Copyright
Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 26 of 33)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 26 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


been its inhabitants, weave for us
illusions, incompatible with the bustle
of modern occupancy, and vanities
of foolish present aristocracy. The
same difference of feeling, I think,
attends us between entering an
empty and a crowded church. In
the latter it is chance but some pre-
sent human frailty — an act of inat-
tention on the part of some of tlie
auditory — or a trait of affectation,
or worse, vain-glory, on that of the
preacher — puts us by our best
thoughts, disharmonising the place
and the occasion. But wouldst thou
know the beauty of holiness .f* — go
alone on some week-day, borrowing
the keys of good Master Sexton,
traverse the cool aisles of some
country church — thhik of the piety
that has kneeled there — the congre-
gations, old and young, that have
found consolation there — the meek
pastor — the docile parishioner — v.dth
no disturbing emotions, no cross con-
flicting comparisons — drink in the
tranquillity of the place, till thou
thyself become as fixed and motion-

Sept. ISisJi.



less as tfie marble effigies that kneel
and weep around thee.

Journeying northward lately, I
could not resist going some few miles
out of my road, to look upon the
remains of an old great house with
which I had been impressed hi this
way in infancy. 1 was apprized that
the owner of it had lately pulled it
down ; still I had a vague notion
that it could not all have perished,
that so much solidity with magnifi-
cence could not have been crushed
all at once into the mere dust and
rubbish whicli I found it.

The work of ruin had proceeded
with a swift hand indeed, and the
demolition of a few weeks had re-
duced it to — an antiquity.

I was astonished at the indistinc-
tion of every thing. Where had
stood the great gates .f* What bounded
the court-yard .'* Whereabout did the
out-houses commence ? a few bricks
only lay as representatives of that
which was so stately and so spa-
cious.

Death does not shrink up his hu-
man victim at this rate. The burnt
ashes of a man weigh more in their
proportion.

Had I seen these brick-and-mortar
knaves at their process of destruc-
tion, at the plucking of every pannel
I should have felt the varlets at my
heart. I should have cried out to



lilakesmoor in H shire.



CSept.



them to spare a plank at least out of
the cheerful store-room, in whose
hot window-seat I used to sit, and
read Cowley, with the grass-plat
before, and the hum and flappings
of that one solitary wasp that ever
haunted it, about me — it is in mine
ears now, as oft as summer returns
— or a pannel of the yellow room.

Why, every plank and pannel of
that house for me had magic in it.
The tapestried bed-rooms — tapestry
so much better than painting — not
adorning merely, but peopling the
wainscots — at which childhood ever
and anon would steal a look, shifting
its coverlid (replaced as quickly) to
exercise its tender courage in a mo-
mentary eye-encounter with those
stern bright visages, staring recipro-
cally — all Ovid on the walls, in co-
lours vivider than his descriptions.
Actseon in mid sprout, with the
unappeasable prudery of Diana; and
the still more provoking, and almost
culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus,
eel-fashion, deliberately divesting of
Marsyas.

Then, that haunted room — in
which old Mrs. Battle died — where-
into 1 have crept, but always in the
day-time, with a passion of fear;
and a sneaking curiosity, terror-
tainted, to hold communication with
the past. — How shall they build it up
again ?

. It was an old deserted place, yet
not so long deserted but that traces
of the splendour of past inmates
were everywhere apparent. Its fur-
niture was still standing — even to
the tarnished gilt leather battledores,
and crumbling feathers of shuttle-
cocks, in the nursery, which told
that children had once played there.
But I was a lonely child, and had
the range at will of every apartment,
knew every nook and corner, won-
dered and worshipped everywhere.

The solitude of childhood is not
so much the mother of thought, as
it is the feeder of love, and silence,
and admiration. So strange a pas-
sion for the place possessed me in
those years, that, though there lay —
I shame to say how few roods dis-
tant from the mansion — half hid by
trees, what I judged some romantic
lake — such was the spell which



bound me to the house, and such
my carefulness not to pass its strict
and proper precincts, that the idle
waters lay unexplored for me ; and
not till late in life, curiosity pre-
vailing over elder devotion, I found,
to my astonishment, a pretty brawl-
ing brook had been the Lacus Incog-
nitus of my infancy. Variegated
views, extensive prospects — and
those at no great distance from the
house~I was told of such— what were
they to me, being out the boundaries
of my Eden } — So far from a wish to
roam, I would have drawn, me-
thought, still closer the fences of my
chosen prison ; and have been hem-
med in by a yet securer cincture of
those excluding garden walls. I
could have exclaimed with that gar-
den-loving poet —

Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines ;
Curl me about, ye gadding vines ;
And oh so close your circles lace,
That I may never leave this place :
But, lest your fetters prove too weak,
Ere I your silken bondage break,
Do yoi, O brambles, chain me too,
And, courteous briars, nail me through.*

I was here as in a lonely temple.
Snug firesides — the low-built roof
— parlours ten feet by ten — frugal
boards, and all the homeliness of
home — these were the condition of
my birth — the wholesome soil which
I was planted in. Yet, without im-
peachment to their tenderest lessons,
I am not sorry to have had glances of
something beyond; and to have taken
if but a peep, in childhood, at the
contrasting accidents of a great for-
tune.

To have the feeling of gentility, it
is not necessary to have been bom
gentle. The pride of ancestry may
be had on cheaper terms than to be
obliged to an importunate race of
ancestors; and the coat-less anti-
quary, in his unemblazoned cell, re-
volving the long line of a Mowbray's
or De Clifford's pedigree — at those
sounding names may warm himself
into as gay a vanity as those who do
inherit them. The claims of birth
are ideal merely : and what herald
shall go about to strip me of an idea ?
Is it trenchant to their swords } can
it be hacked off as a spur can ? or
torn away like a tarnished garter }



Marvell, on Appleton House, to the Lord Fairfax.



Blakesmoor in H shire.



1824.;]

What, else, were the families of
the great to us? what pleasure
should we take in their tedious ge-
nealogies, or their capitulatory brass
monuments? What to us the uninter-
rupted current of their bloods, if our
own did not answer within us to a
cognate and correspondent eleva-
tion ?

Or wherefore, else, O tattered and
diminished 'Scutcheon — that hung
upon the time-worn walls of thy
princely stairs, Blakesmoor! — have
I in childhood so oft stood poring
upon thy mystic characters — thy em-
blematic supporters, with their pro-
phetic ^' Resurgam " — till, every dreg
of peasantry purging off, I received
into myself Very Gentility? — Thou
wert first in my morning eyes ; and,
of nights, hast detained my steps
from bedward, till it was but a step
from gazing at thee to dreaming on
thee.

This is the only true gentry by
adoption; the veritable change of
blood, and not, as empirics have
fabled, by transfusion.

Who it was by dying tlfat had
earned the splendid trophy, T know
not, I inquired not; but its fading
rags, and colours cobweb-stained,
told, that its subject was of two cen-
turies back.

And what if my ancestor at that
date was some Damcetas — feeding
flocks, not his own, upon the hills of
Lincoln — did I in less earnest vindi-
cate to myself the family trappings
of this once proud ^gon ? — repay-
ing by a backward triumph the in-
sults he might possibly have heaped
in his life-time upon my poor pasto-
ral progenitor.



227



If it were presumption so to spe-
culate, the present owners of the
mansion had least reason to com-
plain. They had long forsaken the
old house of their fathers for a newer
trifle ; and I was left to appropriate
to myself what images I could pick
up, to raise my fancy, or to soothe
my vanity.

I was the true descendant of those
old W s ; and not the present fa-
mily of that name, who had fled the
old waste places.

Mine was that gallery of good old
family portraits, which as I have
traversed, giving them in fancy my
own family name, one — and then
another — would seem to smile, reach-
ing forward from the canvas, to re-
cognise the new relationship; while
the rest looked grave, as it seemed,
at the vacancy in their dwelling, and
thoughts of fled posterity.

That Beauty with the cool blue
pastoral drapery, and a lamb — that
hung next the great bay window —

with the bright yellow H shire

hair, and eye of watchet hue — so like
my Alice ! — I am persuaded, she was
a true Elia — Mildred Elia, I take
it.

From her, and from my passion
for her — for I first learned love from
a picture — Bridget took the hint of
those pretty whimsical lines, which
thou may St see, if haply thou hast
never seen them. Reader, in the mar-
gin.* But my Mildred grew not old,
like the imaginary Helen.

Mine too, Blakesmoor, was thy
noble Marble Hall, with its mosaic
pavements, and its Twelve Caesars
— stately busts in marble — ranged
round: of whose countenances, young



High-born Helen, round your dwelling,
These twenty years I've paced in vain :

Haughty beauty, thy lover's duty
Hath been to glory in his pain.

High-bom Helen, proudly telling

Stories of thy cold disdain ;
I starve, I die, now you comply.

And I no longer can complain.

These twenty years I've lived on tears,
Dwelling for ever on a frown ;

On sighs I've fed, your scorn my bread ;
I perish now you kind are grown.

Can I, who loved my beloved

But for the scorn ' was in her eye,'

Can I be moved for my beloved.
When she returns me sigh for sigh ?
Q2



228 Song.

reader of faces as I was, the frown-
ing beauty of Nero, I remember, had
most of my wonder, but the mild
Galba had my love. There they
stood in the coldness of death, yet
freshness of immortality.

Mine too thy lofty Justice Hall,
with its one chair of authority, high-
backed, and wickered, once the ter-
ror of luckless poacher, or self-for-
getful maiden so common since,

that bats have roosted in it.

Mine too — whose else ? — thy cost-
ly fruit garden, with its sun-baked
southern wall ; the ampler pleasure-
garden, rising backwards from the
house, in triple terraces, with flower-
pots now of palest lead, save that a
speck here and there, saved from the '
elements, bespake their pristine state
to have been gilt and glittering; the



USept.



verdant quarters backwarder still ;
and, stretching still beyond, in old
formality, thy firry wilderness, the
haunt of squirrel, and the day-long
murmuring woodpigeon — with that
antique image in the centre, God or
Goddess I wist not; but child of
Athens or old Rome paid never a
sincerer worship to Pan or to Syl-
vanus in their native groves, than I
to that fragmental mystery.

Was it for this, that I kissed my
childish hands too fervently in your
idol worship, walks and whidings of
Blakesmoor! for this, or what sin
of mine, has the plough passed over
your pleasant places ? I sometimes
think that as nien, when they die, do
not die all, so of their extinguished
habitations there may be a hope — a
germ to be revivified.

Eli A.



1824.] Original Letter of, lames Thomson. iG3



ORIGINAL LETTER OF JAMES THOMSON.

The following very interesting letter has been recovered from oblivion, or
at least from neglect, by our friend Elia, and the public will no doubt thank
him for the deed. It is without date or superscription in the manuscript,
which (as our contributor declares) was in so " fragmentitious " a state as
to perplex his transcribing faculties in the extreme. The poet's love of na-
ture is quite evident from one part of it ; and the '^ poetical posture of his
affairs " from another. Whether regarded as elucidating the former or the
latter, it is a document not a little calculated to excite the attention of the
curious as well as the critical. We could ourselves write an essay-full of
conjectures from the grounds it affords both with respect to the author's
poems and his pride. But we must take another opportunity, or leave it
to his next biographer.

Dear Sir,

I would chide you for the slackness of your correspondence ; but having
blamed you wrongeously* last time,I shall say nothing till I hear from you,
which I hope will be soon.

There's a little business I would communicate to you before I come to
the more entertaining part of our correspondence.

I'm going (hard task) to complain, and beg your assistance. When I
came up here I brought very little money along with me ; expecting some
xnore upon the selling of Widehope, which was to have been sold that day
my mother was buried. Now it is unsold yet, but will be disposed of as
soon as it can be conveniently done ; though indeed it is perplexed with
some difficulties. I was a long time living here at my own charges, and
you know how expensive that is: this, together with the furnishing of
myself with clothes, linen, one thing and another, to fit me for any
business of this nature here, necessarily obliged me to contract some debts.
Being a stranger, it is a wonder how I got any credit ; but I cannot expect
it will be long sustained, unless I immediately clear it. Even now, I
believe it is at a crisis — my friends have no money to send me, till the land
is sold j and my creditors will not wait till then. You know what the con-
sequence would be. Now the assistance I would beg of you, and which I
know, if in your power, you will not refuse me, is a letter of credit on
some merchant, banker, or such like person in London, for the matter of
twelve pounds ; till I get money upon the selling of the land, which I am
at last certain of, if you could either give it me yourself, or procure it :
though you owe it not to my merit, yet you owe it to your own nature,
which I know so well as to say no more upon the subject : only allow me
to add, that when I first fell upon such a project, (the only thing I have
for it in my present circumstances,) knowing the selfish inhumane temper
of the generality of the world, you were the first person that offered to my
thoughts, as one to whom I had the confidence to make such an address.

Now I imagine you are seized with a fine romantic kind of melancholy
on the fading of the year — now I figure you wandering, philosophical and
pensive, amidst brown withered groves; whiles the leaves rustle under
your feet, the sun gives a farewell parting gleam, and the birds —

Stir the faint note, and but attempt to sing.

Then again, when the heavens wear a more gloomy aspect, the winds
whistle and the waters spout, I see you in the well-known cleugh, beneath
the solemn arch of tall, thick, embowering trees, listening to the amusing
lull of the many steep, moss-grown cascades; while deep, divine contem-
plation, the genius of the place, prompts each swelling, awful thought.

* Sic in MS.



48?



Captain Jackson.



CNoY.



ancestral thumbs; dear, cracked
spinnet of dearer Louisa! Without
mention of mine, be dumb, thou thin
accompanier of her thinner warble !
A veil be spread over the dear de-
lighted face of well-deluded father,
who now haply listening to che-
rubic notes, scarce feels sincerer
pleasure than when she awakened
thy time-shaken chords responsive to
the twitterings of that slender image
of a voice.

We were not without our literary
talk either. It did not extend far,
but, as far as it went, it was good.
It was bottomed well; had good
groimds to go upon. In the cottage
was a room, which tradition authen-
ticated to have been the same in
which Glover, in his occasional re-
tirements, had penned the greater
part of his Leonidas. This circum-
stance was nightly quoted, though
none of the present inmates, that I
could discover, appeared ever to
have met with the poem in question.
But that was no matter. Glover had
written there, and the anecdote was
pressed into the account of the family
importance. It diffused a learned
air through the apartment, the little
side casement of which (the poet's
study window), opiening upon a su-
perb view as far as to tlie pretty spire
of Harrow, over domains and patri-
monial acres, not a rood nor square
yard whereof our host could call his
own, yet gave occasion to an immo-
derate expansion of — vanity shall I
call it? — in his bosom, as he showed
them in a glowing summer evening.
It was all his, he took it all in, and
communicated rich portions of it to
his guests. It was a part of his
largess, his hospitality ; it was going
over his grounds ; he was lord for
the time of showing them, and you
the implicit lookers-up to his magni-
ficence.

He was a juggler, who threw mists
before your eyes — j'ou had no time to
detect his fallacies. He would say
'Miand me the silver sugar-tongs;"
and, before you could discover it was a
single spoon, andthat plated^he would
disturb and captivate your imagina-
tion by a misnomer of " the urn"
for a tea kettle ; or by calling a
homely bench a sofa. Rich men di-
rect you to their furniture, poor ones
divert you from it ; he neither did
one nor the other, but by simply as-



suming that every thing was hand-
some about him, you were positively
at a demur what you did, or did not
see, at the cottage. With nothing to
live on, he seemed to live upon
every thing. He had a stock of
wealth in his mind ; not that which
is properly termed Content, for in
truth he was not to be contained at
all, but overflowed all bounds by the
force of a magnificent self-delusion.

Enthusiasm is catching ; and even
his wife, a sober native of North
Britain, who generally saw things
more as they were, was not proof
against the continual collision of his
credulity. Her daughters were ra-
tional and discreet young women ;
in the main, perhaps, not insensible
to their true circumstances. I have
seen them assume a thoughtful air.
at times. But such was the pre-
ponderating opulence of his fancy,
that I am persuaded, not for any half
hour together, did they ever look
their own prospects fairly in the face#^
There was no resisting the vortex of
his temperament. His riotous ima-
gination conjured up handsome set-
tlements before their eyes, which
kept them up in the eye of the world
too, and seem at last to have realized
themselves ; for they both have mar-
ried since, I am told, more than re-
spectably.

It is long since, and my memory
waxes dim on some subjects, or 1
should wish to convey some notion
of the manner in which the pleasant
creature described the circumstances
of his own wedding-day. I faintly
remember something of a chaise and
four, in which he made his entry into
Glasgow on that morning to fetch
the bride home, or carry her thither,
I forget which. It so completely
made out the stanza of the old
ballad—

When we came down through Glasgow
towti, ' ' - "'

We were a comely sight to see ;
My love was clad in black velvet,

And I myself in cramasie.

I suppose it was the only occasion,
upon which his own actual splen-
dour at all corresponded with the
world's notions on that subject. In
homely cart, or travelling caravan,
by whatever humble vehicle they
chanced to be transported in less
prosperous days, the ride through
Glasgow catne hack u'p.on his fancy.



18240



Captain Jackson .



48S



not as a humiliating- contrast, but as
a fair occasion for reverting^ to that
one day's state. It seemed an
^' equipage etern" from which no
power of fate or fortune, once mount-
ed, had power thereafter to dislodge
him.

There is some merit in putting a
handsome face upon indigent circum-
stances. To bully and swagger
away the sense of them before stran-
gers, may not be always discommend-



able. Tibbs, and Bobadil, even when
detected, have more of our admira-
tion than contempt. But for a man
to put the cheat upon himself; to
play the Bobadil at home ; and,
steeped in poverty up to the lips, to
fancy himself all the while chin-deep
in riches, is a strain of constitutional
philosophy, and a mastery over for-
tune, which was reserved for my old
friend Captain Jackson.

Elia.



1825.]] MEMOIR OF MIU LISTON




BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR OF MR. LISTON.

The subject of our Memoir is lineally descended from Jolian De
L'Estonne (see Doomesday Book, where he is so written) who came in
with the Conqueror, and had lands awarded him at Lupton Magna,
in Kent. His particular merits or services, Fabian, whose authority
I chiefly follow, has forgotten, or perhaps thought it immaterial, to
specify. Fuller thinks that he was standard-bearer to Hugo De
Agmondesham, a powerful Norman Baron, who was slain by the hand
of Harold himself at the fatal battle of Hastings. Be this as it may, we
find a family of that name flourishing some centuries later in that county.
John Delliston, Knight, was high sheriff for Kent, according to
Fabian, qninto Henrici Sexti ; and we trace the lineal branch
flourishing downwards — the orthography varying, according to the
unsettled usage of the times, from Delleston to Leston, or Liston,
between which it seems to have alternated, till, in the latter end of
the reign of James I, it finally settled into the determinate and pleasing
dissyllabic arrangement which it still retains. Aminadab Liston, th^
eldest male representative of the family of that day, was of the strictest
order of Puritans. Mr. Foss, of Pall Mall, has obligingly communicated
to me an undoubted tract of his, which bears the initials only, A. L.
and is entitled " the Grinning Glass : or Actor's Mirrour, wherein the
vituperative Visnomy of \icious Players for the Scene is as virtuously
reflected back upon their mimetic Monstrosities as it has viciously
(hitherto) vitiated with its vile Vanities her Votarists." A strange title,
but bearing the impress of those absurdities with which the title pages
of that pamphlet-spawning age abounded. The work bears date I617.
It preceded the Histriomastix by fifteen years ; and as it went before
it in time, so it comes not far short of it in virulence. It is amusing to
find an ancestor of Liston's thus bespattering the players at the
commencement of the seventeenth century. " Thinketh He (the actor),
with his costive countenances, to wry a sorrowing soul out of her
anguish, or by defacing the divine denotement of dcstinate dignity
(daignely described in the face humane and no other) to reinstamp the
Paradice-plotted similitude with a novel and naughty approximation
(not in the first intention) to those abhorred and ugly God-forbidden
correspondences, vrith flouring Apes' jeering gibberings, and Babion
babbling-like, to hoot out of countenance all modest measure, as if our
sins were not sufiicing to stoop our backs without He wresting and
crooking his members to mistimed mirth (rather malice) in deformed
fashion, leering when he should learn, prating for praying, goggling his
eyes (better upturned for grace), whereas in Paradice (if we can go thus
high for His profession) that devilish Serpent appeareth his undoubted
Predecessor, first induing a mask like some roguish roistering Hoscius

Jan. 18^25. C



1 8 MEMOIR OP MR. LISTON. [[Jan.

(I spit at them all) to beguile with Stage shows the gaping Woman,
whose Sex hath still chiefly upheld these Mysteries, and are voiced
to be the chief Stage-haunters, where, as I am told, the custom is
commonly to mumble (between acts) apples, not ambiguously derived
from that pernicious Pippin (worse in effect than the Apples of Discord)
whereas sometimes the hissing sounds of displeasure, as I hear, do
lively reintonate that snake-taking-leave, and diabolical goings off, in.
Paradice."

The puritanic effervescence of the early Presbyterians appears to have
abated with time, and the opinions of the more immediate ancestors of
our subject to have subsided at length into a strain of moderate
Calvinism. Still a tincture of the old leaven was to be expected among
the posterity of A. L.

Our hero was an only son of Habakuk Liston, settled as an
Anabaptist minister upon the patrimonial soil of his ancestors. A
regular certificate appears, thus entered in the church book at Lupton



Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 26 of 33)