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ing thanks for what ? for having too much, while
so many starve. It is to praise the Gods amiss.

I have observed this awkwardness felt, scarce con-
sciously perhaps, by the good man who says the


grace. I have seen it in clergymen and others a
sort of shame a sense of the co-presence of cir-
cumstances which unhallow the blessing. After a
devotional tone put on for a few seconds, how rapidly
the speaker will fall into his common voice, helping
himself or his neighbour, as if to get rid of some
uneasy sensation of hypocrisy. Not that the good
man was a hypocrite, or was not most conscientious
in the discharge of the duty; but he felt in his in-
most mind the incompatibility of the scene and the
viands before him with the exercise of a calm and
rational gratitude.

I hear somebody exclaim, Would you have
Christians sit down at table, like hogs to their troughs,
without remembering the Giver ? no I would
have them sit down as Christians, remembering the
Giver, and less like hogs. Or if their appetites must
run riot, and they must pamper themselves with
delicacies for which east and west are ransacked, I
would have them postpone their benediction to a
fitter season, when appetite is laid; when the still
small voice can be heard, and the reason of the
grace returns with temperate diet and restricted
dishes. Gluttony and surfeiting are no proper occa-
sions for thanksgiving. When Jeshurun waxed fat,
we read that he kicked. Virgil knew the harpy-
nature better, when he put into the mouth of Celaeno
any thing but a blessing. We may be gratefully sen-


sible of the deliciousness of some kinds of food be-
yond others, though that is a meaner and inferior
gratitude : but the proper object of the grace is sus-
tenance, not relishes; daily bread, not delicacies;
the means of life, and not the means of pampering
the carcass. With what frame or composure, I
wonder, can a city chaplain pronounce his benedic-
tion at some great Hall feast, when he knows that
his last concluding pious word and that, in all
probability, the sacred name which he preaches
is but the signal for so many impatient harpies to
commence their foul orgies, with as little sense of
true thankfulness (which is temperance) as those
Virgilian fowl ! It is well if the good man himself
does not feel his devotions a little clouded, those
foggy sensuous steams mingling with and polluting
the pure altar sacrifice.

The severest satire upon full tables and surfeits is
the banquet which Satan, in the Paradise Regained,
provides for a temptation in the wilderness :

A table richly spread in regal mode,
With dishes piled, and meats of noblest sort
And savour ; beasts of chase, or fowl of game,
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled,
Gris-amber-steamed ; all fish from sea or shore,
Freshet or purling brook, for which was drained
Pontus, and Lucrine bay, and Afric coast.

The Tempter, I warrant you, thought these cates
would go down without the recommendatory preface


of a benediction. They are like to be short graces
where the devil plays the host. I am afraid the
poet wants his usual decorum in this place. Was
he thinking of the old Roman luxury, or of a gaudy
day at Cambridge? This was a temptation fitter for
a Heliogabalus. The whole banquet is too civic and
culinary, and the accompaniments altogether a profa-
nation of that deep, abstracted, holy scene. The
mighty artillery of sauces, which the cook-fiend con-
jures up, is out of proportion to the simple wants and
plain hunger of the guest. He that disturbed him
in his dreams, from his dreams might have been
taught better. To the temperate fantasies of the
famished Son of God, what sort of feasts presented
themselves? He dreamed indeed,

As appetite is wont to dream,

Of meats and drinks, nature's refreshment sweet.

But what meats ?

Him thought, he by the brook of Cherith stood,

And saw the ravens with their horny beaks

Food to Elijah bringing, even and morn ;

Though ravenous, taught to abstain from what they brought :

He saw the prophet also how he fled

Into the desert, and how there he slept

Under a juniper ; then how awaked

He found his supper on the coals prepared,

And by the angel was bid rise and eat,

And ate the second time after repose,

The strength whereof sufficed him forty days :

Sometimes, that with Elijah he partook,

Or as a guest with Daniel at his pulse.


Nothing in Milton is finelier fancied than these tem-
perate dreams of the divine Hungerer. To which of
these two visionary banquets, think you, would the
introduction of what is called the grace have been
most fitting and pertinent?

Theoretically I am no enemy to graces ; but prac-
tically I own that (before meat especially) they seem
to involve something awkward and unseasonable.
Our appetites, of one or another kind, are excellent
spurs to our reason, which might otherwise but feebly
set about the great ends of preserving and continu-
ing the species. They are fit blessings to be con-
templated at a distance with a becoming gratitude ;
but the moment of appetite (the judicious reader
will apprehend me) is, perhaps, the least fit season
for that exercise. The Quakers who go about their
business, of every description, with more calmness
than we, have more title to the use of these bene-
dictory prefaces. I have always admired their silent
grace, and the more because I have observed their
applications to the meat and drink following to be
less passionate and sensual than ours. They are
neither gluttons nor wine-bibbers as a people. They
eat, as a horse bolts his chopt hay, with indifference,
calmness, and cleanly circumstances. They neither
grease nor slop themselves. When I see a citizen in
his bib and tucker, I cannot imagine it a surplice.

I am no Quaker at my food. I confess I am not


indifferent to the kinds of it. Those unctuous morsels
of deer's flesh were not made to be received with
dispassionate services. I hate a man who swallows
it, affecting not to know what he is eating. I sus-
pect his taste in higher matters. I shrink instinct-
ively from one who professes to like minced veal.
There is a physiognomical character in the tastes for

food. C holds that a man cannot have a pure

mind who refuses apple-dumplings. I am not cer-
tain but he is right. With the decay of my first
innocence, I confess a less and less relish daily for
those innocuous cates. The whole vegetable tribe
have lost their gust with me. Only I stick to as-
paragus, which still seems to inspire gentle thoughts.
I am impatient and querulous under culinary dis-
appointments, as to come home at the dinner hour,
for instance, expecting some savoury mess, and to
find one quite tasteless and sapidless. Butter ill
melted that commonest of kitchen failures puts
me beside my tenour. The author of the Rambler
used to make inarticulate animal noises over a favour-
ite food. Was this the music quite proper to be
preceded by the grace? or would the pious man
have done better to postpone his devotions to a
season when the blessing might be contemplated
with less perturbation? I quarrel with no man's
tastes, nor would set my thin face against those ex-
cellent things, in their way, jollity and feasting. But


as these exercises, however laudable, have little in
them of grace or gracefulness, a man should be sure,
before he ventures so to grace them, that while he
is pretending his devotions otherwhere, he is not
secretly kissing his hand to some great fish his
Dagon with a special consecration of no ark but
the fat tureen before him. Graces are the sweet pre-
luding strains to the banquets of angels and children ;
to the roots and severer repasts of the Chartreuse ;
to the slender, but not slenderly acknowledged,
refection of the poor and humble man : but at
the heaped-up boards of the pampered and the
luxurious they become of dissonant mood, less timed
and tuned to the occasion, methinks, than the noise
of those better befitting organs would be, which
children hear tales of, at Hog's Norton. We sit too
long at our meals^ or are too curious in the study of
them, or too disordered in our application to them,
or engross too great a portion of those good
things (which should be common) to our share, to
be able with any grace to say grace. To be thank-
ful for what we grasp exceeding our proportion is to
add hypocrisy to injustice. A lurking sense of this
truth is what makes the performance of this duty so
cold and spiritless a service at most tables. In
houses where the grace is as indispensable as the
napkin, who has not seen that never settled question
arise, as to who shall say it ; while the good man of


the house and the visitor clergyman, or some other
guest belike of next authority from years or gravity,
shall be bandying about the office between them as
a matter of compliment, each of them not unwilling
to shift the awkward burthen of an equivocal duty
from his own shoulders?

I once drank tea in company with two Methodist
divines of different persuasions, whom it was my for-
tune to introduce to each other for the first time
that evening. Before the first cup was handed round,
one of these reverend gentlemen put it to the other,
with all due solemnity, whether he chose to say any
thing. It seems it is the custom with some sectaries
to put up a short prayer before this meal also. His
reverend brother did not at first quite apprehend
him, but upon an explanation, with little less im-
portance he made answer, that it was not a custom
known in his church : in which courteous evasion the
other acquiescing for good manner's sake, or in com-
pliance with a weak brother, the supplementary or
tea-grace was waived altogether. With what spirit
might not Lucian have painted two priests, of his
religion, playing into each other's hands the com-
pliment of performing or omitting a sacrifice, the
hungry God meantime, doubtful of his incense, with
expectant nostrils hovering over the two flamens,
and (as between two stools) going away in the end
without his supper.


A short form upon these occasions is felt to want
reverence ; a long one, I am afraid, cannot escape
the charge of impertinence. I do not quite approve
of the epigrammatic conciseness with which that
equivocal wag (but my pleasant school-fellow)
C. V. L., when importuned for a grace, used to in-
quire, first slyly leering down the table, " Is there
no clergyman here?" significantly adding, "thank
G ." Nor do I think our old form at school quite
pertinent, where we were used to preface our bald
bread and cheese suppers with a preamble, connect-
ing with that humble blessing a recognition of
benefits the most awful and overwhelming to the
imagination which religion has to offer. Non tune
illis erat locus. I remember we were put to it to
reconcile the phrase " good creatures," upon which
the blessing rested, with the fare set before us, wil-
fully understanding that expression in a low and
animal sense, till some one recalled a legend,
which told how in the golden days of Christ's, the
young Hospitallers were wont to have smoking joints
of roast meat upon their nightly boards, till some
pious benefactor, commiserating the decencies, rather
than the palates, of the children, commuted our flesh
for garments, and gave us horresco referens
trowsers instead of mutton.


AT the north end of Cross-court there yet stands a
portal, of some architectural pretensions, though re-
duced to humble use, serving at present for an en-
trance to a printing-office. This old door- way, if you
are young, reader, you may not know was the iden-
tical pit entrance to Old Drury Garrick's Drury
all of it that is left. I never pass it without shaking
some forty years from off my shoulders, recurring to
the evening when I passed through it to see my first
play. The afternoon had been wet, and the condition
of our going (the elder folks and myself) was, that
the rain should cease. With what a beating heart did
I watch from the window the puddles, from the still-
ness of which I was taught to prognosticate the desired
cessation ! I seem to remember the last spurt, and
the glee with which I ran to announce it.

We went with orders, which my godfather F. had
sent us. He kept the oil shop (now Davies's) at
the corner of Featherstone-building, in Holborn. F.
was a tall grave person, lofty in speech, and had pre-
tensions above his rank. He associated in those days


with John Palmer, the comedian, whose gait and
bearing he seemed to copy ; if John (which is quite
as likely) did not rather borrow somewhat of his
manner from my godfather. He was also known to,
and visited by, Sheridan. It was to his house in Hoi-
born that young Brinsley brought his first wife on her
elopement with him from a boarding-school at Bath
the beautiful Maria Linley. My parents were
present (over a quadrille table) when he arrived in
the evening with his harmonious charge. From
either of these connexions it may be inferred that my
godfather could command an order for the then
Drury-lane theatre at pleasure and, indeed, a pretty
liberal issue of those cheap billets, in Brinsley' s easy
autograph, I have heard him say was the sole remun-
eration which he had received for many years' nightly
illumination of the orchestra and various avenues of
that theatre and he was content it should be so.
The honour of Sheridan's familiarity or supposed
familiarity was better to my godfather than money.
F. was the most gentlemanly of oilmen ; grandilo-
quent, yet courteous. His delivery of the commonest
matters of fact was Ciceronian. He had two Latin
words almost constantly in his mouth (how odd
sounds Latin from an oilman's lips !), which my better
knowledge since has enabled me to correct. In strict
pronunciation they should have been sounded vice
versa but in those young years they impressed me


with more awe than they would now do, read aright
from Seneca or Varro in his own peculiar pronun-
ciation, monosyllabically elaborated, or Anglicized,
into something like verse verse. By an imposing
manner, and the help of these distorted syllables, he
climbed (but that was little) to the highest parochial
honours which St. Andrew's has to bestow.

He is dead and thus much I thought due to his
memory, both for my first orders (little wondrous
talismans ! slight keys, and insignificant to outward
sight, but opening to me more than Arabian para-
dises !) and moreover, that by his testamentatary be-
neficence I came into possession of the only landed
property which I could ever call my own situate
near the road-way village of pleasant Puckeridge, in
Hertfordshire. When I journeyed down to take pos-
session, and planted foot on my own ground, the
stately habits of the donor descended upon me, and
I strode (shall I confess the vanity?) with larger paces
over my allotment of three quarters of an acre, with
its commodious mansion in the midst, with the feeling
of an English freeholder that all betwixt sky and
centre was my own. The estate has passed into more
prudent hands, and nothing but an agrarian can
restore it.

In those days were pit orders. Beshrew the un-
comfortable manager who abolished them ! with
one of these we went. I remember the waiting at


the door not that which is left but between that
and an inner door in shelter O when shall I be
such an expectant again ! with the cry of nonpa-
reils, an indispensable play-house accompanient in
those days. As near as I can recollect, the fashion-
able pronunciation of the theatrical fruiteresses then
was, " Chase some oranges, chase some numparels,
chase a bill of the play; " chase pro chuse. But
when we got in, and I beheld the green curtain that
veiled a heaven to my imagination, which was soon
to be disclosed the breathless anticipations I en-
dured ! I had seen something like it in the plate
prefixed to Troilus and Cressida, in Rowe's Shak-
speare the tent scene with Diomede and a sight
of that plate can always bring back in a measure the
feeling of that evening. The boxes at that time, full
of well-dressed women of quality, projected over the
pit; and the pilasters reaching down were adorned
with a glistering substance (I know not what) under
glass (as it seemed), resembling a homely fancy
but I judged it to be sugar-candy yet, to my raised
imagination, divested of its homelier qualities, it ap-
peared a glorified candy ! The orchestra lights at
length arose, those " fair Auroras ! " Once the bell
sounded. It was to ring out yet once again and,
incapable of the anticipation, I reposed my shut eyes
in a sort of resignation upon the maternal lap. It
rang the second time. The curtain drew up I


was not past six years old and the play was Ar-
taxerxes !

I had dabbled a little in the Universal History
the ancient part of it and here was the court of
Persia. It was being admitted to a sight of the past.
I took no proper interest in the action going on, for I
understood not its import but I heard the word
Darius, and I was in the midst of Daniel. All feeling
was absorbed in vision. Gorgeous vests, gardens,
palaces, princesses, passed before me. I knew not
players. I was in Persepolis for the time ; and the
burning idol of their devotion almost converted me
into a worshipper. I was awe-struck, and believed
those significations to be something more than ele-
mental fires. It was all enchantment and a dream.
No such pleasure has since visited me but in dreams.
- Harlequin's Invasion followed where, I remember,
the transformation of the magistrates, into reverend
beldams seemed to me a piece of grave historic justice,
and the tailor carrying his own head to be as sober a
verity as the legend of St. Denys.

The next play to which I was taken was the Lady
of the Manor, of which, with the exception of some
scenery, very faint traces are left in my memory. It
was followed by a pantomime, called Lun's Ghost
a satiric touch, I apprehend, upon Rich, not long since
dead but to my apprehension (too sincere for
satire), Lun was as remote a piece of antiquity as Lud


the father of a line of Harlequins transmitting
his dagger of lath (the wooden sceptre) through
countless ages. I saw the primeval Motley come from
his silent tomb in a ghastly vest of white patch- work,
like the apparition of a dead rainbow. So Harlequins
(thought I) look when they are dead.

My third play followed in quick succession. It was
the Way of the World. I think I must have sat at it
as grave as a judge ; for, I remember, the hysteric
affectations of good Lady Wishfort affected me like
some solemn tragic passion. Robinson Crusoe fol-
lowed ; in which Crusoe, man Friday, and the parrot,
were as good and authentic as in the story. The
clownery and pantaloonery of these pantomimes have
clean passed out of my head. I believe, I no more
laughed at them, than at the same age I should have
been disposed to laugh at the grotesque Gothic heads
(seeming to me then replete with devout meaning)
that gape, and grin, in stone around the inside of the
old Round Church (my church) of the Templars.

I saw these plays in the season 1781-2, when I was
from six to seven years old. After the intervention
of six or seven other years (for at school all play-going
was inhibited) I again entered the doors of a theatre.
That old Artaxerxes evening had never done ringing
in my fancy. I expected the same feelings to come
again with the same occasion. But we differ from
ourselves less at sixty and sixteen, than the latter does


from six. In that interval what had I not lost ! At
the first period I knew nothing, understood nothing,
discriminated nothing. I felt all, loved all, wondered


Was nourished, I could not tell how

I had left the temple a devotee, and was returned a
rationalist. The same things were there materially ;
but the emblem, the reference, was gone ! The
green curtain was no longer a veil, drawn between two
worlds, the unfolding of which was to bring back past
ages, to present " a royal ghost," but * a certain
quantity of green baize, which was to separate the
audience for a given time from certain of their fellow-
men who were to come forward and pretend those
parts. The lights the orchestra lights came up a
clumsy machinery. The first ring, and the second
ring, was now but a trick of the prompter's bell
which had been, like the note of the cuckoo, a phantom
of a voice, no hand seen or guessed at which minis-
tered to its warning. The actors were men and
women painted. I thought the fault was in them;
but it was in myself, and the alteration which those
many centuries of six short twelvemonths had
wrought in me. Perhaps it was fortunate for me
that the play of the evening was but an indifferent
comedy, as it gave me time to crop some unreason-
able expectations, which might have interfered with
the genuine emotions with which I was soon after


enabled to enter upon the first appearance to me of
Mrs. Siddons in Isabella. Comparison and retro-
spection soon yielded to the present attraction of the
scene ; and the theatre became to me, upon a new
stock, the most delightful of recreations.


CHILDREN love to listen to stories about their elders,
when they were children ; to stretch their imagination
to the conception of a traditionary great-uncle, or
grandame, whom they never saw. It was in this
spirit that my little ones crept about me the other
evening to hear about their great-grandmother Field,
who lived in a great house in Norfolk (a hundred
times bigger than that in which they and papa lived)
which had been the scene so at least it was gener-
ally believed in that part of the country of the
tragic incidents which they had lately become familiar
with from the ballad of the Children in the Wood.
Certain it is that the whole story of the children and
their cruel uncle was to be seen fairly carved out in
wood upon the chimney-piece of the great hall, the
whole story down to the Robin Redbreasts, till a
foolish rich person pulled it down to set up a marble
one of modern invention in its stead, with no story
upon it. Here Alice put out one of her dear mother's


looks, too tender to be called upbraiding. Then I
went on to say, how religious and how good their
great-grandmother Field was, how beloved and re-
spected by every body, though she was not indeed
the mistress of this great house, but had only the
charge of it (and yet in some respects she might be
said to be the mistress of it too) committed to her by
the owner, who preferred living in a newer and more
fashionable mansion which he had purchased some-
where in the adjoining county; but still she lived in
it in a manner as if it had been her own, and kept up
the dignity of the great house in a sort while she lived,
which afterwards came to decay, and was nearly
pulled down, and all its old ornaments stripped and
carried away to the owner's other house, where they
were set up, and looked as awkward as if some one
were to carry away the old tombs they had seen lately
at the Abbey, and stick them up in Lady C.'s tawdry
gilt drawing-room. Here John smiled, as much as to
say, "that would be foolish indeed." And then I told
how, when she came to die, her funeral was attended
by a concourse of all the poor, and some of the gentry
too, of the neighbourhood for many miles round, to
show their respect for her memory, because she had
been such a good and religious woman; so good
indeed that she knew all the Psaltery by heart, ay,
and a great part of the Testament besides. Here
little Alice spread her hands. Then I told what a


tall, upright, graceful person their great-grandmother
Field once was ; and how in her youth she was es-
teemed the best dancer here Alice's little right foot
played an involuntary movement, till, upon my look-
ing grave, it desisted the best dancer, I was saying,
in the county, till a cruel disease, called a cancer,
came, and bowed her down with pain ; but it could
never bend her good spirits, or make them stoop, but
they were still upright, because she was so good and
religious. ., Then I told how she was used to sleep by
herself in a lone chamber of the great lone house;

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 12 of 32)