TC TO ANNA D. B. MONTAGU; 18 July 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250718-TC-ADBM-01; CL 3:348-352.
TC TO ANNA D. B. MONTAGU
Hoddam Hill, Ecclefechan, 18th July, 1825.
My Dear Madam,
If ever mortal was possessed by the very Genius of Indolence, it must be your unhappy correspondent. For the last four weeks, I have almost without intermission meditated answering your kind and most welcome letter; and that easy and delightful task has never till this instant been commenced! One day I had garden-walks to trim, the next I must ride to Seafield and bathe, the next I must read Tieck and Richter, the next—it would be better on the morrow. “Yet a little sleep, yet a little slumber, yet a little folding of the hands to sleep!”1 Surely there is not in the British Islands such a peasant slave as I.2 Work, labour, toil according to your strength! is the rigid mandate Nature gives to all men; to me too she speaks with a voice sharp as a two-edged sword; I listen, and tremble, and turn round and then—compose myself again to rest. O my dear Madam! if you loved me, you would not praise, but scold and threaten me. The currents of my activity are stopt and stagnating; my mind is growing flat and rude and barren as an Irish bog: woe to me if I make no effort to clear it and recover it!
I promised you some sketch of my manner of existence here, of what I did and meant to do; a beggarly account of empty boxes is all I have to give you. Beyond the great fundamental problem of existing, I can properly be said to have accomplished nothing since I removed hither. Yet I am happy, perhaps too happy, happier than I have been for many a year. I say to myself: “Am I not a Patient? Is not this place my Hospital, why should I fret at being idle? Yes, my sick-bed is the amphitheatre of these everlasting mountains, and its curtains are the blue winds with their fringes of many-coloured cloud, and my sick-nurses are the kind Dreams which come to me from the vallies and the rushing waters and the pomp of Summer. Let me enjoy it while I can, and gather strength against the evil day, the day of drudgery and care, which follows close behind me!”— Thus can I sing myself a lullaby, and live as passively as if I were a brother of these beeches that screen me from the noon-day Sun. Ambition seems dead within me, or fallen into a deep sleep: I feel content to play no part at all in the drama of the world, to be a nothing in the vast Creation, so I might but be left to look on its magnificence, and sail on the wings of the Imagination through its bright immensities. Am I twenty years younger than I counted; again a little heedless boy, that I can so live from one hour to the other? Time no longer hurries past me like a mountain flood, the channel of which is soon to lie dead and empty: it spreads around me like a placid sea, the shores are hidden by fantastic shapes, and of its ebbs and flows I take no thought. Alas! Alas! it is rolling onwards notwithstanding; onwards to the rocks of wor[l]dly difficulty and distress; onwards to the dark unsounded Straits of the Grave! I am a fool, and no philosopher: Life cannot be an Idyll any more than it can be an Epic; it is a despicable system of Book-keeping by Double Entry, and he who does not walk by Cocker's Arithmetic3 will never get it balanced.
You are kind, and will not flout these vain fantasies; they are the children of my solitude, and represent to you this Paradise of Sloth, its roses and its poppies, with the serpent of remorse heard rustling at intervals among their roots. I should have told you in prose, that I am still sick, and gradually becoming less so; still cleaving to the Badamian law, and occupied, if at all, with the hopes of future occupation. I am here with my Mother and two Brothers (the elder a Farmer, the younger an Edinburgh Doctor brimful of honesty and zeal and logic); our quiet little cottage stands on the sunny face of a far-seen hill, the ancient watch-tower of Repentance on a corner of the farm, and all the streams and bays and mountains from Helvellyn to Etterick Pen spread out as on a map around us. Criffel, your old friend, still holds his giant bulk above the Solway, too often drawing on his cowl of mist, and vexing us (or rather me) with rain. I have no company except what gathers round this single hearth; but they all love me, they are all true souls, and I seek no other. I ride about on nimble horses; I go and breakfast with my Father, at Mainhill, five miles away; I watch the Sun as he sinks to rest among his hills of molten gold; I look at the green carpet of Earth, and the glittering pavement of Heaven. Pity that I am not a Bird of Paradise that can live on flowers and float on aether! This life were then a proper one. As it is— But I will not trouble you with my regrets and resolutions. I must betake me to that pitiful employment; I must bow myself to the oar, or else make shipwreck. Three months ago, I engaged to prepare a “Series of Select German Novels”: eight pages are all that I have yet translated!
How is it, my Dear Madam, that I burthen your patience with such ineptitudes enacted and recorded? With the details of follies which only a Mother could listen to from a beloved Son? It is that you are good, and that I—am a poor babbler. I would fain live in your memory; and for the present there is little save my inconsistencies and errors to maintain me there[.] Perhaps a better time may come; perhaps I may yet meet you, when the Fiends are driven back to the Pit they came from, and their shackles are cast off me, and “Richard is himself again.”4 I live in Hope which may deceive me, and in Recollections which cannot. London with its roaring tumults are faded far away from my thoughts; but a little island still shines bright and azure thro' the haze, a sunny spot enlightened by affection and kind feelings; the sight of this is still mine, if the possession of it should be mine no more. Do not forget me! It is sweet for me to think that in the wide desolate world a generous heart remembers me and wishes well to me. But for this, there are hours when one might grow an infidel like the rest, and forget that any thing but vanity and love of self existed in the Earth.
Long ago I ought to have acknowledged with my best gratitude your pro[mpt] and kind compliance with the prayer of my last letter. I have not thanked you le[ss] that my thanks have remained unuttered in words. You have done a double fav[our] to me and to those dear to me. Miss Welsh understands you better than I did: she purposes “to love you immensely,” never having met with such feelings in any individual of her sex before. Your correspondence may improve as well as gratify her: I trust it will prove the commencement of a lasting intimacy, to be carried on in good time by some readier communication than letters. Heaven send, the “good time” for that and so-many other things were here!
Jane's diligence as a correspondent must throw greater shame on my delays. I know that if you used me according to my merits I should see no line from you for two Calendar months. But I hope better things;5 for you will recollect my merits less than my wants. Consider that except thro' your means I have scarcely any tidings from a Country I have so much cause to think of; consider that tho' a recreant to the cause of Art and Literature, and a deserter from their habitations, I have not lost care for them or curiosity about their products; above all consider that a friendly word, any tone of affection and good-will, is like cheering music heard in the still night, when it reaches me in these solitudes. Could I tempt you to write a letter as selfish as the present! I should then feel that I gave as well as received. But you seem to forget that you yourself have any feelings, any rights; except the saintly right of ministering to the sorrows and perplexities of others. How or where are you? London must be hot as Nebuchadnezzar's furnace at present; I cannot but hope that you have escaped from it to some emblem of the country, if not to the country itself. Do you come to Bolton Abbey,6 and how far is it from this? But there is no end to my questions.— Badams has not time to write to me: did he ever get that unhappy little book? Is he with you, or at Birmingham? Tell him that I still love him, let the gold of Mexico go which way it will. Has Coleridge published his Book;7 or is he still merely tawlking, and taking snuff? Unhappy Coleridge! a seventy-four-gun-ship, but water-logged, dismasted, cannot set a thread of sail! unhappy I, rather! a herring-boat almost as water-logged as he!— Mr Irving I hear is coming home to us: I shall get news of you whether you will or not! But you will write before then? I long to hear of all these, and a thousand things which my sheet will not hold.— Meanwhile my time is come: present my kind remembrances to Mr Montague and Emily, and believe me ever, My Dear Madam,
Your affectionate friend, /
Alas! alas! I lost your seal two weeks ago, in gallopping a wild Irish colt across the moor. My Brother and I examined every foot of the road; I mowed and pared the places where I mounted and dismounted; but in vain; it is gone; nothing but the little neck remains as a sad memorial of what has been. Pity me! for I am very much vexed, tho I deserved it.