But death is no bad friend

The following is in acknowledgment of Edmund Gosse’s volume called New Poems.

The ‘Plymouth Brother’ refers to an anecdote told in Travels With a Donkey, Chapter ‘In the Valley of the Tarn’.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 668.]

To Edmund Gosse [Colvin, 1911, 1, pp. 299-302]

Monterey [8 December 1879].

My dear Weg,

I received your book last night as I lay abed with a pleurisy, the result, I fear, of overwork, gradual decline of appetite, etc.

E. Gosse’s New Poems, 1879 [https://ia600301.us.archive.org/]

You know what a wooden-hearted curmudgeon I am about contemporary verse. I like none of it, except some of my own. (I look back on that sentence with pleasure; it comes from an honest heart.) Hence you will be kind enough to take this from me in a kindly spirit; the piece ‘To my daughter’ is delicious. And yet even here I am going to pick holes. I am a beastly curmudgeon. It is the last verse. ‘Newly budded’ is off the venue; and haven’t you gone ahead to make a poetry daybreak instead of sticking to your muttons, and comparing with the mysterious light of stars the plain, friendly, perspicuous, human day? But this is to be a beast. The little poem is eminently pleasant, human, and original.


Gosse’s poem ‘To my daughter’, 1879 [https://ia600301.us.archive.org/]

I have read nearly the whole volume, and shall read it nearly all over again; you have no rivals! Bancroft’s History of the United States, even in a centenary edition, is essentially heavy fare; a little goes a long way; I respect Bancroft, but I do not love him; he has moments when he feels himself inspired to open up his improvisations upon universal history and the designs of God; but I flatter myself I am more nearly acquainted with the latter than Mr. Bancroft. A man, in the words of my Plymouth Brother, ‘who knows the Lord,’ must needs, from time to time, write less emphatically. It is a fetter dance to the music of minute guns – not at sea, but in a region not a thousand miles from the Sahara. Still, I am half-way through volume three, and shall count myself unworthy of the name of an Englishman if I do not see the back of volume six. The countryman of Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Drake, Cook, etc.!

George Bancroft’s ‘History of the United States’, 6 voll. ed. 1878-1879 [http://i.ebayimg.com/]

George Bancroft (1800-1891) [http://www.nndb.com/]

David Livingstone (1813-1873) [http://4.bp.blogspot.com/]

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), English geographer, explorer, orientalist, Egyptologist and diplomat [http://2.bp.blogspot.com/]

John Hanning Speke (1827-1864), officer in the British Indian Army, explorer to Africa, associated with the search for the source of the Nile [http://www.klinebooks.com/]

Sir Francis Drake (1540-1696) [http://www.portcities.org.uk/]

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) [http://www.designaculture.com/]

I have been sweated not only out of my pleuritic fever, but out of all my eating cares, and the better part of my brains (strange coincidence!), by aconite.

Aconite (Aconitum napellus) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

I have that peculiar and delicious sense of being born again in an expurgated edition which belongs to convalescence. It will not be for long; I hear the breakers roar; I shall be steering head first for another rapid before many days; nitor aquis, said a certain Eton boy, translating for his sins a part of the Inland Voyage into Latin elegiacs; and from the hour I saw it, or rather a friend of mine, the admirable Jenkin, saw and recognised its absurd appropriateness, I took it for my device in life. […]

RLS’s friend, H.Ch. Fleeming Jenkin, Professor of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, inventor of the cable car or telpherage [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

 I am going for thirty now; and unless I can snatch a little rest before long, I have, I may tell you in confidence, no hope of seeing thirty-one. My health began to break last winter, and has given me but fitful times since then. This pleurisy, though but a slight affair in itself was a huge disappointment to me, and marked an epoch. To start a pleurisy about nothing, while leading a dull, regular life in a mild climate, was not my habit in past days; and it is six years, all but a few months, since I was obliged to spend twenty-four hours in bed. I may be wrong, but if the niting is to continue, I believe I must go. It is a pity in one sense, for I believe the class of work I might yet give out is better and more real and solid than people fancy. But death is no bad friend; a few aches and gasps, and we are done; like the truant child, I am beginning to grow weary and timid in this big jostling city, and could run to my nurse, even although she should have to whip me before putting me to bed. […]

Will you kiss your little daughter from me, and tell her that her father has written a delightful poem about her? Remember me, please, to Mrs. Gosse, to Middlemore, to whom some of these days I will write, to Meiklejohn, to Walter Pollock, yes, to Hake, and to Patterson. I know you will gnash your teeth at some of these; wicked, grim, catlike old poet. If I were God, I would sort you – as we say in Scotland.

Edmund Gosse with his family and aunt, the Scottish naturalist Eliza Elder Brightwen [http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/]

John Miller Dow Meiklejohn (1836-1902), professor of Education at St Andrews, 1876 [http://jmdmrevision.com/]

Walter Herries Pollock (1850–1926), English writer, poet, lecturer and journalist [http://media.vam.ac.uk/]

Thomas Gordon Hake (1809–1895), English poet and physician [http://images.npg.org.uk/]

[…] – Your sincere friend,


‘Too young to be our child’: blooming good.

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