Charles Lamb.

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

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the crowding up those inconvenient
staircases, was bad enough, — but
there was still a law of civility to
women recognised to quite as great an
extent as we have ever found it in the
other passages — and how a little dif-
ficulty overcome heightened the snug
seat, and the play, afterwards ! Now
we can only pay our money, and
walk in. You cannot see, you say,
in the galleries now. I am sure we
saw, and heard too, well enough then
—but sight, and all, I think, is gone
with our poverty.

* ' There was pleasure in eating straw-
berries, before they became quite
common — in the first dish of peas,
while they were yet dear— to have
them for a nice supper, a treat. What
treat can we have now ? If we were
to treat ourselves now — that is, to
have dainties a little above our means,
it would be selfish and wicked. It is
the very little more that we allow
ourselves beyond what the actual
poor can get at, that makes what I
call a treat — when two people living
together, as we have done, now and
then indulge themselves in a cheap
luxury, which both like ; while each
apologises, and is willing to take both
halves of the blame to his single share.
I see no harm in people making much
of themselves in that sense of the
word. It may give them a hint how


Old China,


to make much of others. But now —
what I mean by the word — we never
do make much of ourselves. None
but the poor can do it. I do not
mean the veriest poor of all, but
persons as we were, just above po-

" I know what you were going to
say, that it is mighty pleasant at the
end of the year to make all meet —
and much ado we used to have every
Thirty-first Night of December to
account for our exceedings — many a
long face did you make over your
puzzled accounts, and in contriving
to make it out how we had spent so
much — or that we had not spent so
much — or that it was impossible we
should spend so much next year —
and still we found our slender capital
decreasing — but then, betwixt ways,
and projects, and compromises of one
sort or another, and talk of curtail-
ing this charge, and doing without
that for the future— and the hope
that youth brings, and laughing spi-
rits (in which you were never poor
till now), we pocketed up our loss,
and in conclusion, with ' lusty brim-
mers' (as you used to quote it out
of heartif cheerful Mr. Cottoiij as you
called him), we used to welcome in
the ' coming guest.' Now, we
have no reckoning at all at the end
of an old year — no flattering pro-
mises about the new year doing bet-
ter for us."

Bridget is so sparing of her
speech on most occasions, that when
she gets into a rhetorical vein, I
am careful how I interrupt it. I
could not help, however, smiling
at the phantom of wealth which
her dear imagination had conjured
up out of a clear income of poor —
hundred pounds a year. ^' It is true
we were happier when we were
poorer, but we were also younger,
my cousin. I am afraid we must
put up with the excess, for if we
were to shake the superflux into the
sea, we should not much mend our-
selves. That we had much to strug-

rfe with, as we grew up together, we
nave reason to be most thankful. It
strengthened, and knit our compact
closer. We could never have been
what we have been to each other, if
we had always had the sufficiency
which you now complain of. The
resisting power — those natural dila-
tions of the youthful spirit, which
circumstances cannot straiten — with
us are long since passed away. Com-
petence to age is supplemental
youth; a sorry supplement indeed,
but I fear the best that is to be had.
We must ride, where we formerly
walked ; live better, and lie softer —
and shall be wise to do so — than we
had means to do in those good old
days you speak of. Yet could those
days return — could you and I once
more walk our thirty miles a-day —
could Bannister and Mrs. Bland a-
gain be young, and you and I be
young to see them — could the good
old one shilling gallery days return
— they are dreams, my cousin, now
—but could you and I at this mo-
ment, instead of this quiet argument
by our well-carpeted fire-side, sit-
ting on this luxurious sofa — be once
more struggling up those inconveni-
ent stair-cases, pushed about, and
squeezed, and elbowed by the poorest
rabble of poor gallery scramblers —
could I once more hear those anxious
shrieks of yours — and the delicious
Thank God, we are safe, which always
followed when the top-most stair,
conquered, let in the first light of the
whole cheerful theatre down beneath
us — I know not the fathom line that
ever touched a descent so deep as I
would be willing to bury more
wealth than Croesus had, or the great

Jew R is supposed to have, to

purchase it. And now do just look
at that merry little Chinese waiter
holding an umbrella, big enough for
a bed-tester, over the head of that
pretty insipid half-Madona-ish chit
of a lady in that very blue summer
house." Elia,



MARCH, 1823.


Elia is 710^ dead ! — We thought as much — and even hinted our thought
in the number for January. The following letter declaring Elia*s existence
is in his own handwriting, and was left by his own hand. We never saw
a man so extremely alive, as he was, to the injury done him :

" Elia returns his thanks to the facetious Janus Weathercock, who, during
his late unavoidable excursion to the Isles of Sark, Guernsey, and Jersey,
took advantage of his absence to plot a sham account of his death ; and to
impose upon the town a posthumous Essay, signed by his Ghost — which,
how like it is to any of the undoubted Essays of the author, may be seen by
comparing it with his volume just published. One or two former papers,
with his sijjnaturc, which are not re-printed in the volume, he has reason to
believe were pleasant forgeries by the same ingenious hand."

1823.^ Ritson versus John Scoit the Quaker,


Critics I read on other men,

And H)rpers upon them again. — Prior,


of the Poems y

I HAVE in my possession Scott's " Critical Essays on some of the Poems
of several English Poets/' — a handsome octavo, bought at the sale of
Ritson's books ; and enriched (or deformed, as some would think it) with
MS. annotations in the handwriting- of that redoubted Censor. I shall
transcribe a few, which seem most characteristic of both the writers — Scott,
feeble, but amiable — Ritson, coarse, cavistic, clever ; and, I am to suppose,
not amiable. But they have proved some amusement to me ; and, I hope,
will produce some to the reader, this rainy season, which really damps a
gentleman's wings for any original flight, and obliges him to ransack his
shelves, and miscellaneous reading, to furnish an occasional or make-shift
paper. If the sky clears up, and the sun dances this Easter (as they say he
is wont to do), the town may be troid)led with something more in his own
way the ensuing month from its poor servant to command.



The pilgrim oft

At dead of night 'mid his oraison hears
Aghast the voice of time disparting towers,
Tumbling all precipitate down-dash'd.
Rattling around, loud thund'ring to the

moon ;
While murmurs sooth each awful interval
Of ever falling waters.

There is a very bold transposition
in this passage. A superficial read-
er, not attending to the sense of the
epithet ever, might be ready to sup-
pose that the intervals intended were
those between the falling of the waters,
instead of those between the falling
of the towers.

A beauty, as in Thomson's Winter —

Cheerless towns, far distant, never

Save when its annual course the caravan
Bends to the golden coast of rich Cathay,
With news of human kind.*

A superficial person — Mr. Scott,
for instance, would be apt to connect
the last clause in this period with
the line foregoing — '' bends to the
coast of Cathay with news," &c.
But has a reader nothing to do but
to sit passive, while the connexion is
to glide into his ears like oil.'^

denham's cooper's hill.
The stream is so transparent, pure, and

That, had the self-enamour'd youth gazed

So fatally deceived he had not been.
While he the bottom, not his face had seen.


The last two lines have more mu-
sic than Denham's can possibly


May I have leave to conjecture,
tliat in the very last line of all, the
word '^ the" has erroneously crept
in ? I am persuaded that the poet
wrote '^ his." To my mind, at least,
this reading, in a surprising degree,
heightens the idea of the extreme
clearness and transparency of the
stream, where a man might see more
than his face (as it were) in it.


The second of these little pieces>
called Hassan, or the Camel Driver,
is of superior character. This poem
contradicts history in one principal
instance ; the merchants of the east
travel in numerous caravans, but
Hassan is introduced travelling alone

* IMay I have leave to notice an instance of the same agreeable discontinuity in my
friend Lloyd's admirable poem on Christmas ?

Where the broad-bosom'd hills.

Swept with perpetual clouds, of Scotland rise.
Me fate compels to tarry.


Ritson versus John Scott the Quaker.


in the desart. But this circumstance
detracts little from our [author's me-
rit; adherence to historical fact is
seldom required in poetry.

It is always, where the poet unne-
cessarily transports you to the ends
of the world. If he must plague you
with exotic scenery, you have a right
to exact strict local imagery and cos-
tume. Why must I learn Arabic,
to read nothing after all but Gay's
Fables in another language ?

Abra is introduced in a grove,
wreathing a flowery chaplet for her
hair. Shakspeare himself could not
have devised a more natural and
pleasing incident, than that of the
monarch's attention being attracted
by her song :

Great Abbas chanced that fated morn to

By love conducted from the chase away.
Among the vocal vales he heard her song —

Ch— t.?

O stay thee, Agib, for my feet deny,
No longer friendly to my life, to fly —
From the pen of Cowley such an
observation as Secander's, that " his
feet were no longer friendly to his
life," might have been expected ; but
Collins rarely committed such viola-
tions of simplicity.

Pen of Cowley ! impudent goose-
quill, how darest thou guess what
Cowley would have written ?


Save where the beetle wheels —

The beetle was introduced into
poetry by Shakspeare * * *. Shak-
speare has made the most of his de-
scription ; indeed far too much, con-
sidering the occasion :

to black Hecate's summons

The shard-bom beetle with his drowsy hum
Hath nmg night's yawning peal.

The imagination must be indeed
fertile, which could produce this ill-
placed exuberance of imagery. The
poet, when composing this passage,
must have had in his mind all the
remote ideas of Hecate, a heathen

Goddess, of a beetle, of night, of a
peal of bells, and of that action of
the muscles, commonly called a gape
or yawn.

NumbscuU ! that would limit an
infinite head by the square contents
of thy own numbscull.

The great merit of a poet is not,
like Cowley, Donne, and Denham, to
say what no man but himself has
thought, but what every man besides
himself has thought ; but no man ex-
pressed, or, at least, expressed so well.

In other words, all that is poetry,
which Mr. Scott has thought, as well
as the poet ; but that cannot be poe-
try, which was not obvious to Mr.
Scott, as well as to Cowley, Donne,
and Denham.

Mr. Mason observes of the lan-
guage in this part [|[the Epitaph],
that it has a Doric delicacy. It has,
indeed, what I should rather term a
happy rusticity.

Come, see
Rural felicity.


No busy steps the grass-grown footway

But aU the bloomy flush of life is fled —
All but yon widow'd solitary thing,
That feebly bends beside the plashy spring ;
She, wretched matron, forced, in age, for

To strip the brook with mantling cresses


Our author's language, in this place,
is very defective in correctness. After
mentioning the general privation of
the " bloomy flush of life," the ex-
ceptionary *' all but " includes, as a
part of that " bloomy flush," an
aged decrepid matron ; that is to
say, in plain prose, '^ the bloomy
flush of life is all fled but one old


Yet Milton could write i

Far from all resort of mirth.
Save the cricket on the hearth,
Or the bell-man's drowsy charm —

and I dare say he was right. O
never let a quaker, or a woman, try

■'i ' t.riSiBil^RSift'i




Ritson versus John Scott the Quaker.


their hand at being witty, any more
than a Tom Brown affect to speak
by the spirit !


— Aaron Hill, who, although, in ge-
neral, a bombastic writer, produced
some pieces of merit, particularly
the Caveatj an allegorical satire on


Say rather his verses on John Den-
nis, beginning " Adieu, unsocial ex-
cellence ! " which are implicitly a
finer satire on Pope than twenty Ca-
veats. All that Pope could or did
say against Dennis, is there con-
densed ; and what he should have
said, and did not, for him, is there

given to this. There is in it an at-
tempt at dignity above the occasion.
Pathos seems to have been intended,
but affectation only is produced.

It is not affectation, but it is the
mock heroic of pathos, hitroduced
purposely and wisely to attract the
reader to a proposal, which from the
unimportance of the subject — a poor
little fish — might else have escaped
his attention — as children learn, or
may learn, humanity to animals from
the mock romantic " Perambulations
of a Mouse."


Address to the Angler to spare the young

If yet too young, and easily deceived,
A worthless prey scarce bends your pliant

Him, piteous of liis youth, and the short

He has enjoy'd the vital light of heaven,
Soft disengage, and back into the stream
The speckled infant throw.——
The praise bestowed on a pre-
ceding passage, cannot be justly


Infant hands

Trail the long rake ; or, with the fragrant

O'er-charged, amid the kind oppression roll.

" Kind oppression " is a phrase of
that sort, which one scarcely knows
whether to blame or praise : it con-
sists of two words, directly opposite
in their signification ; and yet, per-
haps, no phrase whatever could have
better conveyed the idea of an easy
uninjurious weight —

— and yet he does not know whether
to blame or praise it !

On the Death of Mr. Dennis.
• Adieu, unsocial excellence ! at last
Thy foes are vanquished, and thy fears are past :
'\\''ant, the grim recompense of truth like thine,
Shall now no longer dim thy destined shrine.
The impatient envy, the disdainful air.
The front malignant, and the captious stare.
The furious petulance, the jealous start.
The mist of frailties that obscured thy heart—-
Veil'd in thy grave shall unremember'd lie ;
For these were parts of Dennis hem to die.
But there's a nobler deity behind ;
His reason dies not, and has friends to find :
Though here revenge and pride withheld his praise.
No wrongs shall reach him through his future days ;
The rising ages shall redeem his name.
And nadons read him into lasting fame.
In his defects untaught, his labour'd page
Shall the slow gratitude of Time engage.
Perhaps some story of his pitied woe,
Mix'd in faint shades, may with his memory go.
To touch fraternity with generous shame.
And backward cast an unavailing blame
On times too cold to taste his strength of art,
Yet warm contemners of too weak a heart.
Rest in thy dust, contented with thy lot.
Thy good remember'd, ^nd thy bad forgot.

RiUon versus John Scott the Quaker.



By many a dog


» « » « «

The clamour much of men, and boys, and
dogs —

* * * * *

The mention of dogs twice was su-
perfluous ; it might have been easily-

Very true — by mentioning them
only once.

Nature is rich in a variety of mi-
nute but striking circumstances ;
some of which engage the attention
of one observer, and some that of

This lover of truth never uttered a
truer speech. Give me a lie with a
spirit in it.

Air, earth, and ocean, smile immense. —

The bombastic ^' immense smile
of air," &c. better omitted.

Quite Miltonic — " enormous bliss"
—and both, I presume, alike caviare
to the Quaker.

He comes ! he comes ! in every breeze the

Of philosophic melancholy comes !
His near approach, the sudden-starting tear.
The glowing cheek, the mild dejected air.
The soften 'd feature, and the beating heart.
Pierced deep with many a virtuous pang,

This fine picture is greatly injured
by a few words. The power should
have been said to come " upon the
breeze;" not "in every breeze;"
an expression which indicates a mul-
tiplicity of approaches. If he came
'^ in every breeze," he must have been
always coming

—and so he was.

The branching Oronoque

Rolls a brown deluge, and the native drives

To dwell aloft on life-sufficing trees.

At once his dome, his robe, his food, and

Swell'd by a thousand streams, impetuous

From all the roaring Andes, huge descends

The mighty Orellana. Scarce the muse
Dares stretch her wing o'er this enormous

Of rushing water : scarce she dares attempt
The sea- like Plata; to whose dread ex-
Continuous depth, and wond'rous length of

Our floods are rills. With unabated force
In silent dignity they sweep along,
And traverse realms unknown, and bloom-
ing wilds.
And fruitful desarts, worlds of solitude.
Where the sun smiles, and seasons teem,

in vain.
Unseen and unenjoy'd. Forsaking these.
O'er peopled plains they fair-diffusive flow,
And many a nation feed, and circle safe
In their fair bosom many a happy isle.
The seat of blameless Pan, yet undisturb'd
By Christian crimes, and Europe's cruel

Thus pouring on, they proudly seek the

Whose vanquish'd tide, recoiling from the

Yields to this liquid weight of half the globe.
And Ocean trembles for his green domain.

Poets not unfrequently aim at ag-
grandising their subject, by avowing
their inability to describe it. This
is a puerile and inadequate expe-
dient. Thomson has here, perhaps
inadvertently, descended to this fee-
ble art of exaggeration.

A magnificent passage, in spite of
Duns Scotus ! The poet says not a
word about his " inability to de-
scribe," nor seems to be thinking
about his readers at all. He is con-
fessing his own feelings, awe-struck
with the contemplation of such o'er-
whelming objects ; in the same spirit
with which he designates the den of
the '^ green serpent" in another
place —
—Which ev'n imagination fears to tread —

A dazzling deluge reigns, and all

From pole to pole is undistinguish'd blaze —

From pole to pole, strictly speak-
ing, is improper. The poet meant,
" from one part of the horizon to the

From his pole to thy pole was a
more downward declension than
" from the centre thrice," &c.

Ohe ! jam satis. '^


A Poor Relation is — the most ir-
relevant thing in nature, — a piece
of impertinent correspondency, — an
odious approximation, — a haunting-
conscience, — a preposterous shadow,
lengthening in the noon-tide of your
prosperity,— an unwelcome remem-
brancer, — a perpetually recurring
mortification,~a drain on your purse,
— a more intolerable dun upon your
pride, — a drawback upon success, —
a rebuke to your rising, — a stahi in
your blood,— abloton your scutcheon,
— a rent in your garment, — a death's
head at your banquet, — Agathocles'
pot, — a Mordecai in your gate, — a
Lazarus at your door, — a lion in
your path, — a frog in your chamber,
— a fly in your ointment, — a mote in
your eye,— a triumph to your enemy,
an apology to your friends, — the
one thing not needful, — the hail in
harvest, - the ounce of sour in a pound
of sweet, — the bore par excellence.

He is known by his knock. Your
heart telleth you " That is Mr. — ."
A rap, between familiarity and re-

spect; that demands, and, at the
same time, seems to despair of, en-
tertainment. He entereth smiling,
and — embarrassed. He holdeth out
his hand to you to shake, and —
draweth it back again. He casually
looketh in about dinner time — when
the table is full. He offereth to go
away, seeing you have company —
but is induced to stay. He filleth a
chair, and your visitor's two children
are accommodated at a side table.
He never cometh upon open days,
when your wife says with some com-
placency, " My dear, perhaps Mr.

will drop in to-day." He re-

membereth birth-days — and profess-
eth he is fortunate to have stumbled
upon one. He declareth against
fish, the turbot being small — yet suf-
fereth himself to be importuned into
a slice against his first resolution.
He sticketh by the port — yet will b^
prevailed upon to empty the remain-
der glass of claret, — if a stranger
press it upon him. He is a puzzle
to the servants, who are fearful of


Poor Relations.


being too obsequious, or not civil
enough, to him. The guests think
^' they have seen him before." Every
one speculateth upon his condition ;
and the most part take him to be — a
tide-waiter. He calleth you by your
Christian name, to imply that his
other is the same with your own.
He is too familiar by half, yet you
wish he had less diffidence. With
half the familiarity, he might pass
for a casual dependent; with more
boldness, he would be in no danger
of being taken for what he is. He
is too humble for a friend, yet taketh
on him more state than befits a client.
He is a worse guest than a coimtry
tenant, inasmuch as he bringeth up
no rent— yet 'tis odds, from his garb
and demeanour, that your other
guests take him for one. He is asked
to make one at the whist table ; re-
fuseth on the score of poverty, and
— resents being left out. When the
company break up, he profFereth to
go for a coach — and lets the servant
go. He recollects your grandfather ;
and will thrust in some mean, and
quite unimportant anecdote of— the
family. He knew it when it was not
quite so flourishing as " he is blest
in seeing it now." He reviveth past
situations, to institute what he call-
eth — favourable comparisons. With
a reflecting sort of congratulation,
he will inquire the price of your fur-
niture ; and insults you with a spe-
cial commendation of your window-
curtains. He is of opinion that the
urn is the more elegant shape, but,
after all, there was something more
comfortable about the old tea-kettle
— which you must remember. He
dare say you must find a great con-
venience in having a carriage of your
own, and appealeth to your lady if it
is not so. Inquireth if you have
had your arms done on vellum yet ;
and did not know till lately, that
such-and-such had been the crest of
the family. His memory is unsea-
sonable; his compliments perverse;
his talk a trouble ; his stay pertina-
cious ; and when he goeth away, you
dismiss his chair into a corner, as
precipitately as possible, and feel
fairly rid of two nuisances.

There is a worse evil under the
sun, and that is — a female Poor Re-
lation. You may do something with
the other ; you may pass him off* to-
lerably well ; but your indigent she-

Relative is hopeless. '^ He is an old
humourist," you may say, *' and
aflfects to go threadbare. His cir-
cumstances are better than folks
would take them to be. You are
fond of having a Character at your
table, and truly he is one." But in
the indications of female poverty
there can be no disguise. No woman
dresses below herself from caprice.
The truth must out without shuf-
fling. " She is plainly related to the
L s ; or what does she at their
house?" She is, in all probability,
your wife's cousin. Nine times out

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 20 of 33)