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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 101 To Letter 107 Post by :Priscilla Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :1360

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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 101 To Letter 107

LETTER CI TO LETTER CVII

LETTER CI.

TO MR. GILLMAN.

_November 30, 1829.

Dear G.,--The excursionists reached home and the good town of Enfield a little after four, without slip or dislocation. Little has transpired concerning the events of the back-journey, save that on passing the house of 'Squire Mellish, situate a stone bow's cast from the hamlet, Father Westwood (1), with a good-natured wonderment, exclaimed, "I cannot think what is gone of Mr. Mellish's rooks. I fancy they have taken flight somewhere; but I have missed them two or three years past." All this while, according to his fellow-traveller's report, the rookery was darkening the air above with undiminished population, and deafening all ears but his with their cawings. But nature has been gently withdrawing such phenomena from the notice of Thomas Westwood's senses, from the time he began to miss the rooks. T. Westwood has passed a retired life in this hamlet of thirty or forty years, living upon the minimum which is consistent with gentility, yet a star among the minor gentry, receiving the bows of the tradespeople and courtesies of the alms-women daily. Children venerate him not less for his external show of gentry than they wonder at him for a gentle rising endorsation of the person, not amounting to a hump, or if a hump, innocuous as the hump of the buffalo, and coronative of as mild qualities. 'T is a throne on which patience seems to sit,--the proud perch of a self-respecting humility, stooping with condescension. Thereupon the cares of life have sat, and rid him easily. For he has thrid the _angustiae domus with dexterity. Life opened upon him with comparative brilliancy. He set out as a rider or traveller for a wholesale house, in which capacity he tells of many hair-breadth escapes that befell him,--one especially, how he rode a mad horse into the town of Devizes; how horse and rider arrived in a foam, to the utter consternation of the expostulating hostlers, inn-keepers, etc. It seems it was sultry weather, piping-hot; the steed tormented into frenzy with gad-flies, long past being roadworthy: but safety and the interest of the house he rode for were incompatible things; a fall in serge cloth was expected; and a mad entrance they made of it. Whether the exploit was purely voluntary, or partially; or whether a certain personal defiguration in the man part of this extraordinary centaur (non-assistive to partition of natures) might not enforce the conjunction, I stand not to inquire. I look not with 'skew eyes into the deeds of heroes. The hosier that was burned with his shop in Field Lane, on Tuesday night, shall have passed to heaven for me like a Marian Martyr, provided always that he consecrated the fortuitous incremation with a short ejaculation in the exit, as much as if he had taken his state degrees of martyrdom _in forma in the market vicinage. There is adoptive as well as acquisitive sacrifice. Be the animus what it might, the fact is indisputable, that this composition was seen flying all abroad, and mine host of Daintry may yet remember its passing through his town, if his scores are not more faithful than his memory.

* * * * *

To come from his heroic character, all the amiable qualities of domestic life concentre in this tamed Bellerophon. He is excellent over a glass of grog; just as pleasant without it; laughs when he hears a joke, and when (which is much oftener) he hears it not; sings glorious old sea-songs on festival nights; and but upon a slight acquaintance of two years, Coleridge, is as dear a deaf old man to us as old Norris, rest his soul! was after fifty. To him and his scanty literature (what there is of it, _sound_) have we flown from the metropolis and its cursed annualists, reviewers, authors, and the whole muddy ink press of that stagnant pool.

(1) Lamb's landlord. He had driven Mary Lamb over to see Coleridge at Highgate. The Lambs had been compelled, by the frequent illnesses of Mary Lamb, to give up their housekeeping at Enfield and to take lodgings with the Westwoods.

 

LETTER CII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

_January 22, 1830.

And is it a year since we parted from you at the steps of Edmonton stage? There are not now the years that there used to be. The tale of the dwindled age of men, reported of successional mankind, is true of the same man only. We do not live a year in a year now. 'T is a _punctum stans_. The seasons pass us with indifference. Spring cheers not, nor winter heightens our gloom: autumn hath foregone its moralities,--they are "heypass repass," as in a show-box. Yet, as far as last year, occurs back--for they scarce show a reflex now, they make no memory as heretofore--'t was sufficiently gloomy. Let the sullen nothing pass. Suffice it that after sad spirits, prolonged through many of its months, as it called them, we have cast our skins, have taken a farewell of the pompous, troublesome trifle called housekeeping, and are settled down into poor boarders and lodgers at next door with an old couple, the Baucis and Baucida of dull Enfield. Here we have nothing to do with our victuals but to eat them, with the garden but to see it grow, with the tax-gatherer but to hear him knock, with the maid but to hear her scolded. Scot and lot, butcher, baker, are things unknown to us, save as spectators of the pageant. We are fed we know not how,--quietists, confiding ravens. We have the _otium pro dignitate_, a respectable insignificance. Yet in the self condemned obliviousness, in the stagnation, some molesting yearnings of life not quite killed rise, prompting me that there was a London, and that I was of that old Jerusalem. In dreams I am in Fleet Market; but I wake and cry to sleep again. I die hard, a stubborn Eloisa in this detestable Paraclete. What have I gained by health? Intolerable dulness. What by early hours and moderate meals? A total blank. Oh, never let the lying poets be believed who 'tice men from the cheerful haunts of streets, or think they mean it not of a country village. In the ruins of Palmyra I could gird myself up to solitude, or muse to the snorings of the Seven Sleepers; but to have a little teasing image of a town about one, country folks that do not look like country folks, shops two yards square, half-a-dozen apples and two penn'orth of over-looked gingerbread for the lofty fruiterers of Oxford Street, and for the immortal book and print stalls a circulating library that stands still, where the show-picture is a last year's Valentine, and whither the fame of the last ten Scotch novels has not yet travelled (marry, they just begin to be conscious of the "Redgauntlet"), to have a new plastered flat church, and to be wishing that it was but a cathedral! The very blackguards here are degenerate, the topping gentry stockbrokers; the passengers too many to insure your quiet, or let you go about whistling or gaping,--too few to be the fine indifferent pageants of Fleet Street. Confining, room-keeping, thickest winter is yet more bearable here than the gaudy months. Among one's books at one's fire by candle, one is soothed into an oblivion that one is not in the country; but with the light the green fields return, till I gaze, and in a calenture can plunge myself into St. Giles's. Oh, let no native Londoner imagine that health and rest and innocent occupation, interchange of converse sweet and recreative study, can make the country anything better than altogether odious and detestable. A garden was the primitive prison, till man with Promethean felicity and boldness luckily sinned himself out of it. Thence followed Babylon, Nineveh, Venice, London; haberdashers, goldsmiths, taverns, playhouses, satires, epigrams, puns,--these all came in on the town part and the thither side of innocence. Man found out inventions. From my den I return you condolence for your decaying sight,--not for anything there is to see in the country, but for the miss of the pleasure of reading a London newspaper. The poets are as well to listen to; anything high may--nay, must be read out; you read it to yourself with an imaginary auditor: but the light paragraphs must be glid over by the proper eye; mouthing mumbles their gossamery substance. 'Tis these trifles I should mourn in fading sight. A newspaper is the single gleam of comfort I receive here; it comes from rich Cathay with tidings of mankind. Yet I could not attend to it, read out by the most beloved voice. But your eyes do not get worse, I gather. Oh, for the collyrium of Tobias enclosed in a whiting's liver, to send you, with no apocryphal good wishes! The last long time I heard from you, you had knocked your head against something. Do not do so; for your head (I do not flatter) is not a knob, or the top of a brass nail, or the end of a ninepin,--unless a Vulcanian hammer could fairly batter a "Recluse" out of it; then would I bid the smirched god knock, and knock lustily, the two-handed skinker! Mary must squeeze out a line _propria manu_; but indeed her fingers have been incorrigibly nervous to letter-writing for a long interval. 'T will please you all to hear that, though I fret like a lion in a net, her present health and spirits are better than they have been for some time past; she is absolutely three years and a half younger, as I tell her, since we have adopted this boarding plan.

Our providers are an honest pair, Dame Westwood and her husband,--he, when the light of prosperity shined on them, a moderately thriving haberdasher within Bow bells, retired since with something under a competence; writes himself parcel-gentleman; hath borne parish offices; sings fine old sea-songs at threescore and ten; sighs only now and then when he thinks that he has a son on his hands about fifteen, whom he finds a difficulty in getting out into the world, and then checks a sigh with muttering, as I once heard him prettily, not meaning to be heard, "I have married my daughter, however;" takes the weather as it comes; outsides it to town in severest season; and o' winter nights tells old stories not tending to literature (how comfortable to author-rid folks!), and has _one ancedote_, upon which and about forty pounds a year he seems to have retired in green old age. It was how he was a rider in his youth, travelling for shops, and once (not to balk his employer's bargain) on a sweltering day in August, rode foaming into Dunstable (1) upon a mad horse, to the dismay and expostulatory wonderment of inn-keepers, ostlers, etc., who declared they would not have bestrid the beast to win the Derby. Understand the creature galled to death and desperation by gad-flies, cormorant-winged, worse than beset Inachus's daughter. This he tells, this he brindles and burnishes, on a winter's eve; 't is his star of set glory, his rejuvenescence to descant upon, Far from me be it (_da avertant!_) to look a gift-story in the mouth, or cruelly to surmise (as those who doubt the plunge of Curtius) that the inseparate conjuncture of man and beast, the centaur-phenomenon that staggered all Dunstable, might have been the effect of unromantic necessity; that the horse-part carried the reasoning willy-nilly; that needs must when such a devil drove; that certain spiral configurations in the frame of Thomas Westwood, unfriendly to alighting, made the alliance more forcible than voluntary. Let him enjoy his fame for me, nor let me hint a whisper that shall dismount Bellerophon. But in case he was an involuntary martyr, yet if in the fiery conflict he buckled the soul of a constant haberdasher to him, and adopted his flames, let accident and him share the glory. You would all like Thomas Westwood. (2)

How weak is painting to describe a man! Say that he stands four feet and a nail high by his own yard-measure, which, like the sceptre of Agamemnon, shall never sprout again, still, you have no adequate idea; nor when I tell you that his dear hump, which I have favored in the picture, seems to me of the buffalo,--indicative and repository of mild qualities, a budget of kindnesses,--still, you have not the man. Knew you old Norris of the Temple, sixty years ours and our father's friend? He was not more natural to us than this old Westwood, the acquaintance of scarce more weeks. Under his roof now ought I to take my rest, but that back-looking ambition tells me I might yet be a Londoner! Well, if we ever do move, we have encumbrances the less to impede us; all our furniture has faded under the auctioneer's hammer, going for nothing, like the tarnished frippery of the prodigal, and we have only a spoon or two left to bless us. Clothed we came into Enfield, and naked we must go out of it. I would live in London shirtless, bookless. Henry Crabb is at Rome; advices to that effect have reached Bury. But by solemn legacy he bequeathed at parting (whether he should live or die) a turkey of Suffolk to be sent every succeeding Christmas to us and divers other friends. What a genuine old bachelor's action! I fear he will find the air of Italy too classic. His station is in the Hartz forest; his soul is be-Goethed. Miss Kelly we never see,--Talfourd not this half year; the latter flourishes, but the exact number of his children, God forgive me, I have utterly forgotten: we single people are often out in our count there. Shall I say two? We see scarce anybody. Can I cram loves enough to you all in this little O? Excuse particularizing.

C.L.

(1) See preceding letter.

(2) Here was inserted a sketch answering to the description.

 

LETTER CIII.

TO MRS. HAZLITT.

_May 24, 1830.

Mary's love? Yes. Mary Lamb quite well.

Dear Sarah,--I found my way to Northaw on Thursday and a very good woman behind a counter, who says also that you are a very good lady, but that the woman who was with you was naught. We travelled with one of those troublesome fellow-passengers in a stage-coach that is called a well-informed man. For twenty miles we discoursed about the properties of steam, probabilities of carriages by ditto, till all my science, and more than all, was exhausted, and I was thinking of escaping my torment by getting up on the outside, when, getting into Bishops Stortford, my gentleman, spying some farming land, put an unlucky question to me,--What sort of a crop of turnips I thought we should have this year? Emma's eyes turned to me to know what in the world I could have to say; and she burst into a violent fit of laughter, maugre her pale, serious cheeks, when, with the greatest gravity, I replied that it depended, I believed, upon boiled legs of mutton. This clenched our conversation; and my gentleman, with a face half wise, half in scorn, troubled us with no more conversation, scientific or philosophical, for the remainder of the journey.

Ayrton was here yesterday, and as _learned to the full as my fellow-traveller. What a pity that he will spoil a wit and a devilish pleasant fellow (as he is) by wisdom! He talked on Music; and by having read Hawkins and Burney recently I was enabled to talk of names, and show more knowledge than he had suspected I possessed; and in the end he begged me to shape my thoughts upon paper, which I did after he was gone, and sent him "Free Thoughts on Some Eminent Composers."


"Some cry up Haydn, some Mozart,
Just as the whim bites. For my part,
I do not care a farthing candle
For either of them, or for Handel," etc.


Martin Burney (1) is as odd as ever. We had a dispute about the word "heir," which I contended was pronounced like "air." He said that might be in common parlance, or that we might so use it speaking of the "Heir-at-Law," a comedy; but that in the law-courts it was necessary to give it a full aspiration, and to say _Hayer_; he thought it might even vitiate a cause if a counsel pronounced it otherwise. In conclusion, he "would consult Serjeant Wilde," who gave it against him. Sometimes he falleth into the water, sometimes into the fire. He came down here, and insisted on reading Virgil's "AEneid" all through with me (which he did), because a counsel must know Latin. Another time he read out all the Gospel of St. John, because Biblical quotations are very emphatic in a court of justice. A third time he would carve a fowl, which he did very ill favoredly, because we did not know how indispensable it was for a barrister to do all those sort of things well. Those little things were of more consequence than we supposed. So he goes on, harassing about the way to prosperity, and losing it. With a long head, but somewhat a wrong one,--harum-scarum. Why does not his guardian angel look to him? He deserves one,--maybe he has tired him out.

I am tired with this long scrawl; but I thought in your exile you might like a letter. Commend me to all the wonders in Derbyshire, and tell the devil I humbly kiss my hand to him.

Yours ever,

C. LAMB.

(1) Martin Burney, originally a solicitor, had lately been called to the Bar.

 

LETTER CIV.

TO GEORGE DYER.

_December 20, 1830.

Dear Dyer,--I would have written before to thank you for your kind letter, written with your own hand. It glads us to see your writing. It will give you pleasure to hear that, after so much illness, we are in tolerable health and spirits once more. Miss Isola intended to call upon you after her night's lodging at Miss Buffam's, but found she was too late for the stage. If she comes to town before she goes home, she will not miss paying her respects to Mrs. Dyer and you, to whom she desires best love. Poor Enfield, that has been so peaceable hitherto, that has caught an inflammatory fever, the tokens are upon her; and a great fire was blazing last night in the barns and haystacks of a fanner about half a mile from us. Where will these things end? There is no doubt of its being the work of some ill-disposed rustic; but how is he to be discovered? They go to work in the dark with strange chemical preparations unknown to our forefathers. There is not even a dark lantern to have a chance of detecting these Guy Fauxes. We are past the iron age, and are got into the fiery age, undream'd of by Ovid. You are lucky in Clifford's Inn, where, I think, you have few ricks or stacks worth the burning. Pray keep as little corn by you as you can, for fear of the worst.

It was never good times in England since the poor began to speculate upon their condition. Formerly they jogged on with as little reflection as horses; the whistling ploughman went cheek by jowl with his brother that neighed. Now the biped carries a box of phosphorus in his leather breeches; and in the dead of night the half-illuminated beast steals his magic potion into a cleft in a barn, and half the country is grinning with new fires. Farmer Graystock said something to the touchy rustic that he did not relish, and he writes his distaste in flames. What a power to intoxicate his crude brains, just muddlingly awake, to perceive that something is wrong in the social system; what a hellish faculty above gunpowder!

Now the rich and poor are fairly pitted, we shall see who can hang or burn fastest. It is not always revenge that stimulates these kindlings. There is a love of exerting mischief. Think of a disrespected clod that was trod into earth, that was nothing, on a sudden by damned arts refined into an exterminating angel, devouring the fruits of the earth and their growers in a mass of fire! What a new existence; what a temptation above Lucifer's! Would clod be anything but a clod if he could resist it? Why, here was a spectacle last night for a whole country,--a bonfire visible to London, alarming her guilty towers, and shaking the Monument with an ague fit: all done by a little vial of phosphor in a clown's fob! How he must grin, and shake his empty noddle in clouds, the Vulcanian epicure! Can we ring the bells backward? Can we unlearn the arts that pretend to civilize, and then burn the world? There is a march of Science; but who shall beat the drums for its retreat? Who shall persuade the boor that phosphor will not ignite?

Seven goodly stacks of hay, with corn-barns proportionable, lie smoking ashes and chaff, which man and beast would sputter out and reject like those apples of asphaltes and bitumen. The food for the inhabitants of earth will quickly disappear. Hot rolls may say, "Fuimus panes, fuit quartem-loaf, et ingens gloria Apple-pasty-orum." That the good old munching system may last thy time and mine, good un-incendiary George, is the devout prayer of thine, to the last crust,

CH. LAMB.

 

LETTER CV.

TO DYER.

_February 22, 1831.

Dear Dyer,--Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rogers's friends are perfectly assured that you never intended any harm by an innocent couplet, and that in the revivification of it by blundering Barker you had no hand whatever. To imagine that, at this time of day, Rogers broods over a fantastic expression of more than thirty years' standing, would be to suppose him indulging his "Pleasures of Memory" with a vengeance. You never penned a line which for its own sake you need, dying, wish to blot. You mistake your heart if you think you _can write a lampoon. Your whips are rods of roses. (1) Your spleen has ever had for its objects vices, not the vicious,--abstract offences, not the concrete sinner. But you are sensitive, and wince as much at the consciousness of having committed a compliment as another man would at the perpetration of an affront. But do not lug me into the same soreness of conscience with yourself. I maintain, and will to the last hour, that I never writ of you but _con amore_; that if any allusion was made to your near-sightedness, it was not for the purpose of mocking an infirmity, but of connecting it with scholar-like habits,--for is it not erudite and scholarly to be somewhat near of sight before age naturally brings on the malady? You could not then plead the _obrepens senectus_. Did I not, moreover, make it an apology for a certain _absence_, which some of your friends may have experienced, when you have not on a sudden made recognition of them in a casual street-meeting; and did I not strengthen your excuse for this slowness of recognition by further accounting morally for the present engagement of your mind in worthy objects? Did I not, in your person, make the handsomest apology for absent-of-mind people that was ever made? If these things be not so, I never knew what I wrote or meant by my writing, and have been penning libels all my life without being aware of it. Does it follow that I should have expressed myself exactly in the same way of those dear old eyes of yours _now_,--now that Father Time has conspired with a hard taskmaster to put a last extinguisher upon them? I should as soon have insulted the Answerer of Salmasius when he awoke up from his ended task, and saw no more with mortal vision. But you are many films removed yet from Milton's calamity. You write perfectly intelligibly. Marry, the letters are not all of the same size or tallness; but that only shows your proficiency in the _hands_--text, german-hand, court-hand, sometimes law-hand, and affords variety. You pen better than you did a twelvemonth ago; and if you continue to improve, you bid fair to win the golden pen which is the prize at your young gentlemen's academy.

* * * * *

But don't go and lay this to your eyes. You always wrote hieroglyphically, yet not to come up to the mystical notations and conjuring characters of Dr. Parr. You never wrote what I call a schoolmaster's hand, like Mrs. Clarke; nor a woman's hand, like Southey; nor a missal hand, like Porson; nor an all-on-the-wrong-side sloping hand, like Miss Hayes; nor a dogmatic, Mede-and-Persian, peremptory tory hand, like Rickman: but you wrote what I call a Grecian's hand,--what the Grecians write (or wrote) at Christ's Hospital; such as Whalley would have admired, and Boyer (2) have applauded, but Smith or Atwood (writing-masters) would have horsed you for. Your boy-of-genius hand and your mercantile hand are various. By your flourishes, I should think you never learned to make eagles or cork-screws, or flourish the governor's names in the writing-school; and by the tenor and cut of your letters, I suspect you were never in it at all. By the length of this scrawl you will think I have a design upon your optics; but I have writ as large as I could, out of respect to them,--too large, indeed, for beauty. Mine is a sort of Deputy-Grecian's hand,--a little better, and more of a worldly hand, than a Grecian's, but still remote from the mercantile. I don't know how it is, but I keep my rank in fancy still since school-days; I can never forget I was a Deputy-Grecian. And writing to you, or to Coleridge, besides affection, I feel a reverential deference as to Grecians still (3). I keep my soaring way above the Great Erasmians, yet far beneath the other. Alas! what am I now? What is a Leadenhall clerk or India pensioner to a Deputy-Grecian? How art thou fallen, O Lucifer! Just room for our loves to Mrs. D., etc.

C. LAMB.

(1) Talfourd relates an amusing instance of the universal charity of the kindly Dyer. Lamb once suddenly asked him what he thought of the murderer Williams,--a wretch who had destroyed two families in Ratcliff Highway, and then cheated the gallows by committing suicide. "The desperate attempt," says Talfourd, "to compel the gentle optimist to speak ill of a mortal creature produced no happier success than the answer, 'Why, I should think, Mr. Lamb, he must have been rather an eccentric character.'"

(2) Whalley and Boyer were masters at Christ's Hospital.

(3) "Deputy-Grecian," "Grecian," etc., were of course forms, or grades, at Christ's Hospital.

 

LETTER CVI.

TO MR. MOXON (1).

_February_, 1832.

Dear Moxon,--The snows are ankle-deep, slush, and mire, that 't is hard to get to the post-office, and cruel to send the maid out. 'Tis a slough of despair, or I should sooner have thanked you for your offer of the "Life," which we shall very much like to have, and will return duly. I do not know when I shall be in town, but in a week or two at farthest, when I will come as far as you, if I can. We are moped to death with confinement within doors, I send you a curiosity of G. Dyer's tender conscience. Between thirty and forty years since, George published the "Poet's Fate," in which were two very harmless lines about Mr. Rogers; but Mr. R. not quite approving of them, they were left out in a subsequent edition, 1801. But George has been worrying about them ever since; if I have heard him once, I have heard him a hundred times express a remorse proportioned to a consciousness of having been guilty of an atrocious libel. As the devil would have it, a fool they call Barker, in his "Parriana" has quoted the identical two lines as they stood in some obscure edition anterior to 1801, and the withers of poor George are again wrung, His letter is a gem: with his poor blind eyes it has been labored out at six sittings. The history of the couplet is in page 3 of this irregular production, in which every variety of shape and size that letters can be twisted into is to be found. Do show _his part of it to Mr. Rogers some day. If he has bowels, they must melt at the contrition so queerly charactered of a contrite sinner. G. was born, I verily think, without original sin, but chooses to have a conscience, as every Christian gentleman should have; his dear old face is insusceptible of the twist they call a sneer, yet he is apprehensive of being suspected of that ugly appearance. When he makes a compliment, he thinks he has given an affront,--a name is personality. But show (no hurry) this unique recantation to Mr. Rogers: 't is like a dirty pocket-handerchief mucked with tears of some indigent Magdalen. There is the impress of sincerity in every pot-hook and hanger; and then the gilt frame to such a pauper picture! It should go into the Museum.

(1) Lamb's future publisher. He afterwards became the husband of Lamb's _protegee_, Emma Isola.

 

LETTER CVII.

TO MR. MOXON.

_July 24, 1833.

For God's sake give Emma no more watches; _one has turned her head. She is arrogant and insulting. She said something very unpleasant to our old clock in the passage, as if he did not keep time; and yet he had made her no appointment. She takes it out every instant to look at the moment-hand. She lugs us out into the fields, because there the bird-boys ask you, "Pray, sir, can you tell us what's o'clock?" and she answers them punctually. She loses all her time looking to see "what the time is." I overheard her whispering, "Just so many hours, minutes, etc., to Tuesday; I think St. George's goes too slow." This little present of Time,--why, 't is Eternity to her!

What can make her so fond of a gingerbread watch?

She has spoiled some of the movements. Between ourselves, she has kissed away "half-past twelve," which I suppose to be the canonical hour in Hanover Square.

Well, if "love me, love my watch," answers, she will keep time to you.

It goes right by the Horse-Guards.

Dearest M.,--Never mind opposite nonsense. She does not love you for the watch, but the watch for you. I will be at the wedding, and keep the 30th July, as long as my poor months last me, as a festival gloriously.

Yours ever,

ELIA.


(THE END)
Charles Lamb's Writings: Best Letters of Charles Lamb

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