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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 11 To Letter 20 Post by :ID3000 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :2673

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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 11 To Letter 20




_January 5, 1797.

_Sunday Morning_.--You cannot surely mean to degrade the Joan of Arc into a pot-girl. (1) You are not going, I hope, to annex to that most splendid ornament of Southey's poem all this cock-and-a-bull story of Joan, the publican's daughter of Neufchatel, with the lamentable episode of a wagoner, his wife, and six children. The texture will be most lamentably disproportionate. The first forty or fifty lines of these addenda are no doubt in their way admirable too; but many would prefer the Joan of Southey.

(1) Coleridge, in later years, indorsed Lamb's opinion of this portion of his contribution to "Joan of Arc." "I was really astonished," he said, "(1) at the schoolboy, wretched, allegoric machinery; (2) at the transmogrification of the fanatic virago into a modern novel-pawing proselyte of the "Age of Reason,"--a Tom Paine in petticoats; (3) at the utter want of all rhythm in the verse, the monotony and dead plumb-down of the pauses, and the absence of all bone, muscle, and sinew in the single lines."

"On mightiest deeds to brood
Of shadowy vastness, such as made my heart
Throb fast; anon I paused, and in a state
Of half expectance listened to the wind."

"They wondered at me, who had known me once
A cheerful, careless damsel."

"The eye,
That of the circling throng and of the visible world,
Unseeing, saw the shapes of holy phantasy."

I see nothing in your description of the Maid equal to these. There is a fine originality certainly in those lines,--

"For she had lived in this bad world
As in a place of tombs,
And touched not the pollutions of the dead;"

but your "fierce vivacity" is a faint copy of the "fierce and terrible benevolence" of Southey; added to this, that it will look like rivalship in you, and extort a comparison with Southey,--I think to your disadvantage. And the lines, considered in themselves as an addition to what you had before written (strains of a far higher mood), are but such as Madame Fancy loves in some of her more familiar moods,--at such times as she has met Noll Goldsmith, and walked and talked with him, calling him "old acquaintance." Southey certainly has no pretensions to vie with you in the sublime of poetry; but he tells a plain tale better than you. I will enumerate some woful blemishes, some of 'em sad deviations from that simplicity which was your aim. "Hailed who might be near" (the "canvas-coverture moving," by the by, is laughable); "a woman and six children" (by the way, why not nine children? It would have been just half as pathetic again); "statues of sleep they seemed;" "frost-mangled wretch;" "green putridity;" "hailed him immortal" (rather ludicrous again); "voiced a sad and simple tale" (abominable!); "unprovendered;" "such his tale;" "Ah, suffering to the height of what was sufffered" (a most _insufferable line_); "amazements of affright;" "The hot, sore brain attributes its own hues of ghastliness and torture" (what shocking confusion of ideas!).

In these delineations of common and natural feelings, in the familiar walks of poetry, you seem to resemble Montauban dancing with Roubigne's tenants (1), "_much of his native loftiness remained in the execution_."

I was reading your "Religious Musings" the other day, and sincerely I think it the noblest poem in the language next after the "Paradise Lost;" and even that was not made the vehicle of such grand truths. "There is one mind," etc., down to "Almighty's throne," are without a rival in the whole compass of my poetical reading.

"Stands in the sun, and with no partial gaze
Views all creation."

I wish I could have written those lines. I rejoice that I am able to relish them. The loftier walks of Pindus are your proper region. There you have no compeer in modern times. Leave the lowlands, unenvied, in possession of such men as Cowper and Southey. Thus am I pouring balsam into the wounds I may have been inflicting on my poor friend's vanity.

In your notice of Southey's new volume you omit to mention the most pleasing of all, the "Miniature."

"There were
Who formed high hopes and flattering ones of thee,
Young Robert!"

"Spirit of Spenser! was the wanderer wrong?"

Fairfax I have been in quest of a long time. Johnson, in his "Life of Waller," gives a most delicious specimen of him, and adds, in the true manner of that delicate critic, as well as amiable man, "It may be presumed that this old version will not be much read after the elegant translation of my friend Mr. Hoole." I endeavored--I wished to gain some idea of Tasso from this Mr. Hoole, the great boast and ornament of the India House, but soon desisted. I found him more vapid than smallest small beer "sun-vinegared." Your "Dream," down to that exquisite line,--

"I can't tell half his adventures,"

is a most happy resemblance of Chaucer. The remainder is so-so. The best line, I think, is, "He belong'd, I believe, to the witch Melancholy." By the way, when will our volume come out? Don't delay it till you have written a new "Joan of Arc." Send what letters you please by me, and in any way you choose, single or double. The India Company is better adapted to answer the cost than the generality of my friend's correspondents,--such poor and honest dogs as John Thelwall particularly. I cannot say I know Coulson,--at least intimately; I once supped with him and Austin; I think his manners very pleasing. I will not tell you what I think of Lloyd, for he may by chance come to see this letter; and that thought puts a restraint on me. I cannot think what subject would suit your epic genius,--some philosophical subject, I conjecture, in which shall be blended the sublime of poetry and of science. Your proposed "Hymns" will be a fit preparatory study wherewith "to discipline your young novitiate soul." I grow dull; I'll go walk myself out of my dulness.

_Sunday Night_,--You and Sara are very good to think so kindly and so favorably of poor Mary; I would to God all did so too. But I very much fear she must not think of coming home in my father's lifetime. It is very hard upon her, but our circumstances are peculiar, and we must submit to them, God be praised she is so well as she is. She bears her situation as one who has no right to complain. My poor old aunt, whom you have seen, the kindest, goodest creature to me when I was at school; who used to toddle there to bring me good things, when I, schoolboy-like, only despised her for it, and used to be ashamed to see her come and sit herself down on the old coal-hole steps as you went into the old grammar-school, and open her apron, and bring out her basin, with some nice thing she had caused to be saved for me, (2)--the good old creature is now lying on her death-bed. I cannot bear to think on her deplorable state. To the shock she received on that our evil day, from which she never completely recovered, I impute her illness. She says, poor thing, she is glad she is come home to die with me. I was always her favourite;

"No after friendship e'er can raise
The endearments of our early days;
Nor e'er the heart such fondness prove,
As when it first began to love."

(1) In Mackenzie's tale, "Julia de Roubigne."

(2) See the essay, "Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago."




_January 10, 1797.

I need not repeat my wishes to have my little sonnets printed _verbatim my last way. In particular, I fear lest you should prefer printing my first sonnet, as you have done more than once, "did the wand of Merlin wave," it looks so like Mr. Merlin, (1) the ingenious successor of the immortal Merlin, now living in good health and spirits, and flourishing in magical reputation, in Oxford Street; and, on my life, one half who read it would understand it so.

Do put 'em forth finally, as I have, in various letters, settled it; for first a man's self is to be pleased, and then his friends,--and of course the greater number of his friends, if they differ _inter se_. Thus taste may safely be put to the vote. I do long to see our names together,--not for vanity's sake, and naughty pride of heart altogether; for not a living soul I know, or am intimate with, will scarce read the book,--so I shall gain nothing, _quoad famam_; and yet there is a little vanity mixes in it, I cannot help denying.--I am aware of the unpoetical cast of the last six lines of my last sonnet, and think myself unwarranted in smuggling so tame a thing into the book; only the sentiments of those six lines are thoroughly congenial to me in my state of mind, and I wish to accumulate perpetuating tokens of my affection to poor Mary. That it has no originality in its cast, nor anything in the feelings but what is common and natural to thousands, nor ought properly to be called poetry, I see; still, it will tend to keep present to my mind a view of things which I ought to indulge. These six lines, too, have not, to a reader, a connectedness with the foregoing. Omit it if you like,--What a treasure it is to my poor, indolent, and unemployed mind thus to lay hold on a subject to talk about, though 'tis but a sonnet, and that of the lowest order! How mournfully inactive I am!--'Tis night; good night.

My sister, I thank God, is nigh recovered; she was seriously ill. Do, in your next letter, and that right soon, give me some satisfaction respecting your present situation at Stowey. Is it a farm that you have got? and what does your worship know about farming?

Coleridge, I want you to write an epic poem. Nothing short of it can satisfy the vast capacity of true poetic genius. Having one great end to direct all your poetical faculties to, and on which to lay out your hopes, your ambition will show you to what you are equal. By the sacred energies of Milton! by the dainty, sweet, and soothing phantasies of honey-tongued Spenser! I adjure you to attempt the epic, or do something more ample than the writing an occasional brief ode or sonnet; something "to make yourself forever known,--to make the age to come your own." But I prate; doubtless you meditate something. When you are exalted among the lords of epic fame, I shall recall with pleasure and exultingly the days of your humility, when you disdained not to put forth, in the same volume with mine, your "Religious Musings" and that other poem from the "Joan of Arc," those promising first-fruits of high renown to come. You have learning, you have fancy, you have enthusiasm, you have strength and amplitude of wing enow for flights like those I recommend. In the vast and unexplored regions of fairy-land there is ground enough unfound and uncultivated: search there, and realize your favorite Susquehanna scheme. In all our comparisons of taste, I do not know whether I have ever heard your opinion of a poet very dear to me,--the now-out-of-fashion Cowley. Favor me with your judgment of him, and tell me if his prose essays, in particular, as well as no inconsiderable part of his verse, be not delicious. I prefer the graceful rambling of his essays even to the courtly elegance and ease of Addison, abstracting from this the latter's exquisite humor.

When the little volume is printed, send me three or four, at all events not more than six, copies, and tell me if I put you to any additional expense by printing with you, I have no thought of the kind, and in that case must reimburse you.

Priestley, whom I sin in almost adoring, speaks of "such a choice of company as tends to keep up that, right bent and firmness of mind which a necessary intercourse with the world would otherwise warp and relax.... Such fellowship is the true balsam of life; its cement is infinitely more durable than that of the friendships of the world, and it looks for its proper fruit and complete gratification to the life beyond the grave." Is there a possible chance for such an one as I to realize in this world such friendships? Where am I to look for 'em? What testimonials shall I bring of my being worthy of such friendship? Alas! the great and good go together in separate herds, and leave such as I to lag far, far behind in all intellectual and, far more grievous to say, in all moral accomplishments. Coleridge, I have not one truly elevated character among my acquaintance,--not one Christian; not one but undervalues Christianity. Singly what am I to do? Wesley (have you read his life?), was _he not an elevated character? Wesley has said, "Religion is not a solitary thing." Alas! it necessarily is so with me, or next to solitary. 'T is true you write to me. But correspondence by letter and personal intimacy are very widely different. Do, do write to me, and do some good to my mind, already how much "warped and relaxed" by the world! 'T is the conclusion of another evening. Good night; God have us all in His keeping!

If you are sufficiently at leisure, oblige me with an account of your plan of life at Stowey; your literary occupations and prospects,--in short, make me acquainted with every circumstance which, as relating to you, can be interesting to me. Are you yet a Berkleyan? Make me one. I rejoice in being, speculatively, a necessarian. Would to God I were habitually a practical one! Confirm me in the faith of that great and glorious doctrine, and keep me steady in the contemplation of it. You some time since expressed an intention you had of finishing some extensive work on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. Have you let that intention go? Or are you doing anything towards it? Make to yourself other ten talents. My letter is full of nothingness. I talk of nothing. But I must talk. I love to write to you. I take a pride in it. It makes me think less meanly of myself. It makes me think myself not totally disconnected from the better part of mankind. I know I am too dissatisfied with the beings around me; but I cannot help occasionally exclaiming, "Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Meshech, and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar." I know I am noways better in practice than my neighors, but I have a taste for religion, an occasional earnest aspiration after perfection, which they have not. I gain, nothing by being with such as myself,--we encourage one another in mediocrity, I am always longing to be with men more excellent than myself. All this must sound odd to you; but these are my predominant feelings when I sit down to write to you, and I should put force upon my mind, were I to reject them, Yet I rejoice, and feel my privilege with gratitude, when I have been reading some wise book, such as I have just been reading,--Priestley on Philosophical Necessity,--in the thought that I enjoy a kind of communion, a kind of friendship even, with the great and good. Books are to me instead of friends, I wish they did not resemble the latter in their scarceness.

And how does little David Hartley? "Ecquid in antiquam virtutem?" Does his mighty name work wonders yet upon his little frame and opening mind? I did not distinctly understand you,--you don't mean to make an actual ploughman of him? Is Lloyd with you yet? Are you intimate with Southey? What poems is he about to publish? He hath a most prolific brain, and is indeed a most sweet poet. But how can you answer all the various mass of interrogation I have put to you in the course of the sheet? Write back just what you like, only write something, however brief. I have now nigh finished my page, and got to the end of another evening (Monday evening), and my eyes are heavy and sleepy, and my brain unsuggestive. I have just heart enough awake to say good night once more, and God love you, my dear friend; God love us all! Mary bears an affectionate remembrance of you.


(1) A well-known conjuror of the time.




_February 13, 1797.

Your poem is altogether admirable--parts of it are even exquisite; in particular your personal account of the Maid far surpasses anything of the sort in Southey. (1) I perceived all its excellences, on a first reading, as readily as now you have been removing a supposed film from my eyes. I was only struck with a certain faulty disproportion in the matter and the _style_, which I still think I perceive, between these lines and the former ones. I had an end in view,--I wished to make you reject the poem, only as being discordant with the other; and, in subservience to that end, it was politically done in me to over-pass, and make no mention of, merit which, could you think me capable of _overlooking_, might reasonably damn forever in your judgment all pretensions in me to be critical. There, I will be judged by Lloyd whether I have not made a very handsome recantation. I was in the case of a man whose friend has asked him his opinion of a certain young lady; the deluded wight gives judgment against her _in toto_,--don't like her face, her walk, her manners; finds fault with her eyebrows; can see no wit in her. His friend looks blank; he begins to smell a rat; wind veers about; he acknowledges her good sense, her judgment in dress, a certain simplicity of manners and honesty of heart, something too in her manners which gains upon you after a short acquaintance;--and then her accurate pronunciation of the French language, and a pretty, uncultivated taste in drawing. The reconciled gentleman smiles applause, squeezes him by the hand, and hopes he will do him the honor of taking a bit of dinner with Mrs. ---- and him--a plain family dinner--some day next week; "for, I suppose, you never heard we were married. I'm glad to see you like my wife, however; you 'll come and see her, ha?" Now am I too proud to retract entirely? Yet I do perceive I am in some sort straitened; you are manifestly wedded, to this poem, and what fancy has joined, let no man separate, I turn me to the "Joan of Arc," second book.

The solemn openings of it are with sounds which, Lloyd would say, "are silence to the mind." The deep preluding strains are fitted to initiate the mind, with a pleasing awe, into the sublimest mysteries of theory concerning man's nature and his noblest destination,--the philosophy of a first cause; of subordinate agents in creation superior to man; the subserviency of pagan worship and pagan faith to the introduction of a purer and more perfect religion, which you so elegantly describe as winning, with gradual steps, her difficult way northward from Bethabara. After all this cometh Joan, a _publican's daughter, sitting on an ale-house _bench_, and marking the _swingings of the _signboard_, finding a poor man, his wife and six children, starved to death with cold, and thence roused into a state of mind proper to receive visions emblematical of equality,--which, what the devil Joan had to do with, I don't know, or indeed with the French and American revolutions; though that needs no pardon, it is executed so nobly. After all, if you perceive no disproportion, all argument is vain; I do not so much object to parts. Again, when you talk of building your fame on these lines in preference to the "Religious Musings," I cannot help conceiving of you and of the author of that as two different persons, and I think you a very vain man.

I have been re-reading your letter. Much of it I _could dispute; but with the latter part of it, in which you compare the two Joans with respect to their predispositions for fanaticism, I _toto corde coincide; only I think that Southey's strength rather lies in the description of the emotions of the Maid under the weight of inspiration. These (I see no mighty difference between _her describing them or _you describing them),--these if you only equal, the previous admirers of his poem, as is natural, will prefer his; if you surpass, prejudice will scarcely allow it, and I scarce think you will surpass, though your specimen at the conclusion (I am in earnest) I think very nigh equals them. And in an account of a fanatic or of a prophet the description of her _emotions is expected to be most highly finished. By the way, I spoke far too disparagingly of your lines, and, I am ashamed to say. purposely, I should like you to specify or particularize; the story of the "Tottering Eld," of "his eventful years all come and gone," is too general; why not make him a soldier, or some character, however, in which he has been witness to frequency of "cruel wrong and strange distress"? I think I should, When I laughed at the "miserable man crawling from beneath the coverture," I wonder I did not perceive it was a laugh of horror,--such as I have laughed at Dante's picture of the famished Ugolino. Without falsehood, I perceive an hundred, beauties in your narrative. Yet I wonder you do not perceive something out-of-the-way, something unsimple and artificial, in the expression, "voiced a sad tale." I hate made-dishes at the muses' banquet, I believe I was wrong in most of my other objections. But surely "hailed him immortal" adds nothing to the terror of the man's death, which it was your business to heighten, not diminish by a phrase which takes away all terror from it, I like that line, "They closed their eyes in sleep, nor knew 'twas death," Indeed, there is scarce a line I do not like, "_Turbid ecstasy" is surely not so good as what you had written,--"troublous." "Turbid" rather suits the muddy kind of inspiration which London porter confers. The versification is throughout, to my ears, unexceptionable, with no disparagement to the measure of the "Religious Musings," which is exactly fitted to the thoughts.

You were building your house on a rock when you rested your fame on that poem. I can scarce bring myself to believe that I am admitted to a familiar correspondence, and all the license of friendship, with a man who writes blank verse like Milton. Now, this is delicate flattery, _indirect flattery. Go on with your "Maid of Orleans," and be content to be second to yourself. I shall become a convert to it, when 'tis finished.

This afternoon I attend the funeral of my poor old aunt, who died on Thursday. I own I am thankful that the good creature has ended all her days of suffering and infirmity. She was to me the "cherisher of infancy;" and one must fall on these occasions into reflections, which it would be commonplace to enumerate, concerning death, "of chance and change, and fate in human life." Good God, who could have foreseen all this but four months back! I had reckoned, in particular, on my aunt's living many years; she was a very hearty old woman. But she was a mere skeleton before she died; looked more like a corpse that had lain weeks in the grave, than one fresh dead. "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: but let a man live many days, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many." Coleridge, why are we to live on after all the strength and beauty of existence are gone, when all the life of life is fled, as poor Burns expresses it? Tell Lloyd I have had thoughts of turning Quaker, and have been reading, or am rather just beginning to read, a most capital book, good thoughts in good language, William Penn's "No Cross, no Crown;" I like it immensely. Unluckily I went to one of his meetings, tell hire, in St. John Street, yesterday, and saw a man under all the agitations and workings of a fanatic, who believed himself under the influence of some "inevitable presence." This cured me of Quakerism: I love it in the books of Penn and Woolman, but I detest the vanity of a man thinking he speaks by the Spirit, when what he says an ordinary man might say without all that quaking and trembling. In the midst of his inspiration,--and the effects of it were most noisy,--was handed into the midst of the meeting a most terrible blackguard Wapping sailor; the poor man, I believe, had rather have been in the hottest part of an engagement, for the congregation of broad-brims, together with the ravings of the prophet, were too much for his gravity, though I saw even he had delicacy enough not to laugh out. And the inspired gentleman, though his manner was so supernatural, yet neither talked, nor professed to talk anything more than good sober sense, common morality, with, now and then a declaration of not speaking from himself. Among other things, looking back to this childhood and early youth, he told the meeting what a graceless young dog he had been, that in his youth he had a good share of wit. Reader, if thou hadst seen the gentleman, thou wouldst have sworn that it must indeed have been many years ago, for his rueful physiognomy would have scared away the playful goddess from the meeting, where he presided, forever, A wit! a wit! what could he mean? Lloyd, it minded me of Falkland in the "Rivals," "Am I full of wit and humor? No, indeed, you are not. Am I the life and soul of every company I come into? No, it cannot be said you are." That hard-faced gentleman a wit! Why, Nature wrote on his fanatic forehead fifty years ago, "Wit never comes, that comes to all." I should be as scandalized at a _bon-mot issuing from his oracle-looking mouth as to see Cato go down a country-dance. God love you all! You are very good to submit to be pleased with reading my nothings. 'T is the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense and to have her nonsense respected. Yours ever,


(1) See Letter VIII.




_January 28, 1798.

You have writ me many kind letters, and I have answered none of them. I don't deserve your attentions. An unnatural indifference has been creeping on me since my last misfortunes, or I should have seized the first opening of a correspondence with _you_. To you I owe much under God. In my brief acquaintance with you in London, your conversations won me to the better cause, and rescued me from the polluting spirit of the world. I might have been a worthless character without you; as it is, I do possess a certain improvable portion of devotional feelings, though when I view myself in the light of divine truth, and not according to the common measures of human judgment. I am altogether corrupt and sinful. This is no cant. I am very sincere.

These last afflictions, (1) Coleridge, have failed to soften and bend my will. They found me unprepared. My former calamities produced in me a spirit of humility and a spirit of prayer. I thought they had sufficiently disciplined me; but the event ought to humble me. If God's judgments now fail to take away from the the heart of stone, what more grievous trials ought I not to expect? I have been very querulous, impatient under the rod, full of little jealousies and heartburnings. I had wellnigh quarrelled with Charles Lloyd, and for no other reason, I believe, than that the good creature did all he could to make me happy. The truth is, I thought he tried to force my mind from its natural and proper bent: he continually wished me to be from home; he was drawing me _from the consideration of my poor dear Mary's situation, rather than assisting me to gain a proper view of it with religious consolations. I wanted to be left to the tendency of my own mind in a solitary state which, in times past, I knew had led to quietness and a patient bearing of the yoke. He was hurt that I was not more constantly with him; but he was living with White,--a man to whom I had never been accustomed to impart my _dearest feelings_; though from long habits of friendliness, and many a social and good quality, I loved him very much, I met company there sometimes,--indiscriminate company. Any society almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly, when alone. All these things the good creature did with the kindest intentions in the world, but they produced in me nothing but soreness and discontent. I became, as he complained, "jaundiced" towards him.... But he has forgiven me; and his smile, I hope, will draw all such humors from me. I am recovering, God be praised for it, a healthiness of mind, something like calmness; but I want more religion, I am jealous of human helps and leaning-places. I rejoice in your good fortunes. May God at the last settle you! You have had many and painful trials; humanly speaking, they are going to end; but we should rather pray that discipline may attend us through the whole of our lives.... A careless and a dissolute spirit has advanced upon _me with large strides. Pray God that my present afflictions may be sanctified to me! Mary is recovering; but I see no opening yet of a situation for her. Your invitation went to my very heart; but you have a power of exciting interest, of leading all hearts captive, too forcible to admit of Mary's being with you. I consider her as perpetually on the brink of madness. I think you would almost make her dance within an inch of the precipice; she must be with duller fancies and cooler intellects. I know a young man of this description who has suited her these twenty years, and may live to do so still, if we are one day restored to each other. In answer to your suggestions of occupation for me, I must say that I do not think my capacity altogether suited for disquisitions of that kind.... I have read little; I have a very weak memory, and retain little of what I read; am unused to composition in which any methodizing is required. But I thank you sincerely for the hint, and shall receive it as far as I am able,--that is, endeavor to engage my mind in some constant and innocent pursuit. I know my capacities better than you do.

Accept my kindest love, and believe me yours, as ever.

C. L.

(1) Mary Lamb had fallen ill again.




(No month, 1798.)

Dear Southey,--I thank you heartily for the eclogue (1); it pleases me mightily, being so full of picture-work and circumstances. I find no fault in it, unless perhaps that Joanna's ruin is a catastrophe too trite; and this is not the first or second time you have clothed your indignation, in verse, in a tale of ruined innocence. The old lady, spinning in the sun, I hope would not disdain to claim some kindred with old Margaret. I could almost wish you to vary some circumstances in the conclusion. A gentleman seducer has so often been described in prose and verse: what if you had accomplished Joanna's ruin by the clumsy arts and rustic gifts of some country fellow? I am thinking, I believe, of the song,--

"An old woman clothed in gray,
Whose daughter was charming and young,
And she was deluded away
By Roger's false, flattering tongue."

A Roger-Lothario would be a novel character; I think you might paint him very well. You may think this a very silly suggestion, and so indeed it is; but, in good truth, nothing else but the first words of that foolish ballad put me upon scribbling my "Rosamund." (2) But I thank you heartily for the poem. Not having anything of my own to send you in return,--though, to tell truth, I am at work upon something which, if I were to cut away and garble, perhaps I might send you an extract or two that might not displease you; but I will not do that; and whether it will come to anything, I know not, for I am as slow as a Fleming painter when I compose anything. I will crave leave to put down a few lines of old Christopher Marlowe's; I take them from his tragedy, "The Jew of Malta." The Jew is a famous character, quite out of nature; but when we consider the terrible idea our simple ancestors had of a Jew, not more to be discommended for a certain discoloring (I think Addison calls it) than the witches and fairies of Marlowe's mighty successor. The scene is betwixt Barabas, the Jew, and Ithamore, a Turkish captive exposed to sale for a slave.


(_A precious rascal_.)

"As for myself, I walk abroad o' nights,
And kill sick people groaning under walls;
Sometimes I go about and poison wells;
And now and then, to cherish Christian thieves,
I am content to lose some of my crowns,
That I may, walking in my gallery,
See 'm go pinioned along by my door.
Being young, I studied physic, and began
To practise first upon the Italian;
There I enriched the priests with burials,
And always kept the sexton's arms in ure (3)
With digging graves and ringing dead men's knells.
And after that, was I an engineer,
And in the wars 'twixt France and Germany,
Under pretence of serving Charles the Fifth,
Slew friend and enemy with my stratagems.
Then after that was I an usurer,
And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting,
And tricks belonging unto brokery,
I fill'd the jails with bankrupts in a year,
And with young orphans planted hospitals,
And every moon made some or other mad;
And now and then one hang'd himself for grief,
Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll,
How I with interest tormented him."

Now hear Ithamore, the other gentle nature, explain how he has spent his time:--


(_A Comical Dog_.)

"Faith, master, in setting Christian villages on fire,
Chaining of eunuchs, binding galley-slaves.
One time I was an hostler in an inn,
And in the night-time secret would I steal
To travellers' chambers, and there cut their throats.
Once at Jerusalem, where the pilgrims kneel'd,
I strewed powder on the marble stones,
And therewithal their knees would rankle so,
That I have laugh'd a-good to see the cripples
Go limping home to Christendom on stilts."


"Why, this is something."

There is a mixture of the ludicrous and the terrible in these lines, brimful of genius and antique invention, that at first reminded me of your old description of cruelty in hell, which was in the true Hogarthian style. I need not tell _you that Marlowe was author of that pretty madrigal, "Come live with me, and be my Love," and of the tragedy of "Edward II.," in which are certain _lines unequalled in our English tongue. Honest Walton mentions the said madrigal under the denomination of "certain smooth verses made long since by Kit Marlowe."

I am glad you have put me on the scent after old Quarles. If I do not put up those eclogues, and that shortly, say I am no true-nosed hound. I have had a letter from Lloyd; the young metaphysician of Caius is well, and is busy recanting the new heresy, metaphysics, for the old dogma Greek. My sister, I thank you, is quite well. She had a slight attack the other day, which frightened me a good deal; but it went off unaccountably. Love and respects to Edith.

Yours sincerely,


(1) The eclogue was entitled "The Ruined Cottage."

(2) His romance. "Rosamund Gray."

(3) Use.


_November 8, 1798.

I perfectly accord with your opinion of old Wither. Quarles is a wittier writer, but Wither lays more hold of the heart. Quarles thinks of his audience when he lectures; Wither soliloquizes in company with a full heart. What wretched stuff are the "Divine Fancies" of Quarles! Religion appears to him no longer valuable than it furnishes matter for quibbles and riddles; he turns God's grace into wantonness. Wither is like an old friend, whose warm-heartedness and estimable qualities make us wish he possessed more genius, but at the same time make us willing to dispense with that want. I always love W., and sometimes admire Q. Still, that portrait is a fine one; and the extract from "The Shepherds' Hunting" places him in a starry height far above Quarles, If you wrote that review in "Crit. Rev.," I am sorry you are so sparing of praise to the "Ancient Marinere;" (1) so far from calling it, as you do, with some wit but more severity, "A Dutch Attempt," etc., I call it a right English attempt, and a successful one, to dethrone German sublimity. You have selected a passage fertile in unmeaning miracles, but have passed by fifty passages as miraculous as the miracles they celebrate. I never so deeply felt the pathetic as in that part,--

"A spring of love gush'd from my heart,
And I bless'd them unaware."

It stung me into high pleasure through sufferings. Lloyd does not like it; his head is too metaphysical, and your taste too correct,--at least I must allege something against you both, to excuse my own dotage,--

But you allow some elaborate beauties; you should have extracted 'em. "The Ancient Marinere" plays more tricks with the mind than that last poem, which is yet one of the finest written. But I am getting too dogmatical; and before I degenerate into abuse, I will conclude with assuring you that I am,

Sincerely yours,


(1) The "Lyrical Ballads" of Wordsworth and Coleridge had just appeared. The volume contained four pieces, including the "Ancient Mariner," by Coleridge.




_November 28, 1798.

* * * * *
I showed my "Witch" and "Dying Lover" to
Dyer (1) last night; but George could not comprehend
how that could be poetry which did not go
upon ten feet, as George and his predecessors had
taught it to do; so George read me some lectures
on the distinguishing qualities of the Ode, the Epigram,
and the Epic, and went home to illustrate his
doctrine by correcting a proof-sheet of his own
Lyrics, George writes odes where the rhymes, like
fashionable man and wife, keep a comfortable distance
of six or eight lines apart, and calls that "observing
the laws of verse," George tells you, before
he recites, that you must listen with great attention,
or you 'll miss the rhymes. I did so, and found
them pretty exact, George, speaking of the dead
Ossian, exclaimeth, "Dark are the poet's eyes," I
humbly represented to him that his own eyes were
dark, and many a living bard's besides, and recommended
"Clos'd are the poet's eyes." But that
would not do, I found there was an antithesis between
the darkness of his eyes and the splendor of
his genius, and I acquiesced.

Your recipe for a Turk's poison is invaluable and truly Marlowish.... Lloyd objects to "shutting up the womb of his purse" in my Curse (which for a Christian witch in a Christian country is not too mild, I hope): do you object? I think there is a strangeness in the idea, as well as "shaking the poor like snakes from his door," which suits the speaker. Witches illustrate, as fine ladies do, from their own familiar objects, and snakes and shutting up of wombs are in their way. I don't know that this last charge has been before brought against 'em, nor either the sour milk or the mandrake babe; but I affirm these be things a witch would do if she could.

My tragedy (2) will be a medley (as I intend it to be a medley) of laughter and tears, prose and verse, and in some places rhyme, songs, wit, pathos, humor, and if possible, sublimity,--at least, it is not a fault in my intention if it does not comprehend most of these discordant colors. Heaven send they dance not the "Dance of Death!" I hear that the Two Noble Englishmen (3) have parted no sooner than they set foot on German earth; but I have not heard the reason,--possibly to give novelists a handle to exclaim, "Ah me, what things are perfect!" I think I shall adopt your emendation in the "Dying Lover," though I do not myself feel the objection against "Silent Prayer."

My tailor has brought me home a new coat lapelled, with a velvet collar. He assures me everybody wears velvet collars now. Some are born fashionable, some achieve fashion, and others, like your humble servant, have fashion thrust upon them. The rogue has been making inroads hitherto by modest degrees, foisting upon me an additional button, recommending gaiters; but to come upon me thus in a full tide of luxury, neither becomes him as a tailor or the ninth of a man. My meek gentleman was robbed the other day, coming with his wife and family in a one-horse shay from Hampstead; the villains rifled him of four guineas, some shillings and halfpence, and a bundle of customers' measures, which they swore were bank-notes. They did not shoot him, and when they rode off he addressed them with profound gratitude, making a congee: "Gentlemen, I wish you good-night; and we are very much obliged to you that you have not used us ill!" And this is the cuckoo that has the audacity to foist upon me ten buttons on a side and a black velvet collar,--a cursed ninth of a scoundrel!

When you write to Lloyd, he wishes his Jacobin correspondents to address him as _Mr. C. L. Love and respects to Edith. I hope she is well.

Yours sincerely,


(1) This quaint scholar, a marvel of simplicity and universal optimism, is a constantly recurring and delightfully humorous character in the Letters. Lamb and Dyer had been schoolfellows at Christ's Hospital.

(2) John Woodvil.

(3) Coleridge and Wordsworth, who started for Germany together.




_March 20, 1799,

I am hugely pleased with your "Spider," "your old freemason," as you call him. The three first stanzas are delicious; they seem to me a compound of Burns and. Old Quarles, those kind of home-strokes, where more is felt than strikes the ear,--a terseness, a jocular pathos which makes one feel in laughter. The measure, too, is novel and pleasing. I could almost wonder Rob Burns in his lifetime never stumbled upon it. The fourth stanza is less striking, as being less original. The fifth falls off. It has no felicity of phrase, no old-fashioned phrase or feeling.

"Young hopes, and love's delightful dreams,"

savor neither of Burns nor Quarles; they seem more like shreds of many a modern sentimental sonnet. The last stanza hath nothing striking in it, if I except the two concluding lines, which are Burns all over. I wish, if you concur with me, these things could be looked to. I am sure this is a kind of writing which comes tenfold better recommended to the heart, comes there more like a neighbor or familiar, than thousands of Hamnels and Zillahs and Madelons. I beg you will send me the "Holly-tree," if it at all resemble this, for it must please me. I have never seen it. I love this sort of poems, that open a new intercourse with the most despised of the animal and insect race. I think this vein may be further opened; Peter Pindar hath very prettily apostrophized a fly; Burns hath his mouse and his louse; Coleridge, less successfully, hath made overtures of intimacy to a jackass,--therein only following at unresembling distance Sterne and greater Cervantes. Besides these, I know of no other examples of breaking down the partition between us and our "poor earth-born companions." It is sometimes revolting to be put in a track of feeling by other people, not one's own immediate thoughts, else I would persuade you, if I could (I am in earnest), to commence a series of these animal poems, which might have a tendency to rescue some poor creatures from the antipathy of mankind. Some thoughts come across me: for instance, to a rat, to a toad, to a cockchafer, to a mole,--people bake moles alive by a slow oven-fire to cure consumption. Rats are, indeed, the most despised and contemptible parts of God's earth, I killed a rat the other day by punching him to pieces, and feel a weight of blood upon me to this hour. Toads, you know, are made to fly, and tumble down and crush all to pieces. Cockchafers are old sport; then again to a worm, with an apostrophe to anglers,--those patient tyrants, meek inflictors of pangs intolerable, cool devils; (1) to an owl; to all snakes, with an apology for their poison; to a cat in boots or bladders. Your own fancy, if it takes a fancy to these hints, will suggest many more. A series of such poems, suppose them accompanied with plates descriptive of animal torments,--cooks roasting lobsters, fishmongers crimping skates, etc.,--would take excessively, I will willingly enter into a partnership in the plan with you; I think my heart and soul would go with it too,--at least, give it a thought. My plan is but this minute come into my head; but it strikes me instantaneously as something new, good, and useful, full of pleasure and full of moral. If old Quarles and Wither could live again, we would invite them into our firm. Burns hath done his part.

Poor Sam Le Grice! I am afraid the world and the camp and the university have spoiled him among them. 'Tis certain he had at one time a strong capacity of turning out something better. I knew him, and that not long since, when he had a most warm heart. I am ashamed of the indifference I have sometimes felt towards him. I think the devil is in one's heart. I am under obligations to that man for the warmest friendship and heartiest sympathy, (2) even for an agony of sympathy expressed both by word and deed, and tears for me when I was in my greatest distress. But I have forgot that,--as, I fear, he has nigh forgot the awful scenes which were before his eyes when he served the office of a comforter to me. No service was too mean or troublesome for him to perform. I can't think what but the devil, "that old spider," could have suck'd my heart so dry of its sense of all gratitude. If he does come in your way, Southey, fail not to tell him that I retain a most affectionate remembrance of his old friendliness, and an earnest wish to resume our intercourse. In this I am serious. I cannot recommend him to your society, because I am afraid whether he be quite worthy of it. But I have no right to dismiss him from _my regard. He was at one time, and in the worst of times, my own familiar friend, and great comfort to me then. I have known him to play at cards with my father, meal-times excepted, literally all day long, in long days too, to save me from being teased by the old man when I was not able to bear it.

God bless him for it, and God bless you, Southey!

C. L.

(1) Leigh Hunt says: "Walton says that an angler does no hurt but to fish; and this he counts as nothing.... Now, fancy a Genius fishing for us. Fancy him baiting a great hook with pickled salmon, and, twitching up old Izaac Walton from the banks of the River Lee, with the hook through his ear. How he would go up, roaring and screaming, and thinking the devil had got him!

"'Other joys
Are but toys.'


(2) See Letter VI.



_March 1, 1800.

I hope by this time you are prepared to say the "Falstaff's Letters" are a bundle of the sharpest, queerest, profoundest humors of any these juice-drained latter times have spawned. I should have advertised you that the meaning is frequently hard to be got at,--and so are the future guineas that now lie ripening and aurifying in the womb of some undiscovered Potosi; but dig, dig, dig, dig, Manning! I set to with an unconquerable propulsion to write, with a lamentable want of what to write. My private goings on are orderly as the movements of the spheres, and stale as their music to angels' ears. Public affairs, except as they touch upon me, and so turn into private, I cannot whip up my mind to feel any interest in, I grieve, indeed, that War and Nature and Mr. Pitt, that hangs up in Lloyd's best parlour, should have conspired to call up three necessaries, simple commoners as our fathers knew them, into the upper house of luxuries,--bread and beer and coals, Manning. But as to France and Frenchmen, and the Abbe Sieyes and his constitutions, I cannot make these present times present to me. I read histories of the past, and I live in them; although, to abstract senses, they are far less momentous than the noises which keep Europe awake. I am reading Burnet's "Own Times." Did you ever read that garrulous, pleasant history? He tells his story like an old man, past political service, bragging to his sons on winter evenings of the part he took in public transactions when "his old cap was new." Full of scandal, which all true history is. No palliatives; but all the stark wickedness that actually gives the _momentum to national actors. Quite the prattle of age and outlived importance. Truth and sincerity staring out upon you perpetually in _alto relievo_. Himself a party man, he makes you a party man. None of the cursed philosophical Humeian indifference, so cold and unnatural and inhuman! None of the cursed Gibbonian fine writing, so fine and composite. None of Dr. Robertson's periods with three members. None of Mr. Roscoe's sage remarks, all so apposite, and coming in so clever, lest the reader should have had the trouble of drawing an inference. Burnet's good old prattle I can bring present to my mind; I can make the Revolution present to me: the French Revolution, by a converse perversity in my nature, I fling as far _from me. To quit this tiresome subject, and to relieve you from two or three dismal yawns, which I hear in spirit, I here conclude my more than commonly obtuse letter,--dull up to the dulness of a Dutch commentator on Shakspeare. My love to Lloyd and Sophia.

C. L.

(1) To this remarkable person we are largely indebted for some of the best of Lamb's letters. He was mathematical tutor at Caius College, Cambridge, and in later years became somewhat famous as an explorer of the remoter parts of China and Thibet. Lamb had been introduced to him, during a Cambridge visit, by Charles Lloyd, and afterwards told Crabb Robinson that he was the most "wonderful man" he ever met. An account of Manning will be found in the memoir prefixed to his "Journey to Lhasa," in 1811-12. (George Bogle and Thomas Manning's Journey to Thibet and Lhasa, by C.R. Markham, 1876.)




_May 12, 1800,

My Dear Coleridge,--I don't know why I write, except from the propensity misery has to tell her griefs. Hetty (1) died on Friday night, about eleven o'clock, after eight days' illness; Mary, in consequence of fatigue and anxiety, is fallen ill again, and I was obliged to remove her yesterday. I am left alone in a house with nothing but Hetty's dead body to keep me company. To-morrow I bury her, and then I shall be quite alone, with nothing but a cat to remind me that the house has been full of living beings like myself. My heart is quite sunk, and I don't know where to look for relief. Mary will get better again; but her constantly being liable to such relapses is dreadful; nor is it the least of our evils that her case and all our story is so well known around us. We are in a manner _marked_. Excuse my troubling you; but I have nobody by me to speak to me. I slept out last night, not being able to endure the change and the stillness. But I did not sleep well, and I must come back to my own bed. I am going to try and get a friend to come and be with me to-morrow. I am completely shipwrecked. My head is quite bad. I almost wish that Mary were dead. God bless you. Love to Sara and Hartley.


(1) The Lambs' old servant.

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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 21 To Letter 30 The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 21 To Letter 30

The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 21 To Letter 30
LETTER XXI TO LETTER XXXLETTER XXI. TO MANNING. Before _June_, 1800. Dear Manning,--I feel myself unable to thank you sufficiently for your kind letter. It was doubly acceptable to me, both for the choice poetry and the kind, honest prose which it contained. It was just such a letter as I should have expected from Manning. I am in much better spirits than when I wrote last. I have had a very eligible offer to lodge with a friend in town. He will have rooms to let at midsummer, by which time I hope my sister will be well enough to

The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 1 To Letter 10 The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 1 To Letter 10

The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 1 To Letter 10
LETTER I TO LETTER XTO SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE _May 27, 1796. Dear Coleridge,--Make yourself perfectly easy about May. I paid his bill when I sent your clothes. I was flush of money, and am so still to all the purposes of a single life; so give yourself no further concern about it. The money would be superfluous to me if I had it. When Southey becomes as modest as his predecessor, Milton, and publishes his Epics in duodecimo, I will read 'em; a guinea a book is somewhat exorbitant, nor have I the opportunity of borrowing the work. The extracts from