Letter 31

To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL

Wurzburg 2 District No 110
[Postmark] 19 July 1830

MY DEAR KELSALL,–Your letter finds me at lei[superscript “s” above the following “z” –R.G.]zure (sic) (excuse all misspellings, my mother tongue begins to fade away in my memory and I was just going to write this word analogically like pleasure) and I will reply to, though perhaps not answer it. All about the play annoys me because I have utterly neglected it and feel not the least inclination to take any further trouble in the matter: however perhaps I may try this season, it cannot be printed this summer, and in autumn perhaps something may be done. This indifference is of itself almost enough to convince me that my nature is not that of one, who is destined to atchieve anything very important in this department of literature; another is a sort of very moderate somewhat contemptuous respect for the profession of a mere poet in our inky age.

You will conceive that such a feeling accords well with, and perhaps results from a high delight in, first rate creators and illustrators of the creation as Æschylus, Shak. &c and a cordial esteem for those who, as highly polished moderns, have united their art with other solid knowledge & science, or political activity–Camoens, Dante & lower down many French and English accomplished rhymers;–and now Goethe, Tieck &c.

In the third place a man must have an exclusive passion for his art, and all the obstinacy and self denial wh: is combined with such a temperament, an unconquerable and all enduring will always working forwards to the only goal he knows; such a one must never think that there is any human employment so good (much less suspect that there may be not a few better,) so honourable for the exercise of his faculties, ambition, industry–and all those impolitic and hasty virtues which helped Icarus to buckle on his plumes and wh we have left sticking in the pages of Don Quixote.

I am even yet however seriously of the opinion that it is ornamental and honourable to every nation and generation of mankind if they cherish among their numbers men of cultivated imagination capable of producing new and valuable works of art; and if I were soberly and mathematically convinced of my own genuineness (inspiration as the ancients wd say) I might possibly, tho’ I won’t promise, find spirit and stability enough to give up my time to the cultivation of literature.

If dreams were dramatic calls as in the days or nights of Æschylus I might plead something too–He, according to Athenæus, sleeping in a vineyard, probably after acting a part in some Thespian satyric dialogue, had a vision of Bacchus descending to him and bidding him arise and write tragedies. The author of Agamemnon had a good right to relate such a nocturnal visit, if it had been paid to him, or even to invent it if a less divine nightmare had invited him to mount his hobby horse. We will not ask how many have won in this or any other lottery and the number they saw in their slumbers. I in my bed in Wurzburg did dream that I bought in an old bookshop for a small moiety of copper money, a little old dirty, dogs-eared, well-thumbed book and thereon in great agitation and joy saw at the first glance into the dialogue (’twas a playbook,) that it contained half-a-dozen genuine and excellent unknown plays, wh: no one could have written whose name and nature was not W.S.

To return to reality I will say then that I will try to write over again this last unhappy play, tho’ I have no appetite to the task, and then I wd wish to have it printed with any other little things that you may have and think worth printers ink because a second edition is not to be thought of, and any consequent poetical publication of mine very improbable.

It is good to be tolerable or intolerable in any other line but Apollo defend us from brewing all our lives at a quintessential pot of the smallest ale Parnassian; such hope or memory is little soothing for any one whose mind is not quite as narrow as a column of eights and sixes.

I sometimes wish to devote myself exclusively to the study of anatomy & physiology in science, of languages, and dramatic poetry, and have nothing to hinder me except–unsteadiness and indolence: wh. renders it extremely probable if not absolutely certain that I shall never be anything above a very moderate dabbler in many waters: if another very different spirit does not come over me very very soon you will do well to give me up. Indifference grows upon us and that renders my case very desperate.

Once more about the crocodile song–I have sent Bourne another song instead of it about an old ghost; one in the place of the 2nd song of the bridal serenaders, wh was very commonplace and ought to have been abused by you, tho’ I put these three purposely together, one something Moorish in rhythmus and expression, not equal to him (his song style is the best false one I know and glitters like broken glass–or he calls us and will show us a beautiful prospect in heaven or earth, gives us a tube to look thro’ which looks like a telescope, and is a kaleidoscope–) but a tolerable watery imitation–the 2nd a specimen of the bad but very popular sentimental if–oh! and why? lovesong, and the 3rd in the style wh to my conviction is the right and genuine one in tone, feeling and form for a song of the tender and more poetic kind.

No critic however will see what I meant & indeed I may have failed in my purpose, for Bourne seemed to like the 1st as well as the 3rd I do not know whether I have written to you about song-writing, it is almost the only kind of poetry of wh I have attained a decided and clear critical theory; in some letter either to you or Bourne I said a good deal about it; but what need of it? You have Shak: and the dramatists, Herrick, Suckling &c and know what I mean.

It is not easy to write a song with ease, tenderness, and that ethereal grace wh you find among these writers. &c &c &c. Tieck’s tale “Dichter-leben” in Urania 5 or 6 relates more to Marloe than Shakspeare. Tho this latter and Kit’s crony Robert Green contribute their groats worth of wit to illustrate his repentance: and Nash is there too and Hemings in good keeping. I don’t know whether it’s translated–is William Lovell by the same among your novels from the German, a capital thing: indeed T[ieck] is always clever but has studied so much in the old English and Spanish school that he is scarcely to be called popular among his country men tho’ everywhere acknowledged and dreaded. I have learned much from his writings, from him and Wieland more than [from] any German writer.

Some prejudice or other kept me a long while from reading anything of Kleists, because I had somewhere read a vile magazine Translation of his “Spring,” and I hate poems about the seasons: the other day I took up his “Käthchen von Heilbronn”–a chivalrous play, and was very agreeably surprized–my criticism is never worth much touching poetry of a loftier character–but I confess I am inclined to look upon Kleist as a person of very great talent for the romantic drama, there is evidently an inoculation from the Shakspearian vein in the piece, and a nature & simplicity wh sends howling the pompous pasteboard affectations of Müllner, Raupach and other Calibans who lick the shoe of Gries’s translated Calderon. His prince of Homberg and other works I have not yet read, altho’ I really believed a week ago that I was acquainted with everything worth reading in German belles lettres from the Niebelingenlied down to Tiecks last novel.

How is it possible that it could have escaped your tact for the drama, that the 1st act of Ds J.B. must end with the last words of Wolfram, all the rest being superfluous and derogatory? You will see it clearly if you look into the scene again and draw your pen through all the Ahs and Ohs and HMs wh follow.

You have never any of you said a word about the preface–is it to be printed or not? I think better not–it is ill-written and contains nothing new excepting the quotation from Bilderdijk wh I prize highly as the historical vindication of the Shakspearian form, and therefore a decisive refutation of all application of Aristotelian maxims to our drama for those who require an authority besides that of the feelings of the people. I believe I shall leave the crocodile where he is: and put the “old ghost” into the shoes of Adam & Eve about whom I care nothing: and I prefer being anonymous as aforesaid.

I hardly venture to open my M.S.; I read Shakspeare, and Wordsworth, the only English books I have here, and doubt–and seem to myself a very Bristol diamond, not genuine, altho’ glittering just enough to be sham.

Wurzburg is one of the oldest universitys in Germany–a very clever prof. of Medicine, and capital Midwife brought me here and a princely hospital–Franconian wines are mostly white. Stein, Leisten, Gressen are the best; Wurzb. lies amidst vine covered hills, and the Maine flows away at a considerable breadth–I stay till August’s end–then perhaps to Florence so you had better write before that time
               T.L.B

Bourne tells me that Dr. Satan Montgomery has been buffeted by Macaulay, in the Ed:; glad of it, altho’ such critical works have forfeited their authority in consequence of their vile mistakes. Do people read Ld Byron still as they used to–or is Montgom: really his successor? Have you not read Pelham &c?

I have made a mistake about Kleist. There are 2 German Boets of the name. Christian Ewaldo K. born 1715 died of the wounds he received at ye battle of Kunnersdorf in Frederick great’s army Aug. 24 1759. wrote The Spring &c. Heinrich von K. the dramatist committed suicide in partnership with Mrs. Adolphine Sophia Henricke Vogel in a wood near Potsdam Novr 21. 1811.

Tieck has translated the 2nd Maidens Trag: and attributes it to Massinger, I must ask him why? the poisoning and painting is somewhat like him but also like Cyril Tourneur–& it is too imaginative for old Philip.

Addressed to
T.F. KELSALL Esqre
Fareham
Hants
England

[Gosse, 1894]