TC TO ANNA D. B. MONTAGU; 27 October 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18301027-TC-ADBM-01; CL 5:181-186.
TC TO ANNA D. B. MONTAGU
Craigenputtock, / 27th October, 1830.
My dear Friend,
While I wait in the confident though somewhat unaccountably deferred anticipation of a kind answer from you to a kind message, come tidings to my wife, that such message is still only looked for “thro' the portal of Hope,” in plain prose, that my last letter has lost its way, did not reach and now never will reach you!1 This is the more singular, as the like never happened in my past experience, and now, as indeed misfortune usually does, comes doubly. Much about the time when I wrote your letter, I dispatched another to Weimar: and here on the same Wednesday night arrive, side by side, two announcements from you and from Goethe that both letters have miscarried! Goethe's I have satisfactorily traced to the post-office and hope there may have been some oblivion on the part of my venerable correspondent; neither is this, though less likely in your case, a quite impossible supposition. At all events true it is that some two months ago I did actually write you a most densely filled letter, one which if it did me any justice must have been filled moreover with the friendliest sentiments. I can still recollect of it that I entreated earnestly you would never forget me, would from time to time send me notice of your good or evil fortune, tho' I myself (for lack of historical incident in these solitudes) were silent, assuring you, of what is still true, that I was no wise of the forgetting species, but blessed or burdened with one of your perennial memories, and a hard and stony heart, whereon truly only diamonds would write,2 but the Love-charm and Think-of-me once written stood ineffaceable, defying all time and weather. Such statement whereof I could make an Affidavit were it needful will be a light for you to explain several things, above all will absolve from the crime of indifference and negligence, which crime towards you at least, it will be for ever impossible for me to fall into. Believe this, for it is morally and even physiologically true.
We hear with real sorrow of the domestic mischances that come upon you, from which in this world no wisdom will secure us.3
Happily the consciousness you mention is a bulwark which keeps our inward citadel or proper Self unharmed, unimpregnable, whatever havoc there may be in the outworks. Let us study to maintain this and let those others go their way, which indeed, is natural for them. When I think of the miserable A. and of many like him, I could feel as if our old fathers who believed in witchcraft and Possession were nearer the truth than we.
It is strange how vice like a poisonous ingredient thrown into some fermenting mixture, will, in small beginnings seize on the young heart, and proceed there, tainting, enlarging, till the whole soul, and all the universe it holds is blackened, blasted, rent asunder with it, and the man, that walked in the midst of us, is clutched, as it were by some unseen devil, and hurled into abysses of Despair and Madness, which lie closer than we think on the path of everyone. Let us hope (for this is the Place of Hope)4 that for himself reformation is still possible; that at least and worst to the friends that cannot save him, his future mis-doings will be harmless.
Poor Hazlitt!5 He too, is one of the victims to the Moloch Spirit of this Time: a Time when Selfishness and Baseness, dizened out with rouge, and a little theatrical frippery, has fearlessly seated herself on high places, and preaches forth her Creed of Profit and Loss as the last Gospel for men;—when the thing that calls itself God's Church is a den of Unclean Beasts, from which the honest-hearted turns away with loathing;—when between the Utilitarians and the Millenarians, and the dense dust and vapour they have raised up, the Temple of the Universe has become to the most invisible, and the devout spirit that will not blind itself, cannot worship, and knows not what or how to worship, and so wanders in aimless pilgrimages, and lives without God in the world!6 In Hazlitt, as in Byron and Burns and so many others in their degree, there lay some tone of the “Eternal melodies,”7 which he could not fashion into terrestrial music, but which uttered itself only in harsh jarrings, and inarticulate cries of pain. Poor Hazlitt! There is one star less in the Heavens, tho' a twinkling, dimmed one; while the street-lamps and horn lanterns are all burning, with their whale-oil or coal gas, as before! These the street passenger and dray-man and bearer-of-burden will prize and bless: but in the lonely journeys and far voyages (of Thought) the traveller will miss the other.
I should give you some glimpse into our way of life here, but know not how in such compass to do it. A strange contrast it must be to yours. If London is the noisiest, busiest spot on the Earth, this is about the stillest and most solitary. The road hither ends at our House: to see a lime-cart or market-cart struggling along the broken moor, till it reach gravel and wheel-ruts, and scents the Dominion of Commerce from afar, is an incident which, especially in winter, we almost mark in our journals. In this meek pale sunshine of October, in this grave-like silence, there is something ghostly; were it not that our meadows are of peat-bog and not of asphodel, and our hearts too full of earthly passions and cares, you might fancy it the abode of spirits, not of men and fleecy or hairy cattle. I have a rough broken path along the neighbouring hill-side, two miles in length, where I take a walk (sometimes as I would take physic) and see over Ayrshire and Galloway, far and wide, nothing but granite mountains and idle moors; save that here and there the cottage trees and smoke, with its patch of cornfield painfully won from the desert, indicate that man's two hands are there, who, like the coney, has built himself a nest in the rocks.8 On the whole an original scene for studying in. Private as heart could wish; and possessing in this one thought, that it positively is a scene, and dates since the day when Eternity became Time, and was created by God,—the source, could one but draw from it, of innumerable, inexhaustible others. Here, truly is the place for thinking, if you have any faculty that way: since I came hither I have seen into various things. In my wife, too, I have the clearest, most Scotch-logical, yet the eagerest Disciple and Convert. For the rest I read, and write, and smoke, assiduously as I was wont: one day, I hope to give you one of the most surprising Books you have met with lately. Am I happy? My theory was and is that the man who cannot be happy (as happy as is needful) wheresoever God's sky overspans him, and men forbear to beat him with bludgeons,—deserves to be and will always be, what one calls miserable. Nevertheless, we are coming to London, so soon as the yet clearly audible prohibition of Destiny is withdrawn. Will it be this winter? Full glad were I to think so; but there are sad shakings of the head. We had the Jeffreys lately; the Jeffrey a more interesting and better man; a sadder and a wiser; than I had ever seen him. That he missed you was no oversight on his part, but ignorance that it would not be an intrusion.
He looked to Mr. Procter, and Mr. Procter spake not. The like will not occur a second time. Such a visit here, of which we rejoice in one or two perhaps yearly, is a true “Illumination with the finest Transparencies”:9 next night, indeed, comes our own still candle, and the past splendour is gone like a dream, but not the memory of it, nor the hope of its return. With Goethe I am more contented the longer I know him; hard as adamant towards outer fortune, yet with the spirit of a prophet within, and the softest all-embracing heart.
He is to me the most venerable man now extant, surely the only literary man, whom amid all my respect, my admiration, I can view without a considerable admixture of contempt. He tells me yesterday to write soon, “for days and weeks are growing more and more precious to him.”
God keep that day long distant!—I must add this other passage for the piece of news it brings. Take it in the original too.
Ein talentvoller junger Mann und glücklicher Uebersetzer beschäftigt sich mit BURNS: ich bin darauf sehr verlangend. “A talented young man and successful Translator is busy with Burns! I am very curious for the issue.”10 You must thank Mr. Montagu for his book on laughter, which I have read with pleasure:11 the other book (of Extracts) my Mother has borrowed, and eagerly begs to keep for a second and a third perusal: it is among the best books she ever saw, worthy whole cart loads of their new ware.12 For poetry (not mere rhyme and rant or else elegance), a Scotch reviewer is probably the blindest of created things, but in a Scotch peasant there is sometimes life, and a soul of God's making. My own impression is that Nature is still active and that we are all alive did we but know it!—God bless you. / I am ever yours, /
My brother speaks with warmest gratitude of your and Mr. Montagu's kindness. Such friends in such a course as his, are indeed invaluable. I too am doubly your debtor for the maternal charge you take of my poor Doctor, whose posture in that wild chaos often fills me with misgivings. Will Mr. Procter, with his bright kind Lady, who is still strangely present with me, be pleased to know that I think of them?