The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, Vol. 5
Edited by E. V. Lucas
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The marine sonnet was "Fancy in Nubibus" (see page 559).

"About Browne" refers to a note by Coleridge on Sir Thomas Browne in the same number, signed G.J.—possibly James Gillman's initials reversed.

We learn from a letter from Coleridge to J. H. Green (January 14, 1820) that the visit to Highgate which Lamb mentions was a New Year visit of annual occurrence. Lamb's reference to praeprandial avocations touches upon Coleridge's habit of coming down to see his guests only when dinner was ready.]



Newington, Monday. [Spring of 1820.]

My dear Friend,—Since we heard of your sad sorrow, you have been perpetually in our thoughts; therefore, you may well imagine how welcome your kind remembrance of it must be. I know not how enough to thank you for it. You bid me write a long letter; but my mind is so possessed with the idea that you must be occupied with one only thought, that all trivial matters seem impertinent. I have just been reading again Mr. Hunt's delicious Essay; which I am sure must have come so home to your hearts, I shall always love him for it. I feel that it is all that one can think, but which none but he could have done so prettily. May he lose the memory of his own babies in seeing them all grow old around him! Together with the recollection of your dear baby, the image of a little sister I once had comes as fresh into my mind as if I had seen her as lately. A little cap with white satin ribbon, grown yellow with long keeping, and a lock of light hair, were the only relics left of her. The sight of them always brought her pretty, fair face to my view, that to this day I seem to have a perfect recollection of her features. I long to see you, and I hope to do so on Tuesday or Wednesday in next week. Percy Street! I love to write the word; what comfortable ideas it brings with it! We have been pleasing ourselves ever since we heard this piece of unexpected good news with the anticipation of frequent drop-in visits, and all the social comfort of what seems almost next-door neighbourhood.

Our solitary confinement has answered its purpose even better than I expected. It is so many years since I have been out of town in the Spring, that I scarcely knew of the existence of such a season. I see every day some new flower peeping out of the ground, and watch its growth; so that I have a sort of an intimate friendship with each. I know the effect of every change of weather upon them—have learned all their names, the duration of their lives, and the whole progress of their domestic economy. My landlady, a nice, active old soul that wants but one year of eighty, and her daughter, a rather aged young gentlewoman, are the only labourers in a pretty large garden; for it is a double house, and two long strips of ground are laid into one, well stored with fruit-trees, which will be in full blossom the week after I am gone, and flowers, as many as can be crammed in, of all sorts and kinds. But flowers are flowers still; and I must confess I would rather live in Russell Street all my life, and never set my foot but on the London pavement, than be doomed always to enjoy the silent pleasures I now do. We go to bed at ten o'clock. Late hours are life-shortening things; but I would rather run all risks, and sit every night—at some places I could name—wishing in vain at eleven o'clock for the entrance of the supper tray, than be always up and alive at eight o'clock breakfast, as I am here. We have a scheme to reconcile these things. We have an offer of a very low-rented lodging a mile nearer town than this. Our notion is, to divide our time, in alternate weeks, between quiet rest and dear London weariness. We give an answer to-morrow; but what that will be, at this present writing, I am unable to say. In the present state of our undecided opinion, a very heavy rain that is now falling may turn the scale. "Dear rain, do go away," and let us have a fine cheerful sunset to argue the matter fairly in. My brother walked seventeen miles yesterday before dinner. And notwithstanding his long walk to and from the office, we walk every evening; but I by no means perform in this way so well as I used to do. A twelve-mile walk one hot Sunday morning made my feet blister, and they are hardly well now. Charles is not yet come home; but he bid me, with many thanks, to present his love to you and all yours, to all whom and to each individually, and to Mr. Novello in particular, I beg to add mine. With the sincerest wishes for the health and happiness of all, believe me, ever, dear Mary Sabilla, your most affectionate friend,


[Leigh Hunt's essay "Deaths of Little Children" appeared in The Indicator for April 5, 1820; it was suggested by the same loss as that which prompted Mary Lamb's letter.

The Lambs at this time were staying at Mrs. Bedford's, Church Street, Stoke Newington, as we know from an unpublished letter from Mary Lamb to Miss Kelly, dated March 27, 1820. To this letter I have referred in the Preface. It states that Mary Lamb, who was teaching Miss Kelly Latin at the time, has herself taken to French in the evenings.]



London, India House, [? May 26th, 1820.]

My dear Sir,—I am quite ashamed of not having acknowledged your kind present earlier, but that unknown something, which was never yet discovered, though so often speculated upon, which stands in the way of lazy folks answering letters, has presented its usual obstacle. It is not forgetfulness, nor disrespect, nor incivility, but terribly like all these bad things.

I have been in my time a great epistolary scribbler; but the passion, and with it the facility, at length wears out; and it must be pumped up again by the heavy machinery of duty or gratitude, when it should run free.

I have read your "Fall of Cambria" with as much pleasure as I did your "Messiah." Your Cambrian poem I shall be tempted to repeat oftenest, as Human poems take me in a mood more frequently congenial than Divine. The character of Llewellyn pleases me more than any thing else, perhaps; and then some of the Lyrical Pieces are fine varieties.

It was quite a mistake that I could dislike anything you should write against Lord Byron, for I have a thorough aversion to his character and a very moderate admiration of his genius; he is great in so little a way. To be a poet is to be the man—not a petty portion of occasional low passion worked up into a permanent form of humanity. Shakespear has thrust such rubbishy feelings into a corner-the dark, dusky heart of Don John, in the Much Ado about Nothing. The fact is, I have not seen your "Expostulatory Epistle" to him. I was not aware, till your question, that it was out. I shall inquire, and get it forthwith.

Southey is in town, whom I have seen slightly; Wordsworth expected, whom I hope to see much of. I write with accelerated motion; for I have two or three bothering clerks and brokers about me, who always press in proportion as you seem to be doing something that is not business. I could exclaim a little profanely, but I think you do not like swearing. I conclude, begging you to consider that I feel myself much obliged by your kindness, and shall be most happy at any and at all times to hear from you.


Dear Sir, yours truly,

[Joseph Cottle, the Bristol publisher, had apparently just sent Lamb a copy of his Fall of Cambria, although it had been published some years before. Perhaps Lamb had sent him his Works, and it was a return gift. Cottle's very serious Expostulatory Epistle to Lord Byron (who had cast ridicule upon him and his brother in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers) was issued in 1820, after the publication of Don Juan had begun.

Southey arrived in London on May Day, 1820. Wordsworth followed early in June.]



[May 25, 1820.]

Dear Miss W.—There can be none to whom the last volume of W. W. has come more welcome than to me. I have traced the Duddon in thought and with repetition along the banks (alas!) of the Lea—(unpoetical name); it is always flowing and murmuring and dashing in my ears. The story of Dion is divine—the genius of Plato falling on him like moonlight—the finest thing ever expressed. Then there is Elidure and Kirkstone Pass—the last not new to me—and let me add one of the sweetest of them all to me, The Longest Day. Loving all these as much as I can love poetry new to me, what could I wish or desire more or extravagantly in a new volume? That I did not write to W. W. was simply that he was to come so soon, and that flattens letters....

Yours, C. L.

[I print from Professor Knight's text, in his Life of Wordsworth. Canon Ainger supplies omissions—a reference to Martin Burney's black eye.

The Wordsworths were in town this summer, to attend the wedding of Thomas Monkhouse and Miss Horrocks. We know from Crabb Robinson's Diary that they were at Lamb's on June 2: "Not much was said about his [W. W.'s] new volume of poems. But he himself spoke of the 'Brownie's Cell' as his favourite." The new volume was The River Duddon, a Series of Sonnets, ... 1820. "The Longest Day" begins:—

Let us quit the leafy arbour.

Between this letter and the next Lamb wrote and sent off his first contribution to the London Magazine over the signature Elia—"The South-Sea House," which was printed in the number for August, 1820.]



Dear Sir, I do not know whose fault it is we have not met so long. We are almost always out of town. You must come and beat up our quarters there, when we return from Cambridge. It is not in our power to accept your invitation. To-day we dine out; and set out for Cambridge on Saturday morning. Friday of course will be past in packing, &c., moreover we go from Dalston. We return from Cam. in 4 weeks, and will contrive an early meeting.

Meantime believe us, Sincerely yours, C. L., &c. Thursday,

[It was during this visit to Cambridge that Lamb wrote his Elia essay on "Oxford in the Vacation."]



[No date. ? 1820.]

Dear Sir, We beg to convey our kindest acknowledgements to Mr. Arnold for the very pleasant privilege he has favoured us with. My yearly holidays end with next week, during which we shall be mostly in the country, and afterwards avail ourselves fully of the privilege. Sincerely wishing you crowded houses, etc.,

We remain, Yours truly, CH. & M. LAMB.

[Arnold, brother-in-law of Ayrton, was the lessee of the Lyceum, where Miss Kelly was acting when Lamb proposed to her in 1819.]



London, 16 Aug., 1820.

Dear Field,—Captain Ogilvie, who conveys this note to you, and is now paying for the first time a visit to your remote shores, is the brother of a Gentleman intimately connected with the family of the Whites, I mean of Bishopsgate Street—and you will much oblige them and myself by any service or civilities you can shew him.

I do not mean this for an answer to your warm-hearted Epistle, which demands and shall have a much fuller return. We receiped your Australian First Fruits, of which I shall say nothing here, but refer you to **** of the Examiner, who speaks our mind on all public subjects. I can only assure you that both Coleridge and Wordsworth, and also C. Lloyd, who has lately reappeared in the poetical horizon, were hugely taken with your Kangaroo.

When do you come back full of riches and renown, with the regret of all the honest, and all the other part of the colony? Mary swears she shall live to see it.

Pray are you King's or Queen's men in Sidney? Or have thieves no politics? Man, don't let this lie about your room for your bed sweeper or Major Domo to see, he mayn't like the last paragraph.

This is a dull and lifeless scroll. You shall have soon a tissue of truth and fiction impossible to be extricated, the interleavings shall be so delicate, the partitions perfectly invisible, it shall puzzle you till you return, & [then] I will not explain it. Till then a ... adieu, with kind rem'brces of me both to you & ... [Signature and a few words torn off.]

[Barron Field, who was still in New South Wales, had published his poems under the title First-Fruits of Australian Poetry, and Lamb had reviewed them in The Examiner for January 16, 1820, over his usual signature in that paper, * * * *. "The Kangaroo" is quoted in that review (see Vol. I. of the present edition).

Captain Ogilvie was the brother of a clerk at the India House, who gave Mr. Joseph H. Twichell some reminiscences of Lamb, which were printed in Scribner's Magazine.

"King's or Queen's men"—supporters of George IV. or Caroline of Brunswick. Lamb was very strongly in favour of the Queen, as his Champion epigrams show (see Vol. IV.).

"You shall soon see." Lamb's first reference to the Elia essays, alluding here to "The South-Sea House."

Here should come a letter from Lamb to Hazlitt. Lamb says that his sister is ill again and that the last thing she read was Hazlitt's "Thursday Nights" which gave her unmixed delight—the reference being to the second part of the essay "On the Conversation of Authors," which was printed in the London Magazine for September, 1820, describing Lamb's evenings. Stoddart, Hazlitt's brother-in-law, Lamb adds, says it is better than Hogarth's "Modern Midnight Conversation."

Here should come a business note to John Scott, editor of the London Magazine, dated August 24, 1820, given in the Boston Bibliophile edition.]



[No date. ? Autumn, 1820.]

Dear C.,—Why will you make your visits, which should give pleasure, matter of regret to your friends? You never come but you take away some folio that is part of my existence. With a great deal of difficulty I was made to comprehend the extent of my loss. My maid Becky brought me a dirty bit of paper, which contained her description of some book which Mr. Coleridge had taken away. It was "Luster's Tables," which, for some time, I could not make out. "What! has he carried away any of the tables, Becky?" "No, it wasn't any tables, but it was a book that he called Luster's Tables." I was obliged to search personally among my shelves, and a huge fissure suddenly disclosed to me the true nature of the damage I had sustained. That book, C., you should not have taken away, for it is not mine; it is the property of a friend, who does not know its value, nor indeed have I been very sedulous in explaining to him the estimate of it; but was rather contented in giving a sort of corroboration to a hint that he let fall, as to its being suspected to be not genuine, so that in all probability it would have fallen to me as a deodand; not but I am as sure it is Luther's as I am sure that Jack Bunyan wrote the "Pilgrim's Progress;" but it was not for me to pronounce upon the validity of testimony that had been disputed by learneder clerks than I. So I quietly let it occupy the place it had usurped upon my shelves, and should never have thought of issuing an ejectment against it; for why should I be so bigoted as to allow rites of hospitality to none but my own books, children, &c.?—a species of egotism I abhor from my heart. No; let 'em all snug together, Hebrews and Proselytes of the gate; no selfish partiality of mine shall make distinction between them; I charge no warehouse-room for my friends' commodities; they are welcome to come and stay as long as they like, without paying rent. I have several such strangers that I treat with more than Arabian courtesy; there's a copy of More's fine poem, which is none of mine; but I cherish it as my own; I am none of those churlish landlords that advertise the goods to be taken away in ten days' time, or then to be sold to pay expenses. So you see I had no right to lend you that book; I may lend you my own books, because it is at my own hazard, but it is not honest to hazard a friend's property; I always make that distinction. I hope you will bring it with you, or send it by Hartley; or he can bring that, and you the "Polemical Discourses," and come and eat some atoning mutton with us one of these days shortly. We are engaged two or three Sundays deep, but always dine at home on week-days at half-past four. So come all four—men and books I mean—my third shelf (northern compartment) from the top has two devilish gaps, where you have knocked out its two eye-teeth.

Your wronged friend, C. LAMB.

[This letter is usually dated 1824, but I think it was written earlier. For one reason, Hartley Coleridge was not in London in that year, and for another, there are several phrases in the Elia essay "Two Races of Men" (printed in the London Magazine, December, 1820) that are so similar to some in this letter that I imagine the letter to have suggested the subject of the essay, the composition of which immediately followed it. Thus, in the essay we read:—

"That foul gap in the bottom shelf facing you, like a great eye-tooth knocked out—(you are now with me in my little back study in Bloomsbury, reader!)—with the huge Switzer-like tomes on each side (like the Guildhall giants, in their reformed posture, guardant of nothing) once held the tallest of my folios, Opera Bonaventurae, choice and massy divinity, to which its two supporters (school divinity also, but of a lesser calibre,—Bellarmine, and Holy Thomas), showed but as dwarfs,— itself an Ascapart!—that Comberbatch abstracted upon the faith of a theory he holds, which is more easy, I confess, for me to surfer by than to refute, namely, that 'the title to property in a book (my Bonaventure, for instance) is in exact ratio to the claimant's powers of understanding and appreciating the same.' Should he go on acting upon this theory, which of our shelves is safe?"

"Luster's Tables"—Luther's Table Talk.

"More's fine poem." The Psychozoia Platonica, 1642, of Henry More, the Platonist. Lamb seems to have returned the book, for it was not among his books that he left. Luther's Table Talk seems also to have been given up.]





(See Letter 19, page 75)


Spirit, who sweepest the wild Harp of Time, It is most hard with an untroubled Ear Thy dark inwoven Harmonies to hear! Yet, mine eye fixt on Heaven's unchanged clime, Long had I listen'd, free from mortal fear, With inward stillness and a bowed mind: When lo! far onwards waving on the wind I saw the skirts of the DEPARTING YEAR! Starting from my silent sadness Then with no unholy madness, Ere yet the entered cloud forbade my sight, I rais'd th' impetuous song, and solemnized his flight.


Hither from the recent Tomb; From the Prison's direr gloom; From Poverty's heart-wasting languish: From Distemper's midnight anguish; Or where his two bright torches blending Love illumines Manhood's maze; Or where o'er cradled Infants bending Hope has fix'd her wishful gaze:

Hither, in perplexed dance, Ye WOES, and young-eyed JOYS, advance! By Time's wild harp, and by the Hand Whose indefatigable Sweep Forbids its fateful strings to sleep, I bid you haste, a mixt tumultuous band! From every private bower, And each domestic hearth, Haste for one solemn hour; And with a loud and yet a louder voice O'er the sore travail of the common earth Weep and rejoice! Seiz'd in sore travail and portentous birth (Her eye-balls flashing a pernicious glare) Sick NATURE struggles! Hark—her pangs increase! Her groans are horrible! But O! most fair The promis'd Twins, she bears—EQUALITY and PEACE!


I mark'd Ambition in his war-array: I heard the mailed Monarch's troublous cry— "Ah! whither [wherefore] does the Northern Conqueress stay? Groans not her Chariot o'er its onward way?" Fly, mailed Monarch, fly! Stunn'd by Death's "twice mortal" mace No more on MURDER'S lurid face Th' insatiate Hag shall glote with drunken eye! Manes of th' unnumbered Slain! Ye that gasp'd on WARSAW'S plain! Ye that erst at ISMAIL'S tower, When human Ruin chok'd the streams, Fell in Conquest's glutted hour Mid Women's shrieks, and Infants' screams; Whose shrieks, whose screams were vain to stir Loud-laughing, red-eyed Massacre! Spirits of th' uncoffin'd Slain, Sudden blasts of Triumph swelling Oft at night, in misty train Rush around her narrow Dwelling! Th' exterminating Fiend is fled— (Foul her Life and dark her Doom!) Mighty Army of the Dead, Dance, like Death-fires, round her Tomb! Then with prophetic song relate Each some scepter'd Murderer's fate! When shall scepter'd SLAUGHTER cease? Awhile He crouch'd, O Victor France! Beneath the light'ning of thy Lance, With treacherous dalliance wooing PEACE. But soon up-springing from his dastard trance The boastful, bloody Son of Pride betray'd His hatred of the blest and blessing Maid. One cloud, O Freedom! cross'd thy orb of Light And sure, he deem'd, that Orb was quench'd in night: For still does MADNESS roam on GUILT'S bleak dizzy height!


DEPARTING YEAR! 'twas on no earthly shore My Soul beheld thy Vision. Where, alone, Voiceless and stern, before the Cloudy Throne Aye MEMORY sits; there, garmented with gore, With many an unimaginable groan Thou storiedst thy sad Hours! Silence ensued: Deep Silence o'er th' etherial Multitude, Whose purple Locks with snow-white Glories shone. Then, his eye wild ardors glancing, From the choired Gods advancing, the SPIRIT of the EARTH made reverence meet And stood up beautiful before the Cloudy Seat!


On every Harp, on every Tongue While the mute Enchantment hung; Like Midnight from a thundercloud, Spake the sudden SPIRIT loud— "Thou in stormy blackness throning "Love and uncreated Light, "By the Earth's unsolac'd groaning "Seize thy terrors, Arm of Might! "By Belgium's corse-impeded flood! "By Vendee steaming Brother's blood! "By PEACE with proffer'd insult scar'd, "Masked hate, and envying scorn! "By Tears of Havoc yet unborn; "And Hunger's bosom to the frost-winds bar'd! "But chief by Afric's wrongs "Strange, horrible, and foul! "By what deep Guilt belongs "To the deaf Synod, 'full of gifts and lies!' "By Wealth's insensate Laugh! By Torture's Howl! "Avenger, rise! "For ever shall the bloody Island scowl? "For aye unbroken, shall her cruel Bow "Shoot Famine's arrows o'er thy ravag'd World? "Hark! how wide NATURE joins her groans below— "Rise, God of Nature, rise! Why sleep thy Bolts unhurl'd?"


The Voice had ceas'd, the Phantoms fled, Yet still I gasp'd and reel'd with dread. And even when the dream of night Renews the vision to my sight, Cold sweat-damps gather on my limbs, My Ears throb hot, my eye-balls start, My Brain with horrid tumult swims, Wild is the Tempest of my Heart; And my thick and struggling breath Imitates the toil of Death! No uglier agony confounds The Soldier on the war-field spread, When all foredone with toil and wounds Death-like he dozes among heaps of Dead! (The strife is o'er, the day-light fled, And the Night-wind clamours hoarse; See! the startful Wretch's head Lies pillow'd on a Brother's Corse!) O doom'd to fall, enslav'd and vile, O ALBION! O my mother Isle! Thy valleys, fair as Eden's bowers, Glitter green with sunny showers; Thy grassy Upland's gentle Swells Echo to the Bleat of Flocks; (Those grassy Hills, those glitt'ring Dells Proudly ramparted with rocks) And Ocean 'mid his uproar wild Speaks safely to his Island-child. Hence for many a fearless age Has social Quiet lov'd thy shore; Nor ever sworded Foeman's rage Or sack'd thy towers, or stain'd thy fields with gore. Disclaim'd of Heaven! mad Av'rice at thy side, At coward distance, yet with kindling pride— Safe 'mid thy herds and corn-fields thou hast stood, And join'd the yell of Famine and of Blood. All nations curse thee: and with eager wond'ring Shall hear DESTRUCTION like a vulture, scream! Strange-eyed DESTRUCTION, who with many a dream Of central flames thro' nether seas upthund'ring Soothes her fierce solitude, yet (as she lies Stretch'd on the marge of some fire-flashing fount In the black chamber of a sulphur'd mount,) If ever to her lidless dragon eyes, O ALBION! thy predestin'd ruins rise, The Fiend-hag on her perilous couch doth leap, Mutt'ring distemper'd triumph in her charmed sleep. Away, my soul, away! In vain, in vain, the birds of warning sing— And hark! I hear the famin'd brood of prey Flap their lank pennons on the groaning wind! Away, my Soul, away! I unpartaking of the evil thing, With daily prayer, and daily toil Soliciting my scant and blameless soil, Have wail'd my country with a loud lament. Now I recenter my immortal mind In the long sabbath of high self-content; Cleans'd from the fleshly Passions that bedim God's Image, Sister of the Seraphim.



(See Letter 35, page 123)

It merits not your Anger, nor my Blame, That, thus I have inscrib'd this Epigram: For, they who know me, know, that, Bookes thus large, And, fraught with Emblems, do augment the Charge Too much above my Fortunes, to afford A Gift so costly, for an Aierie-word: And, I have prov'd, your Begging-Qualitie, So forward, to oppresse my Modestie; That, for my future ease, it seemeth fit, To take some Order, for preventing it. And, peradventure, other Authors may, Find Cause to thanke me for't, another day. These many years, it hath your Custom bin, That, when in my possession, you have seene A Volume, of mine owne, you did no more, But, Aske and Take; As if you thought my store Encreast, without my Cost; And, that, by Giving, (Both Paines and Charges too) I got my living; Or, that, I find the Paper and the Printing, As easie to me, as the Bookes Inventing. If, of my Studies, no esteeme you have, You, then abuse the Courtesies you crave; And, are Unthankfull. If you prize them ought, Why should my Labour, not enough be thought, Unlesse, I adde Expences to my paines? The Stationer, affoords for little Gaines, The Bookes you crave: And, He, as well as I Might give away, what you repine to buy: For, what hee Gives, doth onely Mony Cost, In mine, both Mony, Time, and Wit is lost. What I shall Give, and what I have bestow'd On Friends, to whom, I Love, or Service ow'd, I grudge not; And, I thinke it is from them, Sufficient, that such Gifts they do esteeme: Yea, and, it is a Favour too, when they Will take these Trifles, my large Dues to pay; (Or, Aske them at my hands, when I forget, That, I am to their Love, so much in debt.) But, this inferres not, that, I should bestow The like on all men, who my Name do know; Or, have the Face to aske: For, then, I might, Of Wit and Mony, soone be begger'd, quite. So much, already, hath beene Beg'd away, (For which, I neither had, nor looke for pay) As being valu'd at the common Rate, Had rais'd, Five hundred Crownes, in my Estate. Which, (if I may confesse it) signifies, That, I was farre more Liberall, than Wise. But, for the time to come, resolv'd I am, That, till without denyall (or just blame) I may of those, who Cloth and Clothes do make, (As oft as I shall need them) Aske, and Take; You shall no more befoole me. Therfore, Pray Be Answer'd; And, henceforward, keepe away.



(See Letter 83, page 218)

Yet, Muse of Shakspeare[1], whither wouldst thou fly, With hurried step, and dove-like trembling eye? Thou, as from heav'n, that couldst each grace dispense, Fancy's rich stream, and all the stores of sense; Give to each virtue face and form divine, Make dulness feel, and vulgar souls refine, Wake all the passions into restless life, Now calm to softness, and now rouze to strife?

Sick of misjudging, that no sense can hit, Scar'd by the jargon of unmeaning wit, The senseless splendour of the tawdry stage[2], The loud long plaudits of a trifling age, Where dost thou wander? Exil'd in disgrace, Find'st thou in foreign realms some happier place[3]? Or dost thou still though banish'd from the town, In Britain love to linger, though unknown? Light Hymen's torch through ev'ry blooming grove,[4] And tinge each flow'ret with the blush of love? Sing winter, summer-sweets, the vernal air, Or the soft Sofa, to delight the fair[5]? Laugh, e'en at kings, and mock each prudish rule, The merry motley priest of ridicule[6]? With modest pencil paint the vernal scene, The rustic lovers, and the village green? Bid Mem'ry, magic child, resume his toy, And Hope's fond vot'ry seize the distant joy[7]?

Or dost thou soar, in youthful ardour strong, And bid some female hero live in song[8]? Teach fancy how through nature's walks to stray, And wake, to simpler theme, the lyric lay[9]? Or steal from beauty's lip th' ambrosial kiss, Paint the domestic grief, or social bliss[10]? With patient step now tread o'er rock and hill, Gaze on rough ocean, track the babbling rill[11], Then rapt in thought, with strong poetic eye, Read the great movement of the mighty sky?

Or wilt thou spread the light of Leo's age, And smooth, as woman's guide, Tansillo's page[12]? Till pleas'd, you make in fair translated song, Odin descend, and rouse the fairy throng[13]? Recall, employment sweet, thy youthful day, Then wake, at Mithra's call, the mystic lay[14]? Unfold the Paradise of ancient lore[15], Or mark the shipwreck from the sounding shore? Now love to linger in the daisied vale, Then rise sublime in legendary tale[16]? Or, faithful still to nature's sober joy, Smile on the labours of some Farmer's Boy[17]? Or e'en regardless of the poet's praise, Deck the fair magazine with blooming lays[18]? Oh! sweetest muse, oh, haste thy wish'd return, See genius droop, and bright-ey'd fancy mourn, Recall to nature's charms an English stage, The guard and glory of a nobler age.

[Footnote 1: It is not meant to say, that even Shakspeare followed invariably a correct and chastized taste, or that he never purchased public applause by offering incense at the shrine of public taste. Voltaire, in his Essays on Dramatic Poetry, has carried the matter too far; but in many respects his reflections are unquestionably just. In delineating human characters and passions, and in the display of the sublimer excellencies of poetry, Shakspeare was unrivalled.

There he our fancy of itself bereaving, Did make us marble with too much conceiving. MILTON'S SONNET TO SHAKSPEARE.]

[Footnote 2: Pomp and splendour a poor substitute for genius.]

[Footnote 3: The dramatic muse seems of late years to have taken her residence in Germany. Schiller, Kotzebue, and Goethe, possess great merit both for passion and sentiment, and the English nation have done them justice. One or two principles which the French and English critics had too implicitly followed from Aristotle, are indeed not adopted, but have been, I hope, successfully, counteracted by these writers; yet are these dramatists characterised by a wildness bordering on extravagance, attendant on a state of half-civilization. Schiller and Kotzebue, amid some faults, possess great excellencies.

With respect to England, it has long been noticed by very intelligent observers, that the dramatic taste of the present age is vitiated. Pope, who directed very powerful satire against the stage in his time, makes Dulness say in general terms,

Contending theatres our empire raise, Alike their censure, and alike their praise.

It would be the highest arrogance in me to make such an assertion, with my slender knowledge in these matters; ready too, as I am, to admire some excellent pieces that have fallen in my way; and to affirm, that there is by no means a deficiency of poetic talent in England.

Aristotle observes, that all the parts of the Epic poet are to be found in tragedy, and, consequently, that this species of writing is, of all others, most interesting to men of talents. [Greek: Peri ooiaetikaes] And baron Kotzebue thinks the theatre the best school of instruction, both in morals and taste, even for children; and that better effects are produced by a play, than by a sermon. See his life, written by himself, just translated by Anne Plumptre.

How much then is it to be wished, that so admirable a mean of amusement and instruction might be advanced to its true point of excellence! But the principles laid down by Bishop HURD, though calculated to advance the love of splendour, will not, I suspect, advance the TRUE PROVINCE OF THE DRAMA.]

[Footnote 4: Loves of the Plants, by Dr. Darwin.]

[Footnote 5: The Task, by Cowper; written at the request of a lady. The introductory poem is entitled, The Sofa.]

[Footnote 6: Dr. Walcot [Wolcot: Peter Pindar], whose poetry is of a farcical and humorous character.]

[Footnote 7: The Pleasures of Memory, by Rogers; and the Pleasures of Hope, by Campbell.]

[Footnote 8: Joan of Arc, by Southey;—a volume of poems with an introductory sonnet to Mary Wolstonecraft, and a poem, on the praise of woman, breathes the same spirit.]

[Footnote 9: Alludes to the character of a volume of poems, entitled Lyrical Ballads. Under this head also should be mentioned Smythe's English Lyrics.]

[Footnote 10: Characteristic of a volume of poems, the joint production of Coleridge, Lloyd, and Lamb.]

[Footnote 11: Descriptive Poems, such as Leusden hill, by Thomas Crowe; and the Malvern hills, by Joseph Cottle.]

[Footnote 12: Roscoe's Reign of Leo de Medici is interspersed with poetry. Roscoe has also translated, THE NURSE, a poem, from the Italian of Luigi Tansillo.]

[Footnote 13: Icelandic poetry, or the Edda of Saemund, translated by Amos Cottle; and the Oberon of Wieland, by Sotheby.]

[Footnote 14: Thomas Maurice, the author of the Indian Antiquities, is republishing his poems; the Song to Mithra is in the third volume of Indian Antiquities.]

[Footnote 15: The Paradise of Taste, and Pictures of Poetry, by Alexander Thomson.]

[Footnote 16: There is a tale of this character by Dr. Aikin, and the Hermit of Warkworth, by Bishop Percy. It will please the friends of taste to hear, that Cartwright's Armine and Elvira, which has been long out of print, is now republishing.]

[Footnote 17: The Farmer's Boy, a poem just published, on THE SEASONS, by Robert Bloomfield.]

[Footnote 18: Many of the anonymous poetical pieces thrown into magazines, possess poetical merit. Those of a young lady in the Monthly Magazine, will, I hope, in time be more generally known. Those of Rushton, of Liverpool, will also, I hope, be published by some judicious friend:—this worthy man is a bookseller, who has been afflicted with blindness from his youth.]


(See Letter 241, page 537)

On December 28th the immortal dinner came off in my painting-room, with Jerusalem towering up behind us as a background. Wordsworth was in fine cue, and we had a glorious set-to,—on Homer, Shakespeare, Milton and Virgil. Lamb got exceedingly merry and exquisitely witty; and his fun in the midst of Wordsworth's solemn intonations of oratory was like the sarcasm and wit of the fool in the intervals of Lear's passion. He made a speech and voted me absent, and made them drink my health. "Now," said Lamb, "you old lake poet, you rascally poet, why do you call Voltaire dull?" We all defended Wordsworth, and affirmed there was a state of mind when Voltaire would be dull. "Well," said Lamb, "here's Voltaire—the Messiah of the French nation, and a very proper one too."

He then, in a strain of humour beyond description, abused me for putting Newton's head into my picture,—"a fellow," said he, "who believed nothing unless it was as clear as the three sides of a triangle." And then he and Keats agreed he had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colours. It was impossible to resist him, and we all drank "Newton's health, and confusion to mathematics." It was delightful to see the good-humour of Wordsworth in giving in to all our frolics without affectation and laughing as heartily as the best of us.

By this time other friends joined, amongst them poor Ritchie who was going to penetrate by Fezzan to Timbuctoo. I introduced him to all as "a gentleman going to Africa." Lamb seemed to take no notice; but all of a sudden he roared out, "Which is the gentleman we are going to lose?" We than drank the victim's health, in which Ritchie joined.

In the morning of this delightful day, a gentleman, a perfect stranger, had called on me. He said he knew my friends, had an enthusiasm for Wordsworth and begged I would procure him the happiness of an introduction. He told me he was a comptroller of stamps, and often had correspondence with the poet. I thought it a liberty; but still, as he seemed a gentleman, I told him he might come.

When we retired to tea we found the comptroller. In introducing him to Wordsworth I forgot to say who he was. After a little time the comptroller looked down, looked up and said to Wordsworth, "Don't you think, sir, Milton was a great genius?" Keats looked at me, Wordsworth looked at the comptroller. Lamb who was dozing by the fire turned round and said, "Pray, sir, did you say Milton was a great genius?" "No, sir; I asked Mr. Wordsworth if he were not." "Oh," said Lamb, "then you are a silly fellow." "Charles! my dear Charles!" said Wordsworth; but Lamb, perfectly innocent of the confusion he had created, was off again by the fire.

After an awful pause the comptroller said, "Don't you think Newton a great genius?" I could not stand it any longer. Keats put his head into my books. Ritchie squeezed in a laugh. Wordsworth seemed asking himself, "Who is this?" Lamb got up, and taking a candle, said, "Sir, will you allow me to look at your phrenological development?" He then turned his back on the poor man, and at every question of the comptroller he chaunted—

"Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John Went to bed with his breeches on."

The man in office, finding Wordsworth did not know who he was, said in a spasmodic and half-chuckling anticipation of assured victory, "I have had the honour of some correspondence with you, Mr. Wordsworth." "With me, sir?" said Wordsworth, "not that I remember." "Don't you, sir? I am a comptroller of stamps." There was a dead silence;—the comptroller evidently thinking that was enough. While we were waiting for Wordsworth's reply, Lamb sung out

"Hey diddle diddle, The cat and the fiddle."

"My dear Charles!" said Wordsworth,—

"Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John,"

chaunted Lamb, and then rising, exclaimed, "Do let me have another look at that gentleman's organs." Keats and I hurried Lamb into the painting-room, shut the door and gave way to inextinguishable laughter. Monkhouse followed and tried to get Lamb away. We went back, but the comptroller was irreconcilable. We soothed and smiled and asked him to supper. He stayed though his dignity was sorely affected. However, being a good-natured man, we parted all in good-humour, and no ill effects followed.

All the while, until Monkhouse succeeded, we could hear Lamb struggling in the painting-room and calling at intervals, "Who is that fellow? Allow me to see his organs once more."

It was indeed an immortal evening. Wordsworth's fine intonation as he quoted Milton and Virgil, Keats' eager inspired look, Lamb's quaint sparkle of lambent humour, so speeded the stream of conversation, that in my life I never passed a more delightful time. All our fun was within bounds. Not a word passed that an apostle might not have listened to. It was a night worthy of the Elizabethan age, and my solemn Jerusalem flashing up by the flame of the fire, with Christ hanging over us like a vision, all made up a picture which will long glow upon—

"that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude."

Keats made Ritchie promise he would carry his Endymion to the great desert of Sahara and fling it in the midst.

Poor Ritchie went to Africa, and died, as Lamb foresaw, in 1819. Keats died in 1821, at Rome. C. Lamb is gone, joking to the last. Monkhouse is dead, and Wordsworth and I are the only two now living (1841) of that glorious party.


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