1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 24 August 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240824-TC-TM-01; CL 3:137-140.


Birmingham, 24th August, 1824—

My dear Murray,

Were I not aware, by repeated trials, of the natural tolerance of your disposition, I should feel in pain about the reception which my present sheet might meet with. As it is, however, I know you will forgive me; I know there will be joy in your spirit over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons. The truth is I am guilty of flagrant negligence, yet not so guilty as I seem. I almost despair of making you believe that I wrote you a letter some weeks ago [remainder of first page missing]. … [I] honestly assure you I needed not the explanations it contained to feel perfectly at ease about your conduct on the day of my departure.1 Missing you on the shore, I merely thought some pressing business had detained you; and I quitted the muddy beach of my native Scotland “stern nurse for a dyspeptic child,”2 with no other feelings towards it than I had long entertained. Hard, rugged land! I often think of its earnest features, amid the rich scenes of the South: distance is producing something of its usual effect; much that was unpleasant or repulsive is forgotten or softened down, and I think of the grim landscape of Perthshire or the bleak simplicity of Annandale with a pleasure which the sight of them was often far from giving. Unless you interpret it to be the spirit of contradiction, you will be surprised to learn that I am fast becoming a patriot of the most decided stamp. Scornfully as I used to speak and think of Scotland in my hours of bitterness and irritation, I never fail to stand up manfully in defence of it thro' thick and thin, whenever a renegade Scot takes upon him to abuse it (the English are too well—[remainder of page missing] . … weeks they kept changing at the rate of about a plan per day. At length I flatly declined changing any farther, signified that I would not accompany them to France; and by way of finale earnestly advised them to send their boy to Cambridge, or anywhither so he might but be withdrawn from fashionable fluctuation and frivolities. They complied with my advice, and parted with me in the spirit I desired. Thus left at freedom in the great city, I determined in preference to all other things to take some serious measures for my health, the state of which had lately been growing more vexatious than ever. A gentleman of this place, a Mr Badams, with whom I had scraped acquaintance and been mightily pleased, invited me to accompany him hither for a month or two, to put myself under his management, which has already been successful in curing several most obstinate cases of dyspepsia—his own among the number. Badams does not practice physic, tho he knows it thoroughly: he is a chemist by occupation; one of the most gifted as well as frank and friendly men I have ever met with. In consequence of his invitation I came to Birmingham five weeks ago, and have been living here [remainder of page missing] . … Hardship, I suspect, has withered out the sensibilities of his nature, and turned him finally into a sort of whisking antithetical little Editor.3 There is no significance in his aspect: his blue frock and switch and fashionable wig, and clear cold eyes and clipt accents and slender persifflage, might befit a dandy better than a poet. Allan Cunningham I love; he retains the honest tones of his native Nithsdale true as ever: he has a heart and a mind simple as a child's, but with touches of a genius singularly wild and original. Barry Cornwall is a kind little fellow; sings Italian airs, keeps daggers and other play gear lying on his dressing table, deals in prints and pictures; is of “the mob of gentlemen that write with ease.”4 Charles Lamb is a ricketty creature in body and mind, sprawls about and walks as if his body consisted of four ill-conditioned flails, and talks as if he were quarter drunk with ale and half with laudanum. Coleridge is a steam-engine of a hundred horses power—with the boiler burst. His talk is resplendent with imagery and the shows of thought; you listen as to an oracle, and find yourself no jot the wiser. He is without beginning or middle or end. A round fat oily yet impatient little man, his mind seems totally beyond his own controul; he speaks incessantly, not thinking or imagining or remembering, but combining all these processes into one; as a rich and lazy housewife might mingle her soup and fish and beef and custard into one unspeakable mass and present it trueheartedly to her astonished guests. William Hazzlitt takes his punch and oysters and rackets and whore at regular intervals; escaping from bailiffs as he best can, and writing when they grow unguidable5 by any other means. He has married [lately] (for the second time, his first spouse and the taylor's daughter being both alive): I never saw him, or wished to6 [remainder of fourth page missing]. …

[No signature.]

[In margins:] This letter I expect will find you happy and unoccupied except with recreation in your native Galloway. I will see you there again. Few places are so kindly pictured in my memory as Wigton. Make my kindest compliments to Mrs Murray and all her family, particularly her with the syren voice. Are they all well? Are the fair Jemima and her sister well? Do you ever go to Girthon: remember me to my worthy countryman7 there. Have you yet come to a determination about Peebles? Tell me what you are engaged in and meaning to be engaged in—all and every thing. I am impatient to know. Adieu, my dear Murray, I must begone. …

… after a month it will be. … may in time be called for: it had grown a sort of … making it sell. Then at any rate, perhaps before, I shall see you.