Charles Lamb.

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

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honest sinner like myself, and not by one of these gad-flies, these
debauchers of the understanding, these flattery-buzzers." He was going
on in this manner, and I was getting insensibly pleased with my friend's
manner (I had been a little shy of him at first), when the dream suddenly
left me, vanishing — as Virgil speaks — through the gate of Horn.




Dear M , Though none of your acquaintance can with greater

sincerity congratulate you upon this happy conjuncture than myself, ono
of the oldest of them, it was with pain I found you, after the ceremony,,
depositing in the vestry-room what is called a Protest. I thought you
superior to this little sophistry. What, after submitting to the service
of the Church of England — after consenting to receive a boon from
her, in the person of your amiable consort — was it consistent with sense,
or common good manners, to turn round upon her, and flatly taunt her
with false worship ? This language is a little of the strongest in your
books and from your pulpits, though there it may well enough be excuse^
from religious zeal and the native warmth of nonconformity. . But a^
the altar — the Church of England altar — adopting her forms and com-
plying with her requisitions to the letter — to be consistent, together witl>
the practice, I fear, you must drop the language of dissent. You are no
longer sturdy Non Cons ; you are there Occasional Conformists. You sub-
mit to accept the privileges communicated by a form of words, exception-,
able, and perhaps justly, in your view ; but, so submitting, you have no
right to quarrel with the ritual which you have just condescended to owe
an obligation to. They do not force you into their churches. You
come voluntarily, knowing the terms. You marry in the name of the
Trinity. There is no evading this by pretending that you take the
formula with your own interpretation, (and so long as you can do this,
where is the necessity of Protesting ?) : for the meaning of a vow is to be
settled by the sense of the imposer, not by any forced construction of the
taker: else might all vows, and oaths too, be eluded with impunity.
You marry then essentially as Trinitarians; and the altar no sooner
satisfied than, hey presto, with the celerity of a juggler, you shift habits,
and proceed pure Unitarians again in the vestry. You cheat the Church
out of a wife, and go home smiling in your sleeves that you have so cun-
ningly despoiled the Egyptians. In plain English, the Church has mar-
ried you in the na^me of so and so, assuming that you took the words in
Ijer sense, but you outwitted her; you assented t» them in your sens^


only, and took from her what, upon a right understanding, she would
have declined giving you.

This is the fair construction to be put upon all Unitarian marriages as
at present contracted ; and so long as you Unitarians could salve your
consciences with the equivoque, I do not see why the Established Cliurch
should have troubled herself at all about the matter. But the Protesters
necessarily see further. They have some glimmerings of the deception ;
they apprehend a flaw somewhere ; they would fain be honest, and yet
they must marry notwithstanding ; for honesty's sake, they are fain to
dehonestate themselves a little. Let me try the very words of yout own
Protest, to see what confessions we can pick out of them.

*' As Unitarians therefore, we (you and your newly espoused bride)
most solemnly protest against the service (which yourselves have just
demanded) because we are thereby called upon, not only tacitly to
acquiesce, but to profess a belief in a doctrine which is a dogma, as we
believe, totally unfounded." But do you profess that belief during the
ceremony ; or are you only called upon for the j^rofession but do not
make it ? If the latter, then you fall in with the rest of your more
consistent brethren, who waive the Protest ; if the former, then, I fear,
your Protest cannot save you.

Hard and grievous it is, that in any case an institution so broad and
general as the union of man and wife should be so cramped and straitened
by the hands of an imposing hierarchy, that to plight troth to a lovely
woman a man must be necessitated to compromise his truth and faith to
Heaven ; but so it must be, so long as you chuse to marry by the fomis of
the Church over which that hierarchy presides.

Therefore, say you, we Protest. O poor and much fallen word
Protest ! It was not so that the first heroic reformers protested. They
departed out of Babylon once for good and all ; they came not back for
an occasional contact with her altars ; a dallying, and then a protesting
against dalliance ; they stood not shuffling in the porch, with a Popish
foot within, and its lame Lutheran fellow without, halting betwixt.
These were the true Protestants. You are — Protesters.

Besides the inconsistency of this proceeding, I must think it a piece of
impertinence — unseasonable at least, and out of place, to obtrude these
papers upon the ofiiciating clergyman — to offer to a public functionary an
instrument which by the tenor of his function he is not obliged to
accept, but, rather, he is called upon to reject. Is it done in his clerical
capacity ? he has no power of redressing the grievance. It is to take the
benefit of his ministry and then insult him. If in his capacity of fellow
Christian only, what are your scruples to him, so long as you yourselves
are able to get over them, and do get over them by the very fact of
coming to require his services.'* The thing you call a Protest might
with just as good a reason be presented to the churchwarden for the
time being, to the parish clerk, or the pew opener.



The Parliament alone can redress your grievance, if any. Yet I see
not how with any grace your people can petition for relief, so long as,
by the very fact of your coming to Church to be married, they do bond
fide and strictly relieve themselves. The Upper House, in particular, is
not unused to these same things called Protests, among themselves. But
how would this honorable body stare to find a noble Lord conceding
a measure, and in the next breath, by a solemn Protest disowning it. A
Protest there is a reason given for non-compliance, not a subterfuge for an
equivocal occasional compliance. It was reasonable in the primitive
Christians to avert from their persons, by whatever lawful means, the
compulsory eating of meats which had been offered unto idols. I dare
say the Roman Prefects and Exarchats had plenty of petitioning in their
days. But what would a Festus, or Agrippa, have replied to a petition
to that effect, presented to him by some evasive Laodicean, with the
very meat between his teeth, which he had been chewing voluntarily
rather than abide the penalty ? Relief for tender consciences means
nothing, where the conscience has previously relieved itself; that is, has
complied with the injunctions which it seeks preposterously to be rid of.
Relief for conscience there is properly none, but what by better informa-
tion makes an act appear innocent and lawful, with which the previous
conscience was not satisfied to comply. All else is but relief from penal-
ties, from scandal incurred by a complying practice, where the conscience
itself is not fully satisfied.

But, say you, we have hard measure ; the Quakers are indulged with
the liberty denied to us. They have ; and dearly have they earned it.
You have come in (as a sect at least) in the cool of the evening ; at the
eleventh hour. The Quaker character was hardened in the fires of
persecution in the seventeenth century ; not quite to the stake and faggot,
but little short of that, they grew up and thrived against noisome pri-
sons, cruel beatings, whippings, stockings. They have since endured a
century or two of scoffs, contempts ; they have been a bye- word, and a
nay- word ; they have stood unmoved : and the consequence of long con-
scientious resistance on one part is invariably, in the end, remission on
the other. The legislature, that denied you the tolerance, which I do
not know that at that time you even asked, gave them the liberty which,
without granting, they would have assumed. No penalties could have
driven them into the Churches. This is the consequence of entire
measures. Had the early Quakers consented to take oaths, leaving, a
Protest with the clerk of the court against them in the same breath
with which they had taken them, do you in your conscience think that
they would have been indulged at this day in their exclusive privilege
of Affirming ? Let your people go on for a century or so, marrying in
your own fashion, and I will warrant them before the end of it the
legislature will be willing to concede to them more than they at present




Either the institution of marriage depends not for its validity upon
hypocritical compliances with the ritual of an alien Church ; and then I
do not see why you cannot marry among yourselves, as the Quakers,
without their indulgence, w^ould have been doing to this day ; or it does
depend upon such ritual compliance, and then in your Protests you
offend against a divine ordinance. I have read in the Essex-street Li-
turgy a form for the celebration of marriage. Why is this become a
dead letter ? O ! it has never been legalised ; that is to say, in the law's
eye it is no marriage. But do you take upon you to say, in the view of
the gospel it would be none ? Would your own people at least look upon
a couple so paired, to be none } But the case of dowries, alimonies, in-
heritances, &c. which depend for their validity upon the ceremonial of
the Church by law established — are these nothing? That our children
are not legally Filii Nullius — is this nothing ? I answer, nothing ; to
the preservation of a good conscience, nothing; to a consistent Christianity,
less than nothing. Sad worldly thorns they are indeed, and stumbling
blocks, well worthy to be set out of the way by a legislature calling
itself Christian ; but not likely to be removed in a hurry by any shrewd
legislators, who perceive that the petitioning complainants have not so much
as bruised a shin in the resistance ; but, prudently declining the briars
and the prickleS;, nestle quietly down in the smooth two-sided velvet of
a Protesting Occasional Conformity. — I am, dear sir.

With much respect, yours, &c.



Dear Sir, — I send you a bantering Epistle to an Old Gentleman
whose Education is supposed to have been Neglected. Of course, it
was suggested by some Letters of your admirable Opium-Eatcr ; the
discontinuance of which has caused so much regret to myself in common
with most of your readers. You will do me injustice by supposing, that
in the remotest degree it was my intention to ridicule those Papers. The
fact is, the most serious things may give rise to an innocent burlesque ;
and the more serious they are, the fitter they become for that purpose.
It is not to be supposed, that Charles Cotton did not entertain a very
high regard for Virgil, notwithstanding he travestied that Poet. Your-
self can testify the deep respect I have always held for the profound
learning and penetrating genius of our friend. Nothing upon earth
would give me greater pleasure than to find that he has not lost sight of
his entertaining and instructive purpose.

I am, dear Sir, yours and his sincerely,





My Dear Sir, — The question which you have done me the honour
to propose to me, through the medium of our common friend Mr.
Grierson, I shall endeavour to answer with as much exactness as a limited
observation and experience can warrant.

You ask — or rather, Mr. Grierson in his own interesting language
asks for you — " Whether a person at the age of sixty-three, with no
more proficiency than a tolerable knowledge of most of the characters of


the English alphahet at first sight amounts to^, by dint of persevering
application, and good masters, — a docile and ingenuous disposition on the
part of the pupil always pre-supposcd — may hope to arrive, within a
presumable number of years, at tha;t degree of attainments, which shall
entitle the possessor to the character, which you are on so many accounts
justly desirous of- acquiring, of a learned man.'*

This is fairly and candidly stated — only I could wish that on one
point you had been a little more expKcit. In the mean time, I will take
it for granted, that by a " knowledge of the alphabetic characters," you
confine your meaning to the single powers only, as you are silent on the
subject of the diphthongs, and harder combinations.

Why truly> Sir, when I consider the vast circle of sciences — it is not
here worth while to trouble you with the distinction between learning
and science — which a man must be understood to have made the tour of
in these days, before the world will be willing to concede to him the
title which you aspire to, I am almost disposed to reply to your inquiry
by a direct answer in the negative.

However, where all cannot be compassed, a great deal that is truly
valuable may be accomplished. I am unwilling to throw out any
remarks that should have a tendency to damp a hopeful genius ; but I
must not in fairness conceal from you, that you have much to do. The
consciousness of difficulty is sometimes a spur to exertion. Rome — or
rather, my dear Sir, to borrow an illustration from a place, as yet more
familiar to you — Rumford — Rumford — was not built in a day.

Your mind as yet, give me leave to tell you, is in the state of a sheet
of white paper. We must not blot or blur it over too hastily. Or, to
use an opposite simile, it is like a piece of parchment all be-scrawled and
be-scribbled over with characters of no sense or import, which we must
carefully erase and remove, before we can make way for the authentic
characters or impresses, which are to be substituted in their stead by the
corrective hand of science.

Your mind, my dear Sir, again resembles that same parchment, which
we will suppose a little hardened by time and disuse. We may apply
the characters, but are we sure that the ink will sink ?

You are in the condition of a traveller, that has all his journey to
begin. And again, you are worse off than the traveller which I have
supposed — for you have already lost your way.

You have much to learn, which you have never been taught ; and
more, I fear, to unlearn, which you have been taught erroneously. You
have hitherto, I dare say, imagined, that the sun moves round the earth.
When you shall have mastered the true solar system, you will have quite
a diiFerent theory upon that point, I assure you. I mention but this
instance. Your own experience, as knowledge advances, will furnish
you with many parallels.

I can scarcely approve of the intention, which Mr. Grierson informs


me you had contemplated, of entering yourself at a common seminary,
and working your way up from the lower to the higher forms with the
children. I see more to admire in the modesty, than in the expediency,
of such a resolution. I own I cannot reconcile myself to the spectacle of
a gentleman at your time of life seated, as must be your case at first,
below a Tyro of four or five — for at that early age the rudiments of
education usually commence in this country. I doubt whether more
might not be lost in the point of fitness, than would be gained in the
advantages which you propose to yourself by this scheme.

You say, you stand in need of emulation ; that this incitement is no
where to be had but at a public school ; that you should be more sensible
of your progress by comparing it mth the daily progress of those
around you. But have you considered the nature of emulation ; and
how it is sustained at those tender years, which you would have to come
in competition with.'* I am afraid you are dreaming of academic
prizes and distinctions. Alas! in the university, for which you are
preparing, the highest medal would be a silver penny, and you must
graduate in nuts and oranges.

I know that Peter, the great Czar — or Emperor — of Muscovy,
submitted himself to the discipline of a dock-yard at Deptford, that he
might learn, and convey to his countrymen, the noble art of ship-
building. You are old enough to remember him, or at least the talk
about him. I call to mind also other great princes, who, to instruct
themselves in the theory and practice of war, and set an example of
subordination to their subjects, have condescended to enrol themselves,
as private soldiers ; and, passing through the successive ranks of corporal,
quarter-master, and the rest, have served their way up to the station, at'
which most princes are willing enough to set out — of General and
Commander-in-Cliief over their own forces. But — ^besides that there is
oftentimes great sham and pretence in their show of mock humility —
the competition which they stooped to was with their co-evals, however
inferior to them in birth. Between ages so very disparate, as those
which you contemplate, I fear there can no salutary emulation subsist.

Again, in the other alternative, could you submit to the ordinary
reproofs and discipline of a day-school ? Could you bear to be corrected
for your faults ? Or how would it look to see you put to stand, as must
be the case sometimes, in a comer ?

I am afraid the idea of a public school in your circumstances must be
given up.

But is it impossible, my dear Sir, to find some person of your own age
— if of the other sex, the more agreeable perhaps — whose information,
like your own, has rather lagged behind their years, who should be
willing to set out from the same point with yourself, to undergo the
same tasks— thus at once inciting and sweetening each other's labours
in a sort of friendly rivalryl Such a one, I think, it wouM'not be

Jan. 1825. H


difficult to find in some of the western parts of this island^about
Dartmoor for instance.

Or what if, from your own estate — that estate which, unexpectedly-
acquired so late in life, has inspired into yoii this generous thirst after
knowledge, you were to select some elderly peasant, that might best be
spared from the land ; to come and begin his education with you, that
you might till, as it were, your minds together — one, whose heavier
progress might invite, without a fear of discouraging, your emulation ?
We might then see — starting from an equal post — the difference of the
clownish and the gentle blood.

A private education then, or such a one as I have been describing,
being determined on, we must in the next place look out for a preceptor :
— for it will be some time before either of you, left to yourselves, will
be able to assist the other to any great purpose in his studies.

And now, my dear Sir, if in describing such a tutor as I have imagined
for you, I use a style a little above the familiar one in which I have
hitherto chosen to address you, the nature of the subject must be my
apology. Difficile est de scientiis inscienter loqui, which is as much as to
say that " in treating of scientific matters it is difficult to avoid the use
of scientific terms." But I shall endeavour to be as plain as possible. I
am not going to present you with the ideal of a pedagogue, as it may
exist in my fancy, or has possibly been realized in the persons of
Buchanan and Busby. Something less than perfection will serve our
turn. The scheme which I propose in this first or introductory letter
has reference to the first four or five years of your education only ; and
in enumerating the qualifications of him that should undertake the
direction of your studies, I shall rather point out the minimum, or least,
that I shall require of him, than trouble you in the search of attainments
neither common nor necessary to our immediate purpose.

He should be a man of deep and extensive knowledge. So much at
least is indispensable. Something older than yourself, I could wish him,
because years add reverence.

To his age and great learning, he should be blest with a temper and
a patience, willing to accommodate itself to the imperfections of the
slowest and meanest capacities. Such a one in former days Mr. Hartlib
appears to have been, and such in our days I take Mr. Grierson to be ;
but our friend, you know, unhappily has other engagements. I do not
demand a consummate grammarian ; but he must be a thorough master of
vernacular orthography, with an insight into the accentualities and
punctualities of modern Saxon, or English. He must be competently
instructed (or how shall he instruct you ?) in the tetralogy, or four first
rules, upon which not only arithmetic, but geometry, and the pure
mathematics themselves, are grounded. I do not require that he should
have measured the globe with Cook, or Ortelius, but it is desirable that
he should have a general knowledge (I do not mean a very nice or


pedantic one) of the great division of the earth into four parts, so as to
teach you readil}'' to name the quarters. He must have a genius capable
in some degree of soaring to the upper element, to deduce from thence
the not much dissimilar computation of the cardinal points, or hinges,
upon which those invisible phenomena, which naturalists agree to term
w'nids, do perpetually shift and turn. He must instruct you, in imitation
of the old Orphic fragments (the mention of which has possibly escaped
you), in numeric and harmonious responses, to deliver the number of solar
revolutions, within which each of the twelve periods, into which the
Anmis Vulgaris J or common year, is divided, doth usually complete and
terminate itself. The intercalaries, and other subtle problems, he will
do well to omit, till riper years, and course of study, shall have rendered
you more capable thereof. He must be capable of embracing all history,,
so as from the countless myriads of individual men, who have peopled
this globe of earth— ^/ar it is a globe — ^by comparison of their respective
births, lives, deaths, fortunes, conduct, prowess, &c. to pronounce, and
teach you to pronounce, dogmatically and catechetically, who was the
richest, who was the strongest, who was the wisest, who was the
meekest man, that ever lived ; to the facilitation of which solution, you
will readily conceive, a smattering of biography would in no incon-
siderable degree conduce. Leaving the dialects of men (in one of which
I shall take leave to suppose you by tliis time at least superficially
instituted), you wall learn to ascend with him to the contemplation of
that unarticulated language, which was before the written tongue ; and,
with the aid of the elder Phrygian or -^sopic key, to interpret the sounds
by which the animal tribes communicate their minds — evolving moral
instruction with delight from the dialogue of cocks, dogs, and foxes. Or
marrying theology with verse, from whose mixture a beautiful and
healthy offspring may be expected, in your own native accents (but
purified) you will keep time together to the profound harpings of the
more modern or Wattsian hymnics.

Thus far I have ventured to conduct you to a " hill-side, whence you
may discern the right path of a virtuous and noble education ; laborious
indeed at the first ascent, but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly
prospects and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus
was not more charming."*

With my best respects to Mr. Grierson, when you see him,

I remain, dear Sir, your obedient servant,

April 1, 1823. Elia.

* Milton's Tractate on Education, addressed to Mr. HartUb.





Hark'ee, Mr. Editor. A word in your ear. They tell me you are
going to put me in print — in print. Sir. To publish my life. What is
my life to you. Sir ? What is it to you whether I ever lived at
all ? My life is a very good life. Sir. I am insured at the Pelican,
Sir. I am threescore years and six — six; mark me. Sir: but I can
play Polonius, which, I believe, few of your corre — correspondents
can do. Sir. I suspect tricks. Sir : I smell a rat ; I do, I do. You

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 28 of 33)