Charles Lamb.

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

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increased appetite to your books *
* * * . * not to

say, that your outside sheets, and
Vol. II.

waste wrappers of foolscap, do re -
ceive into them, most khidly and na-
turally, the impression of sonnets,
epigrams, essui/s — so that the very
parhigs of a counting-house are, in
some sort, the settings up of an au-
thor. The enfranchised quill, that
has plodded all the morning among
the cart-rucks of figures and cyphers,
frisks and curvets so at its ease over
the flowery carpet-ground of a mid-
night dissertation. — It feels its pro-
motion. * * * *
So that you see, upon the whole, the
literary dignity of EUa is very little;.,
if at all, compromised in the conde-

Not that, in my anxious detail of
the many commodities incidental to
the life of a public office, I would be
thought blind to certain flaws, which
a cunning carper might be able to
pick in this Joseph's vest. And here
I must have leave, in the fulness of
my soul, to regret the abolition, and
doing-away-with altogether, of those
consolatory interstices, and sprink-
lings of freedom, through the four
seasons, — the red-leticr days, now be-
come, to all intents and purposes,
dead-letter days. There was Paul,
and Stephen, and Barnabas —

Andrew and John, men famous in old times

— we were used to keep all their days
holy, as long back as I was at school
at Christ's. I remember their effi-
gies, by the same token, in the old


Oxford in the Vacation,


Basket Prayer Book. There hung-
Peter in his uneasy posture holy

Bartlemy in the troublesome act of
flaying-, after the famous Marsyas by

Spagnoletti. 1 honoured them all,

and could almost have wept the de-
falcation of Iscariot — so much did we
love to keep holy memories sacred :
— only methought I a little grudged at
the coalition of the better Jude with
Simon — clubbing (as it were) their
sanctities together, to make up one
poor gaudy-day between them — as
an economy unworthy of the dispen-

These were bright visitations in a
scholar's and a clerk's life — " far off
their coming shone." — I was as good
as an almanac in those days. I could
have told you such a saint's-day falls
out next week, or the week after.
Peradventure the Epiphany, by some
periodical infelicity, would, once in
six years, merge in a Sabbath. Now
am I little better than one of the
profane. Let me not be thought to
arraign the wisdom of my civil supe-
riors, who have judged the further
observation of these holy tides to be
papistical, superstitious. Only in a
custom of such long standing, me-
thinks, if their Holinesses the Bishops
had, in decency, beeil first sounded
■^- — but I am wading out of my
depths. I am not the man to decide
the limits of civil and ecclesiastical

authority 1 am plain Elia — no Sel-

den, nor Archbishop Usher — though
at present in the thick of their books,
here in the heart of learning, under
the shadow of the mighty Bodley.

I can here play the gentleman, en-
act the student. To such a one as
myself, who has been defrauded in
his young years of the sweet food of
academic institution, no where is so
pleasant, to while away a few idle
weeks at, as one or other of the
Universities. Their vacation too, at
this time of the year, falls in so pat
with ours. Here I can take my walks
unmolested, and fancy myself of what
degree or standing I please. I seem
admitted ad eundem, I fetch up past
opportunities. I can rise at the cha-
pel-bell, and dream that it rings for
me. In moods of humility I can be
a Sizar, or a Servitor. When the
peacock vein rises, I strut a Gentle-
man Commoner. In graver moments
I proceed Master of Arts. Indeed I
do not think I am much unlike that

respectable character. I have seen
your dim-eyed vergers, and bed-
makers in spectacles, drop a bow or
curtsey, as I pass, wisely mistaking
me for something of the sort. I go
about in black, which favours the
notion. Only in Christ Church re-
verend quadrangle, I can be content
to pass for nothing short of a Sera-
phic Doctor.

The walks at these times are so
much one's own, — the tall trees of
Christ's, the groves of Magdalen!
The halls deserted, and with open
doors, invithig one to slip in unper-
ceived, and pay a devoir to some
Founder, or noble or royal Benefac-
tress (that should have been ours)
whose portrait seems to smile upon
their over-looked beadsman, and to
adopt me for their own. Then, to
take a peep in by the way at the but-
teries, and sculleries, redolent of an-
tique hospitality : the immense caves
of kitchens, kitchen fire-places, cor-
dial recesses ; ovens whose first pies
were baked four centuries ago ; and
spits which have cooked for Chaucer !
Not the meanest minister among the
dishes but is hallowed to me through
his imagination, and the Cook goes
forth a jManciple.

Antiquity ! thou wondrous chann,
what art thou ? that, being nothing,
art every thing ! when thou wert,
thou wert not antiquity — then thou
wert nothing, but had'st a remoter
antiquity, as thou called'st it, to look
back to with blind veneration ; thou
thyself being to thyself fiat, jejune,
modern ! What mystery lurks in this
retroversion ? or what half Januses
are we, that cannot look forward with
the same idolatry with which we for
ever revert ! The mighty future is as
nothhig, being every thing ! the past
is every thing, being nothing !

What were thy dark ages f Surely
the sun rose as brightly then as now,
and man got him to his work in the
morning. Why is it that we can
never hear mention of them without
an accompanying feeling, as though a
palpable obscure had dimmed the
face of things, and that our ancestors
wandered to and fro groping !

Above all thy rarities, old Oxen-
ford, what do most arHde and solace
me, are thy repositories of mouldering
learning, thy shelves

What a place to be in is an old 11-
brai^y ! It seems as though all the souk


Oxford in the Vacation.


of all the writers, that have bequeathed
their labours to these Bodleians, were
reposing here, as in some dormitory,
or middle state. I do not want to
handle, to profane, the leaves, their
winding-sheets. 1 could as soon dis-
lodge a shade. I seem to inhale learn-
ing, walking amid their foliage ; and
the odour of their old moth-scented
coverings, is fragrant as the first
bloom of those sciential apples which
grew amid the happy orchard.

Still less have I curiosity to disturb
the elder repose of MSS. Those
variaslectiones, so tempting to the more
erudite palates, do l3ut disturb and
unsettle my faith.* I am no Hercu-
lanean raker. The credit of the three
witnesses might have slept imim-
peached for me. I leave these curio-
sities to Porson, and to G. D. —
whom, by the way, I found busy as
a moth over some rotten archive,
rummaged out of some seldom-ex-
plored press, in a nook at Oriel. With
long poring, he is grown almost into
a book. He stood as passive as one
by the side of the old shelves. 1
longed to new-coat him hi Russia,
and assign him his place. He might
have mustered for a tall Scapula.

D. is assiduous in his visits to these
seats of learning. No inconsiderable
portion of his moderate fortune, I ap-
prehend, is consumed hi journeys be-
tween them and Cliflfbrd's-iim

where, like a dove on the asp's nest,
he has long taken up his unconscious
abode, amid an incongruous assem-
bly of attorneys, attorneys' clerks, ap-
paritors, promoters, vermin of the
law, among whom he sits, " in calm
and sinless peace." The fangs of the

law pierce him not — the winds of liti-
gation blow over his humble cham-
bers — the hard sherifFs officer moves
liis hat as he passes — legal nor ille-
gal discourtesy touches him — none
thinks of offering violence or injustice
to himt — you would as soon " strike
an abstract idea."

D. has been engaged, he tells
me, through a course of laborious
years, in an investigation into all cu-
rious matter connected with the two
Universities ; and has lately lit upon
a MS. collection of charters, relative
to C , by which he hopes to set-
tle some disputed points — particu-
larly that long controvery between
them as to priority of foundation.
The ardor with which he engages in
these liberal pursuits, I am afraid,
has not met with all the encourage-
ment it deserved, either here, or at

C . Your caputs and heads of

colleges, care less than any body else
about these questions. — Contented to
suck the milky fountains of their
Alma Maters, without enquiring into
the venerable gentlewomen's years,
they rather hold such curiosities to
be impertinent — unreverend. They
have their good glebe lands /// inanu,
and care not much to rake into the
title-deeds. I gather at least so
much from other sources, for D. is
not a man to complain.

D. started like an unbroke heifer,
when I hiterrupted him. A priori it
was not very probable that we should
have met in OrieJ. But D. would
have done the same, had I accosted
him on the sudden in his own walks
in Cliiford's Inn, or in the Temple.
In addition to a provoking short-

* There is something to me repugnant, at any time, in writtep hand. The text never
seems determinate. Print settles it. 1 had thought of the I^ycidas as of a full-grown
beauty — as springing up with all its parts absolute — till, in evil hour, I was shown the
original written copy of it, together with tlie other minor poems of its author, in the lii-
brary of Trinity, kept like some treasure to be proud of. I wish they had thrown them in
the Cam, or sent them, after the latter cantos of Spenser, into the Irish Channel. How it
st^gered me to see the fine things in their ore ! interlined, corrected ! as if their word*
were mortal, alterable, displaceable at pleasure ! as if they might have been otherwise,
and just as good ! as if inspiration were made up of parts, and those fluctuating, succes-
sive, indifferent ! I will never go into the work-shop of any great artist again, nor desire
a sight of his picture, till it is fairly off the easel ; no, not if Raphael were to be alive
again, and painting another Galatea.

•j- Violence or injustice certainly none, IMr. Elia. But you will acknowledge, that the
charming unsuspectingness of our friend has sometimes laid him open to attacks, which^
though savouring (we hope) more of waggery than malice — such is our unfeigned respect
for G. D. — might, we think, much better have been omitted. Such was that silly joke
of L , who, at the time the question of the Scotch Novels was first agitated, grave-
ly assured our friend — who as gravely went about repeating it in all companies — that Lord
Castlereagh had acknowledged himseW' to be tlie author of Waveily l-^Note — not by Elia*

2F 2


sightediiess (the effect of late studies
and watcliings at the midnicfht oil)
D. is the most absent of men. He
made a call the other morning at our
friend M.'s in Bedford-square ; and,
finding nobody at home, was ushered
into the hall, where, asking for pen
and ink, with great exactitude of
purpose he enters me his name in
the book — which ordinarily lies about
in such places, to record the failures
of the initimely or imfortunate visitor
— and takes his leave with many ce-
remonies, and professions of regret.
Some two or three hours after, his
walking destinies returned him into
the same neighbourhood again, and
again the quiet image of the iire-side

circle at M.'s ^ij-s. M. presiding

at it like a Queen Lar, witli pretty
A. S. at her side striking irresist-
ibly on his fancy, he makes another
call (forgetting that they were ^' cer-
tainly not to return from the country
before that day week") and disap-
pointed a second time, enquires for pen
and paper as before : again the book
is brought, and in the line just above
that in which he is about to print
his second name, (his re-script) — his
first name (scarce dry) looks out
upon him like another Sosia, or as if
a man should suddenly encounter his
own duplicate ! — The effect may be
conceived. D. made many a good
resolution against any such lapses in
future. I hope he will not keep them
too rigorously.

For with G. D. — to be absent from
the body, is sometimes (not to speak
it profanely) to be present with the
Lord. At the very time when, per-
sonally encounterhig thee, he passes

on with no recognition or, being

stopped, starts like a thing surprized
— at that moment, reader, he is on
Mount Tabor — or Parnassus — or co-
sphered with Plato — or, Avith Har-
rington, framing " immortal com-
monwealths " — devising some plan of
amelioration to thy country, or thy

species peradventure meditating

some individual kindness or courtesy,
to be done to thee t/ri/.seff, the return-
ing consciousness of which made him
to start so guiltily at thy obtruded
personal presence.

D. commenced life, after a course
of hard study in the '•' House of pure
Emanuel," as usher to a knavish fa-
natic schoolmaster at * * *, at a sa-
lary of eight pounds per annum, with

board and lodging. Of this poor
stipend, he never received above half
in all the laborious years he ser^^ed
this man. He tells a pleasant anec-
dote, that when poverty, staring out
at his ragged knees, has sometimes-
compelled him, against the modesty
of his nature, to hint at arrears. Dr.
* * * would take no immediate notice;^
but, after supper, when the school
was called together to even-song, he
would never fail to introduce some
instructive homily against riches, and
the corruption of the heart occasioned
through the desire of them — ending,
with " Lord, keep thy servants, above
all things, from the heinous sin of
avarice. Having food and raiment,
let us therewithal be content. Give

me Agar's wish," and the like ;—

which, to the little auditory, sounded
like a doctrine full of Christian pru-
dence and simplicity, — but to poor
D. was a receipt in full for that quar-
ter's demaixls at least.

An.d D. has been under- working for
himself ever shice; — drudging at low
rates for unappreciating booksellers,
— wasting his line erudition in silent
corrections of the classics, and in
those unostentatious but solid services
to leannng, which commonly fall to
the lot of Iaborioi:s scholars, who
have not the art to sell themselves to
the best advantage. He has published
poems, which do not sell, because
their character is inobtrusive like his
own, — and because he has been too
much absorbed hi ancient literature,
to know what the popular mark in
poetry is, even if he could have hit
it. And, therefore, his verses are pro-
perly, what he terms them, crotchets j;
voluntaries; odes to Liberty, and
Spring; eifusions; little tributes, and.
offerings, left behind him, upon tables
and window-seats, at paiting from
friends' houses ; and from all the inns
of hospitality, where he has been
courteously (or .but tolerably) re-
ceived in his pilgrimage. If his muse
of kindness halt a little behind the
strong lines, in fashion in this ex-
citement-craving ago, his prose is the
best of the sort in the world, and
exhibits a faithful transcript of his
own healthy natural mind, and cheer-
fid innocent tone of conversation.

D. is delightful any where, but he
is at the best in such places as these.
He cares not much for Bath. He is
out of his element at Buxton^ at Scar-

borow, or Harrowg-ate. The Cam, and
the Isis, are to him '^better than all the
waters of Damascus." On the Muses'
hill he is happy, and g"ood, as one of
the Shepherds on the Delectable
Mountains ; and when he goes about

with you to show you the halls and
colleges, you think you have with you
the Interpreter at the House Beautiful.

Eli A.
Ai/^r, r^th, 1020.
Frovi my rooms facing Vic Bodleian.

Elia requests the Editor to inform W. K. that in his article on Oxford,
under the initials G. D. it was his ambition to make more familiar to the
public, a character, which, for integrity and single-heartedness, he has long
been accustomed to rank among the best patterns of his species. That, if
he has failed in the end which he proposed, it was an error of judgment
meiely. That, if in pursuance of his purpose, he has drawn forth some per-
sonal peculiarities of his friend into notice, it was only from conviction that
the public, in living subjects especially, do not endure pure panegyric.
That the anecdotes, which hp produced, were no more than he conceived
necessary to awaken attention to character, and were meant solely to illus-
trate it. That it is an entire mistake to suppose, that he imdertook the
character to set off his own wit or ingenuity. That, he conceives, a candid
interpreter might find something intended, beyond a heartless jest. That
G. D., however, having thought it necessary to disclaim the anecdote re-
specting Dr. , it becomes him, who never for a moment can doubt the

veracity of his friend, to account for it from an imperfect remembrance of some
story he heard long ago, and which, happening to tally with his argument,
he set down too hastily to the account of G. D. That, from G. D.'s strong
affirmations and proofs to the contrary, he is bound to believe it belongs to
no part of G. D.'s biography. That the transaction, supposing it true, must
have taken place more than forty years ago. That, in consequence, it is not
likely to " meet the eye of many, who might be justly offended."

Finally, that what he has said of the Booksellers, referred to a period of
many years, in which he has had the happiness of G. D.'s acquaintance ;
and can have nothing to do with any present or prospective engagements of
G. D. with those gentlemen, to the nature of which he professes himself aR
entire stranger.


In Mr. Lamb's " Works," pub-
lished a year or two since, I find a
magnificent eulogy on my old school,*
such as it was, or now appears to
him to have been, between the years
1782 and 1789. It happens, very odd-
ly, that my own standing at Christ's
was nearly corresponding with his;
and, with all gratitude to him for his
enthusiasm for the cloisters, I think
he has contrived to bring together
whatever can be said in praise of
them, dropping all the other side of
the argument most ingeniously.

I remember L. at school ; and can

well recollect that he had some pe-
culiar advantages, which 1 and others
of his school-fellows had not. His
friends lived in town, and were near
at hand ; and he had the privilege of
going to see them, almost as often as
he wished, through some invidious
distinction, which was denied to us.
The present worthy sub-treasurer to
the Inner Temple can- explain how
that happened. He had his tea and
hot rolls in a morning, while we were
battening upon our quarter of a penny
loaf — our crug- — moistened with at-
tenuated small beer, in wooden pig-

Recollections of Christ's Hospital.


Christ's Hospital five arid thirty Years ago.


gins, smacking of the pitched leathern
jack it was poured from. Our Mon-
day's milk porritch, blue and taste-
l^fits., and the peas soup of Saturday,
coarse and choking, were enriched
for him with a slice of '^ extraordi-
nary bread and butter," from the hot-
Ipaf of the Temple. The Wednes-
day's mess of millet, somewhat less
vepugnant — (we had three banyan to
four meat-days in the week) — was
endeared to his palate with a lump of
double-refined, and a smack of gin-
ger (to make it go down the more
glibly) or the fragrant cinnamon. In
l^eu of our half-pickled Sundays, or
quite fresh boiled beef on Thursdays,
^strong as caro equina^) with detest-
able marigolds floating in the pail to
|iioison the broth — our scanty mutton
crags on Fridays — and rather more
SAivoury, but grudging, portions of the
a^me flesh, rotten-roasted or reeu", on
the Tuesdays (the only dish which
excited our appetites, and disappoint-
ed our stomachs, in almost equal pro-
portion) — he had his hot plate of
roast veal, or the more tempting gris-
kift (exotics unknown to our palates)
cooked in the paternal kitchen (a
great thing), and brought him daily
Uy his maid or aunt ! I remember
the good old relative (in whom love
forbade pride,) squatting down upon
some odd stone in a by-nook of the
cloisters, disclosing the viands (of
higher regale than those cates which
the ravens ministered to the Tish-
bite); and the contending passions of
L. at the unfolding. There was love
for the bringer ; shame for the thing
brought, and the manner of its bring-
ing ; sympathy for those who were
too many to share in it ; and, at top
of all, hunger (eldest, strongest, of
the passions!) predominant, breaking
down the stony fences of shame, and
aukwardness, and a troubluig over-

I was a poor friendless boy. My
parents, and those who should care
for me, were far away. Those few
acquaintances of theirs, which they
could reckon upon being kind to me
in the great city, after a little forced
notice, which they had the grace to
take of me on my first arrival in
town, soon grew tired of my holy-
day visits. They seemed to them to
recur too often, though I thought
them few enough; and, one after
another, they all failed me, and I

felt myself alone among six hundred

O the cruelty of separating a poor
lad from his early home-stead ! The
yearnings which I used to have to-
wards it in those unfledged years!
How, in my dreams, would my native
town (far in the west) come back, with
its church, and trees, and faces ! How
I would wake weeping, and in the
anguish of my heart exclaim upon
sweet Calne in Wiltshire !

To this late hour of my life, I trace
impressions left by the recollection of
those friendless holydays. The long
warm days of summer never return
but they bring with them a gloom
from the haunting memory of those
whole-day-lcaves, when, by some
strange arrangement, we were turn-
ed out, for the live-long day, upon
our own hands, whether we had
friends to go to, or none. I remem-
ber those bathing-excursions to the
New-River, which L. recalls with
such relish, better, I think, than he
can — for he was'a home-seeking lad,
and did not much care for such
water-pastimes : — How merrily we
would sally forth into the fields; and
strip under the first warmth of the
sun ; and wanton like young dace in
the streams ; getting us appetites for
noon, which those of us that were
pennyless (our scanty morning crust
long since exhausted) had not the
means of allaying — while the cattle,
and the birds, and the fishes, were
at feed about us, and we had nothing
to satisfy our cravings — the very
beauty of the day, and the exercise of
the pastime, and the sense of liberty,
setting a keener edge upon them !
— How faint and languid, finally,
we would return, towards night-fall,
to our desired morsel, half-rejoicing,
half reluctant, that the hours of our
uneasy liberty had expired !

It v/as worse in the days of winter,
to go prowling about the streets ob-
jectless — shivering at cold windows of
print-shops, to extract a little amuse-
ment ; or haply, as a last resort, in
the hope of a little novelty, to pay a
fifty-times repeated visit (where our
individual faces shoidd be as well
known to the warden as those of hi»
own charges) to the Lions in the
Tower — to whose leve'e, by courtesy
immemorial, we had a prescriptive
title to admission.

L.'s governor (so we called the pa-


Christ's Hospital Jive and thirty Years ago.


tron who presented us to the founda-
tion) lived in a manner under his pa-
ternal roof. Any complaint which
he had to make was sure of being at-
tended to. This was understood at
Christ's^, and was an effectual screen
to him against the severity of mas-
ters, or worse tyranny of the moni-
tors. The oppressions of these young
brutes are heart-sickening to call to
recollection. I have been called out
of my bed, and waked for the purpose,
in the coldest winter nights — and this
not once, but night after night — in
my shirt, to receive the discipline of
a leathern thong, with eleven other
sufferers, because it pleased my cal-
lous overseer, when there has been
any talking heard after we were gone
to bed, to make the six last beds in
the dormitory, where the youngest
children of us slept, answerable for
an offence they neither dared to com-
mit, nor had the power to hinder. —
The same execrable tyranny drove
the younger part of us from the fires,
when our feet were perishing with
snow ; and, under the cruellest pe- ,

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