To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL
[Gottingen] 27 Feby 1829
MY DEAR KELSALL,–A day sooner or later than this letter, will arrive, I hope, at No. 3 Fig tree court at length, the celebrated Fool’s Tragedy or D’s J 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 & be critical. There is some wretched comic part in it, wh I cannot improve nor give up–I hope however that it is no unworthy cotemporary of the Briton Chief. Have you read anytimg of the new Mr. Montgomery? He appears actually a good deal worse than the old. Allan C’s anniversary I have seen here, & 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 & makes the book worth something till he reprints it. There is a freedom, and a degree of poetical and dramatic management in it wh I only regret to see in such company, & thrown away on a purposeless scene for a temporary purpose. I should like to see a play in that way & why could not & 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 jestbook would palaver immeasurably & 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 & 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 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 anything striking & affecting in that way. Shakespeare wrote only for it, Ld B. despised it, or rather affected this as well as every other passion, which is the secret of his style in poetry & 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 authority 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 nowadays?) has approached in any degree to the form of play delivered to us by the founders of our stage. All–from Massinger & Shirley down to Shiel & 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 & half learning & philosophy of ramblers, quarterlys, and magaziners.
Poor Mr professor Milman will really be quite horrified, if he should live to read the J. 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: but tell me if I do not write too irreligiously for Cantland, I am so accustomed to German professors & rationalist theologians, who come into public places & say that they do not wish to be considered as Christians that I have quite forgotten the proper respect for the tenderness of those elect souls who are determined that God shall damn their unconverted neighbours & and help him a little as far as lies in their power in this life. I like candour very well, but do not see the fun of being a martyr. Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur.
For the rest, the play is too long, the first Act somewhat in Briton Chief style, the 2nd dull & undramatic, the 3 latter better in all respects, so begin with 3rd Scene 3rd Act if you want to read to the end without being greatly bored. There are too many songs & two of them are bad, somewhat Moorish and sentimental. Weakness you will find in the 2nd & beginning part of 3rd scene of 4th 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 wh. is better and just fitted for the occasion. My Friend Isbrand I recommend to your attention: he’s a nice fellow.
As to the Deaths I am doubtful. Procter will abuse their song as vulgar & will be right, but Death is a vulgar dog: and not admissible at any other court than Duke & Fool Isbrand’s. I thought of making Isbr. allude to Goethe & 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 & with great success at Brunswick. A hint to those who think that good & stirring poetry will be rejected by the public: for the Germans (vide Kotzebue, & the robbers,) have more taste for melodrama & that right prosy than our good bloody minded cocknies. But then the patents, the patents! To them we are indebted for our dramatic desertedness, for the translations from the French, for Beasly’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 & many Germans speak so highly, altho Schiller talks of the filth and ribaldry into which H. sinks, & 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 wh was good for nothing. Holberg writes with a great deal of humour, draws character rudely, but decisively, & 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 & learned fellow without a farthing in the world or the talent to make it & 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 & rational views, of course catholic.
Fr. Schlegel died lately at Dresden suddenly: he & his wife, a daughter of Mendelssohn! had both embraced the catholic religion: he lived in Vienna. Wrote proclamations for Francis I. & Metternich, & apologies for the jesuits. his lectures on the philosophy of history must be therefore amusing. Müllner the Guilty, has just published a tragedy in which he & Cotta the bookseller are the principal characters. A very washy poet Dr Raupach is the most fertile dramatic writer in Germany now a days he is at Berlin: a thing brought out at Cov.: Garden last year was a not acknowledged translation of his Isidor & Olga–’twas called the “Serf.”
Shakspeare 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 seas, 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 dont answer I don’t rejoice–I have used some of the Last man for the end of Fool’s Trag: as you will see–T.L.B. Shall I review the King of Bavaria & send him to some paper?
T.F. KELSALL Esq