TC TO LEIGH HUNT; 29 October 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18331029-TC-JHLH-01; CL 7:26-31.
TC TO LEIGH HUNT
Craigenputtoch: 29th October, 1833.
My dear Sir,—
It is above two long months since the sight of your handwriting last gratified me at Dumfries. I was there in person, I remember; and read the kind lively sheet, with a pipe and tumbler (of water), taking with double relish “mine ease at my inn.”1 Why I have not answered sooner, looks foolish to tell. I waited for “opportunities”; had but one and missed it by pressure of haste. A Reformed Parliament having now, by Heaven's grace, taken itself into retirement, there are henceforth no “opportunities” possible. What can I do but what I should have done six weeks ago—make an opportunity? You shall pay thirteen pence and odds into His Majesty's impoverished Exchequer; and on this long sheet get talk from me enough:—soon, I hope, through the same channel, repaying with interest, to the Patriot King's benefit and mine.
Your new situation looked so cheerful and peaceful, I almost fear to inquire what it has become. Chances and changes hardly leave us a week at rest in this fearful Treadmill of a World. The prophet said “Make it like unto a wheel”:2 that is the kind of wheel I think we are made like unto. Meanwhile, ever as I figure you, that cheerful Tree, seen from your window, rises leafy and kind on me; I can hardly yet consent to have it leafless, and its kind whisper changed into a loud October howl. Be patient, and nestle near the chimney corner: there is a Spring coming. Nay, as I hope, one day, an Eternal Spring, when all that is dead and deserved not to die, shall bloom forth again, and live for ever!3
You must tell me more specially what you are doing. How prospers your Poem? Has the winter checked it; or is it already branching out to defy all storms both of outward and of inward weather?4
I see nothing here; scarcely more of you than a small “wishing-cap” incidentally in Tait, and even that not lately.5 The Newspapers told us you had been engaged for the Theatrical department of some new Weekly True Sun:6 I can hardly imagine it, or you would have sent us an old paper, some day, by way of sign. The whole Literary world seems to me at this time to be little other than Chaos come again; how should I see your course in it, when I cannot see my own? This only is clear for both of us, and for all true men: mix not, meddle not with the accursed thing there; swim stoutly, unweariedly, “if not towards landmarks on the Earth, then towards loadstars in the Heaven!”7 For the rest, as our good Scotch adage has it: Fear nothing earthly; there is ever Life for the Living.8
Since I wrote last, I have read all your Poems; the whole volume, I believe, without missing a line.9 If you knew with what heart-sickness I in general take up a volume of modern rhymes, and again with a silent curse of Ernulphus,10 (for where were the good of making a spoken one?) lay it down, this fact would have more meaning for you. I find a genuine tone of music pervade all your way of thought: and utter itself, often in the gracefullest way, through your images and words: this is what I call your vocation to Poetry: so long as this solicits you, let it in all forms have free course. Well for him that hath music in his soul! Indeed, when I try Defining (which grows less and less my habit), there is nothing comes nearer my meaning as to poetry in general than this of musical thought: the unpardonable poetry is that where the word only has rhythm, and the Thought staggers along dislocated, hamstrung, or too probably rushes down altogether in shameful inanition. One asks, why did the unhappy mortal write in rhyme? That miserablest decrepit Thought of his cannot even walk (with crutches); how in the name of wonder shall it dance? But so wags, or has wagged the world literary: till now, as I said, the very sight of dancing, drives an old stager like me quick into another street. More tolerable were the Belfast Town and Country Almanack, more tolerable is the London Directory, or McCulloch's Political Economy itself in the Day of Judgment than these!11 To come a little to particulars: we all thought your Rimini very beautiful; sunny brilliancy and fateful gloom most softly blended, under an atmosphere of tenderness, clear and bright like that of Italian Pictures. Beautifully painted; what it wanted to be a whole (and a picture) I believe you know better than I. Leander also dwells with me; I think, that of his “bursting into tears,” when he feels the waves about to beat him, is eminently natural. Thank you also for the two children's pieces: I remember, some seventeen years ago, seeing Dick's one quoted by a Quarterly Reviewer, as an instance of “bad taste” (may the Devil, in his own good time, take “taste,” and make much of it!): but the effect on me quite baulked the Reviewer. In the same Article, I first saw that picture of the mother (“a poor, a pensive, but a happy one”), singing as she mended her children's clothes, when they were all asleep; and never lost it, or am like to lose it.12
You shall now get quit of criticism; and hear a little about Craigenputtoch. For a long while, for eight or nine months almost, I have been not idle, yet fallow; writing not a word. A cynical Extravaganza of mine is indeed beginning to appear in Fraser's Magazine, and will continue there till you are all tired of it but it was written wholly three years and a half ago:13 it was some purpose of publishing it as a Book that brought me up to London. The last thing I wrote was a Count Cagliostro in that extraordinary Periodical. When I shall put pen to paper next is quite a problem. It ought to be when I have mended my ways; for nothing is so clear to me at present as that, outwardly and inwardly, I am all in the wrong. I believe, one is hardly ever all in the right. Let us not mourn over that. But the strange thing at present with me is the outward economic state of Literature. Bookselling I apprehend to be as good as dead; without hope of revival, other than perhaps some galvanic one: the question therefore arises, what next is to be done? A monstrous question, which I think it may take two centuries to answer well. We, in the mean time, must do—the best we can. I have various projects, some of which may become purposes; I reckon, I may see you again in London by and by, for one thing.
This winter, at all events, and who knows how much more, we mean to spend here in the depths of the wilderness; divided from all men. Probably it may be a healthier winter; probably a happier and usefuller one. London I liked much, but the fogs and smoke were pestiferous; Edinburgh I find has left but a sad impression of hollowness and dulness on me: however, both might yield profit; and now a solitary winter, filled to overflowing with Books (for I have discovered a Library here), may be the profitablest of all. You, as a determined Book-moth, will appreciate my felicity, when you hear that I read some ten hours often at a sitting, divided by one, for a walk, which I take like physic. My head grows a perfect “Revolt of Paris”;14 nothing occurring to divert me; only the little Table-clock (poor little fellow) suggesting now and then that I am still in the world of time. I fall asleep at last towards midnight, amid the Cannon vollies, shrieks and legislative debates, the laughter and tears, of whole generations;—for it is mainly History and Memoirs that I am reading. Now and then I shall perhaps write something, were it only for Prince Posterity. Thus you see us with winter at our door; but with huge stacks of fuel for the body's warmth, and for the mind's.
A benevolent artist arrived lately, moreover, and rehabilitated the Piano: a little music is invaluable to me; better than sermons; winnows all the bitter dust out of me, and for moments makes me a good man.
Pray think of us often; send now and then a Paper Messenger through the snow to us; to which I will not fail to reply.
I had innumerable questions to ask you about matters literary in London. Who manages the New Monthly Magazine now? For I see Bulwer has given it up long ago.15 What else is stirring? Pray tell me all you can think of, about such things: remember that here simply nothing reaches me of its own accord. Do you know an English Book, of date 1709, reprinted some twenty years ago, named Apuleius' Golden Ass? I fancied it a translation of the old story; found it only an Imitation; full of questionable and of unquestionable matter. It surprised me a little; especially as a Queen Anne performance.16 Farther, can you in few words inform me who or what Sir Egerton Brydges is? Was his Censura published in London? Much of it is perfectly useless for me; but the man has a small vein of real worth in him, and knows several things: the whining in his Prefaces struck me as the strangest.17— I still continue to wish much you would undertake the Life of Hazlitt; though in my ignorance of the position matters stand in, to advise it were beyond my commission. Of all imaginable Books True Biographies are the best, the most essential. Hazlitt should not be forgotten. How I have lamented too that Porson studied, and drank, and rhymed, and went to the Devil, in vain!18 Peter Pindar too!19 We should have Lives of all such men: not of the “respectable” sort (far from it!); but of the true sort; painted to the life, as the men actually looked and were. There are hardly any readable Lives in our language except those of Players. One may see the reason too.
But now, alas, has my time come. Accept in good part this flowing gossip. If I had you here, you should have ten times as much. Answer me soon, though I have no right to ask it. Our kindest regards to Mrs. Hunt to Thornton and all the rest; not forgetting that smallest listening Philosopher,20 who has forgot me though I have not him. Adieu! / Ever faithfully,