BETA

LETTER FROM MR W. W. TO MR CHRISTOPHER NORTH.

DEAR SIR,
Had it not been one of the deepest convictions of my mind, even from very
early youth, that there was something in periodical literature radically and
essentially wrong, in rerum naturâ, as Bacon Lord Verulam has wisely ob-
served of a subject somewhat different, I should certainly, before the com-
mencement of the present portion of time, have sent divers valuable commu-
nications unto your Miscellany. For, concerning both the matter and manner
of Blackwood’s Edinborough Magazine, it hath fallen to my lot in life, on six,
eight, or ten different occasions—some of them not without their importance,
considered in relation to the ordinary on-goings of the world which we in-
habit, and others of them, peradventure, utterly and thoroughly worthless ;
—I say, that it hath fallen to my lot in life to hear the Work, of which you
are the Editor, spoken of in words of commendation and praise. It appeareth
manifest, however, that to form a philosophical, that is, a true character of a
work published periodically, it behoveth a man to peruse the whole series of
the above-mentioned work seriatim, that is, in continuous and uninterrupted
succession, inasmuch as that various articles, on literature, philosophy, and the
fine arts, being by their respective authors left unfinished in one number, are
mayhap brought to a conclusion in a second—nay, peradventure, continued in
a second, and even a third—yea, often not finished until a tenth, and after the
intervention of divers Numbers free wholly and altogether from any discussion
on that specific subject, but composed, it may be, either of nobler or of baser
matter. Thus, it often fareth ill with one particular Number of a periodical
work—say for June or January—because, that although both the imaginative
and reasoning faculties may be manifested and bodied forth visibly and palpa-
bly, so that, as I have remarked on another occasion, they may “ lie like sur-
faces,” nevertheless, if there shall be the intervention of a chasm of time be-
tween the first portion of the embodied act and the visible manifestation of the
second—or again, between the second and third, and so on according to any
imaginable or unimaginable series,—then I aver, that he will greatly err, who,
from such knowledge of any work, (that is, a periodical work, for indeed it is
of such only that it can be so predicated,) shall venture to bestow or to inflict
upon it a decided and permanent character, either for good or for evil. Thus,
for example, I have observed in divers Numbers of Blackwood’s Edinborough
Magazine, sarcasms rather witty than wise, in my apprehension, directed
against myself, on the score of the Lyrical Ballads, and my Quarto Poem en-
titled the Excursion. In other Numbers again—I cannot charge my memory
for what months or in what year, nor indeed is it of vital importance to this
question—methinks I have read disquisitions on my poetry, and on those
great and immutable principles in human nature on which it is built, and in
virtue of which I do not feel as if I were arrogating to myself any peculiar
gift of prophecy, when I declare my belief that these my poems will be im-
mortal ;— I repeat; that in such and such Numbers I have perused such and
such articles and compositions, in which I have not been slow to discern a
fineness of tact and a depth of thought and feeling not elsewhere to be found,
unless I be greatly deceived, in the criticism of this in many things degenerate,
because too intellectual age. Between the folly of some Numbers, therefore,
and the wisdom of others—or in other words of still more perspicuous significa-
tion, between the falsehood of one writer, and the truth of another, there must
exist many shades by which such opposite extremes are brought, without a
painful sense of contrariety, before the eyes of what Mr Coleridge has called
the “ Reading Public.” Of all such shades—if any such there be—I am wholly
unapprised—because I see the work but rarely, as I have already observed, for I
am not, to the best of my recollection, a subscriber to the Kendal Book-Club ;
such institutions being, in small towns, where the spirit of literature is gener-
ally bad in itself and fatally misdirected, conducted upon a principle, or rather
a want of principle, which cannot be too much discommended.
The upshot of the whole is this, that it is contrary both to my theory and
my practice to become a regular contributor to any periodical work whatsoever,
forasmuch as such habits of composition are inimical to the growth and sanity
of original genius, and therefore unworthy of him who writes for “ all time”
except the present.
Nevertheless, it hath so happened, that in seasons prior to this, I have trans-
mitted to the Editors of divers periodical Miscellanies, small portions of large
works, and even small works perfect in themselves ; nor, would it be altogether
consistent with those benign feelings which I am disposed to cherish towards
your Miscellany, as a Periodical that occasionally aimeth at excellence, and may
even, without any flagrant violation of truth, be said occasionally to approxi-
mate thereto, to withhold from it such slight marks of my esteem, as, upon
former occasions, I have not scrupled to bestow upon others haply less worthy
of them. I therefore send you first, an Extract from my Great Poem on
my Own Life, and it is a passage which I have greatly elaborated ;— and, se-
condly, Sir Daniel Donnelly, a Ballad, which, in the next edition of my works,
must be included under the general class of “ Poems of the Imagination and
the Affections.”

EXTRACT FROM MY GREAT AUTO-BIOGRAPHICAL POEM.

It is most veritable,—that sage law1
Which tells that, at the wane of mightiness,2
Yea even of colossal guilt, or power3
That, like the iron man by poets feign’d,4
Can with uplifted arm draw from above5
The ministering lightnings, all insensible6
To touch of other feeling, we do find7
That which our hearts have cherish’d but as fear,8
Is mingled still with love ; and we must weep9
The very loss of that which caus’d our tears.—10
Ev’n so it happeneth when Donnelly dies.11
Cheeks are besullied with unused brine,12
And eyes disguis’d in tumid wretchedness,13
That oft have put such seeming on for him,14
But not at Pity’s bidding !— Yea, even I,15
Albeit, who never “ ruffian’d” in the ring,16
Nor know of “ challenge,” save the echoing hills ;17
Nor fibbing,” save that poesy doth feign ;18
Nor heard his fame, but as the mutterings19
Of clouds contentious on Helvellyn’s side,20
Distant, yet deep, agnize a strange regret,21
And mourn Donnelly—Honourable Sir Daniel :—22
(Blessings be on them, and eternal praise,23
The Knighter and the Knighted.)—Love doth dwell24
Here in these solitudes, and our corporal clay25
Doth for its season bear the self-same fire,26
Impregnate with the same humanities,27
Moulded and mixed like others.28
I remember,29
Once on a time,—’twas when I was a boy,30
For I was childish once, and often since31
Have, with a cheerful resignation, learnt32
How soon the boy doth prophecy the man,—33
I chanced, with one whom I could never love,34
Yet seldom left, to thread a thorny wood,35
To seek the stock-doves’ sacred domicile ;—36
Like thieves, we did contend about our crime,37
I and that young companion. Of that child38
His brief coevals still stood in awe,39
And Fear did do him menial offices,40
While Silence walk’d beside, and word breath’d none.41
Howbeit, mine arm, which oft in vassal wise42
Had borne his satchel, and but ill defended43
From buffets, half in sport, half tyrannous44
With which I was reguerdon’d,—chanced prevail.45
His soul was then subdued, and much and sore46
He wept, convulsive ; nay, his firm breast heav’d,47
As doth the bosom of the troublous lake48
After the whirlwind goeth ; and so sad49
Did seem the ruins of his very pride,50
I could not choose but weep with him, so long51
We sobb’d together, till a smile ’gan dry52
The human rain, and he once more was calm ;—53
For sorrow, like all else, hath end. Albeit,54
Those tears, however boyish, were more fit,55
Since nature’s self did draw them from their source,56
Than aught that cunning’st poet can distil57
By potent alchemy, from human eye,58
To consecrate Donnelly’s grave. Even so ;59
For they discours’d with a dumb eloquence, 60
Beyond the tongue of dirge or epitaph,61
Of that which passeth in man’s heart, when Power,62
Like Babylon, hath fall’n, and pass’d away.63