Seward Letters, 1796

Letter XXIX.

 The Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler.
{vol. 4, pp 149-152}

 

                                                                                            Lichfield, Feb. 4, 1796.

            I have now the honour of addressing immediately to your Ladyship, those acknowledgments for your late obliging letter, which, on the evening I received it, were presented in the close of a long epistle to Miss Ponsonby.

            Nothing can be more just than your observation upon the power of lovely scenery to meliorate sorrow.  The second sonnet in the Langollen-Vale publication is expressly on that subject.  Dark, indeed, must be the anguish, that pure air and beautiful landscape cannot pervade and illume.  Milton observes, that they breathe into the senses

“Vernal delight and joy; able to sooth

All sorrows, but despair.”

            So you have farming improvements on your hands at present.  Thrice-flattering to me is the observation interwoven with that intelligence.  You, I am sure, will unite the dulce with the utile.  Beneath the wand of the enchantresses, [150] Beauty starts up in her own form divine, as Satanic grandeur did beneath the spear of Ithuriel.

            I have already expressed to Miss Ponsonby my delight in the scenic fidelity, and elegant execution of the vignette for Langollen Vale; but I cannot cease to feel pain, in the idea that my receiving it as yours and Miss Ponsonby’s present, must render the publication so expensive to you.  If you have the goodness to permit me to discharge the engraver’s bill, you will extremely oblige me.  The kind trouble you took in procuring the drawing at my wish, and placing it in such able hands, is an obligation which I can cheerfully receive.  It is yet in your power to render that pleasure unallayed.

            It gratifies me, that your Ladyship and Miss Ponsonby’s ideas are similar to mine on Mrs Radcliffe’s Tour.  I was assured you would be peculiarly impressed by the description of Hardwicke, of the Lakes, and by the sombre picture of the solitary tide-man, passing his cheerless life on the edge of lonely seas.  Nor less striking the descriptions of the waste desolation this ruinous war has produced in Germany.  The political observations are not many, but they are just and pointed.

            Certainly no female author ever produced to the world such indelicacies as disgrace a few pages [151] of Madame Roland’s Memoirs.  They are exactly similar to some of Rousseau’s Confessions; — but we are more impatient of them from the pen of a woman.  Upon the whole, the work is very interesting; and we forget, as it proceeds, the philosophic indecencies even of a woman, whose energies of mind and conduct are so estimable, and amidst the much important and awakening matter which she imparts.  It is also but justice to acknowledge, that the gross communications have no immoral tendency.

            When speaking of Mrs Radcliffe’s Tour, I forgot to observe the probability that the impressions left on the author’s imagination, by the local vestiges at Hardwicke of the unfortunate Mary Stewart; — the bed and chairs, worked by her own fingers; — the little confessional, and prayer-book, all preserved exactly as she left them: — that these objects suggested to Mrs R. the idea of the marchioness’s apartment in the Mysteries of Udolpho.  I thought that scene much the finest and best imagined part of the novel.

            Conscious as I am of the great popularity of Miss Burney’s pen, the unheard-of brilliance of her subscription-views surprises me.  My opinion on the subject of her talents, eminent as they are, in a great degree meets yours and Miss Ponsonby’s.  There is more fascination for my fancy [152] and my feelings, in Mrs Brookes’s Lady Catesby, Excursion, and Emily Montague, in Sidney Biddulph, in Caroline de Litchfield, in Julia de Roubigné, in the Simple Story, and even in the wild extravagancies of the Mysteries of Udolpho, than in the mild Evelina, or the rigid Cecilia.  As to Richardson and Fielding, they sit exalted above all of the novel tribe in approachless excellence.

            I am sorry for the intelligence you send me of ——–’s likelihood to become a senator.  The life-long sedition of his principles; his corrupt heart, and oratoric talents, will render him the Belial of the conclave; — except commencing public speaker so late, his natural audacity may possibly not be able to counterbalance the embarrassment of long disuse.

            Adieu, dearest Madam!  Have the goodness to present my compliments to Miss Ponsonby, and to believe me always your Ladyship’s devoted servant.

*

Letter XXXIII.

The Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler.
{vol. 4, pp 167-170}

 

                                                                                                Lichfield, Feb. 28, 1796.

            Dearest Lady Eleanor, — I know how extensive your correspondence; — how incompetent the time of each fleeting day for the employments allotted to it by energy like yours; and apologies for a few posts delay cannot be necessary to preserve an heart, obliged as mine, from unjust suspicions.

            I am glad Mrs ——- appears to you in the same estimable point of view, both as to talents and heart, in which she almost invariably appeared to me during a nearly life-long intimacy.

            Mr Mundy’s Needwood Forest has ever been [168] a favourite poem of mine.  the chaste fidelity of the descriptions to a beauteous region, with whose scenes I am familiar; the images so original, and so truly forestian, if I may be allowed the verbal coinage, make me consider it as the first entirely local poem in our language.  What pity that, as yet, it has only passed a private press!  Cowper’s Hills appears to me hard, and heavy in the comparison, destitute of the poetic pictures, and of the variety, which grace and inspirit Needwood.  Windsor Forest is fine verse, but extemely inferior to Needwood in the prime excellence of local verse — appropriation.

            How beautifully Mr Mundy’s poem opens! — all is to the eye, and in the liveliest poetic tints.  We see the green-robed dryad tripping down the turfy glade, with health and gladness, and wild enthusiasm in her countenance.  The Genius of the forest appears with great dignity, reclined on his primrose-bed, listening to the rhymes of a druid, and bending his eye on former times, while his sylvan vassals are casting their garlands at his feet.  We see him start up, and extend his wand, beneath which the whole of the scenery opens and expands; and we are presented with a landscape worthy the pencil of Claude.

            The exordium of the second part, is it not finely illustrated by the portrait of Fiction, bending [169] her rainbow, and decking it with prismatic colours?

            L’Allegro, or Il Penseroso, have scarcely a lovelier passage than that from the 26th to the 50th line of that second canto; and is not the dress of fairy queen, in the next paragraph, new, and well-fancied? and is not her concert charming?  The remainder of this second part has pictures, painted from nature, and with a master-hand.  Do you not see the old earth-stopper, with his lantern gleaming down the glade; and hear the solemn passing-bell in the fields of air? — and then the ghastly face of the deer-stealer behind the oak, seen by the lightning’s flash!

            The next sentence beginning,

“Night, when rude blasts they scenes deform,” 

is very sublime indeed.  There is Shakespearean spirit in its close, which makes the obscene sow a terrible grace, thrilling us with horror, like the incantations in Macbeth.  And how do you like the dark pictures of witchcraft and murder? is not that of the latter, starting at the sight of the shrouded moon, original and impressive?

            Do you not think the third part varied with mournful sweetness by the episode of the weaver, and that the little tale is told with beautiful and pathetic simplicity? — that the zoology in the fourth [170] part is charming?  — and that the description of the fox-hounds, streaming over the fields, with the its similies of the Aurora Borealis, and of the sudden flood, broken into numerous currents, is Homeric?  — Your accurate inferior to the others in poetic excellence.

            I beg your Ladyship’s pardon for my forgotten promise of reading Celestina.  To be sure, the name did completely sicken me.  What a vain fool must a parent be who could in reality give such a name to an infant girl! who could hope that the beauty and virtues of the so presumptuously christened could be in such excess as not to burlesque the appellation! — Celestina!!! — how silly!  The author will find it difficult to recompense me for such a true coxcombly title.  We have a pompous man in this town, meanly born, and meanly educated, and low in fortune, who christened his son Augustus.

            The omission of Julia Mandeville, in my list of favourite novels, was not purposed.  I have never seen the book since I was sixteen.  It delighted me then.  The more recent impressions, made by Mrs Brookes’s other works, overshadowed the time-dimmed image of the engaged Julia.

            I have the honour to remain your Ladyship’s obliged and devoted friend and servant.

*

Letter XXXVIII.

Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 4, pp 190-193}

 

                                                                                                Lichfield, March 23, 1796.

            I am indebted to the shrine of friendship for two charming letters.  Yours, as the elder sister, claims my first acknowledgements.  All that is grateful, all that is attached, will be ever warm from my heart towards each honoured and accomplished friend, whose virtues and talents diffuse intellectual sunshine, that adorns and cheers the loveliest of the Cambrian vales.

            I blush to own how faint my recollection of the ingenious Mr Chappelow.  To personal consciousness, my memory is ever strangely treacherous, unless it has been strongly imprest upon it by interesting conversation.  The seldom and transient visits that gentlemen made beneath this roof, were in my youthful days.  To my father, then in the full vigour of his well-stored mind, Mr C.’s attentions, as they ought, were chiefly directed.  He was in the suite of the Bridgeman family, with which I am glad to find his connections continue.  Lady Bradford’s once dazzling beauty and graces, [191] were the first inspiration of my infant muse, at eight years old; and her fondness for me at that period, made an indelible impression on my young heart.  True pleasure should I have, in knowing that tranquillity of spirit comforts and illumines the decline of an existence, whose rising day attained its zenith in such unusual splendour.

            The kind terms in which her friend, Mr Chappelow, spoke of me to you and Lady Eleanor, does me honour, while it reproaches my recollection for the faded lineaments of his image.

            Ah! I am afraid you are too partial to my attempted poetic consecration of your own Langollen Vale, and its bright mistresses. — But I am delighted with your praise of the whole publication — that my placid landscape of the Hoyle-Lake-Downs, shines in soft colouring on your mind’s eye, and that the effusions of my heart in the little poem Eyam, met the animated sympathy of theirs, to whom the power of the affections is so fully known.

            It gratifies me that you share my avowed partiality for that little sonnet of mine, beginning, “Now young ey’d Spring.” [footnote: See the publication entitled Langollen Valle. —S.]  — Yet I own I a little differ from your preference of the opening and [192] close to those lines in the centre, which present a contrasted and gloomy landscape, and an impersonization of winter; the former drawn from nature, not from books, and the latter striking and impressive.  The sudden pause after the word strays, when it has begun the next line, has, to my conception, a forcible effect on the imagination; and the comfortless personage rises into solemn dignity in the remainder of the line, and becomes the awful lord of the desolated year.  Yet is it little wonder that the softer and gay opening of this sonnet, and the piety of its close, had more charms for those in whom retirement has nursed the spirit of devotion, and who have dedicated so much of their attention to placing the cherub Beauty on the rustic shrine of Nature.

            With all the delight I feel in contemplating the lovely objects of creation, still has my imagination ever been prone to dwell yet more on the solemn, the grand, the sublime.  It is this bias which renders the poetry of Ossian almost pre-eminently dear to me.

            I was sorry that illness prevented my seeing Mr North.  I wonder not that he thought Mr Saville looked ill.  His frequent nervous indispositions, though slight, alarm his many friends.  All who know him well, and are themselves good, are his friends.  His life is of the utmost importance to [193] his daughter and her children, and of great value to me.  His long-tried friendship is all that remains to me of my youthful attachments, within the sphere of frequent association.

            I have just broken the seal of a letter which contains mournful intelligence — the death of my valued maternal friend, Mrs Sykes of Westella, in Yorkshire.  She just lived to see my sometime pupil, her amiable daughter, married to a gentleman of immense fortune and distinguished beneficence, after having educated and settled in the world a large and prosperous family of sons.  Her excellent husband survives,

“Like the weak and widow’d vine,

To wind his blasted tendrils o’er the plain.”

            Adieu, dearest Madam! for my heart is heavy.

*

Letter XXXIX.

Chris. Smythe, Esq.
{vol. 4, pp 194-197}

 

                                                                                                Lichfield, April 7, 1796.

            I blush to reflect how long I have been indebted to you, for one of the most ingenious and interesting letters that ever met my eye.  Vivid are its landscapes of the Caledonian regions — but I regret that you did not extend your ramble

“Amd the sea-girt Hebrides, that guard

In filial train, Britannia’s parent coast;”

though not all the grand sterilities, they must have presented to your pencil, could have enabled them so keenly to thrill your spirit as it was thrilled by the local consciousness of treading the now desolate tracks of Inverlochy, Cawdor, and Inverness.  Did you not pass through Forres in your way to Inverness?

            What a totally unclassic — what a leaden spirit must that be which urged the D— of G——- to destroy, through avarice of their materials, the ruins that poetry has consecrated to fame!

            [195] And now let me thank you for a more recent obligation.  Amidst the number of polite letters, with which my various literary acquaintance have honoured my Langollen Vale publication, yours is super-eminent in the ingenuity of discriminating praise, which, above all general encomium, gratifies a writer.  I have sent it, with its fascinating predecessor, to the accomplished Recluses, whose whole warm hearts are in the reception which my lately emerged poems shall meet with from the distinguished few that make encomium fame, and whose praise is potent to recompense the stupid strictures of my anonymous foes amongst the public critics.

           Lady Eleanor, and her friend, will be delighted by your comparing the wild and soft landscapes of this my publication, to the greatness of Salvator, and the elegance of Claude.  I was sure you would like Cary’s sonnet, that lovely compendium of the poem it precedes and adorns.

            The Duke of Somerset and Mr Mitchel, last summer, offered the incense of respect and attention at the sweet shrine in the vale.  Pleasing recollection of those gentlemen lives in the remembrance of its goddesses, who are, as you will suppose, extremely awake to the perceptions of genius and knowledge.  I thought myself honoured in the Duke and Mr Mitchel’s visit to me at [196] Lichfield, in an abode which, though a mansion pleasant and spacious to my utmost wish, breathes of nothing above the level of mere common and stileless life.  They were here on our grotesque Whitsun-Monday anniversary, connected, time immemorial, with the charter of our city. — It is the vulgar jubilee of the town and its environs.  Guns are fired over every house; — gaudy morris-dancers caper in the thronged streets; — emblematic figures, and garlands, are carried on poles; — meat, cakes, and wine, are given gratis, under awnings; — drums, and tabors, and fiddles, are dinning amid the crowd,

“And all is riot and rude merriment.” 

I am much gratified, though surprised at the too flattering mention made to you of this visit by the young Duke.  I always immure myself at home through the day, and my domestics leave me, to partake of amusements better suited to their taste than mine.  Languor and pain hung about me with incapacitating influence.  I wonder his Grace did not ask you how you could endure to write to, or converse with, such an antiquated dowdy.

            I congratulate you, and every lover of justice, on Mr Hayley’s total rescue of Milton’s moral character from the talons of the critical vulture, and from the tainting breath of his envy.  Mr [197] Hayley’s Life of the Great Poet is on a novel and delightful plan of biography, by which the poetry of the bard becomes the mirror of his life’s history, and of the feelings to which its incidents gave birth.  Few things are perfect.  The dedication does not please me, from its familiarity of address and epithet.  The style of a dedication should be serious to be respectful.  There, “it is not sign of hot love cooling, to use an enforced ceremony;” — and, in the work itself, we are impatient of those fruitless endeavours to conciliate the idolaters of Johnson, while they disclose the enormities of his injustice “to the shamed eye of day.”

            Your promised re-visitation of our little city, and of myself, so long delayed, is, as Burke finely says of democratic humanity “at the horizon, and like the horizon, it flies always before us.”

*

Letter XLIII.

Mrs M. Powys.
{vol. 4, pp 208-214}

 

                                                                                                Lichfield, June 1, 1796.

            The lunar landscape, which you have been so good to send me, is welcome as it is beautiful.  Extremely has it been admired in our Lichfield circles, and by every stranger guest who seeks me on their transit through our little city.  It is thus that you kindly reward the encomiast of Langollen Vale with one of the grandest of its scenes.  [209]  This warm praise of the poem which bears its name is doubly welcome: first, that it is yours; and next, that it is discriminating.  When, in return for a presented work of mine, I receive a merely general acknowledgment, with whatever flattering epithet that acknowledgment may be sugared, as ingenious, charming, &c. I always repent having obtruded my writings on those who do not think it worth their while, by observations on the separate parts, to prove to me that they have even read them.  Amiable Mrs Wasey has honoured your favourite, the Eyam, with verses in its praise, which are, in themselves, beautiful.  I knew not that she had a poetic talent till it was unveiled to me on this occasion, and in a form so gratifying to that desire to please, which Milton finely calls,

“The last infirmity of noble minds.”

            I hope to reconcile you to the vignette, by observing, that it was my request to the Rosalind and Celia of Langollen Vale, that my poem on that vale might be enriched with a view of their habitation on its title-page, since themselves, and their scene, form one part of its triple chord of subject.

            This view is the most happily chosen of any they could have given me, being from a point which [210] shews the ruins of Castle Dinas Bran, and the Eglwysig rocks in the back-ground, both of which you know are mentioned; the ruins presenting the scene of the love-story that occupies the middle part of the poem.

            The vignette might, it is true, have presented a more striking part of the vale, but would have been less eligible, as having less connection with the poetry.

            Certainly this interesting retreat of Lady Eleanor Butler, and Miss Ponsonby, might have been placed where it would have had sublimer scenic accompaniments — but its site is sufficiently lovely, sufficiently romantic.  When two females meant to sit down for life in a sylvan retirement, with a small establishment of servants, it became necessary that the desire of landscape-charms should become subservient to the more material considerations of health, protection, and convenience.  Their scene, not on those wild heights which must have exposed them to the mountain storms, is yet on a dry gravelly bank, favourable to health and exercise, and sheltered by a back-ground of rocks and hills.  Instead of seeking the picturesque banks of the dashing river, foaming through its craggy channel, and whose spray and mists must have been confined, and therefore unwholesome, by the vast rocks and mountains [211] towering on either hand, they contented themselves with the briery dell and its prattling brook, which descend abruptly from a reach of that winding walk, which forms the bounds of their smiling, though small domain.  Situated in an opener part of the valley, they breathe a purer air, while their vicinity of the town of Langollen affords the comforts of convenience, and the confidence of safety.

            Have you read Caleb Williams?  — that singular production — a novel without love, or intrigue, on the part of the three principal male characters, and without ruined castles, and haunted galleries; yet, where expectation is excited to breathless ardour, and where the terrible Graces extend their petrifying wands.  The style of this extraordinary work is manly, compressed, animated, and impressive, in a degree which vies with that of the best writers of this period, in which prose-excellence has attained its ne-plus-ultra.  I am sorry to observe that the tendency of this work is not good.  We find it an indirect libel upon the laws and constitution of Great Britain.

            And have you read any of the translations of a short German poem, called, William and Leonora?  I hear there are several, but that the one which was shewn to me is the best, and it is printed entire in the Monthly Magazine for [212] March last.  It is the wildest and oddest of all terrible things, and has made considerable noise amongst our few poetic readers.  They seem to consider it as perfectly original; and so doing, betray a strange defect of memory, or else they have been infected with the “malady of not marking,” since it was indubitably suggested by the old English ballad in the third volume of Percy’s collections, viz. Sweet William’s Ghost.  That ballad, combined with a recollection of the fine metaphoric expression in the Scriptures, “Death on his pale horse,” supplied the author with materials for this composition.  The short, abrupt measure of the translation before mentioned, suits the rapidity of a midnight journey of a thousand miles.  The German poet as given a great accession of sublimity, in spite of the vulgarness of cant phrases, used for the purpose of picturesque sound.  The pale steed, on which the lover mounts with his mistress — the flying backward, to right and left of woods, rocks, mountains, plains, and towns, by the speed of the travel, and overhead the scudding back of the moon and stars — the creeping train of the swarthy funeral, chanting the death-psalm, like toads croaking from the dark and lonely moors — the transformation of the knight to a bony and eyeless skeleton — the vanishing of the death-horse, breathing charnel-fires, [213] then thinning to smoke, and paling, and bleaching away to nothing — are grand additions to the terrific graces of the ancient song.  Certainly that is a tame spectre in comparison of this; but then, it has more pathetic passages than the German ballad; instance:

“ ‘O! if I come within they bower

            I am no earthly man,

And if I kiss that rosy lip,

            Thy days will not be long.

My bones are buried in a kirkyard,

            Afar beyond the sea,

And it is but my sprite, Margaret,

            That’s speaking now to thee.’

Now she has kilted her robes of green

            A piece below her knee,

And all the live-long winter night

            The dead corpse followed she.

‘Is there any room at your head, Willie,

            Is there any room at your feet,

Or any room at your side, Willie,

            Wherein that I may creep?’

‘There is no room at my head, Marg’ret,

            There’s no room at my feet,

There’s no room at my side, Marg’ret,

My coffin is made so stret.’ ”

— But I must bid you an abrupt adieu, the room on this sheet being now narrow as William’s coffin.

*

Letter XLVII.

Miss Wingfield.
{vol. 4, pp 230-234}

 

                                                                                                Lichfield, July 19, 1796.

            I am hopeless of being able to visit you this summer.  Arbitrary disorder shapes for me another course, wide of the Severn banks — but it is not to the sea.  No ‘moon, bursting from a cloud, will brighten for me the foamy side of a wave, amid the dark-heaving ocean.”  When it shall again be given me to behold, as you and I once beheld together, that find description of Ossian’s realized, I shall think of the kind friend whose arm supported my frame, while her gentle spirit shared my enthusiasm, from a sight so sublimely impressive.

            You heard me speak of my purpose to have an Eolian harp, made upon the construction of Miss Ponsonby’s, mentioned in my poem, Langollen Vale.  She was so good to give me an exact drawing of hers; which, being three times the size they are usually made, and with twenty-two strings, instead of the usual number, six, far transcends, both in the quantity and quality of the [231] tone, the general order of these airy instruments.  Mine is at length finished and strung; but, being made to fit my only eastern sash-windows, no gale has yet blown from that point, strong enough to wake the sullen slumber of its many chords.  This line, from Il Penseroso, is to be its motto:

“Most musical, most melancholy.” 

Doubtless the airy hand of Eurus will soon awaken those rich harmonies, which so divinely stole upon my ear amid the Vale of Langollen.

            And now I must proudly boast to you of Lord Bagot’s goodness.  He has honoured me with an obliging billet, accompanied by a very acceptable literary present.  It is a superb book.  — A German poem, entitled Leonora, and translated by Mr Spenser.  I apprehend the fine poetic talents of that gentleman have done much more than justice to the sublimity of his author’s ideas.  This tale of despairing love, reaches the ne-plus-ultra of horrific greatness.  Have you seen, in any of the various translations, the grand equestrian spectre they present?  It has either already froze, or it will freeze, your young blood.  Before I received this superior version, another, in a simpler style, had impressed me extremely; and I now [232] think that, in one or two passages, it transcends Mr Spenser’s; but, on the whole, there is no comparison.  O! yes, it is in his language, aided by the magic pencil of his aunt, Lady Diana Beauclerk, that the grand effect upon the imagination is complete.  So very finely has she seized, and presented to actual vision, the most striking moments in this extraordinary poetic scene, as to vie with the best attempts of our great painters, who, with emulative pencil, have embodied the ideas of Shakespeare.

            I observed that, in one or two places, I thought the first and simpler version of this poem, transcends Mr Spenser’s generally more spirited, more elevated paraphrase — particularly here:

“It creeps, the swarthy funeral train,

            The corse is on the bier?

Like croak of toads from lonely moor,

            It slowly meets the ear.”

[footnote: From Leonora, a Ballad from, from Burger.  See Monthly Magazine for March 1790.  Translator anonymous. —S.]

“Black’ning the night, a funeral train

            On a cold bier a coffin brings,

Their slow pace measur’d to a strain

            Sad as the saddest night-bird sings.”

[footnote: From Mr Spenser’s Translation of Leonora. —S.]

[233] The epithet cold for the bier, adding nothing to the solemnity of the spectacle, rather weakens than strengthens it.  It is so with all epithets that do not either strongly paint, or express strength of feeling.  This consciousness has induced incompetent and shallow critics to condemn them almost totally; — not aware that frequently all the sublimity arises from the epithet; — as, for instance, “Death on his pale horse,” since an horse is not in itself an object of terror: — but he essential sublimity of this line, “The corse is on the bier,” would have been enfeebled by any epithet, because the human body, lifeless, is in itself an object so dismal, so ghastly, that, once presented to the imagination, all descriptive appellations are superfluous.  Also, the simile of the nightingale for the death-psalm, is not in keeping with the general horror of the scene; — that of “toads croaking from the lonely moors” is completely accordant.  But the Spenser paraphrase, rich in general superiorities, need not grudge to its rival the transcendence of one or two passages.

            I thing [sic] there is a desideratum in the poem itself, which is not supplied by either of the before-mentioned translations, though finely supplied by the pencil of Lady D. Beauclerk.  The poetry, which so sublimely describes the dread appearance [234] of the transformed warrior, leave wholly to the imagination the effect of such a spectacle on Leonora, except signifying that it was fatal to her, in these lines:

“Leonora’s heart, its life-blood dried,

Hangs quivering on the dart of death.”

The lines are fine, but give no distinct picture.  It appears to me, that a verse, to this effect, is almost demanded, when the skeletons, armed with a death-dart, is presented to the mind and eye at once, by the united powers of the poet and the painter.

“Back on the maid he turns severe!

            She shrieks — and, with arrested breath,

Clos’d eyes, and wild reverted hair,

            Falls fainting from the horse of Death.

And, as she falls, the barbed spear

            Eternal makes her clay-cold swoon. —–

The dark grave yawns! a coffin near!

            Its white plates glimmer to the moon!”

I do not apologize for these remarks, even if you should have previously seen this tremendous composition.  People who have mind, cannot soon be weary of a theme at once so novel and sublime.  Adieu!

*

Letter XLVIII.

Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 4, pp 235-238}

 

                                                                                                Buxton, Aug. 7, 1796.

 

            My dear Madam, — Always gratified and honoured by your letters, I received the last with augmented pleasure, by the dispersion of solicitude.  That attention which yourself and excellent Lady Eleanor are so good to express for my health, seduces me into the egotism of making it my earliest theme.  I left Lichfield on the 24th of last month, passing three days, on my road hither, with Mr and Mrs Sneyd of Belmont.  Their scene is of romantic and noble features, mountainous and sylvan.  The changed, and perhaps purer air, seemed instantly salutary to me; nor has that of Buxton been less propitious, even amidst these gales of ungenial chillness, that whistle through the arcade, and the drizzling clouds, that draw, from day to day, their dark trains over the mountains.

            Lovely, interesting Mrs Powys of Berwick is my next door-neighbour in the Crescent.  I have had the pleasure of passing a few pleasing hours [236] in her society; and she has procured for me a gratification, which has been an object with me, ever since she recommended, two years ago, the perusal of Rosina, which, she assured me, was an highly ingenious novel.  Ingenious composition is always delightful to me, under whatever title it appears; but my supreme horror is a common novel.  Praised by Mrs Powys, it was impossible Rosina could be of that class.  It was, in the interim, promised me this time and that, but has, till now, always proved an ignis-fatuus to my pursuit.  I have just finished the third volume, and am extremely pleased with it.  Hitherto the characters are strongly marked, the style various and appropriate — the maxims interspersed are impressive, just, and consequently useful.  I have seen the extreme disadvantage that results to every work, as to speedy celebration, from being published without the name of its author, except if it is the known, though unavowed, production of some literary character already celebrated.  That Rosina has not been mentioned to me by a number of ingenious people, must have resulted from their not having read it, because published anonymously — unless, indeed, that the frequent quotations, with which it honours my writings, must have gratified me more than they perhaps wished I should be gratified.  Dear Ladies, if [237] you have not read, I hope you will read Rosina.  It must fall off strangely on its progress not to deserve that honour.

            Buxton is growing very full, notwithstanding this unnatural weather.  I now sit writing by a good fire, in very commodious lodgings.  My neat light parlour looks backward, is on the first flight of stairs, and, from its aspect, is quiet and silent.  When I close one of the sash-windows, that looks on the superb stables, which are built on the rise of the hill, above this splendid, this golden half-moon, the other window shows me only a sloping range of bare fields, without hedge or tree, and intersected by stone-walls.  They present a perfect picture of a barren country, of rudeness, silence, and solitude.  I am gratified by meditating the striking contrast, when, quitting this apartment, half a minute conveys me into the “busiest hum of men;” amid a crowd of old and young, grave and gay, feeble and frolicksome, blighted and blooming, that sweep, in long trains, through the arcade; while, in the area of its concave, horses and horsemen are prancing, and chariots and phaetons swiftly roll.

           You have taken an infinite deal of obliging trouble, in transcribing for me Mr Williams’s translation of the Runic poem, which I paraphrased in my late publication.  I am shocked to [238] think that my curiosity should be gratified at such an expence of time, precious as Miss Ponsonby’s — but what an admirable specimen of perfect skill in penmanship is this transcript! — the modern print-hand, that of the ancient black-letter type, and the Roman, are proofs of very uncommon skill.  The poetry of the translation does not please me.  The expressions of Dr Hicks’s prose-translation are miserably below the ideas, and entirely inadequate to their grandeur.  No version, close as this, could possess either impressive solemnity, or poetic elevation.

            What rank does Sir Brooke Boothby’s muse hold in your and Lady Eleanor’s estimation, whose appreciation of talents is so unerring, except where the generous partialities of friendship conceal defect, and magnify whatever has the least claim to approbation?

            With affectionate compliments to the “sister of your heart,” I remain, dearest Madam, &c.

*

 

Letter LI.

The Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler.
{vol. 4, pp 247-251}

 

                                                                                    Mansfield Woodhouse, Sept. 19, 1796.

 

            Dearest Lady Eleanor, what a touching, what an unhappy narrative does your last obliging letter contain!  Lamentable is the malady of the amiable visionary, whose imagination has fatally soared above the limits of her reason, and, like the chariot-wheel, taken baleful fire from the rapidity of its course.

            Mr Saville and his daughter have, I imagine, by this time exchanged the Welsh coast for Mr Roberts’ sublime mountain, and have perhaps enjoyed the envied happiness of paying their glad duty at the Arcadian court of Langollen.

            Your Ladyship’s kind and desired letter found [248] me at Horrowgate, labouring under the paroxysms of a fierce cough, the luckless present of damp and inconvenient lodgings, which the neglect of the landlord at the Green Dragon Hotel, and the overflowing crowds in all the other houses, public and private, had made my dernier resort.

            The morning after my arrival, finding myself much disordered, I resigned my purpose of going to the Granby for my meals, determining to send for my food from thence, and trying to combat my disease by quiet and regularity.  My apartment itself, when it became aired, was not uncomfortable, but tolerably clean, spacious, and very lightsome, form a large sash window, which looked upon some pleasant retired fields; with a side view of the healthy-moor, round which the three hotels, the better lodging-houses, the theatre, and the shops, are thinly dotted, and over which pranced the horses and carriages, and walking parties of those gay crowds that swarmed in the hotels.  My room was part of an house which had seen better days, once the Salutation Hotel, now occupied, in division, by handicraft workmen.

            There, during an whole week, I lived, unknowing and unknown, in a seclusion never in my whole preceding life experienced.  A total solitude on the very verge of so busy a little world, pleased [249] me at once by its novelty, and by the leisure it gave me.  The numbers passing to and fro on one side, seemed as figures in a magic lantern.  I was very much disordered, it is true, yet, by quiet and nursing, not so ill as to be insensible to the luxury of uninterrupted leisure, and abstract contemplation.  I had some books with me, and also the task of making a copy for the press of my centenary of sonnets, and of my twenty-five paraphrases of the Odes of Horace.  As the Spa was a long mile distant, I had the water brought me every morning in bottles.  I rose at seven, and swallowed, at intervals of twenty minutes between each draught, three half pints of that superlatively nauseous fluid, impregnated with salt and sulphur, that makes it taste like putrid eggs.  By the medical people of the place, it is prohibited during a cold; but, from the nature of the operation, I knew that to be professional and local cant, adopted for the purpose of detaining strangers.  My cough was always softened by it during the several ensuing hours, and it entirely averted those pangs in my head, always, till then the concomitants of catarrhs with me.

            In the periods between swallowing those odious potations, I walked in the pleasant solitary fields which my chamber windows fronted.  The busy throng of the circular heath, from whence [250] these fields diverge, never approached.  At morn and noon, the sun looked silently on their pathways and hedges; a silence unbroken, except by the lowing of the cattle and the warble of the redbreast.

            Much did I enjoy those placid contemplative walks from the edge of that whirling vortex, into which, approaching it, I glanced without one wish to enter.  In the sharp and often frosty evenings, which were then become somewhat long, I sat by my lonely, yet cheerful fire, without finding them tedious.

            Thus was my disorder kept at bay an whole week, during which I did not once inquire who were the distinguished luminaries of the busy sphere so near me, nor suspected that it contained a single acquaintance; but, at the week’s end, brilliant Lady Glencairn, with whom I had the honour of passing an hour three years ago, the sister of Mr Erskine in spirit, as well as in blood, wrote to express joy in the just received intelligence of my being in Harrowgate, and concern for my indisposition, and her intention to call upon me.  The charm of Lady G.’s society was a temptation I could not resist; but, allured by the friendly offer of constant access to her parlour, I sacrificed that retirement, so necessary till the crisis of my disease was past, and ventured, the [251] four ensuing days, to dine at the hotel.  The immense crowd of the public table, the heat, the noise, were more than I could sustain without perceivable injury, increased by the cold walks home to my lodgings, at nine every evening.  The afternoons were passed in private with Lady Glencairn and a few of her friends; yet notwithstanding the intellectual sun which gilded that little city of refuge, as we used to call Lady Glencairn’s parlour, my illness increased rapidly, and induced a sudden resolution, the fifth morning of these days of gratified mind and fevered body, to fly, while flight should be in my power.  — So terminated my expedition to Harrowgate.

            My cough and fever abated beneath the influence of travelling in very fine days, which shone brightly upon my residence at Chesterfield.  The autumnal fogs, heavy and dense, seem now beginning to gather.  At present, they roll away towards noon — but probably the sun will soon lose his power to dissipate them, and to gild the embowering shades by which I am now veiled; while the society of their mistress, one of the oldest of my friends, has kindness and intelligence which might illuminate the darkest hours of winter.

            I have the honour to remain, &c.

*

Letter LVIII. 

Miss Arden.
{vol. 4, pp 283-290}

 

                                                                                    Lichfield, Dec. 17, 1796.

 

            My Dear Miss Arden’s letter breathes an air of hope, comfort, and even gaiety, that charms me.  [284]  Some amendment in her beloved brother’s health, was, I know, the sun from whence those rays were imparted.

            By Mrs Ibetson’s pencil, and your accurate description of the scenes and society by which you are surrounded, and of the apartments you inhabit, I am, in imagination, completely at Greenwich.  Assure yourselves, dear friends, that inclination will not be wanting to place me that in reality.

            Lichfield news! — you say you thirst for it; and want to know all the new attachments that dawn and ripen in our vicinage.  As for your thirst — the well is very dry.  It is true, we have softened the austerity of winter, as the sweet Akenside describes:

“Hence the loud city’s busy throngs,

            Urge the warm bowl, and cheerful fire,

Harmonious dances, festal songs,

            Against the rage of Heaven conspire;”

but I do not find that these gay meetings have collected many combustibles for the Hymeneal torch. On returning home from my summer’s excursion, I found the B—– family established in the late Mr Grove’s habitation — know not if they mean to settle here totally, but they are, at least, stationary for the winter.  They are much liked.  [285]  Three fashionable young women, who seem belonging to us, much enliven the public walk and the ball-room.  Meeting them chiefly in large companies, I can speak only of exteriors.  The eldest, of middle height, is more graceful than handsome; the second, Miss Catherine, tall and well make, except the singular blemish of the left arm being discernibly shorter than the right.  Her features are fine, her profile perfectly Grecian, and strongly resembling the lovely lady Fielding, but less beautiful, from great inferiority of complexion, and from the absence of that bloom that kindles on Lady Fielding’s cheek, like an orient morning of May.  Miss Harriet B., the youngest of the three graces, is called extremely handsome.  Her dark-blue eyes, of the Sir Peter Lely shape, with the finest possible chesnut eye-lashes and eye-brows, are uncommonly lovely; then is she snowy fair — but also snowy pale, and with a countenance which strikes me as snowy cold.  We look in vain for those sweet know-not-whats about the mouth, which, if they could be found, as they are found about the lips of Mrs E. Sneyd, would give resistless fascination to the most charming eyes in the world, — but there they are not, in mercy to the hearts of mankind.  She has an hereditary claim to conciliatory smiles.  They render [286] her father charming at sixty-five.  Mrs Burton is out of health, but sprightly and agreeable.

            Graceful Bob Lovelace, as you call Sir R. W—–, has not appeared at any of our balls, nor anywhere else in the neighbourhood, that I hear of.  You rally me for praising him, and ask how many franks he has given me.  A couple, which he gave me at Buxton, can hardly be supposed to have bribed my partiality.  No, his charities! — his noble behaviour to Mr Erskine at Buxton, and the high terms in which the good and devout Mrs Price, who has known him from a child, speaks of him; — these things induced me to believe that he is not a libertine upon principle, though he paid so dear for having been drawn, in early youth, into the snares of a wanton beauty, who violated with him her nuptial vow.  Ask your darling, your truly excellent brother, if that frailty is incompatible with goodness of heart in the male sex — where the man is the seduced, not the seducer?

            You ask if I have seen Spencer’s Leonora, with engravings by Lady D. Beauclerk?  Lord Bagot sent me that charming work, so beyond all comparison superior to all the other translations.  I have no read aloud less than fifty times this violent story, adorned by the pencil of kindred genius.  I took [287] it with me to Buxton; and, mentioning it to Mrs Powys of Berwick, she engaged me to read it to a party at her house, Lady Scarborough, Colonel Lumley and his sisters, Lady Louisa, and Lady Sophia.  Then Lady Lawley desired I would bring it to her rooms, where I was to drink tea next day.  There I found Lady Harewood, her intelligent friend Mrs Wood of York, and engaging Miss Garth of the Carleton household, with Lady and Miss Lawley.

            These parties talked much of this poem, and partially represented its reader’s powers as Siddonian.  Then one party after another petitioned to hear it, till there was scarce a morning in which a knot of eight or ten did not flock to my apartments, to be poetically frightened: Mr Erskine, Mr Wilberforce — every thing that was every thing, and every thing that was nothing, flocked to Leonora; and here, since my return, the fame of this business having travelled form Buxton hither, the same curiosity has prevailed.  Its terrible graces grapple minds and tastes of every complexion.  Creatures that love not verses for their beauty, like these verses for their horrors.  That universal passion for the horrible, must proceed from the mind adverting to its own situation of comparative security, ease, and happiness, and [288] feeling the sense of comfort strongly resulting from the contrast.

            Charming Lady Donegall, and her engaging daughter-in-law, Lady Harriot Chichester, Lord Spencer, and Miss Godfrey, were desirous of hearing me read Leonora, and of seeing me exhibit the equestrian ghost, though, from their intimacy with Mr Spencer, they were familiar with it, as mentioned by him.  That party, and also the Swinfen family, met me and the ghost at Freeford.  Nothing can exceed the blended dignity and sweetness of the Marchioness.  It rejoiced me also to see a son of the first Lady Donegall, whom I loved and respected, so amiable, pleasing, and elegant.  It is to be regretted that he was not the first-born of that house: he would do credit to rank and fortune so princely.

            The Orpheus of the English orchestra, Cramer, descended amongst us last week.  On a visit to Lord Curzon, he loitered a few days in our little city, allured by the society of his friend Saville.  Four of those evenings were devoted to music at Mr Parker’s, Mr S. Simpson’s, and twice at my house.  We sat down twenty to supper each night, and the parties were at once harmonic and convivial.  Nothing could exceed Mr Cramer’s amiable desire to please and oblige.  He not only [289] played overtures, solos, and quartettos, in the divinest manner, in concert, before supper; but after supper, convulsed us all with laughing at the humorous ingenuity of his violin.  He contrived to represent upon it a convent of old nuns, singing hymns at midnight, with their cracked voices, and shivering with cold.  Then he set the young folks to dancing, and played country dances to them an whole hour!  Thus did he give them to boast through life of having danced to Cramer’s violin.  That humane soul went to Birmingham, through the bitter severity of last Monday’s weather, to play gratis, as Mr Saville sung gratis, for a brother-musician’s concert, who has a large family.  I went thither also, by invitation, with Mrs Ironmonger to Mr E. Simpson’s; but repented the temerity of such an excursion, taken beneath the mal-influence of a violent cold.  I was extremely ill all the while I was at Birmingham, and obliged to leave the divine concert before it was half over:

————– “For to the fever’d frame,

The warbling strains of softest melody

Seem but discordant harshness.”

I could hardly attend to Cramer’s solo, or Saville’s enchanting song.  I have written till my fingers [290] are tired, and the drowsy hour steals fast upon my pen.  Long may it lead you, and your darling brother, to pillows of health and peace!

            This is the age of miracles.  A great one has lately arisen in the poetical world — the most extraordinary that ever appeared, as to juvenile powers, except that of the ill-starred Chatterton: — Southey’s Joan of Arc, an epic poem of strength and beauty, by a youth of twenty.  Verse is so little the taste, while it is so luxuriantly the produce of these times, that probably its reputation, nay, even its very name, may not have reached you.  Me they had not reached till mentioned to me by Lady E. Butler in a letter, which a little time preceeded the book itself, a present from her ladyship and Miss Ponsonby.  Truly did they divine that its genius would attract my imagination, while its design must excite my abhorrence.

            The work seeks to brand, with deepest strains of injustice and cruelty, the memory of our gallant Henry V. and turn to deadliest aconite the laurels of Agincourt!  it defames the English character in general, stigmatizes our constitution, and deifies the Moloch spirit of that of France.

            When you come to read this work, you will mourn, with me, the Catiline spirit it breathes.  Adieu!

*

Letter LX.

Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 4, pp 293-299}

 

                                                                                    Lichfield, Dec. 29, 1796.

 

            Though I have anxiously longed for renewed intercourse with the ornaments of Langollen Vale, and began to fear that the length of its suspension might be the result of impaired health, or new inquietude, yet were their last letters too sweetly affectionate, their reception, since I last wrote, of my friends, Mr Saville and his daughter, [294] too liberally condescending and kind, for any suspicion of faded amity to wound my heart.  Deeply, I confess, would such a suspicion wound, and punish the thankless guilt of its adoption.  Those other not unworthy fears, the offspring of silence, vanish, now the sun of communication shines out, gilds the closing year, and will illuminate the dawn of its successor.

            Conscious that my remonstrance against the increase of my full measure of obligation would prove unavailing, I imputed the delayed arrival of Joan of Arc to its true cause, and, therefore, had she previously presented herself to me, I should have closed my eyes against her poetic powers — and they are very far indeed beyond my expectation, from the youth of the author, and the disgusting arrogance of his well-written preface.  Those poetic powers are now rising upon me in all the glow of novelty.  I had seen no review of this work.  Scarce ever do I look at the silly remarks of the hireling critics upon poetry.  My progress through Joan of Arc is very slow, and slow I always make it over a composition of real genius.  Deplorably scanty as is my leisure for reading, I cannot gallop through such writing as this.  I read repeatedly every passage that struck me with beauty, or with defect, and with pen [295] and paper before me, to record their impressions.  Thus I have, as yet, only attained the close of the second book.

            While I admire the splendours of imagination, which flash upon me in this poem, I must consider them as the baleful beauties of the lightning.  O Southey! is this a period in which to exalt the French character, and, with parricide impulse, to depreciate that of England?

            Dost thou presume to prophecy, that what thou unfeelingly callest “the stormy morning, shall have a cloudless non” — never, never! — dark and sunless are the principles by which it rose — by which it is supported.

            As a poem, Joan of Arc has high merit.  Though defect is frequent on its pages, yet, at the conclusion of the second book, I have risen from it with a disposition to believe that we have had nothing of such manly greatness, except from Chatterton, at any age so early as that of its author.

            The style of the first book seems to waver in its choice of a model between Milton and Cowper.  In the greatly superior second, it becomes wholly Miltonic.  The ardour of imitation is very apt to mislead the judgment.  It has produced that consequence in this epic; because Milton, in the Paradise Lost, has often harsh [296] versification, to make the sound echo the sense, Southey perpetually and wontonly offends the ear, by inharmonious and stiff lines, which answer no imitative purpose.  Butt he ideas are frequently of unborrowed greatness and beauty, though sometimes obscure and confused.  The preternatural agency has immense sublimity, though the episode of night, and the dream, engendered by fierce hate and gloomy hope, is to me of “unimaginable” import.  That episode, notwithstanding the fine lines at the beginning, disturbs the wildly magnificent machinery of the ice-built island, its meteor-lighted palace, and the allegoric demons, its terrible inhabitants.

            The obscure episode I mentioned, imitates Milton’s, of Sin and Death; but there the allegory is obvious as it is sublime.  In this same fine second book of Southey’s, the start of ambition, and his smile of savage joy, though not equal to the ghastly smile of Milton’s Death, are yet striking pictures.

            An extremely fine idea is the apparition of Joan, which is placed before her mortal eyes.  Though certainly suggested by the vision shewn to Adam by the angel from the mountain, in the eleventh book of Paradise Lost, Cain murdering Abel, yet I think our young bard, in that circumstance, transcends his original.  Joan’s apparition [297] seems shewn to her for more important purpose, viz. that the false hope of reward might have no share in stimulating her exertions.  The consciousness of final martyrdom, given by this vision, extremely exalts her character.

            The strain of death-foreboding music, which ensues, is beautifully introduced and described; and the epithet calmy for midnight, is lovely.  If the author had heard your or my Eolian harp, breathing their sweet, their solemn, and various harmonies, he would have introduced it here, as a simile.

            The impersonization of doubtful and insecure peace, alluding to that eighteen months truce which our admired Henry gave to France after the battle of Agincourt, is amongst the most exquisite instances of poetic imagery; but ah! on recurring to the preface, I find, that the martyr-dooming apparition, the death-boding music, and the sweet convalescent, representing insecure peace, are Mr Colridge’s.  In the progress of the poem, we shall see if the author equals the excellence of the poetic present that was made him.  I do not think any thing quite so admirable preceded these pictures; but then, again, this acknowledged tribute of friendship exonerates the author from the disturbing episode, as to its composition at least.

            [298] The siege of Rouen is pathetically described; but if the author was capable of feeling real pity for such distresses, and honest, virtuous, impartial indignation towards those who inflict them, would he not have execrated that hellish revolution, which, to exalt and applaud, is the chief design for which this poem was written? — during which thousands and tens of thousands fraternized tyrants, have inflicted miseries more remorseless than those which, on his pages, he meant should stain the memory of our fifth Henry.  the lamentable wretchedness his not unjust claims on France caused, are practised by all who besiege a city that will not capitulate, and whose provisions the army before it have power to intercept; but Liberty, how much grater have been her evils, with her multiplied bastiles, where loathsome filth was added to the immuring misery of the single Bastile existing under the old government — crowded with old age, pregnant women, and infants, besides the throngs who, in the prime and strength of life, were thus bastiled and destroyed for being known to have wealth, and for being suspected to wish the return of law and justice to their wretched country, and of protection by subordinate sway!  Oh! if genuine Liberty had produced the revolution, she would have disdained force, and abhorred cruelty; neither confiscation, nor imprisonment, nor death, would [299] have marked her progress.  She would have left every one free to choose between regal government and a republic, and left the decision to the majority.  But this false Duessa! — those who give to her the name of Liberty, after having known her tree by its fruits — alas! that rising genius, splendid as this author’s, should thus disgrace itself!

            Adieu, dearest Madam! — I am sure yourself and Lady Eleanor will lament with me these indelible stains on poetic laurels of such early vigour, and luxuriant growth!

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