1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

James Hogg to Lord Byron, 11 October 1814; Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 3:392-94.



Edin. Octr. 11th, 1814.

MY GOOD LORD, — I never was diverted by any correspondence so much as yours (leaving the honour out of the question), which I think is chiefly owing to the frankness and unaffectedness so apparent throughout the whole. There is so much heart in the praise which you bestow, and so little ill-nature in your censure — though fraught with the severity of truth, that even those blamed could hardly be offended, although they might feel it. I am really ashamed, and blame myself much, for having drawn so much of your attention and occupied so much of your precious time of late; therefore I lay my commands upon you not to answer this letter, which I only send in acknowledgment of your last so kind and benevolent one, which I found on my arrival here on the 8th. I will not harass nor teaze about poetry any more; but will wait the movements of the Spirit within you, with a patience and a resignation of which you shall be forced to approve, and, to put your heart perfectly at ease with regard to the time, I set none; only it shall be welcome when it comes, be that when it will.

Concerning myself and prospects, I have no good account to give your lordship at present. In truth, it seems with me one of fortune's most capricious moments. Every penny of the little foundation that I had laid, on which to rear a tiny independance, is by the failure of the damned bookseller you know vanished; — the third edition of the work on which I chiefly depended is locked up till such time as the bankrupt's affairs permit it to be brought to the hammer. The review of it, part of which was read to me in Mr. Jeffrey's MS. 5 months ago, and which is a compleat saviour, has again been deferred, for what reason I have yet to learn.

I told you I had sold an edition of a new poem to Constable and Miller; — on my return to town, after an absence of 3 weeks, by which time it was to have been published, I found it in the same state in which I left it, and the MS. taken out of the press and passing through all the notable blues. I went to the shop in a tremendous rage, threatened Miller with a prosecution, and took the MS. out of his hands. So that, if Murray and I do not agree, I am in a fine scrape. But I have the far worst thing of all to relate, and which in my own eyes crowns my misfortunes, and upon the whole renders my situation so whimsical that I cannot help laughing at it, for nothing of that nature makes me cry. I have differed with Scott, actually and seriously I fear, for I hear he has informed some of his friends of it. I have often heard poets in general blamed for want of common sense, yet I know that Scott has a great deal of it; but I fear he has had to do with one who had little or none at all.

I have never mentioned this to any living soul, nor would I, if I had not heard last night that Scott had mentioned it in a company, and that it was like to become publicly known. Therefore I must tell you all how it fell out, though I cannot explain it. At our last meeting it was most cordially agreed that he was not to appear in the first No. of the Repository, but to exert himself for the second. "The first," said he, "is secured if Lord Byron sends a piece of any length. With those which you already have, I shall take in hand to get you 500 for this number. The difficulty will be in keeping it up, therefore depend on it, I shall do my best to support the second No." All this was very well, till of late we had a correspondence about a drama that I was attempting. He sent a sheet of criticisms in his own shrewd sensible manner and most friendly. But in the last page he broke off and attacked me about some jealousies and comparisons between him and me so cavalierly, that I was driven completely out of myself, and, without asking any explanation (for I knew no more than the man in the moon what he adverted to), I took the pen and wrote a letter of the most bitter and severe reproaches. I have quite forgot what in my wrath I said; but I believe I went so far as to say everything which I knew to be the reverse of the truth, and which you in part well know — yea, to state that I had never been obliged to him (it was a great lie) and never would be obliged to him for any thing; and I fear I expressed the utmost contempt for both himself and his poetry!

This is all true, and yet I cannot believe that I am a madman either. The truth is that I must have erred in something to have deserved the reflections he cast upon me; but I was so conscious of never having in all my life said one word or thought one thought prejudicial to Scott, that I was hurt extremely. I suppose some unfortunate lines near the end of the Queen's Wake, which haply he did not know I had altered in the latter editions, gave rise to it — or, perhaps, some odious comparisons which my abominable bookseller had picked up out of some shabby reviews and published in the papers, and in which I had no more hand than you had.

Thus one of the best props of the Repository is irrevocably lost. If the other should likewise prove a bruised reed, why, every herring must hang by its own head. When you said to me once that your poetical days were drawing to a close, I had not the slightest idea that there was a fair Millbank in the question. I need not dun you for poetry now, faith you'll be milled well enough for a time; but I hope by the time you have tried the avocation of a miller for a month or two, that you will then begin jilting with the muse again. Believe me, the time of vigour, health, and anticipation is a precious time for the children of fancy and of song, and ought not to be neglected; and here I cannot help adverting to an old Scotish proverb, though I scarcely know how to apply it, "There's muckle water rins while the miller sleeps." By the by, I hope your's brings a good multure with her, rich and certain, then she will in truth be a Mill and a Bank both. I would not be ill to persuade to try the grinding too, as a last and desperate resource in these hard and evil times. I wish you would advise me of your day of entry, if it is not already past; and, by heaven, if my fair West Indian have as good a grist as she promises, I'll play you for the first poet, for the profits of our next new productions, — the one against the other.

I have not a word of literary news from this, having seen very few people since my return. Wordsworth's new poem is very little talked of here as yet, and Southey's not at all, I believe. I told you my sentiments of them at considerable (length). With regard to Mr. Scott's expected one, the public, I perceive, are hanging in a curious suspense — good reason has he to be anxious about its fate. By it he is established or falls. I know it will be excellent, and the scenes and even names of the Highlands he can make so much of. There is but one thing against it, and that is his being so much of a mannerist in stile, language, and character, that, whether in verse or prose, a partial reader thinks he is always reading the same thing. My fixed belief is that the public will receive it with great caution and a slowish sale, but that it will finally prevail. It is one of my greatest faults, my lord, that I always speak and write too precisely as I feel; but your own frankness to me encourages me to throw off all reserve when writing to you, which I hope you will excuse. Murray is probably by this time in Edinburgh. If so, you shall hear from me in a few days. Till then, I remain,

Your lordship's most affectionate and faithful shepherd,

JAMES HOGG.