Charles Lamb.

Essays of Elia and Eliana (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 29)
Online LibraryCharles LambEssays of Elia and Eliana (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook















VOL. 11.





Preface by a Friend of the late Elia . . . . ix


Blakesmoor in H shire i

Poor Relations _ . • . 8

Detached Thoughts on Bool;s and Reading. . . 17

Stage Illusion -27

To the Shade of EUiston 32

Ellistoniana 3^

The Old Margate Hoy 44

The Convalescent 55

Sanity of True Genius 61

Captain Jackson 66

The Superannuated Man 72

The Genteel Style in Writing 82

Barbara S 88

The Tombs in the Abbey 95

Amicus Redivivus . 99

Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sydney . . . .106
Newspapers Thirty-five Years Ago .... 116
Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in the Produc-
tions of Modern Art 126

The Wedding ........ 141

Rejoicings upon the New Year's Coming of Age . 149

Old China 157

The Child Angel ; a Dream 165

Confessions of a Drunkard 169

Popular Fallacies : —

i. That a Bully is always a Coward . . . 180

ii. That Ill-gotten Gain never Prospers . . 181



iii. That a Man must not Laugh at his Own Jest. 182
iv. That such a one shows his Breeding — that it is

easy to perceive he is no Gentleman . . ib.

V. That the Poor copy the Vices of the Rich . 183

vi. That Enough is as Good as a Feast . . 185
vii. Of Two Disputants, the Warmest is Generally

in the Wrong 186

viii. That Verbal Allusions are not Wit, because

they will not bear a Translation . . . 1S7
ix. That the Worst Puns are the Best . . .188

X. That Handsome Is that Handsome Does . 191
xi. That we must not Look a Gift Horse in the

Mouth 194

xii. That Home is Home, though it is never so

homely ........ 197

xiii. That you must Love Me and Love My Dog . 202

xiv. That we should Rise with the Lark . . 107

XV. That we should Lie Down with the Lamb . 210

xvi. That a Sulky Temper is a Misfortune . . 212


A Biographical Essay on Elia 219

The Gentle Giantess 235

The Reynolds Gallery 239

Guy Faux 242

A Vision of Horns 244

The Good Clerk, a Character ..... 262

Reminiscence of Sir Jeftery Dunstan .... 271

On a Passage in " The Tempest " .... 274

The Months 279

Biographical Memoir of Mr. Liston .... 283

Autobiography of Mr. Munden 295

The Illustrious Defunct 299

The Ass . . 308

In Re Squirrels 312

Estimate of Defoe's Secondary Novels . . . 314

Postscript to the " Chapter on Ears " .... 318

Elia to his Correspondents 320

Unitarian Protests 323

On the Custom of Hissing at the Theatres . . . 330

Captain Starkey . 339

A Popular Fallacy : that a Deformed Person is a Lord 345
Letter to an Old Gentleman whose Education has been
Neglected . . . . . . . .348

On the Ambiguities arising from Proper Names . . 357



Elia on his " Confessions of a Drunkard " .

The Last Peach

Reflections in the Pillory

Cupid's Revenge ......

The Defeat of Time ; or, a Tale of the Fairies
A Death-bed







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

To say truth, it is time he were gone. The
humour of the thing, if ever there was much in it,
was pretty well exhausted ; and a two years' and
a half existence has been a tolerable duration for a

I am now at liberty to confess, that much which
I have heard objected to my late friend's writings
was well-founded. Crude they are, I grant you —
a sort of unlicked, incondite things — villanously
pranked in an affected array of antique modes and
phrases. They had not been his, if they had been
other than such ; and better it is, that a writer
should be natural in a self-pleasing quaintness, than
to affect a naturalness (so called) that should be
strange to him. Egotistical they have been pro-
nounced by some who did not know, that what he
tells us, as of himself, was often true only (his-
torically) of another ; as in a former Essay (to save
many instances) — where under \^\& first person (his
favourite figure) he shadows forth the forlorn estate
of a country-boy placed at a London school, far
from his friends and connections — in direct oppo-


gition to his own early history. If it be egotism to
imply and twine with his own identity the griefs and
affections of another — making hiiiiself many, or re-
ducing many unto himself— then is the skilful no-
velist, who all along brings in his hero or heroine,
speaking of themselves, the greatest egotist of all ;
who yet has never, therefore, been accused of that
narrowness. And how shall the intenser dramatist
escape being faulty, who, doubtless, under cover of
passion uttered by another, oftentimes gives blame-
less vent to his most inward feelings, and expresses
his own story modestly ?

My late friend was in many respects a singular
character. Those who did not like him, hated him ;
and some, who once liked him, afterwards became
his bitterest haters. The truth is, he gave himself
too little concern what he uttered, and in whose
presence. He observed neither time nor place, and
would e'en out with what came uppermost. With
the severe religionist he would pass for a free-
thinker ; while the other faction set him down for
a bigot, or persuaded themselves that he belied his
sentiments. Few understood him ; and I am not
certain that at all times he quite understood himself.
He too much affected that dangerous figure — irony.
He sowed doubtful speeches, and reaped plain,
unequivocal hatred. He would interrupt the gravest
discussion with some light jest ; and yet, perhaps,
not quite irrelevant in ears that could understand
it. Your long and much talkers hated him. The
informal habit of his mind, joined to an inveterate
impediment of speech, forbade him to be an orator ;
and he seemed determined that no one else should
play that part when he was present. He was petit
and ordinary in his person and appearance. I have
sctn him sometimes in what is called good com-


t>s.ny, but where he has been a stranger, sit silent,
and be suspected for an odd fellow ; till some un-
lucky occasion provoking it, he would stutter out
some senseless pun (not altogether senseless, per-
haps, if rightly taken), which has stamped his
character for the evening. It was hit or miss with
him, but nine times out of ten, he contrived by this
device to send away a whole company his enemies.
His conceptions rose kindlier than his utterance,
and his happiest impromptus had the appearance
of effort. He has been accused of trying to be
witty, when in truth he was but struggling to give
his poor thoughts articulation. He chose his com-
panions for some individuality of character which
they manifested. Hence, not many persons of
science, and few professed litei-ati, were of his
councils. They were, for the most part, persons
of an uncertain fortune ; and, as to such people
commonly nothing is more obnoxious than a gen-
tleman of settled (though moderate) income, he
passed with most of them for a great miser. To
my knowledge this was a mistake. His intimados,
to confess a truth, were in the world's eye a ragged
regiment. He found them floating on the surface
of society ; and the colour, or something else, in
the weed pleased him. Tlie burrs stuck to him—
but they were good and loving burrs for all that.
He never greatly cared for the society of what are
called good people. If any of these were scan-
dalized (and offences were sure to arise) he could
not help it. When he has been remonstrated with
for not making more concessions to the feelings of
good people, he would retort by asking, what one
point did these good people ever concede to him ?
He was temperate in his meals and diversions, but
always kept a little on this side of abstemiousness.


Only in the use of the Indian weed he might be
thought a little excessive. He took it,he would say, as
a solvent of speech. Marry— as the friendly vapour
ascended, how his prattle would curl up sometimes
with it ! the ligaments which tongue-tied him were
loosened, and the stammerer proceeded a statist !

I do not know whether I ought to bemoan or
rejoice that my old friend is departed. His jests
were beginning to grow obsolete, and his stories to
be found out. He felt the approaches of age ; and
while he pretended to cling to life, you saw how
slender were the ties left to bind him. Discoursing
with him latterly on this subject, he expressed
himself with a pettisbness, which I thought un-
worthy of him. In our walks about his suburban
retreat (as he called it) at Shacklewell, some chil-
dren belonging to a school of industry had met us,
and bowed and curtseyed, as he thought, in an
especial manner to him. "They take me for a
visiting governor," he muttered earnestly. He
had a horror, which he carried to a foible, of
looking like anything important and parochial. He
thought that he approached nearer to that stamp
daily. He had a general aversion from being
treated like a grave or respectable character, and
kept a wary eye upon the advances of age that
should so entitle him. He herded always, while it
was possible, with people younger than himself.
He did not confonn to the march of time, but was
dragged along in the procession. His manners
lagged behind his years. He was too much of the
boy-man. The/i3^ai///77Mneversate gracefully on his
shoulders. The impressions of infancy had burnt into
him, and he resented the impertinence of manhood.
These were weaknesses ; but such as they were,
they are a key to explicate some of his writings.



DO not know a pleasure more affecting
than to range at will over the deserted
apartments of some fine old family man-
sion. The traces of extinct grandeur
admit of a better passion than envy : and contem-
plations on the great and good, whom we fancy in
succession to have been its inhabitants, weave for
us illusions, incompatible with the bustle of modern
occupancy, and vanities of foolish present aristo-
cracy. The same difference of feeling, I think, at-
tends us between entering an empty and a crowded
church. In the latter it is chance but some present
human frailty — an act of inattention on the part of
some of the auditory — or a trait of affectation, or
worse, vain-glory, on that of the preacher, puts us
by our best thoughts, disharmonizing the place and
the occasion. But wouldst thou know the beauty
of holiness? — go alone on some week-day, borrow-
ing the keys of good Master Sexton, traverse the
cool aisles of some country church : think of the



piety that has kneeled there — the congregations, old
and young, that have found consolation there — the
meek pastor — the docile parishioner. With no dis-
turbing emotions, no cross conflicting comparisons,
drink in the tranquillity of the place, till thou thy-
self become as fixed and motionless as the marble
effigies that kneel and weep around thee.

Journeying northward lately, I could not resist
going some few miles out of my road to look upon
the remains of an old great house with which I had
been impressed in this way in infancy. I was ap-
prised that the owner of it had lately pulled it
down ; still I had a vague notion that it could not
all have perished-, — that so much solidity with mag-
nificence could not have been crushed all at once
into the mere dust and rubbish which I found it.

The work of ruin had proceeded with a swift
hand indeed, and the demolition of a few weeks
had reduced it to — an antiquity.

I was astonished at the indistinction of every-
thing. Where had stood the great gates ? What
bounded the court-yard ? Whereabout did the out-
houses commence ? A few bricks only lay as re-
presentatives of that which was so stately and so

Death does not shrink up his human victim at
this rate. The burnt ashes of a man weigh more
in their proportion.

Had I seen these brick-and-mortar knaves at
their process of destruction, at the plucking of
every panel I should have felt the varlets at my
heart. I should have cried out to them to spare a
plank at least out of the cheerful store-room, in
whose hot window-seat I used to sit and read
Cowley, with the grass-plot before, and the hum and
flappings of that one solitaiy wasp that ever haunted


it about me — it is in mine ears now, as oft as sum-
mer returns ; or a panel of the yellow-room.

Why, every plank and panel of that house for
me had magic in it. The tapestried bedrooms —
tapestry so much better than painting — not adorning
merely, but peopling the wainscots — at which child-
hood ever and anon would steal a look, shifting its
coverlid (replaced as quickly) to exercise its tender
courage in a momentary eye-encounter with those
stern bright visages, staring reciprocally — all Ovid
on the walls, in colours vivider than his description.
Acteeon in mid sprout, with the unappeasable pru-
dery of Diana ; and the still more provoking and
almost culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus, eel-fashion,
deliberately divesting of Marsyas.

Then, that haunted room — in which old Mrs.
Battle died — whereinto I have crept, but always in
the daytime, with a passion of fear ; and a sneaking
curiosity, terror-tainted, to hold communication
with the past. — How shall they build it up again ?

It was an old deserted place, yet not so long de-
serted that the traces of the splendour of past in-
mates were everywhere apparent. Its furniture was
still standing— even to the tarnished gilt leather
battledores, and crumbling feathers of shuttlecocks
in the nursery, which told that children had once
played there. But I was a lonely child, and had
the range at \\\\\ of every apartment, knew every
nook and corner, wondered and worshipped every-

The solitude of childhood is not so much the
mother of thought as it is the feeder of love, ol
silence, and admiration. So strange a passion for
the place possessed me in those years, that, though
there lay — I shame to say how few roods distant
from the mansion — half hid by trees, what I judged


some romantic lake, such was the spell which bound
to the house, and such my carefulness not to pass
its strict and proper precincts, that the idle waters
lay unexplored for me ; and not till late in life, cu-
riosity prevailing over elder devotion, I found, to
my astonishment, a pretty brawling brook had been
the Lacus Incognitus of my infancy. Variegated
views, extensive prospects — and those at no gieat
distance from the house — I was told of such — what
were they to me, being out of the boundaries of my
Eden ? So far from a wish to roam, I would have
drawn, methought, still closer the fences of my
chosen prison, and have been hemmed in by a yet
securer cincture of those excluding garden walls.
I could have exclaimed with the garden-loving
poet —

Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines ;
Curl me about, ye gadding vines ;
And oh so close your circles lace,
That I may never leave this place ;
But, lest your fetters prove too weak,
Ere I your silken bondage break,
Do you, O brambles, chain me too.
And, courteous briars, nail me through.'

I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug fire-sides
— the low-built roof^parlours ten feet by ten —
frugal boards, and all the homeliness of home —
these were the condition of my birth— the whole-
some soil which I was planted in. Yet, without
impeachment to their tenderest lessons, I am not
sorry to have had glances of something beyond,
and to have taken, if but a peep, in childhood, at
the contrasting accidents of a great fortune.

To have the feeling of gentihty, it is not neces-
sary to have been born gentle. The pride of an-

' rMaryell, on Appleton House, to ths Lord Fairfax.]


cestry may be had on cheaper terms than to be
obliged to an importunate race of ancestors ; and
the coatless antiquary in his unemblazoned cell,
revolving the long line of a Mowbray's or De
Clifford's pedigree, at those sounding names may
^\■arm himself into as gay a vanity as those who do
inherit them. The claims of birth are ideal merely,
and what herald shall go about to strip me of an
idea ? Is it trenchant to their swords ? can it be
hacked off as a spur can ? or torn away like a tar-
nished garter ?

What, else, were the families of the great to us ?
what pleasure should we take in their tedious gene-
alogies, or their capitulatory brass monuments ?
What to us the uninterrupted cuiTent of their
bloods, if our own did not answer within us to a
cognate and corresponding elevation ?

Or wherefore, else, O tattered and diminished
'Scutcheon that hung upon the time-worn walls of
thy princely stairs, Blakesmoor ! have I in child-
hood so oft stood poring upon thy mystic characters
— thy emblematic supporters, with their prophetic
" Resurgam " — till, every dreg of peasantiy purging
off, I received into myself Very Gentility ? Thou
wert first in my morning eyes; and of nights hast
detained my steps from bedward, till it was but a
step from gazing at thee to dreaming on thee.

This is the only true gentry by adoption; the
veritable change of blood, and not as empirics have
fabled, by transfusion.

Who it was by dying that had earned the splen-
did trophy, I know not, I inquired not ; but its
fading rags, and colours cobweb-stained, told that
its subject was of two centuries back.

And what if my ancestor at that date was some
Damoetas, — feeding flocks, not his own, upon the


hills of Lincoln — did I in less earnest vindicate to
myself the family trappings of this once proud
^gon ? repaying by a backward triumph the in-
sults he might possibly have heaped in his life-time
upon my poor pastoral progenitor.

If it were presumption so to speculate, the pre-
sent owners of the mansion had least reason to
complain. They had long forsaken the old house
of their fathers for a newer trifle ; and I was left to
appropriate to myself what images I could pick up,
to raise my fancy, or to soothe my vanity. ,

I was the true descendant of those old W s,

and not the present family of that name, who had
fled the old waste places.

Mine was that gallery of good old family por-
traits, which as I have gone over, giving them in
fancy my own family name, one — and then another
— would seem to smile, reaching forward from the
canvas, to recognize the new relationship; while
the rest looked grave, as it seemed, at the vacancy
in their dwelling, and thoughts of fled posterity.

The Beauty with the cool blue pastoral draper}-,
and a lamb — that hung next the great bay window

— with the bright yellow H shire hair, and eye

of watchet hue — so like my Alice ! — I am persuaded
she was a true Elia — Mildred Elia, I take it.

[From her, and from my passion for her — for I
first learned love from a picture — Bridget took the
hint of those pretty whimsical lines, which thou
mayst see, if haply thou hast never seen them.
Reader, in the margin.' But my Mildred grew not
old, like the imaginary Helen.]

Mine, too, Blakesmoor, was thy noble Marble
Hall, with its mosaic pavements, and its Twelve

' Here was inserted the little poem by Mary Lamb, called
" Helen."— Ed.


Caesars — stately busts in marble— ranged round ;
of whose countenances, young reader of faces as I
was, the frowning beauty of Nero, I remember,
had most of my wonder ; but the mild Galba had
my love. There they stood in the coldness of death,
yet freshness of immortality.

Mine, too, thy lofty Justice Hall, with its one
chair of authority, high-backed and wickered, once
the terror of luckless poacher, or self-forgetful
maiden — so common since, that bats have roosted
in it.

Mine, too, — whose else? — thycostlyfrait-garden,
with its sun-baked southern wall ; the ampler plea-
sure-garden, rising backwards from the house in
triple terraces, with flower-pots now of palest lead,
save that a speck here and there, saved from the
elements, bespake their pristine state to have been
gilt and glittering ; the verdant quarters backwarder
still ; and, stretching still beyond, in old formality,
thy firry wilderness, the haunt of the squirrel, and
the day-long murmuring wood-pigeon, with that
antique image in the centre, God or Goddess I wist
not ; but child of Athens or old Rome paid never
a sincerer worship to Pan or to Sylvanus in their
native groves, than I to that fragmental mystery.

Was it for this that I kissed my childish hands
too fervently in your idol- worship, walks and wind-
ings of Blakesmoor ! for this, or what sin of mine,
has the plough passed over your pleasant places ?
I sometimes think that as men, when they die, do
not die all, so of their extinguished habitations
there may be a hope — a germ to be revivified.


POOR RELATION— is the most irre-
levant thing in nature, — a piece of im-
pertinent correspondency, — an odious
approximation, — a haunting conscience,
— a preposterous sliadow, lengthening in the noon-
tide of our prosperity, — an unwelcome remem-
brancer, — a perpetually recurring mortification, —
a drain on your purse, — a more intolerable dun
upon your pride, — a drawback upon success, — a
rebuke to your rising, — a stain in your blood, —
a blot on your 'scutcheon, — a rent in your garment,
— a death's head at your banquet, — Agathocles' pot,
— a Mordecai in your gate, — a Lazarus at your
door, — a lion in your path, — a frog in your cham-
ber, — a fly in your ointment, — a mote in your eye,
— a triumph to your enemy, — an apology to your
friends, — the one thing not needful, — the hail in
harvest, — the ounce of sour in a pound of sweet.

He is known by his knock. Your heart telleth
you "That is Mr. ." A rap, between fami-
liarity and respect ; that demands, and at the same
time seems to despair of, entertaniment. He en-
tereth smiling and — embarrassed. He holdeth out
his hand to you to shake, and — draweth it back
again. He casually looketh in about dinner-time
—when the table is full. He offereth to go away,


seeing you have company — but is induced to slay.
He fiUeth a chair, and your visitor's two children
are accommodated at a side-table. He never
conieth upon open days, when your wife says, with

some complacency, "My dear, perhaps Mr.

will drop in to-day." He remembereth birth-days
— and professeth he is fortunate to have stumbled
upon one. He declareth against fish, the turbot
being small — yet suffereth himself to be importuned .
into a slice, against his first resolution. He stick-
eth by the port — yet will be prevailed upon to
empty the remainder glass of claret, if a stranger
press it upon him. He is a puzzle to the servants,
who are fearful of being too obsequious or not civil
enough, to him. The guests think "they have
seen him before." Eveiy one speculateth upon his
cor.dition ; and the most part take him to be a —
tide-waiter. He calleth you by your Christian
name, to imply that his other is the same with
your own. He is too familiar by half, yet you
wish he had less diffidence. With half the fami-
liarity, he might pass for a casual dependent ; with
more boldness, he would be in no danger of being
taken for what he is. He is too humble for a friend ;
yet taketh on him more state than befits a client.
He is a worse guest than a country tenant, inas-
much as he bringeth up no rent — yet 'tis odds, from
his garb and demeanour, that your guests take him
for one. He is asked to make one at the whist
table ; refuseth on the score of poverty, and — re-
sents being left out. When the company break up,
he profifereth to go for a coach — and lets the ser-
vant go. He recollects your grandfather ; and will
thrust in some mean and quite unimportant anec-
dote — of the family. He knew it when it was not
quite so flourishing as "he is blest in seeing it now."


He reviveth past situations, to institute what he
calleth — favourable comparisons. With a reflect-
ing sort ot congratulation, he will inquire the price
of your furniture ; and insults you with a special
commendation of your window-curtains. He is of

Online LibraryCharles LambEssays of Elia and Eliana (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 29)