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Temper my lonely hours,
My dear Reynolds, you must forgive all this ranting ; but the fact is, I cannot write sense this morning; however, you shall have some. I will
When I have fears that I may cease to be, &c.*
I must take a turn, and then write to Teignmouth. Remember me to all, not excepting yourself.
Your sincere friend,
HAMPSTEAD, Feb. 3, 1818. MY DEAR REYNOLDS,
dish of filberts. Would I could get a basket of them by way of dessert every day for the sum of twopence (two sonnets on Robin Hood sent by the twopenny post). Would we were a sort of ethereal pigs, and turned loose to feed upon spiritual mast and acorns ! which would be merely being a squirrel and feeding upon filberts ; for what is a squirrel but an airy pig, or a filbert but a sort of archangelical acorn ? About the nuts being worth cracking, all I can say is, that where there are a throng of delightful images ready drawn, simplicity is the only thing. It may be said that we ought to read our contemporaries, that Wordsworth, &c., should have their due
But, for the sake of a few fine imaginative or domestic passages, are we to be bullied into a certain philosophy engender. ed in the whims of an egotist? Every man has his speculations, but every man does not brood and peacock over them till he makes a false coinage and deceives himself. Many a man can travel to the very bourne of Heaven, and yet want confidence to put down his half-seeing. Sancho will invent a journey heavenward as well as any body. We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us, and, if we do not agree, seems to put its hand
* See the “ Literary Remains."
into its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject. How beautiful are the retired flowers! How would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway, crying out, “ Admire me, I am a violet ! Dote upon me, I am a primrose !” Modern poets differ from the Elizabethans in this : each of the moderns, like an Elector of Hanover, governs his petty state, and knows how many straws are swept daily from the causeways in all his dominions, aud has a continual itching that all the housewives should have their coppers well scoured. The ancients were Emperors of vast provinces; they had only heard of the remote ones, and scarcely cared to visit them. I will cut all this. I will have no more of Wordsworth or Hunt in particular. Why should we be of the tribe of Manasseh, when we can wander with Esau ? Why should we kick against the pricks when we can walk on roses? Why should we be owls, when we can be eagles ? Why be teased with “niceeyed wagtails," when we have in sight “the cherub Contemplation ?” Why with Wordsworth’s “ Matthew with a bough of wilding in his hand,” when we can have Jacques “under an oak," &c. ? The secret of the “ bough of wilding” will run through your head faster than I can write it. Old Matthew spoke to him some years ago on some nothing, and because he happens in an evening walk to imagine the figure of the old man, he must stamp it down in black and white, and it is henceforth sacred. I don't mean to deny Wordsworth's grandeur and Hunt's merit, but I mean to say we need not be teased with grandeur and merit when we can have them uncontaminated and unobtrusive. Let us have the old Poets and Robin Hood. Your letter and its sonnets gave me more pleasure than will the Fourth Book of “Childe Harold,” and the whole of any body's life and opinions.
In return for your dish of filberts, I have gathered a few catkins.* I hope they'll look pretty.
“ No, those days are gone away,” &c.
* Mr. Reynolds had inclosed Keats some Sonnets on Robin Hood, to which these fine lines are an answer.
I hope you will like them they are at least written in the spirit of outlawry. Here are the Mermaid lines :
“ Souls of Poets dead and gone,” &c. In the hope that these scribblings will be some amusement for you this evening, I remain, copying on the hill, Your sincere friend and co-scribbler,
Keats was perhaps unconsciously swayed in his estimate of Wordsworth at this moment, by an incident which had occurred at Mr. Haydon's. The young Poet had been induced to repeat to the elder the fine “Hymn to Pan," out of “ Endymion," which Shelley, who did not much like the poem, used to speak of as affording the “surest promise of ultimate excellence :" Wordsworth only remarked, " it was a pretty piece of Paganism.” The mature and philosophic genius, penetrated with Christian associations, probably intended some slight rebuke to his youthful compeer, whom he saw absorbed in an order of ideas, that to him
appeared merely sensuous, and would have desired that the bright traits of Greek mythology should be sobered down by a graver faith, as in his own “Dion” and “Laodamia ;" but, assuredly, the phrase could not have been meant contemptuously, as Keats took it, and was far more annoyed at it than at pages Quar. terly” abuse, or “ Blackwood's" ridicule.
(POSTMARK, HAMPSTEAD. Feb. 19, 1818.] MY DEAR REYNOLDS,
I had an idea that a man might pass a very pleasant life in this manner-let him on a certain day read a certain page of full poesy or distilled prose, and let him wander with it, and muse upon it, and reflect upon it, and bring home to it, and prophesy upon it, and dream upon it, until it becomes stale. But will it do so ? Never. When man has arrived at a certain ripeness of intellect, any one grand and spiritual passage serves him as a starting-post towards all “the two-and-thirty palaces.” How happy is such a voyage of conception, what delicious dili
gent indolence! A doze upon a sofa does not hinder it, and a nap upon clover engenders ethereal finger pointings; the pratile of a child gives it wings, and the converse of middle-age a strength to beat them; a strain of music conducts to "an odd angle of the Isle," and when the leaves whisper, it puts a girdle round the earth. Nor will this sparing touch of noble books be any
irreverence to their writers ; for perhaps the honors paid by man are trifles in comparison to the benefit done by great works to the “ spirit and pulse of good” by their mere passive existence. Memory should not be called knowledge. Many have original minds who do not think it: they are led away by custom. Now it appears to me that almost any man may, like the spider, spin from his own inwards, his own airy citadel. The points of leaves and twigs on which the spider begins her work are few, and she fills the air with a beautiful circuiting. Man should be content with as few points to tip with the fine web of his soul, and weave a tapestry empyrean-full of symbols for his spiritual eye, of softness for his spiritual touch, of space for his wanderings, of distinctness for his luxury. But the minds of mortals are so differ. ent, and bent on such diverse journeys, that it may at first appear impossible for any common taste and fellowship to exist between two or three under these suppositions. It is however quite the contrary. Minds would leave each other in contrary directions, traverse each other in numberless points, and at last greet each other at the journey's end. An old man and a child would talk together, and the old man be led on his path and the child left thinking. Man should not dispute or assert but whisper results to his neighbor, and thus by every germ of spirit sucking the sap from mould ethereal, every human [being] might become great, and humanity, instead of being a wide heath of furze and briers, with here and there a remote oak or pine, would become a grand democracy of forest trees! It has been an old comparison for our urging on the bee-hive; however, it seems to me that we should rather be the flower than the bee. For it is a false notion that more is gained by receiving than giving—no, the receiver and the giver are equal in their benefits. The flower, I doubt not, receives a fair guerdon from the bee. Its leaves blush deeper in the next spring. And who shall say, between man and wo.
man, which is the most delighted ? Now it is more noble to sit like Jove than to fly like Mercury :-let us not therefore
hurrying about and collecting honey, bee-like buzzing here and there for a knowledge of what is to be arrived at; but let us open our leaves like a flower, and be passive and receptive, budding patiently under the eye of Apollo, and taking hints from every noble insect that favors us with a visit. Sap will be given us for meat, and dew for drink.
I was led into these thoughts, my dear Reynolds, by the beauty of the morning operating on a sense of idleness. I have not read any books—the morning said I was right-I had no idea but of the morning, and the thrush said I was right-seeming to say,
O thou whose face hath felt the Winter's wind,
Now I am sensible all this is a mere sophistication, (however it may neighbor to any truth) to excuse my own indulgence. So I will not deceive myself that man should be equal with Jovebut think himself very well off as a sort of scullion-mercury, or even a humble-bee. It is no matter whether I am right or wrong, either one way or another, if there is sufficient to lift a little time from your shoulders.
Your affectionate friend,
With his brothers at Teignmouth he kept up an affectionate correspondence, of which some specimens remain, and he visited them thrice in the early part of the year. The “Champion”