Charles Lamb.

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

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chamber, where he lay and acted his despotic fancies — how is it reduced
to a common bed-room ! The trimness of the very bed has something
petty and unmeaning about it* It is made every day. How unlike to
that wavy, many-furrowed, oceanic surface, which it presented so short
a time since, when to make it was a service not to be thought of at
oftener than three or four day revolutions, when the patient was with
pain and grief to be lifted for a little while out of it, to submit to the
encroachments of unwelcome neatness, and decencies which his shaken
frame deprecated ; then to be lifted into it again, for another three or
four days' respite, to flounder it out of shape again, while every fresh
furrow was a historical record of some shifting posture, some uneasy
turning, some seeking for a little ease ; and the shrunken skin scarce
told a truer story than the crumpled coverlid.

Hushed are those mysterious sighs — ^those groans — so much more
awful, while we knew not from what caverns of vast hidden suffering
they proceeded. The Lemean pangs are quenched. The riddle of
sickness is solved ; and Philoctetes is become an ordinary personage.

1825.]] TO-DAY IN IRELAND. 579

Perhaps some relic of the sick man's dream of greatness survives in
the still lingering visitations of the medical attendant. But how is he
too changed with every thing else ! Can this be he — this man of news—
of chat — of anecdote — of every thing but physic — can this be he, who so
lately came between the patient and his cruel enemy, as on some solemn
embassy from Nature, erecting herself into a high mediating party.-* —
Pshaw ! 'tis some old woman.

Farewell with him all that made sickness pompous — the rpell that
hushed the household — the desart-like stillness, felt throughout its
inmost chambers — the mute attendance — the inquiry by looks — the still
softer delicacies of self-attention — the sole and single eye of distemper
alonely fixed upon itself — world-thoughts excluded — the man a world
unto himself — his own theatre —

What a speck is he dwindled into !

In this flat swamp of convalescence, left by the ebb of sickness, yet far
enough from the terra firma of established health, your note, dear Editor,
reached me, requesting — an article. In Articulo Mortis, thought I ; but
it is something hard — and the quibble, wretched as it was, relieved me.
The summons, unseasonable as it appeared, seemed to link me on again
to the petty businesses of life, which I. had lost sight of; a gentle call to
activity, however trivial ; a wholesome weaning from that preposterous
dream of self-absorption — the puffy state of sickness — in which I confess
to have lain so long, insensible to the magazines, and monarchies, of the
world alike ; to its laws, and to its literature. The hypochondriac flatus
is subsiding ; the acres, which in imagination I had spread over — for the
sick man swells in the sole contemplation of his single sufierings, till he
becomes a Tityus to himself — are wasting to a span ; and for the giant
of self-importance, which I was so lately, you have me once again in my
natural pretensions — the lean and meagre figure of your insignificant
monthly contributor, Elia.


A play is said to be well or ill acted in proportion to the scenical
illusion produced. Whether such illusion can in any case be perfect, is
not the question. The nearest approach to it, we are told, is, when the
actor appears wholly unconscious of the presence of spectators. In tra-
gedy — in all which is to aftect the feelings — this undivided attention to
his stage business, seems indispensable. Yet it is, in fact, dispensed with
every day by our cleverest tragedians ; and, while these references to an
audience, in the shape of rant or sentiment, are not too frequent or pal-
pable, a sufficient quantity of illusion for the purposes of dramatic inte-
rest may be said to be produced in spite of them. But, tragedy
apart, it may be inquired whether in certain characters in comedy,
'especially those which are a little extravagant, or which involve some
notion repugnant to the moral sense, it is not a proof of the highest
skill in the comedian when, without absolutely api>ealing to an audience,
he keeps up a tacit understanding with them ; and makes them, uncon-
sciously to themselves, a party in the scene. The utmost nicety is
required in the mode of doing this ; but we speak only of the great
artists in the profession.

The most mortifying infirmity in human nature, to feel in ourselves,
or to contemplate in another is, perhaps, cowardice. To see a coward
done to the life upon a stage would produce any thing but mirth. Yet
we most of us rememember Jack Bannister's cowards. Could any thing
be more agreeable, more pleasant ? We loved the rogues. How was


■-M- 1

this effected but by the exquisite aft of the actor in a perpetual sub-in-
sinuation to us the spectators, even in the extremity of the shaking fit,
that he was not half such a coward as we took him for ? — We saw all
the common symptoms of the malady upon him ; the quivering lip, the
cowering knees, the teeth chattering ; and could have sworn " that man
was frightened." But we forgot all the while — or kept it almost a secret
to ourselves — that he never once lost his self-possession; that he let out
by a thousand droll looks and gestures — meant at us, and not at all
supposed to be visible to his fellows in the scene, that his confidence
in his own resources had never once deserted him. Was this a genuine
picture of a coward ? or not rather a likeness, which the clever artist
contrived to palm upon us instead of an original _; while we secretly con-
nived at the delusion for the purpose of greater pleasure, than a more
genuine counterfeiting of the imbecility, helplessness, and utter self-
desertion, which we know to be concomitants of cowardice in real
life, could have given us ?

Why are misers so hateful in the world, and so endurable on the stage,
but because the skilful actor by a sort of sub-reference, rather than direct
appeal to us, disarms the character of a great deal of its odiousness, by
seeming to engage our compassion for the insecure tenure by which he
holds his money bags and parchments ? By this subtle vent half of the
hatefulness of the character — the self-closeness with which in real life
it coils itself up from the sympathies of men — evaporates. The miser
becomes sympathetic ; i. e. is no genuine miser. Here again a diverting
likeness is substituted for a very disagreeable reality. 'S^'

Spleen, irritability — the pitiable infirmities of old men, which pro-
duce only pain to behold in the realities, counterfeited upon a stage,
divert not altogether for the comic appendages to them, but in part
from an inner conviction that they are being acted before us ; that a ^^
likeness only is going on, and not the thing itself. They please by being '^
done under the life, or beside it ; not to the life. When Gatty acts an
old man, is he angry indeed.? or only a pleasant counterfeit, just
enough of a likeness to recognise, without pressing upon us the
uneasy sense of reality ?

Comedians, paradoxical as it may seem, may be too natural. It was
the case with a late actor. Nothing could be more earnest or true than ^ ^
the manner of Mr. Emery ; this told excellently in his Tyke, and cha-
racters of a tragic cast. But when he carried the same rigid exclusive-
ness of attention to the stage business, and wilful blindness and oblivion
of every thing before the curtain into his comedy, it produced a harsh
and dissonant effect. He was out of keeping with the rest of the Per-
sonoe Dramatis. There was as little link between him and them as
betwixt himself and the audience. He was a third estate, dry, repulsive,
and unsocial to all. Individually considered, his execution was masterly.
..But comedy is not this unbending thing ; for this reason, that the same

.MattMumti I \^i^aA>meat^^»k*M»A!^.

'i,m0tttt,:t'iiiiA^.jf"^t^ s^j,.^ifA^2 j.^^ii


degree of credibility is not required of it as to serious scenes. The degrees
of credibility demanded to the two things may be illustrated by the
different sort of truth which we expect when a man tells us a mournful
or a merry story. If we suspect the former of falsehood in any one
tittle, we reject it altogether. Our tears refuse to flow at a suspected
imposition. But the teller of a mirthful tale has latitude allowed him.
We artf content with less than absolute truth. 'Tis the same with dra-
matic illusion. We confess we love in comedy to see an audience na-
turalized behind the scenes, taken in into the interest of the drama,
welcomed as by-standers however. There is something ungracious in a
comic actor holding himself aloof from all participation or concern
with those who are come diverted by him. Macbeth must see the
dagger, and no ear but his own be told of it ; but an old fool in farce
may think he sees sojnetkitig, and by conscious words and looks express
it, as plainly as he can speak, to pit, box, and gallery. When an im-
pertinent in tragedy, an Osric for instance, breaks in upon the serious
passions of the scene, we approve of the contempt with which he is
treated. But when the pleasant impertinent of comedy, in a piece purely
meant to give delight, and raise mirth out of whimsical perplexities,
worries the studious man with taking up his leisure, or making his house
his home, the same sort of contempt expressed (however natural) would
destroy the balance of delight in the spectators. To make the intrusion
comic, the actor who plays the annoyed man must a little desert nature ;
he must, in short, be thinking of the audience, and express only so much
dissatisfaction and peevishness as is consistent with the pleasure of
comedy. In other words, his perplexity must seem half put on. If he
repel the intruder with the sober set face of a man in earnest, and more
especially if he deliver his expostulations in a tone, which in the world
must necessarily provoke a duel : his real-life manner will destroy the
whimsical and purely dramatic existence of the other character (which,
to render it comic demands an antagonist comicality on the part of the
character opposed to it), and convert what was meant for mirth, rather
than belief, into a downright piece of impertinence indeed, which would
raise no diversion in us, but rather stir pain, to see inflicted in earnest
upon any worthy person. A very judicious actor (in most of his parts)
seems to have fallen into an error of this sort in his playing with Mr.
Wrench in the farce of Free and Easy.

Many instances would be tedious; these may suffice to show that
comic acting at least does not always demand from the performer that
strict abstraction from all reference to an audience, which is exacted of
it ; but that in some cases a sort of compromise may take place, and all
the purposes of dramatic delight be attained by a judicious understanding,
not too openly announced, between the ladies and gentlemen — on both

sides of the curtain.



I AM the most unfortunate of an unfortunate race. The most
wretched of the wretched who have no rest for the soles of their feet. —
Mistake me not — I am no Jew, — would I were but the meanest amongst
the Hebrews ! — ^but my unhappy despised generation labours under a
sterner, though a similar, curse. We are a proverb and a bye-word —
a mark for derision and scorn, even to the vilest of those scattered.
Israelites. We are sold into tenfold bondage and persecution. We are
delivered over to slavery and to poverty — we are visited with numberless

stripes. No, tender-hearted Man of Bramber ! we are not what thy

sparkling eyes would seem to anticipate, — we are, alas ! no negroes, —
it were a merciful fate to us to be but Blackamoors. They have their
snatches of rest and of joy even — their tabors, and pipes, and cymbals
— we have neither song nor dance — misery alone is our portion — pain is
in all our joints — and on our bosoms, and all about us, sits everlasting

shagreen -Dost thou not, by this time, guess at my tribe —

Do*t thou not suspect ray ears J


THE SORROWS OF * * ***. C^ept.

I am indeed, as thou discemest, an inferior horse — a Jerusalem colt ;
but why should I blush to " write myself down an ass ? " My ancestors
at least were free, and inhabited the desert ! — My forefather;-? wjerq
noble,— though it must rob our patriarchs of some of their immortal
bliss, if they can look down from their lower Indian heayen on their
abject posterity ! ^ ... .. ji i.,,:, ^hw

Fatie,— r know not whether kindly or unkindly,'-^ has cast my^lot*
upon the coast. I have heard, there are some of my race who draw in
sand-carts, or carry panniers, and are oppressed by those Coptic va^^
bonds, the Gypsies, — but I can conceive no oppressions greater thaii'
mine. — I can dream of no fardels more intolerable than those I bear ;
but think, rather with envy, of the passiveness of a pair of panniers,
compared to the living burdens which gall and fret me by their continual
efibrts. A sand-bag might be afflictive, from its weight — but it could'
not kick with it, like a young lady. I should fear no stripes — from a'
basket of apples. — A load of green peas could not tear my tongue by
tugging at my eternal bridle. All these are circumstances of my hourly
afflictions, — ^when I am toiling along the beach — the most abject, and
starved, and wretched of our sea-roamers — with one, or perhaps three,
of my master s cruel customers, sitting upon my painful back. It may
chance, for this ride, that I have been ravished from a hasty breakfast
— full of hunger and wind — having at six o'clock suckled a pair of
young ladies, in declines, — my own unweaned shaggy foal remaining
all the time unnourished (think of that, mothers ! ) in his sorry stable.
It is generally for some child or children that I am saddled thus early —
for urchins fresh from the brine, fuU of spirits and mischief,— would to

Providence it might please Mrs. D the Dipper, to suffocate the

shrieking imps in their noisy immersion ! The sands are allowed to be
excellent for a gallop — but for the sake of the clatter, these infant
demons prefer the shingles— and on this horrible footing I am raced up
and down, till I can barely lift a leg. A brawny Scotch nursery
wench, therefore, with sinews made all the more vigorous by the shrewd
bracing sea air, lays lustily on my haunches with a toy whip — no toy
however in her pitiless " red right hand : " and when she is tired of the
exercise, I am made over to the next comer. This is probably the
Master Buckle — and what hath my young cock, but a pair of artificial
spurs — or huge corking-pins stuck at his abominable heels. — No "if?:? ,'f
— gentle knight comes j7r;cA:iwg' o'er the plain. — ' >

I am now treated, of course, like a cockchafer — and endeavour ^x|jL
myself of my tormentor ; but the bruteling, to his infernal praise,, i^ ^^
excellent rider. At last the contrivance is espied, and my jockey draw^
off" by his considerate parent — not as the excellent Mr. Thomas DiijL'i
would advise, with a Christian lecture on his cruelty-— but, wij,h ^2^^^^^'-,,.^


1825.3 "^^^^ SORROWS OF ** ***. 97

monition on the danger to his neck. His mother too kisses him in a
frenzy of tenderness at his escape — and 1 am discharged with a cha-
racter of spitcfulness, and obstinacy, and all that is brutal in i^ature.

A young literary lady — blinded with tears, that make her stumble
over the shingles — here approaches, book in hand, and mounts me,—
with the charitable design, as I hope, of preserving me from a more
unkindly rider. And, indeed, when I halt from fatigue, she only
strikes me over the crupper, with a volume of Duke Christian of
Lunenburg — (a Christian tale to be used so ! ) — till her concern for the
binding of the novel compels her to desist. I am then parted with as
incorrigibly lazy, and am mounted in turn by all the stoutest women in .^

Margate, it being their fancy, as they declare, to ride leisurely. I

Are these things to be borne ?

Conceive me, simply, tottering under the bulk of Miss Wiggins,
(who some aver is " all soul," but to me she is all body,) or Miss
Huggins — the Prize Giantesses of England ; either of them sitting like
a personified lumbago on my loins ! — Am I a Hindoo tortoise — an
Atlas ? Sometimes, Heaven forgive me, I think I arn an ass to put
up with such miseries— dreaming under the impossibility of throwing off
my fardels — of ridding myself of myself — or in moments of less im-
patience, wishing myself to have been created at least an elephant, to
bear these young women in their " towers," as they call them, about
the coast.

Did they never read the fable of " Ass's Skin," under which covering
a princess was once hidden by the malice of fairy Fate ? If they have,
it might inspire them with a tender shrinking and misgiving, lest, under
our hapless shape, they should pcradventure be oppressing and crushing
some once dear relative or bosom-friend, some youthful intimate or
school-fellow, bound to them, perhaps, by a mutual vow of eternal
affection. Some of us, moreover, have titles which might deter a modest
mind from degrading us. Who would think of riding, much less of
flagellating the beautiful Duchess — or only a namesake of the beautiful
Duchess of Devonshire ? Who would think of wounding through our
sides, the tender nature of the Lady Jane Grey ? Who would care to
goad Lord Wellington, or Nelson, or Duncan ? — and yet these illus-
trious titles are all worn, — by my melancholy brethren. There is
scarcely a distinguished family in the peerage — but hath an ass of their

Let my oppressors think of this and mount modestly, and let them
use me — a female — tenderly, for the credit of their own feminine
nature. Am I not capable, like them, of pain and fatigue — of hunger
and thirst? Have I, forsooth, no rheumatic aches — no cholics and
windy spasms, or stitches in the side — ^^no vertigoes — no asthma — no
feebleness or hystericks — no colds on the lungs ? It would be but
reasonable to presume I had all these, for my stable is bleak and damp
— my water brackish and ray food scanty — for my master is a Caledo-

Skpt. 1825. H




nian, and starves me — I am almost one of those Scotch asses that
" live upon a brae ! "

*-^7:U;:^^ m':. * * * joiiiiffi^ fnoJ yd ^-tsiUi

Will you mention' these things, honourable and- huthane ' Sir, t iSL}
your place in Parliament ?

Friends of humanity ! — Eschewers of West Indian sugar ! — Patrons
of black drudges, — ^pity also the brown and grizzle-grey ! Suffer no
sand — that hath been dragged by the afflicted donkey. Consume not
the pannier-potatoe — that hath helped to overburthen the miserabl«§
ass ! Do not ride on us, or drive us — or mingle with those who dc^i
Die conscientiously of declines — and spare the consumption; i^f riWM
family milk. Think of our babes, and of our backs. Remember Our
manifold sufferings, and our meek resignation — our life-long martyrdom,
and our mild martyr-like endurance. Think i^ th'^.'^ lauguid patience "
in our physiognomy ! .,,,;-.

I have heard of a certain French Metropolitan, who declared that the
most afflicted and patient of animals was " de Job-horse : " — but surely
he ought to have applied to our race the attributes and the name of,,tfe^,
man of Uz ! ^jtr oi



J 822.;]

A few Words on ^' Christmas,



Close the shutters, and draw the
curtains together, and pile fresh wood
upon the hearth ! Let us have, for
once, an innocent auto da fe. Let
the hoarded corks be brought forth,
and branches of crackling laurel.
Place the wine and iruit and the hot
chesnuts upon the table. — And now,
good folks and children, bring your
chairs round to the blazing fire. Put
some of those rosy apples upon your
plates. We'll drink one glass of
bright sherry *' to our absent friends
and readers," and then let us talk a
little about Christmas.

And what is Christmas ?

AV^hy, it is the happiest time of the
year. It is the season of mirth and
cold weather. It is the time when
Christmas-boxes and jokes are given ;
when mistletoe, and red-berried lau-
rel, and soups, and sliding, and
school-boys, prevail; when the coun-
try is illuminated by fires and bright
faces ; and the town is radiant with
laughuig children. Oranges, as rich
as the fruit of the Hesperides, shine
out in huge golden heaps. Cakes,
frosted over (as if to rival the glitter-
ing snow) come forth by thousands
from their summer (caves) ovens:
and on every stall at every corner of
every street are the roasted apples,
like incense fuming on Pagan altars.

And this night is Christmas Evi:.
Formerly it was a serious and holy
vigil. Our forefathers observed it
strictly till a certain hour, and then
requited their own forbearance with
cups of ale and Christmas candles,
with placing the yule clog- on the fire,
and roaring themselves thirsty till
morning. Time has altered ' this.
We are neither so good as our fore-
fathers were — nor so bad. W^e go to
bed sober ; but we have forgotten
their old devotions. Our conduct
looks like a sort of compromise ; so
that we are not worse than our an-
cestors, we are satisfied not to be
better : but let that pass. — W^hat we
now call Christmas Eve — (there is
something very delightful in old
terms : they had always their birth
in reason or sentiment) was formerly
Mcedrenack, or The Nio-ht of Mo~
thers I How beautifully does this re-
cal to one's heart that holy tale —
that wonderful nativity, which the
eastern shepherds went by night to
^aze at and adore—

(It was the winter wild,

When the heaven-born child
All meanly wr app'd in the rude manger lay ;)
a prodigy, which, had it been in-
vention only, would have contained
mvich that was immaculate and sub-
lime ; but, twined as it is with man's
hopes and fears, is invested with a
grand and overwhelming interest.

But to-night is Christmas Eve, and
so we will be merry. Instead of
toast and ale, we will content our-
selves with our sherry and chesnuts ;
and we must put up with coffee or
fragrant tea, instead of having the
old Wassail-hoivl which formed part
of the inspiration of our elder poets.
We were once admitted to the mys-
teries of that fine invention, and we
respect it accordingly. Does any one
wish to know its merits ? Let him
try what he can produce, on our hint,
and be grateful to us for ever. The
'^ Wassail-bowl" is, indeed, a great
composition. It is not carved by
Beiivenuto Cellini (the outside may,
— but it is not material), nor shaped
by Michael Angelo from the marble
quarries of Carrara ; but it is a liquor
fit for the lips of the Indian Bacchus,
and worthy to celebrate his return
from conquest. It is made — for,
after all, we must descend to parti-
culars — it is made of wine, with
some water (but parce, j)recor, pre-
cor!) with spices of various sorts, and
roasted apples, which float in triumph
upon its top. The proportions of
each are not important — in fact, they
should be adapted to the taste of the
drinkers. The only caution that
seems necessary is to " spare the
water." If the compositor should
live in the neighbourhood of Aldgate,
this hint may be deemed advisable ;
though we mean no affront to either
him or the pump.

One mark and sign of Christmas is ^

the music; rude enough, indeed, but
generally gay, and speaking elo-
quently of the season. Music, at
iestival times, is common to most
countries. In Spain, the serenader
twangs his guitar : in Italy, the mu-
sician allures rich notes from his Cre-
mona : in Scotland, the bagpipe
drones out its miserable noise : in
Germany, there is the horn, and the
pipe in Arcady. W^e too, in our
turn, have our Christmas " Waits,"
who witch us at early morning, be*

496 A few ' Words on '' Christmas.

cock-crow, with strains and


us so gently that the
seems to have commenced in

',;jj|bre cock-crow, with strains
^^^wel comings which belong to night.

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 32 of 33)