[The following memoir by Thomas Forbes Kelsall is from The Poems Posthumous and Collected of Thomas Lovell Beddoes (London: William Pickering, 1851), which Kelsall also edited.]
MEMOIR BY THOMAS FORBES KELSALL
Although the following Memoir has certainly not been prepared under any impression of its being extensively needed, the very favourable reception accorded successively to the dramas of The Brides’ Tragedy and Death’s Jest-Book, on their first appearance, by a certain class of readers, may yet warrant the belief, that, to such at least, some account of their author will prove acceptable. In publishing therefore this, the concluding, portion of his poetical remains, the friend on whom that office has devolved, and who feels it due to the deceased to append a few explanations in regard to its performance, readily avails himself of the occasion to satisfy, as far as lies in his power, those fair and honest claims of the living, which are involved in a fine apprehension and generous admiration of genius,—the rights of spiritual kindred to the valued privileges of intimacy. He would fain also do his endeavour to connect the memory of the dead workman with his living works, by something more real and distinctive than the letters of a name. Addressed to this double object, and with the favourable circle for which alone it is designed, the editor has no fear that his biographical attempt will be deemed too minute, or its tone exaggerated: for, though far from intending to make his sketch a vehicle for eulogistic criticism, he will not, by disguising his own estimate of the compositions he has been mainly instrumental in giving to the press, screen himself from the blame of that mistake—if mistake it be—at the expense of others but little chargeable with it,—of him especially who is, of all, the least so, their innocent and unconscious author. It is indeed matter of unfeigned regret with the memorialist, that the duty has not devolved on one with ampler materials at command, and with more skill for their employment. From various causes which have intervened, there seems however no alternative between the present biographer and none. Let this knowledge conciliate the reader; and forestall his disappointment at finding that, for the history of a man of singular genius, and of great attainments, whose life extended over little less than half a century, the collections extant are of so scanty a description. That life was divided into two nearly equal, and almost disconnected, portions,—the first passed in this country, the latter, and incomparably more important, abroad,—and each within a different circle of social and personal influences. Of the earlier period, one in which a youth is necessarily much estranged from home by the ordinary course of education, it so happens that not a single person now remains, from whom a continuous, circumstantial narrative could be expected: and school or college associates, competent at best to speak but to their own detached experiences, are unknown, scattered, dead: whilst of the second portion of his existence the full and authentic annals must be sought exclusively in foreign lands and languages, and amongst persons who are, in the main, almost (many of them altogether) unknown to his earlier friends. With two or three however of his English intimates he always maintained an unreserved, though fluctuating, intercourse by letter: and it is in the records of this correspondence, diminished somewhat in the lapse of years, that the more vivid and characteristic lineaments of the portraiture here sought to be presented, especially in its later aspect, will alone be found. Such as it is, the editor submits his sketch as the best he is enabled to offer: fully conscious of its inadequacy, but assured that, with all who have felt the spell of the poet’s verse, the further revelations of his mind can not fail to deepen the impression of its originality and power.
THOMAS LOVELL BEDDOES, author of The Brides’ Tragedy and Death’s Jest Book, was, both intellectually and in regard to worldly position, well descended; being the eldest son of Dr. Thomas Beddoes of Clifton, a man of vigorous and accomplished mind and large philosophic views—popularly known as Sir Humphrey Davy’s early friend and introducer,—and of Anna, third daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth Esq. of Edgeworth-town, Ireland, and consequently sister of Maria Edgeworth, the distinguished novelist. The Beddoes family, originally of Welsh extraction, had long been settled in Shropshire, in which county the Dr. was born, and where he and his son successively inherited and transmitted a moderate landed property. Having been carefully educated for the higher branch of the medical profession, Dr. Beddoes graduated M.D. at Oxford, and was soon afterwards elected to the Chemical Lectureship in that University,—a chair which he occupied with energy and ability for several years, greatly elevating its utility and importance. He ultimately established himself at Clifton, with which place he had become accidentally connected as the founder of the Pneumatic Institution; and where he acquired an extensive practice, and earned an European reputation as a bold and original inquirer, and successful experimentalist in physical science. So extensive was the range of his investigations, and so unremitting their pursuit in every direction offering the prospect of a practical benefit to his fellow creatures,—so versatile and numerous his speculations, embracing also many a political and social question of stirring interest in those days of energy and convulsion,—that the Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Beddoes M.D. with an analytical account of his writings, published by Dr. Stock in 1811, constitute a bulky quarto; an interesting volume in itself, and not the least so to readers of a later day, who, better acquainted with the son, will recognize the distinguishing features of his character, there combined as unmistakeably, as are those of his external likeness in the portrait of the father prefixed to the work. Deeply bedded in the nature of each, there rises nakedly to view a certain sturdy independence and paramount love of truth, which, not caring to wear the graces of superficial ornament, and ill-according with the artificial compromises of society, resisted like a rock whatever took the form of an aggression on the liberty of man. From conviction as well as temperament they were both earnest and consistent liberals, heartily and without the least care as to personal results, throwing themselves into the dangerous arena of political contention in times of remarkable excitement: the father at home, as a pamphleteer on the popular side during the early stage of the first French Revolution,—and the son in our own time, through many adverse years, aiding with voice and hand the labouring cause of national regeneration on the Alps and Rhine. And yet both alike devoid of political ambition, and led by the strongest natural bent to the culture of two more quiet and elevated fields of thought, either of which might have sufficed an undivided regard,—those namely of Medical Philosophy and Poetic Art. For successful achievement in both these provinces, so often exhibited as alien, if not adverse to each other, but with the sanction at least of old mythology rightly combined in the higher minds, the faculty and power was to each of them largely given; though certainly not developed in the same relative proportions. A succession of absorbing physiological investigations, induced by the scientific requirements of a profession to which he was enthusiastically devoted, gave to the father’s mind an absolutely philosophic character: the flights of verse in which it sought occasional indulgence, were those of a doubtful, unaccustomed wing, and were fettered by the conventional and torpid style of the day: and it is but indirectly,—in the animated, though accurate, descriptions of the phenomena of disease, and in the vivid, and often sublime language with which its philosophic speculations are invested,—that the penetrative force of its imaginative faculty is adequately felt. With the son, the direction of whose mind was less governed by external circumstances and was swayed to either poetry or science by little but its own native impulse, this disproportion in their influences was apparently reversed: the poetic faculty alone bore fruit: but the strong, masculine understanding in which it was rooted, put forth eventually other shoots of sturdier growth, which, though they attained not to the flowering period, bore witness to the affinity of the soils, whose dissimilar produce indicated merely the differing order of their cultivation. Under any aspect the kindred depth and vigour of either mind was plainly apparent, and gave rise alike to the highest expectations in those who came within its sphere: expectations, which alike, by the earthly extinction of each, in the very maturity of its ripened faculties, were not allowed to be fully realized.
The subject of this memoir was born in Rodney Place, Clifton, on the 20th July 1803: and in 1809 Dr. Beddoes died, leaving his son to the guardianship of an old college friend and associate in philosophic investigations, Mr. Davies Giddy, under his after-name of Sir Davies Gilbert, the well-known president of the Royal Society. By this gentleman young Beddoes was placed at the Bath Grammar School; and from thence, in June 1817, removed to the Charter-house, where he at once obtained a high standing in the 5th form: and here he steadily progressed until his removal to Oxford, being then 2nd boy in the school. His reputation, during this part of his scholastic career, was considerable: in the first or second year of his novitiate he obtained the Latin theme prize allotted to the fifth form: and (in the words of a senior school-fellow, wholly unconnected with Beddoes and his family,) “he was considered a very clever boy, not very fond of society or the usual games of school-boys.” This latter peculiarity, arising from no morose or morbid disposition,—for sentimental, as indeed every other, affectation was through life most distasteful to his nature, and he entered readily and without reserve at all times into the amusements and pursuits of those with whom he voluntarily associated,—was but the outward sign of an awakened mind whose craving appetite was elsewhere seeking its congenial food,—in the absorbing study of our older and more imaginative literature, with which he must have acquired an early familiarity. And not only thus: since he certainly had at that time begun to be himself a writer of verse: note-books inscribed, and dating from his first year, at Charter-house, filled with poetic compositions, betray the nature of his employment: he stands committed as a contributor (July 1819) to the columns of the Morning Post: and his first published volume must even then have been in preparation. Many of his poetical MSS., including one piece now printed, are written in so boyish a hand, (quite unlike the masculine character of his later writing,) that there can be no mistake in ascribing them to this early period. In May 1820 Beddoes left Charter-house for Oxford, and was entered a commoner at Pembroke, which had been the college of both his father and Sir Davies Gilbert. Of the ensuing period of his life, the Academic, the record must be scanty, from the sheer dearth of material. Several of his contemporaries at Pembroke doubtless remain to whom his name would be familiar, for he was not one to be overlooked in any society, into which the mood might take him: but his intimates, then as subsequently, were few, and the only college friend with whom he appears to have held (certainly to have preserved) a great degree of intimacy, was one who preceded him, by several years, to the grave. With this gentleman, the late Mr. John G.H. Bourne, in after-life Chief-Justice of Newfoundland, from whom Beddoes and the present writer have, almost from that very period, been separated by the course of events, (a man of literary and accomplished mind displayed in various kinds of authorship, and who always avowed the highest estimate of the worth and genius of his friend,) he kept up an unremitting correspondence; of this however not a vestige now remains. It certainly appears that Beddoes obtained no Academic distinction; and almost as certainly that he did not strive for it: perhaps he wanted, or suppressed, the wish; deeming that his true vocation, with the promptings to which his thoughts were then busy, was to be found upon a wider stage. It was in 1821, whilst yet a freshman, that he first appeared as an avowed author, in a little volume of poems, entitled The Improvisatore, a duodecimo of 128 pages, printed, and published with his name at Oxford: and dedicated (a young author’s proudest filial tribute) to his Mother. In its quality the verse is what all so very juvenile inevitably must be; the main portion of it, in matter and style, indicating the ascendancy of Byron and Moore in the literary heaven of the day, but, by here and there, a dash of novelty in thought and quaintness in expression, not wholly forbidding the expectation of a worthier sequence. The best part of the publication consists of a series of sonnets, called by the author Quatorzains; a specimen of which is given in the appendix to the present volume. Of this little memento of his weakness, as he used to consider it, Beddoes soon became thoroughly ashamed: and long before he left Oxford, he suppressed the traces of its existence, carrying the war of extermination into the bookshelves of his acquaintance; where, as he chuckled to record, it was his wont to leave, intact in its externals, (some gay binding perhaps of his own selection,) but thoroughly eviscerated, every copy on which he could lay his hands. This false dawn was now however about to be lost in the brightness of the real: the second year of his Academic novitiate (1822) witnessed the production, if not the total composition, of The Brides’ Tragedy; the publication of which was offered to and undertaken by, Messrs. Rivington. From these successive performances of his own, and the kindly interest which he expresses, in the prefatory remarks to the latter of them, for those of many of his dramatic contemporaries, may be readily inferred the purely literary nature of the studies, which then possessed him, and which were necessarily incompatible with the systematic courses of an University. For the honours of the schools,—always lightly, perhaps too lightly, esteemed by him,—he realized in exchange the literary pre-eminence with the undergraduates of Pembroke, and the marvellously-early leaf of a greener and more enduring laurel. Celebrity, in any adequate interpretation of the term, is, it is true, rarely achieved by single works of even greater pretension, outwardly and inwardly, than The Brides’ Tragedy; and to the general reader of poetry that work, doubtless acceptable in its turn with other poetic novelties, and with regard to the writer’s youth appearing a very cleverly-precocious performance, still most probably was nothing more. All however, which, in the nature of things, it was entitled, or could be permitted, to win for its author, it successfully and at once accomplished. It drew forth loud and clear notes of praise, from those whose trumpet-tones ever speak with an echo; by more than one critic high in authority, and in a strain which must have been almost startlingly gratifying to its young author, it was hailed as a production of large and genuine merit,—good in itself, still better in its promise; and this proclamation of its character, as a work of originality and power, raised him to a vantage-ground of noble rivalry with the foremost poets of the time. Amongst other such undeniable testimonies, The Brides’ Tragedy obtained the rare distinction of critical and highly laudatory articles in the Edinburgh Review and the London Magazine, both at that time in the zenith of their influence; and which, as Beddoes soon afterwards found, had been contributed, in a spirit of generous admiration, by a distinguished dramatic poet, to whom he was personally unknown, but who, together with this public notice, then also extended to him the benefit of his private friendship.* (*Mr. Procter will, it is hoped, forgive the above allusion, made to him and his alter idem, Barry Cornwall.) The tribute however, most remarkable in itself and for the manner of its bestowal, which Beddoes’ genius then received, was from the pen of the late George Darley, (a critic of fine talent, thoroughly conversant with our poetic and dramatic literature, and himself gifted with considerable poetic power,)* (*Witness, besides his avowed poetry, and more especially, The Voyage, the Ruelle, Olympian Revels, and other dramaticles published in the London Magazine of 1823) in his Letters to the Dramatists of the Day, a series then in course of publication in the London Magazine: where, at the close of a comprehensive and rather bloody assize held upon the post-Elizabethan play-wrights, he pauses to do homage to the great and unperverted merits of The Brides’ Tragedy; a verdict given, not so much for the sake of its author, (a consideration which might have dulled the edge of a separate article’s laudation,) but as resulting inevitably from the principles of philosophic criticism, and so partaking of the more imposing character of a wide judicial sentence. This remarkable notice, so calculated at all events to influence the aims and studies of its youthful subject at this critical period of his career, becomes almost a necessary feature in his biography, and as such is reprinted in the appendix.
It was in the summer of 1823 that the editor became acquainted with Beddoes, on his coming to Southampton, the former’s then residence, in order to read for his Bachelor’s degree, and when he brought an introduction from their common friend, Mr. Procter. This acquaintance, (Beddoes having no other,) soon ripened into intimacy; which led, in the daily intercourse of several months, to an unreserved communication of his literary tastes and opinions, and his own poetical works and projects, and to consequent criticism and discussion: and from the insight thus obtained into the sphere of his mental powers, as much as from the poetic creations actually developed on its surface, was derived the editor’s deep and lasting impression of their originality and strength. He appeared to carry on his Academic reading pretty steadily; but the vein of composition was then freely in flow, and the course of regular study doubtless suffered encroachment; more especially as the hours allotted to exercise and social intercourse,—often and often combined in the fine evenings and even nights of a beautiful season in that attractive neighbourhood,—were rarely invaded. And truly it was at this period of his life, more perhaps than any other, with the delicious sense of the laurel freshly twined around his head, and the more intoxicating consciousness of the potent faculty gathering strength within, that Beddoes considered himself as entered on the poet’s shining track. He certainly gave himself, with untiring ardour, to the nightly (perhaps daily) company of one, the most impassioned, of the Muses, and found apparently an increasing satisfaction in the intercourse. His poetic composition was then exceedingly facile: more than once or twice has he taken home with him at night some unfinished act of a drama, in which the editor had found much to admire, and, at the next meeting, has produced a new one, similar in design, but filled with other thoughts and fancies, which his teeming imagination had projected, in its sheer abundance, and not from any feeling, right or fastidious, of unworthiness in its predecessor. Of several of these very striking fragments, large and grand in their aspect as they each started into form,
Like the red outline of beginning Adam,
and not unworthy indeed to be associated with that Sistine creation of Michael Angelo, the only trace remaining is literally the impression thus deeply cut into their one observer’s mind. The fine verse just quoted is the sole remnant, indelibly stamped on the editor’s memory, of one of these extinct creations. Of two others, a dimly-remembered outline of the intended plot, and their appropriate and emphatic titles,—Love’s arrow poisoned,and The Last Man—are the only tokens now left of their having once had a shadowy existence. These abrupt desertions were however not attributable to fickleness of character or infirmity of purpose in the author, but rather, it may be fairly admitted, to that deficiency in the circle of his powers, not less obvious to himself than to his most discerning critic,—namely of the faculty for construction of a story and the development of character therefrom. The want of this plastic skill was sure to make itself felt in the progress of his work, creating difficulties which “the proud full sail of his great verse” only rendered more perplexing: and then, as the simplest mode of escape from the non dignus vindice nodus, recourse was had by the disgusted poet to this Alexandrine method of excision. It is the wont of young play-wrights in general to delight in the home-manufacture of plot and story: unlike the profounder teachers of the Art,—the Greek triad, the delineators of Macbeth and Lear, of Wallenstein and the Cenci,—they are loth to take, from the open store-house of historic fact and popular belief, the simple but expressive outlines which await only the master’s hand to invest them with life and substance: and Beddoes, at all times rejoicing in the exercise of creative power, carried its tyrannic function into every province of dramatic Art. There was characteristic wilfulness in this; there was pride perhaps; but not vanity,—a passion with him ever too weak to impel or direct his poetic faculty. He was never a writer on merely personal themes: from the period when he had fairly entered on Parnassian ground, his powers were directed, with fixed aim and purpose, to the accomplishment of what should be general and true as works of Art, endowed with a substantive existence apart from the author’s: and his own mind, fused into creative fervour, was poured, bright or turbid but ever objectively, into the larger moulds of imaginative form. The field he had selected; in preference to all others, was the Drama; which, if requiring, for the complete development of its wealth, more varied powers than he possessed, was still the best adapted for calling forth, in its direct relation to Man and the troubled inner world, the deeply tragic elements of his poetic nature: and here he systematically set himself to work, with the singleness of purpose and untiring zeal of a youthful devotee. In this year, and the two following, was produced the great bulk of what poetry he has left, besides much that has been destroyed or lost. To destroy, with so many authors the most painful and difficult of tasks, was to him not less easy than to produce: a passage or a scene, if, on a comprehensive view, it appeared superfluous or misplaced, was never spared from destruction for its own inherent beauty. More than one inspired passage in Death’s Jest-book was, on this account, left with the fatal mark of condemnation; (e.g. Ziba’s very striking legend of the origin of his race, and large portions of the two noble soliloquies of the Duke at the end of the 2nd scenes of Acts I. and II.) but to carry out the sentence was beyond the Editor’s severity of judgment. This unhesitating sacrifice of partial, but inaccordant, beauty, despite its claims to a parental forbearance, though indicative perhaps more characteristically of the man, in his freedom from vanity, and, latterly, in his indifference to poetic fame, is still also among the surest tests of the true artistic mind. What he did, he was anxious to do well, in itself and for itself: the finely sculptured statue was his aim—in the nobler parts, in the total expression,—not at all the inscription of his name upon the pedestal. He was a poet from strong internal impulse, and delight in its indulgence; and when these deserted him, he became, though personal distinction lay unquestionably at all times within his reach, “contented with oblivion.” Under such eclipse of the inner light, however, he had then no thought of falling; and pleasure led him through his flowery tasks with the resistless instinct of the sunny bee. To show the earnestness of his present devotion, by the minute attention which so impetuous a muse did not disdain to give to the security of her footing, an extract of memoranda, made for his own guidance in the mechanics of dramatic Art, is here printed from one of his early note-books : the dramatis personæ, which it refers to, being characters in his abandoned tragedy of Love’s arrow poisoned.
“The words of each speaker to be, if possible, always characteristic: e.g.
Those of Leonigild, dark, deep, and treacherous: with an occasional simulation of candour; varied by bursts of venomous sarcasm and unholy ridicule; with a roughness of phrase.
Ziba: solemn, antique, mysterious and authoritative; with an antiquity of phrase.
Melchior: rude, coarse, and daring.
Luca: the prose of a foolish old man.
Aurelio: poetical from love or indignation: impassioned; with cadences of gentler feeling.
Erminia: of more gentle innocence; soft and poetical, ascending to pure sublimity of feeling at the end.
The king: majestically high: in adversity confiding in his fortune.
Marcia: Bold and ambitious,—wordily so. Eight or nine variations to be observed.
Character might also be discriminated by appropriating to each mask, if possible, a peculiar style of versification; and metaphors drawn from certain circumstances of nature or art; by a delicacy, or boldness, of language; by distributing to one the antique, to another idiomatic English, to a third latinity &c. to confine inversions, open ëds and parentheses to one &c.
Strength and abruptness of versification, compression of style, rough words, metaphors from night and the tomb, ruin, storms &c. for Leonigild.
Continual reference to ancient things and events; strange words, wildness of imagery, a sweeping and enthusiastic style of versification,—like an anthem, rising and swelling,—for the old Arab.
Marstonic lines for Melchior; metaphors of hell, lower animals: try the effect of using no epithets.
Erminia; golden lines, carefully modulated; soft and tender expressions; metaphors from the beautiful and elegant; more fancy than imagination; gentle and delicate words,—concetti,—”
Of the personal and social bearing of Beddoes, at this time, a slight outline cannot here be misplaced or unacceptable. The most obvious feature of his character then, and indeed at all times afterwards, was its manly, uncompromising independence. On all speculative and literary topics his judgments and opinions were self-evolved; tinctured more or less, as the feeding mind needs must be, with the juices of its pastures, but still the digested product of his own mental action. At that early age,—for he was yet in his minority,—he had made himself master of the whole range of our imaginative literature, and of much in the dead and foreign languages,—and that too in the proper meaning of the word: he had sifted, and sorted, and weighed the various mass, with a discriminating sagacity and firmness of hand, which now, after a lapse of nearly 30 years, and when the editor’s own critical estimates have probably been corrected and matured, still appear to him as indicating in the youthful poet a strength and solidity of judgment, as remarkable in their precocity as any of his finer gifts of genius. To the transient popularities of the day, such as might form the undergraduate’s literary creed, a mind so idoloclastic would show but little homage: on the contrary, its heterodox tendencies, doubtless sometimes mischievously pushed to extremes, must often have ruffled the critical harmony of Pembroke. In one of his letters of that period he says significantly: “I saw ——, (the greatest fool within the walls of my acquaintance,) the other night, at Oxford, repeating the whole of The Deformed in raptures. God forgive him!” In these honest, if mistaken, protests against popular favouritism, it may be confidently asserted, there was no leaven of personal jealousy: indeed he was always on the watch to hail and welcome the appearance of any meritorious novelty, more especially in his own province of the tragic drama. Of one such production of the day, ‘Montezuma,’ the author of which was quite unknown to him, he volunteered a very friendly review for the Oxford Magazine; and wrote his poem of Pygmalion as a bribe, he says, for its insertion. There is little in the anecdotage of poets, more agreeable than the disclosure of their tastes and preferences in regard to other poetry than their own: and such are often indirectly tests and exponents of the true quality of the inspiration breathing in themselves. Among the contemporaries of Beddoes, those whom he ranked foremost, for imaginative power and all the finer poetic endowments, were Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats: to the first, his was an unbiassed homage, given of right and willingly: but doubtless his heart was more with the other twain, whose attraction for the author of The Brides’ Tragedy, those who are familiar with the impassioned poetry of that work, and with theirs, will not be at a loss to apprehend: and in them his delight was habitual, genial, and complete. The singularly original and intense character of the poetry of Keats,—in his Hyperion, his Lamia, and all the other marvels, especially the odes, which were too lavishly showered from that little golden book, as pearls among the servum pecus and their kindred drivers, possessed a peculiar fascination for the mind of Beddoes; and traces of its influence are discernible in one of his compositions, the Pygmalion,—the sole instance of a direct impress from another mind, in the whole compass of the latter’s poetry. It was not surprising therefore that he should fling his heaviest stone of abuse against an age, whose indignities,—half insult, half neglect,—towards one of its most gifted poets had silenced his voice for ever, and still checked the posthumous publication of his remains. The admiration and delight of Beddoes however fully rested in Shelley alone; in the imaginative force and richly varied harmonies of all his wonderful verse; and more especially in The Cenci, in style so unlike its author’s other writings, but which for its sustained power, its nobility of beauty, its grand simplicity of manner and its consummate mastery throughout, Beddoes then and at all times pronounced to be the great poetical achievement of the age, and indeed the very culminating point in the ascension of our literature since the death of Milton: and it was jealousy of the unfounded pre-eminence over Shelley, popularly awarded to Byron, that probably exasperated his criticism on the latter poet, and indeed every other of rival reputation. With those who partake his admiration of Shelley, it will be no unpleasing memento of Beddoes to learn that, finding the risk of expense to be a bar to the immediate publication of the posthumous poems, he offered, in conjunction with two other of the deceased poet’s admirers, to incur the hazard: and it was on their guarantee that the first edition of the posthuma, (that in one vo1. 1824,) was published.* (*The whole impression (excepting a few copies that had been distributed or sold) was almost immediately withdrawn by Mrs. Shelley, as part of an arrangement with Sir Timothy Shelley: but the object of Beddoes and his associates was not the less attained in the security and partial circulation of the poems.) Amongst our poets of past ages, he was naturally most drawn to those who had occupied his own demesne,—the drama: and here, at whose shrine was to be offered the real homage of a devout study, there could be no room for choice. In his appreciation of Shakespeare therefore, not merely as the first minister of delight to the thirsters after the deep springs of poetry, but as the highest and soundest teacher of the principles of dramatic Art, no poetical student, English or German, could go beyond him. With our later dramatists,—all indeed except the Elizabethan,—his sympathies were scanty; and he had but little respect for their performances. Poetry, that merely touched the springs of sentiment, however richly and eloquently passionate, unless informed with imaginative intellect, was to him a thing of nought: he would neither accept, nor produce, it. It was the combination of these essential elements in the poetry of the Elizabethan dramatists, that made their best productions—those at least of the earlier of Shakespeare’s contemporaries,—of Marlowe, Decker and Chapman, Marston, Webster and Tourneur,—who in this respect, although not in some other important qualifications as play-wrights, came nearest to their great exemplar,—such especial favourites with their young emulator of the nineteenth century. So akin indeed to these gifted writers was he in some of the prevailing elements of his genius, that, by a rather summary criticism, that similarity, developed in his works, has been attributed to direct imitation of theirs. If he was an imitator, it was unconsciously; nay, the resemblance, in aught that lay within the writer’s control,—in all indeed, beyond the cognate poetic mind, (thought and passion in combination, the only true imaginative,)—was even in direct opposition to a cardinal axiom in his philosophy of the Art; namely, that the productions of a past age, however excellent and complete in themselves, cannot be more than stimulative and suggestive to the artist in the present; whose working models must ever be formed in the plastic, living material, and not taken from the marble of the tombs. With regard to the social features of Beddoes’ character, it may be almost superfluous to say that, when it suited his company, he preferably indulged in literary discussion. Still, to the topic or pleasure of the hour, whatever it might chance to be, he would contribute his full quota: and always heartily, as one who had made up his mind that, not to seem, but to live was the essential function of Man. In the tête-à-tête pedestrian tour, or in the mixed circle, he was alike good company: his rich and energetic mind, wherever directed,—in quest of humorous or historic illustrations, of grotesque or poetic fancies,—did worthy service in quickening the atmosphere of thought. He was fond, too fond perhaps, of colloquial contest, (so rarely a decreasing fondness,) and certainly never disguised his estimate,of his opponent’s argument, as he desired no indulgence for his own: habitudes, which sometimes disturb the polished surface of social intercourse, (though they neither need, nor should,) and assuredly ruffled not his own admirable temper. This latter quality indeed was more than habitual, it was integral with his nature; and, carried by him into all the relations and trials of life, it deserved a higher name. In his after-career, acquaintanceships and intimacies fell off from him, as they will from all; but these occasional sheddings never quickened into reptile life: simply what had ceased to satisfy, passed away from his mind, and he withdrew to something more congenial, or, oftener, into himself. Antipathies he had, both literary and personal, and strong ones, which he cared not to discard, but they never degenerated into enmities: whilst anger, resentment, captiousness, and the thousand forms of uncharitableness were excluded, as things too petty, from his capacious mind. To the sordid vices he was altogether a stranger; nay, to the acquisition of money even after the most allowable fashion, remarkably indifferent: and this, not from heedlessness or indolence, for he was a laborious student, but from sheer superiority to the pleasures and distinctions it confers: thus presenting the rather unusual spectacle of an Englishman in the nineteenth century, who, possessed of the faculties and position that command worldly advantage, was yet content to pass through life with a very moderate, almost philosophic, competence, wholly careless to increase it by any exertions of his own, and positively hostile to the serviceable intervention of family or social influence. In this summary representation of Beddoes, the editor has spoken honestly from his own convictions and those of all other friends, with whom he has communicated, and who really knew the man. To the stranger, in after-years, his deportment and manner were frequently not winning, from the coldness and reserve so incident to a strong, self-involved nature, utterly indifferent to external favours and applause, and whose pride never took the form of obtrusiveness or pretension. His life however was simple, and thoroughly true to itself; ever, to its inmost depths, calm and imperturbable: and the dignity and grandeur, so conspicuous in his imaginative faculty, may be truly said to have entered largely into his whole being…To revert to smaller characteristic traits, it was impossible for any one to be less of an egotist in his discourse than was Beddoes, at that early period, and indeed at all times afterwards: he never alluded to the merely personal,—to matters relating to his family, or his own career, which might not unbecomingly have ministered to a little pardonable vanity: he never once spoke of Charter-house; he rarely mentioned Oxford: his own compositions were a topic, only when introduced by others, and which introduction he neither courted nor encouraged. Indeed his solicitude for his poetical offspring was always scant, and at length altogether failed. Many of them he ruthlessly destroyed; others he abandoned to way-side charity; a large portion of the present volume he did not, and would not, look at during the last twenty years of his life; and he died without making provision for the safety of any part of what has been posthumously published, except the hasty consignment of all to the absolute arbitrament, for life or death, of the present writer.
But this Memoir has at length reached the point, where the mist of words that darken may be rolled aside, and Beddoes allowed, with his own photographic pen, to portray himself. Having returned to Oxford, he thus writes to Mr. Procter, alluding in his second letter to an expected visit from him and the editor.
5 Novr. 1823. Pemb. Coll.
“You really ought to come, for recollect this is Beaumont’s College, and Sir Thomas Browne’s; and over the way rare Ben domineered for some time with jolly Bishop Corbet, Cartwright and Randolph—and these are not all our phantoms; for is not Port at once a spirit and a red sea, still the Lord of “all the proctors, all the doctors,” the master of Masters, and the mistress of Bachelors of arts? But I believe you are a greater admirer of Black tea her younger sister.”
* * *
Pemb. Coll. Thursday Evening,
Day of the month undiscovered.
(21 November, 1823.)
Your Shelleian diligence and news amply atone for all your sins of epistolary omission; though you have terribly frightened me about Charles I. I had looked for that fragment with great eagerness, having heard from some quarter that a Shakespearean clown had been introduced. To my mind the only error of the Cenci is, that its splendid author seemed to have the Greeks, instead of Shakespeare, as his model in his mind’s eye: if he had followed the latter, I see no reason why he should not have been the second English dramatist. If I decipher your letter right, and I am not quite certain that I do, there is a translation of Euripides’ Satyric drama, The Cyclops: I am glad of it, for the play, being almost an unique specimen of Greek humour, (wit, they had in abundance, but very little of the other, which is the soul of comedy, if wit is the mind,) deserves a spirited translation, such as the poet in question, and very few besides, could give. Part of the original is almost Calibanic.
What more have I to say, but that I shall remain here almost a month longer, and shall be greatly delighted to see you and K—— at the end of your and his week. Pray come if you can; and I leave that possibility to your couple of consciences, not to your fancies.[“]
From this time until May 1825, when he took his Bachelor’s degree, he remained in England; sojourning at Oxford, at Clifton, with his family, or in London, where he kept lodgings for the convenience of occasional indulgence in literary or theatric inclinations; except during a few weeks of the summer of 1824, spent in an excursion to Florence, on account of his mother, there seeking the restoration of her health. Before his arrival she had died; and, remaining only a short time in Italy, he conducted his sisters back to England. By these cares, and by business connected with the attainment of his majority, the preparation for his Bachelor’s degree was greatly interrupted; and he felt compelled in consequence to defer his examination till the time above specified. Of his literary tastes and pursuits, during this intervening period, an interesting glimpse is given in the following extracts from his correspondence.
Devereux Court, (Temple)
To the Editor. February, 1824.
* * *
Spenser! you do him injustice: I was and am villainously ignorant of him: but I have bought him in folio, and intend to read him piece-meal. Beginning, as all rational folks do, at the end, I stumbled on, “Britain’s Ida;” which is extremely like Keats, with a mixture of the Shakespearean play on words. I picked up Daniel too, who is certainly an unconquerable Alp of weariness: his tragedies would have delighted Voltaire; they are a good deal worse than Cato. I have finished the first act of a play; oh! so stupid. Procter has the brass to tell me that he likes that fool ‘The last man.’ I shall go on with neither: there are now three first acts in my drawer; when I have got two more I shall stitch them together, and stick the sign of a fellow tweedling a mask in his fingers, with “good entertainment for man and ass,” understood, as the grammarians, (not the chrestomathic ones,) say.
* * * * * *
Those three acts, which I cannot possibly show to any eye but that of Vulcan, are absolutely worthless; and you may imagine that I prize your good opinion too well to forfeit it knowingly. You may trust me that they are bad; if good, I should say so and send them, being convinced that the affectation of modesty is the hardest brass of impudence and self-conceit. Be satisfied that they are damnable.
To Mr. Procter. (February, 1824.)
I write this to leave at your eyrie, for my prophetic spirit tells me that I shall not find you in it. When am I to go with you to see Coleridge? When meet John Lacy? And so there is no answer to him in this month’s London: when it does appear it may be signed John Lazy.
The two foregoing questions are meant to be answered, in what way you please: because I think of going out of town about the middle of next week for ten days or a fortnight. I hope you have been committing a murder or two since I saw you, or at least have been with the devil: if not, I cannot recommend you to mercy.
What is this Covent Garden tragedy? and whose? L E L’s or Shiel’s? or Grimaldi’s?
I was at “Much ado” the other night and observed the good effect of the snip-snap system of dialogue, in the scene between Benedict and Beatrice after Hero’s repudiation, (IV. I.) but it is only as a relief; and I really cannot like a plan which will go far to exclude poetry, all the tenderer passions, (which are proverbially garrulous,) and almost every thing like eloquence———(rest torn off.)
Bristol, March 3, (1824.)
I have just been reading your epistle to our Ajax Flagellifer, the bloody John Lacy: on one point, where he is most vulnerable, you have omitted to place your sting,—I mean his palpable ignorance of the Elizabethans, and many other dramatic writers of this and preceding times, with whom he ought to have formed at least a nodding acquaintance, before he offered himself as physician to Melpomene.
About Shakespeare you don’t say enough. He was an incarnation of nature, and you might just as well attempt to remodel the seasons, and the laws of life and death, as to alter “one jot or tittle” of his eternal thoughts. “A star” you call him: if he was a star, all the other stage-scribblers can hardly be considered a constellation of brass buttons. I say he was an universe; and all material existence, with its excellences and defects, was reflected in shadowy thought upon the chrystal waters of his imagination, ever-glorified as they were by the sleepless sun of his golden intellect. And this imaginary universe had its seasons and changes, its harmonies and its discords, as well as the dirty reality; on the snow-maned necks of its winter hurricanes rode madness, despair, and “empty death, with the winds whistling through the white grating of his sides;” its summer of poetry, glistening through the drops of pity; and its solemn and melancholy autumn, breathing deep melody among the “sere and yellow leaves” of thunder-stricken life, &c. &c. (see Charles Phillips’s speeches and x.y.z. for the completing furbelow of this paragraph.)
By the 3rd scene of the 4th act of Macbeth, I conclude that you mean the dialogue between Malcolm and Macduff, which is only part of the scene; for the latter part, from the entrance of Rosse, is of course necessary to create an interest in the destined avenger of Duncan, as well as to set the last edge to our hatred of the usurper. The Doctor’s speech is merely a compliment to the “right divine” of people in turreted night-caps to cure sores a little more expeditiously than Dr. Solomon; and is too a little bit of smooth chat, to show, by Macduff’s manner, that he has not yet heard of his wife’s murder.
I hope Guzman has grown since I saw him, and has improved in vice.
I shall be in London in about a week, and hope to find you in your Franciscan eyrie,—singing among the red brick boughs, and laying tragedy-eggs for Covent Garden market.
So you “think this last author will do something extraordinary:”—so do I too; I should not at all wonder, if he was to be plucked for his degree,—which would be quite delightful and new.
* * * * * *
This March wind has blown all my sense away, and so farewell.
Milan, June, 8, (1824.)
If I do not dream this is the city of Sforza, and to-day I have seen a picture of his wife by Leonardo da Vinci. Paris, Lyons, Turin and Novara, and beautiful Chambery in its bed of vines; they have passed before me like the Drury Lane Diorama, and I almost doubt whether I have been sitting in the second tier or on the top of the diligence. Paris is far preferable to London as a place of amusement, and the manner of the lower orders is strikingly superior to that of their island equals. I saw the opera; the ballet much better than ours, but the music was French; the house is not nearly so commodious or elegant as Drury Lane, and the painting and mechanism of their scenery is not so dextrous and brilliant. The Theatre della Scala in this city I have not yet seen; it is considered only inferior to the San Carlo at Naples. Savoy, from the French frontier to Chambery, is the most beautiful country I have yet seen; nothing between the Alps and Milan is equally rich, varied, and delightful: towards the Alps the vines grow thinner and give place at first to corn, then to ragged herbage, and finally mother earth hides her head under a coverlid of snow; and with their country and climate change the inhabitants,—you have the goitred and the cretins instead of the Savoyard of gentle manners and frank countenance. On the frontiers of fertile Italy they brought us a salad of dandelions at dinner.
Since I began this letter I have been to the top of the cathedral, and in the pit of the Teatro della Scala—The former is the finest church externally which I have seen; but the interior of Westminster’s old abbey is triumphant over the marble simplicity of the Milanese’s concave. The roof is finished with pinnacles and battlements of white marble, of a workmanship as exquisite as if it were in ivory; from the summit all the rich country from Alp to Apennine, river and hill, and wood, the cool lakes, and the vineyards of an ardent green, lay themselves at your feet. Last night the clouds had unrolled from the mountains, which were themselves as visionary as clouds; the “roof of blue Italian weather” was here and there decorated by a tapestried vapour, silver or pale gold, gathered up among the stars and slowly toiling along the calm air; the sun fell quietly behind the Alps, and, the moment he touched them, it appeared that all the snows took fire and burned with a candescent brilliancy—(I hope you like the opening of my new novel, as contained in the preceding paragraph.) Now for della Scala—It is a vast theatre,—six tiers of boxes, all hung with silk, disposed like our window curtains, of a light blue or yellow colour; the pit, I should think, almost twice as large as Covent Garden’s. The Opera was Tancredi,—Madame Sesta, the prima donna, old but generally preferred to Pasta,—the primo basso a most extraordinary singer, with topes more like those of an organ than any human creature. The scenery is not, in my opinion, equal to the best at our theatres. One of the drops was a sort of Flemish painting, the subject a village carnival, very well executed. Such a thing would be novel at C.G. if it could be well, but it must be very well, done. Now that silk is so cheap too I think they might be a little more lavish of draperies; but we are not managers yet—The ballet, i baccanali aboliti, incalculably superior to ours or the French, in the exquisite grace of the grouping, the countless abundance of dancers, and the splendour and truth of costume and decoration. The house was about one third full, and the people all talking, so that there was a buz outbuzzing the Royal Exchange all night, except during “di tanti palpiti.”—And what else have I seen? A beautiful and far famed insect;—do not mistake, I mean neither the Emperor of Austria nor the king of Sardinia, but a much finer specimen of creation,—the firefly. Their bright light is evanescent, and alternate with the darkness; as if the swift wheeling of the earth struck fire out of the black atmosphere;—as if the winds were being set upon this planetary grindstone, and gave out such momentary sparks from their edges.—Their silence is more striking than their flashes, for sudden phenomena are almost invariably attended with some noise; but these little jewels dart along the dark as softly as butterflies.—For their light, it is not nearly so beautiful and poetical as our still companion of the dew, the glowworm with her drop of moonlight.
* * * * * *
To night at twelve I leave Milan and shall be at Florence on Saturday, long before this letter tastes the atmosphere, (pardonnez—I mean the smoke) of London.
P.S. If you see Mrs. Shelley, ask her to remember me, and tell her that I am as anxious to change countries with her, as she can be. If I could be any use in bringing the portrait &c. it would be a proud task, but most likely I only flash over Florence: entering in the flood of the stars and departing with their ebb.
To the Editor. (25 Aug. 1824.)
I should have written to you some time ago, if I had not hoped to see you before this: some business will detain me in town ten days or perhaps a fortnight longer; at the expiration of which I hope to have a month or so for Southampton. Though I depend very little on my poetical faculty, it is my intention to complete one more tragedy, on the comparative merits or demerits of which future determinations will depend. The disappearance of Shelley from the world seems, like the tropical setting of that luminary, (aside, I hate that word) to which his poetical genius can alone be compared with reference to the companions of his day, to have been followed by instant darkness and owl-season: whether the vociferous——is to be the comet, or tender, fullfaced——the milk-and-watery moon of our darkness, are questions for the astrologers: if I were the literary weather-guesser for 1825 I would safely prognosticate fog, rain, blight in due succession for its dullard months.
* * * * * *
Shelley’s book! This is a ghost indeed, and one who will answer to our demand for hidden treasure. The Dirge for the year—that Indian fragment—The boat on the Serchio—and The letter—with Music—are to me the best of the new things, and perfectly worthy of the mind which produced them. The translation of Mercury’s hymn too, though questionable as to the fidelity of its tone, is delightfully easy. What would he not have done, if ten years more, that will be wasted upon the lives of unprofitable knaves and fool, had been given to him. Was it that more of the beautiful and good, than nature could spare to one, was incarnate in him, and that it was necessary to resume it for distribution through the external and internal worlds? How many springs will blossom with his thoughts! how many fair and glorious creations be born of his one extinction!
Clifton, Novr. 1824.
* * * * * *
I have been turning over the plays in the British Museum, and verily think that another volume of specimens might be very well compiled. When I go up again, perhaps I shall do it for my private use. I was very much disappointed with the dulness that hid itself under the alluring title, which you must often have admired, to wit, See me and see me not, or Hans Beerpot’s invisible comedy. Marston’s Sophonisba contains very good things, and there are some smart and quaintly-worded speeches and characters in some of Middleton’s comedies. The dullest thing possible is The Birth of Merlin, ascribed to W. Shakespeare: if steam-engines shall ever write blank verse, it will be such as that.
* * * * * *
The four first acts of The Fatal Dowry have improved my opinion of Massinger: he is a very effective stage-poet after all.
Clifton, Dec. 1824.
* * * * * *
Meantime, lost to German and all humane learning, o’erhusked with sweet dozing sloth, writing now and then some such an unsightly scrawl as this, or scratching a tuneless and abortive verse, I ensconce myself in the hospitality of my Clifton demi-uncle.
* * * * * *
A new tragic abortion of mine has absolutely extended its fœtus to a quarter of the fourth act: when finished,—if finished,—I think it will satisfy you and myself of my poetical and dramatic impotence…The mystery, you see, is torn from Ravenna; which, if it persists, in spite of the dramatic calvinism of the pit, in being alive when it ought to be damned, we’ll see.
Clifton, (January 1825.)
Day after day since Christmas I have intended to write or go to London, and day after day I have deferred both projects: and now I will give you the adventures and mishaps of this present sunday. Remorse, and startling conscience, in the form of an old, sulky, and a shying, horse, hurried me to the ‘Regulator’ coach-office on Saturday. ‘Does the Regulator and its team conform to the Mosaic decalogue, Mr. Book-keeper?’ He broke Priscian’s head, and, through the aperture, assured me that it did not: I was booked for the inside:—”call at twenty-six Mall for me,”—”Yes, Sir, at 1/2 past five, A.M.”—At five I rose like a ghost from the tomb, and betook me to coffee. No wheels rolled through the streets but the inaudible ones of that uncreated hour. It struck six,—a coach was called,—we hurried to the office, but the coach was gone. Here followed a long Brutus-and-Cassius discourse between a shilling-buttoned-waistcoatteer of a porter and myself, which ended in my extending mercy to the suppliant coach-owners, and agreeing to accept a place for Monday. All well thus far.—The biped knock of the post alighted on the door at twelve, and two letters were placed upon my German dictionary,—your own, which I at first intended to reply to vivâ voce, had not the second informed me of my brother’s arrival in England, his short leave of absence, and his intention to visit me here next week. This twisted my strong purpose like a thread, and disposed me to remain here about ten days longer. On the 21st at latest I go to London. Be there and I will join you, or, if not, pursue you to Southampton.
The Fatal Dowry has been cobbled, I see, by some purblind ultra-crepidarian—McCready’s friend, Walker, very likely; but nevertheless, I maintain, ’tis a good play, and might have been rendered very effective by docking it of the whole fifth act, which is an excrescence,—re-creating Novall, and making Beaumelle a great deal more ghost-gaping and moonlightish. The cur-tailor has taken out the most purple piece in the whole web,—the end of the fourth Act,—and shouldered himself into toleration through the prejudices of the pit, when he should have built his admiration on their necks. Say what you will, I am convinced the man who is to awaken the drama must be a bold trampling fellow, no creeper into wormholes, no reviver even, however good. These re-animations are vampire-cold. Such ghosts as Marloe, Webster &c. are better dramatists, better poets, I dare say, than any contemporary of ours, but they are ghosts; the worm is in their pages; and we want to see something that our great-grandsires did not know. With the greatest reverence for all the antiquities of the drama, I still think that we had better beget than revive; attempt to give the literature of this age an idiosyncrasy and spirit of its own, and only raise a ghost to gaze on, not to live with. Just now the drama is a haunted ruin.
Devereux Court, March 1825.
* * * * * *
In the first place lo! I am expert in reading German, even so far as now to be employing an hour a day or so in the metrical translation of the old, obscure, tedious ‘Niebelungenlied: about one hundred lines is all as yet finished of this work,—a grain from the mountain of 9560, of which it is compact. As usual I have begun a new tragedy, which at present I think of completing. I understand that Mr. Thos. Campbell has in some newspaper, in a paltry refutation of some paltry charge of plagiarism, regarding his paltry poem in the paltry Edinburgh, touched the egg of my Last Man. The gentleman is completely addled, and the steam of my teapot will never be powerful enough to supply the place of incubation; nevertheless sometime or other I will treat it, not in the style of Hopkins and Campbell. You have seen or heard of the Oxford Magazine; I am told that it is the progeny of my College and one or two others—its best and principal contributor in the Praed line being one ingenious Mr. ——, a clever youth, who is my successor in the literary chair at Pembroke. They have dunned me for a contribution, and, though I anticipate precocious dullness and an early death, I believe I shall be foolish enough to write them some special bad rhymes. Should you think of going on with German I can get you a book or two. * * * Learn it by all means: its literature touches the heaven of the Greek in many places, and the language is as easy as possible, to my notion more so than French. I have been seriously studying it since New Year’s day only, and can read Schiller with little difficulty,—Goëthe, in his poems and un-vulgarised-and-cant-stuff’d writings, easily.
For many reasons at this moment it is impossible for me to Southamptonise. I must soon go to Ireland: at present the law is on me,—you know what a beast it is,—and, after my return from the Emerald mother of potatoes, I shall have to settle my affairs, sell, and pay, and impoverish myself to the bone, and then set off for Germany; but be sure I do not leave England without seeing you, nor, if I can but finish, without dropping into the press some frail memorial of my existence. The state of literature now is painful and humiliating enough: any one will write for £15 a sheet;—Who for love of art, who for fame, who for the purpose of continuing the noble stream of English minds? We ought too to look back, with late repentance and remorse, on our intoxicated praise, now cooling, of Lord Byron:—such a man to be so spoken of, when the world possessed Goëthe, Schiller, Shelley!—
O self-satisfied England! this comes of always looking at herself in the looking-glass of the sea, I suppose.
Not quite so much as you deserve, my dear K—, not quite a quire of spoiled paper accompanies this. I believe the valuable autumn-hued envelope is the most deserving of the collection. Read if you can and the Lord have mercy on you and pardon your wilfulness. I cannot find your barking-cloud song—I dare say it is in my desk, which is apud te in——, but I wrote in the coach, which brought me from Southampton to London five months since, a famous one beginning
Ho! Adam the carrion crow,
The old crow of Cairo, &c.
which is sung, with much applause, by one of my dramatis personæ in the unfinished drama No. 3 in my possession. I am clear of the Oxford, but have been dunned for No. 2; and, as I shall very likely be there in a week, or so, I shall give ’em some such stuff as Nettley Abbey, which I turned up in looking for the canine cloud, because I want to get a criticism, which I have just begun on ‘Montezuma,’ a thing I like vastly, to be printed, and hope they’ll be bribed by my rhyme to swallow my reason. And there is an excellent sonnet of mine to a terrier, whose biography and portrait I will append pathetically! All that one hears of Schiller inclines one to admire him much more than his fat, leather-chopped, fish-eyed rival with the mock star of Von-ity on his padded coat. I have read that fellow’s Tasso, which is a disgraceful apology for the conduct of the Duke of Ferrara, and represents poor Torquato, who was no great wit I fear, as an absolute, spoiled, poetic madman, a sort of Italian Tom Campbell,—as touchy as tinder, and as valuable. This was bound in a volume with his Iphigenia in Tauris, a poem faultlessly delightful, unless it be a fault that, instead of being an imitation of Euripides, it is a victory over him. I never felt so much disgust, or much more admiration, for any poet than for this Goëthe, as I read through it: and I believe every one, who reads all his works, must have this double feeling of contempt of, and delight in, him,—both nearly measureless,—but he has no principle; in thinking of Schiller, you have more to admire than the paper he has written on.
The metrical translation, I was rash enough to speak about, stands thus: Niebelungen-lied (German) 9965 lines:
Translated ————— 120 do.
You see why I don’t send it: it is waiting to be finished. Meantime I have abandoned my last new act, and begun the third of that which I was writing at Southampton. I believe I may make an end of one or two in this way.
Be so good as to read, (if you can or do intend it,) with a pencil in your hand, and scratch all that is more particularly detestable and bad than the rest.
I will do ‘The Last Man’ before I die, but it is a subject I save up for a time when I have more knowledge, a freer pencil, a little menschen-lehre, a command of harmony, and an accumulation of picturesque ideas and dramatic characters fit for the theme. Meantime let Tom Campbell rule his roast, and mortify the ghost of Sternhold: it is a subject for Michael Angelo, not for the painter of the Marquis of Granby on the sign-post. Did I tell you, I had a very dull interview with that dealer in broken English, Dr. Spurzheim, the ambassador from Golgotha? He is a strange breeches-full of mankind, and seems inclined to the asinine.
* * * * * *
Pembroke College, April 1825.
(enclosing the ‘Pygmalion.’)
I received the box last night, the letter this morning. Don’t be in a hurry with the MSS.: I wish that I could get you to state an unbiassed opinion: allow me to think you may be a little partial. I wrote this Pig-stuff this morning: what d’ye think of it? Don’t look at J.J. Rousseau: his is much better, because prose. I have not hit what I aimed at,—the beautiful philosophy of the story,—but have fallen, as usual, into diffuseness and uninteresting delay. I wish, if you read The Second Brother again, you would write down all your criticism: mark the MSS. in pencil, and send me a critical epistle. I really think it is very bad. * * Adieu.
Pemb. Coll. June 1825.
(after renewing an invitation to visit Oxford at the ensuing Commemoration “a high and solemn act of Academic mummery at which Chantrey is to receive a degree of LLD.”)
Here is another attraction which I had well nigh forgotten—the new number of the Oxford Quarterly is to be produced on the occasion, in which there will be a translation of a very curious high German piece of Schiller’s called the ‘Philosophische Briefe,’ executed by your obedient servant.
Oxford is the most indolent place on earth. I have fairly done nothing in the world but read a play or two of Schiller, Æschylus, and Euripides. * * I do not intend to finish that Second Brother you saw, but am thinking of a very gothic-styled tragedy, for which I have a jewel of a name;
of course no one will ever read it. * *
Oxford idleness, the heat of the day, and the clock, which is just striking the hour for my lecture on Comparative Anatomy, break me off. * *
He had now taken his Bachelor’s degree, (a common one,) and was at length at liberty to enter upon that larger sphere of action, for which he had long become fit and eager. Of the two professions, between which he at all deliberated, he soon decided in favour of that of Physic; to which his father’s distinguished example, and its own inexhaustible field for the exercise of his powers, could not fail to invite him. And he chose wisely; as success at the Bar was more than doubtful to one, who lacked alike the excitable physical temperament so essential for the flux of speech, and the complacency to devote his energies to the investigation of a verbal philosophy: the studies, in which lay a constraining attraction for him, must have their bases out of man’s sight, in the illimitable. This decision led him to Göttingen, which he expected to find preferable to Edinburgh as a place of medical study; and which he always afterwards represented as possessing superior advantages to those of any other school of anatomy in Europe. Here he entered heartily upon a course of congenial study, continuing at Göttingen the full period of residence (four years) allowed to students in that university; making however, (occasionally and rarely,) excursions to neighbouring museums and galleries of art; and paying one short visit to England, in the spring of 1828, for the purpose of taking his M.A. degree at Oxford. During this lustrum of his mental progress, its direction to the scientific, and from the merely literary, became more and more marked and apparent: not that the imaginative character of his mind actually underwent a change; it was, in reality, strengthened and expanded in this newer sphere of thought; and, in ceasing to be exercised as a distinct faculty, this essential element of his nature was only the more widely and influentially combined in the development of its other spiritual functions. He now moved to various continental universities and schools of science, as the attraction of distinguished adepts and professors drew him in succession. These were not the flying visits of a man oppressed with leisure, and in quest of mere novelty: his range of circuit was far less extensive than might have been supposed, and he often returned upon his steps. In 1829, and two following years, we find him residing at Wurzburgh, where he obtained the degree, without however then (or subsequently) assuming the title, of Doctor in Medicine: afterwards at Strasburgh: in 1833 and several subsequent years, at Zurich, (always with him a favourite place of residence): in 1841 at Berlin: in 1843 at Baden en Suisse, and again at Zurich: from 1844 to 1846 at Baden, Frankfort, Berlin. He came to England in the autumn of 1842: and in 1846 he paid “the native land of the Unicorn,” and his own, a much longer, and a final, visit. Of the operations and direction of his mind, during this long and most important season of its expansion, some partial views are presented in the remaining portion of his letters, which, though penned in truthful unreserve for no eye but his correspondent’s, the editor now fearlessly lays open to the reader, bespeaking only for the writer, in return for the gratification thus imparted in their vivid presentments, so full of singularity and mind, that kindly interpretation of aught startling in speculation or expression, which every observer, worthy of the privilege, will accord to the workings of a noble spirit, and which, in the remarks prefixed to his translation of Schiller’s Philosophic Letters, Beddoes has himself emphatically claimed for that more troubled outpouring of a kindred nature; which is, he says, “principally valuable as a ‘psychological curiosity;’—a mental phenomenon, unveiling, as they do, the feverish doubts and anxieties of a sensitive mind, at its highest degree of fermentation. All men of intellect and imagination will feel, if they dare not avow it, that, at some crisis of their earlier years, they were shaken by the same tempest, and haunted by similar phantoms. Still some expressions will appear extravagant, some feelings over-stretched: let us remember, that they are poured out of one of the most extraordinary minds of an extraordinary nation; that they are the early visions of the Michael Angelo of German literature, the young Titan, Frederic Schiller. And we present them not as a settled finished picture, for study and example; but as an ever-moving reflection of the passing storm of opinion in the waters of a young heart, troubled by the spirits of doubt and imagination. To those who will not accept them on these terms, we can only say ‘Go on in peace;’ knowing that there is nothing which more speedily and irremediably debases, narrows, and petrifies the mind, than the ignorant vanity of criticism. Impudence and assumption govern that mind only which is empty of great feelings. Let him, who is quick-sighted enough to detect an error, remember that it is in the work of Frederic Schiller, and endeavour to raise his being to the height of the author’s, by passing over, with respect and doubt, what seems to him mistaken in a work of genius, even to comprehend which should be enough abundantly to fulfil the ambition of most men.” The concluding sentence of this quotation, so indicative of the writer’s absoluteness of thought and utterance and of the emphatic character of his early literary predilections, is not offered by way of admonition to the present reader; neither is it introductory to a string of metaphysical disquisitions. The following letters assuredly do not spread a ‘feast of words’ only, but one where flesh and blood also have their place; and they are given, as such correspondence always should be, not in excerpto, but as nearly as possible in extenso, so that the writer’s whole nature may be fairly exhibited.
To the Editor. Tuesday, 19th July, 1825.
My dear K——, und mein lieber herr Thomas,
If you will take the sails of the Harwich packet, walk across the German ocean, tool up the Elbe, and turn into the Roman Emperor at Hamburg, be so good as to enquire for mein Herr T.L.B., No. 12 up two pair of stairs, and you will find him sitting on a horse-hair sofa, looking over the Elbe, with his meerschaum at his side, full of Grâve, and abundantly prosaic. To-morrow, according to the prophecies of the diligence, he will set out for Hanovver, (we Germans (here a puff!) always spell it with two v’s,) and, by the end of this week, mein Herr Thomas will probably be a Dr. of the University of Göttingen. What his intentions further may be, I cannot say precisely, as you and I, between ourselves, recollect that he is not endued with the polar virtue of perseverance, and that the needle with which he embroiders his cloth of life has not been rubbed with the magnet of steady determination. I rather think, however, that he will return to England with a somewhat quaint and unintelligible tragedy, which will set all critical pens nib upwards,—à la fretful porcupine.
When he embarked from Harwich, I observed that his only companions were two Oxford men, Professors of genteel larking, without the depth, vivacity, or heartiness which is necessary to render such people tolerable; he instantly drew his shell over him, and remained impenetrably proud and silent every wave of the way, dropping now and then a little venom into the mixture of conversation to make it effervesce.
Hamburg, where he now is, poor young man, is a new brick built town, a fit place to embellish the ugly genius of the broad, flat-sided, muddy Elbe—the very churches of brick, and emetical unto the eye. The people honest and civil, and, God fill their purse for it, no custom house,—no passport required;—but then the women are of a coarse quality—there are no pictures, no sculpture; and, if one meets more upright and manly forms in life, than in Italy, yet you seek in vain paintings superior to signs, or sculpture beyond a tobacco-stopper. * * * *
Now leb wohl—(for the post leaves us soon)
Fahrend oder reitend
sein Der Genius von
Dear K——, Cassel, September 29, 1825.
If you ever received a shabby small letter from Hamburg, you know that I am a Göttingen Student; it is likely that I shall remain so for some time. This university is a handsome likeness of the caricature given of it in all works of the day, which exhibit Germany to the delight of you people in that island; but if there is more harm, I believe there is also more good, in it than in our own.—Blumenbach, who is my best friend among the Professors, is, I fancy, of the first rank as mineralogist, physiologian, geologist, botanist, natural historian and physician; over and above which he possesses an exuberant fancy, and a flow of wit, which is any thing but German;—indeed I suspect that he is the first living writer in Deutschland, for a nearer acquaintance with Goethe has inclined me to rate him much lower than I had anticipated; out of his works, which fill pretty fully some thirty vols—(not like Mr. Colburn’s in capacity of page—) three at most contain what is really good. As a poet he is inferior to his late lordship, and in the novel line somewhere about Mackenzie. The hasty Germans have betrayed their literature, and delivered it to the enemy, by exalting him to the supreme godship thereof; but, ere his bones are cool probably, they will pull down his statue from its pinnacle on the poetic temple, and make it a step to the high altar of some new pen-deity.
They treat their poets as the Romans did their emperors—alive they are golden, heavenly fellows, for whom reviews ascend like triumphal arches;—they die,—a weeping willow and an elegy stick over their graves, and, as the tree draws nourishment out of their decaying corporeal substance, a younger rival sets the roots of his fame in their literary remains, and flourishes as fast as these latter rot. So Goethe has done with regard to Klopstock and Wieland.
Their follies about his sitting between Shakespeare and Sophocles are laughed at everywhere but at the university pothouses, when they grow glorious on the fumes of smallest ale and rankest tobacco. Nevertheless, learn you German, if you are not already master of it, as I suppose: for the solider literature deserves it—History, I mean, and criticism of the true sort. Ludwig Tieck is just about to publish in English and German a number of the Elizabethan fellows: the young folk will then become acquainted with our literary commoners, the steps up to Shakespeare; and, if they do not grow giddy on the ascent, will have an opportunity of contemplating, from the sides and terraces of this mountainous poetry, the molehill which Goëthe and Schiller have thrown up and called the German Parnasse. I am preparing for deep and thorough medical studies; for I find literary wishes fading pretty fast: however, I have writ two acts of an affair, which, if ever consummated, will be tolerably decent,—better I hope than Campbell, &c. I gave the thing I sent you about Pygmalion to the poor Oxford magaziners, but don’t know whether they ever intended to print it.—No one will read it if they do, for their pages are the shortest cut to oblivion one can think of. And now how do you get on in England:—has —— calved any more epicisms? Have Darley, C. Lamb, Mrs. Shelley, &c. printed? In a word, have you anything worth reading? or that you can read without many struggles? I am here at Cassel, a pretty little capital of a pretty great rascal, the Elector of Cassel, whose father sold some thousands of his wretched subjects to England, that he might expend the price of their heads in making a fine garden and building a palace, in which he can’t live. You see what sort of letters I write, and you may bless your stars that they are only quarterly apparitions. I am going to write to Procter just such another, so you may comfort yourself with the thought that there’s fellowship in your post office misery.
There are two of the great Rothschild’s sons studying here just opposite me. At Leipsic they have printed a Shakespeare in one vol. very decently, and the first edition of Hamlet.
Extract from a letter to Mr. Procter: also from Cassel.
Here are plenty of sights of all sorts—a picture gallery containing some most extraordinary great historical pictures of Rembrandt. In his pictorial creations, methinks, this Flemish wonder never got further than Fiat lux. In man-and-woman-making he must have received instructions from some of Nature’s worst journeymen. Here is one, a Sampson, (or Simpson, as the Germans call the poor gate-carrier,) betrayed to the Philistines. You stand at the mouth of a great, dark, wide cave, through which comes an overflow of torch-light, glancing and resting on Philistines’ heads and beards. The wild beast of Israel is at bay on the foreground; but then he is the strangest chaos of wild legs and arms!—One, a dodo-like member, he thrusts into your eye, and the rest are in a state of mutiny against nature and their proprietor. Rembrandt would have been wiser had he called it a picture of Menenius’s fable of The Rebellion against King Belly. There are many wonderfully mysterious heads of his, which look more like evanescent revelations of people that shall be born, than representations of what men have been. They look out at you as if they were going to dive again into their cloudy elements, and as if they could not last an instant. And they are amazingly contrasted with some of Vandyke’s clear and real people, who stand and sit about the walls quietly but quite alive—and knowing that they are so, only they choose to be pictures a little longer.
To the Editor.
My dear K——. Göttingen, Decr. 4, 1825.
Up at five; anatomical reading till six; translation from English into German till seven; prepare for Blumenbach’s lecture on comparative anatomy, and breakfast, till eight; Blumenbach’s lecture till nine; Stromeyer’s lecture on chemistry till ten. Ten to 1/2 past twelve, practical zootomy; 1/2 past twelve to one, English into German or German literary reading, with a pipe. One to two, anatomical lecture. Two to three, anatomical reading; three to four, osteology; four to five, lecture in German language; five to six, dinner and light reading in zootomy, chemistry, or anatomy. Six to seven—this hour is very often wasted in a visit; sometimes anatomical reading till eight; then coffee and read Greek till ten. Ten to eleven, write a little Death’s Jest-book, which is a horrible waste of time, but one must now and then throw away the dregs of the day; read Latin sometimes or even continue the anatomy—and at eleven go to bed.
I give you this account of my weekday occupations that you may collect from it how small a portion of time I can save for correspondence, &c. A few words in answer to your last letter. I will frankly confess to you that I have lost much, if not all, of my ambition to become poetically distinguished: and I do NOT think with Wordsworth that a man may dedicate himself entirely, or even in great part, to the cultivation of that part of literature, unless he possesses far greater powers of imagination, &c. than even W. himself, and, (I need not add) ergo, than I do: or bodily ill health or mental weakness prevents him from pursuing, to any good purpose, studies in useful sciences. At the same time I think you will not fear that I shall become at any time a bare and barren man of science, such as are so abundant, and so appallingly ignorant, on this side of chemistry or anatomy. Again, even as a dramatist, I cannot help thinking that the study of anatomy, physiol- psychol- and anthropol- ogy, applied to and illustrated by history biography and works of imagination, is that which is most likely to assist one in producing correct and masterly delineations of the passions: great light would be thrown on Shakespeare by the commentaries of a person so educated. The studies then of the dramatist and physician are closely, almost inseparably allied; the application alone is different; but is it impossible for the same man to combine these two professions, in some degree at least? The science of psychology, and mental varieties, has long been used by physicians, in conjunction with the corresponding corporeal knowledge, for the investigation and removal of immaterial causes of disease; it still remains for some one to exhibit the sum of his experience in mental pathology and therapeutics, not in a cold, technical, dead description, but a living semiotical display, a series of anthropological experiments, developed for the purpose of ascertaining some important psychical principle—i. e. a tragedy. Thus far to show you that my studies, pursued as I pledge myself to pursue them, are not hostile, but rather favourable, to the development of a germ which I would fain believe within me. You will say, “This may be theoretically true; but no such physician has ever yet appeared.” I shall have great satisfaction in contradicting you, as Dr. Johnson did the man who denied motion. You talk about too much practice, and so forth—I believe that is what is least to be feared; I am very nearly unconnected, am not apt at flattery or the social humiliations to which the fashionable physician is bound, am perhaps somewhat independent, and have a competence adequate to my philosophical desires. These are reasons why I should reject too much practice, if it did intrude; really I am much more likely to remain a patientless physician. And now I will end this unnecessary subject, by telling you that Death’s Jest-book goes on like the tortoise—slow and sure; I think it will be entertaining, very unamiable, and utterly unpopular. Very likely it may be finished in the spring or summer; I shall not, if I can help it, return to England, but shall send it to you or Procter to see what can be done about printing it, with the Pygmalion and the other thing whose name I forget, as it will have a certain connection in a leading feature with them, of which I believe the former is much the best.
As yet I have hardly any German acquaintance here, as I cannot speak the language very tolerably; from one or two specimens with which I am more intimate, and a general external knowledge of the body of students, I can decidedly say, of those here at least, that they have been causelessly and disgracefully ridiculed in our ignorant and flippant travels and periodicals. There is an appetite for learning, a spirit of diligence, and withal a good natured fellow-feeling wholly unparalleled in our old apoplectic and paralytic Almæ Matres; nine students out of ten, at this time of the year, rise at five or six, study the whole day and night, and Saturday night and Sunday morning are set aside for social communication. I never was better employed, never so happy, never so well self-satisfied.
I hope to remain here three years at least; I shall then probably visit Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, some of the Italian universities, and finally Paris; for I intend to devote eight or ten years to these studies, combined with the languages necessary and a slender thread of practical literature. You see I will not fail of being something, by not exercising what talent I have. I feel myself in a measure alone in the world and likely to remain so, for, from the experiments I have made, I fear I am a nonconductor of friendship, a not very likeable person; so that I must make sure of my own respect, and occupy that part of the brain, which should be employed in imaginative attachments, in the pursuit of immaterial and unchanging good.
I am ashamed of having scribbled a letter so full of myself, but I send it because it may entertain you, and I think you require some explanation of my way of studying medicine. Shame on you for having anticipated a regular M.D. to arise out of my ashes, after reduction in the crucible of German philosophy! Apollo has been barbarously separated by the moderns: I would endeavour to unite him. Of German literature, professors here, anecdote and news, in our next, which will not appear before the receipt of your next.
Could you find a ‘Prometheus Unbound’ and a ‘Cenci,’ and send them straight and fearlessly to bey Keil, Jüden Strasse?
Lieber K——. Göttingen, (Dec. 11, 1825.)
* * * * * *
At present anatomy, anatomy, anatomy, of man, dog and bird, occupy so much of my time, that you must pardon me for being very dull; my head is full of the origin and insertion of muscles and such names as trachelo-mastoideus, cerato- chondroglossus, and Bucco- pterygo- mylo- genio- ceratochondro- cricco- thyreo- syndesmo- pharyngeus. But this beginning is the worst part of the science, which after all is a most important and most interesting one; I am determined never to listen to any metaphysician, who is not both anatomist and physiologist of the first rank.
You will not expect much literary intelligence; in Germany, as in England, the greatest writers of the century are either corporeally or spiritually dead. The theatre is a much duller affair than I imagined, tho’ it is much better than the English, of which we must altogether despair. Fuimus Troes. But here in the almost innumerable universities you are sure to meet with little galaxies of Hofraths and professors; all men of more or less talent and information. The best here in their several ways are Benecke, the English professor, a man who understands more English than most natives; Langenbuk and Hempel, anatomists and surgeons; Krauss, Conradi, and Himly, medical professors; Heeren and Saalfeld, historical; and Krause, philosophical—besides the Eichorns and Hugo celebrated Jurists and Divines; and the clever old humorous Blumenbach. One of the most interesting of the idler lectures given here, is by Saalfeld on the History of the French Revolution. This man is a real historian, and no bad orator; but the government people do not much patronize him, as he is extremely free, and if he does not hesitate to condemn Napoleon, has still less remorse in laying bare the infamy of the Polish transaction: he is indeed one of those people who are dreadful to the old continental discipline for his talents and moderation; if he had less of the one, he would no longer be venerated at the university; if less of the other he would be removed from his catheder by the paw of police; and if the latter had effected a total eclipse of the former, he might now be Hofrath and Knight of the Guelphic order.
My dear K. Lieber K——. (1826) April 1. A bad omen!
If you had received all the letters which I had wished to write to you, you would have little to complain of on the score of slack correspondency; but really we people in Germany have as little to say as we people in England, and my thoughts all run on points very uninteresting to you—i.e. on entrails and blood vessels; except a few which every now and then assumed an Iambic form towards the never-ending Jest-book; it lies like a snow-ball, and I give it a kick every now and then out of mere scorn and ill-humour. The fourth act and, I may say, the fifth are more than half done, so that at last it will be a perfect mouse: but such doggrell. Ask Procter else, whom I lately visited with a rhyming punishment for his correspondential sins. Ask him too what he is doing:—I see nothing about editions of poets &c. and yet, I assure you, I see a great deal about literature and its Royal Society—to wit—the Lit. Gaz. which comes, regular and dull, to the tutor of the Rothschilds who live opposite.—What a poetical famine! you must be reduced to Bernard Barton and Hunt’s Blacking-bottles; they are the only classical publications of the season. However, if my friend Death lives long enough to finish his jest-book, it will come with its strangenesses—(it contains nothing else)—like an electric shock among the small critics, and I hope to have the pleasure here of reading a cunning abuse of it from the pen of Jerdan.
On the 26th Febry. we had the Burschen in all their glory: Blumenbach and Eichhorn (that is to say, the stream of flowers and the squirrel)—celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their professorships.
[Here follows a description of the celebration.].
and about three o’clock in the morning the flower of the German youth was as drunk as a fiddler; intending to hear a lecture at eight. Blumenbach is one of the cleverest men in Germany; his works are distinguished for nicety, acuteness, and the minutest acquaintance with the in and outside of nature: but, in his lecture-room, he would be a capital subject for Matthews. He lectures on natural history, that is, his auditors bring his very capital manual in their hands and sit out: in an instant one hears a noise as of Punch on the stairs, and the old powdered professor pushes in, grunting, amid as much laughter as Liston. He then begins a lecture composed of jokes, good stories, imitations, inarticulate sounds and oaths; and, this being ended, goes as he came—a good, clever, merry, old man.
Then there is Langenbuk, the anatomist, who was once a barber: he’s the Kemble of this Munden. During his lecture he throws himself into a thousand attitudes; starts, points, and declaims, and paces loftily up and down his little stage:—he too is a man of first rate merit, as anatomist and surgeon.
Heeren squeaks like Velluti, Hugo is lame, and Bouterwek deaf: this is the story about them,—quite a Provençal tale. When young, in their travels Heeren fell in love with the wife of a very fierce grenadier; and one evening, when the husband was out, went to enjoy a tête-à-tête with the lady. To prevent interruption, he placed his friends as centinels, Bouterwek at the bottom, Hugo at the top of the stairs: the man comes in drunk, gives Bouterwek a box on the ear, that knocks him over and deafens him for life; runs up, kicks Hugo all the way down stairs and breaks his leg; and bursts into the room, and does to Heeren—what Bowdler does to Shakespeare.
You’d be quite delighted to see how I disguise myself here: no human being would imagine that I was anything but the most stoical, prosaic, dull anatomist: I almost out-work the laborious Lauerkrauts; and, to tell you truly, I begin to prefer anatomy &c. to poetry, I mean to my own, and practically: besides I never could have been the real thing as a writer. There shall be no more accurate physiologist and dissector.
How I envy you the pleasure of dissecting and laughing at such a grotesque fish as the Improvisatore. Don’t be malicious and give it to the reviewers—else * * *
Ask me about poets &c.? talk of anatomists, and I’ll tell you something: I have left off reading Parnassian foolery. I can bear a satire still though, and write one too, as Jest-book shall show. Tell me about the Last Man: I am very much obliged to Mrs. S; she has saved me the trouble of spreading the secret of Campbell’s ears. T.L.B.
P.S. Why did you send me the Cenci? I open my own page, and see at once what d—d trash it all is:—no truth or feeling. How the deuce do you, a third and disinterested person, manage to tolerate it? I thank heaven that I am sitting down, pretty steadily, to medical studies: labour there can do almost all. Only think of growing old under the laurels of the Literary Gazette or Campbell’s Magazine!—Have you seen the Monthly Mag. since its resurrection? To-morrow I electrify Benecke, who has a considerable indifference to Lord Byron, with Shelley: it will give him a new idea of Englishmen.
I will bring Procter a magnificent meerschaum if he’ll promise to smoke it yellow,—or you either. Depend on it, ’tis the great help to metaphysics.
Lieber K. Göttingen, Ocbr. 1826.
Dir, der du so eifrig die Schönen Wissenschaften und Literatur treibst, der in “des lebend goldenen Baum” den singenden Baum von den tausend und einen Nachten suchest, dir dem anbeter der seligen Gottheiten den Musen, u s.w. was Unterheltender kann der Liebhaber von Knahen, der fleissiger Botaniker und phisiolog mittheilen? Well;—I hope that has frightened you: however, as I can still write a little English and it will be a profitable exercise, I will continue in that be-L-E-L-‘d and be-Milman’d tongue. That I have not sent you a letter sooner, will be scarce a cause of’compliment or discontent, when you learn that all my sublunary excursions this summer have been botanical ones, and my translunary ones—(it is a good word, and I only recollect it in Drayton’s Epistle to Reynolds; has Johnson it?)—a thought or two for a didactic Boem (is that richtig?) on myology, which I was prevented from executing, by finding that a preceding genius of the scalpel had led the muses a dance to his marrow bones and cleaver. I wish you would come and see me; not only because it would save me the chagrin of dosing you (the shop!) with superfluous solutions of nonsense in ink; but that you might look over my unhappy devil of a tragedy, which is done and done for; it’s limbs being as scattered and unconnected, as those of the old gentleman whom Medea minced and boiled young. I have tried twenty times at least to copy it fair, but have given it up with disgust, and there is no one here for whose judgment in such things I would give a fig, or a tea-cup without a handle, (I have one at the critic’s service,) consequently neither their praise or blame can lure or sting me onwards. However, we must disappoint disappointments by taking them coolly, and throw a chain bridge across impossibilities, or dig a passage under them, or Rubicon-ize them if one has the good saddle-horse Pegasus to ride; and I will find out some way of bestowing my dulness on you in its ore of illegibility. I gave you (or did I not?) a caricature of three professors last letter, and now you shall have a little more Göttingen scandal.
Tobias Mayer is professor of natural philosophy; a little fellow in top-boots, with a toothless earthquake of a mouth, and a frosty grey coat; He never can find words, repeats his also-s &c., and, by endeavouring to make up for want of eloquence by violent action, he literally swims through his subject. His dad was a good astronomer, and published a famous map of the moon. This “Wife for a month” of the earth revenged the publication of her secret hiding-places on the most natural subject of female heavenly malice,—his wife,—thus ingeniously. Top-booted Toby, in his lecture, was talking of her sonnet-ship; and came to the subject of her portraits:—”among others,” said he, “Tobias—To-bias-Mayer,—who was—among others—was my father.”
Tieck has published in the Urania Taschenbuch for 1826, a story called Dichter-leben, which is a very well-worked adventure of Marlow and Green’s with Shakespeare; the latter however is too German:—and he announces an English translation, probably by himself, to be published at Leipsig under the title of the Lives of Poets: but you are a bad Marlowite, or none at all: I like the man on many scores. Here is a Dr. Raupach, who lays a tragedy or two in the year: mostly wind-eggs: but he’s the best of the folks about Melpomene’s sepulchre in Germany. Schiller, you know, took her out of the critical pickle she lies in, and made a few lucky galvanic experiments with her, so that the people thought she was alive when she was only kicking. Do you know that a French Dr., Medicine too, has published a gossiping tour in England in letters, in which he criticises our late friend Barry C. under the name of Procter. The fellow’s book is all out of Blackwood, excepting a plate or two of autographs out of the forgotten Forget-me-not. Goëthe is preparing a new edition of his rhymed and prosy commissions, xxxx vols. for ten dollars:—Who’ll buy, who’ll buy? they are as cheap as oysters, if not so swallowable.
In the neighbourhood of Göttingen is a slight chalybeate spring, and a little inn with a tea-garden, whither students and Philistines (i.e. townsmen who are not students,) resort on sundays to dance and ride on the merry-go-round,—an instrument of pleasure which is always to be found on such places, and is much ridden by the German students, perhaps because it, as well as waltzing, produces mechanically the same effects as their week-day hobby-horse, the philosophy of Schelling &c. doth physically—i.e. a giddiness and confusion of the brain. Behind this Terpsichorean τ’εμενος rises a woody rocky eminence, on which stands a fair high tower, and some old mossy and ivy-hugged walls, the remains of an old castle, called the Plesse.—The date of the tower is said to be 963: if this be true, it may have earned a citizenship among the semi-eternal stony populace of the planet: at all events it will be older than some hills, which pretend to be natural and carry trees and houses,—e.g. Monte Nuovo. On this hill, and in the holes and vaults of the old building, resides a celebrated reptile, which we have not in England,—the salamander. He is to a lizard what a toad is to a frog; slow, fat and wrinkled; of a mottled black and yellow. It is true that under his skin one finds a thick layer of a viscid, milky fluid, of a peculiar, not disagreeable, smell, which the beast has the power of ejecting when irritated, and by this means might, for a short time, resist the power of fire. Where the vulgar fable has its origin, I am altogether ignorant. I believe it comes from the middle ages; from the monkish writers of natural history perhaps,—and they might have had a spite against the poor amphibium, because he is unorthodox enough to live a long while after you have removed his stomach and intestines,—and therefore condemned him to the flames for impiety against the belly-gods, ′Αδηφαγ′ια and ′Ακρατοπ′οτης. The servants at the altars of these thundering deities (v. Euripides Cyclops 327.) may adduce physiological authority for the immateriality of their adored Paunch. I. Baptista van Helmont placed the soul, which he nicknamed Archäëus in the stomach; and, whatever the clergy know more about the spirit in question, I do not think they are inclined to let the cat out of the bag. This is a pleasant doctrine for aldermen and kings, the dimensions of the soul perhaps corresponding with the size of its habitation.
To return to our Muria-spring, the aforesaid tenement or tenements of fantastic-toeness, and what I had intended to tell you: it was here that an unhappy Hungarian, who came to Göttingen three or four years ago to study medicine, and had wandered to propitiate his archæus with beer and tobacco at this place, was smitten with the charms of the tavern keeper’s daughter. She was insensible, and he desperate: he left Göttingen and built a hut under a rock in the Plesse wood, where he lived two years, descending occasionally to feed his eyes upon the beauties of the cruel one. But either the lady departed or his passion burnt out, for, at the end of this time, the hermitage was left by its love-lorn founder; and it now remains as an object of curiosity for folks, who see it, hear his tale and laugh at it. Such is, alas! the state of sentiment in this part of Germany: and probably, if Werter’s hermitage stood here, it would be equally profaned. Hard-heartedness and worldly prudence has its paw upon the poor planet: and, as Chaucer sung long ago, Pity is dead and buried in gentle heart,—but we have lost the sepulchre. And we, fellows, who cannot weep without the grace of onions or hartshorn, who take terror by the nose, light our matches with lightning, have plucked the ‘tempest winged chariots of the deep’ of its winds, and imped its pinions with steam:—We, who have little belief in heaven and still less faith in man’s heart,—are we fit ministers for the temple of Melpomene? O age of crockery! no—let—scandal and satire be the only reptiles of the soul-abandoned corse of literature! T.L.B.
My dear Procter, (Oct. 1826.)
This Göttingen life is little productive of epistolary materials, or of any adventure interesting beyond the town-walls; and I have not been six miles from the circuit of these during the last year. However I meditate and must perform a pilgrimage to Dresden for the sake of its pictures; and then I hope to pick out a few plumbs to communicate to you. These matters, I take it for granted, retain their interest for you, because I have a lingering attachment to them, and in sincerity I acknowledge that you possess a truer and more steady feeling for the beautiful in imagination: and the law-studies will probably only compress and concentrate it. You will give me leave to believe that you will not and cannot entirely abandon the studies and labours which have many years pretty exclusively possessed you, and by which you have obtained a distinguished reputation: and, if you do not, I shall take it. Me you may safely regard as one banished from a service to which he was not adapted, but who has still a lingering affection for the land of dreams: as yet at least not far enough in the journey of science to have lost sight of the old two-topped hill. I wish indeed that the times were more favourable to the cultivators of dramatic literature, which from a thousand causes appears to be more and more degraded from its original dignity and value among the fine arts.
And yet I believe that the destined man would break through all difficulties, and re-establish what ought to be the most distinguished department of our poetic literature: but perhaps enough has already been done, and we ought to be content with what times past have laid up for us. If literature has fallen into bad hands in England, it is little worse off than in Germany, for living and active are few writers above a secondary rank, and they almost unknown beyond the shadow of the double eagle’s wings. Jean Paul is lately dead, and a new edition of his voluminous writings is proceeding from the press: I have read little of his, and that little has pleased me less:—in his happier moods he resembles Elia, but in general he is little better than a pedantical punster. Tieck has made a good little story by threading together the few facts we have of Marlowe’s life; and an English translation is advertised by a Leipzig bookseller, probably by himself:—when it appears I shall send it to you by the first opportunity, without waiting for your order. A quantity of our modern indifferent fellows have been cheaply reprinted by different speculating booksellers— e.g. — — — &c. a pity that they have no good selector, who could spare them the pains of recondemning paper and print to the remaking of such trash; it would be as reasonable of dyers to reprint the London waistcoats and breeches of 1810 or 16, for a pattern and a poem of this sort are equally long-lived—and deserve to be so.
In the neighbourhood is a little lake—See-burger See. We went there botanizing a few weeks ago, and were entertained by our boatman with a genuine legend. A castle had formerly stood on the edge of the water, and the ruins of it still exist on the rocks and under the waves. It was formerly inhabited by a knight, who had a confidential cock and a prying servant. Once a month the master, to keep his ears awake to the language of his crowing oracle, partook of a mysterious dish: and it was decreed that, whenever a second pair of ears were able to receive and comprehend Chanticleer’s conversation, the castle should fall. At last then the servant removed the cover of the monthly viand and found a snake under it: he tasted some of this boiled worm of the tree of knowledge, and was from that day forth an eavesdropper of the confidential twitters in sparrows’ nests and hen-coops:—the prophetic cook soon began to use fowl language and proclaim the approaching downfall of the towers of See-burg. The servant who had translated colloquys between fly and fly, bee and flower, did not fail to comprehend the warning; rushed to his master, who was already on his horse and riding out of the castle gate: the walls trembled, the towers bowed, the groom rushed after his master and seized the horse’s tail, the knight plunged his spurs into the sides of his steed, leapt to land, and left his treacherous servant among the waves and ruins.
Near are also the Gleichen, two castles belonging to the family of Ernst von Gleichen, famous for having two wives; W. Scott has told the story somewhere: a grave is shown at Erfurt as containing the relics of the three, and at one of his castles a large bed; but it appears that this three-headed matrimony is fictitious and altogether unsupported by historical documents. These castles overlook a prettyish valley, which was a favourite haunt of poor Burger, the ballad-writer: he was a private teacher in Göttingen, and probably starved, or at all events hastened through the gates of death, by poverty and care. Schiller was supposed to be envious of him, and did him a great deal of mischief by illnatured criticism: but Bürger had more notion of the right translunary thing than his reviewer.
About Weber? Were you at the death? His fellow countrymen and fellow fiddlers were well pleased with his burial, or intended burial, honours. Was it to fill your sheet that you sent a good deal of advice or remonstrance in your last to me? Perhaps you forget it. I only mention it to observe that it is a little singular that a dramatic writer, a person who has observed and knows something of human character, should take the trouble to attempt corrections of the incorrigible, and pour so much oil upon a fire by way of extinguishing it. Allow me to say that you are mistaken if you think I wilfully affect any humour; even that of affecting nothing: I always make a point of agreeing with every thing that a fool pleases to assert in conversation, and only combat assertions or opinions of a person for whom I have respect: “verbum sat.” You people in England have a pretty false notion of the German character, and flatter yourselves, with your peculiar and invincible insular self-complacency, that you know all about it: for national vanity I believe after all you are unequalled. The Frenchman rests his boast on the military glories of la grande nation, the German smokes a contemptuous pipe over the philosophical works of his neighbours, but the Englishman will monopolize all honourable feeling, all gentle breeding, all domestic virtue: and indeed has ever been the best puritan.
Your’s ever, T.S. BEDDOES.
I have just bought three salamanders. They are pretty fat yellow and black reptiles, that live here in the ruins of an old castle in the neighbourhood: on the Hartz I hear they are larger. It is not a bad retributory metempsychosis for the soul of a bullying knight.
D’s Jest Book is finished in the rough, and I will endeavour to write it out and send it to you before Easter: at all events I think parts of it will somewhat amuse you: ′οι πολλο′ι will find it quite indigestible. W.A. Schlegel is professor at Bonn, a ten years’-old Prussian university on the Rhine. His brother Friedrich is in Austria, and writes puffs for the Holy Alliance. No Austrian is allowed to study here. Göttingen is infamous for liberality. I intend to study Arabic and Anglo-Saxon soon. Goethe married his maid servant and drinks brandy. Thus one finds Castaly in Cogniac, another —— in Hyson.
To the Editor. Göttingen, April, 1827.
My dear K——,
This is an odd bit of paper, but you must excuse it; the company of stationers shut up their doors as soon as the company of clouds take their station in Apollo’s high road; or to speak un-Euphuistically, the paper venders are in bed; I have no Göttingen vellum, for I seldom write a letter, and feeling a little that way inclined, a rare state of inspiration at present with me, I shall not thwart the rising deity, because the rags on which he is to vent his fury are not exalted to the highest perfection of paperhood. Forgive me if I write bad English; I am just now the only English person here, and live in the most enviable solitude. The few Germans I associate at all with are away, as it is vacation time, and I am waited upon by a slow Teutonic damsel, as speechless as the husband of the Silent Woman could desire.
I would not believe your enemy, if he said that you were so indolent as you describe yourself. I know what indolence and idleness is too, pretty well, and am not now altogether free from attacks of these evil ones; and recollect with dread the state of mental flatulence, which I endured for some time, really in a great measure because,——thanks to the state of education in England, I did not know what to study. You probably describe a passing mood of this nature otherwise—but conscience is ever the best adviser. I read very little of the German polite literature, as they call it, but lately I was induced to look into some of Tieck’s original writings, in consequence of the very agreeable impression I received from some critical remarks of his on Shakespeare:—much truer, and more imbued with a feeling of the actual existence of Shakespeare’s men and women, than the cold philosophizing abstractions of Schlegel. He (Tieck) has written a good deal: Tales and Dramatic Tales:—some of these latter are very long, mostly in two parts of five acts each, but excessive agreeable reading, with a vein of gentle Ionic humour, which never lets one sleep; he is never very strong or deep, but altogether displays more general power as a dramatist, than any of the more celebrated Germans. He particularly delights in presenting nursery tales in a dramatic form: he has a Puss in boots, Blue beard, Fortunatus, and Little Red Riding Hood. This last is short, but a most delightful absurdity. The Dramatis personæ are the heroine, Grandmother, a Huntsman who is in search of the Wolf, The Wolf (Mr. M’cready’s part, as villain) Dog, and Robin Redbreasts, (special allies of Red Ridinghood’s because of their sympathy in colour,)—and a Cuckoo. The scene discovers the Grandmother sitting alone on a sunday morning, and expecting her little relative; she comes with some cake, and chatters with the old lady some time,—is pacticularly eloquent in praise of her red riding-hood. She goes, and leaves the house door open, to the dismay of the old lady.—On Red Ridinghood’s return through the forest, she makes acquaintance with the Redbreasts, and meets the Huntsman, who announces the incursion of a ravenous wolf. To this principal personage the reader is now introduced: he relates his history to the dog, how in his youth he was a cosmopolite and philanthrope, deserted his barbarous clans-wolves, and came into the village to gain knowledge and to be useful in his generation: here he became acquainted with a she-wolf in the neighbourhood, whose person was peerless, and after whose spotless life and amiable manners one might have written a Whole Duty of She wolves: however, his vita nuova, like Dante’s, was broken off by the death of this his fairly fair;—she was murdered by a peasant at her evening repast on a lamb: and now Sir Isgrim is become Childe Harold in wolf’s clothing, he contemns the canine, hates and vows vengeance on the human, kind, and devotes to the manes of his lost lady the head of Little Red Ridinghood, whose father slew the Fornarina and Queen Elizabeth and Ninon and Mrs. Fry of she-wolf-hood.—The dog, his friend, is a good natured fellow, a temporizing, phlegmatic Græculus esuriens, who praises all government as long as he has a bone to pick,—attempts to dissuade Sir I.,—fails, and retires.—Little R.R. meantime has got her custard and pot of honey, to take to her Grandmother this evening, although it is growing dark;—and now follows a scene of omens and warnings. She and another little girl blow off the seeds of dandelions’ heads, to see how long they shall live;—the one blows a long time in vain, but the scarlet woman with one puff sends all her pappus adrift:—but vain is this omen of Flora’s.—Red Ridinghood’s father is probably a radical and takes in the Mechanic’s Magazine, for his little one is a complete philosopher, and retorts the exultation of her fellow dandelion-blower, by reducing the phenomenon to natural principles. She has blown the dandelion’s head clean at one puff because she has good lungs, and will therefore live longest; and sends away t’other little one, crying. A peasant crosses her, and advises her not to go this evening through the wood, as it is nearly dark and the wolf’s abroad: this has no effect; and now her household gods stir themselves, for the last time, and produce a wonder to deter her. Enter the Cuckoo:
Cook- for Grandam- koo another time,
Gook- not,- koo, the wood,—koo- night.
Gook- look,- koo, through,—
Gook- brook,- koo who,—
Gooks- looks,- koo thee there,
Cuck- a wolf,—or a bear.—
Cuck- cannot—cuck- any more,—
Spooking for- koos is a bore,—
Cuckoo! woe to thee—Cuckoo!
Little R.R. Cuckoo, you fool, learn to speak better English. Koo night,—indeed! ha! ha!
Dog. Bow vow, Bough vow, (probably a cockney dog)
Bow, your way home—
How couldst thou come,
Boughs cloudy are,
Cows browse not there,—
Vows wolf to tear—
Bow thou- thee to bits—
I bows now and quits. [Exit.
She goes on; reaches her grandam’s chamber. The Wolf enters, lying on a bed, and R.R.H. admires the size of her nose, eyes, teeth: at this cue the Wolf seizes her, and in the struggle the bed curtains fall before them: the Robins fly in at the window and discover the murder to the Huntsman, who is without: he shoots into the room and kills the Wolf,—Curtain falls.
This is a trifle; but ‘Fortunatus,’ ‘Emperor Octavian,’ and ‘Genevra’ contain very beautiful things, and are more animated with a dramatic spirit, than any of those tasteless fatality-plays, with the translations of which Mr. Gillies has so liberally presented our Blackwood-reading public.
I am studying Arabic, and think of taking the field against Hebrew in the winter. I am reading Dante’s Vita Nuova: it is a simple confessio amantis,—interwoven with curious Ptolemean Astronomy and Catholic Theology. The sonnets, &c. are much more to my taste than that Petrarchan eau d’Hippocrène sucré: did P. and Laura ever come into your head, in the scene between Slender and Sweet Anne? My next publication will probably be a dissertation on Organic Expansion; or an enquiry into the laws of Growth and Restoration in organized matter.
I am now already so thoroughly penetrated with the conviction of the absurdity and unsatisfactory nature of human life, that I search with avidity for every shadow of a proof or probability of an after-existence, both in the material and immaterial nature of man. Those people,—perhaps they are few,—are greatly to be envied, who believe, honestly and from conviction, in the christian doctrines: but really in the New Testament it is difficult to scrape together hints for a doctrine of immortality. Man appears to have found out this secret for himself, and it is certainly the best part of all religion and philosophy,—the only truth worth demonstrating: an anxious question, full of hope and fear and promise, for which nature appears to have appointed one solution,—Death. In times of revolution and business, and even now the man, who can lay much value in the society, praise, or glory of his fellows, may forget, and he, who is of a callous, phlegmatic constitution, may never find, the dreadful importance of the doubt. I am haunted for ever by it; and what but an after life can satisfy the claims of the oppressed on nature, satiate endless and admirable love and humanity, and quench the greediness of the spirit for existence? but
As an almighty night doth pass away
From an old ruinous city in a desart,
And all its cloudy wrecks sink into day:
While every monstrous shape and ghostly wizard,
That dwelled within the cavernous old place,
Grows pale, and shrinks, and dies in its dismay:
And then the light comes in, and flowery grace
Covers the sand, and man doth come again
And live rejoicing in the new-born plain:
So you have seen great, gloomy centuries,
(The shadow of Rome’s Death,) in which did dwell
The men of Europe, shudder and arise:
So you have seen break up that smoke of Hell,
Like a great superstitious snake, uncurled
From the pale temples of the awakening world.
These lines were written in the album of a man, who had busied himself during his pretty advanced life with political speculations, and watched the progress of the American and French revolutions with interest and expectation. No English person or English reader in Göttingen could, or would, understand them: for this reason I began to think they might be good, and have therefore rewritten them for you.
(From Göttingen, May, 1827.)
“One of my friends sent me, a week or two ago, the following poem, which he had transcribed out of an old album in the library at Hamburg: the date 1604 was on the binding of it. The lines are written in a neat, old English hand.
My thoughts are winged with hopes, my hopes with Love,
Mount Love unto the moon in clearest night,
And saie, as she doth in the heaven move,
In earth so wanes and waxeth my delight.
And whisper this but softly in her ears,* (* Shakespeare bestowed ears rather on such erratic stars as Bottom, than on the moon. T.L.B.)
How oft doubt hange the head and trust shed tears.
And you, my thoughts, that seem mistrust do rarye,* (* “To carry,” of course. T.L.B.)
If for mistrust my mistris do you blame,
Saie, though you alter yet you do not varye,
As shee doth change and yett remaine the same.
Distrust doth enter hartes, but not infect,
And love is sweetest, seasoned with suspect.
If shee, for this, with clouds do mask her eyes
And make the heavens dark with her disdaine,
With windie sights*
(* Benecke says this is rightly spelt for the time, taking for granted that the verses were written before the book was bound— and swallowing the W.S. It remedies a jingle between sighs and skies;—so far good. T.L.B.)
disperse them in the skyes,
Or with thy teares desolve them into rayne.
Thoughts, hopes, and love, returne to me no more,
Till Cinthia shyne as shee hath done before.
I have communicated the lines, with a strict regard even to the interpunctuation, exactly as I received them.”* (* I too, T.L.B.) Benecke, in the Wünschelruthe (Divining-rod, a dead Göttingen periodical,) No. 34. April 27, 1818. Göthe gave this translation in his periodical, “Ueber Kunst und Alterthum,” Vol. 2, No. 3. Stutgardt, 1820, p. 32.
Here grunteth the old pig of Weimar:
“Aus einem Stamm-buch von 1604.”
(Then follows the German version, with a running commentary of verbal criticism by T.L.B.)
Göthe has done no good here; first he says, out of an Album of 1604—whereas the book was bound in 1604: was it bound before, or after, the sheets were written on? I suppose, according to English custom, it was a blank book bought by some dilettante for a scrap MS. book. Such are seldom very soon filled; and therefore, in all probability, the lines were written, here at least, in the latter days of Shakespeare. Two lines, which I need not point out to you, give the thing a possibility. But who is Cynthia? In the sonnets, &c. is no Cynthia mentioned, and altogether there is scarce any evidence of Shakespeare’s being in love in a sonneteering way. He was probably too well acquainted with the tricks of authorship, too intimate with the artifice and insincerity of poetry, to think of availing himself of it in any serious passion at this time of his life. (See sonnet 130.) His sonnets I take to be early productions, dictated by an ardent attachment to W.H. who was younger than himself, and written all before he had become a poetical artist. It may be that these lines were written hastily by him for W.H. or perhaps some court gentleman, to serve as a complimentary poem or song for his lady. But is there any necessity for raising so great a spirit, is it absolutely necessary that no other W.S. could have written these lines? The internal evidence is so little satisfactory to my feelings, that I cannot think Göthe pardonable for his temerity, in printing Shakespeare’s name at the end of the verses, upon such deficient historical grounds. Compare too the Italian frivolity, the careless, superficial playfulness, the constrained elegance and roundness of this little bit of verse, with the deep and ardent expressions of that wondrous book of sonnets, where he has turned his heart inside out, and given us to read all that the tender and true spirit had written on the walls of his chamber: the former is as the dimple of the coquetting man of the world to the ′ανηριθμον γελασμα—the starry, tremulous, universal smile of an ocean of passion, which ebbed and flowed about the roots of a love, as firm and sacred as the foundations of the world. So far from being ready to attribute any thing he could have written to Shakespeare, I am inclined to deny the authenticity of many smaller pieces and songs, such as that to Silvia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this period of his life, (forty years of age), his spirit was at rest, he was wearied of the light airs and recollected terms
“Of those most brisk and giddy-paced times;”
that feeling was awakened to full consciousness, which dictated the true, self-condemning expressions of the 110th sonnet, and he was yearning for the quiet truth of enjoyment, the peace of life. He had long learned that there were mysteries in the feelings and passions of the soul, some of which he had too rashly revealed: that the most exquisite happiness is silent, its delights unutterable. He had uncovered to profaner eyes some of the furthest sanctuaries of the heart, he had lent to vulgar tongues the sacred language of truth and divine passion, and it was this repentance and sorrow for the violation, which speaks so sorrowfully in that little poem, which deterred him from printing the compositions in which he had made his own soul a thoroughfare for the world. At this time, wearied and disgusted, as he clearly was, with the fate which had necessitated him to feed hard eyes with the emotions of his eternal nature, could he have so returned to the cold conceits, with which he had dallied before he had learned the truth and sacredness of human feeling? I cannot think so. But that an old fellow of letter press, an author of our days, who would send the paper wet with his own heart’s blood to the printer, that fools might wonder and book-men adore his art, should think so, is what we can but expect from this vulgar, prostituted age. I fear that printing is a devil whom we have raised, to feed and fatten with our best blood and trembling vitals. I (excuse, if you laugh at, this egotism of insignificance) will not again draw the veil from my own feelings to gratify the cold, prying curiosity of such as the million are, and will remain T.L.B.
P.S. You will hardly thank me for this letter: I have gone on with it, without attending to the laws and purposes of correspondence; but send it, that you may gather, from the expressions, a way of thinking which grows upon me daily. Do you think I am right, both with relation to the lines which have occasioned them, and the sentiment in general, or in neither?
A Tuesday in Oct. Göttingen (1827)
My dear K,
This week has been more productive of epistolary fruits to me than the foregoing three months. On Saturday came a young Scotch lawyer, Mr. F——, with a note from the conveyancing phœnix which has arisen from the ashes of the late B. C——, and a tall Swiss, who expects to become professor of the Teutonic languages in Univers: Londin: The latter acquaintance pleased me much the more of the two; he is a man of good, and extensive education, with an interest for all human sciences and arts,—and smokes his newbought large Göttingen pipe well. The law gentleman is editor of the new Foreign Review, who was recruiting for contributors, and wanted to catch me: however I am not magazinish-inclined, and do not augur well of the undertaking of young editors, who are well informed of hardly anything but their own superior capacities, an occult science enough. Still, as it is always as well to give Cerberus a sop, when one has a thought of one day retreading the Tartarus Emeticus of modern literature, I treated him to a promise of an article upon modern Hebrew literature of the unholy kind. The writer of this is to be a native of Odessa, a man who has a quantity of brain but no breeches, and for Hebrew utterly incomparable, for I presume there are few Jews, or Christmas-pious folks who can or have translated Schiller, written songs, &c. in that desolated and abandoned language. Moreover he utterly refused to button up his reason and belief in the prophetical old clothes, into which the shoulders of the events of later years have been thrust: he hath, alas! never been christened; is a deep philosopher, a lauder of Spinosa; in fact a choice morsel for the torch which Calvin, &c. brandished; a fellow after Julian’s heart: but then he, who would sup with the devil, must needs have a long spoon—and that is wanting to my Russian Pyrrho. This treatise, if I can get him to write it, will be admirable for all people who know, or don’t know, anything of the Jews. The Mr. F—— brought too a copy of his Bijou, for which Procter has written. This for Göttingen is an unfortunate name: Blumenbach tells, in his “at home” on natural history, a tale of a M. Bijou in Paris, who was a collector of a peculiar description * * *
You wish to convince me of my error regarding the publication of expressions of feelings, which are ours for the enjoyment of domestic happiness. I repeat that I regard it as a profanation: does not Shakespeare grant it? and who, but him, had built an ear for the tyrant vulgar, where it might eaves-drop and overhear the secret communings of human souls?—It would be worth while to consider the domestic lives of all the greater poets of modern times: for the ancient lacked those refinements and domestic enjoyments of which we speak. Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, all who have come next to the human heart, had found no object in life to satiate the restless yearnings of their hearts, and appease at the same time the fastidious cravings of their imaginations. Dissatisfaction is the lot of the poet, if it be that of any being; and therefore these gushings of the spirit, these pourings out of their innermost on imaginary topics, because there was no altar in their home worthy of the libation. It is good that we should see, from these involuntary overflows of the soul, what it is that moves within us: such is the manna of the tree of life. But to force it, to count one’s fingers, and take the sweat of our Grub-street brows for the true juice, the critical drops which the soul’s struggles must press from our veins ere it be genuine: to pant for fame, to print and correct our tame frigid follies, to be advertised in the newspapers with the praise of the Literary Gazette, is really abundantly pitiful, and as ridiculous as the crowning of the pedant Petrarch. To annoy and puzzle the fools, and amuse oneself with their critical blunders, is the only admissible plea for printing, for any one who has been a few years from school,—excepting poverty, Mr. C——; excepting avarice, Sir ——.
Göthe has, as you probably by this time know, published an interlude to Faust, in which he gives him, as a play-fellow, our fair witch of Troy, Helena, who bestows her name on the piece. I have read it once, and not very carefully, through, and found nothing very extraordinary: fine passages, which remind one of Euripides and Iphigenie, and graces, such as his better productions contain, are there: and a spirit plays upon the surface of his fancies, which announces the presence of a creator; but on the whole it is not palpable,—it dances o’er the brain and leaves no footstep there. Still there is something irritating in it, and it is probably a hieroglyphic in which the man portrays the passage of antique fable into the middle ages. The best thing, perhaps, is a great, fearful, old housekeeper of Menelaus, who frightens Helen from Sparta to the castle, where Faustus receives her, follows and threatens her, and at the end of the piece lays aside the mask, mantle and cothurn, and discovers herself to be Mephistopheles. A review of it is to be inserted in the Foreign Review, from the pen of the professor of Nostrum Literature elect in London. I can really send you nothing of my own: I have a pretty good deal in fragments, which I want to cement together and make a play of,—among them is The last man;—they will go all into the Jest-book, or the Fool’s Tragedy, the historical nucleus of which is an isolated and rather disputed fact, that Duke Boleslaus of Münsterberg in Silesia was killed by his Court-fool, A.D. 1377; but that is the least important part of the whole fable. I have dead game in great quantities, but when or how it will be finished Æsculapius alone knows. I will give you a song out of it, which seems to me bad,—but my English vocabulary is growing daily more meagre, and I have neither much time, nor much inclination, to keep up my poetical style by perusing our writers: I am becoming daily more obtuse for such impressions, and rather read a new book on anatomy than a new poem, English or German. Yet let me assure you that your idea of my merits as a writer is extravagantly surpassing my real worth: I would really not give a shilling for anything I have written, nor sixpence for anything I am likely to write. I am essentially unpoetical in character, habits, and ways of thinking; and nothing but the desperate hanker for distinction, so common to young gentlemen at the University, ever set me upon rhyming. If I had possessed the conviction, that I could by any means become an important or great dramatic writer, I would have never swerved from the path to reputation: but seeing that others, who had devoted their lives to literature, such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, men beyond a question of far higher originality and incomparably superior poetical feeling and genius, had done so little, you must give me leave to persevere in my preference of Apollo’s pill box to his lyre, and should congratulate me on having chosen Göttingen, instead of Grub-street, for my abode.
Indeed all young verse-grinders ought to be as candid, and give way to the really inspired. What would have been my confusion and dismay, if I had set up as a poet, and, later in my career, any thing real and great had started up amongst us, and, like a real devil in a play, frightened into despair and fatuity the miserable masked wretches who mocked his majesty. These are my real and good reasons for having at last rendered myself up to the study of a reputable profession, in which the desire of being useful may at least excuse me, although I may be unequal to the attempt to become a master in it: and I assure you that the approbation, which you have pleased to bestow upon a very sad boyish affair, that same Brides’ Tragedy, which I would not now be condemned to read through for any consideration, appears to me a remarkable and incomprehensible solecism of your otherwise sound literary judgment.
Now it being a star-and-moonlight night, and a bevy of ladies crossing the water in a boat, we’ll let them sing,—but methinks its d—d Moorish and obscure—
(Here followed his lyric, Wild with passion, sorrow-beladen.)
You hardly deserve it, for, the last time, you didn’t say thank’ye for a great something snake which I had caught and caged in a sonnet for you; however so much, to show you what you might have expected, and to induce you to thank the disposition of providence, which will preserve to you any part of your personal property, which you would wantonly devote for a box of such like. Such verses as these, and their brethren, will never be preserved to be pasted on the inside of the coffin of our planet. Thank you for Mr. Hood; he seems to be pretty tolerable, and not at all in danger to be too deep for his readers. Apollo have mercy on him!
[From Göttingen.] Feby. 1829.
My dear K.——
A day sooner or later than this letter will arrive, I hope, at No. 3, Figtree Court, at length, the celebrated Fool’s Tragedy or Death’s jest-book. I have written to Procter, announcing the fact to him, and leaving to him whether he will interest himself about its furtherance to the press, as I acknowledge I have no right to expect it from him.
If you are in town get it, either from him or Bourne, and be critical. There is some wretched comic part in it, which I can neither improve nor give up. I hope however that it is no unworthy cotemporary of The Briton Chief. Allan Cunningham’s anniversary I have seen here, and I suppose shall never see another: all the folks seem to have been trying who could be most stupid. Procter’s Temptation however is a redeeming exception, and makes the book worth something, till he reprints it. There is a freedom, and a degree of poetical and dramatic management, in it, which I only regret to see in such company, and thrown away on a purposeless scene for a temporary purpose. I should like to see a play in that way; and why could not, and should not, he give it us? He is only about as much too brief, as I am too long-winded: but he can correct his failing more easily. My cursed fellows in the jest-book would palaver immeasurably, and I could not prevent them. Another time it shall be better, that is to say, if the people make it worth my while to write again. For, if this affair excites no notice, I think I may conclude that I am no writer for the time and generation, and we all know that posterity will have their own people to talk about. You are, I think, disinclined to the stage: now I confess that I think this is the highest aim of the dramatist, and I should be very desirous to get on it. To look down on it is a piece of impertinence, as long as one chooses to write in the form of a play, and is generally the result of a consciousness of one’s own inability to produce any thing striking and affecting in that way. Shakespeare wrote only for it, Lord Byron despised it, or rather affected this, as well as every other, passion, which is the secret of his style in poetry and life. In my preface I have made use of an essay on Tragedy by Southey’s Dutch friend, Bilderdijk, which is, I think, extremely satisfactory, and establishes the independence of the English Drama of all Greek authorities, on an undeniable historical foundation. B.to be sure is directly opposed to the English in taste, but this is nothing to the purpose; he has given us good weapons, if we can only use them. Is it not really a ridiculous fact, that, of all our modern dramatists, none (for who can reckon Mr. Rowe now-a-days?) has approached, in any degree, to the form of play delivered to us by the founders of our stage? All—from Massinger and Shiriey down to Shiel and Knowles—more or less French: and how could they expect a lasting, or a real, popularity? The people are in this case wiser than the critics; instinct and habit a truer guide than the half and half learning and philosophy of Ramblers, Quarterly’s, and Magaziners. Poor Mr. Professor Milman will really be quite horrified, if he should live to read the Jest-Book, at the thought that a fellow, of so villainous a school as its author, should have been bred up at Oxford during his poetical dictatorship there. I hope he will review me. Indeed I only lament that so much absurdity in reviews is likely to escape me, on account of my foreign residence. Luz is an excellent joke…For the rest, the play is too long, the first Act somewhat in Briton Chief style, the second dull and undramatical, the three latter better in all respects: so begin with Act III. Scene 3, if you want to read to the end without being greatly bored. There are too many songs, and two of them are bad, somewhat Moorish and sentimental. Weakness you will find in the second, and beginning part of third Scene of fourth Act. A sweet, but tedious, sop for the admirers of the pretty, I have thrown in at Scene 3 of Act V.: but, if I err not, you have somewhere found among my MSS. a sort of dying glorification of a young lady, which is better, and just fitted for the occasion. My friend Isbrand I recommend to your attention: he is a nice fellow. As to the Deaths, I am doubtful. Procter will abuse their song as vulgar, and will be right; but Death is a vulgar dog, and not admissible at any other court than Duke and Fool Isbrand’s. I thought of making Isbrand allude to Göthe and Chateaubriand, when he proposes to make his new fool, minister; but the former must not be, even in jest, ridiculed by any one who has a sense of his very great and various merits.
By the way, his Faust, as he wrote it, has been played lately, and with great success, at Brunswick; a hint to those who think that good and stirring poetry will be rejected by the public: for the Germans, (vide Kotzebue, and The Robbers,) have more taste for melodrama, and that right prosy, than our good bloody-minded cockneys. But then the patents, the patents! To them we are indebted for our dramatic desertedness, for the translations from the French, for Beasley’s operas, Peake’s comedies, and the Chief’s Tragedy. I have been lately reading the comedies of Holberg the Dane, of whom his own countrymen and many Germans speak so highly, although Schiller talks of the filth and ribaldry into which H. sinks, and Schlegel speaks of the atmosphere of his plays as one, in which “there pours down continually a heavy shower of cudgels.” These two good latter people have only read the elder German translation, which was good for nothing. Holberg writes with a great deal of humour, draws characters rudely, but decisively, and the Danes are right to be proud of him. Another living Dane, Ingemann, has written two very good W. Scottish historical novels, on subjects out of his national history. My Russian is a very curious, clever, and learned fellow, without a farthing in the world, or the talent to make it, and has dug up a great deal of interesting matter relative to the Hebrew doctrine of immortality.
The King of Bavaria is just going to publish the first volume of his poetical works: he is a man of taste, talent, and rational views,—of course Catholic. Fr. Schlegel died lately at Dresden suddenly: he and his wife, a daughter of Mendelssohn! had both embraced the Catholic religion: he lived in Vienna, wrote proclamations for Francis I. and Metternich, and apologies for the Jesuits: his lectures on the Philosophy of History must be therefore amusing. Mullner, the guilty, has just published a tragedy, in which he and Cotta, the bookseller, are the principal characters. A very washy poet, Dr. Raupach, is the most fertile dramatic writer in Germany nowadays: he is at Berlin: a thing, brought out at Cov. Garden last year, was a not-acknowledged translation of his Isidor and Olga; ’twas called the the “Serf.”
Shakespeare was not wrong in letting Antigonus be shipwrecked in Bohemia. Valdemar the IInd. of Denmark, called the Victorious, fetched his wife Margaretha, daughter of the King of Bohemia, by water from Prague. We have only to read Elbe, instead of Sea; for I suppose one may be shipwrecked very well in a river: at all events the Elbe is good enough for a stage shipwreck.
My motto in correspondence is, you are aware, “No trust!” if you don’t answer I don’t rejoin. I have used some of The Last Man for the end of Fool’s Trag. as you will see. T.L.B.
P.S. Shall I review the King of Bavaria, and send him to some paper?
Gottingen, 19th April, 1829.
My Dear Procter,
Accept my thanks for the patience and attention with which you have read my MS. and for the manner in which you have spoken of it; I fear that, if you had expressed your disapprobation of some of it still more strongly, I should have been obliged to confess that you were right. If you, as I have cause to apprehend, are not too well engaged in other, and more substantial pursuits, you would oblige me still more by specifying the scenes and larger passages which should be erased—(that is to say if I am to let any considerable part remain as it is, for perhaps it might take less time to enumerate such bits as might be retained.) For, of the three classes of defects which you mention—obscurity, conceits, and mysticism, I am afraid I am blind to the first and last, as I may be supposed to have associated a certain train of ideas to a certain mode of expressing them, and my four German years may have a little impaired my English style: and to the second I am, alas! a little partial, for Cowley was the first poetical writer whom I learned to understand. I will then do my best for the play this summer; in the autumn I return to London, and then we will see what can be done. I confess to being idle and careless enough in these matters, for one reason, because I often very shrewdly suspect that I have no real poetical call. I would write more songs if I could, but I can’t manage rhyme well or easily; I very seldom get a glimpse of the right sort of idea in the right light for a song—and eleven out of the dozen are always good for nothing. If I could rhyme well, and order complicated verse harmoniously, I would try odes; but it’s too difficult. Am I right in supposing that you would denounce, and order to be rewritten, all the prose scenes and passages; almost all the 1st and 2nd, great part of the 3rd act, much of the two principal scenes of the 4th; and the 5th to be strengthened and its opportunities better worked on? But you see this is no trifle, though I believe it ought to be done.
Can you tell me whether Vondel’s Lucifer has been translated? it is a tragedy somewhat in the form of Seneca. J. vän Vondel was born at Cologne 1587, (according to Van Kampen), and Lucifer published in 1654.
Milton born in 1608—published Paradise Lost 1667.
It is to me very unlikely that Milton should have been acquainted with the Dutch language, for Latin was the learned language in Holland long after this period, and M. was Cromwell’s Latin secretary; therefore if he had any business with the Dutch, he would not have transacted it necessarily in their language; and I do not recollect that he visited Holland on his travels; if he had, he would hardly have gone further than learned Leyden:—Both on this account, and because I am rather partial to Holland and the Dutch, (for their doings against Spain, their toleration, their (old) liberty of the press, and their literature, wonderfully rich for so small a people,) I was very much pleased and struck on finding two lines in Vondel’s Lucifer, which I translate literally:—
“And rather the first prince at an inferior court
“Than in the blessed light the second or still less.”
Lucifer, Act II.
Does it not seem as if, at certain periods of the world, some secret influence in nature was acting universally on the spirit of mankind and predisposing it to the culture of certain sciences or arts, and leading it to the discovery even of certain special ideas and facts in these? I do not know whether the authors of philosophies of history have as yet made this observation, but it is sufficiently obvious, and might be supported by numerous instances. So in our times Scheele and Priestley, the former in Sweden a few weeks later than P., discovered oxygen gas. A little time before we have half a dozen candidates for the title of appliers of the powers of steam in mechanics, &c. Middleton’s Witch and Macbeth present, in the lyrical parts, so close a similarity that we can hardly doubt of the existence here of imitation on one side. I cannot but think that M. was the plagiarist, and that some error must have occurred with regard to the dates of the two pieces.
The King of Bavaria has commenced poet, and a very sorry one he appears to be from the newspaper extracts: Kings, as well as cobblers, should keep to their craft, and Louis is a very reputable king: but still every inch a king, as you may see from his having made Thorwalsden a Knight of the Bavarian Crown! That you may see that I am not the only careless dramatist going, I quote you three lines from Oehlenschläger’s new play—”The horsemen in Constantinople,” where his great strapping tragic hero says in rage and despair—
“Ha! knew the porkers what the old boar suffers,
“They would raise up a dismal grunt, and straight
“Free him from torture.”——
This is as literally translated as possible: and do not disbelieve me if it should not happen to be in the German translation, which of course is more likely to be in London than the Danish original—I have it from the latter; probably it is not in the German, which I have not seen. Moreover Oehenschläger is one of the very first of continental dramatists, perhaps the first, far above Müllner, Grillparzer, Raupach, Immermaner, &c. His countryman Ingemaner is said to be a rival near the throne. I will sacrifice my ravens to you; but my crocky is really very dear to me: and so I dare say was Oehenschläger’s pigstye metaphor to him.
To the Editor.
April the last, 1829. Göttingen.
My dear K.
You will probably by this time have heard, from Procter and Bourne, the decision of the higher powers with regard to Isbrand and his peers: the play is to be revised and improved. The whole summer therefore will be occupied in this business, and in the autumn, on my return to town, we will finally revise and consult with the booksellers, &c. I have requested Procter, if he can find time, to specify his objections, and, as soon as he has done that, I shall do the same by you. What you have brought forward is, I believe, quite right and shall be adopted. With regard to the ruling unamiability of the prominent characters, the weakness of the women, &c. you are right: and here also I have hit upon an important improvement, as it appears just now to me, which I think you will approve: Instead of some weak, Balaam, two-page scenes, I will introduce a formal wooing of Amala by Adalmar, which she shall gently, but pretty firmly, decline: he shall then be supported by the arguments and authority of her father, the dull old gentleman: Amala shall then declare herself most peremptorily against it, and appeal to Adalmar’s generosity: he will give her up honourably, but it must appear that they are really, or going to be, married, for the purpose of bettering Athulf, by means of this disappointment and his contrition. After this, the Cain and Abel scene will tell better: it shall be ameliorated and curtailed. The other lady can hardly be brought much more forward. Having lost her love in the 1st act, she would be infinitely tedious in the four latter: but her scene of meeting with the raised-up Wolfram, which really is capable of being rendered perhaps the finest in a poetical point of view, is to be rewritten, which you will find necessary. The charge of monotony in character is well grounded; but I can hardly do anything in this case, for the power of drawing character, and humour,—two things absolutely indispensable for a good dramatist,—are the two first articles in my deficiencies: and even the imaginative poetry I think you will find, in all my verse, always harping on the same two or three principles: for which plain and satisfactory reasons I have no business to expect any great distinction as a writer: being allowed to be better than what is absolutely bad, and not quite an imitator, is not enough for any lasting celebrity. Read only an act of Shakespeare, a bit of Milton, a scene or two of the admirably-true Cenci, something of Webster, Marston, Marlowe, or in fact any thing deeply, naturally, sociably felt, and then take to these Jest-books—you will feel at once, how forced, artificial, insipid, &c. &c. all such things are. To keep me up, you must be a daily reader of Walker, Shiel, and the Lit. Gazette Parnassians: Believe me, it’s only just now for want of a better; and that better, or those dozen betters, will rise whenever the public should favour this class of productions: they are in England beyond a doubt, but opportunity, whose merit is great too, has not, and probably will not call them forth. Procter has denounced the carrion crows:—I can spare them: but he has also, as “absolutely objectionable,” anathematized “Squats on a toadstool,” with its crocodile,—which I regard as almost necessary to the vitality of the piece. What say you? If a majority decide against it, I am probably wrong. If you say it is nonsense, I and Isbrand reply, that we meant it to be so: and what were a Fool’s Tragedy without a tolerable portion of nonsense? I thought it consistent with the character and scene, and, in its small way, and in comparison with the other minor merits of the play, a set off, like the nonsense of Wagner in Marlowe’s, and the monkies (not monkey-cats as some translators say,) in Göthe’s Faustus,—not to speak of higher nonsense in higher compositions.
Here is something of old Walther von der Vogelweide, who wrote in the earlier part of the 13th century; but in his old German it is infinitely better.
(Here was inserted the poem printed in this vol. p. 198.)
The King of Bavaria has not yet published: but very flat specimens of Her Royal Highness, his muse, have appeared in the papers
I must now send to the post.
Wurzburgh, July 1830.
My dear K——,
Your letter finds me at leisure—(excuse all mis-spellings, my mother tongue begins to fade away in my memory, and I was just going to write this word, analogically, like pleasure)—and I will reply to, though perhaps not answer, it. All about the play annoys me, because I have utterly neglected it, and feel not the least inclination to take any further trouble in the matter: however, perhaps I may try this season; it cannot be printed this summer, and in autumn perhaps something may be done. This indifference is of itself almost enough to convince me, that my nature is not that of one, who is destined to achieve anything very important in this department of literature; another is a sort of very moderate, somewhat contemptuous, respect for the profession of a mere poet in our inky age. (You will conceive that such a feeling accords well with, and perhaps results from, a high delight in first-rate creators and illustrators of the creation, as Æschylus, Shakespeare &c., and a cordial esteem for those who, as highly polished moderns, have united their art with other solid knowledge and science, or political activity,—Camoens, Dante, and, lower down, many French and English accomplished rhymers, and now Göthe, Tieck &c.) In the third place a man must have an exclusive passion for his art, and all the obstinacy and self-denial which is combined with such a temperament, an unconquerable and always enduring will, always working forwards to the only goal he knows; (such a one must never think that there is any human employment so good, (much less suspect that there may be not a few better,) so honourable for the exercise of his faculties;) ambition, industry, and all those impolitic and hasty virtues which helped Icarus to buckle on his plumes, and which we have left sticking in the pages of Don Quixote. I am even yet however seriously of the opinion, that it is ornamental and honourable to every nation and generation of mankind, if they cherish among their numbers men of cultivated imagination, capable of producing new and valuable works of art: and, if I were soberly and mathematically convinced of my own genuineness, (‘inspiration,’ as the ancients would say,) I might possibly, though I won’t promise, find spirit and stability enough to give up my time to the cultivation of literature.
If dreams were dramatic calls, as in the days (or nights) of Æschylus, I might plead something too. He, according to Athenæus, sleeping in a vineyard, probably after acting a part in some Thespian satyric dialogue, had a vision of Bacchus descending to him, and bidding him arise and write tragedies. The author of Agamemnon had a good right to relate such a nocturnal visit, if it had been paid to him, or even to invent it, if a less divine night-mare had invited him to mount his hobby-horse. We will not ask how many have won in this, or any other lottery, and the number they saw in their slumbers. I, in my bed in Wurzburg, did dream that I bought in an old bookshop, for a small moiety of copper money, a little, old, dirty, dogs-eared, well-thumbed book, and thereon in great agitation and joy saw, at the first glance into the dialogue, (’twas a play-book,) that it contained half a dozen genuine and excellent unknown plays, which no one could have written whose name and nature was not W.S. To return to reality, I will say then that I will try to write over again this last unhappy play, though I have no appetite to the task; and then I would wish to have it printed, with any other little things that you may have and think worth printer’s ink, because a second edition is not to be thought of, and any consequent publication of mine very improbable. It is good to be tolerable, or intolerable, in any other line, but Apollo defend us from brewing all our our lives at a quintessential pot of the smallest ale Parnassian; such hope or memory is little soothing for any one, whose mind is not quite as narrow as a column of eights and sixes. I sometimes wish to devote myself exclusively to the study of anatomy and physiology in science, of languages, and dramatic poetry, and have nothing to hinder me, except unsteadiness and indolence: which renders it extremely probable, if not absolutely certain, that I shall never be anything above a very moderate dabbler in many waters: if another very different spirit does not come over me very, very soon, you will do well to give me up. Indifference grows upon us, and that renders my case very desperate. Once more about the crocodile song: I have sent Bourne another song, instead of it, about an old ghost; one in the place of the second song of the bridal serenaders, which was very common-place, and ought to have been abused by you; though I put these three purposely together; one something Moorish in rhythmus and expression, not equal to him, (his song style is the best false one I know, and glitters like broken glass,—he calls us, and will shew us a beautiful prospect in heav’n or earth, gives us a tube to look through, which looks like a telescope, and is a kaleidescope,)—but a tolerable watery imitation; the second a specimen of the bad, but very popular sentimental if-oh!-and why? lovesong; and the third in the style which, to my conviction, is the right and genuine one in tone, feeling, and form, for a song of the tender and more poetic kind.
No critic however will see what I meant, and indeed I may have failed in my purpose, for Bourne seemed to like the first as well as the third. I do not know whether I have written to you about song-writing; it is almost the only kind of poetry, of which I have
obtained a decided and clear critical theory.—In some letter, either to you or Bourne, I said a good deal about it; but what need of it? you have Shakespeare, and the dramatists, Herrick, Suckling, &c., and know what I mean. It is not easy to write a song with ease, tenderness, and that ethereal grace which you find among these writers &c. &c. &c. Tieck’s tale, “Dichter-leben,” in Urania 24-5 or 6, relates more to Marlow than Shakespeare, though this latter and Kit’s crony, Robert Green, contribute their groat’s-worth of wit to illustrate his repentance; and Nash is there too, and Hemings, in good keeping—I don’t know whether it’s translated:—is William Lovell, by the same, among your novels from the German? a capital thing. Indeed T. is always clever, but has studied so much in the old English and Spanish school that he is scarcely to be called popular among his countrymen, though everywhere acknowledged and dreaded. I have learned much from his writings, from him and Wieland more than from any German writer. Some prejudice or other kept me a long while from reading anything of Kleist’s, because I had somewhere read a vile magazine translation of his “Spring,” and I hate poems about the seasons; the other day I took up his “Käthchen von Heilbronn”—a chivalrous play, and was very agreeably surprised. My criticism is never worth much touching poetry of a loftier character, but I confess I am inclined to look upon Kleist as a person of very great talent for the romantic drama; there is evidently an inoculation from the Shakespearean vein in the piece, and a nature and simplicity which sends howling the pompous pasteboard affectations of Mülliner, Rauper, and other Calibans, who lick the shoe of Gries’s translated Calderon.—His prince of Homberg and other works I have not yet read, although I really believed, a week ago, that I was acquainted with everything worth reading in German belles lettres, from the Niebelungen-lied down to Tieck’s last novel.
How is it possible that it could have escaped your tact for the drama, that the first act of Death’s Jest-book must end with the last words of Wolfram, all the rest being superfluous and derogatory? You will see it clearly if you look into the scene again, and draw your pen through all the Ah!’s and Oh!’s and Hells which follow. You have never, any of you, said a word about the preface:—is it to be printed or not? I think better not: it is ill written, and contains nothing new excepting the quotation from Bilderdijk, which I prize highly as the historical vindication of the Shakespearean form, and therefore a decisive refutation, of all application of Aristotelian maxims to our drama, for those who require an authority besides that of the feelings of the people.
I believe I shall leave the crocodile where he is; and put the “old ghost” into the shoes of Adam and Eve, about whom I care nothing: and I prefer being anonymous, as aforesaid. I hardly venture to open my M.S.: I read Shakespeare and Wordsworth, the only English books I have here,—and doubt,—and seem to myself a very Bristol diamond, not genuine, although glittering just enough to be sham. Wurzburg is one of the oldest Universities in Germany: a very clever professor of medicine, and capital midwife brought me here; and a princely hospital. Franconian wines are mostly white; Stein, Leisten, Gressen, are the best. Wurzburg lies amidst vine-covered hills, and the Maine flows away at a considerable breadth. I stay till August’s end; then perhaps to Florence; so you had better write before that time.
P.S. I have made a mistake about Kleist. There are two German Boets of the name, Christian Ewaldo Kleist, born 1715, died of the wounds he received at the battle of Kunnersdorf in Frederick the Great’s army, Aug. 24, 1759; wrote “The Spring” &c: Heinrich von Kieist, the dramatist,—committed suicide, in partnership with Mrs. Adolphise Sophia Henrietta Vogel, in a wood near Potsdam. Nov. 21, 1811. Tieck has translated The Second Maiden’s Tragedy, and attributed it to Massinger: I must ask him, Why? The poisoning and painting is somewhat like him, but also like Cyril Tourneur,—and it is too imaginative for old Philip.
Wurzburgh, January, 1831.
My dear K——,
Another winter in Wurzburgh: I do not know when I shall summon courage enough to return to your deuced dear island. You might have written to me before this, as you have now matter enough in the Gunpowder plot, of which our literary periodicals speak so mysteriously, that I am totally at a loss whether it be a merry, political hoax, of which the Germans have as yet no conception, or a serious Irelandiad: and then the sixpenny old dramatists! I have some idea of raising my ghost, (in the never-ending Death’s Jest Book,) at the close of the fifth Act, and amalgamating the last scene of the third with the last of the fifth. The first Act must in that case be cut in two, which is practicable enough; but then I am at a loss for business and a good blow at the end of the third, and a play in four acts is a cripple:—either three or five. In the first, the deed must be committed, the consequences of which employ the following: in the second, a reaction attempted, and a second seed sown for ripening in after-time: in the third, which needs not to be the most powerful as I once thought, the storm gathers, doubts rise, or the termination, which appears to be at hand, is interrupted by some bold and unexpected invention; a new event, the developement of a character, hitherto obscure, a new resolve, &c., gives a fresh turn to the aspect of the picture: in the fourth all is consummated, the truth is cleared up, the final determination taken, the step of Nemesis is heard: and in the fifth the atonement follows. The first, fourth, and fifth, must be most attractive and interesting, from the confliction of passions and the events occasioned by them: the second is a pause for retrospection, anticipation; in the third is rather the struggle, between the will of man and the moral law of necessity, which awaits inevitably his past actions,—the pivot of all tragedy. I have really begun a little to alter the ill-fated play in question. What do you say to a drinking song like this, at the beginning of the present second Act? I am not in the least satisfied with it…On second thoughts, I will not bore you with it: indeed it is utterly useless to send you anything, for you always forget to criticise and abuse properly, which it is the duty of every friend to do, as long as the confided piece remains in M.S. Otherwise you should have observed how stupid and superfluous almost all the second Act of Death’s Jest Book is; how commonplace the second bridal song in the fourth; &c. &c. ad infinitum. You may give me credit for carelessness, if you will not for want of superabundant vanity, (a spice is necessary, and self-esteem the wise it call); it is eight years since I have published anything, and how long will it be before I am again under the press? heaven knows. I think the reading populace ought to be much obliged to me for my forbearance: ’tis a pity that other young, rhyming gents are not equally economical of their tediousness: Campbell is really a good example,—or would be, but I fear his poverty, and not his will, consented. Leopold Schefer, a good novelist, proposes, for the purpose of resuscitating the drama, to return to the custom of the Greeks, i.e. to keep all the theatres closed through the greater part of the year, and to open them during a few holiday weeks, once in three years, I think, at Easter, Christmas, &c. for the representation of plays for a prize;—a good chimæra. Many things are quite absurd, and destructive of all poetry, in arrangements which appear not of the slightest consequence; I am convinced that playbills, for instance, are very pernicious; one should never know the actors’ names and private circumstances, the spectators would then be compelled to identify them with their dramatic characters, the interest would be much purer and undivided, the illusion carried as far as it can, and ought to, be. How can people enter deeply into the spirit of a tragedy, for instance,—(in comedy it is a matter of less consequence—) whose question is, How do you like Kean tonight? Is not Claremont delightful in Rosenkranz? &c.—Othello, Richard, and Rosenkranz are here obliged to play Claremont and Kean, instead of the reverse. The actor, on the other hand, deprived of his private name and existence, must feel more convinced of the reality of his five-act life, would be liberated from the shackles of timidity and the temptations of individual vanity, would care less about his creditors, and be unable to try and please the ladies, as Mr. —— with the handsome leg, &c.,—wink to his friends in the pit, &c. &c. To whet curiosity and occasion astonishment, is not the least important object of the dramatist; the actors might have learned from Scott, that anonymous mysteriousness is one of the most effective arts for this purpose. A distant idea of the use of this concealment, probably caused the custom, observed in the announcement of a new play,—principal characters by Messrs. Doe and Roe; but the names of the people in the drama ought to be printed with the necessary key, (father, son, &c.), not those of the gentleman who lodges at the pastrycook’s, wears the threadbare coat, &c. The Greeks, (from whom we can learn much, if we understand their motives,) were in possession of this secret; and this is the real meaning of their masks, which have so much bothered the critics; and these were doubly useful,—they deceived to a certain degree, not only the spectator, but also the actor with the semblance of an heroic and unknown person, and prevented the annoying familiarity of the people on the stage. Of course I do not wish to see their sort of masks on our stage—(our passionate drama renders them impossible, though it might be an interesting experiment to try them once in an adaptation of Agamemnon, the Bacchæ, Antigone, or Electra,—to conclude with the Satyric Drama, the Cyclops:) it is only to be lamented that we have no other means of completely disguising our actors, and making Richard, Hamlet, Macbeth, as absolutely distinct and independent individuals, as Œdipus and Orestes must have been. The Athenians would, I am sure, have pelted their fellow citizen and neighbour, as the pathetic, hobbling, ulcerous Philoctetes, off the stage with onions: only a conviction of his reality could have reconciled their frivolous imaginations with him, or subdued them to compassion:—and Agamemnon, or Hercules, unmasked would have been saluted with their nicknames from all sides. Othello’s colour is a sort of mask, and this is a reason, perhaps, why Shakespeare has given him so much less ideal language, and more simple household truth, than his other characters; the whole play is barer of imagery than any other of his; except the musicians, with their silver sound, there is no conductor for laughter from the tragic characters. Shakespeare seems really to intend more illusion than elsewhere,—and is not the purpose gained? The witches, Peter and the nurse, the gravediggers and Polonius, in a less degree Kent and Lear’s fool, are all more or less purposely destructive of the tragic illusion, and allow time to recover from the surprise, which the course of the events produced: their good is, that they give the hearer to understand that the poet is not absolutely in earnest with his deaths and horrors, and leaves it to him to be affected with them or not as he thinks proper; and secondly that the audience, as well as everybody, is much less inclined to laugh at, and deride the gravity of, a person, with whom his wit and satire has compelled them to laugh:—besides that the change is grounded on the law of oscillation, which pervades all physical and moral nature,—sleeping and waking,—merriment and tears,—sin and repentance,—life and death,—which all depend, and are consequent, on one another.—So much for my dramaturgic ideas on playbills; I don’t know that any one else has fallen on them:—what do you think of them as theory? The pause between the Acts,—which the Greeks, and Shakespeare, I believe, did not allow,—is another dangerous innovation: the thread of events is interrupted, one talks to one’s neighbour, bears news, and forgets the fictitious in the real events, the state of mind produced by the opening is altered, and, as soon as we are with difficulty brought back to the track over which the poet would lead us, another interruption undoes all again. The actors in the meantime chat behind the scenes, Cordelia flirts with her papa, Arthur makes King John a pig-tail, Constance comforts herself with a cup of tea, Juliet dances with the dead Mercutio,—and all such things occur which breed familiarity and carelessness, and damp the excited imagination, and cool the ardour of the players. These, and some other apparently trifling, things have, I am convinced, done the drama much more harm, rendered it less poetical, and spoiled the audience and performers, than the innocent dogs and horses, who act always better than the bipeds, and are as allowable as painted horses, &c. Agamemnon’s chariot was drawn by real horses, I doubt not,—Shakespeare made a good use of his friend’s dog, who played Launce, &c. &c. I acknowledge that licenses, patents, theatrical censure, &c. have been far more noxious; the stage must be as free as the press, before anything very good comes again. But these things which I point out can easily be removed; the others probably not before the abolition of tithes, cornbill, &c. If parliament had nothing to do of greater consequence, Lord Melbourne, who dabbled in Drury lane theatricals, might do something for us; and I wish some one would publicly remind him of the subject.—Tieck’s continuation of Dichter-leben is a delightful explanation of Shakspeare’s life and sonnets; I suppose it is already translated somewhere: it appeared in his Novellen Kranz Taschenbuch auf 1831.—Adieu, &c.
Answer, and send me the song and death-scene you spoke of: you are lazy enough, and cannot complain of me, unless you improve.
I wish you would tell me what things of Tieck’s are translated, as I should wish to introduce him to the English as he deserves. I think he would be, and know he ought to be, much more relished than Göthe, who after all is only a name in England. It is a confounded bore, and baulks me much, that I have no connection with any publisher or journalist in England. I should then have some stimulus, &c. and do some good; now I can do nothing.
I leave Wurzburg in March—destination uncertain.
Zurich, March, 1837.
My dear K.——
I am preparing for the press, as the saying is, among other graver affairs, a volume of prosaic poetry and poetical prose. It will contain half a dozen tales, comic, tragic, and dithyrambic, satirical and semi-moral; perhaps half a hundred lyrical Jews-harpings, in various styles and humours, and the still-born D.J.B.; with critical and cacochymical remarks on European literature, in specie the hapless drama, of our day. I am not asinine enough to imagine that it will be any very great shakes, but, what with a careless temper, and the pleasant translunary moods I walk and row myself into upon the lakes and over the Alps of Switzerland, it will, I hope, turn out not quite the smallest ale brewed with the water of the fountain of the horse’s foot. Now then I write to beg you, as the saying is, to send me, in a letter, a copy of a certain scene and song which you, being the possessor of the only existing MS. thereof, once proposed as an amelioration of one in D’s J.B. This affair will be very much cut down, a good many faults corrected; a little new matter added to it; and the whole better arranged. But I can hardly consent to eradicate my crocodile song, which, you know, B.C. and all persons of proper feeling, as the saying is, strongly condemned. After all, I only print it because it is written and can’t be helped, and really only for such leaders as the pseudonymic lawyer mentioned, W. Savage L. yourself, etc. (if there be yet a plural number left.) G.D. appears to me to have grown deuced grey,—whether it be the greyness of dawn, of life’s evening twilight, or of a nascent asinine metempsychosis, I cannot distinguish at this distance. As a specimen, I send you a bit of foolery, and a snack of fine feeling; and, if you don’t answer me before June, I shall let another rhymed bore loose at you: or, what will be as bad, I hope, a few of my anatomical discoveries and physiological fancies.
(The songs enclosed were those now published under the titles of “The reason why,” and “Dial-thoughts.”)
Zurich—the hills covered with snow. (May, 1837)
My dear K.
My best thanks for your prompt and agreeable answer: your part of the letter being much more satisfactory than mine. I know not what the creator of a planet may think of his first efforts, when he looks into the cavernous recesses which contain the first sketches of organised beings;—but it is strange enough to see the fossilized faces of one’s forgotten literary creatures, years after the vein of feeling, in which they were formed, has remained closed and unexplored. I shall not be able to make much of the death-scene, it is too diffuse and dithyrambic. Pray do not make too much of my productions: you go too far by much in talking of fashionable publishers and the spring season. Most probably I shall be reduced to print, at my own expense, for no Ollier exists at present, I believe, and one can hardly expect to get rid of 100 copies by sale. I know well that publishing at one’s own cost is as promising a speculation, as that in Spanish Bonds, for a man who wishes to lose; but the work is so perfectly adapted to remain unread, that it would be unfair to think of mulcting any unoffending bookseller to the necessary amount. At first I intended to have it printed by Baudry or Galignani at Paris, or at Brussells: but it goes on so slowly, in this cold and snowy weather, that it may cost me much more time than I anticipated.
I would gladly send you copies of the four Chapters, containing as many tales, finished, if I had any creature here, capable of writing English, but I cannot endure copying what I have myself written. I do not intend to publish, or republish, anything of an earlier date, (except Death’s Jest-Book). Pygmalion is, if I recollect right, considerable trash; and what the devil is Alfarabi? I thank you sincerely for your kind invitation to F——, of which I think to avail myself one time or other. I have been staying all the winter here, for the purpose of taking an extensive Alpine walk in July and August. It was my intention to have gone up to the top of several mountains, which I have not yet visited—Pilate, the Titlis, &c.—but I fear that the great quantity of snow, which has fallen in the winter, and is still falling at this moment, will hardly be so far melted by the sun of this summer, as yet powerless, as to leave the latter, a tallish fellow, about 10,700 feet above the level of the sea, accessible to wingless bipeds: so I must even content myself with once more treading on the summits of my humbler acquaintance Rigi, Fauli, and Seidelhorn, &c. These summer excursions among the vallies, the glaciers, and the mighty eminences of this magnificent country, are to me the most delightful of all relaxations; without which I should be as dull and sour as the refuse whey, in which no pig has dipped his snout.
I am sorry to acknowledge that the later writings of Landor have not reached our subalpine region. So much the better; there will be something new for me, when I return, that I shall be able to read. Have you read Tieck’s Shakespeare Novels (Dichter-leben Th. 1. u 2.)? and is W.S.L’s Deer-stealing as true and worthy of its hero? T. a writer whom I prefer very much to the Göethe, about whom the folks in your isle, who manage to wade through his treacherous pages on the back of some square, fat dictionary, are all gone stark, staring, translating-mad.—T. published a year or two ago, in his Novellen-kranz, a biographical romance, in which Camoens plays the principal part,—which I prefer to his Shakespeare, and hold to be the most perfect of his, and consequently of German, human fictions. His dramatic poems, fairy tales, &c. are, I believe, nearly unknown in your part of Europe. But of this anon, when I happen to be in your neighbourhood. Such matters are fitter for discourse over a tankard, than over the channel and across France. What are the votaries of the Muse doing yonder? What is Cosmo de Medici? Paracelsus? Strafford? and Serjeant Talfourd’s Ion or John? You must know that Baudry and Galignani print little besides the fashionable novels, which I can seldom manage to read, in spite of the most devoted application, Bulwer excepted, who is very entertaining, so long as he abstains from aspiring to a sublimer or more poetical sphere than the very respectable one of pickpockets and lawyers—(I beg pardon)—and old clothes-men. My fingers are now so cold that I must put them into my pockets, and sing you a very objectionable piece of foolery, enough to ruin the reputation of any one, who wishes to introduce his writings into good society.—Allons! It is a sparkling piece of anecdote, filed out of The Golden Legend, and extracted from Chap. V. of The Ivory Gate or lesser Dionysiacs—(my new book.)
(The song extracted was a jocose lyric, entitled The new Cecilia.)
What stuff! I shall not give you any more extracts, for fear of spoiling your appetite for the promised laughable mouse in toto. To tell the truth, however, I prefer the above, and such like, absurdity to your Pygmalion and contend that the same is far more poetical. To be sure it is rather too much in the style of Campbell, but hardly so entirely as fairly to deserve the name of an imitation.
You are desirous of knowing what my thoughts, or superstitions, may be regarding things human, sub-human, and superhuman; or you wish to learn my habits, pursuits, and train of life. Now, as you have not me before you in the witness’ box, you must excuse my declining to answer directly to such questioning. I will not venture on a psychological self-portraiture, fearing, and, I believe, with sufficient reason, to be betrayed into affectation, dissimulation, or some other alluring shape of lying. I believe that all auto-biographical sketches are the result of mere vanity,—not excepting those of St. Augustine and Rousseau,—falsehood in the mask and mantle of truth. Half-ashamed and half-conscious of his mendacious self-flattery, the historian of his own deeds, or geographer of his own mind, breaks out now and then indignantly, and revenges himself on his own weakness by telling some very disagreeable truth of some other person, and then, re-established in his own good opinion, marches on cheerfully in the smooth path towards the temple of his own immortality. Yet even here, you see, I am indirectly lauding my own worship, for, not being persuaded to laud my own worship. How sleek, smooth-tongued, paradisaical a deluder art thou, sweet self-conceit! Let great men give their own thoughts on their own thoughts: from such we can learn much: but let the small deer hold jaw, and remember what the philosopher says, “fleas are not lobsters; d—n their souls.”
Without any such risk, however, I can tell you how I employ, or abuse, my time. You must know that I am an M.D. of the U. of Würtzburg, and possess a very passable knowledge of anatomy and physiology, &c.: that I narrowly escaped becoming professor of comparative anatomy in the University of Zurich, (having been recommended unanimously for that chair by the medical faculty here,) by means of a timely quarrel in which I engaged, more solito, with several members of the government. Now, being independent, and having all the otium if not the dignitas eines privatis irrenden-gelehrten, sometimes I dissect a beetle, sometimes an oyster, and very often trudge about the hills and the lakes, with a tin box on my back, and “peep and botanize” in defiance of W.W. Sometimes I peep half a day through a microscope: sometimes I read Italian (in which I am only a smatterer,) or what not: and not seldom drink and smoke like an Ætna.
As sudden thunder—
(Here followed the lyric which is inserted in Death’s Jest-Book, p. 115.)
And so I weave my Penelopean web, and rip it up again; and so I roll my impudent Sisyphean stone; and so I eat my beef-steak, drink my coffee, and wear my coats out at elbow, and pay my bills (when I can,) as busy an humble bee, as any who doth nothing.
* * * * * *
And here closeth this epistle. I shall hardly write again before I have finished my book, which grows as slowly as a yew-tree, at present the chapters in hand requiring a lighthearted sunniness of style, which I can only command when the birds are singing, and sun is shining on morning dew.
I hope to hear from you again, before I return to England, and would request you to send me a song which you recommend. I wish to be prodigal of lyrics, and have only about twenty-two or twenty-three as yet; one or two of which are of doubtful merit. In this confounded weather the cold-blooded frogs themselves hardly have the heart to sing out their love-thoughts. What do you say to the new dramatists? An article in a Dublin review, which I looked through a day or two ago, contains extracts, which certainly indicate a beating of the pulse, a warming of the skin, and a sigh or two from the dramatic lady muse, as if she were about to awake from her asphyxy of a hundred years: and the Examiner is quite rapturous about Strafford; although I confess that the extracts, he chooses and praises, appear to me not exactly dramatic. One is a dialogue between two people describing Pym’s appearance, action &c. in a style, which has been approved of by critics of late, and considered highly graphic. But is it not very artificial? In Shakespeare such passages are rare, and only in scenes, where the person, whose actions are described, must necessarily be laconic if not entirely speechless, and where the spectators, in their doubt, fear, and wonder, naturally communicate to each other their interpretations of the dumb show before, them. For instance, in Hamlet where the ghost, unwilling, or unable perhaps, to speak to his son in the presence of Horatio and the watch, motions him to follow. It is of some consequence to settle one’s opinion on a question of this nature. I am not sure that I am right, but I doubt: what say you?
Giessen, Novr. 13, 1844.
My dear K.
I deferred answering your letter, which I duly received in Baden near Zürich, in August, till I should be able to say where I should fix for some time. Although my arrangements are not yet completed, it is likely that I shall remain here at least the winter. Of course you know that Liebig’s chemical school is in this wretched little town: and, wishing to avail myself of his instructions, I have come to it. My journey brought me through Basel, where Paracelsus—(not Mr. Browning’s,—the historical Paracelsus, a complete charlatan, seldom sober, clever and dunning, living on the appetite of his contemporaneous public for the philosopher’s stone and the universal medicine; mutilated as a child by the jaws of a pig; all his life a vagabond; who at last died drunk, in his single shirt, at Salzburg:)—where Paracelsus burnt Galen’s works openly as profeasor of the university, beginning the medical reform so, as Luther did that in religion by his public conflagration of the bull launched against him. Paracelsus was a poetical fellow in his way certainly, and in his writings a wholesale dealer in a certain style, of which every prudent verse-manufacturer will avail himself sparingly; no doubt the epithet, given to that sort of flowers of eloquence, was derived from one of his names, for he had many, as he might often need an alias, and, when he wrote at full, denominated himself Philippus Aureolus Theoprastus Paracelsus Bombastus ab Hohenheim. He was born at Hohenheim near Einsiedeln, in the canton Schwyz; and his surname was probably Bombast. But the memory of Paracelsus has passed away, with the dance of Death; and the old university, whose walls echoed once to the voices of Vesalius, Œcolampadius, Melancthon, and Erasmus, is just pulled down, to make way for a new building in which teachers of mediocrity will soon dictate to empty benches. Basel has retained a good collection of Holbein’s, who was a native of the town, where they tell odd stories of him.
He was employed once in painting a cieling for a patrician, who was somewhat stingy; and knowing how apt the master was to slip from his aerial perch into a vintner’s to enjoy himself, he left his counting house every vacant minute to assure himself that the painter’s legs were dangling in their proper place from the scaffold. Holbein could not endure such constraint, and, to be able to absent himself unperceived, painted a pair of very sober legs against the wall, which he left as his proxy, while his own were enjoying themselves under the tippling-bench. This monument of his ingenuity remained till within a few years, but every leg has its end, and we have nothing left but a leg-end of those of Holbein. I will spare you all remarks on the liver-pasties and fortifications of Strasburg, the monotony of Manheim, and the militaries of Mainz: referring you to Murray, &c. In Francfort the new monument of Göethe was just unveiled: it is a bronze designed by Schwanthaler, and admirably executed: the pedestal ornamented in haut-relief with groups out of his principal fictions, as Mignonne, W. Meister, and the harper,—Hermann and Dorothea, (stiff and disagreeable, perhaps purposely modelled so by the artist, as characteristic of that soporific composition,)—Faust and Meph,—Iphigenia, Orestes, and Thoas,—Egmont,—Götz,—Erlking,—Bride of Corinth,—&c. all graceful and harmonious. Göethe turns his back to the Francfort theatre,—why, I do not know: he certainly would, if he was alive, for the actors are almost as bad as the English,—always with the exception of Dem Lindnor, and my old friend Weidner, with whom I helped to keep his sixty-sixth birthday, celebrating the same with a German sonnet, which no doubt you are not in the least anxious to see: so, I’ll sing you another song, which I believe is new to you. I have stuck it into the endless Jest-book.
(“In lover’s ear a wild voice cried;” the ballad now first printed in this volume.)
Do not imagine that I do much in the pottery way now. Sometimes, to amuse myself, I write you a German lyric or epigram, right scurrilous; many of which have appeared in the Swiss and German papers; and some day or other I shall have them collected and printed for fun. As for publishing in England, I am not inclined that way: the old Jest-book, repeatedly touched up, is a strange conglomerate, and I have not since had time or inclination to begin a right tragedy. Altogether the old thing, in its present shape, may be hardly worse than the most that’s presented to the public: but that would be, in any opinion, no excuse for printing it. All the rhymes, I have seen many a year, are not worth the rags they are printed on: and I think myself entitled to the thanks of the British public, for not having bothered them the last twenty years. Recollect, I might have written as much as ——; and have forborne. I am happy to hear that you have a decent edition of Shakespeare. From what you say, I must, however, suspect that Knight has not acted candidly towards the Germans. That is very foolish; for who does not understand German now-a-days? who is not acquainted with German literature since Lessing? always excepting Mr. Carlyle. The hypothesis, as to the authorship of the two noble kinsmen, belongs to Tieck originally, and no doubt Knight has availed himself of that Shakespearean critic’s arguments. I have no books at hand, and the work, in which it at first appeared, does not occur to me: but the singular supposition, that Chapman should be the third dramatist concerned therein, which always appeared to me highly improbable, has prevented me from forgetting it. Very likely the passage occurs in Tieck’s criticism on Hamlet. The work appears to me more like Dekker’s, or even Ben’s: Chapman is surely one of the Elizabethans who has the least dramatic talent: but I begin to forget all these things. Tieck’s works contain a vast deal of excellent observations on W. Shakespeare, and have no doubt been well plundered by the author of a biography. Tieck is here, as in every respect, far superior to W.A. Schlegel, (whose name by the way I do not pronounce Sklegel now; so that you see I have learnt something in Germany).
Frankfurt, a.m. Hôtel de Landsberg, 4 January, 1845.
Liebig had no room; so I went to Berlin. There we had a week of royal fun. One day they inaugurated the new opera-house, and the next chopped off Tscheck’s head:—and was not that a dainty dish to—? The Prussians, and particularly F.W. IV. always disgust me very soon, so I called, on my way, on Saxony, and then came here to stay 6-8 weeks,—till March e.g. I have looked at your letter again, and am not convinced by it that it is my business to get anything printed. Twenty years ago I was so overrated, that of course I must fall short of all reasonable and unreasonable expectation. Times are much changed, it is true. I am not aware that there’s one single fellow, who has the least nose for poetry, that writes. You seem to take tea-leaves for bay: which is all very natural and Chinese—according to the National Anthem:—
Drink, Britannia, Britannia, drink your tea,
For Britons, Bores, and butter’d toast, they all begins with B.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, amid the lyrical chirpings of your young English sparrows, shall come an eagle, and fetch fire from the altar Miltonic, to relight the dark-lanterns of Diogenes and Guy Fawkes. As to the who, where, and when of the prophecy,—axe Moore of the Almanac. The solution some day next century.
As to real Poetry—
I have oft thought,
Thou art so beautiful above all women,
I might be you: but yet tis happier still
To be another, to admire and love thee.
As the author of Death’s Jest-book says some where or other.
Shiffnal, August 11, 1846.
My dear K—,
I have been in the native land of the unicorn about a week, and may remain five more. I should wish to see and talk with you during my stay. As you are the busy man I leave the arrangements to your convenience. I had no time to visit Procter in passing through London, but am told that he is appointed to a high office in the government of the kingdom of the moon, upon which, as a retired member of the company of poets, he was, I suppose, accustomed to draw liberally. I saw…These are all our common acquaiintance, I believe. As for myself, the world, which I have carefully kept at arm’s length, has only made me somewhat more indifferent and prosaic than before. Direct to me ——— and find out some way of convincing yourself of the identity, of which I am not quite sure,
Of your old and present friend,
Catherine St. Birkenhead
My dear K—,
I have been detained, since you had the kindness to answer a letter of mine (Aug. 13,) much to my distaste, in this extraordinary part of the world: and am now staying in one of the most abominable places this side of Tartarus, till it shall please the apple-blossom to appear. I meditate still an incursion on your privacy, before I leave the Britannic shores, of which I will apprize you some days in advance. It will give me very great pleasure to confer with you, but pray expect no addition to your experience from the scenes of my existence; nothing can be more monotonous, dull, and obscure: the needy knife-grinder’s adventures would have been oriental marvels and pantomimic mysteries in comparison. Prose of the leadenest drab dye has ever pursued your humble servant. But of that you will not doubt;—I believe I might have met with some success as a retailer of small coal, or a writer of long-bottomed tracts, but doubt of my aptitude for any higher literary or commercial occupation. But you will see. I believe I have all the dulness, if not the other qualities,—of your British respectability.
You have been always good enough to overrate any bit of verse, &c. I scribbled, so that I was almost tempted to send you some to go through at leisure, or treat like any other drug, I might be unfortunate enough to prescribe, per post, as postage is cheap; but I find that I have lost, or left behind, nearly all the very little that I have committed to paper in English, since last I communicated with you; and what I have is either utterly illegible, or mere refacciamenti of the unhappy Jest-book, so that I am compelled to spare you.
I hope to see you well, and as happy as a man ought to be; and to make pleasant new acquaintance among the, to me, unknown, new generation of K—’s: and may they flutter and sing in those sunny places of the green wood of life, from which our shadows have passed away.
Pray say whether it will be still convenient to you to see, in three weeks or a month, for an hour or a day,
Temple, London, May 29, 1847.
My dear K.
The author of all those celebrated unwritten productions, amongst which I particularly solicit your attention to a volume of letters to yourself, will leave the station for —— at seven o’clock to-morrow, and stay Sunday at that place:
Poor bird, that cannot ever
Dwell high in tower of song:
Whose heart-breaking endeavour
But palls the lazy throng.
It was at the close of this, his final, visit to England, that the editor saw Beddoes, after an interval of nineteen years since their last meeting, and which had not passed without leaving considerable traces on his outward appearance. The seriousness of his aspect and manner had increased; it had deepened almost into sadness: as if there existed but few objects of sufficient interest to draw his mind outward. Although apparently conversant with recent foreign literature, such as might be supposed to come in his way, he disclaimed acquaintance with, and even curiosity, in ours, more especially the poetical portion of it. The best, as well as the worst, of the new writers, who had risen up among us during the last ten or twelve years, seemed alike unknown to him: he professed an entire alienation from poetry, particularly his own, to which he would not bear an allusion. Politics, in the abstract, had never much hold upon him: in our insular questions he had now no part or concern: and the course of foreign events, wherein his sympathies were most alive, had been too baffling and dispiriting to render their discussion, or even contemplation, satisfactory. Scientific researches, far and wide in the fields of natural philosophy, and psychological speculations, connected with them or self-prompted, into the profundities within him and around, appeared alone to fill up the measure of his thoughts. His stay in this country had been prolonged, and his movements impeded, by neuralgia; which did not however prevent his making a circuit of visits to his nearest relatives and friends: and he finally quitted England in June 1847, returning to Frankfort, where he remained about a twelvemonth. It would seem that, for some years, his place of residence abroad had been, in some degree, determined by political events. Sympathizing keenly with the efforts made in Poland, Germany, and Switzerland, for the recovery of independence, or the establishment of constitutional liberty, he gave strenuous aid to the liberal party in various ways,—in money, by his open adherence and countenance, by contributions, in verse and prose, to the German press.* (* He used to say pf himself, laughingly, that he was a popular german poet.) With many of the popular leaders in Switzerland, (principally the foremost men in the scientific and literary circles,) he was especially intimate. He was in Zurich during the catastrophe of 1839 (Sept. 8), when the peasantry stormed the town and subverted the liberal government, the most important member of it, his friend Hegetochweiber, a man of distinguished reputation in science, being shot in the tumult. These connexions and opinions rendered him obnoxious to the Hanoverian, Prussian, and Bavarian authorities; whose territories, it is believed, he was, in consequence, at times compelled to quit. Many of his movements however were doubtless unknown to his English friends, as the pauses in his correspondence were often long, and his letters were chary, if not devoid, of personal history, and occupied only with the topics interesting to his own thoughts. It would appear however that he never revisited Italy, and he certainly was seldom in France: the national characters, modes of thinking, and literatures of those peoples not being accordant with his mind, which was altogether Teutonic. He also entertained considerable repugnance, and professed perhaps still more, to much that he came in contact with in English life; to its social hauteur and pretensions, and its empty, ungenial conventionalisms. He always however retained the intention of settling ultimately in his native land; a purpose which he was, more than once, apparently on the very eve of accomplishing; for instance, in 1834, and at other comparatively early periods of his foreign residence: and, in the last months of his existence, he had quite matured his plans for that consummation, so much desired by his family and English friends, but still, (as if with the circling, hesitating approach of one who doubted the result of a bold adventure,) not till after a spring given to the restoration of his health in Italy. Had it been allowed him to realize that intention, medical practice would doubtless have formed a part, (at least ostensibly,) of his scheme of occupation: wealth, however, with its dependent gratifications, was always little cared for, and, if it ever came to him through that channel, would have come only in the train of a merited scientific reputation. But the greater facilities, offered to him on the continent, for acquiring and interchanging knowledge, as it budded and fruited daily in every branch of science; the intimacies thus formed with men of first-rate ability and attainments; the high standing and appreciation which he had won among them; the stir of political regeneration, so attractive to an earnest nature, and so much more marked and vivifying among the continental decrepitudes than it could have been under the slighter and more shifting abuses in his own country; the ease and independence of the social life; the constant intercourse with the sublimities of nature obtained in his changing abode and solitary rambles in the land of the Switzers, a people whom he admired and liked; all these together invested a foreign residence, at that time, with an attraction too strong for him to overcome, whilst their combination lasted. The utmost which they allowed him to do,—and he did it,—was to leave the access unclosed by which the countervailing influences might in time make themselves felt, and his action unfettered whenever the hour of his return might strike. But another and more solemn change was to befall: the earthly course drew to its close. At Frankfort, it would seem, occurred the real cause of his death, in a slight wound or puncture, which he received whilst engaged in a dissection, and by which some very noxious virus appears to have been infused into his system. His strength was gradually undermined; and, being advised, and himself inclining, to try the benefit of a purer air, in May 1848, he went to Bâsle, and sought restoration from equestrian exercise in its hilly neighbourhood. In one of these excursions he fell, with his horse, in precipitous ground, (an accident, to which doubtless his enfeebled state of health was conducive,) and broke his left leg “all to pieces.” Being removed to the hospital at Bâsle, he there received all the aid and alleviations which skill and kindness could bestow; and, for two months, the utmost exertions were made to preserve the limb,—but in vain: amputation became inevitable, and was performed. During this period, so habitual was his reserve on merely personal topics, (increased probably by reluctance to occasion, what he might consider, useless pain,) that he forbore to communicate his unfortunate condition to his family: and even writing to an old and valued English friend, regarding some urgent business, on the very day that he underwent the operation, he omitted all allusion to that sharp trial, the shadows of whose presence, advancing or retreating, must have then lain dark upon his spirit. In this letter however he indirectly intimates, for the first time, a doubt of his recovery from the illness which he had adverted to, in former letters, as influencing his movements, and now spoke of as still undiminished. It was not until October, weeks after the amputation, and when he had begun to experience its benefits, that he reported his state, of which he then thought, and continued to think, so very favourably, that he would not hear of any one from England visiting his sick couch, surrounded, as he described it, with every comfort and alleviation. He was indeed well placed and cared for; in an airy and pleasant apartment, receiving the constant attention of surgical and medical friends, in whose skill he had the utmost confidence. For three months his recovery steadily progressed; the limb healed fast; and Beddoes, indulged with books and scientific intercourse, found little that was irksome in his long and close confinement. Nay more: its quietude and seclusion, so accordant with his nature, must have suitably invested the closing period of his existence with a sunset calm; in which the sweet and solemn shadows of the awful Presence, ever near in that abode and then approaching to himself, would softly fall on his capacious spirit and sink, with the fulness of peace, to its very depths. Nor were other appropriate influences wanting, in a place so fitted for their beneficial operation, and under so religious a rule as the Swiss. Throughout his long confinement, Beddoes was regularly, and in the last month very frequently, visited by M. Huber, the chaplain of the establishment, with whom he conversed much; and in the light of whose ministry, we cannot doubt, the foundations of that state of spiritual “calm and resignation,” ascribed to him by his colloquist, were searched, and strengthened, and settled. In the few weeks preceding his death, the possibility of such a consummation could not but have been familiar to the thoughts of one, so capable of reading the serious character of his symptoms, betokening an enemy in the house of life, more deadly and deeply-seated than any malady resulting from the wounded limb. The poison, imbibed at Frankfort, renewed its ravages upon his system; a slow and wasting fever supervened; his whole strength was undermined; and at length ensued delirium, and the other undeceiving last symptoms. In the concluding twenty-four hours he felt conscious of the imminence of death, and calmly spoke of it; and he committed to writing, with a hurrying pencil but collected thoughts, a string of parting bequests and farewells to various relatives and friends. His last act was to write in his Bible, (a German one which he had habitually used,) in a firm, clear hand, this touching and expressive memorial, “Für meine schwester.” He died 26th January 1849, and lies at present unnoted in the cemetery of the hospital: but arrangements have been made for bestowing a more distinguishable tomb; and Bâsle, long celebrated for her illustrious graves, will be able to show one more title to that honourable repute, in the resting-place of our gifted countryman.
How stately or enduring a monument he may, by the earnest cultivators of English poetic literature, be deemed to have himself erected in his works, this is not perhaps the fitting place in which to venture a prediction. In his life time, he may certainly be said to have strangely missed his fame: the most golden bough of “the everlasting singing-tree,”—the laudarier a laudatis,—as posthumous events have shown, lay already within his reach, would he but have stretched his hand to gather it. But even the full and open requital of these his actual, though hidden, claims to distinction, would still have left, for those who best knew that creative mind in all its undeveloped power, the larger portion of their Hope unsatisfied. In either, or in both, of the two noblest fields in which the genius of man can expatiate, and whereon his advancing foot had been so energetically planted,—PHYSIOLOGY in its inmost principles and psychological affinities, and the higher region of POETIC ART,—a far and unfaltering career of triumphant achievement, beyond all present performance and worthier of his own exalted aims, was confidently looked for. Dis aliter visum: another disappointment checks the fondness of earthly expectation, and prompts the better aspiration:
O hollow wraith of dying fame,
Fade wholly! while the soul exults,
And self-infolds the large results
Of force, that would have forged a name.
Amongst the last injunctions, pencilled by the deceased, was one consigning his MSS. to the editor’s disposal, “to print or not as he might think proper:” and such MSS., as the executors could obtain possession of, have been handed over accordingly. They consist entirely of poetry; not a single paper of a scientific character having been discovered; a matter of no little surprise, considering the strong bent of his mind, and the nature of his studious pursuits, during the last twenty years of his life. It seemed scarcely possible that some of his many trains of philosophical investigation should not have taken a settled form; that isolated observations, at least, and their related inferences, should not have been put by him on record, as the embryo, or illustration, of some novel physiological theory, inducted either in his own mind or in one of kindred vigour. Of his mental aptitude for this the higher field of his scientific profession, and of the care with which he had prepared for its cultivation, there appears abundant cause to indulge in the belief. To a scientific friend his amount of talent was declared by Blumeribach to have exceeded that of every other student, who had received instruction under him, during the fifty years of his professorship. The estimate, in which several years later he was held by some of the most distinguished of his professional brethren, is shown in their unanimous recommendation of him, made in 1835 by the medical facuity of Zurich, on the proposal of Dr. Schoenlien, to a professorial chair in that University; an appointment, which from some formal impediment, and his own indifference, was not carried out. What he wrote on scientific subjects, or committed of his own to the German press, he never communicated to his English correspondents: but there is reason to believe that he printed several papers of that character, whilst residing at Zurich. His devotion however to the cause of philosophic knowledge was at all times earnest and disinterested. Two works, of which he had a high opinion, by living writers in different languages,—one, his friend Dr. Schoenlien, and the other, a countryman of our own, Mr. Grainger,—he was anxious to make adequately known, among the literati of each country; and he undertodk the onerous, but unpretending, office of their translator. The version into English of Dr. Schoenlien’s work,—a treatise then in MS., on The Natural History of the diseases of Europeans, and to extend, when completed, to many volumes,—he determined, should other modes of publication fail, to print at his own expense; “a resolution,” he writes to a friend, “the apparent imprudence of which will be amply vindicated after some years. Since the time of Boerhaave no work, not even excepting Cullen, has appeared, which has the like importance of this.” In a similar spirit of generous admiration he entered heartily upon a translation into German of Mr. Grainger’s “Observations on the structure and functions of the Spinal Cord:” an undertaking, which he prosecuted with great diligence, if he did not complete; for, in May 1839, he expresses a hope of having perfected the arrangements for its publication, adding “I know not whether I should say I am glad, or sorry, that no German version has as yet appeared.”* (* Extract of letter from the author, dated “Zurich—April 28, 1838. I have been some weeks employed in translating Mr. Grainger’s book, on the Spinal Cord, into German: the book will be printed probably in the summer; but, before that happens, I should wish to communicate, either personally or by letter, with the author, on some points, not essentially connected with the enquiry, which have been set in a clearer light by more recent writers. I allude especially to some observations, on the microscopic anatomy of the central organs of the nervous system, contained in the latter paragraphs of the second chapter, which must be either omitted or altered, inasmuch as it is no longer admitted, by the more experienced in these delicate researches, that the peculiar form, ascribed by Ehrenberg, Purkinge, &c. to the primary medullary fibrils in the brain and its dependencies, is to be found in the fresh and uninjured organ.”) Not a trace, however, of either of these translations, in print or MS., has been obtained by his English friends; and it may now be inferred that, with such, his more original lucubrations in science have been lost or intentionally destroyed,—in either case irretrievably. It now only remains for the editor to speak of the remaining MSS. so largely confided to his discretion, and of th manner in which he has discharged his trust. Besides those found with the deceased, and transferred by his executors, the editor had in his possession two other portions of Beddoes’ MSS.; one consisting of the poems, mostly fragmentary, which were placed at his disposal by their author in 1825; and the other a packet, left in his hands, for consideration, by Beddoes at the close of his visit in 1847, comprising prose compositions,—tales, serious, playful, and grotesque, set in a framework of ‘imaginary conversations,’ and interspersed with lyrical poems,—the whole entitled (or rather to be entitled, for it was but in an embryo state,) “The Ivory-gate for 18—, containing conversations and criticisms on life and art.” The poems found in his own possession consisted of little else besides Death’s Jest-Book, and of this merely such MSS. as the editor had seen at various times, many years previously. These are 1, the first (apparently) complete original, written out certainly in, if not before, 1828: 2, a complete copy, with some, but not extensive alterations, transcribed two or three years later for the press: and 3, a much enlarged version of the first Act alone, made not long afterwards, certainly before 1832. Over all these copies, in various parts, alterations and additions, some in pencil, are freely written; and the detached papers contain dramatic passages, which were apparently (many obviously) intended for insertion in that work: thus indicating the incompleteness, to the author’s mind, of even this, the most cared for of his poetical remains. It was impossible however for the editor to hesitate one moment in giving to the press a considerable, if not the greater, part of the poems so much, and so long, admired by himself: but, doubtful how far that admiration might be shared by others, and not wishing to satiate even the most admiring, he deemed it the better course in itself, as well as most in accordance with the author’s own design, to publish at once only that later portion of the MSS. which could be presented in a moderate compass, as a compact and completed work, fit to challenge sentence on its own pretensions, without reference to the author in any way.—The Death’s Jest-Book best answered this purpose, and was accordingly published last year,—by itself, and without name or explanation. The preface even was omitted, according to the author’s own inclination many years ago: its publication seemed to be still less required at the present time than it was then, the artistic principle which it vindicated, namely the entire distinctness of the Gothic drama, in its object and mode of treatment, from the Greek, being a matter now either admitted or passed by. In preparing this work for the press, the author’s latest versions were of course adopted; the enlarged first act, and such of the marginalia and scattered additions as could take their assignable places without tampering with the author’s text; the editor strictly maintaining the two cardinal rules of preserving the congruous aspect of the piece, and the text pure from all foreign admixture. In his omissions he was less scrupulous, venturing almost totally to discard one of the dramatis personæ,—a feeble comic part, certainly unworthy of its associates, and which Beddoes himself, but for the irksomeness of reconstruction, would gladly have got rid of altogether,—retaining only the few sentences relating to it that are indispensable to the intelligibility of the context. Despite all endeavours after a truer manifestation, Death’s Jest-Book appears with a form and expression not merely inadequate, but different, to the author’s matured conceptions: how, in several particulars, has been stated in his correspondence; and, for those of his friendly critics whom the audacity of ghostly commoration with flesh and blood especially revolts, his own condemnatory comment, indorsed on the latest M.S. copy, may be here quoted by way of propitiation. “After the resurrection of Wolfram, he cannot be allowed to have any other intercourse, than one with his bride, who has been sung to sleep by her attendants: he then comes and speaks to her sleeping: she awakes, her attendants return, and she resigns herself to death: and secondly, in the last scene to appear at the banquet, towards the end.”* (* The predilection of the author for necromantic and spectral fancies has been made the subject of unfavourable comment, as originating in a desire to produce startling effects, and a fondness for the horrible and grotesque, as such and for their own sakes. The fact is undeniable, but not its genealogy, which is assuredly defective, and unjust to Beddoes. He had the propensity, and indulged it to excess,—not always with the happiest effect; and this extravagance and failure are rightly made amenable to censure. But that he made such cheap devices a lever for raising vulgar admiration is little characteristic of a writer, who held it in contempt, and who gave his fantasies to the winds and flames,—not to the press. It was in sooth a propensity, far too over-mastering and too widely spread into all his mental habitudes, to have its origin near the surface of his character: it had its source far deeper, in the conviction, close and inmost to his soul, of the actuality of spiritual existence; and this profound sense of the immaterial, so unusual in a man of the scalpel and the microscope, underlay the whole framework of his thoughts, informing—perhaps unconsciously—as well his sportive fancies as his nobler conceptions. His poetry actually swarms with scintillations of the life not in the flesh, and those, to whom the electric shocks are disagreeable, had better lay aside his pages for the silky strains, which, glossy with external light, are still securest non-conductors of such flashing intercourse with the inner world. This strong present realization of the spiritual, not by any means frequent with either writers or their readers, and, it need scarcely be observed, something entirely distinct from the most positive intellectual, or religious conviction, is quite Swedenborgian, and might suggest the notion of the author’s adoption (either cause or effect) of that philosophic system. There is not however externally the slightest warrant for such a supposition; and most assuredly the dogmatic experiences of the great Swedish seer would not have been at all to the taste of Beddoes.) Still, with all its knots and flaws of unripeness and excess, Death’s Jest-Book must take its undeniable place in our literature, as the vigorous creation of a genius that delighted to dare boldly, and with commensurate power. Such was at least, and is, the editor’s undoubting conviction, and in this faith he acted; and he has already obtained the justification he sought, in the concurrent acceptance so freely given, to the work, by that class of readers whom alone he could either wish, or expect, to interest: thus relieving him from any lingering hesitation as to proceeding further in the publication of the remains; and constraining him to yield, in the present and completing volume of the posthuma, an especial, if not exclusive, offering to those who have shown themselves endued with the power and will to appreciate the poetry of Beddoes. With this object he has here sought to present, not merely what was choicest or least vulnerable to criticism, but every thing, however defective in form or finish, on which the stamp of the author’s mind is impressed; a collection, in short, of kindred character with that of Shelley’s Remains, so fittingly bestowed on his admirers. For the true lovers of either poet, his shortest passages, and even single lines, will often possess a prevailing charm; and with Beddoes, perhaps, the most frequently, as the more condensed in style, of the two, it seemed as if he could not put together ten syllables in verse, without, by a happy sorcery, inclosing in their scanty confines the very spirit of poesy. Should any reader think otherwise, and find aught superfluous in the present volume, let him condemn the editor, not the author; for most assuredly by the latter not a tithe of its contents would ever have been published: on his part, doubtless a becoming chariness, as no artist, with proper respect for the public or his own fame, will tender a defective work to her acceptance, when conscious of the ability to bring a perfect offering to the altar. Death however wholly alters the case; it ceases to be a question of propriety; the potential must give way to the actual. The workman has quitted his forge for ever: all that remains for those left in charge of his glittering store is, carefully to gather and preserve whatever may hold a grain of the precious metal, be it the half-wrought vessel or even the untouched ore. Of this simple duty the editor has sought to acquit himself; and that with no idle apprehension that its discharge can in any manner really lessen the reputation of the dead. His true place, whereever it may be, in the literature of his country, has been already won, beyond all risk of forfeiture, by his past achievements. His poetry owes nothing of its influence to mere finish or completeness; not much, though more perhaps than is generally conceded, to constructive art; but nearly all of it to the universal presence of that so potent imaginative faculty with which he was largely endowed, and which is not less perceptible developing and quickening every minutest tendril and excrescence than beating at the central heart. This Spirit of POWER will, it is conceived, be found animating even the disparted sentences—
——syllables of woe
From the deep throat of sad Melpomene—
which have been gathered into the present volume; and should nothing else be there, and its function be too often obscured by imperfections, the reader will recollect that it is the triple element of all high verse, as action is of oratory. Whatever appeared to himself to be worthy of preservation, the editor has collected in this final publication: it consists principally of the earlier portion of the author’s MSS. but comprehends of course all the later lyrics and fragments; also two or three pieces, contributed many years ago to periodicals, and printed without his name. The true date of composition has been, as much as possible, observed in the order of arrangement: the completed lyrics, and some of the fragments towards the end, are doubtless amongst his latest compositions, but scarcely any, even of these, are assignable to the last decade of his life. Nothing foreign has been introduced or required; not even a word to complete the sense: he rarely left a blank in his composition for a happier hour of inspiration: the sense is always carried on, without break, till he drops the pen; though alterations, never other than felicitous, are occasionally interlined. It must be borne in mind however by the reader, that all the posthuma, with hardly an exception, are printed from the rough first drafts,—some probably never even reperused by the author: and that most of the lyrics have a dramatic character, in connexion with the tales which they were designed to illustrate.
The Brides’ Tragedy, being out of print, is included in the present collection.
Since the foregoing sketch was in type the editor has had placed at his disposal the following early reminiscences of Beddoes, which have been obligingly volunteered and supplied by a Charter-house contemporary,* (* Charles Dacres Bevan, Esq. of the Middle Temple.) some years his junior: and which the editor gladly appends to his own, not only for their intrinsic value as racy and characteristic particulars, but as conveying the impressions of another mind, and one that, however stored with kindly personal recollections, is yet evidently quite unbiassed by any strong coincidence of thought or opinion generally. In the vivid picture of the scbool-boy there given, the independence, originality, and power of the after-man are unmistakeably prefigured: and, if accompanied with less attractive features, (which the editor has not sought to veil,) it must be recollected that much of the better part o£ our human nature is rarely presented, if even existent, in the boy, and comes only with the “years that bring the philosophic mind.” That such was not sparingly developed throughout the manhood of Beddoes, and that from the closing period of these juvenile records, if not sooner, his great strength of will was not unsuccessfully directed to its noblest purpose, self-government, remains a strong conviction with those whose long and close intimacy gave them the surest opportunity of judging. By one such friend,* (* Revell Phillips, Esq. of the Middle Temple) (the gentleman to whom the reminiscences were addressed and in the letter accompanying their transmission to the editor,) an estimate of this portion of the character of Beddoes has been thus summarily given: “His treatment of others for many years of the latter part of his life was kind, considerate, benevolent, just. I have seen in him instances of great self-control and magnanimous forbearance under great provocation. Neither tyranny, nor revenge, was one of his failings.”
Western circuit, 26 July, 1851.
Dear Mr. Phillips,
I send you, as you desire, all the particulars that I can now remember, of my school acquaintance with the late Mr. Beddoes, as likely to interest his friends, or illustrate his character and conduct in after-life. I have written them down as they occurred to me, and can vouch for their substantial accuracy; though, after the lapse of so many years, a school boy’s recollection is not generally the most distinct.
To say I had a great affection for him would be an exaggeration, but his abilities made an impression upon my mind, and our intercourse created in me a feeling of regard and interest in his fortunes, which is now changed into very sincere sorrow for the early and painful death of a man calculated to fill an useful and important position in the world.
I first knew Thomas Lovell Beddoes at the Charter-house in 1817 or 1818. We were in the same house, (Mr. Watkinson’s No. 15 in the square.) Beddoes was near the top of the school; I his fag, and in constant attendance upon him.
The expression of his face was shrewd and sarcastic, with an assumption of sternness, as he affected the character of tyrant and bully, though really not much of either; but a persevering and ingenious tormentor, as I knew to my cost.
With a great natural turn for humour, and a propensity to mischief; impatient of control, and indisposed to constituted authority over him, he suggested and carried out many acts of insubordination, in the contrivance of which he shewed as much wit, as spirit in their execution; and even when detected in positive rebellion, his invincible assurance and deliberate defiance of the masters, together with the grim composure of his countenance, was so irresistibly comic, that I have seen them unable to speak for laughing when he was brought up for punishment.
Once, when we were forbidden to play at Hockey in the cloisters, where Hockey had been played time out of mind, we determined to resist such a stretch of prerogative, and appointed a match in defiance of the order. Beddoes, who had never before been seen with a Hockey-stick in his hand, signified his purpose of heading one of the sides, and appeared before the whole school in a sort of war dress invented and made by himself; of which the most remarkable parts were a fillet of rags round his head stuck full of feathers, and a pasteboard shield having for device a fist doubled, with the motto “Manus hæc inimica tyrannis.” I shall never forget his look of ferocious gravity, as he marched out at the head of his Myrmidons: the apparition was too much for the Masters, who had assembled to enforce the law, but laughed in spite of themselves, and the whole thing blew over.
Like some other sticklers for liberty, Beddoes whenever he had an opportunity, shewed himself an unmitigated Despot, and as he was head boy in his house, and kept perfect order there except when, for his own purposes, he chose to trouble Israel, the Masters were glad to compound for a few extravagancies, and he did pretty much as he liked; though his likings as well as his dislikes were rather capricious, and used now and then to develope themselves in an odd way.
He had a great knack at composition in prose and verse, generally burlesque—and a great notion of dramatic effect. A locksmith called John Wylie, who worked for the school, incurred Beddoes’ displeasure by putting a bad lock on his book-case, and charging for a good one; Beddoes was forced to pay, but John Wylie had no reason to boast of his spoils. His tormentor had prepared, the very next night he came to work, a dramatic interlude representing his last moments, disturbed by horror and remorse for his sins in the matter of the lock, his death, and funeral procession, which was interrupted by fiends who bore the body off to accompany the soul to eternal torments. The getting up was so perfect, and the dialogue, songs, chorusses, and dirge so good in their way, and so personal and little flattering to the suffering soul, that John Wylie departed in a storm of wrath and execrations, and could not be persuaded, for some time, to resume his work. Beddoes never played at a game that required science or practice; he neither liked its discipline or the trouble of learning it; his recreation out of doors consisted chiefly in wandering about the parts of the Charter-house that were out of bounds, and tormenting the officers and their servants, and the old pensioners who had rooms there. In those days the Pensioners, or as we called them “Cods,” were not remarkable, as a body, for cleanliness, sobriety, or regularity either of conduct or temper; agreeing with each other only in their hatred of us, thei natural enemies.
They should have been, according to the will of the founder, and the terms of the statutes, decayed gentlemen, clergymen and merchants, or broken soldiers or seamen. There were in point of fact, a few of each class; but the greater number had been servants or dependents of the different governors of the Hospital.
The prejudices and infirmities of some of these old men were very remarkable, and did not escape the quick eye of Beddoes, who selected them as the peculiar objects of his visits and attentions. One of them a half witted collector of curiosities he called Cod Curio: another who had fought at Trafalgar and had St. Vitus’ dance, he christened Cod Frolicsome: and a third, a furious idiot, who had a dislike to cleanliness or decent covering, was known as Cod Sine-Breech, from his inveterate antipathy to any lower garment. These three were attended by nurses, compared with whom Betsy Prig and Sarah Gamp would have been ministering angels; and it was to piratical expeditions and domiciliary visits to them and their companions, that Beddoes’ spare hours were given.
The attacking force generally consisted of himself, one or two particular friends, and their respective fags; myself included. And many a fight we had, with now and then a repulse from Cod Sine Breech, who, in extremity, hired a drummer of the guards by way of reinforcement.
These wars were seldom a l’ontrance, but often relieved by truces, which were always ratified over lobsters and oysters, and porter and gin. At these festivities Beddoes shone forth in his glory. He used to sing and dance in capital extemporaneous imitation of what he had seen on the stage, and he must have been very amusing. For though I was present by no means as a volunteer, and put in front of the battle as a scape goat, besides being liable to a flogging as out of bounds, I could not help entering into the spirit of the expedition, and enjoying it before it was over.
The offices of the preacher, with whom for some reason, Beddoes was at war, abutted upon the cloisters which were within our bounds, and consequently open at all hours to his incursions. He managed, in the course of a few days, to steal the fire irons from every room, and, when the bereaved cook’s rage was at its height, he fastened them all round my neck and me to the knocker, so that the least motion made a loud noise, and, as it was late at night, alarmed the household and completely answered Beddoes’ purpose, though at the expense to me of a licking, at the hands of the assembled servants.
I should say that at school he was not a very good scholar, at least as far as Latin and Greek give a claim to that title; but unusually forward and well read in the best English literature, particularly of the lighter sort, and poetry, and above all dramatic poetry.
He knew Shakespeare well when I first saw him, and during his stay at the Charterhouse made himself master of all the best English dramatists, from Shakespeare’s time, or before it, to the plays of the day. He liked acting and was a good judge of it, and used to give apt though burlesque imitations of the popular actors, particularly of Kean and Macready. Though his voice was harsh and his enunciation offensively conceited, he read with so much propriety of expression and manner, that I was always glad to listen: even when I was pressed into the service as his accomplice, his enemy, or his love, with a due accompaniment of curses, caresses, or kicks, as the course of his declamation required. One play in particular, Marlowe’s tragedy of Dr. Faustus, excited my admiration, and was fixed in my memory in this way; and a liking for the old English drama, which I still retain, was created and strengthened by such recitations.
It may be supposed that in a mind like Beddoes’s these studies would produce something beyond the bare acquisition of knowledge; and accordingly they resulted in two written compositions, one a novel in the style of Fielding: the other a Tragedy of the old English school.
The novel, which was never printed, was called Cynthio and Bugboo, and was the history of two boys,—a modern edition of Valentine and Orson, and the whole performance, clever enough in some respects, was just such an imitation of Fielding’s wildest flights, as a clever schoolboy might make, with all the coarseness, little of the wit, and none of the truth of his original.
The play, which he called “The Brides’ Tragedy” was, I think much better: he published it at Oxford, and sent me a copy. It is written in blank verse, with a great deal of vigorous, or rather exaggerated conception of character, and an unnecessary exhibition of the horrible.
It has been said that few persons make an extraordinary figure in the world, who have not something in their way of thinking or expressing themselves, that is peculiar to them, and entirely their own: and certainly if originality be one of the tests of genius, Beddoes possessed this quality in a remarkable degree. One of the most striking proofs of its reality in his case was, as it appears to me, not only the ascendancy which he acquired and retained over his school-fellows without any apparent effort, even over those who in particular branches of classical learning were confessedly his superiors, but the impression which his personal habits and character left upon those with whom he associated. He had scholarship enough to reach and maintain with ease a high place in the school; but, that point settled, he seemed to abandon all farther competition, that he might establish a supremacy more to his taste. And in this he so far succeeded, that, besides holding undisputed sway in his boarding house, he invented a sort of slang language, which from its quaintness of conception, and excellent adaptation to the popular topics, came into general use, and held its place for some time after his departure. And this not out of any feeling of personal regard, for he was generally unpopular, but from a sheer conviction that the terms employed answered their purpose, better than those in ordinary use, or at least expressed, with greater force to the popular sense, the conventional meaning which they were intended to convey. It may be observed in further illustration of his truth of observation, and happiness of expression, that a nick-name once given by him (and he gave many), never left its owner, and at once superseded all other modes of address.
Beddoes left the Charterhouse some time before I did, and went to Pembroke College, Oxford, about 1820. From that time to 1824, when I went to Balliol, I never heard of him, and was much surprised by his walking into my room one morning. He had then taken his degree, but was altered in no respect, but by having grown from a boy into a man. He seemed to have little or no acquaintance with the men of his own standing, and of course while he was an undergraduate, was at open war with the college authorities, whom he had provoked, according to his own account, by a course of studied impertinence. For instance, he took no pains to conceal, or rather seized on all opportunities of making known, his contempt for his tutor, and went to lecture, with his books uncut. The tutor remonstrated—Beddoes walked out of the room and reappeared with the largest butcher’s knife he could buy, with which he began to cut the leaves. The effect produced by his face and gestures was such as to put an abrupt end to that lecture, and to insure his absence from all future ones. He knew quite enough, however, to pass his examination with ease; and from that time applied himself, almost exclusively, to German literature and German politics, having a strong leaning to ultra liberality, and what is now called rationalism, coupled with a confirmed dislike of all our institutions.
I think he remained at Oxford one or two terms of my residence there, and used sometimes to come and see me, but kept aloof from all society. He soon disappeared, and I heard no more of him till within the last few months, when I was told of his illness and death.