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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 61 To Letter 70 Post by :Priscilla Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :2860

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The Best Letters Of Charles Lamb - Letter 61 To Letter 70

LETTER LXI TO LETTER LXX

LETTER LXI.

TO WORDSWORTH.

_April 26, 1816.

Dear W.,--I have just finished the pleasing task of correcting the revise of the poems and letter. (1) I hope they will come out faultless. One blunder I saw and shuddered at. The hallucinating rascal had printed _battered for _battened_, this last not conveying any distinct sense to his gaping soul. The Reader (as they call 'em) had discovered it, and given it the marginal brand; but the substitutory _n had not yet appeared. I accompanied his notice with a most pathetic address to the printer not to neglect the correction. I know how such a blunder would "batter at your peace." With regard to the works, the Letter I read with unabated satisfaction. Such a thing was wanted, called for. The parallel of Cotton with Burns I heartily approve, Iz. Walton hallows any page in which his reverend name appears. "Duty archly bending to purposes of general benevolence" is exquisite. The poems I endeavored not to understand, but to read them with my eye alone; and I think I succeeded, (Some people will do that when they come out, you'll say.) As if I were to luxuriate to-morrow at some picture-gallery I was never at before, and, going by to-day by chance, found the door open, and having but five minutes to look about me, peeped in,--just such a _chastised peep I took with my mind at the lines my luxuriating eye was coursing over unrestrained, riot to anticipate another day's fuller satisfaction. Coleridge is printing "Christabel," by Lord Byron's recommendation to Murray, with what he calls a vision, "Kubla Khan," which said vision he repeats so enchantingly that it irradiates and brings heaven and elysian bowers into my parlor while he sings or says it; but there is an observation, "Never tell thy dreams," and I am almost afraid that "Kubla Khan" is an owl that won't bear daylight. I fear lest it should be discovered, by the lantern of typography and clear reducting to letters, no better than nonsense or no sense. When I was young, I used to chant with ecstasy "MILD ARCADIANS EVER BLOOMING," till somebody told me it was meant to be nonsense. Even yet I have a lingering attachment to it, and I think it better than "Windsor Forest," "Dying Christian's Address," etc. Coleridge has sent his tragedy to D.L.T.; it cannot be acted this season, and by their manner of receiving I hope he will be able to alter it to make them accept it for next. He is at present under the medical care of a Mr. Gilman (Killman?) at Highgate, where he plays at leaving off laud---m. I think his essentials not touched; he is very bad, but then he wonderfully picks up another day, and his face, when he repeats his verses, hath its ancient glory,--an archangel a little damaged. Will Miss H. pardon our not replying at length to her kind letter? We are not quiet enough; Morgan is with us every day, going betwixt Highgate and the Temple. Coleridge is absent but four miles; and the neighborhood of such a man is as exciting as the presence of fifty ordinary persons. 'Tis enough to be within the whiff and wind of his genius for us not to possess our souls in quiet. If I lived with him or the _Author of the "Excursion," I should, in a very little time, lose my own identity, and be dragged along in the current of other people's thoughts, hampered in a net. How cool I sit in this office, with no possible interruption further than what I may term _material! There is not as much metaphysics in thirty-six of the people here as there is in the first page of Locke's "Treatise on the Human Understanding," or as much poetry as in any ten lines of the "Pleasures of Hope," or more natural "Beggar's Petition." I never entangle myself in any of their speculations. Interruptions, if I try to write a letter even, I have dreadful. Just now, within four lines, I was called off for ten minutes to consult dusty old books for the settlement of obsolete errors. I hold you a guinea you don't find the chasm where I left off, so excellently the wounded sense closed again and was healed.

N.B.--Nothing said above to the contrary, but that I hold the personal presence of the two mentioned potent spirits at a rate as high as any: but I pay dearer: what amuses others robs me of myself; my mind is positively discharged into their greater currents, but flows with a willing violence. As to your question about work, it is far less oppressive to me than it was, from circumstances; it takes all the golden part of the day away, a solid lump, from ten to four; but it does not kill my peace, as before. Some day or other I shall be in a taking again. My head aches, and you have had enough, God bless you!

C. LAMB.

(1) Wordsworth's "Letter to a Friend of Burns" (London, 1816).

"Wordsworth had been consulted by a friend of Burns as to the best mode of vindicating the reputation of the poet, which, it was alleged, had been much injured by the publication of Dr. Carrie's 'Life and Correspondence of Burns.'"--AINGER.

 

LETTER LXII.

TO H. DODWELL (1)

_July_, 1816.

My dear Fellow,--I have been in a lethargy this long while, and forgotten London, Westminster, Marybone, Paddington,--they all went clean out of my head, till happening to go to a neighbor's in this good borough of Calne, for want of whist-players we fell upon _Commerce: the word awoke me to a remembrance of my professional avocations and the long-continued strife which I have been these twenty-four years endeavoring to compose between those grand Irreconcilables, Cash and Commerce; I instantly called for an almanac, which with some difficulty was procured at a fortune-teller's in the vicinity (for happy holiday people here, having nothing to do, keep no account of time), and found that by dint of duty I must attend in Leadenhall on Wednesy morning next; and shall attend accordingly. Does Master Hannah give maccaroons still, and does he fetch the Cobbetts from my attic? Perhaps it wouldn't be too much trouble for him to drop the enclosed up at my aforesaid chamber, and any letters, etc., with it; but the enclosed should go without delay. N.B.--He isn't to fetch Monday's Cobbett, but it is to wait my reading when I come back. Heigh-ho! Lord have mercy upon me, how many does two and two make? I am afraid I shall make a poor clerk in future, I am spoiled with rambling among haycocks and cows and pigs. Bless me! I had like to have forgot (the air is so temperate and oblivious here) to say I have seen your brother, and hope he is doing well in the finest spot of the world. More of these things when I return. Remember me to the gentlemen,--I forget names. Shall I find all my letters at my rooms on Tuesday? If you forget to send 'em never mind, for I don't much care for reading and writing now; I shall come back again by degrees, I suppose, into my former habits. How is Bruce de Ponthieu, and Porcher and Co.?--the tears come into my eyes when I think how long I have neglected--.

Adieu! ye fields, ye shepherds and--herdesses, and dairies and cream-pots, and fairies and dances upon the green.

I come, I come. Don't drag me so hard by the hair of my head, Genius of British India! I know my hour is come, Faustus must give up his soul, O Lucifer, O Mephistopheles! Can you make out what all this letter is about? I am afraid to look it over.

CH. LAMB.

(1) A fellow-clerk in the India House. This charming letter, written evidently during a vacation trip, was first published entire in Canon Ainger's edition (1887) of Lamb's Letters.

 

LETTER LXIII.

TO MRS. WORDSWORTH.

_February 18, 1818.

My Dear Mrs. Wordsworth,--I have repeatedly taken pen in hand to answer your kind letter. My sister should more properly have done it; but she having failed, I consider myself answerable for her debts. I am now trying to do it in the midst of commercial noises, and with a quill which seems more ready to glide into arithmetical figures and names of gourds, cassia, cardamoms, aloes, ginger, or tea, than into kindly responses and friendly recollections. The reason why I cannot write letters at home is that I am never alone. Plato's--(I write to W.W. now)--Plato's double-animal parted never longed more to be reciprocally re-united in the system of its first creation than I sometimes do to be but for a moment single and separate. Except my morning's walk to the office, which is like treading on sands of gold for that reason, I am never so. I cannot walk home from office, but some officious friend offers his unwelcome courtesies to accompany me. All the morning I am pestered. I could sit and gravely cast up sums in great books, or compare sum with sum, and write "paid" against this, and "unpaid" against t'other, and yet reserve in some corner of my mind "some darling thoughts all my own,"--faint memory of some passage in a book, or the tone of an absent friend's voice,--a snatch of Miss Burrell's singing, or a gleam of Fanny Kelly's divine plain face. The two operations might be going on at the same time without thwarting, as the sun's two motions (earth's I mean); or as I sometimes turn round till I am giddy, in my back parlor, while my sister is walking longitudinally in the front; or as the shoulder of veal twists round with the spit, while the smoke wreathes up the chimney. But there are a set of amateurs of the Belies Lettres,--the gay science,--who come to me as a sort of rendezvous, putting questions of criticism, of British Institutions, Lalla Rookhs, etc.,--what Coleridge said at the lecture last night,--who have the form of reading men, but, for any possible use reading can be to them but to talk of, might as well have been Ante-Cadmeans born, or have lain sucking out the sense of an Egyptian hieroglyph as long as the pyramids will last, before they should find it. These pests worrit me at business and in all its intervals, perplexing my accounts, poisoning my little salutary warming-time at the fire, puzzling my paragraphs if I take a newspaper, cramming in between my own free thoughts and a column of figures, which had come to an amicable compromise but for them. Their noise ended, one of them, as I said, accompanies me home, lest I should be solitary for a moment. He at length takes his welcome leave at the door; up I go, mutton on table, hungry as hunter, hope to forget my cares and bury them in the agreeable abstraction of mastication: knock at the door! In comes Mr. Hazlitt, or Martin Burney, or Morgan Demi-gorgon, (1) or my brother, or somebody, to prevent my eating alone,--a process absolutely necessary to my poor wretched digestion. Oh, the pleasure of eating alone! Eating my dinner alone,--let me think of it! But in they come, and make it absolutely necessary that I should open a bottle of orange; for my meat turns into stone when any one dines with me, if I have not wine. Wine can mollify stones; then that wine turns into acidity, acerbity, misanthropy, a hatred of my interrupters (God bless 'em! I love some of 'em dearly); and with the hatred, a still greater aversion to their going away. Bad is the dead sea they bring upon me, choking and deadening; but worse is the deader dry sand they leave me on, if they go before bedtime. Come never, I would say to these spoilers of my dinner; but if you come, never go! The fact is, this interruption does not happen very often; but every time it comes by surprise, that present bane of my life, orange wine, with all its dreary stifling consequences, follows. Evening company I should always like, had I any mornings; but I am saturated with human faces (_divine forsooth!) and voices all the golden morning; and five evenings in a week would be as much as I should covet to be in company; but I assure you that is a wonderful week in which I can get two, or one, to myself. I am never C.L., but always C.L. & Co. He who thought it not good for man to be alone, preserve me from the more prodigious monstrosity of being never by myself! I forget bed-time; but even there these sociable frogs clamber up to annoy me. Once a week, generally some singular evening that, being alone, I go to bed at the hour I ought always to be a-bed, just close to my bed-room window is the club-room of a public-house, where a set of singers--I take them to be chorus-singers of the two theatres (it must be _both of them_)--begin their orgies. They are a set of fellows (as I conceive) who, being limited by their talents to the burden of the song at the playhouses, in revenge have got the common popular airs by Bishop or some cheap composer, arranged for choruses, that is, to be sang all in chorus,--at least, I never can catch any of the text of the plain song, nothing but the Babylonish choral howl at the tail on't, "That fury being quenched,'--the howl I mean,--a burden succeeds of shouts and clapping and knocking of the table. At length over-tasked nature drops under it, and escapes for a few hours into the society of the sweet silent creatures of dreams, which go away with mocks and mows at cockcrow. And then I think of the words Christabel's father used (bless me! I have dipt in the wrong ink) to say every morning by way of variety when he awoke,--


"Every knell, the Baron saith,
Wakes us up to a world of death,"--


or something like it. All I mean by this senseless interrupted tale is, that by my central situation I am a little over-companied. Not that I have any animosity against the good creatures that are so anxious to drive away the harpy Solitude from me. I like 'em, and cards, and a cheerful glass; but I mean merely to give you an idea, between office confinement and after-office society, how little time I can call my own. I mean only to draw a picture, not to make an inference. I would not, that I know of, have it otherwise. I only wish sometimes I could exchange some of my faces and voices for the faces and voices which a late visitation brought most welcome, and carried away, leaving regret, but more pleasure,--even a kind of gratitude,--at being so often favored with that kind northern visitation. My London faces and noises don't hear me,--I mean no disrespect, or I should explain myself, that instead of their return 220 times a year, and the return of W. W., etc., seven times in 104 weeks, some more equal distribution might be found. I have scarce room to put in Mary's kind love and my poor name.

C. LAMB.

W. H(azlitt). goes on lecturing against W.W., and making copious use of quotations from said W.W. to give a zest to said lectures. S.T.C. is lecturing with success. I have not heard either him or H.; but I dined with S.T.C. at Oilman's a Sunday or two since; and he was well and in good spirits. I mean to hear some of the course; but lectures are not much to my taste, whatever the lecturer may be. If _read_, they are dismal flat, and you can't think why you are brought together to hear a man read his works, which you could read so much better at leisure yourself; if delivered extempore, I am always in pain lest the gift of utterance should suddenly fail the orator in the middle, as it did me at the dinner given in honor of me at the London Tavern. "Gentlemen," said I, and there I stopped; the rest my feelings were under the necessity of supplying. Mrs. Wordsworth _will/ go on, kindly haunting us with visions of seeing the lakes once more, which never can be realized. Between us there is a great gulf, not of inexplicable moral antipathies and distances, I hope, as there seemed to be between me and that gentleman concerned in the stamp-office that I so strangely recoiled from at Haydon's. I think I had an instinct that he was the head of an office, I hate all such people,--accountants' deputy accountants. The mere abstract notion of the East India Company, as long as she is unseen, is pretty, rather poetical; but as she makes herself manifest by the persons of such beasts, I loathe and detest her as the scarlet what-do-you-call-her of Babylon. I thought, after abridging us of all our red-letter days, they had done their worst; but I was deceived in the length to which heads of offices, those true liberty-haters, can go,--they are the tyrants, not Ferdinand, nor Nero. By a decree passed this week, they have abridged us of the immemorially observed custom of going at one o'clock of a Saturday,--the little shadow of a holiday left us. Dear W.W., be thankful for liberty.

(1) John Morgan

 

LETTER LXIV.

TO WORDSWORTH.

May, 1819.

Dear Wordsworth.--I received a copy of "Peter Bell" (1) a week ago, and I hope the author will not be offended if I say I do not much relish it. The humor, if it is meant for humor, is forced; and then the price,--sixpence would have been dear for it. Mind, I do not mean _your "Peter Bell," but a "Peter Bell," which preceded it about a week, and is in every bookseller's shop-window in London, the type and paper nothing differing from the true one, the preface signed W. W., and the supplementary preface quoting as the author's words an extract from the supplementary preface to the "Lyrical Ballads." Is there no law against these rascals? I would have this Lambert Simnel whipped at the cart's tail. Who started the spurious "P.B." I have not heard. I should guess, one of the sneering brothers, the vile Smiths; but I have heard no name mentioned. "Peter Bell" (not the mock one) is excellent,--for its matter, I mean. I cannot say the style of it quite satisfies me. It is too lyrical. The auditors, to whom it is feigned to be told, do not _arride me_. I had rather it had been told me, the reader, at once. "Hart-leap Well" is the tale for me; in matter as good as this, in manner infinitely before it, in my poor judgment. Why did you not add "The Wagoner"? Have I thanked you, though, yet for "Peter Bell"? I would not _not have it for a good deal of money. Coleridge is very foolish to scribble about books.

Neither his tongue nor fingers are very retentive. But I shall not say anything to him about it. He would only begin a very long story with a very long face, and I see him far too seldom to tease him with affairs of business or conscience when I do see him. He never comes near our house, and when we go to see him he is generally writing or thinking; he is writing in his study till the dinner comes, and that is scarce over before the stage summons us away. The mock "P.B." had only this effect on me, that after twice reading it over in hopes to find something diverting in it, I reached your two books off the shelf, and set into a steady reading of them, till I had nearly finished both before I went to bed,--the two of your last edition, of course, I mean, And in the morning I awoke determined to take down the "Excursion." I wish the scoundrel imitator could know this. But why waste a wish on him? I do not believe that paddling about with a stick in a pond, and fishing up a dead author, whom _his intolerable wrongs had driven to that deed of desperation, would turn the heart of one of these obtuse literary BELLS. There is no Cock for such Peters, damn 'em! I am glad this aspiration came upon the red-ink line. (2) It is more of a bloody curse. I have delivered over your other presents to Alsager and G. Dyer, A., I am sure, will value it and be proud of the hand from which it came. To G.D. a poem is a poem,--his own as good as anybody's, and, God bless him! anybody's as good as his own; for I do not think he has the most distant guess of the possibility of one poem being better than another. The gods, by denying him the very faculty itself of discrimination, have effectually cut off every seed of envy in his bosom. But with envy they excited curiosity also; and if you wish the copy again, which you destined for him, I think I shall be able to find it again for you on his third shelf, where he stuffs his presentation copies, uncut, in shape and matter resembling a lump of dry dust; but on carefully removing that stratum, a thing like a pamphlet will emerge. I have tried this with fifty different poetical works that have been given G.D. in return for as many of his own performances; and I confess I never had any scruple in taking _my own again, wherever I found it, shaking the adherences off; and by this means one copy of 'my works' served for G.D.,--and, with a little dusting, was made over to my good friend Dr. Geddes, who little thought whose leavings he was taking when he made me that graceful bow. By the way, the Doctor is the only one of my acquaintance who bows gracefully,--my town acquaintance, I mean. How do you like my way of writing with two inks? I think it is pretty and motley. Suppose Mrs. W, adopts it, the next time she holds the pen for you. My dinner waits. I have no time to indulge any longer in these laborious curiosities. God bless you, and cause to thrive and burgeon whatsoever you write, and fear no inks of miserable poetasters.

Yours truly,

CHARLES LAMB.

Mary's love.

(1) Lamb alludes to a parody, ridiculing Wordsworth, by J. Hamilton Reynolds, The verses were entitled "Peter Bell: A Lyrical Ballad;" and their drift and spirit may be inferred from the following lines from the preface: "It is now a period of one-and-twenty years since I first wrote some of the most perfect compositions (except certain pieces I have written in my later days) that ever dropped from poetical pen. My heart hath been right and powerful all its years. I never thought an evil or a weak thought in my life. It has been my aim and my achievement to deduce moral thunder from buttercups, daisies, celandines, and (as a poet scarcely inferior to myself hath it) 'such small deer,'" etc.

(2) The original letter is actually written in to inks,--alternate black and red.

 

LETTER LXV.

TO MANNING,

_May 28, 1819,

My Dear M..--I want to know how your brother is, if you have heard lately. I want to know about you, I wish you were nearer. How are my cousins, the Gladmans of Wheathampstead, and Farmer Bruton? Mrs. Bruton is a glorious woman,

"Hail, Mackery End!" (1)

This is a fragment of a blank-verse poem which. I once meditated, but got no farther. The E. I. H. has been thrown into a quandary by the strange phenomenon of poor Tommy Bye, whom I have known, man and madman, twenty-seven years, he being elder here than myself by nine years and more. He was always a pleasant, gossiping, half-headed, muzzy, dozing, dreaming, walk-about, inoffensive chap, a little too fond of the creature,--who isn't at times? But Tommy had _not brains to work off an overnight's surfeit by ten o'clock next morning, and unfortunately, in he wandered the other morning drunk with last night and with a superfoetation of drink taken in since he set out from bed. He came staggering under his double burden, like trees in Java, bearing at once blossom, fruit, and falling fruit, as I have heard you or some other traveller tell, with his face literally as blue as the bluest firmament. Some wretched calico that he had mopped his poor oozy front with, had rendered up its native dye, and the devil a bit would he consent to wash it, but swore it was characteristic, for he was going to the sale of indigo; and set up a laugh which I did not think the lungs of mortal man were competent to. It was like a thousand people laughing, or the Goblin Page. He imagined afterwards that the whole office had been laughing at him, so strange did his own sounds strike upon his _non_sensorium. But Tommy has laughed his last laugh, and awoke the next day to find himself reduced from an abused income of L600 per annum to one sixth of the sum, after thirty-six years' tolerably good service. The quality of mercy was not strained in his behalf; the gentle dews dropped not on him from heaven. It just came across me that I was writing to Canton. Will you drop in to-morrow night? Fanny Kelly is coming, if she does not cheat us. Mrs. _Gold is well, but proves "uncoined," as the lovers about Wheathampstead would say.

I have not had such a quiet half hour to sit down to a quiet letter for many years. I have not been interrupted above four times. I wrote a letter the other day in alternate lines, black ink and red, and you cannot think how it chilled the flow of ideas. Next Monday is Whit-Monday. What a reflection! Twelve years ago, and I should have kept that and the following holiday in the fields a-maying. All of those pretty pastoral delights are over. This dead, everlasting dead desk,--how it weighs the spirit of a gentleman down! This dead wood of the desk instead of your living trees! But then, again, I hate the joskins, _a name for Hertfordshire bumpkins_. Each state of life has its inconvenience; but then, again, mine has more than one. Not that I repine, or grudge, or murmur at my destiny. I have meat and drink, and decent apparel,--I shall, at least, when I get a new hat,

A red-haired man just interrupted me. He has broke the current of my thoughts, I haven't a word to add, I don't know why I send this letter, but I have had a hankering to hear about you some days. Perhaps it will go off before your reply comes. If it don't, I assure you no letter was ever welcomer from, you, from Paris or Macao.

C. LAMB.

(1) See the Elia essay, "Mackery End, in H---shire."

 

LETTER LXVI.

TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

_November 25, 1819.

Dear Miss Wordsworth,--You will think me negligent, but I wanted to see more of Willy (1) before I ventured to express a prediction, Till yesterday I had barely seen him,--_Virgilium tantum vidi_; but yesterday he gave us his small company to a bullock's heart, and I can pronounce him a lad of promise. He is no pedant nor bookworm; so far I can answer. Perhaps he has hitherto paid too little attention to other men's inventions, preferring, like Lord Foppington, the "natural sprouts of his own." But he has observation, and seems thoroughly awake. I am ill at remembering other people's _bon mots_, but the following are a few. Being taken over Waterloo Bridge, he remarked that if we had no mountains, we had a fine river, at least,--which was a touch of the comparative; but then he added in a strain which augured less for his future abilities as a political economist, that he supposed they must take at least a pound a week toll. Like a curious naturalist, he inquired if the tide did not come up a little salty. This being satisfactorily answered, he put another question, as to the flux and reflux; which being rather cunningly evaded than artfully solved by that she-Aristotle Mary, who muttered something about its getting up an hour sooner and sooner every day, he sagely replied, "Then it must come to the same thing at last,"--which was a speech worthy of an infant Halley! The lion in the 'Change by no means came up to his ideal standard,--so impossible is it for Nature, in any of her works, to come up to the standard of a child's imagination! The whelps (lionets) he was sorry to find were dead; and on particular inquiry, his old friend the orang-outang had gone the way of all flesh also. The grand tiger was also sick, and expected in no short time to exchange this transitory world for another or none. But, again, there was a golden eagle (I do not mean that of Charing) which did much arride and console him. William's genius, I take it, leans a little to the figurative; for being at play at tricktrack (a kind of minor billiard-table which we keep for smaller wights, and sometimes refresh our own mature fatigues with taking a hand at), not being able to hit a ball he had iterate aimed at, he cried out, "I cannot hit that beast." Now, the balls are usually called men, but he felicitously hit upon a middle term,--a term of approximation and imaginative reconciliation; a something where the two ends of the brute matter (ivory) and their human and rather violent personification into men might meet, as I take it,--illustrative of that excellent remark in a certain preface about imagination, explaining "Like a sea-beast that had crawled forth to sun himself!" Not that I accuse William Minor of hereditary plagiary, or conceive the image to have come _ex traduce_. Rather he seemeth to keep aloof from any source of imitation, and purposely to remain ignorant of what mighty poets have done in this kind before him; for being asked if his father had ever been on Westminster Bridge, (2) he answered that he did not know!

It is hard to discern the oak in the acorn, or a temple like St. Paul's in the first stone which is laid; nor can I quite prefigure what destination the genius of William Minor hath to take. Some few hints I have set down, to guide my future observations. He hath the power of calculation in no ordinary degree for a chit. He combineth figures, after the first boggle, rapidly; as in the tricktrack board, where the hits are figured, at first he did not perceive that 15 and 7 made 22; but by a little use he could combine 8 with 25, and 33 again with 16,--which approacheth something in kind (far let me be from flattering him by saying in degree) to that of the famous American boy. I am sometimes inclined to think I perceive the future satirist in him, for he hath a sub-sardonic smile which bursteth out upon occasion,--as when he was asked if London were as big as Ambleside; and indeed no other answer was given, or proper to be given, to so ensnaring and provoking a question. In the contour of skull certainly I discern something paternal; but whether in all respects the future man shall transcend his father's fame, Time, the trier of Geniuses, must decide. Be it pronounced peremptorily at present that Willy is a well-mannered child, and though no great student, hath yet a lively eye for things that lie before him.

Given in haste from my desk at Leadenhall. Yours, and yours most sincerely,

C. LAMB.

(1) Wordsworth's third son. He was at the Charter-house School in London, and the Lambs had invited him to spend a half holiday with them.

(2) "William Minor" was evidently forgetful of the exquisite sonnet, "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge."

 

LETTER LXVII.

TO COLERIDGE.

_March 9, 1822.

Dear C.,--It gives me great satisfaction to hear that the pig turned out so well, (1)--they are interesting creatures at a certain age; what a pity such buds should blow out into the maturity of rank bacon! You had all some of the crackling--and brain sauce; did you remember to rub it with butter, and gently dredge it a little just before the crisis? Did the eyes come away kindly, with no Oedipean avulsion? Was the crackling the color of the ripe pomegranate? Had you no cursed complement of boiled neck of mutton before it, to blunt the edge of delicate desire? Did you flesh maiden teeth in it? Not that I sent the pig, or can form the remotest guess what part Owen could play in the business. I never knew him give anything away in my life. He would not begin with strangers. I suspect the pig, after all, was meant for me; but at the unlucky juncture of time being absent, the present somehow went round to Highgate. To confess an honest truth, a pig is one of those things I could never think of sending away. Teals, widgeons, snipes, barn-door fowl, ducks, geese,--your tame villatic things,--Welsh mutton collars of brawn, sturgeon, fresh or pickled, your potted char, Swiss cheeses, French pies, early grapes, muscadines, I impart as freely unto my friends as to myself. They are but self-extended; but pardon me if I stop somewhere. Where the fine feeling of benevolence giveth a higher smack than the sensual rarity, there my friends (or any good man) may command me; but pigs are pigs, and I myself therein am nearest to myself. Nay, I should think it an, affront, an undervaluing done to Nature, who bestowed such a boon upon me, if in a churlish mood I parted with the precious gift. One of the bitterest pangs I ever felt of remorse was when a child. My kind old aunt (2) had strained her pocket-strings to bestow a sixpenny whole plum cake upon me. In my way home through the Borough, I met a venerable old man, not a mendicant, but thereabouts,--a look-beggar, not a verbal petitionist; and in the coxcombry of taught-charity, I gave away the cake to him. I walked on a little in all the pride of an Evangelical peacock, when of a sudden my old aunt's kindness crossed me,--the sum it was to her; the pleasure she had a right to expect that I--not the old impostor--should take in eating her cake; the cursed ingratitude by which, under the color of a Christian virtue, I had frustrated her cherished purpose. I sobbed, wept, and took it to heart so grievously that I think I never suffered the like; and I was right. It was a piece of unfeeling hypocrisy, and proved a lesson to me ever after. The cake has long been masticated, consigned to dunghill with the ashes of that unseasonable pauper.

But when Providence, who is better to us all than our aunts, gives me a pig, remembering my temptation and my fall, I shall endeavor to act towards it more in the spirit of the donor's purpose.

Yours (short of pig) to command in everything,

C. L.

(1) Some one had sent Coleridge a pig, and the gift was erroneously credited to Lamb.

(2) Elia: "Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago."

 

LETTER LXVIII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

_March 20, 1822.

My Dear Wordsworth,--A letter from you is very grateful; I have not seen a Kendal postmark so long. We are pretty well, save colds and rheumatics, and a certain deadness to everything, which I think I may date from poor John's loss, and another accident or two at the same time, that has made me almost bury myself at Dalston, where yet I see more faces than I could wish. Deaths overset one and put one out long after the recent grief. Two or three have died, within this last two twelvemonths, and so many parts of me have been numbed. One sees a picture, reads an anecdote, starts a casual fancy, and thinks to tell of it to this person in preference to every other; the person is gone whom it would have peculiarly suited. It won't do for another. Every departure destroys a class of sympathies. There's Captain Burney gone! What fun has whist now? What matters it what you lead, if you can no longer fancy him looking over you? (1) One never hears anything, but the image of the particular person occurs with whom alone almost you would care to share the intelligence,--thus one distributes oneself about; and now for so many parts of me I have lost the market. Common natures do not suffice me. Good people, as they are called, won't serve; I want individuals. I am made up of queer points, and I want so many answering needles. The going-away of friends does not make the remainder more precious. It takes so much from them, as there was a common link. A, B, and C make a party. A dies. B not only loses A, but all A's part in C. C loses A's part in B, and so the alphabet sickens by subtraction of interchangeables. I express myself muddily, _capite dolente_. I have a dulling cold. My theory is to enjoy life; but my practice is against it. I grow ominously tired of official confinement. Thirty years have I served the Philistines, and my neck is not subdued to the yoke. You don't know how wearisome it is to breathe the air of four pent walls without relief, day after day, all the golden hours of the day between ten and four, without ease or interposition. _Taedet me harum quotidianarum formarum_, these pestilential clerk-faces always in one's dish. Oh for a few years between the grave and the desk! they are the same, save that at the latter you are the outside machine. The foul enchanter (Nick?), "letters four do form his name,"--Busirane (2) is his name in hell,--that has curtailed you of some domestic comforts, hath laid a heavier hand on me, not in present infliction, but in the taking away the hope of enfranchisement. I dare not whisper to myself a pension on this side of absolute incapacitation and infirmity, till years have sucked me dry,--_Otium cum indignitate_. I had thought in a green old age (oh, green thought!) to have retired to Ponder's End,--emblematic name, how beautiful!,--in the Ware Road, there to have made up my accounts with Heaven and the Company, toddling about between it and Cheshunt, anon stretching, on some fine Izaak Walton morning, to Hoddesdon or Amwell, careless as a beggar; but walking, walking ever, till I fairly walked myself off my legs,--dying walking! The hope is gone. I sit like Philomel all day (but not singing), with my breast against this thorn of a desk, with the only hope that some pulmonary affliction may relieve me. _Vide Lord Palmerston's report of the clerks in the War-office (Debates in this morning's "Times"), by which it appears, in twenty years as many clerks have been coughed and catarrhed out of it into their freer graves. Thank you for asking about the pictures. Milton hangs over my fire-side in Covent Garden (when I am there); the rest have been sold for an old song, wanting the eloquent tongue that should have set them off! You have gratified me with liking my meeting with Dodd. For the Malvolio story,--the thing is become in verity a sad task, and I eke it out with anything. If I could slip out of it I should be happy; but our chief-reputed assistants have forsaken us. The Opium-Eater crossed us once with a dazzling path, and hath as suddenly left us darkling; and, in short, I shall go on from dull to worse, because I cannot resist the booksellers' importunity,--the old plea, you know, of authors; but I believe on my part sincere. Hartley I do not so often see, but I never see him in unwelcome hour. I thoroughly love and honor him. I send you a frozen epistle; but it is winter and dead time of the year with me. May Heaven keep something like spring and summer up with you, strengthen your eyes, and make mine a little lighter to encounter with them, as I hope they shall yet and again, before all are closed!

Yours, with every kind remembrance,

C. L.

(1) Martin Burney was the grimy-fisted whist-player to whom Lamb once observed, "Martin, if dirt was trumps, what hands you would hold!"

(2) The enchanter in "The Faerie Queene."

 

LETTER LXIX.

TO JOHN CLARE. (1)

_August 31, 1822.

Dear Clare,--I thank you heartily for your present. I am an inveterate old Londoner, but while I am among your choice collections I seem to be native to them and free of the country. The quality of your observation has astonished me. What have most pleased me have been "Recollections after a Ramble," and those "Grongar Hill" kind of pieces in eight-syllable lines, my favourite measure, such as "Cooper Hill" and "Solitude." In some of your story-telling Ballads the provincial phrases sometimes startle me. I think you are too profuse with them. In poetry _slang of every kind is to be avoided. There is a rustic Cockneyism, as little pleasing as ours of London. Transplant Arcadia to Helpstone. The true rustic style I think is to be found in Shenstone. Would his "School-mistress," the prettiest of poems, have been better if he had used quite the Goody's own language? Now and then a home rusticism is fresh and startling; but when nothing is gained in expression, it is out of tenor. It may make folks smile and stare; but the ungenial coalition of barbarous with refined phrases will prevent you in the end from being so generally tasted as you desire to be. Excuse my freedom, and take the same liberty with my _puns_.

I send you two little volumes of my spare hours. They are of all sorts; there is a Methodist hymn for Sundays, and a farce for Saturday night. Pray give them a place on your shelf. Pray accept a little volume, of which I have a duplicate, that I may return in equal number to your welcome presents. I think I am indebted to you for a sonnet in the "London" for August.

Since I saw you I have been in France, and have eaten frogs. The nicest little rabbity things you ever tasted. Do look about for them. Make Mrs. Clare pick off the hind-quarters, boil them plain, with parsley and butter. The fore-quarters are not so good. She may let them hop off by themselves.

Yours sincerely,

CHAS. LAMB.

(1) The Northamptonshire peasant poet. He had sent Lamb his "The Village Minstrel, and other Poems."

 

LETTER LXX.

TO MR. BARRON FIELD.

_September 22, 1822.

My Dear F.,--I scribble hastily at office. Frank wants my letter presently. I and sister are just returned from Paris! (1) We have eaten frogs. It has been such a treat! You know our monotonous general tenor. Frogs are the nicest little delicate things,--rabbity flavored. Imagine a Lilliputian rabbit! They fricassee them; but in my mind, dressed seethed, plain, with parsley and butter, would have been the decision of Apicius.... Paris is a glorious, picturesque old city. London looks mean and new to it, as the town of Washington would, seen after _it. But they have no St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey. The Seine, so much despised by Cockneys, is exactly the size to run through a magnificent street; palaces a mile long on one side, lofty Edinburgh stone (oh, the glorious antiques!) houses on the other. The Thames disunites London and Southwark. I had Talma to supper with me. He has picked up, as I believe, an authentic portrait of Shakspeare. He paid a broker about L40 English for it. It is painted on the one half of a pair of bellows,--a lovely picture, corresponding with the Folio head. The bellows has old carved _wings round it and round the visnomy is inscribed, as near as I remember, not divided into rhyme,--I found out the rhyme,--


"Whom have we here
Stuck on this bellows,
But the Prince of good fellows,
Willy Shakspere?"

At top,--

"O base and coward lack,
To be here stuck!"


POINS.

At bottom,--


"Nay! rather a glorious lot is to him assign'd,
Who, like the Almighty, rides upon the wind."


PISTOL,

This is all in old, carved wooden letters. The countenance smiling, sweet, and intellectual beyond measure, even as he was immeasurable. It may be a forgery. They laugh at me, and tell me Ireland is in Paris, and has been putting off a portrait of the Black Prince. How far old wood may be imitated I cannot say, Ireland was not found out by his parchments, but by his poetry. I am confident no painter on either side the Channel could have painted anything near like the face I saw. Again, would such a painter and forger have taken L40 for a thing, if authentic, worth L4000? Talma is not in the secret, for he had not even found out the rhymes in the first inscription. He is coming over with it, and my life to Southey's "Thalaba," it will gain universal faith.

The letter is wanted, and I am wanted. Imagine the blank filled up with all kind things.

Our joint, hearty remembrances to both of you. Yours as ever,

C. LAMB.

(1) The Lambs had visited Paris on the invitation of James Kenney, the dramatist, who had married a Frenchwoman, and was living at Versailles.

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