Today’s letter finds Keats and Brown heading to the Isle of Mull, Iona, Staffa, and eventually back again to Oban. We are treated to Keats’s extensive description of Fingal’s Cave, which he describes as such, and which we include at length, since it’s pretty fantastic:
it is entirely a hollowing out of Basalt Pillars. Suppose now the Giants who rebelled against Jove had taken a whole Mass of black Columns and bound them together like bunches of matches–and then with immense Axes had made a cavern in the body of these columns–of course the roof and floor must be composed of the broken ends of the Columns–such is Fingal’s Cave except that the Sea has done the work of excavations and is continually dashing there–so that we walk along the sides of the cave on the pillars which are left as if for convenient Stairs–the roof is arched somewhat gothic wise and the length of some of the entire side pillars is 50 feet–About the island you might seat an army of Men each on a pillar–The length of the Cave is 120 feet and from its extremity the view into the sea through the large Arch at the entrance–the colour of the colums is a sort of black with a lurking gloom of purple therin–For solemnity and grandeur it far surpasses the finest Cathedrall–
After the long prose description, we also find Keats venturing into a bit of verse. While Keats apologizes for it (“I am sorry I am so indolent as to write such stuff as this”), this particular KLP editor finds its rather intriguing. Like much of the poetry written during the tour, it’s an odd mix of Keats’s typical subject matter (poetry, fame, literary predecessors) with a comic tone that he seemed not to quite perfect. The premise, though, is actually quite funny: Lycidas, “Fam’d in funeral Minstrelsey” has appointed himself “Pontif Priest” of the place, where “Finny palmer’s great and small / Come to pay devotion due”–but now Lycidas has decided to depart because the place has been spoiled by all those dastardly tourists! Before diving into the water, he laments that “‘T is now free to stupid face / To cutters and to fashion boats / To cravats and to Petticoats.” Ok, we’ve now decided that the poem is actually a fantastic comic success.
Amidst his playful indolence, Keats also seems to feel ready to head home. Towards the end of the letter, he tells Tom, “I assure you I often long for a seat and a Cup o’ tea at well Walk–especially now that mountains, castles and Lakes are becoming common to me.” Just two more letters to come before Keats will choose to make his way back toward Well Walk. And stay tuned for a response from Karin Murray-Bergquist which parallels some of her recent travels in Scotland with Keats’s own reflections in this letter to Tom!
Images of the letter are below courtesy of Harvard. And for a print version we direct you once again to Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 single-volume edition.