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

61. — To Thomas Keats.

My dear Tom — Here’s Brown going on so that I cannot bring to mind how the two last days have vanished — for example he says The Lady of the Lake went to Rock herself to sleep on Arthur’s seat and the Lord of the Isles coming to Press a Piece. . . . I told you last how we were stared at in Glasgow — we are not out of the Crowd yet. Steam Boats on Loch Lomond and Barouches on its sides take a little from the Pleasure of such romantic chaps as Brown and I. The Banks of the Clyde are extremely beautiful — the north end of Loch Lomond grand in excess — the entrance at the lower end to the narrow part from a little distance is precious good — the Evening was beautiful nothing could surpass our fortune in the weather — yet was I worldly enough to wish for a fleet of chivalry Barges with Trumpets and Banners just to die away before me into that blue place among the mountains — I must give you an outline as well as I can.73

Not B— the Water was a fine Blue silvered and the Mountains a dark purple, the Sun setting aslant behind them — meantime the head of ben Lomond was covered with a rich Pink Cloud. We did not ascend Ben Lomond — the price being very high and a half a day of rest being quite acceptable. We were up at 4 this morning and have walked to breakfast 15 Miles through two Tremendous Glens — at the end of the first there is a place called rest and be thankful which we took for an Inn — it was nothing but a Stone and so we were cheated into 5 more Miles to Breakfast — I have just been bathing in Loch Fyne a salt water Lake opposite the Windows — quite pat and fresh but for the cursed Gad flies — damn ’em they have been at me ever since I left the Swan and two necks.74

All gentle folks who owe a grudge

To any living thing

Open your ears and stay your trudge

Whilst I in dudgeon sing.

The Gadfly he hath stung me sore —

O may he ne’er sting you!

But we have many a horrid bore

He may sting black and blue.

Has any here an old gray Mare

With three legs all her store,

O put it to her Buttocks bare

And straight she’ll run on four.

Has any here a Lawyer suit

Of 1743,

Take Lawyer’s nose and put it to’t

And you the end will see.

Is there a Man in Parliament

Dumbfounder’d in his speech,

O let his neighbour make a rent

And put one in his breech.

O Lowther how much better thou

Hadst figur’d t’other day

When to the folks thou mad’st a bow

And hadst no more to say.

If lucky Gadfly had but ta’en

His seat upon thine A— e

And put thee to a little pain

To save thee from a worse.

Better than Southey it had been,

Better than Mr. D— —

Better than Wordsworth too, I ween,

Better than Mr. V——.

Forgive me pray good people all

For deviating so —

In spirit sure I had a call —

And now I on will go.

Has any here a daughter fair

Too fond of reading novels,

Too apt to fall in love with care

And charming Mister Lovels,

O put a Gadfly to that thing

She keeps so white and pert —

I mean the finger for the ring,

And it will breed a wort.

Has any here a pious spouse

Who seven times a day

Scolds as King David pray’d, to chouse

And have her holy way —

O let a Gadfly’s little sting

Persuade her sacred tongue

That noises are a common thing,

But that her bell has rung.

And as this is the summum bo-

num of all conquering,

I leave “withouten wordes mo”

The Gadfly’s little sting.

[Inverary, July 18.]

Last Evening we came round the End of Loch Fyne to Inverary — the Duke of Argyle’s Castle is very modern magnificent and more so from the place it is in — the woods seem old enough to remember two or three changes in the Crags about them — the Lake was beautiful and there was a Band at a distance by the Castle. I must say I enjoyed two or three common tunes — but nothing could stifle the horrors of a solo on the Bag-pipe — I thought the Beast would never have done. — Yet was I doomed to hear another. — On entering Inverary we saw a Play Bill. Brown was knocked up from new shoes — so I went to the Barn alone where I saw the Stranger accompanied by a Bag-pipe. There they went on about interesting creaters and human nater till the Curtain fell and then came the Bag-pipe. When Mrs. Haller fainted down went the Curtain and out came the Bag-pipe — at the heartrending, shoemending reconciliation the Piper blew amain. I never read or saw this play before; not the Bag-pipe nor the wretched players themselves were little in comparison with it — thank heaven it has been scoffed at lately almost to a fashion —

Of late two dainties were before me placed

Sweet, holy, pure, sacred and innocent,

From the ninth sphere to me benignly sent

That Gods might know my own particular taste:

First the soft Bag-pipe mourn’d with zealous haste,

The Stranger next with head on bosom bent

Sigh’d; rueful again the piteous Bag-pipe went,

Again the Stranger sighings fresh did waste.

O Bag-pipe thou didst steal my heart away —

O Stranger thou my nerves from Pipe didst charm —

O Bag-pipe thou didst re-assert thy sway —

Again thou Stranger gav’st me fresh alarm —

Alas! I could not choose. Ah! my poor heart

Mumchance art thou with both oblig’d to part.

I think we are the luckiest fellows in Christendom — Brown could not proceed this morning on account of his feet and lo there is thunder and rain.

[Kilmelfort,] July 20th.

For these two days past we have been so badly accommodated more particularly in coarse food that I have not been at all in cue to write. Last night poor Brown with his feet blistered and scarcely able to walk, after a trudge of 20 Miles down the Side of Loch Awe had no supper but Eggs and Oat Cake — we have lost the sight of white bread entirely — Now we had eaten nothing but Eggs all day — about 10 a piece and they had become sickening — To-day we have fared rather better — but no oat Cake wanting — we had a small Chicken and even a good bottle of Port but all together the fare is too coarse — I feel it a little. — Another week will break us in. I forgot to tell you that when we came through Glenside it was early in the morning and we were pleased with the noise of Shepherds, Sheep and dogs in the misty heights close above us — we saw none of them for some time, till two came in sight creeping among the Crags like Emmets, yet their voices came quite plainly to us — The approach to Loch Awe was very solemn towards nightfall — the first glance was a streak of water deep in the Bases of large black Mountains. — We had come along a complete mountain road, where if one listened there was not a sound but that of Mountain Streams. We walked 20 Miles by the side of Loch Awe — every ten steps creating a new and beautiful picture — sometimes through little wood — there are two islands on the Lake each with a beautiful ruin — one of them rich in ivy. — We are detained this morning by the rain. I will tell you exactly where we are. We are between Loch Craignish and the sea just opposite Long Island.75 Yesterday our walk was of this description — the near Hills were not very lofty but many of them steep, beautifully wooded — the distant Mountains in the Hebrides very grand, the Saltwater Lakes coming up between Crags and Islands full tide and scarcely ruffled — sometimes appearing as one large Lake, sometimes as three distinct ones in different directions. At one point we saw afar off a rocky opening into the main sea. — We have also seen an Eagle or two. They move about without the least motion of Wings when in an indolent fit. — I am for the first time in a country where a foreign Language is spoken — they gabble away Gaelic at a vast rate — numbers of them speak English. There are not many Kilts in Argyleshire — at Fort William they say a Man is not admitted into Society without one — the Ladies there have a horror at the indecency of Breeches. I cannot give you a better idea of Highland Life than by describing the place we are in. The Inn or public is by far the best house in the immediate neighbourhood. It has a white front with tolerable windows — the table I am writing on surprises me as being a nice flapped Mahogany one. . . . You may if you peep see through the floor chinks into the ground rooms. The old Grandmother of the house seems intelligent though not over clean. N.B. No snuff being to be had in the village she made us some. The Guid Man is a rough-looking hardy stout Man who I think does not speak so much English as the Guid wife who is very obliging and sensible and moreover though stockingless has a pair of old Shoes — Last night some Whisky Men sat up clattering Gaelic till I am sure one o’Clock to our great annoyance. There is a Gaelic testament on the Drawers in the next room. White and blue China ware has crept all about here — Yesterday there passed a Donkey laden with tin-pots — opposite the Window there are hills in a Mist — a few Ash trees and a mountain stream at a little distance. — They possess a few head of Cattle. — If you had gone round to the back of the House just now — you would have seen more hills in a Mist — some dozen wretched black Cottages scented of peat smoke which finds its way by the door or a hole in the roof — a girl here and there barefoot. There was one little thing driving Cows down a slope like a mad thing. There was another standing at the cowhouse door rather pretty fac’d all up to the ankles in dirt.

[Oban, July 21.]

We have walk’d 15 Miles in a soaking rain to Oban opposite the Isle of Mull which is so near Staffa we had thought to pass to it — but the expense is 7 Guineas and those rather extorted. — Staffa you see is a fashionable place and therefore every one concerned with it either in this town or the Island are what you call up. ’Tis like paying sixpence for an apple at the playhouse — this irritated me and Brown was not best pleased — we have therefore resolved to set northward for fort William to-morrow morning. I fed upon a bit of white Bread to-day like a Sparrow — it was very fine — I cannot manage the cursed Oat Cake. Remember me to all and let me hear a good account of you at Inverness — I am sorry Georgy had not those lines. Good-bye.

Your affectionate Brother

John ——.

73 Here follows a sketch.

74 The Swan and Two Necks, Lad Lane, London, seems to have been the coach office for Liverpool and the North-West; compare Lamb’s Letters (ed. Ainger), vol. i. p. 241.

75 By Long Island Keats means, not of course the great chain of the Outer Hebrides so styled, but the little island of Luing, east of Scarba Sound. His account of the place from which he is writing, and its distance from Oban as specified in the paragraph added there next day, seem to identify it certainly as Kilmelfort.

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