505. To William Godwin Address: Mr Godwin | Polygon | Sommers' Town | London MS. Lord Abinger. Pub. Macmillan's Magazine, April 1864, p. 532. Postmark: 18 June 1808. Stamped: Keswick. Friday, June 10, 1808. Greta Hall My dear Godwin Your Letter has this moment reached me, & found me writing for Stuart, to whom I am under a positive engagement to produce three Essays by the beginning of next week. 1 To promise therefore to do, what I could not do, would be somewhat worse than idle: & to attempt to do, what I could not do well, from distraction of mind, would be trifling with my Time, & your patience. -- If I could convey to you any tolerably distinct notion of the state of my Spirits of late, & the train & the sort of my ideas consequent on that state, you would feel instantly, that my non-performance of the promise is matter of Regret with me indeed, but not of Compunction. It was my full intention to have prepared immediately a second volume of poems for the Press; 2 but tho' the poems are all either written, or composed, excepting only the conclusion of one Poem (= to 4 days' common work) & a few corrections, & tho' I had the most pressing motives for sending them off; yet after many attempts I was obliged to give up the very Hope -- the attempts acted so perniciously on my disorder. -- Wordsworth too wished, & in a very particular manner expressed the wish, that I should write to him at large on a poetic subject, which he has at present sub malleo ardentem et ignitum -- I made the attempt -- but I could not command my recollections. It seemed a Dream, that I had ever thought on Poetry -- or had ever written it -- so remote were my Trains of Ideas from Composition, or Criticism on Composition. -- These two instances will in some measure explain my non-performance; but indeed I have been VERY ILL -- & that I have done any thing in any way is a subject of wonder to ____________________ 1 No such contributions to the Morning Post have been identified. 2 Although Coleridge did not issue a 'second volume', the third edition of his Poem was published by Longman and Rees in 1803. It was seen through the press by Charles Lamb. ( Lamb Letters, i. 346-50.) -950- myself, and of no causeless Self-complacency. -- Yet I am anxious to do something, which may convince you of my sincerity & Zeal; and if you think that it will be of any service to you, & will send down the Work, I will instantly give it a perusal con amore -- & partly by my reverential Love of Chaucer, & partly from my affectionate Esteem for his Biographer, the summer too bringing increase of Health with it, I doubt not, that my old mind will recur to me; and I will FORTHWITH write a series of Letters containing a critique on Chaucer, & on the Life of Chaucer by W. Godwin, 1 and publish them with my name either at once in a small volume -- or in the Morning Post in the first instance -- & republish them afterwards --. The great Thing to be done is to present Chaucer stripped of all his adventitious matter -- his Translations & -- to analyse his own real productions -- to deduce his Province, & his Rank / then to compare him with his Contemporaries, or immediate both Prede-and Successors, first as an Englishman, & secondly as a Europaean -- then with Spencer, & with Shakespere, between whom he seems to stand mid way, with however a manner of his own which belongs to neither -- both a manner & an excellence -- lastly, to compare Dante, & Chaucer, (& inclusively Spencer, & Shakespere) with the Ancients, to abstract the characteristic Differences, & to develope the causes of such Differences. -- (For instance, in all the writings of the ancients I recollect nothing that strictly examined can be called Humour -- yet Chaucer abounds with it -- and Dante too, tho' in a very different way -- Thus too, the passion for Personifications -- & me judice, strong sharp practical good Sense, which I feel to constitute a strikingly characteristic Difference in favor of the feudal Poets.) As to information, I could give you a critical sketch of Poems, written by contemporaries of Chaucer, in Germany -- [an] Epic, to compare with his Palamon & Arcite -- Tales with his Tales ----- descriptive & fanciful with those of the same kind in our own Poet --. In short, a Life of Chaucer ought in the work itself, & in the appendices of the work, to make the Poet explain his Age, & to make the Age both explain the Poet, & evince the superiority of the Poet over his Age. ----- I think that the publication of such a work would do your work some little service in more ways than one / it would occasion necessarily a double Review of it in all the Reviews -- & there is a large Class of fashionable men, who have been pleased of late to take me into high favor, & among whom even my name might have some influence, & my praises of you some Weight. -- But let me hear from you on the Subject. -- Now for my own business. -- As soon as you possibly can do ____________________ 1 Godwin Life of Chaucer was published in Oct 1803. -951- something respecting the Abridgement of Search, do so: you will, on my honor, be doing good, in the best sense of the word. -- Of course, I cannot wish you to do any thing till after the 24th -unless it should lie pat in your way to read that part of [my] Letter to Phillips. As to my own work, let me correct one or two imperfect conceptions of your's respecting it. -- I could, no doubt, induce my friends to publish the work for me: but I am possessed of facts, that deter me -- I know, that the Booksellers not only do not encourage, but that they use unjustifiable artifices to injure works published on the Author's own account -- It never answered, as far as I can find, in any instance. And even the sale of a first Edition is not without Objections, on this Score -- to this however I should certainly adhere -- & it is my resolution. -- But I must do something immediately/ Now if I knew that any Bookseller would purchase the first Edition of this work, as numerous as he pleases, I should put the work out of hand at once, totus in illo -- but it was never my intention to send one single sheet to the Press, till the whole was bonĂ¢ fide ready for the Printer, that is, both written, & fairly written. -- The work is half-written out; & the materials of the other Half are all on paper -- or rather, on papers -- &c in my Hand. I should not expect one farthing, till the work was delivered entire -- and I would deliver it all at once, if it were wished. But if I cannot engage with a Bookseller for this, I must do something else first -- which I should be sorry for. ----- Your Division of the sorts of works acceptable to Booksellers is just -- & what has been always my own notion -- or rather knowlege -- but tho' I detailed the whole of the contents of my work so fully to you, I did not mean to lay any Stress with the Bookseller on the first Half, but simply state it as preceded by a familiar Introduction, & critical History of Logic -- on the Work itself I meant to lay all the Stress, as a work really in request -- & non-existent, either well or ill-done -- & to put the work in the same class with Guthrie, & Books of practical Instruction -- for the Universities, first Classes of Schools, Lawyers, &c &c ----- It's profitable Sale will greatly depend on the Pushing of the Bookseller, and on it's being considered as a practical Book -- Organum verè organum -- a book, by which the Reader is to acquire not only Knowlege, but likewise Power. -- I fear, that it may extend to 700 pages -- & would it be better to publi[sh] the Introduction & History separately, either after or before? -- God bless you -- & all Hon[or] to you & your Chaucer -- all Happiness [to] you, your Wife, & your -- S. T. C. P.S. If you read to Phillips any part of my Letter respecting my -952- own work, or rather detailed it to him, you would lay all the Stress on the Practical.