(Read on; there's more at the bottom.)
You ask me about the "Farmer's Boy"—don't you think the fellow who wrote it (who is a shoemaker) has a poor mind? Don't you find he is always silly about poor Giles, and those abject kind of phrases, which mark a man that looks up to wealth? None of Burns's poet-dignity. What do you think? I have just opened him; but he makes me sick. Dyer knows the shoemaker (a damn'd stupid hound in company); but George promises to introduce him indiscriminately to all friends and all combinations.
[Mr. Crisp was Manning's landlord, a barber in St. Mary's Passage, Cambridge. In one letter at least Lamb spells his name Crips—a joke he was fond of.
"Rickman" was John Rickman (1771-1840), already a friend of Southey's, whom he had met at Burton, near Christchurch, in Hampshire, where Rickman's father lived. A graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, he was at this time secretary to Charles Abbot, afterwards Lord Colchester. He had conducted the Commercial, Agricultural, and Manufacturer's Magazine, and he was practically the originator of the census in England. We shall meet with him often in the correspondence.
Kemble was John Philip Kemble, then manager of Drury Lane. The play was "John Woodvil." For an account of the version which Lamb submitted, see the Notes to Vol. IV.
George Dyer wrote a History of Cambridge University.
George Daniel, the antiquary and bookseller, tells us that many years later he took Bloomfield to dine with Lamb at Islington.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. Nov. 28, 1800.]
Dear Manning,—I have received a very kind invitation from Lloyd and Sophia to go and spend a month with them at the Lakes. Now it fortunately happens (which is so seldom the case!) that I have spare cash by me, enough to answer the expenses of so long a journey; and I am determined to get away from the office by some means. The purpose of this letter is to request of you (my dear friend) that you will not take it unkind if I decline my proposed visit to Cambridge for the present. Perhaps I shall be able to take Cambridge in my way, going or coming. I need not describe to you the expectations which such an one as myself, pent up all my life in a dirty city, have formed of a tour to the Lakes. Consider Grasmere! Ambleside! Wordsworth! Coleridge! I hope you will.* Hills, woods, lakes, and mountains, to the eternal devil. I will eat snipes with thee, Thomas Manning. Only confess, confess, a bite.
P.S. I think you named the 16th; but was it not modest of Lloyd to send such an invitation! It shows his knowledge of money and time. I would be loth to think he meant
"Ironic satire sidelong sklented On my poor pursie."—BURNS.
For my part, with reference to my friends northward, I must confess that I am not romance-bit about Nature. The earth, and sea, and sky (when all is said) is but as a house to dwell in. If the inmates be courteous, and good liquors flow like the conduits at an old coronation; if they can talk sensibly and feel properly; I have no need to stand staring upon the gilded looking-glass (that strained my friend's purse-strings in the purchase), nor his five-shilling print over the mantelpiece of old Nabbs the carrier (which only betrays his false taste). Just as important to me (in a sense) is all the furniture of my world— eye-pampering, but satisfies no heart. Streets, streets, streets, markets, theatres, churches, Covent Gardens, shops sparkling with pretty faces of industrious milliners, neat sempstresses, ladies cheapening, gentlemen behind counters lying, authors in the street with spectacles, George Dyers (you may know them by their gait), lamps lit at night, pastry-cooks' and silver-smiths' shops, beautiful Quakers of Pentonville, noise of coaches, drowsy cry of mechanic watchman at night, with bucks reeling home drunk; if you happen to wake at midnight, cries of Fire and Stop thief; inns of court, with their learned air, and halls, and butteries, just like Cambridge colleges; old book-stalls, Jeremy Taylors, Burtons on Melancholy, and Religio Medicis on every stall. These are thy pleasures, O London with-the-many-sins. O City abounding in whores, for these may Keswick and her giant brood go hang!
[Charles Lloyd had just settled at Old Brathay, about three miles from Ambleside.
Manning's reply to this letter indicates that Lamb's story of the invitation to stay with Lloyd was a hoax. The first page, ended where I have put the *asterisk—as in the letter, to Gutch. Manning writes: "N.B. Your lake story completely took me in till I got to the 2d page. I was pleased to think you were so rich, but I confess rather wondered how you should be able conveniently to take so long a journey this inside-fare time of the year."
Manning also says: "I condole, with you, Mr. Lamb, on the tragic fate of your tragedie—I wonder what fool it was that read it! By the bye, you would do me a very very great favour by letting me have a copy. If Beggars might be chusers, I should ask to have it transcribed partly by you and partly by your sister. I have a desire to possess some of Mary's handwriting" (see Letter 79).
"Beautiful Quakers of Pentonville." This is almost certainly a reference to Hester Savory, the original of Lamb's poem "Hester." The whole passage is the first of three eulogies of London in the letters, all very similar. To "The Londoner" we come later.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
[Dec. 4, 1800.]
Dear Sir,—I send this speedily after the heels of Cooper (O! the dainty expression) to say that Mary is obliged to stay at home on Sunday to receive a female friend, from whom I am equally glad to escape. So that we shall be by ourselves. I write, because it may make some difference in your marketting, &c.
I am sorry to put you to the expense of twopence postage. But I calculate thus: if Mary comes she will
eat Beef 2 plates, 4d. Batter Pudding 1 do. 2d. Beer, a pint, 2d. Wine, 3 glasses, 11d. I drink no wine! Chesnuts, after dinner, 2d. Tea and supper at moderate calculation, 9d. ————- 2s. 6d. From which deduct 2d. postage ————— 2s. 4d.
You are a clear gainer by her not coming.
[If the date be correct this becomes the first extant letter proper which Lamb sent to the author of Political Justice. Godwin was then forty-four years old, and had long been busy upon his tragedy "Antonio," in which Lamb had been assisting with suggestions. In this connection I place here the following document, which belongs, however, naturally to an earlier date, but is not harmed by its present position.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
[No date. Autumn, 1800.]
Queries. Whether the best conclusion would not be a solemn judicial pleading, appointed by the king, before himself in person of Antonio as proxy for Roderigo, and Guzman for himself—the form and ordering of it to be highly solemn and grand. For this purpose, (allowing it,) the king must be reserved, and not have committed his royal dignity by descending to previous conference with Antonio, but must refer from the beginning to this settlement. He must sit in dignity as a high royal arbiter. Whether this would admit of spiritual interpositions, cardinals &c.—appeals to the Pope, and haughty rejection of his interposition by Antonio—(this merely by the way).
The pleadings must be conducted by short speeches—replies, taunts, and bitter recriminations by Antonio, in his rough style. In the midst of the undecided cause, may not a messenger break up the proceedings by an account of Roderigo's death (no improbable or far-fetch'd event), and the whole conclude with an affecting and awful invocation of Antonio upon Roderigo's spirit, now no longer dependent upon earthly tribunals or a froward woman's will, &c., &c.
Almanza's daughter is now free, &c.
This might be made very affecting. Better nothing follow after; if anything, she must step forward and resolve to take the veil. In this case, the whole story of the former nunnery must be omitted. But, I think, better leave the final conclusion to the imagination of the spectator. Probably the violence of confining her in a convent is not necessary; Antonio's own castle would be sufficient.
To relieve the former part of the Play, could not some sensible images, some work for the Eye, be introduced? A gallery of Pictures, Almanza's ancestors, to which Antonio might affectingly point his sister, one by one, with anecdote, &c.
At all events, with the present want of action, the Play must not extend above four Acts, unless it is quite new modell'd. The proposed alterations might all be effected in a few weeks.
Solemn judicial pleadings always go off well, as in Henry the 8th, Merchant of Venice, and perhaps Othello.
[Lamb, said Mr. Paul, writing of this critical Minute, was so genuinely kind and even affectionate, in his criticism that Godwin did not perceive his real disapproval.
Mr Swinburne, writing in The Athenaeum for May 13, 1876, made an interesting comment upon one of Lamb's suggestions in the foregoing document. It contains, he remarks, "a singular anticipation of one of the most famous passages in the work of the greatest master of our own age, the scene of the portraits in 'Hernani:' 'To relieve the former part of the play, could not some sensible images, some work for the eye, be introduced? A gallery of pictures, Alexander's ancestors, to which Antonio might affectingly point his sister, one by one, with anecdote, &c.' I know of no coincidence more pleasantly and strangely notable than this between the gentle genius of the loveliest among English essayists and the tragic invention of the loftiest among French poets."
After long negotiation "Antonio" was now actually in rehearsal at Drury Lane, to be produced on December 13. Lamb supplied the epilogue.
Cooper was Godwin's servant.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
Dec. 10th, 1800. Wednesday Morning.
Dear Sir,—I expected a good deal of pleasure from your company to-morrow, but I am sorry I must beg of you to excuse me. I have been confined ever since I saw you with one of the severest colds I ever experienced, occasioned by being in the night air on Sunday, and on the following day, very foolishly. I am neither in health nor spirits to meet company. I hope and trust I shall get out on Saturday night. You will add to your many favours, by transmitting to me as early as possible as many tickets as conveniently you can spare,—Yours truly,
I have been plotting how to abridge the Epilogue. But I cannot see that any lines can be spared, retaining the connection, except these two, which are better out.
"Why should I instance, &c., The sick man's purpose, &c.,"
and then the following line must run thus,
"The truth by an example best is shown."
Excuse this important postscript.
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. Dec. 13, 1800.]
Don't spill the cream upon this letter.
I have received your letter this moment, not having been at the office. I have just time to scribble down the epilogue. To your epistle I will just reply, that I will certainly come to Cambridge before January is out: I'll come when I can. You shall have an amended copy of my play early next week. Mary thanks you; but her handwriting is too feminine to be exposed to a Cambridge gentleman, though I endeavour to persuade her that you understand algebra, and must understand her hand. The play is the man's you wot of; but for God's sake (who would not like to have so pious a professor's work damn'd) do not mention it—it is to come out in a feigned name, as one Tobin's. I will omit the introductory lines which connect it with the play, and give you the concluding tale, which is the mass and bulk of the epilogue. The name is Jack INCIDENT. It is about promise-breaking—you will see it all, if you read the papers.
Jack, of dramatic genius justly vain, Purchased a renter's share at Drury-lane; A prudent man in every other matter, Known at his club-room for an honest hatter; Humane and courteous, led a civil life, And has been seldom known to beat his wife; But Jack is now grown quite another man, Frequents the green-room, knows the plot and plan Of each new piece, And has been seen to talk with Sheridan! In at the play-house just at six he pops, And never quits it till the curtain drops, Is never absent on the author's night, Knows actresses and actors too—by sight; So humble, that with Suett he'll confer, Or take a pipe with plain Jack Bannister; Nay, with an author has been known so free, He once suggested a catastrophe— In short, John dabbled till his head was turn'd; His wife remonstrated, his neighbours mourn'd, His customers were dropping off apace, And Jack's affairs began to wear a piteous face. One night his wife began a curtain lecture; "My dearest Johnny, husband, spouse, protector, Take pity on your helpless babes and me, Save us from ruin, you from bankruptcy— Look to your business, leave these cursed plays, And try again your old industrious ways."
Jack who was always scared at the Gazette, And had some bits of skull uninjured yet, Promised amendment, vow'd his wife spake reason, "He would not see another play that season—"
Three stubborn fortnights Jack his promise kept, Was late and early in his shop, eat, slept, And walk'd and talk'd, like ordinary men; No wit, but John the hatter once again— Visits his club: when lo! one fatal night His wife with horror view'd the well-known sight— John's hat, wig, snuff-box—well she knew his tricks— And Jack decamping at the hour of six, Just at the counter's edge a playbill lay, Announcing that "Pizarro" was the play— "O Johnny, Johnny, this is your old doing." Quoth Jack, "Why what the devil storm's a-brewing? About a harmless play why all this fright? I'll go and see it if it's but for spite— Zounds, woman! Nelson's to be there to-night."
N.B.—This was intended for Jack Bannister to speak; but the sage managers have chosen Miss Heard,—except Miss Tidswell, the worst actress ever seen or heard. Now, I remember I have promised the loan of my play. I will lend it instantly, and you shall get it ('pon honour!) by this day week.
I must go and dress for the boxes! First night! Finding I have time, I transcribe the rest. Observe, you have read the last first; it begins thus:—the names I took from a little outline G. gave me. I have not read the play.
"Ladies, ye've seen how Guzman's consort died, Poor victim of a Spaniard brother's pride, When Spanish honour through the world was blown, And Spanish beauty for the best was known In that romantic, unenlighten'd time, A breach of promise was a sort of crime— Which of you handsome English ladies here, But deems the penance bloody and severe? A whimsical old Saragossa fashion, That a dead father's dying inclination, Should live to thwart a living daughter's passion, Unjustly on the sex we men exclaim, Rail at your vices,—and commit the same;— Man is a promise-breaker from the womb, And goes a promise-breaker to the tomb— What need we instance here the lover's vow, The sick man's purpose, or the great man's bow? The truth by few examples best is shown— Instead of many which are better known, Take poor Jack Incident, that's dead and gone. Jack," &c. &c. &c.
Now you have it all-how do you like it? I am going to hear it recited!!!
[Footnote 1: A good clap-trap. Nelson has exhibited two or three times at both theatres—and advertised himself.] [Footnote 2: Four _easy_ lines.] [Footnote 3: For which the _heroine died_.] [Footnote 4: In _Spain!!?] [Footnote 5: Two _neat_ lines.] [Footnote 6: Or _you_.] [Footnote 7: Or _our_, as _they_ have altered it.] [Footnote 8: Antithesis.]
["As one Tobin's." The rehearsals of "Antonio" were attended by Godwin's friend, John Tobin, subsequently author of "The Honeymoon," in the hope, on account of Godwin's reputation for heterodoxy, of deceiving people as to the real authorship of the play. It was, however, avowed by Godwin on the title-page.
Jack Bannister, the comedian, was a favourite actor of Lamb's. See the Elia essay "On some of the Old Actors."
Miss Heard was a daughter of William Heard, the author of "The Snuff-Box," a feeble comedy. Miss Tidswell, by the irony of fate, had a part in Lamb's own play, "Mr. H.," six years later.
"I have not read the play." Meaning probably, "I have not read it in its final form." Lamb must have read it in earlier versions. I quote Mr. Kegan Paul's summary of the plot of "Antonio":—
"Helena was betrothed, with her father's consent, to her brother Antonio's friend, Roderigo. While Antonio and Roderigo were at the wars, Helena fell in love with, and married, Don Gusman. She was the king's ward, who set aside the pre-contract. Antonio, returning, leaves his friend behind; he has had great sorrows, but all will be well when he comes to claim his bride. When Antonio finds his sister is married, the rage he exhibits is ferocious. He carries his sister off from her husband's house, and demands that the king shall annul the marriage with Gusman. There is then talk of Helena's entrance into a convent. At last the king, losing patience, gives judgment, as he had done before, that the pre-contract with Roderigo was invalid, and the marriage to Gusman valid. Whereupon Antonio bursts through the guards, and kills his sister."]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
Dec. 14, 1800. Late o' Sunday.
Dear Sir,—I have performed my office in a slovenly way, but judge for me. I sat down at 6 o'clock, and never left reading (and I read out to Mary) your play till 10. In this sitting I noted down lines as they occurred, exactly as you will read my rough paper. Do not be frightened at the bulk of my remarks, for they are almost all upon single lines, which, put together, do not amount to a hundred, and many of them merely verbal. I had but one object in view, abridgement for compression sake. I have used a dogmatical language (which is truly ludicrous when the trivial nature of my remarks is considered), and, remember, my office was to hunt out faults. You may fairly abridge one half of them, as a fair deduction for the infirmities of Error, and a single reading, which leaves only fifty objections, most of them merely against words, on no short play. Remember, you constituted me Executioner, and a hangman has been seldom seen to be ashamed of his profession before Master Sheriff. We'll talk of the Beauties (of which I am more than ever sure) when we meet,—Yours truly, C. L.
I will barely add, as you are on the very point of printing, that in my opinion neither prologue nor epilogue should accompany the play. It can only serve to remind your readers of its fate. Both suppose an audience, and, that jest being gone, must convert into burlesque. Nor would I (but therein custom and decorum must be a law) print the actors' names. Some things must be kept out of sight.
I have done, and I have but a few square inches of paper to fill up. I am emboldened by a little jorum of punch (vastly good) to say that next to one man, I am the most hurt at our ill success. The breast of Hecuba, where she did suckle Hector, looked not to be more lovely than Marshal's forehead when it spit forth sweat, at Critic-swords contending. I remember two honest lines by Marvel, (whose poems by the way I am just going to possess)
"Where every Mower's wholesome heat Smells like an Alexander's sweat."
["Antonio" was performed on December 13, with John Philip Kemble in the title-role, and was a complete failure. Lamb wrote an account of the unlucky evening many years later in the "Old Actors" series in the London Magazine (see Vol. II. of the present edition). He speaks there, as here, of Marshal's forehead—Marshal being John Marshall, a friend of the Godwins.
After the play Godwin supped with Lamb, when it was decided to publish "Antonio" at once. Lamb retained the MS. for criticism. The present letter in the original contains his comments, the only one of which that Mr. Kegan Paul thought worth reproducing being the following:— "'Enviable' is a very bad word. I allude to 'Enviable right to bless us.' For instance, Burns, comparing the ills of manhood with the state of infancy, says, 'Oh! enviable early days;' here 'tis good, because the passion lay in comparison. Excuse my insulting your judgment with an illustration. I believe I only wanted to beg in the name of a favourite Bardie, or at most to confirm my own judgment."
Lamb, it will be remembered, had refused to let Coleridge use "enviable" in "Lewti." Burns's poem to which Lamb alludes is "Despondency, an Ode," Stanza 5, "Oh! enviable, early days."
Godwin's play was published in 1801 without Lamb's epilogue.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
Dec. 16th, 1800.
We are damn'd!
Not the facetious epilogue could save us. For, as the editor of the "Morning Post," quick-sighted gentleman! hath this morning truly observed, (I beg pardon if I falsify his words, their profound sense I am sure I retain,) both prologue and epilogue were worthy of accompanying such a piece; and indeed (mark the profundity, Mister Manning) were received with proper indignation by such of the audience only as thought either worth attending to. PROFESSOR, thy glories wax dim! Again, the incomparable author of the "True Briton" declareth in his paper (bearing same date) that the epilogue was an indifferent attempt at humour and character, and failed in both. I forbear to mention the other papers, because I have not read them. O PROFESSOR, how different thy feelings now (quantum mutatus ab illo professore, qui in agris philosophiae tantas victorias aquisivisti),—how different thy proud feelings but one little week ago,—thy anticipation of thy nine nights,—those visionary claps, which have soothed thy soul by day and thy dreams by night! Calling in accidentally on the Professor while he was out, I was ushered into the study; and my nose quickly (most sagacious always) pointed me to four tokens lying loose upon thy table, Professor, which indicated thy violent and satanical pride of heart. Imprimis, there caught mine eye a list of six persons, thy friends, whom thou didst meditate inviting to a sumptuous dinner on the Thursday, anticipating the profits of thy Saturday's play to answer charges; I was in the honoured file! Next, a stronger evidence of thy violent and almost satanical pride, lay a list of all the morning papers (from the "Morning Chronicle" downwards to the "Porcupine,") with the places of their respective offices, where thou wast meditating to insert, and didst insert, an elaborate sketch of the story of thy play—stones in thy enemy's hand to bruise thee with; and severely wast thou bruised, O Professor! nor do I know what oil to pour into thy wounds. Next, which convinced me to a dead conviction of thy pride, violent and almost satanical pride—lay a list of books, which thy un-tragedy-favoured pocket could never answer; Dodsley's Old Plays, Malone's Shakspeare (still harping upon thy play, thy philosophy abandoned meanwhile to Christians and superstitious minds); nay, I believe (if I can believe my memory), that the ambitious Encyclopaedia itself was part of thy meditated acquisitions; but many a playbook was there. All these visions are damned; and thou, Professor, must read Shakspere in future out of a common edition; and, hark ye, pray read him to a little better purpose! Last and strongest against thee (in colours manifest as the hand upon Belshazzar's wall), lay a volume of poems by C. Lloyd and C. Lamb. Thy heart misgave thee, that thy assistant might possibly not have talent enough to furnish thee an epilogue! Manning, all these things came over my mind; all the gratulations that would have thickened upon him, and even some have glanced aside upon his humble friend; the vanity, and the fame, and the profits (the Professor is L500 ideal money out of pocket by this failure, besides L200 he would have got for the copyright, and the Professor is never much beforehand with the world; what he gets is all by the sweat of his brow and dint of brain, for the Professor, though a sure man, is also a slow); and now to muse upon thy altered physiognomy, thy pale and squalid appearance (a kind of blue sickness about the eyelids), and thy crest fallen, and thy proud demand of L200 from thy bookseller changed to an uncertainty of his taking it at all, or giving thee full L50. The Professor has won my heart by this his mournful catastrophe. You remember Marshall, who dined with him at my house; I met him in the lobby immediately after the damnation of the Professor's play, and he looked to me like an angel: his face was lengthened, and ALL OVER SWEAT; I never saw such a care-fraught visage; I could have hugged him, I loved him so intensely—"From every pore of him a perfume fell." I have seen that man in many situations, and from my soul I think that a more god-like honest soul exists not in this world. The Professor's poor nerves trembling with the recent shock, he hurried him away to my house to supper; and there we comforted him as well as we could. He came to consult me about a change of catastrophe; but alas! the piece was condemned long before that crisis. I at first humoured him with a specious proposition, but have since joined his true friends in advising him to give it up. He did it with a pang, and is to print it as his.
[The Professor was Lamb's name for Godwin.
The Porcupine was Cobbett's paper.]
LETTERS 78 AND 79
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING [Middle December.]
I send you all of Coleridge's letters to me, which I have preserved: some of them are upon the subject of my play. I also send you Kemble's two letters, and the prompter's courteous epistle, with a curious critique on "Pride's Cure," by a young physician from EDINBRO, who modestly suggests quite another kind of a plot. These are monuments of my disappointment which I like to preserve.
In Coleridge's letters you will find a good deal of amusement, to see genuine talent struggling against a pompous display of it. I also send you the Professor's letter to me (careful Professor! to conceal his name even from his correspondent), ere yet the Professor's pride was cured. Oh monstrous and almost satanical pride!
You will carefully keep all (except the Scotch Doctor's, which burn in status quo), till I come to claim mine own.
For Mister Manning, Teacher of Mathematics and the Black Arts. There is another letter in the inside cover of the book opposite the blank leaf that was.
Mind this goes for a letter. (Acknowledge it directly, if only in ten words.)
DEAR MANNING—(I shall want to hear this comes safe.) I have scratched out a good deal, as you will see. Generally, what I have rejected was either false in feeling, or a violation of character—mostly of the first sort. I will here just instance in the concluding few lines of the "Dying Lover's Story," which completely contradicted his character of silent and unreproachful. I hesitated a good deal what copy to send you, and at last resolved to send the worst, because you are familiar with it, and can make it out; and a stranger would find so much difficulty in doing it, that it would give him more pain than pleasure.
This is compounded precisely of the two persons' hands you requested it should be.—Yours sincerely,
[These were the letters accompanying the copy of "Pride's Cure" (or "John Woodvil") which Charles and Mary Lamb together made for Manning, as requested in the note on page 197.
All the letters mentioned by Lamb have vanished; unless by an unlikely chance the bundle contained Coleridge's letters on Mrs. Lamb's death and on the quarrel with Lamb and Lloyd.
Manning's reply, dated December, 1800, gives a little information concerning the Edinburgh physician's letter—"that gentleman whose fertile brain can, at a moment's warning, furnish you with 10 Thousand models of a plot—'The greatest variety of Rapes, Murders, Deathsheads, &c., &c., sold here.'" Manning thinks that the Scotch doctor understands Lamb's tragedy better than Coleridge does. He adds: "P.S.—My verdict upon the Poet's epitaph is 'genuine.'" This probably applies to a question asked by Lamb concerning Wordsworth's poem of that name.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
December 27th, 1800.
At length George Dyer's phrenesis has come to a crisis; he is raging and furiously mad. I waited upon the heathen, Thursday was a se'nnight; the first symptom which struck my eye and gave me incontrovertible proof of the fatal truth was a pair of nankeen pantaloons four times too big for him, which the said Heathen did pertinaciously affirm to be new.
They were absolutely ingrained with the accumulated dirt of ages; but he affirmed them to be clean. He was going to visit a lady that was nice about those things, and that's the reason he wore nankeen that day. And then he danced, and capered, and fidgeted, and pulled up his pantaloons, and hugged his intolerable flannel vestment closer about his poetic loins; anon he gave it loose to the zephyrs which plentifully insinuate their tiny bodies through every crevice, door, window or wainscot, expressly formed for the exclusion of such impertinents. Then he caught at a proof sheet, and catched up a laundress's bill instead—made a dart at Blomfield's Poems, and threw them in agony aside. I could not bring him to one direct reply; he could not maintain his jumping mind in a right line for the tithe of a moment by Clifford's Inn clock. He must go to the printer's immediately—the most unlucky accident—he had struck off five hundred impressions of his Poems, which were ready for delivery to subscribers, and the Preface must all be expunged. There were eighty pages of Preface, and not till that morning had he discovered that in the very first page of said Preface he had set out with a principle of Criticism fundamentally-wrong, which vitiated all his following reasoning. The Preface must be expunged, although it cost him L30—the lowest calculation, taking in paper and printing! In vain have his real friends remonstrated against this Midsummer madness. George is as obstinate as a Primitive Christian—and wards and parries off all our thrusts with one unanswerable fence;—"Sir, it's of great consequence that the world is not misled!"
As for the other Professor, he has actually begun to dive into Tavernier and Chardin's Persian Travels for a story, to form a new drama for the sweet tooth of this fastidious age. Hath not Bethlehem College a fair action for non-residence against such professors? Are poets so few in this age, that he must write poetry? Is morals a subject so exhausted, that he must quit that line? Is the metaphysic well (without a bottom) drained dry?
If I can guess at the wicked pride of the Professor's heart, I would take a shrewd wager that he disdains ever again to dip his pen in Prose. Adieu, ye splendid theories! Farewell, dreams of political justice! Lawsuits, where I was counsel for Archbishop Fenelon versus my own mother, in the famous fire cause!
Vanish from my mind, professors, one and all! I have metal more attractive on foot.
Man of many snipes, I will sup with thee, Deo volente et diabolo nolente, on Monday night the 5th of January, in the new year, and crush a cup to the infant century.
A word or two of my progress. Embark at six o'clock in the morning, with a fresh gale, on a Cambridge one-decker; very cold till eight at night; land at St. Mary's light-house, muffins and coffee upon table (or any other curious production of Turkey or both Indies), snipes exactly at nine, punch to commence at ten, with argument; difference of opinion is expected to take place about eleven; perfect unanimity, with some haziness and dimness, before twelve.—N.B. My single affection is not so singly wedded to snipes; but the curious and epicurean eye would also take a pleasure in beholding a delicate and well-chosen assortment of teals, ortolans, the unctuous and palate-soothing flesh of geese wild and tame, nightingales' brains, the sensorium of a young sucking-pig, or any other Christmas dish, which I leave to the judgment of you and the cook of Gonville. C. LAMB.
[Lamb's copy of George Dyer's Poems is in the British Museum. It has the original withdrawn 1800 title-page and the cancelled preface bound up with it, and Lamb has written against the reference to the sacrifice, in the new 1801 preface: "One copy of this cancelled preface, snatch'd out of the fire, is prefaced to this volume." See Letter 93, page 234. It runs to sixty-five pages, whereas the new one is but a few words. Southey tells Grosvenor Bedford in one of his letters that Lamb gave Dyer the title of Cancellarius Magnus. Dyer reprinted in the 1802 edition of his Poems the greater part of the cancelled preface and all of the first page—so that it is difficult to say what the fallacy was. The original edition of his Poems, was to be in three large volumes. In 1802 it had come down to two small ones.
Godwin's Persian drama was "Abbas, King of Persia," but he could not get it acted. The reference to Fenelon is to Godwin's Political Justice (first edition, Vol. I., page 84) where he argues on the comparative worth of the persons of Fenelon, a chambermaid, and Godwin's mother, supposing them to have been present at the famous fire at Cambrai and only one of them to be saved. (As a matter of fact Fenelon was not at the fire.)
We must suppose that Lamb carried out his intention of visiting Manning on January 5; but there is no confirmation.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH [P.M. January 30, 1801.]
Thanks for your Letter and Present. I had already borrowed your second volume. What most please me are, the Song of Lucy.... Simon's sickly daughter in the Sexton made me cry. Next to these are the description of the continuous Echoes in the story of Joanna's laugh, where the mountains and all the scenery absolutely seem alive—and that fine Shakesperian character of the Happy Man, in the Brothers,
—that creeps about the fields, Following his fancies by the hour, to bring Tears down his cheek, or solitary smiles Into his face, until the Setting Sun Write Fool upon his forehead.
I will mention one more: the delicate and curious feeling in the wish for the Cumberland Beggar, that he may have about him the melody of Birds, altho' he hear them not. Here the mind knowingly passes a fiction upon herself, first substituting her own feelings for the Beggar's, and, in the same breath detecting the fallacy, will not part with the wish.—The Poet's Epitaph is disfigured, to my taste by the vulgar satire upon parsons and lawyers in the beginning, and the coarse epithet of pin point in the 6th stanza. All the rest is eminently good, and your own. I will just add that it appears to me a fault in the Beggar, that the instructions conveyed in it are too direct and like a lecture: they don't slide into the mind of the reader, while he is imagining no such matter. An intelligent reader finds a sort of insult in being told, I will teach you how to think upon this subject. This fault, if I am right, is in a ten-thousandth worse degree to be found in Sterne and many many novelists & modern poets, who continually put a sign post up to shew where you are to feel. They set out with assuming their readers to be stupid. Very different from Robinson Crusoe, the Vicar of Wakefield, Roderick Random, and other beautiful bare narratives. There is implied an unwritten compact between Author and reader; I will tell you a story, and I suppose you will understand it. Modern novels "St. Leons" and the like are full of such flowers as these "Let not my reader suppose," "Imagine, if you can"—modest!—&c.—I will here have done with praise and blame. I have written so much, only that you may not think I have passed over your book without observation,—I am sorry that Coleridge has christened his Ancient Marinere "a poet's Reverie"—it is as bad as Bottom the Weaver's declaration that he is not a Lion but only the scenical representation of a Lion. What new idea is gained by this Title, but one subversive of all credit, which the tale should force upon us, of its truth? For me, I was never so affected with any human Tale. After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many days—I dislike all the miraculous part of it, but the feelings of the man under the operation of such scenery dragged me along like Tom Piper's magic whistle. I totally differ from your idea that the Marinere should have had a character and profession. This is a Beauty in Gulliver's Travels, where the mind is kept in a placid state of little wonderments; but the Ancient Marinere undergoes such Trials, as overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was, like the state of a man in a Bad dream, one terrible peculiarity of which is: that all consciousness of personality is gone. Your other observation is I think as well a little unfounded: the Marinere from being conversant in supernatural events has acquired a supernatural and strange cast of phrase, eye, appearance, &c. which frighten the wedding guest. You will excuse my remarks, because I am hurt and vexed that you should think it necessary, with a prose apology, to open the eyes of dead men that cannot see. To sum up a general opinion of the second vol.—I do not feel any one poem in it so forcibly as the Ancient Marinere, the Mad Mother, and the Lines at Tintern Abbey in the first.—I could, too, have wished the Critical preface had appeared in a separate treatise. All its dogmas are true and just, and most of them new, as criticism. But they associate a diminishing idea with the Poems which follow, as having been written for Experiment on the public taste, more than having sprung (as they must have done) from living and daily circumstances.—I am prolix, because I am gratifyed in the opportunity of writing to you, and I don't well know when to leave off. I ought before this to have reply'd to your very kind invitation into Cumberland. With you and your Sister I could gang any where. But I am afraid whether I shall ever be able to afford so desperate a Journey. Separate from the pleasure of your company, I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life. I have passed all my days in London, until I have formed as many and intense local attachments, as any of you mountaineers can have done with dead nature. The Lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street, the innumerable trades, tradesmen and customers, coaches, waggons, playhouses, all the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden, the very women of the Town, the Watchmen, drunken scenes, rattles,—life awake, if you awake, at all hours of the night, the impossibility of being dull in Fleet Street, the crowds, the very dirt & mud, the Sun shining upon houses and pavements, the print shops, the old book stalls, parsons cheap'ning books, coffee houses, steams of soups from kitchens, the pantomimes, London itself a pantomime and a masquerade,—all these things work themselves into my mind and feed me, without a power of satiating me. The wonder of these sights impells me into night-walks about her crowded streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand from fulness of joy at so much Life.—All these emotions must be strange to you. So are your rural emotions to me. But consider, what must I have been doing all my life, not to have lent great portions of my heart with usury to such scenes?—
My attachments are all local, purely local. I have no passion (or have had none since I was in love, and then it was the spurious engendering of poetry & books) to groves and vallies. The rooms where I was born, the furniture which has been before my eyes all my life, a book case which has followed me about (like a faithful dog, only exceeding him in knowledge) wherever I have moved—old chairs, old tables, streets, squares, where I have sunned myself, my old school,—these are my mistresses. Have I not enough, without your mountains? I do not envy you. I should pity you, did I not know, that the Mind will make friends of any thing. Your sun & moon and skys and hills & lakes affect me no more, or scarcely come to me in more venerable characters, than as a gilded room with tapestry and tapers, where I might live with handsome visible objects. I consider the clouds above me but as a roof, beautifully painted but unable to satisfy the mind, and at last, like the pictures of the apartment of a connoisseur, unable to afford him any longer a pleasure. So fading upon me, from disuse, have been the Beauties of Nature, as they have been confinedly called; so ever fresh & green and warm are all the inventions of men and assemblies of men in this great city. I should certainly have laughed with dear Joanna.
Give my kindest love, and my sister's, to D. & yourself and a kiss from me to little Barbara Lewthwaite.
Thank you for Liking my Play!!
[This is the first—and perhaps the finest—letter from Lamb to Wordsworth that has been preserved. Wordsworth, then living with his sister Dorothy at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, was nearly thirty-one years of age; Lamb was nearly twenty-six. The work criticised is the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads. The second and sixth stanzas of the "Poet's Epitaph" ran thus:—
A Lawyer art thou?—draw not nigh; Go, carry to some other place The hardness of thy coward eye, The falshood of thy sallow face.
* * * * *
Wrapp'd closely in thy sensual fleece O turn aside, and take, I pray, That he below may rest in peace, Thy pin-point of a soul away!
St. Leon was by Godwin.
Of "The Ancient Mariner, a Poet's Reverie," Wordsworth had said in a note to the first volume of Lyrical Ballads:—
"The Poem of my Friend has indeed great defects; first, that the principal person has no distinct character, either in his profession of Mariner, or as a human being who having been long under the controul of supernatural impressions might be supposed himself to partake of something supernatural; secondly, that he does not act, but is continually acted upon; thirdly, that the events having no necessary connection do not produce each other; and lastly, that the imagery is somewhat too laboriously accumulated."
"The Mad Mother." The poem beginning, "Her eyes are wild, her head is bare."
"I could, too, have wished." The passage from these words to "don't well know when to leave off," used to be omitted in the editions of Lamb's Letters. When Wordsworth sent the correspondence to Moxon, for Talfourd's use, in 1835, he wrote:—
"There are, however, in them some parts which had better be kept back.... I have also thought it proper to suppress every word of criticism [Wordsworth meant adverse criticism] upon my own poems.... Those relating to my works are withheld, partly because I shrink from the thought of assisting in any way to spread my own praises, and still more I being convinced that the opinions or judgments of friends given in this way are of little value."
"Joanna." Joanna of the laugh. "Barbara Lewthwaite." See Wordsworth's "Pet Lamb."
"Thank you for Liking my Play!!" We must suppose this postscript to contain a touch of sarcasm. Lamb had sent "John Woodvil" to Grasmere and Keswick. Wordsworth apparently had been but politely interested in it. Coleridge had written to Godwin: "Talking of tragedies, at every perusal my love and admiration of his [Lamb's] play rises a peg."
Here should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, dated at end February 7, 1801, not available for this edition. It is one of the best letters written by Lamb to Robert Lloyd, or to any one. Lamb first praises Izaak Walton, whose Compleat Angler he loved for two reasons: for itself and for its connection with his own Hertfordshire country, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Amwell and the Ware neighbourhood. The letter passes to a third eulogy of London. Lamb closes by remarking that Manning is "a dainty chiel, and a man of great power, an enchanter almost."]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
Feb. 15, 1801.
I had need be cautious henceforward what opinion I give of the "Lyrical Ballads." All the North of England are in a turmoil. Cumberland and Westmoreland have already declared a state of war. I lately received from Wordsworth a copy of the second volume, accompanied by an acknowledgement of having received from me many months since a copy of a certain Tragedy, with excuses for not having made any acknowledgement sooner, it being owing to an "almost insurmountable aversion from Letter-writing." This letter I answered in due form and time, and enumerated several of the passages which had most affected me, adding, unfortunately, that no single piece had moved me so forcibly as the "Ancient Mariner," "The Mad Mother," or the "Lines at Tintern Abbey." The Post did not sleep a moment. I received almost instantaneously a long letter of four sweating pages from my Reluctant Letter-Writer, the purport of which was, that he was sorry his 2d vol. had not given me more pleasure (Devil a hint did I give that it had not pleased me), and "was compelled to wish that my range of sensibility was more extended, being obliged to believe that I should receive large influxes of happiness and happy Thoughts" (I suppose from the L.B.)—With a deal of stuff about a certain Union of Tenderness and Imagination, which in the sense he used Imagination was not the characteristic of Shakspeare, but which Milton possessed in a degree far exceeding other Poets: which Union, as the highest species of Poetry, and chiefly deserving that name, "He was most proud to aspire to;" then illustrating the said Union by two quotations from his own 2d vol. (which I had been so unfortunate as to miss). 1st Specimen—a father addresses his son:—
"When thou First camest into the World, as it befalls To new-born Infants, thou didst sleep away Two days: and Blessings from Thy father's Tongue Then fell upon thee."
The lines were thus undermarked, and then followed "This Passage, as combining in an extraordinary degree that Union of Imagination and Tenderness which I am speaking of, I consider as one of the Best I ever wrote!"
2d Specimen.—A youth, after years of absence, revisits his native place, and thinks (as most people do) that there has been strange alteration in his absence:—
"And that the rocks And everlasting Hills themselves were changed."
You see both these are good Poetry: but after one has been reading Shakspeare twenty of the best years of one's life, to have a fellow start up, and prate about some unknown quality, which Shakspeare possessed in a degree inferior to Milton and somebody else!! This was not to be all my castigation. Coleridge, who had not written to me some months before, starts up from his bed of sickness to reprove me for my hardy presumption: four long pages, equally sweaty and more tedious, came from him; assuring me that, when the works of a man of true genius such as W. undoubtedly was, do not please me at first sight, I should suspect the fault to lie "in me and not in them," etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. What am I to do with such people? I certainly shall write them a very merry Letter. Writing to you, I may say that the 2d vol. has no such pieces as the three I enumerated. It is full of original thinking and an observing mind, but it does not often make you laugh or cry.—It too artfully aims at simplicity of expression. And you sometimes doubt if Simplicity be not a cover for Poverty. The best Piece in it I will send you, being short. I have grievously offended my friends in the North by declaring my undue preference; but I need not fear you:—
"She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the Springs of Dove, A maid whom there were few [none] to praise And very few to love.
"A violet, by a mossy stone, Half hidden from the eye. Fair as a star when only one Is shining in the sky.
"She lived unknown; and few could know, When Lucy ceased to be. But she is in the grave, and oh! The difference to me."
This is choice and genuine, and so are many, many more. But one does not like to have 'em rammed down one's throat. "Pray, take it—it's very good—let me help you—eat faster."
[It cannot be too much regretted that Lamb's "very merry Letter" in answer to Wordsworth and Coleridge's remonstrances has not been preserved.
At the end of the letter is a passage which can be read only in the Boston Bibliophile edition, referring to Dyer's Poems, to John Woodvil and to Godwin.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[Late February, 1801.]
You masters of logic ought to know (logic is nothing more than a knowledge of words, as the Greek etymon implies), that all words are no more to be taken in a literal sense at all times than a promise given to a tailor. When I expressed an apprehension that you were mortally offended, I meant no more than by the application of a certain formula of efficacious sounds, which had done in similar cases before, to rouse a sense of decency in you, and a remembrance of what was due to me! You masters of logic should advert to this phenomenon in human speech, before you arraign the usage of us dramatic geniuses. Imagination is a good blood mare, and goes well; but the misfortune is, she has too many paths before her. 'Tis true I might have imaged to myself, that you had trundled your frail carcass to Norfolk. I might also, and did imagine, that you had not, but that you were lazy, or inventing new properties in a triangle, and for that purpose moulding and squeezing Landlord Crisp's three-cornered beaver into fantastic experimental forms; or that Archimedes was meditating to repulse the French, in case of a Cambridge invasion, by a geometric hurling of folios on their red caps; or, peradventure, that you were in extremities, in great wants, and just set out for Trinity-bogs when my letters came. In short, my genius (which is a short word now-a-days for what-a-great-man-am-I) was absolutely stifled and overlaid with its own riches. Truth is one and poor, like the cruse of Elijah's widow. Imagination is the bold face that multiplies its oil: and thou, the old cracked pipkin, that could not believe it could be put to such purposes. Dull pipkin, to have Elijah for thy cook! Imbecile recipient of so fat a miracle! I send you George Dyer's Poems, the richest production of the lyric muse this century can justly boast: for Wordsworth's L.B. were published, or at least written, before Christmas.
Please to advert to pages 291 to 296 for the most astonishing account of where Shakspeare's muse has been all this while. I thought she had been dead, and buried in Stratford Church, with the young man that kept her company,—
"But it seems, like the Devil, Buried in Cole Harbour. Some say she's risen again, 'Gone prentice to a Barber."
N.B.—I don't charge anything for the additional manuscript notes, which are the joint productions of myself and a learned translator of Schiller, John Stoddart, Esq.
N.B. the 2nd.—I should not have blotted your book, but I had sent my own out to be bound, as I was in duty bound. A liberal criticism upon the several pieces, lyrical, heroical, amatory, and satirical, would be acceptable. So, you don't think there's a Word's—worth of good poetry in the great L.B.! I daren't put the dreaded syllables at their just length, for my back tingles from the northern castigation. I send you the three letters, which I beg you to return along with those former letters, which I hope you are not going to print by your detention. But don't be in a hurry to send them. When you come to town will do. Apropos of coming to town, last Sunday was a fortnight, as I was coming to town from the Professor's, inspired with new rum, I tumbled down, and broke my nose. I drink nothing stronger than malt liquors.
I am going to change my lodgings, having received a hint that it would be agreeable, at our Lady's next feast. I have partly fixed upon most delectable rooms, which look out (when you stand a tiptoe) over the Thames and Surrey Hills, at the upper end of King's Bench walks in the Temple. There I shall have all the privacy of a house without the encumbrance, and shall be able to lock my friends out as often as I desire to hold free converse with my immortal mind; for my present lodgings resemble a minister's levee, I have so increased my acquaintance (as they call 'em), since I have resided in town. Like the country mouse, that had tasted a little of urban manners, I long to be nibbling my own cheese by my dear self without mouse-traps and time-traps. By my new plan, I shall be as airy, up four pair of stairs, as in the country; and in a garden, in the midst of [that] enchanting, more than Mahometan paradise, London, whose dirtiest drab-frequented alley, and her lowest bowing tradesman, I would not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn, James, Walter, and the parson into the bargain. O! her lamps of a night! her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toyshops, mercers, hardwaremen, pastry-cooks! St. Paul's Churchyard! the Strand! Exeter Change! Charing Cross, with the man upon a black horse! These are thy gods, O London! Ain't you mightily moped on the banks of the Cam! Had not you better come and set up here? You can't think what a difference. All the streets and pavements are pure gold, I warrant you. At least I know an alchemy that turns her mud into that metal,—a mind that loves to be at home in crowds.
'Tis half-past twelve o'clock, and all sober people ought to be a-bed. Between you and me, the "Lyrical Ballads" are but drowsy performances.
C. LAMB (as you may guess).
[Lamb refers in his opening sentences to a letter from himself to Manning which no longer exists. In Manning's last letter, dated February 24, he complains that he found on returning to Cambridge three copies of a letter from Lamb suggesting that he was offended because he had not answered.
The passage in George Dyer's Poems between pages 291 and 296 is long, but it is so quaint and so illustrative of its author's mind that I give it in full, footnotes and all, in the Appendix to this volume.
Stoddart we have already met. He had translated, with Georg Heinrich Noehden, Schiller's Fiesco, 1796, and Don Carlos, 1798. The copy of Dyer's Poems annotated by Lamb and Stoddart I have not seen.
"So, you don't think there's a Word's-worth..." Manning had written, on February 24, 1801, of the second volume of Lyrical Ballads: "I think 'tis utterly absurd from one end to the other. You tell me 'tis good poetry—if you mean that there is nothing puerile, nothing bombast or conceited, everything else that is so often found to disfigure poetry, I agree, but will you read it over and over again? Answer me that, Master Lamb." The three letters containing the northern castigation are unhappily lost.
"My back tingles." "Back" is not Lamb's word.
"I am going to change my lodgings." The Lambs were still at 34 Southampton Buildings; they moved to 16 Mitre Court Buildings just before Lady Day, 1801.
"James, Walter, and the parson." In Wordsworth's poem "The Brothers."
Exeter Change, which stood where Burleigh Street now is, was a great building, with bookstalls and miscellaneous stalls on the ground floor and a menagerie above. It was demolished in 1829.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING April, 1801.
I was not aware that you owed me anything beside that guinea; but I dare say you are right. I live at No. 16 Mitre-court Buildings, a pistol-shot off Baron Maseres'. You must introduce me to the Baron. I think we should suit one another mainly. He lives on the ground floor for convenience of the gout; I prefer the attic story for the air! He keeps three footmen and two maids; I have neither maid nor laundress, not caring to be troubled with them! His forte, I understand, is the higher mathematics; my turn, I confess, is more to poetry and the belles lettres. The very antithesis of our characters would make up a harmony. You must bring the baron and me together.—N.B. when you come to see me, mount up to the top of the stairs—I hope you are not asthmatical—and come in flannel, for it's pure airy up there. And bring your glass, and I will shew you the Surrey Hills. My bed faces the river so as by perking up upon my haunches, and supporting my carcase with my elbows, without much wrying my neck, I can see the white sails glide by the bottom of the King's Bench walks as I lie in my bed. An excellent tiptoe prospect in the best room: casement windows with small panes, to look more like a cottage. Mind, I have got no bed for you, that's flat; sold it to pay expenses of moving. The very bed on which Manning lay—the friendly, the mathematical Manning! How forcibly does it remind me of the interesting Otway! "The very bed which on thy marriage night gave thee into the arms of Belvidera, by the coarse hands of ruffians—" (upholsterers' men,) &c. My tears will not give me leave to go on. But a bed I will get you, Manning, on condition you will be my day-guest.
I have been ill more than month, with a bad cold, which comes upon me (like a murderer's conscience) about midnight, and vexes me for many hours. I have successively been drugged with Spanish licorice, opium, ipecacuanha, paregoric, and tincture of foxglove (tinctura purpurae digitalis of the ancients). I am afraid I must leave off drinking.
[Francis Maseres (1731-1824), whom Lamb mentions again in his Elia essay on "The Old Benchers," was the mathematician (hence his interest to Manning) and reformer. His rooms were at 5 King's Bench Walk. He became Cursitor Baron of the Exchequer in 1773. To the end he wore a three-cornered hat, a wig and ruffles. Priestley praised the Baron's mathematical labours, in which he had the support of William Frend.]
CHARLES LAME TO THOMAS MANNING
[No date. ? April, 1801.]
Dear Manning,—I sent to Brown's immediately. Mr. Brown (or Pijou, as he is called by the moderns) denied the having received a letter from you. The one for you he remembered receiving, and remitting to Leadenhall Street; whither I immediately posted (it being the middle of dinner), my teeth unpicked. There I learned that if you want a letter set right, you must apply at the first door on the left hand before one o'clock. I returned and picked my teeth. And this morning I made my application in form, and have seen the vagabond letter, which most likely accompanies this. If it does not, I will get Rickman to name it to the Speaker, who will not fail to lay the matter before Parliament the next sessions, when you may be sure to have all abuses in the Post Department rectified.
N.B. There seems to be some informality epidemical. You direct yours to me in Mitre Court; my true address is Mitre Court Buildings. By the pleasantries of Fortune, who likes a joke or a double entendre as well as the best of her children, there happens to be another Mr. Lamb (that there should be two!!) in Mitre Court.
Farewell, and think upon it.
[Here should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, dated April 6, 1801, in praise of Jeremy Taylor, particularly the Holy Dying. Lamb recommends Lloyd to read the story of the Ephesian matron in the eighth section.
Here also should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, dated June 26, 1801, containing a very interesting criticism of George Frederick Cooke's acting as Richard III. at Covent Garden. Lamb wrote for the Morning Post, January 8, 1802, a criticism of Cooke in this part, which will be found in Vol. I. of the present edition.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
June 29, 1801.
Dear Sir,—Doctor Christy's Brother and Sister are come to town, and have shown me great civilities. I in return wish to requite them, having, by God's grace, principles of generosity implanted (as the moralists say) in my nature, which have been duly cultivated and watered by good and religious friends, and a pious education. They have picked up in the northern parts of the island an astonishing admiration of the great author of the New Philosophy in England, and I have ventured to promise their taste an evening's gratification by seeing Mr. Godwin face to face!!!!! Will you do them and me in them the pleasure of drinking tea and supping with me at the old number 16 on Friday or Saturday next? An early nomination of the day will very much oblige yours sincerely,
[Dr. Christy's brother and sister I do not identify.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WALTER WILSON
August 14th, 1801.
Dear Wilson.—I am extremely sorry that any serious difference should subsist between us on account of some foolish behaviour of mine at Richmond; you knew me well enough before—that a very little liquor will cause a considerable alteration in me.
I beg you to impute my conduct solely to that, and not to any deliberate intention of offending you, from whom I have received so many friendly attentions. I know that you think a very important difference in opinion with respect to some more serious subjects between us makes me a dangerous companion; but do not rashly infer, from some slight and light expressions which I may have made use of in a moment of levity in your presence, without sufficient regard to your feelings—do not conclude that I am an inveterate enemy to all religion. I have had a time of seriousness, and I have known the importance and reality of a religious belief.
Latterly, I acknowledge, much of my seriousness has gone off, whether from new company or some other new associations; but I still retain at bottom a conviction of the truth, and a certainty of the usefulness of religion. I will not pretend to more gravity or feeling than I at present possess; my intention is not to persuade you that any great alteration is probable in me; sudden converts are superficial and transitory; I only want you to believe that I have stamina of seriousness within me, and that I desire nothing more than a return of that friendly intercourse which used to subsist between us, but which my folly has suspended.
Believe me, very affectionately yours,
[Walter Wilson (1781-1847) was, perhaps, at this time, or certainly previously, in the India House with Lamb. Later he became a bookseller, and then, inheriting money, he entered at the Inner Temple. We meet him again later in the correspondence, in connection with his Life of Defoe, 1830.
One wonders if the following passage in Hazlitt's essay "On Coffee-House Politicians" in Table Talk has any reference to the Richmond incident:—
"Elia, the grave and witty, says things not to be surpassed in essence: but the manner is more painful and less a relief to my own thoughts. Some one conceived he could not be an excellent companion, because he was seen walking down the side of the Thames, passibus iniquis, after dining at Richmond. The objection was not valid."]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
Dear Manning,—I have forborne writing so long (and so have you, for the matter of that), until I am almost ashamed either to write or to forbear any longer. But as your silence may proceed from some worse cause than neglect—from illness, or some mishap which may have befallen you—I begin to be anxious. You may have been burnt out, or you may have married, or you may have broken a limb, or turned country parson; any of these would be excuse sufficient for not coming to my supper. I am not so unforgiving as the nobleman in "Saint Mark." For me, nothing new has happened to me, unless that the poor "Albion" died last Saturday of the world's neglect, and with it the fountain of my puns is choked up for ever.
All the Lloyds wonder that you do not write to them. They apply to me for the cause. Relieve me from this weight of ignorance, and enable me to give a truly oracular response.
I have been confined some days with swelled cheek and rheumatism—they divide and govern me with a viceroy-headache in the middle. I can neither write nor read without great pain. It must be something like obstinacy that I choose this time to write to you in after many months interruption.
I will close my letter of simple inquiry with an epigram on Mackintosh, the "Vindiciae Gallicae"-man—who has got a place at last—one of the last I did for the "Albion";—
"Though thou'rt like Judas, an apostate black, In the resemblance one thing thou dost lack; When he had gotten his ill-purchas'd pelf, He went away, and wisely hanged himself: This thou may do at last, yet much I doubt, If thou hast any Bowels to gush out!"
Yours, as ever,
[The Albion was at the time of its decease owned and edited by John Fenwick, a friend of Lamb's whom we shall meet again. Lamb told the story in the Elia essay on "Newspapers" in the following passage:—
"From the office of the Morning Post (for we may as well exhaust our Newspaper Reminiscences at once) by change of property in the paper, we were transferred, mortifying exchanged to the office of the Albion Newspaper, late Rackstrow's Museum, in Fleet Street. What a transition— from a handsome apartment, from rose-wood desks, and silver inkstands, to an office—no office, but a den rather, but just redeemed from the occupation of dead monsters, of which it seemed redolent—from the centre of loyalty and fashion, to a focus of vulgarity and sedition! Here in murky closet, inadequate from its square contents to the receipt of the two bodies of Editor, and humble paragraph-maker, together at one time, sat in the discharge of his new Editorial functions (the 'Bigod' of Elia) the redoubted John Fenwick.
"F., without a guinea in his pocket, and having left not many in the pockets of his friends whom he might command, had purchased (on tick doubtless) the whole and sole Editorship, Proprietorship, with all the rights and titles (such as they were worth) of the Albion, from one Lovell; of whom we know nothing, save that he had stood in the pillory for a libel on the Prince of Wales. With this hopeless concern—for it had been sinking ever since its commencement, and could now reckon upon not more than a hundred subscribers—F. resolutely determined upon pulling down the Government in the first instance, and making both our fortunes by way of corollary. For seven weeks and more did this infatuated Democrat go about borrowing seven shilling pieces, and lesser coin, to meet the daily demands of the Stamp Office, which allowed no credit to publications of that side in politics. An outcast from politer bread, we attached our small talents to the forlorn fortunes of our friend. Our occupation now was to write treason.
"Recollections of feelings—which were all that now remained from our first boyish heats kindled by the French Revolution, when if we were misled, we erred in the company of some, who are accounted very good men now—rather than any tendency at this time to Republican doctrines— assisted us in assuming a style of writing, while the paper lasted, consonant in no very under-tone to the right earnest fanaticism of F. Our cue was now to insinuate, rather than recommend, possible abdications. Blocks, axes, Whitehall tribunals, were covered with flowers of so cunning a periphrasis—as Mr. Bayes says, never naming the thing directly—that the keen eye of an Attorney-General was insufficient to detect the lurking snake among them. There were times, indeed, when we signed for our more gentleman-like occupation under Stuart. But with change of masters it is ever change of service. Already one paragraph, and another, as we learned afterwards from a gentleman at the Treasury, had begun to be marked at that office, with a view of its being submitted at least to the attention of the proper Law Officers— when an unlucky, or rather lucky epigram from our pen, aimed at Sir J———s M———h, who was on the eve of departing for India to reap the fruits of his apostacy, as F. pronounced it, (it is hardly worth particularising), happening to offend the nice sense of Lord, or, as he then delighted to be called, Citizen Stanhope, deprived F. at once of the last hopes of a guinea from the last patron that had stuck by us; and breaking up our establishment, left us to the safe, but somewhat mortifying, neglect of the Crown Lawyers."
There are, however, in Lamb's account, written thirty years afterwards, some errors. He passed rather from the Albion to the Post than from the Post to the Albion (see the notes in Vol. II.). Sir James Mackintosh was not in 1801 on the eve of departing for India: he did not get the post of Recordership of Bombay until two years later. The epigram probably referred to an earlier rumour of a post for him. His apostasy consisted in recanting in 1800 from the opinions set forth in his Vindiciae Gallicae, 1791, a book supporting the French Revolutionists, and in becoming a close friend of his old enemy Burke. I have not succeeded in finding a file of the Albion, nor, I believe, has any one else.
"The nobleman in 'St. Mark.'" Lamb was thinking of Luke xiv. 16-24.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. August 31, 1801.]
I heard that you were going to China, with a commission from the Wedgwoods to collect hints for their pottery, and to teach the Chinese perspective. But I did not know that London lay in your way to Pekin. I am seriously glad of it, for I shall trouble you with a small present for the Emperor of Usbeck Tartary, as you go by his territories: it is a fragment of a "Dissertation on the state of political parties in England at the end of the eighteenth century," which will no doubt be very interesting to his Imperial Majesty. It was written originally in English for the use of the two and twenty readers of "The Albion" (this calculation includes a printer, four pressmen, and a devil); but becoming of no use when "The Albion" stopped, I got it translated into Usbeck Tartar by my good friend Tibet Kulm, who is come to London with a civil invitation from the Cham to the English nation to go over to the worship of the Lama.
"The Albion" is dead—dead as nail in door—and my revenues have died with it; but I am not as a man without hope. I have got a sort of opening to the "Morning Chronicle," !!! Mister Manning, by means of that common dispenser of benevolence, Mister Dyer. I have not seen Perry the editor yet: but I am preparing a specimen. I shall have a difficult job to manage, for you must know that Mister Perry, in common with the great body of the Whigs, thinks "The Albion" very low. I find I must rise a peg or so, be a little more decent and less abusive; for, to confess the truth, I had arrived to an abominable pitch; I spared neither age nor sex when my cue was given me. N'importe (as they say in French): any climate will suit me. So you are about to bring your old face-making face to London. You could not come in a better time for my purposes; for I have just lost Rickman, a faint idea of whose character I sent you. He is gone to Ireland for a year or two, to make his fortune; and I have lost by his going, what [it] seems to me I can never recover—a finished man. His memory will be to me as the brazen serpent to the Israelites,—I shall look up to it, to keep me upright and honest. But he may yet bring back his honest face to England one day. I wish your affairs with the Emperor of China had not been so urgent, that you might have stayed in Great Britain a year or two longer, to have seen him; for, judging from my own experience, I almost dare pronounce you never saw his equal. I never saw a man that could be at all a second or substitute for him in any sort.
Imagine that what is here erased was an apology and explanation, perfectly satisfactory you may be sure! for rating this man so highly at the expense of ——, and ——, and ——, and M——, and ——, and ——, and ——. But Mister Burke has explained this phenomenon of our nature very prettily in his letter to a Member of the National Assembly, or else in his Appeal to the old Whigs, I forget which. Do you remember an instance, from Homer (who understood these matters tolerably well) of Priam driving away his other sons with expressions of wrath and bitter reproach, when Hector was just dead.
I live where I did, in a private manner, because I don't like state. Nothing is so disagreeable to me as the clamours and applauses of the mob. For this reason I live in an obscure situation in one of the courts of the Temple.
[Manning had taken up Chinese at Cambridge, and in 1800 he had moved to Paris to study the language under Dr. Hagan. He did not, however, go to China until 1806. The Wedgwoods were Coleridge's patrons. Lamb's reference to them is, of course, a joke.
The Morning Chronicle was then the chief Whig paper, the principal opponent of the Morning Post. I have, I think, traced two or three of Lamb's contributions to the Chronicle at this period, but they are not of his best. He quickly moved on to the Post, but, as we shall see, only for a short period.
Rickman went to Dublin in 1801 with Abbot, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and was appointed Deputy-Keeper of the Privy Seal. He returned in February, 1802.
The reference to Burke is to his justification of his particular solicitude for the Crown, as the part of the British Constitution then in danger, though not in itself more important than the other parts, in the "Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs." The Priam-Hector illustration is there employed.
"Homer." See The Iliad, Book 24, lines 311-316. Pope translates thus:—
Next on his sons his erring fury falls, Polites, Paris, Agathon, he calls; His threats Diphobus and Dius hear, Hippothoues, Pammon, Helenus the seer, And generous Antiphon: for yet these nine Survived, sad relics of his numerous line.
Following this letter should come one from Lamb to John Rickman, dated September 16, 1801 (the first of a valuable series printed in Canon Ainger's latest edition), saying that he and his sister are at Margate. He has been trying to write for the Morning Chronicle but with little success. Is now meditating a book: "Why should every creature make books but I?" After a passage concerning George Burnett, Lamb describes Godwin and his courtship of his second wife—"a very disgusting woman." "You never saw such a philosophic coxcomb, nor any one play the Romeo so unnaturally."
Here should come a mutilated letter, not yet printed, I believe, shown to me by Mr. Bertram Dobell, from Lamb to Manning, written probably at Margate, where this year's holidays were spent. It is deeply interesting and I wish 1 could print it even with its imperfections. There are references to White, Dyer, Coleridge ("Pity that such human frailties should perch upon the margin of Ulswater Lake") and the Lloyds. Also to politics and the riddle of life. "What we came here for I know no more than [an] Ideot."]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN Sept. 9, 1801.
Dear Sir,—Nothing runs in my head when I think of your story, but that you should make it as like the life of Savage as possible. That is a known and familiar tale, and its effect on the public mind has been very great. Many of the incidents in the true history are readily made dramatical. For instance, Savage used to walk backwards and forwards o' nights to his mother's window, to catch a glimpse of her, as she passed with a candle. With some such situation the play might happily open. I would plunge my Hero, exactly like Savage, into difficulties and embarrassments, the consequences of an unsettled mind: out of which he may be extricated by the unknown interference of his mother. He should be attended from the beginning by a friend, who should stand in much the same relation towards him as Horatio to Altamont in the play of the Fair Penitent. A character of this sort seems indispensable. This friend might gain interviews with the mother, when the son was refused sight of her. Like Horatio with Calista, he might wring his [her?] soul. Like Horatio, he might learn the secret first. He might be exactly in the same perplexing situation, when he had learned it, whether to tell it or conceal it from the Son (I have still Savage in my head) might kill a man (as he did) in an affray—he should receive a pardon, as Savage did—and the mother might interfere to have him banished. This should provoke the Friend to demand an interview with her husband, and disclose the whole secret. The husband, refusing to believe anything to her dishonour, should fight with him. The husband repents before he dies. The mother explains and confesses everything in his presence. The son is admitted to an interview with his now acknowledged mother. Instead of embraces, she resolves to abstract herself from all pleasure, even from his sight, in voluntary penance all her days after. This is crude indeed!! but I am totally unable to suggest a better. I am the worst hand in the world at a plot. But I understand enough of passion to predict that your story, with some of Savage's, which has no repugnance, but a natural alliance with it, cannot fail. The mystery of the suspected relationship—the suspicion, generated from slight and forgotten circumstances, coming at last to act as Instinct, and so to be mistaken for Instinct—the son's unceasing pursuit and throwing of himself in his mother's way, something like Falkland's eternal persecution of Williams—the high and intricate passion in the mother, the being obliged to shun and keep at a distance the thing nearest to her heart—to be cruel, where her heart yearns to be kind, without a possibility of explanation. You have the power of life and death and the hearts of your auditors in your hands; still Harris will want a skeleton, and he must have it. I can only put in some sorry hints. The discovery to the son's friend may take place not before the 3d act—in some such way as this. The mother may cross the street—he may point her out to some gay companion of his as the Beauty of Leghorn—the pattern for wives, &c. &c. His companion, who is an Englishman, laughs at his mistake, and knows her to have been the famous Nancy Dawson, or any one else, who captivated the English king. Some such way seems dramatic, and speaks to the Eye. The audience will enter into the Friend's surprise, and into the perplexity of his situation. These Ocular Scenes are so many great landmarks, rememberable headlands and lighthouses in the voyage. Macbeth's witch has a good advice to a magic [? tragic] writer, what to do with his spectator.
"Show his eyes, and grieve his heart."
The most difficult thing seems to be, What to do with the husband? You will not make him jealous of his own son? that is a stale and an unpleasant trick in Douglas, etc. Can't you keep him out of the way till you want him, as the husband of Isabella is conveniently sent off till his cue comes? There will be story enough without him, and he will only puzzle all. Catastrophes are worst of all. Mine is most stupid. I only propose it to fulfil my engagement, not in hopes to convert you.
It is always difficult to get rid of a woman at the end of a tragedy. Men may fight and die. A woman must either take poison, which is a nasty trick, or go mad, which is not fit to be shown, or retire, which is poor, only retiring is most reputable.
I am sorry I can furnish you no better: but I find it extremely difficult to settle my thoughts upon anything but the scene before me, when I am from home, I am from home so seldom. If any, the least hint crosses me, I will write again, and I very much wish to read your plan, if you could abridge and send it. In this little scrawl you must take the will for the deed, for I most sincerely wish success to your play.—Farewell,
[This and the letter that follows it contain Lamb's suggestions for Godwin's play "Faulkener," upon which he was now meditating, but which was not performed until 1807. Lamb wrote the prologue, a poem in praise of Defoe, since it was in Roxana, or at least in one edition of it, that the counterpart to, or portion of, Godwin's plot is found. There, however, the central figure is a daughter, not a son. See the letters to Walter Wilson.
Mr. Swinburne, in the little article to which I have already alluded, says of this and the following letter: "Several of Lamb's suggestions, in spite of his own modest disclaimer ('I am the worst hand in the world at a plot'), seem to me, especially as coming from the author of a tragedy memorable alike for sweetness of moral emotion and emptiness of theatrical subject, worthy of note for the instinctive intuition of high dramatic effect implied in their rough and rapid outlines."
Richard Savage, the poet, whose life Johnson wrote, claimed to be the illegitimate son of Lady Macclesfield by Lord Rivers. Savage killed Sinclair in a tavern quarrel in 1727, and was condemned to death. His pardon was obtained by the Countess of Hertford.
"The Fair Penitent" is by Nicholas Rowe.
Falkland and Williams are in Godwin's novel Caleb Williams, dramatised by Colman as "The Iron Chest."
"Harris will want a skeleton." Thomas Harris, stage manager of Covent Garden Theatre.
Nancy Dawson (1730?-1767), the famous dancer and bona roba.
"The husband of Isabella." In Southern's "Fatal Marriage."]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
Margate, Sep. 17, 1801.
I shall be glad to come home and talk these matters over with you. I have read your scheme very attentively. That Arabella has been mistress to King Charles is sufficient to all the purposes of the story. It can only diminish that respect we feel for her to make her turn whore to one of the Lords of his Bed-chamber. Her son must not know that she has been a whore: it matters not that she has been whore to a King: equally in both cases it is against decorum and against the delicacy of a son's respect that he should be privy to it. No doubt, many sons might feel a wayward pleasure in the honourable guilt of their mothers; but is it a true feeling? Is it the best sort of feeling? Is it a feeling to be exposed on theatres to mothers and daughters? Your conclusion (or rather Defoe's) comes far short of the tragic ending, which is always expected; and it is not safe to disappoint. A tragic auditory wants blood. They care but little about a man and his wife parting. Besides, what will you do with the son, after all his pursuits and adventures? Even quietly leave him to take guinea-and-a-half lodgings with mamma in Leghorn! O impotent and pacific measures!... I am certain that you must mix up some strong ingredients of distress to give a savour to your pottage. I still think that you may, and must, graft the story of Savage upon Defoe. Your hero must kill a man or do some thing. Can't you bring him to the gallows or some great mischief, out of which she must have recourse to an explanation with her husband to save him. Think on this. The husband, for instance, has great friends in Court at Leghorn. The son is condemned to death. She cannot teaze him for a stranger. She must tell the whole truth. Or she may tease him, as for a stranger, till (like Othello in Cassio's case) he begins to suspect her for her importunity. Or, being pardoned, can she not teaze her husband to get him banished? Something of this I suggested before. Both is best. The murder and the pardon will make business for the fourth act, and the banishment and explanation (by means of the Friend I want you to draw) the fifth. You must not open any of the truth to Dawley by means of a letter. A letter is a feeble messenger on the stage. Somebody, the son or his friend, must, as a coup de main, be exasperated, and obliged to tell the husband. Damn the husband and his "gentlemanlike qualities." Keep him out of sight, or he will trouble all. Let him be in England on trade, and come home, as Biron does in Isabella, in the fourth act, when he is wanted. I am for introducing situations, sort of counterparts to situations, which have been tried in other plays—like but not the same. On this principle I recommended a friend like Horatio in the "Fair Penitent," and on this principle I recommend a situation like Othello, with relation to Desdemona's intercession for Cassio. By-scenes may likewise receive hints. The son may see his mother at a mask or feast, as Romeo, Juliet. The festivity of the company contrasts with the strong perturbations of the individuals. Dawley may be told his wife's past unchastity at a mask by some witch-character—as Macbeth upon the heath, in dark sentences. This may stir his brain, and be forgot, but come in aid of stronger proof hereafter. From this, what you will perhaps call whimsical way of counterparting, this honest stealing, and original mode of plagiarism, much yet, I think, remains to be sucked. Excuse these abortions. I thought you would want the draught soon again, and I would not send it empty away.—Yours truly,