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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
William Wordsworth to William Godwin, 9 March 1811

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
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Produced by CATH
Grasmere, March 9, 1811.

Dear Sir,—I received your letter and the accompanying booklet yesterday. Some one recommended to Gainsborough a subject for a picture: it pleased him much, but he immediately said with a sigh, ‘What a pity I did not think of it myself!’ Had I been
as much delighted with the story of the Beauty and the Beast as you appear to have been, and as much struck with its fitness for verse, still your proposal would have occasioned in me a similar regret. I have ever had the same sort of perverseness: I cannot work upon the suggestion of others, however eagerly I might have addressed myself to the proposed subject, if it had come to me of its own accord. You will therefore attribute my declining the task of versifying the tale to this infirmity, rather than to an indisposition to serve you. Having stated this, it is unnecessary to add that it could not, in my opinion, be ever decently done without great labour, especially in our language.
Fontaine acknowledges that he found ‘les narrations en vers très mal-aisées,’ yet he allowed himself, in point of metre and versification, every kind of liberty, and only chose such subjects as (to the disgrace of his country be it spoken) the French language is peculiarly fitted for. This tale, I judge from its name, is of French origin; it is not, however, found in a little collection which I have in that tongue: mine only includes Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and two or three more. I think the shape in which it appears in the little book you have sent me has much injured the story, and Mrs. Wordsworth and my sister both have an impression of its being told differently, and to them much more pleasantly, though they do not distinctly recollect the deviations. I confess there is to me something disgusting in the notion of a human being consenting to meet with a beast, however amiable his qualities of heart. There is a line and a half in the Paradise Lost upon this subject, which always shocked me,—
‘. . . . . . for which cause
Among the beasts no mate for thee was found.’”

“These are objects to which the attention of the mind ought not to be turned even as things in possibility. I have never seen the tale in French, but, as every one knows, the word Bête in French conversation perpetually occurs as applied to a stupid, senseless, half-idiotic person. Bêtise in like manner stands for stupidity. With us, beast and bestial excite loathsome and disgusting ideas—I mean when applied in a metaphorical manner:
and consequently something of the same hangs about the literal sense of the words. Brute is the word employed when we contrast the intellectual qualities of the inferior animals with our own, the brute creation, &c. ‘Ye of brutes human, we of human gods.’ Brute, metaphorically used, with us designates ill manners of a coarse kind, or insolent and ferocious cruelty. I make these remarks with a view to the difficulty attending the treatment of this story in our tongue, I mean in verse, where the utmost delicacy, that is, true, philosophic, permanent delicacy, is required.

Wm. Taylor of Norwich took the trouble of versifying ‘Blue Beard’ some years ago, and might perhaps not decline to assist you in the present case, if you are acquainted with him, or could get at him. He is a man personally unknown to me, and in his literary character doubtless an egregious coxcomb, but he is ingenious enough to do this, if he could be prevailed upon to undertake it.

“Permit me to add one particular. You live, and have lived, long in London, and therefore may not know at what rate parcels are conveyed by coach. Judging from the size, you probably thought the expense of yours would be trifling. You remember the story of the poor girl who, being reproached with having brought forth an illegitimate child, said it was true, but added that it was a very little one, insinuating thereby that her offence was small in proportion. But the plea does not hold good, as it is in these cases of immorality, so it is with the rules of the coach-offices. To be brief, I had to pay for your tiny parcel 4/9, and should have to pay no more if it had been twenty times as large. . . . . I deem you, therefore, my debtor, and will put you in the way of being quits with me. If you can command a copy of your book upon burial, which I have never seen, let it be sent to Lamb’s for my use, who in the course of this spring will be able to forward it to me.—Believe me, my dear Sir, to be yours sincerely,

W. Wordsworth.”