Letter 41

To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL

[Postmark]
[Zurich]
May 15 [1837] the hills
covered with snow.
Temperature + 6º R

MY DEAR KELSALL,–My best thanks for your prompt and agreeable answer. Your part of the letter being much more satisfactory than mine. I know not what the creator of a planet may think of his first efforts when he looks into the cavernous recesses which contain the first sketches of organized life beings,–but it is strange enough to see the fossilized faces of ones forgotten literary creatures years after the vein of feeling in wh. they were formed, has remained closed and unexplored.

I shall not be able to make much of the death scene, it is too diffuse and dithyrambic. Pray do not make too much of my productions: you go too far by much in talking of fashionable publishers and the spring season. Most probably I shall be reduced to print at my own expense, for no Ollier exists at present, I believe, and one can hardly expect to get rid of 100 copies by sale.

I know well that publishing at one’s own cost is as promising a speculation, as that in Spanish bonds for a man who wishes to lose; but the work is so perfectly adapted to remain unread that it would be unfair to think of mulcting any unoffending bookseller to the necessary amount. At first I intended to have it printed by Baudry or Galignani at Paris or at Brussels: but it goes on so slowly in this cold and snowy weather that it may cost me much more time than I anticipated.

I wd gladly send you copies of the four chapters, containing as many tales, finished, if I had any creature here capable of writing English, but I cannot endure copying what I have myself written. I do not intend to publish or republish anything of an earlier date (except D.J.B). Pygmalion is, if i recollect aright, considerable trash, and what the devil is Alfarabi? Did you ever meet with the exile of Idria a narrative poem, by Bourne? I have not seen it–or Christ xfied by a reformed college aquaintance of mine, the revd W.E. Wall. I shd apprehend that the latter had exceeded in atrocity the revd Cleophas and the Pharisees.

I thank you sincerely for your kind invitation to Fareham, of wh I think to avail myself one time or other. I have been staying all the winter here for the purpose of taking an extensive Alpine walk in July and August. It was my intention to have gone up to the top of several mountains wh I have not yet visited, Pilate, the Titlis &c, but I fear that the great quantity of snow wh has fallen in the winter and is still falling at this moment will hardly be so far melted by the sun of this summer, as yet powerless, as to leave the latter, a tallish fellow about 10700 feet above the level of ye sea, accessible to wingless bipeds; so I must even content myself with once more treading on the summits of my humbler acquaintance, Rigi, Faul & Seidelhorn etc. These summer excursions among the vallies, the glaciers and the mighty eminences of this magnificent countries are to me the most delightful of all relaxations, without wh I shd be as dull and sour as the refuse whey, in wh no pig has dipped his snout.

I am sorry to acknowledge that the later writings of Landor have not reached our subalpine region. So much the better, there will be something new for me when I return that I shall be able to read. Have you read Tieck’s Shakespeare Novels (Dichterleben Th. 1. u. 2.) and is W.S. L’s Dearstealing as true and worthy of its hero? T., a writer whom I prefer very much to the Goethe about whom the folks in yr Isle, who manage to wade through his treacherous pages on the back of some square fat dictionary, are all gone stark staring, translating mad–T. published a year or two ago in his Novellenkranz a biographical romance in wh Camoens plays the principal part–wh I prefer to his Shakspeare and hold to be the most perfect of his, and consequently of German human fictions. His dramatic poems, fairytales &c are I believe nearly unknown in your part of Europe.

But of this anon when I happen to be in your neighbourhood. Such matters are fitted for discourse over a tankard than one over the channel and across France. What are the votaries of the Muse doing yonder? What is Cosmo dei Medici? Paracelsus? Strafford? and Sergeant Talfourd’s Ion or John? You must know that Baudry and Galignani print little besides the fashionable novels, wh. I can seldom manage to read in spite of the most devoted application. Bulwer excepted, who is very entertaining, as long as he abstains from aspiring to a sublimer or more poetical sphere, than the very respectable one of pickpockets and lawyers–(I beg pardon) and old clothesmen.

My fingers are now so cold that I must put them into my pockets and sing you a very objectionable piece of foolery, enough to ruin the reputation of any one, who wishes to introduce his writings into good society–Allons! It’s a sparkling piece of anecdote filed out of the golden Legend–and extracted from Chap V of the Ivory Gate–or lesser Dionysiacs–(my new book–)

THE NEW CECILIA.

Whoever has heard of St. Gingo
   must know that the gipsy,
   he married, was tipsy
   every night of her life with old stingo:
and, after the death of St. Gingo,
      the wonders, he did do,
      his infidel widow
denied with unladylike lingo–
   “A parcel of nonsense together,” &
   Tost Gingo a fig, and a feather end.
   “He no more can work wonder
   Then a clyster-pipe thunder
   or I sing a psalm with my nether end.”
As she spoke it, her breakfast beginning on
a tankard of homebrewed inviting ale,
Lo! the part she was sitting & sinning on
struck the 100th psalm up like a nightingale.
Loud as birds in an Indian forest, or
A mystic memnonian marble in
The desert at daybreak, that chorister
   breathed forth its Œolian warbling:

*   *   *   *   *

Therefore, Ladies, repent & be sedulous
in praising your lords, lest, ah well a day!
a judgement befall the incredulous,
& their latter ends melt into melody.

What stuff! I shall not give you any more extracts, for fear of spoiling your appetite for the promised laughable mouse in toto. To tell the truth however I prefer the above and such like absurdity to your Pygmalion and contend that the same is far more poetical. To be sure it is rather too much in the style of Campbell, but hardly so entirely as fairly to deserve the name of an imitation.

You are desirous of knowing what my thoughts or superstitions may be regarding things human, sub human, and superhuman: or you wish to learn my habits, pursuits, and train of life. Now as you have not me before you in the witness’s box, you must excuse my declining to answer directly to such questioning. I will not venture on a psychological self portraiture, fearing, and I believe with sufficient reason, to be betrayed into affectation, dissimulation, or some other alluring shape of lying. I believe that all autobiographical sketches are the result of mere vanity–not excepting those of St. Augustin & Rousseau–falsehood in the mask & mantle of truth.

Half ashamed and half conscious of his mendacious self-flattery the historian of his own deeds, or geographer of his own mind breaks out now and then indignantly and revenges himself on his own weakness by telling some very disagreeable truth of some other person, and then re-established in his own good opinion marches on cheerfully in the smooth path towards the temple of his own immortality. Yet even here you see I am indirectly lauding my own worship for not being persuaded to laud my own worship. How sleek, smooth tongued, paradisical a deluder art thou, sweet self conceit! Let great men give their own thoughts on their own thoughts: from such we can learn much: but let the small deer hold jaw and remember what the philosopher says, “fleas are not lobsters: damn their souls.”

Without any such risk, however, I can tell you how I employ, or abuse, my time. You must know that I am an M.D of the U. of Wurzburg and possess a very passable knowledge of anatomy & physiology etc. that I narrowly escaped becoming professor of comparative Anaty in the U. of Zurich, (having been recommended unanimously for that chair by the medical faculty here,) by means of a timely quarrel, in which I engaged more solito with several members of the government.

Now being independent & having all the otium, if not the dignitas eines privatisirenden Gelehrten, sometimes I dissect a beetle, sometimes an oyster, and very often trudge about the hills and the lakes, with a tinbox on my back, and “peep and botanize” in defiance of W.W. Sometimes I peep half a day through a microscope. Sometimes I read Italian (in wh I am only a smatterer,) or what not, & not seldom drink I & smoke like an Ætna.

As sudden thunder,
   Pierces night,
As magic wonder,
   Wild affright,
Rives asunder
   Mens delight,
Our ghost, our corpse and we
Cleave The Sea

As hath the lizard
   Serpent fell,
As goblin grizard
   From the spell
Of pale wizard
   Sinks to hell;
Our life, our laugh, our lay
   Pass away.

As startle morning
   Trumpets bright,
As snowdrop scorning
   Winter’s might
Rises warning
   Like a spright:
We buried dead and slain
   Rise again

And so I weave my Penelopean web and rip it up again: and so I roll my impudent Sisyphean stone; and so I eat my beefsteak, drink my coffee, and wear my coats out at elbow, and pay my bills (when I can,) as busy an humble bee, as any who doth nothing.

I hear and read not a jot about B. Cornwall. Two years ago when I visited your Island I left a horridly scribbled dirty old card at his chambers, which, as far as I know, was never returned. Now no one has behaved so frankly, kindly, and encouragingly to me as he did. He overrated my twopenny poetical talent as much as yourself, but exerted himself most disinterestedly; were it another cause I would say nobly in my favour.

I will some day or other show you his letter to me (1829) about the wretched fool’s Tragedy, which is as candid as goodnatured, and wellwishing as man ever wrote. I shd be extremely sorry not to enjoy his acquaintance after my return to your island: but being a great wretch, a horrid radical & a person entirely unfitted for good society, I never wonder at my acquaintances disavowing [or] cutting me, as the Arabs & the English say. Don’t care a zephyr as long as cash, good spirits, and foolery in brain.

Capital was my first adventure in 1835 at Dover. London Coffee house, old gentleman in coffee room. Waiter says I, I wish to smoke a cigar, have you a smoking room. W. No occasion sir, you can smoke here. I. (to O.G.) Perhaps it may be disagreeable to you sir, in which case– O.G. By no means. I’m myself a smoker (laying aside specs. and looking like Cosmogony: Jenkins–) I. I have good Cigars, will you d. m. t. f. to accept of one. O.G. Very kind. I. Come from Calais? O.G. Boulogne. Go to Bristol. I. Anche io sono Bristoliano. O.G. Know King? I. Wife my aunt. O.G. Are YOU? I. Son of well-known physician at Clifton. O.G. Not of Dr B.? I. Same unworthily. O.G. That’s curious. Your brother married my niece a fortnight ago. I. Happy man! Hear of it now for ye first time. Tories will never be my heirs. O.G. O! G–! (reassumes specs and exit.) I. I! exeo.

Good joke at Canterbury. I visit an old schoolfellow, who has become high church, tory, and not being quite up to German, an admirer of F. Schlegel. I said that this fellow was become many years before his O plaudite, a political renegade, a catholic pro formâ, a mystical writer, and a mercenary scribe for the holy alliance. As we parted he wished me good night and requested me never to visit him again, if I should chance to pass through Canterbury. You may judge therefore how likely the gentlemen of Charterhouse are to patronize my rhymed enormities in the same measure, in wh the Etonians have supported the innocent verses of your loving cousin.

And here closeth this epistle. I shall hardly write again before I have finished my book: wh grows as slowly as a yew tree at present: the chapters on hand requiring a light hearted sunniness of style, wh I can only command when the birds are singing, and sun is shining on morning dew. Yours
                     T.L.B.

I hope to hear from you again before I return to England & wd request you to send me a copy of a song wh you recom[m]end: I wish to be prodigal of lyrics & have only about 22-23 as yet: one or two of wh are of doubtful merit. In this confounded weather the coldblooded frogs themselves hardly have the heart to sing out their love thoughts.

What do you say to the new dramatists. An article in the Dublin review, wh I looked thro’ a day or two ago, contains extracts wh certainly indicate a beating of the pulse, a warming of the skin, and a sigh or two from the dramatic lady muse, as if she were about to awake from her asphyxy of a hundred years. And ye Examiner is quite rapturous about Strafford: altho’ I confess that the extracts, he chooses and praises appear to me not exactly dramatic. One is a dialogue between two people describing Pym’s appearance, action &c in a style wh has been approved of by critics of late and considered highly graphic. But it is not very artificial?

In Shak. such passages are rare and only in scenes, where the person whose actions are described must necessarily be laconic if not entirely speechless; and where the spectators in their doubt, fear, & wonder naturally communicate to each other their interpretations of the dumb show before them. For instance in Hamlet where the ghost, unwilling or unable perhaps to speak to his son in the presence of Horatio & the watch motions him to follow. It is of some consequence to settle one’s opinion on a question of this nature. I am not sure that I am right, but I doubt: What say you? And now I leave you to your parchment joys
                  T.L.B.

Addressed to
T.F. KELSALL Esqre
Fareham
Hants

[Gosse, 1894]