Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 16 of 33)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 16 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

at him, in the picture, while the good
man sits as undisturbed at the sights

as if he were sole tenant of the d
sart. — The individual rabble (I re
cognized more than one of their ugly
faces) had damned a slight piece of
mine but a few nights before, and I
was determined the culprits should
not a second time put me out of

There is a class of street-readers,
whom I can never contemplate with-
out affection — the poor gentry, who,
not having wherewithal to buy, or
hire, a book, filch a little learning at
the open stalls — the owner, with his
hard eye, casting envious looks at
them all the while, and thinking when
they will have done. Venturing ten-
derly, page after page, expecting every
moment when he shall interpose his
interdict, and yet unable to deny
themselves the gratification, they
^^ snatch a fearful joy." Martin B — ,
in this way, by daily fragments, got
through tv/o volumes of Clarissa,
when the stall-keeper damped his
laudable ambition, by asking him (it
was in his younger days) whether he
meant to purchase the work. M.
declares, that under no circumstances
of his life did he ever peruse a book
with half the satisfaction which he
took in those uneasy snatches. A
quaint poetess of our day has mora-
lized upon this subject in two very-
touching but homely stanzas.


I saw a boy with eager eye
Open a book upon a stall,
And read, as he'd devour it all ;
Which when the stall-man did espy,
Soon to the boy I heard him call,
" You, Sir, you never buy a book,
Therefore in one you shall not look.'*
The boy pass'd slowly on, and with a sigh
He wish'd he never had been taught to read.
Then of the old churl's books he should
have had no need.

Of sufferings the poor have many,

Which never can the rich annoy :

I soon perceiv'd another boy.

Who look'd as if he'd not had any

Food, for that day at least — enjoy

The sight of cold meat in a tavern larder.

This boy's case, then thought I, is surely

Thus hungry, longing, thus without a

Beholding choice of dainty-dressed meat ;
No wonder if he wish he ne'er had learn'd

to eat.


{To he continued.)


Confessions of a Drunkard.



Dehortations from the use of
strong liquors have been the favourite
topic of sober declaimers in all ages,
and have been received with abun-
dance of applause by water-drinking-
critics. But with the patient him-
self, the man that is to be cured, un-
fortunately their sound has seldom
prevailed. Yet the evil is acknow-
ledged, the remedy simple. Abstain.
No force can oblige a man to raise
the glass to his head against his will.
'Tis as easy as not to steal, not to
tell lies.

Alas ! the hand to pilfer, and the
tongue to bear false witness, have no
constitutional tendency. These are
actions indifferent to them. At the
first instance of the reformed will,
tliey can be brought off without a
murmur. The itching finger is but
a figure in speech, and the tongue of
the liar can with the same natural
delight give forth useful truths, with
which it has been accustomed to
scatter their pernicious contraries.
But when a man has commenced

O pause, thou sturdy moralist, thou
person of stout nerves and a strong
head, whose liver is happily un-
touched, and ere thy gorge riseth at
the 7iame which I have written, first
learn what the thing- is ; how much
of compassion, how much of human
allowance, thou may'st virtuously
mingle with thy disapprobation.
Trample not on the ruins of a man.
Exact not, imder so terrible a penalty
as infamy, a resuscitation from a state
of death almost as real as that from
which Lazarus rose not but by a mi-

Begin a reformation, and custom
will make it easy. But what if the
beginning be dreadful, the first steps
not like climbing a mountain but go-
ing through fire ? what if the whole
system must vmdergo a change vio-
lent as that which we conceive of the
mutation of form in some insects ?
what if a process comparable to flay-
ing alive be to be gone through ? is
the weakness that sinks under such
struggles to be confounded with the
pertinacity which cUngs to other
vices, which hare induced no consti-
tutional necessity, no engagement of
the whole victim, body and soul ?

Vol. VI.

I have known one in that state,
when he has tried to abstain but for
one evening,— though the poisonous
potion had long ceased to bring back
its first enchantments, though he was
sure it woidd rather deepen his gloom
than brighten it,— in the violence of
the struggle, and the necessity he
has felt of getting rid of the present
sensation at any rate, I have known
him to scream out, to cry aloud, for
the anguish and pain of the strife
within him.

Why should I hesitate to declare,
that the man of whom I speak is
myself? I have no puling apology
to make to mankind. I see them all
in one way or another deviating from
the pure reason. It is to my own
nature alone I am accountable for
the woe that I have brought upon it.

I believe that there are constitu-
tions, robust heads and iron insides,
whom scarce any excesses can hurt ;
whom brandy (I have seen them
drink it like wine), at all events
whom wine, taken in ever so plenti-
ful measure, can do no worse injury
to than just to muddle their facul-
ties, perhaps never very pellucid. On
them this discourse is wasted. They
would but laugh at a weak brother,
who, trying his strength with them,
and coming off foiled from the con-
test, would fain persuade them that
such agonistic exercises are danger-
ous. It is to a very different de-
scription of persons I speak. It is to
the weak, the nervous ; to those who
feel the want of some artificial aid to
raise their spirits in society to what
is no more than the ordinary pitch of
all around them without it. This is
the secret of our drinking. Such
must fly the convivial board in the
first instance, if they do not mean to
sell themselves for term of life.

Twelve years ago I had completed
my six and twentieth year. I had
lived from the period of leaving school
to that time pretty much in solitude.
My companions were chiefly books,
or at most one or two living ones of
my own book-loving and sober stamp.
I rose early, went to bed betimes,
and the faculties which God had given
me, I have reason to think, did not
rust in me unused.

About that time I fell in with.


Confessions of a Drunkard.


some companions of a different or-
der. They were men of boisterous
spirits, sitters up a-nights, dispu-
tants, drunken ; yet seemed to have
something- noble about them. We
dealt about the wit, or what passes
for it after midnight, jovially. Of
the quality called fancy I certainly
possessed a larger share than my
companions. Encouraged by their
applause, I set up for a profest joker!
I, who of all men am least fitted for
such an occupation, having, in addi-
tion to the greatest difficulty which I
experience at all times of finding words
to express my meaning, a natural
2iervous impediment in my speech !

Reader, if you are gifted with
nerves like mine, aspire to any cha-
racter but that of a wit. When you
jSnd a tickling relish upon your tongue
disposing you to that sort of conver-
sation, especially if you find a pre-
ternatural flow of ideas setting in
upon you at the sight of a bottle and
fresh glasses, avoid giving way to it
as you would fly your greatest de-
struction. If you cannot crush the
power of fancy, or that within you
which you mistake for such, divert
it, give it some other play. Write
an essay, pen a character or descrip-
tion, — but not as I do now, with
tears trickling down your cheeks.

To be an object of compassion to
friends, of derision to foes ; to be
suspected by strangers, stared at by
fools ; to be esteemed dull when you
cannot be witty, to be applauded for
witty when you know that you have
been dull ; to be called upon for the
extemporaneous exercise of that fa-
culty which no premeditation can
give ; to be spurred on to efforts
which end in contempt; to be set on
to provoke mirth which procures the
procurer hatred; to give pleasure and
be paid with squinting malice; to
swallow draughts of life-destroying
wine which are to be distilled into
airy breath to tickle vain auditors ;
to mortgage miserable morrows for
nights of madness; to waste whole
seas of time upon those who pay it
back in little inconsiderable drops of
grudging applause, — are the wages
of buffoonery and death.

Time, which has a sure stroke at
dissolving all connexions which have
HO solider fastening than this liquid
cement, more kind to me than my
own taste or penetration, at length

opened my eyes to the supposed qua-
lities of my first friends. No trace
of them is left but in the vices which
they introduced, and the habits they
infixed. In them my friends survive
still, and exercise ample retribution
for any supposed infidelity that I may
have been guilty of towards them.

My next more immediate compa-
nions were and are persons of such
intrinsic and felt worth, that though
accidentally their acquaintance has
proved pernicious to me, I do not
know that if the thing were to do
over again, I should have the cou-
rage to eschew the mischief at the
price of forfeiting the benefit. I came
to them reeking from the steams of
my late over-heated notions of com-
panionship ; and the slighest fuel
which they unconsciously afforded,
was sufficient to feed my old fires
into a propensity.

They were no drinkers, but, one
from professional habits, and another
from a custom derived from his fa-
ther, smoked tobacco. The devil
could not have devised a more subtle
trap to re-take a backsliding peni-
tent. The transition, from gulping
down draughts of liquid fire to puffing
out innocuous blasts of dry smoke,
was so like cheating him. But he is
too hard for us when we hope to
commute. He beats us at barter;
and when we think to set off a new
failing against an old infirmity, 'tis
odds but he puts the trick upon us of
two for one. That (comparatively)
white devil of tobacco brought with
him in the end seven worse than him-

It were impertinent to carry the
reader through all the processes by
which, from smoking at first with
malt liquor, I took my degrees through
thin wines, through stronger wine
and water, through small punch, to
those juggling compositions, which,
under the name of mixed liquors, slur
a great deal of brandy or other poi-
son under less and less water conti-
nually, until they come next to none,
and so to none at all. But it is hate-
ful to disclose the secrets of my Tar-

I should repel my readers, from a
mere incapacity of believing me, were
I to tell them what tobacco has been
to me, the drudging service which I
have paid, the slavery which I have
vowed to it. How, when I have re*


Confessions of a Drunkard.


solved to quU it, a feeling as of in-
gratitude has started up ; how it has
put on personal claims and made the
demands of a friend upon me. How
the reading of it casually in a book,
as where Adams takes his whiff in
the chimney-corner of some inn in
Joseph Andrews, or Piscator in the
Complete Angler breaks his fast upon
a morning pipe in that delicate room
Piscatoribus Sacrum, has in a mo-
ment broken down the resistance of
weeks. How a pipe was ever in my
midnight path before me, till the vi-
. sion forced me to realize it, — how
then its ascendhig vapours curled, its
fragrance lulled, and the thousand
delicious ministerings conversant
about it, employing every faculty,
extracted the sense of pain. How
from illurainating it came to darken,
from a quick solace it turned to a
negative relief, thence to a restless-
ness and dissatisfaction, thence to a
positive misery. How, even now,
when the whole secret stands con-
fessed in all its dreadful truth before
me, I feel myself linked to it beyond
the power of revocation. Bone of my

.Persons not accustomed to exa-
mine the motives of their actions, to
reckon up the countless nails that
rivet the chains of habit, or perhaps
behig boimd by none so obdurate as
those I have confessed to, may recoil
from this as from an overcharged
picture. But what short of such a
bondage is it, which in spite of pro-
testing friends, a weeping wife, and
a reprobating world, chains down
many a poor fellow, of no original
indisposition to goodness, to his pipe
and his pot ?

I have seen a print after Corregio,
in which three female figures are mi-
nistering to a man who sits fast bound
at the root of a tree. Sensuality is
soothing him. Evil Habit is nailing
him to a branch, and Repugnance at
the same instant of time is applying
a snake to his side. In his face is
feeble delight, the recollection of past
rather than perception of present
pleasures, languid enjoyment of evil
with utter imbecility to good, a Sy-
baritic effeminacy, a submission to
bondage, the springs of the will gone
down like a broken clock, the sin
and the suffering co-instantaneous,
or the latter forerunning the former,
remorse preceding action — all this

represented in one point of time. —
When I saw this, I admired the won-
derful skill of the painter. But when
I went away, I wept, because I
thought of my own condition.

Of that there is no hope that it
should ever change. The waters
have gone over me. But out of the
black depths, could I be heard, I
would cry out to all those who have
but set a foot in the perilous flood.
Could the youth, to whom the flavor
of his first wine is delicious as the
opening scenes of life or the enter-
ing upon some newly discovered pa-
radise, look into my desolation, and
be made to understand what a dreary
thing it is when a man shall feel
himself going down a precipice with
open eyes and a passive will, — to see
his destruction, and have no power
to stop it, and yet to feel it all the
way emanating from himself; to per-
ceive all goodness emptied out of
him, and yet not to be able to forget
a time -yvhen it was otherwise; to
bear about the piteous spectacle of
his own self-ruins:— could he see my
fevered eye, feverish with last night's
drinking, and feverishly looking for
this night's repetition of the folly;
could he feel the body of the death
out of which I cry hourly with feebler
and feebler outcry to be delivered, — •
it were enough to make him dash
the sparkling beverage to the earth
in all the pride of its mantling temp-
tation ; to make him clasp his teeth,

and not undo 'em
To suffer wet damnation to run thro*

Yea, but (methinks I hear some-
body object) if sobriety be that fine
thing you would have us to under-
stand, if the comforts of a cool brain
are to be preferred to that state of
heated excitement which you de-
scribe and deplore, what hinders in
your own instance that you do not
return to those habits from which
you would induce others never to
swerve ? if the blessing be worth
preserving, is it not worth recover-
ing .?»

Recovering! — O if a wish could
transport me back to those days of
youth, when a draught from the next
clear spring could slake any heats
which summer suns and youthful
exercise had power to stir up in the
blood, how gladly would I return to



Confessions of a Drunkard.


thee, pure element, the drink of
children, and of child-like holy her-
mit. Tn my dreams I can sometimes
fancy thy cool refreshment purling
over my burning* tongue. But my
waking stomach rejects it. That
which refreshes innocence, only makes
me sick and faint.

But is there no middle way be-
twixt total abstinence and the excess
which kills you } — For your sake,
reader, and that you may never at-
tain to my experience, with pain I
must utter the dreadful truth, that
there is none, none that I can find.
In my stage of habit (I speak not
of habits less confirmed — for some of
them I believe the advice to be most
prudential) in the stage which I have
reached, to stop short of that mea-
sure which is sufficient to draw on
torpor and sleep, the benumbing apo-
plectic sleep of the drunkard, is to
have taken none at all. The pain of
the self-denial is all one. And what
that is, I had rather the reader should
believe on my credit, than know from
his own trial. Pie will come to know
it, whenever he shall arrive at that
state, in which, paradoxical as it
may appear, reason shall only visit
him through intoxication : for it is a
fearful truth, that the intellectual fa-
culties by repeated acts of intempe-
rance may be driven from their or-
derly sphere of action, their clear
day-light ministeries, until they shall
be brought at last to depend, for the
faint manifestation of their departing
energies, upon the returning periods
of the fatal madness to which they
owe their devastation. The drinking
man is never less himself than during
his sober intervals. Evil is so far his

Behold me then, in the robust pe-
riod of life, reduced to imbecility and
decay. Hear me count my gains,
and the profits which I have derived
from the midnight cup.

Twelve years ago I was possessed
of a healthy frame of mind and body.
I was never strong, but I think my
constitution (for a weak one) was
as happily exempt from the tendency
to any malady as it was possible to

be. I scarce knew what it was to
ail any thing. Now, except when
I am losing myself in a sea of drink,
I am never free from those uneasy
sensations in head and stomach,
which are so much worse to bear
than any definite pahis or aches.

At that time I was seldom in bed
after six in the morning, summer
and winter. I awoke refreshed, and
seldom without some merry thoughts
in my head, or some piece of a song
to welcome the new-born day. Now,
the first feeling which besets me, af-
ter stretching out the hours of re-
cumbence to their last possible ex-
tent, is a forecast of the wearisome
day that lies before me, with a secret
wish that I could have lain on still,
or never awaked.

Life itself, my waking life, has
much of the confusion, the trouble,
and obscure perplexity, of an ill
dream. In the day time I stumble
upon dark mountains.

Business, which, though never par-
ticularly adapted to my nature, yet
as something of necessity to be gone
through, and therefore best under-
taken with cheerfulness, I used to
enter upon with some degree of ala-
crity, now wearies, afifrights, per-
plexes me. I fancy all sorts of dis-
couragements, and am ready to give
up an occupation which gives me
bread, from a harassing conceit of
incapacity. The slightest commis-
sion given me by a friend, or any
small duty which I have to perform
for myself, as giving orders to a
tradesman, &c. haunts me as a la-
bour impossible to be got through.
So much the springs of action are

The same cowardice attends me in
all my intercourse with mankind. I
dare not promise that a friend's ho-
nour, or his cause, would be safe in
my keeping, if I were put to the
expense of any manly resolution in
defending it. So much the springs
of moral action are deadened with-
in me.

My favourite occupations in times
past, now cease to entertain. I can
do nothing readily. Application for

* When poor M-

- painted his last picture, with a pencil in one trembling hand
and a glass of brandy and water in the other, his fingers owed the comparative steadi-
ness, with which they were enabled to go through their task in an imperfect manner, to
a temporary firmness derived from a repetition of practices, the general effect of which
had shaken both them and him so terribly.

ever so short a time kills me. This These are some of the instances,

poor abstract of my condition was concerning which I can say with

penned at long intervals, with scarce- truth, that it was not always so

ly any attempt at connexion of with me.

thought, which is now difficult to me. Shall I lift up the veil of my Aveak-

The noble passages which formerly ness any further ? or is this disclo-

delighted me in history or poetic fie- sure sufficient ?

tion^ now only draw a few weak tears, I am a poor nameless egotist, who

allied to dotage. My broken and have no vanity to consult by these

dispirited nature seems to sink before Confessions. I know not whether I

any thing great and admirable. shall be laughed at, or heard serious-

I perpetually catch myself in tears, ly. Such as they are, I commend

for any cause, or none. It is inex- them to the reader's attention, if he

pressible how much this infirmity finds his own case any way touched,

adds to a sense of shame, and a ge- I have told him what I am come to.

neral feeling of deterioration. Let him stop in time. Elia.


Re-prints of Elia. — Many are the sayings of Elia, painful and frequent
his lucubrations, set forth for the most part (such his modesty !) without a
name, scattered about in obscure periodicals and forgotten miscellanies.
From the dust of some of these, it is our intention, occasionally, to revive
a Tract or two, that shall seem worthy of a better fate ; especiidly at a time
like the present, when the pen of our hidustrious Contributor, engaged in a
laborious digest of his recent Continental Tour, may haply want the leisure
to expatiate in more miscellaneous speculations. We have been hiduced,
in the first instance, to re-print a Thing, which he put forth in a friend's
volume some years since, entitled the Confessions of a Drunkard, seeing
that Messieurs the Quarterly Reviewers have chosen to embellish their last
dry pages with fruitful quotations therefrom ; adding, from their peculiar
brains, the gratuitous affirmation, that they have reason to believe that
the describer (in his delineations of a drunkard forsooth !) partly sate for
his own picture. The truth is, that our friend had been reading among the
Essays of a contemporary, who has perversely been confounded with him,
a paper in which Edax (or the Great Eater) humorously complaineth of an
inordinate appetite; and it struck him, that a better paper — of deeper in-
terest, and wider usefulness — might be made out of the imagined experiences
of a Great Drinker. Accordingly he set to work, and with that mock fer-
vor, and counterfeit earnestness, with which he is too apt to over-realise
his descriptions, has given us — a frightful picture indeed — but no more re-
sembling the man Elia, than the fictitious Edax may be supposed to identify
itself with Mr. L., its author. It is indeed a compound extracted out of
his long observations of the effects of drhiking upon all the world about
him ; and this accumulated mass of misery he hath centered (as the custom
is with judicious essayists) in a single figure. We deny not that a portion of
his own experiences may have passed into the picture, (as who, that is not
a washy fellow, but must at some times have felt the after-operation of a
too generous cup.?)— but then how heightened! how exaggerated! — how
little within the sense of the Review, where a part, in their slanderous
usage, must be understood to stand for the whole ! — ^but it is useless to
expostulate with this Quarterly slime, brood of Nilus, watery heads with
hearts of jelly, spawned under the sign of Aquarius, incapable of Bacchus,

and therefore cold, washy, spiteful, bloodless. EHa shall string them

up one day, and show their colours —or rather how colourless and vapid the
whole fry — when he putteth forth his long promised, but unaccountably
hitherto delayed. Confessions of a Water-drinker.


A Dissertation upon Roast l^g.



Mankind, says a Chinese manu-
script, which my friend M. was
obliging enough to read and explain
to me, for the first seventy thousand
ages ate their meat raw, clawing or
biting it from the living animal, just
as they do in Abyssinia to this day.
This period is not obscurely hinted
at by their great Confucius in the se-
cond chapter of his Mundane Muta-
tions, where he designates a kind of
golden age by the term Cho-fang, li-
terally the Cooks' holyday. The
mamiscript goes on to say, that the
art of roasting, or rather broiling
(which I take to be the elder brother),
was accidentally discovered in the
manner following. The swine-herd,
Ho-ti, having gone out into the
woods one morning, as his manner
was, to collect mast for his hogs, left
his cottage in the care of his eldest
son Bo-bo, a great lubberly boy, who
being fond of playing with fire, as

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 16 of 33)