The Best Letters of Charles Lamb
by Charles Lamb
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November 14, 1796.

Coleridge, I love you for dedicating your poetry to Bowles. [1] Genius of the sacred fountain of tears, it was he who led you gently by the hand through all this valley of weeping, showed you the dark green yew-trees and the willow shades where, by the fall of waters, you might indulge in uncomplaining melancholy, a delicious regret for the past, or weave fine visions of that awful future,—

"When all the vanities of life's brief day Oblivion's hurrying hand hath swept away, And all its sorrows, at the awful blast Of the archangel's trump, are but as shadows past."

I have another sort of dedication in my head for my few things, which I want to know if you approve of and can insert. [2] I mean to inscribe them to my sister. It will be unexpected, and it will gire her pleasure; or do you think it will look whimsical at all? As I have not spoke to her about it, I can easily reject the idea. But there is a monotony in the affections which people living together, or as we do now, very frequently seeing each other, are apt to give in to,—a sort of indifference in the expression of kindness for each other, which demands that we should sometimes call to our aid the trickery of surprise. Do you publish with Lloyd, or without him? In either case my little portion may come last, and after the fashion of orders to a country correspondent, I will give directions how I should like to have 'em done. The title-page to stand thus:—



Under this title the following motto, which, for want of room, I put over-leaf, and desire you to insert whether you like it or no. May not a gentleman choose what arms, mottoes, or armorial bearings the herald will give him leave, without consulting his republican friend, who might advise none? May not a publican put up the sign of the Saracen's Head, even though his undiscerning neighbor should prefer, as more genteel, the Cat and Gridiron?


"This beauty, in the blossom of my youth, When my first fire knew no adulterate incense, Nor I no way to flatter but my fondness, In the best language my true tongue could tell me, And all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me, I sued and served. Long did I love this lady." [1] MASSINGER.





This is the pomp and paraphernalia of parting, with which I take my leave of a passion which has reigned so royally (so long) within me; thus, with its trappings of laureateship, I fling it off, pleased and satisfied with myself that the weakness troubles me no longer. I am wedded. Coleridge, to the fortunes of my sister and my poor old father. Oh, my friend, I think sometimes, could I recall the days that are past, which among them should I choose? Not, those "merrier days," not the "pleasant days of hope," not "those wanderings with a fair-hair'd maid," [2] which I have so often, and so feelingly regretted, but the days, Coleridge, of a mother's fondness for her schoolboy. What would I give to call her back to earth for one day, on my knees to ask her pardon for all those little asperities of temper which from time to time have given her gentle spirit pain. And the day, my friend, I trust will come; there will be "time enough" for kind offices of love, if "Heaven's eternal year" be ours. Hereafter, her meek spirit shall not reproach me. Oh, my friend, cultivate the filial feelings, and let no man think himself released from the kind "charities" of relationship. These shall give him peace at the last; these are the best foundation for every species of benevolence. I rejoice to hear, by certain channels, that you, my friend, are reconciled with all your relations. 'T is the most kindly and natural species of love, and we have all the associated train of early feelings to secure its strength and perpetuity. Send me an account of your health; indeed I am solicitous about you. God love you and yours!


[1] From "A Very Woman."

[2] An allusion to Lamb's first love,—the "Anna" of his sonnets, and the original, probably, of "Rosamund Gray" and of "Alice W—-n" in the beautiful essay "Dream Children."

[3] The earliest sonnets of William Lisle Bowles were published in 1789, the year of Lamb's removal from Christ's Hospital.

[4] Alluding to the prospective joint volume of poems (by Coleridge, Lamb, and Charles Lloyd) to be published by Cottle in 1797. This was Lamb's second serious literary venture, he and Coleridge having issued a joint volume in 1796.




Dec. 5, 1796.

At length I have done with verse-making,—not that I relish other people's poetry less: theirs comes from 'em without effort; mine is the difficult operation of a brain scanty of ideas, made more difficult by disuse. I have been reading "The Task" with fresh delight. I am glad you love Cowper. I could forgive a man for not enjoying Milton; but I would not call that man my friend who should be offended with the "divine chit-chat of Cowper." Write to me. God love you and yours!

C. L.



Dec. 10, 1796.

I had put my letter into the post rather hastily, not expecting to have to acknowledge another from you so soon. This morning's present has made me alive again. My last night's epistle was childishly querulous: but you have put a little life into me, and I will thank you for your remembrance of me, while my sense of it is yet warm; for if I linger a day or two, I may use the same phrase of acknowledgment, or similar, but the feeling that dictates it now will be gone; I shall send you a caput mortuum; not a cor vivens. Thy "Watchman's," thy bellman's verses, I do retort upon thee, thou libellous varlet,—why, you cried the hours yourself, and who made you so proud? But I submit, to show my humility, most implicitly to your dogmas, I reject entirely the copy of verses you reject. With regard to my leaving off versifying [1] you have said so many pretty things, so many fine compliments, Ingeniously decked out in the garb of sincerity, and undoubtedly springing from a present feeling somewhat like sincerity, that you might melt the most un-muse-ical soul, did you not (now for a Rowland compliment for your profusion of Olivers),—did you not in your very epistle, by the many pretty fancies and profusion of heart displayed in it, dissuade and discourage me from attempting anything after you. At present I have not leisure to make verses, nor anything approaching to a fondness for the exercise. In the ignorant present time, who can answer for the future man? "At lovers' perjuries Jove laughs,"—and poets have sometimes a disingenuous way of forswearing their occupation. This, though, is not my case. The tender cast of soul, sombred with melancholy and subsiding recollections, is favorable to the Sonnet or the Elegy; but from—

"The sainted growing woof The teasing troubles keep aloof."

The music of poesy may charm for a while the importunate, teasing cares of life; but the teased and troubled man is not in a disposition to make that music.

You sent me some very sweet lines relative to Burns; but it was at a time when, in my highly agitated and perhaps distorted state of mind, I thought it a duty to read 'em hastily and burn 'em. I burned all my own verses, all my book of extracts from Beaumont and Fletcher and a thousand sources; I burned a little journal of my foolish passion which I had a long time kept,—

"Noting, ere they past away, The little lines of yesterday."

I almost burned all your letters; I did as bad,—I lent 'em to a friend to keep out of my brother's sight, should he come and make inquisition into our papers; for much as he dwelt upon your conversation while you were among us, and delighted to be with you, it has been, his fashion, ever since to depreciate and cry you down,—you were the cause of my madness, you and your damned foolish sensibility and melancholy; and he lamented with a true brotherly feeling that we ever met,—even as the sober citizen, when his son went astray upon the mountains of Parnassus, is said to have cursed wit, and poetry, and Pope. [2] I quote wrong, but no matter. These letters I lent to a friend to be out of the way for a season; but I have claimed them in vain, and shall not cease to regret their loss. Your packets posterior to the date of my misfortunes, commencing with that valuable consolatory epistle, are every day accumulating,—they are sacred things with me.

Publish your Burns [3] when and how you like; it will "be new to me,"—my memory of it is very confused, and tainted with unpleasant associations. Burns was the god of my idolatry, as Bowles of yours. I am jealous of your fraternizing with Bowles, when I think you relish him more than Burns or my old favorite, Cowper, But you conciliate matters when you talk of the "divine chit-chat" of the latter; by the expression I see you thoroughly relish him. I love Mrs. Coleridge for her excuses an hundred-fold more dearly than if she heaped "line upon line," out-Hannah-ing Hannah More, and had rather hear you sing "Did a very little baby" by your family fireside, than listen to you when you were repeating one of Bowles's sweetest sonnets in your sweet manner, while we two were indulging sympathy, a solitary luxury, by the fireside at the "Salutation." Yet have I no higher ideas of heaven. Your company was one "cordial in this melancholy vale,"—the remembrance of it is a blessing partly, and partly a curse. When I can abstract myself from things present, I can enjoy it with a freshness of relish; but it more constantly operates to an unfavorable comparison with the uninteresting converse I always and only can partake in. Not a soul loves Bowles here; scarce one has heard of Burns; few but laugh at me for reading my Testament,—they talk a language I understand not; I conceal sentiments that would be a puzzle to them. I can only converse with you by letter, and with the dead in their books. My sister, indeed, is all I can wish in a companion; but our spirits are alike poorly, our reading and knowledge from the selfsame sources, our communication with the scenes of the world alike narrow. Never having kept separate company, or any "company together;" never having read separate books, and few books together,—what knowledge have we to convey to each other? In our little range of duties and connections, how few sentiments can take place without friends, with few books, with a taste for religion rather than a strong religious habit! We need some support, some leading-strings to cheer and direct us. You talk very wisely; and be not sparing of your advice. Continue to remember us, and to show us you do remember us; we will take as lively an interest in what concerns you and yours. All I can add to your happiness will be sympathy. You can add to mine more; you can teach me wisdom. I am indeed an unreasonable correspondent: but I was unwilling to let my last night's letter go off without this qualifier: you will perceive by this my mind is easier, and you will rejoice. I do not expect or wish you to write till you are moved; and of course shall not, till you announce to me that event, think of writing myself. Love to Mrs. Coleridge and David Hartley, and my kind remembrance to Lloyd, if he is with you.


[1] See preceding letter.

[2] Epistle to Arbuthnot:—

"Poor Cornus sees his frantic wife elope, And curses wit, and poetry, and Pope."

[3] The lines on him which Coleridge had sent to Lamb, and which the latter had burned.



January 5, 1797.

Sunday Morning.—You cannot surely mean to degrade the Joan of Arc into a pot-girl. [1] You are not going, I hope, to annex to that most splendid ornament of Southey's poem all this cock-and-a-bull story of Joan, the publican's daughter of Neufchatel, with the lamentable episode of a wagoner, his wife, and six children. The texture will be most lamentably disproportionate. The first forty or fifty lines of these addenda are no doubt in their way admirable too; but many would prefer the Joan of Southey.

[1] Coleridge, in later years, indorsed Lamb's opinion of this portion of his contribution to "Joan of Arc." "I was really astonished," he said, "(1) at the schoolboy, wretched, allegoric machinery; (2) at the transmogrification of the fanatic virago into a modern novel-pawing proselyte of the "Age of Reason,"—a Tom Paine in petticoats; (3) at the utter want of all rhythm in the verse, the monotony and dead plumb-down of the pauses, and the absence of all bone, muscle, and sinew in the single lines."

"On mightiest deeds to brood Of shadowy vastness, such as made my heart Throb fast; anon I paused, and in a state Of half expectance listened to the wind."

"They wondered at me, who had known me once A cheerful, careless damsel."

"The eye, That of the circling throng and of the visible world, Unseeing, saw the shapes of holy phantasy."

I see nothing in your description of the Maid equal to these. There is a fine originality certainly in those lines,—

"For she had lived in this bad world As in a place of tombs, And touched not the pollutions of the dead;"

but your "fierce vivacity" is a faint copy of the "fierce and terrible benevolence" of Southey; added to this, that it will look like rivalship in you, and extort a comparison with Southey,—I think to your disadvantage. And the lines, considered in themselves as an addition to what you had before written (strains of a far higher mood), are but such as Madame Fancy loves in some of her more familiar moods,—at such times as she has met Noll Goldsmith, and walked and talked with him, calling him "old acquaintance." Southey certainly has no pretensions to vie with you in the sublime of poetry; but he tells a plain tale better than you. I will enumerate some woful blemishes, some of 'em sad deviations from that simplicity which was your aim. "Hailed who might be near" (the "canvas-coverture moving," by the by, is laughable); "a woman and six children" (by the way, why not nine children? It would have been just half as pathetic again); "statues of sleep they seemed;" "frost-mangled wretch;" "green putridity;" "hailed him immortal" (rather ludicrous again); "voiced a sad and simple tale" (abominable!); "unprovendered;" "such his tale;" "Ah, suffering to the height of what was sufffered" (a most insufferable line); "amazements of affright;" "The hot, sore brain attributes its own hues of ghastliness and torture" (what shocking confusion of ideas!).

In these delineations of common and natural feelings, in the familiar walks of poetry, you seem to resemble Montauban dancing with Roubigne's tenants [1], "much of his native loftiness remained in the execution."

I was reading your "Religious Musings" the other day, and sincerely I think it the noblest poem in the language next after the "Paradise Lost;" and even that was not made the vehicle of such grand truths. "There is one mind," etc., down to "Almighty's throne," are without a rival in the whole compass of my poetical reading.

"Stands in the sun, and with no partial gaze Views all creation."

I wish I could have written those lines. I rejoice that I am able to relish them. The loftier walks of Pindus are your proper region. There you have no compeer in modern times. Leave the lowlands, unenvied, in possession of such men as Cowper and Southey. Thus am I pouring balsam into the wounds I may have been inflicting on my poor friend's vanity.

In your notice of Southey's new volume you omit to mention the most pleasing of all, the "Miniature."

"There were Who formed high hopes and flattering ones of thee, Young Robert!"

"Spirit of Spenser! was the wanderer wrong?"

Fairfax I have been in quest of a long time. Johnson, in his "Life of Waller," gives a most delicious specimen of him, and adds, in the true manner of that delicate critic, as well as amiable man, "It may be presumed that this old version will not be much read after the elegant translation of my friend Mr. Hoole." I endeavored—I wished to gain some idea of Tasso from this Mr. Hoole, the great boast and ornament of the India House, but soon desisted. I found him more vapid than smallest small beer "sun-vinegared." Your "Dream," down to that exquisite line,—

"I can't tell half his adventures,"

is a most happy resemblance of Chaucer. The remainder is so-so. The best line, I think, is, "He belong'd, I believe, to the witch Melancholy." By the way, when will our volume come out? Don't delay it till you have written a new "Joan of Arc." Send what letters you please by me, and in any way you choose, single or double. The India Company is better adapted to answer the cost than the generality of my friend's correspondents,—such poor and honest dogs as John Thelwall particularly. I cannot say I know Coulson,—at least intimately; I once supped with him and Austin; I think his manners very pleasing. I will not tell you what I think of Lloyd, for he may by chance come to see this letter; and that thought puts a restraint on me. I cannot think what subject would suit your epic genius,—some philosophical subject, I conjecture, in which shall be blended the sublime of poetry and of science. Your proposed "Hymns" will be a fit preparatory study wherewith "to discipline your young novitiate soul." I grow dull; I'll go walk myself out of my dulness.

Sunday Night,—You and Sara are very good to think so kindly and so favorably of poor Mary; I would to God all did so too. But I very much fear she must not think of coming home in my father's lifetime. It is very hard upon her, but our circumstances are peculiar, and we must submit to them, God be praised she is so well as she is. She bears her situation as one who has no right to complain. My poor old aunt, whom you have seen, the kindest, goodest creature to me when I was at school; who used to toddle there to bring me good things, when I, schoolboy-like, only despised her for it, and used to be ashamed to see her come and sit herself down on the old coal-hole steps as you went into the old grammar-school, and open her apron, and bring out her basin, with some nice thing she had caused to be saved for me, [2]—the good old creature is now lying on her death-bed. I cannot bear to think on her deplorable state. To the shock she received on that our evil day, from which she never completely recovered, I impute her illness. She says, poor thing, she is glad she is come home to die with me. I was always her favourite;

"No after friendship e'er can raise The endearments of our early days; Nor e'er the heart such fondness prove, As when it first began to love."

[1] In Mackenzie's tale, "Julia de Roubigne."

[2] See the essay, "Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago."



January 10, 1797.

I need not repeat my wishes to have my little sonnets printed verbatim my last way. In particular, I fear lest you should prefer printing my first sonnet, as you have done more than once, "did the wand of Merlin wave," it looks so like Mr. Merlin, [1] the ingenious successor of the immortal Merlin, now living in good health and spirits, and flourishing in magical reputation, in Oxford Street; and, on my life, one half who read it would understand it so.

Do put 'em forth finally, as I have, in various letters, settled it; for first a man's self is to be pleased, and then his friends,—and of course the greater number of his friends, if they differ inter se. Thus taste may safely be put to the vote. I do long to see our names together,—not for vanity's sake, and naughty pride of heart altogether; for not a living soul I know, or am intimate with, will scarce read the book,—so I shall gain nothing, quoad famam; and yet there is a little vanity mixes in it, I cannot help denying.—I am aware of the unpoetical cast of the last six lines of my last sonnet, and think myself unwarranted in smuggling so tame a thing into the book; only the sentiments of those six lines are thoroughly congenial to me in my state of mind, and I wish to accumulate perpetuating tokens of my affection to poor Mary. That it has no originality in its cast, nor anything in the feelings but what is common and natural to thousands, nor ought properly to be called poetry, I see; still, it will tend to keep present to my mind a view of things which I ought to indulge. These six lines, too, have not, to a reader, a connectedness with the foregoing. Omit it if you like,—What a treasure it is to my poor, indolent, and unemployed mind thus to lay hold on a subject to talk about, though 'tis but a sonnet, and that of the lowest order! How mournfully inactive I am!—'Tis night; good night.

My sister, I thank God, is nigh recovered; she was seriously ill. Do, in your next letter, and that right soon, give me some satisfaction respecting your present situation at Stowey. Is it a farm that you have got? and what does your worship know about farming?

Coleridge, I want you to write an epic poem. Nothing short of it can satisfy the vast capacity of true poetic genius. Having one great end to direct all your poetical faculties to, and on which to lay out your hopes, your ambition will show you to what you are equal. By the sacred energies of Milton! by the dainty, sweet, and soothing phantasies of honey-tongued Spenser! I adjure you to attempt the epic, or do something more ample than the writing an occasional brief ode or sonnet; something "to make yourself forever known,—to make the age to come your own." But I prate; doubtless you meditate something. When you are exalted among the lords of epic fame, I shall recall with pleasure and exultingly the days of your humility, when you disdained not to put forth, in the same volume with mine, your "Religious Musings" and that other poem from the "Joan of Arc," those promising first-fruits of high renown to come. You have learning, you have fancy, you have enthusiasm, you have strength and amplitude of wing enow for flights like those I recommend. In the vast and unexplored regions of fairy-land there is ground enough unfound and uncultivated: search there, and realize your favorite Susquehanna scheme. In all our comparisons of taste, I do not know whether I have ever heard your opinion of a poet very dear to me,—the now-out-of-fashion Cowley. Favor me with your judgment of him, and tell me if his prose essays, in particular, as well as no inconsiderable part of his verse, be not delicious. I prefer the graceful rambling of his essays even to the courtly elegance and ease of Addison, abstracting from this the latter's exquisite humor.

When the little volume is printed, send me three or four, at all events not more than six, copies, and tell me if I put you to any additional expense by printing with you, I have no thought of the kind, and in that case must reimburse you.

Priestley, whom I sin in almost adoring, speaks of "such a choice of company as tends to keep up that, right bent and firmness of mind which a necessary intercourse with the world would otherwise warp and relax.... Such fellowship is the true balsam of life; its cement is infinitely more durable than that of the friendships of the world, and it looks for its proper fruit and complete gratification to the life beyond the grave." Is there a possible chance for such an one as I to realize in this world such friendships? Where am I to look for 'em? What testimonials shall I bring of my being worthy of such friendship? Alas! the great and good go together in separate herds, and leave such as I to lag far, far behind in all intellectual and, far more grievous to say, in all moral accomplishments. Coleridge, I have not one truly elevated character among my acquaintance,—not one Christian; not one but undervalues Christianity. Singly what am I to do? Wesley (have you read his life?), was he not an elevated character? Wesley has said, "Religion is not a solitary thing." Alas! it necessarily is so with me, or next to solitary. 'T is true you write to me. But correspondence by letter and personal intimacy are very widely different. Do, do write to me, and do some good to my mind, already how much "warped and relaxed" by the world! 'T is the conclusion of another evening. Good night; God have us all in His keeping!

If you are sufficiently at leisure, oblige me with an account of your plan of life at Stowey; your literary occupations and prospects,—in short, make me acquainted with every circumstance which, as relating to you, can be interesting to me. Are you yet a Berkleyan? Make me one. I rejoice in being, speculatively, a necessarian. Would to God I were habitually a practical one! Confirm me in the faith of that great and glorious doctrine, and keep me steady in the contemplation of it. You some time since expressed an intention you had of finishing some extensive work on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. Have you let that intention go? Or are you doing anything towards it? Make to yourself other ten talents. My letter is full of nothingness. I talk of nothing. But I must talk. I love to write to you. I take a pride in it. It makes me think less meanly of myself. It makes me think myself not totally disconnected from the better part of mankind. I know I am too dissatisfied with the beings around me; but I cannot help occasionally exclaiming, "Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Meshech, and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar." I know I am noways better in practice than my neighors, but I have a taste for religion, an occasional earnest aspiration after perfection, which they have not. I gain, nothing by being with such as myself,—we encourage one another in mediocrity, I am always longing to be with men more excellent than myself. All this must sound odd to you; but these are my predominant feelings when I sit down to write to you, and I should put force upon my mind, were I to reject them, Yet I rejoice, and feel my privilege with gratitude, when I have been reading some wise book, such as I have just been reading,—Priestley on Philosophical Necessity,—in the thought that I enjoy a kind of communion, a kind of friendship even, with the great and good. Books are to me instead of friends, I wish they did not resemble the latter in their scarceness.

And how does little David Hartley? "Ecquid in antiquam virtutem?" Does his mighty name work wonders yet upon his little frame and opening mind? I did not distinctly understand you,—you don't mean to make an actual ploughman of him? Is Lloyd with you yet? Are you intimate with Southey? What poems is he about to publish? He hath a most prolific brain, and is indeed a most sweet poet. But how can you answer all the various mass of interrogation I have put to you in the course of the sheet? Write back just what you like, only write something, however brief. I have now nigh finished my page, and got to the end of another evening (Monday evening), and my eyes are heavy and sleepy, and my brain unsuggestive. I have just heart enough awake to say good night once more, and God love you, my dear friend; God love us all! Mary bears an affectionate remembrance of you.


[1] A well-known conjuror of the time.



February 13, 1797.

Your poem is altogether admirable—parts of it are even exquisite; in particular your personal account of the Maid far surpasses anything of the sort in Southey. [1] I perceived all its excellences, on a first reading, as readily as now you have been removing a supposed film from my eyes. I was only struck with a certain faulty disproportion in the matter and the style, which I still think I perceive, between these lines and the former ones. I had an end in view,—I wished to make you reject the poem, only as being discordant with the other; and, in subservience to that end, it was politically done in me to over-pass, and make no mention of, merit which, could you think me capable of overlooking, might reasonably damn forever in your judgment all pretensions in me to be critical. There, I will be judged by Lloyd whether I have not made a very handsome recantation. I was in the case of a man whose friend has asked him his opinion of a certain young lady; the deluded wight gives judgment against her in toto,—don't like her face, her walk, her manners; finds fault with her eyebrows; can see no wit in her. His friend looks blank; he begins to smell a rat; wind veers about; he acknowledges her good sense, her judgment in dress, a certain simplicity of manners and honesty of heart, something too in her manners which gains upon you after a short acquaintance;—and then her accurate pronunciation of the French language, and a pretty, uncultivated taste in drawing. The reconciled gentleman smiles applause, squeezes him by the hand, and hopes he will do him the honor of taking a bit of dinner with Mrs. —— and him—a plain family dinner—some day next week; "for, I suppose, you never heard we were married. I'm glad to see you like my wife, however; you 'll come and see her, ha?" Now am I too proud to retract entirely? Yet I do perceive I am in some sort straitened; you are manifestly wedded, to this poem, and what fancy has joined, let no man separate, I turn me to the "Joan of Arc," second book.

The solemn openings of it are with sounds which, Lloyd would say, "are silence to the mind." The deep preluding strains are fitted to initiate the mind, with a pleasing awe, into the sublimest mysteries of theory concerning man's nature and his noblest destination,—the philosophy of a first cause; of subordinate agents in creation superior to man; the subserviency of pagan worship and pagan faith to the introduction of a purer and more perfect religion, which you so elegantly describe as winning, with gradual steps, her difficult way northward from Bethabara. After all this cometh Joan, a publican's daughter, sitting on an ale-house bench, and marking the swingings of the signboard, finding a poor man, his wife and six children, starved to death with cold, and thence roused into a state of mind proper to receive visions emblematical of equality,—which, what the devil Joan had to do with, I don't know, or indeed with the French and American revolutions; though that needs no pardon, it is executed so nobly. After all, if you perceive no disproportion, all argument is vain; I do not so much object to parts. Again, when you talk of building your fame on these lines in preference to the "Religious Musings," I cannot help conceiving of you and of the author of that as two different persons, and I think you a very vain man.

I have been re-reading your letter. Much of it I could dispute; but with the latter part of it, in which you compare the two Joans with respect to their predispositions for fanaticism, I toto corde coincide; only I think that Southey's strength rather lies in the description of the emotions of the Maid under the weight of inspiration. These (I see no mighty difference between her describing them or you describing them),—these if you only equal, the previous admirers of his poem, as is natural, will prefer his; if you surpass, prejudice will scarcely allow it, and I scarce think you will surpass, though your specimen at the conclusion (I am in earnest) I think very nigh equals them. And in an account of a fanatic or of a prophet the description of her emotions is expected to be most highly finished. By the way, I spoke far too disparagingly of your lines, and, I am ashamed to say. purposely, I should like you to specify or particularize; the story of the "Tottering Eld," of "his eventful years all come and gone," is too general; why not make him a soldier, or some character, however, in which he has been witness to frequency of "cruel wrong and strange distress"? I think I should, When I laughed at the "miserable man crawling from beneath the coverture," I wonder I did not perceive it was a laugh of horror,—such as I have laughed at Dante's picture of the famished Ugolino. Without falsehood, I perceive an hundred, beauties in your narrative. Yet I wonder you do not perceive something out-of-the-way, something unsimple and artificial, in the expression, "voiced a sad tale." I hate made-dishes at the muses' banquet, I believe I was wrong in most of my other objections. But surely "hailed him immortal" adds nothing to the terror of the man's death, which it was your business to heighten, not diminish by a phrase which takes away all terror from it, I like that line, "They closed their eyes in sleep, nor knew 'twas death," Indeed, there is scarce a line I do not like, "Turbid ecstasy" is surely not so good as what you had written,—"troublous." "Turbid" rather suits the muddy kind of inspiration which London porter confers. The versification is throughout, to my ears, unexceptionable, with no disparagement to the measure of the "Religious Musings," which is exactly fitted to the thoughts.

You were building your house on a rock when you rested your fame on that poem. I can scarce bring myself to believe that I am admitted to a familiar correspondence, and all the license of friendship, with a man who writes blank verse like Milton. Now, this is delicate flattery, indirect flattery. Go on with your "Maid of Orleans," and be content to be second to yourself. I shall become a convert to it, when 'tis finished.

This afternoon I attend the funeral of my poor old aunt, who died on Thursday. I own I am thankful that the good creature has ended all her days of suffering and infirmity. She was to me the "cherisher of infancy;" and one must fall on these occasions into reflections, which it would be commonplace to enumerate, concerning death, "of chance and change, and fate in human life." Good God, who could have foreseen all this but four months back! I had reckoned, in particular, on my aunt's living many years; she was a very hearty old woman. But she was a mere skeleton before she died; looked more like a corpse that had lain weeks in the grave, than one fresh dead. "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: but let a man live many days, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many." Coleridge, why are we to live on after all the strength and beauty of existence are gone, when all the life of life is fled, as poor Burns expresses it? Tell Lloyd I have had thoughts of turning Quaker, and have been reading, or am rather just beginning to read, a most capital book, good thoughts in good language, William Penn's "No Cross, no Crown;" I like it immensely. Unluckily I went to one of his meetings, tell hire, in St. John Street, yesterday, and saw a man under all the agitations and workings of a fanatic, who believed himself under the influence of some "inevitable presence." This cured me of Quakerism: I love it in the books of Penn and Woolman, but I detest the vanity of a man thinking he speaks by the Spirit, when what he says an ordinary man might say without all that quaking and trembling. In the midst of his inspiration,—and the effects of it were most noisy,—was handed into the midst of the meeting a most terrible blackguard Wapping sailor; the poor man, I believe, had rather have been in the hottest part of an engagement, for the congregation of broad-brims, together with the ravings of the prophet, were too much for his gravity, though I saw even he had delicacy enough not to laugh out. And the inspired gentleman, though his manner was so supernatural, yet neither talked, nor professed to talk anything more than good sober sense, common morality, with, now and then a declaration of not speaking from himself. Among other things, looking back to this childhood and early youth, he told the meeting what a graceless young dog he had been, that in his youth he had a good share of wit. Reader, if thou hadst seen the gentleman, thou wouldst have sworn that it must indeed have been many years ago, for his rueful physiognomy would have scared away the playful goddess from the meeting, where he presided, forever, A wit! a wit! what could he mean? Lloyd, it minded me of Falkland in the "Rivals," "Am I full of wit and humor? No, indeed, you are not. Am I the life and soul of every company I come into? No, it cannot be said you are." That hard-faced gentleman a wit! Why, Nature wrote on his fanatic forehead fifty years ago, "Wit never comes, that comes to all." I should be as scandalized at a bon-mot issuing from his oracle-looking mouth as to see Cato go down a country-dance. God love you all! You are very good to submit to be pleased with reading my nothings. 'T is the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense and to have her nonsense respected. Yours ever,


[1] See Letter VIII.



January 28, 1798.

You have writ me many kind letters, and I have answered none of them. I don't deserve your attentions. An unnatural indifference has been creeping on me since my last misfortunes, or I should have seized the first opening of a correspondence with you. To you I owe much under God. In my brief acquaintance with you in London, your conversations won me to the better cause, and rescued me from the polluting spirit of the world. I might have been a worthless character without you; as it is, I do possess a certain improvable portion of devotional feelings, though when I view myself in the light of divine truth, and not according to the common measures of human judgment. I am altogether corrupt and sinful. This is no cant. I am very sincere.

These last afflictions, [1] Coleridge, have failed to soften and bend my will. They found me unprepared. My former calamities produced in me a spirit of humility and a spirit of prayer. I thought they had sufficiently disciplined me; but the event ought to humble me. If God's judgments now fail to take away from the the heart of stone, what more grievous trials ought I not to expect? I have been very querulous, impatient under the rod, full of little jealousies and heartburnings. I had wellnigh quarrelled with Charles Lloyd, and for no other reason, I believe, than that the good creature did all he could to make me happy. The truth is, I thought he tried to force my mind from its natural and proper bent: he continually wished me to be from home; he was drawing me from the consideration of my poor dear Mary's situation, rather than assisting me to gain a proper view of it with religious consolations. I wanted to be left to the tendency of my own mind in a solitary state which, in times past, I knew had led to quietness and a patient bearing of the yoke. He was hurt that I was not more constantly with him; but he was living with White,—a man to whom I had never been accustomed to impart my dearest feelings; though from long habits of friendliness, and many a social and good quality, I loved him very much, I met company there sometimes,—indiscriminate company. Any society almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly, when alone. All these things the good creature did with the kindest intentions in the world, but they produced in me nothing but soreness and discontent. I became, as he complained, "jaundiced" towards him.... But he has forgiven me; and his smile, I hope, will draw all such humors from me. I am recovering, God be praised for it, a healthiness of mind, something like calmness; but I want more religion, I am jealous of human helps and leaning-places. I rejoice in your good fortunes. May God at the last settle you! You have had many and painful trials; humanly speaking, they are going to end; but we should rather pray that discipline may attend us through the whole of our lives.... A careless and a dissolute spirit has advanced upon me with large strides. Pray God that my present afflictions may be sanctified to me! Mary is recovering; but I see no opening yet of a situation for her. Your invitation went to my very heart; but you have a power of exciting interest, of leading all hearts captive, too forcible to admit of Mary's being with you. I consider her as perpetually on the brink of madness. I think you would almost make her dance within an inch of the precipice; she must be with duller fancies and cooler intellects. I know a young man of this description who has suited her these twenty years, and may live to do so still, if we are one day restored to each other. In answer to your suggestions of occupation for me, I must say that I do not think my capacity altogether suited for disquisitions of that kind.... I have read little; I have a very weak memory, and retain little of what I read; am unused to composition in which any methodizing is required. But I thank you sincerely for the hint, and shall receive it as far as I am able,—that is, endeavor to engage my mind in some constant and innocent pursuit. I know my capacities better than you do.

Accept my kindest love, and believe me yours, as ever.

C. L.

[1] Mary Lamb had fallen ill again.



(No month, 1798.)

Dear Southey,—I thank you heartily for the eclogue [1]; it pleases me mightily, being so full of picture-work and circumstances. I find no fault in it, unless perhaps that Joanna's ruin is a catastrophe too trite; and this is not the first or second time you have clothed your indignation, in verse, in a tale of ruined innocence. The old lady, spinning in the sun, I hope would not disdain to claim some kindred with old Margaret. I could almost wish you to vary some circumstances in the conclusion. A gentleman seducer has so often been described in prose and verse: what if you had accomplished Joanna's ruin by the clumsy arts and rustic gifts of some country fellow? I am thinking, I believe, of the song,—

"An old woman clothed in gray, Whose daughter was charming and young, And she was deluded away By Roger's false, flattering tongue."

A Roger-Lothario would be a novel character; I think you might paint him very well. You may think this a very silly suggestion, and so indeed it is; but, in good truth, nothing else but the first words of that foolish ballad put me upon scribbling my "Rosamund." [2] But I thank you heartily for the poem. Not having anything of my own to send you in return,—though, to tell truth, I am at work upon something which, if I were to cut away and garble, perhaps I might send you an extract or two that might not displease you; but I will not do that; and whether it will come to anything, I know not, for I am as slow as a Fleming painter when I compose anything. I will crave leave to put down a few lines of old Christopher Marlowe's; I take them from his tragedy, "The Jew of Malta." The Jew is a famous character, quite out of nature; but when we consider the terrible idea our simple ancestors had of a Jew, not more to be discommended for a certain discoloring (I think Addison calls it) than the witches and fairies of Marlowe's mighty successor. The scene is betwixt Barabas, the Jew, and Ithamore, a Turkish captive exposed to sale for a slave.


(A precious rascal.)

"As for myself, I walk abroad o' nights, And kill sick people groaning under walls; Sometimes I go about and poison wells; And now and then, to cherish Christian thieves, I am content to lose some of my crowns, That I may, walking in my gallery, See 'm go pinioned along by my door. Being young, I studied physic, and began To practise first upon the Italian; There I enriched the priests with burials, And always kept the sexton's arms in ure [3] With digging graves and ringing dead men's knells. And after that, was I an engineer, And in the wars 'twixt France and Germany, Under pretence of serving Charles the Fifth, Slew friend and enemy with my stratagems. Then after that was I an usurer, And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting, And tricks belonging unto brokery, I fill'd the jails with bankrupts in a year, And with young orphans planted hospitals, And every moon made some or other mad; And now and then one hang'd himself for grief, Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll, How I with interest tormented him."

Now hear Ithamore, the other gentle nature, explain how he has spent his time:—


(A Comical Dog.)

"Faith, master, in setting Christian villages on fire, Chaining of eunuchs, binding galley-slaves. One time I was an hostler in an inn, And in the night-time secret would I steal To travellers' chambers, and there cut their throats. Once at Jerusalem, where the pilgrims kneel'd, I strewed powder on the marble stones, And therewithal their knees would rankle so, That I have laugh'd a-good to see the cripples Go limping home to Christendom on stilts."


"Why, this is something."

There is a mixture of the ludicrous and the terrible in these lines, brimful of genius and antique invention, that at first reminded me of your old description of cruelty in hell, which was in the true Hogarthian style. I need not tell you that Marlowe was author of that pretty madrigal, "Come live with me, and be my Love," and of the tragedy of "Edward II.," in which are certain lines unequalled in our English tongue. Honest Walton mentions the said madrigal under the denomination of "certain smooth verses made long since by Kit Marlowe."

I am glad you have put me on the scent after old Quarles. If I do not put up those eclogues, and that shortly, say I am no true-nosed hound. I have had a letter from Lloyd; the young metaphysician of Caius is well, and is busy recanting the new heresy, metaphysics, for the old dogma Greek. My sister, I thank you, is quite well. She had a slight attack the other day, which frightened me a good deal; but it went off unaccountably. Love and respects to Edith.

Yours sincerely,


[1] The eclogue was entitled "The Ruined Cottage."

[2] His romance. "Rosamund Gray."

[3] Use.



November 8, 1798.

I perfectly accord with your opinion of old Wither. Quarles is a wittier writer, but Wither lays more hold of the heart. Quarles thinks of his audience when he lectures; Wither soliloquizes in company with a full heart. What wretched stuff are the "Divine Fancies" of Quarles! Religion appears to him no longer valuable than it furnishes matter for quibbles and riddles; he turns God's grace into wantonness. Wither is like an old friend, whose warm-heartedness and estimable qualities make us wish he possessed more genius, but at the same time make us willing to dispense with that want. I always love W., and sometimes admire Q. Still, that portrait is a fine one; and the extract from "The Shepherds' Hunting" places him in a starry height far above Quarles, If you wrote that review in "Crit. Rev.," I am sorry you are so sparing of praise to the "Ancient Marinere;" [1] so far from calling it, as you do, with some wit but more severity, "A Dutch Attempt," etc., I call it a right English attempt, and a successful one, to dethrone German sublimity. You have selected a passage fertile in unmeaning miracles, but have passed by fifty passages as miraculous as the miracles they celebrate. I never so deeply felt the pathetic as in that part,—

"A spring of love gush'd from my heart, And I bless'd them unaware."

It stung me into high pleasure through sufferings. Lloyd does not like it; his head is too metaphysical, and your taste too correct,—at least I must allege something against you both, to excuse my own dotage,—

But you allow some elaborate beauties; you should have extracted 'em. "The Ancient Marinere" plays more tricks with the mind than that last poem, which is yet one of the finest written. But I am getting too dogmatical; and before I degenerate into abuse, I will conclude with assuring you that I am,

Sincerely yours,


[1] The "Lyrical Ballads" of Wordsworth and Coleridge had just appeared. The volume contained four pieces, including the "Ancient Mariner," by Coleridge.



November 28, 1798.

* * * * * I showed my "Witch" and "Dying Lover" to Dyer [1] last night; but George could not comprehend how that could be poetry which did not go upon ten feet, as George and his predecessors had taught it to do; so George read me some lectures on the distinguishing qualities of the Ode, the Epigram, and the Epic, and went home to illustrate his doctrine by correcting a proof-sheet of his own Lyrics, George writes odes where the rhymes, like fashionable man and wife, keep a comfortable distance of six or eight lines apart, and calls that "observing the laws of verse," George tells you, before he recites, that you must listen with great attention, or you 'll miss the rhymes. I did so, and found them pretty exact, George, speaking of the dead Ossian, exclaimeth, "Dark are the poet's eyes," I humbly represented to him that his own eyes were dark, and many a living bard's besides, and recommended "Clos'd are the poet's eyes." But that would not do, I found there was an antithesis between the darkness of his eyes and the splendor of his genius, and I acquiesced.

Your recipe for a Turk's poison is invaluable and truly Marlowish.... Lloyd objects to "shutting up the womb of his purse" in my Curse (which for a Christian witch in a Christian country is not too mild, I hope): do you object? I think there is a strangeness in the idea, as well as "shaking the poor like snakes from his door," which suits the speaker. Witches illustrate, as fine ladies do, from their own familiar objects, and snakes and shutting up of wombs are in their way. I don't know that this last charge has been before brought against 'em, nor either the sour milk or the mandrake babe; but I affirm these be things a witch would do if she could.

My tragedy [2] will be a medley (as I intend it to be a medley) of laughter and tears, prose and verse, and in some places rhyme, songs, wit, pathos, humor, and if possible, sublimity,—at least, it is not a fault in my intention if it does not comprehend most of these discordant colors. Heaven send they dance not the "Dance of Death!" I hear that the Two Noble Englishmen [3] have parted no sooner than they set foot on German earth; but I have not heard the reason,—possibly to give novelists a handle to exclaim, "Ah me, what things are perfect!" I think I shall adopt your emendation in the "Dying Lover," though I do not myself feel the objection against "Silent Prayer."

My tailor has brought me home a new coat lapelled, with a velvet collar. He assures me everybody wears velvet collars now. Some are born fashionable, some achieve fashion, and others, like your humble servant, have fashion thrust upon them. The rogue has been making inroads hitherto by modest degrees, foisting upon me an additional button, recommending gaiters; but to come upon me thus in a full tide of luxury, neither becomes him as a tailor or the ninth of a man. My meek gentleman was robbed the other day, coming with his wife and family in a one-horse shay from Hampstead; the villains rifled him of four guineas, some shillings and halfpence, and a bundle of customers' measures, which they swore were bank-notes. They did not shoot him, and when they rode off he addressed them with profound gratitude, making a congee: "Gentlemen, I wish you good-night; and we are very much obliged to you that you have not used us ill!" And this is the cuckoo that has the audacity to foist upon me ten buttons on a side and a black velvet collar,—a cursed ninth of a scoundrel!

When you write to Lloyd, he wishes his Jacobin correspondents to address him as Mr. C. L. Love and respects to Edith. I hope she is well.

Yours sincerely,


[1] This quaint scholar, a marvel of simplicity and universal optimism, is a constantly recurring and delightfully humorous character in the Letters. Lamb and Dyer had been schoolfellows at Christ's Hospital.

[2] John Woodvil.

[3] Coleridge and Wordsworth, who started for Germany together.



March 20, 1799,

I am hugely pleased with your "Spider," "your old freemason," as you call him. The three first stanzas are delicious; they seem to me a compound of Burns and. Old Quarles, those kind of home-strokes, where more is felt than strikes the ear,—a terseness, a jocular pathos which makes one feel in laughter. The measure, too, is novel and pleasing. I could almost wonder Rob Burns in his lifetime never stumbled upon it. The fourth stanza is less striking, as being less original. The fifth falls off. It has no felicity of phrase, no old-fashioned phrase or feeling.

"Young hopes, and love's delightful dreams,"

savor neither of Burns nor Quarles; they seem more like shreds of many a modern sentimental sonnet. The last stanza hath nothing striking in it, if I except the two concluding lines, which are Burns all over. I wish, if you concur with me, these things could be looked to. I am sure this is a kind of writing which comes tenfold better recommended to the heart, comes there more like a neighbor or familiar, than thousands of Hamnels and Zillahs and Madelons. I beg you will send me the "Holly-tree," if it at all resemble this, for it must please me. I have never seen it. I love this sort of poems, that open a new intercourse with the most despised of the animal and insect race. I think this vein may be further opened; Peter Pindar hath very prettily apostrophized a fly; Burns hath his mouse and his louse; Coleridge, less successfully, hath made overtures of intimacy to a jackass,—therein only following at unresembling distance Sterne and greater Cervantes. Besides these, I know of no other examples of breaking down the partition between us and our "poor earth-born companions." It is sometimes revolting to be put in a track of feeling by other people, not one's own immediate thoughts, else I would persuade you, if I could (I am in earnest), to commence a series of these animal poems, which might have a tendency to rescue some poor creatures from the antipathy of mankind. Some thoughts come across me: for instance, to a rat, to a toad, to a cockchafer, to a mole,—people bake moles alive by a slow oven-fire to cure consumption. Rats are, indeed, the most despised and contemptible parts of God's earth, I killed a rat the other day by punching him to pieces, and feel a weight of blood upon me to this hour. Toads, you know, are made to fly, and tumble down and crush all to pieces. Cockchafers are old sport; then again to a worm, with an apostrophe to anglers,—those patient tyrants, meek inflictors of pangs intolerable, cool devils; [1] to an owl; to all snakes, with an apology for their poison; to a cat in boots or bladders. Your own fancy, if it takes a fancy to these hints, will suggest many more. A series of such poems, suppose them accompanied with plates descriptive of animal torments,—cooks roasting lobsters, fishmongers crimping skates, etc.,—would take excessively, I will willingly enter into a partnership in the plan with you; I think my heart and soul would go with it too,—at least, give it a thought. My plan is but this minute come into my head; but it strikes me instantaneously as something new, good, and useful, full of pleasure and full of moral. If old Quarles and Wither could live again, we would invite them into our firm. Burns hath done his part.

Poor Sam Le Grice! I am afraid the world and the camp and the university have spoiled him among them. 'Tis certain he had at one time a strong capacity of turning out something better. I knew him, and that not long since, when he had a most warm heart. I am ashamed of the indifference I have sometimes felt towards him. I think the devil is in one's heart. I am under obligations to that man for the warmest friendship and heartiest sympathy, [2] even for an agony of sympathy expressed both by word and deed, and tears for me when I was in my greatest distress. But I have forgot that,—as, I fear, he has nigh forgot the awful scenes which were before his eyes when he served the office of a comforter to me. No service was too mean or troublesome for him to perform. I can't think what but the devil, "that old spider," could have suck'd my heart so dry of its sense of all gratitude. If he does come in your way, Southey, fail not to tell him that I retain a most affectionate remembrance of his old friendliness, and an earnest wish to resume our intercourse. In this I am serious. I cannot recommend him to your society, because I am afraid whether he be quite worthy of it. But I have no right to dismiss him from my regard. He was at one time, and in the worst of times, my own familiar friend, and great comfort to me then. I have known him to play at cards with my father, meal-times excepted, literally all day long, in long days too, to save me from being teased by the old man when I was not able to bear it.

God bless him for it, and God bless you, Southey!

C. L.

[1] Leigh Hunt says: "Walton says that an angler does no hurt but to fish; and this he counts as nothing.... Now, fancy a Genius fishing for us. Fancy him baiting a great hook with pickled salmon, and, twitching up old Izaac Walton from the banks of the River Lee, with the hook through his ear. How he would go up, roaring and screaming, and thinking the devil had got him!

"'Other joys Are but toys.'


[2] See Letter VI.



March 1, 1800.

I hope by this time you are prepared to say the "Falstaff's Letters" are a bundle of the sharpest, queerest, profoundest humors of any these juice-drained latter times have spawned. I should have advertised you that the meaning is frequently hard to be got at,—and so are the future guineas that now lie ripening and aurifying in the womb of some undiscovered Potosi; but dig, dig, dig, dig, Manning! I set to with an unconquerable propulsion to write, with a lamentable want of what to write. My private goings on are orderly as the movements of the spheres, and stale as their music to angels' ears. Public affairs, except as they touch upon me, and so turn into private, I cannot whip up my mind to feel any interest in, I grieve, indeed, that War and Nature and Mr. Pitt, that hangs up in Lloyd's best parlour, should have conspired to call up three necessaries, simple commoners as our fathers knew them, into the upper house of luxuries,—bread and beer and coals, Manning. But as to France and Frenchmen, and the Abbe Sieyes and his constitutions, I cannot make these present times present to me. I read histories of the past, and I live in them; although, to abstract senses, they are far less momentous than the noises which keep Europe awake. I am reading Burnet's "Own Times." Did you ever read that garrulous, pleasant history? He tells his story like an old man, past political service, bragging to his sons on winter evenings of the part he took in public transactions when "his old cap was new." Full of scandal, which all true history is. No palliatives; but all the stark wickedness that actually gives the momentum to national actors. Quite the prattle of age and outlived importance. Truth and sincerity staring out upon you perpetually in alto relievo. Himself a party man, he makes you a party man. None of the cursed philosophical Humeian indifference, so cold and unnatural and inhuman! None of the cursed Gibbonian fine writing, so fine and composite. None of Dr. Robertson's periods with three members. None of Mr. Roscoe's sage remarks, all so apposite, and coming in so clever, lest the reader should have had the trouble of drawing an inference. Burnet's good old prattle I can bring present to my mind; I can make the Revolution present to me: the French Revolution, by a converse perversity in my nature, I fling as far from me. To quit this tiresome subject, and to relieve you from two or three dismal yawns, which I hear in spirit, I here conclude my more than commonly obtuse letter,—dull up to the dulness of a Dutch commentator on Shakspeare. My love to Lloyd and Sophia.

C. L.

[1] To this remarkable person we are largely indebted for some of the best of Lamb's letters. He was mathematical tutor at Caius College, Cambridge, and in later years became somewhat famous as an explorer of the remoter parts of China and Thibet. Lamb had been introduced to him, during a Cambridge visit, by Charles Lloyd, and afterwards told Crabb Robinson that he was the most "wonderful man" he ever met. An account of Manning will be found in the memoir prefixed to his "Journey to Lhasa," in 1811-12. (George Bogle and Thomas Manning's Journey to Thibet and Lhasa, by C.R. Markham, 1876.)



May 12, 1800,

My Dear Coleridge,—I don't know why I write, except from the propensity misery has to tell her griefs. Hetty [1] died on Friday night, about eleven o'clock, after eight days' illness; Mary, in consequence of fatigue and anxiety, is fallen ill again, and I was obliged to remove her yesterday. I am left alone in a house with nothing but Hetty's dead body to keep me company. To-morrow I bury her, and then I shall be quite alone, with nothing but a cat to remind me that the house has been full of living beings like myself. My heart is quite sunk, and I don't know where to look for relief. Mary will get better again; but her constantly being liable to such relapses is dreadful; nor is it the least of our evils that her case and all our story is so well known around us. We are in a manner marked. Excuse my troubling you; but I have nobody by me to speak to me. I slept out last night, not being able to endure the change and the stillness. But I did not sleep well, and I must come back to my own bed. I am going to try and get a friend to come and be with me to-morrow. I am completely shipwrecked. My head is quite bad. I almost wish that Mary were dead. God bless you. Love to Sara and Hartley.


[1] The Lambs' old servant.



Before June, 1800.

Dear Manning,—I feel myself unable to thank you sufficiently for your kind letter. It was doubly acceptable to me, both for the choice poetry and the kind, honest prose which it contained. It was just such a letter as I should have expected from Manning.

I am in much better spirits than when I wrote last. I have had a very eligible offer to lodge with a friend in town. He will have rooms to let at midsummer, by which time I hope my sister will be well enough to join me. It is a great object to me to live in town, where we shall be much more private, and to quit a house and neighborhood where poor Mary's disorder, so frequently recurring, has made us a sort of marked people. We can be nowhere private except in the midst of London. We shall be in a family where we visit very frequently; only my landlord and I have not yet come to a conclusion. He has a partner to consult. I am still on the tremble, for I do not know where we could go into lodgings that would not be, in many respects, highly exceptionable. Only God send Mary well again, and I hope all will be well! The prospect, such as it is, has made me quite happy. I have just time to tell you of it, as I know it will give you pleasure. Farewell.




August, 6, 1800.

Dear Coleridge,—I have taken to-day and delivered to Longman and Co., Imprimis: your books, viz., three ponderous German dictionaries, one volume (I can find no more) of German and French ditto, sundry other German books unbound, as you left them, Percy's Ancient Poetry, and one volume of Anderson's Poets. I specify them, that you may not lose any. Secundo: a dressing-gown (value, fivepence), in which you used to sit and look like a conjuror when you were translating "Wallenstein." A case of two razors and a shaving-box and strap. This it has cost me a severe struggle to part with. They are in a brown-paper parcel, which also contains sundry papers and poems, sermons, some few Epic poems,—one about Cain and Abel, which came from Poole, etc., and also your tragedy; with one or two small German books, and that drama in which Got-fader performs. Tertio: a small oblong box containing all your letters, collected from all your waste papers, and which fill the said little box. All other waste papers, which I judged worth sending, are in the paper parcel aforesaid. But you will find all your letters in the box by themselves. Thus have I discharged my conscience and my lumber-room of all your property, save and except a folio entitled Tyrrell's "Bibliotheca Politica," which you used to learn your politics out of when you wrote for the Post,—mutatis mutandis, i. e., applying past inferences to modern data. I retain that, because I am sensible I am very deficient in the politics myself; and I have torn up—don't be angry; waste paper has risen forty per cent, and I can't afford to buy it—all Bonaparte's Letters, Arthur Young's Treatise on Corn, and one or two more light-armed infantry, which I thought better suited the flippancy of London discussion than the dignity of Keswick thinking. Mary says you will be in a passion about them when you come to miss them; but you must study philosophy. Read Albertus Magnus de Chartis Amissis five times over after phlebotomizing,—'t is Burton's recipe,—and then be angry with an absent friend if you can. Sara is obscure. Am I to understand by her letter that she sends a kiss to Eliza Buckingham? Pray tell your wife that a note of interrogation on the superscription of a letter is highly ungrammatical! She proposes writing my name Lambe? Lamb is quite enough. I have had the Anthology, and like only one thing in it,—Lewti; but of that the last stanza is detestable, the rest most exquisite! The epithet enviable would dash the finest poem. For God's sake (I never was more serious), don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses. [1] It did well enough five years ago, when I came to see you, and was moral coxcomb enough at the time you wrote the lines, to feed upon such epithets: but, besides that, the meaning of "gentle" is equivocal at best, and almost always means "poor-spirited;" the very quality of gentleness is abhorrent to such vile trumpetings. My sentiment is long since vanished. I hope my virtues have done sucking. I can scarce think but you meant it in joke. I hope you did, for I should be ashamed to think you could think to gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a cordial to some green-sick sonneteer.

[1] An allusion to Coleridge's lines, "This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison," wherein he styles Lamb "my gentle-hearted Charles."



August, 1800.

Dear Manning,—I am going to ask a favor of you, and am at a loss how to do it in the most delicate mariner. For this purpose I have been looking into Pliny's Letters, who is noted to have had the best grace in begging of all the ancients (I read him in the elegant translation of Mr. Melmoth); but not finding any case there exactly similar with mine, I am constrained to beg in my own barbarian way. To come to the point, then, and hasten into the middle of things, have you a copy of your Algebra [1] to give away? I do not ask it for myself; I have too much reverence for the Black Arts ever to approach thy circle, illustrious Trismegist! But that worthy man and excellent poet, George Dyer, made me a visit yesternight on purpose to borrow one, supposing, rationally enough, I must say, that you had made me a present of one before this; the omission of which I take to have proceeded only from negligence: but it is a fault. I could lend him no assistance. You must know he is just now diverted from the pursuit of BELL LETTERS by a paradox, which he has heard his friend Frend [2] (that learned mathematician) maintain, that the negative quantities of mathematicians were merae nugae,—things scarcely in rerum natura, and smacking too much of mystery for gentlemen of Mr. Frend's clear Unitarian capacity. However, the dispute, once set a-going, has seized violently on George's pericranick; and it is necessary for his health that he should speedily come to a resolution of his doubts. He goes about teasing his friends with his new mathematics; he even frantically talks of purchasing Manning's Algebra, which shows him far gone, for, to my knowledge, he has not been master of seven shillings a good time. George's pockets and ——'s brains are two things in nature which do not abhor a vacuum.... Now, if you could step in, in this trembling suspense of his reason, and he should find on Saturday morning, lying for him at the Porter's Lodge, Clifford's Inn.—his safest address,—Manning's Algebra, with a neat manuscriptum in the blank leaf, running thus, "FROM THE AUTHOR!" it might save his wits and restore the unhappy author to those studies of poetry and criticism which are at present suspended, to the infinite regret of the whole literary world. N.B.—Dirty books, smeared leaves, and dogs' ears will be rather a recommendation than otherwise. N.B.—He must have the book as soon as possible, or nothing can withhold him from madly purchasing the book on tick.... Then shall we see him sweetly restored to the chair of Longinus,—to dictate in smooth and modest phrase the laws of verse; to prove that Theocritus first introduced the Pastoral, and Virgil and Pope brought it to its perfection; that Gray and Mason (who always hunt in couples in George's brain) have shown a great deal of poetical fire in their lyric poetry; that Aristotle's rules are not to be servilely followed, which George has shown to have imposed great shackles upon modern genius. His poems, I find, are to consist of two vols., reasonable octavo; and a third book will exclusively contain criticisms, in which he asserts he has gone pretty deeply into the laws of blank verse and rhyme, epic poetry, dramatic and pastoral ditto,—all which is to come out before Christmas. But above all he has touched most deeply upon the Drama, comparing the English with the modern German stage, their merits and defects. Apprehending that his studies (not to mention his turn, which I take to be chiefly towards the lyrical poetry) hardly qualified him for these disquisitions, I modestly inquired what plays he had read. I found by George's reply that he had read Shakspeare, but that was a good while since: he calls him a great but irregular genius, which I think to be an original and just remark. (Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Ben Jonson, Shirley, Marlowe, Ford, and the worthies of Dodsley's Collection,—he confessed he had read none of them, but professed his intention of looking through them all, so as to be able to touch upon them in his book.) So Shakspeare, Otway, and I believe Rowe, to whom he was naturally directed by Johnson's Lives, and these not read lately, are to stand him in stead of a general knowledge of the subject. God bless his dear absurd head!

By the by, did I not write you a letter with something about an invitation in it?—but let that pass; I suppose it is not agreeable.

N.B. It would not be amiss if you were to accompany your present with a dissertation on negative quantities.

C. L.

[1] Manning, while at Cambridge, published a work on Algebra.

[2] The Rev. William Frend, who was expelled from Cambridge for Unitarianism.




George Dyer is an Archimedes and an Archimagus and a Tycho Brahe and a Copernicus; and thou art the darling of the Nine, and midwife to their wandering babe also! We take tea with that learned poet and critic on Tuesday night, at half-past five, in his neat library; the repast will be light and Attic, with criticism. If thou couldst contrive to wheel up thy dear carcase on the Monday, and after dining with us on tripe, calves' kidneys, or whatever else the Cornucopia of St. Clare may be willing to pour out on the occasion, might we not adjourn together to the Heathen's, thou with thy Black Backs, and I with some innocent volume of the Bell Letters,—Shenstone, or the like; it would make him wash his old flannel gown (that has not been washed, to my knowledge, since it has been his,—Oh, the long time!) with tears of joy. Thou shouldst settle his scruples, and unravel his cobwebs, and sponge off the sad stuff that weighs upon his dear wounded pia mater; thou shouldst restore light to his eyes, and him to his friends and the public; Parnassus should shower her civic crowns upon thee for saving the wits of a citizen! I thought I saw a lucid interval in George the other night: he broke in upon my studies just at tea-time, and brought with him Dr. Anderson, an old gentleman who ties his breeches' knees with packthread, and boasts that he has been disappointed by ministers. The Doctor wanted to see me; for, I being a poet, he thought I might furnish him with a copy of verses to suit his "Agricultural Magazine." The Doctor, in the course of the conversation, mentioned a poem, called the "Epigoniad," by one Wilkie, an epic poem, in which there is not one tolerable good line all through, but every incident and speech borrowed from Homer.

George had been sitting inattentive seemingly to what was going on,—hatching of negative quantities,—when, suddenly, the name of his old friend Homer stung his pericranicks, and, jumping up, he begged to know where he could meet with Wilkie's work. "It was a curious fact that there should be such an epic poem and he not know of it; and he must get a copy of it, as he was going to touch pretty deeply upon the subject of the epic,—and he was sure there must be some things good in a poem of eight thousand lines!" I was pleased with this transient return of his reason and recurrence to his old ways of thinking; it gave me great hopes of a recovery, which nothing but your book can completely insure. Pray come on Monday if you can, and stay your own time. I have a good large room, with two beds in it, in the handsomest of which thou shalt repose a-nights, and dream of spheroides. I hope you will understand by the nonsense of this letter that I am not melancholy at the thoughts of thy coming; I thought it necessary to add this, because you love precision. Take notice that our stay at Dyer's will not exceed eight o'clock, after which our pursuits will be our own. But indeed I think a little recreation among the Bell Letters and poetry will do you some service in the interval of severer studies. I hope we shall fully discuss with George Dyer what I have never yet heard done to my satisfaction,—the reason of Dr. Johnson's malevolent strictures on the higher species of the Ode.




August 14, 1800.

My head is playing all the tunes in the world, ringing such peals! It has just finished the "Merry Christ Church Bells," and absolutely is beginning "Turn again, Whittington." Buz, buz, buz; bum, bum, bum; wheeze, wheeze, wheeze; fen, fen, fen; tinky, tinky, tinky; cr'annch. I shall certainly come to be condemned at last. I have been drinking too much for two days running. I find my moral sense in the last stage of a consumption, and my religion getting faint. This is disheartening, but I trust the devil will not overpower me. In the midst of this infernal torture Conscience is barking and yelping as loud as any of them. I have sat down to read over again, and I think I do begin to spy out something with beauty and design in it. I perfectly accede to all your alterations, and only desire that you had cut deeper, when your hand was in.

* * * * *

Now I am on the subject of poetry, I must announce to you, who, doubtless, in your remote part of the island, have not heard tidings of so great a blessing, that George Dyer hath prepared two ponderous volumes full of poetry and criticism. They impend over the town, and are threatened to fall in the winter. The first volume contains every sort of poetry except personal satire, which George, in his truly original prospectus, renounceth forever, whimsically foisting the intention in between the price of his book and the proposed number of subscribers. (If I can, I will get you a copy of his handbill.) He has tried his vein in every species besides,—the Spenserian, Thomsonian, Masonic, and Akensidish more especially. The second volume is all criticism; wherein he demonstrates to the entire satisfaction of the literary world, in a way that must silence all reply forever, that the pastoral was introduced by Theocritus and polished by Virgil and Pope; that Gray and Mason (who always hunt in couples in George's brain) have a good deal of poetical fire and true lyric genius; that Cowley was ruined by excess of wit (a warning to all moderns); that Charles Lloyd, Charles Lamb, and William Wordsworth, in later days, have struck the true chords of poesy. Oh, George, George, with a head uniformly wrong and a heart uniformly right, that I had power and might equal to my wishes; then would I call the gentry of thy native island, and they should come in troops, flocking at the sound of thy prospectus-trumpet, and crowding who shall be first to stand in thy list of subscribers! I can only put twelve shillings into thy pocket (which, I will answer for them, will not stick there long) out of a pocket almost as bare as thine. Is it not a pity so much fine writing should be erased? But, to tell the truth, I began to scent that I was getting into that sort of style which Longinus and Dionysius Halicarnassus fitly call "the affected."

C. L.



August 22, 1800.

Dear Manning,—You need not imagine any apology necessary. Your fine hare and fine birds (which just now are dangling by our kitchen blaze) discourse most eloquent music in your justification. You just nicked my palate; for, with all due decorum and leave may it be spoken, my worship hath taken physic to-day, and being low and puling, requireth to be pampered. Fob! how beautiful and strong those buttered onions come to my nose! For you must know we extract a divine spirit of gravy from those materials which, duly compounded with a consistence of bread and cream (yclept bread-sauce), each to each giving double grace, do mutually illustrate and set off (as skilful gold-foils to rare jewels) your partridge, pheasant, woodcock, snipe, teal, widgeon, and the other lesser daughters of the ark. My friendship, struggling with my carnal and fleshly prudence (which suggests that a bird a man is the proper allotment in such cases), yearneth sometimes to have thee here to pick a wing or so. I question if your Norfolk sauces match our London culinarie.

George Dyer has introduced me to the table of an agreeable old gentleman, Dr. Anderson, who gives hot legs of mutton and grape pies at his sylvan lodge at Isleworth, where, in the middle of a street, he has shot up a wall most preposterously before his small dwelling, which, with the circumstance of his taking several panes of glass out of bedroom windows (for air), causeth his neighbors to speculate strangely on the state of the good man's pericranicks. Plainly, he lives under the reputation of being deranged. George does not mind this circumstance; he rather likes him the better for it. The Doctor, in his pursuits, joins agricultural to poetical science, and has set George's brains mad about the old Scotch writers, Barbour, Douglas's AEneid, Blind Harry, etc. We returned home in a return postchaise (having dined with the Doctor); and George kept wondering and wondering, for eight or nine turnpike miles, what was the name, and striving to recollect the name, of a poet anterior to Barbour. I begged to know what was remaining of his works. "There is nothing extant of his works, sir; but by all accounts he seems to have been a fine genius!" This fine genius, without anything to show for it or any title beyond George's courtesy, without even a name, and Barbour and Douglas and Blind Harry now are the predominant sounds in George's pia mater, and their buzzings exclude politics, criticism, and algebra,—the late lords of that illustrious lumber-room. Mark, he has never read any of these bucks, but is impatient till he reads them all, at the Doctor's suggestion. Poor Dyer! his friends should be careful what sparks they let fall into such inflammable matter.

Could I have my will of the heathen, I would lock him up from all access of new ideas; I would exclude all critics that would not swear me first (upon their Virgil) that they would feed him with nothing but the old, safe, familiar notions and sounds (the rightful aborigines of his brain),—Gray, Akenside, and Mason. In these sounds, reiterated as often as possible, there could be nothing painful, nothing distracting.

God bless me, here are the birds, smoking hot!

All that is gross and unspiritual in me rises at the sight!

Avaunt friendship and all memory of absent friends!




August 26, 1800.

George Dyer is the only literary character I am happily acquainted with. The oftener I see him, the more deeply I admire him. He is goodness itself. If I could but calculate the precise date of his death, I would write a novel on purpose to make George the hero. I could hit him off to a hair.

George brought a Dr. Anderson [1] to see me. The Doctor is a very pleasant old man, a great genius for agriculture, one that ties his breeches-knees with packthread, and boasts of having had disappointments from ministers. The Doctor happened to mention an epic poem by one Wilkie, called the "Epigoniad," in which he assured us there is not one tolerable line from beginning to end, but all the characters, incidents, etc., verbally copied from Homer. George, who had been sitting quite inattentive to the Doctor's criticism, no sooner heard the sound of Homer strike his pericraniks, than up he gets, and declares he must see that poem immediately: where was it to be had? An epic poem of eight thousand lines, and he not hear of it! There must be some things good in it, and it was necessary he should see it, for he had touched pretty deeply upon that subject in his criticisms on the Epic. George had touched pretty deeply upon the Lyric, I find; he has also prepared a dissertation on the Drama, and the comparison of the English and German theatres. As I rather doubted his competency to do the latter, knowing that his peculiar turn lies in the lyric species of composition, I questioned George what English plays he had read. I found that he had read Shakspeare (whom he calls an original, but irregular, genius), but it was a good while ago; and he has dipped into Rowe and Otway, I suppose having found their names in Johnson's Lives at full length; and upon this slender ground he has undertaken the task. He never seemed even to have heard of Fletcher, Ford, Marlowe, Massinger, and the worthies of Dodsley's Collection; but he is to read all these, to prepare him for bringing out his "Parallel" in the winter. I find he is also determined to vindicate poetry from the shackles which Aristotle and some others have imposed upon it,—which is very good-natured of him, and very necessary just now! Now I am touching so deeply upon poetry, can I forget that I have just received from Cottle a magnificent copy of his Guinea Epic. [2] Four-and-twenty books to read in the dog days! I got as far as the Mad Monk the first day, and fainted. Mr, Cottle's genius strongly points him to the Pastoral, but his inclinations divert him perpetually from his calling. He imitates Southey, as Rowe did Shakspeare, with his "Good morrow to ye, good master Lieutenant," Instead of a man, a woman, a daughter, he constantly writes "one a man," "one a woman," "one his daughter." Instead of the king, the hero, he constantly writes, "he the king," "he the hero,"—two flowers of rhetoric palpably from the "Joan." But Mr, Cottle soars a higher pitch; and when he is original, it is in a most original way indeed. His terrific scenes are indefatigable. Serpents, asps, spiders, ghosts, dead bodies, staircases made of nothing, with adders' tongues for bannisters,—Good Heaven, what a brain he must have! He puts as many plums in his pudding as my grandmother used to do; and, then his emerging from Hell's horrors into light, and treading on pure flats of this earth—for twenty-three books together!

C. L.

[1] See preceding Letter.

[2] Alfred.



October 9, 1800.

I suppose you have heard of the death of Amos Cottle. I paid a solemn visit of condolence to his brother, accompanied by George Dyer, of burlesque memory. I went, trembling, to see poor Cottle so immediately upon the event. He was in black, and his younger brother was also in black. Everything wore an aspect suitable to the respect due to the freshly dead. For some time after our entrance, nobody spake, till George modestly put in a question, whether "Alfred" was likely to sell. This was Lethe to Cottle, and his poor face wet with tears, and his kind eye brightened up in a moment. Now I felt it was my cue to speak. I had to thank him for a present of a magnificent copy, and had promised to send him my remarks,—the least thing I could do; so I ventured to suggest that I perceived a considerable improvement he had made in his first book since the state in which he first read it to me. Joseph, who till now had sat with his knees cowering in by the fireplace, wheeled about, and with great difficulty of body shifted the same round to the corner of a table where I was sitting, and first stationing one thigh over the other, which is his sedentary mood, and placidly fixing his benevolent face right against mine, waited my observations. At that moment it came strongly into my mind that I had got Uncle Toby before me, he looked so kind and so good. I could not say an unkind thing of "Alfred." So I set my memory to work to recollect what was the name of Alfred's queen, and with some adroitness recalled the well-known sound to Cottle's ears of Alswitha. At that moment I could perceive that Cottle had forgot his brother was so lately become a blessed spirit. In the language of mathematicians, the author was as 9, the brother as 1. I felt my cue, and strong pity working at the root, I went to work and beslabber'd "Alfred" with most unqualified praise, or only qualifying my praise by the occasional polite interposition of an exception taken against trivial faults, slips, and human imperfections, which, by removing the appearance of insincerity, did but in truth heighten the relish. Perhaps I might have spared that refinement, for Joseph was in a humor to hope and believe all things. What I said was beautifully supported, corroborated, and confirmed by the stupidity of his brother on my left hand, and by George on my right, who has an utter incapacity of comprehending that there can be anything bad in poetry. All poems are good poems to George; all men are fine geniuses. So what with my actual memory, of which I made the most, and Cottle's own helping me out, for I really had forgotten a good deal of "Alfred," I made shift to discuss the most essential parts entirely to the satisfaction of its author, who repeatedly declared that he loved nothing better than candid criticism. Was I a candid greyhound now for all this? or did I do right? I believe I did. The effect was luscious to my conscience. For all the rest of the evening Amos was no more heard of, till George revived the subject by inquiring whether some account should not be drawn up by the friends of the deceased to be inserted in "Phillips's Monthly Obituary;" adding, that Amos was estimable both for his head and heart, and would have made a fine poet if he had lived. To the expediency of this measure Cottle fully assented, but could not help adding that he always thought that the qualities of his brother's heart exceeded those of his head. I believe his brother, when living, had formed precisely the same idea of him; and I apprehend the world will assent to both judgments. I rather guess that the brothers were poetical rivals. I judged so when I saw them together. Poor Cottle, I must leave him, after his short dream, to muse again upon his poor brother, for whom I am sure in secret he will yet shed many a tear. Now send me in return some Greta news.

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