Charles Lamb.

Charles Lamb's essays online

. (page 3 of 32)
Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 3 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

lived in town, and were near at hand ; and he had
the privilege of going to see them, almost as often as
he wished, through some invidious distinction, which
was denied to us. The present worthy sub-treasurer
to the Inner Temple can explain how that happened.

* Recollections of Christ's Hospital.


He had his tea and hot rolls in a morning, while we
were battening upon our quarter of a penny loaf
our crug moistened with attenuated small beer, in
wooden piggins, smacking of the pitched leathern
jack it was poured from. Our Monday's milk por-
ritch, blue and tasteless, and the pease soup of Satur-
day, coarse and choking, were enriched for him with
a slice of " extraordinary bread and butter," from the
hot-loaf of the Temple. The Wednesday's mess of
millet, somewhat less repugnant (we had three
banyan to four meat days in the week) was en-
deared to his palate with a lump of double -refined,
and a smack of ginger (to make it go down the more
glibly) or the fragrant cinnamon. In lieu of our
half-pickled Sundays, or quite fresh boiled beef on
Thursdays (strong as caro equina), with detestable
marigolds floating in the pail to poison the broth
our scanty mutton crags on Fridays and rather
more savoury, but grudging, portions of the same
flesh, rotten-roasted or rare, on the Tuesdays (the
only dish which excited our appetites, and disap-
pointed our stomachs, in almost equal proportion)
he had his hot plate of roast veal, or the more tempt-
ing griskin (exotics unknown to our palates), cooked
in the paternal kitchen (a great thing), and brought
him daily by his maid or aunt ! I remember the
good old relative (in whom love forbade pride)
squatting down upon some odd stone in a by-nook of


the cloisters, disclosing the viands (of higher regale
than those cates which the ravens ministered to the
Tishbite) ; and the contending passions of L. at the
unfolding. There was love for the bringer; shame
for the thing brought, and the manner of its bring-
ing ; sympathy for those who were too many to share
in it ; and, at top of all, hunger (eldest, strongest of
the passions !) predominant, breaking down the stony
fences of shame, and awkwardness, and a troubling

I was a poor friendless boy. My parents, and
those who should care for me, were far away. Those
few acquaintances of theirs, which they could reckon
upon being kind to me in the great city, after a little
forced notice, which they had the grace to take of me
on my first arrival in town, soon grew tired of my
holiday visits. They seemed to them to recur too
often, though I thought them few enough ; and, one
after another, they all failed me, and I felt myself
alone among six hundred playmates.

O the cruelty of separating a poor lad from his
early homestead ! The yearnings which I used to
have towards it in those unfledged years ! How, in
my dreams, would my native town (far in the west)
come back, with its church, and trees, and faces !
How I would wake weeping, and in the anguish of
my heart exclaim upon sweet Calne in Wiltshire !

To this late hour of my life, I trace impressions


left by the recollection of those friendless holidays.
The long warm days of summer never return but
they bring with them a gloom from the haunting
memory of those whole-day-leaves , when, by some
strange arrangement, we were turned out, for the
live-long day, upon our own hands, whether we had
friends to go to, or none. I remember those bath-
ing excursions to the New- River, which L. recalls
with such relish, better, I think, than he can for
he was a home- seeking lad, and did not much care
for such water-pastimes : How merrily we would
sally forth into the fields; and strip under the first
warmth of the sun ; and wanton like young dace in
the streams; getting us appetites for noon, which
those of us that were pennyless (our scanty morning
crust long since exhausted) had -not the means of
allaying while the cattle, and the birds, and the
fishes, were at feed about us, and we had nothing to
satisfy our cravings the very beauty of the day, and
the exercise of the pastime, and the sense of liberty,
setting a keener edge upon them ! How faint and
languid, finally, we would return, towards night- fall,
to our desired morsel, half- rejoicing, half- reluctant,
that the hours of our uneasy liberty had expired !

It was worse in the days of winter, to go prowling
about the streets objectless shivering at cold win-
dows of print-shops, to extract a little amusement ;
or haply, as a last resort, in the hope of a little nov-


elty, to pay a fifty-times repeated visit (where our
individual faces should be as well known to the war-
den as those of his own charges) to the Lions in the
Tower to whose leve"e, by courtesy immemorial, we
had a prescriptive title to admission.

L.'s governor (so we called the patron who pre-
sented us to the foundation) lived in a manner under
his paternal roof. Any complaint which he had to
make was sure of being attended to. This was un-
derstood at Christ's, and was an effectual screen to
him against the severity of masters, or worse tyranny
of the monitors. The oppressions of these young
brutes are heart- sickening to call to recollection. I
have been called out of my bed, and waked for the
purpose, in the coldest winter nights and this not
once, but night after night in my shirt, to receive
the discipline of a leathern thong, with eleven other
sufferers, because it pleased my callow overseer,
when there has been any talking heard after we
were gone to bed, to make the six last beds in the
dormitory, where the youngest children of us slept,
answerable for an offence they neither dared to com-
mit, nor had the power to hinder. The same exe-
crable tyranny drove the younger part of us from the
fires, when our feet were perishing with snow ; and,
under the crudest penalties, forbad the indulgence of
a drink of water, when we lay in sleepless summer
nights, fevered with the season, and the day's spirts.


There was one H , who, I learned, in after

days, was seen expiating some maturer offence in the
hulks. (Do I flatter myself in fancying that this

might be the planter of that name, who suffered

at Nevis, I think, or St. Kits, some few years

since ? My friend Tobin was the benevolent instru-
ment of bringing him to the gallows.) This petty
Nero actually branded a boy, who had offended him,
with a red hot iron ; and nearly starved forty of us,
with exacting contributions, to the one half of our
bread, to pamper a young ass, which, incredible as
it may seem, with the connivance of the nurse's
daughter (a young flame of his) he had contrived
to smuggle in, and keep upon the leads of the ward,
as they called our dormitories. This game went on
for better than a week, till the foolish beast, not able
to fare well but he must cry roast meat happier
than Caligula's minion, could he have kept his own
counsel but, foolisher, alas ! than any of his species
in the fables waxing fat, and kicking, in the fulness
of bread, one unlucky minute would needs proclaim
his good fortune to the world below ; and, laying out
his simple throat, blew such a ram's horn blast, as
(toppling down the walls of his own Jericho) set
concealment any longer at defiance. The client was
dismissed, with certain attentions, to Smithfield ; but
I never understood that the patron underwent any
censure on the occasion. This was in the steward-
ship of L.'s admired Perry.


Under the same facile administration, can L. have
forgotten the cool impunity with which the nurses
used to carry away openly, in open platters, for
their own tables, one out of two of every hot joint,
which the careful matron had been seeing scrupulously
weighed out for our dinners? These things were
daily practised in that magnificent apartment, which
L. (grown connoisseur since, we presume) praises
so highly for the grand paintings " by Verrio, and
others," with which it is " hung round and adorned."
But the sight of sleek well-fed blue-coat boys in pic-
tures was, at that time, I believe, little consolatory to
him, or us, the living ones, who saw the better part
of our provisions carried away before our faces by
harpies ; and ourselves reduced (with the Trojan in
the hall of Dido)

To feed our mind with idle portraiture.

L. has recorded the repugnance of the school to
gags, or the fat of fresh beef boiled ; and sets it down
to some superstition. But these unctuous morsels
are never grateful to young palates (children are
universally fat-haters) and in strong, coarse, boiled
meats, unsalted, are detestable. Kgag~ater in our time
was equivalent to a goul, and held in equal detestation.

suffered under the imputation.

' T was said,

He ate strange flesh.


He was observed, after dinner, carefully to gather
up the remnants left at his table (not many, nor very
choice fragments, you may credit me) and, in an
especial manner, these disreputable morsels, which he
would convey away, and secretly stow in the settle
that stood at his bed-side. None saw when he ate
them. It was rumoured that he privately devoured
them in the night. He was watched, but no traces
of such midnight practices were discoverable. Some
reported, that, on leave-days, he had been seen to
carry out of the bounds a large blue check handker-
chief, full of something. This then must be the
accursed thing. Conjecture next was at work to
imagine how he could dispose of it. Some said he
sold it to the beggars. This belief generally prevailed.
He went about moping. None spake to him. No
one would play with him. He was excommunicated ;
put out of the pale of the school. He was too power-
ful a boy to be beaten, but he underwent every mode
of that negative punishment, which is more grievous
than many stripes. Still he persevered. At length
he was observed by two of his school- fellows, who were
determined to get at the secret, and had traced him
one leave- day for that purpose, to enter a large worn-
out building, such as there exist specimens of in
Chancery-lane, which are let out to various scales of
pauperism with open doOr, and a common staircase.
After him they silently slunk in, and followed by


stealth up four flights, and saw him tap at a poor
wicket, which was opened by an aged woman, meanly
clad. Suspicion was now ripened into certainty.
The informers had secured their victim. They had
him in their toils. Accusation was formally preferred,
and retribution most signal was looked for. Mr.
Hathaway, the then steward (for this happened a
little after my time), with that patient sagacity which
tempered all his conduct, determined to investigate
the matter, before he proceeded to sentence. The
result was, that the supposed mendicants, the receivers
or purchasers of the mysterious scraps, turned out

to be the parents of , an honest couple come to

decay, whom this seasonable supply had, in all
probability, saved from mendicancy; and that this
young stork, at the expense of his own good name,
had all this while been only feeding the old birds !
The governors on this occasion, much to their honour,
voted a present relief to the family of , and pre-
sented him with a silver medal. The lesson which
the steward read upon RASH JUDGMENT, on the occa-
sion of publicly delivering the medal to , I

believe, would not be lost upon his auditory. I had

left school then, but I well remember . He was

a tall, shambling youth, with a cast in his eye, not at
all calculated to conciliate hostile prejudices. I have
since seen him carrying a baker's basket. I think I
heard he did not do quite so well by himself, as he
had done by the old folks.


I was a hypochondriac lad ; and the sight of a boy
in fetters, upon the day of my first putting on the
blue clothes, was not exactly fitted to assuage the
natural terrors of initiation. I was of tender years,
barely turned of seven ; and had only read of such
things in books, or seen them but in dreams. I was
told he had run away. This was the punishment for
the first offence. As a novice I was soon after taken
to see the dungeons. These were little, square, Bed-
lam cells, where a boy could just lie at his length
upon straw and a blanket a mattress, I think, was
afterwards substituted with a peep of light, let in
askance, from a prison-orifice at top, barely enough to
read by. Here the poor boy was locked in by him-
self all day, without sight of any but the porter who
brought him his bread and water who might not
speak to him ; or of the beadle, who came twice a
week to call him out to receive his periodical chastise-
ment, which was almost welcome, because it separated
him for a brief interval from solitude : and here he
was shut up by himself 0/ nights, out of the reach of any
sound, to suffer whatever horrors the weak nerves, and
superstition incident to his time of life, might subject
him to*. This was the penalty for the second of-

* One or two instances of lunacy, or attempted suicide, ac-
cordingly, at length convinced the governors of the impolicy of
this part of the sentence, and the midnight torture to the spirits
was dispensed with. This fancy of dungeons for children was



fence. Wouldst thou like, reader, to see what be-
came of him in the next degree ?

The culprit, who had been a third time an offender,
and whose expulsion was at this time deemed irrever-
sible, was brought forth, as at some solemn auto dafe,
arrayed in uncouth and most appalling attire all
trace of his late " watchet weeds " carefully effaced,
he was exposed in a jacket, resembling those which
London lamplighters formerly delighted in, with a cap
of the same. The effect of this divestiture was such
as the ingenious devisers of it could have anticipated.
With his pale and frighted features, it was as if some
of those disfigurements in Dante had seized upon
him. In this disguisement he was brought into the
hall (Z.'j favourite state-room), where awaited him
the whole number of his school-fellows, whose joint
lessons and sports he was thenceforth to share no
more ; the awful presence of the steward, to be seen
for the last time ; of the executioner beadle, clad in
his state robe for the occasion ; and of two faces
more, of direr import, because never but in these
extremities visible. These were governors; two of
whom, by choice, or charter, were always accustomed
to officiate at these Ultima Supplicia ; not to mitigate
(so at least we understood it), but to enforce the

a sprout of Howard's brain ; for which (saving the reverence
due to Holy Paul) methinks, I could willingly spit upon his


uttermost stripe. Old Bamber Gascoigne, and Peter
Aubert, I remember, were colleagues on one occasion,
when the beadle turning rather pale, a glass of brandy
was ordered to prepare him for the mysteries. The
scourging was, after the old Roman fashion, long and
stately. The lictor accompanied the criminal quite
round the hall. We were generally too faint with at-
tending to the previous disgusting circumstances, to
make accurate report with our eyes of the degree of
corporal suffering inflicted. Report, of course, gave
out the back knotty and livid. After scourging, he
was made over, in his San Benito, to his friends, if
he had any (but commonly such poor runagates were
friendless), or to his parish officer, who, to enhance
the effect of the scene, had his station allotted to him
on the outside of the hall gate.

These solemn pageantries were not played off so
often as to spoil the general mirth of the community.
We had plenty of exercise and recreation after school
hours; and, for myself, I must confess, that I was
never happier, than in them. The Upper and the
Lower Grammar Schools were held in the same room ;
and an imaginary line only divided their bounds.
Their character was as different as that of the inhabit-
ants on the two sides of the Pyrennees. The Rev.
James Boyer was the Upper Master ; but the Rev.
Matthew Field presided over that portion of the
apartment, of which I had the good fortune to be a


member. We lived a life as careless as birds. We
talked and did just what we pleased, and nobody
molested us. We carried an accidence, or a gram-
mar, for form; but, for any trouble it gave us, we
might take two years in getting through the verbs
deponent, and another two in forgetting all that we
had learned about them. There was now and then
the formality of saying a lesson, but if you had not
learned it, a brush across the shoulders (just enough
to disturb a fly) was the sole remonstrance. Field
never used the rod; and in truth he wielded the
cane with no great good will holding it "like a
dancer." It looked in his hands rather like an em-
blem than an instrument of authority ; and an emblem 5
too, he was ashamed of. He was a good easy man,
that did not care to ruffle his own peace, nor perhaps
set any great consideration upon the value of juvenile
time. He came among us, now and then, but often
staid away whole days from us ; and when he came,
it made no difference to us he had his private
room to retire to, the short time he staid, to be out of
the sound of our noise. Our mirth and uproar went
on. We had classics of our own, without being be-
holden to " insolent Greece or haughty Rome,"
that passed current among us Peter Wilkins the
Adventures of the Hon. Capt. Robert Boyle the
Fortunate Blue Coat Boy and the like. Or we cul-
tivated a turn for mechanic or scientific operations ;


making little sun-dials of paper; or weaving those
ingenious parentheses, called cat-cradles ; or making
dry peas to dance upon the end of a tin pipe; or
studying the art military over that laudable game
" French and English," and a hundred other such
devices to pass away the time mixing the useful
with the agreeable as would have made the souls
of Rousseau and John Locke chuckle to have seen us.
Matthew Field belonged to that class of modest
divines who affect to mix in equal proportion the
gentleman, the scholar, and the Christian ; but, I
know not how, the first ingredient is generally found
to be the predominating dose in the composition.
He was engaged in gay parties, or with his courtly
bow at some episcopal levee, when he should have
been attending upon us. He had for many years
the classical charge of a hundred children, during
the four or five first years of their education ; and
his very highest form seldom proceeded further than
two or three of the introductory fables of Phaedrus.
How things were suffered to go on thus, I cannot
guess. Boyer, who was the proper person to have
remedied these abuses, always affected, perhaps felt,
a delicacy in interfering in a province not strictly his
own. I have not been without my suspicions, that
he was not altogether displeased at the contrast we
presented to his end of the school. We were a sort
of Helots to his young Spartans. He would some-


times, with ironic deference, send to borrow a rod of
the Under Master, and then, with Sardonic grin,
observe to one of his upper boys, "how neat and
fresh the twigs looked." While his pale students
were battering their brains over Xenophon and Plato,
with a silence as deep as that enjoined by the Samite,
we were enjoying ourselves at our ease in our little
Goshen. We saw a little into the secrets of his dis-
cipline, and the prospect did but the more reconcile
us to our lot. His thunders rolled innocuous for us ;
his storms came near, but never touched us ; contrary
to Gideon's miracle, while all around were drenched,
our fleece was dry.* His boys turned out the better
scholars ; we, I suspect, have the advantage in temper.
His pupils cannot speak of him without something of
terror allaying their gratitude ; the remembrance of
Field comes back with all the soothing images of
indolence, and summer slumbers, and work like play,
and innocent idleness, and Elysian exemptions, and
life itself a " playing holiday."

Though sufficiently removed from the jurisdiction
of Boyer, we were near enough (as I have said) to
understand a little of his system. We occasionally
heard sounds of the Ululantes, and caught glances
of Tartarus. B. was a rabid pedant. His English
style was crampt to barbarism. His Easter anthems
(for his duty obliged him to those periodical flights)

* Cowley,


were grating as scrannel pipes.* He would laugh,
ay, and heartily, but then it must be at Flaccus's

quibble about Rex or at the tristis severitas in

vultu, or inspicere in patinas, of Terence thin jests,
which at their first broaching could hardly have had
vis enough to move a Roman muscle. He had two
wigs, both pedantic, but of differing omen. The
one serene, smiling, fresh powdered, betokening a
mild day. The other, an old discoloured, unkempt,
angry caxon, denoting frequent and bloody execution.
Woe to the school, when he made his morning ap-
pearance in his passy, or passionate wig. No comet
expounded surer. J. B. had a heavy hand. I have
known him double his knotty fist at a poor trembling
child (the maternal milk hardly dry upon its lips)
with a " Sirrah, do you presume to set your wits at
me ? " Nothing was more common than to see him
make a head-long entry into the school-room, from
his inner recess, or library, and, with turbulent eye,
singling out a lad, roar out, " Od's my life, Sirrah,"

* In this and every thing B. was the antipodes of his co-
adjutor. While the former was digging his brains for crude
anthems, worth a pig-nut, F. would be recreating his gentle-
manly fancy in the more flowery walks of the Muses. A little
dramatic effusion of his, under the name of Vertumnus and
Pomona, is not yet forgotten by the chroniclers of that sort of
literature. It was accepted by Garrick, but the town did not
give it their sanction. B. used to say of it, in a way of half-
compliment, half-irony, that it was too classical for represen-


(his favourite adjuration) " I have a great mind to
whip you,"- then, with as sudden a retracting im-
pulse, fling back into his lair and, after a cooling
lapse of some minutes (during which all but the
culprit had totally forgotten the context) drive head-
long out again, piecing out his imperfect sense, as if
it had been some Devil's Litany, with the expletory
yell "and I WILL, too" In his gentler moods,
when the rabidus furor was assuaged, he had resort
to an ingenious method, peculiar, for what I have
heard, to himself, of whipping the boy, and read-
ing the Debates, at the same time; a paragraph,
and a lash between; which in those times, when
parliamentary oratory was most at a height and
flourishing in these realms, was not calculated to
impress the patient with a veneration for the diffuser
graces of rhetoric.

Once, and but once, the uplifted rod was known
to fall ineffectual from his hand when droll squint-
ing W having been caught putting the inside of
the master's desk to a use for which the architect had
clearly not designed it, to justify himself, with great
simplicity averred, that he did not know that the thing
had been forewarned. This exquisite irrecognition
of any law antecedent to the oral or declaratory,
struck so irresistibly upon the fancy of all who heard
it (the pedagogue himself not excepted) that remis-
sion was unavoidable.


L. has given credit to B.'s great merits as an in-
structor. Coleridge, in his literary life, has pro-
nounced a more intelligible and ample encomium on
them. The author of the Country Spectator doubts
not to compare him with the ablest teachers of an-
tiquity. Perhaps we cannot dismiss him better than
with the pious ejaculation of C. when he heard
that his old master was on his death-bed " Poor
J. B. ! may all his faults be forgiven ; and may he
be wafted to bliss by little cherub boys, all head and
wings, with no bottoms to reproach his sublunary

Under him were many good and sound scholars
bred. First Grecian of my time was Lancelot
Pepys Stevens, kindest of boys and men, since Co-
grammar-master (and inseparable companion) with

Dr. T e. What an edifying spectacle did this

brace of friends present to those who remembered the
anti-socialities of their predecessors ! You never

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 3 of 32)