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

15. — To Jane Reynolds.

My dear Jane — You are such a literal translator, that I shall some day amuse myself with looking over some foreign sentences, and imagining how you would render them into English. This is an age for typical Curiosities; and I would advise you, as a good speculation, to study Hebrew, and astonish the world with a figurative version in our native tongue. The Mountains skipping like rams, and the little hills like lambs, you will leave as far behind as the hare did the tortoise. It must be so or you would never have thought that I really meant you would like to pro and con about those Honeycombs — no, I had no such idea, or, if I had, ’twould be only to tease you a little for love. So now let me put down in black and white briefly my sentiments thereon. — Imprimis — I sincerely believe that Imogen is the finest creature, and that I should have been disappointed at hearing you prefer Juliet — Item — Yet I feel such a yearning towards Juliet that I would rather follow her into Pandemonium than Imogen into Paradise — heartily wishing myself a Romeo to be worthy of her, and to hear the Devils quote the old proverb, “Birds of a feather flock together”— Amen. —

Now let us turn to the Seashore. Believe me, my dear Jane, it is a great happiness to see that you are in this finest part of the year winning a little enjoyment from the hard world. In truth, the great Elements we know of, are no mean comforters: the open sky sits upon our senses like a sapphire crown — the Air is our robe of state — the Earth is our throne, and the Sea a mighty minstrel playing before it — able, like David’s harp, to make such a one as you forget almost the tempest cares of life. I have found in the ocean’s music — varying (tho self-same) more than the passion of Timotheus, an enjoyment not to be put into words; and, “though inland far I be,” I now hear the voice most audibly while pleasing myself in the idea of your sensations.

—— is getting well apace, and if you have a few trees, and a little harvesting about you, I’ll snap my fingers in Lucifer’s eye. I hope you bathe too — if you do not, I earnestly recommend it. Bathe thrice a week, and let us have no more sitting up next winter. Which is the best of Shakspeare’s plays? I mean in what mood and with what accompaniment do you like the sea best? It is very fine in the morning, when the sun,

“Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams,

Turns into yellow gold his salt sea streams,”

and superb when

“The sun from meridian height

Illumines the depth of the sea,

And the fishes, beginning to sweat,

Cry d —— it! how hot we shall be,”

and gorgeous, when the fair planet hastens

“To his home

Within the Western foam.”

But don’t you think there is something extremely fine after sunset, when there are a few white clouds about and a few stars blinking — when the waters are ebbing, and the horizon a mystery? This state of things has been so fulfilling to me that I am anxious to hear whether it is a favourite with you. So when you and Marianne club your letter to me put in a word or two about it. Tell Dilke that it would be perhaps as well if he left a Pheasant or Partridge alive here and there to keep up a supply of game for next season — tell him to rein in if Possible all the Nimrod of his disposition, he being a mighty hunter before the Lord — of the Manor. Tell him to shoot fair, and not to have at the Poor devils in a furrow — when they are flying, he may fire, and nobody will be the wiser.

Give my sincerest respects to Mrs. Dilke, saying that I have not forgiven myself for not having got her the little box of medicine I promised, and that, had I remained at Hampstead I would have made precious havoc with her house and furniture — drawn a great harrow over her garden — poisoned Boxer — eaten her clothes-pegs — fried her cabbages — fricaseed (how is it spelt?) her radishes — ragout’d her Onions — belaboured her beat-root — outstripped her scarlet-runners — parlez-vous’d with her french-beans — devoured her mignon or mignionette — metamorphosed her bell-handles — splintered her looking-glasses — bullocked at her cups and saucers — agonised her decanters — put old Phillips to pickle in the brine-tub — disorganised her piano — dislocated her candlesticks — emptied her wine-bins in a fit of despair — turned out her maid to grass — and astonished Brown; whose letter to her on these events I would rather see than the original Copy of the Book of Genesis. Should you see Mr. W. D.25 remember me to him, and to little Robinson Crusoe, and to Mr. Snook. Poor Bailey, scarcely ever well, has gone to bed, pleased that I am writing to you. To your brother John (whom henceforth I shall consider as mine) and to you, my dear friends, Marianne and Jane, I shall ever feel grateful for having made known to me so real a fellow as Bailey. He delights me in the selfish and (please God) the disinterested part of my disposition. If the old Poets have any pleasure in looking down at the enjoyers of their works, their eyes must bend with a double satisfaction upon him. I sit as at a feast when he is over them, and pray that if, after my death, any of my labours should be worth saving, they may have so “honest a chronicler” as Bailey. Out of this, his enthusiasm in his own pursuit and for all good things is of an exalted kind — worthy a more healthful frame and an untorn spirit. He must have happy years to come —“he shall not die by God.”

A letter from John the other day was a chief happiness to me. I made a little mistake when, just now, I talked of being far inland. How can that be when Endymion and I are at the bottom of the sea? whence I hope to bring him in safety before you leave the seaside; and, if I can so contrive it, you shall be greeted by him upon the sea-sands, and he shall tell you all his adventures, which having finished, he shall thus proceed —“My dear Ladies, favourites of my gentle mistress, however my friend Keats may have teased and vexed you, believe me he loves you not the less — for instance, I am deep in his favour, and yet he has been hauling me through the earth and sea with unrelenting perseverance. I know for all this that he is mighty fond of me, by his contriving me all sorts of pleasures. Nor is this the least, fair ladies, this one of meeting you on the desert shore, and greeting you in his name. He sends you moreover this little scroll —” My dear Girls, I send you, per favour of Endymion, the assurance of my esteem for you, and my utmost wishes for your health and pleasure, being ever,

Your affectionate Brother

John Keats.

25 William Dilke, a younger brother of Charles Dilke, who had served in the Commissariat department in the Peninsula, America, and Paris. He died in 1885 at the age of 90.

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