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to have been born gentle. The pride of ancestry
may be had on cheaper terms than to be obliged tc
an importunate race of ancestors; and the coatless
antiquary in his unemblazoned cell, revolving the long
line of a Mowbray's or De Clifford's pedigree, at those
sounding names may warm himself into as gay a vanity
as those who do inherit them. The claims of birth
are ideal merely, and what herald shall go about to
strip me of an idea ? Is it trenchant to their swords ?
can it be hacked off as a spur can ? or torn away like
a tarnished garter?


What, else, were the families of the great to us?
what pleasure should we take in their tedious gene-
alogies, or their capitulatory brass monuments ? What
to us the uninterrupted current of their bloods, if our
own did not answer within us to a cognate and cor-
respondent elevation?

Or wherefore, else, O tattered and diminished
'Scutcheon that hung upon the time-worn walls of thy
princely stairs, BLAKESMOOR ! have I in childhood so
oft stood poring upon thy mystic characters thy
emblematic supporters, with their prophetic " Re-
surgam " till, every dreg of peasantry purging off, I
received into myself Very Gentility ? Thou wert first
in my morning eyes ; and of nights, hast detained my
steps from bedward, till it was but a step from gazing
at thee to dreaming on thee.

This is the only true gentry by adoption ; the veri-
table change of blood, and not, as empirics have
fabled, by transfusion.

Who it was by dying that had earned the splendid
trophy, I know not, I inquired not; but its fading
rags, and colours cobweb-stained, told that its subject
was of two centuries back.

And what if my ancestor at that date was some
Damcetas feeding flocks, not his own, upon the
hills of Lincoln did I in less earnest vindicate to
myself the family trappings of this once proud ygon ?.
repaying by a backward triumph the insults he


might possibly have heaped in his life-time upon my
poor pastoral progenitor.

If it were presumption so to speculate, the present
owners of the mansion had least reason to complain.
They had long forsaken the old house of their fathers
for a newer trifle ; and I was left to appropriate to
myself what images I could pick up, to raise my
fancy, or to soothe my vanity.

I was the true descendant of those old W s ;

and not the present family of that name, who had
fled the old waste places.

Mine was that gallery of good old family portraits,
which as I have gone over, giving them in fancy my
own family name, one and then another would
seem to smile, reaching forward from the canvas, to
recognise the new relationship ; while the rest looked
grave, as it seemed, at the vacancy in their dwelling,
and thoughts of fled posterity.

That Beauty with the cool blue pastoral drapery,
and a lamb that hung next the great bay window

with the bright yellow H shire hair, and eye of

watchet hue so like my Alice ! I am persuaded
she was a true Elia Mildred Elia, I take it.

Mine too, BLAKESMOOR, was thy noble Marble Hall,
with its mosaic pavements, and its Twelve Caesars
stately busts in marble ranged round : of whose
countenances, young reader of faces as I was, the
frowning beauty of Nero, I remember, had most of


my wonder ; but the mild Galba had my love. There
they stood in the coldness of death, yet freshness of

Mine too, thy lofty Justice Hall, with its one chair
of authority, high-backed and wickered, once the
terror of luckless poacher, or self- forgetful maiden
so common since, that bats have roosted in it.

Mine too whose else? thy costly fruit-garden,
with its sun-baked southern wall ; the ampler pleasure-
garden, rising backwards from the house in triple ter-
races, with flower-pots now of palest lead, save that a
speck here and there, saved from the elements, be-
spake their pristine state to have been gilt and glit-
tering ; the verdant quarters backwarder still ; and,
stretching still beyond, in old formality, thy firry
wilderness, the haunt of the squirrel, and the day-
long murmuring woodpigeon, with that antique image
in the centre, God or Goddess I wist not ; but child
of Athens or old Rome paid never a sincerer worship
to Pan or to Sylvanus in their native groves, than I to
that fragmental mystery.

Was it for this, that I kissed my childish hands too
fervently in your idol worship, walks and windings of
BLAKESMOOR ! for this, or what sin of mine, has the
plough passed over your pleasant places? I some-
times think that as men, when they die, do not die
all, so of their extinguished habitations there may be
a hope a germ to be revivified.


A POOR Relation is the most irrelevant thing in
nature, a piece of impertinent correspondency,
an odious approximation, a haunting conscience,
a preposterous shadow, lengthening in the noon-
tide of your prosperity, an unwelcome remem-
brancer, a perpetually recurring mortification, a
drain on your purse, a more intolerable dun upon
your pride, a drawback upon success, a rebuke
to your rising, a stain in your blood, a blot on
your scutcheon, a rent in your garment, a death's
head at your banquet, Agathocles' pot, a Mor-
decai in your gate, a Lazarus at your door, a
lion in your path, a frog in your chamber, a fly
in your ointment, a mote in your eye, a triumph
to your enemy, an apology to your friends, the one
thing not needful, the hail in harvest, the ounce
of sour in a pound of sweet.

He is known by his knock. Your heart telleth you

"That is Mr. ." A rap, between familiarity and

respect ; that demands, and, at the same time, seems


to despair of, entertainment, He entereth smiling,
and embarrassed. He holdeth out his hand to you
to shake, and draweth it back again. He casually
looketh in about dinner time when the table is full.
He offereth to go away, seeing you have company
but is induced to stay. He filleth a chair, and your
visitor's two children are accommodated at a side
table. He never cometh upon open days, when your
wife says with some complacency, " My dear, perhaps

Mr. will drop in to-day." He remembereth

birth-days and professeth he is fortunate to have
stumbled upon one. He declareth against fish, the
turbot being small yet suffereth himself to be im-
portuned into a slice against his first resolution. He
sticketh by the port yet will be prevailed upon to
empty the remainder glass of claret, if a stranger press
it upon him. He is a puzzle to the servants, who are
fearful of being too obsequious, or not civil enough,
to him. The guests think " they have seen him be-
fore." Every one speculateth upon his condition;
and the most part take him to be a tide-waiter.
He calleth you by your Christian name, to imply that
his other is the same with your own. He is too fa-
miliar by half, yet you wish he had less diffidence.
With half the familiarity he might pass for a casual
dependent; with more boldness he would be in no
danger of being taken for what he is. He is too
humble for a friend, yet taketh on him more state


than befits a client. He is a worse guest than a
country tenant, inasmuch as he bringeth up no rent
yet 't is odds, from his garb and demeanour, that
your guests take him for one. He is asked to make
one at the whist table ; refuseth on the score of
poverty, and resents being left out. When the
company break up, he proffereth to go for a coach
and lets the servant go. He recollects yoar grand-
father ; and will thrust in some mean, and quite unim-
portant anecdote of the family. He knew it when
it was not quite so flourishing as " he is blest in see-
ing it now." He reviveth past situations, to institute
what he calleth favourable comparisons. With a
reflecting sort of congratulation, he will inquire the
price of your furniture ; and insults you with a special
commendation of your window-curtains. He is of
opinion that the urn is the more elegant shape, but,
after all, there was something more comfortable about
the old tea-kettle which you must remember. He
dare say you must find a great convenience in having
a carriage of your own, and appealeth to your lady if
it is not so. Inquireth if you have had your arms
done on vellum yet; and did not know till lately,
that such-and-such had been the crest of the family.
His memory is unseasonable ; his compliments per-
verse ; his talk a trouble ; his stay pertinacious ; and
when he goeth away, you dismiss his chair into a
corner, as precipitately as possible, and feel fairly rid
of two nuisances.


There is a worse evil under the sun, and that is
a female Poor Relation. You may do something with
the other ; you may pass him off tolerably well ; but
your indigent she-relative is hopeless. " He is an
old humourist," you may say, " and affects to go
threadbare. His circumstances are better than folks
would take them to be. You are fond of having a
Character at your table, and truly he is one." But in
the indications of female poverty there can be no dis-
guise. No woman dresses below herself from caprice.
The truth must out without shuffling. " She is plainly

related to the L s ; or what does she at their

house? " She is, in all probability, your wife's cousin.
Nine times out of ten, at least, this is the case. Her
garb is something between a gentlewoman and a
beggar, yet the former evidently predominates. She
is most provokingly humble, and ostentatiously sen-
sible to her inferiority. He may require to be re-
pressed sometimes allquando sufflaminandus erat
but there is no raising her. You send her soup at
dinner, and she begs to be helped after the gentle-
men. Mr. requests the honour of taking wine

with her ; she hesitates between Port and Madeira,
and chooses the former because he does. She calls
the servant Sir ; and insists on not troubling him to
hold her plate. The housekeeper patronizes her. The
children's governess takes upon her to correct her
when she has mistaken the piano for a harpsichord.


Richard Amlet, Esq., in the play, is a notable in-
stance of the disadvantages, to which this chimerical
notion of affinity constituting a claim to acquaintance,
may subject the spirit of a gentleman. A little foolish
blood is all that is betwixt him and a lady with a great
estate. His stars are perpetually crossed by the ma-
lignant maternity of an old woman, who persists in
calling him " her son Dick." But she has wherewithal
in the end to recompense his indignities, and float
him again upon the brilliant surface, under which it
had been her seeming business and pleasure all along
to sink him. All men, besides, are not of Dick's tem-
perament. I knew an Amlet in real life, who, wanting

Dick's buoyancy, sank indeed. Poor W was of

my own standing at Christ's, a fine classic, and a youth
of promise. If he had a blemish, it was too much
pride ; but its quality was inoffensive ; it was not of
that sort which hardens the heart, and serves to keep
inferiors at a distance ; it only sought to ward off
derogation from itself. It was the principle of self-
respect carried as far as it could go, without infring-
ing upon that respect, which he would have every one
else equally maintain for himself. He would have
you to think alike with him on this topic. Many a
quarrel have I had with him, when we were rather
older boys, and our tallness made us more obnoxious
to observation in the blue clothes, because I would
not thread the alleys and blind ways of the town with


him to elude notice, when we have been out together
on a holiday in the streets of this sneering and prying

metropolis. W went, sore with these notions, to

Oxford, where the dignity and sweetness of a scholar's
life, meeting with the alloy of a humble introduction,
wrought in him a passionate devotion to the place,
with a profound aversion from the society. The ser-
vitor's gown (worse than his school array) clung to
him with Nessian venom. He thought himself ridic-
ulous in a garb, under which Latimer must have
walked erect ; and in which Hooker, in his young
days, possibly flaunted in a vein of no discommend-
able vanity. In the depth of college shades, or in
his lonely chamber, the poor student shrunk from ob-
servation. He found shelter among books, which
insult not ; and studies, that ask no questions of a
youth's finances. He was lord of his library, and sel-
dom cared for looking out beyond his domains. The
healing influence of studious pursuits was upon him,
to soothe and to abstract. He was almost a healthy
man ; when the waywardness of his fate broke out
against him with a second and worse malignity. The

father of W had hitherto exercised the humble

profession of house-painter at N , near Oxford.

A supposed interest with some of the heads of col-
leges had now induced him to take up his abode in
that city, with the hope of being employed upon some
public works which were talked of. From that mo


ment I read in the countenance of the young man,
the determination which at length tore him from
academical pursuits for ever. To a person unac-
quainted with our Universities, the distance between
the gownsmen and the townsmen, as they are called
the trading part of the latter especially is carried
to an excess that would appear harsh and incredible.

The temperament of W 's father was diametrically

the reverse of his own. Old W was a little, busy,

cringing tradesman, who, with his son upon his arm,
would stand bowing and scraping, cap in hand, to
any thing that wore the semblance of a gown insen-
sible to the winks and opener remonstrances of the
young man, to whose chamber-fellow, or equal in
standing, perhaps, he was thus obsequiously and gra-
tuitously ducking. Such a state of things could not

last. W must change the air of Oxford or be

suffocated. He chose the former ; and let the sturdy
moralist, who strains the point of the filial duties as
high as they can bear, censure the dereliction; he

cannot estimate the struggle. I stood with W ,

the last afternoon I ever saw him, under the eaves of
his paternal dwelling. It was in the fine lane leading
from the High-street to the back of * * * * * college,
where VV kept his rooms. He seemed thought-
ful, and more reconciled. I ventured to rally him
finding him in a better mood upon a representation
of the Artist Evangelist, which the old man, whose


affairs were beginning to flourish, had caused to be
set up in a splendid sort of frame over his really hand-
some shop, either as a token of prosperity, or badge

of gratitude to his saint. W looked up at the

Luke, and, like Satan, " knew his mounted sign and
fled." A letter on his father's table the next morning,
announced that he had accepted a commission in a
regiment about to embark for Portugal. He was
among the first who perished before the walls of St.

I do not know how, upon a subject which I began
with treating half seriously, I should have fallen upon
a recital so eminently painful ; but this theme of poor
relationship is replete with so much matter for tragic
as well as comic associations, that it is difficult to
keep the account distinct without blending. The
earliest impressions which I received on this matter,
are certainly not attended with anything painful, or
very humiliating, in the recalling. At my father's
table (no very splendid one) was to be found, every
Saturday, the mysterious figure of an aged gentleman,
clothed in neat black, of a sad yet comely appear-
ance. His deportment was of the essence of gravity ;
his words few or none ; and I was not to make a noise
in his presence. I had little inclination to have done
so for my cue was to admire in silence. A partic-
ular elbow chair was appropriated to him, which was
in no case to be violated. A peculiar sort of sweet


pudding, which appeared on no other occasion, dis-
tinguished the days of his coming. I used to think
him a prodigiously rich man. All I could make out
of him was, that he and my father had been school-
fellows a world ago at Lincoln, and that he came from
the Mint. The Mint I knew to be a place where all
the money was coined and I thought he was the
owner of all that money. Awful ideas of the Tower
twined themselves about his presence. He seemed
above human infirmities and passions. A sort of mel-
ancholy grandeur invested him. From some inex-
plicable doom I fancied him obliged to go about in
an eternal suit of mourning; a captive a stately
being, let out of the Tower on Saturdays. Often have
I wondered at the temerity of my father, who, in spite
of an habitual general respect which we all in common
manifested towards him, would venture now and then
to stand up against him in some argument, touching
their youthful days. The houses of the ancient city
of Lincoln are divided (as most of my readers know)
between the dwellers on the hill, and in the valley.
This marked distinction formed an obvious division
between the boys who lived above (however brought
together in a common school) and the boys whose
paternal residence was on the plain ; a sufficient cause
of hostility in the code of these young Grotiuses.
My father had been a leading Mountaineer; and
would still maintain the general superiority, in skill


and hardihood, of the Above Boys (his own faction)
over the Below Boys (so were they called) , of which
party his contemporary had been a chieftain. Many
and hot were the skirmishes on this topic the only
one upon which the old gentleman was ever brought
out and bad blood bred; even sometimes almost
to the recommencement (so I expected) of actual
hostilities. But my father, who scorned to insist upon
advantages, generally contrived to turn the conversa-
tion upon some adroit by-commendation of the old
Minster ; in the general preference of which, before
all other cathedrals in the island, the dweller on the
hill, and the plain-born, could meet on a conciliating
level, and lay down their less important differences.
Once only I saw the old gentleman really ruffled, and
I remembered with anguish the thought that came
over me : " Perhaps he will never come here again."
He had been pressed to take another plate of the
viand, which I have already mentioned as the indis-
pensable concomitant of his visits. He had refused,
with a resistance amounting to rigour when my aunt,
an old Lincolnian, but who had something of this, in
common with my cousin Bridget, that she would some-
times press civility out of season uttered the follow-
ing memorable application " Do take another slice,
Mr. Billet, for you do not get pudding every day."
The old gentleman said nothing at the time but he
took occasion in the course of the evening, when


some argument had intervened between them, to utter
with an emphasis which chilled the company, and
which chills me now as I write it " Woman, you
are superannuated." John Billet did not survive
long, after the digesting of this affront ; but he sur-
vived long enough to assure me that peace was actu-
ally restored ! and, if I remember aright, another
pudding was discreetly substituted in the place of
that which had occasioned the offence. He died at
the Mint (Anno 1781) where he had long held, what
he accounted, a comfortable independence ; and with
five pounds, fourteen shillings, and a penny, which
were found in his escrutoire after his decease, left the
world, blessing God that he had enough to bury him,
and that he had never been obliged to any man for a
sixpence. This was a Poor Relation.


A PLAY is said to be well or ill acted in proportion
to the scenical illusion produced. Whether such
illusion can in any case be perfect, is not the question.
The nearest approach to it, we are told, is, when the
actor appears wholly unconscious of the presence of
spectators. In tragedy in all which is to affect the
feelings this undivided attention to his stage busi-
ness, seems indispensable. Yet it is, in fact, dispensed
with every day by our cleverest tragedians ; and while
these references to an audience, in the shape of rant
or sentiment, are not too frequent or palpable, a suffi-
cient quantity of illusion for the purposes of dramatic
interest may be said to be produced in spite of them.
But, tragedy apart, it may be inquired whether, in
certain characters in comedy, especially those which
are a little extravagant, or which involve some notion
repugnant to the moral sense, it is not a proof of the
highest skill in the comedian when, without absolutely
appealing to an audience, he keeps up a tacit under-
standing with them ; and makes them, unconsciously


to themselves, a party in the scene. The utmost
nicety is required in the mode of doing this ; but we
speak only of the great artists in the profession.

The most mortifying infirmity in human nature, to
feel in ourselves, or to contemplate in another, is,
perhaps, cowardice. To see a coward done to the life
upon a stage would produce any thing but mirth.
Yet we most of us remember Jack Bannister's cow-
ards. Could any thing be more agreeable, more
pleasant? We loved the rogues. How was this
effected but by the exquisite art of the actor in a
perpetual sub-insinuation to us, the spectators, even
in the extremity of the shaking fit, that he was not
half such a coward as we took him for? We saw
all the common symptoms of the malady upon him ;
the quivering lip, the cowering knees, the teeth chat-
tering ; and could have sworn " that man was fright-
ened." But we forgot all the while or kept it
almost a secret to ourselves that he never once
lost his self-possession ; that he let out by a thou-
sand droll looks and gestures meant at us, and
not at all supposed to be visible to his fellows in the
scene, that his confidence in his own resources had
never once deserted him. Was this a genuine pic-
ture of a coward ? or not rather a likeness, which the
clever artist contrived to palm upon us instead of
an original; while we secretly connived at the de-
lusion for the purpose of greater pleasure, than a


more genuine counterfeiting of the imbecility, help-
lessness, and utter self-desertion, which we know to
be concomitants of cowardice in real life, could have
given us?

Why are misers so hateful in the world, and so
endurable on the stage, but because the skilful actor,
by a sort of sub-reference, rather than direct appeal
to us, disarms the character of a great deal of its
odiousness, by seeming to engage our compassion
for the insecure tenure by which he holds his money
bags and parchments? By this subtle vent half of
the hatefulness of the character the self-closeness
with which in real life it coils itself up from the
sympathies of men evaporates. The miser be-
comes sympathetic ; /. e. is no genuine miser. Here
again a diverting likeness is substituted for a very
disagreeable reality.

Spleen, irritability the pitiable infirmities of old
men, which produce only pain to behold in the
realities, counterfeited upon a stage, divert not alto-
gether for the comic appendages to them, but in
part from an inner conviction that they are being
acted before us; that a likeness only is going on,
and not the thing itself. They please by being done
under the life, or beside it ; not to the life. When
Gatty acts an old man, is he angry indeed? or only
a pleasant counterfeit, just enough of a likeness to
recognise, without pressing upon us the uneasy sense
of reality?


Comedians, paradoxical as it may seem, may be
too natural. It was the case with a late actor.
Nothing could be more earnest or true than the
manner of Mr. Emery; this told excellently in his
Tyke, and characters of a tragic cast. But when he
carried the same rigid exclusiveness of attention to
the stage business, and wilful blindness and oblivion
of everything before the curtain into his comedy,
it produced a harsh and dissonant effect. He was
out of keeping with the rest of the Persona Dramatis.
There was as little link between him and them as
betwixt himself and the audience. He was a third
estate, dry, repulsive, and unsocial to all. Individu-
ally considered, his execution was masterly. But
comedy is not this unbending thing ; for this reason,
that the same degree of credibility is not required
of it as to serious scenes. The degrees of credibility
demanded to the two things may be illustrated by

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 19 of 32)