William Hone to Walter Wilson, 22 January, 1823

[1780-1818] - [1818-1824] - [1825-1832] - [1832-1842] - Hone Correspondence

William Hone to Walter Wilson, 22 January, 1823.1-TEI-

Pre-script (there being no room for a post script)— If you take this letter ill we shall both be mistaken.
22 January 1823
Dear Wilson,

I am half angry with you, not for scolding or half scolding me but because you are doing what you ought not to attempt without adequate means. Now I am not conscious of having affected to be "a busy man"2 — but I have had the business of others thrust upon me, to the occupation of time that ought to have been devoted to my own, and "in my sear and yellow leaf"3 I am seeking fresh sap to put forth a few branches for the protection of my family. Yet you I acquit wholly from having been on of these depredations on the "stuff that life is made of" — but I am compelled to say NO for the first time almost I ever did to an old friend, and that simply because I cannot say Yes without injury to my self of which you can scarcely form a notion. Still I cannot forbear to exemplify by telling you that my work on "the mysteries"4 did not come out at Christmas as announced, nor can it on the last of this month as positively announced, because I literally cannot make the time necessary for its completion, and I have only about a sheet of it to do.

Concerning "the many things which I have" towards assisting you in the Life of Defoe your friend Williams misinformed you. When I last saw you in town, you entreated me to put together what I could in that way, and appointed a certain morning to call upon me and see what I had done. Though heavy to move on a slight application, yet the name of DeFoe was a "word of power" and in rummaging I employed myself diligently, and till the hour of three on that morning when I expected you between 9 & 10 very anxiously—waited at hand the whole forenoon fidgetly—your presence would have been as grateful to me as "the breath of Maia to the lovesick shepherdess"5—but Lo! on sending to Ely Place I found you had gone off for [[one word]][?] which seemed to me as though you were too anxious for a DeFoeite and I will frankly confess that the disappointment very much mortified me. By degrees what I had got together were once more dispersed by my own occasions for reference and the thing is to me as though it were not "You do not mean to London again till you have finished the book" — the more to your shame. "It is impossible" you say, very well, you cannot make a bad book I know, but will not make so good a one as you may, and I acknowledge to you that I take little interest in that which does not interest you sufficiently to forsake the "fat contented easy ignorance" of a country town in search of knowledge that is to be got by seeking for it in London. Were I as you are and with the same object in view, neither hedge-row elms, nor Christmas festivities nor aught in "bed or board" I love would detain me from the laborious inquiries essential to its final and successful accomplishment. The Life of DeFoe is to be dug for in the writings of his contemporaries, and where they are in large masses there should you excavate—at the British Museum, Sion College, Dr. Williams's—in short into all public and private collections you should burrow, and access is easy to all. Without this the Life of De Foe will be no more. I thought I knew you better, and nothing but your own acknowledgement on paper could convince me that you were about to commit murder. "Conjure me by my love of DeFoe" Fie! fie! I do love him and so much better than you do that I would rather he reposed in his grave with no other record than Mr. Chalmers's memoir,6 and his own works as his imperishable monument, than see his ghost revised by you who can do so much better, and all that I could wish if you will You have no right to call upon Mr. Dyer, or myself, or any one for assistance, till you can show that you have spent not 3 but 6 months in London, alone, seeing no one, and thinking of nothing, but about De Foe. You must have collected materials of course and the set of the "Review" is a fine block to chip from but you have not got all. I mean all that you can. This is what I quarrel with you for, to excite you to, to this, and be like the Walter Wilson that I knew a dozen years ago—he was a fine fellow at a scent, and when the hunt was up would follow in a steeple chase. Your power is greater now than it was then—let your resolve be equal and we may have a life of De Foe yet, but not without 6 months of your life in London.

Yours Truly,
W. Hone
British Library, Add. MS 40120, ff. 186-89. [return]
Hone is responding to Wilson's language in his letter of 17 January, 1823. [return]
Macbeth (V.iii.23). [return]
Ancient Mysteries Described, which Hone was about to publish. [return]
from James Thomson's The Seasons. [return]
George Chalmers's Life of Daniel De Foe (1785), which was, until the eventual publication of Wilson's Memoir of the Life and Times of Daniel De Foe in 1830, the standard biography. [return]
William Hone. Date: 2014-03-24