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Leigh Hunt to Vincent Novello, 11 February 1822

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX
John Keats
Charles Lamb
Mary Lamb
Leigh Hunt
Douglas Jerrold
Charles Dickens
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Stonehouse, near Plymouth, Feb. 11th, 1822.

Oh Novello! what a disappointing, wearisome, vexatious, billowy, up-and-downy, unbearable, beautiful world it is! I cannot tell you all I have gone through since I wrote to you; but I believe, after all, that all has been for the best, bad as it is. The first stoppage, unavoidable as it was, almost put me beside myself. Those sunshiny days and moonlight nights! And the idea of running merrily to Gibraltar! I used to shake in my bed at night with bilious impatience, and feel ready to rise up and cry out. But knowing what I since know, I have not only reason to believe that my wife would have suffered almost as terribly afterwards as she did at the time, but I am even happy that we underwent the second stoppage at this place,—at least as happy as a man can be whose very relief arises from the illness of one dear to him. Marianne fell so ill the day on which the new vessel we had engaged sailed from Plymouth, that she was obliged to lose forty-six ounces of blood in twenty-four hours, to prevent inflammatory fever on the lungs. With the exception of a few hours she has been in bed ever since, sometimes improving, sometimes relapsing and obliged to lose more blood, but always so weak and so ailing that, especially during the return of these obstinate S.W. winds, I have congratulated myself almost every hour that circumstances conspired with my fears for her to hinder us from proceeding. Indeed I should never have thought of doing so after her Dartmouth illness, had she not, as she now confesses, in her eagerness not to be the means of detaining me again, misrepresented to me her power of bearing the voyage. I shall now set myself down contentedly till spring, when we shall have shorter nights, and she will be able to be upon deck in the daytime. She will then receive benefit from the sea, as she
ought to do, instead of being shaken by it; and as to gunpowder! be sure I shall always make inquiries enough about that. She starts sometimes to this hour in the middle of the night, with the horror of it, out of her sleep. It gave a sort of horrible sting to my feet sometimes as I walked the deck, and fancied we might all be sent shattered up in the air in the twinkling of an eye; but I seldom thought of this danger, and do not believe there was any to be seriously alarmed at, though the precautions and penalties connected with the carriage of such an article were undoubtedly sufficient to startle a freshwater imagination, to say nothing of that of a sick mother with six children. The worst feeling it gave me was when it came over me down in the cabin while we were comparatively comfortable,—especially when little baby was playing his innocent tricks. I used to ask myself what right I had to bring so much innocent flesh and blood into such an atrocious possibility of danger. But what used chiefly to rouse my horrors was the actual danger of shipwreck during the gales; and of these, as you may guess from my being imaginative, I had my full share. Oh the feelings with which I have gone out from the cabin to get news, and have stood at the top of that little staircase down which you all came to bid me goodbye! How I have thought of you in your safe, warm rooms, now merrily laughing, now “stopping the career of laughter with a sigh” to wonder how the “sailors” might be going on! My worst sensation of all was the impossibility I felt of dividing myself into seven different persons in case anything happened to my wife and children. But as the voyage is not yet over—remember, however, that the worst part, the winter part, is over. You shall have an account of that as well as the rest when I get to Italy and write it for the new work. Remember in the meantime what I tell you, and that we mean to be very safe, very cowardly, and vernal all the rest of the way. It was a little hard upon me,—was it not? that I could not have the [qu? reward—illegible] of finishing the voyage boldly at once, especially as it was such fine weather when they set off again, and I can go through any danger as stubbornly as most persons, provided you allow me a pale face and a considerable quantity of internal poltroonery:—
but my old reconciling philosophy, such as it is, has not forsaken me; and well it may remain, for God only knows what I should have done, had my wife been seized with this illness during the late return of the winds. I am very uneasy about her at all times: but in that case, considering too I might have avoided bringing her into such a situation, I should have been almost out of my wits. The vessel in which we intended to resume our journey (besides being more ornamental than solid, and never yet tried by a winter passage, except three days of one, which shattered it grievously) must have had a bad time of it; and it is the opinion of everybody here, both doctors and seamen, that her life was not to be answered for had we encountered such weather. So I look at her in her snug, unmoving bed, and hope and trust she is getting strength enough from repose to renew her journey in the spring. We set off in April.—As to myself, my health is not at its best, but it is not at its worst. I manage to write a little, though the weather has been against me. I read more, and sometimes go to the Plymouth public library, where a gentleman has got me admission, and receive infinite homage from Examinerions in these parts, who have found me out. They want me to meet a “hundred admirers” at a public dinner: but this, you know, is not to my taste. I tell them I prefer a cup of tea with one of them now and then in private, and so they take me at my word, and I find them such readers as I like,—good-natured, cordial men, with a smack of literature.—I saw the announcement of the 4th part of your “Fanchon” in the
London Magazine. You cannot imagine how the look of your name delighted me. You must know I had a design upon you for our new Italian work when I bore away your “Fanchon.” So, say nothing about it (I mean to myself), but wait for an increase of your laurel from a hand you love. I think it will come with a good and profitable effect from such a quarter.—Tell Mrs. Gliddon, albeit she retains a piece of them, that I have found the cheeks which she and her sister left in Devonshire. There is a profusion of such,—faces that look built up of cream and roses, and as good-natured as health can make them. In looking for lodgings I lit also upon a namesake of
hers, no relation, who spelt her name with a Y. I suppose a hundred and fiftieth cousin. She was a pleasant, chattering old woman with a young spirit, who, not being able to accommodate us herself, recommended her neighbours all round, and told me millions of things in a breath.—Dear Novello, I cannot tell you how I feel the kindness of my friends,—kindness, of which I know that you and
Mrs. Novello, together with Bessie Kent, have been the souls. God bless you all. I will say more to you all from Italy. You will see my hand in the Examiner again in a week or two (about the time I could have written on the subject from abroad) with a few touches for Southey and the Quarterly.—It delights me to see the intimacy there is between you and Miss K.; she speaks in the most affectionate terms of you and your wife, and receives all the solace from your intercourse which I expected. Take a dozen hearty shakes of the hand from me, dear Novello, and give (you see how much I can ask of you) as many kisses of the same description to Mrs. Novello, unless “dear Mr. Arthur” is present and will do it for us. Convey also as many kisses to Mrs. Gliddon as the said dear Mr. Arthur could have given my wife had she been at your Christmas festivities, taking care (as in the former instance) that they be in high taste and most long and loud.—And so, Heaven bless you all and make us to send many good wishes to and from Italy to each other till we meet again face to face.—Your affectionate friend,

Leigh Hunt.

P.S.—I can tell you nothing of the Plymouth neighbourhood, being generally occupied with my wife’s bedside; but the town is a nice clean one; and after being at Dartmouth I felt all the price of Mirabeau’s gratitude, who when he came into England, and saw streets paved, fell on his knees and thanked God there was a country in the world where some regard was had for foot-passengers. Dartmouth is a kind of sublime Wapping, being a set of narrow muddy streets in a picturesque situation on the side of a hill. The people too, poor creatures, are as dirty there as can be, having lost all their trade; whereas at Plymouth they are all fat and flourishing.—Stonehouse is a kind of separate suburb to Plymouth
on the seashore.—My wife’s kindest remembrances.—And mine to all rememberers.