Copyright
Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 9 of 33)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 9 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to evasion and equivocating than o-
ther people. They naturally look to
their words more carefully, and are
more cautious of committing them-
selves. They have a peculiar cha-
racter to keep up on this head. They
stand in a manner upon their vera-
city. A Quaker is by law exempted
from taking an oath. The custom of
resorting to an oath in extreme cases,
sanctified as it is by all religious an-
tiquity, is apt (it must be confessed)
to introduce into the laxer sort of
minds the notion of two kinds of
truth — the one applicable to the so-
lemn affairs of justice, and the other
to the common proceedings of daily
intercourse. As truth bound upon
the conscience by an oath can be but
truth, so in the common affirmations
of the shop and the market-place, a
latitude is expected, and conceded
upon questions wanting this solemn
covenant. Something less than truth
satisfies. It is common to hear a
person say, *' You do not expect me
to speak as if I were upon my oath."
Hence a great deal of incorrectness
and inadvertency, short of falsehood,
creeps into ordinary conversation ;
and a kind of secondary or laic-truth
is tolerated, where clergy-truth —
oath-truth, by the nature of the cir-
cumstances, is not required. A Qua-
ker knows none of this distinction.
His simple affirmation being received,
upon the most sacred occasions, with-
out any further test, stamps a value
upon the words which he is to use
upon the most indifferent topics of
life. He looks to them, naturally, with
more severity. You can have of him
no more than his word. He knows,
if he is caught tripping in a casual
expression, he forfeits, for himself at
least, his claim to the invidious ex-
emption. He knows, that his sylla-
bles are weighed — and how far a
consciousness of this particular watch-
fulness, exerted against a person, has
a tendency to produce indirect an-
swers, and a diverting of the ques-
tion by honest means, might be illus-
trated, and the practice justified, by
a more sacred example than is proper
pejhaps to be more than hhited at
N2



156



Travels of Cosmo HI. through England, in 1669.



CAug.



upon this occasion. The admirable
presence of mind, which is notorious
in Quakers upon all contingencies,
might be traced to this imposed self-
watchfulness — if it did not seem ra-
ther an humble and secular scion of
that old stock of religious constancy,
which never bent or faltered, in the
Primitive Friends, or gave way to the
w^inds of persecution, to the violence
of judge or accuser, under trials and
racking examinations. " You will
never be the wiser, if I sit here an-
swering your questions till mid-
night," said one of those upright Jus-
ticers to Penn, who had been putting
law-cases with a puzzling subtlety.
" Thereafter as the answers may
be," retorted the Quaker. The as-
tonishing composure of this people
is sometimes ludicrously displayed in
lighter instances. I was travelling in
a stage coach with three male Qua-
kers, buttoned up in the straitest
non-conformity of their sect. We
stopped to bait at Andover, where a
meal, partly tea apparatus, partly
supper, was set before us. My
friends confined themselves to the
tea table. I in my way took supper.
When the landlady brought in the
bill, the eldest of my companions
discovered that she had charged for
both meals. This was resisted. Mine
hostess was very clamorous and po-
sitive. Some mild arguments were
used on the part of the Quakers, for



which the heated mind of the good
lady seemed by no means a fit reci-
pient. The guard came in with his
usual peremptory notice. The Qua-
kers pulled out their money, and for-
mally tendered it— so much for tea —
I, in humble imitation, tendering mine
— for the supper which I had taken.
She would not relax in her demand.
So they all three quietly put up their
silver, as did myself, and marched
out of the room, the eldest and
gravest going first, with myself clos-
ing up the rear, who thought I could
not do better than follow the example
of such grave and warrantable per-
sonages. We got in. The steps
went up. The coach drove off. The
muiTuurs of mine hostess, not very
indistinctly or ambiguously pro-
nounced, became after a time inau-
dible — and now my conscience, which
the whimsical scene had for a while
suspended, beginning to give some
twitches, I waited, in the hope that
some justification would be offered
by these serious persons for the seem-
ing injustice of their conduct. To
my great surprise, not a syllable was
dropped on the subject. They sate
as mute as at a meeting. At length
the eldest of them broke silence, by
enquiring of his next neighbour,
^' Hast thee heard how indigos go at
the India House ? " and the question
operated as a soporific on my moral
feeling as far as Exeter. Elia.




1821^



The Old Benchers of the Inner Tempk,



279



THE OLD BENCHERS OF THE INNER TEMPLE.



I WAS born, and passed the first
seven years of my life, in the Tem-
* pie. Its church, its halls, its gar-
dens, its fountain, its river, 1 had
almost said ; for in those young years,
what was this king of rivers to me,
but a stream that watered our plea-
sant places ? — these are of my oldest
recollections. I repeat, to this day,
no verses to myself more frequently,
or with kindlier emotion, than those
of Spenser, where he speaks of this
spot.

There when they came, whereas those

bricky towers,
The which on Themmes brode aged back

doth ride.
Where now the studious lawyers have their

bowers,
Tliere whylome wont the Templer knights

to bide.
Till they decay d through pride.

Indeed, it is the most elegant spot
in the metropolis. What a transi-
tion for a countryman visiting Lon-
don for the first time — the passhig
from the crowded Strand or Fleet-
street, by unexpected avenues, into
its magnificent ample squares, its
classic green recesses ! What a
cheerful, liberal look hath that por-
tion of it, which, from three sides,
overlooks the greater garden: that
goodly pile

Of building strong, albeit of Paper hight,

confronting, with massy contrast,
the lighter, older, more fantastically
shrouded one, named of Harcourt,
with the clieerful Crown-office Row
(place of my kindly engendure), right
opposite the stately stream, which
washes the garden-foot with her yet
scarcely trade-polluted waters, and
seems but just weaned from her
Twickenham Naiades ! a man would
give something to have been born in
such places. What a collegiate as-
pect has that fine Elizabethan hall,
where the fountahi plays, which I
have made to rise and fall, how many
times! to the astoundment of the
young urchins, my contemporaries,
who, not being able to guess at its
recondite machinery, were almost
tempted to hail the wondrous work
as magic ! What an antique air had



the now almost effaced sun-dials,
with their moral inscriptions, seem-
ing coevals M'ith that Time which
they measured, and to take their reve-
lations of its flight immediately from
heaven, holding correspondence with
the fountain of light ! How would
the dark line steal imperceptibly on,
watched by the eye of childhood,
eager to detect its movement, never
catched, nice as an evanescent cloud,
or the first arrests of sleep !

Ah ! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand
Steal from his tigure, and no pace per-
ceived !

What a dead thing is a clock,
with its ponderous embowelments of
lead and brass, its pert or solemn dul-
ness of communication, compared with
the simple altar-like structure, and
silent heart-language of the old dial !
It stood as the garden god of Chris-
tian gardens. Why is it almost
everywhere vanished.'' If its busi-
ness-use be superseded by more
elaborate inventions, its moral uses,
its beauty, might have pleaded for
its continuance. It spoke of mode-
rate labours, of pleasures not pro-
tracted after sun-set, of temperance,
and good hours. It was the pri-
mitive clock, the horologe of the
first world. Adam could scarce have
missed it in Paradise. It was the
measure appropriate for sweet plants
and flowers to spring by, for the
birds to apportion their silver warb-
Hngs by, for flocks to pasture and
be led to fold by. The shepherd
" carved it out quaintly in the sun ;"
and, turning philosopher by the very
occupation, provided it with mottos
more touching than tombstones. It
was a pretty device of the gardener,
recorded by Marvell, who, in the
days of artificial gardening, made a
dial out of herbs and flowers. I
must quote his verses a little higher
up, for they are full, as all his seri-
ous poetry was, of a witty delicacy.
They will not come in awkwardly, I
hope, in a talk of fountains and sun-
dials. He is speaking of sweet gar-
den scenes.

What wondrous life in this I lead !
Ripe apples drop about my head.






284



The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple.



CSept.



artificial or not. I remember the as-
tonishment it raised hi me. He was
a blustering, loud-talking person ;
and I reconciled the phenomenon to
my ideas as an emblem of power —
somewhat like the honis in the fore-
head of Michael Angelo's Moses.
Baron Massres, who walks (or did
till very lately) in the costume of the
reign of George the Second, closes
my imperfect recollections of the old
benchers of the Inner Temple.

Fantastic forms, whither are ye
fled ? Or, if the like of you exist,
why exist they no more for me ? Ye
inexplicable, half-understood appear-
ances, why comes in reason to tear
away the preternatural mist, bright
or gloomy, that enshrouded you?
Why make ye so sorry a figure in
my relation, who made up to me —
to my childish eyes — the mythology
of the Temple ? In those days I saw
Gods, as ^' old men covered with a
mantle," walking upon the earth. —
Let the dreams of classic idolatry
perish, — extinct be the fairies and
fairy trumpery of legendary fabling,
— in the heart of childhood, there
will, for ever, spring up a well of in-
nocent or wholesome superstition —
the seeds of exaggeration will be
busy there, and vital — from every-
day forms educing the unknown and
the uncommon. In that little Goshen
there will be light, when the grown
world flounders about in the darkness
of sense and materiality. While
childhood, and while dreams, re-
ducing childhood, shall be left, ima-
gination shall not have spread her
holy whigs totally to fly the earth.

Elia.



P. S. I have done injustice to the
soft shade of Samuel Salt. See what
it is to trust to imperfect memory,
and the erring notices of childhood !
Yet I protest I always thought that
he had been a bachelor ! This gen-
tleman, R. N. hiforms me, married
yovmg, and losing his lady in child^
bed within the first year of their
union, fell into a deep melancholy,
from the effects of which, ])robably,
he never thoroughly recovered. In



what a new light does this place his
rejection (O call it by a gentler
name !) of mild Susan P , unra-
velling into beauty certain pecu-
liarities of this very shy and retiring
character ! — Henceforth let no one
receive the narratives of Elia for true
records ! They are, in truth, but sha-
dows of fact — verisimilitudes, not ve-
rities — or sitting but upon the remote
edges and outskirts of history. He
is no such honest chronicler as II. N.,
and would have done better perhaps
to have consulted that gentleman,
before he sent these incondite remini-
scences to press. But the worthy sub-
treasurer — who respects his old and
his new masters — would but have
been puzzled at the indecorous liber-
ties of Elia. The good man wots not,
peradventure, of the license which
Magazines have arrived at in this per-
sonal age, or hardly dreams of their
existence beyond the Gentleman's —
his furthest monthly excursions in
this nature having been long con-
fined to the holy ground of honest
Urban s obituary. May it be long
before his own name shall help to
swell those columns of unenvied flat-
tery ! — Meantime, O ye new Bench-
ers of the Inner Temple, cherish him
kindly, for he is himself the kindliest
of human creatures. Should infir-
mities over-take him — he is yet in
green and vigorous senility — make
allowances for them, remembering
that ^^ ye yourselves are old." So
may the whiged horse, your ancient
badge and cognisance, still flourish !
so may future Hookers and Seldens
illustrate your church and chambers !
so may the sparrows, in default of
more melodious quiristers, unpoison-
ed hop about your walks ! so may
the fresh-coloured and cleanly nur-
sery maid, who, by leave, airs her
playful charge in your stately gar-
dens, drop her prettiest bluslnng
curtsey as ye pass, reductive of juve-
nescent emotion ! so may the youii-
kers of this generation eye you,
pacing your stately terrace, with the
same superstitious veneration, with
which the child Elia gazed on the
old worthies that solemnized the pa-
rade before ye !




WITCHES, AND OTHER NIGHT-FEARS.



We are too hasty when we set
down our ancestors in the gross for
fools, for the monstrous inconsisten-
cies (as they seem to us) involved in
their creed of witchcraft. In the re-
lations of this visible world we find
them to have been as rational, and
shrewd to detect an historic anomaly,
as ourselves. But when once the
invisible world was supposed to be
opened, and the lawless agency of
bad spirits assumed, what measures
of probability, of decency, of fitness,
or proportion— of that which distin-
guishes the likely from the palpable
absurd — could they have to guide
them in the rejection or admission of
any particular testimony ? — That
maidens pined away, wasting inward-
ly as their waxen images consumed
before a fire — that corn was lodged.



and cattle lamed — that whirlwinds
uptore in diabolic revelry the oaks of
the forest — or that spits and kettles
only danced a fearful-innocent vaga-
ry about some rustic's kitchen when
no wind was stirring — were all equal-
ly probable where no law of agency
was understood. That the prince of
the powers of darkness, passing by
the flower and pomp of the earth,
should lay preposterous siege to the
weak fantasy of indigent eld — has
neither likelihood iior unlikelihood
a priori to us, who have no measure
to guess at his policy, or standard to
estimate what rate those anile souls
may fetch in the devil's market. Nor,
when the wicked are expressly sym-
bolized by a goat, was it to be won-
dered at so much, that he should come
sometimes in that body, and assert



• She whom I seek, and find not, on the earth ;

-^ ]Morc lovely, imd less proud*




WitcheSi and other Nig^tt-fears*



8S5



his metaphor. — That the intercourse
was opened at all between both
worlds was perhaps the mistake —
but that once assumed, I see no rea-
son for disbelieving one attested story
of this nature more than another on
the score of absurdity. There is no
law to judge of the lawless, or canon
by which a dream may be criticised.

I have sometimes thought that 1
could not have existed in the days of
received witchcraft ; that I could not
have slept in a village where one of
those reputed hags dwelt. Our an-
cestors were bolder or more obtuse.
Amidst the universal belief that these
wretches were in league with the au-
thor of all evil, holding hell tributary
to their muttering, no simple Justice
of the Peace seems to have scrupled
issuing, or silly Headborough serving,
a warrant upon them— as if they
should subpoena Satan ! — Prosper©
in his boat, with his books and wand
about him, suffers himself to be con-
veyed away at the mercy of his ene-
mies to an unknown island. He
might have raised a storm or two,
we think, on the passage. His ac-
quiescence is in exact analogy to the
non-resistance of witches to the con-
stituted powers. — What stops the
Fiend in Spenser from tearing Guyon
to pieces —or who had made it a con-
dition of his prey, that Guyon must
take assay of the glorious bait — we
have no guess. We do not know the
laws of that country.

From my childhood I was ex-
tremely inquisitive about witches and
witch-stories. My maid, and more
legendary aunt, supplied me with
good store. But I shall mention the
accident which directed my curiosity
originally into this channel. In my
father's book-closet, the History of
the Bible, by Stackhouse, occupied a
distinguished station. The pictures
with which it abounds — one of the
ark, in particular, and another of So-
lomon's temple, delineated with all
the fidelity of ocular admeasurement,
as if the artist had been upon the
spot— attracted my childish attention.
There was a picture too, of theWitch
raising up Samuel, which 1 wish that
I had never seen. We shall come
to that hereafter. Stackhouse is in
two huge tomes — and there was a
pleasure in removing folios of that
magnitude, which, with infinite
straining, was as much as I could

Vol. IV.



manage, from the situation wiiich
they occupied upon an upper shelf.
I have not met with the work from
that time to this, but I remember it
consisted of Old Testament stories,
orderly set down, with the objection
appended to each story, and tne 50-
lution of the objection regidarly tack*
ed to that. The objection was a sum-
mary of whatever difficulties had
been opposed to the credibility of the
history, by the shrewdness of ancient
or modern infidelity, drawn up wi;h
an almost complimentary excess of
candour. The solution was brief,
modest, and satisfactory. The banc
and antidote were both before you.
To doubts so put, and so quashed,
there seemed to be an end for ever.
The dragon lay dead, for the foot of
the veriest babe to trample on. But
— like as was rather feared than
realized from that slain monster in
Spenser — from the womb of those
crushed errors, young dragonets
would creep, exceeding the prowess
of so tender a Saint George as myself
to vanquish. The habit of expecting
objections to every passage, set me
upon starting more objections, for
the glory of finding a solution of my
own for them. I became staggered
and perplexed, a sceptic in long coats.
The pretty Bible stories which I
had read, or heard read in church>
lost their purity and sincerity of im-
pression, and were turned hito so
many historic or chronologic theses
to be defended against whatever im*.
pugners. I was not to disbelieve
them, but— the next thing to that — I
was to be quite sure that some one
or other would, or had disbelieved
them. Next to making a chUd an
infidel, is the letting him know tlip'
there are infidels at all. Credulity is
the man's weakness, but the child's
strength. O, how ugly sound Scrip*,
tural doubts from the mouth of a
babe and a suckling ! — I should have
lost myself in these mazes, and have
pined away, I think, with such unfit
sustenance as these husks afForded>
but for a fortunate piece of ill-for-'
tune, which about this time befel
me. Turning over the picture of the
ark with too much haste, I unhappily
made a breach in its ingenious fabric - *
driving my inconsiderate fingers right
through the two larger quadrupeds —
the elephant, and the camel — that stare
(as well they might) out of the two
2 F



386

last windows next the steerage in
that unique piece of naval architec-
ture. Stackhouse was henceforth
locked up, and became an interdicted
treasure. With the book, the objec-
tions and solutions gradually cleared
out of my head, and have seldom re-
turned since in any force to trouble
me. — But there was one impression
which I had imbibed from Stack-
house, which no lock or bar could
shut out, and which was destined to
try my childish nerves rather more
seriously. — That detestable picture !
I was dreadfully alive to nervous
terrors. The night-time solitude,
and the dark, were my hell. The
sufferings I endured in this nature
would justify the expression. I never
laid my head on my pillow, I sup-
pose, from the fourth to the seventh
or eighth year of my life — so far as
memory serves in things so long ago
— without an assurance, which real-
ized its own prophecy, of seeing some
frightful spectre. Be old Stackhouse
then acquitted in part, if I say that
to his picture of the Witch raising up
Samuel — (O that old man covered
with a mantle !) I owe — not my
midnight terrors, the hell of my in-
fancy — but the shape and manner of
their visitation. It was he who
dressed up for me a hag that nightly
sate upon my pillow — a sure bed-
fellow, when my aunt or my maid
was far from me. All day long,
while the book was permitted me, I
dreamed waking over his delineation,
and at night (if I may use so bold an
expression) awoke into sleep, and
found the vision true. I durst not,
even in the day- light, once enter the
chamber where 1 slept, without my
face turned to the window, aversely
from the bed where my witch-ridden
pillow was. — Parents do not know
what they do when they leave tender
babes alone to go to sleep in the
dark. The feeling about for a friend-
ly arm — the hoping for a familiar
voice — when they wake screaming —
and find none to soothe them — what
a terrible shaking it is to their poor
nerves! The keeping them up till



midnight, through candle-light and
the unwholesome hours, as they are
called, — would, I am satisfied, in a
medical point of view, prove the bet-
ter caution. — That detestable pic-
ture^ as I have said^ gave the fashion



Witches, and other Night-fears. C^^t.

to my dreams— if dreams they were
— lor the scene of them was invaria-
bly the room in which I lay. Had I
never met with the picture, the fears
would have come self-pictured in
some shape or other —

Headless bear, black-man, or ape —
but, as it was, my imaginations took
that form. — It is not book, or picture,
or the stories of foolish servants,
which create these terrors in children.
They can at most but give them a
direction. Dear little T. H. who of
all children has been brought up with
the most scrupulous exclusion of
every taint of superstition — who was
never allowed to hear of goblin or
apparition, or scarcely to be told of
bad men, or to read or hear of any
distressing story — finds all this world
of fear, from which he has been so
rigidly excluded ab extra, in his own
" thick-coming fancies ;" and from
his little midnight pillow, this nurse-
child of optimism will start at shapes,
unborrowed of tradition, in sweats to
which the reveries of the cell-damned
murderer are tranquillity.

Gorgon s, and Hydras, and Chi-
maeras dire— stories of Celseno and
the Harpies — may reproduce them-
selves in the brain of superstition —
but they were there before. They
are transcripts, types— the arche-
types are in us, and eternal. How
else should the recital of that, which
we know in a waking sense to be
false, come to affect us at all ?— or

Names, whose sense we see not,

Fray us with things that be not ?

Is it that we naturally conceive ter-
ror from such objects, considered in
their capacity of being able to inflict
upon us bodily injury ?— O, least of
all! These terrors are of older
standing. They date beyond body—
or, without the body, they would
have been the same. All the cruel,
tormenting, defined devils in Dante-
tearing, mangUng, choking, stifling,
scorching demons— are they one half
so fearful to the spirit of a man, as the
simple idea of a spirit unembodied
following him —

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turn'd round, walks on.
And turns no more his head ;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread *



Bit. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner.



i82i.:i



Witches, and other Night-fears.



387



That the kind of fear here treated
of is purely spiritual — that it is strong
in proportion as it is objectless upon
earth — that it predominates in the
period of sinless infancy — are diffi-
cultiesj the solution of which might
afford some probable insight into our
ante-mundane condition, and a peep
at least into the shadow-land of pre-
existence.

My night-fancies have long ceased
to be afflictive. I confess an occa-
sional night-mare ; but I do not, as
in early youth, keep a stud of them.
Fiendish faces, with the extinguished
taper, will come and look at me;
but I know them for mockeries, even
while I cannot elude their presence,
and I fight and grapple with them.
For the credit of my imagination, I
am almost ashamed to say how
tame and prosaic my dreams are
grown. They are never romantic, —
seldom even rural. They are of



Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays : as first published in the London magazine : 1820-1825 → online text (page 9 of 33)