Letter 24

To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL

Postmark
[Göttingen
20 April: 1827]

MY DEAR KELSALLY,–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 highroad: or to speak un-euphuistically the paper-vendors are in bed; I have no Gottingen 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 wh 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 desire 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 wh: I endured for sometime, 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 Tiecks original writings in consequence of the very agreeable impression I received from some critical remarks of his on Shakspeare–(much truer & more imbued with a feeling of the actual existence of Shakspeare’s men & women, than the cold philosophizing abstractions of Schlegel) (I can pronounce that name rightly now. Jeer no more at my German!) He (Tieck) as B.C. says in a parenthesis, has written a good deal–Tales–and Dramatic Tales–some of these latter are very long–mostly in 2 parts of 5 acts each but excessive agreeable reading, with a vein of gentle tonic humour wh. 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 particu[lar]ly 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. McCready’s part as villain) Dog, & Robin-Redbreasts, special allies of Red Riding hood’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 particularly eloquent in praise of her red riding hood–she goes and leaves the housedoor open to the dismay of the Old lady–on Redridinghoods return thro’ 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 shewolf of the neighbourhood whose person was peerless and after whose spotless Life and amiable manners one might have written A whole duty of Shewolves: however his vita Nuova like Dante’s was broken off by the death of this his fairly fair in that she was murdered by a peasant at her evenings repast on a lamb: & 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 R.R. whose father slew the Fornarina and Queen Elizabeth, and Ninon & Mrs. Fry of she-wolfhood: 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 & retires.

Little R.R. meantime has got her custard & pot of honey to take to her Grandmother this evening altho’ it is growing dark & now follows a scene of omens & warnings–she & another little girl blow off the seeds of dandelions heads to see how long they shall live–the other blows a long while in vain, but the Scarlet woman with one puff sends all her pappers adrift–but vain is this omen of Flora’s, R.R’s father is probably a radical & 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 dandelions head clean at one puff because she has good lungs & will therefore live longest and sends away tother little one crying: a peasant crosses her and advises her not to go this evening thro’ the wood as it is nearly dark and the wolf’s abroad: this has no effect & now her household gods stir themselves for the last time and produce a wonder to detain 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 lurks koo the there
      Cuck a wolf or a bear
Cuck cannot cuck any more
Spooking for kinds is a bore
Cuckoo–Woe to thee Cuckoo

Little R.–Cuckoo you fool learn to speak better English.
             Koo-night
indeed ha! ha!
                                        enter Dog.)
     Dog.–Bough-vow. Bough-vow
                       (probably a cockney dog)
              Bow your way home
              How couldst thou come
              Bow alone vow–
              Boughs cloudy are.
              Cows browse not there,
              Vows wolf to tear
              Bow thou–thee to bits
              I bow now and quit.   (exit.)

She goes on: reaches her granddams Chamber. The wolf enters lying on a bed and R.R. admires the size of her nose: eyes: teeth: at this cue the wolf siezes her & in the struggle the bedcurtains fall before them. the Robins fly in at the window & 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 Octavius, & Genevra contain very beautiful things & are more animated with a dramatic spirit than any of those tasteless fatulity-plays with the translations of wh Mr. Gillies has so liberally presented our Blackwood-reading public. I am studying Arabic & think of taking the field against Heber in the winter–I am reading Dante’s Vita Nuova–it is a simple Confessio amantis–interwoven with curious Ptolemean Astronomy & Catholic Theology–the sonnets &c are much more to my taste than that Petrarcan eau d’Hippocrêne sucré: did P. & Laura ever come into your head in the scene between Slender & Sweet Anne? My next publication will probably be a dissertation on Organic Expansion; or an enquiry into the laws of the Growth & Restoration in organized matter.

I am now already so thoroughly penetrated with the conviction of the absurdity & 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 & immaterial nature of man. Those people, perhaps they are few, are greatly to be envied who believe honestly and from conviction in the Xtian doctrines: but really in the New T. it is difficult to scrape together hints for a doctrine of immortality–Man appears to have found out this secret for himself & it is certainly the best part of all religion and philosophy, the only truth worth demonstrating: an anxious Question full of hope & fear, & promise for wh. Nature appears to have appointed one solution–Death. In times of revolution & 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; & what but an after-life can satisfy the claims of the oppressed in nature, satiate endless & admirable love & humanity & quench the greediness of the spirit for existence: but

As an almighty night doth pass away
From an old ruinous city in a desert,
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 shrieks and dies in its dismay:
And then the light comes in and flowery grace
Covers the sand, & man doth come again
& Live rejoicing in the new-born plain:
So you have seen great gloomy centuries,
(The shadow of Rome’s Death) in wh did dwell
The men of Europe, shudder & arise,
So you have seen break up that smoke of Hell
Like a great superstitious snake, uncurled
From the pale temples of the awaking world.

These lines were written in the album of a man who had busied himself in his pretty advanced life with political speculations watched the progress of the American and French revolutions with interest and expectation. No English person or English reader in Göttingen cd or wd understand them. For this reason I began to think they might be good & have therefore rewritten them for you
                                             T.L.B.

Addressed to
“T.F. KELSALL Esqre
Fareham
Hants

[Gosse, 1894]