Lamb had just met William Godwin (1756-1836), probably having been introduced to him by Coleridge. Godwin, known chiefly by his Political Justice, 1793; Caleb Williams, 1794, and St. Leon, 1799, stood at that time for everything that was advanced in thought and conduct. We shall meet with him often in the correspondence of the next few years.
Bishop Horsley (then of Rochester, afterwards St. Asaph's) was probably included ironically, on account of his hostility to Priestley.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. March 1, 1800.]
I hope by this time you are prepared to say the "Falstaf's letters" are a bundle of the sharpest, queerest, profoundest humours, of any these juice-drained latter times have spawned. I should have advertised you, that the meaning is frequently hard to be got at; and so are the future guineas, that now lie ripening and aurifying in the womb of some undiscovered Potosi; but dig, dig, dig, dig, Manning! I set to with an unconquerable propulsion to write, with a lamentable want of what to write. My private goings on are orderly as the movements of the spheres, and stale as their music to angels' ears. Public affairs—except as they touch upon me, and so turn into private, I cannot whip up my mind to feel any interest in. I grieve, indeed, that War and Nature, and Mr. Pitt, that hangs up in Lloyd's best parlour, should have conspired to call up three necessaries, simple commoners as our fathers knew them, into the upper house of Luxuries; Bread, and Beer, and Coals, Manning. But as to France and Frenchmen, and the Abbe Sieyes and his constitutions, I cannot make these present times present to me. I read histories of the past, and I live in them; although, to abstract senses, they are far less momentous than the noises which keep Europe awake. I am reading Burnet's Own Times. Did you ever read that garrulous, pleasant history? He tells his story like an old man past political service, bragging to his sons on winter evenings of the part he took in public transactions, when his "old cap was new." Full of scandal, which all true history is. No palliatives, but all the stark wickedness, that actually gives the momentum to national actors. Quite the prattle of age and out-lived importance. Truth and sincerity staring out upon you perpetually in alto relievo. Himself a party man—he makes you a party man. None of the Damned philosophical Humeian indifference, so cold, and unnatural, and inhuman! None of the damned Gibbonian fine writing, so fine and composite. None of Mr. Robertson's periods with three members. None of Mr. Roscoe's sage remarks, all so apposite, and coming in so clever, lest the reader should have had the trouble of drawing an inference. Burnet's good old prattle I can bring present to my mind—I can make the revolution present to me; the French Revolution, by a converse perversity in my nature, I fling as far from me. To quit this damn'd subject, and to relieve you from two or three dismal yawns, which I hear in spirit, I here conclude my more than commonly obtuse letter; dull up to the dulness of a Dutch commentator on Shakspeare.
My love to Lloyd and Sophia. C. L.
["War and Nature, and Mr. Pitt." The war had sent up taxation to an almost unbearable height. Pitt was Chancellor of Exchequer, as well as Prime Minister.
Hume, Gibbon and Robertson were among the books which, in the Elia essay "Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading," Lamb described as biblia-a-biblia. William Roscoe's principal work was his Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, 1795.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. March 17, 1800.]
Dear Manning,—I am living in a continuous feast. Coleridge has been with me now for nigh three weeks, and the more I see of him in the quotidian undress and relaxation of his mind, the more cause I see to love him, and believe him a very good man, and all those foolish impressions to the contrary fly off like morning slumbers. He is engaged in translations, which I hope will keep him this month to come. He is uncommonly kind and friendly to me. He ferrets me day and night to do something. He tends me, amidst all his own worrying and heart-oppressing occupations, as a gardener tends his young tulip. Marry come up! what a pretty similitude, and how like your humble servant! He has lugged me to the brink of engaging to a newspaper, and has suggested to me for a first plan the forgery of a supposed manuscript of Burton the anatomist of melancholy. I have even written the introductory letter; and, if I can pick up a few guineas this way, I feel they will be most refreshing, bread being so dear. If I go on with it, I will apprise you of it, as you may like to see my thing's! and the tulip, of all flowers, loves to be admired most.
Pray pardon me, if my letters do not come very thick. I am so taken up with one thing or other, that I cannot pick out (I will not say time, but) fitting times to write to you. My dear love to Lloyd and Sophia, and pray split this thin letter into three parts, and present them with the two biggest in my name.
They are my oldest friends; but ever the new friend driveth out the old, as the ballad sings! God bless you all three! I would hear from Lloyd, if I could.
Flour has just fallen nine shillings a sack! we shall be all too rich.
Tell Charles I have seen his Mamma, and have almost fallen in love with her, since I mayn't with Olivia. She is so fine and graceful, a complete Matron-Lady-Quaker. She has given me two little books. Olivia grows a charming girl—full of feeling, and thinner than she was.
But I have not time to fall in love.
Mary presents her general compliments. She keeps in fine health!
Huzza! boys, and down with the Atheists.
[Coleridge, having sent his wife and Hartley into the country, had, for a while, taken up his abode with Lamb at Pentonville, and given up the Morning Post in order to proceed with his translation of Schiller's Wallenstein. Lamb's forgery of Burton, together with those mentioned in the next letter, which were never printed by Stuart, for whom they were written, was included in the John Woodvil volume, 1802, among the "Curious Fragments, extracted from a commonplace book, which belonged to Robert Burton, the famous Author of The Anatomy of Melancholy." See the Miscellaneous Prose, Vol. I. of this edition.
"They are my oldest friends." Coleridge and Southey were, of course, older. The ballad I have not found.
Mrs. Charles Lloyd, sen., nee Mary Farmer, and Olivia, her second daughter, had been staying in London. Lamb had breakfasted with them.
The reference to Atheists is explained by a passage from Manning's letter to Lamb in March, 1800: "One thing tho' I must beg of you—that is not to call me Atheist in your letters—for though it may be mere raillery in you, and not meant as a serious imputation on my Faith, yet, if the Catholic or any other intolerant religion should [illegible] and become established in England, (which [illegible] if the Bishop of R——r may be the case) and if the post-people should happen to open and read your letters, (which, considering the sometimes quaintness of their form, they may possibly be incited to do) such names might send me to Smithfield on a hurdle,—and nothing upon earth is more discordant to my wishes, than to become one of the Smithfield Illuminati."]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. April 5, 1800.]
C.L.'s moral sense presents her compliments to Doctor Manning, is very thankful for his medical advice, but is happy to add that her disorder has died of itself.
Dr. Manning, Coleridge has left us, to go into the north, on a visit to his god Wordsworth. With him have flown all my splendid prospects of engagement with the "Morning Post," all my visionary guineas, the deceitful wages of unborn scandal. In truth, I wonder you took it up so seriously. All my intention was but to make a little sport with such public and fair game as Mr. Pitt, Mr. Wilberforce, Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Devil, &c.—gentry dipped in Styx all over, whom no paper javelin-lings can touch. To have made free with these cattle, where was the harm? 'twould have been but giving a polish to lampblack, not nigrifying a negro primarily. After all, I cannot but regret my involuntary virtue. Damn virtue that's thrust upon us; it behaves itself with such constraint, till conscience opens the window and lets out the goose.
I had struck off two imitations of Burton, quite abstracted from any modern allusions, which it was my intent only to lug in from time to time to make 'em popular. Stuart has got these, with an introductory letter; but, not hearing from him, I have ceased from my labours, but I write to him today to get a final answer. I am afraid they won't do for a paper. Burton is a scarce gentleman, not much known; else I had done 'em pretty well.
I have also hit off a few lines in the name of Burton, being a conceit of "Diabolic Possession." Burton was a man often assailed by deepest melancholy, and at other times much given to laughing and jesting, as is the way with melancholy men. I will send them you: they were almost extempore, and no great things; but you will indulge them. Robert Lloyd is come to town. He is a good fellow, with the best heart, but his feelings are shockingly unsane. Priscilla meditates going to see Pizarro at Drury Lane to-night (from her uncle's) under cover of coming to dine with me... heu! tempora! heu! mores!—I have barely time to finish, as I expect her and Robin every minute.—Yours as usual.
[For Coleridge's movements see note to the next letter.—"Pizarro" was Sheridan's drama. It was acted this season, 1799-1800, sixty-seven times. Lamb's next letter to Manning, which is not available for this edition, contained the promised copy of the "Conceit of Diabolical Possession." It also contained a copy of Thekla's song in "Wallenstein," in Lamb's translation (see Vol. IV.), which he says is better than the original "a huge deal". Finally Lamb copies the old ballad "Edward, Edward" and calls it "the very first dramatic poem in the English language."]
CHARLES LAMB TO S. T. COLERIDGE [Probably April 16 or 17, 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 Benjey—I don't know how she spells her name. I just came in 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'Israeli, 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 has 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 Benjey'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 Benjey, 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 Benjey 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 any thing I have written.
C. LAMB, Umbra.
Land of Shadows, Shadow-month the 16th or 17th, 1800.
Coleridge, I find loose among your papers a copy of "Christabel." It wants about thirty lines; you will very much oblige me by sending me the beginning as far as that line,—
"And the spring comes slowly up this way;"
and the intermediate lines between—
"The lady leaps up suddenly. The lovely Lady Christabel;"
and the lines,—
"She folded her arms beneath her cloak, And stole to the other side of the oak."
The trouble to you will be small, and the benefit to us very great! A pretty antithesis! A figure in speech I much applaud.
Godwin has called upon us. He spent one evening here. Was very friendly. Kept us up till midnight. Drank punch, and talked about you. He seems, above all men, mortified at your going away. Suppose you were to write to that good-natured heathen—"or is he a shadow?" If I do not write, impute it to the long postage, of which you have so much cause to complain. I have scribbled over a queer letter, as I find by perusal; but it means no mischief.
I am, and will be, yours ever, in sober sadness,
Write your German as plain as sunshine, for that must correct itself. You know I am homo unius linguae: in English, illiterate, a dunce, a ninny.
[Having left Lamb, Coleridge went to Grasmere, where he stayed at Dove Cottage with Wordsworth and finished his translation, which was ready for the printer on April 22. To what Lamb alludes in his reference to the homily on "Realities" I cannot say, but presumably Coleridge had written a metaphysical letter on this subject. Lamb returns to the matter at the end of the first part of his reply.
Miss Wesley was Sarah Wesley (1760-1828), the daughter of Charles Wesley and, therefore, niece of the great John and Samuel. She moved much in literary society. Miss Benjay, or Benje, was in reality Elizabeth Ogilvy Benger (1778-1827), a friend of Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Barbauld and the Aikins, and other literary people. Madame de Stael called her the most interesting woman she had met in England. She wrote novels and poems and biographies. In those days there were two East Streets, one leading from Red Lion Square to Lamb's Conduit Street, and one in the neighbourhood of Clare Market.
D'Israeli was Isaac Disraeli, the author of The Curiosities of Literature and other books about books and authors; Miss More was Hannah More, and her book, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, 1799; Dr. Gregory I have not traced; Miss Seward was Anna Seward, the Swan of Lichfield; and the Miss Porters were Jane and Anna Maria, authors (later) respectively of The Scottish Chiefs and Thaddeus of Warsaw, and The Hungarian Brothers.
The proof-sheets were those of Wallenstein. Henry Sampson Woodfall was the famous printer of the Letters of Junius.
Christabel, Coleridge's poem, had been begun in 1797; it was finished, in so far as it was finished, later in the year 1800. It was published first in 1816.
"Homo unius linguae." Lamb exaggerated here. He had much Latin, a little Greek and apparently a little French. The sentence is in the manner of Burton, whom Lamb had been imitating.
Here should come a letter dated April 23, 1800, to Robert Lloyd, which treats of obedience to parental wish. Lloyd seems to have objected to attend the meetings of the Society of Friends, of which he was a birthright member. Lamb bids him go; adding that, if his own parents were to live again, he would do more things to please them than merely sitting still a few hours in a week.]
CHARLES LAMB TO S.T. COLERIDGE
[? Spring, 1800.]
By some fatality, unusual with me, I have mislaid the list of books which you want. Can you, from memory, easily supply me with another?
I confess to Statius, and I detained him wilfully, out of a reverent regard to your style. Statius, they tell me, is turgid. As to that other Latin book, since you know neither its name nor subject, your wants (I crave leave to apprehend) cannot be very urgent. Meanwhile, dream that it is one of the lost Decades of Livy.
Your partiality to me has led you to form an erroneous opinion as to the measure of delight you suppose me to take in obliging. Pray, be careful that it spread no further. 'Tis one of those heresies that is very pregnant. Pray, rest more satisfied with the portion of learning which you have got, and disturb my peaceful ignorance as little as possible with such sort of commissions.
Did you never observe an appearance well known by the name of the man in the moon? Some scandalous old maids have set on foot a report that it is Endymion. Dr. Stoddart talks of going out King's Advocate to Malta. He has studied the Civil and Canon Law just three canon months, to my knowledge. Fiat justitia, ruat caelum.
Your theory about the first awkward step a man makes being the consequence of learning to dance, is not universal. We have known many youths bred up at Christ's, who never learned to dance, yet the world imputes to them no very graceful motions. I remember there was little Hudson, the immortal precentor of St. Paul's, to teach us our quavers: but, to the best of my recollection, there was no master of motions when we were at Christ's.
Farewell, in haste.
[Talfourd does not date this letter, merely remarking that it belongs to the present period. Canon Ainger dated it June 22, 1800; but this I think cannot be right when we take into consideration Letter 60 and what it says about Lamb's last letter to Coleridge (clearly that of May 12), and the time that has since elapsed. The birth of Charles Lloyd's first child, July 31, gives us the latest date to which Letter 60 could belong.
"Your theory ..." This may have been contained in one of Coleridge's letters, now lost; I do not find it in any of the known Morning Post articles.]
CHARLES LAMB TO S.T. COLERIDGE
Monday, May 12th, 1800.
My dear Coleridge—I don't know why I write, except from the propensity misery has to tell her griefs. Hetty died on Friday night, about eleven o'clock, after eight days' illness; Mary, in consequence of fatigue and anxiety, is fallen ill again, and I was obliged to remove her yesterday. I am left alone in a house with nothing but Hetty's dead body to keep me company. To-morrow I bury her, and then I shall be quite alone, with nothing but a cat to remind me that the house has been full of living beings like myself. My heart is quite sunk, and I don't know where to look for relief. Mary will get better again; but her constantly being liable to such relapses is dreadful; nor is it the least of our evils that her case and all our story is so well known around us. We are in a manner marked. Excuse my troubling you; but I have nobody by me to speak to me. I slept out last night, not being able to endure the change and the stillness. But I did not sleep well, and I must come back to my own bed. I am going to try and get a friend to come and be with me to-morrow. I am completely shipwrecked. My head is quite bad. I almost wish that Mary were dead.—God bless you! Love to Sara and Hartley.
[Hetty was the Lambs' aged servant.
Here should come a letter from Lamb to Thomas Manning clearly written on May 12, 1800, the same day as that to Coleridge, stating that Lamb has given up his house, and is looking for lodgings,—White (with whom he had stayed) having "all kindness but not sympathy".]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. May 20, 1800.]
Dear Manning,—I feel myself unable to thank you sufficiently for your kind letter. It was doubly acceptable to me, both for the choice poetry and the kind honest prose which it contained. It was just such a letter as I should have expected from Manning.
I am in much better spirits than when I wrote last. I have had a very eligible offer to lodge with a friend in town. He will have rooms to let at midsummer, by which time I hope my sister will be well enough to join me. It is a great object to me to live in town, where we shall be much more private, and to quit a house and neighbourhood where poor Mary's disorder, so frequently recurring, has made us a sort of marked people. We can be nowhere private except in the midst of London. We shall be in a family where we visit very frequently; only my landlord and I have not yet come to a conclusion. He has a partner to consult. I am still on the tremble, for I do not know where we could go into lodgings that would not be, in many respects, highly exceptionable. Only God send Mary well again, and I hope all will be well! The prospect, such as it is, has made me quite happy. I have just time to tell you of it, as I know it will give you pleasure.—Farewell.
[Manning's letter containing the choice poetry has not been preserved.
The friend in town was John Mathew Gutch (1776-1861), with whom Lamb had been at school at Christ's Hospital, who was now a law stationer, in partnership with one Anderson, at 27 Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, since demolished.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[No date. ? May 25, 1800.]
Dear Manning, I am a letter in your debt, but I am scarcely rich enough (in spirits) to pay you.—I am writing at an inn on the Ware road, in the neighbourhood of which I am going to pass two days, being Whitsuntide.—Excuse the pen, tis the best I can get.—Poor Mary is very bad yet. I went yesterday hoping I should see her getting well, then I might have come into the country more chearful, but I could not get to see her. This has been a sad damp. Indeed I never in my life have been more wretched than I was all day yesterday. I am glad I am going away from business for a little while, for my head has been hot and ill. I shall be very much alone where I am going, which always revives me. I hope you will accept of this worthless memento, which I merely send as a token that I am in your debt. I will write upon my return, on Thursday at farthest. I return on Wednesday.—
God bless you.
I was afraid you would think me forgetful, and that made me scribble this jumble.
[Here probably also should come an unpublished letter from Lamb to Manning, in which Lamb remarks that his goddess is Pecunia.
In another letter to Manning belonging to the same period, Lamb returns to the subject of poverty:—"You dropt a word whether in jest or earnest, as if you would join me in some work, such as a review or series of papers, essays, or anything.—Were you serious? I want home occupation, & I more want money. Had you any scheme, or was it, as G. Dyer says, en passant? If I don't have a Legacy left me shortly I must get into pay with some newspaper for small gains. Mutton is twelvepence a pound."
Here should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, in which he describes a visit to Gutch's family at Oxford, and mentions his admiration for a fine head of Bishop Taylor in All Souls' Library, which was an inducement to the Oxford visit. He refers to Charles Lloyd's settlement in the Lakes, and suggests that it may be the means of again uniting him and Coleridge; adding that such men as Coleridge and Wordsworth would exclude solitude in the Hebrides or Thule.
The following undated letter, which may be placed a little too soon in its present position, comes with a certain fitness here:—]
CHARLES LAMB TO JOHN MATHEW GUTCH
[No date. 1800.]
Dear Gutch, Anderson is not come home, and I am almost afraid to tell you what has happen'd, lest it should seem to have happened by my fault in not writing for you home sooner.—
This morning Henry, the eldest lad, was missing. We supposd he was only gone out on a morning's stroll, and that he would return, but he did not return & we discovered that he had opened your desk before he went, & I suppose taken all the money he could find, for on diligent search I could find none, and on opening your Letter to Anderson, which I thought necessary to get at the key, I learn that you had a good deal of money there.
Several people have been here after you to-day, & the boys seem quite frightened, and do not know what to do. In particular, one gentleman wants to have some writings finished by Tuesday—For God's sake set out by the first coach. Mary has been crying all day about it, and I am now just going to some law stationer in the neighbourhood, that the eldest boy has recommended, to get him to come and be in the house for a day or so, to manage. I cannot think what detains Anderson. His sister is quite frightend about him. I am very sorry I did not write yesterday, but Henry persuaded me to wait till he could ascertain when some job must be done (at the furthest) for Mr. Foulkes, and as nothing had occurrd besides I did not like to disturb your pleasures. I now see my error, and shall be heartily ashamed to see you.
[That is as far as the letter goes on the first page. We then turn over, and find (as Gutch, to his immense relief, found before us) written right across both pages:]
Anderson is come home, and the wheels of thy business are going on as ever. The boy is honest, and I am thy friend. And how does the coach-maker's daughter? Thou art her Phaeton, her Gig, and her Sociable. Commend me to Rob.
[This letter is the first example extant of Lamb's tendency to hoaxing. Gutch was at that time courting a Miss Wheeley, the daughter of a Birmingham coachbuilder. It was while he was in Birmingham that Lamb wrote the letter. Anderson was his partner in business. Rob would be Robert Lloyd, then at Birmingham again. This, and one other, are the only letters of Lamb to Gutch that escaped destruction.]
CHARLES LAMB TO S.T. COLERIDGE
[? Late July, 1800.]
Dear Coleridge,—Soon after I wrote to you last, an offer was made me by Gutch (you must remember him? at Christ's—you saw him, slightly, one day with Thomson at our house)—to come and lodge with him at his house in Southampton Buildings, Chancery-Lane. This was a very comfortable offer to me, the rooms being at a reasonable rent, and including the use of an old servant, besides being infinitely preferable to ordinary lodgings in our case, as you must perceive. As Gutch knew all our story and the perpetual liability to a recurrence in my sister's disorder, probably to the end of her life, I certainly think the offer very generous and very friendly. I have got three rooms (including servant) under L34 a year. Here I soon found myself at home; and here, in six weeks after, Mary was well enough to join me. So we are once more settled. I am afraid we are not placed out of the reach of future interruptions. But I am determined to take what snatches of pleasure we can between the acts of our distressful drama.... I have passed two days at Oxford on a visit, which I have long put off, to Gutch's family. The sight of the Bodleian Library and, above all, a fine bust of Bishop Taylor at All Souls', were particularly gratifying to me; unluckily, it was not a family where I could take Mary with me, and I am afraid there is something of dishonesty in any pleasures I take without her. She never goes anywhere. I do not know what I can add to this letter. I hope you are better by this time; and I desire to be affectionately remembered to Sara and Hartley.
I expected before this to have had tidings of another little philosopher. Lloyd's wife is on the point of favouring the world.
Have you seen the new edition of Burns? his posthumous works and letters? I have only been able to procure the first volume, which contains his life—very confusedly and badly written, and interspersed with dull pathological and medical discussions. It is written by a Dr. Currie. Do you know the well-meaning doctor? Alas, ne sutor ultra crepitum! [A few words omitted here.]
I hope to hear again from you very soon. Godwin is gone to Ireland on a visit to Grattan. Before he went I passed much time with him, and he has showed me particular attentions: N.B. A thing I much like. Your books are all safe: only I have not thought it necessary to fetch away your last batch, which I understand are at Johnson's the bookseller, who has got quite as much room, and will take as much care of them as myself—and you can send for them immediately from him.
I wish you would advert to a letter I sent you at Grasmere about "Christabel," and comply with my request contained therein.
Love to all friends round Skiddaw.
[The Coleridges had recently moved into Greta Hall, Keswick.
Thomson would, I think, be Marmaduke Thompson, an old Christ's Hospitaller, to whom Lamb dedicated Rosamund Gray. He became a missionary.
"Another little philosopher." Derwent Coleridge was born September 14, 1800. Lloyd's eldest son, Charles Grosvenor Lloyd, was born July 31, 1800.
Dr. James Currie's Life of Burns was prefixed to an edition of his poems in 1800. Dugald Stewart called it "a strong and faithful picture." It was written to raise funds for Burns' widow and family.
Godwin had gone to stay with Curran: he saw much of Grattan also.
Johnson, the publisher and bookseller, lived at 72 St. Paul's Churchyard. He published Priestley's works.]
CHARLES LAMB TO S. T. COLERIDGE
Aug. 6th, 1800.
Dear Coleridge,—I have taken to-day, and delivered to Longman and Co., Imprimis: your books, viz., three ponderous German dictionaries, one volume (I can find no more) of German and French ditto, sundry other German books unbound, as you left them, Percy's Ancient Poetry, and one volume of Anderson's Poets. I specify them, that you may not lose any. Secundo: a dressing-gown (value, fivepence), in which you used to sit and look like a conjuror, when you were translating "Wallenstein." A case of two razors and a shaving-box and strap. This it has cost me a severe struggle to part with. They are in a brown-paper parcel, which also contains sundry papers and poems, sermons, some few Epic Poems,—one about Cain and Abel, which came from Poole, &c., &c., and also your tragedy; with one or two small German books, and that drama in which Gotfader performs. Tertio: a small oblong box containing all your letters, collected from all your waste papers, and which fill the said little box. All other waste papers, which I judged worth sending, are in the paper parcel aforesaid. But you will find all your letters in the box by themselves. Thus have I discharged my conscience and my lumber-room of all your property, save and except a folio entitled Tyrrell's Bibliotheca Politica, which you used to learn your politics out of when you wrote for the Post, mutatis mutandis, i.e., applying past inferences to modern data. I retain that, because I am sensible I am very deficient in the politics myself; and I have torn up—don't be angry, waste paper has risen forty per cent., and I can't afford to buy it—all Buonaparte's Letters, Arthur Young's Treatise on Corn, and one or two more light-armed infantry, which I thought better suited the flippancy of London discussion than the dignity of Keswick thinking. Mary says you will be in a damned passion about them when you come to miss them; but you must study philosophy. Read Albertus Magnus de Chartis Amissis five times over after phlebotomising,—'tis Burton's recipe—and then be angry with an absent friend if you can. I have just heard that Mrs. Lloyd is delivered of a fine boy, and mother and boy are doing well. Fie on sluggards, what is thy Sara doing? Sara is obscure. Am I to understand by her letter, that she sends a kiss to Eliza Buckingham? Pray tell your wife that a note of interrogation on the superscription of a letter is highly ungrammatical—she proposes writing my name Lamb? Lambe is quite enough. I have had the Anthology, and like only one thing in it, Lewti; but of that the last stanza is detestable, the rest most exquisite!—the epithet enviable would dash the finest poem. For God's sake (I never was more serious), don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses. It did well enough five years ago when I came to see you, and was moral coxcomb enough at the time you wrote the lines, to feed upon such epithets; but, besides that, the meaning of gentle is equivocal at best, and almost always means poor-spirited, the very quality of gentleness is abhorrent to such vile trumpetings. My sentiment is long since vanished. I hope my virtues have done sucking. I can scarce think but you meant it in joke. I hope you did, for I should be ashamed to think that you could think to gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a cordial to some green-sick sonneteer.
I have hit off the following in imitation of old English poetry, which, I imagine, I am a dab at. The measure is unmeasureable; but it most resembles that beautiful ballad of the "Old and Young Courtier;" and in its feature of taking the extremes of two situations for just parallel, it resembles the old poetry certainly. If I could but stretch out the circumstances to twelve more verses, i.e., if I had as much genius as the writer of that old song, I think it would be excellent. It was to follow an imitation of Burton in prose, which you have not seen. But fate "and wisest Stewart" say No.
I can send you 200 pens and six quires of paper immediately, if they will answer the carriage by coach. It would be foolish to pack 'em up cum multis libris et caeteris,—they would all spoil. I only wait your commands to coach them. I would pay five-and-forty thousand carriages to read W.'s tragedy, of which I have heard so much and seen so little—only what I saw at Stowey. Pray give me an order in writing on Longman for "Lyrical Ballads." I have the first volume, and, truth to tell, six shillings is a broad shot. I cram all I can in, to save a multiplying of letters—those pretty comets with swingeing tails.
I'll just crowd in God bless you!
[The epic about Cain and Abel was "The Wanderings of Cain," which Coleridge projected but never finished. The drama in which Got-fader performs would be perhaps "Faust"—"Der Herr" in the Prologue—or some old miracle play.
"'Tis Burton's recipe." Lamb was just now steeped in the Anatomy; but there is no need to see if Burton says this.
"Eliza Buckingham." Sara Coleridge's message was probably intended for Eliza, a servant at the Buckingham Street lodgings.
Lambe was The Anti-Jacobin's idea of Lamb's name; and indeed many persons adhered to it to the end. Mrs. Coleridge, when writing to her husband under care of Lamb at the India House, added "e" to Lamb's name to signify that the letter was for Coleridge. Wordsworth later also had some of his letters addressed in the same way—for the same economical reason.
Coleridge's "Lewti" was reprinted, with alterations, from the Morning Post, in the Annual Anthology, Vol. II. Line 69 ran—
"Had I the enviable power;"
Coleridge changed this to—
"Voice of the Night! had I the power."
"This Lime-tree Bower my Prison; a Poem, addressed to Charles Lamb of the India House, London," was also in the Annual Anthology. Lamb objected to the phrase "My gentle-hearted Charles" (see above). Lamb says "five years ago"; he means three. Coleridge did not alter the phrase. It was against this poem that he wrote in pencil on his deathbed in 1834: "Ch. and Mary Lamb—dear to my heart, yea, as it were, my heart.—S. T. C. Aet. 63, 1834. 1797-1834 = 37 years!"
"I have hit off the following"—"A Ballad Denoting the Difference between the Rich and the Poor," first printed among the Imitations of Burton in the John Woodvil volume, 1802, see Vol. IV.
"And wisest Stewart"—Stuart of the Morning Post. Adapted from Milton's "Hymn on the Nativity"—
"But wisest Fate says no."
"W.'s (Wordsworth's) tragedy" was "The Borderers." The second edition of Lyrical Ballads was just ready.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING [P.M. August 9, 1800.]
Dear Manning,—I suppose you have heard of Sophia Lloyd's good fortune, and paid the customary compliments to the parents. Heaven keep the new-born infant from star-blasting and moon-blasting, from epilepsy, marasmus, and the devil! May he live to see many days, and they good ones; some friends, and they pretty regular correspondents, with as much wit as wisdom as will eat their bread and cheese together under a poor roof without quarrelling; as much goodness as will earn heaven! Here I must leave off, my benedictory powers failing me. I could curse the sheet full; so much stronger is corruption than grace in the Natural Man.
And now, when shall I catch a glimpse of your honest face-to-face countenance again—your fine dogmatical sceptical face, by punch-light? O! one glimpse of the human face, and shake of the human hand, is better than whole reams of this cold, thin correspondence—yea, of more worth than all the letters that have sweated the fingers of sensibility from Madame Sevigne and Balzac (observe my Larning!) to Sterne and Shenstone.
Coleridge is settled with his wife and the young philosopher at Keswick with the Wordsworths. They have contrived to spawn a new volume of lyrical ballads, which is to see the light in about a month, and causes no little excitement in the literary world. George Dyer too, that good-natured heathen, is more than nine months gone with his twin volumes of ode, pastoral, sonnet, elegy, Spenserian, Horatian, Akensidish, and Masonic verse—Clio prosper the birth! it will be twelve shillings out of somebody's pocket. I find he means to exclude "personal satire," so it appears by his truly original advertisement. Well, God put it into the hearts of the English gentry to come in shoals and subscribe to his poems, for He never put a kinder heart into flesh of man than George Dyer's!
Now farewell: for dinner is at hand. C. L.
[Southey's letters contain a glimpse (as Mr. J.A. Rutter has pointed out) of Lamb and Manning by punch-light. Writing in 1824, describing a certain expression of Mrs. Coleridge's face, Southey says:—
First, then, it was an expression of dolorous alarm, such as Le Brun ought to have painted: but such as Manning never could have equalled, when, while Mrs. Lloyd was keeping her room in child-bed, he and Charles Lamb sate drinking punch in the room below till three in the morning— Manning acting Le Brun's passions (punchified at the time), and Charles Lamb (punchified also) roaring aloud and swearing, while the tears ran down his cheeks, that it required more genius than even Shakespeare possessed to personate them so well; Charles Lloyd the while (not punchified) praying and entreating them to go to bed, and not disturb his wife by the uproar they were making.
Southey's reminiscence, though interesting, is very confusing. Lamb does not seem to have visited Cambridge between the end of 1799 and January 5, 1800. At the latter date the Lloyds were in the north. Possibly Southey refers to an earlier illness of Mrs. Lloyd, which, writing after a long interval, he confused with confinement.
"Balzac." Not, of course, the novelist; but Jean Louis Guez de Balzac (1594-1654) the letter-writer.
Two or three lines have been omitted from this letter which can be read as written only in the Boston Bibliophile edition.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. August 11, 1800.]
My dear fellow (N.B. mighty familiar of late!) for me to come to Cambridge now is one of God Almighty's impossibilities. Metaphysicians tell us, even He can work nothing which implies a contradiction. I can explain this by telling you that I am engaged to do double duty (this hot weather!) for a man who has taken advantage of this very weather to go and cool himself in "green retreats" all the month of August.
But for you to come to London instead!—muse upon it, revolve it, cast it about in your mind. I have a bed at your command. You shall drink rum, brandy, gin, aqua-vitae, usquebaugh, or whiskey a' nights; and for the after-dinner trick I have eight bottles of genuine port, which, if mathematically divided, gives 1-1/7 for every day you stay, provided you stay a week. Hear John Milton sing,
"Let Euclid rest and Archimedes pause." Twenty-first Sonnet.
"What neat repast shall feast us, light and choice, Of Attic taste, with wine, whence we may rise To hear the lute well touch'd, or artful voice Warble immortal notes and Tuscan air?"
Indeed, the poets are full of this pleasing morality—
"Veni cito, Domine Manning!"
Think upon it. Excuse the paper: it is all I have.
N.B.—I lives at No. 27 Southampton Buildings, Holborn.
[Footnote 1: We poets generally give light dinners.]
[Footnote 2: No doubt the poet here alludes to port wine at 38s. the dozen.]
CHARLES LAMB TO S. T. COLERIDGE
Thursday, Aug. 14, 1800.
Read on and you'll come to the Pens.
My head is playing all the tunes in the world, ringing such peals. It has just finished the "Merry Christ Church Bells," and absolutely is beginning "Turn again, Whittington." Buz, buz, buz: bum, bum, bum: wheeze, wheeze, wheeze: feu, feu, feu: tinky, tinky, tinky: craunch. I shall certainly come to be damned at last. I have been getting drunk for two days running. I find my moral sense in the last stage of a consumption, and my religion burning as blue and faint as the tops of evening bricks. Hell gapes and the Devil's great guts cry cupboard for me. In the midst of this infernal torture, Conscience (and be damn'd to her), is barking and yelping as loud as any of them.
I have sat down to read over again, and I think I do begin to spy out something with beauty and design in it. I perfectly accede to all your alterations, and only desire that you had cut deeper, when your hand was in.
In the next edition of the "Anthology" (which Phoebus avert and those nine other wandering maids also!) please to blot out gentle-hearted, and substitute drunken: dog, ragged-head, seld-shaven, odd-eyed, stuttering, or any other epithet which truly and properly belongs to the gentleman in question. And for Charles read Tom, or Bob, or Richard for more delicacy. Damn you, I was beginning to forgive you and believe in earnest that the lugging in of my proper name was purely unintentional on your part, when looking back for further conviction, stares me in the face Charles Lamb of the India House. Now I am convinced it was all done in malice, heaped sack-upon-sack, congregated, studied malice. You Dog! your 141st page shall not save you. I own I was just ready to acknowledge that there is a something not unlike good poetry in that page, if you had not run into the unintelligible abstraction-fit about the manner of the Deity's making spirits perceive his presence. God, nor created thing alive, can receive any honour from such thin show-box attributes.
By-the-by, where did you pick up that scandalous piece of private history about the angel and the Duchess of Devonshire? If it is a fiction of your own, why truly it is a very modest one for you. Now I do affirm that "Lewti" is a very beautiful poem. I was in earnest when I praised it. It describes a silly species of one not the wisest of passions. Therefore it cannot deeply affect a disenthralled mind. But such imagery, such novelty, such delicacy, and such versification never got into an "Anthology" before. I am only sorry that the cause of all the passionate complaint is not greater than the trifling circumstance of Lewti being out of temper one day. In sober truth, I cannot see any great merit in the little Dialogue called "Blenheim." It is rather novel and pretty; but the thought is very obvious and children's poor prattle, a thing of easy imitation. Pauper vult videri et EST.
"Gualberto" certainly has considerable originality, but sadly wants finishing. It is, as it is, one of the very best in the book. Next to "Lewti" I like the "Raven," which has a good deal of humour. I was pleased to see it again, for you once sent it me, and I have lost the letter which contained it. Now I am on the subject of Anthologies, I must say I am sorry the old Pastoral way has fallen into disrepute. The Gentry which now indite Sonnets are certainly the legitimate descendants of the ancient shepherds. The same simpering face of description, the old family face, is visibly continued in the line. Some of their ancestors' labours are yet to be found in Allan Ramsay's and Jacob Tonson's Miscellanies.
But, miscellanies decaying and the old Pastoral way dying of mere want, their successors (driven from their paternal acres) now-a-days settle and hive upon Magazines and Anthologies. This Race of men are uncommonly addicted to superstition. Some of them are Idolaters and worship the Moon. Others deify qualities, as love, friendship, sensibility, or bare accidents, as Solitude. Grief and Melancholy have their respective altars and temples among them, as the heathens builded theirs to Mors, Febris, Palloris. They all agree in ascribing a peculiar sanctity to the number fourteen. One of their own legislators affirmeth, that whatever exceeds that number "encroacheth upon the province of the Elegy"—vice versa, whatever "cometh short of that number abutteth upon the premises of the Epigram." I have been able to discover but few Images in their temples, which, like the Caves of Delphos of old, are famous for giving Echoes. They impute a religious importance to the letter O, whether because by its roundness it is thought to typify the moon, their principal goddess, or for its analogies to their own labours, all ending where they began; or whatever other high and mystical reference, I have never been able to discover, but I observe they never begin their invocations to their gods without it, except indeed one insignificant sect among them, who use the Doric A, pronounced like Ah! broad, instead. These boast to have restored the old Dorian mood.
Now I am on the subject of poetry, I must announce to you, who, doubtless, in your remote part of the Island, have not heard tidings of so great a blessing, that GEORGE DYER hath prepared two ponderous volumes full of Poetry and Criticism. They impend over the town, and are threatened to fall in the winter. The first volume contains every sort of poetry except personal satire, which George, in his truly original prospectus, renounceth for ever, whimsically foisting the intention in between the price of his book and the proposed number of subscribers. (If I can, I will get you a copy of his handbill.) He has tried his vein in every species besides—the Spenserian, Thomsonian, Masonic and Akensidish more especially. The second volume is all criticism; wherein he demonstrates to the entire satisfaction of the literary world, in a way that must silence all reply for ever, that the pastoral was introduced by Theocritus and polished by Virgil and Pope—that Gray and Mason (who always hunt in couples in George's brain) have a good deal of poetical fire and true lyric genius—that Cowley was ruined by excess of wit (a warning to all moderns)—that Charles Lloyd, Charles Lamb, and William Wordsworth, in later days, have struck the true chords of poesy. O, George, George, with a head uniformly wrong and a heart uniformly right, that I had power and might equal to my wishes!—then I would call the Gentry of thy native Island, and they should come in troops, flocking at the sound of thy Prospectus Trumpet, and crowding who shall be first to stand in thy List of Subscribers. I can only put twelve shillings into thy pocket (which, I will answer for them, will not stick there long), out of a pocket almost as bare as thine. [Lamb here erases six lines.]
Is it not a pity so much fine writing should be erased? But, to tell the truth, I began to scent that I was getting into that sort of style which Longinus and Dionysius Halicarnassus aptly call "the affected." But I am suffering from the combined effect of two days' drunkenness, and at such times it is not very easy to think or express in a natural series. The ONLY useful OBJECT of this Letter is to apprize you that on Saturday I shall transmit the PENS by the same coach I sent the Parcel. So enquire them out. You had better write to Godwin here, directing your letter to be forwarded to him. I don't know his address. You know your letter must at any rate come to London first. C. L.
["Your satire upon me"—"This Lime-tree Bower my Prison" (see above).
"Those nine other wandering maids"—the Muses. A recollection of The Anti-Jacobin's verses on Lamb and his friends (see above).
"Your 141st page." "This Lime-tree Bower" again. By "unintelligible abstraction-fit" Lamb refers to the passage:—
Ah! slowly sink Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun! Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb, Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds! Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves! And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood, Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem Less gross than bodily; and of such hues As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet He makes Spirits perceive His presence.
"That scandalous piece of private history." A reference to Coleridge's "Ode to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire," reprinted in the Annual Anthology from the Morning Post.
"Blenheim"—Southey's ballad, "It was a summer's evening."
"Gualberto." The poem "St. Gualberto" by Southey, in the Annual Anthology.
"The Raven" was referred to in Lamb's letter of Feb. 5, 1797.
George Dyer's Poems, in two volumes, were published in 1800. See note to Letter 80.
Upon the phrase "the tops of evening bricks" in this letter, editors have been divided. The late Dr. Garnett, who annotated the Boston Bibliophile edition, is convinced that "evening" is the word, and he says that the bricks meant were probably briquettes of compressed coal dust.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. August 24, 1800.]
Dear Manning,—I am going to ask a favour of you, and am at a loss how to do it in the most delicate manner. For this purpose I have been looking into Pliny's Letters, who is noted to have had the best grace in begging of all the ancients (I read him in the elegant translation of Mr. Melmoth), but not finding any case there exactly similar with mine, I am constrained to beg in my own barbarian way. To come to the point then, and hasten into the middle of things, have you a copy of your Algebra to give away? I do not ask it for myself; I have too much reverence for the Black Arts ever to approach thy circle, illustrious Trismegist! But that worthy man and excellent Poet, George Dyer, made me a visit yesternight, on purpose to borrow one, supposing, rationally enough I must say, that you had made me a present of one before this; the omission of which I take to have proceeded only from negligence; but it is a fault. I could lend him no assistance. You must know he is just now diverted from the pursuit of BELL LETTERS by a paradox, which he has heard his friend Frend (that learned mathematician) maintain, that the negative quantities of mathematicians were merae nugae, things scarcely in rerum natura, and smacking too much of mystery for gentlemen of Mr. Frend's clear Unitarian capacity. However, the dispute once set a-going has seized violently on George's pericranick; and it is necessary for his health that he should speedily come to a resolution of his doubts. He goes about teasing his friends with his new mathematics; he even frantically talks of purchasing Manning's Algebra, which shows him far gone, for, to my knowledge, he has not been master of seven shillings a good time. George's pockets and ——'s brains are two things in nature which do not abhor a vacuum.... Now, if you could step in, in this trembling suspense of his reason, and he should find on Saturday morning, lying for him at the Porter's Lodge, Clifford's Inn,—his safest address—Manning's Algebra, with a neat manuscriptum in the blank leaf, running thus, FROM THE AUTHOR! it might save his wits and restore the unhappy author to those studies of poetry and criticism, which are at present suspended, to the infinite regret of the whole literary world.
N.B.—Dirty books [?backs], smeared leaves, and dogs' ears, will be rather a recommendation than otherwise.
N.B.—He must have the book as soon as possible, or nothing can withhold him from madly purchasing the book on tick.... Then shall we see him sweetly restored to the chair of Longinus—to dictate in smooth and modest phrase the laws of verse; to prove that Theocritus first introduced the Pastoral, and Virgil and Pope brought it to its perfection; that Gray and Mason (who always hunt in couples in George's brain) have shown a great deal of poetical fire in their lyric poetry; that Aristotle's rules are not to be servilely followed, which George has shown to have imposed great shackles upon modern genius. His poems, I find, are to consist of two vols.—reasonable octavo; and a third book will exclusively contain criticisms, in which he asserts he has gone pretty deeply into the laws of blank verse and rhyme—epic poetry, dramatic and pastoral ditto—all which is to come out before Christmas. But above all he has touched most deeply upon the Drama, comparing the English with the modern German stage, their merits and defects. Apprehending that his studies (not to mention his turn, which I take to be chiefly towards the lyrical poetry) hardly qualified him for these disquisitions, I modestly inquired what plays he had read? I found by George's reply that he had read Shakspeare, but that was a good while since: he calls him a great but irregular genius, which I think to be an original and just remark. (Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Ben Jonson, Shirley, Marlowe, Ford, and the worthies of Dodsley's Collection—he confessed he had read none of them, but professed his intention of looking through them all, so as to be able to touch upon them in his book.)
So Shakspeare, Otway, and I believe Rowe, to whom he was naturally directed by Johnson's Lives, and these not read lately, are to stand him in stead of a general knowledge of the subject. God bless his dear absurd head!
By the by, did I not write you a letter with something about an invitation in it?—but let that pass; I suppose it is not agreeable.
N.B. It would not be amiss if you were to accompany your present with a dissertation on negative quantities.
[Mr. Melmoth. A translation of the Letters of Pliny the Younger was made by William Melmoth in 1746.
Trismegistus—thrice greatest—was the term applied to Hermes, the Egyptian philosopher. Manning had written An Introduction to Arithmetic and Algebra, 1796, 1798.
William Frend (1757-1841), the mathematician and Unitarian, who had been prosecuted in the Vice-Chancellor's Court at Cambridge for a tract entitled "Peace and Union Recommended to the Associated Bodies of Republicans and Anti-Republicans," in which he attacked much of the Liturgy of the Church of England. He was found guilty and banished from the University of Cambridge. He had been a friend of Robert Robinson, whose life Dyer wrote, and remained a friend of Dyer to the end of his life. Coleridge had been among the undergraduates who supported Frend at his trial.
"...'s brain." In a later letter Lamb uses Judge Park's wig, when his head is in it, as a simile for emptiness.]
CHARLES LAMB TO S. T. COLERIDGE
August 26th, 1800.
How do you like this little epigram? It is not my writing, nor had I any finger in it. If you concur with me in thinking it very elegant and very original, I shall be tempted to name the author to you. I will just hint that it is almost or quite a first attempt.
HELEN REPENTANT TOO LATE
1 High-born Helen, round your dwelling These twenty years I've paced in vain: Haughty beauty, your lover's duty Has been to glory in his pain.
2 High-born Helen! proudly telling Stories of your cold disdain; I starve, I die, now you comply, And I no longer can complain.
3 These twenty years I've lived on tears, Dwelling for ever on a frown; On sighs I've fed, your scorn my bread; I perish now you kind are grown.
4 Can I, who loved my Beloved But for the "scorn was in her eye," Can I be moved for my Beloved, When she "returns me sigh for sigh?"
5 In stately pride, by my bed-side, High-born Helen's portrait's hung; Deaf to my praise; my mournful lays Are nightly to the portrait sung.
6 To that I weep, nor ever sleep, Complaining all night long to her! Helen, grown old, no longer cold, Said, "You to all men I prefer."
Godwin returned from Wicklow the week before last, tho' he did not reach home till the Sunday after. He might much better have spent that time with you.—But you see your invitation would have been too late. He greatly regrets the occasion he mist of visiting you, but he intends to revisit Ireland in the next summer, and then he will certainly take Keswick in his way. I dined with the Heathen on Sunday.
By-the-by, I have a sort of recollection that somebody, I think you, promised me a sight of Wordsworth's Tragedy. I should be very glad of it just now; for I have got Manning with me, and should like to read it with him. But this, I confess, is a refinement. Under any circumstances, alone in Cold Bath Prison, or in the desert island, just when Prospero & his crew had set off, with Caliban in a cage, to Milan, it would be a treat to me to read that play. Manning has read it, so has Lloyd, and all Lloyd's family; but I could not get him to betray his trust by giving me a sight of it. Lloyd is sadly deficient in some of those virtuous vices. I have just lit upon a most beautiful fiction of hell punishments, by the author of "Hurlothrumbo," a mad farce. The inventor imagines that in hell there is a great caldron of hot water, in which a man can scarce hold his finger, and an immense sieve over it, into which the probationary souls are put.
"And all the little souls Pop through the riddle holes."
Mary's love to Mrs. Coleridge—mine to all.
N.B.—I pays no Postage.—
George Dyer is the only literary character I am happily acquainted with. The oftener I see him, the more deeply I admire him. He is goodness itself. If I could but calculate the precise date of his death, I would write a novel on purpose to make George the hero. I could hit him off to a hair.
George brought a Dr. Anderson to see me. The Doctor is a very pleasant old man, a great genius for agriculture, one that ties his breeches-knees with Packthread, & boasts of having had disappointments from ministers. The Doctor happened to mention an Epic Poem by one Wilkie, called the "Epigoniad," in which he assured us there is not one tolerable line from beginning to end, but all the characters, incidents, &c., are verbally copied from Homer. George, who had been sitting quite inattentive to the Doctor's criticism, no sooner heard the sound of Homer strike his pericraniks, than up he gets, and declares he must see that poem immediately: where was it to be had? An epic poem of 800 [? 8,000] lines, and he not hear of it! There must be some things good in it, and it was necessary he should see it, for he had touched pretty deeply upon that subject in his criticisms on the Epic. George has touched pretty deeply upon the Lyric, I find; he has also prepared a dissertation on the Drama and the comparison of the English and German theatres. As I rather doubted his competency to do the latter, knowing that his peculiar turn lies in the lyric species of composition, I questioned George what English plays he had read. I found that he had read Shakspere (whom he calls an original, but irregular, genius), but it was a good while ago; and he has dipt into Rowe and Otway, I suppose having found their names in Johnson's Lives at full length; and upon this slender ground he has undertaken the task. He never seem'd even to have heard of Fletcher, Ford, Marlow, Massinger, and the Worthies of Dodsley's Collection; but he is to read all these, to prepare him for bringing out his "Parallel" in the winter. I find he is also determined to vindicate Poetry from the shackles which Aristotle & some others have imposed upon it, which is very good-natured of him, and very necessary just now! Now I am touching so deeply upon poetry, can I forget that I have just received from Cottle a magnificent copy of his Guinea Epic. Four-and-twenty Books to read in the dog-days! I got as far as the Mad Monk the first day, & fainted. Mr. Cottle's genius strongly points him to the Pastoral, but his inclinations divert him perpetually from his calling. He imitates Southey, as Rowe did Shakspeare, with his "Good morrow to ye; good master Lieut't." Instead of a man, a woman, a daughter, he constantly writes one a man, one a woman, one his daughter. Instead of the king, the hero, he constantly writes, he the king, he the hero—two flowers of rhetoric palpably from the "Joan." But Mr. Cottle soars a higher pitch: and when he is original, it is in a most original way indeed. His terrific scenes are indefatigable. Serpents, asps, spiders, ghosts, dead bodies, staircases made of nothing, with adders' tongues for bannisters—My God! what a brain he must have! He puts as many plums in his pudding as my Grandmother used to do; and then his emerging from Hell's horrors into Light, and treading on pure flats of this earth for twenty-three Books together!
[The little epigram was by Mary Lamb. It was printed first in the John Woodvil volume in 1802; and again, in a footnote to Lamb's essay "Blakesmoor in H——shire," 1824.
Godwin's return was from his visit to Curran. Coleridge had asked him to break his journey at Keswick.
"Wordsworth's Tragedy"—"The Borderers."
"I would write a novel." Lamb returns to this idea in Letter 91.
One of Dyer's printed criticisms of Shakespeare, in his Poetics, some years later might be quoted: "Shakespeare had the inward clothing of a fine mind; the outward covering of solid reading, of critical observation, and the richest eloquence; and compared with these, what are the trappings of the schools?"
"Cottle's Guinea Epic" would be Alfred, an Epic Poem, by Joseph Cottle, the publisher.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. August 28, 1800.]
George Dyer is an Archimedes, and an Archimagus, and a Tycho Brahe, and a Copernicus; and thou art the darling of the Nine, and midwife to their wandering babe also! We take tea with that learned poet and critic on Tuesday night, at half-past five, in his neat library; the repast will be light and Attic, with criticism. If thou couldst contrive to wheel up thy dear carcase on the Monday, and after dining with us on tripe, calves' kidneys, or whatever else the Cornucopia of St. Clare may be willing to pour out on the occasion, might we not adjourn together to the Heathen's—thou with thy Black Backs and I with some innocent volume of the Bell Letters—Shenstone, or the like? It would make him wash his old flannel gown (that has not been washed to my knowledge since it has been his—Oh the long time!) with tears of joy. Thou shouldst settle his scruples and unravel his cobwebs, and sponge off the sad stuff that weighs upon his dear wounded pia mater; thou shouldst restore light to his eyes, and him to his friends and the public; Parnassus should shower her civic crowns upon thee for saving the wits of a citizen! I thought I saw a lucid interval in George the other night—he broke in upon my studies just at tea-time, and brought with him Dr. Anderson, an old gentleman who ties his breeches' knees with packthread, and boasts that he has been disappointed by ministers. The Doctor wanted to see me; for, I being a Poet, he thought I might furnish him with a copy of verses to suit his "Agricultural Magazine." The Doctor, in the course of the conversation, mentioned a poem called "Epigoniad" by one Wilkie, an epic poem, in which there is not one tolerable good line all through, but every incident and speech borrowed from Homer. George had been sitting inattentive seemingly to what was going on—hatching of negative quantities—when, suddenly, the name of his old friend Homer stung his pericranicks, and, jumping up, he begged to know where he could meet with Wilkie's work. "It was a curious fact that there should be such an epic poem and he not know of it; and he must get a copy of it, as he was going to touch pretty deeply upon the subject of the Epic—and he was sure there must be some things good in a poem of 1400 lines!" I was pleased with this transient return of his reason and recurrence to his old ways of thinking: it gave me great hopes of a recovery, which nothing but your book can completely insure. Pray come on Monday if you can, and stay your own time. I have a good large room, with two beds in it, in the handsomest of which thou shalt repose a-nights, and dream of Spheroides. I hope you will understand by the nonsense of this letter that I am not melancholy at the thoughts of thy coming: I thought it necessary to add this, because you love precision. Take notice that our stay at Dyer's will not exceed eight o'clock, after which our pursuits will be our own. But indeed I think a little recreation among the Bell Letters and poetry will do you some service in the interval of severer studies. I hope we shall fully discuss with George Dyer what I have never yet heard done to my satisfaction, the reason of Dr. Johnson's malevolent strictures on the higher species of the Ode.
["Thy Black Back"—Manning's Algebra.
Dr. Anderson was James Anderson (1739-1808), the editor, at that time, of Recreations in Agriculture, Natural History, Arts, and Miscellaneous History, published in monthly parts. Lamb gave him a copy of verses—three extracts from John Woodvil which were printed in the number for November, 1800, as being "from an unpublished drama by C. Lamb." They were the "Description of a Forest Life," "The General Lover" ("What is it you love?") and "Fragment or Dialogue," better known as "The Dying Lover." All have slight variations from other versions. The most striking is the epithet "lubbar bands of sleep," instead of "lazy bands of sleep," in the "Description of a Forest Life."
Wilkie was William Wilkie (1721-1772), the "Scottish Homer," whose Epigoniad in nine books, based on the fourth book of the Iliad, was published in 1757.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING [P.M. Sept. 22, 1800.]
Dear Manning,—You needed not imagine any apology necessary. Your fine hare and fine birds (which just now are dangling by our kitchen blaze) discourse most eloquent music in your justification. You just nicked my palate. For, with all due decorum and leave may it be spoken, my worship hath taken physic for his body to-day, and being low and puling, requireth to be pampered. Foh! how beautiful and strong those buttered onions come to my nose! For you must know we extract a divine spirit of gravy from those materials which, duly compounded with a consistence of bread and cream (y'clept bread-sauce), each to each giving double grace, do mutually illustrate and set off (as skilful goldfoils to rare jewels) your partridge, pheasant, woodcock, snipe, teal, widgeon, and the other lesser daughters of the ark. My friendship, struggling with my carnal and fleshly prudence (which suggests that a bird a man is the proper allotment in such cases), yearneth sometimes to have thee here to pick a wing or so. I question if your Norfolk sauces match our London culinaric.
George Dyer has introduced me to the table of an agreeable old gentleman, Dr. Anderson, who gives hot legs of mutton and grape pies at his sylvan lodge at Isleworth, where, in the middle of a street, he has shot up a wall most preposterously before his small dwelling, which, with the circumstance of his taking several panes of glass out of bedroom windows (for air), causeth his neighbours to speculate strangely on the state of the good man's pericranicks. Plainly, he lives under the reputation of being deranged. George does not mind this circumstance; he rather likes him the better for it. The Doctor, in his pursuits, joins agricultural to poetical science, and has set George's brains mad about the old Scotch writers, Harbour, Douglas's Aeneid, Blind Harry, &c. We returned home in a return postchaise (having dined with the Doctor), and George kept wondering and wondering, for eight or nine turnpike miles, what was the name, and striving to recollect the name, of a poet anterior to Barbour. I begged to know what was remaining of his works. "There is nothing extant of his works, Sir, but by all accounts he seems to have been a fine genius!" This fine genius, without anything to show for it or any title beyond George's courtesy, without even a name! and Barbour, and Douglas, and Blind Harry, now are the predominant sounds in George's pia mater, and their buzzings exclude politics, criticism, and algebra—the late lords of that illustrious lumber-room. Mark, he has never read any of these bucks, but is impatient till he reads them all at the Doctor's suggestion. Poor Dyer! his friends should be careful what sparks they let fall into such inflammable matter.
Could I have my will of the heathen, I would lock him up from all access of new ideas; I would exclude all critics that would not swear me first (upon their Virgil) that they would feed him with nothing but the old, safe, familiar notions and sounds (the rightful aborigines of his brain)—Gray, Akenside and Mason. In these sounds, reiterated as often as possible, there could be nothing painful, nothing distracting.
God bless me, here are the birds, smoking hot!
All that is gross and unspiritual in me rises at the sight!
Avaunt friendship and all memory of absent friends!
["Divine spirit of gravy." This passage is the first of Lamb's outbursts of gustatory ecstasy, afterwards to become frequent in his writings.
Here should come a letter, dated October 9, 1800, in the richest spirit of comedy, describing to Coleridge an evening with George Dyer and the Cottles after the death of their brother Amos; and how Lamb, by praising Joseph Cottle's poem, drew away that good man's thoughts from his grief. "Joseph, who till now had sat with his knees cowering in by the fireplace, wheeled about, and with great difficulty of body shifted the same round to the corner of a table where I was sitting, and first stationing one thigh over the other, which is his sedentary mood, and placidly fixing his benevolent face right against mine, waited my observations. At that moment it came strongly into my mind, that I had got Uncle Toby before me, he looked so kind and so good." The letter, printed in full in other editions, is, I am given to understand, not available for this.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING [P.M. Oct. 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) 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 to God 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 damn'd 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 'tis 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 damn'd 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.
[The Farmer's Boy, by Robert Bloomfield, was published in March, 1800, and was immensely popular. Other criticisms upon it by Lamb will be found in this work.
Lamb's visit to Cambridge was deferred until January 5, 1801.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING [P.M. Nov. 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, 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.
At last I have written to Kemble, to know the event of my play, which was presented last Christmas. As I suspected, came an answer back that the copy was lost, and could not be found—no hint that anybody had to this day ever looked into it—with a courteous (reasonable!) request of another copy (if I had one by me,) and a promise of a definite answer in a week. I could not resist so facile and moderate a demand, so scribbled out another, omitting sundry things, such as the witch story, about half of the forest scene (which is too leisurely for story), and transposing that damn'd soliloquy about England getting drunk, which, like its reciter, stupidly stood alone, nothing prevenient or antevenient, and cleared away a good deal besides; and sent this copy, written all out (with alterations, &c., requiring judgment) in one day and a half! I sent it last night, and am in weekly expectation of the tolling-bell and death-warrant.
This is all my Lunnon news. Send me some from the banks of Cam, as the poets delight to speak, especially George Dyer, who has no other name, nor idea, nor definition of Cambridge: namely, its being a market-town, sending members to Parliament, never entered into his definition: it was and is, simply, the banks of the Cam or the fair Cam, as Oxford is the banks of the Isis or the fair Isis. Yours in all humility, most illustrious Trismegist,