Letter 30

To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL

April the laste
Göttingen ’29 [1829]

MY DEAR KELSALL,–You will probably by this time have heard from Procter & Bourne the decision of the higher powers with regard to Isbrand & his peers: the play is to be revised & improved. The whole summer therefore will be occupied in this business & 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 & 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, wh. 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 & authority of her father, the dull old gentleman: Amala shall then declare herself most peremptorily against it & 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 & Abel scene will tell better–it shall be ameliorated & curtailed. The other lady can hardly be brought much more forward–Having lost her love in the first 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 re-written, wh. 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 & 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 & satisfactory reasons I have no business to expect any great distinction as a writer: being allowed to be better than what is absolutely bad, & not quite an imitator is not enough for any lasting celebrity.

Read only an act of Shakespear, a bit of Milton, a scene or two of the admirably true Cenci, something of Webster, Marston, Marlowe or in fact anything deeply, naturally, sociably felt and then take to these Jestbooks–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, Sheele and the Lit Gaz. Parnassians. Believe me its 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 Trag: 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 Goethe’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

Under the lime tree on the daisied ground
   Two that I know of made this bed
There you may see heaped and scattered round
   Grass and blossoms broken and shed,
      All in a thicket down in the dale;
Tandaradei–sweetly sang the nightingale.
Ere I set foot in the meadow already
   Some one was waiting for somebody;
There was a meeting–Oh! gracious lady,
   There is no pleasure again for me.
      Thousands of kisses there he took,
Tandaradei–see my lips, how red they look.
Leaf and blossom he had pulled and piled
   For a couch, a green one, soft and high;
And many a one hath gazed and smiled
   Passing the bower and pressed grass by:
      And the roses crushed hath seen,
Tandaradei, where I laid my head between
   In this love-passage if any one had been there,
How sad and shamed should I be;
   But what were we a doing alone among the green there
No soul shall ever know except my love and me,
      And the little nightingale
   Tandaradei–she, I wot, will tell no tale.

The King of Bavaria has not yet published: but very flat specimens of his royal highness, his muse, have appeared in the papers

I must now send to the post

Yours truly

T.L.B.

Addressed to
T.F. KELSALL Esqre
Fareham
Hants
England

[Gosse, 1894]