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The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart
Chapter 15: 1828-32
John Gibson Lockhart to Thomas De Quincey, [December? 1828]

Vol. I. Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter 1: 1794-1808
Chapter 2: 1808-13
Chapter 3: 1813-15
Chapter 4: 1815-17
Chapter 5: 1817-18
Chapter 6: 1817-19
Chapter 7: 1818-20
Chapter 8: 1819-20
Chapter 9: 1820-21
Chapter 10: 1821-24
Chapter 11: 1817-24
Chapter 12: 1821-25
Chapter 13: 1826
Vol. II Contents
Chapter 14: 1826-32
Chapter 15: 1828-32
Chapter 16: 1832-36
Chapter 17: 1837-39
Chapter 18: 1837-43
Chapter 19: 1828-48
Chapter 20: 1826-52
Chapter 21: 1842-50
Chapter 22: 1850-53
Chapter 23: 1853-54
Chapter 24: Conclusion
Vol. II Index
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Grasmere, Near Ambleside,
March 10, 1830.

My dear Sir,—I feel greatly indebted to you for your obliging and very encouraging answer to my application. . . .

“First, with regard to the Lakes, I am ashamed to say that I want much of the commonest knowledge called for in so miscellaneous a subject. I am not an Ornithologist, nor an Ichthyologist (unless a dissertation on Potted Char would avail me, for that I could obtain); I am no Botanist, no Mineralogist: as a Naturalist, in short, I am shamefully ignorant. And, in this age of accuracy in that department, I doubt whether anybody less than a Humboldt or a Davy would satisfy the miscellaneous demands of this subject. By the way, I do not remember to have seen any scientific theme treated with so much grace and attractions of popularity, combined with so much original observation, as those of Forest Trees and the Salmon Fisheries, &c, by Sir Walter Scott; and had I
been within a thousand degrees so extensive an observer, or even extensive in the same degree as I myself am accurate, I would not have shrunk from the subject merely because I was not a regular school-built Naturalist. But my hatred of all science, excepting mathematics and its dependencies, is exquisite; and my ignorance, in consequence, such as cannot be disguised. Further, is not the subject threadbare? In all that part of it which relates to the picturesque, I fear that I have been forestalled by
Wordsworth. Finally, I should clash inevitably with both Wordsworth and with Wilson. Wilson’s book is yet, I believe, unpublished; nor do I remember to have heard him say in what way he had treated the subject; but, I presume, with great variety—both from the size of his work (as then projected), not less than three volumes, and from the extraordinary activity of his mind, whenever he does not wilfully throw it asleep under the sentimental, which, to my thinking, is his evil genius. . . .

“Now, generally as to the want of materials for works of any research wheresoever there are no great libraries, what you say is feelingly known to me from long and rueful experience. How Southey manages in that respect, even with his private advantages of a tolerably well-mounted library, and his extensive connections, I never could divine. For myself, as well on this account as for the benefit of my children with a view
to ordinary accomplishments, either London or my old residence, Bath, is the mark I aim at within a year or so. Meantime would not such a work as this which follows be useful to the Family Library—a digest, at most in three, at least in two volumes, of the ‘Corpus Historian Byzantinæ;’ that is, a continuous narrative (woven out of the Byzantine Historians) of the fortunes of the Lower Empire from
Constantine to its destruction? There has been, you know, of late an expurgated Gibbon; and, I believe, it has found favour with the public: but an interpolated Gibbon, or perhaps, more accurately speaking, an integrated Gibbon, I imagine to be more of a desideratum.1 . . .

“I commend the project earnestly to your indulgent consideration. A readable—a popular book, I am satisfied that I could make it. And the accurate abstracts which I could manage to interweave, of dissertations upon the Byzantine Aulic ritual, and concerning works that, generally speaking, do not let themselves be read (to borrow a phrase from our German friends), might contribute to give it a permanent value, be the same little or much.

“Extremum (I speak of the epistolary bores I am inflicting on you—in that sense) Extremum hunc concede laborem.—And believe me, ever yours,

Thomas De Quincey.

“My letters have to travel to Ambleside in the

1 De Quincey’s idea was executed by Dean Milman.

pockets of country louts; for we have no post-office here. Excuse them, therefore, if they have come into your hands soiled.”