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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 31 To Letter 40 Post by :ID3000 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :3279

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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 31 To Letter 40




_November 28, 1800

Dear Manning,--I have received a very kind invitation from Lloyd and Sophia to go and spend a month with them at the Lakes. Now, it fortunately happens (which is so seldom the case) that I have spare cash by me enough to answer the expenses of so long a journey; and I am determined to get away from the office by some means.

The purpose of this letter is to request of you (my dear friend) that you will not take it unkind if I decline my proposed visit to Cambridge _for the present_. Perhaps I shall be able to take Cambridge _in my way_, going or coming. I need not describe to you the expectations which such an one as myself, pent up all my life in a dirty city, have formed of a tour to the Lakes. Consider Grasmere! Ambleside! Wordsworth! Coleridge! Hills, woods, lakes, and mountains, to the devil! I will eat snipes with thee, Thomas Manning. Only confess, confess, a _bite_.

P.S.--I think you named the 16th; but was it not modest of Lloyd to send such an invitation! It shows his knowledge of _money and _time_. I would be loth to think he meant

"Ironic satire sidelong sklented
On my poor pursie." (1)

For my part, with reference to my friends northward, I must confess that I am not romance-bit about _Nature_. The earth and sea and sky (when all is said) is but as a house to dwell in. If the inmates be courteous, and good liquors flow like the conduits at an old coronation, if they can talk sensibly and feel properly, I have no need to stand staring upon the gilded looking-glass (that strained my friend's purse-strings in the purchase), nor his five-shilling print over the mantelpiece of old Nabbs the carrier (which only betrays his false taste). Just as important to me (in a sense) is all the furniture of my world,--eye-pampering, but satisfies no heart. Streets, streets, streets, markets, theatres, churches, Covent Gardens, shops sparkling with pretty faces of industrious milliners, neat sempstresses, ladles cheapening, gentlemen behind counters lying, authors in the street with spectacles, George Dyers (you may know them by their gait), lamps lit at night, pastry-cooks' and silversmiths' shops, beautiful Quakers of Pentonville, noise of coaches, drowsy cry of mechanic watchman at night, with bucks reeling home drunk; if you happen to wake at midnight, cries of "Fire!" and "Stop, thief!" inns of court, with their learned air, and halls, and butteries, just like Cambridge colleges; old book-stalls, Jeremy Taylors, Burtons on Melancholy, and Religio Medicis on every stall. These are thy pleasures, O London with-the-many-sins! O City abounding in--, for these may Keswick and her giant brood go hang!

C. L.

(1) Burns.




_December 27, 1800.

At length George Dyer's phrenitis has come to a crisis; he is raging and furiously mad. I waited upon the Heathen, Thursday was a se'nnight; the first symptom which struck my eye and gave me incontrovertible proof of the fatal truth was a pair of nankeen pantaloons four times too big for him, which the said Heathen did pertinaciously affirm to be new.

They were absolutely ingrained with the accumulated dirt of ages; but he affirmed them to be clean. He was going to visit a lady that was nice about those things, and that's the reason he wore nankeen that day. And then he danced, and capered, and fidgeted, and pulled up his pantaloons, and hugged his intolerable flannel vestment closer about his poetic loins; anon he gave it loose to the zephyrs which plentifully insinuate their tiny bodies through every crevice, door, window, or wainscot, expressly formed for the exclusion of such impertinents. Then he caught at a proof-sheet, and catched up a laundress's bill instead; made a dart at Bloomfield's Poems, and threw them in agony aside. I could not bring him to one direct reply; he could not maintain his jumping mind in a right line for the tithe of a moment by Clifford's Inn clock. He must go to the printer's immediately,--the most unlucky accident; he had struck off five hundred impressions of his Poems, which were ready for delivery to subscribers, and the Preface must all be expunged. There were eighty pages of Preface, and not till that morning had he discovered that in the very first page of said Preface he had set out with a principle of criticism fundamentally wrong, which vitiated all his following reasoning. The Preface must be expunged, although it cost him L30,--the lowest calculation, taking in paper and printing! In vain have his real friends remonstrated against this Midsummer madness; George is as obstinate as a Primitive Christian, and wards and parries off all our thrusts with one unanswerable fence,--"Sir, it's of great consequence that the _world is not _misled!_"

* * * * *

Man of many snipes, I will sup with thee, _Deo volente ei diabolo nolente_, on Monday night the 5th of January, in the new year, and crush a cup to the infant century.

A word or two of my progress. Embark at six o'clock in the morning, with a fresh gale, on a Cambridge one-decker; very cold till eight at night; land at St. Mary's lighthouse, muffins and coffee upon table (or any other curious production of Turkey or both Indies), snipes exactly at nine, punch to commence at ten, with _argument_; difference of opinion is expected to take place about eleven; perfect unanimity, with some haziness and dimness, before twelve. N. B.--My single affection is not so singly wedded to snipes; but the curious and epicurean eye would also take a pleasure in beholding a delicate and well-chosen assortment of teals, ortolans, the unctuous and palate-soothing flesh, of geese wild and tame, nightingales' brains, the sensorium of a young sucking-pig, or any other Christmas dish, which I leave to the judgment of you and the cook of Gonville.





(End of 1800)

I send you, in this parcel, my play, which I beg you to present in my name, with my respect and love, to Wordsworth and his sister. You blame us for giving your direction to Miss Wesley; the woman has been ten times after us about it, and we gave it her at last, under the idea that no further harm would ensue, but she would _once write to you, and you would bite your lips and forget to answer it, and so it would end. You read us a dismal homily upon "Realities." We know quite as well as you do what are shadows and what are realities. You, for instance, when you are over your fourth or fifth jorum, chirping about old school occurrences, are the best of realities. Shadows are cold, thin things, that have no warmth or grasp in them. Miss Wesley and her friend, and a tribe of authoresses, that come after you here daily, and, in defect of you, hive and cluster upon us, are the shadows. You encouraged that mopsey, Miss Wesley, to dance after you, in the hope of having her nonsense put into a nonsensical Anthology. We have pretty well shaken her off, by that simple expedient of referring her to you; but there are more burrs in the wind. I came home t'other day from business, hungry as a hunter, to dinner, with nothing, I am sure, of _the author but hunger about me, and whom found I closeted with Mary but a friend of this Miss Wesley, one Miss Benje, or Bengey, (1)--I don't know how she spells her name, I just came is time enough, I believe, luckily, to prevent them from exchanging vows of eternal friendship. It seems she is one of your authoresses, that you first foster, and then upbraid us with. But I forgive you. "The rogue has given me potions to make me love him." Well; go she would not, nor step a step over our threshold, till we had promised to come and drink tea with her next night, I had never seen her before, and could not tell who the devil it was that was so familiar. We went, however, not to be impolite. Her lodgings are up two pairs of stairs in East Street, Tea and coffee and macaroons--a kind of cake--I much love. We sat down. Presently Miss Benje broke the silence by declaring herself quite of a different opinion from D'lsraeli, who supposes the differences of human intellect to be the mere effect of organization. She begged to know my opinion. I attempted to carry it off with a pun upon organ; but that went off very flat. She immediately conceived a very low opinion of my metaphysics; and turning round to Mary, put some question to her in French,--possibly having heard that neither Mary nor I understood French. The explanation that took place occasioned some embarrassment and much wondering. She then fell into an insulting conversation about the comparative genius and merits of all modern languages, and concluded with asserting that the Saxon was esteemed the purest dialect in Germany. From thence she passed into the subject of poetry, where I, who had hitherto sat mute and a hearer only, humbly hoped I might now put in a word to some advantage, seeing that it was my own trade in a manner. But I was stopped by a round assertion that no good poetry had appeared since Dr. Johnson's time. It seems the Doctor had suppressed many hopeful geniuses that way by the severity of his critical strictures in his "Lives of the Poets." I here ventured to question the fact, and was beginning to appeal to _names_; but I was assured "it was certainly the case." Then we discussed Miss More's book on education, which I had never read. It seems Dr. Gregory, another of Miss Bengey's friends, has found fault with one of Miss More's metaphors. Miss More has been at some pains to vindicate herself,--in the opinion of Miss Bengey, not without success. It seems the Doctor is invariably against the use of broken or mixed metaphor, which he reprobates against the authority of Shakspeare himself. We next discussed the question whether Pope was a poet. I find Dr. Gregory is of opinion he was not, though Miss Seward does not at all concur with him in this. We then sat upon the comparative merits of the ten translations of "Pizarro," and Miss Bengey, or Benje, advised Mary to take two of them home; she thought it might afford her some pleasure to compare them _verbatim_; which we declined. It being now nine o'clock, wine and macaroons were again served round, and we parted, with a promise to go again next week, and meet the Miss Porters, who, it seems, have heard much of Mr. Coleridge, and wish to meet _us_, because we are _his friends. I have been preparing for the occasion. I crowd cotton in my ears. I read all the reviews and magazines of the past month against the dreadful meeting, and I hope by these means to cut a tolerable second-rate figure.

Pray let us have no more complaints about shadows. We are in a fair way, _through you_, to surfeit sick upon them.

Our loves and respects to your host and hostess. Our dearest love to Coleridge.

Take no thought about your proof-sheets; they shall be done as if Woodfall himself did them. Pray send us word of Mrs. Coleridge and little David Hartley, your little reality.

Farewell, dear Substance. Take no umbrage at anything I have written.

C. LAMB, _Umbra_.

(1) Miss Elizabeth Benger. See "Dictionary of Nationai Biography," iv. 221.




_January_, 1801.

Thanks for your letter and present. I had already borrowed your second volume. (1) What pleases one most is "The Song of Lucy.". _Simon's sickly Daughter_, in "The Sexton," made me _cry_. Next to these are the description of these continuous echoes in the story of "Joanna's Laugh," where the mountains and all the scenery absolutely seem alive; and that fine Shakspearian character of the "happy man" in the "Brothers,"--

"That creeps about the fields,
Following his fancies by the hour, to bring
Tears down his cheek, or solitary smiles
Into his face, until the setting sun
Write Fool upon his forehead!"

I will mention one more,--the delicate and curious feeling in the wish for the "Cumberland Beggar" that he may have about him the melody of birds, although he hear them not. Here the mind knowingly passes a fiction upon herself, first substituting her own feeling for the Beggar's, and in the same breath detecting the fallacy, will not part with the wish. The "Poet's Epitaph" is disfigured, to my taste, by the common satire upon parsons and lawyers in the beginning, and the coarse epithet of "pin-point," in the sixth stanza. All the rest is eminently good, and your own. I will just add that it appears to me a fault in the "Beggar" that the instructions conveyed in it are too direct, and like a lecture: they don't slide into the mind of the reader while he is imagining no such matter. An intelligent reader finds a sort of insult in being told, "I will teach you how to think upon this subject." This fault, if I am right, is in a ten-thousandth worse degree to be found in Sterne, and in many novelists and modern poets, who continually put a sign-post up to show where you are to feel. They set out with assuming their readers to be stupid,--very different from "Robinson Crusoe," the "Vicar of Wakefield," "Roderick Random," and other beautiful, bare narratives. There is implied, an unwritten compact between author and reader: "I will tell you a story, and I suppose you will understand it." Modern novels, "St. Leons" and the like, are full of such flowers as these,--"Let not my reader suppose;" "Imagine, if you can, modest," etc, I will here have done with praise and blame, I have written so much only that you may not think I have passed over your book without observation.... I am sorry that Coleridge has christened his "Ancient Marinere," a "Poet's Reverie;" it is as bad as Bottom the Weaver's declaration that he is not a lion, but only the scenical representation of a lion. What new idea is gained by this title but one subversive of all credit--which the tale should force upon us--of its truth!

For me, I was never so affected with any human tale. After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many days. I dislike all the miraculous part of it; but the feelings of the man under the operation of such scenery, dragged me along like Tom Pipe's magic whistle. I totally differ from your idea that the "Marinere" should have had a character and a profession. This is a beauty in "Gulliver's Travels," where the mind is kept in a placid state of little wonderments; but the "Ancient Marinere" undergoes such trials as overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was,--like the state of a man in a bad dream, one terrible peculiarity of which is, that all consciousness of personality is gone. Your other observation is, I think as well, a little unfounded: the "Marinere," from being conversant in supernatural events, _has acquired a supernatural and strange cast of _phrase_, eye, appearance, etc., which frighten the "wedding guest." You will excuse my remarks, because I am hurt and vexed that you should think it necessary, with a prose apology, to open the eyes of dead men that cannot see.

To sum up a general opinion of the second volume, I do not feel any one poem in it so forcibly as the "Ancient Marinere" and "The Mad Mother," and the "Lines at Tintern Abbey" in the first.

C. L.

(1) Of the "Lyrical Ballads" then just published. For certain results of Lamb's strictures in this letter, see Letter xxxvii.




_January 30, 1801.

I ought before this to have replied to your very kind invitation into Cumberland. With you and your sister I could gang anywhere; but I am afraid whether I shall ever be able to afford so desperate a journey. Separate from the pleasure of your company, I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life. I have passed all my days in London, until I have formed as many and intense local attachments as any of you mountaineers can have done with dead nature. The lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street; the innumerable trades, tradesmen, and customers; coaches, wagons, playhouses; all the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden; the very women of the town; the watchmen, drunken scenes, rattles; life awake, if you awake, at all hours of the night; the impossibility of being dull in Fleet Street; the crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun shining upon houses and pavements; the print-shops, the old-book stalls, parsons cheapening books; coffee-houses, steams of soups from kitchens; the pantomimes, London itself a pantomime and a masquerade,--all these things work themselves into my mind, and feed me without a power of satiating me. The wonder of these sights impels me into night-walks about her crowded streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand from fulness of joy at so much life. All these emotions must be strange to you; so are your rural emotions to me. But consider what must I have been doing all my life, not to have lent great portions of my heart with usury to such scenes?

My attachments are all local, purely local,--I have no passion (or have had none since I was in love, and then it was the spurious engendering of poetry and books) to groves and valleys. The rooms where I was bom, the furniture which has been before my eyes all my life, a bookcase which has followed me about like a faithful dog (only exceeding him in knowledge), wherever I have moved; old chairs, old tables; streets, squares, where I have sunned myself; my old school,--these are my mistresses. Have I not enough without your mountains? I do not envy you. I should pity you, did I not know that the mind will make friends with anything. Your sun and moon, and skies and hills and lakes, affect me no more or scarcely come to be in more venerable characters, than as a gilded room with tapestry and tapers, where I might live with handsome visible objects. I consider the clouds above me but as a roof beautifully painted, but unable to satisfy the mind, and at last, like the pictures of the apartment of a connoisseur, unable to afford him any longer a pleasure. So fading upon me, from disuse, have been the beauties of Nature, as they have been confidently called; so ever fresh and green and warm are all the inventions of men and assemblies of men In this great city. I should certainly have laughed with dear Joanna.

Give my kindest love _and my sister's to D. and yourself. And a kiss from me to little Barbara Lewthwaite. (1) Thank you for liking my play!





_February_, 1801.

I am going to change my lodgings, having received a hint that it would be agreeable, at our Lady's next feast. I have partly fixed upon most delectable rooms, which look out (when you stand a-tiptoe) over the Thames and Surrey Hills, at the upper end of King's Bench Walks, in the Temple. There I shall have all the privacy of a house without the encumbrance; and shall be able to lock my friends out as often as I desire to hold free converse with my immortal mind; for my present lodgings resemble a minister's levee, I have so increased my acquaintance (as they call 'em), since I have resided in town. Like the country mouse, that had tasted a little of urban manners, I long to be nibbling my own cheese by my dear self without mousetraps and time-traps. By my new plan, I shall be as airy, up four pair of stairs, as in the country; and in a garden, in the midst of enchanting, more than Mahometan paradise, London, whose dirtiest drab-frequented alley, and her lowest-bowing tradesman, I would not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn, James, Walter, and the parson into the bargain. Oh, her lamps of a night; her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops, mercers, hardwaremen, pastrycooks; St. Paul's Churchyard; the Strand; Exeter 'Change; Charing Cross, with a man _upon a black horse! These are thy gods, O London! Ain't you mightily moped on the banks of the Cam? Had not you better come and set up here? You can't think what a difference. All the streets and pavements are pure gold, I warrant you,--at least, I know an alchemy that turns her mud into that metal: a mind that loves to be at home in crowds.

'Tis half-past twelve o'clock, and all sober people ought to be a-bed. Between you and me, the L. Ballads are but drowsy performances.

C. LAMB (as you may guess).

(1) The child in Wordsworth's "The Pet Lamb."




_February 15, 1801.

I had need be cautious henceforward what opinion I give of the "Lyrical Ballads." All the North of England are in a turmoil. Cumberland and Westmoreland have already declared a state of war. I lately received from Wordsworth a copy of the second volume, accompanied by an acknowledgment of having received from me many months since a copy of a certain tragedy, with excuses for not having made any acknowledgment sooner, it being owing to an "almost insurmountable aversion from letter-writing." This letter I answered in due form and time, and enumerated several of the passages which had most affected me, adding, unfortunately, that no single piece had moved me so forcibly as the "Ancient Mariner," "The Mad Mother," or the "Lines at Tintern Abbey." The Post did not sleep a moment. I received almost instantaneously a long letter of four sweating pages from my Reluctant Letter-Writer, the purport of which was that he was sorry his second volume had not given me more pleasure (Devil a hint did I give that it had _not pleased me_), and "was compelled to wish that my range of sensibility was more extended, being obliged to believe that I should receive large influxes of happiness and happy thoughts" (I suppose from the L. B.),--with a deal of stuff about a certain Union of Tenderness and Imagination, which, in the sense he used Imagination, was not the characteristic of Shakspeare, but which Milton possessed in a degree far exceeding other Poets; which union, as the highest species of poetry, and chiefly deserving that name, "he was most proud to aspire to;" then illustrating the said union by two quotations from his own second volume (which I had been so unfortunate as to miss.) First specimen; A father addresses his son:--

"When thou
First camest into the World, as it befalls
To new-born infants, thou didst sleep away
Two days; _and blessings from thy father's tongue
Then fell upon thee_."

The lines were thus undermarked, and then followed, "This passage, as combining in an extraordinary degree that union of tenderness and imagination which I am speaking of, I consider as one of the best I ever wrote."

Second specimen: A youth, after years of absence, revisits his native place, and thinks (as most people do) that there has been strange alteration in his absence,--

"And that the rocks
And everlasting hills themselves were changed."

You see both these are good poetry; but after one has been reading Shakspeare twenty of the best years of one's life, to have a fellow start up and prate about some unknown quality which Shakspeare possessed in a degree inferior to Milton and _somebody else_! This was not to be _all my castigation. Coleridge, who had not written to me for some months before, starts up from his bed of sickness to reprove me for my tardy presumption; four long pages, equally sweaty and more tedious, came from him, assuring me that when the works of a man of true genius, such as W. undoubtedly was, do not please me at first sight, I should expect the fault to lie "in me, and not in them," etc. What am I to do with such people? I certainly shall write them a very merry letter. Writing to _you_, I may say that the second volume has no such pieces as the three I enumerated. It is full of original thinking and an observing mind; but it does not often make you laugh or cry. It too artfully aims at simplicity of expression. And you sometimes doubt if simplicity be not a cover for poverty. The best piece in it I will send you, being _short_. I have grievously offended my friends in the North by declaring my undue preference; but I need not fear you.

"She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the Springs of Dove,--
A maid whom there were few (_sic_) to praise,
And very few to love.

"A violet, by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye,
Fair as a star when only one
Is shining in the sky.

"She lived unknown; and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in the grave, and oh,
The difference to me!"

This is choice and genuine, and so are many, many more. But one does riot like to have 'em rammed down one's throat. "Pray take it,--it's very good; let me help you,--eat faster."




_September 24, 1802

My Dear Manning,--Since the date of my last tetter, I have been a traveller, A strong desire seized me of visiting remote regions. My first impulse was to go aod see Paris. It was a trivial objection to my aspiring mind that I did not understand a word of the language, since I certainly intend some time in my life to see Paris, and equally certainly never intend to learn the language; therefore that could be no objection. However, I am very glad I did not go, because you had left Paris (I see) before I could have set out. I believe Stoddart promising to go with me another year prevented that plan. My next scheme (for to my restless, ambitious mind London was become a bed of thorns) was to visit the far-famed peak in Derbyshire, where the Devil sits, they say, without breeches. _This my purer mind rejected as indelicate. And my final resolve was a tour to the Lakes. I set out with Mary to Keswick, without giving Coleridge any notice; for my time, being precious, did not admit of it. He received us with all the hospitality tality in the world, and gave up his time to show us all the wonders of the country. He dwells upon a small hill by the side of Keswick, in a comfortable house, quite enveloped on all sides by a net of mountains,--great floundering bears and monsters they seemed, all couchant and asleep. We got in in the evening, travelling in a post-chaise from Penrith, in the midst of a gorgeous sunshine, which transmuted all the mountains into colors, purple, etc. We thought we had got into fairy-land. But that went off (as it never came again; while we stayed, we had no more fine sunsets); and we entered Coleridge's comfortable study just in the dusk, when the mountains were all dark, with clouds upon their heads. Such an impression I never received from objects of sight before, nor do I suppose that I can ever again. Glorious creatures, fine old fellows, Skiddaw, etc. I never shall forget ye, how ye lay about that night, like an intrenchment; gone to bed, as it seemed for the night, but promising that ye were to be seen in the morning. Coleridge had got a blazing fire in his study, which is a large, antique, ill-shaped room, with an old-fashioned organ, never played upon, big enough for a church, shelves of scattered folios, an AEolian harp, and an old sofa, half-bed, etc.; and all looking out upon the last fading view of Skiddaw and his broad-breasted brethren. What a night! Here we stayed three full weeks, in which time I visited Wordsworth's cottage, where we stayed a day or two with the Clarksons (good people and most hospitable, at whose house we tarried one day and night), and saw Lloyd. The Wordsworths were gone to Calais. They have since been in London, and passed much time with us; he has now gone into Yorkshire to be married. So we have seen Keswick, Grasmere, Ambleside, Ulswater (where the Clarksons live), and a place at the other end of Ulswater,--I forget the name, (1)--to which we travelled on a very sultry day, over the middle of Helvellyn. We have clambered up to the top of Skiddaw, and I have waded up the bed of Lodore. In fine, I have satisfied myself that there is such a thing as that which tourists call _romantic_, which I very much suspected before; they make such a spluttering about it, and toss their splendid epithets around them, till they give as dim a light as at four o'clock next morning the lamps do after an illumination. Mary was excessively tired when she got about half way up Skiddaw; but we came to a cold rill (than which nothing can be imagined more cold, running over cold stones), and with the reinforcement of a draught of cold water she surmounted it most manfully. Oh, its fine black head, and the bleak air atop of it, with a prospect of mountains all about and about, making you giddy; and then Scotland afar off, and the border countries so famous in song and ballad! It was a day that will stand out like a mountain, I am sure, in my life. But I am returned (I have now been come home near three weeks; I was a month out), and you cannot conceive the degradation I felt at first, from being accustomed to wander free as air among mountains, and bathe in rivers without being controlled by any one, to come home and _work_. I felt very _little_. I had been dreaming I was a very great man. But that is going off, and I find I shall conform in time to that state of life to which it has pleased God to call me. Besides, after all, Fleet Street and the Strand are better places to live in for good and all than amidst Skiddaw. Still, I turn back to those great places where I wandered about, participating in their greatness. After all, I could not _live in Skiddaw. I could spend a year,--two, three years among them; but I must have a prospect of seeing Fleet Street at the end of that time, or I should mope and pine away, I know. Still, Skiddaw is a fine creature.

My habits are changing, I think,--_i.e._, from drunk to sober. Whether I shall be happier or not, remains to be proved. I shall certainly be more happy in a morning; but whether I shall not sacrifice the fat and the marrow and the kidneys,--_i.e._, the night,--glorious, care-drowning night, that heals all our wrongs, pours wine into our mortifications, changes the scene from indifferent and flat to bright and brilliant? O Manning, if I should have formed a diabolical resolution, by the time you come to England, of not admitting any spirituous liquors into my house, will you be my guest on such shameworthy terms? Is life, with such limitations, worth trying? The truth is, that my liquors bring a nest of friendly harpies about my house, who consume me. This is a pitiful tale to be read at St. Gothard; but it is just now nearest my heart.

(1) Patterdale.




_October 23, 1802.

I read daily your political essays. I was particularly pleased with "Once a Jacobin;" though the argument is obvious enough, the style was less swelling than your things sometimes are, and it was plausible _ad populum_. A vessel has just arrived from Jamaica with the news of poor Sam Le Grice's death. He died at Jamaica of the yellow fever. His course was rapid, and he had been very foolish; but I believe there was more of kindness and warmth in him than in almost any other of our schoolfellows. The annual meeting of the Blues is to-morrow, at the London Tavern, where poor Sammy dined with them two years ago, and attracted the notice of all by the singular foppishness of his dress. When men go off the stage so early, it scarce seems a noticeable thing in their epitaphs, whether they had been wise or silly in their lifetime.

I am glad the snuff and Pi-pos's books please. "Goody Two Shoes" is almost out of print. Mrs. Barbauld's stuff has banished all the old classics of the nursery; and the shopman at Newberry's hardly deigned to reach them off an old exploded corner of a shelf, when Mary asked for them. Mrs. B.'s and Mrs. Trimmer's nonsense lay in piles about. Knowledge insignificant and vapid as Mrs. B.'s books convey, it seems, must come to the child in the _shape of _knowledge_, and his empty noddle must be turned with conceit of his own powers when he has learned that a horse is an animal, and Billy is better than a horse, and such like; instead of that beautiful interest in wild tales which made the child a man, while all the time he suspected himself to be no bigger than a child. Science has succeeded to poetry no less in the little walks of children than with men. Is there no possibility of averting this sore evil? Think what you would have been now, if instead of being fed with tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with geography and natural history!

Hang them!--I mean the cursed Barbauld crew, those blights and blasts of all that is human in man and child.

As to the translations, let me do two or three hundred lines, and then do you try the nostrums upon Stuart in any way you please. If they go down, I will bray more. In fact, if I got or could but get L50 a year only, in addition to what I have, I should live in affluence.

Have you anticipated it, or could not you give a parallel of Bonaparte with Cromwell, particularly as to the contrast in their deeds affecting _foreign States? Cromwell's interference for the Albigenses, B(onaparte)'s against the Swiss. Then religion would come in; and Milton and you could rant about our countrymen of that period. This is a hasty suggestion, the more hasty because I want my supper. I have just finished Chapman's Homer. Did you ever read it? It has most the continuous power of interesting you all along, like a rapid original, of any, and in the uncommon excellence of the more finished parts goes beyond Fairfax or any of 'em. The metre is fourteen syllables, and capable of all sweetness and grandeur, Cowper's ponderous blank verse detains you every step with some heavy Miltonism; Chapman gallops off with you his own free pace. Take a simile, for example. The council breaks up,--

"Being abroad, the earth was overlaid
With fleckers to them, that came forth; as when of frequent bees
Swarms rise out of a hollow rock, repairing the degrees
Of _their egression endlessly,--with ever rising new_
From forth their sweet nest; as their store, still as it faded, grew,

"_And never would cease sending forth her dusters to the spring_. They still crowd out so: this flock here, that there, belaboring The loaded flowers. So," etc.

What _endless egression of phrases the dog commands!

Take another.--Agamemnon, wounded, bearing hiss wound, heroically for the sake of the army (look below) to a woman in labor:--

"He with his lance, sword, mighty stones, poured his heroic wreak
On other squadrons of the foe, whiles yet warm blood did break
Thro' his cleft veins: but when the wound was quite exhaust and crude,
The eager anguish did approve his princely fortitude.
As when most sharp and bitter pangs distract a laboring dame,
Which the divine Ilithiae, that rule the painful frame
Of human childbirth, pour on her; the Ilithiae that are
The daughters of Saturnia; with whose extreme repair
The woman in her travail strives to take the worst it gives;
With thought, _it must be, 'tis love's fruit, the end for which she lives;
The mean to make herself new born, what comforts will redound!
So," etc.

I will tell you more about Chapman and his peculiarities in my next. I am much interested in him.

Yours ever affectionately, and Pi-Pos's,

C. L.



_November_, 1802.

My Dear Manning,--I must positively write, or I shall miss you at Toulouse. I sit here like a decayed minute-hand (I lie; _that does not _sit_), and being myself the exponent of no time, take no heed how the clocks about me are going. You possibly by this time may have explored all Italy, and toppled, unawares, into Etna, while you went too near those rotten-jawed, gap-toothed, old worn-out chaps of hell,--while I am meditating a quiescent letter to the honest postmaster at Toulouse. But in case you should not have been _felo de se_, this is to tell you that your letter was quite to my palate; in particular your just remarks upon Industry, cursed Industry (though indeed you left me to explore the reason), were highly relishing.

I've often wished I lived in the Golden Age, before doubt, and propositions, and corollaries, got into the world. _Now_, as Joseph Cottle, a Bard of Nature, sings, going up Malvern Hills,--

"How steep, how painful the ascent!
It needs the evidence of _close deduction_
To know that ever I shall gain the top."

You must know that Joe is lame, so that he had some reason for so singing. These two lines, I assure you, are taken _totidem literis from a very _popular poem. Joe is also an epic poet as well as a descriptive, and has written a tragedy, though both his drama and epopoiea are strictly _descriptive_, and chiefly of the _beauties of nature_, for Toe thinks _man_, with all his passions and frailties, not: a proper subject of the _drama_. Joe's tragedy hath the following surpassing speech in it. Some king is told that his enemy has engaged twelve archers to come over in a boat from an enemy's country and way-lay him; he thereupon pathetically exclaims,--

"_Twelve_, dost thou say? Curse on those dozen villains!"

Cottle read two or three acts out to as, very gravely on both sides, till he came to this heroic touch,--and then he asked what we laughed at? I had no more muscles that day. A poet that chooses to read out his own verses has but a limited power over you. There is a bound where his authority ceases.

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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 41 To Letter 50 The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 41 To Letter 50

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LETTER XLI TO LETTER LLETTER XLI. TO MANNING. _February 19, 1803. My Dear Manning,--The general scope of your letter afforded no indications of insanity, but some particular points raised a scruple. For God's sake, don't think any more of "Independent Tartary." (1) What are you to do among such Ethiopians? Is there no _lineal descendant of Prester John? Is the chair empty? Is the sword unswayed? Depend upon it, they'll never make you their king as long as any branch of that great stock is remaining. I tremble for your Christianity. They will certainly circumcise you. Read Sir John Mandeville's travels

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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