Copyright
Charles Lamb.

Charles Lamb's essays online

. (page 23 of 32)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 23 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


8O CAPTAIN JACKSON.

be contained at all, but overflowed all bounds by the
force of a magnificent self-delusion.

Enthusiasm is catching ; and even his wife, a sober
native of North Britain, who generally saw things
more as they were, was not proof against the con-
tinual collision of his credulity. Her daughters were
rational and discreet young women; in the main,
perhaps, not insensible to their true circumstances.
I have seen them assume a thoughtful air at times.
But such was the preponderating opulence of his
fancy, that I am persuaded, not for any half hour
together, did they ever look their own prospects
fairly in the face. There was no resisting the vortex
of his temperament. His riotous imagination con-
jured up handsome settlements before their eyes,
which kept them up in the eye of the world too,
and seem at last to have realised themselves; for
they both have married since, I am told, more
than respectably.

It is long since, and my memory waxes dim on
some subjects, or I should wish to convey some
notion of the manner in which the pleasant creature
described the circumstances of his own wedding-
day. I faintly remember something of a chaise and
four, in which he made his entry into Glasgow on
that morning to fetch the bride home, or carry her
thither, I forget which. It so completely made out
the stanza of the old ballad



CAPTAIN JACKSON. 8 1

When we came down through Glasgow town,

We were a comely sight to see ;
My love was clad in black velvet,

And I myself in cramasie.

I suppose it was the only occasion, upon which his
own actual splendour at all corresponded with the
world's notions on that subject. In homely cart, or
travelling caravan, by whatever humble vehicle they
chanced to be transported in less prosperous days,
the ride through Glasgow came back upon his fancy,
not as a humiliating contrast, but as a fair occasion
for reverting to that one day's state. It seemed an
" equipage etern " from which no power of fate or
fortune, once mounted, had power thereafter to
dislodge him.

There is some merit in putting a handsome face
upon indigent circumstances. To bully and swagger
away the sense of them before strangers, may not
be always discommendable. Tibbs, and Bobadil,
even when detected, have more of our admiration
than contempt. But for a man to put the cheat
upon himself; to play the Bobadil at home; and,
steeped in poverty up to the lips, to fancy himself
all the while chin-deep in riches, is a strain of con-
stitutional philosophy, and a mastery over fortune,
which was reserved for my old friend Captain
Jackson.



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN.



Sera tamen respexit
Libertas. VIRGIL.

A Clerk I was in London gay.

O'KEEFE.



IF peradventure, Reader, it has been thy lot to
waste the golden years of thy life thy shining
youth in the irksome confinement of an office ; to
have thy prison days prolonged through middle age
down to decrepitude and silver hairs, without hope
of release or respite; to have lived to forget that
there are such things as holidays, or to remember
them but as the prerogatives of childhood ; then,
and then only, will you be able to appreciate my
deliverance.

It is now six and thirty years since I took my seat
at the desk in Mincing-lane. Melancholy was the
transition at fourteen from the abundant play-time,
and the frequently- intervening vacations of school



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN. 83

days, to the eight, nine, and sometimes ten hours'
a-day attendance at a counting-house. But time
partially reconciles us to anything. I gradually be-
came content doggedly contented, as wild ani-
mals in cages.

It is true I had my Sundays to myself; but Sun-
days, admirable as the institution of them is for pur-
poses of worship, are for that very reason the very
worst adapted for days of unbending and recreation.
In particular, there is a gloom for me attendant
upon a city Sunday, a weight in the air. I miss the
cheerful cries of London, the music, and the ballad-
singers the buzz and stirring murmur of the streets.
Those eternal bells depress me. The closed shops
repel me. Prints, pictures, all the glittering and
endless succession of knacks and gewgaws, and os-
tentatiously displayed wares of tradesmen, which
make a week-day saunter through the less busy
parts of the metropolis so delightful are shut out.
No book- stalls deliciously to idle over No busy
faces to recreate the idle man who contemplates
them ever passing by the very face of business a
charm by contrast to his temporary relaxation from
it. Nothing to be seen but unhappy countenances
or half-happy at best of emancipated 'pren-
tices and little trade sfolks, with here and there a
servant maid that has got leave to go out, who, slav-
ing all the week, with the habit has lost almost the



84 THE SUPERANNUATED MAN.

capacity of enjoying a free hour; and livelily ex-
pressing the hollowness of a day's pleasuring. The
very strollers in the fields on that day look anything
but comfortable.

But besides Sundays I had a day at Easter, and a
day at Christmas, with a full week in the summer to
go and air myself in my native fields of Hertford-
shire. This last was a great indulgence ; and the
prospect of its recurrence, I believe, alone kept me
up through the year, and made my durance toler-
able. But when the week came round, did the
glittering phantom of the distance keep touch with
me? or rather was it not a series of seven uneasy
days, spent in restless pursuit of pleasure, and a
wearisome anxiety to find out how to make the
most of them? Where was the quiet, where the
promised rest? Before I had a taste of it, it was
vanished. I was at the desk again, counting upon
the fifty-one tedious weeks that must intervene be-
fore such another snatch would come. Still the
prospect of its coming threw something of an illu-
mination upon the darker side of my captivity.
Without it, as I have said, I could scarcely have
sustained my thraldom.

Independently of the rigours of attendance, I have
ever been haunted with a sense (perhaps a mere
caprice) of incapacity for business. This, during
my latter years, had increased to such a degree, that



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN. 85

it was visible in all the lines of my countenance.
My health and my good spirits flagged. I had per-
petually a dread of some crisis, to which I should
be found unequal. Besides my daylight servitude,
I served over again all night in my sleep, and would
awake with terrors of imaginary false entries, errors
in my accounts, and the like. I was fifty years of
age, and no prospect of emancipation presented
itself. I had grown to my desk, as it were ; and
the wood had entered into my soul.

My fellows in the office would sometimes rally me
upon the trouble legible in my countenance ; but I
did not know that it had raised the suspicions of any
of my employers, when, on the 5th of last month, a

day ever to be remembered by me, L , the junior

partner in the firm, calling me on one side, directly
taxed me with my bad looks, and frankly inquired
the cause of them. So taxed, I honestly made con-
fession of my infirmity, and added that I was afraid
I should eventually be obliged to resign his service.
He spoke some words of course to hearten me, and
there the matter rested. A whole week I remained
labouring under the impression that I had acted im-
prudently in my disclosure ; that I had foolishly
given a handle against myself, and had been antici-
pating my own dismissal. A week passed in this
manner, the most anxious one, I verily believe, in
my whole life, when on the evening of the i2th of



86 THE SUPERANNUATED MAN.

April, just as I was about quitting my desk to go
home (it might be about eight o'clock) I received
an awful summons to attend the presence of the
whole assembled firm in the formidable back par-
lour. I thought, now my time is surely come, I
have done for myself, I am going to be told that

they have no longer occasion for me. L , I

could see, smiled at the terror I was in, which was
a little relief to me, when to my utter astonish-
ment B , the eldest partner, began a formal

harangue to me on the length of my services, my
very meritorious conduct during the whole of the
time (the deuce, thought I, how did he find out
that ? I protest I never had the confidence to think
as much). He went on to descant on the expedi-
ency of retiring at a certain time of life (how my
heart panted !) and asking me a few questions as
to the amount of my own property, of which I have
a little, ended with a proposal, to which his three
partners nodded a grave assent, that I should ac-
cept from the house, which I had served so well, a
pension for life to the amount of two- thirds of my
accustomed salary a magnificent offer ! I do not
know what I answered between surprise and grati-
tude, but it was understood that I accepted their
proposal, and I was told that I was free from that
hour to leave their service. I stammered out a bow,
and at just ten minutes after eight I went home



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN. 8/

for ever. This noble benefit gratitude forbids me
to conceal their names I owe to the kindness of
the most munificent firm in the world the house
of Boldero, Merryweather, Bosanquet, and Lacy.

Rsto perpetua !

For the first day or two I felt stunned, over-
whelmed. I could only apprehend my felicity; I
was too confused to taste it sincerely. I wandered
about, thinking I was happy, and knowing that I was
not. I was in the condition of a prisoner in the old
Bastile, suddenly let loose after a forty years' confine-
ment. I could scarce trust myself with myself. It
was like passing out of Time into Eternity for it is
a sort of Eternity for a man to have his Time all to
himself. It seemed to me that I had more time on
my hands than I could ever manage. From a poor
man, poor in Time, I was suddenly lifted up into a vast
revenue ; I could see no end of my possessions ; I
wanted some steward, or judicious bailiff, to manage
my estates in Time for me. And here let me caution
persons grown old in active business, not lightly, nor
without weighing their own resources, to forego their
customary employment all at once, for there may be
danger in it. I feel it by myself, but I know that my
resources are sufficient ; and now that those first giddy
raptures have subsided, I have a quiet home-feeling
of the blessedness of my condition. I am in no



88 THE SUPERANNUATED MAN.

hurry. Having all holidays, I am as though I had
none. If Time hung heavy upon me, I could walk it
away ; but I do not walk all day long, as I used to do
in those old transient holidays, thirty miles a day, to
make the most of them. If Time were troublesome,
I could read it away, but I do not read in that violent
measure, with which, having no Time my own but
candle-light Time, I used to weary out my head and
eye-sight in by-gone winters. I walk, read or scribble
(as now) just when the fit seizes me. I no longer
hunt after pleasure ; I let it come to me. I am like
the man

That's born, and has his years come to him,

In some green desart.

" Years," you will say ! "what is this superannuated
simpleton calculating upon ! He has already told us,
he is past fifty."

I have indeed lived nominally fifty years, but de-
duct out of them the hours which I have lived to other
people, and not to myself, and you will find me still
a young fellow. For that is the only true Time, which
a man can properly call his own, that which he has all
to himself; the rest, though in some sense he may be
said to live it, is other people's time, not his. The
remnant of my poor days, long or short, is at least
multiplied for me three-fold. My ten next years, if
I stretch so far, will be as long as any preceding
thirty. 'T is a fair rule-of-three sum.



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN. 89

Among the strange fantasies which beset me at the
commencement of my freedom, and of which all
traces are not yet gone, one was, that a vast tract of
time had intervened since I quitted the Counting
House. I could not conceive of it as an affair of
yesterday. The partners, and the clerks, with whom
I had for so many years, and for so many hours in
each day of the year, been closely associated being
suddenly removed from them they seemed as dead
to me. There 'is a fine passage, which may serve to
illustrate this fancy, in a Tragedy by Sir Robert
Howard, speaking of a friend's death :

'T was but just now he went away ;



I have not since had time to shed a tear ;
And yet the distance does the same appear
As if he had been a thousand years from me.
Time takes no measure in Eternity.

To dissipate this awkward feeling, I have been fain
to go among them once or twice since ; to visit my
old desk-fellows my co-brethren of the quill
that I had left below in the state militant. Not all
the kindness with which they received me could quite
restore to me that pleasant familiarity, which I had
heretofore enjoyed among them. We cracked some
of our old jokes, but methought they went off but
faintly. My old desk ; the peg where I hung my hat,
were appropriated to another. I knew it must be,
but I could not take it kindly. D 1 take me, if



9 o



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN.



I did not feel some remorse beast, if I had not,
at quitting my old compeers, the faithful partners of
my toils for six and thirty years, that smoothed for
me with their jokes and conundrums the ruggedness
of my professional road. Had it been so rugged then
after all? or was I a coward simply? Well, it is too
late to repent ; and I also know, that these sugges-
tions are a common fallacy of the mind on such oc-
casions. But my heart smote me. I had violently
broken the bands betwixt us. It was at least not
courteous. I shall be some time before I get quite
reconciled to the separation. Farewell, Id cronies,
yet not for long, for again and again I will come
among ye, if I shall have your leave. Farewell

Ch , dry, sarcastic, and friendly ! Do ,

mild, slow to move, and gentlemanly ! PI ,

officious to do, and to volunteer, good services !
and thou, thou dreary pile, fit mansion for a Gresham
or a Whittington of old, stately House of Merchants ;
with thy labyrinthine passages, and light-excluding,
pent-up offices, where candles for one half the year
supplied the place of the sun's light ; unhealthy
contributor to my weal, stern fosterer of my living,
farewell ! In thee remain, and not in the obscure
collection of some wandering bookseller, my " works ! "
There let them rest, as I do from my labours, piled
on thy massy shelves, more MSS. in folio than ever
Aquinas left, and full as useful ! My mantle I be-
queath among ye.



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN. 91

A fortnight has passed since the date of my first
communication. At that period I was approaching
to tranquillity, but had not reached it. I boasted of
a calm indeed, but it was comparative only. Some-
thing of the first flutter was left ; an unsettling sense
of novelty ; the dazzle to weak eyes of unaccustomed
light. I missed my old chains, forsooth, as if they
had been some necessary part of my apparel. I was a
poor Carthusian, from strict cellular discipline suddenly
by some revolution returned upon the world. I am
now as if I had never been other than my own master.
It is natural to me to go where I please, to do what I
please. I find myself at eleven o'clock in the day in
Bond-street, and it seems to me that I have been
sauntering there at that very hour for years past. I
digress into Soho, to explore a book- stall. Methinks
I have been thirty years a collector. There is noth-
ing strange nor new in it. I find myself before a fine
picture in a morning. Was it ever otherwise ? What
is become of Fish-street Hill? Where is Fenchurch-
street? Stones of old Mincing-lane which I have
worn with my daily pilgrimage for six and thirty
years, to the footsteps of what toil-worn clerk are
your everlasting flints now vocal ? I indent the gayer
flags of Pall Mall. It is Change time, and I am
strangely among the Elgin marbles. It was no hyper-
bole when I ventured to compare the change in my
condition to a passing into another world. Time



92 THE SUPERANNUATED MAN.

stands still in a manner to me. I have lost all dis-
tinction of season. I do not know the day of the
week, or of the month. Each day used to be indi-
vidually felt by me in its reference to the foreign post
days; in its distance from, or propinquity to, the
next Sunday. I had my Wednesday feelings, my
Saturday nights' sensations. The genius of each day
was upon me distinctly during the whole of it, affect-
ing my appetite, spirits, &c. The phantom of the
next day, with the dreary five to follow, sate as a load
upon my poor Sabbath recreations. What charm has
washed that Ethiop white? What is gone of Black
Monday? All days are the same. Sunday itself
that unfortunate failure of a holyday as it too often
proved, what with my sense of its fugitiveness, and
over-care to get the greatest quantity of pleasure out
of it is melted down into a week day. I can spare
to go to church now, without grudging the huge
cantle which it used to seem to cut out of the holy-
day. I have Time for everything. I can visit a sick
friend. I can interrupt the man of much occupation
when he is busiest. I can insult over him with an
invitation to take a day's pleasure with me to Windsor
this fine May-morning. It is Lucretian pleasure to
behold the poor drudges, whom I have left behind in
the world, carking and caring ; like horses in a mill,
drudging on in the same eternal round and what is
it all for? A man can never have too much Time to



THE SUPERANNUATED MAN. 93

himself, nor too little to do. Had I a little son, I
would christen him NOTHING-TO-DO ; he should do
nothing. Man, I verily believe, is out of his element
as long as he is operative. I am altogether for the
life contemplative. Will no kindly earthquake come
and swallow up those accursed cotton mills? Take
me that lumber of a desk there, and bowl it down

As low as to the fiends.

I am no longer * * * * * * ? clerk to the Firm
of &c. I am Retired Leisure. I am to be met with
in trim gardens. I am already come to be known
by my vacant face and careless gesture, perambulating
at no fixed pace, nor with any settled purpose. I
walk about ; not to and from. They tell me, a cer-
tain cum dignitate air, that has been buried so long
with my other good parts, has begun to shoot forth in
my person. I grow into gentility perceptibly. When
I take up a newspaper, it is to read the state of the
opera. Opus operatum est. I have done all that I
came into this world to do. I have worked task work,
and have the rest of the day to myself.



THE GENTEEL STYLE IN WRITING.



IT is an ordinary criticism, that my Lord Shaftesbury,
and Sir William Temple, are models of the genteel
style in writing. We should prefer saying of the
lordly, and the gentlemanly. Nothing can be more
unlike than the inflated finical rhapsodies of Shaftes-
bury, and the plain natural chit-chat of Temple. The
man of rank is discernible in both writers ; but in the
one it is only insinuated gracefully, in the other it
stands out offensively. The peer seems to have
written with his coronet on, and his Earl's mantle
before him ; the commoner in his elbow chair and
undress. What can be more pleasant than the way
in which the retired statesman peeps out in the essays,
penned by the latter in his delightful retreat at Shene?
They scent of Nimeguen, and the Hague. Scarce an
authority is quoted under an ambassador. Don Fran-
cisco de Melo, a " Portugal Envoy in England," tells
him it was frequent in his country for men, spent with
age or other decays, so as they could not hope for
above a year or two of life, to ship themselves away in



THE GENTEEL STYLE IN WRITING. 95

a Brazil fleet, and after their arrival there to go on a
great length, sometimes of twenty or thirty years, or
more, by the force of that vigour they recovered with
that remove. "Whether such an effect (Temple
beautifully adds) might grow from the air, or the
fruits of that climate, or by approaching nearer the
sun, which is the fountain of light and heat, when
their natural heat was so far decayed : or whether
the piecing out of an old man's life were worth the
pains ; I cannot tell : perhaps the play is not worth
the candle." Monsieur Pompone, " French Ambas-
sador in his (Sir William's) time at the Hague," cer-
tifies him, that in his life he had never heard of any
man in France that arrived at a hundred years of
age ; a limitation of life which the old gentleman im-
putes to the excellence of their climate, giving them
such a liveliness of temper and humour, as disposes them
to more pleasures of all kinds than in other countries ;
and moralises upon the matter very sensibly. The
" late Robert Earl of Leicester " furnishes him with a
story of a Countess of Desmond, married out of Eng-
land in Edward the Fourth's time, and who lived far
in King James's reign. The " same noble person "
gives him an account, how such a year, in the same
reign, there went about the country a set of morrice-
dancers, composed of ten men who danced, a Maid
Marian, and a tabor and pipe ; and how these twelve,
one with another, made up twelve hundred years.



96 THE GENTEEL STYLE IN WRITING.

" It was not so much (says Temple) that so many in
one small county (Herefordshire) should live to that
age, as that they should be in vigour and in humour
to travel and to dance." Monsieur Zulichem, one of
his " colleagues at the Hague," informs him of a cure
for the gout ; which is confirmed by another " Envoy,"
Monsieur Serinchamps, in that town, who had tried it.
Old Prince Maurice of Nassau recommends to him
the use of hammocks in that complaint ; having been
allured to sleep, while suffering under it himself, by
the "constant motion or swinging of those airy beds."
Count Egmont, and the Rhinegrave who " was killed
last summer before Maestricht," impart to him their
experiences.

But the rank of the writer is never more innocently
disclosed, than where he takes for granted the com-
pliments paid by foreigners to his fruit-trees. For
the taste and perfection of what we esteem the best,
he can truly say, that the French, who have eaten his
peaches and grapes at Shene in no very ill year, have
generally concluded that the last are as good as any
they have eaten in France on this side Fontainbleau ;
and the first as good as any they have eat in Gascony.
Italians have agreed his white figs to be as good as
any of that sort in Italy, which is the earlier kind of
white fig there ; for in the later kind and the blue, we
cannot come near the warm climates, no more than in
the Frontignac or Muscat grape. His orange-trees too,



THE GENTEEL STYLE IN WRITING. 97

are as large as any he saw when he was young in France,
except those of Fontainbleau, or what he has seen since
in the Low Countries ; except some very old ones of
the Prince of Orange's. Of grapes he had the honour
of bringing over four sorts into England, which he
enumerates, and supposes that they are all by this
time pretty common among some gardeners in his
neighbourhood, as well as several persons of quality ;
for he ever thought all things of this kind " the com-
moner they are made the better." The garden pe-
dantry with which he asserts that 't is to little purpose
to plant any of the best fruits, as peaches or grapes,
hardly, he doubts, beyond Northamptonshire at the
furthest northwards ; and praises the " Bishop of
Munster at Cosevelt," for attempting nothing beyond
cherries in that cold climate ; is equally pleasant and
in character. " I may perhaps " (he thus ends his
sweet Garden Essay with a passage worthy of Cowley)
" be allowed to know something of this trade, since I
have so long allowed myself to be good for nothing
else, which few men will do, or enjoy their gardens,
without often looking abroad to see how other matters
play, what motions in the state, and what invitations
they may hope for into other scenes. For my own
part, as the country life, and this part of it more par-
ticularly, were the inclination of my youth itself, so
they are the pleasure of my age ; and I can truly say
that, among many great employments that have fallen

7



98 THE GENTEEL STYLE IN WRITING.

to my share, I have never asked or sought for any of
them, but have often endeavoured to escape from
them, into the ease and freedom of a private scene,
where a man may go his own way and his own pace,
in the common paths and circles of life. The mea-
sure of choosing well is whether a man likes what he



Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 23 of 32)