Charles Lamb.

Charles Lamb's essays online

. (page 25 of 32)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 25 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

obstructions, sometimes induced by a too wilful ap-
plication of the plant Cannabis outwardly. But
though he declineth not altogether these drier ex-
tinctions, his occupation tendeth for the most part
to water-practice ; for the convenience of which, he
hath judiciously fixed his quarters near the grand
repository of the stream mentioned, where, day and
night, from his little watch-tower, at the Middleton's-
Head, he listeneth to detect the wrecks of drowned
mortality partly, as he saith, to be upon the spot
and partly, because the liquids which he useth to
prescribe to himself and his patients, on these dis^
tressing occasions, are ordinarily more conveniently
to be found at these common hostelries, than in the
shops and phials of the apothecaries. His ear hath
arrived to such finesse by practice, that it is reported,
he can distinguish a plunge at a half furlong distance ;
and can tell, if it be casual or deliberate. He wear-
eth a medal, suspended over a suit, originally of a
sad brown, but which, by time, and frequency of
nightly divings, has been dinged into a true pro-
fessional sable. He passeth by the name of Doctor,
and is remarkable for wanting his left eye. His


remedy after a sufficient application of warm
blankets, friction, &c., is a simple tumbler, or more,
of the purest Cognac, with water, made as hot as
the convalescent can bear it. Where he fmdeth, as
in the case of my friend, a squeamish subject, he
condescendeth to be the taster; and showeth, by
his own example, the innocuous nature of the pre-
scription. Nothing can be more kind or encourag-
ing than this procedure. It addeth confidence to
the patient, to see his medical adviser go hand in
hand with himself in the remedy. When the doctor
swalloweth his own draught, what peevish invalid
can refuse to pledge him in the potion? In fine,
MONOCULUS is a humane, sensible man, who, for a
slender pittance, scarce enough to sustain life, is
content to wear it out in the endeavour to save the
lives of others his pretensions so moderate, that
with difficulty I could press a crown upon him, for
the price of restoring the existence of such an in-
valuable creature to society as G. D.

It was pleasant to observe the effect of the subsid-
ing alarm upon the nerves of the dear absentee. It
seemed to have given a shake to memory, calling up
notice after notice, of all the providential deliver-
ances he had experienced in the course of his long
and innocent life. Sitting up in my couch my
couch which, naked and void of furniture hitherto,
for the salutary repose which it administered, shall


be honoured with costly valance, at some price, and
henceforth be a state-bed at Colebrook, he dis-
coursed of marvellous escapes by carelessness of
nurses by pails of gelid, and kettles of the boiling
element, in infancy by orchard pranks, and snap-
ping twigs, in schoolboy frolics by descent of tiles
at Trumpington, and of heavier tomes at Pembroke

by studious watchings, inducing frightful vigilance

by want, and the fear of want, and all the sore
throbbings of the learned head. Anon, he would
burst out into little fragments of chaunting of
songs long ago ends of deliverance-hymns, not
remembered before since childhood, but coming up
now, when his heart was made tender as a child's
for the tremor cordis, in the retrospect of a recent
deliverance, as in a case of impending danger, act-
ing upon an innocent heart, will produce a self-
tenderness, which we should do ill to christen
cowardice ; and Shakspeare, in the latter crisis, has
made his good Sir Hugh to remember the sitting
by Babylon, and to mutter of shallow rivers.

Waters of Sir Hugh Middleton what a spark
you were like to have extinguished for ever ! Your
salubrious streams to this City, for now near two
centuries, would hardly have atoned for what you
were in a moment washing away. Mockery of a
river liquid artifice wretched conduit ! hence-
forth rank with canals, and sluggish aqueducts.


Was it for this, that, smit in boyhood with the ex-
plorations of that Abyssinian traveller, I paced the
vales of Amwell to explore your tributary springs, to
trace your salutary waters sparkling through green
Hertfordshire, and cultured Enfield parks? Ye
have no swans no Naiads no river God or
did the benevolent hoary aspect of my friend tempt
ye to suck him in, that ye also might have the
tutelary genius of your waters?

Had he been drowned in Cam there would have
been some consonancy in it ; but what willows had
ye to wave and rustle over his moist sepulture?
or, having no name, besides that unmeaning assump-
tion of eternal novity, did ye think to get one by
the noble prize, and henceforth to be termed the

And could such spacious virtue find a grave
Beneath the imposthumed bubble of a wave ?

I protest, George, you shall not venture out again
no, not by daylight without a sufficient pair
of spectacles in your musing moods especially.
Your absence of mind we have borne, till your pres-
ence of body came to be called in question by it.
You shall not go wandering into Euripus with Aris-
totle, if we can help it. Fie, man, to turn dipper
at your years, after your many tracts in favour of
sprinkling only !

I have nothing but water in my head o' nights


since this frightful accident. Sometimes I am with
Clarence in his dream. At others, I behold Chris-
tian beginning to sink, and crying out to his good
brother Hopeful (that is to me), "I sink in deep
waters ; the billows go over my head, all the waves
go over me. Selah." Then I have before me
Palinurus, just letting go the steerage. I cry out
too late to save. Next follow a mournful proces-
sion suicidal faces, saved against their wills from
drowning; dolefully trailing a length of reluctant
gratefulness, with ropy weeds pendant from locks
of watchet hue constrained Lazari Pluto's half-
subjects stolen fees from the grave bilking Cha-
ron of his fare. At their head Arion or is it
G. D. ? in his singing garments marcheth singly,
with harp in hand, and votive garland, which
Machaon (or Dr. Hawes) snatcheth straight, intend-
ing to suspend it to the stern God of Sea. Then
follow dismal streams of Lethe, in which the half-
drenched on earth are constrained to drown down-
right, by wharfs where Ophelia twice acts her muddy

And, doubtless, there is some notice in that in-
visible world, when one of us approacheth (as my
friend did so lately) to their inexorable precincts.
When a soul knocks once, twice, at death's door,
the sensation aroused within the palace must be
considerable ; and the grim Feature, by modern


science so often dispossessed of his prey, must have
learned by this time to pity Tantalus.

A pulse assuredly was felt along the line of the
Elysian shades, when the near arrival of G. D. was
announced by no equivocal indications. From their
seats of Asphodel arose the gentler and the graver
ghosts poet, or historian of Grecian or of Roman
lore to crown with unfading chaplets the half-
finished love-labours of their unwearied scholiast.
Him Markland expected him Tyrwhitt hoped to
encounter him the sweet lyrist of Peter House,
whom he had barely seen upon earth*, with newest
airs prepared to greet - ; and, patron of the
gentle Christ's boy, who should have been his
patron through life the mild Askew, with longing
aspirations, leaned foremost from his venerable
^Esculapian chair, to welcome into that happy com-
pany the matured virtues of the man, whose tender
scions in the boy he himself upon earth had so
prophetically fed and watered.

* GRAIUM tantum vidit.


SYDNEY'S Sonnets I speak of the best of them
are among the very best of their sort. They fall
below the plain moral dignity, the sanctity, and high
yet modest spirit of self- approval, of Milton, in his
compositions of a similar structure. They are in
truth what Milton, censuring the Arcadia, says of
that work (to which they are a sort of after-tune or
application), "vain and amatorious " enough, yet
the things in their kind (as he confesses to be true
of the romance) may be "full of worth and wit."
They savour of the courtier, it must be allowed, and
not of the Commonwealthsman. But Milton was a
Courtier when he wrote the Masque at Ludlow
Castle, and still more a Courtier when he composed
the Arcades. When the national struggle was to
begin, he becomingly cast these vanities behind him ;
and if the order of time had thrown Sir Philip upon
the crisis which preceded the Revolution, there is
no reason why he should not have acted the same


part in that emergency, which has glorified the name
of a later Sydney. He did not want for plainness
or boldness of spirit. His letter on the French
match may testify, he could speak his mind freely
to Princes. The times did not call him to the

The Sonnets which we oftenest call to mind of
Milton were the compositions of his maturest years.
Those of Sydney, which I am about to produce,
were written in the very hey-day of his blood. They
are stuck full of amorous fancies far-fetched con-
ceits, befitting his occupation ; for True Love thinks
no labour to send out Thoughts upon the vast, and
more than Indian voyages, to bring home rich pearls,
outlandish wealth, gums, jewels, spicery, to sacrifice
in self-depreciating similitudes, as shadows of true
amiabilities in the Beloved. We must be Lovers
or at least the cooling touch of time, the circum pra-
cordiafriguSj must not have so damped our facul-
ties, as to take away our recollection that we were
once so before we can duly appreciate the glorious
vanities, and graceful hyperboles, of the passion.
The images which lie before our feet (though by
some accounted the only natural) are least natural
for the high Sydnean love to express its fancies by.
They may serve for the loves of Tibullus, or the
dear Author of the Schoolmistress ; for passions that
creep and whine in Elegies and Pastoral Ballads. I


am sure Milton never loved at this rate. I am afraid
some of his addresses (ad Leonoram I mean) have
rather erred on the farther side ; and that the poet
came not much short of a religious indecorum, when
he could thus apostrophise a singing girl :

Angelus unicuique suus (sic credite gentes)

Obtigit aetheriiis ales ab ordinibus.
Quid mi rum, Leonora, tibi si gloria major,

Nam tua prassentem vox sonat ipsa Deum ?
Aut Deus, aut vacui certe mens tertia cceli

Per tua secreto guttura serpit agens ;
Serpit agens, facilisque docet mortalia corda

Sensim immortali assuescere posse sono.



This is loving in a strange fashion ; and it requires
some candour of construction (besides the slight
darkening of a dead language) to cast a veil over
the ugly appearance of something very like blas-
phemy in the last two verses. I think the Lover
would have been staggered, if he had gone about
to express the same thought in English. I am sure,
Sydney has no flights like this. His extravaganzas
do not strike at the sky, though he takes leave to
adopt the pale Dian into a fellowship with his
mortal passions.


With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies;

How silently ; and with how wan a face !

What ! may it be, that even in heavenly place

That busy Archer his sharp arrows tries ?

Sure, if that long-with-love- acquainted eyes

Can judge of love, thou f eel'st a lover's case ;

I read it in thy looks ; thy languisht grace

To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.

Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,

Is constant love deem'd there but want of wit?

Are beauties there as proud as here they be ?

Do they above love to be loved, and yet

Those lovers scorn, whom that love doth possess?

Do they call virtue there ungratefulness ?

The last line of this poem is a little obscured by
transposition. He means, Do they call ungrateful-
ness there a virtue?


Come, Sleep, O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man's wealth, the prisoner's release,
The indifferent judge between the high and low ;
With shield of proof shield me from out the prease *
Of those fierce darts despair at me doth throw;

make in me those civil wars to cease :

1 will good tribute pay, if thou do so.

Take thou of me sweet pillows, sweetest bed;
A chamber deaf to noise, and blind to light;

* Press.


A rosy garland, and a weary head.
And if these things, as being thine by right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, STELLA'S image see.


The curious wits, seeing dull pensiveness
Bewray itself in my long-settled eyes,
Whence those same fumes of melancholy rise,
With idle pains, and missing aim, do guess.
Some, that know how my spring I did address,
Deem that my Muse some fruit of knowledge plies;
Others, because the Prince my service tries,
Think, that I think state errors to redress ;
But harder judges judge, ambition's rage,
Scourge of itself, still climbing slippery place,
Holds my young brain captiv'd in golden cage.
O fools, or over -wise ! alas, the race
Of all my thoughts hath neither stop nor start,
But only STELLA'S eyes, and STELLA'S heart.


Because I oft in dark abstracted guise

Seem most alone in greatest company,

With dearth of words, or answers quite awry,

To them that would make speech of speech arise ;

They deem, and of their doom the rumour flies,

That poison foul of bubbling Pride doth lie

So in my swelling breast, that only I

Fawn on myself, and others do despise ;

Yet Pride, I think, doth not my Soul possess,

Which looks too oft in his unflattering glass :


But one worse fault Ambition I confess,
That makes me oft my best friends overpass,
Unseen, unheard while Thought to highest place
Bends all his powers, even unto STELLA'S grace.


Having this day, my horse, my hand, my lance,
Guided so well that I obtained the prize,
Both by the judgment of the English eyes,
And of some sent from that sweet enemy, France ;
Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance ;
Townsfolks my strength ; a daintier judge applies
His praise to sleight, which from good use doth rise ;
Some lucky wits impute it but to chance ;
Others, because of both sides I do take
My blood from them, who did excel in this,
Think Nature me a man of arms did make.
How far they shot awry ! the true cause is,
STELLA look'd on, and from her heavenly face
Sent forth the beams which made so fair my race.


In martial sports I had my cunning tried,
And yet to break more staves did me address,
While with the people's shouts (I must confess)
Youth, luck, and praise, even fill'd my veins with pride
When Cupid, having me (his slave) descried
In Mars's livery, prancing in the press,
" What now, Sir Fool ! " said he ; "I would no less :
Look here, I say." I look'd, and STELLA spied,
Who hard by made a window send forth light.
My heart then quak'd, then dazzled were mine eyes ;


One hand forgot to rule, th' other to fight;
Nor trumpet's sound I heard, nor friendly cries.
My foe came on, and beat the air for me
Till that her blush made me my shame to see.


No more, my dear, no more these counsels try ;

give my passions leave to run their race ;
Let Fortune lay on me her worst disgrace ;

Let folk o'er-charged with brain against me cry ;
Let clouds bedim my face, break in mine eye ;
Let me no steps, but of lost labour, trace ;
Let all the earth with scorn recount my case
But do not will me from my love to fly.

1 do not envy Aristotle's wit,

Nor do aspire to Caesar's bleeding fame ;
Nor aught do care, though some above me sit ;
Nor hope, nor wish, another course to frame,
But that which once may win thy cruel heart :
Thou art my wit, and thou my virtue art.


LOVE still a boy, and oft a wanton, is,

School'd only by his mother's tender eye ;

What wonder then, if he his lesson miss,

When for so soft a rod dear play he try ?

And yet my STAR, because a sugar'd kiss

In sport I suck'd, while she asleep did lie,

Doth lour, nay chide, nay threat, for only this.

Sweet, it was saucy LOVE, not humble I.

But no 'scuse serves ; she makes her wrath appear

In beauty's throne see now, who dares come near

Those scarlet judges, threat'ning bloody pain?

O heav'nly Fool, thy most kiss-worthy face


Anger invests with such a lovely grace,
That anger's self I needs must kiss again.


I never drank of Aganippe well,

Nor ever did in shade of Tempe sit,

And Muses scorn with vulgar brains to dwell;

Poor lay-man I, for sacred rites unfit.

Some do I hear of Poets 1 fury tell,

But (God wot) wot not what they mean by it ;

And this I swear by blackest brook of hell,

I am no pick-purse of another's wit.

How falls it then, that with so smooth an ease

My thoughts I speak, and what I speak doth flow

In verse, and that my verse best wits doth please?

Guess me the cause what is it thus ? fye, no.

Or so ? much less. How then ? sure thus it is,

My lips are sweet, inspired with STELLA'S kiss.


Of all the kings that ever here did reign,
Edward, named Fourth, as first in praise I name,
Not for his fair outside, nor well-lined brain
Although less gifts imp feathers oft on Fame.
Nor that he could, young-wise, wise-valiant, frame
His sire's revenge, join'd with a kingdom's gain;
And, gain'd by Mars could yet mad Mars so tame,
That Balance weigh'd what Sword did late obtain.
Nor that he made the Floure-de-luce so 'fraid,
Though strongly hedged of bloody Lions' paws,
That witty Lewis to him a tribute paid.
Nor this, nor that, nor any such small cause
But only, for this worthy knight durst prove
To lose his crown rather than fail his love.



happy Thames, that didst my STELLA bear,

1 saw thyself, with many a smiling line
Upon thy cheerful face, Joy's livery wear,
While those fair planets on thy streams did shine;
The boat for joy could not to dance forbear,
While wanton winds, with beauty so divine
Ravish'd, stay'd not, till in her golden hair
They did themselves (O sweetest prison) twine.
And fain those ^ol's youth there would their stay
Have made ; but, forced by nature still to fly,
First did with puffing kiss those locks display.
She, so dishevell'd, blush'd ; from window I
With sight thereof cried out, O fair disgrace,

Let honour's self to thee grant highest place !


Highway, since you my chief Parnassus be ;
And that my Muse, to some ears not unsweet,
Tempers her words to trampling horses' feet,
More soft than to a chamber melody,
Now blessed You bear onward blessed Me
To Her, where I my heart safe left shall meet,
My Muse and I must you of duty greet
With thanks and wishes, wishing thankfully.
Be you still fair, honour'd by public heed,
By no encroachment wrong'd, nor time forgot;
Nor blam'd for blood, nor shamed for sinful deed.
And that you know, I envy you no lot
Of highest wish, I wish you so much bliss,
Hundreds of years you STELLA'S feet may kiss.


Of the foregoing, the first, the second, and the
last sonnet, are my favourites. But the general
beauty of them all is, that they are so perfectly char-
acteristical. The spirit of " learning and of chivalry,"
of which union, Spenser has entitled Sydney to
have been the " president," shines through them.
I confess I can see nothing of the "jejune" or
'frigid" in them; much less of the "stiff" and
"cumbrous" which I have sometimes heard ob-
jected to the Arcadia. The verse runs off swiftly and
gallantly. It might have been tuned to the trumpet ;
or tempered (as himself expresses it) to " trampling
horses' feet." They abound in felicitous phrases

O heav'nly Fool, thy most kiss-worthy face

%th Sonnet.

Sweet pillows, sweetest bed ;

A chamber deaf to noise, and blind to light ;

A rosy garland, and a weary head.

2nd Sonnet.

That sweet enemy, France

$th Sonnet.

But they are not rich in words only, in vague and
unlocalised feelings the failing too much of some
poetry of the present day they are full, material,
and circumstantiated. Time and place appropriates
every one of them. It is not a fever of passion wast-
ing itself upon a thin diet of dainty words, but a tran-


scendent passion pervading and illuminating action,
pursuits, studies, feats of arms, the opinions of con-
temporaries and his judgment of them. An historical
thread runs through them, which almost affixes a date
to them; marks the when and where they were

I have dwelt the longer upon what I conceive the
merit of these poems, because I have been hurt by
the wantonness (I wish I could treat it by a gentler
name) with which W. H. takes every occasion of in-
sulting the memory of Sir Philip Sydney. But the
decisions of the Author of Table Talk, &c., (most
profound and subtle where they are, as for the most
part, just) are more safely to be relied upon, on sub-
jects and authors he has a partiality for, than on such
as he has conceived an accidental prejudice against.
Milton wrote Sonnets, and was a king- hater ; and it
was congenial perhaps to sacrifice a courtier to a
patriot. But I was unwilling to lose a fine idea from
my mind. The noble images, passions, sentiments,
and poetical delicacies of character, scattered all over
the Arcadia (spite of some stiffness and encumber-
ment), justify to me the character which his contem-
poraries have left us of the writer. I cannot think
with the Critic, that Sir Philip Sydney was that op-
probrious thing which a foolish nobleman in his inso-
lent hostility chose to term him. I call to mind the
epitaph made on him, to guide me to juster thoughts


of him ; and I repose upon the beautiful lines in the
"Friend's Passion for his Astrophel," printed with
the Elegies of Spenser and others.

You knew who knew not Astrophel?
(That I should live to say I knew,
And have not in possession still !)
Things known permit me to renew
Of him you know his merit such,
I cannot say you hear too much.

Within these woods of Arcady

He chief delight and pleasure

And on the mountain Partheny,

Upon the crystal liquid brook,
The Muses met him every day,
That taught him sing, to write, and say.

When he descended down the mount,
His personage seemed most divine:
A thousand graces one might count
Upon his lovely chearful eyne.

To hear him speak, and sweetly smile,
You were in Paradise the while.

A sweet attractive kind af grace;

A full assurance given by looks;

Continual comfort in a face,

The lineaments of Gospel books
I trow that count'nance cannot lye,
Whose thoughts are legible in the eye.


Above all others this is he,
Which erst approved in his song,
That love and honour might agree,
And that pure love will do no wrong.
Sweet saints, it is no sin or blame
To love a man of virtuous name.

Did never Love so sweetly breathe

In any mortal breast before :

Did never Muse inspire beneath

A Poet's brain with finer store.

He wrote of Love with high conceit,
And Beauty rear'd above her height.

Or let any one read the deeper sorrows (grief
running into rage) in the Poem, the last in the
collection accompanying the above, which from
internal testimony I believe to be Lord Brooke's,
beginning with " Silence augmenteth grief," and
then seriously ask himself, whether the subject of
such absorbing and confounding regrets could have
been that thing which Lord Oxford termed him.


DAN STUART once told us, that he did not remember
that he ever deliberately walked into the Exhibition
at Somerset House in his life. He might occasion-
ally have escorted a party of ladies across the way
that were going in ; but he never went in of his own
head. Yet the office of the Morning Post newspaper
stood then just where it does now we are carrying
you back, Reader, some thirty years or more with
its gilt-globe-topt front facing that emporium of our
artists' grand Annual Exposure. We sometimes wish,
that we had observed the same abstinence with

A word or two of D. S. He ever appeared to us

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 25 of 32)