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

115. — To John Taylor.

My dear Taylor — This morning I received yours of the 2d, and with it a letter from Hessey enclosing a Bank post Bill of £30, an ample sum I assure you — more I had no thought of. — You should not have delayed so long in Fleet St. — leading an inactive life as you did was breathing poison: you will find the country air do more for you than you expect. But it must be proper country air. You must choose a spot. What sort of a place is Retford? You should have a dry, gravelly, barren, elevated country, open to the currents of air, and such a place is generally furnished with the finest springs — The neighbourhood of a rich enclosed fulsome manured arable land, especially in a valley and almost as bad on a flat, would be almost as bad as the smoke of Fleet St. — Such a place as this was Shanklin, only open to the south-east, and surrounded by hills in every other direction. From this south-east came the damps of the sea; which, having no egress, the air would for days together take on an unhealthy idiosyncrasy altogether enervating and weakening as a city smoke — I felt it very much. Since I have been here at Winchester I have been improving in health — it is not so confined — and there is on one side of the City a dry chalky down, where the air is worth Sixpence a pint. So if you do not get better at Retford, do not impute it to your own weakness before you have well considered the Nature of the air and soil — especially as Autumn is encroaching — for the Autumn fog over a rich land is like the steam from cabbage water. What makes the great difference between valesmen, flatlandmen and mountaineers? The cultivation of the earth in a great measure — Our health temperament and disposition are taken more (notwithstanding the contradiction of the history of Cain and Abel) from the air we breathe, than is generally imagined. See the difference between a Peasant and a Butcher. — I am convinced a great cause of it is the difference of the air they breathe: the one takes his mingled with the fume of slaughter, the other from the dank exhalement from the glebe; the teeming damp that comes up from the plough-furrow is of great effect in taming the fierceness of a strong man — more than his labour — Let him be mowing furze upon a mountain, and at the day’s end his thoughts will run upon a..axe104 if he ever had handled one; let him leave the plough, and he will think quietly of his supper. Agriculture is the tamer of men — the steam from the earth is like drinking their Mother’s milk — it enervates their nature — this appears a great cause of the imbecility of the Chinese: and if this sort of atmosphere is a mitigation to the energy of a strong man, how much more must it injure a weak one unoccupied unexercised — For what is the cause of so many men maintaining a good state in Cities, but occupation — An idle man, a man who is not sensitively alive to self-interest in a city cannot continue long in good health. This is easily explained — If you were to walk leisurely through an unwholesome path in the fens, with a little horror of them, you would be sure to have your ague. But let Macbeth cross the same path, with the dagger in the air leading him on, and he would never have an ague or anything like it — You should give these things a serious consideration. Notts, I believe, is a flat county — You should be on the slope of one of the dry barren hills in Somersetshire. I am convinced there is as harmful air to be breathed in the country as in town. I am greatly obliged to you for your letter. Perhaps, if you had had strength and spirits enough, you would have felt offended by my offering a note of hand, or rather expressed it. However, I am sure you will give me credit for not in anywise mistrusting you: or imagining that you would take advantage of any power I might give you over me. No — It proceeded from my serious resolve not to be a gratuitous borrower, from a great desire to be correct in money matters, to have in my desk the Chronicles of them to refer to, and know my worldly non-estate: besides in case of my death such documents would be but just, if merely as memorials of the friendly turns I had done to me — Had I known of your illness I should not have written in such fiery phrase in my first letter. I hope that shortly you will be able to bear six times as much. Brown likes the tragedy very much: But he is not a fit judge of it, as I have only acted as midwife to his plot; and of course he will be fond of his child. I do not think I can make you any extracts without spoiling the effect of the whole when you come to read it — I hope you will then not think my labour mis-spent. Since I finished it, I have finished Lamia, and am now occupied in revising St. Agnes’s Eve, and studying Italian. Ariosto I find as diffuse, in parts, as Spenser — I understand completely the difference between them. I will cross the letter with some lines from Lamia. Brown’s kindest remembrances to you — and I am ever your most sincere friend

John Keats.

A haunting Music sole perhaps and lone

Supportress of the fairy roof made moan

Throughout as fearful the whole charm might fade.

Fresh Carved Cedar mimicking a glade

Of Palm and Plantain met from either side

In the high midst in honour of the Bride —

Two Palms, and then two plantains and so on

From either side their stems branch’d one to one

All down the aisled place — and beneath all

There ran a stream of lamps straight on from wall to wall.

So canopied lay an untasted feast

Teeming a perfume. Lamia regal drest

Silverly paced about and as she went

Mission’d her viewless servants to enrich

The splendid finish of each nook and niche —

Between the tree stems wainscoated at first

Came jasper panels — then anon there burst

Forth creeping imagery of slighter trees

And with the larger wove in small intricacies —

And so till she was sated — then came down

Soft lighting on her head a brilliant crown

Wreath’d turban-wise of tender wannish fire

And sprinkled o’er with stars like Ariadne’s tiar,

Approving all — she faded at self will

And shut the Chamber up close hush’d and still;

Complete, and ready, for the revels rude

When dreadful Guests would come to spoil her solitude

The day came soon and all the gossip-rout —

O senseless Lycius105 . . .

. . .

This is a good sample of the story. Brown is gone to Chichester a-visiting — I shall be alone here for 3 weeks, expecting accounts of your health.

104 So copied by Woodhouse: query “battle-axe”?

105 Keats’s quotation from his first draft of Lamia continued, says Woodhouse, for thirty lines more: but as the text varied much from that subsequently printed, and as Woodhouse’s notes of these variations are lost, I can only give thus much, from an autograph first draft of the passage in the possession of Lord Houghton.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56