Margate, May 10, 1817.
My dear Hunt — The little gentleman that sometimes lurks in a gossip’s bowl, ought to have come in the very likeness of a roasted crab, and choaked me outright for not answering your letter ere this: however, you must not suppose that I was in town to receive it: no, it followed me to the Isle of Wight, and I got it just as I was going to pack up for Margate, for reasons which you anon shall hear. On arriving at this treeless affair, I wrote to my brother George to request C. C. C.14 to do the thing you wot of respecting Rimini; and George tells me he has undertaken it with great pleasure; so I hope there has been an understanding between you for many proofs: C. C. C. is well acquainted with Bensley. Now why did you not send the key of your cupboard, which, I know, was full of papers? We would have locked them all in a trunk, together with those you told me to destroy, which indeed I did not do, for fear of demolishing receipts, there not being a more unpleasant thing in the world (saving a thousand and one others) than to pay a bill twice. Mind you, old Wood’s a “very varmint,” shrouded in covetousness:— and now I am upon a horrid subject — what a horrid one you were upon last Sunday, and well you handled it. The last Examiner15 was a battering-ram against Christianity, blasphemy, Tertullian, Erasmus, Sir Philip Sidney; and then the dreadful Petzelians and their expiation by blood; and do Christians shudder at the same thing in a newspaper which they attribute to their God in its most aggravated form? What is to be the end of this? I must mention Hazlitt’s Southey.16 O that he had left out the grey hairs; or that they had been in any other paper not concluding with such a thunderclap! That sentence about making a page of the feeling of a whole life, appears to me like a whale’s back in the sea of prose. I ought to have said a word on Shakspeare’s Christianity. There are two which I have not looked over with you, touching the thing: the one for, the other against: that in favour is in Measure for Measure, Act II. Scene ii. —
Isab. Alas, alas!
Why, all the souls that were, were forfeit once;
And He that might the ’vantage best have took,
Found out the remedy.
That against is in Twelfth Night, Act III. Scene ii. —
Maria. For there is no Christian that means to be saved by believing rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness.
Before I come to the Nymphs,17 I must get through all disagreeables. I went to the Isle of Wight, thought so much about poetry, so long together, that I could not get to sleep at night; and, moreover, I know not how it was, I could not get wholesome food. By this means, in a week or so, I became not over capable in my upper stories, and set off pell-mell for Margate, at least a hundred and fifty miles, because, forsooth, I fancied that I should like my old lodging here, and could contrive to do without trees. Another thing, I was too much in solitude, and consequently was obliged to be in continual burning of thought, as an only resource. However, Tom is with me at present, and we are very comfortable. We intend, though, to get among some trees. How have you got on among them? How are the Nymphs? I suppose they have led you a fine dance. Where are you now? — in Judea, Cappadocia, or the parts of Libya about Cyrene? Stranger from “Heaven, Hues, and Prototypes,” I wager you have given several new turns to the old saying, “Now the maid was fair and pleasant to look on,” as well as made a little variation in “Once upon a time.” Perhaps, too, you have rather varied, “Here endeth the first lesson.” Thus I hope you have made a horseshoe business of “unsuperfluous life,” “faint bowers,” and fibrous roots. I vow that I have been down in the mouth lately at this work. These last two days, however, I have felt more confident — I have asked myself so often why I should be a poet more than other men, seeing how great a thing it is — how great things are to be gained by it, what a thing to be in the mouth of Fame — that at last the idea has grown so monstrously beyond my seeming power of attainment, that the other day I nearly consented with myself to drop into a Phaethon. Yet ’tis a disgrace to fail, even in a huge attempt; and at this moment I drive the thought from me. I began my poem about a fortnight since, and have done some every day, except travelling ones. Perhaps I may have done a good deal for the time, but it appears such a pin’s point to me, that I will not copy any out. When I consider that so many of these pin-points go to form a bodkin-point (God send I end not my life with a bare bodkin, in its modern sense!), and that it requires a thousand bodkins to make a spear bright enough to throw any light to posterity, I see nothing but continual uphill journeying. Now is there anything more unpleasant (it may come among the thousand and one) than to be so journeying and to miss the goal at last? But I intend to whistle all these cogitations into the sea, where I hope they will breed storms violent enough to block up all exit from Russia. Does Shelley go on telling strange stories of the deaths of kings?18 Tell him, there are strange stories of the deaths of poets. Some have died before they were conceived. “How do you make that out, Master Vellum?” Does Mrs. S. cut bread and butter as neatly as ever? Tell her to procure some fatal scissors, and cut the thread of life of all to-be-disappointed poets. Does Mrs. Hunt tear linen as straight as ever? Tell her to tear from the book of life all blank leaves. Remember me to them all; to Miss Kent and the little ones all.
Your sincere Friend
John Keats alias Junkets.
You shall hear where we move.
14 Charles Cowden Clarke.
15 For Sunday, May 4, 1817.
16 The first part, published in the same number of the Examiner, of a ferocious review by Hazlitt of Southey’s Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P.
17 The poem so entitled on which Hunt was now at work, and which was published in the volume called Foliage (1818).
18 Alluding to the well-known story of Shelley dismaying an old lady in a stage-coach by suddenly, à propos of nothing, crying out to Leigh Hunt in the words of Richard II., “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,” etc.
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