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.
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.
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.!
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.
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. […]
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.[…] – Your sincere friend,
‘Too young to be our child’: blooming good.