To Ellen Nussey
… You ask me to recommend some books for your perusal. I will do so in as few words as I can. If you like poetry let it be first-rate; Milton, Shakespeare, Thomson, Goldsmith, Pope (if you will, though I don’t admire him), Scott, Byron, Campbell, Wordsworth, and Southey. Now don’t be startled at the names of Shakespeare and Byron. Both these were great men, and their works are like themselves. You know how to choose the good and avoid the evil; the finest passages are always the purest, the bad are invariably revolting; you will never wish to read them over twice. Omit the comedies of Shakespeare and the Don Juan, perhaps the Cain of Byron, though the latter is a magnificent poem, and read the rest fearlessly; that must indeed be a depraved mind which can gather evil from Henry VIII, Richard III, from Macbeth, and Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. Scott’s sweet, wild, romantic poetry can do you no harm. Nor can Wordsworth’s, nor Campbell’s, nor Southey’s the greatest part at least of his; some is certainly objectionable. For history, read Hume, Rollin, and the Universal History, if you can: I never did. For fiction, read Scott alone; all novels after his are worthless. For biography, read Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Southey’s Life of Nelson, Lockhart’s Life of Burns, Moore’s Life of Sheridan, Moore’s Life of Byron, Wolfe’s Remains. For natural history, read Bewick, and Audubon, and Goldsmith, and White’s History of Selborne.
To William Wordsworth
Authors are generally very tenacious of their productions, but I am not so much attached to this but that I can give it up without much distress. No doubt, if I had gone on, I should have made quite a Richardsonian concern of it…. I had materials in my head for half-a-dozen volumes…. Of course it is with considerable regret I relinquish any scheme so charming as the one I have sketched. It is very edifying and profitable to create a world out of your own brains, and people it with inhabitants, who are so many Melchisedecs, and have no father nor mother but your own imagination.
To Ellen Nussey
… If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results.