Copyright
Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 15 of 33)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 15 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


this dog and man friendship, in the
sweetest of his poems, the Epitaphium
in Canem, or. Dog's Epitaph. Reader,
peruse it; and say, if customary-
sights, which could call up such gen-
tle poetry as this, were of a nature
to do more harm or good to the mo-
ral sense of the passengers through
the daily thoroughfares of a vast and
busy metropolis.



Vol. V,



Pauperis hie Iri requiesco Lyciscus, herilis,
Dum vixi, tutela vigil columenque senectse,
Dux caeco fidus : nee, me dueente, solebat,
Praetenso hinc atque hine baculo, per iniqua locorum
Incertam explorare viam ; sed fila secutus.
Quae dubios regerent pasi^js, vestigia tuta
2B.



A Complaint of iJie Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis. []June^

Fixit inoffenso gressu ; gelidumque sedile

In nudo nactus saxo, qua praetereuntium

Unda frequens confluxit, ibi miserisque tenebras

Liamentis, noctemque oculis ploravit obortam.

Ploravit r.ec frustra ; obolum dedit alter et alter,

Queis corda et mentem indiderat natura benignam.

Ad latus interea jacui sopitus herile,

Vel mediis vigil in somnis ; ad herilia jvissa

Auresque atque animum arrectus, seu frustula amice

Porrexit sociasque dapes, seu longa diei

Tasdia perpessus, reditum sub nocte parabat.

Hi mores, hfcc vita fuit, dum fata sinebant,
Dura neque languebam morbis, nee inerte senecta ;
Qua tandem obrepsit, veterique satellite cacum
Orbavit doniinum : prisci sed gratia facti
Ne tota intereat, Icngos deleta per annos,
Exigiiura hunc Irus tumulum de cespite fecit,
Etsi inopis, non ingratas, munuscula dextrse ;
Carmine signavitque brevi, dominumque canemque,
Quod memoret, fidumque canem dominumque benignum.

Poor Irus' faithful wolf-dog here I lie^

That wont to tend my old blind master's steps.

His guide and guard : -nor, while my service lasted.

Had he occasion for that staff, with which

He now goes picking out his path in fear

Over the highways and crossings ; but would plant.

Safe in the conduct of my friendly string,

A firm foot forward still, till he had reach'd

His poor seat on some stone, nigh where the tide

Of passers by in thickest confluence flow'd :

To whom with loud and passionate laments

From mom to eve his dark estate he wail'd.

Nor wail'd to all in vain : some here and there.

The well-disposed and good, their pennies gave.

I meantime at his feet obsequious slept ;

Not all-asleep in sleep, but heart and ear

Prick'd up at his least motion ; to receive

At his kind hand my customary crumbs.

And common portion in his feast of scraps ;

Or when jiight wam'd us homeward, tired and spent

With our long day and tedious beggary.

These were my manners, this my way of life.
Till age and slow disease me overtook.
And sever'd from my sightless master's side.
But lest the grace of so good deeds should die.
Through tract of years in mute oblivion lost.
This slender tomb of turf hath Irus reared.
Cheap monument of no ungrudging hand.
And with short verse inscribed it, to attest,
la long and lasting union to attest.
The virtues of the Beggar and his Dog.



These dim eyes have in vain ex-
plored for some months past a well-
known figure, or part of the figure,
of a man, who used to glide his
comely upper half over the pave-
ments of London, wheeling along
with most ingenious celerity upon a
machine of wood ; a spectacle to na-
tives, to foreigners, and to children.
He was of a robust make, with a
Sorid sailor-like complei^ion, and his



head was bare to the storm and sun-
shine. He was a natural curiosity,
a speculation to the scientific, a pro->
digy to the simple. The infant would
stare at the mighty man brought
down to his own level. The com-
mon cripple would despise his own
pusillanimity, viewing the hale
stoutness, and hearty heart, of this
half-limbed giant. Few but must
have noticed him; for the accident,






m^



1822.]] A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis.



^5



which brought him low, took place
during the riots of 1780, and he
has been a groundling so long. He
seemed earth-born, an Antaeus, and
to suck in fresh vigour from the soil
which he neighboured. He was
a grand fragment ; as good as an
Elgin marble. The nature, which
should have recruited his reft legs
and thighs, was not lost, but only re-
tired into his upper parts, and he was
half a Hercules. I heard a tre-
mendous voice thundering and growl-
ing, as before an earthquake, and
casting down my eyes, it was this
mandrake reviling a steed that had
started at his portentous appearance.
He seemed to want but his just sta-
ture to have rent the ofFendhig qua-
druped in shivers. He was as the
man-part of a Centaur, from which
the horse-half had been cloven in
some dire Lapithan controversy. He
moved on, as if he could have made
shift with yet half of the body-por-
tion which was left him. The os sub-
lime was not wanting ; and he threw
out yet a jolly countenance upon the
heavens. Forty-and-two years had
he driven this out of door trade, and
now that his hair is grizzled in the
service, but his good spirits no way
impaired, because he is not content to
exchange his free air and exercise for
the restraints of a poor house, he is
expiathig his contumacy in one of
those houses (ironically christened) of
Correction.

Was a daily spectacle like this to
be deemed a nuisance, which called
for legal interference to remove } or
not rather a salutary, and a touching
object, to the passers-by in a great
city } Among her shows, her mu-
seums, and supplies for ever-gaping
curiosity (and what else but an ac-
cumulation of sights — endless sights
•—is a great city ; or for what else is
it desirable.'') was there not room
for one Lusus (not Natures indeed,
but) Accidentium 9 What if in forty-
and-two years' going about, the man
had scraped together enough to give
a portion to his child (as the rumour
fan) of a few hundreds — whom had
he injured? whom had he imposed
upon } The contributors had enjoyed
their sight for their pennies. What
if after being exposed all day to the
heats, the rains, and the frosts of
heaven — shuffling his ungainly trunk
along in an elaborate and painful mo-*



tion — he was enabled to retire at
night to enjoy himself at a club of
his fellow cripples over a dish of hot
meat and vegetables, as the charge
was gravely brought against him by
a clergyman deposing before a House
of Commons' Committee — was this,
or was his truly paternal considera-*
tion, \diich (if a fact J deserved a
statue rather than a wnipping post,
and is inconsistent at least with the
exaggeration of nocturnal orgies which,
he has been slandered with — a reason
that he should be deprived of his
chosen, harmless, nay edifying, way
of life, and be committed in hoary
age for a sturdy vagabond ? —

There was a Yorick once, that
would not have shamed him to have
sate down at the cripples' feast, and
would have thrown in his benedic-
tion, aye, and his mite too, for a
companionable symbol. " Age, thou
hast lost thy breed." —

Half of these stories about the
prodigious fortunes made by begging
are (I verily believe J misers' calum-.
nies. One was mucn talked of in the
public papers some time since, 'and
the usual charitable inferences de-
duced. A clerk in the Bank waff
surprised with the announcement «f
a five hundred pound legacy left hini
by a person" whose name he was a
stranger to. It seems that in his
daily morning walks from Peckham
(or some village thereabouts) where
he lived, to his office, it had been his
practice for the last twenty years to
drop his halfpenny duly into the hat
of some blind Bartimeus, that sate
begging alms by the way-side in the
Borough. The good old beggar re-
cognised his daily benefactor by the
voice only ; and, when he died, left
all the amassings of his alms (that
had been half a century perhaps in
the accumulating) to his old Bank
friend. Was this a story to purse
up people's hearts, and pennies, a-
gainst giving an alms to the blind ?—
or not rather a beautiful moral of
well-directed charity on the one part,
and noble gratitude upon the other t

I sometimes wish I had been that
Bank clerk.

I seem to remember a poor old
grateful kind of creature, blinking,
and looking up with his no eyes itt
the sun —

Is it possible I could have steeled
my purse against him ?
^R2



BK



^iU-.-i- 1^ iiiiummmmmmmm



536



CatulluSf with New Translations.



[^June,



Perhaps I had no small change.

Header, do not be frightened at the
hard words, imposition, imposture —
give, and ask no questions. Cast thy
bread upon the waters. Some have
imawares (like this Bank clerk) en-
tertained angels.

- Shut not thy purse-strings always
against painted distress. Act a cha-
rity sometimes. When a poor crea-
ture (outwardly and visibly such)
comes before thee, do not stay to en-
quire whether the " seven small chil-
dren," in whose name he implores
thy assistance, have a veritable exist-
ence. Rake not into the bowels of
imwelcome truth, to save a halfpenny.
It is good to believe him. If he
be not all that he pretendeth, g-ive,
and under a personate father of a fa-
mily, think (if thou pleasest) that
thou hast relieved an indigent ba-
chelor. When they come with their
counterfeit looks, and mumping tones,
think them players. You pay your
money to see a comedian feign these
things, which, concerning these poor
people, thou canst not certainly tell
whether they are feigned or not.

^' Pray God your honour relieve me,"
said a poor beadswoman to my friend

Xi one day ; '^ I have seen better

days." " So have I, my good woman,''
retorted he, looking up at the welkin
which was just then threatening a
storm— and the jest (he will have it)
was as good to the beggar as a tester.

It was at all events kinder than



consigning her to the stocks, or the
parish beadle —

But L. has a way of viewing things
in rather a paradoxical light on some
occasions. Elia.

P. S. My friend Hume (not MP.)
has a curious manuscript in his pos-
session, the original draught of the
celebrated "^ Beggar's Petition," (who
cannot say by heart the '^ Beggar's
Petition?") as it was written by some
school usher (as I remember) with
corrections interlined from the pen
of Oliver Goldsmith. As a specimen
of the doctor's improvement, I re-
collect one most judicious alteration —
A ])ain])er''d menial drove me from the door.

It Stood originally,
A I'tvery servant drove me^ S^c.

Here is an instance of poetical or
artificial languagej properly substi-
tuted for the phrase of common con-
versation ; against Wordsworth.

I think I must get H. to send it to
the London, as a corollary to the
foregoing.

N. B. I am glad to see Januk
veering about to the old quarter. I
feared he had been rust-bound.

C. being asked why he did not like
Gold's '^ London " as well as ours —
it was in poor S.'s time — replied —

Because there is woWeatheecock-,

And thafs the reason xvhy.




DETACHED THOUGHTS ON BOOKS AND READING.



To mind the inside of a book^ is to entertain one's self with the fdrced
product of anotlier man's brain. Now I think a man of quality and breed-
ing may be much amused with the natural sprouts of his own.

Lord Fopp'mgtoH in the Relapse.



An ingenious acquaintance of my
own was so much struck with this
bright sally of his Lordship, that he
has left ofFreadhig altogether, to the
great improvement of his originality.
At the hazard of loshig some credit
on this head, I must confess that 1
dedicate no inconsiderable portion of
my time to otlier people's thoughts.
I dream away my life in others' spe-
culations. I love to lose myself in
other men's mhids. When I am not
walking, I am reading ; I cannot sit
and think. Books think for me.

I have no repugnances. Shafts-
bury is not too genteel for me, nor
Jonathan Wild too low. I can read
any thing which I call a book. There
are things in that shape which I can-
not allow for such.

In this catalogue o( books which are
no books — bihiia a-biblia — I reckon
Court Calendars, Directories, Pocket
Books (the Literary excepted),
Draught Boards bound and lettered
at the back. Scientific Treatises, Al-
manacks, Statutes at Large ; the
works of Hume, Gibbon, Robertson,
Seattle, Soame Jenyns, and, general-
ly, all those volumes which ^' no
gentleman's library should be with-
out ;" the Histories of Flavius Jose-



phus (that learned Jew), and Paley's
Moral Philosophy. With these ex-
ceptions, I can read almost any
thing. I bless my stars for a taste
so catholic, so unexcluding.

I confess that it moves my spleen
to see these things in books' clothing
perched upon shelves, like false
saints, usurpers of true shrines, in-
truders into the sanctuary, thrusting
out the legitimate occupants. To
reach down a well-bound semblance
of a volume, and hope it some kind-
hearted play-book, then, opening
what '^ seem its leaves," to come
bolt upon a withering Population
Essay. To expect a Steele, or a
Farquhar, and find — Adam Smith.
To view a well-arranged assortment
of blockheaded Encyclopaedias (An-
glicanas or Metropolitanas) set out
in an array of Russia, or Morocco,
when a tythe of that good leather
woidd comfortably re-clothe my shi-
vering folios ; would renovate Para-
celsus himself, and enable old Ray-
mund Lully — I have them both,
reader — to look like himself again in
the world. I never see these im-
postors, but I long to strip them, to
warm my ragged veterans in their
spoils.



34



Detached Thoughts on Books and Heading,



CJ"iy>



To be strong-backed and neat-
bound is the desideratum of a vo-
lume. Magnificence comes after.
This, when it can be afforded, is not
to be lavished upon all kinds of books
indiscriminately. I would not dress
a set of Magazines, for instance, in
full suit. The dishabille, or half-
binding (with Russia backs ever),
is our costume. A Shakspeare, or a
Milton (unless the first editions), it
were mere foppery to trick out in gay
apparel. The possession of them con-
fers no distinction. The exterior of
them (the things themselves being so
common), strange to say, raises no
sweet emotions, no tickling sense of
property in the owner. Thomson's
Seasons, again, looks best (I main-
tain it) a little torn, and dog s-eared.
How beautiful to a genuine lover of
reading are the sullied leaves, and
worn out appearance, nay, the very
odour (beyond Russia), if we would
not forget kind feelings in fastidious-
ness, of an old ^^ Circulating Li-
brary" Tom Jones, or Vicar of
Wakefield ! How they speak of the
thousand thumbs, which have turned
over their pages with delight ! — of
the lone sempstress, whom they may
have cheered (milliner, or harder-
working mantua-maker) after her
long day's needle-toil, running far
into midnight, when she has snatched
an hour, ill spared from sleep, to steep
her cares, as in some Lethean cup,
in spelling out their enchanting con-
tents ! Who would have them a whit
less soiled ? What better condition
could we desire to see them in ?

In some respects the better a book
is, the less it demands from binding.
Fielding, SmoUet, Sterne, and all
that class of perpetually self-repro-
ductive volumes Great Nature's

Stereotypes we see them indivi-
dually perish with less regret, be-
cause we know the copies of them
to be "^ eterne." But where a book
is at once both good and rare — where
the individual is almost the species,
and when that perishes.

We know not 'where is that Vromethean

torch
That can its light relumine —

such a book, for instance, as the Life
of the Duke of Newcastle, by his
Duchess — no casket is rich enough,
no casing sufficiently durable, to ho-
nour and keep safe such a jewel.



Not only rare volumes of this de-
scription, which seem hopeless ever
to be reprinted ; but old editions of
writers, such as Sir Philip Sidney,
Bishop Taylor, Milton in his prose-
works. Fuller — of whom we have re-
prints; yet the books themselves,
though they go about, and are talked
of here and there, we know, have
not endenizened themselves (nor pos-
sibly ever will) in the national
heart, so as to become stock books —
it is good to possess these in durable
and costly covers. — I do not care for
a First Folio of Shakspeare. You can-
not make a pet book of an author
whom every body reads. I rather
prefer the common editions of Rowe
and Tonson, without notes, and with
plates, which, behig so execrably bad,
serve as maps, or modest remem-
brancers, to the text; and without
pretending to any supposeable emu-
lation with it, are so much better
than the Shakspeare gallery engrav-'
ings, which did, I have a commu-
nity of feeling with my countrymen
about his Plays ; and I like those edi-
tions of him best, which have been
oftenest tumbled about and handled.
— On the contrary, I cannot read
Beaumont and Fletcher but in Folio.
The Octavo editions are painful to
look at. I have no sympathy with
them, nor with Mr. Gifford's Ben Jon-
son. If they were as much read as
the current editions of the other poet,
I should prefer them in that shape to
the older one. — I do not know a
more heartless sight than the re-
print of the Anatomy of Melancholy.
What need was there of unearthing
the bones of that fantastic old great
man, to expose them in a winding-
sheet of the latest edition to modern
censure? what hapless stationer could
dream of Burton ever becoming po-
pular ? — The wretched Malone could
not do worse, when he bribed the
sexton of Stratford church to let him
white-wash the painted effigy of old
Shakspeare, which stood there, in
rude but lively fashion depicted, to
the very colour of the cheek, the eye,
the eye-brow, hair, the very dress
he used to wear — the only authentic
testimony we had, however imper-
fect, of these curious parts and par-
cels of him. They covered him over

with a coat of white paint. By ,

if I had been a justice of peace for
Warwickshire; I would have clapt



t

J



lS22r\



Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading,



35



both commentator and sexton fast in
the stocks for a pair of meddling sa-
crilegious varlets.

1 think I see them at their work —
these sapient trouble-tombs.

Shall X be thought fantastical, if
I confess, that the names of some of
our poets sound sweeter, and have a
finer relish to the ear— to mine, at
least — than that of Milton or of Shak-
speare ? It may be, that the latter
are more staled and rung upon in
common discoiuse. The sweetest
names, and which carry a perfume
in the mention, are. Kit Marlowe,
Drayton, Drummond of Hawtliorn-
den, and Cowley.

Much depends upon irheii and
where you read a book. In the five
or six impatient minutes, before the
dinner is quite ready, who would
think of taking up tlie Fairy Queen
for a stop-gap, or a volume of Bi-
shop Andrewes' sermons?

ISIilton almost requires a solemn
service of music to be played, before
you enter upon him. But he brings
his music— to which, who listens,
had need bring docile thoughts and
purged ears.

Winter evenings — the world shut
out — with less ot ceremony the gen-
tle Shakspeare enters. At such a
season, the Tempest — or his own
Winter's Tale —

These tvvo poets you cannot avoid
reading aloud — to yourself, or (as it
chances) to some single person listen-
ing. More than one — and it dege-
nerates into an audience.

Books of quick interest, that hurry
on for incidents, aie for the eye to
glide over solely. It will not do to
read them out. I could never listen
to even the better kind of modern
novels without extreme irksomeness.
A newspaper, read out, is intoler-
able. In some of the Bank offices it
is the custom (to save so much in-
dividual time) for one of the clerks —
who is the best scholar — to com-
mence upon the Times, or the Chro-
nicle, and recite its entire contents
aloud jL»ro bono publico. With every
advantage of lungs and elocution —
the etFect is singularly vapid. — In
barbers' shops, and public-houses, a
fellow will get up, and spell out a
paragraph, which he communicates as
some discovery. Another follows with
his selection. So the entire journal
transpires at length by piece-meal,



Seldom-readers are slow readeis, and,
without this expedient no one in the
company would probably ever travel
through the contents of a whole pa-
per.

Newspapers always excite curio-
sity. No one ever lays one down
without a feeling of disappointment.

What an eternal time that gentle-
man in black, at Nando's, keeps the
paper ! I am sick of hearing the
waiter bawling out incessantly, '' the
Chronicle is hi hand. Sir."

As in these little Diurnals I gene-
rally skip the Foreign News — the De-
bates — and the Politics— I find the
Morning Herald by far the most en-
tertaining of them. It is an agree-
able miscellany, rather than a news-
paper.

Coming in to an inn at night —
having ordered your supper — what
can be more delightful than to find
lying in the window-seat, left there
time out of mind by the carelessness
of some former guest — two or three
numbers of the old Town and Coun-
try Magazine, with its amusing tete-
a-ttte pictures. — " The Royal Lover

and Lady G ;" " the Melting

Platonic and the old Beau," — and
such like antiquated scandal ? WoiUd
you exchange it — at that time, and
in that place — for a better book ?

Poor Tobin, who latterly fell blind,
did not regret it so much for the
weightier kinds of reading — the Pa-
radise Lost, or Comus, he covdd
have read to him — but he missed the
pleasure of skimming over with his
own eye — a magazine, or a light
pamphlet.

I should not care to be caught in
the serious avenues of some cathedral
alone, and reading — Candide!

1 do not remember a more whim-
sical surprise than having been once
detected — by a familiar damsel — re-
clined-at my ease upon the grass, on
Primrose Hill (her Cythera), reading
— Pamehi. There was nothing in
the book to make a man seriously
ashamed at the exposure; but, as
she seated herself down by me, and
seemed determined to read in com-
pany, I could have wished it had
been— any other book. — We read on
very sociably for a few pages ; and,
not finding the author much to her
taste, she got up, and — went away.
Gentle casuist, I leave it to thee to
conjecture, whether the blush (for



i



36



Detached Thought's on Books and Reading.



there was one between us) was the
property of the nymph, or the swain,
in this dilemma. From me you shall
never get the secret.

I am not much a friend to out-of-
doors reading. I cannot settle my
spirits to it. I knew a Unitarian
minister, who was generally to be
seen upon Snow-hill (as yet Skin-
ner's-street urns not), between the
hours of ten and eleven in the morn-
ing, studying a volume of Lardner.
I own this to have been a strain of
abstraction beyond my reach. I used
to admire how he sidled along, keep-
ing clear of secular contacts. An il-
literate encounter with a porter's
knot, or a bread-basket, would have
quickly put to flight all the theology
I am master of, and have left me
worse than indifferent to the five
points.

I was once amused — there is a
pleasure in affecting affectation — at
the indignation of a crowd that was
justling in with me at the pit door
of Covent Garden theatre, to have a
sight of Master Betty — then at once
in his dawn and his meridian — in
Hamlet. I had been invited quite
unexpectedly to join a party, whom
I met near the door of the play-
house, and I happened to have in
my hand a large octavo of Johnson
and Steevens's Shakspeare, which, the
time not admitthig of my carrying it
home, of course went with me to the
theatre. Just in the very heat and
pressure of the doors opening — the
nifih, as they term it — I deliberately
held the volume over my head, open
at the scene in which the young Ro-
scious had been most cried up, and
quietly read by the lamp-light. The
clamour became imiversal. " The
affectation of the fellow," cried one.
" Look at that gentleman reading,
papa," squeaked a young lady, who
in her admiration of the novelty al-
most forgot her fears. I read on.
" He ought to have his book knocked
out of his hand," exclaimed a pursy
cit, whose arms were too fast pi-
nioned to his side to suffer him to
execute his khid intention. Still I
read on — and, till the time came to
pay my money, kept as unmoved, as
Saint Antony at his Holy Offices,
with the satyrs, apes, and hobgob-
lins, mopping, and making mouths



Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 15 of 33)