Keats on "The Vale of Soul-Making"


TO GEORGE AND GEORGIANA KEATS.["The Vale of Soul-Making"]

Sunday 14 Feb.-Monday 3 May 1819.
Sunday Morn Feby 14th

MY DEAR BROTHER & SISTER-

Friday 19th. Yesterday I got a black eye-the first time I took a Cr[icket] bat. Brown who is always one's friend in a disaster [appllied a le [ech to] the eyelid, and there is no infla [mm] ation this morning though the ball hit me [torn] on the sight 'twas a white ball. I am glad it was not a clout. This is the second black eye I have had since leaving school-during all my [scho]ol days I never had one at all-we must eat a peck before we die-This morning I am in a sort of temper indolent and supremely careless: I long after a stanza or two of Thompson's Castle of indolence. My passions are all alseep from my having slumbered till nearly eleven and weakened the animal fibre all over me to a delightful sensation about three degrees on this side of faintness-if I had teeth of pearl and the breath of lillies I should call it langour-but as I am I must call it Laziness. In this state of effeminacy the fibres of the brain are relaxed in common with the rest of the body, and to such a happy degree that pleasure has no show of enticement and pain no unbearable frown. Neither Poetry, nor Ambition, nor Love have any alertness of countenance as they pass by me: they seem rather like three figures on a greek vase-a Man and two women whom no one but myself could distinguish in their disguisement. This is the happiness; and is a rare instance of advantage in the body overpowering the Mind. I have this moment received a note from Haslam in which he expects the death of his Father-who has been for some time in a state of insensibility-his mother bears up he says very well-I sball go to town tommorrow to see him. This is the world-thus we cannot expect to give way many hours to pleasure-Circumstances are like Clouds continually gathering and bursting-While we are laughing the seed Of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events-while we are laughing it sprouts is [for it] grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck-Even so we have leisure to reason on the misfortunes of our friends; our own touch us too nearly for words. Very few men have ever arrived at a complete disinterestedness of Mind: very few have been influenced by a pure desire of the benefit of others-in the greater part of the Benefactors to Humanity some meretricious motive has sullied their greatness -some melodramatic scenery has fa[s]cinated them-From the manner in which I feel Haslam's misfortune I perceive how far I am from any humble standard of disinterestedness-Yet this feeling ought to be carried to its highest pitch as there is no fear of its ever injuring Society-which it would do I fear pushed to in extremity-For in wild nature the Hawk would loose his Breakfast of Robins and the Robin his of Worms-the Lion must starve well as the swallow. The greater part of Men make their way th the same instinctiveness, the same unwandering eye from their purposes, the same animal eagerness as the Hawk. The Hawk wants a Mate, so does the man-look at them both they set about it and procure on[e] in the same manner. They want both a nest and they both set about one in the same manner-they get food in the same manner-The noble animal Man for his amusement smokes his pipe-the Hawk balances about the Clouds- that is the only difference of their leisures. This it is that makes - the the Amusement of Life-to a speculative Mind. I go among the Fields and catch a glimpse of a Stoat or a fieldmouse peeping out of the withered grass-the creature hath a purpose and its eyes are bright with it. I go amongst the buildings of a city and I see a Man hurrying along-to what? the Creature has a purpose and his eyes are bright with it. But then, as Wordsworth says, "we have all one human heart"-there is an electric fire in human nature tending to purify-so that among these human creatures there is continually some birth of new heroism. The pity is that we must wonder at it: as we should at finding a pearl in rubbish. I have no doubt that thousands of people never heard of have had hearts completely disinterested: I can remember but two-Socrates and Jesus-their Histories evince it. What I heard a little time ago, Taylor observe with respect to Socrates may be said of Jesus- That he was so great a man that though he transmitted no writing of his own to posterity, we have his Mind and his sayings and his greatness handed to us by others. It is to be lamented that the history of the latter was written and revised by Men interested in the pious frauds of Religion. Yet through all this I see his splendour. Even here though I myself am pursueing the same instinctive course as the veriest human animal you can think of-I am however young writing at random-straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness-witbout knowing the bearing of any one assertion of any one opinion. Yet may I not in this be free from sin? May there not be superior beings amused with any graceful, though instinctive attitude my mind m[a]y fall into, as I am entertained with the alertness of a Stoat or the anxiety of a Deer? Though a quarrel in the Streets is a thing to be bated, the energies displayed in it are fine; the commonest Man shows a grace in his quarrel-By a superior being our reasonings may take the same tone-though erro neous they may be fine-Tbis is the very thing in which consists poetry; and if so it is not so fine a thing as philosophy-For the same reason that an eagle is not so fine a thing as a truth-Give me this credit-Do you not think I strive-to know myself? Give me this credit-and you will not think that on my own accou[n]t I repeat Milton's lines

"How charming. is divine Philosophy
Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose
But musical as is Apollo's lute"-

No-no[t] for myself-feeling grateful as I do to have got into a state of mind to relish them properly-Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced-Even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it... .

I have been reading lately two very different books, Robertson's America and Voltaire's Siecle De Louis XIV. It is like walking arm and arm between Pizarro and the great-little Monarch. In How lamentable a case do we see the great body of the people in both instances: in the first, where Men might seem to inherit quiet of Mind from unsophisticated senses; from uncontamination of civilisation; and especially from their being as it were estranged from the mutual helps of Society and its mutual injuries -and thereby more immediately under the Protection of Providence-even there they had mortal pains to bear as bad; or even worse than Ba[i]liffs, Debts and Poverties of civilised Life-The whole appears to resolve into this-that Man is originally 'a poor forked creature' subject to the same mischances as the beasts of the forest, destined to hardships and disquietude of some kind or other. If he improves by degrees his bodily accommodations and comforts-at each stage, at each accent [for ascent] there are waiting for him a fresh set of annoyances-he is mortal and there is still a heaven with its Stars above his head. The most interesting question that can come before us is, How far by the persevering endeavours of a seldom appearing Socrates Mankind may be made happy-I can imagine such happiness carried to an extreme-but what must it end in?-Death-and who could in such a case bear with death-the whole troubles of life which are now frittered away in a series of years, would the[n] be accumulated for the last days of a being who instead of hailing its approach, would leave this world as Eve left Paradise-But in truth I do not at all believe in this sort of perfectibility-the nature of the world will not admit of it-the inhabitants of the world will correspond to itself. Let the fish Philosophise the ice away from the Rivers in winter time and they shall be at continual play in the tepid de light of Summer. Look at the Poles and at the Sands of Africa, Whirlpools and volcanoes-Let men exterminate them and I will say that they may arrive at earthly Happiness-The point at which Man may arrive is as far as the parallel state in inanimate nature and no further-For instance suppose a rose to have sensation, it blooms on a beautiful morning it enjoys itself-but there comes a cold wind, a hot sun-it cannot escape it, it cannot destroy its annoyances-they are as native to the world as itself: no more can man be happy in spite, the worldly elements will prey upon his nature-The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is 'a vale of tears' from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitary interposition of God and taken to Heaven-What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please "The vale of Soul-making". Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it) I say 'Soul making' Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence- There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions-but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. I[n]telligences are atoms of perception-they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God-How then are Souls to be made? How then arc these sparks which are God to have identity given them-so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one's individual existence? I- low, but by the medium of a world like this? This point I sincerely wish to consider because 'I think it a grander system of salvation than the chrystiain religion -or rather it is a system of Spirit-creation-This is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years. These three Materials are the Intelligence-the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity. I can scarcely express what I but dimly perceive-and yet I think I perceive it-that you may judge the more clearly I will put it in the most homely form possible-I will call the world a School instituted for the purpose of teaching little children to read-I will call the human heart the horn Book used in that School-and I will call the Child able to -read, the Soul made from that School and its hornbook. Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul? A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways! Not merely is the Heart a Hornbook, It is the Minds Bible, it is the Minds expe rience, it is the teat from which the Mind or intelligence sucks its identity. As various as the Lives of Men are-so various become their Souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, Identical Souls of the Sparks of his own essence-This appears to me a faint sketch of a system of Salvation which does not affront our reason and humanity-I am convinced that many difficulties which Christians labour under would vanish before it-there is one which even now Strikes me-the Salvation of Children-In them the Spark or intelligence returns to God without any identity-it having had no time to learn of and be altered by the heart-or seat of the human Passions-It is pretty generally suspected that the cbr[i]stian scheme has been coppied from the ancient persian and greek Philosophers. Why may they not have made this simple thing even more simple for common apprehension by introducing Mediators and Personages in the same manner as in the he[a]then mythology abstractions are personified-Seriously I think it probable that this System of Soul-making-may have been the Parent of all the more palpable and personal Schemes of Redemption, among the Zoroastrians the Christians and the Hindoos. For as one part of the human species must have their carved Jupiter; so another part must have the palpable and named Mediator and Saviour, their Christ their Oromanes and their Vishnu-If what I have said should not be plain enough, as I fear it may not be, I will but [for put] you in the place where I began in this series of thoughts-I mean, I began by seeing how man was formed by circumstances-and what are circumstances?-but touchstones of his heart-? and what are touchstones? but proovings of his heart? and what are proovings of his heart but fortifiers or alterers of his nature? and what is his altered nature but his Soul?-and what was his Soul before it came into the world and had these provings and alterations and perfectionings?-An intelligence-without Identity-and how is this Identity to be made? Through the medium of the Heart? And how is the heart to become this Medium but in a world of Circumstances? . . .

Your ever affectionate brother,
John Keats.