1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Francis Hodgson

James Montgomery to Francis Hodgson, 16 April 1822; Memoir of Francis Hodgson (1878) 2:92-95.



Sheffield: April 16, 1822.

Rev. and dear Sir, — I did not acknowledge the kindness of your former letter, enclosing the spirited ode "to the glorious Greeks," because I would not unnecessarily trouble you, and I hoped that some opportunity might fall in my way of personally expressing my sense of the obligation. At the concert — where I had the pleasure to meet you — this was upon my mind; and if my face could speak, I am sure your eye would have heard it say "thank you," though in the hurry of that strange evening, when, under considerable bodily indisposition, both intellect and senses were bewildered with the enchantment of Catalani's song, the words which I meant to utter before we parted never reached my tongue, and you were vanished before I discovered, as usual, that with the best intentions in the world I do everything either in the worst manner or not at all. Your second letter, accompanying another patriotic ode — for patriotic it is from a scholar, the country of whose heart is Greece; Greece in her glory, and Greece fallen, and above all Greece about to rise again with the spirit that animated her of old — your second letter, I say, accompanying that ode, and manifesting equal friendliness towards one whom you only know in his most advantageous disguise, that of an author, requires an explicit expression of gratitude, and this should have been offered by the return of your messenger, had I been at home when your favour arrived. I take, therefore, the earliest opportunity, after my return from Liverpool, where I was last week, to say that I am deeply your debtor for the spontaneous and unmerited cordiality of your invitation to better acquaintance. Should any occasion lead me into your neighbourhood, I shall be happy to call and acknowledge personally the feelings which such kindness could not fail to awaken in one who is tremblingly sensitive to "every touch of joy or woe," but who is exceedingly — nervously — miserably, I may say — shy and fearful to meet countenances which he does not see every day — even those of old friends and near relatives. But I must not tell you all my folly and weakness at once; you will soon see me through and through, for I am as transparent and as frail too as a bubble, and if I am but touched unexpectedly I break. I know you will forgive me if I say, in the ode which I have sent, that I shrink from the sentiment so boldly and poetically expressed in the third stanza. The lines perhaps are the best in the whole piece, but yet I wish you to alter them for reasons which I need not explain — indeed which I cannot explain, except by saying that the unqualified presumption that all who die in a good and glorious cause are raised to "eternal heaven" may be very much misunderstood. The doctrine would be literally orthodox on the side of the Turks; but I fear that it might be dangerous to affirm (though only under poetical license) the same on the part of Christians, who may certainly be heroes and martyrs in the cause of their country, but who are not therefore, without some higher preparation of heart, made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The frankness with which I mention this will prove that if you honour me with your friendship and confidence, I shall not abuse it by meanness or insincerity. Will you then have the goodness to reconsider this stanza; and if you adopt fame or glory, etc. for heaven, I doubt not you may support the verse with equal dignity, and give no offence to timid consciences like mine; and I am neither afraid nor ashamed to confess that in things relating to eternity and the issues of human life in reference to an immortal state hereafter, my conscience is timid. Should you adopt this recommendation, I shall with pleasure adorn a column of the "Iris" with your splendid lines. Meanwhile I am, with great respect and esteem,

Your obliged friend and servant,

J. MONTGOMERY.