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LETTER FROM WORDSWORTH.
as much delighted with the story of the Beauty and the Beast as you appear to have been, and as much struck with its fitness for verse, still your proposal would have occasioned in me a similar regret. I have ever had the same sort of perverseness : I cannot work upon the suggestion of others, however eagerly I might have addressed myself to the proposed subject, if it had come to me of its own accord. You will therefore attribute my declining the task of versifying the tale to this infirmity, rather than to an indisposition to serve you.
Having stated this, it is unnecessary to add that it could not, in my opinion, be ever decently done without great labour, especially in our language. Fontaine acknowledges that he found 'les narrations en vers' très mal-aisées, yet he allowed himself, in point of metre and versification, every kind of liberty, and only chose such subjects as (to the disgrace of his country be it spoken) the French language is peculiarly fitted for. This tale, I judge from its name, is of French origin; it is not, however, found in a little collection which I have in that tongue: mine only includes Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and two or three
I think the shape in which it appears in the little book you have sent me has much injured the story, and Mrs. Wordsworth and my sister both have an impression of its being told differently, and to them much more pleasantly, though they do not distinctly recollect the deviations. I confess there is to me something disgusting in the notion of a human being consenting to meet with a beast, however amiable his qualities of heart. There is a line and a half in the Paradise Lost upon this subject, which always shocked me,
for which cause Among the beasts no mate for thee was found.'
“ These are objects to which the attention of the mind ought not to be turned even as things in possibility. I have never seen the tale in French, but, as every one knows, the word Bête in French conversation perpetually occurs as applied to a stupid, senseless, half-idiotic person. Bêtise in like manner stands for stupidity. With us, beast and bestial excite loathsome and disgusting ideas-I mean when applied in a metaphorical manner : and consequently something of the same hangs about the literal sense of the words. Brute is the word employed when we contrast the intellectual qualities of the inferior animals with our own, the brute creation, &c. 'Ye of brutes human, we of human gods.' Brute, metaphorically used, with us designates ill manners of a coarse kind, or insolent and ferocious cruelty. I make these remarks with a view to the difficulty attending the treatment of this story in our tongue, I mean in verse, where the utmost delicacy, that is, true, philosophic, permanent delicacy, is required.
“Wm. Taylor of Norwich took the trouble of versifying 'Blue Beard' some years ago, and might perhaps not decline to assist you in the present case, if you are acquainted with him, or could get at him. He is a man personally unknown to me, and in his literary character doubtless an egregious coxcomb, but he is ingenious enough to do this, if he could be prevailed upon to undertake it.
“Permit me to add one particular. You live, and have lived, long in London, and therefore may not know at what rate parcels are conveyed by coach. Judging from the size, you probably thought the expense of yours would be trifling. You remember the story of the poor girl who, being reproached with having brought forth an illegitimate child, said it was true, but added that it was a very little one, insinuating thereby that her offence was small in proportion. But the plea does not hold good, as it is in these cases of immorality, so it is with the rules of the coachoffices. To be brief, I had to pay for your tiny parcel 4/9, and should have to pay no more if it had been twenty times as-large. .... I deem you, therefore, my debtor, and will put you in the way of being quits with me. If you can command a copy of your book upon burial, which I have never seen, let it be sent to Lamb's for my use, who in the course of this spring will be able to forward it to me.—Believe me, my dear Sir, to be yours sincerely,
Charles Lamb to William Godwin.
“Bis dat qui dat cito.' “I hate the pedantry of expressing that in another language which we have sufficient terms for in our own. So in plain English I very much wish you to give your vote to-morrow at Clerkenwell, instead of Saturday. It would clear up the brows of my favourite candidate, and stagger the hands of the opposite party. It commences at nine. How easy, as you come from Kensington (à propos, how is your excellent family ?) to turn down Bloomsbury, through Leather Lane (avoiding Hay Stall St. for the disagreeableness of the name). Why, it brings you in four minutes and a half to the spot renowned on northern milestones, where Hicks' Hall formerly stood.' There will be good cheer ready for every independent freeholder; where you see a green flag hang out go boldly in, call for ham, or beef, or what you please, and a mug of Meux's Best. How much more gentlemen like to come in the front of the battle, openly avowing one's sentiments, then to lag in on the last day, when the adversary is dejected, spiritless, laid low. Have the first cut at them. By Saturday you'll cut into the mutton. I'd go cheerfully myself, but I am no freeholder (Fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium), but I sold it for £50. If they'd accept a copy-holder, we clerks are naturally copyholders.
“By the way, get Mrs Hume, or that agreeable Amelia or Caroline, to stick a bit of green in your hat. Nothing daunts the adversary more than to wear the colours of your party. Stick it in cockade-like. It has a martial, and by no means disagreeable effect.
“Go, my dear freeholder, and if any chance calls you out of this transitory scene earlier than expected, the coroner shall sit lightly on your corpse. He shall not too anxiously enquire into the circumstances of blood found upon your razor. That might happen to any gentleman in shaving. Nor into your having been heard to express a contempt of life, or for scolding Louisa for what Julia did, and other trifling incoherencies. —Yours sincerely,
“ C. LAMB.”
S. T. Coleridge to William Godwin.
“Mar. 15, 1811. “MY DEAR GODWIN,- I receive twice the pleasure from my recovery that it would have otherwise afforded, as it enables me to accept your kind invitation, which in this instance I might with perfect propriety and manliness thank you for, as an honour done to me. To sit at the same table with Grattan, who would not think it a memorable honour, a red-letter day in the almanac of his life? No one certainly who is in any degree worthy of it. Rather than not be in the same room, I could be well content to wait at the table at which I was not permitted to sit, and this not merely for Grattan's undoubted great talents, and still less from any entire accordance with his political opinions, but because his great talents are the tools and vehicles of his genius, and all his speeches are attested by that constant accompaniment of true genius, a certain moral bearing, a moral dignity. His love of liberty has no snatch of the mob in it.
“Assure Mrs Godwin of my anxious wishes respecting her health. The scholar Salernitanus says:
“Si tibi deficiant medici, medici tibi fias
Haec tria : mens hilaris, requies, moderata diæta.'
“ The regulated diet she already has, and now she must contrive to call in the two other doctors.
God bless you.
“S. T. COLERIDGE."
The Same to the Same.
“ Mar. 26, 1811. “DEAR GUDWIN,–Mr Grattan did me the honour of calling on me and leaving his card on Sunday afternoon, unfortunately a few minutes after I had gone out, and I am so unwell that I am afraid I shall not be able to return the call to-day, as I had intended, though it is a grief even for a brace of days to appear
LETTER FROM COLERIDGE.
insensible of so much kindness and condescension. But what need has Grattan of pride?
“Ha d'uopo solo Mendicar dall'orgoglio, onore e stima Chi senza lui di vilipendio è degno.'
“I half caught from Lamb that you had written to Wordsworth with a wish that he should versify some tale or other, and that he had declined it. I told dear Miss Lamb that I had formed a complete plan of a poem, with little plates for children, the first thought, but that alone, taken from Gesner's First Mariner ;' and this thought I have reason to believe was not an invention of Gesner's. It is this : that in early time, in some island or part of the continent, the ocean had rushed in, overflowing a vast plain of twenty or thirty miles, and thereby insulating one small promontory or cape of high land, on which was a cottage, containing a man and his wife and an infant daughter. This is the one thought. All that Gesner has made out of it (for I once translated into blank verse about half of the poem, but gave it up under the influence of a double disgust, moral and poetical), I have rejected, and, strictly speaking, the tale in all its parts, that one idea excepted, would be original. The tale will contain the cause, the occasions, the process, with all its failures and ultimate success, of the construction of the first boat, and of the undertaking of the first naval expedition. Now, supposing you liked the idea—I address you and Mrs Godwin as commerciants, not you as the philosopher who gave us the first system in England that ever dared reveal at full that most important of all important truths, that morality might be built up on its own foundation like a castle built from the rock, and on the rock, with religion for the ornaments and completion of its roof and upper storeys—nor as the critic who in the life of Chaucer has given us, if not principles of æsthetic, or taste, yet more and better data for principles than had hitherto existed in our language. If we, pulling like two friendly tradesmen together (for you and your wife must be one flesh, and I trust are one heart), you approve of the plan, the next