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irony itself do these things go out with life ?

Can a ghost laugh, or shake his gaunt sides, when
you are pleasant with him?

And you, my midnight darlings, my Folios ! must
I part with the intense delight of having you (huge


armfuls) in my embraces? Must knowledge come to
me, if it come at all, by some awkward experiment of
intuition, and no longer by this familiar process of
reading ?

Shall I enjoy friendships there, wanting the
smiling indications which point me to them here,
the recognisable face the " sweet assurance of a

In winter this intolerable disinclination to dying
to give it its mildest name does more especially
haunt and beset me. In a genial August noon, be-
neath a sweltering sky, death is almost problematic.
At those times do such poor snakes as myself enjoy
an immortality. Then we expand and burgeon.
Then are we as strong again, as valiant again, as
wise again, and a great deal taller. The blast that
nips and shrinks me, puts me in thoughts of death.
All things allied to the insubstantial, wait upon that
master feeling ; cold, numbness, dreams, perplexity ;
moonlight itself, with its shadowy and spectral ap-
pearances, that cold ghost of the sun, or Phoebus'
sickly sister, like that innutritious one denounced in
the Canticles : I am none of her minions I hold
with the Persian.

Whatsoever thwarts, or puts me out of my way,
brings death into my mind. All partial evils, like
humours, run into that capital plague-sore. I have
heard some profess an indifference to life. Such


hail the end of their existence as a port of refuge ;
and speak of the grave as of some soft arms, in
which they may slumber as on a pillow. Some have
wooed death - - but out upon thee, I say,

thou foul, ugly phantom 1 I detest, abhor, execrate,
and (with Friar John) give thee to six-score thousand
devils, as in no instance to be excused or tolerated,
but shunned as a universal viper; to be branded,
proscribed, and spoken evil of ! In no way can I be
brought to digest thee, thou thin, melancholy Priva-
tion, or more frightful and confounding Positive!

Those antidotes, prescribed against the fear of
thee, are altogether frigid and insulting, like thy-
self. For what satisfaction hath a man, that he
shall "lie down with kings and emperors in death,"
who in his life-time never greatly coveted the society
of such bed-fellows ? or, forsooth, that " so shall
the fairest face appear? " why, to comfort me, must
Alice W n be a goblin? More than all, I con-
ceive disgust at those impertinent and misbecoming
familiarities, inscribed upon your ordinary tomb-
stones. Every dead man must take upon himself
to be lecturing me with his odious truism, that
" such as he now is, I must shortly be." Not so
shortly, friend, perhaps, as thou imaginest. In the
meantime I am alive. I move about. I am worth
twenty of thee. Know thy betters ! Thy New
Years' Days are past. I survive, a jolly candidate


for 1821. Another cup of wine and while that
turn-coat bell, that just now mournfully chanted the
obsequies of 1820 departed, with changed notes
lustily rings in a successor, let us attune to its peal
the song made on a like occasion, by hearty, cheerful
Mr. Cotton.


Hark, the cock crows, and yon bright star
Tells us, the day himself 's not far ;
And see where, breaking from the night,
He gilds the western hills with light.
With him old Janus doth appear,
Peeping into the future year,
With such a look as seems to say,
The prospect is not good that way.
Thus do we rise ill sights to see,
And 'gainst ourselves to prophesy ;
When the prophetic fear of things
A more tormenting mischief brings,
More full of soul-tormenting gall,
Than direst mischiefs can befall.
But stay ! but stay ! methinks my sight,
Better inform'd by clearer light,
Discerns sereneness in that brow,
That all contracted seem'd but now
His revers'd face may show distaste,
And frown upon the ills are past ;
But that which this way looks is clear,
And smiles upon the New-born Year.
He looks too from a place so high,
The Year lies open to his eye ;
And all the moments open are
To the exact discoverer.


Yet more and more he smiles upon

The happy revolution.

Why should we then suspect or fear

The influences of a year,

So smiles upon us the first morn,

And speaks us good so soon as born ?

Plague on 't! the last was ill enough,

This cannot but make better proof ;

Or, at the worst, as we brush'd through

The last, why so we may this too ;

And then the next in reason shou'd

Be superexcellently good :

For the worst ills (we daily see)

Have no more perpetuity,

Than the best fortunes that do fall ;

Which also bring us wherewithal

Longer their being to support,

Than those do of the other sort:

And who has one good year in three.

And yet repines at destiny,

Appears ungrateful in the case,

And merits not the good he has.

Then let us welcome the New Guest

With lusty brimmers of the best ;

Mirth always should Good Fortune meet,

And renders e'en Disaster sweet :

And though the Princess turn her back,

Let us but line ourselves with sack,

We better shall by far hold out,

Till the next Year she face about.

How say you, reader do not these verses smack
of the rough magnanimity of the old English vein?
Do they not fortify like a cordial ; enlarging the
heart, and productive of sweet blood, and generous
spirits, in the concoction? Where be those p 1


fears of death, just now expressed or affected?
Passed like a cloud absorbed in the purging sun-
light of clear poetry clean washed away by a wave
of genuine Helicon, your only Spa for these hypo-
chondries And now another cup of the generous !
and a merry New Year, and many of them, to you
all, my masters !




"A CLEAR fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of
the game." This was the celebrated wish of old
Sarah Battle (now with God) who, next to her de-
votions, loved a good game at whist. She was none
of your lukewarm gamesters, your half and half
players, who have no objection to take a hand, if
you want one to make up a rubber; who affirm
that they have no pleasure in winning; that they
like to win one game, and lose another; that they
can while away an hour very agreeably at a card-
table, but are indifferent whether they play or no ;
and will desire an adversary, who has slipt a wrong
card, to take it up and play another. These insuf-
ferable triflers are the curse of a table. One of these
flies will spoil a whole pot. Of such it may be said,
that they do not play at cards, but only play at
playing at them.

Sarah Battle was none of that breed. She de-
tested them, as I do, from her heart and soul ; and


would not, save upon a striking emergency, wil-
lingly seat herself at the same table with them. She
loved a thorough-paced partner, a determined enemy.
She took, and gave, no concessions. She hated fa-
vours. She never made a revoke, nor ever passed it
over in her adversary without exacting the utmost
forfeiture. She fought a good fight : cut and thrust.
She held not her good sword (her cards) "like a
dancer." She sate bolt upright ; and neither showed
you her cards, nor desired to see yours. All people
have their blind side their superstitions ; and I have
heard her declare, under the rose, that Hearts was
her favourite suit.

I never in my life and I knew Sarah Battle many
of the best years of it saw her take out her snuff-
box when it was her turn to play ; or snuff a candle
in the middle of a game ; or ring for a servant, till
it was fairly over. She never introduced, or con-
nived at, miscellaneous conversation during its pro-
cess. As she emphatically observed, cards were
cards : and if I ever saw unmingled distaste in her
fine last-century countenance, it was at the airs of a
young gentleman of a literary turn, who had been
with difficulty persuaded to take a hand ; and who,
in his excess of candour, declared, that he thought
there was no harm in unbending the mind now and
then, after serious studies, in recreations of that
kind ! She could not bear to have her noble occu-


pation, to which she wound up her faculties, con-
sidered in that light. It was her business, her
duty, the thing she came into the world to do,
and she did it. She unbent her mind afterwards
over a book.

Pope was her favourite author : his Rape of the
Lock her favourite work. She once did me the
favour to play over with me (with the cards) his
celebrated game of Ombre in that poem ; and to
explain to me how far it agreed with, and in what
points it would be found to differ from, tradrille. Her
illustrations were apposite and poignant ; and I had
the pleasure of sending the substance of them to
Mr. Bowles : but I suppose they came too late to
be inserted among his ingenious notes upon that

Quadrille, she has often told me, was her first
love ; but whist had engaged her maturer esteem.
The former, she said, was showy and specious, and
likely to allure young persons. The uncertainty
and quick shifting of partners a thing which the
constancy of whist abhors ; the dazzling supre-
macy and regal investiture of Spadille absurd, as
she justly observed, in the pure aristocrasy of whist,
where his crown and garter give him no proper
power above his brother-nobility of the Aces ;
the giddy vanity, so taking to the inexperienced,
of playing alone ; above all, the overpowering


attractions of a Sans Prendre Vole, to the triumph
of which there is certainly nothing parallel or
approaching, in the contingencies of whist ; all
these, she would say, make quadrille a game of
captivation to the young and enthusiastic. But
whist was the solider game : that was her word.
It was a long meal; not, like quadrille, a feast of
snatches. One or two rubbers might co-extend in
duration with an evening. They gave time to form
rooted friendships, to cultivate steady enmities. She
despised the chance-started, capricious, and ever
fluctuating alliances of the other. The skirmishes
of quadrille, she would say, reminded her of the
petty ephemeral embroilments of the little Italian
states, depicted by Machiavel ; perpetually changing
postures and connexions ; bitter foes to-day, sugared
darlings to-morrow ; kissing and scratching in a
breath ; but the wars of whist were comparable to
the long, steady, deep-rooted, rational, antipathies
of the great French and English nations.

A grave simplicity was what she chiefly admired
in her favourite game. There was nothing silly in
it, like the nob in cribbage nothing superfluous.
No flushes that most irrational of all pleas that a
reasonable being can set up : that any one should
claim four by virtue of holding cards of the same
mark and colour, without reference to the playing
of the game, or the individual worth or pretensions


of the cards themselves ! She held this to be a sole-
cism ; as pitiful an ambition at cards as alliteration
is in authorship. She despised superficiality, and
looked deeper than the colours of things. Suits
were soldiers, she would say, and must have a uni-
formity of array to distinguish them : but what
should we say to a foolish squire, who should claim
a merit from dressing up his tenantry in red jackets,
that never were to be marshalled never to take
the field? She even wished that whist were more
simple than it is; and, in my mind, would have
stript it of some appendages, which, in the state of
human frailty, may be venially, and even commend-
ably allowed of. She saw no reason for the deciding
of the trump by the turn of the card. Why not one
suit always trumps ? Why two colours, when the
mark of the suits would have sufficiently distin-
guished them without it ?

" But the eye, my dear Madam, is agreeably re-
freshed with the variety. Man is not a creature of
pure reason he must have his senses delightfully
appealed to. We see it in Roman Catholic coun-
tries, where the music and the paintings draw in
many to worship, whom your quaker spirit of un-
sensualizing would have kept out. You, yourself,
have a pretty collection of paintings but confess to
me, whether, walking in your gallery at Sandham,
among those clear Vandykes, or among the Paul


Potters in the ante-room, you ever felt your bosom
glow with an elegant delight, at all comparable to
that you have it in your power to experience most
evenings over a well-arranged assortment of the
court-cards ? the pretty antic habits, like heralds
in a procession the gay triumph-assuring scarlets
the contrasting deadly-killing sables the ' hoary
majesty of spades ' - Pam in all his glory !

"All these might be dispensed with; and. with
their naked names upon the drab pasteboard, the
game might go on very well, picture-less. But the
beauty of cards would be extinguished for ever.
Stripped of all that is imaginative in them, they
must degenerate into mere gambling. Imagine a
dull deal board, or drum head, to spread them on,
instead of that nice verdant carpet (next to nature's) ,
fittest arena for those courtly combatants to play
their gallant jousts and turneys in ! Exchange
those delicately- turned ivory markers (work of
Chinese artist, unconscious of their symbol, or as
profanely slighting their true application as the
arrantest Ephesian journeyman that turned out
those little shrines for the goddess) exchange them
for little bits of leather (our ancestors' money) or
chalk and a slate ! "

The old lady, with a smile, confessed the sound-
ness of my logic ; and to her approbation of my ar-
guments on her favourite topic that evening, I have


always fancied myself indebted for the legacy of a
curious cribbage board, made of the finest Sienna
marble, which her maternal uncle (old Walter
Plumer, whom I have elsewhere celebrated) brought
with him from Florence : this, and a trifle of five
hundred pounds, came to me at her death.

The former bequest (which I do not least value)
I have kept with religious care ; though she herself,
to confess a truth, was never greatly taken with
cribbage. It was an essentially vulgar game, I have
heard her say, disputing with her uncle, who was
very partial to it. She could never heartily bring
her mouth to pronounce "go" or "that's a
go" She called it an ungrammatical game. The
pegging teased her. I once knew her to forfeit a
rubber (a five dollar stake), because she would not
take advantage of the turn-up knave, which would
have given it her, but which she must have claimed
by the disgraceful tenure of declaring " two for his
heels" There is something extremely genteel in
this sort of self-denial. Sarah Battle was a gentle-
woman born.

Piquet she held the best game at the cards for
two persons, though she would ridicule the pedantry
of the terms such as pique repique the capot
they savoured (she thought) of affectation. But
games for two, or even three, she never greatly
cared for. She loved the quadrate, or square. She


would argue thus : Cards are warfare : the ends
are gain, with glory. But cards are war, in dis-
guise of a sport : when single adversaries encounter,
the ends proposed are too palpable. By themselves,
it is too close a fight; with spectators, it is not
much bettered. No looker on can be interested,
except for a bet, and then it is a mere affair of
money; he cares not for your luck sympathetically,
or for your play. Three are still worse; a mere
naked war of every man against every man, as in
cribbage, without league or alliance ; or a rotation
of petty and contradictory interests, a succession of
heartless leagues, and not much more hearty infrac-
tions of them, as in tradrille. But in square games
(she meant whist] all that is possible to be attained
in card-playing is accomplished. There are the in-
centives of profit with honour, common to every
species though the latter can be but very imper-
fectly enjoyed in those other games, where the
spectator is only feebly a participator. But the par-
ties in whist are spectators and principals too. They
are a theatre to themselves, and a looker-on is not
wanted. He is rather worse than nothing, and an
impertinence. Whist abhors neutrality, or interests
beyond its sphere. You glory in some surprising
stroke of skill or fortune, not because a cold or
even an interested by-stander witnesses it, but
because your partner sympathises in the contin-


gency. You win for two. You triumph for two.
Two are exalted. Two again are mortified ; which
divides their disgrace, as the conjunction doubles
(by taking off the invidiousness) your glories. Two
losing to two are better reconciled, than one to one
in that close butchery. The hostile feeling is weak-
ened by multiplying the channels. War becomes a
civil game. By such reasonings as these the old
lady was accustomed to defend her favourite pas-

No inducement could ever prevail upon her to
play at any game, where chance entered into the
composition, for nothing. Chance, she would argue

and here again, admire the subtlety of her con-
clusion ! chance is nothing, but where something
else depends upon it. It is obvious, that cannot be
glory. What rational cause of exultation could it
give to a man to turn up size ace a hundred times
together by himself? or before spectators, where no
stake was depending? Make a lottery of a hun-
dred thousand tickets with but one fortunate number

and what possible principle of our nature, except
stupid wonderment, could it gratify to gain that
number as many times successively, without a prize ?

Therefore she disliked the mixture of chance in
backgammon, where it was not played for money.
She called it foolish, and those people idiots, who
were taken with a lucky hit under such circum-


stances. Games of pure skill were as little to her
fancy. Played for a stake, they were a mere system
of over-reaching. Played for glory, they were a mere
setting of one man's wit, his memory, or combi-
nation-faculty rather against another's ; like a mock-
engagement at a review, bloodless and profitless.
She could not conceive a game wanting the spritely
infusion of chance, the handsome excuses of good
fortune. Two people playing at chess in a corner
of a room, whilst whist was stirring in the centre,
would inspire her with insufferable horror and ennui.
Those well-cut similitudes of Castles, and Knights,
the imagery of the board, she would argue, (and I
think in this case justly) were entirely misplaced and
senseless. Those hard head-contests can in no in-
stance ally with the fancy. They reject form and
colour. A pencil and dry slate (she used to say)
were the proper arena for such combatants.

To those puny objectors against cards, as nurturing
the bad passions, she would retort, that man is a
gaming animal. He must be always trying to get
the better in something or other : that this passion
can scarcely be more safely expended than upon a
game at cards : that cards are a temporary illusion ;
in truth, a mere drama ; for we do but play at being
mightily concerned, where a few idle shillings are at
stake, yet, during the illusion, we are as mightily
concerned as those whose stake is crowns and king-


doms. They are a sort of dream- fighting ; much
ado ; great battling, and little bloodshed ; mighty
means for disproportioned ends ; quite as diverting,
and a great deal more innoxious, than many of those
more serious games of life, which men play, without
esteeming them to be such.

With great deference to the old lady's judgment
on these matters, I think I have experienced some
moments in my life, when playing at cards for noth-
ing has even been agreeable. When I am in sick-
ness, or not in the best spirits, I sometimes call for
the cards, and play a game at piquet for love with
my cousin Bridget Bridget Elia.

I grant there is something sneaking in it : but with
a tooth-ache, or a sprained ancle, when you are
subdued and humble, you are glad to put up with
an inferior spring of action.

There is such a thing in nature, I am convinced,
as sick whist.

I grant it is not the highest style of man I
deprecate the manes of Sarah Battle she lives not,
alas ! to whom I should apologise.

At such times, those terms which my old friend
objected to, come in as something admissible. I
love to get a tierce or a quatorze, though they mean
nothing. I am subdued to an inferior interest.
Those shadows of winning amuse me.

That last game I had with my sweet cousin (I


capotted her) (dare I tell thee, how foolish I am ?)
I wished it might have lasted for ever, though we
gained nothing, and lost nothing, though it was a
mere shade of play : I would be content to go on in
that idle folly for ever. The pipkin should be ever
boiling, that was to prepare the gentle lenitive to my
foot, which Bridget was doomed to apply after the
game was over : and, as I do not much relish appli-
ances, there it should ever bubble. Bridget and I
should be ever playing.


I HAVE no ear.

Mistake me not, reader, nor imagine that I am
by nature destitute of those exterior twin appendages,
hanging ornaments, and (architecturally speaking)
handsome volutes to the human capital. Better my
mother had never borne me. I am, I think, rather
delicately than copiously provided with those con-
duits; and I feel no disposition to envy the mule
for his plenty, or the mole for her exactness, in those
ingenious labyrinthine inlets those indispensable

Neither have I incurred, or done anything to in-
cur, with Defoe, that hideous disfigurement, which
constrained him to draw upon assurance to feel
"quite unabashed," and at ease upon that article.
I was never, I thank my stars, in the pillory ; nor, if
I read them aright, is it within the compass of my
destiny, that I ever should be.

When therefore I say that I have no ear, you will
understand me to mean for music. To say that


this heart never melted at the concourse of sweet
sounds, would be a foul self-libel. " Water parted
from the sea " never fails to move it strangely. So
does " In infancy" But they were used to be sung
at her harpsichord (the old-fashioned instrument in
vogue in those days) by a gentlewoman the gen-
tlest, sure, that ever merited the appellation the

sweetest why should I hesitate to name Mrs. S ,

once the blooming Fanny Weatheral of the Temple
who had power to thrill the soul of Elia, small
imp as he was, even in his long coats ; and to make
him glow, tremble, and blush with a passion, that
not faintly indicated the day-spring of that absorbing
sentiment, which was afterwards destined to over-
whelm and subdue his nature quite, for Alice
W n.

I even think that sentimentally I am disposed to
harmony. But organically I am incapable of a tune.
I have been practising " God save the King" all my
life ; whistling and humming of it over to myself in
solitary corners; and am not yet arrived, they tell
me, within many quavers of it. Yet hath the loyalty
of Elia never been impeached.

I am not without suspicion, that I have an unde-
veloped faculty of music within me. For, thrumming,
in my wild way, on my friend A's piano, the other
morning, while he was engaged in an adjoining par-
lour, on his return he was pleased to say, " he thought


it could not be the maid! " On his first surprise at
hearing the keys touched in somewhat an airy and
masterful way, not dreaming of me, his suspicions
had lighted on Jenny. But a grace, snatched from
a superior refinement, soon convinced him that some
being, technically perhaps deficient, but higher
informed from a principle common to all the fine
arts, had swayed the keys to a mood which Jenny,
with all her (less-cultivated) enthusiasm, could never
have elicited from them. I mention this as a proof
of my friend's penetration, and not with any view of
disparaging Jenny.

Scientifically I could never be made to understand
(yet have I taken some pains) what a note in music
is; or how one note should differ from another.
Much less in voices can I distinguish a soprano from

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 5 of 32)