Charles Lamb.

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

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regiment of soldiers going by — to
inculcate something useful. He can
receive no pleasure from a casual
glimpse of Nature, but must catch
at it as an object of instruction. He
must interpret beauty into the pic-
turesque. He cannot relish a beggar-
man, or a gypsy, for thinking of the
suitable improvement. Nothing
comes to him, not spoiled b;f the
sophisticating medium of moral uses.
The Universe, — that Great Book, as
it has been called — is to him indeed,
to all intents and purposes, a book,
out of which he is doomed to read
tedious homilies to distasting school-
boys. — Vacations themselves are none
to him, he is only rather worse oflf
than before ; for commonly he has
some intrusive upper-boy fastened
upon him at such times; some cadet of
a great fVimily ; some neglected lump
of nobility, or gentry ; that he must
drag after him to the play, to the
Panorama, to Mj;-. Bartley's orrery.

to the Panopticon, or into the coun-
try, to a friend's house, or his fa-
vourite watering-place. Wherever
he goes, this uneasy shadow attends
him. A boy is at his board, and in
his path, and in all his movements.
He is boy-rid, sick of perpetual boy.

Boys are capital fellows hi their
own way, among their mates ; but
they are unwholesome companions
for grown people. The restraint is
felt no less on the one side, than on
the other. — PiVen a child, that " play-
thing for an hour," tires always. The
noises of children, playing their own
fancies— as I now hearken to tliem
by fits, sporting on the green before
my window, while I am engaged in
these grave speculations — at my neat
suburban retreat at Shacklewell — by
distance made more sweet — inexpres-
sibly take from the labour of my task.
It is like writing to music. They
seem to modulate my periods. They
ought at least to do so— for in the
voice of that tender age there is a
kind of poetry, far unlike the harsh
prose-accents of man's conversation.
— I should but spoil their sport, and
diminish my own sympathy for them,
by mingling in their pastime.

I would not be domesticated all
my days with a person of very supe-
rior capacity to my own — not, if I
know myself at all, from any consi-
derations of jealousy or self-compa-
rison, for the occasional communion
with such minds has constituted the
fortune and felicity of my life — but
the habit of too constant intercourse
with spirits above you, instead of
raising you, keeps you down. Too
frequent doses of original thinking
from others, restrain what lesser por-
tion of that faculty you may possess
of your own. You get entangled in
another man's mhid, even as you lose
yovnself in another man's grounds.
You are -walking with a tall varlet,
whose strides out-pace yours to las-
situde. The constant operation of
such potent agency would reduce
me, I am convinced, to imbecility.
You may derive thoughts from o-
thers ; your way of thinking, the
mould in which your thoughts are
cast, must be your own. Intellect
may be imparted, but not each man's
intellectual frame. —

As little as I should wish to be
always thus dragged upwards, as
little (or rather still less) is it desira-.
2 p o


The Old and the N'eny Schoolmaster.


hie to be stunted downwards by your
associates. The trumpet does not
more stun you by its loudness, than
a whisper teazes you by its provoking

Why are we never quite at our
ease in the presence of a school-
master ? — because v/e are conscious
that he is not quite at his ease in
ours. He is awkward, and out of
place, in the society of his equals.
He comes like Gulliver from among
his little people, and he cannot fit
the stature of his understanding to
yours. He cannot meet you on the
square. He wants a point given
him, like an indifferent whist-player.
He is so used to teaching, that he
wants to be teaching you. One of
Ihese professors, upon my complain-
ing that these little sketches of mine
were any thing but methodical, and
that I was unable to make them
otherwise, kindly offered to instruct
me in the method, by which young
gentlemen in his seminary were
taught to compose English Ihemes.
' — The jests of a schoolmaster are
coarse, or thin. They do not tell
out of school. He is under the re-
straint of a formal and didactive hy-
pocrisy in company, as a clergyman
is under a moral one. He can no
more let his intellect loose in society,
than the other can his inclinations.
■^— He is forlorn among his co-evals;
his juniors cannot he his friends.

" I take blame to myself," said
^ sensible man of this profession,
writing to a friend respecting a youth
who had quitted his school abruptly,
*' that your nephew was not more
attached to me. But persons in my
situation are more to be pitied, than
can well be imagined. We are sur-
rounded by young, and, consequent-
iy, ardently affectionate hearts, but
9Bt can never hope to share an atom
of their affections. The relation of
master and scholar forbids this. How
pleasing this must be to you, how I
envy your feelings, my friends Vv'ill
sometimes say to me, when they see
young men, whom I have educated,
return after some years absence from
school, their eyes shining with plea-
sure, while they shake hands T^-ith
^heir old master, bringing a present
of game to me, or a toy to my wife,
and thanking me in the warmest
terms for my care of their education.
A holy (lay is begged for the boys ;

the house is a scene of hapioiness ; I,
only, am sad at heart. — This fine-
spirited and warm-hearted youth,
who fancies he repays his master
with gratitude for the care of his
boyish years — this young man — in
the eight long years I watched over
him with a parent's anxiety, never
could repay me with one look of
genuine feeling. He was proud, when
I praised ; he was submissive, when
I reproved liim; but he did never
love me— and what he now mistakes
for gratitude and kindness for me,
is but the pleasant sensation, which
all persons feel at revisiting the scene
of their boyish hopes and fears ; and
the seeing on equal terms the man
they were accustomed to look up to
with reverence."

'^'^ My wife too," this interesting
correspondent goes on to say, " my
once darling Anna, is the wife of a
schoolmaster. — When I courted her,
when I married her — knowing that
the wife of a schoolmaster ought to
be a busy notable creature, and fear-
ing that my gentle Anna would ill
supply the loss of my dear bustling
mother, just then dead, who never
sat still, was in every part of the
house in a moment, and whom I was
obliged sometimes to threaten to
fasten down in a chair, to save her
from fatiguing herself to death —
when I expressed my fears, that i
was bringing her into a way of life
unsuitable to her, she, who loved me
tenderly, promised for my sake to
exert herself to perform the duties
of her new situation. She promised,
and she has kept her word. What
wonders will not a woman's love
perform } — My house is managed
v/ith a propriety and decorum, un-
known in other schools ; my boys are
well fed, look healthy, and have
every proper accommodation ; and
all this performed with a carefiif
economy, that never descends to
meanness. But I have lost my gen-
tle, helpless Anna ! — When we sit
down to enjoy an hour of repose
after the fatigue of the day, I am
compelled to listen to what have been
her useful (and they are really use-
ful) employments through the day,
and what she proposes for her to-
morrow's task. Her heart and her
features are changed by the dutie^
of her situation. To the boys, sher
never appears other than the masttrsr




Verses to the Memory of a Young Friend.


wife ; and she looks up to me, as to
the boi/s' master, to whom all show of
fond affection would be highly im-
proper, and unbecoming- the dignity
of her situation and mine. Yet M?>
— gratitude forbids me to hint to her.
For my sake she submitted to be
this altered creiature^ and can I re-

proach her for itP—These kind of
complaints are not often drawn from
me. I am aware tiiat I am a fortu-
nate, I mean, a prosperous man " —
My feelings prevent me from tran-
scribing any farther. — For the com-
munication of this letter I am indebt-
ed to my cousin Bridget.


I AM arrived at that point of life,
at which a man may account it a
blessing, as it is a singularity, if he
have either of his parents surviving.
I have not that felicity — and some-
times think feelingly of a passage in
Browne's Christian Morals, where he
speaks of a man that hath lived sixty
or seventy years in the world. " In
such a compass of time," he says, " a
man may have a close apprehension
what it is to be forgotten, when he
hath lived to find none who could
remember his father, or scarcely the
friends of his youth, and may sensibly
see with what a face in no long time
Oblivion will look upon himself."

I had an aunt, a dear and good one.
She was one whom single blessedness
had soured to the world. She often
used to say, that I was the only thing
in it which she loved ; and, when she
thought 1 was quitting it, she grieved
over me with mother's tears. A par-
tiality quite so exclusive, my reason
cannot altogether approve. She was
from morning till night poring over
good books, and devotional exercises.
Her favourite volumes were Thomas
a Kempis, in Stanhope's translation ;
and a Roman Catholic Prayer Book,
with the matins and complines regu-
larly set down, — terms which I was
at that time too young to understand.
She persisted in reading them, al-
though admonished daily concerning
their Papistical tendency ; and went
to church every Sabbath, as a good
Protestant should do. These were
the only books she studied ; though,
I think, at one period of her life, she
told me she had read with great sa-

tisfaction the Adventures of an Un-
fortunate Young Nobleman. Find-
ing the door of the chapel in Essex-
street open one day — it was in the ^ ^
infancy of that heresy— she went in,
liked the sermon, and the manner of
worship, and frequented it at inter-
vals for some time after. She came *
not for doctrinal points, and never
miised them. With some little aspe-
rities in her constitution, which I
have above hinted at, she was a
steadfast, friendly being, and a fine
old Christian. She was a woman of
strong sense, and a shrewd mind —
extraordhiary at a repartee y one of the
few occasions of her breaking silence
— else she did not much value wit.
The only secular employment I re-
member to have seen her engaged in,
was, the splitthig of French beans,
and dropping them into a China basin
of fair water. The odour of those
tender vegetables to this day comes
back upon my sense, redolent of
soothhig recollections. Certainly it
is the most delicate of culinary opera-

Male aunts, as somebody calls them,
I had none — to remember. By the un-
cles' side I may be said to have been
born an orphan. Brother, or sister,
I never had any — to know them. A
sister, 1 think, that should have been
Elizabeth, died in both our infancies.
What a comfort, or what a care, may
I not have missed in her! — But I
have cousins, sprinkled about in Hert-
fordshire — besides two, with whom I
have been all my life in habits of the
closest intimacy, and whom I may
term cousins par excellence. These





are James and Bridget Elia. They
are older than myself by twelve, and
ten, years; and neither of them seems
disposed, in matters of advice and
guidance, to waive any of the prero-
gatives, which primogeniture con-
fers. May they continue still in the
same mind ; and when they shall be
seventy-live, and seventy- three, years
old (I cannot spare them sooner),
persist in treating me in my grand
climacteric precisely as a stripling,
or younger brother !

James is an inexplicable cousin.
Nature hath her unities, which not
^every critic can penetrate ; or, if we
feel, we cannot explain them. The
pen of Yorick, and of none since his,
could have drawn J. E. entire— those
fine Shandian lights and shades, which
make vip his story. I must limp after
In my poor antithetical manner, as
the fates have given me grace and
talent. J. E. then— to the eye of a
common observer at least — seemeth
made up of contradictory principles.
— The genuine child of impulse, the
frigid philosopher of prudence — the
phlegm of my cousin's doctrine is in-
variably at war with his tempera-
ment, which is high sanguine. With
always some fire-new project in his
brain, J. E. is the systematic oppo-
nent of innovation, and crier down of
every thing that has not stood the
test of a^e and experiment. With a
hundred fine notions chasing one ano-
ther hourly in his fancy, he is start-
led at the least approach to the ro-
mantic in others; and, determined
by his own sense in every thing,
commends you to the guidance of
common sense on all occasions. —
With a toucli of the eccentric in all
which he does, or says, he is only
anxious that you should not com-
mit yourself by doing any thing ab-
surd or singular. On my once letting
slip at table, that I was not fond of a
certain popular dish, he begged me at
any rate not to say so — for the world
would think me mad. He disguises
a passionate fondness for works of
high art (whereof he hath amassed a
choice collection), vmder the pretext
of buying only to sell again — that his
enthusiasm may give no encourage-
ment to yours. Yet, if it were so,
why does that piece of tender, pas-
toral Dominichino hang still by his
wall ? — is the ball of his sight much

more dear to.him } — or what picture-
dealer can talk like him .''

Whereas mankind in general are
observed to warp their speculative
conclusions to the bent of their indi-
vidual humours, his theories are sure
to be in diametrical opposition to his
constitution. He is courageous as
Charles of Sweden, upon instinct;
chary of his person, upon prin-
ciple, as a travelling Quaker. — He
has been preaching up to me, all my
life, the doctrine of bowing to the
great — the necessity of forms, and
raanj3f j^ to a man's gettmg on in the
world. He himself never aims at
either, that I can discover — and has
a spirit, that would stand upright in
the presence of the Cham of Tartary.
It is pleasant to hear him discourse
of patience — extolling it as the truest
wisdom — and to see him during the
last seven minutes that his dinner
is getting ready. Nature never ran
up in her haste a more restless
piece of workmanship, than when
she moulded this impetuous cousin — ■
and Art never turned out a more ela-
borate orator than he can display
himself to be, upon his favourite topic
of the advantages of quiet, and con-
tentedness in the state, whatever
it be, that we are placed in. He is
triumphant on this theme, when he
has you safe in one of those short
stages that ply for the western road,
in a very obstructing manner, at the
foot of John Murray's street — where
you get in when it is empty, and are
expected to wait till the vehicle hath
completed her just freight — a trying
three quarters of an hour to some
people. He ^^ wonders at your fid-
getiness " — " where could we be
better than we are, thus sitting, thus
consulting^" — "^ prefers, for his part,
a state of rest to locomotion," — with
an eye all the while upon the coach-
man—till at length, waxing out of
all patience, at your want of it, he
breaks out into a pathetic remon-
strance at the fellow for detaining us
so long over the time which he had
professed, and declares peremptorily
that " the gentleman in the coach is
determined to get out, if he does not
drive on that instant."

Very quick at inventing an argu-
gument, or detecting a sophistry, he
is incapable of attending you in any
chain of arguing. Indeed he makes


My Relations.


wild work with logic ; and seems to
jump at most admirable conclusions
by some process, not at all akin to
it. Consonantly enough to this, he
hath been heard to deny, upon cer-
tain occasions, that there exists such
a faculty at all in man, as reason ;
and wondcreth how man came first
to have a conceit of it — enforcing his
negation with all the might of rea-
soning he is master of. He has some
speculative notions against laughter,
and will maintain that laughing is not
natural to him — when peradventure
the next moment his lungs shall crow
like Chanticleer. He says some of
the best things in the world — and
declareth, that wit is his aversion.
It was he who said, upon seeing the
Eton boys at play in their grounds —
What a j)ity to think, that these fine
ingenuous lads in a few years will all
be changed into frivolous Members of
Parlianient !

His youth was fiery, glowing, tem-
pestuous—and in age he discovereth
no symptom of cooling. This is that
which 1 admire in him. I hate peo-
ple, Avho meet Time half-way. I am
for no compromise with that inevit-
able spoiler. While he lives, J. E,
will take his swing. — It does me
good, as I walk towards the street of
my daily avocation, on some fine
May morning, to meet him marching
in a quite opposite direction, with a
jolly handsome presence, and shin-
ing sanguine face, that indicates some
purchase in his eye — a Claude — or a
Hobbima — for much of his enviable
leisure is consumed at Christie's, and
Phillips's — or where not — to pick up
pictures, and such gauds. On these
occasions he mostly stoppeth me, to
read a short lecture on the advantage
a person like me possesses above him-
self, in having his time occupied with
business which he must do — assureth
me that he often feels it hang heavy
on his hands — wishes he had fewer
holidays — and goes off — Westward
Ho ! — chanting a tune, to Pall Mall
— ^perfectly convinced, that he has
convinced me — while 1 proceed in
my opposite direction tuneless.

It is pleasant again to see this Pro-
fessor of Indifference dohig the ho-
nours of his new purchase, when he
has fairly housed it. You must view
it in every light, till he has found the
best — placing it at this distance, and
at that, but always suiting the focus

of your sight to his own. You must
spy at it through your fingers, to catch
the aerial perspective — though you
assure him that to you the landscape
shows much more agreeable without
that artifice. Woe be to the luckless
wight, who does not only not respond
to his rapture, but who should drop an
unseasonable intimation of preferring
one of his anterior bargains to the
present ! — The last is always his best
hit — his " Cynthia of tire minute."
— Alas ! how many a mild Madonna
have I known to come in — a Raphael!
— keep its ascendancy for a few brief
moons — then, after certain interme-
dial degradations, from the front
drawing room to the back gallery,
thence to the dark parlour, — adopted
in turn by each of the Carracci, un-
der successive lowering ascriptions of
filiation, mildly breaking its fall —
consigned to the oblivious lumber-
room, go out at last a Lucca Gior-
dano, or plain Carlo Maratti! — which
things when I beheld — musing upon
the chances and mutabilities of fate
below, hath made me to reflect upon
the altered condition of great person-
ages, or that woeful Queen of Ri-
chard the Second —

set forth in pomp,

She came adorned hither like sweet May,
Sent back like Hollowmass or shortest day.

With great love for you, J. E. hath
but a limited sympathy with what
you feel, or do. He lives in a world
of his own, and makes slender guesses
at what passes in your mind. He
never pierces the marrow of your ha-
bits. He will tell an old established
playgoer, that Mr. Such-a-one, of So-
and-so (naming one of the theatres),
is a very lively comedian — as a
piece of news ! He advertised me
but the other day of some pleasant
green lanes which he had found out
for me, knowing me to be a gre<it
walker, in my own immediate vicinity
— who have haunted the identical
spot any time these twenty years ! —
He has not much respect for that
class of feelings, which goes by the
name of sentimental. He applies the
definition of real evil to bodily suffer-
ings exclusively — and rejecteth all
others, as imaginary. He is affected
by the sight, or the bare supposition,
of a creature in pain, to a degree
which I have never witnessed out of
womankind. A constitutional acute-


My Relations.


ness to this class of sufferings may in
part account for this. The animal
tribe in particular he taketh under
his especial protection. A broken-
winded or spur-galled horse is sure
to find an advocate in him. An over-
loaded ass is his client for ever. He
is the apostle to the brute kind— the
never-failing friend of those who have
none to care for them. The contem-
plation of a lobster boiled, or eels
skinned alive, will wring him so, that
" all for pity he could die." It will
take the savour from his palate, and
the rest from his pillow, for days and
nights. With the intense feeling of
Thomas Clarkson, he wanted only
the steadiness of pursuit, and unity
of purpose, of that '^ true yoke-fellow
with Time," to have effected as
much for the Animal, as he hath
done for the Negro Creation, But
my uncontrollable cousin is but im-
perfectly formed for purposes which
demand co-operation. He cannot
wait. His amelioration-plans must
be ripened in a day. For this rea-
son he has cut but an equivocal
figure in benevolent societies, and
combinations for the alleviation of
human sufferings. His zeal con-
stantly makes him to outrun, and
put out, his co-adjutors. He thinks
of relieving, — while they think

of debating. He was black-balled
out of a society for the Relief of
**********, because the fer-
vor of his humanity toiled beyond
the formal apprehension, and creep-
ing processes, of his associates. I
shall always consider this distinction
as a patent of nobility in the Elia
family !

Do I mention these seeming incon-
sistencies to smile at, or upbraid,
my unique cousin ? Marry ! heaven,
and all good manners, and the un-
derstandhig that should be between
kinsfolk, forbid ! — With all the
strangenesses of this strangest of the
Elias—1 Would not have him in one
jot or tittle other than he is ; neither
would I barter or exchange my wild
kinsman for the most exact, regular,
and every-way-consistent kinsman

In my next, reader, I may per-
haps give you some account of my
cousin Bridget — if you are not al-
ready surfeited with cousins — and
take you by the hand, if you are
willing to go with us, on an excur-
sion which we made a summer or
two since, in search oi more cousins —
Through the green plains of pleasant

Till when. Farewell.



Bridget Elia has been my house-
keeper for many a long year. I have
obligations to Bridget^ extending be-
yond the period of memory. We
house together, old bachelor and
maidj in a sort of double singleness ;
with such tolerable comfort, upon the
whole, that I, for one, find in myself
no sort of disposition to go out upon
the mountains, with the rash king's
offspring, to bewail my celibacy. We
agree pretty well in our tastes and
habits — yet so, as ''with a differ-
ence." We are generally in harmony,
with occasional bickerings — as it
should be among near relations. Our
sympathies are rather understood,
than expressed ; and once, upon my
dissembling a tone in my voice more
kind than ordinary, my cousin burst
into tears, and complained that I
was altered. We are both great
readers in different directions. While
I am hanging over (for the thousandth
time) some passage in old Burton,
or one of his strange contemporaries,
she is abstracted in some modem
tale, or adventure, whereof our com-
mon reading- table is daily fed with

assiduously fresh supplies. Narra-
tive teazes me. I have little concern
in the progress of events. She must
have a story — well, ill, or indiffer-
ently told — so there be life stirring
in it, and plenty of good or evil ac-
cidents. The fluctuations of fortune
in fiction — and almost in real life — •
have ceased to interest, or operate
but dully upon me. Out-of-the-way
humours and opinions — heads with
some diverting twist in them— the
oddities of authorship please me most.
My cousin has a native disrelish of
any thing that sounds odd or bizarre.
Nothing goes down with her, that is

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 7 of 33)