Charles Lamb.

Charles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 online

. (page 10 of 33)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 10 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

architecture and of buildings — cities
abroad, which I have never seen,
and hardly have hope to see. I have
traversed, for the seeming length of
a natural day, Rome, Amsterdam,
Paris, Lisbon — tlieir churches, pa-
laces, squares, market-places, shops,
suburbs, ruins, with an inexpres-
sible sense of delight — a map-like
distinctness of trace — and a day-
light vividness of vision, that was all
but being awake. I have travelled
among the Westmoreland fells — my
highest Alps, — but they were objects
too mighty for the grasp of my
dreaming recognition ; and I have
again and agahi awoke with ineffec-
tual struggles of the " inner eye,"
to make out a shape in any way
whatever, of Helvellyn. Methought
I was in that country, but the moun-
tains were gone. The poverty of
my dreams mortifies me. There is

C , at his will can conjure up icy

domes, and pleasure-houses for Kubla
Khan, and Abyssinian maids, and
songs of Abara, and caverns.

Where Alph, the sacred river, runs,

to solace his night solitudes— when
I cannot muster a fiddle. Barry
Cornwall has his tritons and his
nereids gamboling before him hi noc-
turnal visions, and proclaiming sons
born to Neptune— when my stretch
of imaginative activity can hardly,
in the night season, raise up the ghost
of a fish- wife. To set my failures in
somewhat a mortifying light — it was
after reading the noble Dream of
this poet, that my fancy ran strong
upon these marine spectra; and the
poor plastic power, such as it is,
within me set to work, to humour
my folly in a sort of dream that very
night. Methought I was upon the
ocean billows at some sea nuptials,
riding and mounted high, with the
customary train sounding their conchs
before me, (I myself, you may be
sure, the leading god,) and jollily we
went careering over the mahi, till
just where Ino Leucothea should
have greeted me (I think it was Ino)
with a white embrace, the billows
gradually subsiding, fell from a sea-
roughness to a sea-calm, and thence
to a river-motion, and that river (as
happens in the familiarization of
dreams) was no other than the gentle
Thames, which landed me, in the
wafture of a placid wave or two,
safe and inglorious somewhere at the
foot of Lambeth palace.

The degree of the soul's creative-
ness in sleep might furnish no whim-
sical criterion of the quantum of
poetical faculty resident in the same
soul waking. An old gentleman, a
friend of mine, and a humourist,
used to carry this notion so far, that
when he saw any stripling of his ac-«
quaintance ambitious of becomhig a
poet, his first question would be, —
*' Young man, what sort of dreams
have you ? " I have so much faith
in my old friend's theory, that when
1 feel that idle vein returning upon
me, I presently subside into my pro-
per element of prose, remembering
those eluding nereids, and that inaus-
picious inland landing.


2 F2


iontion iWaga^me^



Vol. IV.


The custom of saying grace at
meals had, probably, its origin in
the early times of the world, and the
hunter-state of man, when dinners
were precarious things, and a full
meal was something more than a
common blessing ; when a belly-full
was a windfall, and looked like a spe-
cial providence. In the shouts and
triumphal songs, with which, after a
season of sharp abstinence, a lucky
booty of deer's or goat's flesh would
naturally be ushered home, existed,
perhaps, the germ of the modern
^ace. It is not otherwise easy to
be understood, why the blessing of
food — the act of eating — should have
had a particular expression of thanks-
givhig annexed to it, distinct from
that implied and silent gratitude with
which we are expected to enter upon
the enjoyment of the many other va-
rious gifts and good things of ex-

I own that I am disposed to say
grace upon twenty other occasions in
the course of the day besides my
dinner. I want a form for setting
out upon a pleasant walk, for a moon-
light ramble, for a friendly meeting,
or a solved problem. Why have we
none for books, those spiritual re-
pasts — a grace before Milton — a grace
before Shakspeare — a devotional ex-
ercise proper to be said before read-
ing the Fairy Queen ? — but, the re-
ceived ritual having prescribed these
forms to the solitary ceremony of
manducation, I shall confine my ob-
servations to the experience which I
have had of the grace, properly so
called ; commendhig my new scheme

Vol. IV.

for extension to a niche in the grand
philosophical, poetical, and perchance
in part heretical, liturgy, now com-
piling by my friend Homo Humanus,
for the use of a certain snug congre-
gation of Utopian Rabelaesian Chris-
tians, no matter where assembled.

The form then of the benediction
before eating has its beauty at a
poor man's table, or at the simple
and unprovocative repasts of chil-
dren. It is here that the grace be-
comes exceedingly graceful. The in-
digent man, who hardly knows whe-
ther he shall have a meal the next day
or not, sits down to his fare with a
present sense of the blessing, which
can be but feebly acted by the rich,
into whose minds the conception of
ever wanting a dinner could never,
but by some extreme theory, have
entered. The proper end of food —
the animal sustenance— is barely con-
templated by them. The poor man's
bread is his daily bread, literally his
bread for the day. Their courses are

Again, the plainest diet seems the
fittest to be preceded by the grace.
That which is least stimulative to
appetite, leaves the mind most free
for foreign considerations. A man
may feel thankful, heartily thankful,
over a dish of plain mutton with
turnips, and have leisure to reflect
upon the ordinance and institution of
eating, when he shall confess a per-
turbation of mind, inconsistent with
the purposes of the grace, at the
presence of venison or turtle. When
I have sate (a varus hospes) at ricfe
men's tables, with the savoury souii

Grace Before Meat.

and messes steaming up the nostrils,
and moistening the lips of the guests
with desire and a distracted choice,
I have felt the introduction of that
ceremony to be unseasonable. With
the ravenous orgasm upon you, it
seems impertinent to interpose a re-
ligious sentiment. It is a confusion
of purpose to mutter out praises
from a mouth that waters. The
heats of epicurism put out the gentle
flame of devotion. The incense which
rises round is pagan, and the belly-
god intercepts it for his own. The
very excess of the provision beyond
the needs, takes away all sense of
proportion between the end and
means. The giver is veiled by his
gifts. You are startled at the in-
justice of returning thanks — for what.^
— for having too much, while so many
starve. It is to praiset he Gods

I have observed this awkwardness
felt, scarce consciously perhaps, by
the good man who says the grace.
I have seen it in clergymen and
others — a sort of shame — a sense of
the co-presence of circumstances
which unhallow the blessing. After
a devotional tone put on for a few
seconds, how rapidly the speaker will
fall into his common voice, helping
himself or his neighbour, as if to
get rid of some uneasy sensation of
hypocrisy. Not that the good man
was a hypocrite, or was not most
conscientious in the discharge of the
duty ; but he felt in his inmost mind
the incompatibility of the scene and
the viands before him with the exer-
cise of a calm and rational grati-

I hear somebody exclaim, — Woidd
you have Christians sit down at table,
like hogs to their troughs, with-
out remembering the Giver .f*— no — I
would have them sit down as Chris-
tians, remembering the Giver, and
less like hogs. Or if their appetites
must run riot, and they must pam-
per themselves with delicates for
which east and west are ransacked,
I would have them postpone their
benediction to a fitter season, when
appetite is laid ; when the still small
voice can be heard, and the reason
of the grace returns — with temperate
diet and restricted dishes. Gluttony
and surfeiting are no proper occasions
for thanksgiving. When Jeshurun
■waxed fat, we read that he kicked.

Virgil knew the harpy-nature better,
when he put into the mouth of
Celaeno any thing but a blessing. We
may be gratefully sensible of the
deliciousness of some kinds of food
beyond others, though that is a
meaner and inferior gratitude : but
the proper object of the grace is
sustenance, not relishes ; daily bread,
not delicacies; the means of life,
and not the means of pampering the
carcase. With what frame or com-
posure, I wonder, can a city chap-
lain pronounce his benediction at
some great Hall feast, when he
knows that his last concluding pious
word — and that, in all probability,
the sacred name which he preaches —
is but the signal for so many impa-
tient harpies to commence their foul
orgies, w^ith as little sense of true
thankfulness (which is temperance)
as those Virgilian fowl ! It is well if
the good man himself does not feel
his devotions a little clouded, those
foggy sensuous steams mingling with,
and polluting the pure altar sacrifice^
The severest satire upon full tables
and surfeits is the banquet which
Satan, in the Paradise Regained,
provides for a temptation in the
wilderness : —

A table richly spread in regal mode,
With dishes piled, and meats of noblest

And savour ; beasts of chase, or fowl of

In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled,
Gris-amber-steamcd ; all fish from sea or

Freshet or purling brook, for which was

Pontus, and Lucrine bay, and Afric coast.

The Tempter, I warrant you,
thought these cates would go down
without the recommendatory pre-
face of a benediction. They are like
to be short graces where the devil
plays the host. — I am afraid, the poet
wants his usual decorum in this
place. Was he thinking of the old
Roman luxury, or of a gaudy day at
Cambridge ? This was a temptation
fitter for a Heliogabalus. The whole
banquet is too civic and culhiary, and
the accompaniments altogether a pro-
fanation of that deep, abstracted,
holy scene. The mighty artillery of
sauces, which the cook-fiend conjures
up, is out of proportion to the simple
wants and plain hunger of the guest.
He that disturbed him in his dreams.


Grace Before Meat.


from his dreams might have been
taught better. To the temperate fan-
tasies of the famished Son of God^
what sort of feasts presented them-
selves ? — He dreamed indeed.

As appetite is wont to dream,

Of meats and drinks, nature's refreshment

But what meats ? —

Him thought, he by the brook of Cherith

And saw the ravens with then* horny beaks
Food to Elijah bringing, even and morn ;
Though ravenous, taught to abstain from

what they brought :
He saw the prophet also how he fled
Into the desart, and how there he slept
Under a juniper ; then how awaked
He found his supper on the coals prepared.
And by the angel was bid rise and eat,
And ate the second time after repose.
The strength whereof sufliced hun forty

Sometimes, that with Elijah he partook.
Or as a guest with Daniel at his pulse.

Nothing in Milton is finelier fancied
than these temperate dreams of the
divine Hungerer. To which of these
two visionary banquets, think you,
would the introduction of what is
called the grace have been most
fitting and pertinent ?

Theoretically I am no enemy to
graces; but practically I own that
(before meat especially) they seem to
involve something awkward and un-
seasonable. Our appetites, of one or
another kind, are excellent spurs to
our reason, which might otherwise
but feebly set about the great ends of
preserving and continuing the species.
They are fit blesshigs to be contem-
plated at a distance with a becoming
gratitude; but the moment of ap-
petite (the judicious reader will ap-
prehend me) is, perhaps, the least fit
season for that exercise. The Quakers
who go about their business, of eveiy
description, with more calmness than
we, have more title to the use of
these benedictory prefaces. I have
always admii-ed their silent grace,
and the more because I have ob-
served their applications to the meat
and drink followh)g to be less passi-
onate and sensual than oiu's. They
are neither gluttons nor wine-bibbers
as a people. They eat, as a horse
bolts his chopt hay, with indifference,
calmness, and cleanly circumstances.
They neither grease nor slop them-
selves. When I see a citizen in his

bib and tucker, I cannot imagine it a

1 am no Quaker at my food. I
confess I am not indifferent to the
kinds of it. Those unctuous morsels
of deer's flesh were not made to be
received with dispassionate services.
I hate a man who swallows it, af-
fecting not to know what he is
eating. I suspect his taste in higher
ir.atters. I shrink instinctively from
one who professes to like minced
veal. There is a physiognomical

character in the tastes for food. C

holds that a man cannot have a pure
mind who refuses apple-dumplings.
I am not certain but he is right.
With the decay of my first innocence,
I confess a less and less relish daily
for those innocuous cates. The whole
vegetable tribe have lost their gust
with me. Only I stick to asparagus,
which still seems to inspire gentle
thoughts. I am impatient and que-
rulous under culinary disappoint-
ments, as to come home at the dinner
hour, for instance, expecting some
savoury mess, and to find one quite
tasteless and sapidless. Butter ill
melted — that commonest of kitchen
failures— puts me beside my tenour.
The author of the Rambler used to
make inarticulate animal noises over
a favourite food. Was this the music
quite proper to be preceded by the
grace ? or would the pious man have
done better to postpone his devotions
to a season when the blesshig might
be contemplated with less perturba-
tion.'* I quarrel with no man's
tastes, nor would set my thin face
against those excellent things in their
way, jollity and feasting. But as
these exercises, however laudable,
have little in them of grace or grace-
fulness, a man should be sure, before
he ventures so to grace them, that
while he is pretending his devotions
otherwhere, he is not secretly kissing
his hand to some great fish — his
Dagon — with a special consecration
of no ark but the fat tureen be-
fore him. Graces are the sweet pre-
luding strains to the banquets of an-
gels and children ; to the roots and
severer repasts of the Chartreuse ; to
the slender, but not slenderly ac-
knowledged, refection of the poor
and humble man: but at the heaped-
up boards of the pampered and the
luxurious they become of dissonant
mood, less timed and tuned to the


On the Songs of Thibaut, King of Navarre.


occasion, methhiks, than the noise of
those better befitting organs would
be, which children hear tales of, at
Hog's Norton. We sit too long at
our meals, or are too cunous in the
study of them, or too disordered in
our application to them, or engross
too great a portion of those good
things (which should be common) to
our share, to be able with any grace
to say grace. To be thankful for
what we grasp exceeding our propor-
tion is to add hypocrisy to injustice.
A lurking sense of this truth is what
makes the performance of this duty
so cold and spiritless a service at most
tables. In houses where the grace
is as indispensable as the napkin,
who has not seen that never settled
question arise, as to ivho shall say it ;
while the good man of the house and
the visitor clergyman, or some other
guest belike of next authority from
years or gravity, shall be bandying
about the office between them as a
matter of compliment, each of them
not unwilling to shift the awkward
burthen of an equivocal duty from his
own shoulders ? I once drank tea in
company with two Methodist divines
of different persuasions, whom it was
my fortune to introduce to each other
for the first time that evening. Be-
fore the first cup was handed round,
one of these reverend gentlemen put
it to the other, with all due solem-
nity, v/hether he chose to say any
thing. It seems it is the custom with
some sectaries to put up a short
prayer before this meal also. His
reverend brother did not at first quite
apprehend him, but upon an expla-
nation, with little less importance he
made answer, that it was not a cus-
tom known in his church ; in which
courteous evasion the other acqui-
escing for good manner's sake, or in
coinpliauce with a weak brother, the

supplementary oi teo-graoe was
waived altogether. With what spirit
might not Lucian have painted two
priests, of his religion, playing into
each other's hands the compliment of
performing or omitting a sacrifice, —
the himgry God meantime, doubtful
of his incense, with expectant nostrils
hovering over the two flamens, and
(as between two stools) going away
in the end without his supper.

A short form upon these occasions
is felt to be unreverend ; a long one^^
I am afraid, cannot escape the charge
of impertinence. I do not quite ap-
prove of the epigrammatic concise-
ness with which that equivocal waff
n)ut my pleasant school-fellow)
C. V. L., when importuned for a
grace, used to enquire, first slyly
leering down the table, " Is there no.
clergyman here?" — significantly add-«
ing, ^^ thank G— ." Nor do I think
our old form at school quite perti-
nent, when we were used to preface
our bald bread and cheese suppers
with a preamble, connecting with
that humble blessing a recognition
of benefits the most awful and over-
whelming to the imagination which
religion has to offer. Non tunc illis
erat locus. I remember we were put
to it to reconcile the phrase '' good
creatures," upon which the blessing
rested, with the fare set before us,
wilfully understanding that expres-
sion in a low and animal sense, till
some one recalled a legend, which
told hov/ in the golden days of
Christ's, the yovmg Hospitallers were
wont to have smoking joints of roast
meat upon their nightly boards, till
some pious benefactor, commiserating
the decencies, rather than the palates,
of the children, commuted our flesh
for garments, and gave us — horresco
referent — trowsers instead of mutton.




Some of our Correspondents having expressed a wish to put their heads in
the Lion's Mouth this month, he hath courteously consented, and promises
not to " wag his Tail," till they have done.

Elta to his Correspondents. — ^A Correspondent, who writes himself
Peter Ball, or Bell, — for his hand- writing is as ragged as his manners — ad-
monishes me of the old saying, that some people (under a courteous peri-
phrasis I slur his less ceremonious epithet) had need have good memories.
In my " Old Benchers of the Inner Temple," I have delivered myself, and
truly, a Templar bom. Bell clamours upon this, and thinketh that he hath
caught a fox. It seems that in a former paper, retorting upon a weekly
scribbler who had called my good identity in question, (see P. S. to my
'' Chapter on Ears,") I profess myself a native of some spot near Cavendish
Square, deducing my remoter origin from Italy. But who does not see, ex-
cept this tinkling cymbal, that in that idle fiction of Genoese ancestry I was
answering a fool according to his folly — that Elia there expresseth himself
ironically, as to an approved slanderer, who hath no right to the truth, and
can be no fit recipient of it ? Such a one it is usual to leave to his delusions ;
or, leading him from error still to contradictory error, to plunge him (as we
say) deeper in the mire, and give him line till he suspend himself. No un-
derstanding reader could be imposed upon by such obvious rhodomontade
to suspect me for an alien, or believe me other than English. — To a second
Correspondent, who signs himself " a \Viltshire man," and claims me for a
countryman upon the strength of an equivocal phrase in my '' Christ's
Hospital," a more mannerly reply is due. Passing over the Genoese fable,
which Bell makes such a ring about, he nicely detects a more subtle discre-
pancy, which Bell was too obtuse to strike upon. Referring to the passage
(in page 484 of our second volume), I must confess, that the term " native
town," applied to Calne, prima facie seems to bear out the construction
which my friendly Correspondent is willing to put upon it. The context too,
I am afraid, a little favours it. But where the words of an author, taken
literally, compared with some other passage in his writings, admitted to be
authentic, involve a palpable contradiction, it hath been the custom of the
ingenuous commentator to smooth the difficulty by the supposition, that in
the one case an allegorical or tropical sense was chiefly intended. So by
the word " native," I may be supposed to mean a town where I might have
been born ; or where it might be desirable that I should have been born, as
being situate in wholesome air, upon a dry chalky soil, in which I delight ;
or a town, with the inhabitants of which I passed some weeks, a summer or
two ago, so agreeably, that they and it became in a manner native to me.
Without some such latitude of interpretation in the present case, I see not
how we can avoid falling into a gross error in physics, as to conceive that a
gentleman may be born in two places, from which all modern and ancient
testimony is alike abhorrent. Bacchus cometh the nearest to it, whom I re-

2 L 2

446 ' 7" The tions Head. " QNor^

member Ovid to have honoured with the epithet " Tv^ice born."* But not
to mention that he is so called (we conceive) in reference to the places whence
rather than the places whe7-e he was deliveredj — for by either birth he may
probably be challenged for a Theban— in a strict way of speaking, he was
a Jilius femoris by nO' means in the same sense as he had been before a filius
alvi, for that latter was but a secondary and tralatitious way of being born,
and he but a denizen of the second house of his geniture. Thus much by
way of explanation was thought due to the courteous ^'^ Wiltshire man." — -
To '' Indagator," " Investigator/' ^< Incertus," and the rest of the pack,
that are so importunate about the true localities of his birth — as if, forsooth;^
Elia were presently about to be passed to his parish — to all such churchwar-
den critics he answereth, that, any explanation here given notwithstanding,
he hath not so fixed his nativity (like a rusty vane) to one dull spot, but
that, if he seeth occasion, or the argument shall demand it, he will be bom
again, in future papers, in whatever place, and at whatever period, shall-
seem good unto him.

Mod6 me Thebia— modo Athenis. Elia.

• Imperfectus adhuc infans genetricis ab alvo
Eripitur, patrioque tener (si credere dignum)

Insuitur femori

Tutaque bis geniti sunt incunabula Bacchi. Metamorph, lib. 3^


At the north end of Russell-court
Ihere yet stands a portal, of some
architectural pretensions, though
deduced to himible use, serving-
at present for an entrance to a wine
vault. This old door-way, if you
are young, reader, you may not
know was the identical pit entrance
to Old Drury — Garrick's Drury — all
of it that is left. I never pass it
without shakhig some forty years
from off my shoulders, recurring to
the evening when I passed through
it to see my first plaji. The after-
noon had been wet, and the condition
of our going (the elder folks and my-
self) was, that the rain should cease.
With what a beating heart did I
Watch from the window the puddles.

Vol. IV.

from the stillness of which I was
taught to prognosticate the desired
cessation ! I seem to remember the
last spurt, and the glee with which I
ran to announce it.

We went with orders, which my
godfather F. had sent us. He kept
the oil shop (now Davies's) at the
corner of Featherstone-buildings, in
Holborn. F. was a tall grave per-
son, lofty in speech, and had preten-
sions above his rank. He associated
in those days with John Palmer, the
comedian, whose gait and bearing
he seemed to copy ; if John (which
is quite as likely) did not rather bor-
row somewhat of his manner from
my godfather. He was also known
to, and visited bv, Sheridan. It was



My First Phy.


to his house in Holbom that young

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 10 of 33)