave “three lines.” Adieu.
My dear Mentor
Would to Heaven I had anything to tell of myself which you would like to hear—But—alas!—As Edward Irving used to say with a wae look and a great puff of a sigh, when he was about to write ‘pessime [very poor]’ on my tasks, thereby devoting me, poor innocent “Child of his Intellect” to a sound whipping: “I am sorry for you Jane—but—I must be truthful”! then down went the fatal word and the whipping followed sure as death. So now come what come may, I also must be truthful—and declare to you honestly that within as without the ‘meliora [better things]’ still ‘latent [lie hidden]’20—nay that very often the whole faith of me is hardly adequate to believe that they are at all— This is a pessime which you will think deserves worse than whipping—but you will feel nevertheless that it is not you that could hurt a hair of my head—I know your heart is well affected towards me, and when you say hard things to me it is, as the man says in the play, “because I love you, I study how I may best break your heart.”21 That is the comfortablest theory of all your scoldings &c &c and so by Heaven's blessing I will keep it. Give my affectionate regards to Mrs Crawfurd22 I miss her exceedingly here—Ever yours—