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guests that we complain, but of endless, purposeless
visitants ; droppers in, as they are called. We some-
times wonder from what sky they fall. It is the very
error of the position of our lodging; its horoscopy
was ill calculated, being just situate in a medium
a plaguy suburban mid- space fitted to catch idlers
from town or country. We are older than we were,
and age is easily put out of its way. We have fewer
sands in our glass to reckon upon, and we cannot
brook to see them drop in endlessly succeeding im-
pertinences. At our time of life, to be alone some-
times is as needful as sleep. It is the refreshing sleep
of the day. The growing infirmities of age manifest
themselves in nothing more strongly, than in an in-
veterate dislike of interruption. The thing which we
are doing, we wish to be permitted to do. We have
neither much knowledge nor devices ; but there are
fewer in the place to which we hasten. We are not
willingly put out of our way, even at a game of nine-
pins. While youth was, we had vast reversions in
time future; we are reduced to a present pittance,
and obliged to economise in that article. We bleed
away our moments now as hardly as our ducats. We
cannot bear to have our thin wardrobe eaten and
fretted into by moths. We are willing to barter our
good time with a friend, who gives us in exchange
his own. Herein is the distinction between the gen-


trine guest and the visitant. This latter takes your
good time, and gives you his bad in exchange The
guest is domestic to you as your good cat, or house-
hold bird; the visitant is your fly, that flaps in at
your window, and out again, leaving nothing but a
sense of disturbance, and victuals spoiled. The infe-
rior functions of life begin to move heavily. We
cannot concoct our food with interruptions. Our
chief meal, to be nutritive, must be solitary. With
difficulty we can eat before a guest ; and never under-
stood what the relish of public feasting meant. Meats
have no sapor, nor digestion fair play, in a crowd.
The unexpected coming in of a visitant stops the
machine. There is a punctual generation who time
their calls to the precise commencement of your
dining-hour not to eat but to see you eat. Our
knife and fork drop instinctively, and we feel that we
have swallowed our latest morsel. Others again show
their genius, as we have said, in knocking the moment
you have just sat down to a book. They have a
peculiar compassionating sneer, with which they
* hope that they do not interrupt your studies."
Though they flutter off the next moment, to carry
their impertinences to the nearest student that they
can call their friend, the tone of the book is spoiled ;
we shut the leaves, and, with Dante's lovers, read no
more that day. It were well if the effect of intrusion
were simply co-extensive with its presence ; but it


mars all the good hours afterwards. These scratches
in appearance leave an orifice that closes not hastily.
" It is a prostitution of the bravery of friendship,"
says worthy Bishop Taylor, " to spend it upon imper-
tinent people, who are, it may be, loads to their fami-
lies, but can never ease my loads." This is the secret
of their gaddings, their visits, and morning calls. They
too have homes, which are no homes.



" GOOD sir, or madam, as it may be we most wil-
lingly embrace the offer of your friendship. We long
have known your excellent qualities. We have wished
to have you nearer to us ; to hold you within the very
innermost fold of our heart. We can have no reserve
towards a person of your open and noble nature. The
frankness of your humour suits us exactly. We have
been long looking for such a friend. Quick let us
disburthen our troubles into each other's bosom let
us make our single joy shine by reduplication But
yap, yap, yap ! what is this confounded cur ? he
has fastened his tooth, which is none of the bluntest,
just in the fleshy part of my leg."

" It is my dog, sir. You must love him for my
sake. Here, Test Test Test ! "

" But he has bitten me."


" Ay, that he is apt to do, till you are better ac-
quainted with him. I have had him three years. He
never bites me."

Yap, yap, yap ! " He is at it again."

" Oh, sir, you must not kick him. He does not
like to be kicked. I expect my dog to be treated
with all the respect due to myself."

" But do you always take him out with you, when
you go a friendship-hunting?"

" Invariably. 'T is the sweetest, prettiest, best-
conditioned animal. I call him my test the touch-
stone by which I try a friend. No one can properly
be said to love me, who does not love him."

" Excuse us, dear sir or madam aforesaid if
upon further consideration we are obliged to decline
the otherwise invaluable offer of your friendship.
We do not like dogs."

"Mighty well, sir you know the conditions
you may have worse offers. Come along, Test."

The above dialogue is not so imaginary, but that,
in the intercourse of life, we have had frequent occa-
sions of breaking off an agreeable intimacy by reason
of these canine appendages. They do not always
come in the shape of dogs ; they sometimes wear the
more plausible and human character of kinsfolk, near
acquaintances, my friend's friend, his partner, his
wife, or his children. We could never yet form a
friendship not to speak of more delicate corre-


spondences however much to our taste, without the
intervention of some third anomaly, some impertinent
clog affixed to the relation the understood dog in
the proverb. The good things of life are not to be
had singly, but come to us with a mixture ; like a
schoolboy's holiday, with a task affixed to the tail of
it. What a delightful companion is **** ? if he did
not always bring his tall cousin with him ! He seems
to grow with him ; like some of those double births,
which we remember to have read of with such
wonder and delight in the old " Athenian Oracle,"
where Swift commenced author by writing Pindaric
Odes (what a beginning for him !) upon Sir William
Temple. There is the picture of the brother, with
the little brother peeping out at his shoulder; a
species of fraternity, which we have no name of kin
close enough to comprehend. When **** comes,
poking in his head and shoulders into your room, as
if to feel his entry, you think, surely you have now
got him to yourself what a three hours' chat we
shall have ! but, ever in the haunch of him, and
before his diffident body is well disclosed in your
apartment, appears the haunting shadow of the cousin,
over-peering his modest kinsman, and sure to overlay
the expected good talk with his insufferable procerity
of stature, and uncorresponding dwarfishness of obser-
vation. Misfortunes seldom come alone. 'T is hard
when a blessing comes accompanied. Cannot we


like Sempronia, without sitting down to chess with
her eternal brother? or know Sulpicia, without know-
ing all the round of her card-playing relations ? must
my friend's brethren of necessity be mine also? must
we be hand and glove with Dick Selby the parson, or
Jack Selby the calico printer, because W. S., who is
neither, but a ripe wit and a critic, has the misfortune
to claim a common parentage with them? Let him
lay down his brothers ; and 't is odds but we will cast
him in a pair of our's (we have a superflux) to balance
the concession. Let F. H. lay down his garrulous
uncle ; and Honorius dismiss his vapid wife, and
superfluous establishment of six boys things be-
tween boy and manhood too ripe for play, too raw
for conversation that come in, impudently staring
their father's old friend out of countenance j and will
neither aid, nor let alone, the conference : that we
may once more meet upon equal terms, as we were
wont to do in the disengaged state of bachelorhood.

It is well if your friend, or mistress, be content
with these canicular probations. Few young ladies
but in this sense keep a dog. But when Rutilia
hounds at you her tiger aunt ; or Ruspina expects
you to cherish and fondle her viper sister, whom she
has preposterously taken into her bosom, to try sting-
ing conclusions upon your constancy ; they must not
complain if the house be rather thin of suitors. Scylla
must have broken off many excellent matches in her


time, if she insisted upon all, that loved her, loving
her dogs also.

An excellent story to this moral is told of Merry,
of Delia Cruscan memory. In tender youth, he loved
and courted a modest appanage to the Opera, in
truth a dancer, who had won him by the artless con-
trast between her manners and situation. She seemed
to him a native violet, that had been transplanted by
some rude accident into that exotic and artificial
hotbed. Nor, in truth, was she less genuine and sin-
cere than she appeared to him. He wooed and won
this flower. Only for appearance' sake, and for due
honour to the bride's relations, she craved that she
might have the attendance of her friends and kindred
at the approaching solemnity. The request was too
amiable not to be conceded; and in this solicitude
for conciliating the good will of mere relations, he
found a presage of her superior attentions to himself,
when the golden shaft should have " killed the flock
of all affections else." The morning came ; and at
the Star and Garter, Richmond the place appointed
for the breakfasting accompanied with one English
friend, he impatiently awaited what reinforcements
the bride should bring to grace the ceremony. A rich
muster she had made. They came in six coaches
the whole corps du ballet French, Italian, men and
women. Monsieur De B., the famous pirouetter of
the day, led his fair spouse, but craggy, from the


banks of the Seine. The Prima Donna had sent her
excuse. But the first and second Buffa were there ;
and Signor Sc , and Signora Ch , and Madame
V , with a countless cavalcade besides of chorusers,
figurantes, at the sight of whom Merry afterwards de-
clared, that " then for the first time it struck him
seriously, that he was about to marry a dancer."
But there was no help for it. Besides, it was her day ;
these were, in fact, her friends and kinsfolk. The
assemblage, though whimsical, was all very natural.
But when the bride handing out of the last coach
a still more extraordinary figure than the rest pre-
sented to him as her father the gentleman that was
to give her away no less a person than Signor Del-
pini himself with a sort of pride, as much as to
say, See what I have brought to do us honour ! the
thought of so extraordinary a paternity quite overcame
him ; and slipping away under some pretence from
the bride and her motley adherents, poor Merry took
horse from the back yard to the nearest sea-coast, from
which, shipping himself to America, he shortly after
consoled himself with a more congenial match in the
person of Miss Brunton ; relieved from his intended
clown father, and a bevy of painted Buffas for



AT what precise minute that little airy musician doffs
his night gear, and prepares to tune up his unsea-
sonable matins, we are not naturalists enough to deter-
mine. But for a mere human gentleman that has
no orchestra business to call him from his warm bed
to such preposterous exercises we take ten, or half
after ten (eleven, of course, during this Christmas
solstice), to be the very earliest hour, at which he
can begin to think of abandoning his pillow. To
think of it, we say ; for to do it in earnest, requires
another half hour's good consideration. Not but
there are pretty sun-risings, as we are told, and such
like gawds, abroad in the world, in summer time es-
pecially, some hours before what we have assigned ;
which a gentleman may see, as they say, only for get-
ting up. But, having been tempted once or twice,
in earlier life, to assist at those ceremonies, we confess
our curiosity abated. We are no longer ambitious of
being the sun's courtiers, to attend at his morning
levees. We hold the good hours of the dawn too
sacred to waste them upon such observances ; which
have in them, besides, something Pagan and Persic.


To say truth, we never anticipated our usual hour, or
got up with the sun (as 'tis called), to go a journey,
or upon a foolish whole day's pleasuring, but we
suffered for it all the long hours after in listlessness
and headachs ; Nature herself sufficiently declaring
her sense of ^ur presumption, in aspiring to regulate
our frail waking courses by the measures of that celes-
tial and sleepless traveller. We deny not that there
is something sprightly and vigorous, at the outset es-
pecially, in these break-of-day excursions. It is
flattering to get the start of a lazy world ; to conquer
death by proxy in his image. But the seeds of sleep
and mortality are in us ; and we pay usually in strange
qualms, before night falls, the penalty of the unnatural
inversion. Therefore, while the busy part of man-
kind are fast huddling on their clothes, are already
up and about their occupations, content to have
swallowed their sleep by wholesale ; we choose to
linger a-bed, and digest our dreams. It is the very
time to recombine the wandering images, which night
in a confused mass presented ; to snatch them from
forgetfulness ; to shape, and mould them. Some
people have no good of their dreams. Like fast
feeders, they gulp them too grossly, to taste them
curiously. We love to chew the cud of a foregone
vision : to collect the scattered rays of a brighter
phantasm, or act over again, with firmer nerves, the
sadder nocturnal tragedies ; to drag into day-light a


struggling and half- vanishing night- mare ; to handle
and examine the terrors, or the airy solaces. We
have too much respect for these spiritual communi-
cations, to let them go so lightly. We are not so
stupid, or so careless, as that Imperial forgetter of his
dreams, that we should need a seer to remind us of the
form of them. They seem to us to have as much sig-
nificance as our waking concerns ; or rather to import
us more nearly, as more nearly we approach by years
to the shadowy world, whither we are hastening. We
have shaken hands with the world's business ; we
have done with it ; we have discharged ourself of it.
Why should we get up? we have neither suit to
solicit, nor affairs to manage. The drama has shut
in upon us at the fourth act. We have nothing here
to expect, but in a short time a sick bed, and a dis-
missal. We delight to anticipate death by such
shadows as night affords. We are already half ac-
quainted with ghosts. We were never much in the
world. Disappointment early struck a dark veil be-
tween us and its dazzling illusions. Our spirits
showed grey before our hairs. The mighty changes
of the world already appear as but the vain stuff out
of which dramas are composed. We have asked no
more of life than what the mimic images in play-
houses present us with. Even those types have
waxed fainter. Our clock appears to have struck.
We are SUPERANNUATED. In this dearth of mundane


satisfaction, we contract politic alliances with shadows.
It is good to have friends at court. The abstracted
media of dreams seem no ill introduction to that
spiritual presence, upon which, in no long time, we
expect to be thrown. We are trying to know a little
of the usages of that colony ; to learn the language,
and the faces we shall meet with there, that we may
be the less awkward at our first coming among them.
We willingly call a phantom our fellow, as knowing
we shall soon be of their dark companionship.
Therefore, we cherish dreams. We try to spell in
them the alphabet of the invisible world ; and think
we know already, how it shall be with us. Those
uncouth shapes, which, while we clung to flesh and
blood, affrighted us, have become familiar. We feel
attenuated into their meagre essences, and have given
the hand of half-way approach to incorporeal being.
We once thought life to be something ; but it has
unaccountably fallen from us before its time. There-
fore we choose to dally with visions. The sun has
no purposes of ours to light us to. Why should we
get up?



WE could never quite understand the philosophy of

this arrangement, or the wisdom of our ancestors in



sending us for instruction to these woolly bedfellows.
A sheep, when it is dark, has nothing to do but to
shut his silly eyes, and sleep if he can. Man found
out long sixes. Hail candle-light ! without dispar-
agement to sun or moon, the kindliest luminary of
the three if we may not rather style thee their
radiant deputy, mild viceroy of the moon ! We
love to read, talk, sit silent, eat, drink, sleep, by
candle-light. They are everybody's sun and moon.
This is our peculiar and household planet. Want-
ing it, what savage unsocial nights must our ancestors
have spent, wintering in caves and unillumined fast-
nesses ! They must have lain about and grumbled
at one another in the dark. What repartees could
have passed, when you must have felt about for a
smile, and handled a neighbour's cheek to be sure that
he understood it? This accounts for the seriousness
of the elder poetry. It has a sombre cast (try Hesiod
or Ossian), derived from the tradition of those unlan-
tern'd nights. Jokes came in with candles. We
wonder how they saw to pick up a pin, if they had
any. How did they sup ? what a melange of chance
carving they must have made of it ! here one had
got a leg of a goat, when he wanted a horse's shoulder
there another had dipt his scooped palm in a kid-
skin of wild honey, when he meditated right mare's
milk. There is neither good eating nor drinking in
fresco. Who, even in these civilised times, has never


experienced this, when at some economic table he
has commenced dining after dusk, and waited for the
flavour till the lights came? The senses absolutely
give and take reciprocally. Can you tell pork from veal
in the dark? or distinguish Sherris from pure Malaga?
Take away the candle from the smoking man ; by the
glimmering of the left ashes, he knows that he is still
smoking, but he knows it only by an inference ; till
the restored light, coming in aid of the olfactories,
reveals to both senses the full aroma. Then how he
redoubles his puffs ! how he burnishes ! There is
absolutely no such thing as reading, but by a candle.
We have tried the affectation of a book at noon-day
in gardens, and in sultry arbours ; but it was labour
thrown away. Those gay motes in the beam come
about you, hovering and teazing, like so many coquets,
that will have you all to their self, and are jealous of
your abstractions. By the midnight taper, the writer
digests his meditations By the same light, we must
approach to their perusal, if we would catch the
flame, the odour. It is a mockery, all that is re-
ported of the influential Phoebus. No true poem
ever owed its birth to the sun's light. They are
abstracted works

"Things that were born, when none but the still night,
And his dumb candle, saw his pinching throes."

Marry, daylight daylight might furnish the images,
the crude material ; but for the fine shapings, the


true turning and filing (as mine author hath it), they
must be content to hold their inspiration of the
candle. The mild internal light, that reveals them,
like fires on the domestic hearth, goes out in the sun-
shine. Night and silence call out the starry fancies.
Milton's Morning Hymn on Paradise, we would hold
a good wager, was penned at midnight ; and Taylor's
richer description of a sun-rise smells decidedly of
the taper. Even ourself, in these our humbler lucu-
brations, tune our best measured cadences (Prose has
her cadences) not unfrequently to the charm of the
drowsier watchman, " blessing the doors ; " or the
wild sweep of winds at midnight. Even now a loftier
speculation than we have yet attempted, courts our
endeavours. We would indite something about the
Solar System. Betty, bring the candles.



WE grant that it is, and a very serious one to a
man's friends, and to all that have to do with him ;
but whether the condition of the man himself is so
much to be deplored, may admit of a question. We
can speak a little to it, being ourself but lately re-
covered we whisper it in confidence, reader out
of a long and desperate fit of the sullens. Was the


cure a blessing? The conviction which wrought it,
came too clearly to leave a scruple of the fanciful
injuries for they were mere fancies which had
provoked the humour. But the humour itself was too
self- pleasing, while it lasted we know how bare we
lay ourself in the confession to be abandoned all
at once with the grounds of it. We still brood over
wrongs which we know to have been imaginary ; and

for our old acquaintance, N , whom we find to

have been a truer friend than we took him for, we
substitute some phantom a Caius or a Titius as
like him as we dare to form it, to wreak our yet un-
satisfied resentments on. It is mortifying to fall at
once from the pinnacle of neglect ; to forego the idea
of having been ill-used and contumaciously treated
by an old friend. The first thing to aggrandise a
man in his own conceit, is to conceive of himself as
neglected. There let him fix if he can. To unde-
ceive him is to deprive him of the most tickling mor-
sel within the range of self-complacency. No flattery
can come near it. Happy is he who suspects his
friend of an injustice ; but supremely blest, who thinks
all his friends in a conspiracy to depress and under-
value him. There is a pleasure (we sing not to the
profane) far beyond the reach of all that the world
counts joy a deep, enduring satisfaction in the
depths, where the superficial seek it not, of discontent.
\Yere we to recite one half of this mystery, which we


were let into by our late dissatisfaction, all the world
would be in love with disrespect ; we should wear a
slight for a bracelet, and neglects and contumacies
would be the only matter for courtship. Unlike to
that mysterious book in the Apocalypse, the study of
this mystery is unpalatable only in the commence-
ment. The first sting of a suspicion is grievous ; but
wait out of that wound, which to flesh and blood
seemed so difficult, there is balm and honey to be
extracted. Your friend passed you on such or such a
day, having in his company one that you conceived
worse than ambiguously disposed towards you,
passed you in the street without notice. To be sure
he is something short-sighted ; and it was in your power
to have accosted him. But facts and sane inferences
are trifles to a true adept in the science of dissatis-
faction. He must have seen you ; and S , who

was with him, must have been the cause of the con-
tempt. It galls you, and well it may. But have
patience. Go home, and make the worst of it, and
you are a made man from this time. Shut yourself
up, and rejecting, as an enemy to your peace, every
whispering suggestion that but insinuates there may
be a mistake reflect seriously upon the many lesser
instances which you had begun to perceive, in proof
of your friend's disaffection towards you. None of
them singly was much to the purpose, but the aggre-
gate weight is positive ; and you have this last affront



to clench them. Thus far the process is anything
but agreeable. But now to your relief comes in the
comparative faculty. You conjure up all the kind
feelings you have had for your friend ; what you
have been to him, and what you would have been
to him, if he would have suffered you ; how you de-
fended him in this or that place \ and his good
name his literary reputation, and so forth, was
always dearer to you than your own ! Your heart,
spite of itself, yearns towards him. You could weep
tears of blood but for a restraining pride. How say
you? do you not yet begin to apprehend a comfort?
some allay of sweetness in the bitter waters? Stop
not here, nor penuriously cheat yourself of your rever-
sions. You are on vantage ground. Enlarge your
speculations, and take in the rest of your friends, as
a spark kindles more sparks. Was there one among
them, who has not to you proved hollow, false, slippery

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 31 of 32)