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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 51 To Letter 60 Post by :rayling Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :3393

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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 51 To Letter 60

LETTER LI TO LETTER LX

LETTER LI.

TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

_August_, 1810.

Mary has left a little space for me to fill up with nonsense, as the geographers used to cram monsters in the voids of the maps, and call it _Terra Incognita_. She has told you how she has taken to water like a hungry otter. I too limp after her in lame imitation, (1) but it goes against me a little at first. I have been acquaintance with it now for full four days, and it seems a moon. I am full of cramps and rheumatisms, and cold internally, so that fire won't warm me; yet I bear all for virtue's sake. Must I then leave you, gin, rum, brandy, _aqua-vitae_, pleasant, jolly fellows? Damn temperance and he that first invented it!--some Anti-Noahite. Coleridge has powdered his head, and looks like Bacchus,--Bacchus ever sleek and young. He is going to turn sober, but his clock has not struck yet; meantime he pours down goblet after goblet, the second to see where the first is gone, the third to see no harm happens to the second, a fourth to say there is another coming, and a fifth to say he is not sure he is the last. C. L.

(1) An experiment in total abstinence; it did not last long.

 

LETTER LII.

TO WORDSWORTH

_October 19, 1810.

Dear W.,--Mary has been very ill, which you have heard, I suppose, from the Montagues. She is very weak and low-spirited now, I was much pleased with your continuation of the "Essay on Epitaphs," (1) It is the only sensible thing which has been written on that subject, and it goes to the bottom. In particular I was pleased with your translation of that turgid epitaph into the plain feeling under it. It is perfectly a test. But what is the reason we have no good epitaphs after all?

A very striking instance of your position might be found in the churchyard of Ditton-upon-Thames, if you know such a place. Ditton-upon-Thames has been blessed by the residence of a poet who, for love or money, I do not well know which, has dignified every gravestone for the last few years with brand new verses, all different and all ingenious, with the author's name at the bottom of each. This sweet Swan of Thames has so artfully diversified his strains and his rhymes that the same thought never occurs twice,--more justly, perhaps, as no thought ever occurs at all, there was a physical impossibility that the same thought should recur, It is long since I saw and read these inscriptions; but I remember the impression was of a smug usher at his desk in the intervals of instruction, levelling his pen. Of death, as it consists of dust and worms, and mourners and uncertainty, he had never thought; but the word "death" he had often seen separate and conjunct with other words, till he had learned to speak of all its attributes as glibly as Unitarian Belsham will discuss you the attributes of the word "God" in a pulpit, and will talk of infinity with a tongue that dangles from a skull that never reached in thought and thorough imagination two inches, or farther than from his hand to his mouth, or from the vestry to the sounding-board of the pulpit.

But the epitaphs were trim and sprag, and patent, and pleased the survivors of Thames Ditton above the old mumpsimus of "Afflictions sore." ... To do justice, though, it must be owned that even the excellent feeling which dictated this dirge when new, must have suffered something in passing through so many thousand applications, many of them no doubt quite misplaced, as I have seen in Islington churchyard (I think) an Epitaph to an Infant who died "_AEtatis four months," with this seasonable inscription appended, "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land," etc. Sincerely wishing your children long life to honor, etc., I remain,

C. LAMB.

(1) Published in Coleridge's "Friend," Feb. 22, 1810.

 

LETTER LIII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

_August 14, 1814.

Dear Wordsworth,--I cannot tell you how pleased I was at the receipt of the great armful of poetry which you have sent me: and to get it before the rest of the world, too! I have gone quite through with it, and was thinking to have accomplished that pleasure a second time before I wrote to thank you; but Martin Burney came in the night (while we were out) and made holy theft of it: but we expect restitution in a day or two. It is the noblest conversational poem (1) I ever read,--a day in heaven. The part (or rather main body) which has left the sweetest odor on my memory (a bad term for the remains of an impression so recent) is the "Tales of the Churchyard"--the only girl among seven brethren, born out of due time, and not duly taken away again; the deaf man and the blind man; the Jacobite and the Hanoverian, whom antipathies reconcile; the Scarron-entry of the rusticating parson upon his solitude,--these were all new to me too. My having known the story of Margaret (at the beginning), a very old acquaintance, even as long back as when I saw you first at Stowey, did not make her reappearance less fresh. I don't know what to pick out of this best of books upon the best subjects for partial naming. That gorgeous sunset is famous; I think it must have been the identical one we saw on Salisbury Plain five years ago, that drew Phillips from the card-table, where he had sat from rise of that luminary to its unequalled setting. But neither he nor I had gifted eyes to see those symbols of common things glorified, such as the prophets saw them in that sunset,--the wheel, the potter's clay, the washpot, the wine-press, the almond-tree rod, the baskets of figs, the four-fold-visaged head, the throne, and Him that sat thereon.

One feeling I was particularly struck with, as what I recognized so very lately at Harrow Church on entering in it after a hot and secular day's pleasure,--the instantaneous coolness and calming, almost transforming, properties of a country church just entered; a certain fragrance which it has, either from its holiness, or being kept shut all the week, or the air that is let in being pure country,--exactly what you have reduced into words; but I am feeling that which I cannot express. The reading your lines about it fixed me for a time a monument in Harrow Church,--do you know it?--with its fine long spire, white as washed marble, to be seen, by vantage of its high site, as far as Salisbury spire itself almost.

I shall select a day or two very shortly, when I am coolest in brain, to have a steady second reading, which I feel will lead to many more; for it will be a stock book with me while eyes or spectacles shall be lent me. There is a great deal of noble matter about mountain scenery, yet not so much as to overpower and discountenance a poor Londoner, or south-countryman entirely,--though Mary seems to have felt it occasionally a little too powerfully; for it was her remark, during reading it, that by your system it was doubtful whether a liver in towns had a soul to be saved. She almost trembled for that invisible part of us in her.

Save for a late excursion to Harrow, and a day or two on the banks of the Thames this summer, rural images were fast fading from my mind, and by the wise provision of the Regent all that was countrified in the parks is all but obliterated. The very colour of green is vanished; the whole surface of Hyde Park is dry, crumbling sand (_Arabia Arenosa_), not a vestige or hint of grass ever having grown there; booths and drinking-places go all round it, for a mile and a half, I am confident,--I might say two miles in circuit; the stench of liquors, _bad tobacco, dirty people and provisions, conquers the air, and we are all stifled and suffocated in Hyde Park (2). Order after order has been issued by Lord Sidmouth in the name of the Regent (acting in behalf of his royal father) for the dispersion of the varlets; but in vain. The _vis unita of all the publicans in London, Westminster, Marylebone, and miles round, is too powerful a force to put down. The Regent has raised a phantom which he cannot lay. There they'll stay probably forever. The whole beauty of the place is gone,--that lake-look of the Serpentine (it has got foolish ships upon it); but something whispers to have confidence in Nature and its revival,--


"At the coming of the _milder day,
These monuments shall all be overgrown."


Meantime I confess to have smoked one delicious pipe in one of the cleanliest and goodliest of the booths,--a tent rather,--


"Oh, call it not a booth!"


erected by the public spirit of Watson, who keeps the "Adam and Eve" at Pancras (the ale-houses have all emigrated, with their train of bottles, mugs, cork-screws, waiters, into Hyde Park,--whole ale-houses, with all their ale!) in company with some of the Guards that had been in France, and a fine French girl, habited like a princess of banditti, which one of the dogs had transported from the Garonne to the Serpentine. The unusual scene in Hyde Park, by candle-light, in open air,--good tobacco, bottled stout,--made it look like an interval in a campaign, a repose after battle. I almost fancied scars smarting, and was ready to club a story with my comrades of some of my lying deeds. After all, the fireworks were splendid; the rockets in clusters, in trees, and all shapes, spreading about like young stars in the making, floundering about in space (like unbroke horses), till some of Newton's calculations should fix them; but then they went out. Any one who could see 'em, and the still finer showers of gloomy rain-fire that fell sulkily and angrily from 'em, and could go to bed without dreaming of the last day, must be as hardened an atheist as--.

The conclusion of this epistle getting gloomy, I have chosen this part to desire _our kindest loves to Mrs. Wordsworth and to Dorothea. Will none of you ever be in London again?

Again let me thank you for your present, and assure you that fireworks and triumphs have not distracted me from receiving a calm and noble enjoyment from it (which I trust I shall often), and I sincerely congratulate you on its appearance.

With kindest remembrances to you and household, we remain, yours sincerely,

C. LAMB and Sister.

(1) The Excursion.

(2) Early in 1814 the London parks were thrown open to the public, with fireworks, booths, illuminations, etc., in celebration of the peace between France and England, it was two or three years before they recovered their usual verdure.

 

LETTER LIV.

TO WORDSWORTH.

(1815)

Dear Wordsworth,--You have made me very proud with your successive book presents. (1) I have been carefully through the two volumes to see that nothing was omitted which used to be there. I think I miss nothing but a character in the antithetic manner, which I do not know why you left out,--the moral to the boys building the giant, the omission whereof leaves it, in my mind, less complete,--and one admirable line gone (or something come instead of it), "the stone-chat, and the glancing sandpiper," which was a line quite alive. I demand these at your hand. I am glad that you have not sacrificed a verse to those scoundrels. I would not have had you offer up the poorest rag that lingered upon the stripped shoulders of little Alice Fell, to have atoned all their malice; I would not have given 'em a red cloak to save their souls. I am afraid lest that substitution of a shell (a flat falsification of the history) for the household implement, as it stood at first, was a kind of tub thrown out to the beast, or rather thrown out for him. The tub was a good honest tub in its place, and nothing could fairly be said against it. You say you made the alteration for the "friendly reader;" but the "malicious" will take it to himself. Damn 'em! if you give 'em an inch, etc. The Preface is noble, and such as you should write. I wish I could set my name to it, _Imprimatur_; but you have set it there yourself, and I thank you. I had rather be a doorkeeper in your margin than have their proudest text swelling with my eulogies. The poems in the volumes which are new to me are so much in the old tone that I hardly received them as novelties. Of those of which I had no previous knowledge, the "Four Yew-Trees" and the mysterious company which you have assembled there most struck me,--"Death the Skeleton, and Time the Shadow." It is a sight not for every youthful poet to dream of; it is one of the last results he must have gone thinking on for years for, "Laodamia" is a very original poem,--I mean original with reference to your own manner. You have nothing like it, I should have seen it in a strange place, and greatly admired it, but not suspected its derivation.

Let me in this place, for I have writ you several letters naming it, mention that my brother, who is a picture-collector, has picked up an undoubtable picture of Milton. (2) He gave a few shillings for it, and could get no history with it, but that some old lady had had it for a great many years. Its age is ascertainable from the state of the canvas, and you need only see it to be sure that it is the original of the heads in the Tonson editions, with which we are all so well familiar. Since I saw you, I have had a treat in the reading way which conies not every day,--the Latin poems of V. Bourne, which were quite new to me. What a heart that man had, all laid out upon town scenes!--a proper counterpoise to _some people's rural extravaganzas. Why I mention him is, that your "Power of Music" reminded me of his poem of "The Ballad-singer in the Seven Dials," Do you remember his epigram on the old woman who taught Newton the A B C, which, after all, he says, he hesitates not to call Newton's "Principia"? I was lately fatiguing myself with going through a volume of fine words by Lord Thurlow,--excellent words; and if the heart could live by words alone, it could desire no better regales. But what an aching vacuum of matter! I don't stick at the madness of it, for that is only a consequence of shutting his eyes and thinking he is in the age of the old Elizabeth poets. From thence I turned to Bourne. What a sweet, unpretending, pretty-mannered, _matter-ful creature, sucking from every flower, making a flower of everything, his diction all Latin, and his thoughts all English! Bless him! Latin wasn't good enough for him. Why wasn't he content with the language which Gay and Prior wrote in?

I am almost sorry that you printed extracts from those first poems, or that you did not print them at length. They do not read to me as they do altogether. Besides, they have diminished the value of the original (which I possess) as a curiosity. I have hitherto kept them distinct in my mind, as referring to a particular period of your life. All the rest of your poems are so much of a piece they might have been written in the same week; these decidedly speak of an earlier period. They tell more of what you had been reading. We were glad to see the poems "by a female friend." (3) The one on the Wind is masterly, but not new to us. Being only three, perhaps you might have clapped a D. at the corner, and let it have past as a printer's mark to the uninitiated, as a delightful hint to the better instructed. As it is, expect a formal criticism on the poems of your female friend, and she must expect it. I should have written before, but I am cruelly engaged, and like to be. On Friday I was at office from ten in the morning (two hours dinner excepted) to eleven at night, last night till nine; my business and office business in general have increased so; I don't mean I am there every night, but I must expect a great deal of it. I never leave till four, and do not keep a holiday now once in ten times, where I used to keep all red-letter days, and some few days besides, which I used to dub Nature's holidays. I have had my day. I had formerly little to do. So of the little that is left of life I may reckon two thirds as dead, for time that a man may call his own is his life; and hard work and thinking about it taint even the leisure hours,--stain Sunday with work-day contemplations. This is Sunday; and the headache I have is part late hours at work the two preceding nights, and part later hours over a consoling pipe afterwards. But I find stupid acquiescence coming over me. I bend to the yoke, and it is almost with me and my household as with the man and his consort,--


"To them each evening had its glittering star,
And every sabbath-day its golden sun!" (4)
to such straits am I driven for the life of life, Time!
Oh that from that superfluity of holiday-leisure my
youth wasted, "Age might but take some hours youth
wanted not"! N.B.--I have left off spirituous
liquors for four or more months, with a moral certainty
of its lasting. Farewell, dear Wordsworth!


O happy Paris, seat of idleness and pleasure! From some returned English I hear that not such a thing as a counting-house is to be seen in her streets,--scarce a desk. Earthquakes swallow up this mercantile city and its "gripple merchants," as Drayton hath it, "born to be the curse of this brave isle"! I invoke this, not on account of any parsimonious habits the mercantile interest may have, but, to confess truth, because I am not fit for an office.

Farewell, in haste, from a head that is too ill to methodize, a stomach to digest, and all out of tune. Better harmonies await you!

C. LAMB.

(1) In 1815 Wordsworth published a new edition of his poems, with the following title: "Poems by William Wordsworth; including Lyrical Ballads, and the Miscellaneous Pieces of the Author. With Additional Poems, a new Preface, and a Supplementary Essay. In two Volumes." The new poems were "Yarrow Visited," "The Force of Prayer," "The Farmer of Tilsbury Vale," "Laodamia," "Yew-Trees," "A Night Piece," etc., and it was chiefly on these that Lamb made his comments.

(2) John Lamb afterwards gave the picture to Charles, who made it a wedding present to Mrs. Moxon (Emma Isola), It is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

(3) Dorothy Wordsworth.

(4) Excursion, book v.

 

LETTER LV.

TO WORDSWORTH.

Excuse this maddish letter; I am too tired to write _in forma_.

1815.

Dear Wordsworth,--The more I read of your two last volumes, the more I feel it necessary to make my acknowledgments for them in more than one short letter. The "Night Piece," to which you refer me, I meant fully to have noticed; but the fact is, I come so fluttering and languid from business, tired with thoughts of it, frightened with fears of it, that when I get a few minutes to sit down and scribble (an action of the hand now seldom natural to me,--I mean voluntary pen-work), I lose all presential memory of what I had intended to say, and say what I can, talk about Vincent Bourne or any casual image, instead of that which I had meditated (by the way, I mast look out V. B. for you). So I had meant to have mentioned "Yarrow Visited," with that stanza, "But thou that didst appear so fair:" (1) than which I think no lovelier stanza can be found in the wide world of poetry. Yet the poem, on the whole, seems condemned to leave behind it a melancholy of imperfect satisfaction, as if you had wronged the feeling with which, in what preceded it, you had resolved never to visit it, and as if the Muse had determined, in the most delicate manner, to make you, and _scarce make you_, feel it. Else, it is far superior to the other, which has but one exquisite verse in it,--the last but one, or the last two: this is all fine, except, perhaps, that _that of "studious ease and generous cares" has a little tinge of the _less romantic about it. "The Farmer of Tilsbury Vale" is a charming counterpart to "Poor Susan," with the addition, of that delicacy towards aberrations from the strict path which is so fine in the "Old Thief and the Boy by his side," which always brings water into my eyes.

Perhaps it is the worse for being a repetition; "Susan" stood for the representative of poor _Rus in Urbe_. There was quite enough to stamp the moral of the thing never to be forgotten,--"bright volumes of vapor," etc. The last verse of Susan was to be got rid of, at all events. It threw a kind of dubiety upon Susan's moral conduct. Susan is a servant-maid. I see her trundling her mop, and contemplating the whirling phenomenon through blurred optics; but to term her "a poor outcast" seems as much as to say that poor Susan was no better than she should be,--which I trust was not what you meant to express. Robin Goodfellow supports himself without that _stick of a moral which you have thrown away; but how I can be brought in _felo de omittendo for that ending to the Boy-builders (2) is a mystery. I can't say positively now, I only know that no line oftener or readier occurs than that "Light-hearted boys, I will build up a Giant with you." It comes naturally with a warm holiday and the freshness of the blood. It is a perfect summer amulet, that I tie round my legs to quicken their motion when I go out a-maying. (N. B.) I don't often go out a-maying; _must is the tense with me now. Do you take the pun? _Young Romilly is divine, the reasons of his mother's grief being remediless,--I never saw parental love carried up so high, towering above the other loves,--Shakspeare had done something for the filial in Cordelia, and, by implication, for the fatherly too in Lear's resentment; he left it for you to explore the depths of the maternal heart.

I get stupid and flat, and flattering; what's the use of telling you what good things you have written, or--I hope I may add--that I know them to be good? _A propos_, when I first opened upon the just-mentioned poem, in a careless tone I said to Mary, as if putting a riddle, "What is good for a bootless bene?" (3) To which, with infinite presence of mind (as the jest-book has it) she answered, "A shoeless pea." It was the first joke she ever made. Joke the second I make. You distinguish well, in your old preface, between the verses of Dr. Johnson, of the "Man in the Strand," and that from "The Babes in the Wood," I was thinking whether, taking your own glorious lines,--


"And from the love which was in her soul
For her youthful Romilly,"


which, by the love I bear my own soul, I think have no parallel in any of the best old ballads, and just altering it to,--


"And from the great respect she felt
For Sir Samuel Romilly,"


would not nave explained the boundaries of prose expression and poetic feeling nearly as well. Excuse my levity on such an occasion. I never felt deeply in my life if that poem did not make me, both lately, and when I read it in MS. No alderman ever longed after a haunch of buck venison more than I for a spiritual taste of that "White Doe" you promise. I am sure it is superlative, or will be when _dressed_, i. e., printed. All things read raw to me in MS.; to compare _magna parvis_, I cannot endure my own writings in that state. The only one which I think would not very much win upon me in print is "Peter Bell;" but I am not certain. You ask me about your preface. I like both that and the supplement, without an exception. The account of what you mean by imagination is very valuable to me. It will help me to like some things in poetry better, which is a little humiliating in me to confess. I thought I could not be instructed in that science (I mean the critical), as I once heard old obscene, beastly Peter Pindar, in a dispute on Milton, say he thought that if he had reason to value himself upon one thing more than another, it was in knowing what good verse was. Who looked over your proof-sheets and left _ordebo in that line of Virgil?

My brother's picture of Milton is very finely painted,--that is, it might have been done by a hand next to Vandyke's. It is the genuine Milton, and an object of quiet gaze for the half-hour at a time. Yet though I am confident there is no better one of him, the face does not quite answer to Milton. There is a tinge of _petit (or _petite_, how do you spell it?) querulousness about it; yet, hang it! now I remember better, there is not,--it is calm, melancholy, and poetical. _One of the copies of the poems you sent has precisely the same pleasant blending of a sheet of second volume with a sheet of first, I think it was page 245; but I sent it and had it rectified, It gave me, in the first impetus of cutting the leaves, just such a cold squelch as going down a plausible turning and suddenly reading "No thoroughfare." Robinson's is entire; I wish you would write more criticism about Spencer, etc. I think I could say something about him myself; but, Lord bless me! these "merchants and their spicy drugs," which are so harmonious to sing of, they lime-twig up my poor soul and body till I shall forget I ever thought myself a bit of a genius! I can't even put a few thoughts on paper for a newspaper, I engross when I should pen a paragraph. Confusion blast all mercantile transactions, all traffic, exchange of commodities, intercourse between nations, all the consequent civilization, and wealth, and amity, and link of society, and getting rid of prejudices, and knowledge of the face of the globe; and rot the very firs of the forest that look so romantic alive, and die into desks: _Vale_.


Yours, dear W., and all yours,

C. LAMB.

(1) "But thou, that didst appear so fair
To fond imagination,
Dost rival in the light of day
Her dilicate Creation"

(2) Better known as "Rural Architecture."

(3) The first line of the poem on Bolton Abbey:--

"'What is good for a bootless bene?'
With these dark words begins my fate;
And their meaning is, whence can comfort spring
When Prayer is of no avail?"

 

LETTER LVI.

TO SOUTHEY.

_May 6, 1815.

Dear Southey,--I have received from Longman a copy of "Roderick," with the author's compliments, for which I much thank you. I don't know where I shall put all the noble presents I have lately received in that way; the "Excursion," Wordsworth's two last volumes, and now "Roderick," have come pouring in upon me like some irruption from Helicon. The story of the brave Maccabee was already, you may be sure, familiar to me in all its parts. I have, since the receipt of your present, read it quite through again, and with no diminished pleasure. I don't know whether I ought to say that it has given me more pleasure than any of your long poems. "Kehama" is doubtless more powerful, but I don't feel that firm footing in it that I do in "Roderick;" my imagination goes sinking and floundering in the vast spaces of unopened-before systems and faiths; I am put out of the pale of my old sympathies; my moral sense is almost outraged; I can't believe, or with horror am made to believe, such desperate chances against omnipotences, such disturbances of faith to the centre. The more potent, the more painful the spell. Jove and his brotherhood of gods, tottering with the giant assailings, I can bear, for the soul's hopes are not struck at in such contests; but your Oriental almighties are too much types of the intangible prototype to be meddled with without shuddering. One never connects what are called the "attributes" with Jupiter. I mention only what diminishes my delight at the wonder-workings of "Kehama," not what impeaches its power, which I confess with trembling.

But "Roderick" is a comfortable poem. It reminds me of the delight I took in the first reading of the "Joan of Arc." It is maturer and better than _that_, though not better to me now than that was then. It suits me better than "Madoc." I am at home in Spain and Christendom. I have a timid imagination, I am afraid; I do not willingly admit of strange beliefs or out-of-the-way creeds or places. I never read books of travel, at least not farther than Paris or Rome. I can just endure Moors, because of their connection as foes with Christians; but Abyssinians, Ethiops, Esquimaux, Dervises, and all that tribe, I hate; I believe I fear them in some manner. A Mahometan turban on the stage, though enveloping some well-known face (Mr. Cook or Mr. Maddox, whom I see another day good Christian and English waiters, innkeepers, etc.), does not give me pleasure unalloyed. I am a Christian, Englishman, Londoner, _Templar_, God help me when I come to put off these snug relations, and to get abroad into the world to come! I shall be like _the crow on the sand_, as Wordsworth has it; but I won't think on it,--no need, I hope, yet.

The parts I have been most pleased with, both on first and second readings, perhaps, are Florinda's palliation of Roderick's crime, confessed to him in his disguise; the retreat of Pelayo's family first discovered; his being made king,--"For acclamation one form must serve, _more solemn for the _breach of _old observances_." Roderick's vow is extremely fine, and his blessing on the vow of Alphonso,--


"Towards the troop be spread his arms,
As if the expanded soul diffused itself,
And carried to all spirits, _with the act_,
Its affluent inspiration."


It struck me forcibly that the feeling of these last lines might have been suggested to you by the Cartoon of Paul at Athens. Certain it is that a better motto or guide to that famous attitude can nowhere be found. I shall adopt it as explanatory of that violent but dignified motion.

I must read again Landor's "Julian;" I have not read it some time. I think he must have failed in Roderick, for I remember nothing of him, nor of any distinct character as a character,--only fine-sounding passages. I remember thinking also he had chosen a point of time after the event, as it were, for Roderick survives to no use; but my memory is weak, and I will not wrong a fine poem by trusting to it.

The notes to your poem I have not read again; but it will be a take-downable book on my shelf, and they will serve sometimes at breakfast, or times too light for the text to be duly appreciated,-- though some of 'em, one of the serpent Penance, is serious enough, now I think on't.

Of Coleridge I hear nothing, nor of the Morgans. I hope to have him like a reappearing star, standing up before me some time when least expected in London, as has been the case whilere.

I am _doing nothing (as the phrase is) but reading presents, and walk away what of the day-hours I can get from hard occupation. Pray accept once more my hearty thanks and expression of pleasure for your remembrance of me. My sister desires her kind respects to Mrs. S. and to all at Keswick.

Yours truly,

C. LAMB.

 

LETTER LVII.

TO MISS HUTCHINSON. (1)

_October 19, 1815.

Dear Miss H.,--I am forced to be the replier to your letter, for Mary has been ill, and gone from home these five weeks yesterday. She has left me very lonely and very miserable. I stroll about, but there is no rest but at one's own fireside; and there is no rest for me there now. I look forward to the worse half being past, and keep up as well as I can. She has begun to show some favorable symptoms. The return of her disorder has been frightfully soon this time, with scarce a six-months' interval. I am almost afraid my worry of spirits about the E. I. House was partly the cause of her illness: but one always imputes it to the cause next at hand,--more probably it conies from some cause we have no control over or conjecture of. It cuts sad great slices out of the time, the little time, we shall have to live together. I don't know but the recurrence of these illnesses might help me to sustain her death, better than if we had had no partial separations. But I won't talk of death. I will imagine us immortal, or forget that we are otherwise. By God's blessing, in a few weeks we may be making our meal together, or sitting in the front row of the pit at Drury Lane, or taking our evening walk past the theatres, to look at the outside of them, at least, if not to be tempted in. Then we forget we are assailable; we are strong for the time as rocks,--"the wind is tempered to the shorn Lambs." Poor C. Lloyd and poor Priscilla! I feel I hardly feel enough for him; my own calamities press about me, and involve me in a thick integument not to be reached at by other folks' misfortunes. But I feel all I can, all the kindness I can, towards you all. God bless you! I hear nothing from Coleridge.

Yours truly,

C. LAMB.

(1) Mrs. Wordsworth's sister.

 

LETTER LVIII.


TO MANNING.

_December 25, 1815.

Dear Old Friend and Absentee,--This is Christmas Day, 1815, with us; what it may be with you I don't know,--the 12th of June next year, perhaps; and if it should be the consecrated season with you, I don't see how you can keep it. You have no turkeys; you would not desecrate the festival by offering up a withered Chinese bantam, instead of the savoury grand Norfolcian holocaust, that smokes all around my nostrils at this moment from a thousand firesides. Then what puddings have you? Where will you get holly to stick in your churches, or churches to stick your dried tea-leaves (that must be the substitute) in? What memorials you can have of the holy time, I see not. A chopped missionary or two may keep up the thin idea of Lent and the wilderness; but what standing evidence have you of the Nativity? 'Tis our rosy-cheeked, homestalled divines, whose faces shine to the tune of _unto us a child was born_,--faces fragrant with the mince-pies of half a century, that alone can authenticate the cheerful mystery. I feel, I feel my bowels refreshed with the holy tide; my zeal is great against the unedified heathen. Down with the Pagodas; down with the idols,--Ching-chong-fo and his foolish priesthood! Come out of Babylon, oh my friend, for her time is come, and the child that is native, and the Proselyte of her gates, shall kindle and smoke together! And in sober sense what makes you so long from among us, Manning? You must not expect to see the same England again which you left.

Empires have been overturned, crowns trodden into dust, the face of the Western world quite changed; your friends have all got old, those you left blooming, myself (who am one of the few that remember you)--those golden hairs which you recollect my taking a pride in, turned to silvery and gray. Mary has been dead and buried many years; she desired to be buried in the silk gown you sent her. Rickman, that you remember active and strong, now walks out supported by a servant-maid and a stick. Martin Burney is a very old man. The other day an aged woman knocked at my door and pretended to my acquaintance. It was long before I had the most distant cognition of her; but at last together we made her out to be Louisa, the daughter of Mrs. Topham, formerly Mrs. Morton, who had been Mrs. Reynolds, formerly Mrs. Kenney, whose first husband was Holcroft, the dramatic writer of the last century. St. Paul's church is a heap of ruins; the Monument isn't half so high as you knew it, divers parts being successively taken down which the ravages of time had rendered dangerous; the horse at Charing Cross is gone, no one knows whither,--and all this has taken place while you have been settling whether Ho-hing-tong should be spelled with a-- or a--. For aught I see, you had almost as well remain where you are, and not come, like a Struldbrug, into a world where few were born when you went away. Scarce here and there one will be able to make out your face; all your opinions will be out of date, your jokes obsolete, your puns rejected with fastidiousness as wit of the last age. Your way of mathematics has already given way to a new method which, after all, is, I believe, the old doctrine of Maclaurin new-vamped up with what he borrowed of the negative quantity of fluxions from Euler.

Poor Godwin! I was passing his tomb the other day in Cripplegate churchyard. There are some verses upon it, written by Miss--, which if I thought good enough I would send you. He was one of those who would have hailed your return, not with boisterous shouts and clamors, but with the complacent gratulations of a philosopher anxious to promote knowledge, as leading to happiness; but his systems and his theories are ten feet deep in Cripplegate mould. Coleridge is just dead, having lived just long enough to close the eyes of Wordsworth, who paid the debt to nature but a week or two before. Poor Col., but two days before he died he wrote to a bookseller proposing an epic poem on the "Wandering of Cain," in twenty-four books. It is said he has left behind him more than forty thousand treatises in criticism, metaphysics, and divinity: but few of them in a state of completion. They are now destined, perhaps, to wrap up spices. You see what mutation the busy hand of Time has produced, while you have consumed in foolish, voluntary exile that time which might have gladdened your friends, benefited your country--But reproaches are useless. Gather up the wretched relics, my friend, as fast as you can, and come to your old home. I will rub my eyes and try to recognize you. We will shake withered hands together, and talk of old things,--of St. Mary's church and the barber's opposite, where the young students in mathematics used to assemble. Poor Crisp, that kept it afterwards, set up a fruiterer's shop in Trumpington Street, and for aught I know resides there still; for I saw the name up in the last journey I took there with my sister just before she died. I suppose you heard that I had left the India House and gone into the Fishmongers' Almshouses over the bridge. I have a little cabin there, small and homely; but you shall be welcome to it. You like oysters, and to open them yourself; I'll get you some if you come in oyster time. Marshall, Godwin's old friend, is still alive, and talks of the faces you used to make. (1)

Come as soon as you can.

C. LAMB.

(1) The reversal of this serio-humorous mingling of fiction and forecast will be found in the next letter.

 

LETTER LIX.


TO MANNING.

_December 26, 1815.

Dear Manning,--Following your brother's example, I have just ventured one letter to Canton, and am now hazarding another (not exactly a duplicate) to St. Helena. The first was full of unprobable romantic fictions, fitting the remoteness of the mission it goes upon; in the present I mean to confine myself nearer to truth as you come nearer home. A correspondence with the uttermost parts of the earth necessarily involves in it some heat of fancy; it sets the brain agoing; but I can think on the half-way house tranquilly. Your friends, then, are not all dead or grown forgetful of you through old age,--as that lying letter asserted, anticipating rather what must happen if you keep tarrying on forever on the skirts of creation, as there seemed a danger of your doing,--but they are all tolerably well, and in full and perfect comprehension of what is meant by Manning's coming home again. Mrs. Kenney never let her tongue run riot more than in remembrances of you. Fanny expends herself in phrases that can only be justified by her romantic nature. Mary reserves a portion of your silk, not to be buried in (as the false nuncio asserts), but to make up spick and span into a bran-new gown to wear when you come. I am the same as when you knew me, almost to a surfeiting identity. This very night I am going to _leave off tobacco! Surely there must be some other world in which this unconquerable purpose shall be realized. The soul hath not her generous aspirings implanted in her in vain. One that you knew, and I think the only one of those friends we knew much of in common, has died in earnest. Poor Priscilla! Her brother Robert is also dead, and several of the grown-up brothers and sisters, in the compass of a very few years. Death has not otherwise meddled much in families that I know. Not but he has his horrid eye upon us, and is whetting his infernal feathered dart every instant, as you see him truly pictured in that impressive moral picture, "The good man at the hour of death." I have in trust to put in the post four letters from Diss, and one from Lynn, to St. Helena, which I hope will accompany this safe, and one from Lynn, and the one before spoken of from me, to Canton. But we all hope that these letters may be waste paper. I don't know why I have foreborne writing so long; but it is such a forlorn hope to send a scrap of paper straggling over wide oceans. And yet I know when you come home, I shall have you sitting before me at our fireside just as if you had never been away. In such an instant does the return of a person dissipate all the weight of imaginary perplexity from distance of time and space! I'll promise you good oysters. Cory is dead, that kept the shop opposite St. Dunstan's, but the tougher materials of the shop survive the perishing frame of its keeper. Oysters continue to flourish there under as good auspices. Poor Cory! But if you will absent yourself twenty years together, you must not expect numerically the same population to congratulate your return which wetted the sea-beach with their tears when you went away. Have you recovered the breathless stone-staring astonishment into which you must have been thrown upon learning at landing that an Emperor of France was living at St. Helena? What an event in the solitude of the seas,--like finding a fish's bone at the top of Plinlimmon; but these things are nothing in our Western world. Novelties cease to affect. Come and try what your presence can.

God bless you! Your old friend,

C. LAMB.

 

LETTER LX.


TO WORDSWORTH

_April 9, 1816.

Dear Wordsworth,--Thanks for the books you have given me, and for all the books you mean to give me. I will bind up the "Political Sonnets" and "Ode" according to your suggestion. I have not bound the poems yet; I wait till people have done borrowing them. I think I shall get a chain and chain them to my shelves, more _Bodleiano_, and people may come and read them at chain's length. For of those who borrow, some read slow; some mean to read but don't read; and some neither read nor meant to read, but borrow to leave you an opinion of their sagacity. I must do my money-borrowing friends the justice to say that there is nothing of this caprice or wantonness of alienation in them; when they borrow my money they never fail to make use of it, Coleridge has been here about a fortnight. His health is tolerable at present, though beset with temptations. In the first place, the Covent Garden Manager has declined accepting his Tragedy, (1) though (having read it) I see no reason upon earth why it might not have run a very fair chance, though it certainly wants a prominent part for a Miss O'Neil or a Mr. Kean. However, he is going to write to-day to Lord Byron to get it to Drury. Should you see Mrs. C., who has just written to C. a letter, which I have given him, it will be as well to say nothing about its fate till some answer is shaped from Drury. He has two volumes printing together at Bristol, both finished as far as the composition goes; the latter containing his fugitive poems, the former his Literary Life. Nature, who conducts every creature by instinct to its best end, has skilfully directed C. to take up his abode at a Chemist's Laboratory in Norfolk Street. She might as well have sent a _Helluo Librorum for cure to the Vatican. God keep him inviolate among the traps and pitfalls! He has done pretty well as yet. (2)

Tell Miss Hutchinson my sister is every day wishing to be quietly sitting down to answer her very kind letter; but while C. stays she can hardly find a quiet time. God bless him!

Tell Mrs. Wordsworth her postscripts are always agreeable. They are legible too. Your manual-graphy is terrible,--dark as Lycophron. "Likelihood," for instance, is thus typified.... I should not wonder if the constant making out of such paragraphs is the cause of that weakness in Mrs. W.'s eyes, as she is tenderly pleased to express it. Dorothy, I hear, has mounted spectacles; so you have deoculated two of your dearest relations in life. Well, God bless you, and continue to give you power to write with a finger of power upon our hearts what you fail to impress, in corresponding lucidness, upon our outward eyesight!

Mary's love to all; she is quite well.

I am called off to do the deposits on Cotton Wool. But why do I relate this to you, who want faculties to comprehend the great mystery of deposits, of interest, of warehouse rent, and contingent fund? Adieu!

C. LAMB.

(1) Zapolya.

(2) Lamb alludes, of course, to Coleridge's opium habit.

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