Copyright
Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 23 of 33)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 23 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


notony, who from day to day pace
along the beech, in endless progress
and recurrence, to watch their illicit
countrymen — townsfolk or brethren
perchance — whistling to the sheath-
ing and unsheathing of their cut*
lasses (their only solace), who under
the mild name of preventive service,
keep up a legitimated civil warfare,
in the deplorable absence of a foreign
one, to show their detestation of run
hoUands, and zeal for old England.
But it is the visitants from town,
that come here to say they have been
here, with no more relish of the sea
than a pond perch, or a dace might
be supposed to have, that are my
aversion. 1 feel like a foolish dace



in these regions, and have as little
toleration for myself here, as for
them. What can tliey want here ?
if they had a true relish of the ocean,
why have they brought all this land
luggage with them? or why pitch
their civilized tents in the desart ?
What mean these scanty book-rooms
— marine libraries, as they entitle
them — if the sea were, as they would
have us believe, a book '^ to read
strange matter in?" what are their
foolish concert-rooms, if they come,
as they would fain be thought to
do, to listen to the music of the
waves ? All is false and hollow
pretension. They come, because it
is the fashion, and to spoil the nature
of the place. They are mostly, as
I have said, stock-brokers; but I
have watched the better sort of them
— now and then, an honest citizen (of
the old stamp), in the simplicity of
his heart, shall brhig down his wife
and daughters, to taste the sea
breezes. I always know the date of
their arrival. It is easy to see it in
their countenance. A day or two
they go wandering on the shingles,
picking up cockle-shells, and think-
ing them great things; but, in a
poor week, imagination slackens ;
they begin to discover that cockles
produce no pearls, and then — O
then ! — if I could interpret for the
pretty creatures (I know they have
not the courage to confess it them-
selves) how gladly would they ex-
change their sea-side rambles for a
Sunday walk on the green-sward of
their accustomed Twickenham mea-
dows I

I woidd ask of one of these sea-
channed emigrants, who think they
truly love the sea, with its wild
usages, what would their feelings be,
if some of the unsophisticated abori-
gines of this place, encouraged by
their courteous questionings here,
should venture, on the faith of such
assured sympathy between them, to
return the visit, and come up to see —
London. I must imagine them with
their fishing-tackle on their back, as
we carry our town necessaries. What
a sensation would it cause in Loth-
bury? What vehement laughter
would it not excite among

The daughters of Cheapside, and wves of
Lombard-street.

I am sure that no town-bred, or in-



18230



Sianxai by Hartley Coleridge,



25



land-bom subjects, can feel their
true and natural nourishment at these
sea-places. Nature, where she does
not mean us for mariners and vaga-
bonds, bids us stay at home. The
salt foam seems to nourish a spleen.



I am not half so good-natured as by
the milder waters of my natural
river. I would exchange these sea-
gulls for swans, and scud a swallow
for ever about the banks of Thamesis.

Eli A.




LETTER OF ELIA TO ROBERT SOUTHEY, ESQUIRE.



Sir, — You have done me an un-
friendly office, without perhaps much
considering- what you were doing.
You have given an ill name to my
poor Lucubrations. In a recent Pa-
per on Infidelity, you usher in a con-
ditional commendation of them with
an exception; which, preceding the
encomium, and taking up nearly the
same space with it, must impress
your readers with the notion, that the
objectionable parts in them are at
least equal in quantity to the pardon-
able. The censure is in fact the criti-
cism; the praise — a concession mere-
ly. Exceptions usually follow, to
qualify praise or blame. But there
stands your reproof, in the very front
of your notice, in ugly characters,
like some bugbear, to frighten all
good Christians from purchasing.
Through you I am become an object
of suspicion to preceptors of youth,
and fathers of families. " A book,
which luants only a sounder religious
feeling to he as delightful as it is origi-
nal." With no further explanation,
what must your readers conjecture,
but that my little volume is some
vehicle for heresy or infidelity ? The
quotation, which you honour me by
subjoining, oddly enough, is of a
character, which bespeaks a tem-
perament in the writer the very re-
verse of thai your reproof goes to in-
sinuate. Had you been taxing me
with superstition, the passage would
have been pertinent to the censure.
Was it worth your while to go so
far out of your way to affront the
feelings of an old friend, and com-
mit yourself by an irrelevant quo-
tation, for the pleasure of reflecting
upon a poor child, an exile at
Genoa ?

I am at a loss what particular



Essay you had in view (if my poor
ramblings amount to that appella-
tion) when you were in such a
hurry to thrust in your objection,
like bad news, foremost. — Perhaps
the Paper on " Saying Graces" was
the obnoxious feature. I have en-
deavoured there to rescue a volun-
tary duty— good in place, but never,
as I remember, literally command-
ed — from the charge of an undecent
formality. Rightly taken. Sir, that
Paper was not against Graces, but
Want of Grace ; not against the ce-
remony, but the carelessness and
slovenliness so often observed in the
performance of it.

Or was it that on the ^' New Year"
— in which I have described the
feelings of the merely natural man,
on a consideration of the amazing
change, which is supposable to take
place on our removal from this
fleshly scene ? — If men would ho-
nestly confess their misgivhigs
(which few men will) there are
times when the strongest Christians
of us, I believe, have reeled under
questionings of such staggering ob-
scurity. 1 do not accuse you of
this weakness. There are some
who tremblingly reach out shaking ,
hands to the guidance of Faith —
Others who stoutly venture into the
dark (their Human Confidence their
leader, whom they mistake for Faith);
and, investing themselves before-
hand with Cherubic wings, as they
fancy, find their new robes as fa-
miliar, and fitting to their supposed
growth and stature in godliness, as
the coat they left off yesterday —
Some whose hope totters upon
crutches — Others who stalk into fu-
turity upon stilts.

The eontemplation of a Spiritual




1823.;]



Letter of Elia to Robert Southei/, Esquire. 401

which, without the addi- edges, the debateable land between

the holy and the profane regions —
of



World,

tion of a misgiving conscience, is
enough to shake some natures to
their foundation — is smoothly got
over by others, who shall float over
the black billows, in their little boat
of No-Distrust, as unconcernedly as
over a summer sea. The difference
is chiefly constitutional.

One man shall love his friends
and his friends' faces; and, under
the uncertainty of conversing with
them agahi, in the same manner
and familiar circumstances of sight,
speech, &c. as upon earth — in a
moment of no irreverent weakness
— for a dream- while — no more —
would be almost content, for a re-
ward of a life of virtue (if he could
ascribe such acceptance to his lame
performances), to take up his por-
tion with those he loved, and was
made to love, in this good world,
which he knows — which was creat-
ed so lovely, beyond his deservings.
Another, embrachig a more exalted
vision — so that he mif^ht receive in-
definite additaments of power, know-
ledge, beauty, glory, &c. — is ready
to forego the recognition of hum-
bler individualities of earth, and the
old familiar faces. The shapings of
our heavens are the modifications of
our constitution ; and Mr. Feeble
Mind, or Mr. Great Heart, is born
in every one of us.

Some (and such have been ac-
coimted the safest divines) have
shrunk from pronouncing upon tlie
final state of any man ; nor dare
they pronoimce the case of Judas
to be desperate. Others (with
stronger optics), as plainly as with
the eye of flesh, shall behold a
given king' in bliss, and a g-iven cham-
berlain in torment; even to the
eternising of a cast of the eye in
the latter, his own self-mocked and
good humouredly-borne deformity
on earth, but supposed to aggravate
the uncouth and hideous expression
of his pangs in the other place.
That one man can presume so far,
and that another would with shud-
dering disclaim such confidences, is,
1 believe, an effect of the nerves
purely.

If in either of -these Papers, or
elsewhere, I have been betrayed into
some levities — not affronthig the
sanctuaiy, but glancing perhaps ai
some of the out-skirts and extreme



(for the admixture ot man s mven-
tions, twisting themselves with the
name of religion itself, has artful-
ly made it difficult to touch even
the alloy, without, in some men's
estimation, soiling the fine gold) —
if I have sported within the pur-
lieus of serious matter — it was, I
dare say, a humour — be not startled.
Sir — which 1 have unwittingly de-
rived from yourself. You have all
your life been making a jest of the
Devil. Not of the scriptural mean-
ing of that dark essence — personal
or allegorical ; for the nature is no
where plainly delivered. I acquit
you of intentional irreverence. But
indeed you have made wonderfully
free with, and been mighty pleasant
upon, tlie popular idea and attributes
of him. A noble Lord, your brother
Visionary, has scarcely taken greater
liberties with the material keys, and
merely Catholic notion of St. Teter. —
You have flattered him in prose : you
have chanted him in goodly odes.
You have been his Jester; Volunteer
Laureat, and self-elected Court Poet
to Beelzebub.

You have never ridiculed, I be-
lieve, what you thought to be reli-
gion, but you are always girding at
what some pious, but perhaps mis-
taken folks, think to be so. For this
reason I am sorry to hear, that you
are engaged upon a life of George Fox.
I know you will fall into the error
of intermixing some comic stuff" with
your seriousness. The Quakers trem-
ble at the subject in your hands. The
Methodists are shy of you, upon ac-
count of their founder. But, above
all, our Popish brethren are most in
your debt. The errors of that church
have proved a fruitful source to your
scoffing vein. Their Legend has been
a Golden one to you. And here,
your friends. Sir, have noticed a note-
able inconsistency. To the imposing
rites, the solemn penances, devout
austerities of that communion ; the
aflfecting though erring piety of their
hermits ; the silence and solitude of
the Chartreux — their crossings, their
holy waters — their Virgin, and their
saints — to these, they say, you have
been indebted for the best feelings,
and the richest imagery, of your lilpic
poetry. You have drawn copious
drafts upon Loittto. M'c thought



■4tfe



Letter of Elia io Robert Southey, Esquire.



COct,



at one time you were gomg post to
Rome — but that in the facetious com-
mentaries, which it is your custom
to append so plentifully, and (some
say) injudiciously, to your loftiest
performances in this kind, you spurn
the uplifted toe, which you but just
now seemed to court; leave his holi-
ness in the lurch ; and show him a
fair pair of Protestant heels under
your Koraish vesiment. When we
think you already at the wicket, sud-
denly a violent cross wind blows you
transverse —

ten thousand leagues awry.
Then might we see
Cowls, hoods, and habits, with their wearers,

tost
And flutter'd into rags; then reliques,

beads.
Indulgences, dispenses, pardons, btdls.
The sport of winds.

You pick up pence by showing the
hallowed bones, shrine, and crucifix;
and you take money a second time by
exposing the trick of them after-
wards. You carry j^our verse to
Castle Angelo for sale in a morn-
ing; and, swifter than a pedlar can
transmute his pack, you are at Can-
terbury with your prose ware before
night.

Sir, is it that I dislike you in this
merry vein ? The very reverse. No
countenance becomes an intelligent
jest better than your own. It is
your grave aspect, when you look
awful upon your poor friends, which
I would deprecate.

In more than one place, if I mis-
take not, you have been pleased to
compliment me at the expence of my
companions. I cannot accept your
compliment at such a price. The
upbraiding a man's poverty naturally
makes him look about him, to see
whether he be so poor indeed as he
is presumed to be. You have put
me upon counting my riches. Really,
Sir, I did not know 1 was so wealthy
in the article of friendships. There

is , and , whom you never

heard of, but exemplary characters
both, and excellent church-goers ;
and N., mine and my father's friend
for nearly half a century ; and the
enthusiast for Wordsworth's poetry,
T. N. T., a little tainted with So-
cinianism, it is to be feared, but con-
stant in his attachments, and a capi-
tal critic ; and , a sturdy old

Athanasiaiij so that sets all to rights



again ; and W., the light, and warm-
as-light hearted, Janus of the Lon-
don ; and the translator of Dante_,
still a curate, modest and amiable C;
and Allan C, the large-hearted Scot ;
and P r, candid and affectionate as
his own poetry; and A — p, Cole-
ridge's friend; and G — n, his more
than friend; and Coleridge himself,
the same to me still, as in those old
evenings, when we used to sit and
speculate (do you remember them.
Sir?) at our old Salutation tavern,
upon Pantisocracy and golden days
to come on earth ; and W — th (why.
Sir, I might drop my rent-roll here ;
such goodly farms and manors have
I reckoned up already. In what pos-
sessions has not this last name alone
estated me ! — but I will go on) —
and M., the noble-minded kinsman,

by wedlock, of W th ; and

H. C. R., unwearied in the offices
of a friend ; and Clarkson, almost
above the narrowness of that rela-
tion, yet condescending not seldom
heretofore from the labours of his
world-embracing charity to bless my
humble roof; and the gall-less and sin-
gle-minded Dyer; and the high-minded
associate of Cook, the veteran Colo-
nel, with his lusty heart still sending
cartels of defiance to old Time; and,
not least, W. A. the last and stea-
diest left to me of that little knot of
whist-players, that used to assemble
weekly, for so many years, at the
Queen's Gate (you remember them_.
Sir?) and called Admiral Bumey
friend.

I will come to the point at once.
I believe you will not make many
exceptions to my associates so far.
But I have purposely omitted some
intimacies, which I do not yet repent
of having contracted, with two gen-
tlemen, diametrically opposed to
yourself in principles. You will un-
derstand me to allude to the authors
of Rimini and of the Table Talk.
And first, of the former. —

It is an error more particularly in-
cident to persons of the correctest
principles and habits, to seclude
themselves from the rest of mankind,
as from another species; and form
into knots and clubs. The best peo-
ple, herding thus exclusively, are in
danger of contracting a narrowness.
Heat and cold, dryness and moisture,
in the natural world, do not fly asun-
der, to split the globe into sectarian



1823.;]



Letter of Elia to Robert Southey, Esquire.



403



parts and separations ; but mingling,
as they best may, correct the malig-
nity of any shigle predominance.
The analogy holds, I suppose, in
the moral world. If all the good
people were to ship themselves off to
Terra Incognitas, what, in humanity's
name, is to become of the refuse } If
the persons, whom I have chiefly in
view, have not pushed matters to
this extremity yet, they carry them
as far as they can go. Instead of
mixing with the infidel and the free-
thinker — in the room of opening a
negociation, to try at least to find out
at which gate the error entered — they
huddle close together, in a weak fear
of infection, like that pusillanimous
underling in Spenser —

This is the wandering wood, this Error's

den ;
A monster vile, whom God and man does

hate :
Therefore, I reed, beware. Fly, fly, quoth

then
The fearful Dwarf.

and, if they be writers in orthodox
journals — addressing themselves only
to the irritable passions of the un-
believer — they proceed in a safe
system of strengthening the strong
hands, and confirming the valiant
knees ; of converting the already con-
verted, and proselyting their own
party. I am the more convinced of
this from a passage in the very Trea-
tise which occasioned this letter. It
is where, having recommended to the
doubter the writings of Michaelis
and Lardner, you ride triumphant
over the necks of all infidels, scep-
tics, and dissenters, from this time
to the world's end, upon the wheels
of two unanswerable deductions. 1
do not hold it meet to set down in
a Miscellaneous Compilation like
this, such religious words as you
have thought tit to hitroduce into
the pages of a petulant Literary
Journal. I therefore beg leave to
substitute numerals, and refer to the
Quarterly Review (for July) for fill-
ing of them up. " Here," say you,
" as in the history of 7, if these books
are authentic, the events which they
relate must be true ; if they were
written by 8, J) is 10 and 11." Your
first deduction, if it means honest-
ly, rests upon two identical propo-
sitions j though I suspect an unfair-
ness in one of the terms, which this
would not be quite the proper place



for explicating. At all events you
have no cause to triumph ; you have
not been proving the premises, but
refer for satisfaction therein to very
long and laborious works, which may
well employ the sceptic a twelve-
month or two to digest, before he
can possibly be ripe for your con-
clusion. When he has satisfied him-
self about the premises, he will con-
cede to you the inference, I dare
say, most readily. — But your latter
deduction, vh. that because 8 has
written a book concerning 9, there-
fore 10 and 11 was certainly his
meaning, is one of the most extra-
ordinary conclusions per saltum that
I have had the good fortune to meet
with. As far as 10 is verbally as-
serted in the writings, all sects must
agree with you ; but you cannot be
ignorant of the many various ways
in which the doctrine ofthe*********
has been understood, from a low-
figurative expression (with the Uni-
tarians) up to the most mysterious
actuality ; in which highest sense
alone you and your church take it.
And for 11, and that there is no other
po.s.sib/e conclusion — to hazard this in
the face of so many thousands of
Arians and Socinians, &c., who have
drawn so opposite a one, is such a
piece of theological hardihood, as, I
think, warrants me in concluding
that, when you sit down to pen theo-
logy, you do not at all consider your
opponents; but have in your eye,
merely and exclusively, readers of
the same way of thinking with your-
self, and the/efore have no occasion
to trouble yourself with the quality
of the logic, to which you treat
them.

Neither can I think, if you had
had the welfare of the poor child
— over whose hopeless condition you
whine so lamentably and (I must
think) unseasonably — seriously at
heart, that you could have taken the
step of sticking him up by name —
T. H. is as good as naming him — to
perpetuate an outrage upon the pa-
rental feelings, as long as the Quar-
terly Review shall last.-— Was it ne-
cessary to specify an individual case,
and give to Christian compassion the
appearance of personal attack.'* Is
this the way to conciliate unbe-
lievers, or not rather to widen the
breach irreparably }

I own I could never think so con-



40i



Letter of Ella to Robert Southey, Enquire.



COct.



Sulerably of myself as to decline the
society of an agreeable or worthy man
upon difference of opinion only. The
impediments and the facilitations to
a sound belief are various and in-
scrutable as the heart of man. Some
believe upon weak principles. Others
cannot feel the efficacy of the strong-
est. One of the most candid^ most
upright, and single-meaning men, I
ever knew, was the late Thomas
Holcroft. I believe he never said one
thing and meant another, in his
life; and, as near as I can guess,
he never acted otherwise than with
the most scrupulous attention to
conscience. Ought we to wish the
character false, for the sake of a
hollow compliment to Christianity ?

Accident introduced me to the ac-
quaintance of Mr. L. H. — and the
experience of his many friendly qua-
lities confirmed a friendship between
us. You, w^ho have been misrepre-
sented yourself, I should hope, have
not lent an idle ear to the calumnies
"which have been spread abroad
respectnig this gentleman. I was
admitted to his household for some
years, and do most solemnly aver
that I believe him to be in his do-
mestic relations as correct as any
man. He chose an ill-judged sub-
ject for a poem ; the peccant humours
of which have been visited on him
tenfold by the artful use, which his
adversaries have made, of an equU
vocal term. The subject itself was
started by Dante, but better because
brieflier treated of. But the crime
of the Lovers, in the Italian and the
English poet, with its aggravated
enormity of circumstance, is not of a
kind (as the critics of the latter well
knew) with those conjunctions, for
which Nature herself has provided
no excuse, because no temptation.
— It has nothing in common with
the black horrors, sung by Ford and
Massinger. The familiarising of
it in tale or fable may be for that
reason incidentally more contagious.
In spite of Rimini, I must look upon
its author as a man of taste, and a
poet. He is better than so, he is one of
the most cordial-minded men I ever
knew, and matchless as a fire-side
companion. I mean not to affront
or wound your feelings when I say-
that, in his more genial moods, he
has often reminded me of you. There
is the same air of mild dogmatism —



the same condescending to a boyish
sportiveness — in both your conver-
sations. His hand-writing is so
much the same with your own, that
I have opened more than one letter
of his, hoping, nay, not doubting,
but it was from you, and have been
disappointed (he will bear with my
saying so) at the discovery of my
error. L. H. is unfortunate in hold-
ing some loose and not very definite
speculations (for at times I think he
hardly knows whither his premises
M^ould carry him) on marriage — the
tenets, I conceive, of the Political
Justice, carried a little further. For
any thing I could discover in his
practice, they have reference, like
those, to some future possible con-
dition of society, and not to the pre-
sent times. But neither for these
obliquities of thinking (upon which
my own conclusions are as distant
as the poles asunder) — nor for his
political asperities and petulancies,
which are wearing out with the heats
and vanities of youth — did I select
him for a friend; but for qualities
which fitted him for that relation.
I do not know whether I flatter my-
self with being the occasion, but
certain it is, that, touched with some
misgivings for sundry harsh things
which he had written aforetime against
our friend C, — ^before he left this
country he sought a reconciliation
with that gentleman (himself being
his own introducer), and found it.

L. H. is now in Italy; on his de-
parture to which land with much re-
gret I took my leave of him and of
his little family — seven of them. Sir,
with their mother — and as kind a set
of little people (T. H. and all), as
affectionate children, as ever blessed
a parent. Had you seen them. Sir,
I think you could not have looked
upon them as so many little Jonases
— but rather as pledges of the vessel's
safety, that was to bear such a freight
of love.

I wish you would read Mr. H.'s
lines to that same T. H. " six years
old, during a sickness :" —

Sleep breaks at last from out thee,
!Rly little patient boy —

(they are to be found in the 47th
page of '^ Foliage ") — and ask your-
self how far they are out of the spirit
of Christianity. I have a letter from
Italy, rect4ved but the other day.



♦1823.;]



Letter of Elia to Robert Souther/, Esquire.



4>0S



into which L. H. has put as much

heart, and as many friendly yearn-
ings after old associates, and native
country, as, I think, paper can well



Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 23 of 33)