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'




GIFT OF
A. F. Morrison




CHARLES LAMB'S
ESSAYS



WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
GEORGE E. WOODBERRY



BOSTON
LITTLE, BROWN, & COMPANY

1899




GIFT OF



Copyright, 1898,
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.



ftlntoersttg ^rcss:

JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.



CONTENTS.



PAGE

INTRODUCTION vii

THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE i

OXFORD IN THE VACATION 14

CHRIST'S HOSPITAL FIVE AND THIRTY YEARS AGO . 24

THE Two RACES OF MEN 45

NEW YEAR'S EVE . . . . 54

MRS. BATTLE'S OPINIONS ON WHIST 65

A CHAPTER ON EARS 77

ALL FOOLS' DAY 86

A QUAKER'S MEETING 92

THE OLD AND THE NEW SCHOOLMASTER .... 100

VALENTINE'S DAY 114

IMPERFECT SYMPATHIES 119

WITCHES, AND OTHER NIGHT-FEARS 133

MY RELATIONS 144

MACKERY END, IN HERTFORDSHIRE 155

MODERN GALLANTRY 163

THE OLD BENCHERS OF THE INNER TEMPLE . . . 170

GRACE BEFORE MEAT . 188



M103141



vi CONTENTS.

PAGE

MY FIRST PLAY 199

DREAM-CHILDREN ; A REVERIE 207

DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS 214

THE PRAISE OF CHIMNEY-SWEEPERS 224

A COMPLAINT OF THE DECAY OF BEGGARS IN THE

METROPOLIS 236

A DISSERTATION UPON ROAST PIG 248

A BACHELOR'S COMPLAINT OF THE BEHAVIOUR OF

MARRIED PEOPLE 260

ON SOME OF THE OLD ACTORS 272

ON THE ARTIFICIAL COMEDY OF THE LAST CEN-
TURY 291

ON THE ACTING OF MUNDEN 304



INTRODUCTION.



CHARLES LAMB really came into this
V"^ world of man under the name of Elia;
as a " son of memory," so was he christened,
and by it he is known, for it is the name, not of
his creature-life, but of his better part. His^
personality finds expression in it, freed from
the sad or mean accidents of his mortal career;
and it recalls only what in him was touched with
the light and shadow of an inconstant genius
or penetrated with the simplicity of the heart,
and yet leaves room for that eccentricity, that
strangeness heightened to the point of quaint-
ness, which is an element in the attractiveness
of character not less than, as Bacon declared,
in beautiful things. Elia is a name of the im-'
agination ; but it was borne by an old acquaint-
ance, an Italian who was a fellow-clerk at the
South-Sea House when Lamb was a boy there,



viii INTRODUCTION.

thirty years before he sat down to write these
Essays ; and, as a piece of pleasantry, he bor-
rowed his friend's true face to mask his own in.
He went, he tells us, to see the Elia of flesh
and blood, and laugh over the liberty he had
taken, but found the Italian dead ; and the in-
cident the playfulness of the odd plagiarism
ending unexpectedly in a solemn moment, a
pathetic close is so in character with the
moods of these pages, that even their maker
could not have invented better what life gave
into his hands. The name had devolved upon
him now, he said ; he had, as it were, unknow-
ingly adopted a shade, and it was to go about
with him thenceforth, and watch at his grave
after he too should depart. For two years he
used the ruse of this ghost of* a name, but the
uncanniness of it was his own secret; to the
reader of the " London Magazine," in which
he published, Elia was what it is to us a
name of the eternal humourist in life's various
crowd.

The form which Lamb chose for himself, the
familiar essay as it had been developed in Eng-
land, was as well fitted to him as his natural



INTRODUCTION. IX

voice. He had begun as a poet, but he lacked
the condensation, the directness and singleness of
intellectual aim, the power of control, which are
essential to the poet; he was an observer of
the world without, a rambler in all things, and
tended inevitably to that dissipation of the eye
among the multitude of men and things, which
ends in prose ; even as a humourist he loses him-
self in his impressions, and becomes reportorial.
But he had an eye for oddities, and with it went
the saving grace that he loved the absurd in man.
The spirit of caricature was not in him. He lived
in a nation marked by freedom of caprice, and
in its chief city ; but it is seldom that he chooses
his subject from among those whose eccentricity
is self-assertive ; the absurdities that amuse him
are those of nature's making, "the fool" whom
he loves ; and the peculiarities that arrest him
are oftenest those which result from the misfor-
tunes, the rubs and dents, all the rude buffeting
of life leaving its marks on the form and mind
of those who are submitted to its rule. How fre-
quently his characters are the broken " hulks" of
the voyage ! in what author is old age so dreary,
or the boon companion so shabby ! for Lamb's



X INTRODUCTION.

humour seldom ends in the laughable, but is a
plea for toleration, sympathy, forgiveness, the
old phrase of the prayer-book, miserable sinners
are we all, but, principally, small sinners in small
things. I cannot free myself from the feeling
that, as a humourist, Lamb is the father-confessor
of venial offences, tender to waifs and cripples,
the refuge of the victims of mean misery. It is
as if the Good Samaritan should turn humourist.
Yet he leaves an impression that is ill-rendered
by such a description, because he blends so
many strands of human nature with this main
thread.

The charm of these Essays is personal, and it
is made a mastering one by the autobiography
they contain. Lamb was not less an egotist
than a humourist, and in the familiar essay ego-
tism has unimpeded way. He discloses his
tastes and habits, and disguises not those things
in which he differs from conventional man;
he is proud of them, and goes his own pace.
There is infinite amusement in a certain kind of
self-gossip, seen to its perfection in Pepys ; and
though Lamb's likings in meat and drink are
not to be confounded with things of the Pepys-



INTRODUCTION. X i

ian order, yet the tone is sometimes not to be
discriminated from such " pure idleness." The
sinister reflection of how much social hypocrisy
saves from, of what concessions of individual
preference or even conviction are made to the
company, reacts in us and heightens the enjoy-
ment when an egotist stands to his egotism and
is unabashed though pilloried in men's minds.
Frankness is always engaging, and Lamb wins
us by his confidingness. He gives more than"""'
this sense of intimacy; he does really surrender
himself, and all his relatives besides, into our
hands. At the time he had the grace to con-
ceal, by appearances, the characters he drew;
but the veil was thin, and nothing is now left of
it His strong domestic feeling, his love for "N
the things of home, enhance the humanity of the
portrayal, and each picture is seen beyond the
contrasting foreground of " the lonely hearth "
where he sits writing ; " the old familiar faces "
are illumined there, in the later years, with as
tender a melancholy as in the poem of his
youth. Scenes from his own life make up n&
small portion of what is substantial in his book;)
and the humour is always softened by the at-'



xii INTRODUCTION.

mosphere of mingled affection and sentiment in
which it works. His confessions of childhood
are especially touching. No one has revealed
the poignancy of children's sufferings, their
helplessness, their solitariness, their hopeless-
ness, the physical nearness of all grief at that
age, with a pen so crying out shame. But, as in
his description of middle and elderly life there
is a predominant strain of misery and triviality,
a never-absent pathos, so in what he draws from
childhood, where are the cheerfulness, the in-
nocence, the gayety, the wild and thoughtless
happiness? They were not in his life. Even
his child-angel is a sorrowful conception. When
he was "at Christ's" was it such a child's
hell? and was that all he knew of childhood?
One cannot help such reflections ; and they un-
derlie, in truth, the melancholy that attended
him and the sentiment that sprang up in him,
both of which preserve these Essays equally
.with their humour.

Sentiment stood for him, perhaps, in the place
of love in his life. The romance, which now is

the memory of "Alice W ," certainly was

cherished, in the sphere of sentiment, by him



INTRODUCTION. *iii

life-long; and in his musings in imagination
upon what might have been, there is much of
that mournful fancy, that affection for things
unrealized, which betray heart-hunger; even in
his attachment to old places and accustomed
ways, and to what he called " antiquity " (of
which in his own mind he and his belongings
were part and parcel), there is something of the
wandering of the else-unsupported vine. His
is the sentiment of a melancholy that is, a
suppressed, down-borne, and retarded nature,
cabined, cribbed, confined. It was almost his
sole good fortune that literature offered him
a resource from the deprivations of his life,
and gave him freedom of thought and feeling
in the ideal world ; there he found objects worth
his constancy, and being gifted with sensibility
and discernment, he became a discoverer in "the
realms of gold," an antiquarian whose prizes
were lyrics and sonnets and snatches of song,

" And beauty making beautiful old rhyme ; "

and he forsook the modern days to delight him-
self with the curious felicity of the Arcadia and
Sir Thomas Browne, with single great scenes of



XIV INTRODUCTION.

the Elizabethans, and with the breath of Marvell's
garden. He escaped into the golden age, into
" antiquity," for he meant by that favourite
phrase little older than Sackville.

It is easy to overestimate the service of Lamb
and his friends in the revival of the older
English literature. It was not begun by them.
Throughout the eighteenth century the rill of
Parnassus had been flowing, and now the stream
had become broad. Lamb's group was borne
on a deeper common current. But he, with
Coleridge, Hazlitt, Hunt, and others of the time
were agents in the diffusion of the new taste,
and their critical appreciation and authority
gave them a place as supporters of the inno-
vation, sufficient to define a historical moment.
Lamb is not to be regarded as the author of the
revival of which he was rather a part. He felt
it more than he directed it. Leadership was
not in his bundle of qualities. He responded,
however, to the influences of the re-discovered
literature with marvellously perfect sympathy.
The more recondite and esoteric portions of it
were most to his taste. The humourist in him
answered the most exigent demands of the oc-



INTRODUCTION. XV

casion ; and oddities of language and thought,
conceits, quaintnesses, even conscious affecta-
tions, attracted him, just as the same qualities
in living human nature called forth his motley-
seeking wits. His originality, or native eccen-
tricity, felt something kindred to itself in the old
writers; their queernesses, worn like nature,
kept his own in countenance ; their affectations
were a model on which his innate whimsicality
could frame itself. And, possibly, more than all
(yet excepting the pure charm of poetry), their
sentiment, lingering on from days of chivalry
and the allegorical in literature, fed a fundamen-
tal need of the emotional nature in such a life
as Lamb's, perforce, was. He became an imi-
tator of antiquated style, a mannerist after his
favourites, given to artifice and fantasy as a lit-
erary method, and yet he remained himself.
The disease of language does not penetrate to
the thought.

Thus there were mingled in Lamb literary
artifice with truth to nature, egotism with hu-
manity, humour with sentiment, both dashed
by something melancholy; and one spark of
genius, fusing this blend, has made the book of



xvi INTRODUCTION.

Elia a treasure to many. It is not a great book,
but it is uncommonly interesting. It is human
from cover to cover. The subjects may be
trivial, the company " low," the incidents farci-
cal ; but of such is the kingdom of this world,
at least it was so in London then^ Lamb was a
good observer ; and, as in the sketches of the ear-
lier essayists of Queen Anne literary historians
point out the beginnings of the social novel of
the next generation in that century, may not one
find a foregleam of Dickens in these pages, of
the lot of children, and the look of lives grown
threadbare, and the virtues hidden in common-
place people? There is, no doubt, the trace of
Smollett ; but in addition is there not the spirit
of humanity which, after Scott's pageant passed,
took possession of our fiction and subdued it to
democracy? The exaggeration, both of humour
and of sentiment, in Dickens, the master of the
craft, Lamb was free from; but the curious
tracer of literary moods in the century would
hardly hesitate to include Lamb in the succes-
sion. On other sides Lamb faced the past; but
here was his one window on the times he lived
in, or else he must be set down as one of those



INTRODUCTION. xvii

"sports" of the intellect which have no relation
to their generation. In description and in
character-drawing he was, of course, as simply
personal as in his criticism. He might have
smiled or scoffed at the idea that he was a fore-
runner in fiction as that he was a leader in the
romantic movement. He cared nought for such /
things, as little as for science or music. He
worked as an individual only, and told his recol-
lections or described his friends and acquaint-
ances just as he read his folios, because he
pleased himself in doing it. But it is hard for
a writer, however idiosyncratic, not to be a link
between the days. The taste that classes him,
in his work as a humourist, is his love of Ho-
garth, whom he appreciated more intelligently
and fully, perhaps, than any one between Field-
ing and Thackeray. When it is objected that
the quality of ordinary life as he presents it is
" seaminess," we should recall in what company
he exhibits it; and if his humour does not al-
ways hide the deformity and avoid the pain of
the spectacle, our generation is probably more
acutely aware of these things.

The human interest in the Essays, however, is



xviii INTRODUCTION.

not confined to what Lamb saw of the absurd
and grotesque, the cruel and pathetic, in other
lives. He is himself his best character, and best
drawn. He was extraordinarily self-conscious,
* and the pages yield little that he did not mean
to be told. One must go to the silent part of
his biography to obtain that sobering correction
of his whimsies and failings, that knowledge of
his manliness in meeting the necessities of his
situation, that sense of honesty, industry, and
generosity, which he kept out of his books. The
side that most men turn to the world he con-
cealed, and he showed that which is commonly
kept secret. He had been a poet in youth, and
he never lost the habit of wearing his heart upon
his sleeve. He was never as a poet to get be-
yond sentiment, which in a romantic age is but
a little way ; and in degenerating into prose (as
he thought it) he gave no other sign of poetic
endowment than this of sentiment that he could
not surrender ; but to what a length he carried it
without exceeding the bounds of true feeling!
Sentiment, like humour, needs a delicate craft;
but he, though not so penetrating, was as sure
of hand as Burns. Even under the temptation



INTRODUCTION. xix

of an antique style, he does not err: with affec-
tation commanding every turn and cadence, his
feeling goes true; and the heart answers to it
through all the gamut, playful, regretful, melan-
choly, wailing. The word is not too strong ; turn
to " The Dream-Children," it is the tragedy of /
sentiment. Other moods too he revealed, ana
especially the melancholy ground of his nature.
He disclaimed the fierce earnestness, the bitter
experience, the hopeless despondency of " The
Confessions of a Drunkard," nor should one
charge him with the burden of so dark a tale ;
but that there are elements of autobiography in
it, of things foreseen if not experienced, a
vision of the road to its end, is, unhappily,
too plain a matter. I refer to it, not to reproach
or extenuate, but as one sign of several which
indicate that, like all natures lacking in the prin-
ciple of reason and control, Lamb was sub-
ject to spells of penitence, of bewildered appeal,
which were at the roots of that insistent melan-
choly, and help to explain why, when it comes
upon the page, it is never imaginative, but
always real.

Yet Lamb, though always, I think, a pathetic



XX INTRODUCTION.

figure in men's memories, does not in these Es-
says give such an impression except at moments,
just as he affects us only at intervals with the
dreariness of the human life he describes. One
[ reason is that his personality is diffused in vary-
\ ing essays, and is given completely in none ; and
besides, his reputation as a wit, and what we
know of his suppers, and the whole social side
of the man, blend with the mode of address, the
familiarity, the discursive manner, the frequent
whim, the anecdotage, the multifarious interest
of the whole. The Essays are pleasant to read,
and winning ; the predominant, and at first almost
engrossing impression is of the companionable-
ness of the writer, he is excellent company.
The style, too, is fitted to secure its effects. We
know that he wrote them with great care, and
sometimes with difficulty; and if the heart of
Lamb is always close at hand in the page, his
mind is there too. In some of the critical parts
especially, there is that kind of reflection that
gives substance to a book otherwise meant simply
for entertainment. The dramatic sketches also
lighten the whole effect by their apparent imper-
sonality. It is only when the more famous papers



INTRODUCTION. XXI

are thought of by themselves, and those most
autobiographical in matter, that Lamb's humour
and sentiment, his egotism and humanity, his
literary artifice in all, and the narrow limits
within which these had their field, become so
prominent as to seem to constitute the book
as well as the man. These qualities have estab-
lished the Essays in literature, and their author,
Elia, in the affections of kind hearts.



GEORGE E. WOODBERRY.



BEVERLY, MASS.,

October, 1892-



THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE.



READER, in thy passage from the Bank where
them hast been receiving thy half-yearly dividends
(supposing thou art a lean annuitant like myself)
to the Flower Pot, to secure a place for Dalston, or
Shacklewell, or some other thy suburban retreat
northerly, didst thou never observe a melan-
choly looking, handsome, brick and stone edifice, to
the left where Threadneedle-street abuts upon
Bishopsgate ? I dare say thou hast often admired its
magnificent portals ever gaping wide, and disclosing
to view a grave court, with cloisters, and pillars, with
few or no traces of goers-in or comers-out a deso-
lation something like Balclutha's.*

This was once a house of trade, a centre of busy
interests. The throng of merchants was here the
quick pulse of gain and here some forms of busi-
ness are still kept up, though the soul be long since
fled. Here are still to be seen stately porticos ; im-

* I passed by the walls of Balclutha, and they were deso-
late. OSSIAN.

I



2 THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE.

posing staircases; offices roomy as the state apart-
ments in palaces deserted, or thinly peopled with
a few straggling clerks; the still more sa'cred inte-
riors of court and committee rooms, with venerable
faces of beadles, door-keepers directors seated in
form on solemn days (to proclaim a dead dividend,)
at long worm-eaten tables, that have been mahogany,
with tarnished gilt-leather coverings, supporting
massy silver inkstands long since dry; the oaken
wainscots hung with pictures of deceased governors
and sub-governors, of queen Anne, and the two
first monarchs of the Brunswick dynasty; huge
charts, which subsequent discoveries have anti-
quated ; dusty maps of Mexico, dim as dreams,
and soundings of the Bay of Panama ! The long
passages hung with buckets, appended, in idle row,
to walls, whose substance might defy any, short of
the last, conflagration : with vast ranges of cellar-
age under all, where dollars and pieces of eight
once lay, an "unsunned heap," for Mammon to
have solaced his solitary heart withal, long since
dissipated, or scattered into air at the blast of the

breaking of that famous BUBBLE.

Such is the SOUTH SEA-HOUSE. At least, such it
was forty years ago, when I knew it, a magnificent
relic ! What alterations may have been made in it
since, I have had no opportunities of verifying.
Time, I take for granted, has not freshened it. No



THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE. 3

wind has resuscitated the face of the sleeping waters.
A thicker crust by this time stagnates upon it. The
moths, that were then battening upon its obsolete
ledgers and day-books, have rested from their dep-
redations, but other light generations have suc-
ceeded, making fine fretwork among their single
and double entries. Layers of dust have accumu-
lated (a superfoetation of dirt ! ) upon the old layers,
that seldom used to be disturbed, save by some
curious finger, now and then, inquisitive to explore
the mode of book-keeping in Queen Anne's reign;
or, with less hallowed curiosity, seeking to unveil
some of the mysteries of that tremendous HOAX,
whose extent the petty peculators of our day look
back upon with the same expression of incredulous
admiration, and hopeless ambition of rivalry, as would
become the puny face of modern conspiracy con-
templating the Titan size of Vaux's superhuman plot.

Peace to the manes of the BUBBLE ! Silence and
destitution are upon thy walls, proud house, for a
memorial !

Situated as thou art, in the very heart of stirring
and living commerce, amid the fret and fever of
speculation with the Bank, and the 'Change, and
the India-house about thee, in the hey-day of present
prosperity, with their important faces, as it were, in-
sulting thee, their poor neighbour out of business
to the idle and merely contemplative, to such as



4 THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE.

me, old house ! there is a charm in thy quiet : a
cessation a coolness from business an indolence
almost cloistral which is delightful ! With what
reverence have I paced thy great bare rooms and
courts at eventide ! They spoke of the past : the
shade of some dead accountant, with visionary pen
in ear, would flit by me, stiff as in life. Living
accounts and accountants puzzle me. I have no
skill in figuring. But thy great dead tomes, which
scarce three degenerate clerks of the present day
could lift from their enshrining shelves with their
old fantastic flourishes, and decorative rubric inter-
lacings their sums in triple columniations, set
down with formal superfluity of cyphers with pious
sentences at the beginning, without which our re-
ligious ancestors never ventured to open a book of
business, or bill of lading the costly vellum covers
of some of them almost persuading us that we are
got into some better library, are very agreeable
and edifying spectacles. I can look upon these de-
funct dragons with complacency. Thy heavy odd-
shaped ivory-handled penknives (our ancestors had
every thing on a larger scale than we have hearts
for) are as good as any thing from Herculaneum.
The pounce-boxes of our days have gone retrograde.
The very clerks which I remember in the South
Sea-House I speak of forty years back had an
air very different from those in the public offices



THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE. 5

that I have had to do with since. They partook of
the genius of the place !

They were mostly (for the establishment did not
admit of superfluous salaries) bachelors. Generally
(for they had not much to do) persons of a curious
and speculative turn of mind. Old-fashioned, for
a reason mentioned before. Humorists, for they
were of all descriptions; and, not having been
brought together in early life (which has a tendency
to assimilate the members of corporate bodies to
each other), but, for the most part, placed in this
house in ripe or middle age, they necessarily carried
into it their separate habits and oddities, unqualified,
if I may so speak, as into a common stock. Hence
they formed a sort of Noah's ark. Odd fishes. A
lay-monastery. Domestic retainers in a great house,
kept more for show than use. Yet pleasant fel-
lows, full of chat and not a few among them had
arrived at considerable proficiency on the German
flute.

The cashier at that time was one Evans, a Cam-
bro-Briton. He had something of the choleric
complexion of his countrymen stamped on his
visage, but was a worthy sensible man at bottom.
He wore his hair, to the last, powdered and frizzed
out, in the fashion which I remember to have seen
in caricatures of what were termed, in my young



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