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have reprints, yet the books themselves, though they
go about, and are talked of here and there, we know,
have not endenizened themselves (nor possibly ever
will) in the national heart, so as to become stock
books it is good to possess these in durable and


costly covers. I do not care for a First Folio of
Shakspeare. I rather prefer the common editions of
Rowe and Tonson, without notes, and with plates,
which, being so execrably bad, serve as maps, or
modest remembrancers, to the text; and without
pretending to any supposable emulation with it, are
so much better than the Shakspeare gallery engrav-
ings, which did. I have a community of feeling with
my countrymen about his Plays, and I like those
editions of him best, which have been oftenest tum-
bled about and handled. On the contrary, I can-
not read Beaumont and Fletcher but in Folio. The
Octavo editions are painful to look at. I have no
sympathy with them. If they were as much read as
the current editions of the other poet, I should pre-
fer them in that shape to the older one. I do not
know a more heartless sight than the reprint of the
Anatomy of Melancholy. What need was there of
unearthing the bones of that fantastic old great man,
to expose them in a winding-sheet of the newest
fashion to modern censure? what hapless stationer
could dream of Burton ever becoming popular?
The wretched Malone could not do worse, when he
bribed the sexton of Stratford church to let him
white-wash the painted effigy of old Shakspeare,
which stood there, in rude but lively fashion de-
picted, to the very colour of the cheek, the eye, the
eye-brow, hair, the very dress he used to wear the


only authentic testimony we had, however imperfect,
of these curious parts and parcels of him. They
covered him over with a coat of white paint. By
, if I had been a justice of peace for Warwick-
shire, I would have clapt both commentator and
sexton fast in the stocks, for a pair of meddling
sacrilegious varlets.

I think I see them at their work these sapient

Shall I be thought fantastical, if I confess, that the
names of some of our poets sound sweeter, and have
a finer relish to the ear to mine, at least than
that of Milton or of Shakspeare ? It may be, that the
latter are more staled and rung upon in common dis-
course. The sweetest names, and which carry a
perfume in the mention, are, Kit Marlowe, Drayton,
Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cowley.

Much depends upon when and where you read a
book. In the five or six impatient minutes, before
the dinner is quite ready, who would think of taking
up the Fairy Queen for a stop-gap, or a volume of
Bishop Andrewes' sermons?

Milton almost requires a solemn service of music
to be played before you enter upon him. But he
brings his music, to which, who listens, had need
bring docile thoughts, and purged ears.

Winter evenings the world shut out with less
of ceremony the gentle Shakspeare enters. At such a
season, the Tempest, or his own Winter's Tale


These two poets you cannot avoid reading aloud
to yourself, or (as it chances) to some single person
listening. More than one and it degenerates into
an audience.

Books of quick interest, that hurry on for incidents,
are for the eye to glide over only. It will not do to
read them out. I could never listen to even the
better kind of modem novels without extreme irk-

A newspaper, read out, is intolerable. In some of
the Bank offices it is the custom (to save so much in-
dividual time) for one of the clerks who is the best
scholar to commence upon the Times, or the
Chronicle, and recite its entire contents aloud pro
bono publico. With every advantage of lungs and
elocution, the effect is singularly vapid. In barbers'
shops and public- houses a fellow will get up, and spell
out a paragraph, which he communicates as some
discovery. Another follows with his selection. So
the entire journal transpires at length by piece-meal.
Seldom-readers are slow readers, and, without this ex-
pedient no one in the company would probably ever
travel through the contents of a whole paper.

Newspapers always excite curiosity. No one ever
lays one down without a feeling of disappointment.

What an eternal time that gentleman in black, at
Nando's, keeps the paper ! I am sick of hearing the
waiter bawling out incessantly, "the Chronicle is in
hand, Sir."


Coming in to an inn at night having ordered
your supper what can be more delightful than to
find lying in the window-seat, left there time out of
mind by the carelessness of some former guest two
or three numbers of the old Town and Country Maga-
zine, with its amusing tete-a-tete pictures "The

Royal Lover and Lady G ;" "The Melting

Platonic and the old Beau," and such like anti-
quated scandal? Would you exchange it at that
time, and in that place for a better book ?

Poor Tobin, who latterly fell blind, did not regret
it so much for the weightier kinds of reading the
Paradise Lost, or Comus, he could have read to him
but he missed the pleasure of skimming over with
his own eye a magazine, or a light pamphlet.

I should not care to be caught in the serious
avenues of some cathedral alone, and reading Can-

I do not remember a more whimsical surprise than
having been once detected by a familiar damsel
reclined at my ease upon the grass, on Primrose Hill
(her Cythera), reading Pamela. There was noth-
ing in the book to make a man seriously ashamed at
the exposure ; but as she seated herself down by me,
and seemed determined to read in company, I could
have wished it had been any other book. We
read on very sociably for a few pages ; and, not find-
ing the author much to her taste, she got up, and


went away. Gentle casuist, I leave it to thee to con-
jecture, whether the blush (for there was one between
us) was the property of the nymph or the swain in
this dilemma. From me you shall never get the

I am not much a friend to out-of-doors reading.
I cannot settle my spirits to it. I knew a Unitarian
minister, who was generally to be seen upon Snow-
hill (as yet Skinner's-street was not), between the
hours of ten and eleven in the morning, studying a
volume of Lardner. I own this to have been a strain
of abstraction beyond my reach. I used to admire
how he sidled along, keeping clear of secular con-
tacts. An illiterate encounter with a porter's knot,
or a bread basket, would have quickly put to flight all
the theology I am master of, and have left me worse
than indifferent to the five points.

There is a class of street-readers, whom I can never
contemplate without affection the poor gentry, who,
not having wherewithal to buy or hire a book, filch a
little learning at the open stalls the owner, with his
hard eye, casting envious looks at them all the while,
and thinking when they will have done. Venturing
tenderly, page after page, expecting every moment
when he shall interpose his interdict, and yet unable
to deny themselves the gratification, they " snatch a
fearful joy." Martin B , in this way, by daily frag-
ments, got through two volumes of Clarissa, when the


stall-keeper damped his laudable ambition, by asking
him (it was in his younger days) whether he meant
to purchase the work. M. declares, that under no
circumstances of his life did he ever peruse a book
with half the satisfaction which he took in those un-
easy snatches. A quaint poetess of our day has moral-
ised upon this subject in two very touching but homely

I saw a boy with eager eye

Open a book upon a stall,

And read, as he 'd devour it all ;

Which when the stall-man did espy,

Soon to the boy I heard him call,

" You, Sir, you never buy a book,

Therefore in one you shall not look."

The boy pass'd slowly on, and with a sigh

He wish'd he never had been taught to read,

Then of the old churl's books he should have had no need.

Of sufferings the poor have many,

Which never can the rich annoy :

I soon perceiv'd another boy,

Who look'd as if he 'd not had any

Food, for that day at least enjoy

The sight of cold meat in a tavern larder.

This boy's case, then thought I, is surely harder,

Thus hungry, longing, thus without a penny,

Beholding choice of dainty-dressed meat :

No wonder if he wish he ne'er had learn'd to eat.


I AM fond of passing my vacations (I believe I have
said so before) at one or other of the Universities.
Next to these my choice would fix me at some woody
spot, such as the neighbourhood of Henley affords in
abundance, upon the banks of my beloved Thames.
But somehow or other my cousin contrives to wheedle
me once in three or four seasons to a watering place.
Old attachments cling to her in spite of experience.
We have been dull at Worthing one summer, duller
at Brighton another, dullest at Eastbourn a third, and
are at this moment doing dreary penance at Hast-
ings ! and all because we were happy many years
ago for a brief week at Margate. That was our
first sea- side experiment, and many circumstances
combined to make it the most agreeable holyday of
my life. We had neither of us seen the sea, and we
had never been from home so long together in

Can I forget thee, thou old Margate Hoy, with thy
weather-beaten, sun-burnt captain, and his rough ac-


commodations ill exchanged for the foppery and
fresh- water niceness of the modern steam packet?
To the winds and waves thou committedst thy goodly
freightage, and didst ask no aid of magic fumes, and
spells, and boiling cauldrons. With the gales of
heaven thou wentest swimmingly ; or, when it was
their pleasure, stoodest still with sailor-like patience.
Thy course was natural, not forced, as in a hot-bed ;
nor didst thou go poisoning the breath of ocean with
sulphureous smoke a great sea-chimaera, chimney-
ing and furnacing the deep ; or liker to that fire-god
parching up Scamander.

Can I forget thy honest, yet slender crew, with
their coy reluctant responses (yet to the suppression
of anything like contempt) to the raw questions,
which we of the great city would be ever and anon
putting to them, as to the uses of this or that strange
naval implement? 'Specially can I forget thee, thou
happy medium, thou shade of refuge between us and
them, conciliating interpreter of their skill to our sim-
plicity, comfortable ambassador between sea and
land ! whose sailor- trowsers did not more convin-
cingly assure thee to be an adopted denizen of the
former, than thy white cap, and whiter apron over
them, with thy neat-fingered practice in thy culinary
vocation, bespoke thee to have been of inland nurture
heretofore a master cook of Eastcheap? How
busily didst thou ply thy multifarious occupation,


cook, mariner, attendant, chamberlain ; here, there,
like another Ariel, flaming at once about all parts of
the deck, yet with kindlier ministrations not to
assist the tempest, but, as if touched with a kindred
sense of our infirmities, to soothe the qualms which
that untried motion might haply raise in our crude
land-fancies. And when the o'er-washing billows
drove us below deck (for it was far gone in October,
and we had stiff and blowing weather) how did thy
officious ministerings, still catering for our comfort,
with cards, and cordials, and thy more cordial con-
versation, alleviate the closeness and the confinement
of thy else (truth to say) not very savoury, nor very
inviting little cabin !

With these additaments to boot, we had on board
a fellow-passenger, whose discourse in verity might
have beguiled a longer voyage than we meditated,
and have made mirth and wonder abound as far as
the Azores. He was a dark, Spanish complexioned
young man, remarkably handsome, with an officer-
like assurance, and an insuppressible volubility of as-
sertion. He was, in fact, the greatest liar I had met
with then, or since. He was none of your hesitating,
half-story tellers (a most painful description of mor-
tals) who go on sounding your belief, and only giving
you as much as they see you can swallow at a time
the nibbling pickpockets of your patience but one
who committed downright, day- light depredations


upon his neighbour's faith. He did not stand shiver-
ing upon the brink, but was a hearty thorough-paced
liar, and plunged at once into the depths of your
credulity. I partly believe, he made pretty sure of
his company. Not many rich, not many wise, or
learned, composed at that time the common stowage
of a Margate packet. We were, I am afraid, a set of
as unseasoned Londoners (let our enemies give it a
worse name) as Aldermanbury, or Watling street, at
that time of day could have supplied. There might
be an exception or two among us, but I scorn to make
any invidious distinctions among such a jolly, com-
panionable ship's company, as those were whom I
sailed with. Something too must be conceded to the
Genius Loci. Had the confident fellow told us half
the legends on land, which he favoured us with on
the other element, I flatter myself the good sense of
most of us would have revolted. But we were in a
new world, with everything unfamiliar about us, and
the time and place disposed us to the reception of
any prodigious marvel whatsoever. Time has obliter-
ated from my memory much of his wild fablings ; and
the rest would appear but dull, as written, and to be
read on shore. He had been Aid-de-camp (among
other rare accidents and fortunes) to a Persian prince,
and at one blow had stricken off the head of the
King of Carimania on horseback. He, of course,
married the Prince's daughter. I forget what un-


lucky turn in the politics of that court, combining
with the loss of his consort, was the reason of his
quitting Persia ; but with the rapidity of a magician
he transported himself, along with his hearers, back
to England, where we still found him in the confi-
dence of great ladies. There was some story of a
Princess Elizabeth, if I remember having in-
trusted to his care an extraordinary casket of jewels,
upon some extraordinary occasion but as I am
not certain of the name or circumstance at this dis-
tance of time, I must leave it to the Royal daughters
of England to settle the honour among themselves in
private. I cannot call to mind half his pleasant won-
ders ; but I perfectly remember, that in the course
of his travels he had seen a phoenix; and he obli-
gingly undeceived us of the vulgar error, that there is
but one of that species at a time, assuring us that
they were not uncommon in some parts of Upper
Egypt. Hitherto he had found the most implicit
listeners. His dreaming fancies had transported us
beyond the " ignorant present." But when (still
hardying more and more in his triumphs over our
simplicity), he went on to affirm that he had actually
sailed through the legs of the Colossus at Rhodes, it
really became necessary to make a stand. And here
I must do justice to the good sense and intrepidity
of one of our party, a youth, that had hitherto been
one of his most deferential auditors, who, from his


recent reading, made bold to assure the gentleman,
that there must be some mistake, as " the Colossus in
question had been destroyed long since : " to whose
opinion, delivered with all modesty, our hero was
obliging enough to concede thus much, that " the
figure was indeed a little damaged." This was the
only opposition he met with, and it did not at all
seem to stagger him, for he proceeded with his fables,
which the same youth appeared to swallow with still
more complacency than ever, confirmed, as it were,
by the extreme candour of that concession. With
these prodigies he wheedled us on till we came in
sight of the Reculvers, which one of our own company
(having been the voyage before) immediately recog-
nising, and pointing out to us, was considered by us
as no ordinary seaman.

All this time sat upon the edge of the deck quite a
different character. It was a lad, apparently very
poor, very infirm, and very patient. His eye was
ever on the sea, with a smile : and, if he caught now
and then some snatches of these wild legends, it was
by accident, and they seemed not to concern him.
The waves to him whispered more pleasant stories.
He was as one, being with us, but not of us. He
heard the bell of dinner ring without stirring; and
when some of us pulled out our private stores our
cold meat and our salads he produced none, and
seemed to want none. Only a solitary biscuit he had


laid in ; provision for the one or two days and nights,
to which these vessels then were oftentimes obliged
to prolong their voyage. Upon a nearer acquaintance
with him, which he seemed neither to court nor de^
cline, we learned that he was going to Margate, with
the hope of being admitted into the Infirmary there
for sea-bathing. His disease was a scrofula, which
appeared to have eaten all over him. He expressed
great hopes of a cure : and when we asked him,
whether he had any friends where he was going, he
replied, " he had no friends."

These pleasant, and some mournful passages, with
the first sight of the sea, co-operating with youth, and
a sense of holydays, and out-of-door adventure, to
me that had been pent up in populous cities for
many months before, have left upon my mind the
fragrance as of summer days gone by, bequeathing
nothing but their remembrance for cold and wintry
hours to chew upon.

Will it be thought a digression (it may spare some
unwelcome comparisons), if I endeavour to account
for the dissatisfaction which I have heard so many
persons confess to have felt (as I did myself feel in
part on this occasion) , at the sight of the sea for the
first time ? I think the reason usually given refer-
ring to the incapacity of actual objects for satisfying
our preconceptions of them scarcely goes deep
enough into the question. Let the same person see


a lion, an elephant, a mountain, for the first time in
his life, and he shall perhaps feel himself a little morti-
fied. The things do not fill up that space, which the
idea of them seemed to take up in his mind. But
they have still a correspondency to his first notion,
and in time grow up to it, so as to produce a very
similar impression : enlarging themselves (if I may
say so) upon familiarity. But the sea remains a dis-
appointment. Is it not, that in the latter we had
expected to behold (absurdly, I grant, but, I am
afraid, by the law of imagination unavoidably) not a
definite object, as those wild beasts, or that mountain
compassable by the eye, but all the sea at once, THE


say we tell ourselves so much, but the craving of the
mind is to be satisfied with nothing less. I will sup-
pose the case of a young person of fifteen (as I then
was) knowing nothing of the sea, but from descrip-
tion. He comes to it for the first time all that he
has been reading of it all his life, and that the most
enthusiastic part of life, all he has gathered from
narratives of wandering seamen ; what he has gained
from true voyages, and what he cherishes as credu-
lously from romance and poetry; crowding their
images, and exacting strange tributes from expecta-
tion. He thinks of the great deep, and of those
who go down unto it ; of its thousand isles, and of
the vast continents it washes; of its receiving the


mighty Plata, or Orellana, into its bosom, without dis-
turbance, or sense of augmentation ; of Biscay swells,
and the mariner

For many a day, and many a dreadful night,
Incessant labouring round the stormy Cape;

of fatal rocks, and the " still-vexed Bermoothes ; " of
great whirlpools, and the water-spout ; of sunken ships,
and sumless treasures swallowed up in the unrestoring
depths : of fishes and quaint monsters, to which all
that is terrible on earth

Be but as buggs to frighten babes withal,
Compared with the creatures in the sea's entral ;

of naked savages, and Juan Fernandez ; of pearls, and
shells ; of coral beds, and of enchanted isles ; of mer-
maids' grots

I do not assert that in sober earnest he expects to
be shown all these wonders at once, but he is under
the tyranny of a mighty faculty, which haunts him
with confused hints and shadows of all these ; and
when the actual object opens first upon him, seen (in
tame weather too most likely) from our unromantic
coasts a speck, a slip of sea- water, as it shows to
him what can it prove but a very unsatisfying and
even diminutive entertainment? Or if he has come
to it from the mouth of a river, was it much more
than the river widening? and, even out of sight of
land, what had he but a flat watery horizon about


him, nothing comparable to the vast o'er-curtaining
sky, his familiar object, seen daily without dread or
amazement ? Who, in similar circumstances, has
not been tempted to exclaim with Charoba, in the
poem of Gebir,

Is this the mighty ocean ? is this all ?

I love town, or country ; but this detestable Cinque
Port is neither. I hate these scrubbed shoots, thrust-
ing out their starved foliage from between the horrid
fissures of dusty innutritious rocks ; which the ama-
teur calls " verdure to the edge of the sea." I require
woods, and they show me stunted coppices. I cry
out for the water-brooks, and pant for fresh streams,
and inland murmurs. I cannot stand all day on the
naked beach, watching the capricious hues of the sea,
shifting like the colours of a dying mullet. I am
tired of looking out at the windows of this island-
prison. I would fain retire into the interior of my
cage. While I gaze upon the sea, I want to be on it,
over it, across it. It binds me in with chains, as of
iron. My thoughts are abroad. I should not so feel
in Staffordshire. There is no home for me here.
There is no sense of home at Hastings. It is a place
of fugitive resort, an heterogeneous assemblage of sea-
mews and stock- brokers, Amphitrites of the town, and
misses that coquet with the Ocean. If it were what
it was in its primitive shape, and what it ought to


have remained, a fair honest fishing-town, and no
more, it were something with a few straggling fish-
ermen's huts scattered about, artless as its cliffs, and
with their materials filched from them, it were some-
thing. I could abide to dwell with Meschek; to
assort with fisher-swains, and smugglers. There are,
or I dream there are, many of this latter occupation
here. Their faces become the place. I like a smug-
gler. He is the only honest thief. He robs nothing
but the revenue, an abstraction I never greatly
cared about. I could go out with them in their
mackarel boats, or about their less ostensible busi-
ness, with some satisfaction. I can even tolerate
those poor victims to monotony, who from day to
day pace along the beach, in endless progress and
recurrence, to watch their illicit countrymen towns-
folk or brethren perchance whistling to the sheath-
ing and unsheathing of their cutlasses (their only
solace), who under the mild name of preventive
service, keep up a legitimated civil warfare in the
deplorable absence of a foreign one, to show their
detestation of run hollands, and zeal for old England.
But it is the visitants from town, that come here to
say that they have been here, with no more relish of
the sea than a pond perch, or a dace might be sup-
posed to have, that are my aversion. I feel like a
foolish dace in these regions, and have as little toler-
ation for myself here, as for them. What can they


want here? if they had a true relish of the ocean,
why have they brought all this land luggage with
them ? or why pitch their civilised tents in the desert ?
What mean these scanty book-rooms marine libra-
ries as they entitle them if the sea were, as they
would have us believe, a book " to read strange
matter in?" what are their foolish concert-rooms, if
they come, as they would fain be thought to do, to
listen to the music of the waves? All is false and
hollow pretension. They come, because it is the
fashion, and to spoil the nature of the place. They
are mostly, as I have said, stock- brokers ; but I have
watched the better sort of them now and then, an
honest citizen (of the old stamp) , in the simplicity of
his heart, shall bring down his wife and daughters, to

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 21 of 32)