LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries
John Keats to Leigh Hunt, 10 May 1817

Lord Byron.
Mr. Moore.
Mr. Shelley. With a Criticism on his Genius.
Mr. Keats. With a Criticism on his Writings.
Mr. Dubois. Mr. Campbell. Mr. Theodore Hook. Mr. Mathews. Messrs. James & Horace Smith.
Mr. Fuseli. Mr. Bonnycastle. Mr. Kinnaird.
Mr. Charles Lamb.
Mr. Coleridge.
Recollections of the Author’s Life.
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“It is for slaves to lie, and for freemen to speak truth.

“In the examples, which I here bring in, of what I have heard, read, done, or said, I have forbid myself to dare to alter even the most light and indifferent circumstances. My conscience does not falsify one tittle. What my ignorance may do, I cannot say.”       Montaigne.

Margate, May 10th.

The little gentleman that sometimes lurks in a gossip’s bowl, ought to have come in the very likeness of a roasted crab, and choaked me outright for not having answered your letter ere this: however, you must not suppose that I was in town to receive it: no, it followed me to the Isle of Wight, and I got it just as I was going to pack up for Margate, for reasons which you anon shall hear. On arriving at this treeless affair, I wrote to my brother George to request C. C. C. to do the thing you wot of respecting Rimini; and George tells me he has undertaken it with great pleasure; so I hope there has been an understanding between you for many proofs: C. C. C. is well acquainted with Bensley. Now why did you not send the key of your cupboard, which, I know, was full of papers? We would have locked them all in a trunk, together with those you told me to destroy, which indeed I did not do, for fear of demolishing receipts, there not being a more unpleasant thing in the world (saving a thousand and one others) than to pay a bill twice. Mind you, old W—’s a “very varmint,” sharded in covetousness:—and now I am upon a horrid subject—what a
horrid one you were upon last Sunday, and well you handled it.
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
What is to be the end of this? I must mention
Hazlitt’s Southey. O that he had left out the grey hairs; or that they had been in any other newspaper not concluding with such a thunderclap! That sentence about making a page of the feeling of a whole life, appears to me like a whale’s back in the sea of prose. I ought to have said a word on Shakspeare’s Christianity. There are two (passages) which I have not looked over with you, touching the thing: the one for, the other against: that in favour is in Measure for Measure, Act. ii. Scene 2.
Isab. “Alas, alas!
Why all the souls that were, were forfeit once;
And he that might the ’vantage best have took,
Found out the remedy.”

That against is in “Twelfth Night,” Act. iii. Scene 2.
Maria. “For there is no Christian that means to be saved by believing rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness.”

Before I come to the Nymphs, I must get through all disagreeables. I went to the Isle of Wight, thought so much about poetry, so long together, that I could not get to sleep at night; and, moreover, I know not how it is, I could not get wholesome food. By this means, in a week or so, I became not over capable in my upper stories, and set off pell-mell for Margate, at least a hundred and fifty miles, because, forsooth, I fancied I should like my old lodgings here, and could contrive to do without trees. Another thing, I was too much in solitude, and consequently was obliged to be in
continual burning of thought, as an only resource. However, Tom is with me at present, and we are very comfortable. We intend, though, to get among some trees. How have you got on among them? How are the Nymphs? I suppose they have led you a fine dance. Where are you now?—in Judea, Cappadocia, or the parts of Lydia about Cyrene? * * * * I wager you have given several new turns to the old saying, Now the maid was fair and pleasant to look on,” as well as made a little variation in “Once upon a time.” Perhaps, too, you have rather varied, “Here endeth the first lesson.”
* * * * * * *
I have asked myself so often why I should be a poet more than other men, seeing how great a thing it is,—how great things are to be gained by it, what a thing to be in the mouth of Fame,—that at last the idea has grown so monstrously beyond my seeming power of attainment, that the other day I nearly consented with myself to drop into a Phaeton. Yet ’tis a disgrace to fail, even in a huge attempt; and at this moment I drive the thought from me. I began my poem about a fortnight since, and have done some every day, except travelling ones. Perhaps I may have done a good deal for the time, but it appears such a pin’s point to me, that I will not copy any out. When I consider that so many of these pin-points go to form a bodkin-point, [God send I end not my life with a bare bodkin, in its modern sense!] and that it requires a thousand bodkins to make a spear bright enough to throw any light to posterity, I see nothing but continual up-hill journeying. Now is there any thing more unpleasant (it may come among the thousand and one) than to be so journeying and to miss the goal at last? But I intend to whistle all these cogitations into the sea, where I hope they will breed storms violent enough to block up all exit from Russia. Does
Shelley go on telling strange stories of the death of kings?* Tell him, there are strange stories of the death of poets. Some have died before they were conceived. “How do you make that out, Master Vellum?” Does Mrs. S. cut bread and butter as neatly as ever? Tell her to procure some fatal scissors, and cut the thread of life of all to-be-disappointed poets. Does Mrs. Hunt tear linen as straight as ever? Tell her to tear from the book of life all blank leaves. Remember me to them all; to Miss K. and the little ones all.

Your sincere friend,

You shall hear where we move.