[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1254.]
To W.E. Henley [Covin 1911, 2, pp. 211-213]
La Solitude, Hyères, April 20th, 1884
I have been really ill for two days, hemorrhage, weakness, extreme nervousness that will not let me lie a moment, and damned sciatica o’ nights; but to-day I am on the recovery. Time; for I was miserable. It is not often that I suffer, with all my turns and tumbles, from the sense of serious illness; and I hate it, as I believe everybody does. And then the combination of not being able to read, not being allowed to speak, being too weak to write, and not wishing to eat, leaves a man with some empty seconds. But I bless God, it’s over now; to-day I am much mended.
Insatiable gulf, greedier than hell, and more silent than the woods of Styx, have you or have you not lost the dedication to the Child’s Garden? Answer that plain question, as otherwise I must try to tackle to it once again.
Sciatica is a word employed much by Shakespeare in a certain connection.
‘Tis true, he was no physician, but as I read, he had smarted in his day. I, too, do smart. And yet this keen soprano agony, these veins of fire and bombshell explosions in the knee, are as nothing to a certain dull, drowsy pain I had when my kidneys were congested at Nice;
there was death in that; the creak of Charon’s rowlocks, and the miasmas of the Styx.
I may say plainly, much as I have lost the power of bearing pain, I had still rather suffer much than die. Not only the love of life grows on me, but the fear of certain odd end-seconds grows as well. ‘Tis a suffocating business, take it how you will; and Tyrrel and Forest only bunglers.
Well, this is an essay on death, or worse, on dying: to return to daylight and the winds, I perceive I have grown to live too much in my work and too little in life. ‘Tis the dollars do it: the world is too much.
Whenever I think I would like to live a little, I hear the butcher’s cart resounding through the neighbourhood; and so to plunge again.
The fault is a good fault for me; to be able to do so, is to succeed in life; and my life has been a huge success. I can live with joy and without disgust in the art by which I try to support myself; I have the best wife in the world […];
I have rather more praise and nearly as much coin as I deserve; my friends are many and true-hearted.
Sir, it is a big thing in successes. And if mine anchorage lies something open to the wind, Sciatica, if the crew are blind, and the captain spits blood, one cannot have all, and I may be patched up again, who knows? ‘His timbers yet are (indifferently) sound, and he may float again.’
[Words written by William Cooper in 1782 to commemorate the tragic loss of the ship the Royal George. This tune is a march written by Handel for ‘Scipio’, 1725.]
Thanks for the word on Silverado.
[…] Yours ever,
The Sciaticated Bard