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Charles Lamb.

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

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^^jtThey M-ake
^jjpusic

^i^mir dreams, and we listen to it till
we sleep again. Besides this, we
ij^ave our songs, from the young and
"^, the old, jocose and fit for the time,
j /.What old gentleman of sixty has not
^ .iiis stock — his one, or two, or three
^^ jfroljrclvsome verses. He sings them
^ 'for the young folks, and is secure of
'l^^^|;heir applause and his own private

art
d3



satisfaction,
^aps says



His wife, indeed, per-
Really, my dear Mr.




t

I



^ J, "Williams, you should noiu give over
j.J |,hese, &c." but he is more resolute
'''^.^rom opposition, and gambols through
jj^iis " Flowery meads of May," or
.j.j^^h Beneath a shady bower," while the
"^r^iiildren hang on his thin, trembling,
'^^ pntuneable notes in delighted and
_^^ delightful amaze.
^ p ]: Many years ago (some forty-one, —
\y,9^ two, — or three) when we were at
'""home " for the Christmas holidays,"
we occasionally heard these things.
What a budget of songs we had!
None of them were good for much ;
but they were sung by joyful spirits,
amidst fun and laughter, loud and
in defiance of tune, and we were
chanted. There was *^ Bright
hanticleer proclaims the dawn_,'^ —
and '^ 'Twas in the good ship Rover,"
— and, *^ Buy my matches," — (oh!
what an accompaniment there was
with the flat hand and the elbow) —
" The lobster claw," — and others.
Wq should be sorry to strip them,
like '^ majesty " in the riddle, of
their merit first and last (our re-
collection) and reduce them to ^' a
jest." Yet they were indeed a jest,
and a very pleasant one. — Of all the
songs, however, which become a
time of feasting, there is none com-
parable to one written by Beaumont
and Fletcher. It is racy, and rich,
and sparkling. It has the strength
and regal taste of Burgundy, and
the etherial spirit of Chanipaigne.
Does the reader wish to see it ? Here
it is: the words seem floating in
wine.

God Ly^us — ever young,
Ever honour'd, ever sung ;
Stain'd with blood of lusty grapes,
In a thousand lusty shapes,
Dance upon the mazer's brim,
In the crimson liquor swim ;
From thy plenteous hand divine
Let a river run with wine I



"What a rioter was he that wrote
this ! — His drink was not water from
Hippocrene. His fountain flowed
with wine. His goddess was a
girl with purple lips ; and his
dreams were rich, like the autumn;
but prodigal, wild, and Bacchana-
lian !

— Leaving now our eve of Christ-
mas, its jokes, and songs, and warm
hearths, we will indulge ourselves in
a few words upon Christmas Day.
It is like a day of victory. Every



IS as green as



house and church
spring. The laurel, that never dies,
— the holly, with its armed leaves
and scarlet berries, — the mistletoe,
under which one sweet ceremonial
is (we hope still) performed, are
seen. Every brave shrub that has
life and verdure seems to come for-
ward to shame the reproaches of
men, and to show them that the
earth is never dead, never parsimo-
nious. Then, what gay dresses are
intermixed, — art rivalling nature ! —
Woe to the rabbits and the hares,
and the nut-cracking squirrels, the
foxes, and all children of the woods,
for furriers shall spoil them of their
coats, to keep woman (the wonder
of creation) warm ! And woe to
those damsels (fair anachronisms)
who will not fence out the sharp
winter; for rheumatisms and agues
shall be theirs, and catarrhs shall be
their portion in spring. — But, look !
Avhat thing is this, awful and colour-
ed like the rainbow, — blue, and red,
and glistening yellow? Its vest is
sky tinctured ! The edges of its gar-
ments are like the sun ! Is it

A faery vision

Of some gay creature of the element,
That in the colours of the rainbow lives,
And plays i' the plighted clouds ? —

No:— it is the Beadle of St. 's!

How Christmas and consolatory he
looks ! How redolent of good cheer
is he! He is a cornu-copia, — an
abundance! What pudding- sleeves !
— vrhat a collar, red and a like beef-
steak, is his ! He is a walking refresh-
ment ! He looks like a whole parish, —
full, important,— but untaxed. The
children of charity gaze at him with
a modest smile. The stragglhig boys
look on him with confidence. They
do not pocket their marbles. They
do not fly from the familiar gutter.
This is a red-letter day; and the
cane is reserved for tomorrow.
London is not too populous at Christ-.



mas. But what there is of popula-
tion looks more alive than at other
times. Quick walking- and heaps of
invitations keep the blood warm.
Every one seems hurrying- to a din-
ner. The breath curls upwards like
smoke through the frosty air ; the
eyes glisten ; the teeth are shown ;
the muscles of the face are rigid, and
the colour of the cheek has a fixed
look, like a stain. Hunger is no
long-er an enemy. We feed him,
like the ravenous tiger, till he pants
and sleeps, or is quiet. Every body
eats at Christmas. The rich feast as
usual ; but the tradesman leaves his
moderate fare for dainties. The ap-
prentice abjures his chop, and
l)lunges at once into the luxuries of
joints and pudding-s. The school-
boy is no longer at school. He
dreams no more of the coming lesson
or the lifted rod ; but mountains of
jelly rise beside him, and l)lanc-
mangc, with its treacherous founda-
tions, threatens to overwhelm his
fancy ; roods of mince pies spread
out their chequered riches before



him; and figures (only real on the
6th of January) pass by him, one
by one, like ghosts before the vision
of the king of Scotland. Even the
servant has his " once a year" bot-
tle of port ; and the beggar his *^ al-
derman in chains."

Oh ! merry piping time of Christ-
mas! Never let lis permit thee to
degenerate into distant courtesies
and formal salutations. But let us
shake our friends and familiars by the
hand, as our fathers and their fa-
thers did. Let them all come around
us, and let us count how many the
year has added to our circle. Let
us enjoy the present, and laugh at
the past. Let us tell old stories and
invent new ones — innocent always,
and ingenious if we can. Let us not
meet to abuse the world, but to mak«
it better by our individual example.
Let us be patriots, but not men of
party. Let us look ()f' the time, —
cheerful and generous, and endea-
vour to make others as generous and
cheerful as ourselves.



IS9^2



The 'Miseellanf,



£93



Our next contributor calls his paper " Scraps of Criticism.*' We think that
we know " the fine Roman hand/'— but let that pass. It is enough, perhaps^,
(for our readers) that the remarks are good. Whether we translate them
from the Syriac or Chaldee, or transcribe them from vellum or papyrus, is
a question which we cannot now explain. The two first " Scraps " refer to
Gray's Poems, and take novel (and, what is better, just) exceptions to two
passages which they contain. — Johnson has been abused more, perhaps,
for undervaluing the merits of Gray, than for any of his offences against
literature. For our own parts, we think that he has been abused unjustly.
Were ive to cast a stone at him, it wo\dd be for his life of Milton. But
Gray has, of all poets in the English language, the least right to complain*
His reputation is enormously too great for the foundation upon which it
rests. No doubt that he had learning, and a pleasant way of commu-

Inicating his thoughts. But his language isj beyond even tliat of his contem-
poraries, artificial ; and his poems are not remarkable either for original
kthought or even felicity of expression. His " Elegy " is clearly the
first of his compositions : there is a tender vein of melancholy running
through it; and the reflections, generally speaking, if not very profound,
are graceful and pleashig. — The " Scrap " upon the word " villain " is a
fery material one ; inasmuch as it seems to be the kei/, or leading word,
I'to the character of Richard, as it is seen on the stage. With regard to
" Howell's Letters," — certainly our friend Howell has taken an odd pro and

TcoTi view of the same subject. Perhaps he had one eye for the good, and one
for the bad — and saw with them alternately. Thus " to wink at a person's
faults" is to shut the bad eye.

SCRAPS OF CRITICISM.



Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial
fire;
Hand& that the rod of empire might have
sway'd,
Or waked to ecstacy the living lyre.

Grai/s Elegy,
There has always appeared to me
a vicious mixture of the figurative
with the real in this admired pas-
sage. The first two lines may barely
pass, as not bad. But the hands laid
m the earth, must mean the identical
five-finger'd organs of the body ; and
how does this consist with their oc-
cupation of swaying rods, unless their
owner had been a schoolmaster; or
waking lyres, unless he were literally
a harper by profession ? Hands that
" might have held the plough," would
have some sense, for that work is
strictly manual ; the others only em-
blematically or pictorially so. Kings
now-a-days sway no rods, alias scep-
tres, except on their coronation day ;
and poets do not necessarily strum
upon the harp or fiddle, as poets.
When we think upon dead cold fin-
gers, we may remember the honest
squeeze of friendship which thoy re-
turned heretofore; we cannot but
with violence connect their living
idea, as opposed to death, with uses
to which they must become meta-
phorical (i. e. less real than dead



things themselves) before we can so
with any propriety apply them. _„ ^

'. l^mm^

He saw, but, blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.

Gray's Bardt

Nothing was ever more violently
distorted, than this material fact of
Milton's blindness having been occa-
sioned by his intemperate studies,
and late hours, during his prosecution
of the defence against Salmasius—
applied to the dazzling effects of too
much mental vision. His corporal
sight was blasted with corporal occu-
pation ; his inward sight was not im-
paired, but rather strengthened, by
his task. If his course of studies
had turned his brain, there would
have been some fitness hi the ex-
pression.



And since I cannot, I will prove a villain.
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Soliloquy in Richard III.

The performers, whom I have seen
in this part, seem to mistake the im-
port of the word which I have
marked with italics. Richard does
not mean, that because he is by shape
and temper unfitted lor a courtier, he
is therefore determined to prove, in
our sense of the word^ a wicked maiu



Wtf The'^iscetlani),

The word in SHatspeare's time had
riot passed entirely into the modern
sense; it was in its passage certainly,
aiid indifferently used as such ; the
beauty of a world of words in that
age was in their being less definite
than they are now/ fixed, and petri-
fied. Villain is here undoubtedly
used for a churl, or clown, opposed to
a courtier; amd the incipient dete-
rioration of the meaning gave the
use of it in this place great spirit and
beauty. A wicked man does not ne-
cessarily hate courtly pleasures ; a
chwn is naturally opposed to them.
The mistake of this meaning has, I
think, led the players into that hard
literal conception with which they
deliver this passage, quite foreign, in
my understanding, to the bold gay-
faced irony of the soliloquy. Richard,
upon the stage, looks round, as if he
were literally apprehensive of some
dog snapping at him ; and announces
his determination of procuring a look-
ing-glass, and employing a tailor, as
if he were prepared to put both in
practice before he should get home —
I apprehend " a world of figures
here."



[[Dec.



HowelVs Letters. "The treaty of the
match 'twixt our Prince [^afterwards
Charles I.]] and the Lady Infanta, is
now strongly a foot : she is a very
comely lady, rather of a Flemish com-
plexion than Spanish, fair haired, and
carrieth a most pure mixture of red
and white in her face. She is full
and big'lipp'd ; which is held a beauty
rather than a blemish, or rather excess
in the Austrian family , it being a thing
incident to most of that race ; she goes
now upon 16, and is of a tallness
agreeable to those years." This let-
ter bears date, 5th Jan. 1622. Turn
we now to a letter dated 16th May,
1626. The wind"^was now changed
about, tlie Spanish match broken off',
and Charles had become the husband
of Henrietta. *' I thank you for your



late letter, and the several good tid-
ings sent me from XValcs. In re-
quital I can send you gallaait news,
for we have now a most noble new
Queen of England, who in true beaa-j
ty is beyond the long-woo'd Infanta j*
for she was of a fading flaxen hair,
big-lippd, and somewhat heavy-
eyed ; but this daughter of France,
this youngest branch of Bourbon
(being but in her cradle when the
great Henry her father was put out
of the world) is of a more lovely and
lasting complexion^ a dark brown;
she hath eyes that sparkle like stars ;
and for her physiognomy, she may
be said to be a mirror of perfection," {
He hath a rich account, in another^
letter, of Prince Charles courting this
same Infanta. "^ There are Comedians
once a week come to the Palace [[at
Madrid] where, under a great canopy,
the Queen and the Infanta sit in the
middle, our Prince and Don Carlos
on the Queen's right hand, the king
and the little Cardinal on the In-
fanta's left hand. I have seen the
Prince have his eyes immovably
fixed upon the Infanta half an hour
together in a thoughtful speculative
posture, which sure would needs be te-
dious, unless affection did sweeten it."
Again, of the Prince's final departure
from that court. " The king and his
two brothers accompanied his High-
ness to the Escurial, some twenty
miles off, and would have brought
him to the sea- side, but that the
Queen is big, and hath not many
days to go. When the King and He
parted, there past wonderful great
endearments and embraces in divers
postures between them a long time ;
and in that place there is a pillar to
be erected as a monument to posteri-
ty." This scene of royal congees
assuredly gave rise to the popular, or
reformed sign (as Ben Jonson calls ?/
it), of The Salutation, In the days
of Popery, this sign had a more so-
lemn import.





834f TO CHARLES LAMB. [[July,

Happy beyond that man of Ross,
Whom mere content could ne'er engross,
Art thouj — with hope, — health, — " learned leisure,"
Friends — books — thy thoughts — an endless pleasure !
— Yet — yet — (for when was pleasure made
Sunshine all without a shade ?)
Thou, perhaps, as now thou rovest
Through the busy scenes thou lovest
With an idler's careless look.
Turning some moth-pierced book,
Feel'st a sharp and sudden woe
For visions vanished long ago ! —
And then thou think'st how time has fled
Over thy unsilver'd head,
• Snatching many a fellow mind

Away, and leaving — what behind ? —

Nought, alas ! save joy and pain
Mingled ever, like a strain
Of music where the discords vie
With the truer harmony.
So, perhaps, with thee the vein
Is sullied ever, — so the chain
Of habits and affections old.
Like a weight of solid gold,
Presseth on thy gentle breast.
Till sorrow rob thee of thy rest.

— Ay : So it is. Ev'n / (whose lot

The fairy Love so long forgot)

Seated beside this Sherris wine.

And near to books and shapes divine.

Which poets and the painters past

Have wrought in lines that aye shall last —

Ev'n I, with Shakspeare's self beside me.

And One, whose tender talk can guide me

Through fears, and pains, and troublous themes, —

Whose smile doth fall upon my dreams

Like sunshine on a stormy sea, —

Want something, — when I think of tkee f

May ^5, 1825. C.



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