To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL
[Postmark Oct:5 1826]
LIEBER KELSALL,–Der, den du so eifrig die schönen Wissenschaften und Lituratur treibst, der in “des Lebens goldenen Baum,” den sängenden Baum von den Tausend und einen Nächten suchest, der dem Anbeter der saligen Gottheiten den Musen u.s.w. war unterhaltender kann der Liebhaber von Knaben der flussiger Botaniker und Physiolog mittheilen? u.s.w.
Well I hope that has frightened you: however as I can still write a little English & it will be a profitable exercise I will continue in that be-L-E-Led and be-Milmaned tongue. That I have not sent you a letter sooner, will be scarce a cause of complaint or discontent when you learn that, all my sublunary excursions this summer have been botanical ones, & my transluscary (it is a good word & 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, wh I was prevented from executing by finding that a preceding genius of the scalpel had led the Muses a dance to his marrowbones and cleaver.
I wish you would come & 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 & boiled young. I have tried 20 times at least to copy it fair, but have given it up with disgust, & there is no one here for whose judgement in such things I would give a fig or a teacup 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 Rubiconize them if one has the good saddle horse Pegasus to ride–& I will find out some way of bestowing my dulness on you in it’s ore of illegibility–
I gave you (or did I not?) a caricature of 3 professors last letter, and now you shall have a little more Goettingen scandal. Tobias Mayer is professor of nat.philosophy, a little fellow in top-boots, with a toothless earthquake of a mouth, & a frosty greycoat–he never can find words–repeats his alsos &c & by endeavouring to make up for want of eloquence by violent action, he literally swims through his subject. His dad was a good astronomer & 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 object of female heavenly malice, his wife thus ingeniously–Top-booted Toby in his lecture was talking of her sonnetship; & came to the subject of her portrait–“among others” said he “Tobias–To-bi-as Mayer–who was–a-mong others was my father.”
Tieck has published in the Urania Taschenbuch for 1826 a story called Dichterleben which is a very well worked adventure of Marloe & Green’s with Shakspeare. the latter however is too german–& 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 windeggs–but he’s the wit of the folks about Melpomene’s sepulcre in Germany. Schiller you know took her out of the critical pickle she lies in & 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. of 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–Goethe is preparing a new edition of his rhymed & prosy commissions XXXX. vols for 10 dollars who’ll buy who’ll buy? They are as cheap as oysters if not so swallowable.
In the neighbourhood of Göttingen is a slightly Chalybeate spring & a little inn with a tea garden whither students & Philistines (i.e. townsmen who are not students) resort on sundays to dance & 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 the week-day hobby-horse the philosophy of Schelling &c doth physically i.e. a giddiness & confusion of the brain.
Behind this Terpsichorean τ′εμευος rises a woody rocky eminence on which stands a fair high tower & 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 & carry trees and houses–e.g. Monte Nuovo.
On this hill & 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 & wrinkled–of a mottled black & 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 & 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–& 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 & intestines–& therefore condemned him to the flames for impiety against the belly gods ′Αδηφαγ′ια & ′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. J. Baptista van Helmont placed the soul, which he nick-named Archæus, in the stomach & whatever the clergy knew 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: only they must beware of purges it would be a mishap to leave ones soul in a close-stool-pan like George the 2nd.
To return to our Maria-spring, the aforesaid tenement or tenements of fantastic-toeness: & what I had intended to tell you: it was here that an unhappy Hungarian who came to Göttingen three or 4 years ago to study medicine, & had wandered to propitiate his Archüus with beer & tobacco at this place was smitten with the charms of the tavern-keepers daughter: she was insensible & he desperate: he left Göttingen & built a hut under a rock in the Plesse wood where he lived 2 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 & it now remains as an object of curiosity for folks, who see it: hear his tale & laugh at it.
Such is alas! the state of sentiment in this part of Germany: & probably if Werter’s hermitage stood here it would be equally profaned–hard-heartedness & worldly prudence has it’s 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 & 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 & Satire be the only reptiles of the soul-abandoned corse of literature–About Anne Boleyn. G.D. Joanna &c
Come with me thou gentle maid,
The stars are strong and make a shade
Of yew across your mother’s tomb
Leave your chamber’s vineleaved gloom
Leave your harpstrings, loved one,
“Tis our hour.” the robber said.
Yonder comes the goblin’s sun
For when men are still in bed
Day begins with the old dead.
Leave your flowers so dewed with weeping
And our fevrish baby sleeping,
Come to me, thou gentle maid
“Tis our hour,” the robber said.
To the wood whose shade is night
Went they in the owls moonlight,
As they passed the common wild
Like a murderous jester smiled
Dimpled twice with Nettly graves.
You may mark her garment white
In the night wind how it waves:
The night wind to the churchyard flew
And whispered underneath the yew,
“Mother Churchyard, in my breath,
I’ve a lady’s sigh of death.”
“Sleep thou there, thou robber’s wife,”
Said he clasping his wet knife.
Direct (if you answer before March) Bey Ramsahl. Post Strasse–I have not been out [of] Göttingen now for a year–i.e. any distance, & shall probably not leave it for as long a space. What is der seeliger Kornwall about? Adieu, adieu, adieu.
Have you written no prologue this year for the Th. royal Southton or have you dropped that since the retirement of Mrs.
T.F. KELSALL Esqre
at Admiral Bligh’s C.B.