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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 41 To Letter 50 Post by :ID3000 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :2598

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

LETTER XLI TO LETTER L

LETTER 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 to cure you, or come over to England. There is a Tartar man now exhibiting at Exeter 'Change. Come and talk with him, and hear what he says first. Indeed, he is no very favorable specimen of his countrymen! But perhaps the best thing you can do is to _try to get the idea out of your head. For this purpose repeat to yourself every night, after you have said your prayers, the words "Independent Tartary, Independent Tartary," two or three times, and associate with them the _idea of oblivion ('t is Hartley's method with obstinate memories); or say "Independent, Independent, have I not already got an _independence_?" That was a clever way of the old Puritans,--pun-divinity. My dear friend, think what a sad pity it would be to bury such _parts in heathen countries, among nasty, unconversable, horse-belching, Tartar people! Some say they are cannibals; and then conceive a Tartar fellow _eating my friend, and adding the _cool malignity of mustard and vinegar! I am afraid 't is the reading of Chaucer has misled you; his foolish stories about Cambuscan and the ring, and the horse of brass. Believe me, there are no such things,--'t is all the poet's _invention_; but if there were such darling things as old Chaucer sings, I would _up behind you on the horse of brass, and frisk off for Prester John's country. But these are all tales; a horse of brass never flew, and a king's daughter never talked with birds! The Tartars really are a cold, insipid, smouchy set. You'll be sadly moped (if you are not eaten) among them. Pray _try and cure yourself. Take hellebore (the counsel is Horace's; 't was none of my thought _originally_). Shave yourself oftener. Eat no saffron, for saffron-eaters contract a terrible Tartar-like yellow. Pray to avoid the fiend. Eat nothing that gives the heartburn. _Shave the upper lip_. Go about like an European. Read no book of voyages (they are nothing but lies); only now and then a romance, to keep the fancy _under_. Above all, don't go to any sights of _wild beasts. That has been your ruin_. Accustom yourself to write familiar letters on common subjects to your friends in England, such as are of a moderate understanding. And think about common things more. I supped last night with Rickman, and met a merry _natural captain, who pleases himself vastly with once having made a pun at Otaheite in the O. language. 'Tis the same man who said Shakspeare he liked, because he was so _much of the gentleman_. Rickman is a man "absolute in all numbers." I think I may one day bring you acquainted, if you do not go to Tartary first; for you'll never come back. Have a care, my dear friend, of Anthropophagi! their stomachs are always craving. 'Tis terrible to be weighed out at fivepence a pound. To sit at table (the reverse of fishes in Holland), not as a guest, but as a meat!

God bless you! do come to England. Air and exercise may do great things. Talk with some minister. Why not your father?

God dispose all for the best! I have discharged my duty.

Your sincere friend,

C. LAMB.

(1) Manning had evidently written to Lamb as to his cherished project of exploring remoter China and Thibet.

 

LETTER XLII.

TO MANNING.

_February_, 1803.

Not a sentence, not a syllable, of Trismegistus shall be lost through my neglect. I am his word-banker, his storekeeper of puns and syllogisms. You cannot conceive (and if Trismegistus cannot, no man can) the strange joy which I felt at the receipt of a letter from Paris. It seemed to give me a learned importance which placed me above all who had not Parisian correspondents. Believe that I shall carefully husband every scrap, which will save you the trouble of memory when you come back. You cannot write things so trifling, let them only be about Paris, which I shall not treasure. In particular, I must have parallels of actors and actresses. I must be told if any building in Paris is at all comparable to St. Paul's, which, contrary to the usual mode of that part of our nature called admiration, I have looked up to with unfading wonder every morning at ten o'clock, ever since it has lain in my way to business. At noon I casually glance upon it, being hungry; and hunger has not much taste for the fine arts. Is any night-walk comparable to a walk from St. Paul's to Charing Cross, for lighting and paving, crowds going and coming without respite, the rattle of coaches, and the cheerfulness of shops? Have you seen a man guillotined yet? is it as good as hanging? Are the women _all painted, and the men _all monkeys? or are there not a _few that look like _rational of _both sexes_? Are you and the First Consul _thick_? All this expense of ink I may fairly put you to, as your letters will not be solely for my proper pleasure, but are to serve as memoranda and notices, helps for short memory, a kind of Rumfordizing recollection, for yourself on your return. Your letter was just what a letter should be,--crammed and very funny. Every part of it pleased me, till you came to Paris, and your philosophical indolence or indifference stung me. You cannot stir from your rooms till you know the language! What the devil! are men nothing but word-trumpets? Are men all tongue and ear? Have these creatures, that you and I profess to know _something about_, no faces, gestures, gabble; no folly, no absurdity, no induction of French education upon the abstract idea of men and women; no similitude nor dissimilitude to English? Why, thou cursed Smellfungus! your account of your landing and reception, and Bullen (I forget how you spell it,--it was spelt my way in Harry the Eighth's time), was exactly in that minute style which strong impressions INSPIRE (writing to a Frenchman, I write as a Frenchman would). It appears to me as if I should die with joy at the first landing in a foreign country. It is the nearest pleasure which a grown man can substitute for that unknown one, which he can never know,--the pleasure of the first entrance into life from the womb. I daresay, in a short time, my habits would come back like a "stronger man" armed, and drive out that new pleasure; and I should soon sicken for known objects. Nothing has transpired here that seems to me of sufficient importance to send dry-shod over the water; but I suppose you will want to be told some news. The best and the worst to me is, that I have given up two guineas a week at the "Post," and regained my health and spirits, which were upon the wane. I grew sick, and Stuart unsatisfied. _Ludisti satis, tempus abire est_; I must cut closer, that's all. Mister Fell--or as you, with your usual facetiousness and drollery, call him, Mr. Fell--has stopped short in the middle of his play. Some _friend has told him that it has not the least merit in it. Oh that I had the rectifying of the Litany! I would put in a _Libera nos (Scriptores videlicet) ab amicis_! That's all the news. _A propos (is it pedantry, writing to a Frenchman, to express myself sometimes by a French word, when an English one would not do as well? Methinks my thoughts fall naturally into it)--

In all this time I have done but one thing which I reckon tolerable, and that I will transcribe, because it may give you pleasure, being a picture of _my humors. You will find it in my last page. It absurdly is a first number of a series, thus strangled in its birth.

More news! The Professor's Rib (1) has come out to be a disagreeable woman, so much so as to drive me and some more old cronies from his house. He must not wonder if people are shy of coming to see him because of the _Snakes_.

C. L.

(1) Mrs. Godwin

 

LETTER XLIII.

TO WILLIAM GODWIN.

_November 10, 1803.

Dear Godwin,--You never made a more unlucky and perverse mistake than to suppose that the reason of my not writing that cursed thing was to be found in your book. I assure you most sincerely that I have been greatly delighted with "Chaucer." (1) I may be wrong, but I think there is one considerable error runs through it, which is a conjecturing spirit, a fondness for filling out the picture by supposing what Chaucer did and how he felt, where the materials are scanty. So far from meaning to withhold from you (out of mistaken tenderness) this opinion of mine, I plainly told Mrs. Godwin that I did find a _fault_, which I should reserve naming until I should see you and talk it over. This she may very well remember, and also that I declined naming this fault until she drew it from me by asking me if there was not too much fancy in the work. I then confessed generally what I felt, but refused to go into particulars until I had seen you. I am never very fond of saying things before third persons, because in the relation (such is human nature) something is sure to be dropped. If Mrs. Godwin has been the cause of your misconstruction, I am very angry, tell her; yet it is not an anger unto death. I remember also telling Mrs. G. (which she may have _dropt_) that I was by turns considerably more delighted than I expected. But I wished to reserve all this until I saw you. I even had conceived an expression to meet you with, which was thanking you for some of the most exquisite pieces of criticism I had ever read in my life. In particular, I should have brought forward that on "Troilus and Cressida" and Shakspeare, which, it is little to say, delighted me and instructed me (if not absolutely _instructed me, yet put into _full-grown sense many conceptions which had arisen in me before in my most discriminating moods). All these things I was preparing to say, and bottling them up till I came, thinking to please my friend and host the author, when lo! this deadly blight intervened.

I certainly ought to make great allowances for your misunderstanding me. You, by long habits of composition and a greater command gained over your own powers, cannot conceive of the desultory and uncertain way in which I (an author by fits) sometimes cannot put the thoughts of a common letter into sane prose. Any work which I take upon myself as an engagement will act upon me to torment; _e.g._, when I have undertaken, as three or four times I have, a school-boy copy of verses for Merchant Taylors' boys, at a guinea a copy, I have fretted over them in perfect inability to do them, and have made my sister wretched with my wretchedness for a week together. The same, till by habit I have acquired a mechanical command, I have felt in making paragraphs. As to reviewing, in particular, my head is so whimsical a head that I cannot, after reading another man's book, let it have been never so pleasing, give any account of it in any methodical way, I cannot follow his train. Something like this you must have perceived of me in conversation. Ten thousand times I have confessed to you, talking of my talents, my utter inability to remember in any comprehensive way what I read. I can vehemently applaud, or perversely stickle, at _parts_; but I cannot grasp at a whole. This infirmity (which is nothing to brag of) may be seen in my two little compositions, the tale and my play, in both which no reader, however partial, can find any story. I wrote such stuff about Chaucer, and got into such digressions, quite irreducible into 1 1/5 column of a paper, that I was perfectly ashamed to show it you. However, it is become a serious matter that I should convince you I neither slunk from the task through a wilful deserting neglect, or through any (most imaginary on your part) distaste of "Chaucer;" and I will try my hand again,--I hope with better luck. My health is bad, and my time taken up; but all I can spare between this and Sunday shall be employed for you, since you desire it: and if I bring you a crude, wretched paper on Sunday, you must burn it, and forgive me; if it proves anything better than I predict, may it be a peace-offering of sweet incense between us!

C. LAMB.

(1) Godwin's "Life of Chaucer,"--a work, says Canon Ainger, consisting of "four fifths ingenious guessing to one fifth of material having any historic basis."

 

LETTER XLIV.

TO MANNING.

_February 24, 1805.

Dear Manning,--I have been very unwell since I saw you. A sad depression of spirits, a most unaccountable nervousness; from which I have been partially relieved by an odd accident. You knew Dick Hopkins, the swearing scullion of Caius? This fellow, by industry and agility, has thrust himself into the important situations (no sinecures, believe me) of cook to Trinity Hall and Caius College; and the generous creature has contrived, with the greatest delicacy imaginable, to send me a present of Cambridge brawn. What makes it the more extraordinary is, that the man never saw me in his life that I know of. I suppose he has _heard of me. I did not immediately recognize the donor; but one of Richard's cards, which had accidentally fallen into the straw, detected him in a moment, Dick, you know, was always remarkable for flourishing. His card imports that "orders (to wit, for brawn) from any part of England, Scotland, or Ireland, will be duly executed," etc. At first I thought of declining the present; but Richard knew my blind side when he pitched upon brawn. 'Tis of all my hobbies the supreme in the eating way. He might have sent sops from the pan, skimmings, crumpets, chips, hog's lard, the tender brown judiciously scalped from a fillet of veal (dexterously replaced by a salamander), the tops of asparagus, fugitive livers, runaway gizzards of fowls, the eyes of martyred pigs, tender effusions of laxative woodcocks, the red spawn of lobsters, leverets' ears, and such pretty filchings common to cooks; but these had been ordinary presents, the everyday courtesies of dishwashers to their sweethearts. Brawn was a noble thought. It is not every common gullet-fancier that can properly esteem it. It is like a picture of one of the choice old Italian masters. Its gusto is of that hidden sort. As Wordsworth sings of a modest poet, "you must love him, ere to you he will seem worthy of your love," so brawn, you must taste it, ere to you it will seem to have any taste at all. But 'tis nuts to the adept,--those that will send out their tongues and feelers to find it out. It will be wooed, and not unsought be won. Now, ham-essence, lobsters, turtle, such popular minions, absolutely _court you_, lay themselves out to strike you at first smack, like one of David's pictures (they call him _Darveed_), compared with the plain russet-coated wealth of a Titian or a Correggio, as I illustrated above. Such are the obvious glaring heathen virtues of a corporation dinner, compared with the reserved collegiate worth of brawn. Do me the favour to leave off the business which you may be at present upon, and go immediately to the kitchens of Trinity and Caius, and make my most respectful compliments to Mr. Richard Hopkins, and assure him that his brawn is most excellent, and that I am moreover obliged to him for his innuendo about salt water and bran, which I shall not fail to improve. I leave it to you whether you shall choose to pay him the civility of asking him to dinner while you stay in Cambridge, or in whatever other way you may best like to show your gratitude to _my friend_. Richard Hopkins, considered in many points of view, is a very extraordinary character. Adieu. I hope to see you to supper in London soon, where we will taste Richard's brawn, and drink his health in a cheerful but moderate cup. We have not many such men in any rank of life as Mr. R. Hopkins. Crisp the barber, of St. Mary's, was just such another. I wonder _he never sent me any little token,--some chestnuts, or a puff, or two pound of hair just to remember him by; gifts are like nails. _Praesens ut absens_, that is, your _present makes amends for your absence.

Yours,

C. LAMB.

 

LETTER XLV.

TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

_June 14, 1805.

My Dear Miss Wordsworth,--I have every reason to suppose that this illness, like all Mary's former ones, will be but temporary. But I cannot always feel so. Meantime she is dead to me, and I miss a prop. All my strength Is gone, and I am like a fool, bereft of her co-operation. I dare not think, iest I should think wrong; so used am I to look up to her in the least and the biggest perplexity. To say all that I know of her, would be more than I think anybody could believe or ever understand; and when I hope to have her well again with me, it would be sinning against her feelings to go about to praise her; for I can conceal nothing that I do from her. She is older and wiser and better than I, and all my wretched imperfections I cover to myself by resolutely thinking on her goodness. She would share life and death, heaven and hell, with me. She lives but for me; and I know I have been wasting and teasing her life for five years past incessantly with my cursed ways of going on. But even in this upbraiding of myself I am offending against her, for I know that she has cleaved to me for better, for worse; and if the balance has been against her hitherto, it was a noble trade. I am stupid, and lose myself in what I write. I write rather what answers to my feelings (which are sometimes sharp enough) than express my present ones, for I am only flat and stupid. I am sure you will excuse my writing any more, I am so very poorly.

I cannot resist transcribing three or four lines which poor Mary made upon a picture (a Holy Family) which we saw at an auction only one week before she left home. They are sweet lines, and upon a sweet picture. But I send them only as the last memorial of her.


VIRGIN AND CHILD, L. DA VINCI.

"Maternal Lady, with thy virgin-grace,
Heaven-born thy Jesus seemeth, sure,
And thou a virgin pure.
Lady most perfect, when thy angel face
Men look upon, they wish to be
A Catholic, Madonna fair, to worship thee."


You had her lines about the "Lady Blanch." You have not had some which she wrote upon a copy of a girl from Titian, which I had hung up where that print of Blanch and the Abbess (as she beautifully interpreted two female figures from L. da Vinci) had hung in our room. 'Tis light and pretty.


"Who art thou, fair one, who usurp'st the place
Of Blanch, the lady of the matchless grace?
Come, fair and pretty, tell to me
Who in thy lifetime thou mightst be?
Thou pretty art and fair,
But with the Lady Blanch thou never must compare.
No need for Blanch her history to tell,
Whoever saw her face, they there did read it well;
But when I look on thee, I only know
There lived a pretty maid some hundred years ago,"


This is a little unfair, to tell so much about ourselves, and to advert so little to your letter, so full of comfortable tidings of you all But my own cares press pretty close upon me, and you can make allowance. That you may go on gathering strength and peace is my next wish to Mary's recovery.

I had almost forgot your repeated invitation. Supposing that Mary will be well and able, there is another _ability which you may guess at, which I cannot promise myself. In prudence we ought not to come. This illness will make it still more prudential to wait. It is not a balance of this way of spending our money against another way, but an absolute question of whether we shall stop now, or go on wasting away the little we have got beforehand, which my evil conduct has already encroached upon one-half. My best love, however, to you all, and to that most friendly creature. Mrs. Clarkson, and better health to her, when you see or write to her.

CHARLES LAMB.

 

LETTER XLVI. (1)

TO MANNING.

_May 10, 1806.

My Dear Manning,--I didn't know what your going was till I shook a last fist with you, and then 'twas just like having shaken hands with a wretch on the fatal scaffold, and when you are down the ladder, you can never stretch out to him again. Mary says you are dead, and there's nothing to do but to leave it to time to do for us in the end what it always does for those who mourn for people in such a case. But she'll see by your letter you are not quite dead. A little kicking and agony, and then--Martin Burney _took me out a walking that evening, and we talked of Manning; and then I came home and smoked for you, and at twelve o'clock came home Mary and Monkey Louisa from the play, and there was more talk and more smoking, and they all seemed first-rate characters, because they knew a certain person. But what's the use of talking about 'em? By the time you'll have made your escape from the Kalmuks, you'll have stayed so long I shall never be able to bring to your mind who Mary was, who will have died about a year before, nor who the Holcrofts were! Me perhaps you will mistake for Phillips, or confound me with Mr. Dawe, because you saw us together. Mary (whom you seem to remember yet) is not quite easy that she had not a formal parting from you. I wish it had so happened. But you must bring her a token, a shawl or something, and remember a sprightly little mandarin for our mantelpiece, as a companion to the child I am going to purchase at the museum. She says you saw her writings about the other day, and she wishes you should know what they are. She is doing for Godwin's bookseller twenty of Shakspeare's plays, to be made into children's tales. Six are already done by her; to wit: "The Tempest," "Winter's Tale," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Much Ado," "Two Gentlemen of Verona," and "Cymbeline;" and "The Merchant of Venice" is in forwardness. I have done "Othello" and "Macbeth," and mean to do all the tragedies. I think it will be popular among the little people, besides money. It's to bring in sixty guineas. Mary has done them capitally, I think you'd think. (2) These are the humble amusements we propose, while you are gone to plant the cross of Christ among barbarous pagan anthropophagi. _Quam homo homini praestat! but then, perhaps, you'll get murdered, and we shall die in our beds, with a fair literary reputation. Be sure, if you see any of those people whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, that you make a draught of them. It will be very curious. Oh, Manning, I am serious to sinking almost, when I think that all those evenings, which you have made so pleasant, are gone perhaps forever. Four years you talk of, maybe ten; and you may come back and find such alterations! Some circumstances may grow up to you or to me that may be a bar to the return of any such intimacy. I daresay all this is hum, and that all will come back; but indeed we die many deaths before we die, and I am almost sick when I think that such a hold as I had of you is gone. I have friends, but some of 'em are changed. Marriage, or some circumstance, rises up to make them not the same. But I felt sure of you. And that last token you gave me of expressing a wish to have my name joined with yours, you know not how it affected me,--like a legacy.

God bless you in every way you can form a wish! May He give you health, and safety, and the accomplishment of all your objects, and return you again to us to gladden some fireside or other (I suppose we shall be moved from the Temple). I will nurse the remembrance of your steadiness and quiet, which used to infuse something like itself into our nervous minds. Mary called you our ventilator. Farewell! and take her best wishes and mine. Good by.

C.L.

(1) Addressed: "Mr, Manning, Passenger on Board the 'Thames,' East Indiaman, Portsmouth." Manning had set out for Canton.

(2) Miss Lamb has amusingly described the progress of their labors on this volume; "You would like to see us, as we often sit writing on one table (but not on one cushion sitting), like Hermia and Helena, in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream;' or rather like an old literary Darby and Joan, I taking snuff, and he groaning all the while, and saying he can make nothing of it, which he always says till he has finished, and then he finds out that he has made something of it."

 

LETTER XLVII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

_June_, 1806.

Dear Wordsworth,--We are pleased, you may be sure, with the good news of Mrs. Wordsworth. (1) Hope all is well over by this time. "A fine boy! Have you any more?--One more and a girl,--poor copies of me!" _vide "Mr. H.," a farce which the proprietors have done me the honor--But I set down Mr, Wroughton's own words, N. B.--The ensuing letter was sent in answer to one which I wrote, begging to know if my piece had any chance, as I might make alterations, etc, I writing on Monday, there comes this letter on the Wednesday. Attend.

(_Copy of a letter from Mr. R. Wroughton_.)

SIR,--Your piece of "Mr. H.," I am desired to say, is accepted at Drury Lane Theatre by the proprietors, and if agreeable to you, will be brought forwards when the proper opportunity serves. The piece shall be sent to you for your alterations in the course of a few days, as the same is not in my hands, but with the proprietors,

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

RICHARD WROUGHTON.

(Dated) 66, Gower Street, Wednesday, June 11th, 1806.

On the following Sunday Mr. Tobin comes. The scent of a manager's letter brought him. He would have gone farther any day on such a business. I read the letter to him. He deems it authentic and peremptory. Our conversation naturally fell upon pieces, different sorts of pieces,--what is the best way of offering a piece; how far the caprice of managers is an obstacle in the way of a piece; how to judge of the merits of a piece; how long a piece may remain in the hands of the managers before it is acted; and my piece, and your piece, and my poor brother's piece,--my poor brother was all his life endeavoring to get a piece accepted. I wrote that in mere wantonness of triumph. Have nothing more to say about it. The managers, I thank my stars, have decided its merits forever. They are the best judges of pieces, and it would be insensible in me to affect a false modesty, after the very flattering letter which I have received.

(Illustration: Admit to Boxes. Mr. H. _Ninth Night Charles Lamb)

I think this will be as good a pattern for orders as I can think on. A little thin flowery border, round, neat, not gaudy, and the Drury Lane Apollo, with the harp at the top. Or shall I have no Apollo,--simply nothing? Or perhaps the Comic Muse?

The same form, only I think without the Apollo, will serve for the pit and galleries. I think it will be best to write my name at full length; but then if I give away a great many, that will be tedious. Perhaps _Ch. Lamb will do.

BOXES, now I think on it, I'll have in capitals; the rest, in a neat Italian hand. Or better, perhaps, BORES in Old English characters, like Madoc or Thalaba?

_A propos of Spenser (you will find him mentioned a page or two before, near enough for an _a propos_), I was discoursing on poetry (as one's apt to deceive one's self, and when a person is willing to _talk of what one likes, to believe that be also likes the same, as lovers do) with a young gentleman of my office, who is deep read in Anacreon Moore, Lord Strangford, and the principal modern poets, and I happened to mention Epithalamiums, and that I could show him a very fine one of Spenser's. At the mention of this my gentleman, who is a very fine gentleman, pricked up his ears and expressed great pleasure, and begged that I would give him leave to copy it; he did not care how long it was (for I objected the length), he should be very happy to see _anything by him_. Then pausing, and looking sad, he ejaculated, "POOR SPENCER!" I begged to know the reason of his ejaculation, thinking that time had by this time softened down any calamities which the bard might have endured. "Why, poor fellow," said he, "he has lost his wife!" "Lost his wife!" said I, "who are you talking of?" "Why, Spencer!" said he; "I've read the Monody he wrote on the occasion, and _a very pretty thing it is_." This led to an explanation (it could be delayed no longer) that the sound _Spenser_, which, when poetry is talked of, generally excites an image of an old bard in a ruff, and sometimes with it dim notions of Sir P. Sidney and perhaps Lord Burleigh, had raised in my gentleman a quite contrary image of the Honorable William Spencer, who has translated some things from the German very prettily, which are published with Lady Di Beauclerk's designs. Nothing like defining of terms when we talk. What blunders might I have fallen into of quite inapplicable criticism, but for this timely explanation!

N.B.--At the beginning of _Edm. Spenser (to prevent mistakes), I have copied from my own copy, and primarily from a book of Chalmers's on Shakspeare, a sonnet of Spenser's never printed among his poems. It is curious, as being manly, and rather Miltonic, and as a sonnet of Spenser's with nothing in it about love or knighthood. I have no room for remembrances, but I hope our doing your commission will prove we do not quite forget you.

C. L.

(1) Wordsworth's son Thomas was born June 16, 1806.

 

LETTER XLVIII.


TO MANNING

_December 5, 1806.

Manning, your letter, dated Hottentots, August the what-was-it? came to hand. I can scarce hope that mine will have the same luck. China, Canton,--bless us, how it strains the imagination and makes it ache! I write under another uncertainty whether it can go to-morrow by a ship which I have just learned is going off direct to your part of the world, or whether the despatches may not be sealed up and this have to wait; for if it is detained here, it will grow staler in a fortnight than in a five months' voyage coming to you. It will be a point of conscience to send you none but bran-new news (the latest edition), which will but grow the better, like oranges, for a sea-voyage. Oh that you should be so many hemispheres off!--if I speak incorrectly, you can correct me. Why, the simplest death or marriage that takes place here must be important to you as news in the old Bastile. There's your friend Tuthill has got away from France--you remember France? and Tuthill?--ten to one but he writes by this post, if he don't get my note in time, apprising him of the vessel sailing. Know, then, that he has found means to obtain leave from Bonaparte, without making use of any _incredible romantic pretences_, as some have done, who never meant to fulfil them, to come home; and I have seen him here and at Holcroft's. An't you glad about Tuthill? Now then be sorry for Holcroft, whose new play, called "The Vindictive Man," was damned about a fortnight since. It died in part of its own weakness, and in part for being choked up with bad actors. The two principal parts were destined to Mrs. Jordan and Mr. Bannister; but Mrs. J. has not come to terms with the managers,--they have had some squabble,--and Bannister shot some of his fingers off by the going off of a gun. So Miss Duncan had her part, and Mr. De Camp took his. His part, the principal comic hope of the play, was most unluckily Goldfinch, taken out of the "Road to Ruin,"--not only the same character, but the identical Goldfinch; the same as Falstaff is in two plays of Shakspeare. As the devil of ill-luck would have it, half the audience did not know that H. had written it, but were displeased at his stealing from the "Road to Ruin;" and those who might have home a gentlemanly coxcomb with his "That's your sort," "Go it,"--such as Lewis is,--did not relish the intolerable vulgarity and inanity of the idea stripped of his manner. De Camp was hooted, more than hissed,--hooted and bellowed off the stage before the second act was finished; so that the remainder of his part was forced to be, with some violence to the play, omitted. In addition to this, a strumpet was another principal character,--a most unfortunate choice in this moral day. The audience were as scandalized as if you were to introduce such a personage to their private tea-tables. Besides, her action in the play was gross,--wheedling an old man into marriage. But the mortal blunder of the play was that which, oddly enough, H. took pride in, and exultingly told me of the night before it came out, that there were no less than eleven principal characters in it, and I believe he meant of the men only, for the play-bill expressed as much, not reckoning one woman and one--; and true it was, for Mr. Powell, Mr. Raymond, Mr. Bartlett, Mr. H. Siddons, Mr. Barrymore, etc., to the number of eleven, had all parts equally prominent, and there was as much of them in quantity and rank as of the hero and heroine, and most of them gentlemen who seldom appear but as the hero's friend in a farce,--for a minute or two,--and here they all had their ten-minute speeches, and one of them gave the audience a serious account how he was now a lawyer, but had been a poet; and then a long enumeration of the inconveniences of authorship, rascally booksellers, reviewers, etc.; which first set the audience a-gaping. But I have said enough; you will be so sorry that you will not think the best of me for my detail: but news is news at Canton. Poor H. I fear will feel the disappointment very seriously in a pecuniary light. From what I can learn, he has saved nothing. You and I were hoping one day that he had; but I fear he has nothing but his pictures and books, and a no very flourishing business, and to be obliged to part with his long-necked Guido that hangs opposite as you enter, and the game-piece that hangs in the back drawing-room, and all those Vandykes, etc.! God should temper the wind to the shorn connoisseur. I hope I need not say to you that I feel for the weather-beaten author and for all his household. I assure you his fate has soured a good deal the pleasure I should have otherwise taken in my own little farce being accepted, and I hope about to be acted,--it is in rehearsal actually, and I expect it to come out next week. It is kept a sort of secret, and the rehearsals have gone on privately, lest by many folks knowing it, the story should come out, which would infallibly damn it. You remember I had sent it before you went. Wroughton read it, and was much pleased with it. I speedily got an answer. I took it to make alterations, and lazily kept it some months, then took courage and furbished it up in a day or two and took it. In less than a fortnight I heard the principal part was given to Elliston, who liked it, and only wanted a prologue, which I have since done and sent; and I had a note the day before yesterday from the manager, Wroughton (bless his fat face, he is not a bad actor in some things), to say that I should be summoned to the rehearsal after the next, which next was to be yesterday. I had no idea it was so forward. I have had no trouble, attended no reading or rehearsal, made no interest; what a contrast to the usual parade of authors! But it is peculiar to modesty to do all things without noise or pomp! I have some suspicion it will appear in public on Wednesday next, for W. says in his note, it is so forward that if wanted it may come out next week, and a new melodrama is announced for every day till then; and "a new farce is in rehearsal," is put up in the bills. Now, you'd like to know the subject. The title is "Mr. H.," no more; how simple, how taking! A great H. sprawling over the play-bill and attracting eyes at every corner. The story is a coxcomb appearing at Bath, vastly rich, all the ladies dying for him, all bursting to know who he is; but he goes by no other name than Mr. H.,--a curiosity like that of the dames of Strasburg about the man with the great nose. But I won't tell you any more about it. Yes, I will, but I can't give you an idea how I have done it. I'll just tell you that after much vehement admiration, when his true name comes out, "Hogs-flesh," all the women shun him, avoid him, and not one can be found to change their name for him,--that's the idea,--how flat it is here; (1) but how whimsical in the farce! And only think how hard upon me it is that the ship is despatched to-morrow, and my triumph cannot be ascertained till the Wednesday after; but all China will ring of it by and by. N.B. (But this is a secret,) The Professor (2) has got a tragedy coming out, with the young Roscius in it, in January next, as we say,--January last it will be with you; and though it is a profound secret now, as all his affairs are, it cannot be much of one by the time you read this. However, don't let it go any farther. I understand there are dramatic exhibitions in China. One would not like to be forestalled. Do you find in all this stuff I have written anything like those feelings which one should send my old adventuring friend, that is gone to wander among Tartars, and may never come again? I don't, but your going away, and all about you, is a threadbare topic. I have worn it out with thinking, it has come to me when I have been dull with anything, till my sadness has seemed more to have come from it than to have introduced it. I want you, you don't know how much; but if I had you here in my European garret, we should but talk over such stuff as I have written, so--Those "Tales from Shakspeare" are near coming out, and Mary has begun a new work, Mr. Dawe is turned author; he has been in such a way lately,--Dawe the painter, I mean,--he sits and stands about at Holcroft's and says nothing, then sighs, and leans his head on his hand. I took him to be in love, but it seems he was only meditating a work,--"The Life of Morland:" the young man is not used to composition. Rickman and Captain Burney are well; they assemble at my house pretty regularly of a Wednesday, a new institution. Like other great men, I have a public day,--cribbage and pipes, with Phillips and noisy Martin Burney.

Good Heaven, what a bit only I've got left! How shall I squeeze all I know into this morsel! Coleridge is come home, and is going to turn lecturer on taste at the Royal Institution. I shall get L200 from the theatre if "Mr. H." has a good run, and I hope L100 for the copyright. Nothing if it fails; and there never was a more ticklish thing. The whole depends on the manner in which the name is brought out, which I value myself on, as a _chef d'oeuvre_. How the paper grows less and less! In less than two minutes I shall cease to talk to you, and you may rave to the Great Wall of China. N.B.--Is there such a wall? Is it as big as Old London Wall by Bedlam? Have you met with a friend of mine named Ball at Canton? If you are acquainted, remember me kindly to him. Maybe you'll think I have not said enough of Tuthill and the Holcrofts. Tuthill is a noble fellow, as far as I can judge. The Holcrofts bear their disappointment pretty well, but indeed they are sadly mortified. Mrs. H. is cast down. It was well, if it were but on this account, that Tuthill is come home. N.B.--If my little thing don't succeed, I shall easily survive, having, as it were, compared to H.'s venture, but a sixteenth in the lottery. Mary and I are to sit next the orchestra in the pit, next the tweedle-dees. She remembers you. You are more to us than five hundred farces, clappings, etc.

Come back one day. C. LAMB.

(1) It was precisely this flatness, this slightness of plot and catastrophe, that doomed "Mr. H." to failure. See next letter.

(2) Godwin. His tragedy of "Faulkner" was published in 1808.

 

LETTER XLIX.


TO WORDSWORTH.

_December_, II, 1806.

Mary's love to all of you; I wouldn't let her write.

Dear Wordsworth,--"Mr. H." came out last night, and failed. I had many fears; the subject was not substantial enough. John Bull must have solider fare than a _letter_. We are pretty stout about it; have had plenty of condoling friends; but, after all, we had rather it should have succeeded. You will see the prologue in most of the morning papers. It was received with such shouts as I never witnessed to a prologue. It was attempted to be encored. How hard! a thing I did merely as a task, because it was wanted, and set no great store by; and "Mr. H."! The quantity of friends we had in the house--my brother and I being in public offices, etc.--was astonishing; but they yielded at last to a few hisses.

A hundred hisses (Damn the word, I write it like kisses,--how different!)--a hundred hisses outweigh a thousand claps. (1) The former come more directly from, the heart. Well, 't is withdrawn, and there is an end.

Better luck to us,

C. LAMB.

(1) Lamb was himself in the audience, and is said to have taken a conspicuous share in the storm of hisses that followed the dropping of the curtain.

 

LETTER L.


TO MANNING.

_January 2, 1810.

My best room commands a court, in which there are trees and a pump, the water of which is excellent,--cold with brandy, and not very insipid without. Here I hope to set up my rest, and not quit till Mr. Powell, the undertaker, gives me notice that I may have possession of my last lodging. He lets lodgings for single gentlemen. I sent you a parcel of books by my last, to give you some idea of the state of European literature. There comes with this two volumes, done up as letters, of minor poetry, a sequel to "Mrs. Leicester;" the best you may suppose mine, the next best are my coadjutor's. You may amuse yourself in guessing them out; but I must tell you mine are but one third in quantity of the whole. So much for a very delicate subject. It is hard to speak of one's self, etc. Holcroft had finished his life when I wrote to you, and Hazlitt has since finished his life,--I do not mean his own life, but he has finished a life of Holcroft, which is going to press. Tuthill is Dr. Tuthill. I continue Mr. Lamb. I have published a little book for children on titles of honor; and to give them some idea of the difference of rank and gradual rising, I have made a little scale, supposing myself to receive the following various accessions of dignity from the king, who is the fountain of honor,--as at first, 1, Mr. C. Lamb; 2, C. Lamb, Esq.; 3, Sir C. Lamb, Bart.; 4, Baron Lamb, of Stamford; 5, Viscount Lamb; 6, Earl Lamb; 7, Marquis Lamb; 8, Duke Lamb. It would look like quibbling to carry it on farther, and especially as it is not necessary for children to go beyond the ordinary titles of sub-regal dignity in our own country, otherwise I have sometimes in my dreams imagined myself still advancing, as 9th, King Lamb; 10th, Emperor Lamb; 11th, Pope Innocent,--higher than which is nothing. Puns I have not made many (nor punch much) since the date of my last; one I cannot help relating. A constable in Salisbury Cathedral was telling me that eight people dined at the top of the spire of the cathedral; upon which I remarked that they must be very sharp-set. But in general I cultivate the reasoning part of my mind more than the imaginative. I am stuffed out so with eating turkey for dinner, and another turkey for supper yesterday (turkey in Europe and turkey in Asia), that I can't jog on. It is New Year here. That is, it was New Year half a year back, when I was writing this. Nothing puzzles me more than time and space, and yet nothing puzzles me less, for I never think about them. The Persian ambassador is the principal thing talked of now. I sent some people to see him worship the sun on Primrose Hill at half-past six in the morning, 28th November; but he did not come,--which makes me think the old fire-worshippers are a sect almost extinct in Persia. The Persian ambassador's name is Shaw Ali Mirza. The common people call him Shaw Nonsense. While I think of it, I have put three letters besides my own three into the India post for you, from your brother, sister, and some gentleman whose name I forget. Will they, have they, did they come safe? The distance you are at, cuts up tenses by the root. I think you said you did not know Kate *********. I express her by nine stars, though she is but one. You must have seen her at her father's. Try and remember her. Coleridge is bringing out a paper in weekly numbers, called the "Friend," which I would send, if I could; but the difficulty I had in getting the packets of books out to you before deters me; and you'll want something new to read when you come home. Except Kate, I have had no vision of excellence this year, and she passed by like the queen on her coronation day; you don't know whether you saw her or not. Kate is fifteen; I go about moping, and sing the old, pathetic ballad I used to like in my youth,--


"She's sweet fifteen,
I'm _one year more._


Mrs. Bland sang it in boy's clothes the first time I heard it. I sometimes think the lower notes in my voice are like Mrs. Bland's. That glorious singer, Braham, one of my lights, is fled. He was for a season. He was a rare composition of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel, yet all these elements mixed up so kindly in him that you could not tell which predominated; but he is gone, and one Phillips is engaged instead. Kate is vanished, but Miss Burrell is always to be met with!


"Queens drop away, while blue-legged Maukin thrives,
And courtly Mildred dies, while country Madge survives."


That is not my poetry, but Quarles's; but haven't you observed that the rarest things are the least obvious? Don't show anybody the names in this letter. I write confidentially, and wish this letter to be considered as _private, Hazlitt has written a _grammar for Godwin; Godwin sells it bound up with a treatise of his own on language; but the _gray mare is the better horse. I don't allude to Mrs. Godwin, but to the word _grammar_, which comes near to _gray mare_, if you observe, in sound. That figure is called paranomasia in Greek, I am sometimes happy in it. An old woman begged of me for charity. "Ah, sir," said she, "I have seen better days!" "So have I, good woman," I replied; but I meant literally, days not so rainy and overcast as that on which begged,--she meant more prosperous days.

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