Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends, by John Keats

10. — To Benjamin Robert Haydon.

My dear Haydon,

“Let Fame, that all pant after in their lives,

Live register’d upon our brazen tombs,

And so grace us in the disgrace of death:

When spite of cormorant devouring Time

The endeavour of this present breath may buy

That Honour which shall bate his Scythe’s keen edge

And make us heirs of all eternity.”19

To think that I have no right to couple myself with you in this speech would be death to me, so I have e’en written it, and I pray God that our “brazen tombs” be nigh neighbours. It cannot be long first; the “endeavour of this present breath” will soon be over, and yet it is as well to breathe freely during our sojourn — it is as well as if you have not been teased with that Money affair, that bill-pestilence. However, I must think that difficulties nerve the Spirit of a Man — they make our Prime Objects a Refuge as well as a Passion. The Trumpet of Fame is as a tower of Strength, the ambitious bloweth it and is safe. I suppose, by your telling me not to give way to forebodings, George has mentioned to you what I have lately said in my Letters to him — truth is I have been in such a state of Mind as to read over my Lines and hate them. I am one that “gathers Samphire, dreadful trade”— the Cliff of Poesy towers above me — yet when Tom who meets with some of Pope’s Homer in Plutarch’s Lives reads some of those to me they seem like Mice to mine. I read and write about eight hours a day. There is an old saying “well begun is half done”—’tis a bad one. I would use instead, “Not begun at all till half done;” so according to that I have not begun my Poem and consequently (à priori) can say nothing about it. Thank God! I do begin arduously where I leave off, notwithstanding occasional depressions; and I hope for the support of a High Power while I climb this little eminence, and especially in my Years of more momentous Labour. I remember your saying that you had notions of a good Genius presiding over you. I have of late had the same thought, for things which I do half at Random are afterwards confirmed by my judgment in a dozen features of Propriety. Is it too daring to fancy Shakspeare this Presider? When in the Isle of Wight I met with a Shakspeare in the Passage of the House at which I lodged — it comes nearer to my idea of him than any I have seen — I was but there a Week, yet the old woman made me take it with me though I went off in a hurry. Do you not think this is ominous of good? I am glad you say every man of great views is at times tormented as I am.

Sunday after [May 11].

This Morning I received a letter from George by which it appears that Money Troubles are to follow us up for some time to come — perhaps for always — these vexations are a great hindrance to one — they are not like Envy and detraction stimulants to further exertion as being immediately relative and reflected on at the same time with the prime object — but rather like a nettle leaf or two in your bed. So now I revoke my Promise of finishing my Poem by the Autumn which I should have done had I gone on as I have done — but I cannot write while my spirit is fevered in a contrary direction and I am now sure of having plenty of it this Summer. At this moment I am in no enviable Situation — I feel that I am not in a Mood to write any to-day; and it appears that the loss of it is the beginning of all sorts of irregularities. I am extremely glad that a time must come when everything will leave not a wrack behind. You tell me never to despair — I wish it was as easy for me to observe the saying — truth is I have a horrid Morbidity of Temperament which has shown itself at intervals — it is I have no doubt the greatest Enemy and stumbling-block I have to fear — I may even say that it is likely to be the cause of my disappointment. However every ill has its share of good — this very bane would at any time enable me to look with an obstinate eye on the Devil Himself — aye to be as proud of being the lowest of the human race as Alfred could be in being of the highest. I feel confident I should have been a rebel angel had the opportunity been mine. I am very sure that you do love me as your very Brother — I have seen it in your continual anxiety for me — and I assure you that your welfare and fame is and will be a chief pleasure to me all my Life. I know no one but you who can be fully sensible of the turmoil and anxiety, the sacrifice of all what is called comfort, the readiness to measure time by what is done and to die in six hours could plans be brought to conclusions — the looking upon the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Earth and its contents, as materials to form greater things — that is to say ethereal things — but here I am talking like a Madman — greater things than our Creator himself made!!

I wrote to Hunt yesterday — scarcely know what I said in it. I could not talk about Poetry in the way I should have liked for I was not in humor with either his or mine. His self-delusions are very lamentable — they have enticed him into a Situation which I should be less eager after than that of a galley Slave — what you observe thereon is very true must be in time.

Perhaps it is a self-delusion to say so — but I think I could not be deceived in the manner that Hunt is — may I die to-morrow if I am to be. There is no greater Sin after the seven deadly than to flatter oneself into an idea of being a great Poet — or one of those beings who are privileged to wear out their Lives in the pursuit of Honor — how comfortable a feel it is to feel that such a Crime must bring its heavy Penalty? That if one be a Self-deluder accounts must be balanced? I am glad you are hard at Work —’t will now soon be done — I long to see Wordsworth’s as well as to have mine in:20 but I would rather not show my face in Town till the end of the Year — if that will be time enough — if not I shall be disappointed if you do not write for me even when you think best. I never quite despair and I read Shakspeare — indeed I shall I think never read any other Book much. Now this might lead me into a long Confab but I desist. I am very near agreeing with Hazlitt that Shakspeare is enough for us. By the by what a tremendous Southean article his last was — I wish he had left out “grey hairs.” It was very gratifying to meet your remarks on the manuscript — I was reading Anthony and Cleopatra when I got the Paper and there are several Passages applicable to the events you commentate. You say that he arrived by degrees and not by any single struggle to the height of his ambition — and that his Life had been as common in particulars as other Men’s. Shakspeare makes Enobarb say —

Where’s Antony?

Eros.— He’s walking in the garden, and spurns

The rush that lies before him; cries, Fool, Lepidus!

In the same scene we find —

Let determined things

To destiny hold unbewailed their way.

Dolabella says of Anthony’s Messenger,

An argument that he is pluck’d when hither

He sends so poor a pinion of his wing.

Then again —

Eno.— I see Men’s Judgments are
A parcel of their fortunes; and things outward
Do draw the inward quality after them,
To suffer all alike.

The following applies well to Bertrand21

Yet he that can endure

To follow with allegiance a fallen Lord,

Does conquer him that did his Master conquer,

And earns a place i’ the story.

But how differently does Buonaparte bear his fate from Anthony!

’Tis good, too, that the Duke of Wellington has a good Word or so in the Examiner. A Man ought to have the Fame he deserves — and I begin to think that detracting from him as well as from Wordsworth is the same thing. I wish he had a little more taste — and did not in that respect “deal in Lieutenantry.” You should have heard from me before this — but in the first place I did not like to do so before I had got a little way in the First Book, and in the next as G. told me you were going to write I delayed till I had heard from you. Give my Respects the next time you write to the North and also to John Hunt. Remember me to Reynolds and tell him to write. Ay, and when you send Westward tell your Sister that I mentioned her in this. So now in the name of Shakspeare, Raphael and all our Saints, I commend you to the care of heaven!

Your everlasting Friend

John Keats.

19 Opening speech of the King in Love’s Labour’s Lost.

20 I.e., their likenesses, as introduced by Haydon into his picture of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem.

21 General Bertrand, who followed Napoleon to St. Helena.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/keats/john/letters/letter10.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44