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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 21 To Letter 30 Post by :ID3000 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :1054

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

LETTER XXI TO LETTER XXX

LETTER 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 join me. It is a great object to me to live in town, where we shall be much more _private_, and to quit a house and neighborhood where poor Mary's disorder, so frequently recurring, has made us a sort of marked people. We can be nowhere private except in the midst of London. We shall be in a family where we visit very frequently; only my landlord and I have not yet come to a conclusion. He has a partner to consult. I am still on the tremble, for I do not know where we could go into lodgings that would not be, in many respects, highly exceptionable. Only God send Mary well again, and I hope all will be well! The prospect, such as it is, has made me quite happy. I have just time to tell you of it, as I know it will give you pleasure. Farewell.

C. LAMB.

 

LETTER XXII.


TO COLERIDGE,

_August_, 6, 1800.

Dear Coleridge,--I have taken to-day and delivered to Longman and Co., _Imprimis_: your books, viz., three ponderous German dictionaries, one volume (I can find no more) of German and French ditto, sundry other German books unbound, as you left them, Percy's Ancient Poetry, and one volume of Anderson's Poets. I specify them, that you may not lose any. _Secundo_: a dressing-gown (value, fivepence), in which you used to sit and look like a conjuror when you were translating "Wallenstein." A case of two razors and a shaving-box and strap. This it has cost me a severe struggle to part with. They are in a brown-paper parcel, which also contains sundry papers and poems, sermons, _some few Epic poems,--one about Cain and Abel, which came from Poole, etc., and also your tragedy; with one or two small German books, and that drama in which Got-fader performs. _Tertio_: a small oblong box containing _all your letters_, collected from all your waste papers, and which fill the said little box. All other waste papers, which I judged worth sending, are in the paper parcel aforesaid. But you will find _all your letters in the box by themselves. Thus have I discharged my conscience and my lumber-room of all your property, save and except a folio entitled Tyrrell's "Bibliotheca Politica," which you used to learn your politics out of when you wrote for the Post,--_mutatis mutandis, i. e._, applying past inferences to modern _data_. I retain that, because I am sensible I am very deficient in the politics myself; and I have torn up--don't be angry; waste paper has risen forty per cent, and I can't afford to buy it--all Bonaparte's Letters, Arthur Young's Treatise on Corn, and one or two more light-armed infantry, which I thought better suited the flippancy of London discussion than the dignity of Keswick thinking. Mary says you will be in a passion about them when you come to miss them; but you must study philosophy. Read Albertus Magnus de Chartis Amissis five times over after phlebotomizing,--'t is Burton's recipe,--and then be angry with an absent friend if you can. Sara is obscure. Am I to understand by her letter that she sends a _kiss to Eliza Buckingham? Pray tell your wife that a note of interrogation on the superscription of a letter is highly ungrammatical! She proposes writing my name _Lambe? Lamb is quite enough. I have had the Anthology, and like only one thing in it,--_Lewti_; but of that the last stanza is detestable, the rest most exquisite! The epithet _enviable would dash the finest poem. For God's sake (I never was more serious), don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses. (1) It did well enough five years ago, when I came to see you, and was moral coxcomb enough at the time you wrote the lines, to feed upon such epithets: but, besides that, the meaning of "gentle" is equivocal at best, and almost always means "poor-spirited;" the very quality of gentleness is abhorrent to such vile trumpetings. My _sentiment is long since vanished. I hope my _virtues have done _sucking_. I can scarce think but you meant it in joke. I hope you did, for I should be ashamed to think you could think to gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a cordial to some green-sick sonneteer.

(1) An allusion to Coleridge's lines, "This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison," wherein he styles Lamb "my gentle-hearted Charles."

 

LETTER XXIII.


TO MANNING.

_August_, 1800.

Dear Manning,--I am going to ask a favor of you, and am at a loss how to do it in the most delicate mariner. For this purpose I have been looking into Pliny's Letters, who is noted to have had the best grace in begging of all the ancients (I read him in the elegant translation of Mr. Melmoth); but not finding any case there exactly similar with mine, I am constrained to beg in my own barbarian way. To come to the point, then, and hasten into the middle of things, have you a copy of your Algebra (1) to give away? I do not ask it for myself; I have too much reverence for the Black Arts ever to approach thy circle, illustrious Trismegist! But that worthy man and excellent poet, George Dyer, made me a visit yesternight on purpose to borrow one, supposing, rationally enough, I must say, that you had made me a present of one before this; the omission of which I take to have proceeded only from negligence: but it is a fault. I could lend him no assistance. You must know he is just now diverted from the pursuit of BELL LETTERS by a paradox, which he has heard his friend Frend (2) (that learned mathematician) maintain, that the negative quantities of mathematicians were _merae nugae_,--things scarcely _in rerum natura_, and smacking too much of mystery for gentlemen of Mr. Frend's clear Unitarian capacity. However, the dispute, once set a-going, has seized violently on George's pericranick; and it is necessary for his health that he should speedily come to a resolution of his doubts. He goes about teasing his friends with his new mathematics; he even frantically talks of purchasing Manning's Algebra, which shows him far gone, for, to my knowledge, he has not been master of seven shillings a good time. George's pockets and ----'s brains are two things in nature which do not abhor a vacuum.... Now, if you could step in, in this trembling suspense of his reason, and he should find on Saturday morning, lying for him at the Porter's Lodge, Clifford's Inn.--his safest address,--Manning's Algebra, with a neat manuscriptum in the blank leaf, running thus, "FROM THE AUTHOR!" it might save his wits and restore the unhappy author to those studies of poetry and criticism which are at present suspended, to the infinite regret of the whole literary world. N.B.--Dirty books, smeared leaves, and dogs' ears will be rather a recommendation than otherwise. N.B.--He must have the book as soon as possible, or nothing can withhold him from madly purchasing the book on tick.... Then shall we see him sweetly restored to the chair of Longinus,--to dictate in smooth and modest phrase the laws of verse; to prove that Theocritus first introduced the Pastoral, and Virgil and Pope brought it to its perfection; that Gray and Mason (who always hunt in couples in George's brain) have shown a great deal of poetical fire in their lyric poetry; that Aristotle's rules are not to be servilely followed, which George has shown to have imposed great shackles upon modern genius. His poems, I find, are to consist of two vols., reasonable octavo; and a third book will exclusively contain criticisms, in which he asserts he has gone _pretty deeply into the laws of blank verse and rhyme, epic poetry, dramatic and pastoral ditto,--all which is to come out before Christmas. But above all he has _touched most _deeply upon the Drama, comparing the English with the modern German stage, their merits and defects. Apprehending that his _studies (not to mention his _turn_, which I take to be chiefly towards the lyrical poetry) hardly qualified him for these disquisitions, I modestly inquired what plays he had read. I found by George's reply that he _had read Shakspeare, but that was a good while since: he calls him a great but irregular genius, which I think to be an original and just remark. (Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Ben Jonson, Shirley, Marlowe, Ford, and the worthies of Dodsley's Collection,--he confessed he had read none of them, but professed his _intention of looking through them all, so as to be able to _touch upon them in his book.) So Shakspeare, Otway, and I believe Rowe, to whom he was naturally directed by Johnson's Lives, and these not read lately, are to stand him in stead of a general knowledge of the subject. God bless his dear absurd head!

By the by, did I not write you a letter with something about an invitation in it?--but let that pass; I suppose it is not agreeable.

N.B. It would not be amiss if you were to accompany your _present with a dissertation on negative quantities.

C. L.

(1) Manning, while at Cambridge, published a work on Algebra.

(2) The Rev. William Frend, who was expelled from Cambridge for Unitarianism.

 

LETTER XXIV.


TO MANNING.

1800.

George Dyer is an Archimedes and an Archimagus and a Tycho Brahe and a Copernicus; and thou art the darling of the Nine, and midwife to their wandering babe also! We take tea with that learned poet and critic on Tuesday night, at half-past five, in his neat library; the repast will be light and Attic, with criticism. If thou couldst contrive to wheel up thy dear carcase on the Monday, and after dining with us on tripe, calves' kidneys, or whatever else the Cornucopia of St. Clare may be willing to pour out on the occasion, might we not adjourn together to the Heathen's, thou with thy Black Backs, and I with some innocent volume of the Bell Letters,--Shenstone, or the like; it would make him wash his old flannel gown (that has not been washed, to my knowledge, since it has been _his_,--Oh, the long time!) with tears of joy. Thou shouldst settle his scruples, and unravel his cobwebs, and sponge off the sad stuff that weighs upon his dear wounded pia mater; thou shouldst restore light to his eyes, and him to his friends and the public; Parnassus should shower her civic crowns upon thee for saving the wits of a citizen! I thought I saw a lucid interval in George the other night: he broke in upon my studies just at tea-time, and brought with him Dr. Anderson, an old gentleman who ties his breeches' knees with packthread, and boasts that he has been disappointed by ministers. The Doctor wanted to see _me_; for, I being a poet, he thought I might furnish him with a copy of verses to suit his "Agricultural Magazine." The Doctor, in the course of the conversation, mentioned a poem, called the "Epigoniad," by one Wilkie, an epic poem, in which there is not one tolerable good line all through, but every incident and speech borrowed from Homer.

George had been sitting inattentive seemingly to what was going on,--hatching of negative quantities,--when, suddenly, the name of his old friend Homer stung his pericranicks, and, jumping up, he begged to know where he could meet with Wilkie's work. "It was a curious fact that there should be such an epic poem and he not know of it; and he _must get a copy of it, as he was going to touch pretty deeply upon the subject of the epic,--and he was sure there must be some things good in a poem of eight thousand lines!" I was pleased with this transient return of his reason and recurrence to his old ways of thinking; it gave me great hopes of a recovery, which nothing but your book can completely insure. Pray come on Monday if you _can_, and stay your own time. I have a good large room, with two beds in it, in the handsomest of which thou shalt repose a-nights, and dream of spheroides. I hope you will understand by the nonsense of this letter that I am _not melancholy at the thoughts of thy coming; I thought it necessary to add this, because you love _precision_. Take notice that our stay at Dyer's will not exceed eight o'clock, after which our pursuits will be our own. But indeed I think a little recreation among the Bell Letters and poetry will do you some service in the interval of severer studies. I hope we shall fully discuss with George Dyer what I have never yet heard done to my satisfaction,--the reason of Dr. Johnson's malevolent strictures on the higher species of the Ode.

C. LAMB.

 

LETTER XXV.


TO COLERIDGE.

_August 14, 1800.

My head is playing all the tunes in the world, ringing such peals! It has just finished the "Merry Christ Church Bells," and absolutely is beginning "Turn again, Whittington." Buz, buz, buz; bum, bum, bum; wheeze, wheeze, wheeze; fen, fen, fen; tinky, tinky, tinky; _cr'annch_. I shall certainly come to be condemned at last. I have been drinking too much for two days running. I find my moral sense in the last stage of a consumption, and my religion getting faint. This is disheartening, but I trust the devil will not overpower me. In the midst of this infernal torture Conscience is barking and yelping as loud as any of them. I have sat down to read over again, and I think I do begin to spy out something with beauty and design in it. I perfectly accede to all your alterations, and only desire that you had cut deeper, when your hand was in.

* * * * *

Now I am on the subject of poetry, I must announce to you, who, doubtless, in your remote part of the island, have not heard tidings of so great a blessing, that George Dyer hath prepared two ponderous volumes full of poetry and criticism. They impend over the town, and are threatened to fall in the winter. The first volume contains every sort of poetry except personal satire, which George, in his truly original prospectus, renounceth forever, whimsically foisting the intention in between the price of his book and the proposed number of subscribers. (If I can, I will get you a copy of his _handbill_.) He has tried his _vein in every species besides,--the Spenserian, Thomsonian, Masonic, and Akensidish more especially. The second volume is all criticism; wherein he demonstrates to the entire satisfaction of the literary world, in a way that must silence all reply forever, that the pastoral was introduced by Theocritus and polished by Virgil and Pope; that Gray and Mason (who always hunt in couples in George's brain) have a good deal of poetical fire and true lyric genius; that Cowley was ruined by excess of wit (a warning to all moderns); that Charles Lloyd, Charles Lamb, and William Wordsworth, in later days, have struck the true chords of poesy. Oh, George, George, with a head uniformly wrong and a heart uniformly right, that I had power and might equal to my wishes; then would I call the gentry of thy native island, and they should come in troops, flocking at the sound of thy prospectus-trumpet, and crowding who shall be first to stand in thy list of subscribers! I can only put twelve shillings into thy pocket (which, I will answer for them, will not stick there long) out of a pocket almost as bare as thine. Is it not a pity so much fine writing should be erased? But, to tell the truth, I began to scent that I was getting into that sort of style which Longinus and Dionysius Halicarnassus fitly call "the affected."

C. L.


LETTER XXVI.


TO MANNING.

_August 22, 1800.

Dear Manning,--You need not imagine any apology necessary. Your fine hare and fine birds (which just now are dangling by our kitchen blaze) discourse most eloquent music in your justification. You just nicked my palate; for, with all due decorum and leave may it be spoken, my worship hath taken physic to-day, and being low and puling, requireth to be pampered. Fob! how beautiful and strong those buttered onions come to my nose! For you must know we extract a divine spirit of gravy from those materials which, duly compounded with a consistence of bread and cream (yclept bread-sauce), each to each giving double grace, do mutually illustrate and set off (as skilful gold-foils to rare jewels) your partridge, pheasant, woodcock, snipe, teal, widgeon, and the other lesser daughters of the ark. My friendship, struggling with my carnal and fleshly prudence (which suggests that a bird a man is the proper allotment in such cases), yearneth sometimes to have thee here to pick a wing or so. I question if your Norfolk sauces match our London culinarie.

George Dyer has introduced me to the table of an agreeable old gentleman, Dr. Anderson, who gives hot legs of mutton and grape pies at his sylvan lodge at Isleworth, where, in the middle of a street, he has shot up a wall most preposterously before his small dwelling, which, with the circumstance of his taking several panes of glass out of bedroom windows (for air), causeth his neighbors to speculate strangely on the state of the good man's pericranicks. Plainly, he lives under the reputation of being deranged. George does not mind this circumstance; he rather likes him the better for it. The Doctor, in his pursuits, joins agricultural to poetical science, and has set George's brains mad about the old Scotch writers, Barbour, Douglas's AEneid, Blind Harry, etc. We returned home in a return postchaise (having dined with the Doctor); and George kept wondering and wondering, for eight or nine turnpike miles, what was the name, and striving to recollect the name, of a poet anterior to Barbour. I begged to know what was remaining of his works. "There is nothing _extant of his works, sir; but by all accounts he seems to have been a fine genius!" This fine genius, without anything to show for it or any title beyond George's courtesy, without even a name, and Barbour and Douglas and Blind Harry now are the predominant sounds in George's pia mater, and their buzzings exclude politics, criticism, and algebra,--the late lords of that illustrious lumber-room. Mark, he has never read any of these bucks, but is impatient till he reads them _all_, at the Doctor's suggestion. Poor Dyer! his friends should be careful what sparks they let fall into such inflammable matter.

Could I have my will of the heathen, I would lock him up from all access of new ideas; I would exclude all critics that would not swear me first (upon their Virgil) that they would feed him with nothing but the old, safe, familiar notions and sounds (the rightful aborigines of his brain),--Gray, Akenside, and Mason. In these sounds, reiterated as often as possible, there could be nothing painful, nothing distracting.

God bless me, here are the birds, smoking hot!

All that is gross and unspiritual in me rises at the sight!

Avaunt friendship and all memory of absent friends!

C. LAMB.

 

LETTER XXVII.


TO COLERIDGE.

_August 26, 1800.

George Dyer is the only literary character I am happily acquainted with. The oftener I see him, the more deeply I admire him. He is goodness itself. If I could but calculate the precise date of his death, I would write a novel on purpose to make George the hero. I could hit him off to a hair.

George brought a Dr. Anderson (1) to see me. The Doctor is a very pleasant old man, a great genius for agriculture, one that ties his breeches-knees with packthread, and boasts of having had disappointments from ministers. The Doctor happened to mention an epic poem by one Wilkie, called the "Epigoniad," in which he assured us there is not one tolerable line from beginning to end, but all the characters, incidents, etc., verbally copied from _Homer_. George, who had been sitting quite inattentive to the Doctor's criticism, no sooner heard the sound of _Homer strike his pericraniks, than up he gets, and declares he must see that poem immediately: where was it to be had? An epic poem of eight thousand lines, and _he not hear of it! There must be some things good in it, and it was necessary he should see it, for he had touched pretty deeply upon that subject in his criticisms on the Epic. George had touched pretty deeply upon the Lyric, I find; he has also prepared a dissertation on the Drama, and the comparison of the English and German theatres. As I rather doubted his competency to do the latter, knowing that his peculiar _turn lies in the lyric species of composition, I questioned George what English plays he had read. I found that he _had read Shakspeare (whom he calls an original, but irregular, genius), but it was a good while ago; and he has dipped into Rowe and Otway, I suppose having found their names in Johnson's Lives at full length; and upon this slender ground he has undertaken the task. He never seemed even to have heard of Fletcher, Ford, Marlowe, Massinger, and the worthies of Dodsley's Collection; but he is to read all these, to prepare him for bringing out his "Parallel" in the winter. I find he is also determined to vindicate poetry from the shackles which Aristotle and some others have imposed upon it,--which is very good-natured of him, and very necessary just now! Now I am _touching so _deeply upon poetry, can I forget that I have just received from Cottle a magnificent copy of his Guinea Epic. (2) Four-and-twenty books to read in the dog days! I got as far as the Mad Monk the first day, and fainted. Mr, Cottle's genius strongly points him to the _Pastoral_, but his inclinations divert him perpetually from his calling. He imitates Southey, as Rowe did Shakspeare, with his "Good morrow to ye, good master Lieutenant," Instead of _a man, _a woman, _a daughter, he constantly writes "one a man," "one a woman," "one his daughter." Instead of _the king, _the hero, he constantly writes, "he the king," "he the hero,"--two flowers of rhetoric palpably from the "Joan." But Mr, Cottle soars a higher pitch; and when he _is original, it is in a most original way indeed. His terrific scenes are indefatigable. Serpents, asps, spiders, ghosts, dead bodies, staircases made of nothing, with adders' tongues for bannisters,--Good Heaven, what a brain he must have! He puts as many plums in his pudding as my grandmother used to do; and, then his emerging from Hell's horrors into light, and treading on pure flats of this earth--for twenty-three books together!

C. L.

(1) See preceding Letter.

(2) Alfred.


LETTER XXVIII.


TO COLERIDGE.

_October 9, 1800.

I suppose you have heard of the death of Amos Cottle. I paid a solemn visit of condolence to his brother, accompanied by George Dyer, of burlesque memory. I went, trembling, to see poor Cottle so immediately upon the event. He was in black, and his younger brother was also in black. Everything wore an aspect suitable to the respect due to the freshly dead. For some time after our entrance, nobody spake, till George modestly put in a question, whether "Alfred" was likely to sell. This was Lethe to Cottle, and his poor face wet with tears, and his kind eye brightened up in a moment. Now I felt it was my cue to speak. I had to thank him for a present of a magnificent copy, and had promised to send him my remarks,--the least thing I could do; so I ventured to suggest that I perceived a considerable improvement he had made in his first book since the state in which he first read it to me. Joseph, who till now had sat with his knees cowering in by the fireplace, wheeled about, and with great difficulty of body shifted the same round to the corner of a table where I was sitting, and first stationing one thigh over the other, which is his sedentary mood, and placidly fixing his benevolent face right against mine, waited my observations. At that moment it came strongly into my mind that I had got Uncle Toby before me, he looked so kind and so good. I could not say an unkind thing of "Alfred." So I set my memory to work to recollect what was the name of Alfred's queen, and with some adroitness recalled the well-known sound to Cottle's ears of Alswitha. At that moment I could perceive that Cottle had forgot his brother was so lately become a blessed spirit. In the language of mathematicians, the author was as 9, the brother as 1. I felt my cue, and strong pity working at the root, I went to work and beslabber'd "Alfred" with most unqualified praise, or only qualifying my praise by the occasional polite interposition of an exception taken against trivial faults, slips, and human imperfections, which, by removing the appearance of insincerity, did but in truth heighten the relish. Perhaps I might have spared that refinement, for Joseph was in a humor to hope and believe _all things_. What I said was beautifully supported, corroborated, and confirmed by the stupidity of his brother on my left hand, and by George on my right, who has an utter incapacity of comprehending that there can be anything bad in poetry. All poems are _good poems to George; all men are _fine geniuses_. So what with my actual memory, of which I made the most, and Cottle's own helping me out, for I _really had forgotten a good deal of "Alfred," I made shift to discuss the most essential parts entirely to the satisfaction of its author, who repeatedly declared that he loved nothing better than _candid criticism. Was I a candid greyhound now for all this? or did I do right? I believe I did. The effect was luscious to my conscience. For all the rest of the evening Amos was no more heard of, till George revived the subject by inquiring whether some account should not be drawn up by the friends of the deceased to be inserted in "Phillips's Monthly Obituary;" adding, that Amos was estimable both for his head and heart, and would have made a fine poet if he had lived. To the expediency of this measure Cottle fully assented, but could not help adding that he always thought that the qualities of his brother's heart exceeded those of his head. I believe his brother, when living, had formed precisely the same idea of him; and I apprehend the world will assent to both judgments. I rather guess that the brothers were poetical rivals. I judged so when I saw them together. Poor Cottle, I must leave him, after his short dream, to muse again upon his poor brother, for whom I am sure in secret he will yet shed many a tear. Now send me in return some Greta news.

C. L.

 

LETTER XXIX.


TO MANNING.

_October 16, 1800.

Dear Manning,--Had you written one week before you did, I certainly should have obeyed your injunction; you should have seen me before my letter. I will explain to you my situation. There are six of us in one department. Two of us (within these four days) are confined with severe fevers: and two more, who belong to the Tower Militia, expect to have marching orders on Friday. Now, six are absolutely necessary. I have already asked and obtained two young hands to supply the loss of the _feverites; and with the other prospect before me, you may believe I cannot decently ask leave of absence for myself. All I can promise (and I do promise with the sincerity of Saint Peter, and the contrition of sinner Peter if I fail) (is) that I will come _the very first spare week_, and go nowhere till I have been at Cambridge. No matter if you are in a state of pupilage when I come; for I can employ myself in Cambridge very pleasantly in the mornings. Are there not libraries, halls, colleges, books, pictures, statues? I wish you had made London in your way. There is an exhibition quite uncommon in Europe, which could not have escaped _your genius_,--a live rattlesnake, ten feet in length, and the thickness of a big leg. I went to see it last night by candlelight. We were ushered into a room very little bigger than ours at Pentonville. A man and woman and four boys live in this room, joint tenants with nine snakes, most of them such as no remedy has been discovered for their bite. We walked into the middle, which is formed by a half-moon of wired boxes, all mansions of snakes,--whip-snakes, thunder-snakes, pig-nose-snakes, American vipers, and _this monster_. He lies curled up in folds; and immediately a stranger enters (for he is used to the family, and sees them play at cards) he set up a rattle like a watchman's in London, or near as loud, and reared up a head, from the midst of these folds, like a toad, and shook his head, and showed every sign a snake can show of irritation. I had the foolish curiosity to strike the wires with my finger, and the devil flew at me with his toad-mouth wide open: the inside of his mouth is quite white. I had got my finger away, nor could he well have bit me with his big mouth, which would have been certain death in five minutes. But it frightened me so much that I did not recover my voice for a minute's space. I forgot, in my fear, that he was secured. You would have forgot too, for 't is incredible how such a monster can be confined in small gauzy-looking wires. I dreamed of snakes in the night. I wish to Heaven you could see it. He absolutely swelled with passion to the bigness of a large thigh. I could not retreat without infringing on another box, and just behind, a little devil, not an inch from my back, had got his nose out, with some difficulty and pain, quite through the bars! He was soon taught better manners. All the snakes were curious, and objects of terror; but this monster, like Aaron's serpent, swallowed up the impression of the rest. He opened his cursed mouth, when he made at me, as wide as his head was broad. I hallooed out quite loud, and felt pains all over my body with the fright.

I have had the felicity of hearing George Dyer read out one book of "The Farmer's Boy." I thought it rather childish. No doubt, there is originality in it (which, in your self-taught geniuses, is a most rare quality, they generally getting hold of some bad models in a scarcity of books, and forming their taste on them), but no _selection. All is, described.

Mind, I have only heard read one book. Yours sincerely,

Philo-Snake, C. L.

 

LETTER XXX.


TO MANNING.

_November 3, 1800,

_Ecquid meditatur Archimedes? What is Euclid doing? What has happened to learned Trismegist? Doth he take it in ill part that his humble friend did not comply with his courteous invitation? Let it suffice, I could not come. Are impossibilities nothing?--be they abstractions of the intellects, or not (rather) most sharp and mortifying realities? nuts in the Will's mouth too hard for her to crack? brick and stone walls in her way, which she can by no means eat through? sore lets, _impedimenta viarum_, no thoroughfares? _racemi nimium alte pendentes?_? Is the phrase classic? I allude to the grapes in Aesop, which cost the fox a strain, and gained the world an aphorism. Observe the superscription of this letter. In adapting the size of the letters which constitute _your name and Mr. _Crisp's name respectively, I had an eye to your different stations in life. 'Tis really curious, and must be soothing to an _aristocrat I wonder it has never been hit on before my time. I have made an acquisition latterly of a _pleasant hand_, one Rickman, (1) to whom I was introduced by George Dyer,--not the most flattering auspices under which one man can be introduced to another. George brings all sorts of people together, setting up a sort of agrarian law, or common property, in matter of society; but for once he has done me a great pleasure, while he was only pursuing a principle, as _ignes fatui may light you home. This Rickman lives in our Buildings, immediately opposite our house; the finest fellow to drop in a' nights, about nine or ten o'clock,--cold bread-and-cheese time,--just in the _wishing time of the night, when you _wish for somebody to come in, without a distinct idea of a probable anybody. Just in the nick, neither too early to be tedious, nor too late to sit a reasonable time. He is a most pleasant hand,--a fine, rattling fellow, has gone through life laughing at solemn apes; himself hugely literate, oppressively full of information in all stuff of conversation, from matter of fact to Xenophon and Plato; can talk Greek with Porson, politics with Thelwall, conjecture with George Dyer, nonsense with me, and anything with anybody; a great farmer, somewhat concerned in an agricultural magazine; reads no poetry but Shakspeare, very intimate with Southey, but never reads his poetry; relishes George Dyer, thoroughly penetrates into the ridiculous wherever found, understands the _first time (a great desideratum in common minds),--you need never twice speak to him; does not want explanations, translations, limitations, as Professor Godwin does when you make an assertion; _up to anything, _down to everything, --whatever _sapit hominem_. A perfect _man_. All this farrago, which must perplex you to read, and has put me to a little trouble to _select_, only proves how impossible it is to describe a _pleasant hand_. You must see Rickman to know him, for he is a species in one,--a new class; an exotic, any slip of which I am proud to put in my garden-pot. The clearest-headed fellow; fullest of matter, with least verbosity. If there be any alloy in my fortune to have met with such a man, it is that he commonly divides his time between town and country, having some foolish family ties at Christchurch, by which means he can only gladden our London hemisphere with returns of light. He is now going for six weeks.

(1) John Rickman, clerk-assistant at the table of the House of Commons, an eminent statistician, and the intimate friend of Lamb, Southey, and others of their set.

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