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

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ever Aquinas left, and full as useful ! My mantle I bequeath among ye.



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN.— No. II.

A Clerk I was in London gay. — O'Keefe.

A Fortnight has passed since the date of my first communication.
At that period I was approaching to tranquillity, but had not reached it.
I boasted of a calm indeed, but it was comparative only. Something of
the first flutter was left ; an unsettling sense of novelty ; the dazzle to
weak eyes of unaccustomed light. I missed my old chains, forsooth, as
if they had been some necessary part of my apparel. I was a poor Car-
thusian, from strict cellular discipline suddenly by some revolution re-
turned upon the world. I am now as if I had never been other than my
own master. It is natural to me to go where I please, to do what I
please. I find myself at eleven o'clock in the day in Bond-street, and it
seems to me that I have been sauntering there at that very hour for
years past. I digress into Soho, to explore a book-staU. Methinks I
have been thirty years a collector. There is nothing strange nor new in
it. I find myself before a fine picture in a morning. Was it ever other-
wise? What is become of Fish-street Hill? Where is Fenchurch-
street ? Stones of old Mincing-lane which I have worn with my daily
pilgrimage for six and thirty years, to the footsteps of what toil-worn
clerk are your everlasting flints now vocal? I indent the gaver



72 iTtt^ SUPERANNUATED MAN- CMuy,

flags of Pall Mall. It is Change time, and I am strangely among the
Elgin marbles. It was no hyperbole when I ventured to compare the
change in my condition to a passing into another world. Time stands
still in a manner to me. I have lost all distinction of season. I do not
know the day of the week, or of the month. Each day used to be indi-
vidually felt by me in its reference to the foreign post days ; in its dis-
tance from, or propinquity to, the next Sunday. I had my Wednesday
feelings, my Saturday nights' sensations. The genius of each day was
upon me distinctly during the whole of it, affecting my appetite, spirits,
&c. The phantom of the next day, with the dreary five to follow, sate
as a load upon my poor Sabbath recreations. What charm has washed
that Ethiop white ? What is gone of Black Monday ? All days are
the same. Sunday itself — ^that unfortunate failure of a holyday as it too
often proved, what with my sense of its fugitiveness, and over-care to
get the greatest quantity of pleasure out of it — is melted down into a
week day. I can spare to go to church now, without grudging the huge
cantle, which it used to seem to cut out of the holyday. I have Time
for every thing. I can visit a sick friend. I can interrupt the man of
much occupation when he is busiest. I can insult over him with an
invitation to take a day's pleasure with me to Windsor this fine May-
morning. It is Lucretian pleasure to behold the poor drudges, whom I
have left behind in the world, carking and cai'ing ; like horses in a mill,
drudging on in the same eternal round — and what is it all for ? I recite
those verses of Cowley, which so mightily agree with my constitution.

Business ! the frivolous pretence

Of human lusts to shake off innocence :

Business ! the grave impertinence :

Business ! the thing which I of all things hate :

Business ! the contradiction of my fate.

Or I repeat my own lines, written in my Clerk state ;

Who first invented work — and bound the free

And holy day-rejoicing spirit down

To the ever-haunting importunity

Of business, in the green fields, and the town —

To plough, loom, anvil^ spade — and oh ! most sad,

To this dry drudgery of the desk's dead wood ?

Who but the Being i^nblest, alien from good,

Sabbathless Satan ! he who his unglad

Task ever plies 'mid rotatory burnings.

That round and round incalculably reel —

For wrath divine hath made him like a wheel —

In that red realm firom whence are no returnings ;

Where toiling, and turmoiling, ever and aye

He, and his thoughts, keep pensive worky-day !

O this divine Leisure! — Reader, if thou art furnished with the €>ii^
Series of the London, turn incontinently to the third; volume (l>age o67)v
and, you will see my present condition there touched in a" Wish '■ l^ a



daintier pen than I can pretend to. I subscribe to that Sonnet tolo corde^
A man can never have too much Time to himself, nor too little to do. Had I
a little son, I would christen him Nothing-to-do; he should do nothing.
Man, I verily believe, is out of his element as long as he is operative. I
am altogether for the life contemplative. Will no kindly eartliquake
come and swallovsr up those accursed cotton mills ? Take me that lumber
of a desk there, and bowl it down

As low as to the fiends.

I am no longer J s D n. Clerk to the Firm of, &c. I am

Retired Leisure. I am to be met with in trim gardens. I am already
come to be known by my vacant face and careless gesture, perambulating
at no fixed pace, nor with any settled purpose. I walk about ; not to
and from. They tell me, a certain C2im dignitate air, that has been
buried so long with my other good parts, has begun to shoot forth in my
person. I grow into gentility perceptibly. When I take up a news-
paper, it is to read the state of the opera. Opus operalum est. I have
done all that I came into this world to da I have worked task work,
and have the rest of the day to myself. J, I).

Bcaiifort-tcrracc^ Regent-street ;
Late of Iromm}if!^cr''s-court^ Fenchurch'Strect.



1825.] THE WEDDING. . ^,,, ^ tl%-




THE WEDDING.

I DO not know when I have been better pleased than at being invited
last week to be present at the wedding of a friend's daughter. I like to
make one at these ceremonies, which to us old people give back our
youth in a manner, and restore our gayest season, in the remembrance
of our own success, or the regrets, scarcely less tender, of our own
youthful disappointments, in this point of a settlement. On these occa-
sions I am sure to be in good humour for a week or two after, and enjoy
a reflected honey-moon. Being without a family, I am flattered with
these temporary adoptions into a friend's family ; I feel a sort of cousin-
hood, or uncleship, for the season; I am inducted into degrees of
affinity ; and, in the participated socialities of the little community, I
lay down for a brief while my solitary bachelorship. I carry this humour
so far, that I take it unkindly to be left out, even when a funeral is
going on in the house of a dear friend. But to my subject.

The union itself had been long settled, but its celebration had been
hitherto deferred, to an almost unreasonable state of suspense in the
lovers, by some in\dncible prejudices which the bride's father had unhap-
pily contracted upon the subject of the too early marriages of females.
He has been lecturing any time these five years — for to that length the
courtship has been protracted — upon the propriety of putting off the
solemnity, till the lady should have completed her five and twentieth
year. We all began to be afraid that a suit, which as yet had abated of
none of its ardours, might at last be lingered on, till passion had time to
cool, and love go out in the experiment. But a little wheedling on the
part of his wife, who was by no means a party to these overstrained no-
tions, joined to some serious expostulations on that of his friends, who,
from the growing infirmities of the old gentleman, could not promise
ourselves many years' enjoyment of his company, and were anxious to
bring matters to a conclusion during his life time, at length prevailed ;

and on Monday last the daughter of my old friend. Admiral ,

having attained the womanly age of nineteen, was conducted to the
church by her pleasant cousin J , who told some few years older.

Before the youthful part of my female readers express their indigna-
tion at the abominable loss of time occasioned to the lovers by the pre-
posterous notions of my old friend, they will do well to consider the
reluctance which a fond parent naturally feels at parting with his child.
To this unwillingness, I believe, in most cases may be traced the differ-
ence of opinion on this point between child and parent, whatever pre-
tences of interest or prudence may be held out to cover it. The liard-
heartedness of fathers is a fine theme for romance-Avriters, a sure and
moving topic ; but is thcve. not something untender, to say no more of



218 THE WEDDING, [June,

it, in the hurry which a beloved child is sometimes in to tear herself
from the parental stock, and commit herself to strange graftings ? The
case is heightened where the lady, as in the present instance, happens to
be an only child. I do not understand these matters experimentally,
but I can make a shrewd guess at the wounded pride of a parent upon
these occasions. It is no new observation, I believe, that a lover in most
cases has no rival so much to be feared as the father. Certainly there is
a jealousy in unparallel subjects, which is Kttle less heart-rending than
the passion which we more strictly christen by that name. Mothers*
scruples are more easily got over ; for this reason, I suppose, that the
protection transferred to a husband is less a derogation and a loss to
their authority than to the paternal. Mothers, besides, have a trembling
foresight, which paints the inconveniences (impossible to be conceived in
the same degree by the other parent) of a life of forlorn celibacy, which
the refusal of a tolerable match may entail upon their child. Mothers*
instinct is a surer guide here, than the cold reasonings of a father on
such a topic. To this instinct may be imputed, and by it alone may be
excused, the unbeseeming artifices, by which some wives push on the
matrimonial projects of their daughters, which the husband, however
approving, shall entertain with comparative indifference. A little shame-
lessness on this head is pardonable. With this explanation, forwardness
becomes a grace, and maternal importunity receives the name of a virtue.
But the parson stays, while I preposterously assume his office ; I am
preaching, while the bride is on the threshold.

Nor let any of my female readers suppose that the sage reflections
which have just escaped me have the obliquest tendency of appKcation
to the young lady, who, it will be seen, is about to venture upon a
change in her condition, at a mature and competent age, and not without
the fullest approbation of both parents. I only deprecate very hasty
marriages.

It had been fixed that the ceremony should be gone through at an
early hour, to give time for a little dejeune afterwards, to which a select
party of friends had been invited. We were in church a little before the
clock struck eight.

Nothing could be more judicious or graceful than the dress of the
bride-maids — the three charming Miss Foresters — on this morning. To
give the bride an opportunity of shining singly, they had come habited
all in green. I am ill at describing female apparel ; but, while she stood
at the altar in vestments white and candid as her thoughts, a sacrificial
whiteness, they assisted in robes, such as might have become Diana's
nymphs — Foresters indeed — as such who had not yet come to the reso-
lution of putting off cold virginity. These young maids, not being so
blest as to have a mother living, I am told, keep single for their father's
sake, and live all together so happy with their remaining parent, that
the hearts of their lovers are even broken with the prospect (so inaus-



1825.] THE WEDDING. 219

picious to their hopes) of such uninterrupted and provoking home-com-
fort. Gallant girls ! each a victim worthy of Iphigenia !

I do not know what husiness I have to he present in solemn places. I
cannot divest me of an unseasonable disposition to levity upon the most
awful occasions. I was never cut out for a public functionary. Cere-
mony and I have long shaken hands ; but I could not resist the impor-
tunities of the young lady's father, whose gout unhappily confined him
at home, to act as parent on this occasion, and give away the hride. Some-
thins: ludicrous occurred to me at this most serious of all moments — a
sense of my unfitness to have the disposal, even in imagination, of the
sweet young creature beside me. I fear I was betrayed to some light-
ness, for the awful eye of the parson— and the rector's eye of Saint
Mildred's in the Poultry is no trifle of a rebuke — was upon me in an
instant, souring my incipient jest to the tristful severities of a funeral.

This was the only misbehaviour which I can plead to upon this solemn
occasion, unless what was objected to me after the ceremony by one of
the handsome Miss Turners, be accounted a solecism. She was pleased
to say that she had never seen a gentleman before me give away a bride
in black. Now black has been my ordinary apparel so long — indeed I
take it to be the proper costume of an author — the stage sanctions it —
that to have appeared in some lighter colours — a pea-green coat, for in-
stance, like the bridegroom's — would have raised more mirth at my
expense, than the anomaly had created censure. But I could perceive
that the bride's mother, and some elderly ladies present (God bless them !),
would have been well content, if \ had come in any other colour than
that. But I got over the omen by a lucky apologue, which I remem-
bered out of Pilpay, or some Indian author, of all the birds being
invited to the linnets' wedding, at which, when all the rest came in their
gayest feathers, the raven alone apologised for his cloak, because " he
'had no other." This tolerably reconciled the elders. But with the
young people all was merriment, and shakings of hands, and congra-
tulations, and kissing away the bride's tears, and kissings from her in
return, till a young lady, who assumed some experience in these matters,
having worn the nuptial bands some four or five weeks longer than her
friend, rescued her, archly observing, with half an eye upon the bride-
groom, that at this rate she would have " none left."

My friend the Admiral was in fine wig and buckle on this occasion — a
striking contrast to his usual neglect of personal appearance. He did
not once shove up his borrowed locks [his custom ever at his morning
studies) to betray the few grey stragglers of his own beneath them. He
wore an aspect of -thoughtful satisfaction. I trembled for the hour,'
which at length approached, when after a protracted breakfast of three
hours — if stores of cold fowls, tongues, hams, botargoes, dried fruits,
wines, cordials, &c. can deserve so meagre an appellation — the coach was
announced, which was come to carry off the bride and bridegroom for a
season, as custom has sensibly ordained, into the country ; upon which



220 THE WEDDING. [June,

design, wishing them a felicitous journey, let us return to the assembled
guests.

As when a well- graced actor leaves the stage.

The eyes of men

Are idly bent on him that enters next.

So idly did we bend our eyes upon one another, when the chief per-
formers in the morning's pageant had vanished. None told his tale.
None sipt her glass. The poor Admiral made an effort — it was not
much. I had anticipated so far. Even the infinity of full satisfaction,
that had betrayed itself through the prim looks and quiet deportment
of his lady, began to wane into something of misgiving. No one knew
whether to take their leaves or stay. We seemed assembled upon a silly
occasion. In this crisis, betwixt tarrying and departure, I must do jus-
tice to a foolish talent of mine, which had otherwise like to have brought
me into disgrace in the fore-part of the day ; I mean, a power, in any
emergency, of thinking and giving vent to all manner of strange non-
sense. In this awkward dilemma I found it sovereign. I rattled off
some of my most excellent absurdities. All were willing to be relieved,
at any expense of reason, from the pressure of the intolerable vacuum
which had succeeded to the morning bustle. By this means I was for-
tunate in keeping together the better part of the company to a late
hour ; and a rubber of whist (the Admiral's favourite game) with some
rare strokes of chance as well as skill, which came opportunely on his
side — lengthened out till midnight — dismissed the old gentleman at last
to his bed with comparatively easy spirits.



I have been at my old friend's various times since. I do not know a
visiting place where every guest is so perfectly at his ease ; no where,
where harmony is so strangely the result of confusion. Every body is
at cross purposes, yet the effect is so much better than uniformity. Con-
tradictory orders ; servants pulling one way ; master and mistress driving
some other, yet both diverse ; visitors huddled up in corners ; chairs un-
symmetrised ; candles disposed by chance ; meals at odd hours, tea and
supper at once, or the latter preceding the former; the host and the
guest conferring, yet each upon a different topic, each understanding
liimself, and neither trying to understand or hear the other ; draughts
and politics, chess and political economy, cards and conversation on nau-
tical matters, going on at once, without the hope, or indeed the wish, of
distinguishing them, make it altogether the most perfect concordia
discors you shall meet with. Yet somehow the old house is not quite
what it should be. The Admiral still enjoys his pipe, but he has no
Miss Emily to fill it for him. The instrument stands where it stood,
but she is gone, whose delicate touch could sometimes for a short minute
appease the warring elements. He has learnt, as Marvel expresses it,
to " make his destiny his choice." He bears bravely up, but he does not
come out with his flashes of wild wit so thick as formerly. His sea songs



seldomer esciipe him. His wife, too, looks as if she wanted some younger
body to scold and set to rights. We all miss a junior presence. It is
wonderful how one young maiden freshens up, and keeps green, the pa-
ternal roof. Old and young seem to have an interest in her, so long as
she is not absolutely disposed of. The youthfulness of the house is
flown. Emily is married. Elia.




THE CONVALESCENT.

A FKETTY severe fit of indisposition which, under the name of a
nervous fever^ has made a prisoner of me for some weeks past, and is
but slowly leaving me, has reduced me to an incapacity of reflecting
upon any topic foreign to itself. Expect no healthy conclusions from
me this month, reader ; I can offer you only sick men's dreams.

And truly the whole state of sickness is such : for what else is it but
a magnificent dream for a man to lie a-bed, and draw day-light curtains
about him ; and, shutting out the sun, to induce a total oblivion of all
the works which are going on under it ? To become insensible to all
the operations of life, except the beatings of one feeble pulse .'*

If there be a regal solitude, it is a sick bed. How the patient lords it
there ! what caprices he acts without controul ! how king-like he sways
his pillow — tumbling, and tossing, and shifting, and raising, and
lowering, and thumping, and flatting, and moulding it, to the ever-
varying requisitions of his throbbing temples.

He changes sides oftener than a politician. Now he lies full length,

♦ In this instance no other object was attained by depriving the musical public of
their amusement on the Tuesday, for after all the new Opera was not produced on the
following Saturday.



1825-3 THE CONVALESCENT. 377

then half-length, obliquely, transversely, head and feet quite across the
bed ; and none accuses him of tergiversation. Within the four curtains
he is absolute. They are his Mare Clausum.

How sickness enlarges the dimensions of a man's self to himself ! he is
his own exclusive object. Supreme selfishness is inculcated upon him as
his only duty. 'Tis the Two Tables of the Law to him. He has
nothing to think of but how to get well. What passes out of doors, or
within them, so he hear not the jarring of them, affects him not.

A little while ago he was greatly concerned in the event of a law-
suit, which was to be the making or the marring of his dearest friend.
He was to be seen trudging about upon this man's errand to fifty quar-
ters of the town at once, jogging this witness, refreshing that solicitor.
The cause was to come on yesterday. He is absolutely as indifferent to
the decision, as if it were a question to be tried at Pekin. Peradventure
from some whispering, going on about the house, not intended for his
hearing, he picks up enough to make him understand, that things went
cross-grained in the Court yesterday, and his friend is ruined. But the
word " friend," and the word " ruin," disturb him no more than so
much jargon. He is not to think of any thing but how to get better.

What a world of foreign cares are merged in that absorbing con-
sideration !

He has put on the strong armour of sickness, he is wrapt in the
callous hide of suffering ; he keeps his sjrmpathy, like some curious
vintage under trusty lock and key, for his own use only.

He lies pitying himself, honing and moaning to himself ; he yeameth
over himself ; his bowels are even melted within him, to think what he
suffers ; he is not ashamed to weep over himself.

He is for ever plotting how to do some good to himself; studying
little stratagems, and artificial alleviations.

He makes the most of himself; dividing himself, by an allowable
fiction, into as many distinct individuals, as he hath sore and sorrowing
members. Sometimes he meditates — as of a thing apart from him —
upon his poor aching head, and that duU pain which, dozing or waking,
lay in it all the past night like a log, or palpable substance of pain, not
to be removed without opening the very scull, as it seemed, to take it
thence. Or he pities his long, clammy, attenuated fingers. He com-
passionates himself all over ; and his bed is a very discipline of humanity,
and tender heart.

He is his own sympathiser, and instinctively feels that none can SQ
well perform that office for him. He cares for few spectators to his
tragedy. Only that punctual face of the old nurse pleases him, that
announces his broths, and his cordials. He likes it because it is so
unmoved, and because he can pour forth his feverish ejaculations before
it as unreservedly as to his bed-post.

To the world's business he is dead. He understands not what the
callings and occupations of mortals are ; only he has a glimmering




37^ THB CONVALESCENT. C^July,

conceit of some such thing, when the doctor makes his daily call: and
even in the lines of that busy face he reads no multiplicity of patients,
but solely conceives of himself as the sick man. To what other uneasy
couch the good man is hastening, when he slips out of his chamber^
folding up his thin douceur so carefully for fear of rustling — is no spe-
culation which he can at present entertain. He thinks only of the
regular return of the same phenomenon at the same hour to-morrow.

Household rumours touch him not. Some faint murmur, indicative
of life going on within the house, soothes him, while he knows not
distinctly what it is. He is not to know any thing, not to think of any
thing. Servants gliding up or down the distant staircase, treading as
upon velvet, gently keep his ear awake, so long as he troubles not himself
further than with some feeble guess at their errands. Exacter know-
ledge would be a burthen to him : he can just endure the pressure of
conjecture. He opens his eye faintly at the dull stroke of the muffled
knocker, and closes it again without asking " who was it ? " He is
flattered by a general notion that inquiries are making after him, but
he cares not to know the name of the inquirer. In the general stillness,
and awful hush of the house, he lies in state, and feels his sovereignty.

To be sick is to enjoy monarchal prerogatives. Compare the silent
tread, and quiet ministry, almost by the eye only, with which he is
served — with the careless demeanour, the unceremonious goings in and
out (slapping of doors, or leaving of them open) of the very same
attendants, when he is getting a little better — and you will confess, that
from the bed of sickness (throne let me rather call it) to the elbow chair
of convalescence, is a fall from dignity, amounting to a deposition.

How convalescence shrinks a man back to his pristine stature ! wh^e
is now the space, which he occupied so lately, in his own, in the family's
eye ? The scene of his regalities, his sick room, which was his presence



Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 31 of 33)