To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL
A Tuesday in Oct. Göttingen
[Postmark] 21 Oct. 1827
MY DEAR KELSALL,–This week has been more productive of epistolary fruits to me, than the foregoing 3 months. On Saturday came a young Scotch Lawyer, Mr Fraser, with a note from the conveyancing phœnix which has arisen from the ashes of the late B.C. gent, and a tall Swiss who expects to become professor of the Teutonic language in Univ. Londin–the latter acquaintance pleased me much the more of the two, he is a man of good, & extensive Education with an interest for all human sciences and arts–and smoked his new bought large Göttingen pipe well. The Law gentleman is Editor of the new foreign Review who was recruiting for contributors & wanted to catch me: however I am not magazinish inclined and do not augur well of the undertakings 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 Christians 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 & 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 Julians heart: but then he would sup with the devil must needs have a long spoon, to toss some of his broth into the trough at which David’s sow doth squeal and wag her curly tale–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 Fraser brought too a copy of his Bijou for wh Procter has written. This for Göttingen is an unfortunate name. Blumenbach tells in his “At home” on Natural history a tale of M. Bigou in Paris, who was a collector too of a peculiar and odious description, a Nightman Errant who went batfowling after Excrement of every species of every genius. This man may have been inspired by the God of the Kamtschatkadaler, Jupiter Rutka, who fell in love, according to their sacred traditions, with his own ordure when it was frozen, and believed it to have been a fair maiden, such as they are in Kamschatka, till his intreaties had melted her icy bosom, & his nose was convinced of the error of his heart.
You wish to convince me of my error regarding the publication of expressions of feeling: which are ours for the enjoyment of domestic happiness: I repeat that I regard it as a profanation: does not Shakespeare grant it, & who but him had built an ear for the tyrant vulgar where it might eaves drop & 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 ancients lacked those refinements and domestic enjoyments of which we speak. Shakspeare, 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 & 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, & therefore the gushings of the spirit; their 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 wh the souls struggles must press from our veins ere it be genuine: to pant for fame, to print & correct our tame frigid follies, to be advertised in the newspapers with the praise of the Lit. Gaz. 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. Croly: excepting avarice, Sir Walter.
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, & graces such as his better productions contain are there: & 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 & it is probably a hieroglyphic in which the man pourtrays 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 & threatens her, and at the end of the piece lays aside the mask, mantle and cothurn & discovers herself to be Mephistophiles. A review of it is to be inserted in the foreign review from the pen of the professor of Northern 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 wh 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 wd really not give a shilling for any thing I have written, nor sixpence for anything I am likely to write. I am essentially unpoetical in character, habits & ways of thinking: and nothing but the desperate hunger for distinction so common to young gentlemen at the Univy, 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, & 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 & dismay, if I had set up as a poet, and later in my carreer anything real and great had start up amongst us & like a real devil in a play frightened into despair & futerity 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 altho I may be unequal to the attempt to become a master in it; & I assure you that the approbation which you have pleased to bestow upon a very sad boyish affair, that same Brides Tr: which I wd not even be condemned to read through for any consideration, appears to me a remarkable & incomprehensible solecism of your otherwise sound literary judgement.
Now it being a star and moonlight night and a bevy of ladies crossing the water in a boat well let them sing–but methinks its damned moorish & obscure
Wild with passion, sorrow-beladen,
Bend the thought of thy stormy soul
On it’s home, on it’s heaven, the loved maiden
And peace shall come at her eyes’ control
Even so night’s starry rest possesses
With its gentle spirit these tamed waters
And bids the wave with weedy tresses
Embower the ocean’s pavement stilly
Where the sea girls lie, the mermaid daughters
Whose eyes not born to weep
More palely lidded sleep
Than in our fields the lily
And sighing in their rest
More sweet than is it’s breath
And quiet as it’s death
Upon a lady’s breast.
Heart high beating, triumph bewreathed
Search the record of loves gone by
And borrow the blessings by them bequeathed
To deal from out of thy victory’s sky.
Even so throughout the midnight deep
The silent moon doth seek the bosoms
Of those dear mermaid girls asleep
To feed its dying rays anew
Like to the bee on earthly blossoms
Upon their silvery whiteness
And as the rainbow brightness
Of their eyelash’s dew,
And kisseth their limbs o’er;
Her lips where they do quaff
Strike starry tremors off
As from the waves our oar.
You hardly deserve it for the last time you did not say thankye for a great something snake wh. 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 wh. will preserve to you any part of your personal property which you wd wantonly devote for a box of such like. Such verses as these & 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: & not at all in danger to be too deep for his readers. Apollo have mercy on him.
If you are rich & charitably inclined or are acquainted with such, you can send to Coutts on my account any small contributions for my un-Xtian Russian: he wants to take his M.D. but it costs alas £30–I dunn all my acquaintance. Tell me how many pence you give us.
T.F. KELSALL Esqre