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dence, heart's ease, a man's own time to himself, are
not muck however we may be pleased to scandalise
with that appellation the faithful metal that provides
them for us.



OUR experience would lead us to quite an opposite
conclusion. Temper, indeed, is no test of truth ; but
warmth and earnestness are a proof at least of a
man's own conviction of the rectitude of that which
he maintains. Coolness is as often the result of an
unprincipled indifference to truth or falsehood, as of


a sober confidence in a man's own side in a dispute.
Nothing is more insulting sometimes than the appear-
ance of this philosophic temper. There is little Titu-
bus, the stammering law-stationer in Lincoln's Inn
we have seldom known this shrewd little fellow en-
gaged in an argument where we were not convinced
he had the best of it, if his tongue would but fairly
have seconded him. When he has been spluttering
excellent broken sense for an hour together, writhing
and labouring to be delivered of the point of dispute
the very gist of the controversy knocking at his
teeth, which like some obstinate iron-grating still
obstructed its deliverance his puny frame con-
vulsed, and face reddening all over at an unfairness
in the logic which he wanted articulation to expose,
it has moved our gall to see a smooth portly fellow
of an adversary, that cared not a button for the merits
of the question, by merely laying his hand upon the
head of the stationer, and desiring him to be calm
(your tall disputants have always the advantage) , with
a provoking sneer carry the argument clean from him
in the opinion of all the by-standers, who have gone
away clearly convinced that Titubus must have been
in the wrong, because he was in a passion ; and that

Mr. , meaning his opponent, is one of the fairest,

and at the same time one of the most dispassionate
arguers breathing.




THE same might be said of the wittiest local allu-
sions. A custom is sometimes as difficult to explain
to a foreigner as a pun. What would become of a
great part of the wit of the last age, if it were tried
by this test? How would certain topics, as alder-
manity, cuckoldry, have sounded to a Terentian
auditory, though Terence himself had been alive to
translate them? Senator urbanus, with Curruca to
boot for a synonym, would but faintly have done the
business. Words, involving notions, are hard enough
to render ; it is too much to expect us to translate a
sound, and give an elegant version to a jingle. The
Virgilian harmony is not translatable, but by substi-
tuting harmonious sounds in another language for it.
To Latinise a pun, we must seek a pun in Latin, that
will answer to it ; as, to give an idea of the double
endings in Hudibras, we must have recourse to a
similar practice in the old monkish doggrel. Dennis,
the fiercest oppugner of puns in ancient or modern
times, professes himself highly tickled with the " a
stick" chiming to "ecclesiastic." Yet what is this
but a species of pun, a verbal consonance ?




IF by worst be only meant the most far-fetched
and startling, we agree to it. A pun is not bound
by the laws which limit nicer wit. It is a pistol let
off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.
It is an antic which does not stand upon manners,
but comes bounding into the presence, and does
not show the less comic for being dragged in some-
times by the head and shoulders. What though it
limp a little, or prove defective in one leg all the
better. A pun may easily be too curious and arti-
ficial. Who has not at one time or other been at a
party of professors (himself perhaps an old offender
in that line), where, after ringing a round of the
most ingenious conceits, every man contributing his
shot, and some there the most expert shooters of the
day ; after making a poor word run the gauntlet till
it is ready to drop ; after hunting and winding it
through all the possible ambages of similar sounds ;
after squeezing, and hauling, and tugging at it, till the
very milk of it will not yield a drop further, suddenly
some obscure, unthought of fellow in a corner, who
was never 'prentice to the trade, whom the company
for very pity passed over, as we do by a known poor


man when a money-subscription is going round, no
one calling upon him for his quota has all at once
come out with something so whimsical, yet so perti-
nent ; so brazen in its pretensions, yet so impossible
to be denied ; so exquisitely good, and so deplorably
bad, at the same time, that it has proved a Robin
Hood's shot ; anything ulterior to that is despaired
of; and the party breaks up, unanimously voting it
to be the very worst (that is, best) pun of the even-
ing. This species of wit is the better for not being
perfect in all its parts. What it gains in complete-
ness, it loses in naturalness. The more exactly it
satisfies the critical, the less hold it has upon some
other faculties. The puns which are most entertain-
ing are those which will least bear an analysis. Of
this kind is the following, recorded, with a sort of
stigma, in one of Swift's Miscellanies.

An Oxford scholar, meeting a porter who was carry-
ing a hare through the streets, accosts him with this
extraordinary question : " Prithee, friend, is that thy
own hare, or a wig? "

There is no excusing this, and no resisting it. A
man might blur ten sides of paper in attempting a
defence of it against a critic who should be laughter-
proof. The quibble in itself is not considerable. It
is only a new turn given, by a little false pronuncia-
tion, to a very common, though not very courteous
inquiry. Put by one gentleman to another at a


dinner-party, it would have been vapid ; to the mis-
tress of the house, it would have shown much less wit
than rudeness. We must take in the totality of time,
place, and person ; the pert look of the inquiring
scholar, the desponding looks of the puzzled porter ;
the one stopping at leisure, the other hurrying on
with his burthen ; the innocent though rather abrupt
tendency of the first member of the question, with the
utter and inextricable irrelevancy of the second ; the
place a public street, not favourable to frivolous
investigations ; the affrontive quality of the primitive
inquiry (the common question) invidiously transferred
to the derivative (the new turn given to it) in the
implied satire ; namely, that few of that tribe are
expected to eat of the good things which they carry,
they being in most countries considered rather as the
temporary trustees than owners of such dainties,
which the fellow was beginning to understand ; but
then the wig again comes in, and he can make noth-
ing of it : all put together constitute a picture :
Hogarth could have made it intelligible on canvass.
Yet nine out of ten critics will pronounce this
a very bad pun, because of the defectiveness in the
concluding member, which is its very beauty, and
constitutes the surprise. The same persons shall cry
up for admirable the cold quibble from Virgil about
the broken Cremona* ; because it is made out in all
* Swift.


its parts, and leaves nothing to the imagination. We
venture to call it cold; because of thousands who
have admired it, it would be difficult to find one who
has heartily chuckled at it. As appealing to the
judgment merely (setting the risible faculty aside,)
we must pronounce it a monument of curious felicity.
But as some stories are said to be too good to be
true, it may with equal truth be asserted of this bi-
verbal allusion, that it is too good to be natural. One
cannot help suspecting that the incident was invented
to fit the line. It would have been better had it been
less perfect. Like some Virgilian hemistichs, it has
suffered by filling up. The nimium Vicina was enough
in conscience ; the Cremona afterwards loads it. It
is in fact a double pun ; and we have always observed
that a superfoetation in this sort of wit is dangerous.
When a man has said a good thing, it is seldom politic
to follow it up. We do not care to be cheated a
second time ; or, perhaps, the mind of man (with
reverence be it spoken) is not capacious enough to
lodge two puns at a time. The impression, to be
forcible, must be simultaneous and undivided.



THOSE who use this proverb can never have seen
Mrs. Conrady.


The soul, if we may believe Plotinus, is a ray from
the celestial beauty. As she partakes more or less of
this heavenly light, she informs, with corresponding
characters, the fleshly tenement which she chooses,
and frames to herself a suitable mansion.

All which only proves that the soul of Mrs.
Conrady, in her pre-existent state, was no great
judge of architecture.

To the same effect, in a Hymn in honour of Beauty,
divine Spenser, platinizing, sings :

" Every spirit as it is more pure,

And hath in it the more of heavenly light,
So it the fairer body doth procure
To habit in, and it more fairly dight
With cheerful grace and amiable sight.
For of the soul the body form doth take :
For soul is form, and doth the body make."

But Spenser, it is clear, never saw Mrs. Conrady.

These poets, we find, are no safe guides in philos-
ophy ; for here, in his very next stanza but one, is a
saving clause, which throws us all out again, and
leaves us as much to seek as ever :

" Yet oft it falls, that many a gentle mind
Dwells in deformed tabernacle drown'd,
Either by chance, against the course of kind,
Or through unaptness in the substance found,
Which it assumed of some stubborn ground,
That will not yield unto her form's direction,
But is perform'd with some foul imperfection."


From which it would follow, that Spenser had seen
somebody like Mrs. Conrady.

The spirit of this good lady her previous anima
must have stumbled upon one of these untoward
tabernacles which he speaks of. A more rebellious
commodity of clay for a ground, as the poet calls
it, no gentle mind and sure her's is one of the
gentlest ever had to deal with.

Pondering upon her inexplicable visage inex-
plicable, we mean, but by this modification of the
theory we have come to a conclusion that, if one
must be plain, it is better to be plain all over, than,
amidst a tolerable residue of features, to hang out
one that shall be exceptionable. No one can say of
Mrs. Conrady's countenance, that it would be better
if she had but a nose. It is impossible to pull her
to pieces in this manner. We have seen the most
malicious beauties of her own sex baffled in the at-
tempt at a selection. The tout ensemble defies par-
ticularising. It is too complete too consistent, as
we may say to admit of these invidious reserva-
tions. It is not as if some Apelles had picked out
here a lip and there a chin out of the collected
ugliness of Greece, to frame a model by. It is a
symmetrical whole. We challenge the minutest con-
noisseur to cavil at any part or parcel of the coun-
tenance in question; to say that this, or that, is
improperly placed. We are convinced that true ugli-


ness, no less than is affirmed of true beauty, is the
result of harmony. Like that too it reigns without a
competitor. No one ever saw Mrs. Conrady, without
pronouncing her to be the plainest woman that he
ever met with in the course of his life. The first
time that you are indulged with a sight of her face,
is an era in your existence ever after. You are glad
to have seen it like Stonehenge. No one can pre-
tend to forget it. No one ever apologised to her for
meeting her in the street on such a day and not
knowing her : the pretext would be too bare. No-
body can mistake her for another. Nobody can say
of her, " I think I have seen that face somewhere,
but I cannot call to mind where." You must remem-
ber that in such a parlour it first struck you like a
bust. You wondered where the owner of the house
had picked it up. You wondered more when it
began to move its lips so mildly too ! No one
ever thought of asking her to sit for her picture.
Lockets are for remembrance ; and it would be clearly
superfluous to hang an image at your heart, which,
once seen, can never be out of it. It is not a mean
face either; its entire originality precludes that.
Neither is it of that order of plain faces which im-
prove upon acquaintance. Some very good but ordi-
nary people, by an unwearied perseverance in good
offices, put a cheat upon our eyes : juggle our senses
out of their natural impressions ; and set us upon dis-
covering good indications in a countenance, which at


first sight promised nothing less. We detect gentle-
ness, which had escaped us, lurking about an under
lip. But when Mrs. Conrady has done you a service,
her face remains the same ; when she has done you a
thousand, and you know that she is ready to double
the number, still it is that individual face. Neither
can you say of it, that it would be a good face if it
was not marked by the small pox a compliment
which is always more admissive than excusatory for
either Mrs. Conrady never had the small pox ; or, as
we say, took it kindly. No, it stands upon its own
merits fairly. There it is. It is her mark, her
token; that which she is known by.




NOR a lady's age in the parish register. We hope
we have more delicacy than to do either : but some
faces spare us the trouble of these dental inquiries.
And what if the beast, which my friend would force
upon my acceptance, prove, upon the face of it, a
sorry Rozinante, a lean, ill-favoured jade, whom no
gentleman could think of setting up in his stables?
Must I, rather than not be obliged to my friend, make
her a companion to Eclipse or Lightfoot? A horse-
giver, no more than a horse-seller, has a right to palm
his spavined article upon us for good ware. An equiv-


alent is expected in either case ; and, with my own
good will, I would no more be cheated out of my
thanks, than out of my money. Some people have a
knack of putting upon you gifts of no real value, to
engage you to substantial gratitude. We thank them
for nothing. Our friend Mitis carries this humour
of never refusing a present, to the very point of
absurdity if it were possible to couple the ridicu-
lous with so much mistaken delicacy, and real good-
nature. Not an apartment in his fine house (and
he has a true taste in household decorations), but
is stuffed up with some preposterous print or mir-
ror the worst adapted to his pannels that may
be the presents of his friends that -know his
weakness ; while his noble Vandykes are displacec^
to make room for a set of daubs, the work of some
wretched artist of his acquaintance, who, having had
them returned upon his hands for bad likenesses,
finds his account in bestowing them here gratis. The
good creature has not the heart to mortify the painter
at the expense of an honest refusal. It is pleasant
(if it did not vex one at the same time) to see him
sitting in his dining parlour, surrounded with obscure
aunts and cousins to God knows whom, while the true
Lady Marys and Lady Bettys of his own honourable
family, in favour to these adopted frights, are con-
signed to the staircase and the lumber-room. In like
manner his goodly shelves are one by one stript of his
favourite old authors, to give place to a collection of


presentation copies the flower and bran of modern
poetry. A presentation copy, reader if haply you
are yet innocent of such favours is a copy of a
book which does not sell, sent you by the author,
with his foolish autograph at the beginning of it ; for
which, if a stranger, he only demands your friendship ;
if a brother author, he expects from you a book of
yours which does sell, in return. We can speak to
experience, having by us a tolerable assortment of
these gift-horses. Not to ride a metaphor to death
we are willing to acknowledge, that in some gifts
there is sense. A duplicate out of a friend's library
(where he has more than one copy of a rare author)
is intelligible. There are favours, short of the pecu-
niary a thing not fit to be hinted at among gen-
tlemen which confer as much grace upon the
acceptor as the offerer : the kind, we confess, which
is most to our palate, is of those little conciliatory
missives, which for their vehicle generally choose a
hamper little odd presents of game, fruit, perhaps
wine though it is essential to the delicacy of the
latter that it be home-made. We love to have our
friend in the country sitting thus at our table by
proxy ; to apprehend his presence (though a hundred
miles may be between us) by a turkey, whose goodly
aspect reflects to us his " plump corpusculum ; " to
taste him in grouse or woodcock ; to feel him gliding
down in the toast peculiar to the latter ; to concor-


porate him in a slice of Canterbury brawn. This is
indeed to have him within ourselves ; to know him
intimately : such participation is methinks unitive, as
the old theologians phrase it. For these considera-
tions we should be sorry if certain restrictive regu-
lations, which are thought to bear hard upon the
peasantry of this country, were entirely done away
with. A hare, as the law now stands, makes many
friends. Caius conciliates Titius (knowing his go ft?)
with a leash of partridges. Titius (suspecting his
partiality for them) passes them to Lucius; who in
his turn, preferring his friend's relish to his own,
makes them over to Marcius ; till in their ever-widen-
ing progress, and round of unconscious circum-migra-
tion, they distribute the seeds of harmony over half
a parish. We are well disposed to this kind of sen-
sible remembrances ; and are the less apt to be taken
by those little airy tokens impalpable to the palate
which, under the names of rings, lockets, keep-
sakes, amuse some people's fancy mightily. We
could never away with these indigestible trifles. They
are the very kickshaws and foppery of friendship.



HOMES there are, we are sure, that are no homes : the

home of the very poor man, and another which we



shall speak to presently. Crowded places of cheap
entertainment, and the benches of alehouses, if they
could speak, might bear mournful testimony to the
first. To them the very poor man resorts for an
image of the home, which he cannot find at home.
For a starved grate, and a scanty firing, that is not
enough to keep alive the natural heat in the fingers
of so many shivering children with their mother, he
finds in the depth of winter always a blazing hearth,
and a hob to warm his pittance of beer by. Instead
of the clamours of a wife, made gaunt by famish-
ing, he meets with a cheerful attendance beyond the
merits of the trifle which he can afford to spend. He
has companions which his home denies him, for the
very poor man has no visiters. He can look into the
goings on of the world, and speak a little to politics.
At home there are no politics stirring, but the domes-
tic. All interests, real or imaginary, all topics that
should expand the mind of man, and connect him to
a sympathy with general existence, are crushed in the
absorbing consideration of food to be obtained for the
family. Beyond the price of bread, news is sense-
less and impertinent. At home there is no larder.
Here there is at least a show of plenty ; and while he
cooks his lean scrap of butcher's meat before the com-
mon bars, or munches his humbler cold viands, his
relishing bread and cheese with an onion, in a corner,
where no one reflects upon his poverty, he has sight


of the substantial joint providing for the landlord and
his family. He takes an interest in the dressing of
it ; and while he assists in removing the trivet from
the fire, he feels that there is such a thing as beef
and cabbage, which he was beginning to forget at
home. All this while he deserts his wife and chil-
dren. But what wife, and what children? Prosper-
ous men, who object to this desertion, image to
themselves some clean contented family like that
which they go home to. But look at the counte-
nance of the poor wives who follow and persecute
their good man to the door of the public house, which
he is about to enter, when something like shame would
restrain him, if stronger misery did not induce him
to pass the threshold. That face, ground by want,
in which every cheerful, every conversable lineament
has been long effaced by misery, is that a face to
stay at home with ? is it more a woman, or a wild
cat ? alas ! it is the face of the wife of his youth, that
once smiled upon him. It can smile no longer.
What comforts can it share? what burthens can it
lighten ? Oh, 't is a fine thing to talk of the humble
meal shared together ! But what if there be no bread
in the cupboard? The innocent prattle of his chil-
dren takes out the sting of a man's poverty. But the
children of the very poor do not prattle. It is none
of the least frightful features in that condition, that
there is no childishness in its dwellings. Poor people,


said a sensible old nurse to us once, do not bring up
their children ; they drag them up. The little care-
less darling of the wealthier nursery, in their hovel is
transformed betimes into a premature reflecting per-
son. No one has time to dandle it, no one thinks it
worth while to coax it, to soothe it, to toss it up and
down, to humour it. There is none to kiss away its
tears. If it cries, it can only be beaten. It has been
prettily said that " a babe is fed with milk and praise."
But the aliment of this poor babe was thin, unnourish
ing : the return to its little baby-tricks, and efforts
to engage attention, bitter ceaseless objurgation. It
never had a toy, or knew what a coral meant. It
grew up without the lullaby of nurses, it was a stranger
to the patient fondle, the hushing caress, the attract-
ing novelty, the costlier plaything, or the cheaper off-
hand contrivance to divert the child; the prattled
nonsense (best sense to it), the wise impertinences,
the wholesome lies, the apt story interposed, that puts
a stop to present sufferings, and awakens the passion
of young wonder. It was never sung to no one
ever told to it a tale of the nursery. It was dragged
up, to live or to die as it happened. It had no young
dreams. It broke at once into the iron realities of
life. A child exists not for the very poor as any ob-
ject of dalliance ; it is only another mouth to be fed,
a pair of little hands to be betimes inured to labour.
It is the rival, till it can be the co-operator, for food


with the parent. It is never his mirth, his diversion,
his solace ; it never makes him young again, with
recalling his young times. The children of the very
poor have no young times. It makes the very heart
to bleed to overhear the casual street-talk between a
poor woman and her little girl, a woman of tne better
sort of poor, in a condition rather above the squalid
beings which we have been contemplating. It is not
of toys, of nursery books, of summer holidays (fitting
that age) ; of the promised sight, or play; of praised
sufficiency at school. It is of mangling and clear-
starching, of the price of coals, or of potatoes. The
questions of the child, that should be the very out-
pourings of curiosity in idleness, are marked with
forecast and melancholy providence. It has come to
be a woman, before it was a child. It has learned
to go to market ; it chaffers, it haggles, it envies, it
murmurs ; it is knowing, acute, sharpened ; it never
prattles. Had we not reason to say, that the home
of the very poor is no home ?

There is yet another home, which we are con-
strained to deny to be one. It has a larder, which
the home of the poor man wants; its fireside con-
veniences, of which the poor dream not. But with
all this, it is no home. It is the house of the man
that is infested with many visiters. May we be
branded for the veriest churl, if we deny our heart
to the many noble-hearted friends that at times ex-


change their dwelling for our poor roof ! It is not of

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 30 of 32)