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letter I took up his book for the first time for two or three
years, and found much more spirituality — i.e., Christianity —
than I expected. While I think of it, let me affirm my
belief that Christians feel this spirit of Pantheism much
better than the ancient Pantheists did themselves. The
mythology of the ancients is a congregation of beauties,
but I believe that we moderns feel them much more than
they were ever felt by any, save perhaps the inventors of
the mythology themselves. I confess a great antipathy to
the Greek character, and a greater still to the Romans
The personal beauty of the former has prejudiced people in
their favour. I am no believer in personal beauty, and find
great pleasure in believing, with the traditions of the first
three centuries, that Christ was a little, ugly, insignificant
person. Write soon, for it gives me great pleasure, and
does me much good to hear from you, and believe me,

Your friend,

Coventry K. Patmore.

British Museum,

March 16, 1847.
My Dear Sutton,

I must answer your letter before the thoughts which
it has called up in me have lost their freshness. I see that
letters, however long, will not answer our purposes. We
are the fools of language. I think that I am speaking my
mind, when in fact I am doing no such thing. Words,
even with the aid of the voice's emphasis, the body's
gestures, and the face's expression, are poor weak things.
What are they then without such aids ? I think I must
make a pilgrimage to Nottingham, in order that we may
gather from each other's presence what we would but can-
not say with our words. I doubt whether, without personal


intercourse, we shall ever be able to arrive at an expression
of our agreement on some points concerning which our
words differ. For instance, I am sure we really are at one
upon the question of the source of faith and the proper
mental construction of man ; but how wide apart are our
expressions touching it ! I have also completely failed
in making you understand the sort of pleasure I take in
believing as I do concerning the personal appearance of
Christ. I'll try again at this however ; know then that my
rejoicing is relative, not absolute. I am glad because the
fact reconciles other facts to me, which were once the source
of some disturbance to my mind. I should indeed be
grieved if I thought that the lovely symbol were to be for
ever separated from the symbolized loveliness. You ask
me what I am doing ? Nothing, although I am working very
hard. And indeed if there were not reasons just now for
my working in this manner I should still fear to do any-
thing just yet. I must remain fallow for a season. It
would be absurd for me to set up for instructor before I am
better instructed myself; I must take the beam out of my
own eye, that I may see to remove the mote from my
brother's. My mind is also exceedingly disturbed at pre-
sent. The mirror, though not cracked I hope, is much clouded.

I have seen your friend and disciple, and am much
charmed with him. I envy his spontaneous and enthusiastic
mind and heart, which might almost " do God's work and
know it not."

I long to see your book. I have told Fryer to put my
subscription down for six. If I can get more I will.
Write soon, and believe me
Your friend,

Coventry K. Patmore.

British Museum,

March 21, 1847.
My Dear Friend,

I write to thank you for your letter, and to beg that
you will continue to notice my letters as speedily as you
have hitherto done. Your last requires an answer. You
ask me indeed for a brief critique on Carlyle, and I would
willingly have given one, had not our friend Fryer read me
a critique^ upon him, in relation to Emerson, which is far

' By H. S. S.


more accurate and far-sighted than what I should have
written about him. If I can get to Nottingham consistently
with other plans which I must carry out, depend upon it I
will. I think that you underrate the benefit I should derive
from a visit to you, intellectually speaking. I should be
able to tell by your eye and voice what you meant, much
better than by the clearest letters. I am waiting anxiously
to see your book. From what Alfred Fryer says of it, I
expect that I shall be inclined to commence a sharp con-
troversy with you, if you will consent to take part in it,
I entertain some very firmly fixed opinions as to the
perfectly well defined limits to which intellectual research
should be confined — and, if I mistake not, you differ from
me altogether on this important point. Don't fear my
reading Coleridge too much. It is two or three years since
I read anything of him, and it will probably be five years
more before I return to the study of his works.

I don't agree with you as to the transitory good of talk-
ing. In fact, I question whether it would not be better for
those who really can think, to abstain entirely from the
time-wasting process of writing. Anybody may write :
very few dare think. I am certain that my views of art, for
instance, can never be lost, if I never put them upon paper.
I have told them to two or three, and the seed is sown !

Fryer took his leave of me the day before yesterday, to
my great regret. The sight of him has done me great
good, I hope. Alas ! I must, I fear, for ever remain one of
Emerson's " Sayers." But how far more blessed are the
doers ! among whom I count Alfred Fryer and his sweet
friend Miss Rice. Yours affectionately,

Coventry K. Patmore.

March 25, 1847.
My Dear Friend,

Your letter makes me look with the greater eager-
ness for the appearance of your work. Fryer tells me he has
the first half sheet in print, and that it abounds with out-
of-the-way expressions. What a pity ! Surely our great
language is sufficient for any purpose. The infinitely
subtle Coleridge found it so. I fear you underrate the
evil effects that must result from an eccentric phraseology.
Uncommon things must be said in common words, if you
would have them to be received in less than a century.


Common things derive advantage and seeming novelty
from strange expressions ; but if you really have any great
new truth or truths to publish, depend upon it that an un-
accustomed phraseology will seriously diminish the effect
which you desire to produce.

My opinions about the limits of knowledge apply only
to the present time. A time is coming, I hope, when we
shall know as we are known ; but until that time comes,
I will steadily look at the few truths which seem to be
essential to right action, and all other knowledge I will
possess as if I possessed it not. Or rather (alas !) I must
say that I desire to will to do so !

If I live, I shall write some more poems — but not yet.
My mind is in a transitory state, and any work of art
which I could produce now would be like a figure made
partly in iron and partly in clay. As for the relative value
of talking and writing we have perhaps both of us been in
the wrong, you undervaluing the former, I the latter.
Christ, you know, never wrote ; nor did Socrates, and none
of the greatest and world-influencing men who have ever
lived. The first did all by his words and actions, the
second all by his words ; for his actions, after all, make a
very poor show. Many a malefactor has died as courage-
ously as Socrates, and his life, we know, was of a very
questionable character.

I entertain just now a great many dislikes. Carlyle is
one. He worships only power and intellect — which are
attributes of the devil as well as of God. But I feel I
shall like him better, when I shall have time to think more
about him.

I should very much like to see your book, sheet by
sheet, as it is printed. Will it be convenient to let me
have it so ?

Write soon, and believe me
Affectionately yours

Coventry K. Patmore.

March 31, 1847.
My Dear Sutton,

What you say about language is quite true ; I never
doubted it. The kind of novelty you advocate is not the
kind I complain of Of this latter kind there are fewer in-
stances in the pages you have sent me than I expected to


find from what Fryer said to me about them. Still I
should like very much to know how you justify to yourself
the employment of such unheard-of expressions as " un-
useful," " sensated," " Alexander Pope," etc., when " use-
less," " felt," and " Pope " would express the same things,
if I mistake not.

I know you can stand criticism cheerfully : therefore I
venture to inform you of my belief that nearly all those
portions of your phraseology which are " out of the com-
mon " are not the natural and beautiful developments of
your individual genius, but unconscious imitations of Emer-
son's affectations. Your own style is strong, simple, and
yet English, which makes the Americanisms into which you
sometimes fall sound all the more discordant. Of the sub-
stance of your book I will say nothing until I shall have
read the whole of it. It would be quite useless for me
to attempt to give you any idea of my theories upon art
within the compass of a single, or even of half a dozen
letters. We must wait till we meet. Meantime I shall be
really grateful to you if you will communicate to me, at
your earliest leisure, the grounds upon which you set aside
all that the Bible says, or seems to say, upon future punish-
ment. What you say about one's always being in a " tran-
sition state " is very true, and I can only excuse myself to
you for not writing anything at present by assuring you
that I entertain serious doubts as to the utility of art. The
most profligate ages have always been the most artistical
— Pericles, Augustus, Leo X., etc. ; and, of all classes of men,
that for which I have from experience the least respect is
the class of artists — including poets, painters, musicians,
and critics.

If you can prove to me that my fears of the lawfulness of
Art are unfounded, you may perhaps do much towards
the production of a new poem by the writer of " Sir Hubert."
I admire and love you for your ideas upon Providence.
They are, and long have been, mine also, but I am less in
the habit of contemplating and acting upon them than you
seem to be.

Pardon this hurried scrawl, to write which I have put
off material business, and believe me always yours affec-

Coventry K. Patmore.

12, Arundel Street, Strand.


Museum, April 5, '47.

My Dear Friend,

I see that you think the less of me for my minute
criticisms. You think the subjects trifling, and it follows if
you are right, that the critic is a trifler. But I have learnt
by experience that an attention, or want of attention to
style is no trifle. A few phrases like those I noticed in
your book have drowned my book, as far as regards popu-
larity; and popularity, after all, is a thing for which we
ought to seek, although we ought not to sacrifice much to
it. I will not say anything against your hero Emerson
for the future, since you do not like it ; but I would advise
you to study the writings of Dr. Arnold, if you have not
yet done so. Coleridge also I think would be of great use
to you.

What you oppose to my doubt of the legitimacy of art
is not without weight ; but I feel far more confidence than
you do in the deductions to be drawn from History. I long
to begin my remarks upon the sheets you have sent me.

Let me now warn you, my dear friend, against judging
of me by what I write to you just now. I am at present
in my matter of fact phase of existence, or rather of en-
deavour and thought. Therefore you must receive all that
I say with a certain degree of caution. I have passed
through several phases. Three years ago I was in the
Emersonian phase : one year ago I was in the Calvinistic
Faith-versus-Work phase, and so on. I have not a many-
sided mind: I can only do one thing at the time. I shall
strive, under your tuition, to enter upon the Love phase ;
for Love, like Belief and everything else, seems to be
a matter, not perhaps of the will, but certainly of choice.
Yours affectionately,

Coventry K. Patmore.

British Museum,

April 14, 1847.
My Dear Friend,

What I mean by my book being damned by a few
eccentric and affected phrases is this ; that, whereas my
verses have now perhaps a couple of hundred readers to
whom they may be of service, but for my foolish haste to
publish before my taste was matured — or rather, I should
not say foolish for I was conscious of the defective character


of the book from the first ; but I had been brought up with-
out any means of getting my living, and pubHshed in the
hope — which has been more than fulfilled — that what I had
indicated of capacity might obtain for me friends who
would supply this defect of education.

It is all very true what you say about the absence of any
absolute necessity for popularity ; but if an author can,
without sacrifice, get his works read without the mediation
of time, puffers, and interpreters, I don't see why he should
not do so. I don't care a fig for popularity for myself; but,
if I believe that my writings contain that which is capable
of doing their readers good, I cannot but grieve if it has
been my own fault — as in the present instance it has — that
I have not had more readers. However, I do not grieve in
this instance, as I question whether my poems are capable
of doing good to any but those who are much better than
the writer of them himself The tone of the " River " is
unmanly ; that of the " Woodman's Daughter " is of doubt-
ful morality, and portions of " Lilian " are not of doubtful
morality at all, but of most decided weakness and sensu-
ality. "Sir Hubert" is alone healthy in its general tone —
but that can do little general good. The times of chivalry
— the times when such love was beautiful — are gone for
ever. I will hold to my purpose of not saying anything
about your book till I have seen it all. I have no very
important alterations to suggest. I am much struck with
some of the ideas — but I must think more before I say any-
thing about them. But do not let all our talk be of " miser-
able books" ! ! ! Let me tell you that I love you more
every letter I receive from you — and a minute of the sense
of love is better than a play of Shakespeare's. And I love
Alfred Fryer so too. He is a noble fellow and will be
much nobler. But he must think and read a great deal
yet. He requires more reading and thought than I do
who have not his enthusiasm. If he really studies Coleridge
it will do him immense good. Tell him he must not publish
for six or seven years yet at least. I think you have far
more authority with him than I have : therefore you must
tell him this. Tell him that enthusiasm without knowledge
is fanaticism ; that knowledge without enthusiasm or love is
demoniacal, but that knowledge wedded to enthusiasm is
Angelic. Your affectionate friend,

Coventry Patmore.


Museum, April 24, 1847.

My Dear Friend,

I have been very much pressed for time and have
been unable to answer your letter till now, and even now I
cannot write at anything like the length I would wish.

You ask me for a poem in my handwriting. Really
I am at a loss to send you one worthy of your acceptance.
Fryer has had the only ones that are good for much and
have not been published in my volume. However, I must
ask you to accept two bad ones in place of one good one.

The rain drops down the dreary air.
The branches bend, with east-winds rife,
My thoughts are turn'd within, and there
I see the riddle of my life.

Now, God, take back this bitter breath,
And stop this hot, soul-sickening strife
And let me die ; perhaps my death
Will solve the riddle of my life.

The sun shines out, the soft winds fan.
The thrushes flute, the linnets fife !
Now let me live, for now I can
Forget the riddle of my life.

Practical atheism ! no more, no less — but that was four
years ago. Here's another, more healthy :

You never loved me. Lady! What? were all your kind

ways feign'd ?
You then have missed the triumph which you dreamed

that you had gain'd !
I never lov'd you. Lady. Prithee, why that angry start ?
Thought you a broken plaything to make of a manly

heart ?
The maid I loved was merciful. O, I have seen her tread
The pathway through the meadows, and spare each daisy's

She felt for the mere dew-drop, if she brush'd it from the

grass :
You seem'd that maid ; and she you seem'd, I lov'd : — not

you, alas !

It would take me more time than I can now spare to


confute your argument in favour of my poems. Let us
forget them. The next book will be a very different affair,
I hope.

April 26. To-morrow I go with my brother to be con-
firmed. I am now engaged in preparing my mind for
what I cannot but regard as the most solemn occasion of
my life. The more I think and read and pray, the more
profoundly am I convinced of the justice of the views I
am taught by the Churches of England and Rome. My
dear Sutton, you are all wrong about hell and the devil.
There is as certainly a hell and a devil as a Heaven and a
God — or, at least such is the case for me. If I don't go to
Heaven, I shall go to Hell — not the grave merely, but to
unimaginable extasies of pain and horror. This is a " fact
of consciousness " (to use the modern slang) for me. I
don't deny that your belief may be the fact for you. Hell
has clearly never been revealed to you, as it has been to
me and to Coleridge and most Christians. Knowledge of
good and evil, to such an extent, may not have been judged,
by God, to be necessary for you. I have written to one or
two friends to ask for their prayers upon the occasion of
my Confirmation. Will you let me have yours ?

If you are writing to Fryer, be so kind as to convey my
apology for my long silence to him. I will write to him
and again to you in a day or two.

Yours affectionately,

Coventry Patmore.


29, King Street,

Library, Museum,

May 4, 1847.
My Dear Friend,

Thank you for the additional sheets of your book
Thank you also for informing me that they contain " high
treason " against my present creed ; for by doing so they
have saved me the pain and disturbance which might have
been caused by their perusal. I shall not think of reading
anything treasonous against my creed in my present state
of feeling about it. If you loved a woman, would you not
think it high treason to read or listen to a libel against her
character ? I love the Church, and have never loved her so
much as now that I have given an obedience, which . has


been long due from me, to this one of her most important
ordinances — Confirmation, I am stronger, more loving and
clear-sighted, therefore happier, for this obedience. If I
have obtained, as I feel that I have, the blessing of God
through the hands of his Bishop — what does the modus
operandi matter to me ?

Since you say, or rather imply, that you could not speak
of the ordinances of the Church of England without ridi-
culing them, I am very glad you have abstained altogether
from speaking of them. Let us never broach any topic
connected with our peculiar views upon religious and eccle-
siastical matters. There is the wide and glorious field of
Nature, in which we may walk hand in hand rejoicing.
Let us confine ourselves to that — for the present at least.

Yours affectionately,

Coventry K. Patmore.

Museum, Monday, May lo, 1847.

My Dear Friend

I regret to find that I am in the habit of expressing
myself so imperfectly, that I have generally to write to you
a second letter to explain the first. It is not that I at all
doubt the truth of my position with regard to the Church
of England, that I refuse to hear anything against it. It is
precisely because I believe that I have arrived at the truth,
and that it is consequently my duty to keep myself from
any temptation to scepticism — temptations to which I have
been already too open and from which I have suffered
dreadfully. I will now no longer run the risk of being
tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. I believe I
have attained the truth ; and it would be tempting God to
expose my weak intellect — for it is weak though it may be
wide — to the shocks of plausible arguments against my
faith. I am happy as I am : my creed is exceedingly toler-
ant, and busies itself with my own salvation and judges no
one ; and I am sure that it will be my own fault, if it does
not lead me into the pure life of Christianity, if it does not
make my path like " the shining light which shineth more
and more unto the perfect day."

After all we agree upon all vital points. If you were not
so strong as you are, I should try to reason with you of
judgment to come, like Paul to Felix. But to you indi-


vidually the doctrine of hell would be useless. Therefore
we morally harmonize. I might question the wisdom of
endeavouring to impress others with your negative notions
of sin ; but that will be taken care of by God, who will not
allow your book to fall into the hands of those to whom it
would do harm.

Yours affectionately,

Coventry Patmore.

29 King Street, Bloomsbury,

June 10, 1847.

My Dear Sutton,

I suppose you have heard from Fryer the cause of
the occupation which has been the reason of my delay in
writing to you. If not, know now that my love has been
accepted by a lady whom I will not try to speak of to you,
because my words sound only like the ordinary ravings of
a lover to you who do not know her. Ever since my en-
gagement, I have spent every spare hour either with her or
in writing to her ; and you will understand and excuse me
when I say, the interest of all other intercourse has been,
for a time, destroyed. This is quite a cold duty that I am
performing, in writing to you, and this, and all other duties,
as I have just written to my Emily, will be coldly done
until the uneven joys of Courtship have passed into the
profound peace of Marriage.

You will, I am sure, applaud my candour, and wait
patiently for the renewal of a reasonable correspondence,
until such time as cooler reason shall have returned to the
soul of your sincere friend,

Coventry Patmore.

British Museum,

Nov. 5, 1847.

My Dear Sutton,

Pardon me for not having answered your letter be-
fore. I hope you will not retaliate by as long a delay in
making a reply to this. I am by very much happier than
I conceived, when I first knew you, that it was possible for
me to be. I do really believe that I shall maintain a true
progress in spirituality. Will you aid me by giving me a
few details of your own experience ? I wish particularly to
know what have been the results, bodily and mentally, of


your experiments in diet. My constitution is very delicate,
and I must be careful. I desire greatly to " mortify the
lusts of the flesh " after your way, but I dread the effect of
such a course upon my health — upon which others (for in
June next my wife will present me with a little one) now
depend for support. Pray favour me with full means of
judging upon this point.

Faithfully yours,

Coventry K. Patmore.

Nov. i6, 1847.

My Dear Sutton,

Thank you very much for your letter. I shall try
your plan, but gradually. I shall begin by taking meat
only three times a week, and leaving off tea, salt and warm
things entirely. If this agrees with me for a month I shall
go further, and so on. I long to see you. Can you manage
to come up and stay with us for a month or six weeks ? I
believe I should get much good from you ; and you might
get a little from me, if only from the exercise which my
opposition to some of your doctrines and to some of your
very principles of judgment would give your mind. If
you come you shall have a room to yourself where you can
be by yourself whenever you wish.

You are mistaken in imagining that I am in the least
disposed to rest in my present comparative happiness. I
live in the hope of learning, ere I die, to detest life as we
have it here.

Yours ever,

Coventry Patmore.

P.S. — Did you put your diet system in full practice at
once, or gradually ?

Museum, Jan. 3rd, 1848.
My Dear Sutton,

I cannot tell you how vexed I was at missing the
opportunity of seeing you. I console myself with think-
ing that the accident was Providential. You might by your
presence and your superior weight of character, have left
me a believer in doctrines which, if not erroneous, are at
least " strong meat," and more than my weak stomach could

Online LibraryBasil ChampneysMemoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 36)