Charles Lamb.

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with a gentleness and considerateness
which could not have been, if she
had not thought that this particular'
infirmity shaded some virtues. His
rebuke to the knight, and his sottish
revellers, is sensible and spirited^
and when we take into consideration
the unprotected condition of his mis-
tress, and the strict regard witln

* Viola. She took the ring from me ; I'll none of it.

Mai. Come, Sir, you peevishly threw it to her; and her will is, it should be so
returned. If it be worth stooping for, there it lies in your eye ; if not, be it his that
finds it. . ' (

t Mrs. Inchbald seems to have fallen into the common mistake of the character ia
some sensible observations, otherwise, upon this Comedy. " It might be asked,'* she
says, " whether this credulous steward was much deceived in imputing a degraded taste*
in the sentiments of love, to his fair lady Olivia, as she actually did fall in love with a
domestic ; and one, who from his extreme youth, was perhaps a greater reproach to her
discretion, than had she cast a tender regard upon her old and faithful servant." But
where does she gather the fact of his age ? Neither Maria nor Fabian ever cast that re-
proach upon him.


On Some of the Old Actors.


to clear my cloudy face for two or
three hours at least of its furrows ?
Was this the face — manly, sober, in-
telligent, — which I had so often des-
pised, made mocks at, made merry
with ? The remembrance of the free-
doms which I had taken with it came
upon me with a reproach of insult.
.1 could have asked it pardon. I
thought it looked upon me with a
sense of injury. There is something
strange as well as sad in seeing ac-
tors — your pleasant fellows particu-
larly — subjected to and suffering the
common lot — their fortunes, their ca-
sualties, their deaths, seem to belong
to the scene, their actions to be
amenable to poetic justice only. We
can hardly coilnect them with more
awful responsibilities. The death of
this fine actor took place shortly after
this meeting. He had quitted the
stage some months; and, as I learn-
ed afterwards, had been in the habit
of resorting daily to these gardens
almost to the day of his decease. In
these serious walks probably he was
divesting himself of many scenic and
some real vanities— weaning himself
from the frivolities of the lesser and
the greater theatre — doing gentle pe-
nance for a life of no very reprehen-
sible fooleries, — taking off' by degrees
the buffoon mask which he might
feel he had worn too long— and re-
hearsing for a more solemn cast of
part. Dying he " put on the weeds
of Dominic."*

The elder Palmer (of stage-tread-
ing celebrity) commonly played Sir
Toby in those days ; but there is a
solidity of vvit in the jests of that
half-Falstaff which he did not quite
fill out. He was as much too showy
as Moody (who sometimes took the
part) was dry and sottish. In sock
or buskin there was an air of swag-
gering gentility about Jack Palmer.
He was a g-entleman with a slight in-
fusion of the footman. His brother
Bob (of recenter memory) who was

his shadow in every thing while he
lived, and dwindled into less than a
shadow afterwards —was a gentleman
with a little stronger infusion of the
latter ingredient ; that was all. It is
amazing how a little of the more or
less makes a difference in these
things. When you saw Bobby in the
Duke's Servant,t you said, what a
pity such a pretty fellow was only
a servant. When you saw Jack
figuring in Captain Absolute, you
thought you could trace his promo-
tion to some lady of quality who fan-
cied the handsome fellow in his top-
knot, and had bought him a commis-
sion. Therefore Jack in Dick Amlet
was insuperable.

Jack had two voices, — both plausi-
ble, hypocritical, and insinuating;
but his secondary or supplemental
voice still more decisively histrionic
than his common one. It was re-
served for the spectator; and the dra-
matis personae were supposed to know-
nothing at all about it. The lies of
young Wilding, and the sentiments in
Joseph Surface, were thus marked
out in a sort of italics to the audi-
ence. This secret correspondence
with the company before the curtain
(which is the bane and death of tra-
gedy) has an extremely happy effect
in some kinds of comedy, in the more
highly artificial comedy of Congreve
or of Sheridan especially, where the
absolute sense of reality (so indispen-
sable to scenes of interest) is not re-
quired, or would rather interfere to
diminish your pleasure. The fact is,
you do not believe in such characters
as Surface — the villain of artificial
comedy — even while you read or see
them. If you did, they would shock
and not divert you. When Ben, in
Love for Love, returns from sea, the
following exquisite dialogue occurs
at his first meeting with his father —

Sir Sampson. Thou hast been many a
weary league, Ben, since I saw thee.
Ben. Ey, ey, been ! Been far enough.

* Dodd was a man of reading, and left at his death a choice collection of old English ,
literature. I should judge him to have been a man of wit. I know one instance of an
impromptu which no length of study could have bettered. IMy merry friend, Jem
White, had seen him one evening in Aguecheek, and recognising Dodd the next day in
Fleet Street, was irresistibly impelled to take off his hat and salute him as the identical
Knight of the preceding evening with a "Save you, Sir Andrew.'''' Dodd, not at all
disconcerted at this unusual address from a stranger, with a courteous half-rebuking wa\^
of the hand, put him off with an " Away, Fool."

•f High Life Below Stairs.



The Drama,


an that be all — Well, father, and how do
all at home ? how does brother Dick, and
brother Val ?

Sir Sampson. Dick ! body o' me, Dick
has been dead these two years. I writ you
word wlien you were at Leghorn.

Ben. Mess, that's true ; Marry, I had
forgot. Dick's dead, as you say — Well,
and how ? — I have a many questions to ask
you —

Here is an instance of insensibility
which in real life would be revolting,
or rather in real life could not have
co-existed with the warm-hearted
temperament of the character. But
when you read it in the spirit with
which such playful selections and
specious combinations rather than
strict metaphrases of nature should
be taken, or when you saw Bannister
play it, it neither did, nor does
wound the moral sense at all. For
what is Ben — the pleasant sailor
which Bannister gave us — but a piece
of a satire — a creation of Congreve's
fancy — a dreamy combination of all
the accidents of a sailor's character —
his contempt of money — his credulity
to women— with that necessary es-
trangement from home which it is
just within the verge of credibility to

suppose might produce such an hal-
lucination as is here described. We
never think the worse of Ben for it^
or feel it as a stain upon his character.
But when an actor comes, and in-
stead of the delightful phantom — the
creature dear to half-belief— which
Bannister exhibited — displays be-
fore our eyes a downright concretion
of a Wapping sailor— a jolly warm-
hearted Jack Tar— and nothing else
— when instead of investing it with a
delicious confusedness of the head,
and a veering undirected goodness of
purpose— he gives to it a downright
daylight understanding, and a full
consciousness of its actions ; thrust-
ing forward the sensibilities of the
character with a pretence as if it
stood upon nothing else, and was to
be judged by them alone— we feel
the discord of the thing; the scene is
disturbed ; a real man has got in
among the dramatis personae, and
puts them out. We want the sailor
turned out. Wc feel that his true
place is not behind the curtain, but in
the first or second gallery.

{To he resumed occasional! I/.)


Distant Correspondenis,

Q March,


In a Letter to B. F. Esq. at Sydney , New South Wales.

My dear F. — When I think how
welcome the sight of a letter from
the world where you were bom must
be to you in that strang-e one to
which you have been transplanted, I
feel some compunctious visitings at
my long silence. But, indeed, it is
no easy effort to set about a corres-
pondence at our distance. The weary
world of waters between us op-
presses the imagination. It is diffi-
cult to conceive how a scrawl of
mine should ever stretch across it. It
is a sort of presumption to expect
that one's thoughts should live so far.
It is like writing for posterity ; and
reminds me of one of Mrs. Rowe's
superscriptions, '^ Alcander to Stre-
phon, in the shades." Cowley's Post-
Angel is no more than would be ex-
pedient m such an intercourse. One
drops a pacquet at Lombard-street,
and in twenty-four hours a friend in
Cumberland gets it as fresh as if it
came in ice. It is only like whisper-
ing through a long trumpet. But
suppose a tube let down from the
moon, with yourself at one end, and
the maji at the other; it would be
some baulk to the spirit of conver-
sation, if you knew that the dialogue
exchanged with that interesting the-
osophist would take two or. three re-
volutions of a higher luminary in its
passage. Yet for aught I know, you
may be some parasangs nigher that
primitive idea — Plato's man — than
we in England here have the honour
to reckon ourselves.

Epistolary matter usually com-
priseth three topics; news, senti-
ment, and puns. In the latter, I in-
clude all non-serious subjects ; or
subjects serious in themselves, l)ut
treated after my fashion, non-serious-
ly. — And first, for news. In them the
most desirable circumstance, I sup-
pose, is that they shall be true. But
what security can I have that what I
now send you for truth shall not be-
fore you get it unaccountably turn
into a lie ? For instance, our mutual
friend P. is at this present writing —
my Now — in good health, and enjoys
a fair share of worldly reputation.
You are glad to hear it. This is na-
tural and friendly. But at this pre-

sent reading — your Now — he may
possibly be in the Bench, or going ta
be hanged, which in reason ought to
abate something of your transport
(J. e. at hearing he was well, &c.), or
at least considerably to modify it. 1
am going to the play this evening, to
have a laugh with Joey Munden.
You have no theatre, I think you told

me, in your land of d d realities.

You naturally lick yoiu lips, and
envy nie ray felicity. Think but a
moment, and you will correct tlie
hateful emotion. Why, it is Sunday
morning with you, and 1823. This
confusion of tenses, this grand sole-
cism of tivo presents, is in a degree
common to all postage. But if I
sent you word to Bath or the De-
vises, that I was expecting the afore-
said treat this evening, though at the
moment you received the intelligence
my full feast of fun would be over,
yet there would be for a day or two
after, as you would well know, a
smack, a relish left upon my mental
palate, which would give rational
encouragement to you to foster a
portion at least of the disagreeable
passion, which it was in part my in-
tention to produce. But ten months
hence your envy or your sympathy
would be as useless as a passion
spent upon the dead. Not only does
truth, in these long intervals, un-es-
sence herself, but (what is harder)
one cannot venture a crude fiction for
the fear that it may ripen into a truth
upon the voyage. What a wild im-
probable banter I put upon you some
three years since — of Will Weather-
all having married a servant-maid I
I remember gravely consulting you
how we were to receive her — for
Will's wife was in no case to be re-
jected ; and your no less serious re-
plication in the matter ; how tenderly
you advised an abstemious introduc-
tion of literary topics before the lady,
with a caution not to be too forward
in bringing on the carpet matters
more within the sphere of her intel-
ligence; your deliberate judgment,
or rather wise suspension of sen-
tence, how far jacks, and spits, and
mops, could with propriety be intro-
duced as subjects ; whether the con-


Distant Correspondents.


scions avoiding of all such matters
in discourse would not have a worse
look than the takhig of them casually
in our way ; in what manner we
should carry ourselves to our maid
Becky, Mrs. William Weatherall
being by ; whether we should show
more delicacy, and a truer sense of
respect for Will's wife, by treating
Becky with our customary chiding
before her, or by an unusual deferen-
tial civility paid to Becky as to a
person of great worth, but thrown
by the caprice of fate hito a humble
station. There were difficulties, I
remember, on both sides, which you
did me the favour to state with the
precision of a lawyer, united to the
tenderness of a friend. I laughed in
my sleeve at your solemn pleadhigs,
ivhen lo ! while I was valuing my-
self upon this flam put upon you in
New South Wales, the devil in Eng-
land, jealous possibly of any lie-
children not his own, or working after
my copy, has actually instigated our
friend (not tliree days since) to the
commission of a matrimony, which I
had only conjured up for your diver-
sion. William Weatherall has mar-
ried Mrs. Cotterel's maid. But to
take it in its truest sense, you will
see, my dear F., that news from me
must become history to you ; which
I neither profess to write, nor indeed
care much for reading. No person,
under a diviner, can with any pros-
pect of veracity conduct a corres-
pondence at such an arm's length.
Two prophets, indeed, might thus
interchange intelligence with effect ;
the epoch of the writer (Habbakuk)
falling in with the true present time
of the receiver (Daniel) ; but then
we are no prophets.

Then as to sentiment. It fares
little better with that. This kind of
dish, above all, requires to be served
up hot ; or sent off in water-plates,
that your friend may have it almost
as warm as yourself. If it have time
to cool, it is the most tasteless of all
cold meats. I have often smiled at a
conceit of the late Lord C. It seems
that travelling somewhere about Ge-
neva, he came to some pretty green
spot, or nook, where a willow, or
something, hung so fantastically and
invitingly over a stream — was it? —
or a rock?— no matter— but the stil-
ness and the repose, after a weary
journey 'tis likely, in a languid mo^

ment of his Lordship's hot restless
life, so took his fancy, that he could
imagine no place so proper, in the
event of his death, to lay his bones
in. This was all very natural and
excusable as a sentiment, and shows
his character in a very pleasing light.
But when from a passing sentiment
it came to be an act ; and when, by a
positive testamentary disposal, his
remains were actually carried all that
way from England ; who was there,
some desperate sentimentalists ex-
cepted, that did not ask the question.
Why could not his Lordship have
found a spot as solitary, a nook as
romantic, a tree as green and pen-
dent, with a stream as emblematic to
his purpose, in Surry, in Dorset, or
in Devon? Conceive the sentiment
hoarded up, freighted, entered at the
Custom House (startling the tide-
waiters with the novelty), hoisted
into a ship. Conceive it pawed a-
bout and handled between the rude
jests of tarpaulin ruffians — a thing of
its delicate texture — the salt bilge
wetting it till it became as vapid as
a damaged lustring. Suppose it in
material danger (marniers have some
superstition about sentiments) of
being tossed over in a fresh gale to
some propitiatory shark (spirit of
Saint Gothard, save us from a quietus
so foreign to the deviser's purpose !)
but it has happily evaded a fishy
consummation. Trace it then to its
lucky landing — at Lyons shall we
say ? — I have not. the map before me
— jostled upon four men's shoulders
— baiting at this town— stopping to
refresh at t'other village — waiting a
passport here, a licence there ; the
sanction of the magistracy in this
district, the concurrence of the eccle-
siastics in that canton ; till at length
it arrives at its destination, tired out
and jaded, from a brisk sentiment,
into a feature of silly pride or taw-
dry senseless affectation. How few
sentiments, my dear F., I am afraid
we can set down, in the sailor's
phrase, as quite sea-worthy.

Lastly, as to the agreeable levities,
which, though contemptible in bulk,
are the twinkling corpviscula which
should irradiate a right friendly epistle
— your puns and small jests are, T ap-
prehend, extremely circumscribed in
their sphere of action. They are so
far from a capacity of being packed
up and sent beyond sea, they will


Distant Correspondents,


scarce endure to be transported by
hand from this room to the next.
Their vigour is as the instant of their
birth. Their nutriment for their brief
existence is the intellectual atmos-
phere of the by-standers : or this last
is the fine slime of Nilus— the melinr
luius, — whose maternal recipiency
is as necessary as the sol pater to
their equivocal generation. A pun
hath a hearty kind of present ear-
kissing smack with it ; you can no
more transmit it in its pristine fla-
vour^ than you can send a kiss. —
Have you not tried in some instances
to palm off a yesterday's pun upon
a gentleman, and has it answered ?
Not but it was new to his hearing,
but it did not seem to come new from
you. It did not hitch in. It was
like picking up at a village ale-house
a two days old newspaper. You
have not seen it before, but you re-
sent the stale thing as an affront.
This sort of merchandise above all
requires a quick return. A pun, and
its recognitory laugh, must be co-
instantaneous. The one is the brisk
lightning, the other the fierce thun-
der. A moment's interval, and the
luik is snapped. A pim is reflected
from a friend's face as from a mirror.
Who would consult his sweet vis-
nomy, if the polished surface were
two or three minutes (not to speak
of twelve-months, my dear F.) in
giving back its copy ?

I cannot image to myself where-
about you are. When I try to fix
it, PeterWilldns's island comes across
me. Sometimes you seem to be in
the Hades of Thieves. 1 see Dio-
genes prying among you with his
perpetual fruitle5:s lantern. What
must you be willing by this time to
give for the sight of an honest man !
You must almost have forgotten how
2oe look. And tell me, Avhat your
Sydneyites do ? are they th**v*ng all
day long? Merciful heaven, what
property can stand against such a
depredation ! The kangaroos — your
Aborigines — do they keep their pri-
mitive simplicity un-Europe-tainted,
with those little short fore-puds,
looking like a lesson framed by na-
ture to the pickpocket ! Marry, for
diving into fobs they are rather lamely
provided a priori ; but if the hue and
cry were once up, they would show
as fair a pair of hind-shift.ers as the
expertest loco-motor in the colony. — •

We hear the most improbable tales
at this distance. Pray, is it true
that the young Spartans among you
are born with six fingers, which
spoils their scanning ? — It must look
very odd ; but use reconciles. For
their scansion, it is less to be re-
gretted, for if they take it into their
heads to be poets, it is odds but they
turn out, the greater part of them, vile
plagfarists. — Is there much difference
to see to between the son of a th**f,
and the grandson ? or where does the
taint stop ? Do you bleach in three
or in four generations ? — I have many
questions to put, but ten Delphic
voyages can be made in a shorter
time than it will take to satisfy my
scruples. — Do you grow your own
hemp? — What is your staple trade,
exclusive of the national profession,
I mean ? Your lock-smiths, I take
it, are some of your great capitalists.
I am insensibly chatting to you as
familiarly as when we used to ex-
change good-morrows out of our old
contiguous windows, in pump-famed
Hare-court in the Temple. Why did
you ever leave that quiet corner ? —
Why did I ? — with its complement of
four poor elms, from whose smoke-
dyed barks, the theme of jesting ru-
ralists, I picked my first lady-birds !
My heart is as dry as that spring
sometimes proves hi a thirsty August,
when I revert to the space that is
between us, a length of passage
enough to render obsolete the phrasesL
of our English letters before they can
reach you. But while I talk, I thhik
you hear me, — thoughts dallying with
vain surmise — •

Aye me ! while thee the seas and sounding

Hold far away.

Gome back, before I am grown
into a very old man, so as you shall
hardly know me. Come, before
Bridget walks on crutches. Girls
whom you left children have become
sage matrons, while you are tarrying
there. The blooming Miss W — r
(you remember SaUy W — r) called
upon us yesterday, an aged crone.
Folks, whom you knew, die off every
year. Formerly, I thought that
death was wearing out, — I stood
ramparted about with so many
healthy friends. The departure of
J. W. two springs back corrected
my delusion. Since then the old di-

1822.] On Black Cats.

vorcer has been busy. If you do not
make haste to return, there will be
little left to greet you, of me, or

Something of home matters I could
add ; but tJiat, with certain remem-
brances, never to be omitted, I re-


serve for the grave postscript to this
light epistle; which postscript, for
weighty reasons, justificatory in any
court of feeling, 1 think better omitted
in this first edition.

London, March I, 1822.

ICotttion iWaga^tne.


APRIL, 1822.

Vol. V.


The artificial Comedy, or Comedy
of mamiers, is quite extinct on our
stage. Congreve and Farquhar show
their heads once in seven years only
to be exploded and put down instant-
ly. The times cannot bear them.
Is it for a few wild speeches, an oc-
casional licence of dialogue? 1 think
not altogether. The business of their
dramatic characters will not stand
the moral test. We screw every
thing up to that. Idle gallantry in
a fiction, a dream, the passing pa-
geant of an evenhig, startles us in
the same way as the alarming indi-
cations of profiigacy in a son or ward
in real life should startle a parent or
guardian. We have no such middle
emotions as dramatic interests left.
We see a stage libertine playing his
loose pranks of two hours' duration,
and of no after consequence, with
the severe eyes which inspect real
vices with their bearings upon two
worlds. We are spectators to a plot
or intrigue (not reducible in life to
the point of strict morality) and take
it all for truth. We substitute a real
for a dramatic person, and Judge him
accordingly. We try him in our
courts, from which there is no appeal
to the dramatis persona, his peers.
We have been spoiled with — not sen-
timental comedy — but a tyrant far
more pernicious to our pleasures
which has succeeded to it, — the ex-
clusive and all-devouring drama of
common life ; where the moral point
is every thhig ; where, instead of the

fictitious half-believed personages of
the stage (the pliantoms of old comedy)
we recognise ourselves, our brothers,
aunts, kinsfolk, allies, patrons, ene-
mies, — the same as in life, — with an
interest in what is going on so hear-
ty and sid)stantial, that we cannot af-
ford our moral judgment, in its deep-
est and most vital results, to com-
promise or slumber for a moment.
What is there transacting, by no
modification is made to affect us in
any other manner than the same
events or characters would do in our
relationships of life. We carry our
fire-side concerns to the theatre with
us. We do not go thither, like our
ancestors, to escape from the pres-
sure of reality, so much as to confirm
our experience of it ; to make assur-
ance double, and take a bond of fate.
We must live our toilsome lives twice
over, as it was the mournful privi-
lege of Ulysses to descend twice to
the shades. All that neutral ground
of character which stood between
vice and virtue; or which, in fact,
was indifferent to neither, where nei-
ther properly was called in question —
that happy breathing-place from the
burden of a perpetual moral ques-
tioning — the sanctuary and quiet
Alsatiaof hunted casuistry — is broken
up and disfranchised as injurious to
the hiterests of society. The privi-
leges of the place are taken away by
law. We dare not dally with images

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 12 of 33)