Copyright
Charles Lamb.

Charles Lamb's essays online

. (page 13 of 32)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 13 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and how she believed that an apparition of two infants
was to be seen at midnight gliding up and down the
great staircase near where she slept, but she said
"those innocents would do her no harm; " and how
frightened I used to be, though in those days I had
my maid to sleep with me, because I was never half
so good or religious as she and yet I never saw the
infants. Here John expanded all his eye-brows and
tried to look courageous. Then I told how good she
was to all her grand-children, having us to the great-
house in the holydays, where I in particular used to
spend many hours by myself, in gazing upon the old
busts of the Twelve Caesars, that had been Emperors of
Rome, till the old marble heads would seem to live
again, or I to be turned into marble with them ; how
I never could be tired with roaming about that huge
mansion, with its vast empty rooms, with their worn-



210 DREAM-CHILDREN; A REVERIE.

out hangings, fluttering tapestry, and carved oaken
pannels, with the gilding almost rubbed out some-
times in the spacious old-fashioned gardens, which I
had almost to myself, unless when now and then a
solitary gardening man would cross me and how
the nectarines and peaches hung upon the walls,
without my ever offering to pluck them, because they
were forbidden fruit, unless now and then, and be-
cause I had more pleasure in strolling about among
the old melancholy-looking yew trees, or the firs, and
picking up the red berries, and the fir apples, which
were good for nothing but to look at or in lying
about upon the fresh grass, with all the fine garden
smells around me or basking in the orangery, till I
could almost fancy myself ripening too along with the
oranges and the limes in that grateful warmth or
in watching the dace that darted to and fro in the
fish-pond, at the bottom of the garden, with here and
there a great sulky pike hanging midway down the
water in silent state, as if it mocked at their impertinent
friskings, I had more pleasure in these busy-idle
diversions than in all the sweet flavours of peaches,
nectarines, oranges, and such like common baits of
children. Here John slyly deposited back upon the
plate a bunch of grapes, which, not unobserved by
Alice, he had meditated dividing with her, and both
seemed willing to relinquish them for the present as
irrelevant. Then in somewhat a more heightened



DREAM-CHILDREN; A REVERIE. 211

tone, I told how, though their grandmother Field
loved all her grand-children, yet in an especial manner

she might be said to love their uncle, John L ,

because he was so handsome and spirited a youth,
and a king to the rest of us ; and, instead of moping
about in solitary corners, like some of us, he would
mount the most mettlesome horse he could get, when
but an imp no bigger than themselves, and make it
carry him half over the county in a morning, and join
the hunters when there were any out and yet he
loved the old great house and gardens too, but had
too much spirit to be always pent up within their
boundaries and how their uncle grew up to man's
estate as brave as he was handsome, to the admiration
of every body, but of their great-grandmother Field
most especially ; and how he used to carry me upon
his back when I was a lame- footed boy for he was
a good bit older than me many a mile when I could
not walk for pain ; and how in after life he became
lame-footed too, and I did not always (I fear) make
allowances enough for him when he was impatient,
and in pain, nor remember sufficiently how consid-
erate he had been to me when I was lame- footed ;
and how when he died, though he had not been dead
an hour, it seemed as if he had died a great while ago,
such a distance there is betwixt life and death ; and
how I bore his death as I thought pretty well at first,
but afterwards it haunted and haunted me ; and though



212 DREAM-CHILDREN; A REVERIE.

I did not cry or take it to heart as some do, and as
I think he would have done if I had died, yet I missed
him all day long, and knew not till then how much I
had loved him. I missed his kindness, and I missed his
crossness, and wished him to be alive again, to be
quarrelling with him (for we quarreled sometimes),
rather than not have him again, and was as uneasy
without him, as he their poor uncle must have been
when the doctor took off his limb. Here the children
fell a crying, and asked if their little mourning which
they had on was not for uncle John, and they looked
up, and prayed me not to go on about their uncle,
but to tell them some stories about their pretty , dead
mother. Then I told how for seven long years, in
hope sometimes, sometimes in despair, yet persisting
ever, I courted the fair Alice W n ; and, as much
as children could understand, I explained to them
what coyness, and difficulty, and denial meant in
maidens when suddenly, turning to Alice, the soul
of the first Alice looked out at her eyes with such a
reality of re-presentment, that I became in doubt which
of them stood there before me, or whose that bright
hair was ; and while I stood gazing, both the children
gradually grew fainter to my view, receding, and still
receding till nothing at last but two mournful features
were seen in the uttermost distance, which, without
speech, strangely impressed upon me the effects of
speech ; " We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are



DREAM-CHILDREN; A REVERIE. 213

we children at all. The children of Alice call Bar-
trum father. 'We are nothing; less than nothing,
and dreams. We are only what might have been, and
must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions

of ages before we have existence, and a name"

and immediately awaking, I found myself quietly
seated in my bachelor arm-chair, where I had fallen
asleep, with the faithful Bridget unchanged by my
side but John L. (or James Elia) was gone for
ever



DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS.

In a Letter to B. F. Esq. at Sydney, New South
Wales.



MY dear F. When I think how welcome the sight
of a letter from the world where you were born must
be to you in that strange one to which you have been
transplanted, I feel some compunctious visitings at my
long silence. But, indeed, it is no easy effort to set
about a correspondence at our distance. The weary
world of waters between us oppresses the imagination.
It is difficult to conceive how a scrawl of mine should
ever stretch across it. It is a sort of presumption to
expect that one's thoughts should live so far. It is
like writing for posterity ; and reminds me of one of
Mrs. Rowe's superscriptions, " Alcander to Strephon,
in the shades." Cowley's Post- Angel is no more than
would be expedient in such an intercourse. One
drops a packet at Lombard-street, and in twenty-four
hours a friend in Cumberland gets it as fresh as if it
came in ice. It is only like whispering through a
long trumpet. But suppose a tube let down from the



DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS. 215

moon, with yourself at one end, and the man at the
other ; it would be some balk to the spirit of conver-
sation, if you knew that the dialogue exchanged with
that interesting theosophist would take two or three
revolutions of a higher luminary in its passage. Yet
for aught I know, you may be some parasangs nigher
that primitive idea Plato's man than we in Eng-
land here have the honour to reckon ourselves.

Epistolary matter usually compriseth three topics ;
news, sentiment, and puns. In the latter, I include
all non-serious subjects ; or subjects serious in them-
selves, but treated after my fashion, non- seriously.
And first, for news. In them the most desirable
circumstance, I suppose, is that they shall be true.
But what security can I have that what I now send
you for truth shall not before you get it unaccount-
ably turn into a lie ? For instance, our mutual friend
P. is at this present writing my Now in good
health, and enjoys a fair share of wordly reputation.
You are glad to hear it. This is natural and friendly.
But at this present reading your Now he may
possibly be in the Bench, or going to be hanged,
which in reason ought to abate something of your
transport (/. e. at hearing he was well, &c.), or at
least considerably to modify it. I am going to the
play this evening, to have a laugh with Munden.
You have no theatre, I think you told me, in your
land of d d realities. You naturally lick your lips,



2l6 DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS.

and envy me my felicity. Think but a moment, and
you will correct the hateful emotion. Why, it is
Sunday morning with you, and 1823. This confusion
of tenses, this grand solecism of two presents, is in a
degree common to all postage. But if I sent you
word to Bath or the Devises, that I was expecting the
aforesaid treat this evening, though at the moment
you received the intelligence my full feast of fun
would be over, yet there would be for a day or two
after, as you would well know, a smack, a relish left
upon my mental palate, which would give rational
encouragement for you to foster a portion at least of
the disagreeable passion, which it was in part my in-
tention to produce. But ten months hence your envy
or your sympathy would be as useless as a passion
spent upon the dead. Not only does truth, in these
long intervals, un- essence herself, but (what is harder)
one cannot venture a crude fiction for the fear that it
may ripen into a truth upon the voyage. What a wild
improbable banter I put upon you some three years
since of Will Weatherall having married a ser-
vant-maid ! I remember gravely consulting you how
we were to receive her for Will's wife was in no
case to be rejected ; and your no less serious replica-
tion in the matter; how tenderly you advised an
abstemious introduction of literary topics before the
lady, with a caution not to be too forward in bringing
on the carpet matters more within the sphere of her



DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS. 217

intelligence ; your deliberate judgment, or rather wise
suspension of sentence, how far jacks, and spits, and
mops, could with propriety be introduced as subjects ;
whether the conscious avoiding of all such matters in
discourse would not have a worse look than the taking
of them casually in our way ; in what manner we
should carry ourselves to our maid Becky, Mrs. William
Weatherall being by ; whether we should show more
delicacy, and a truer sense of respect for Will's wife,
by treating Becky with our customary chiding before
her, or by an unusual deferential civility paid to Becky
as to a person of great worth, but thrown by the
caprice of fate into a humble station. There were
difficulties, I remember, on both sides, which you did
me the favour to state with the precision of a lawyer,
united to the tenderness of a friend. I laughed in
my sleeve at your solemn pleadings, when lo ! while I
was valuing myself upon this flam put upon you in
New South Wales, the devil in England, jealous pos-
sibly of any lie-children not his own, or working after
my copy, has actually instigated our friend (not three
days since) to the commission of a matrimony, which
I had only conjured up for your diversion. William
Weatherall has married Mrs. CottereFs maid. But to
take it in its truest sense, you will see, my dear F.,
that news from me must become history to you ; which
I neither profess to write, nor indeed care much for
reading. No person, under a diviner, can with any



2l8 DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS.

prospect of veracity conduct a correspondence at such
an arm's length. Two prophets, indeed, might thus
interchange intelligence with effect ; the epoch of the
writer (Habbakuk) falling in with the true present
time of the receiver (Daniel) ; but then we are no
prophets.

Then as to sentiment. It fares little better with
that. This kind of dish, above all, requires to be
served up hot ; or sent off in water-plates, that your
friend may have it almost as warm as yourself. If it
have time to cool, it is the most tasteless of all cold
meats. I have often smiled at a conceit of the late
Lord C. It seems that travelling somewhere about
Geneva, he came to some pretty green spot, or nook,
where a willow, or something, hung so fantastically
and invitingly over a stream was it ? or a rock ?
no matter but the stillness and the repose, after
a weary journey 'tis likely, in a languid moment of his
lordship's hot restless life, so took his fancy, that he
could imagine no place so proper, in the event of his
death, to lay his bones in. This was all very natural
and excusable as a sentiment, and shows his character
in a very pleasing light. But when from a passing
sentiment it came to be an act ; and when, by a pos-
itive testamentary disposal, his remains were actually
carried all that way from England; who was there,
some desperate sentimentalists excepted, that did not
ask the question, Why could not his lordship have



DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS. 2IQ

found a spot as solitary, a nook as romantic, a tree as
green and pendent, with a stream as emblematic to
his purpose, in Surrey, in Dorset, or in Devon? Con-
ceive the sentiment boarded up, freighted, entered at
the Custom House (startling the tide-waiters with the
novelty), hoisted into a ship. Conceive it pawed
about and handled between the rude jests of tarpaulin
ruffians a thing of its delicate texture the salt
bilge wetting it till it became as vapid as a damaged
lustring. Suppose it in material danger (mariners
have some superstition about sentiments) of being
tossed over in a fresh gale to some propitiatory shark
(spirit of Saint Gothard, save us from a quietus so
foreign to the deviser's purpose !) but it has happily
evaded a fishy consummation. Trace it then to its
lucky landing at Lyons shall we say ? I have not
the map before me jostled upon four men's shoulders
baiting at this town stopping to refresh at t'other
village waiting a passport here, a license there ;
the sanction of the magistracy in this district, the
concurrence of the ecclesiastics in that canton ; till at
length it arrives at its destination, tired out and jaded,
from a brisk sentiment, into a feature of silly pride or
tawdry senseless affectation. How few sentiments,
my dear F., I am afraid we can set down, in the
sailor's phrase, as quite sea-worthy.

Lastly, as to the agreeable levities, which, though
contemptible in bulk, are the twinkling corpuscula



22O DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS.

which should irradiate a right friendly epistle your
puns and small jests are, I apprehend, extremely cir-
cumscribed in their sphere of action. They are so
far from a capacity of being packed up and sent be-
yond sea, they will scarce endure to be transported by
hand from this room to the next. Their vigour is as
the instant of their birth. Their nutriment for their
brief existence is the intellectual atmosphere of the
by-standers : or this last, is the fine slime of Nilus
the melior lutus, whose maternal recipiency is as
necessary as the sol pater to their equivocal generation.
A pun hath a hearty kind of present ear-kissing smack
with it ; you can no more transmit it in its pristine
flavour, than you can send a kiss. Have you not
tried in some instances to palm off a yesterday's pun
upon a gentleman, and has it answered ? Not but it
was new to his hearing, but it did not seem to come
new from you. It did not hitch in. It was like pick-
ing up at a village ale-house a two days old newspaper.
You have not seen it before, but you resent the stale
thing as an affront. This sort of merchandise above
all requires a quick return. A pun, and its recognitory
laugh, must be co-instantaneous. The one is the
brisk lightning, the other the fierce thunder. A
moment's interval, and the link is snapped. A pun is
reflected from a friend's face as from a mirror. Who
would consult his sweet visnomy, if the polished sur-
face were two or three minutes (not to speak of
twelve-months, my dear F.) in giving back its copy?



DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS. 221

I cannot image to myself whereabout you are.
When I try to fix it, Peter Wilkins's island comes
across me. Sometimes you seem to be in the Hades
of Thieves. I see Diogenes prying among you with
his perpetual fruitless lantern. What must you be
willing by this time to give for the sight of an honest
man ! You must almost have forgotten how we look.
And tell me, what your Sydneyites do? are they
th**v*ngall day long? Merciful heaven ! what prop-
erty can stand against such a depredation ! The
kangaroos your Aborigines do they keep their
primitive simplicity un-Europe-tainted, with those
little short fore-puds, looking like a lesson framed by
nature to the pickpocket ! Marry, for diving into
fobs they are rather lamely provided a priori ; but if
the hue and cry were once up, they would show as
fair a pair of hind-shifters as the expertest loco-motor
in the colony. We hear the most improbable tales
at this distance. Pray, is it true that the young Spar-
tans among you are born with six fingers, which spoils
their scanning? It must look very odd; but use
reconciles. For their scansion, it is less to be re-
gretted, for if they take it into their heads to be poets,
it is odds but they turn out, the greater part of them,
vile plagiarists. Is there much difference to see to
between the son of a th**f, and the grandson? or
where does the taint stop? Do you bleach in three
or in four generations ? I have many questions to



222 DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS.

put, but ten Delphic voyages can be made in a shorter
time than it will take to satisfy my scruples. Do
you grow your own hemp ? What is your staple
trade, exclusive of the national profession, I mean?
Your lock- smiths, I take it, are some of your great
capitalists.

I am insensibly chatting to you as familiarly as
when we used to exchange good-morrows out of our
old contiguous windows, in pump-famed Harecourt
in the Temple. Why did you ever leave that quiet
corner ? Why did I ? with its complement of four
poor elms, from whose smoke-dyed barks, the theme
of jesting ruralists, I picked my first lady-birds ! My
heart is as dry as that spring sometimes proves in a
thirsty August, when I revert to the space that is
between us ; a length of passage enough to render
obsolete the phrases of our English letters before they
can reach you. But while I talk, I think you hear
me, thoughts dallying with vain surmise

Aye me ! while thee the seas and sounding shores
Hold far away.

Come back, before I am grown into a very old
man, so as you shall hardly know me. Come before
Bridget walks on crutches. Girls whom you left
children have become sage matrons, while you are
tarrying there. The blooming Miss W r (you re-
member Sally W r) called upon us yesterday, an
aged crone. Folks, whom you knew, die off every



DISTANT CORRESPONDENTS. 223

year. Formerly, I thought that death was wearing
out, I stood ramparted about with so many healthy
friends. The departure of J. W., two springs back
corrected my delusion. Since then the old divorcer
has been busy. If you do not make haste to return,
there will be little left to greet you, of me, or mine.



THE PRAISE OF CHIMNEY-SWEEPERS.



I LIKE to meet a sweep understand me not a
grown sweeper old chimney-sweepers are by no
means attractive but one of those tender novices,
blooming through their first nigritude, the maternal
washings not quite effaced from the cheek such as
come forth with the dawn, or somewhat earlier, with
their little professional notes sounding like the peep
peep of a young sparrow ; or liker to the matin lark
should I pronounce them, in their aerial ascents not
seldom anticipating the sun- rise?

I have a kindly yearning toward these dim specks

poor blots innocent blacknesses

I reverence these young Africans of our own growth

these almost clergy imps, who sport their cloth
without assumption ; and from their little pulpits (the
tops of chimneys), in the nipping air of a December
morning, preach a lesson of patience to mankind.

When a child, what a mysterious pleasure it was to
witness their operation ! to see a chit no bigger than
one's-self enter, one knew not by what process, into



THE PRAISE OF CHIMNEY-SWEEPERS. 225

what seemed the fauces Averni to pursue him in
imagination, as he went sounding on through so many
dark stifling caverns, horrid shades ! to shudder
with the idea that " now, surely, he must be lost for
ever ! " to revive at hearing his feeble shout of
discovered day-light and then (O fulness of delight)
running out of doors, to come just in time to see the
sable phenomenon emerge in safety, the brandished
weapon of his art victorious like some flag waved
over a conquered citadel ! I seem to remember hav-
ing been told, that a bad sweep was once left in a
stack with his brush, to indicate which way the wind
blew. It was an awful spectacle certainly ; not much
unlike the old stage direction in Macbeth, where the
"Apparition of a child crowned with a tree in his
hand rises."

Reader, if thou meetest one of these small gentry
in thy early rambles, it is good to give him a penny.
It is better to give him two-pence. If it be starving
weather, and to the proper troubles of his hard occu-
pation, a pair of kibed heels (no unusual accompani-
ment) be superadded, the demand on thy humanity
will surely rise to a tester.

There is a composition, the ground-work of which
I have understood to be the sweet wood 'yclept sas-
safras. This wood boiled down to a kind of tea, and
tempered with an infusion of milk and sugar, hath to
some tastes a delicacy beyond the China luxury. I
15



226 THE PRAISE OF CHIMNEY-SWEEPERS.

know not how thy palate may relish it; for myself,
with every deference to the judicious Mr. Read, who
hath time out of mind kept open a shop (the only
one he avers in London) for the vending of this
" wholesome and pleasant beverage," on the south side
of Fleet-street, as thou approachest Bridge-street the
only Salopian house, I have never yet adventured to
dip my own particular lip in a basin of his commended
ingredients a cautious premonition to the olfac-
tories constantly whispering to me, that my stomach
must infallibly, with all due courtesy, decline it. Yet
I have seen palates, otherwise not uninstructed in
dietetical elegances, sup it up with avidity.

I know not by what particular conformation of the
organ it happens, but I have always found that this
composition is surprisingly gratifying to the palate of
a young chimney- sweeper whether the oily particles
(sassafras is slightly oleaginous) do attenuate and
soften the fuliginous concretions, which are sometimes
found (in dissections) to adhere to the roof of the
mouth in these unfledged practitioners; or whether
Nature, sensible that she had mingled too much of
bitter wood in the lot of these raw victims, caused to
grow out of the earth her sassafras for a sweet lenitive
but so it is, that no possible taste or odour to the
senses of a young chimney-sweeper can convey a
delicate excitement comparable to this mixture. Be-
ing penniless, they will yet hang their black heads



THE PRAISE OF CHIMNEY-SWEEPERS. 22/

over the ascending steam, to gratify one sense if pos-
sible, seemingly no less pleased than those domestic
animals cats when they purr over a new-found
sprig of valerian. There is something more in these
sympathies than philosophy can inculcate.

Now albeit Mr. Read boasteth, not without reason,
that his is the only Salopian house ; yet be it known
to thee, reader if thou art one who keepest what
are called good hours, thou art haply ignorant of the
fact he hath a race of industrious imitators, who
from stalls, and under open sky, dispense the same
savoury mess to humbler customers, at that dead time
of the dawn, when (as extremes meet) the rake,
reeling home from his midnight cups, and the hard-
handed artisan leaving his bed to resume the prema-
ture labours of the day, jostle, not unfrequently to
the manifest disconcerting of the former, for the
honours of the pavement. It is the time when, in
summer, between the expired and the not yet relu-
mined kitchen-fires, the kennels of our fair metropolis
give forth their least satisfactory odours. The rake,
who wisheth to dissipate his o'er-night vapours in
more grateful coffee, curses the ungenial fume, as he
passeth ; but the artisan stops to taste, and blesses the
fragrant breakfast.

This is Saloop the precocious herb- woman's dar-
ling the delight of the early gardener, who transports
his smoking cabbages by break of day from Hammer-



228 THE PRAISE OF CHIMNEY-SWEEPERS.

smith to Covent-garden's famed piazzas the delight,
and, oh I fear, too often the envy, of the unpennied



Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 13 of 32)