Charles Lamb.

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

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And who has one good year in three,
And yet repines at destiny.
Appears ungrateful in the case,

And merits not the good he has.
Then let us welcome the New Guest
With lusty brimmers of the best ;
Mirth always should Good Fortune meet,.
And renders e'en Disaster sweet :
And though the Princess turn her back,
Let us but line ourselves with sack.
We better shall by far hold out.
Till the next Year she face about

How say you, reader — do not these
verses smack of the rough magnani-
mity of the old English vein? Do
they not fortify like a cordial ; en-
larging the heart, and productive of
sweet blood, and generous spirits, in
the concoction? Where be those
puling fears of death, just now ex-
pressed, or affected ? — Passed like a
cloud — absorbed in the purging sun-
light of clear poetry — clean washed
away by a wave of genuine Helicon,
your on]y Spa for these hypochon-
dries — And now another cup of the
generous ! — and a merry New Year,
and many of them, to you all, my
masters !

\stJan. 182L klia.


"A CLEAR fire, a clean hearth,*
and the rigour of the game." This
was the celebrated wish of old Sarah
Battle (now with God) who, next to
her devotions, loved a good game at
whist. She was none of your luke-
warm gamesters, your half and half
players, who have no objection to take
a hand, if you want one to make up
a rubber; who affirm that they have
no pleasure in winning ; that they
like to win one game, and lose ano-
ther ;t that they can while away an
hour very agreeably at a card-table,
but are indifferent whether they play
or no, — and will desire an adversary,
who has slipt a wrong card, to take

it up and play another. These in-
sufferable triflers are the curse of a
table. One of these files will spoil a
whole pot. Of such it may be said,
that they do not play at cards, but
only play at playing at them.

Sarah Battle was none of that
breed. She detested them, as I do,
from her heart and soul ; and would
not, save upon a striking emergency,
willingly seat herself at the same
table with them. She loved a tho-
rough-paced partner, a determined
enemy. She took, and gave no con-
cessions. She hated favours. She
never made a revoke, nor ever passed
it over in her adversary without ex-

* This was before the introduction of rugs, reader. You must remember the intole-
rable crash of the unswept cinder, betwixt you- foot and the marble.

-|- As if a sportsman should tell you, he liked to kill a fox one day, and lose him the


Mrs. Battles Opinions on Whist,


acting the utmost forfeiture. She
fought a good fight : cut and thrust.
She held not her good sword (her
cards) " like a dancer." She sate
bolt upright; and neither showed
you her cards, nor desired to see
yours. All people have their blind
side — their superstitions ; and I have
heard her declare, under the rose,
that Hearts was her favourite suit.

I never in my life — and I knew
Sarah Battle many of the best years
of it — saw her take out her snuff-
box when it was her turn to play ; or
snufF a candle in the middle of a
game ; or ring for a servant, till it
was fairly over. She never intro-
duced, or connived at, miscellaneous
conversation during its process. As
she emphatically observed, cards
were cards : and if I ever saw un-
mingled distaste in her fine last-cen-
tury countenance, it was at the airs
of a young gentleman of a literary
turn, who had been with difficulty
persuaded to take a hand, and who,
in his excess of candour, declared,
that he thought there was no harm
in unbending the mind now and then,
after serious studies, in recreations of
that kind! She could not bear to
have her noble occupation, to which
she wound up her faculties, con-
sidered in that light. It was her
business, her duty, the thing she
came into the world to do, — and she
did it. She unbent her mind after-
wards — over a book.

Pope was her favourite author:
his Rape of the Lock her favourite
work. She once did me the favour
to play over with me (with the
cards) his celebrated game of Ombre
in that poem ; and to explain to me
how far it agreed with, and in what
points it would be found to differ
from, traydrille. Her illu si rations
were apposite and poignant; and I
had the pleasure of sending the sub-
stance of them to Mr. Bowles ; but
I suppose they came too late to be
inserted among his ingenious notes
upon that author.

Quadrille, she has often told me,
was her first love; but whist had
engaged her maturer esteem. The
former, she said, was showy and spe-
cious, and likely to allure young per-,
sons. The uncertainty and quick
shifting of partners — -a thing which
the constancy of whist abhors ; — the
dazzling supremacy and regal inves-

titure, of Spadille — absurd, as she
justly observed, in the pure aristo-
cracy of whist, where his crown and
garter give him no proper power
above his brother-nobility of the
Aces; — the giddy vanity, so taking
to the inexperienced, of playing
alone ; — above all, the over-powering
attractions of a Savs Prendre Vole, —
to the triumph of which there is cer-
tainly nothing parallel, or approach-
ing, in the contingencies of whist ;—
all these, she would say, make qua-
drille a game of captivation to the
young and enthusiastic. But whist
was the solider game : that was her
word. It was a long meal ; not, like
quadrille, a feast of snatches. One
or two rubbers might co-extend in
duration with an evening. They
gave time to form rooted friendships,
to cultivate steady enmities. She
despised the chance-started, capri-
cious, and ever fluctuating alliances
of the other. The skirmishes of qua-
drille, she would say, reminded her
of the petty ephemeral embroilments
of the little Italian states, depicted
by Machiavel ; perpetually changing
postures and connexions ; bitter foes
to-day, sugared darlings to-morrow ;
kissing and scratching in a breath ; —
but the wars of whist were com-
parable to the long, steady, deep-
rooted, rational, antipathies of the
great French and English nations.

A grave simplicity was what she
chiefly admired in her favourite
game. There was nothing silly in
it, like the nob in cribbage. Nothing
superfluous. No Jlushes — that most
irrational of all pleas, that a reason-
able being can set up : — that any one
should claim four by virtue of hold-
ing cards of the same shape and co-
lour, without reference to the playing
of the game, or the individual worth
or pretensions of the cards them-
selves ! She held this to be a sole-
cism ; as pitiful an ambition at cards
as alliteration is in authorship. She
despised superficiality, and looked
deeper than the colours of things. —
Suits were soldiers, she would say ;
and must have a uniformity of array
to distinguish them : but what should
we say to a foolish squire, who
should claim a merit from dressing
up his tenantry in red jackets, that
never were to be marshalled — ^never
to take the field ? — She even wished
that whist were more simple than U


Mrs* Battles Opinions on Whist *


is; and, in my mind, would have
stript it of some appendages, which,
in the state of human frailty, may be
venially, and even commendably, al-
lowed of. She saw no reason for the
deciding- of the trump by the turn of
the card. Why not one suit always
trumps ? — Why two colours, when
the shape of the suits would have
sufficiently distinguished them with-
out it ? —

" But the eye, my dear Madam, is
agreeably refreshed with the variety.
Man is not a creature of pure reason
— he must have his senses delight-
fully appealed to. We see it in
Roman Catholic countries, where the
music and the paintings draw in
many to worship, whom your quaker
spirit of unsensualizing would have
kept out. — You, yourself, have a
pretty collection of paintings — but
confess to me, whether, walkhig in
your gallery at Sandham, among
those clear Vandykes, or among the
Paul Potters in the anti-room, you
ever felt your bosom glow with an
elegant delight, at all comparable to
that you have it in your power to ex-
perience most evenings over a well-
arranged assortment of tlie court
cards ? — the pretty antic habits, like
heralds in a procession — the gay
triumph-assurhig scarlets — the con-
trasting deadly-killing sables — the
** hoary majesty of spades " — Pam
in all his glory ! —

^^ All these rtiight be dispensed
with ; and, with tlieir naked names
upon the drab pasteboard, the game
might go on very well, picture-less.
But the beauty of cards would be
extinguished for ever. Stripped of
all that is imaginative in them, they
must degenerate into mere gambling.
— Imagine a dull deal-board, or driun
head, to spread them on, instead of
that nice verdant carpet (next to
nature's), fittest arena for those
courtly combatants to play their gal-
lant jousts and turneys in ! — Ex-
change those delicately-turned ivory
markers — (work of Chinese artist,
unconscious of their symbol, — or as
profanely slighting their true appli-
cation as the arrantest Ephesian
journeyman that turned out those
little shrines for the goddess) — ex-
change them for little bits of leather
(our ancestor's money) or chalk and
a slate ! " —

The old lady, with a smile, con-

fessed the soundness of my logic;
and to her approbation of my argu-
ments on her favorite topic that even-
ing, I have always fancied myself
indebted for the legacy of a curious
cribbage board, made of the finest
sienna marble, which her maternal
imclc (old Walter Plinner, whom I
have elsewhere celebrated) brought
with him from Florence : — this, and
a trifle of five hundred pounds, came
to me at her death.

The former bequest (which I do
not least value) I have kept with re-
ligious care; though she herself, to
confess a truth, was never greatly
taken with cribbage. It was an es-
sentially vulgar game, I have heard
her say, — disputing with her uncle,
who was very partial to it. She
could never heartily bring her mouth
to pronounce " go" — or " that's a
go.' She called it an ungrammatical
game. The pegging teazed her. I
once knew her to forfeit a rubber (a
five dollar stake), because she would
not take advantage of the turn-up
knave, which would have given it
her, but which she must have claim-
ed by the disgraceful tenure of de-
claring '^ one for his heels." There
is something extremely genteel in
this sort of self-denial. Sarah Battle
was a gentlewoman born.

Piquet, she held the best game at
the cards for two persons, though
she would ridicule the pedantry of
the terms — such as i)ique — repique
— the capot — they savoured (she
thought) of affectation. But games
for two, or even three, she never
greatly cared for. She loved the
(piadrate, or square. She would
argue thus : — Cards are warfare : the
ends are gain, with glory. But cards
are war, in disguise of a sport : when
single adversaries encounter, the ends
proposed are too palpable. By them-
selves, it is too close a fight ; with
spectators, it is not much bettered.
No looker-on can be interested, ex-
cept for a bet, and then it is a mere
affair of money; he cares not for
your luck sympathetically , or for your
play. — Three are still worse ; a mere
naked war of every man against
every man, as in cribbage, without
league or alliance ; or a rotation of
petty and contradictory interests, a
succession of heartless leagues, and
not much more hearty infractions of
them, as in traydrille. — But in square


Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist.


games (she meant whist) all/that is
possible to be attained in card-play-
ing is accomplished. There are the
incentives of profit with honour, com-
mon to every species — though the
latter can be but very imperfectly
enjoyed in those other games, where
the spectator is only feebly a partici-
pator. But the parties in whist are
spectators and principals too. They
are a theatre to themselves, and a
looker-on is not wanted. He is ra-
ther worse than nothing, and an im-
pertinence. Whist abhors neutrality,
or interests beyond its sphere. You
glory in some surprising stroke of
skill or fortune, not because a cold-
er even an interested — by-stander
witnesses it, but because your part-
ner sympathises in the contingency.
You win for two. You triumph for
two. Two are exalted. Two again
are mortified; which divides their
disgrace, as the conjunction doubles
(by taking off the invidiousness)
your glories. Two losing to two are
better reconciled, than one to one in
that close butchery. The hostile
feeling is weakened by multiplying
the channels. War becomes a civil
game. — By such reasonings as these
the old lady was accustomed to de-
fend her favourite pastime.

No inducement could ever prevail
upon her to play at any game, where
chance entered into the composition,
J^r nothing. Chance, she would
argue — and here again, admire the
subtlety of her conclusion ! — chance
is nothing, but where something else
depends upon it. It is obvious, that
cannot be glori/. What rational
cause of exultation could it give to
a man to turn up size ace a hundred
times together by himself? or before
spectators, where no stake was de-
pending ? — Make a lottery of a hun-
dred thousand tickets with but one
fortunate number — and what possi-
lile principle of our nature, except
stupid wonderment, could it gratify
to gain that number as many times
successively, without a prize ? —
Therefore she disliked the mixture of
chance in back-gammon, where it
was not played for money. She
called it foolish, and those people
idiots, who were taken with a lucky
hit under such circumstances. Games
of pure skill were as little to her
fancy. Played for a stake, they were
a mere system of over-reaching.

Played for glory, they were a mere
setting of one man's wit,— his memory,
or combination-faculty rather — a-
gainst another's ; like a mock en-
gagement at a review, bloodless and
profitless. — She could not conceive a
game wanting the spritely infusion
of chance, — the handsome excuses of
good fortune. Two people playing
at chess in a corner of a room, whilst
whist was stirrhig in the centre,
would inspire her with insufferable
horror and ennui. Those well-cut
similitudes of Castles, and Knights,
the imagery of the board, she would
argue, (and I think in this case just-
ly) were entirely misplaced and
senseless. Those hard head-con-
tests can in no instance ally with the
fancy. They reject form and colour.
A pencil, and dry slate (she used to
say) were the proper arena for such

To those puny objectors against
cards, as nurturing the bad passions,
— (dropping for awhile the speaking
mask of old Sarah Battle) I would
retort, that man is a gaming animal.
He must be always trying to get the
better in something or other : — that
this passion can scarcely be more
safely expended than upon a game
at cards : that cards are a temporary
illusion ; in truth, a mere drama ; for
we do but play at being mightily con-
cerned, where a few idle shillings are
at stake, yet, during the illusion, we
are as mightily concerned as those
whose stake is crowns and kingdoms.
They are a sort of dream-fighting;
much ado ; great battling, and little
bloodshed ; mighty means for dispro-
portioned ends ; quite as diverting,
and a great deal more innoxious,
than many of those more serious
games of life, which men play, with-
out esteeming them to be such.

P. S. — With great deference to the
old lady's judgment on these mat-
ters, I think I have experienced some
moments in my life, when playing at
cards for nothing has even been
agreeable. When I am in sickness,
or not in the best spirits, I sometimes
call for the cards, and play a game
at piquet for love with my cousin
Bridget — Bridget Elia.'

I grant there is someting sneaking
in it: but with a tooth-ache, or a
sprained ancle, — when you are sub-
dued and humble, — you are glad to


On Words worth's Excursion being published in Octavo.


put up with an inferior spring of ac-
tion. —

Th6l-e is such a thing in nature, I
am convinced, as sick whist. —

I grant it is not the highest style
of man — I deprecate the manes of
Sarah Battle — she lives not, alas ! to
whom I should apologize. —

At such times, those terms which
my old friend objected to, come in as
something admissible. — I love to get
a tierce, or a quatorze, though they
mean nothing. I am subdued to an
inferior interest. Those shadows of
winning amuse me.

That last game I had with my

sweet cousin (I capotted her) — (dare
I tell thee, how foolish I am?) —
I wished it • might have lasted for
ever, though we gained nothing, and
lost nothing, though it was a mere
shade of play : I would be content to
go on in that idle folly for ever. Th^
pipkin should be ever boilihg, that
was to prepare the gentle lenitive to
my foot, which Bridget was doomed
to apply to it, after the game was
over : and, as I do not much relish
appliances, there it should ever bub-
ble. Bridget and I should be ever


I HAVE no ear. —

Mistake me not, reader, — nor ima-
g-ine that 1 am by nature destitute of
those exterior twin appendages, hang-
ing ornaments, and (architecturally-
speaking) handsome volutes to the
human capital. Better my mother
had never borne me. — I am, I think,
rather delicately than copiously pro-
vided with those conduits ; and' I feel
no disposition to envy the mule for

his plenty, or the mole for her exact-
ness, in those ingenious labyrinthine
inlets — those indispensable side-in-

Neither have I incurred, or done
any thing to incur, with Defoe, that
hideous disfigurement, which con-
strained him to draw upon assurance
— to feel quite unabashed,* and at
ease upon that article. I was never,
1 thank my stars, in the pillory ; nor,

Enrless on hi*j;h stwod, unabash'd, Defoe. — Dunciad.


All FooW Daij.

You hare claim to a seat here at my
right hand, as patron of the stam-
merers. You left your work, if I re-
member Herodotus correctly, at eight
hundred million toises, or thereabout,
above the level of the sea. Bless us,
what a long bell you must have pull-
ed, to call your top workmen to their
nuncheon on the low grounds of
Sennaar. Or did you send up your
garlick and onions by a rocket? I
am a rogue if I am not ashamed to
show you our Monument on Fish-
street Hill, after your altitudes. Yet
we think it somewhat.
' '\Yhat, the magnanimous Alexan-
der in tears ? — cry, baby, put its fin-
ger in its eye, it shall have another
globe, round as an orange, pretty
moppet !

Mister Adams 'odso, I honour

your coat — pray do us the favour to
read to us that sermon, which you
lent to Mistress Slipslop — the twenty
and second in your portmanteau
there — on Female Incontinence — the
same — it will come in most irre-
levantly and impertinently seasonable
to the time of the day.

Mr. , you look wise. Pray

correct that error.

thy last pa-

Mr. Hazlitt, I cannot indulge you
in your definition. 1 must fine you
a bumper, or a paradox. We will
have nothing said or done syllogistir
cally this day. Remove those logical
forms, waiter, that no gentleman
break the tender shins of his appre-
hension stumbling across them.

Master Stephen, you are late. —
Ha! Cokes, is it you? — Aguecheek,
my dear knight, let me pay my devoir
to you. — Master Shallow, your wor-
ship's poor servant to command. —
Master Silence, I will use few words
with you. — Slender, it shall go hard
if I edge not you in somewhere. —
•You six will engross all the poor wit
,of the company to day. — I know it,
I know it.

Ha! honest R , my fine old

Librarian of Ludgate, time out of
mind, art thou here again ? Bless
thy doublet, it is not over-new,
threadbare as thy stories : — what
dost thou flitting about the world at
this rate ? — Thy customers are ex-
tinct, defunct, bed-rid, have ceased
to read long ago. — Thou goast still
among tlicm, seeing if, peradventure,
thou ca-st hawk a volume or two.— -

Good Grenville S—
tron, is flown.

King Pandion, he is dead,

AH thy friends are lapt in lead —

Nevertheless, noble R , come

in, and take your seat here, between
Armado and Quisada, for in true
courtesy, in gravity, in fantastic smil-
ing to thyself, in courteous smiling
upon others, in the goodly ornature
of well-apparelled speech, and the
commendation of wise sentences,
thou art nothing inferior to those
accomplished Dons of Spain. Thje
spirit of chivalry forsake me for
ever, when I forget thy singing the
song of Macheath, which declares
that he might be happy with either ,
situated between those two ancient
spinsters — when I forget the inimi-
table formal love which thou didst
make, turning now to the one, and
now to the other, with that Mal-
volian smile — as if Cervantes, not
Gay, had written it for his hero;
and as if thousands of periods must
revolve, before the mirror of cour-
tesy could have given his invidious
preference between a pair of so
goodly-propertied and meritorious-
equal damsels. * * «f
* * * * * * »

To descend from these altitudes,
and not to protract our Fools' Ban-
quet beyond its appropriate day, —
for I fear the second of April is not
many hours distant — in sober verity
I will confess a truth to thee, reader.
I love a Fool — as naturally, as if I
were of kith and kin to him. When
a child, with child-like apprehen-
sions, that dived not below the sur-
face of the matter, I read those Pa-
rables, not guessing at their involved
wisdom, I had more yearnings to-*
wards that simple architect, that
built his house vipon the sand, than
I entertained for his more cautious
neighbour; I grudged at the hard
censure pronounced upon the quiet
soul that kept his talent; and,
prizing their simplicity beyond the
more provident, and, to my appre-
hension, somewhat un feminine wari-
ness of their competitors, I felt a
kindliness, that almost amounted to
a tendre, for those five thoughtless
virgins. — I have never made an ac-
quaintance since, that lasted ; or a
friendship, that ansv/ered ; \\ith any

1821.3 Swimming across the Hellespont, ' S63

that had not some thicture of the served, that " the foolisher tfie fowl

absurd in their characters. I vene- or fish,— woodcocks, — dotterells, —

rate an honest obliquity of under- cod's-heads, &c. — the finer the flesh

standing-. The more laughable blun- thereof," and what are commonly

ders a man shall commit in your the world's received fools, but such

company, the more tests he giveth whereof the world is not worthy?

you, that he will not betray or over- and what have been some of the

reach you. I love the safety, which kindliest patterns of our species, but

a palpable hallucination warrants ; so many darlings of absurdity, mi-

the security, which a word out of nions of the goddess, and her white

■season ratifies. And take my word boys ? — Reader, if you wrest my

for this, reader, and say, a fool told words beyond their fair construction,

it you, if you please, that he who it is you, and not I, that are the

hath not a dram of folly in his April Fool.

mixture, hath poimds of much worse Elia.

matter in his composition. It is ob- 1*^ April, 1821.


Mr. Editor, — A correspondent in
your last Number,* blesses his stars,
that he was never yet in the pillory;
and, with a confidence which the
uncertainty of mortal accidents but
weakly justifies, goes on to predict
that he never shall be. Twelve years
ago, had a Sibyl prophesied to me,
that I should live to be set in a
worse place, I should have struck
her for a lying- beldam. There are
degradations below that which he
speaks of.

I come of a good stock, Mr. Edi-
tor. The Delamores are a race
singularly tenacious of their honour ;
men who, in the language of Ed-
mund Burke, feel a stain like a
wound. My grand uncle died of a
fit of the sullens for the disgrace of
a public whipping at Westminster.
He had not then attained his four-
teenth year. WoiUd I had died
young !

For more than five centuries, the

Sackvilie^street, 25th March^ 1821.

current of our blood hath flowed
unimpeachably. And must it stag-
nate now ?

Can a family be tainted back-
wards?— can posterity purchase dis-

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 5 of 33)