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20 VOLS. NOW READY
For full list see end of this volume



Essays of Eli a



CHARLES LAMB




NEIV YORK AND LONDON

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
Ubc TRnicfterbocfter ipresfl



I'ress ol
P. Putnam's Sons
New York




CONTENTS



On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Cen-
tury 3

On the Acting of Munden 17

Preface— By a Friend of the Late Elia . . 23

Blakesmoor in H shire 29

Poor Relations 38

Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading 50

Stage Illusion 61

To the Shade of Elliston 67

Ellistoniana 72

The Old Margate Hoy 82

The Convalescent 96

Sanity of True Genius 104

Captain Jackson no

The Superannuated Man 118

The Genteel Style in Writing . . . .131

Barbara S 139

The Tombs in the Abbey 149

Amicus Redivivus . 154

Vol. II. iii

2230736



iv Contents



Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sydney . . .163
Newspapers Thirty-Five Years Ago . . .176
Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in

THE Productions of Modern Art . . .189

The Wedding 209

Rejoicings Upon the New Year's Coming of

Age 219

Old China 229

The Child Angel ; A Dream 239

Confessions of a Drunkard 244

Popular Fallacies 259




e:ssays of elia



Vol. II.




ELIA



ON THE ARTIFICIAL COMEDY OF THE
LAST CENTURY.



THE artificial comedy, or comedy of man-
ners, is quite extinct on our stage. Con-
greve and Farquhar show their heads once in
seven years only, to be exploded and put down
instantly. The times cannot bear them. Is it
for a few wild speeches, an occasional license
of dialogue ? I think not altogether. The
business of their dramatic characters will not
stand the moral test. We screw every thing up
to that. Idle gallantry in a fiction, a dream,
the passing pageant of an evening, startles us
in the same way as the alarming indications of
profligacy in a son or ward in real life should
startle the parent or guardian. We have no
such middle emotions as dramatic interests left.
We see a stage libertine playing his loose pranks



JEssa^s ot Ella



of two hours' duration, and of no after conse-
quence, with the severe eyes which inspect real
vices with their bearings upon two worlds. We
are spectators to a plot or intrigue (not reduci-
ble in life to the point of strict morality), and
take it all for truth. We substitute a real for a
dramatic person, and judge him accordingly.
We try him in our courts, from which there is
no appeal to the dramatis perso^icF^ his peers.
We have been spoiled with — not sentimental
comedy — ^but a tyrant far more pernicious to our
pleasures which has succeeded to it, the exclu-
sive and all-devouring drama of common life ;
where the moral point is every thing ; where,
instead of the fictitious half-believed personages
of the stage (the phantoms of old comedy), we
recognize ourselves, our brothers, aunts, kins-
folk, allies, patrons, enemies, — the same as in
life, — with an interest in what is going on so
hearty and substantial, that we cannot afford
our moral judgment, in its deepest and most
vital results, to compromise or slumber for a
moment. What is there transacting, by no
modification is made to affect us in any other
manner than the same events or characters
would do in our relationships of life. We carry
our fireside concerns to the theatre with us.
We do not go thither, like our ancestor, to
escape from the pressure of reality, so much as



Brtlffcial Comers



to confirm our experience of it ; to make assur-
ance double, and take a bond of fate. We must
live our toilsome lives twice over, as it was the
mournful privilege of Ulysses to descend twice
to the shades. All that neutral ground of
character which stood between vice and virtue ;
or which in fact was indifferent to neither,
where neither properly was called in question ;
that happy breathing-place from the burden of
a perpetual moral questioning — the sanctuary
and quiet Alsatia of hunted casuistry — is broken
up and disfranchised, as injurious to the inter-
ests of society. The privileges of the place are
taken away by law. We dare not dally with
images, or names, of wrong. We bark like
foolish dogs at shadows. We dread infection
from the scenic representation of disorder, and
fear a painted pustule. In our anxiety that
our morality should not take cold, we wrap it
up in a great blanket surtout of precaution
against the breeze and sunshine.

I confess for myself that (with no great delin-
quencies to answer for) I am glad for a season
to take an airing beyond the diocese of the
strict conscience, — not to live always in the
precincts of the law-courts, but now and then,
for a dream-while or so, to imagine a world
with no meddling restrictions — to get into
recesses, whither the hunter cannot follow me —



Bssa^s of JElla



Secret shades
Of woody Ida's inmost grove,
While yet there was no fear of Jove.

I come back to my cage and my restraint the
fresher and more healthy for it. I wear my
shackles more contentedly for having respired
the breath of an imaginary freedom. I do not
know how it is with others, but I feel the better
always for the perusal of one of Congreve's —
nay, why should I not add even of Wycherley's
comedies. I am the gayer at least for it ; and I
could never connect those sports of a witty
fancy in any shape with any result to be drawn
from them to imitation in real life. They are a
"world of themselves almost as much as fairy-land.
Take one of their characters, male or female
(with few exceptions they are alike), and place
it in a modern play, and my virtuous indigna-
tion shall rise against the profligate wretch as
warmly as the Catos of the pit could desire ;
because in a modem play I am to judge the
right and the wrong. The standard oi police is
the measure of political justice. The atmos-
phere will blight it ; it cannot live here. It has
got into a moral world, where it has no busi-
ness, from which it must needs fall headlong ;
as dizzy, and incapable of making a stand, as a
Swedenborgian bad spirit that has wandered
unawares into the sphere of one of his Good



Brttficlal GomeO^



Men, or Angels. But in its own world do we
feel the creature is so bad? The Faiualls
and the Mirabells, the Dorimants and the Lady
Touchwoods, in their own sphere, do not offend
my moral sense ; in fact they do not appeal to it
at all. They seem engaged in their proper ele-
ment. They break through no laws or conscien-
tious restraints. They know of none. They
have got out of Christendom into the land —
what shall I call it ? — of cuckoldry — the Utopia
of gallantry, where pleasure is duty, and the
manners perfect freedom. It is altogether a
speculative scene of things, which has no refer-
ence whatever to the world that is. No good
person can be justly offended as a spectator,
because no good person suffers on the stage.
Judged morally, every character in these plays
— the few exceptions only are mistakes — is alike
essentially vain and worthless. The great art
of Congreve is especially shown in this, that he
has entirely excluded from his scenes, some
little generosities on the part of Angelica per-
haps excepted, not only any thing like a fault-
less character, but any pretentions to goodness
or good feelings whatsoever. Whether he did
this designedly or instinctively, the effect is as
happy as the design (if design) is bold. I used
to wonder at the strange power which his
" Way of the World " in particular possesses of



8 Bssa^e of :i£lia

interesting you all along in the pursuits of
characters for whom 3-0U absolutely care noth-
ing — for you neither hate nor love his person-
ages — and I think it is owing to this very
indifference for any that you endure the whole.
He has spread a privation of moral light, I will
call it, rather than by the ugly name of palpable
darkness, over his creations ; and his shadows
flit before you without distinction or preference.
Had he introduced a good character, a single
gush of moral feeling, a revulsion of the judg-
ment to actual life and actual duties, the imper-
tinent Goshen would have only lighted to the
discovery of deformities, which now" are none,
because we think them none.

Translated into real life, the characters of his
and his friend Wycherley's dramas, are profli-
gates and strumpets, — the business of their
brief existence, the individual pursuit of law-
less gallantry. No other spring of action, or
possible motive of conduct, is recognized ; prin-
ciples which, universally acted upon, must re-
duce this frame of things to a chaos. But we
do them wrong in so translating them. No such
effects are produced in their world. When we
are among them, we are amongst a chaotic peo-
ple. We are not to judge them by our usages.
No reverend institutions are insulted by their
proceedings — for they have none among them.



Hrtificlal ComeD^



No peace of families is violated — for no family
ties exist among them. No purity of the mar-
riage bed is stained— for none is supposed to
have a being. No deep affections are disquieted,
no holy wedlock bands are snapped asunder —
for affection's depth and wedded faith are not
of the growth of that soil. There is neither
right nor wrong, — gratitude or its opposite, —
claim or duty, — paternity or sonship. Of what
consequence is it to Virtue, or how is she at all
concerned about it, whether Sir Simon or Dap-
perwit, steal away Miss Martha ; or who is the
father of Lord Froth's or Sir Paul Pliant 's chil-
dren.

The whole thing is a passing pageant, where
we should sit as unconcerned at the issues, for
life or death, as at a battle of the frogs and
mice. But, like Don Quixote, we take part
against the puppets, and quite as impertinently.
We dare not contemplate an Atlantis, a scheme,
out of which our coxcombical moral sense is for
a little transitory ease excluded. We have not
the courage to imagine a state of things for
which there is neither reward nor punishment.
We cling to the painful necessities of shame
and blame. We would indict our very dreams.

Amidst the mortifying circumstances attend-
ant upon growing old, it is something to have
seen the " School for Scandal " in its glory. This



lo JEssa^s ot jeila

comedy grew out of Congreve and Wycherley,
but gathered some allays of the sentimental
comedy which followed theirs. It is impossible
that it should be now acted, though it con-
tinues, at long interv^als, to be announced
in the bills. Its hero, when Palmer played
it at least, was Joseph Surface. When I re-
member the gay boldness, the graceful, sol-
emn plausibility, the measured step, the insin-
uating voice, — to express it in a word — the
downright ar/^^ villainy of the part, so different
from the pressure of conscious actual wicked-
ness, — the hypocritical assumption of hj^poc-
risy, — which made Jack so deservedly a favorite
in that character, I must needs conclude the
present generation of play -goers more \4rtuous
than myself, or more dense. I freely confess
that he divided the palm with me with his bet-
ter brother ; that, in fact, I liked him quite as
well. Not but there are passages, — like that,
for instance, where Joseph is made to refuse a
pittance to a poor relation, — incongruities
which Sheridan was forced upon by the attempt
to join the artificial with the sentimental com-
edy, either of which must destroy the. other, —
but over these obstructions Jack's manner
floated him so lightly, that a refusal for him no
more shocked you, than the easy compliance
of Charles gave you in reality any pleasure ;



Brtificlal Comeb^



you got over the paltry question as quickly as
you could, to get back into the regions of pure
comedy, where no cold moral reigns. The
highly artificial manner of Palmer in this char-
acter counteracted every disagreeable impres-
sion which you might have received from the
contrast, supposing them real, between the two
brothers. You did not believe in Joseph with
the same faith with which you believed in
Charles. The latter was a pleasant reality, the
former a no less pleasant poetical foil to it. The
comedy, I have said, is incongruous ; a mixture
of Congreve with sentimental incompatibilities ;
the gayety upon the whole is buoyant, but it
required the consummate art of Palmer to re-
concile the discordant elements.

A player with Jack's talents, if we had one
now, would not dare do the part in the same
manner. He would instinctively avoid every
turn which might tend to unrealize, and so to
make the character fascinating. He must take
his cue from his spectators, who would expect
a bad man and a good man as rigidly opposed
to each other as the death-beds of those geniuses
are contrasted in the prints, which I am sorry
to say have disappeared from the windows of
my old friend Carrington Bowles, of St. Paul's
Churchyard memory, — (an exhibition as ven-
erable as the adjacent cathedral, and almost



Bssags of JSlia



coeval) of the bad and good man at the hour of
death ; where the ghastly apprehensions of the
former, — and truly the grim phantom with his
reality of a toasting-fork is not to be despised,
— so finely contrast with the meek complacent
kissing of the rod, — taking it in like honey and
butter, — with which the latter submits to the
scythe of the gentle bleeder. Time, who wields
his lancet with the apprehensive finger of a
popular young ladies' surgeon. What flesh,
like loving grass, would not covet to meet half-
way the stroke of such a delicate mower?
John Palmer was twice an actor in this exquisite
part. He was playing to you all the while that
he was playing upon Sir Peter and his lady.
You had the first intimation of a sentiment be-
fore it was on his lips. His altered voice was
meant to you, and you were to suppose that his
fictitious co-flutterers on the stage perceived
nothing at all of it. What was it to you if that
half reality, the husband, was overreached by
the puppetry — or the thin thing (Lady Teazle's
reputation) was persuaded it was dying of a
plethory ? The fortunes of Othello and Desde-
mona were not concerned in it. Poor Jack has
passed from the stage in good time, that he did
not live to this our age of seriousness. The
pleasant old Teazle King, too, is gone in good
time. His manner would scarce have passed



Brtittcial ComeDg 13

current in our day. We must love or hate, —
acquit or condemn, — censure or pity, — exert
our detestable coxcombry of moral judgment
upon every thing. Joseph Surface, to go down
now, must be a downright revolting villain, —
no compromise — his first appearance must shock
and give horror, — his specious plausibilities,
which the pleasurable faculties of our fathers
welcomed with such hearty greetings, knowing
that no harm (dramatic harm even) could come,
or was meant to come, of them, must inspire a
cold and killing aversion. Charles (the real
canting person of the scene, — for the hypocrisy
of Joseph has its ulterior legitimate ends, but
his brother's professions of a good heart centre
in downright self-satisfaction) must be loved,
and Joseph hated. To balance one disagreeable
reality with another. Sir Peter Teazle must be
no longer the comic idea of a fretful old bache-
lor bridegroom, whose teasings (while King
acted it) were evidently as much played off at
you, as they were meant to concern anybody on
the stage, — he must be a real person, capable
in law of sustaining an injury, — a person to-
wards whom duties are to be acknowledged, —
the genuine crim. con. antagonist of the vil-
lainous seducer Joseph. To realize him more,
his sufferings under his unfortunate match must
have the downright pungency of life, — must (or



14 JBss^^e ot Blia

should) make you uot mirthful but uncomforta-
ble, just as the same predicament would move
you in a neighbor or old friend. The delicious
scenes which give the play its name and zest,
must affect you in the same serious manner as
if you heard the reputation of a dear female
friend attacked in your real presence. Crabtree
and Sir Benjamin — those poor snakes that live
but in the sunshine of your mirth — ^must be
ripened by this hot-bed process of realization
' into asps or amphisbaenas ; and Mrs. Candour
— Oh ! frightful ! — become a hooded serpent.
Oh ! who that remembers Parsons and Dodd, —
the wasp and butterfly of the " School for Scan-
dal," — in those two characters; the charming
and natural Miss Pope, the perfect gentlewoman,
as distinguished from the fine lady of comedy,
in this latter part, — would forego the true
scenic delight, — the escape from life, — the ob-
livion of consequences, — the holiday barring
out of the pedant Reflection, — those Saturnalia
of two or three brief hours, well won from the
world, — to sit instead at one of our modem
plays, — to ha\»e his coward conscience (that
forsooth must not be left for a moment) stimu-
lated with perpetual appeals, — dulled rather,
and blunted, as a faculty without repose must
be, — and his moral vanity pampered with im-
ages of notional justice, notional beneficence,



Brtifitctal Cornet)^ 15

lives saved without the spectator's risk, and
fortunes given away that cost the author noth-
ing?

No piece was, perhaps, ever so completely cast
in all its parts as this manager's comedy. Miss
Farren had succeeded to Mrs. Abington in Lady
Teazle ; and Smith, the original Charles, had
retired when I first saw it. The rest of the
characters, with very slight exceptions, re-
mained. I remember it was then the fashion
to cry down John Kemble, who took the part
of Charles, after Smith ; but, I thought, very
unjustly. Smith, I fancy, was more airy, and
took the eye with a certain gayety of person.
He brought with him iio sombre recollections
of tragedy. He had not to expiate the fault of
having pleased beforehand in lofty declamation.
He had no sins of Hamlet or of Richard to atone
for. His failure in these parts was a passport to
success in one of so opposite a tendency. But,
as far as I could judge, the weighty sense of
Kemble made up for more personal incapacity
than he had to answer for. His harshest tones
in this part came steeped and dulcified in good-
humor. He made his defects a grace. His
exact declamatory manner, as he managed it,
only served to convey the points of his dialogue
with more precision. It seemed to head the
shafts to carry them deeper. Not one of his



i6 Bssa^s of ;iElla

sparkling sentences was lost. I remember min-
utely how he delivered each in succession, and
cannot by any effort imagine how any of them
could be altered for the better. No man could
deliver brilliant dialogue, — the dialogue of Con-
greve or of Wycherley — because none under-
stood it, — half so well as John Kemble. His
Valentine, in "Love for Love," was, to my
recollection, faultless. He flagged sometimes
in the intervals of tragic passion. He would
slumber over the level parts of an heroic
character. His Macbeth has been known to
nod. But he always seemed to me to be par-
ticularly alive to pointed and witty dialogue.
The relaxing levities of tragedy have not been
touched by any since him, — the playful court-
bred spirit in which he condescended to the
players in Hamlet, — the sportive relief which
he threw into the darker shades of Richard, —
disappeared with him. He had hjs sluggish
moods, his torpors, — but they were the halting-
stones and resting-place of his tragedy, — politic
savings and fetches of the breath, — husbandry
of the lungs, where nature pointed him to be
an economist, — rather, I think, than errors of
judgment. They were, at worst, less painful
than the eternal tormenting unappeasable ^^gi-
lance, — the " lidless dragon eyes," — of present
fashionable tragedy.




ON THB ACTING OF MUNDBN.

NOT many nights ago I had come home
from seeing this extraordinary performer
in " Cockletop " ; and when I retired to my pil-
low his whimsical image still stuck by me, in a
manner as to threaten sleep. In vain I tried to
divest myself of it by conjuring up the most
opposite associations. I resolved to be serious.
I raised up the gravest topics of life : private
misery, public calamity. All would not do :

There the antic sate
Mocking our state —

his queer visnomy — his bewildering costume —
all the strange things which he had raked
together, — his serpentine rod, swaggering
about in his pocket, — Cleopatra's tear, and
the rest of his relics, — O'Keefe's wild farce,
and his wilder commentary, — till the passion
of laughter, like grief in excess, relieved itself
by its own weight, inviting the sleep which in
the first instance it had driven away.

But I was not to escape so easily. No sooner
Vol. II.



JBes^^s of )SIia



did I fall into slumber than the same image,
only more perplexing, assailed me in the shape
of dreams. Not one Munden, but five hundred,
were dancing before me, like the faces which,
whether j^ou will or no, come when you have
been taking opium, — all the strange combina-
tions, which this strangest of all strange mortals
ever shot his proper countenance into, from the
day he came commissioned to dry up the tears
of the town for the loss of the now almost for-
gotten Edwin. O for the power of the pencil to
have fixed them when I awoke ! A season or two
since there was exhibited a Hogarth gallery, I
do not see why there should not be a Munden
gallery. In richness and variety the latter
would not fall far short of the former.

There is one face of Farley, one face of
Knight, one (but what a one it is !) of Liston ;
but Munden has none that you can properly pin
down, and call /its. When you think he has
exhausted his battery of looks, in unaccounta-
ble warfare with your gravity, suddenly he
sprouts out an entirely new set of features
like Hydra. He is not one, but legion ; not
so much a comedian, as a company. If his
name could be multiplied like his countenance
it might fill a playbill. He, and he alone, liter-
ally makes faces ; applied to any other person
the phrase is a mere figure, denoting certain



Qn tbe Beting of /Iftun&en 19

modifications of the human countenance. Out
of some invisible wardrobe he dips for faces, as
his friend Suett used for wigs, and fetches them
out as easily. I should not be surprised to see
him some day put out the head of a river-horse ;
or come forth a pewit, or lapwing, some feathered
metamorphosis.

I have seen this gifted actor in Sir Christo-
pher Curry — in old " Dornton " — diffuse a glow
of sentiment which has made the pulse of a
crowded theatre beat like that of one man ;
when he has come in aid of the pulpit, doing
good to the moral heart of a people. I have
seen some faint approaches to this sort of excel-
lence in other players. But in the grand gro-
tesque of farce Munden stands out as single and
unaccompanied as Hogarth. Hogarth, strange
to tell, had no followers. The school of Mun-
den began, and must end, with himself

Can any man wonder, like him? Can any
man see ghosts like him ? or fight with
his own shadow — " SESvSA " — as he does in
that strangely-neglected thing, the " Cobbler of
Preston " — where the alternations from the Cob-
bler to the Magnifico, and from the Magnifico to
the Cobbler, keep the brain of the spectator in
as wild a ferment, as if some Arabian Night
were being acted before him ? Who like him
can throw, or ever attempted to throw, a pre-



lEssa^s of iBlitL



ternatural interest over the commonest daily-
life objects? A table or a joint-stool, in his
conception, rises into a dignity equivalent to
Cassiopeia's chair. It is invested with constel-
latory importance. You could not speak of it
with more deference, if it were mounted into
the firmament. The beggar in the hands of
Michael Angelo, says Fuseli, rose the Patriarch
of Poverty. So the gusto of Munden antiquates
and ennobles what it touches. His pots and his
ladles are as grand and primal, as the seething
pots and hooks seen in old prophetic vision. A
tub of butter, contemplated by him, amounts
to a Platonic idea. He understands a leg of
mutton in its quiddity. He stands wondering,
amid the commonplace material of life, like
primeval man with the sun and stars about him.



THE LAST ESSAYS OF ELIA.



PREFACE.

BY A FRIEND OF THF LATF ELIA.



THIS poor gentleman, who for some months
past has been in a declining way, hath at
length paid his final tribute to nature.

To say truth, it is time we were gone. The


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