Letter 45

To THOMAS FORBES KELSALL

Giessen Novr 13 1844

MY DEAR KELSALL,–I deferred answering your letter, which I duly received in Baden nr Zurich, in August, till I shd be able to say where I should fix for some time. Altho’ my arrangements are not yet completed it is likely that I shall remain here at least the winter. Of course you know that Liebig’s chemical school is in this wretched little town: and wishing to avail myself of his instructions I have come to it.

My journey brought me thro’ Basel, where Paracelsus (not Mr. Browning’s) (the historical P. was a complete charlatan, seldom sober, clever and cunning, living on the appetite of his contemporaneous public for the philosopher’s stone and the universal medicine; castrated as a child by the jaws of a pig, all his life a vagabond, who at last died drunk in his single shirt at Salzburg:) where P. burnt Galen’s works openly as professor of the university, beginning the medical reform so, as Luther did that in religion by his public conflagration of the bull launched against him.

P. was a poetical fellow in his way certainly, and in his writings a wholesale dealer in a certain style, of which every prudent verse-manufacturer will avail himself sparingly; no doubt the epithet given to that sort of flowers of eloquence was derived from one of his names, for he had many, as he might often need an alias, and when he wrote at full, denominated himself Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus paracelsus Bombastus ab Hohenheim. He was born at Hohenheim near Einsiedeln in the canton Schwyz and his surname was probably Bombast. But the memory of P. has passed away with the dance of Death, and the old university, whose walls echoed once to the voices of Vesalius, Oecolampadius, Melanchthon and Erasmus, is just pulled down to make way for a new building in which teachers of mediocrity will soon dictate to empty benches.

Basel has retained a good collection of Holbeins, who was a native of the town where they tell odd stories of him. He was employed once in painting a ceiling for a patrician, who was somewhat stingy, and knowing how apt the master was to slip from his aerial perch into a vintner’s to enjoy himself, he left his counting-house every vacant minute to assure himself that the painter’s legs were dangling in their proper place from the scaffold. H. could not endure such constraint, and to be able to absent himself unperceived painted a pair of very sober legs against the wall, which he left as his proxy while his own were enjoying themselves under the tippling bench. This monument of his ingenuity remained till within a few years but every leg has it’s end and we have nothing left but a leg-end of those of Holbein.

I will spare you all remarks on the liver-pasties and fortifications of Strasburg, the monotony of Manheim, and the militaries of Mainz: referring you to Murray etc. In Frankfort the new monument of Goethe was just unveiled: it is a Bronze designed by Schwanthaler, and admirably executed: the pedestal ornamented in haut relief with groups out of his principal fictions: as Mignonne, W. Meister, and the harper–Hermann and Dorothea, (stiff and disagreeable, perhaps purposely modelled so by the artist, as characteristic of that soporific composition:) Faust and Meph, Iphigenia, Orestes and Thoas, Egmont, Götz, Erlking, Bride of Corinth, etc, all graceful and harmonious. G. turns his back to the Francfort Theatre, why, I do not know: he certainly wd if he was alive, for the actors are almost as bad as the English: always with the exception of Dem. Lindner and my old friend Weidner, with whom I helped to keep his 66th birthday, celebrating the same with a German sonnet, wh no doubt you are not in the least anxious to see, so I’ll sing you another song, wh I believe is new to you–I have stuck it into the endless J.B.

1.

In lover’s ear a wild voice cried:
   “Sleeper, awake and rise!”
A pale form stood by his bedside,
   With heavy tears in her sad eyes.
A beckoning hand, a moaning sound,
A new-dug grave in weedy ground
For her who sleeps in dreams of thee.
Awake. Let not the murder be.
Unheard the faithful dream did pray,
And sadly sighed itself away.
Sleep on,–sung Sleep–, to-morrow,
Tis time to know thy sorrow.
Sleep on, sung Death, to-morrow
From me thy sleep thou’lt borrow
Sleep on, lover, sleep on
   The tedious dream is gone
         The bell tolls one.

2.

Another hour, another dream,
Awake, awake, it wailed
Arise, ere with the moon’s last beam
Her dearest life hath paled
A hidden light, a muffled tread,
A daggered hand beside the bed
Of her who sleeps in dreams of thee
Thou wak’st not: let the murder be
   In vain the faithful &c
   Sleep on, love, sleep on
The tedious dream is gone
      Soon comes the sun.

3.

Another hour, another dream.
A red wound on a snowy breast,
A rude hand stifling the last scream
On rosy lips a death-kiss pressed.
Blood on the sheets, blood on the floor,
The murderer stealing thro’ the door.
Now said the voice with comfort deep
She sleeps indeed & thou mayst sleep
The scornful dream: then turned away
To the first bleeding cloud of day
Sleep on; sung Sleep &c
Sleep on lover, sleep on,
      The tedious dream is gone,
         The murder’s done.

Also; to fill up:–

1.

The swallow leaves her nest,
The soul my weary breast
But therefore let the rain
               On my grave
Fall pure. For why complain,
Since both will come again
               O’er the wave?

2.

The wind dead leaves & snow
Doth hurry to and fro,
And once a day shall break
               O’er the wave
When a storm of ghosts shall shake
The dead until they wake
               In the grave.

Do not imagine that I do much in the pottery way now. Sometimes to amuse myself I write you a German lyric or epigram right scurrilous, many of wh have appeared in the Swiss and German papers & some day or other I shall have them collected and printed for fun. As for publishing in England I am not inclined that way: the old J. B., repeatedly touched up, is a strange conglomerate, and I have not since had time or inclination to begin a right tragedy. Altogether the old thing in its present shape may be hardly worse, than the most that’s presented to the public, but that wd be in my opinion no excuse for printing it.

All the rhymes I have seen many a year are not worth the rags they are printed on: and I think myself entitled to the thanks of the British public for not having bothered them the last 20 years. Recollect, I might have written as much as R. Montgomery: and have forborne. I am happy to hear that you have a decent edition of Shakspeare. From what you say, I must however suspect that Knight has not acted candidly towards the Germans. That is very foolish; for who does not understand German nowadays, who is not acquainted with German literature since Lessing? Always excepting Mr. Carlyle.

The hypothesis as to the authorship of the two noble kinsmen belongs to Tieck originally, and no doubt Knight has availed himself of that Shakspearian Critic’s arguments. I have no books at hand, and the work in wh it at first appeared does not occur to me. But the singular supposition that Chapman shd be the third dramatist concerned therein, wh always appeared to me highly improbable, has prevented me from forgetting it. Very likely the passage occurs in T.’s criticism on Hamlet. The work appears to me more like Dekkers or even Ben’s: Chapman is surely one of the Elizabethans who has the least dramatic talent: but I begin to forget all these things.

T.’s works contain a vast deal of excellent observations on W.S. & have no doubt been well plundered by the author of a biography. T. is here as in every respect far superior to W.A. Schlegel, whose name by the way I do not pronounce Sklegel now: so that you see I have learnt something in Germany.

Frankfurt afm
Hôtel de Landsberg
4th Jan. 1845

Liebig had no room; so I went to Berlin. There we had a week of royal fun. One day they inaugurated the new opera-house and the next chopped off Tscheck’s head–And was not that a dainty dish etc? The Prussians, and particularly F.W. IV, always disgust me very soon, so I called on my way, on Saxony, and then came here to stay 6-8 weeks till March e.g.,

I have looked at your letter again and am not convinced by that it is my business to get anything printed. 20 years ago I was so overrated, that of course I must fall short of all reasonable and unreasonable expectation. Times are much changed it is true. I am not aware that there’s one single fellow who has the least nose for poetry that writes. You seem to take Tea-leaves for Bay: which is all very natural and Chinese, according to the national Anthem,

Drink, Britannia, Britannia drink your Tea,
For Britons, bores and buttered Toast! they all begins with B.

Verily, verily I say unto you amid the lyrical chirpings of your young English sparrows, shall come an eagle, and fetch fire from the altar Miltonic to relight the dark-Lanterns of Diogenes and Guy Fawkes. As to the who, where and when of the prophecy, axe Moore of the almanac. Few are called this day, and none are chosen. Doth the Imaum sing out Past tin acock & a (superscript “Charley Kinght?” above the ensuing “rainy night” –R.G.) rainy night, and saith the watchman Allah il Allah? Is the voice that crieth in the Wilderness a penny crumpet?

The solution some day next century.
                                    Yours T.L.B.

As to real Poetry

                        I have oft thought,
Thou art so beautiful above all women,
I might be you; but yet ’tis happier still
To be another, to admire and love thee
            as the author of Ds J.B says
            somewhere or other.

Addressed to
T.F. KELSALL Esqre
Solicitor
Fareham
Hants
England

[Gosse, 1894]