HotFreeBooks.com
The Best Letters of Charles Lamb
by Charles Lamb
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

C. L.



XXIX.

TO MANNING.

October 16, 1800.

Dear Manning,—Had you written one week before you did, I certainly should have obeyed your injunction; you should have seen me before my letter. I will explain to you my situation. There are six of us in one department. Two of us (within these four days) are confined with severe fevers: and two more, who belong to the Tower Militia, expect to have marching orders on Friday. Now, six are absolutely necessary. I have already asked and obtained two young hands to supply the loss of the feverites; and with the other prospect before me, you may believe I cannot decently ask leave of absence for myself. All I can promise (and I do promise with the sincerity of Saint Peter, and the contrition of sinner Peter if I fail) [is] that I will come the very first spare week, and go nowhere till I have been at Cambridge. No matter if you are in a state of pupilage when I come; for I can employ myself in Cambridge very pleasantly in the mornings. Are there not libraries, halls, colleges, books, pictures, statues? I wish you had made London in your way. There is an exhibition quite uncommon in Europe, which could not have escaped your genius,—a live rattlesnake, ten feet in length, and the thickness of a big leg. I went to see it last night by candlelight. We were ushered into a room very little bigger than ours at Pentonville. A man and woman and four boys live in this room, joint tenants with nine snakes, most of them such as no remedy has been discovered for their bite. We walked into the middle, which is formed by a half-moon of wired boxes, all mansions of snakes,—whip-snakes, thunder-snakes, pig-nose-snakes, American vipers, and this monster. He lies curled up in folds; and immediately a stranger enters (for he is used to the family, and sees them play at cards) he set up a rattle like a watchman's in London, or near as loud, and reared up a head, from the midst of these folds, like a toad, and shook his head, and showed every sign a snake can show of irritation. I had the foolish curiosity to strike the wires with my finger, and the devil flew at me with his toad-mouth wide open: the inside of his mouth is quite white. I had got my finger away, nor could he well have bit me with his big mouth, which would have been certain death in five minutes. But it frightened me so much that I did not recover my voice for a minute's space. I forgot, in my fear, that he was secured. You would have forgot too, for 't is incredible how such a monster can be confined in small gauzy-looking wires. I dreamed of snakes in the night. I wish to Heaven you could see it. He absolutely swelled with passion to the bigness of a large thigh. I could not retreat without infringing on another box, and just behind, a little devil, not an inch from my back, had got his nose out, with some difficulty and pain, quite through the bars! He was soon taught better manners. All the snakes were curious, and objects of terror; but this monster, like Aaron's serpent, swallowed up the impression of the rest. He opened his cursed mouth, when he made at me, as wide as his head was broad. I hallooed out quite loud, and felt pains all over my body with the fright.

I have had the felicity of hearing George Dyer read out one book of "The Farmer's Boy." I thought it rather childish. No doubt, there is originality in it (which, in your self-taught geniuses, is a most rare quality, they generally getting hold of some bad models in a scarcity of books, and forming their taste on them), but no selection. All is, described.

Mind, I have only heard read one book. Yours sincerely,

Philo-Snake, C. L.



XXX.

TO MANNING.

November 3, 1800,

Ecquid meditatur Archimedes? What is Euclid doing? What has happened to learned Trismegist? Doth he take it in ill part that his humble friend did not comply with his courteous invitation? Let it suffice, I could not come. Are impossibilities nothing?—be they abstractions of the intellects, or not (rather) most sharp and mortifying realities? nuts in the Will's mouth too hard for her to crack? brick and stone walls in her way, which she can by no means eat through? sore lets, impedimenta viarum, no thoroughfares? racemi nimium alte pendentes?? Is the phrase classic? I allude to the grapes in Aesop, which cost the fox a strain, and gained the world an aphorism. Observe the superscription of this letter. In adapting the size of the letters which constitute your name and Mr. Crisp's name respectively, I had an eye to your different stations in life. 'Tis really curious, and must be soothing to an aristocrat I wonder it has never been hit on before my time. I have made an acquisition latterly of a pleasant hand, one Rickman, [1] to whom I was introduced by George Dyer,—not the most flattering auspices under which one man can be introduced to another. George brings all sorts of people together, setting up a sort of agrarian law, or common property, in matter of society; but for once he has done me a great pleasure, while he was only pursuing a principle, as ignes fatui may light you home. This Rickman lives in our Buildings, immediately opposite our house; the finest fellow to drop in a' nights, about nine or ten o'clock,—cold bread-and-cheese time,—just in the wishing time of the night, when you wish for somebody to come in, without a distinct idea of a probable anybody. Just in the nick, neither too early to be tedious, nor too late to sit a reasonable time. He is a most pleasant hand,—a fine, rattling fellow, has gone through life laughing at solemn apes; himself hugely literate, oppressively full of information in all stuff of conversation, from matter of fact to Xenophon and Plato; can talk Greek with Porson, politics with Thelwall, conjecture with George Dyer, nonsense with me, and anything with anybody; a great farmer, somewhat concerned in an agricultural magazine; reads no poetry but Shakspeare, very intimate with Southey, but never reads his poetry; relishes George Dyer, thoroughly penetrates into the ridiculous wherever found, understands the first time (a great desideratum in common minds),—you need never twice speak to him; does not want explanations, translations, limitations, as Professor Godwin does when you make an assertion; up to anything, down to everything, —whatever sapit hominem. A perfect man. All this farrago, which must perplex you to read, and has put me to a little trouble to select, only proves how impossible it is to describe a pleasant hand. You must see Rickman to know him, for he is a species in one,—a new class; an exotic, any slip of which I am proud to put in my garden-pot. The clearest-headed fellow; fullest of matter, with least verbosity. If there be any alloy in my fortune to have met with such a man, it is that he commonly divides his time between town and country, having some foolish family ties at Christchurch, by which means he can only gladden our London hemisphere with returns of light. He is now going for six weeks.

[1] John Rickman, clerk-assistant at the table of the House of Commons, an eminent statistician, and the intimate friend of Lamb, Southey, and others of their set.



XXXI.

TO MANNING.

November 28, 1800

Dear Manning,—I have received a very kind invitation from Lloyd and Sophia to go and spend a month with them at the Lakes. Now, it fortunately happens (which is so seldom the case) that I have spare cash by me enough to answer the expenses of so long a journey; and I am determined to get away from the office by some means.

The purpose of this letter is to request of you (my dear friend) that you will not take it unkind if I decline my proposed visit to Cambridge for the present. Perhaps I shall be able to take Cambridge in my way, going or coming. I need not describe to you the expectations which such an one as myself, pent up all my life in a dirty city, have formed of a tour to the Lakes. Consider Grasmere! Ambleside! Wordsworth! Coleridge! Hills, woods, lakes, and mountains, to the devil! I will eat snipes with thee, Thomas Manning. Only confess, confess, a bite.

P.S.—I think you named the 16th; but was it not modest of Lloyd to send such an invitation! It shows his knowledge of money and time. I would be loth to think he meant

"Ironic satire sidelong sklented On my poor pursie." [1]

For my part, with reference to my friends northward, I must confess that I am not romance-bit about Nature. The earth and sea and sky (when all is said) is but as a house to dwell in. If the inmates be courteous, and good liquors flow like the conduits at an old coronation, if they can talk sensibly and feel properly, I have no need to stand staring upon the gilded looking-glass (that strained my friend's purse-strings in the purchase), nor his five-shilling print over the mantelpiece of old Nabbs the carrier (which only betrays his false taste). Just as important to me (in a sense) is all the furniture of my world,—eye-pampering, but satisfies no heart. Streets, streets, streets, markets, theatres, churches, Covent Gardens, shops sparkling with pretty faces of industrious milliners, neat sempstresses, ladles cheapening, gentlemen behind counters lying, authors in the street with spectacles, George Dyers (you may know them by their gait), lamps lit at night, pastry-cooks' and silversmiths' shops, beautiful Quakers of Pentonville, noise of coaches, drowsy cry of mechanic watchman at night, with bucks reeling home drunk; if you happen to wake at midnight, cries of "Fire!" and "Stop, thief!" inns of court, with their learned air, and halls, and butteries, just like Cambridge colleges; old book-stalls, Jeremy Taylors, Burtons on Melancholy, and Religio Medicis on every stall. These are thy pleasures, O London with-the-many-sins! O City abounding in—, for these may Keswick and her giant brood go hang!

C. L.

[1] Burns.



XXXII.

TO MANNING.

December 27, 1800.

At length George Dyer's phrenitis has come to a crisis; he is raging and furiously mad. I waited upon the Heathen, Thursday was a se'nnight; the first symptom which struck my eye and gave me incontrovertible proof of the fatal truth was a pair of nankeen pantaloons four times too big for him, which the said Heathen did pertinaciously affirm to be new.

They were absolutely ingrained with the accumulated dirt of ages; but he affirmed them to be clean. He was going to visit a lady that was nice about those things, and that's the reason he wore nankeen that day. And then he danced, and capered, and fidgeted, and pulled up his pantaloons, and hugged his intolerable flannel vestment closer about his poetic loins; anon he gave it loose to the zephyrs which plentifully insinuate their tiny bodies through every crevice, door, window, or wainscot, expressly formed for the exclusion of such impertinents. Then he caught at a proof-sheet, and catched up a laundress's bill instead; made a dart at Bloomfield's Poems, and threw them in agony aside. I could not bring him to one direct reply; he could not maintain his jumping mind in a right line for the tithe of a moment by Clifford's Inn clock. He must go to the printer's immediately,—the most unlucky accident; he had struck off five hundred impressions of his Poems, which were ready for delivery to subscribers, and the Preface must all be expunged. There were eighty pages of Preface, and not till that morning had he discovered that in the very first page of said Preface he had set out with a principle of criticism fundamentally wrong, which vitiated all his following reasoning. The Preface must be expunged, although it cost him L30,—the lowest calculation, taking in paper and printing! In vain have his real friends remonstrated against this Midsummer madness; George is as obstinate as a Primitive Christian, and wards and parries off all our thrusts with one unanswerable fence,—"Sir, it's of great consequence that the world is not misled!"

* * * * *

Man of many snipes, I will sup with thee, Deo volente ei diabolo nolente, on Monday night the 5th of January, in the new year, and crush a cup to the infant century.

A word or two of my progress. Embark at six o'clock in the morning, with a fresh gale, on a Cambridge one-decker; very cold till eight at night; land at St. Mary's lighthouse, muffins and coffee upon table (or any other curious production of Turkey or both Indies), snipes exactly at nine, punch to commence at ten, with argument; difference of opinion is expected to take place about eleven; perfect unanimity, with some haziness and dimness, before twelve. N. B.—My single affection is not so singly wedded to snipes; but the curious and epicurean eye would also take a pleasure in beholding a delicate and well-chosen assortment of teals, ortolans, the unctuous and palate-soothing flesh, of geese wild and tame, nightingales' brains, the sensorium of a young sucking-pig, or any other Christmas dish, which I leave to the judgment of you and the cook of Gonville.

C. LAMB.



XXXIII.

TO COLERIDGE.

(End of 1800)

I send you, in this parcel, my play, which I beg you to present in my name, with my respect and love, to Wordsworth and his sister. You blame us for giving your direction to Miss Wesley; the woman has been ten times after us about it, and we gave it her at last, under the idea that no further harm would ensue, but she would once write to you, and you would bite your lips and forget to answer it, and so it would end. You read us a dismal homily upon "Realities." We know quite as well as you do what are shadows and what are realities. You, for instance, when you are over your fourth or fifth jorum, chirping about old school occurrences, are the best of realities. Shadows are cold, thin things, that have no warmth or grasp in them. Miss Wesley and her friend, and a tribe of authoresses, that come after you here daily, and, in defect of you, hive and cluster upon us, are the shadows. You encouraged that mopsey, Miss Wesley, to dance after you, in the hope of having her nonsense put into a nonsensical Anthology. We have pretty well shaken her off, by that simple expedient of referring her to you; but there are more burrs in the wind. I came home t'other day from business, hungry as a hunter, to dinner, with nothing, I am sure, of the author but hunger about me, and whom found I closeted with Mary but a friend of this Miss Wesley, one Miss Benje, or Bengey, [1]—I don't know how she spells her name, I just came is time enough, I believe, luckily, to prevent them from exchanging vows of eternal friendship. It seems she is one of your authoresses, that you first foster, and then upbraid us with. But I forgive you. "The rogue has given me potions to make me love him." Well; go she would not, nor step a step over our threshold, till we had promised to come and drink tea with her next night, I had never seen her before, and could not tell who the devil it was that was so familiar. We went, however, not to be impolite. Her lodgings are up two pairs of stairs in East Street, Tea and coffee and macaroons—a kind of cake—I much love. We sat down. Presently Miss Benje broke the silence by declaring herself quite of a different opinion from D'lsraeli, who supposes the differences of human intellect to be the mere effect of organization. She begged to know my opinion. I attempted to carry it off with a pun upon organ; but that went off very flat. She immediately conceived a very low opinion of my metaphysics; and turning round to Mary, put some question to her in French,—possibly having heard that neither Mary nor I understood French. The explanation that took place occasioned some embarrassment and much wondering. She then fell into an insulting conversation about the comparative genius and merits of all modern languages, and concluded with asserting that the Saxon was esteemed the purest dialect in Germany. From thence she passed into the subject of poetry, where I, who had hitherto sat mute and a hearer only, humbly hoped I might now put in a word to some advantage, seeing that it was my own trade in a manner. But I was stopped by a round assertion that no good poetry had appeared since Dr. Johnson's time. It seems the Doctor had suppressed many hopeful geniuses that way by the severity of his critical strictures in his "Lives of the Poets." I here ventured to question the fact, and was beginning to appeal to names; but I was assured "it was certainly the case." Then we discussed Miss More's book on education, which I had never read. It seems Dr. Gregory, another of Miss Bengey's friends, has found fault with one of Miss More's metaphors. Miss More has been at some pains to vindicate herself,—in the opinion of Miss Bengey, not without success. It seems the Doctor is invariably against the use of broken or mixed metaphor, which he reprobates against the authority of Shakspeare himself. We next discussed the question whether Pope was a poet. I find Dr. Gregory is of opinion he was not, though Miss Seward does not at all concur with him in this. We then sat upon the comparative merits of the ten translations of "Pizarro," and Miss Bengey, or Benje, advised Mary to take two of them home; she thought it might afford her some pleasure to compare them verbatim; which we declined. It being now nine o'clock, wine and macaroons were again served round, and we parted, with a promise to go again next week, and meet the Miss Porters, who, it seems, have heard much of Mr. Coleridge, and wish to meet us, because we are his friends. I have been preparing for the occasion. I crowd cotton in my ears. I read all the reviews and magazines of the past month against the dreadful meeting, and I hope by these means to cut a tolerable second-rate figure.

Pray let us have no more complaints about shadows. We are in a fair way, through you, to surfeit sick upon them.

Our loves and respects to your host and hostess. Our dearest love to Coleridge.

Take no thought about your proof-sheets; they shall be done as if Woodfall himself did them. Pray send us word of Mrs. Coleridge and little David Hartley, your little reality.

Farewell, dear Substance. Take no umbrage at anything I have written.

C. LAMB, Umbra.

[1] Miss Elizabeth Benger. See "Dictionary of Nationai Biography," iv. 221.



XXXIV.

TO WORDSWORTH.

January, 1801.

Thanks for your letter and present. I had already borrowed your second volume. [1] What pleases one most is "The Song of Lucy.". Simon's sickly Daughter, in "The Sexton," made me cry. Next to these are the description of these continuous echoes in the story of "Joanna's Laugh," where the mountains and all the scenery absolutely seem alive; and that fine Shakspearian character of the "happy man" in the "Brothers,"—

"That creeps about the fields, Following his fancies by the hour, to bring Tears down his cheek, or solitary smiles Into his face, until the setting sun Write Fool upon his forehead!"

I will mention one more,—the delicate and curious feeling in the wish for the "Cumberland Beggar" that he may have about him the melody of birds, although he hear them not. Here the mind knowingly passes a fiction upon herself, first substituting her own feeling for the Beggar's, and in the same breath detecting the fallacy, will not part with the wish. The "Poet's Epitaph" is disfigured, to my taste, by the common satire upon parsons and lawyers in the beginning, and the coarse epithet of "pin-point," in the sixth stanza. All the rest is eminently good, and your own. I will just add that it appears to me a fault in the "Beggar" that the instructions conveyed in it are too direct, and like a lecture: they don't slide into the mind of the reader while he is imagining no such matter. An intelligent reader finds a sort of insult in being told, "I will teach you how to think upon this subject." This fault, if I am right, is in a ten-thousandth worse degree to be found in Sterne, and in many novelists and modern poets, who continually put a sign-post up to show where you are to feel. They set out with assuming their readers to be stupid,—very different from "Robinson Crusoe," the "Vicar of Wakefield," "Roderick Random," and other beautiful, bare narratives. There is implied, an unwritten compact between author and reader: "I will tell you a story, and I suppose you will understand it." Modern novels, "St. Leons" and the like, are full of such flowers as these,—"Let not my reader suppose;" "Imagine, if you can, modest," etc, I will here have done with praise and blame, I have written so much only that you may not think I have passed over your book without observation.... I am sorry that Coleridge has christened his "Ancient Marinere," a "Poet's Reverie;" it is as bad as Bottom the Weaver's declaration that he is not a lion, but only the scenical representation of a lion. What new idea is gained by this title but one subversive of all credit—which the tale should force upon us—of its truth!

For me, I was never so affected with any human tale. After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many days. I dislike all the miraculous part of it; but the feelings of the man under the operation of such scenery, dragged me along like Tom Pipe's magic whistle. I totally differ from your idea that the "Marinere" should have had a character and a profession. This is a beauty in "Gulliver's Travels," where the mind is kept in a placid state of little wonderments; but the "Ancient Marinere" undergoes such trials as overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was,—like the state of a man in a bad dream, one terrible peculiarity of which is, that all consciousness of personality is gone. Your other observation is, I think as well, a little unfounded: the "Marinere," from being conversant in supernatural events, has acquired a supernatural and strange cast of phrase, eye, appearance, etc., which frighten the "wedding guest." You will excuse my remarks, because I am hurt and vexed that you should think it necessary, with a prose apology, to open the eyes of dead men that cannot see.

To sum up a general opinion of the second volume, I do not feel any one poem in it so forcibly as the "Ancient Marinere" and "The Mad Mother," and the "Lines at Tintern Abbey" in the first.

C. L.

[1] Of the "Lyrical Ballads" then just published. For certain results of Lamb's strictures in this letter, see Letter xxxvii.



XXXV.

TO WORDSWORTH.

January 30, 1801.

I ought before this to have replied to your very kind invitation into Cumberland. With you and your sister I could gang anywhere; but I am afraid whether I shall ever be able to afford so desperate a journey. Separate from the pleasure of your company, I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life. I have passed all my days in London, until I have formed as many and intense local attachments as any of you mountaineers can have done with dead nature. The lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street; the innumerable trades, tradesmen, and customers; coaches, wagons, playhouses; all the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden; the very women of the town; the watchmen, drunken scenes, rattles; life awake, if you awake, at all hours of the night; the impossibility of being dull in Fleet Street; the crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun shining upon houses and pavements; the print-shops, the old-book stalls, parsons cheapening books; coffee-houses, steams of soups from kitchens; the pantomimes, London itself a pantomime and a masquerade,—all these things work themselves into my mind, and feed me without a power of satiating me. The wonder of these sights impels me into night-walks about her crowded streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand from fulness of joy at so much life. All these emotions must be strange to you; so are your rural emotions to me. But consider what must I have been doing all my life, not to have lent great portions of my heart with usury to such scenes?

My attachments are all local, purely local,—I have no passion (or have had none since I was in love, and then it was the spurious engendering of poetry and books) to groves and valleys. The rooms where I was bom, the furniture which has been before my eyes all my life, a bookcase which has followed me about like a faithful dog (only exceeding him in knowledge), wherever I have moved; old chairs, old tables; streets, squares, where I have sunned myself; my old school,—these are my mistresses. Have I not enough without your mountains? I do not envy you. I should pity you, did I not know that the mind will make friends with anything. Your sun and moon, and skies and hills and lakes, affect me no more or scarcely come to be in more venerable characters, than as a gilded room with tapestry and tapers, where I might live with handsome visible objects. I consider the clouds above me but as a roof beautifully painted, but unable to satisfy the mind, and at last, like the pictures of the apartment of a connoisseur, unable to afford him any longer a pleasure. So fading upon me, from disuse, have been the beauties of Nature, as they have been confidently called; so ever fresh and green and warm are all the inventions of men and assemblies of men In this great city. I should certainly have laughed with dear Joanna.

Give my kindest love and my sister's to D. and yourself. And a kiss from me to little Barbara Lewthwaite. [1] Thank you for liking my play!

C.L.



XXXVI.

TO MANNING.

February, 1801.

I am going to change my lodgings, having received a hint that it would be agreeable, at our Lady's next feast. I have partly fixed upon most delectable rooms, which look out (when you stand a-tiptoe) over the Thames and Surrey Hills, at the upper end of King's Bench Walks, in the Temple. There I shall have all the privacy of a house without the encumbrance; and shall be able to lock my friends out as often as I desire to hold free converse with my immortal mind; for my present lodgings resemble a minister's levee, I have so increased my acquaintance (as they call 'em), since I have resided in town. Like the country mouse, that had tasted a little of urban manners, I long to be nibbling my own cheese by my dear self without mousetraps and time-traps. By my new plan, I shall be as airy, up four pair of stairs, as in the country; and in a garden, in the midst of enchanting, more than Mahometan paradise, London, whose dirtiest drab-frequented alley, and her lowest-bowing tradesman, I would not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn, James, Walter, and the parson into the bargain. Oh, her lamps of a night; her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops, mercers, hardwaremen, pastrycooks; St. Paul's Churchyard; the Strand; Exeter 'Change; Charing Cross, with a man upon a black horse! These are thy gods, O London! Ain't you mightily moped on the banks of the Cam? Had not you better come and set up here? You can't think what a difference. All the streets and pavements are pure gold, I warrant you,—at least, I know an alchemy that turns her mud into that metal: a mind that loves to be at home in crowds.

'Tis half-past twelve o'clock, and all sober people ought to be a-bed. Between you and me, the L. Ballads are but drowsy performances.

C. LAMB (as you may guess).

[1] The child in Wordsworth's "The Pet Lamb."



XXXVII.

TO MANNING.

February 15, 1801.

I had need be cautious henceforward what opinion I give of the "Lyrical Ballads." All the North of England are in a turmoil. Cumberland and Westmoreland have already declared a state of war. I lately received from Wordsworth a copy of the second volume, accompanied by an acknowledgment of having received from me many months since a copy of a certain tragedy, with excuses for not having made any acknowledgment sooner, it being owing to an "almost insurmountable aversion from letter-writing." This letter I answered in due form and time, and enumerated several of the passages which had most affected me, adding, unfortunately, that no single piece had moved me so forcibly as the "Ancient Mariner," "The Mad Mother," or the "Lines at Tintern Abbey." The Post did not sleep a moment. I received almost instantaneously a long letter of four sweating pages from my Reluctant Letter-Writer, the purport of which was that he was sorry his second volume had not given me more pleasure (Devil a hint did I give that it had not pleased me), and "was compelled to wish that my range of sensibility was more extended, being obliged to believe that I should receive large influxes of happiness and happy thoughts" (I suppose from the L. B.),—with a deal of stuff about a certain Union of Tenderness and Imagination, which, in the sense he used Imagination, was not the characteristic of Shakspeare, but which Milton possessed in a degree far exceeding other Poets; which union, as the highest species of poetry, and chiefly deserving that name, "he was most proud to aspire to;" then illustrating the said union by two quotations from his own second volume (which I had been so unfortunate as to miss.) First specimen; A father addresses his son:—

"When thou First camest into the World, as it befalls To new-born infants, thou didst sleep away Two days; and blessings from thy father's tongue Then fell upon thee."

The lines were thus undermarked, and then followed, "This passage, as combining in an extraordinary degree that union of tenderness and imagination which I am speaking of, I consider as one of the best I ever wrote."

Second specimen: A youth, after years of absence, revisits his native place, and thinks (as most people do) that there has been strange alteration in his absence,—

"And that the rocks And everlasting hills themselves were changed."

You see both these are good poetry; but after one has been reading Shakspeare twenty of the best years of one's life, to have a fellow start up and prate about some unknown quality which Shakspeare possessed in a degree inferior to Milton and somebody else! This was not to be all my castigation. Coleridge, who had not written to me for some months before, starts up from his bed of sickness to reprove me for my tardy presumption; four long pages, equally sweaty and more tedious, came from him, assuring me that when the works of a man of true genius, such as W. undoubtedly was, do not please me at first sight, I should expect the fault to lie "in me, and not in them," etc. What am I to do with such people? I certainly shall write them a very merry letter. Writing to you, I may say that the second volume has no such pieces as the three I enumerated. It is full of original thinking and an observing mind; but it does not often make you laugh or cry. It too artfully aims at simplicity of expression. And you sometimes doubt if simplicity be not a cover for poverty. The best piece in it I will send you, being short. I have grievously offended my friends in the North by declaring my undue preference; but I need not fear you.

"She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the Springs of Dove,— A maid whom there were few (sic) to praise, And very few to love.

"A violet, by a mossy stone Half hidden from the eye, Fair as a star when only one Is shining in the sky.

"She lived unknown; and few could know When Lucy ceased to be; But she is in the grave, and oh, The difference to me!"

This is choice and genuine, and so are many, many more. But one does riot like to have 'em rammed down one's throat. "Pray take it,—it's very good; let me help you,—eat faster."



XXXVIII.

TO MANNING,

September 24, 1802

My Dear Manning,—Since the date of my last tetter, I have been a traveller, A strong desire seized me of visiting remote regions. My first impulse was to go aod see Paris. It was a trivial objection to my aspiring mind that I did not understand a word of the language, since I certainly intend some time in my life to see Paris, and equally certainly never intend to learn the language; therefore that could be no objection. However, I am very glad I did not go, because you had left Paris (I see) before I could have set out. I believe Stoddart promising to go with me another year prevented that plan. My next scheme (for to my restless, ambitious mind London was become a bed of thorns) was to visit the far-famed peak in Derbyshire, where the Devil sits, they say, without breeches. This my purer mind rejected as indelicate. And my final resolve was a tour to the Lakes. I set out with Mary to Keswick, without giving Coleridge any notice; for my time, being precious, did not admit of it. He received us with all the hospitality tality in the world, and gave up his time to show us all the wonders of the country. He dwells upon a small hill by the side of Keswick, in a comfortable house, quite enveloped on all sides by a net of mountains,—great floundering bears and monsters they seemed, all couchant and asleep. We got in in the evening, travelling in a post-chaise from Penrith, in the midst of a gorgeous sunshine, which transmuted all the mountains into colors, purple, etc. We thought we had got into fairy-land. But that went off (as it never came again; while we stayed, we had no more fine sunsets); and we entered Coleridge's comfortable study just in the dusk, when the mountains were all dark, with clouds upon their heads. Such an impression I never received from objects of sight before, nor do I suppose that I can ever again. Glorious creatures, fine old fellows, Skiddaw, etc. I never shall forget ye, how ye lay about that night, like an intrenchment; gone to bed, as it seemed for the night, but promising that ye were to be seen in the morning. Coleridge had got a blazing fire in his study, which is a large, antique, ill-shaped room, with an old-fashioned organ, never played upon, big enough for a church, shelves of scattered folios, an AEolian harp, and an old sofa, half-bed, etc.; and all looking out upon the last fading view of Skiddaw and his broad-breasted brethren. What a night! Here we stayed three full weeks, in which time I visited Wordsworth's cottage, where we stayed a day or two with the Clarksons (good people and most hospitable, at whose house we tarried one day and night), and saw Lloyd. The Wordsworths were gone to Calais. They have since been in London, and passed much time with us; he has now gone into Yorkshire to be married. So we have seen Keswick, Grasmere, Ambleside, Ulswater (where the Clarksons live), and a place at the other end of Ulswater,—I forget the name, [1]—to which we travelled on a very sultry day, over the middle of Helvellyn. We have clambered up to the top of Skiddaw, and I have waded up the bed of Lodore. In fine, I have satisfied myself that there is such a thing as that which tourists call romantic, which I very much suspected before; they make such a spluttering about it, and toss their splendid epithets around them, till they give as dim a light as at four o'clock next morning the lamps do after an illumination. Mary was excessively tired when she got about half way up Skiddaw; but we came to a cold rill (than which nothing can be imagined more cold, running over cold stones), and with the reinforcement of a draught of cold water she surmounted it most manfully. Oh, its fine black head, and the bleak air atop of it, with a prospect of mountains all about and about, making you giddy; and then Scotland afar off, and the border countries so famous in song and ballad! It was a day that will stand out like a mountain, I am sure, in my life. But I am returned (I have now been come home near three weeks; I was a month out), and you cannot conceive the degradation I felt at first, from being accustomed to wander free as air among mountains, and bathe in rivers without being controlled by any one, to come home and work. I felt very little. I had been dreaming I was a very great man. But that is going off, and I find I shall conform in time to that state of life to which it has pleased God to call me. Besides, after all, Fleet Street and the Strand are better places to live in for good and all than amidst Skiddaw. Still, I turn back to those great places where I wandered about, participating in their greatness. After all, I could not live in Skiddaw. I could spend a year,—two, three years among them; but I must have a prospect of seeing Fleet Street at the end of that time, or I should mope and pine away, I know. Still, Skiddaw is a fine creature.

My habits are changing, I think,—i.e., from drunk to sober. Whether I shall be happier or not, remains to be proved. I shall certainly be more happy in a morning; but whether I shall not sacrifice the fat and the marrow and the kidneys,—i.e., the night,—glorious, care-drowning night, that heals all our wrongs, pours wine into our mortifications, changes the scene from indifferent and flat to bright and brilliant? O Manning, if I should have formed a diabolical resolution, by the time you come to England, of not admitting any spirituous liquors into my house, will you be my guest on such shameworthy terms? Is life, with such limitations, worth trying? The truth is, that my liquors bring a nest of friendly harpies about my house, who consume me. This is a pitiful tale to be read at St. Gothard; but it is just now nearest my heart.

[1] Patterdale.



XXXIX.

TO COLERIDGE,

October 23, 1802.

I read daily your political essays. I was particularly pleased with "Once a Jacobin;" though the argument is obvious enough, the style was less swelling than your things sometimes are, and it was plausible ad populum. A vessel has just arrived from Jamaica with the news of poor Sam Le Grice's death. He died at Jamaica of the yellow fever. His course was rapid, and he had been very foolish; but I believe there was more of kindness and warmth in him than in almost any other of our schoolfellows. The annual meeting of the Blues is to-morrow, at the London Tavern, where poor Sammy dined with them two years ago, and attracted the notice of all by the singular foppishness of his dress. When men go off the stage so early, it scarce seems a noticeable thing in their epitaphs, whether they had been wise or silly in their lifetime.

I am glad the snuff and Pi-pos's books please. "Goody Two Shoes" is almost out of print. Mrs. Barbauld's stuff has banished all the old classics of the nursery; and the shopman at Newberry's hardly deigned to reach them off an old exploded corner of a shelf, when Mary asked for them. Mrs. B.'s and Mrs. Trimmer's nonsense lay in piles about. Knowledge insignificant and vapid as Mrs. B.'s books convey, it seems, must come to the child in the shape of knowledge, and his empty noddle must be turned with conceit of his own powers when he has learned that a horse is an animal, and Billy is better than a horse, and such like; instead of that beautiful interest in wild tales which made the child a man, while all the time he suspected himself to be no bigger than a child. Science has succeeded to poetry no less in the little walks of children than with men. Is there no possibility of averting this sore evil? Think what you would have been now, if instead of being fed with tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with geography and natural history!

Hang them!—I mean the cursed Barbauld crew, those blights and blasts of all that is human in man and child.

As to the translations, let me do two or three hundred lines, and then do you try the nostrums upon Stuart in any way you please. If they go down, I will bray more. In fact, if I got or could but get L50 a year only, in addition to what I have, I should live in affluence.

Have you anticipated it, or could not you give a parallel of Bonaparte with Cromwell, particularly as to the contrast in their deeds affecting foreign States? Cromwell's interference for the Albigenses, B[onaparte]'s against the Swiss. Then religion would come in; and Milton and you could rant about our countrymen of that period. This is a hasty suggestion, the more hasty because I want my supper. I have just finished Chapman's Homer. Did you ever read it? It has most the continuous power of interesting you all along, like a rapid original, of any, and in the uncommon excellence of the more finished parts goes beyond Fairfax or any of 'em. The metre is fourteen syllables, and capable of all sweetness and grandeur, Cowper's ponderous blank verse detains you every step with some heavy Miltonism; Chapman gallops off with you his own free pace. Take a simile, for example. The council breaks up,—

"Being abroad, the earth was overlaid With fleckers to them, that came forth; as when of frequent bees Swarms rise out of a hollow rock, repairing the degrees Of their egression endlessly,—with ever rising new From forth their sweet nest; as their store, still as it faded, grew,

"And never would cease sending forth her dusters to the spring. They still crowd out so: this flock here, that there, belaboring The loaded flowers. So," etc.

What endless egression of phrases the dog commands!

Take another.—Agamemnon, wounded, bearing hiss wound, heroically for the sake of the army (look below) to a woman in labor:—

"He with his lance, sword, mighty stones, poured his heroic wreak On other squadrons of the foe, whiles yet warm blood did break Thro' his cleft veins: but when the wound was quite exhaust and crude, The eager anguish did approve his princely fortitude. As when most sharp and bitter pangs distract a laboring dame, Which the divine Ilithiae, that rule the painful frame Of human childbirth, pour on her; the Ilithiae that are The daughters of Saturnia; with whose extreme repair The woman in her travail strives to take the worst it gives; With thought, it must be, 'tis love's fruit, the end for which she lives; The mean to make herself new born, what comforts will redound! So," etc.

I will tell you more about Chapman and his peculiarities in my next. I am much interested in him.

Yours ever affectionately, and Pi-Pos's,

C. L.



XL.

TO MANNING.

November, 1802.

My Dear Manning,—I must positively write, or I shall miss you at Toulouse. I sit here like a decayed minute-hand (I lie; that does not sit), and being myself the exponent of no time, take no heed how the clocks about me are going. You possibly by this time may have explored all Italy, and toppled, unawares, into Etna, while you went too near those rotten-jawed, gap-toothed, old worn-out chaps of hell,—while I am meditating a quiescent letter to the honest postmaster at Toulouse. But in case you should not have been felo de se, this is to tell you that your letter was quite to my palate; in particular your just remarks upon Industry, cursed Industry (though indeed you left me to explore the reason), were highly relishing.

I've often wished I lived in the Golden Age, before doubt, and propositions, and corollaries, got into the world. Now, as Joseph Cottle, a Bard of Nature, sings, going up Malvern Hills,—

"How steep, how painful the ascent! It needs the evidence of close deduction To know that ever I shall gain the top."

You must know that Joe is lame, so that he had some reason for so singing. These two lines, I assure you, are taken totidem literis from a very popular poem. Joe is also an epic poet as well as a descriptive, and has written a tragedy, though both his drama and epopoiea are strictly descriptive, and chiefly of the beauties of nature, for Toe thinks man, with all his passions and frailties, not: a proper subject of the drama. Joe's tragedy hath the following surpassing speech in it. Some king is told that his enemy has engaged twelve archers to come over in a boat from an enemy's country and way-lay him; he thereupon pathetically exclaims,—

"Twelve, dost thou say? Curse on those dozen villains!"

Cottle read two or three acts out to as, very gravely on both sides, till he came to this heroic touch,—and then he asked what we laughed at? I had no more muscles that day. A poet that chooses to read out his own verses has but a limited power over you. There is a bound where his authority ceases.



XLI.

TO MANNING.

February 19, 1803.

My Dear Manning,—The general scope of your letter afforded no indications of insanity, but some particular points raised a scruple. For God's sake, don't think any more of "Independent Tartary." [1] What are you to do among such Ethiopians? Is there no lineal descendant of Prester John? Is the chair empty? Is the sword unswayed? Depend upon it, they'll never make you their king as long as any branch of that great stock is remaining. I tremble for your Christianity. They will certainly circumcise you. Read Sir John Mandeville's travels to cure you, or come over to England. There is a Tartar man now exhibiting at Exeter 'Change. Come and talk with him, and hear what he says first. Indeed, he is no very favorable specimen of his countrymen! But perhaps the best thing you can do is to try to get the idea out of your head. For this purpose repeat to yourself every night, after you have said your prayers, the words "Independent Tartary, Independent Tartary," two or three times, and associate with them the idea of oblivion ('t is Hartley's method with obstinate memories); or say "Independent, Independent, have I not already got an independence?" That was a clever way of the old Puritans,—pun-divinity. My dear friend, think what a sad pity it would be to bury such parts in heathen countries, among nasty, unconversable, horse-belching, Tartar people! Some say they are cannibals; and then conceive a Tartar fellow eating my friend, and adding the cool malignity of mustard and vinegar! I am afraid 't is the reading of Chaucer has misled you; his foolish stories about Cambuscan and the ring, and the horse of brass. Believe me, there are no such things,—'t is all the poet's invention; but if there were such darling things as old Chaucer sings, I would up behind you on the horse of brass, and frisk off for Prester John's country. But these are all tales; a horse of brass never flew, and a king's daughter never talked with birds! The Tartars really are a cold, insipid, smouchy set. You'll be sadly moped (if you are not eaten) among them. Pray try and cure yourself. Take hellebore (the counsel is Horace's; 't was none of my thought originally). Shave yourself oftener. Eat no saffron, for saffron-eaters contract a terrible Tartar-like yellow. Pray to avoid the fiend. Eat nothing that gives the heartburn. Shave the upper lip. Go about like an European. Read no book of voyages (they are nothing but lies); only now and then a romance, to keep the fancy under. Above all, don't go to any sights of wild beasts. That has been your ruin. Accustom yourself to write familiar letters on common subjects to your friends in England, such as are of a moderate understanding. And think about common things more. I supped last night with Rickman, and met a merry natural captain, who pleases himself vastly with once having made a pun at Otaheite in the O. language. 'Tis the same man who said Shakspeare he liked, because he was so much of the gentleman. Rickman is a man "absolute in all numbers." I think I may one day bring you acquainted, if you do not go to Tartary first; for you'll never come back. Have a care, my dear friend, of Anthropophagi! their stomachs are always craving. 'Tis terrible to be weighed out at fivepence a pound. To sit at table (the reverse of fishes in Holland), not as a guest, but as a meat!

God bless you! do come to England. Air and exercise may do great things. Talk with some minister. Why not your father?

God dispose all for the best! I have discharged my duty.

Your sincere friend,

C. LAMB.

[1] Manning had evidently written to Lamb as to his cherished project of exploring remoter China and Thibet.



XLII.

TO MANNING.

February, 1803.

Not a sentence, not a syllable, of Trismegistus shall be lost through my neglect. I am his word-banker, his storekeeper of puns and syllogisms. You cannot conceive (and if Trismegistus cannot, no man can) the strange joy which I felt at the receipt of a letter from Paris. It seemed to give me a learned importance which placed me above all who had not Parisian correspondents. Believe that I shall carefully husband every scrap, which will save you the trouble of memory when you come back. You cannot write things so trifling, let them only be about Paris, which I shall not treasure. In particular, I must have parallels of actors and actresses. I must be told if any building in Paris is at all comparable to St. Paul's, which, contrary to the usual mode of that part of our nature called admiration, I have looked up to with unfading wonder every morning at ten o'clock, ever since it has lain in my way to business. At noon I casually glance upon it, being hungry; and hunger has not much taste for the fine arts. Is any night-walk comparable to a walk from St. Paul's to Charing Cross, for lighting and paving, crowds going and coming without respite, the rattle of coaches, and the cheerfulness of shops? Have you seen a man guillotined yet? is it as good as hanging? Are the women all painted, and the men all monkeys? or are there not a few that look like rational of both sexes? Are you and the First Consul thick? All this expense of ink I may fairly put you to, as your letters will not be solely for my proper pleasure, but are to serve as memoranda and notices, helps for short memory, a kind of Rumfordizing recollection, for yourself on your return. Your letter was just what a letter should be,—crammed and very funny. Every part of it pleased me, till you came to Paris, and your philosophical indolence or indifference stung me. You cannot stir from your rooms till you know the language! What the devil! are men nothing but word-trumpets? Are men all tongue and ear? Have these creatures, that you and I profess to know something about, no faces, gestures, gabble; no folly, no absurdity, no induction of French education upon the abstract idea of men and women; no similitude nor dissimilitude to English? Why, thou cursed Smellfungus! your account of your landing and reception, and Bullen (I forget how you spell it,—it was spelt my way in Harry the Eighth's time), was exactly in that minute style which strong impressions INSPIRE (writing to a Frenchman, I write as a Frenchman would). It appears to me as if I should die with joy at the first landing in a foreign country. It is the nearest pleasure which a grown man can substitute for that unknown one, which he can never know,—the pleasure of the first entrance into life from the womb. I daresay, in a short time, my habits would come back like a "stronger man" armed, and drive out that new pleasure; and I should soon sicken for known objects. Nothing has transpired here that seems to me of sufficient importance to send dry-shod over the water; but I suppose you will want to be told some news. The best and the worst to me is, that I have given up two guineas a week at the "Post," and regained my health and spirits, which were upon the wane. I grew sick, and Stuart unsatisfied. Ludisti satis, tempus abire est; I must cut closer, that's all. Mister Fell—or as you, with your usual facetiousness and drollery, call him, Mr. Fell—has stopped short in the middle of his play. Some friend has told him that it has not the least merit in it. Oh that I had the rectifying of the Litany! I would put in a Libera nos (Scriptores videlicet) ab amicis! That's all the news. A propos (is it pedantry, writing to a Frenchman, to express myself sometimes by a French word, when an English one would not do as well? Methinks my thoughts fall naturally into it)—

In all this time I have done but one thing which I reckon tolerable, and that I will transcribe, because it may give you pleasure, being a picture of my humors. You will find it in my last page. It absurdly is a first number of a series, thus strangled in its birth.

More news! The Professor's Rib [1] has come out to be a disagreeable woman, so much so as to drive me and some more old cronies from his house. He must not wonder if people are shy of coming to see him because of the Snakes.

C. L.

[1] Mrs. Godwin



XLIII.

TO WILLIAM GODWIN.

November 10, 1803.

Dear Godwin,—You never made a more unlucky and perverse mistake than to suppose that the reason of my not writing that cursed thing was to be found in your book. I assure you most sincerely that I have been greatly delighted with "Chaucer." [1] I may be wrong, but I think there is one considerable error runs through it, which is a conjecturing spirit, a fondness for filling out the picture by supposing what Chaucer did and how he felt, where the materials are scanty. So far from meaning to withhold from you (out of mistaken tenderness) this opinion of mine, I plainly told Mrs. Godwin that I did find a fault, which I should reserve naming until I should see you and talk it over. This she may very well remember, and also that I declined naming this fault until she drew it from me by asking me if there was not too much fancy in the work. I then confessed generally what I felt, but refused to go into particulars until I had seen you. I am never very fond of saying things before third persons, because in the relation (such is human nature) something is sure to be dropped. If Mrs. Godwin has been the cause of your misconstruction, I am very angry, tell her; yet it is not an anger unto death. I remember also telling Mrs. G. (which she may have dropt) that I was by turns considerably more delighted than I expected. But I wished to reserve all this until I saw you. I even had conceived an expression to meet you with, which was thanking you for some of the most exquisite pieces of criticism I had ever read in my life. In particular, I should have brought forward that on "Troilus and Cressida" and Shakspeare, which, it is little to say, delighted me and instructed me (if not absolutely instructed me, yet put into full-grown sense many conceptions which had arisen in me before in my most discriminating moods). All these things I was preparing to say, and bottling them up till I came, thinking to please my friend and host the author, when lo! this deadly blight intervened.

I certainly ought to make great allowances for your misunderstanding me. You, by long habits of composition and a greater command gained over your own powers, cannot conceive of the desultory and uncertain way in which I (an author by fits) sometimes cannot put the thoughts of a common letter into sane prose. Any work which I take upon myself as an engagement will act upon me to torment; e.g., when I have undertaken, as three or four times I have, a school-boy copy of verses for Merchant Taylors' boys, at a guinea a copy, I have fretted over them in perfect inability to do them, and have made my sister wretched with my wretchedness for a week together. The same, till by habit I have acquired a mechanical command, I have felt in making paragraphs. As to reviewing, in particular, my head is so whimsical a head that I cannot, after reading another man's book, let it have been never so pleasing, give any account of it in any methodical way, I cannot follow his train. Something like this you must have perceived of me in conversation. Ten thousand times I have confessed to you, talking of my talents, my utter inability to remember in any comprehensive way what I read. I can vehemently applaud, or perversely stickle, at parts; but I cannot grasp at a whole. This infirmity (which is nothing to brag of) may be seen in my two little compositions, the tale and my play, in both which no reader, however partial, can find any story. I wrote such stuff about Chaucer, and got into such digressions, quite irreducible into 1 1/5 column of a paper, that I was perfectly ashamed to show it you. However, it is become a serious matter that I should convince you I neither slunk from the task through a wilful deserting neglect, or through any (most imaginary on your part) distaste of "Chaucer;" and I will try my hand again,—I hope with better luck. My health is bad, and my time taken up; but all I can spare between this and Sunday shall be employed for you, since you desire it: and if I bring you a crude, wretched paper on Sunday, you must burn it, and forgive me; if it proves anything better than I predict, may it be a peace-offering of sweet incense between us!

C. LAMB.

[1] Godwin's "Life of Chaucer,"—a work, says Canon Ainger, consisting of "four fifths ingenious guessing to one fifth of material having any historic basis."



XLIV.

TO MANNING.

February 24, 1805.

Dear Manning,—I have been very unwell since I saw you. A sad depression of spirits, a most unaccountable nervousness; from which I have been partially relieved by an odd accident. You knew Dick Hopkins, the swearing scullion of Caius? This fellow, by industry and agility, has thrust himself into the important situations (no sinecures, believe me) of cook to Trinity Hall and Caius College; and the generous creature has contrived, with the greatest delicacy imaginable, to send me a present of Cambridge brawn. What makes it the more extraordinary is, that the man never saw me in his life that I know of. I suppose he has heard of me. I did not immediately recognize the donor; but one of Richard's cards, which had accidentally fallen into the straw, detected him in a moment, Dick, you know, was always remarkable for flourishing. His card imports that "orders [to wit, for brawn] from any part of England, Scotland, or Ireland, will be duly executed," etc. At first I thought of declining the present; but Richard knew my blind side when he pitched upon brawn. 'Tis of all my hobbies the supreme in the eating way. He might have sent sops from the pan, skimmings, crumpets, chips, hog's lard, the tender brown judiciously scalped from a fillet of veal (dexterously replaced by a salamander), the tops of asparagus, fugitive livers, runaway gizzards of fowls, the eyes of martyred pigs, tender effusions of laxative woodcocks, the red spawn of lobsters, leverets' ears, and such pretty filchings common to cooks; but these had been ordinary presents, the everyday courtesies of dishwashers to their sweethearts. Brawn was a noble thought. It is not every common gullet-fancier that can properly esteem it. It is like a picture of one of the choice old Italian masters. Its gusto is of that hidden sort. As Wordsworth sings of a modest poet, "you must love him, ere to you he will seem worthy of your love," so brawn, you must taste it, ere to you it will seem to have any taste at all. But 'tis nuts to the adept,—those that will send out their tongues and feelers to find it out. It will be wooed, and not unsought be won. Now, ham-essence, lobsters, turtle, such popular minions, absolutely court you, lay themselves out to strike you at first smack, like one of David's pictures (they call him Darveed), compared with the plain russet-coated wealth of a Titian or a Correggio, as I illustrated above. Such are the obvious glaring heathen virtues of a corporation dinner, compared with the reserved collegiate worth of brawn. Do me the favour to leave off the business which you may be at present upon, and go immediately to the kitchens of Trinity and Caius, and make my most respectful compliments to Mr. Richard Hopkins, and assure him that his brawn is most excellent, and that I am moreover obliged to him for his innuendo about salt water and bran, which I shall not fail to improve. I leave it to you whether you shall choose to pay him the civility of asking him to dinner while you stay in Cambridge, or in whatever other way you may best like to show your gratitude to my friend. Richard Hopkins, considered in many points of view, is a very extraordinary character. Adieu. I hope to see you to supper in London soon, where we will taste Richard's brawn, and drink his health in a cheerful but moderate cup. We have not many such men in any rank of life as Mr. R. Hopkins. Crisp the barber, of St. Mary's, was just such another. I wonder he never sent me any little token,—some chestnuts, or a puff, or two pound of hair just to remember him by; gifts are like nails. Praesens ut absens, that is, your present makes amends for your absence.

Yours,

C. LAMB.



XLV.

TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

June 14, 1805.

My Dear Miss Wordsworth,—I have every reason to suppose that this illness, like all Mary's former ones, will be but temporary. But I cannot always feel so. Meantime she is dead to me, and I miss a prop. All my strength Is gone, and I am like a fool, bereft of her co-operation. I dare not think, iest I should think wrong; so used am I to look up to her in the least and the biggest perplexity. To say all that I know of her, would be more than I think anybody could believe or ever understand; and when I hope to have her well again with me, it would be sinning against her feelings to go about to praise her; for I can conceal nothing that I do from her. She is older and wiser and better than I, and all my wretched imperfections I cover to myself by resolutely thinking on her goodness. She would share life and death, heaven and hell, with me. She lives but for me; and I know I have been wasting and teasing her life for five years past incessantly with my cursed ways of going on. But even in this upbraiding of myself I am offending against her, for I know that she has cleaved to me for better, for worse; and if the balance has been against her hitherto, it was a noble trade. I am stupid, and lose myself in what I write. I write rather what answers to my feelings (which are sometimes sharp enough) than express my present ones, for I am only flat and stupid. I am sure you will excuse my writing any more, I am so very poorly.

I cannot resist transcribing three or four lines which poor Mary made upon a picture (a Holy Family) which we saw at an auction only one week before she left home. They are sweet lines, and upon a sweet picture. But I send them only as the last memorial of her.

VIRGIN AND CHILD, L. DA VINCI.

"Maternal Lady, with thy virgin-grace, Heaven-born thy Jesus seemeth, sure, And thou a virgin pure. Lady most perfect, when thy angel face Men look upon, they wish to be A Catholic, Madonna fair, to worship thee."

You had her lines about the "Lady Blanch." You have not had some which she wrote upon a copy of a girl from Titian, which I had hung up where that print of Blanch and the Abbess (as she beautifully interpreted two female figures from L. da Vinci) had hung in our room. 'Tis light and pretty.

"Who art thou, fair one, who usurp'st the place Of Blanch, the lady of the matchless grace? Come, fair and pretty, tell to me Who in thy lifetime thou mightst be? Thou pretty art and fair, But with the Lady Blanch thou never must compare. No need for Blanch her history to tell, Whoever saw her face, they there did read it well; But when I look on thee, I only know There lived a pretty maid some hundred years ago,"

This is a little unfair, to tell so much about ourselves, and to advert so little to your letter, so full of comfortable tidings of you all But my own cares press pretty close upon me, and you can make allowance. That you may go on gathering strength and peace is my next wish to Mary's recovery.

I had almost forgot your repeated invitation. Supposing that Mary will be well and able, there is another ability which you may guess at, which I cannot promise myself. In prudence we ought not to come. This illness will make it still more prudential to wait. It is not a balance of this way of spending our money against another way, but an absolute question of whether we shall stop now, or go on wasting away the little we have got beforehand, which my evil conduct has already encroached upon one-half. My best love, however, to you all, and to that most friendly creature. Mrs. Clarkson, and better health to her, when you see or write to her.

CHARLES LAMB.



XLVI. [1]

TO MANNING.

May 10, 1806.

My Dear Manning,—I didn't know what your going was till I shook a last fist with you, and then 'twas just like having shaken hands with a wretch on the fatal scaffold, and when you are down the ladder, you can never stretch out to him again. Mary says you are dead, and there's nothing to do but to leave it to time to do for us in the end what it always does for those who mourn for people in such a case. But she'll see by your letter you are not quite dead. A little kicking and agony, and then—Martin Burney took me out a walking that evening, and we talked of Manning; and then I came home and smoked for you, and at twelve o'clock came home Mary and Monkey Louisa from the play, and there was more talk and more smoking, and they all seemed first-rate characters, because they knew a certain person. But what's the use of talking about 'em? By the time you'll have made your escape from the Kalmuks, you'll have stayed so long I shall never be able to bring to your mind who Mary was, who will have died about a year before, nor who the Holcrofts were! Me perhaps you will mistake for Phillips, or confound me with Mr. Dawe, because you saw us together. Mary (whom you seem to remember yet) is not quite easy that she had not a formal parting from you. I wish it had so happened. But you must bring her a token, a shawl or something, and remember a sprightly little mandarin for our mantelpiece, as a companion to the child I am going to purchase at the museum. She says you saw her writings about the other day, and she wishes you should know what they are. She is doing for Godwin's bookseller twenty of Shakspeare's plays, to be made into children's tales. Six are already done by her; to wit: "The Tempest," "Winter's Tale," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Much Ado," "Two Gentlemen of Verona," and "Cymbeline;" and "The Merchant of Venice" is in forwardness. I have done "Othello" and "Macbeth," and mean to do all the tragedies. I think it will be popular among the little people, besides money. It's to bring in sixty guineas. Mary has done them capitally, I think you'd think. [2] These are the humble amusements we propose, while you are gone to plant the cross of Christ among barbarous pagan anthropophagi. Quam homo homini praestat! but then, perhaps, you'll get murdered, and we shall die in our beds, with a fair literary reputation. Be sure, if you see any of those people whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, that you make a draught of them. It will be very curious. Oh, Manning, I am serious to sinking almost, when I think that all those evenings, which you have made so pleasant, are gone perhaps forever. Four years you talk of, maybe ten; and you may come back and find such alterations! Some circumstances may grow up to you or to me that may be a bar to the return of any such intimacy. I daresay all this is hum, and that all will come back; but indeed we die many deaths before we die, and I am almost sick when I think that such a hold as I had of you is gone. I have friends, but some of 'em are changed. Marriage, or some circumstance, rises up to make them not the same. But I felt sure of you. And that last token you gave me of expressing a wish to have my name joined with yours, you know not how it affected me,—like a legacy.

God bless you in every way you can form a wish! May He give you health, and safety, and the accomplishment of all your objects, and return you again to us to gladden some fireside or other (I suppose we shall be moved from the Temple). I will nurse the remembrance of your steadiness and quiet, which used to infuse something like itself into our nervous minds. Mary called you our ventilator. Farewell! and take her best wishes and mine. Good by.

C.L.

[1] Addressed: "Mr, Manning, Passenger on Board the 'Thames,' East Indiaman, Portsmouth." Manning had set out for Canton.

[2] Miss Lamb has amusingly described the progress of their labors on this volume; "You would like to see us, as we often sit writing on one table (but not on one cushion sitting), like Hermia and Helena, in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream;' or rather like an old literary Darby and Joan, I taking snuff, and he groaning all the while, and saying he can make nothing of it, which he always says till he has finished, and then he finds out that he has made something of it."



XLVII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

June, 1806.

Dear Wordsworth,—We are pleased, you may be sure, with the good news of Mrs. Wordsworth. [1] Hope all is well over by this time. "A fine boy! Have you any more?—One more and a girl,—poor copies of me!" vide "Mr. H.," a farce which the proprietors have done me the honor—But I set down Mr, Wroughton's own words, N. B.—The ensuing letter was sent in answer to one which I wrote, begging to know if my piece had any chance, as I might make alterations, etc, I writing on Monday, there comes this letter on the Wednesday. Attend.

[Copy of a letter from Mr. R. Wroughton.]

SIR,—Your piece of "Mr. H.," I am desired to say, is accepted at Drury Lane Theatre by the proprietors, and if agreeable to you, will be brought forwards when the proper opportunity serves. The piece shall be sent to you for your alterations in the course of a few days, as the same is not in my hands, but with the proprietors,

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

RICHARD WROUGHTON.

[Dated] 66, Gower Street, Wednesday, June 11th, 1806.

On the following Sunday Mr. Tobin comes. The scent of a manager's letter brought him. He would have gone farther any day on such a business. I read the letter to him. He deems it authentic and peremptory. Our conversation naturally fell upon pieces, different sorts of pieces,—what is the best way of offering a piece; how far the caprice of managers is an obstacle in the way of a piece; how to judge of the merits of a piece; how long a piece may remain in the hands of the managers before it is acted; and my piece, and your piece, and my poor brother's piece,—my poor brother was all his life endeavoring to get a piece accepted. I wrote that in mere wantonness of triumph. Have nothing more to say about it. The managers, I thank my stars, have decided its merits forever. They are the best judges of pieces, and it would be insensible in me to affect a false modesty, after the very flattering letter which I have received.



I think this will be as good a pattern for orders as I can think on. A little thin flowery border, round, neat, not gaudy, and the Drury Lane Apollo, with the harp at the top. Or shall I have no Apollo,—simply nothing? Or perhaps the Comic Muse?

The same form, only I think without the Apollo, will serve for the pit and galleries. I think it will be best to write my name at full length; but then if I give away a great many, that will be tedious. Perhaps Ch. Lamb will do.

BOXES, now I think on it, I'll have in capitals; the rest, in a neat Italian hand. Or better, perhaps, BORES in Old English characters, like Madoc or Thalaba?

A propos of Spenser (you will find him mentioned a page or two before, near enough for an a propos), I was discoursing on poetry (as one's apt to deceive one's self, and when a person is willing to talk of what one likes, to believe that be also likes the same, as lovers do) with a young gentleman of my office, who is deep read in Anacreon Moore, Lord Strangford, and the principal modern poets, and I happened to mention Epithalamiums, and that I could show him a very fine one of Spenser's. At the mention of this my gentleman, who is a very fine gentleman, pricked up his ears and expressed great pleasure, and begged that I would give him leave to copy it; he did not care how long it was (for I objected the length), he should be very happy to see anything by him. Then pausing, and looking sad, he ejaculated, "POOR SPENCER!" I begged to know the reason of his ejaculation, thinking that time had by this time softened down any calamities which the bard might have endured. "Why, poor fellow," said he, "he has lost his wife!" "Lost his wife!" said I, "who are you talking of?" "Why, Spencer!" said he; "I've read the Monody he wrote on the occasion, and a very pretty thing it is." This led to an explanation (it could be delayed no longer) that the sound Spenser, which, when poetry is talked of, generally excites an image of an old bard in a ruff, and sometimes with it dim notions of Sir P. Sidney and perhaps Lord Burleigh, had raised in my gentleman a quite contrary image of the Honorable William Spencer, who has translated some things from the German very prettily, which are published with Lady Di Beauclerk's designs. Nothing like defining of terms when we talk. What blunders might I have fallen into of quite inapplicable criticism, but for this timely explanation!

N.B.—At the beginning of Edm. Spenser (to prevent mistakes), I have copied from my own copy, and primarily from a book of Chalmers's on Shakspeare, a sonnet of Spenser's never printed among his poems. It is curious, as being manly, and rather Miltonic, and as a sonnet of Spenser's with nothing in it about love or knighthood. I have no room for remembrances, but I hope our doing your commission will prove we do not quite forget you.

C. L.

[1] Wordsworth's son Thomas was born June 16, 1806.



XLVIII.

TO MANNING

December 5, 1806.

Manning, your letter, dated Hottentots, August the what-was-it? came to hand. I can scarce hope that mine will have the same luck. China, Canton,—bless us, how it strains the imagination and makes it ache! I write under another uncertainty whether it can go to-morrow by a ship which I have just learned is going off direct to your part of the world, or whether the despatches may not be sealed up and this have to wait; for if it is detained here, it will grow staler in a fortnight than in a five months' voyage coming to you. It will be a point of conscience to send you none but bran-new news (the latest edition), which will but grow the better, like oranges, for a sea-voyage. Oh that you should be so many hemispheres off!—if I speak incorrectly, you can correct me. Why, the simplest death or marriage that takes place here must be important to you as news in the old Bastile. There's your friend Tuthill has got away from France—you remember France? and Tuthill?—ten to one but he writes by this post, if he don't get my note in time, apprising him of the vessel sailing. Know, then, that he has found means to obtain leave from Bonaparte, without making use of any incredible romantic pretences, as some have done, who never meant to fulfil them, to come home; and I have seen him here and at Holcroft's. An't you glad about Tuthill? Now then be sorry for Holcroft, whose new play, called "The Vindictive Man," was damned about a fortnight since. It died in part of its own weakness, and in part for being choked up with bad actors. The two principal parts were destined to Mrs. Jordan and Mr. Bannister; but Mrs. J. has not come to terms with the managers,—they have had some squabble,—and Bannister shot some of his fingers off by the going off of a gun. So Miss Duncan had her part, and Mr. De Camp took his. His part, the principal comic hope of the play, was most unluckily Goldfinch, taken out of the "Road to Ruin,"—not only the same character, but the identical Goldfinch; the same as Falstaff is in two plays of Shakspeare. As the devil of ill-luck would have it, half the audience did not know that H. had written it, but were displeased at his stealing from the "Road to Ruin;" and those who might have home a gentlemanly coxcomb with his "That's your sort," "Go it,"—such as Lewis is,—did not relish the intolerable vulgarity and inanity of the idea stripped of his manner. De Camp was hooted, more than hissed,—hooted and bellowed off the stage before the second act was finished; so that the remainder of his part was forced to be, with some violence to the play, omitted. In addition to this, a strumpet was another principal character,—a most unfortunate choice in this moral day. The audience were as scandalized as if you were to introduce such a personage to their private tea-tables. Besides, her action in the play was gross,—wheedling an old man into marriage. But the mortal blunder of the play was that which, oddly enough, H. took pride in, and exultingly told me of the night before it came out, that there were no less than eleven principal characters in it, and I believe he meant of the men only, for the play-bill expressed as much, not reckoning one woman and one—; and true it was, for Mr. Powell, Mr. Raymond, Mr. Bartlett, Mr. H. Siddons, Mr. Barrymore, etc., to the number of eleven, had all parts equally prominent, and there was as much of them in quantity and rank as of the hero and heroine, and most of them gentlemen who seldom appear but as the hero's friend in a farce,—for a minute or two,—and here they all had their ten-minute speeches, and one of them gave the audience a serious account how he was now a lawyer, but had been a poet; and then a long enumeration of the inconveniences of authorship, rascally booksellers, reviewers, etc.; which first set the audience a-gaping. But I have said enough; you will be so sorry that you will not think the best of me for my detail: but news is news at Canton. Poor H. I fear will feel the disappointment very seriously in a pecuniary light. From what I can learn, he has saved nothing. You and I were hoping one day that he had; but I fear he has nothing but his pictures and books, and a no very flourishing business, and to be obliged to part with his long-necked Guido that hangs opposite as you enter, and the game-piece that hangs in the back drawing-room, and all those Vandykes, etc.! God should temper the wind to the shorn connoisseur. I hope I need not say to you that I feel for the weather-beaten author and for all his household. I assure you his fate has soured a good deal the pleasure I should have otherwise taken in my own little farce being accepted, and I hope about to be acted,—it is in rehearsal actually, and I expect it to come out next week. It is kept a sort of secret, and the rehearsals have gone on privately, lest by many folks knowing it, the story should come out, which would infallibly damn it. You remember I had sent it before you went. Wroughton read it, and was much pleased with it. I speedily got an answer. I took it to make alterations, and lazily kept it some months, then took courage and furbished it up in a day or two and took it. In less than a fortnight I heard the principal part was given to Elliston, who liked it, and only wanted a prologue, which I have since done and sent; and I had a note the day before yesterday from the manager, Wroughton (bless his fat face, he is not a bad actor in some things), to say that I should be summoned to the rehearsal after the next, which next was to be yesterday. I had no idea it was so forward. I have had no trouble, attended no reading or rehearsal, made no interest; what a contrast to the usual parade of authors! But it is peculiar to modesty to do all things without noise or pomp! I have some suspicion it will appear in public on Wednesday next, for W. says in his note, it is so forward that if wanted it may come out next week, and a new melodrama is announced for every day till then; and "a new farce is in rehearsal," is put up in the bills. Now, you'd like to know the subject. The title is "Mr. H.," no more; how simple, how taking! A great H. sprawling over the play-bill and attracting eyes at every corner. The story is a coxcomb appearing at Bath, vastly rich, all the ladies dying for him, all bursting to know who he is; but he goes by no other name than Mr. H.,—a curiosity like that of the dames of Strasburg about the man with the great nose. But I won't tell you any more about it. Yes, I will, but I can't give you an idea how I have done it. I'll just tell you that after much vehement admiration, when his true name comes out, "Hogs-flesh," all the women shun him, avoid him, and not one can be found to change their name for him,—that's the idea,—how flat it is here; [1] but how whimsical in the farce! And only think how hard upon me it is that the ship is despatched to-morrow, and my triumph cannot be ascertained till the Wednesday after; but all China will ring of it by and by. N.B. (But this is a secret,) The Professor [2] has got a tragedy coming out, with the young Roscius in it, in January next, as we say,—January last it will be with you; and though it is a profound secret now, as all his affairs are, it cannot be much of one by the time you read this. However, don't let it go any farther. I understand there are dramatic exhibitions in China. One would not like to be forestalled. Do you find in all this stuff I have written anything like those feelings which one should send my old adventuring friend, that is gone to wander among Tartars, and may never come again? I don't, but your going away, and all about you, is a threadbare topic. I have worn it out with thinking, it has come to me when I have been dull with anything, till my sadness has seemed more to have come from it than to have introduced it. I want you, you don't know how much; but if I had you here in my European garret, we should but talk over such stuff as I have written, so—Those "Tales from Shakspeare" are near coming out, and Mary has begun a new work, Mr. Dawe is turned author; he has been in such a way lately,—Dawe the painter, I mean,—he sits and stands about at Holcroft's and says nothing, then sighs, and leans his head on his hand. I took him to be in love, but it seems he was only meditating a work,—"The Life of Morland:" the young man is not used to composition. Rickman and Captain Burney are well; they assemble at my house pretty regularly of a Wednesday, a new institution. Like other great men, I have a public day,—cribbage and pipes, with Phillips and noisy Martin Burney.

Good Heaven, what a bit only I've got left! How shall I squeeze all I know into this morsel! Coleridge is come home, and is going to turn lecturer on taste at the Royal Institution. I shall get L200 from the theatre if "Mr. H." has a good run, and I hope L100 for the copyright. Nothing if it fails; and there never was a more ticklish thing. The whole depends on the manner in which the name is brought out, which I value myself on, as a chef d'oeuvre. How the paper grows less and less! In less than two minutes I shall cease to talk to you, and you may rave to the Great Wall of China. N.B.—Is there such a wall? Is it as big as Old London Wall by Bedlam? Have you met with a friend of mine named Ball at Canton? If you are acquainted, remember me kindly to him. Maybe you'll think I have not said enough of Tuthill and the Holcrofts. Tuthill is a noble fellow, as far as I can judge. The Holcrofts bear their disappointment pretty well, but indeed they are sadly mortified. Mrs. H. is cast down. It was well, if it were but on this account, that Tuthill is come home. N.B.—If my little thing don't succeed, I shall easily survive, having, as it were, compared to H.'s venture, but a sixteenth in the lottery. Mary and I are to sit next the orchestra in the pit, next the tweedle-dees. She remembers you. You are more to us than five hundred farces, clappings, etc.

Come back one day. C. LAMB.

[1] It was precisely this flatness, this slightness of plot and catastrophe, that doomed "Mr. H." to failure. See next letter.

[2] Godwin. His tragedy of "Faulkner" was published in 1808.



XLIX.

TO WORDSWORTH.

December, II, 1806.

Mary's love to all of you; I wouldn't let her write.

Dear Wordsworth,—"Mr. H." came out last night, and failed. I had many fears; the subject was not substantial enough. John Bull must have solider fare than a letter. We are pretty stout about it; have had plenty of condoling friends; but, after all, we had rather it should have succeeded. You will see the prologue in most of the morning papers. It was received with such shouts as I never witnessed to a prologue. It was attempted to be encored. How hard! a thing I did merely as a task, because it was wanted, and set no great store by; and "Mr. H."! The quantity of friends we had in the house—my brother and I being in public offices, etc.—was astonishing; but they yielded at last to a few hisses.

A hundred hisses (Damn the word, I write it like kisses,—how different!)—a hundred hisses outweigh a thousand claps. [1] The former come more directly from, the heart. Well, 't is withdrawn, and there is an end.

Better luck to us,

C. LAMB.

[1] Lamb was himself in the audience, and is said to have taken a conspicuous share in the storm of hisses that followed the dropping of the curtain.



L.

TO MANNING.

January 2, 1810.

My best room commands a court, in which there are trees and a pump, the water of which is excellent,—cold with brandy, and not very insipid without. Here I hope to set up my rest, and not quit till Mr. Powell, the undertaker, gives me notice that I may have possession of my last lodging. He lets lodgings for single gentlemen. I sent you a parcel of books by my last, to give you some idea of the state of European literature. There comes with this two volumes, done up as letters, of minor poetry, a sequel to "Mrs. Leicester;" the best you may suppose mine, the next best are my coadjutor's. You may amuse yourself in guessing them out; but I must tell you mine are but one third in quantity of the whole. So much for a very delicate subject. It is hard to speak of one's self, etc. Holcroft had finished his life when I wrote to you, and Hazlitt has since finished his life,—I do not mean his own life, but he has finished a life of Holcroft, which is going to press. Tuthill is Dr. Tuthill. I continue Mr. Lamb. I have published a little book for children on titles of honor; and to give them some idea of the difference of rank and gradual rising, I have made a little scale, supposing myself to receive the following various accessions of dignity from the king, who is the fountain of honor,—as at first, 1, Mr. C. Lamb; 2, C. Lamb, Esq.; 3, Sir C. Lamb, Bart.; 4, Baron Lamb, of Stamford; 5, Viscount Lamb; 6, Earl Lamb; 7, Marquis Lamb; 8, Duke Lamb. It would look like quibbling to carry it on farther, and especially as it is not necessary for children to go beyond the ordinary titles of sub-regal dignity in our own country, otherwise I have sometimes in my dreams imagined myself still advancing, as 9th, King Lamb; 10th, Emperor Lamb; 11th, Pope Innocent,—higher than which is nothing. Puns I have not made many (nor punch much) since the date of my last; one I cannot help relating. A constable in Salisbury Cathedral was telling me that eight people dined at the top of the spire of the cathedral; upon which I remarked that they must be very sharp-set. But in general I cultivate the reasoning part of my mind more than the imaginative. I am stuffed out so with eating turkey for dinner, and another turkey for supper yesterday (turkey in Europe and turkey in Asia), that I can't jog on. It is New Year here. That is, it was New Year half a year back, when I was writing this. Nothing puzzles me more than time and space, and yet nothing puzzles me less, for I never think about them. The Persian ambassador is the principal thing talked of now. I sent some people to see him worship the sun on Primrose Hill at half-past six in the morning, 28th November; but he did not come,—which makes me think the old fire-worshippers are a sect almost extinct in Persia. The Persian ambassador's name is Shaw Ali Mirza. The common people call him Shaw Nonsense. While I think of it, I have put three letters besides my own three into the India post for you, from your brother, sister, and some gentleman whose name I forget. Will they, have they, did they come safe? The distance you are at, cuts up tenses by the root. I think you said you did not know Kate *********. I express her by nine stars, though she is but one. You must have seen her at her father's. Try and remember her. Coleridge is bringing out a paper in weekly numbers, called the "Friend," which I would send, if I could; but the difficulty I had in getting the packets of books out to you before deters me; and you'll want something new to read when you come home. Except Kate, I have had no vision of excellence this year, and she passed by like the queen on her coronation day; you don't know whether you saw her or not. Kate is fifteen; I go about moping, and sing the old, pathetic ballad I used to like in my youth,—

"She's sweet fifteen, I'm one year more.

Mrs. Bland sang it in boy's clothes the first time I heard it. I sometimes think the lower notes in my voice are like Mrs. Bland's. That glorious singer, Braham, one of my lights, is fled. He was for a season. He was a rare composition of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel, yet all these elements mixed up so kindly in him that you could not tell which predominated; but he is gone, and one Phillips is engaged instead. Kate is vanished, but Miss Burrell is always to be met with!

"Queens drop away, while blue-legged Maukin thrives, And courtly Mildred dies, while country Madge survives."

That is not my poetry, but Quarles's; but haven't you observed that the rarest things are the least obvious? Don't show anybody the names in this letter. I write confidentially, and wish this letter to be considered as private, Hazlitt has written a grammar for Godwin; Godwin sells it bound up with a treatise of his own on language; but the gray mare is the better horse. I don't allude to Mrs. Godwin, but to the word grammar, which comes near to gray mare, if you observe, in sound. That figure is called paranomasia in Greek, I am sometimes happy in it. An old woman begged of me for charity. "Ah, sir," said she, "I have seen better days!" "So have I, good woman," I replied; but I meant literally, days not so rainy and overcast as that on which begged,—she meant more prosperous days.



LI.

TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

August, 1810.

Mary has left a little space for me to fill up with nonsense, as the geographers used to cram monsters in the voids of the maps, and call it Terra Incognita. She has told you how she has taken to water like a hungry otter. I too limp after her in lame imitation, [1] but it goes against me a little at first. I have been acquaintance with it now for full four days, and it seems a moon. I am full of cramps and rheumatisms, and cold internally, so that fire won't warm me; yet I bear all for virtue's sake. Must I then leave you, gin, rum, brandy, aqua-vitae, pleasant, jolly fellows? Damn temperance and he that first invented it!—some Anti-Noahite. Coleridge has powdered his head, and looks like Bacchus,—Bacchus ever sleek and young. He is going to turn sober, but his clock has not struck yet; meantime he pours down goblet after goblet, the second to see where the first is gone, the third to see no harm happens to the second, a fourth to say there is another coming, and a fifth to say he is not sure he is the last. C. L.

[1] An experiment in total abstinence; it did not last long.



LII.

TO WORDSWORTH

October 19, 1810.

Dear W.,—Mary has been very ill, which you have heard, I suppose, from the Montagues. She is very weak and low-spirited now, I was much pleased with your continuation of the "Essay on Epitaphs," [1] It is the only sensible thing which has been written on that subject, and it goes to the bottom. In particular I was pleased with your translation of that turgid epitaph into the plain feeling under it. It is perfectly a test. But what is the reason we have no good epitaphs after all?

A very striking instance of your position might be found in the churchyard of Ditton-upon-Thames, if you know such a place. Ditton-upon-Thames has been blessed by the residence of a poet who, for love or money, I do not well know which, has dignified every gravestone for the last few years with brand new verses, all different and all ingenious, with the author's name at the bottom of each. This sweet Swan of Thames has so artfully diversified his strains and his rhymes that the same thought never occurs twice,—more justly, perhaps, as no thought ever occurs at all, there was a physical impossibility that the same thought should recur, It is long since I saw and read these inscriptions; but I remember the impression was of a smug usher at his desk in the intervals of instruction, levelling his pen. Of death, as it consists of dust and worms, and mourners and uncertainty, he had never thought; but the word "death" he had often seen separate and conjunct with other words, till he had learned to speak of all its attributes as glibly as Unitarian Belsham will discuss you the attributes of the word "God" in a pulpit, and will talk of infinity with a tongue that dangles from a skull that never reached in thought and thorough imagination two inches, or farther than from his hand to his mouth, or from the vestry to the sounding-board of the pulpit.

But the epitaphs were trim and sprag, and patent, and pleased the survivors of Thames Ditton above the old mumpsimus of "Afflictions sore." ... To do justice, though, it must be owned that even the excellent feeling which dictated this dirge when new, must have suffered something in passing through so many thousand applications, many of them no doubt quite misplaced, as I have seen in Islington churchyard (I think) an Epitaph to an Infant who died "AEtatis four months," with this seasonable inscription appended, "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land," etc. Sincerely wishing your children long life to honor, etc., I remain,

C. LAMB.

[1] Published in Coleridge's "Friend," Feb. 22, 1810.



LIII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

August 14, 1814.

Dear Wordsworth,—I cannot tell you how pleased I was at the receipt of the great armful of poetry which you have sent me: and to get it before the rest of the world, too! I have gone quite through with it, and was thinking to have accomplished that pleasure a second time before I wrote to thank you; but Martin Burney came in the night (while we were out) and made holy theft of it: but we expect restitution in a day or two. It is the noblest conversational poem [1] I ever read,—a day in heaven. The part (or rather main body) which has left the sweetest odor on my memory (a bad term for the remains of an impression so recent) is the "Tales of the Churchyard"—the only girl among seven brethren, born out of due time, and not duly taken away again; the deaf man and the blind man; the Jacobite and the Hanoverian, whom antipathies reconcile; the Scarron-entry of the rusticating parson upon his solitude,—these were all new to me too. My having known the story of Margaret (at the beginning), a very old acquaintance, even as long back as when I saw you first at Stowey, did not make her reappearance less fresh. I don't know what to pick out of this best of books upon the best subjects for partial naming. That gorgeous sunset is famous; I think it must have been the identical one we saw on Salisbury Plain five years ago, that drew Phillips from the card-table, where he had sat from rise of that luminary to its unequalled setting. But neither he nor I had gifted eyes to see those symbols of common things glorified, such as the prophets saw them in that sunset,—the wheel, the potter's clay, the washpot, the wine-press, the almond-tree rod, the baskets of figs, the four-fold-visaged head, the throne, and Him that sat thereon.

One feeling I was particularly struck with, as what I recognized so very lately at Harrow Church on entering in it after a hot and secular day's pleasure,—the instantaneous coolness and calming, almost transforming, properties of a country church just entered; a certain fragrance which it has, either from its holiness, or being kept shut all the week, or the air that is let in being pure country,—exactly what you have reduced into words; but I am feeling that which I cannot express. The reading your lines about it fixed me for a time a monument in Harrow Church,—do you know it?—with its fine long spire, white as washed marble, to be seen, by vantage of its high site, as far as Salisbury spire itself almost.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse