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Leigh Hunt to Vincent Novello, 24 June 1817

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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Albion House, Marlowe, Bucks’, June 24th, 1817.

My dear Novello,—You must not think ill of me for having omitted to write to you before, except, indeed, as far as concerned an old bad habit of delay in these matters, which all my friends have reproved in turn, and which all help to spoil me by excusing. I begged Mr. Clarke to let you know how much we liked the piano here; but when you wrote about poor Wesley, I happened myself to be suffering under a pretty strong fever, which lasted me from one Friday to the next, and from which I did not quickly recover. I have since got well again, however, and yet I have not written; nay, I am going to make an excuse out of my very

3 [Thanks to Vincent Novello, this is now the case. C. C. C., 1875.]

impudence (I hope the ladies are present), and plainly tell you, that the worse my reason is for writing at last, the better you will be pleased with it, for we are coming home tomorrow. If that will not do, I have another piece of presumption, which I shall double my thrust with, and fairly run you through the heart; and this is, that we are coming to live near you, towards the end of the new road, Paddington.

I am sorry I can tell you nothing about the music of this place, except as far as the birds make it. I say the music, because it seems there are a party of the inhabitants who are fond of it. At least, I was invited the other day in a very worshipful manner to one, and regret I was not able to go, as I fear it might have been misconstrued into pride. There are other things, however, which you are fond of—beautiful walks, uplands, valleys, wood, water, steeples issuing out ot clumps of trees, most luxuriant hedges, meads, cornfields, brooks, nooks, and pretty looks. (Here a giggle, and a shake of the head from the ladies. Ave and Salve, be quiet.) The other day a party of us dined in a boat under the hanging woods of Cleveden—mentioned, you know, by Pope:—
Cleveden’s proud alcove
The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and Love.
(Giggle and shake) and a day or two before we spent a most beautiful day, dining, talking, wining, spruce-beering, and walking, in and about Medmenham Abbey, where strangers are allowed to take this liberty in memory of a set of “lay friars” who are said to have taken many more,—I mean
Wilkes and his club, who feasted and slept here occasionally, performing profane ceremonies, and others perhaps which the monks would have held to be not quite so. (Giggle and shake.)—If these people were the gross libertines they were said to be, the cause of kindly virtue was indeed in bad hands,—hands but just better than the damnatory and selfish ones to which the world has usually committed it;—but there is little reason to doubt that the stories of them (such as the supposed account for instance in “Crysal, or the
Adventures of a Guinea”) have been much exaggerated. If men of the most heartfelt principle do not escape, although they contradict in theory only the vile customs of the world, what can be expected from more libertine departers from them?—It is curious that the people at Medmenham itself do not seem to think so ill of the club as others. To be sure, it is not easy to say how far some family feelings may not be concerned in the matter; but so it is; and together with their charity, they have a great deal of health and beauty. It was said with equal naïveté and shrewdness, the other day, by a very excellent person that “faith and charity are incompatible,” and so the [illegible, torn by seal] seem resolved to maintain; but hope and charity are excellent companions, and seem [illegible] of St. Paul’s reading, I would have the three Graces completed thus,—Charity, Hope, and Nature. I have done nothing to my proposed Play here:—I do not know how it is; but I love things essentially dramatic, and yet I feel less inclination for dramatic writing than any other,—I mean my own, of course. Considering also what the taste of the day has been,—what it is to run the gauntlet through managers, actors, and singers,—and what a hobgoblin I have been in my time to the playwrights themselves, I cannot help modestly repeating to myself some lines out of your favourite
Address of Beaumont to Fletcher about the Faithful Shepherdess,—upon which, by the bye, I am writing this letter, seated on a turfy mound in my friend’s garden, a little place with a rustic seat in it, shrouded and covered with trees, with a delightful field of sheep on one side, a white cottage among the leaves in a set of fields on the other, and the haymakers mowing and singing in the fields behind me. On the side towards the lawn and house, it is as completely shut in, as Chaucer’s “pretty parlour” in the “Flower and the Leafe.”—Mrs. Hunt in the meantime is revenging the cause of all uninspired fiddlers,—namely, scraping Apollo. Pray let the ladies remain out of the secret of this as long as the suspense shall give them any pleasure;’ and then tell them that the said Apollo, whatever they may think or even hope to the contrary, is no gentleman, but a plaster statue, which Marianne is putting into a proper con-
dition for
Mr. Shelley’s library. A Venus is already scraped, to my infinite relief, who sympathized extremely with her ribs,—a sentiment which the ladies nevertheless are not very quick to show towards theirs. I beg pardon of Ave,—I mean are very,—“nevertheless” being a shocking and involuntary intrusion, suggested by my unjustifiable forgetfulness of Mr. Booth.

I will let you know where I am when I return. If I have written no play, I have not been idle with other verses, and am in all things the same as I was when I left town, so that I need not say I am sincerely yours,

Leigh Hunt.