TC TO RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES ; 19 July 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410719-TC-RMM-01; CL 13: 191-194
TC TO RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES
Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, N.B., 19 july 1841—
Many thanks for your Letter;1 for your kind remembrances of me in the Court-house of York. Pontefract too has a Court-house, as you say; an ancient solid-minded wry-necked Dragon, imperturbable amid cockatrice Roebucks and the sinners of the Riding; on leather seats sits many a Custos rotulorum,—sits a bright bevy of Fryston friends; ushers distribute Letters on long poles; poor old Barney, with eyes wide-staring in terror, “sowld him a bit o' hay,” but will not perjure himself:—all this, and what surrounds it, stands in very lively memory with me too.2
For a fortnight and a day I have been here, in the uttermost extreme of seclusion; sunk in Naturanschauung [contemplation of nature], deep as a Druid; sunk in reflexions that cannot be spoken, in indolence that need not be spoken! It is very wholesome for me. Like a “chapped flute” (or scrannel-pipe) which you steep in the ditch till it close again, and become a whole flute or scrannel.— I spent about a week in coming hither, by Newcastle &c. At Tynemouth I had a swim in the beautiful blue Sea; saw Harriet Martineau, saw the North Shields Election;3 admired the rugged energy of that population, and how completely Annandale Scotch they are! From the Humber to the Forth, still more from the Tyne to the Forth, I find no real distinction at all,—except what John Knox introduced: it is all Scotland Scotch in features of face, in character, in dialect of speech;—you too, if you behave yourself, shall be accounted Scotch! They are all Danes, these people, stalwart Normans: terrible Sea-Kings are now terrible Drainers of Morasses, terrible spinners of yarn, coal-borers, removers of mountains; “a people terrible from the beginning.” The windy Celts of Galloway4 meet us, not many miles from this, on the edge of Nithsdale: is it not a considerable blessing to have escaped being born a Celt?
As to poor Harriet (who asked for you among other things), I found her confined to a sofa; dangerously ill, I believe, tho' not in immediate danger; for the rest, brisk, alert, invincible as ever. There is a kind of prompt completeness in Harriet which does honour to Nature and the Socinian Formula. In my travels I have met with few more valiant women. Poor Harriet, she was absolutely affecting, amiable, almost sublime to me there. Sunt lachrymae rerum [There are tears for human affairs].5 How are all human souls crushed in by this Formula or that, by this bad fortune or that,—and hardly any Formula supportably fits a man, and the most are not coats but strait-waistcoats; very lamentable! Shall we not in these circumstances say, One Tract more?6 O Richard Milnes!——— ———
How can you ask me back to Fryston, when the smoke of my tobacco is hardly yet cleared from that sublime bedroom?7 I must not think of it again yet, for indefinite periods of time. Meanwhile surely I hold all things there in the liveliest remembrance: whosoever is interested in that most important fact ought to be apprised of it, on occasion. From valet Frederick up to the Lord of the Manor and Lady of the Manor, I can make an embossed image of it all, at any time, and be very glad to contemplate it all. Good be at Fryston always.
Tomorrow I go to catch my Wife from the Steamer at Annan; carry her up to Nithsdale, her Mother's country, for a few days: after that we proceed to take possession of a certain small furnished Cottage, situated apart in solitude and sea-gravel, on the North beach of the Solway,—to bathe there, and be altogether silent there or nearly so, for about the space of one calendar month. Skiddaw is right in front, with Helvellyn and his everlasting brothers; St Bees Head, the broad water, and Criffel and Caerlaverock8 lie on the right hand, Carlisle Cathedral with one huge cotton chimney ought to be visible on the left. Annan, where I very miserably learned Latin (in the Hinterschlag Gymnasium)9 is three miles to the east; I have ducked in those drab-coloured waters in my boyhood,—and indeed was once within an ace of being drowned.10 Ay de mi! The address of the place is “Newby, Annan, N.B.” Send me some Newspaper, Letter, or other token of you thither, out of Babylon and your great Inquest:11 Will you?— If at the end of August any trace of a decisive wish to see London again disclose itself, I will return then; if none still, I will stay longer, or wander further. This life of wandering is infinitely discordant with me, with all old habits of mine. Nevertheless it now seems inevitable. I believe on the whole I must by and by endeavour to procure myself some kind of permanent hut, or inverted tub, somewhere or other under the free canopy in this soil of Britain, that I may fly thither at any time out of Babylon, when it is like to kill me. I grudge to leave London altogether; yet cannot afford to be killed by it just yet. Why does not a pious man like you think of founding some kind of modern priest's-cell (amid the rocks of Wantley for example, but safe from the Dragon12), a low sheltered tugurium [cottage], with two apartments, 12 feet by 16; and an aged woman, dumb and not entirely deaf, to look after it, and boil a kettle when required,—whither many a half-distracted Poet (Modern Priest, if we are ever again to have Priests) might run and hide himself from all living, and so save himself sane, and write perhaps things epical, instead of things Bulwerical and Cecilical!13— Positively it should be thought of. It would suit you better than passing of suicidal Corn-Laws, you misguided man! A real squire's-bane I define these Laws to be; sweet to the tooth of Squire, but rapidly accelerating all Squires, as if they needed acceleration, in their course Devilward! Really that is my cool judgment of it. Sir Peel is a great man;14 can bribe, coerce, palaver, gain a majority of 70;15 but Sir Peel cannot make water run permanently upwards, or an English Nation walk on the crown of their heads; I will leave him to try his hand at that!—
Ah me! Today my reading is one Herr Mone on the Heathendom of the Old North.16 A sublime thing, according to Herr Mone, that old Heathendom; deeper, or as deep and rather truer than any Christendom we have now. Did I ever tell you how near I was bursting into absolute tears over your old fatsided parson at Fryston that day?17 It is literally a kind of fact. The droning hollowness of the poor old man; droning as out of old ages, of old Eternities, things unspeakable into things unhearable, empty as the braying of asses,—was infinitely pathetic in that mood of mine.— Adieu, dear Milnes. God be merciful to us all. Yours ever