20th December, 1824
These Booksellers are certainly a consequence of the Fall of Adam; they were sent into the world for our sins. I expected ere this to have been cherishing myself with your answer to my letter; you are unpleasantly awaiting the arrival of the promised parcel; and I must keep my patience for another week and a half. Rascally, drivelling twofooted-things that they are! Three weeks ago I hurried off the packet in the greatest haste; Jack writes that it has not come; I go to ask about it; and find it—quietly reposing on its shelf in Fleet-street! They were sorry; they had not understood; they were very sorry— So I brought it home with me, and here it lies expecting some more trustworthy conveyance. By good luck I have got a Council-office frank; and I hope this letter will reach you on Friday-night. The rest will follow in due season; there was nothing but a sorry copy of Molière’s plays, which I got for you in Paris; they may come as slowly as they like. But do not, I pray you, delay to write, the moment you get this, if you have not already written: I am immeasurably anxious to hear from you. A whole month has passed without a word.
In the aspect of my own affairs there is scarcely any change since I wrote last. The printing of Schiller proceeds with somewhat less tardiness than I dreaded: to-day I got the seventh sheet; so that almost a third part of the work is already off my hands. It is going to make a handsome enough sort of Book; rather larger than a volume of Meister, and somewhat in the same style. A certain Mr Bull,1 one of Irving’s geniuses, is engraving a portrait for it. I long to have the pitiful affair put past me, that I may be able to quit the tumults of the Wen (so Cobbett calls it), and establish myself somewhere more to my wishes and wants. My future movements are still as undecided as ever; only here I ought not to be, longer than I cannot help it. If there be sleep and quiet and free air to be had on Earth, I will have them; if the[re] are not I will reconcile myself the best way I can to do without them; but not till I have found that they are not. The Translation of Schiller has made no advances towards being realized: indeed the first letter I had written on the subject, I find still lying among these unhappy books, and only send it off with this. Patience! Patience! A little time will settle all. If I can get no suitable arrangement made for this, I will abandon it, and take to something better. The very sparrow earns for itself a livelihood, beneath the eaves of the cottage: if I the illustrious Mr Thomas Carlyle cannot, then let me be sent to the Australasian continent directly. Faint-hearted mortal! These scribblers round thee are a mere canaille: struggle thro’ ten thousand of them, or go to pot—as thou deservest.
Irving advises me to stay in London; partly with a friendly feeling, partly with a half selfish one, for he would fain keep me near him. Among all his followers there is none whose intercourse can satisfy him; any other than him it would go far to disgust. Great part of them are blockheads, a few are fools; there is no rightly intellectual man among them. Then he speculates and speculates; and would rather have one contradict him rationally, at least now and then he would, than gape at him with the vacant stare of children viewing “the Grand Turk’s Palace with his guards—all alive.”2 He advises me not knowing what he says. He himself has the nerves of a buffalo; and forgets that I have not. His philosophy with me is like a gill of ditch-water thrown into the crater of Mount Ætna; a million gallons of it would avail me nothing. I receive his nostrums with a smile: he at length despairs of ever seeing me converted.
On the whole, however, he is among the best fellows in London; by far the best that I have met with. Thomas Campbell has a far clearer judgement, infinitely more taste and refinement; but there is no living well of thought or feeling in him; his head is a shop not a manufactory; and for his heart, it is dry as a Greenock kipper. I saw him for the second time, the other night; I viewed him more clearly and in a kindlier light, but scarcely altered my opinion of him. He is not so much a man, as the Editor of a Magazine: his life is that of an exotic; he exists in London, as most Scotchmen do, like a shrub disrooted, and stuck into a bottle of water. Poor Campbell! There were good things in him too: but Fate has pressed too heavy on him, or he has resisted it too weakly. His poetic vein is failing or run out; he has a Port-Glasgow wife, and their only son is in a state of idiocy.3 I sympathized with him; I could have loved him, but he has forgot the way to love.— Little Procter here has set up house on the strength of his writing faculties, with his wife a daughter of the “Noble Lady.”4 He is a good-natured man, lively and ingenious; but essentially a Small.— Coleridge is sunk inextricably in the depths of putrescent indolence. Southey and Wordsworth have retired far from the din of this monstrous city. So has Thomas Moore. Whom have we left? The dwarf Opium-Eater (my Critic in the London Magazine) lives here in lodgings, with a wife and children living or starving on the scanty produce of his scribble, far off in Westmoreland. He carries a laudanum bottle in his pocket; and the venom of a wasp in his heart. Allan Cunningham has cut him, men generally have cut him; a rascal Maghean (or Magin5 who writes much of the blackguardism of Blackwood) his [has] been frying him to cinders on the gridiron of the John Bull.6 Poor Dequincey! He had twenty thousand pounds, and a liberal share of gifts from nature: vanity and opium have brought him to the state of “dog distract or monkey sick.”7 If I could find him, it would give me pleasure to procure him one substantial beef-steak before he dies— Hazzlitt is writing his way thro’ France and Italy: the ginshops and pawnbrokers bewail his absence.8 Leigh Hunt writes “wishing caps” for the Examiner, and lives on the tightest of diets at Pisa.9— But what shall I say to you, ye Theodore Hooks, ye Majins, [Maginns] and Darlys,10 and all the spotted fry that “report” and “get up” for the “Public Press”; that earn money by writing calumnies, and spend it in punch and other viler objects of debauchery? Filthiest and basest of the children of men! My soul come not into your secrets, mine honour be not united unto you!
Good Heavens! I often inwardly exclaim, and is this the Literary World? This rascal rout, this dirty rabble, destitute not only of high feeling or knowledge or intellect, but even of common honesty? The very best of them are ill-natured weaklings: they are not red-blooded men at all; they are only things for writing “articles.” But I have done with them for once. In railing at them, let me not forget that if they are bad and worthless, I as yet am nothing; and that he who putteth on his harness should not boast himself as he that putteth it off.11 Unhappy souls! perhaps they are more to be pitied than blamed: I do not hate them; I would only that stone-walls and iron-bars were constantly between us.
Such is the “Literary world” of London; indisputably the poorest part of its population at present. Among the other classes of the people, I have met with several whom I like considerably, and whose company still continues to afford me pleasure. The Montagues I see perhaps once a-week: the husband is a wiseacre, with an obliging heart; the lady has the most cultivated taste (in pictures, and players, and attitudes and forms) of any person I remember; in her own sphere of observation, she is quick-sighted as a lynx; she delights to be among geniuses and lions, and has a touch of kindness for one in her heart, tho’ she shows it very much as if it were all counterfeit. You may draw on her for any quantity of flattery you like, and of any degree of fineness. Irving she treats with it by the hogshead; me by the dram-glass, in a stolen way, having almost turned my stomach with excessive doses of it at first. If there is an eccentric virtuoso, a crack-brained philosopher in London, you will hear of him at that house; a man of true sense is a specie whom I have scarcely ever met with there. Yet they are kind and good, and as the world goes very superior people: I talk with them in a careless, far-off, superficial way, for an hour or two with great ease and enjoyment of its kind. The Stracheys are a better tho’ less speculative family: I wish the lady had been possessed of any philosophy or true culture; I should have admired and loved her much, for she is in truth a noble-minded woman tho’ a methodist in religion,12 and full of strange opinions on all kindred subjects. Shame on me if I cannot tolerate her, however! She knows that I believe no particle of all that, and yet she likes me, and thinks me honest. Strachey is a Utilitarian in head, with an honest unaffected heart. I see them often and like them well.
But I must not kill you with my talk. One little piece of news; and thou shall have a respite. The other twilight, the lackey of one Lord Bentinck13 came with a lackey’s knock to the door, and delivered me a little blue parcel, requiring for it a receipt under my hand. I opened it somewhat eagerly, and found two small pamphlets with ornamental covers, and—a letter from——Goethe! Conceive my satisfaction: it was almost like a message from Fairy Land; I could scarcely think that this was the real hand and signature of that mysterious personage, whose name had floated thro’ my fancy, like a sort of spell, since boyhood; whose thoughts had come to me in maturer years with almost the impressiveness of revelations. But what says the letter? Kind nothings, in a simple patriarchal style, extremely to my taste. I will copy it, for it is in a character that you cannot read; and send it to you with the original, which you are to keep as the most precious of your literary relics. Only the last line and the signature are in Goethe’s hand: I understand he constantly employs an amanuensis. Do you transcribe my copy, and your own translation of it, into the blank leaf of that German paper, before you lay it by; that the same sheet may contain some traces of him whom I most venerate and her whom I most love in this strangest of all possible worlds.
Now, Liebchen, having heard all this from me so patiently, will you tell me when I am to see your own sweet face? Will you come to London and view the wonders of it before I leave it? or shall I find you at Haddington, and we visit this monster of a place at some future day? Why have I not the wishing carpet, that I might transport myself to your quiet parlour this very moment! It is of the last importance for me at present to know your purposes; my resolutions must to no small extent be regulated by yours: let this among other things excuse the egoism of my late letters. I desire earnestly that you should know me as I feel and am; I desire no less so to know you. Write at least, without reserve! Let us understand each other, if possible: I believe it concerns the happiness of both that we do. My purpose is to make no farther changes in my situation, after the next entire one, if I can by any means avoid them. I would labour for the sum-total of the future, tho’ I commenced at nothing, no longer for the day or the year that was passing over me. Am I right or wrong? Will you approve of it and second it? Or will you merely sanction it with contemptuous toleration? Tell me: by the love we bear each other, by your faith in the honesty of my intentions, tell me sincerely! The wish that is dearest to me you know as well as I. Think of this; advise me, decide for me!
I have a million of minor questions, but no room or spirit to ask them at present. God grant that you may be well, as I have all along been trying to convince myself you were! Write in a day, an hour, if you love me. Good night, my Dearest! Ich küsse dich zehntausendmal [I kiss thee ten thousand times]. God bless thee, my little girl! I am ever and wholly thine,
Refer here for the source.