Charles Lamb.

Mrs. Leicester's school, and other writings in prose and verse online

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Online LibraryCharles LambMrs. Leicester's school, and other writings in prose and verse → online text (page 1 of 32)
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In addition to the Stories for Childi-eu with which it
opens, the present volume contains a selection from
various prose papers of Lamb's, printed in his lifetime,
but not collected into book-form until long after his death.
It was an enthusiastic lover of Charles Lamb in the
LTnited States to whom is due the credit of searching
for and identifying his many outlying contributions to
periodical literature, and this gentleman has as yet received
scant justice from Lamb's editors in this country.

It was in the year 1863 that the late Mr. J. E. Babson
of Chelsea, U.S., began publishing in the pages of the
Atlantic Monthly Magazine a series of Lamb's papers
and essays that had remained apparently unrecognised
in the various magazines and newspapers where they
originally appeared. In prosecuting his researches Mr.
Babson afterwards received the assistance of Mr. Alexander
Ireland of Manchester, whose knowledge of the writings
of Lamb and Lamb's intimate friends is probably greater
than that of any other Englishman. The series was re-
issued by Mr. Babson at Boston in the following year,
vuider the title of " Eliana, being the hitherto uncollected
writings of Charles Lamb." The volume was at once
reprinted in England, and, I believe, without any recog-
nition of its origiu, or the labours of Mr. Babson. During
the twenty years that have elapsed, a few fresh pieces by
Lamb have been identified and added to Mr. Babson's
collection, and have appeared in various English editions.
The shorter prose papers in the present volume are there-


fore, for the most part, from Mr. Babson's volume, but
in every case they have been compared with the originals
in Leigh Hunt's Periodicals, Hone's Tablebooks, and other
publications to which they were first contributed.

While gratefully acknowledging my obligation to Mr.
Babson, I have not been able to adopt his theory of the
responsibilities of an editor. " The admirers of Elia," he
boldly declares in the preface to his volume, " want to
possess every scrap and fragment of his inditing. They
cannot let oblivion have the least ' notelet ' or ' essay-
kin ' of his." I hope that I may still be reckoned among
the admirers of Elia, though I refuse assent to this pro-
position. The truth is, that every writer of mark leaves
behind him shreds and remnants of stuff, some of which
are characteristic and worthy of preservation, and some
are otherwise ; and it is, in my deliberate opinion, an
injustice to any such writer to dilute his reputation by
publishing every scrap of writing that he is known to
have produced, merely because the necessity of making
a choice may expose the editor to the risk of censure.

I have ventured, then, to omit some half dozen prose
pieces that have appeared in the recent editions of Lamb's
complete works. In the first place, there are among
these certain fragments, which were left fragments not
by accident, but because Lamb tired of his task or found
he had misconceived his powers. He began a story
called Juke Judkim, and wrote only a single chapter.
He began tm-ning into prose, under the title of " The
Defeat of Time," Thomas Hood's graceful poem, the Plea
of the Midstimmer Fairies, but left it half finished. He
once produced a weak string of conceits on an unsavoury
subject, called A Vision of Horns, of which he confessed
himself, in a letter to a correspondent, thoroughly ashamed,
and which it woidd have cut him to the quick to think
might be permanently associated with his name. Again,
most recent editions have included a letter of the poet
Thomson's, which Iianib had discovered in a newspaper
of the last century and published in the London Magazine.


As the letter has long ago been included in standard
biographies of Thomson (for instance, the one prefixed to
the Aldine Edition of his poems) there seems to be no
possible reason for reprinting it once more. A version
in prose of the story of Beaumont and Fletcher's tragedy,
Cupid's Revenge, and a farce, called The Pawnbroker's
Daughter, based upon one of Lamb's early essays in
Leigh Hunt's Reflector, I have also accepted the responsi-
bility of omitting.

In taking this course I have not acted merely upon
personal preference, but on a principle that I think may
be claimed as sound. I have not willingly excluded any
fragment, however short, which exhibited Lamb's peculiar
vein of humour or his unique faculty of criticism. No
lack of these will be found in the shorter papers here
given. I would point to the remarks on De Foe's
Secondary Novels and on Wordsworth's Excursion; to the
delightful autobiographical details in Captain Starkey ;
to the comments on the acting of Miss Kelly and Dowton ;
to tlie amazing parody on a certain well-known style of
polite biography in the imaginary memoir of Liston ; to
the rare and almost Shakspearian vein of imagination in
the speculation on the Religion of Actors, with its wonder-
ful image of Munden "making mouths at the invisible
event ;" and lastly, to the noble tenderness of parts of the
letter to Southey, and, above all, to the pathetic words
upon the death of Coleridge. We should be the poorer
in our knowledge and appreciation of Charles Lamb
Avithout these and other side-lights upon his mind and

The two contributions to Godwin's Library for Children
which open the volume have been often reprinted since
their first appearance early in the century. The Story of
Ulysses was probably the first serious attempt to give
literary form to the finest of the world's fairy tales, for
the benefit of the young. In passing through Lamb's
hands the classic touch must inevitably have given place
to the romantic, and it was therefore a gain, rather than


the reverse, that he should have chiefly used the version
of George Chapman, whose fine Elizabethan cadence may
everywhere be traced. Perhaps the A dventures of Ulysses
may yet again one day be found among the standard
books of the nursery. It certainly seems a pity that
incidents, characters, and images that are part of the
current coin of the world's intercourse should not become
familiar in the years when imagination is keenest and

I make no apology for printing Mrs. Leicester's School
an a whole. Three of the stories composing it are by
Charles Lamb, the others by his sister. He always
loyally upheld the superior value of his sister's contribu-
tion ; and indeed she exhibits in them qualities of
humour and observation quite as notable as any corre-
sponding gift of her brother's. " It is now several days,"
wrote Walter Savage Landor to Crabb Robinson in 1831,
"since I read the book vou recommended to me — Mrs.
Leicester'' s School — and I feel as if I owed a debt in
deferring to thank you for many hours of exquisite
deUght. Never have I read anything in prose so many
times over, within so short a space of time, as The
Father's Weddinfi-Day. Most people, I understand,
prefer the first tale — in trutl) a veiy admirable one — but
others could have written it. Show me tlie man or
woman, modern or ancient, who could have written this
one sentence — ' Wlien I was dressed in my new frock I
wished poor mamma was alive, to see how fine I was on
papa's wedding-day ; and I ran to my favourite station
at her bedroom door.' How natural in a little girl is
this incongruity — this impossibility ! Richardson would
have given his Clarissa and Rousseau his Heloise to
have imagined it. A fresh source of the pathetic bm-sts
out before us, and not a bitter one. If your Germans
can show us anytliing comparable to Avliat I have tran-
scribed, I would almost undergo a year's gurgle of their
language for it. TIic story is admirable throughout —
incomparable, inimitable !"


Of course we recognise here Landor's well-known
accent of extravagant generosity, but he was not losing
his critical balance. And there are others of Mary
Lamb's stories that he might have instanced with
enthusiasm. The Young Mahometan, delightful for its
renewed memories of Blakesware House, abounds in
felicities of phrase. The little girl, spending lonely
hours in the library of the old mansion, finds a volume
(tailed Maho7netanism Explained, and greedily devours it.
"The book said that those who believed all the wonder-
ful stories which were related of Mahomet were called
Mahometans and True Believers ; — I concluded that I
must be a Mahometan, for I believed every word I read."
The child broods over her newly-discovered revelation,
and yearns that her near relatives should awake to the
truth. She becomes so feverish with excitement that
her mother comes to sleep in her room. " In the middle
of the night I could not resist the strong desire I felt to
tell her what preyed so on my mind. I awoke her out
of a sound sleep, and begged she woidd he so land as to he
a Mahometan" This is exquisite ; even more so are
the particulars that follow of the doctor who was called
in, to whom the case was, however, new, " he never
having attended a little Mahometan before." The
sagacious old doctor is not, however, baffled, but carries
off the young lady to spend a few days with liimself and
his wife, that he ma.y study the case at leisure. " \w a
few days he fetched me away. His wife was in the
carriage with him. Having heard what he said about
her prescriptions, I expected, between the doctor and his
lady, to undergo a severe course of medicine, especially
as I heard him very formally ask her advice what was
good for a Mahometan fever, the moment after he had
handed me into the carriage. She studied a little while,
and then she said a ride to Harlow Fair would not be
amiss. He said he was entirely of her opinion, hecause it
suited him to go there to buy a horse." The Mahometan
fever, as the reader will anticipate, soon passes away.


It is the sweet humour of Steele and Goldsmith that
is here manifest, and the old-fashioned formality of some
of the writing, due to the example of Richardson and
his school, need be no obstacle to these stories keeping
their place among the cherished volumes of the nursery.
Mrs. Cowden Clarke tells us how she once heard Charles
Lamb address his sister, "with his peculiar mood of
tenderness beneath blunt, abrupt speech — 'You must
die first, Mary.' She nodded with her little quiet nod
and sweet smile: 'Yes, I must die first, Charles.'" It
was ordered otherwise, ac we know ; but in the history
of faithful love and duty, as well as in that of English
literature, there will be no survivorship. Should Charles
and Mary Lamb ever die from the memories of men, it
will be on the self-same day.

In bringing to a conclusion this collection of Lamb's
writings, to be followed, as I hope, by a imiform edition
of his correspondence, I have once more to thank the
many friends who have aided me by information and
suggestion, and notably Mr. Alexander Ireland, who never
weai'ies in the semce of literary good-fellowship, and
whose great knowledge of Lamb's contemporaries has
been continually of advantage to me.


Tor Castle, Fort- William,
August 1885.


Mhs. Leicester's ScHOoii

The Sailor Uncle

The Farmhouse

The Changeling

The Father's Wedding-Day .

The Young Mahometan

Visit to the Cousins .
*The Witch Aunt . . . •

The Merchant's Daughter
*First Going to Church
*The Sea-Voyage .

The Adventures of Ulysses

Guy Faux ....


Ox THE Custom of Hissing at the Theatres
The Good Clerk, A Ckaraoteu
The Reynolds Gallery .
Wordsworth's "ExcuRsiox" .
Theatrical Xotkks . . .





* The talcs marked with ;ni nstcrisk :\vc \>y Cliarlcs Lamb;
the others by his sister IMar}-.

Xll CoX'l'KX'l'.S.


First Fruits nF'Ar.sTRAi.iAX Poetry . . . 235

TiiK Gfa'tle Giantess ..... 238

Ox A Passage IX "The Tempest" . . . 242
Letter to ax old Gentlemax whose Educatiox has

been xeglected ..... 246

Biographical Memoir of Mr. Liston . . . 253

Autobiography of Mr. Mtjnden . . . 262


The Last Peach ...... 271

The Illustrious Defuxct .... 274

The Religion of Actors .... 281

The Months ...... 285

Eeminiscexce of Sir .Tf.ffery DuNSTAN . . 290

Captain Starkey ..... 293

The Ass 298

In re Squirrels ...... 302

Estimate of Defoe's Secondary^ Novels . . 304

Recollectioxs of a Late Royal Academician . 307

Remarkable Correspondent .... 315

The Humble Petition of ax Uxfortuxate Day . 318

Mrs. Gilpin riding ro Edmonton . . . 320

Saturday Night ...... 322

Thoughts on Presents of Game . . . 325
A Popular Fallacy, that a Deformed Person is a

Lord 328

Charles Lamb's Autobiography . . . 331

Letter of Elia to Robert Southey, Esq. . . 333

Table-Talk and Fragments of Criticism . . 348

Ki.TA to his Correspondents .... 361

On tiik Death of Coleridge .... 365





PROLOGUE TO Coleridge's "Rkmokse" .

Pkologue TO Godwin's "Antonio"

Prologue to Godwin's "Faulkener" ,

Epilogue to Sheridan Knowles' "Wife"

To Thomas Stothard, R.A.

To Clara N. . . . ,

To MY Friend the Indicator .

Saint Crispin to Mr. Gifford .

On Haydon's Piotuue of Christ's Entry into

SALEM .....
Translation ...






To Sir James Mackintosh

The Triumph of the Whale

The Three Graves ....

Epigram written in the Last Reign .

Lines suggested by a Sight of Waltham Cross

" One Dip " .

Satan in Search of a Wife









My dear young Feiends, — Though released from the
business of the school, the absence of yoiu- governess
confines me to Amwell during the vacation. I cannot
better employ my leisure hours than in contributing to
the amusement of you, my kind pupils, who, by your
affectionate attentions to my instructions, have rendered
a life of labour pleasant to me.

On your return to school I hope to have a fair copy,
ready to present to each of you, of your own biographical
conversations last winter.

Accept my thanks for the approbation you were pleased
to express when I oflfered to become your amanuensis.
I hope you will find I have executed the office with a
tolerably faithful pen, as you know I took notes each day
during those conversations, and arranged my materials
after you were retired to rest.

I begin from the day our school commenced. It was
opened by your governess for the first time on the •

2 :mrs. Leicester's school.

day of February. I jjass over your several arrivals ou
the morning of tliat day. Your governess received ymi
from your friends in lier own i)arlour.

Every carriage that drove from the door I knew had
left a sad heart behind. Your eyes were red with weep-
ing, when your governess introduced me to you as the
teacher she had engaged to instruct you. She next desired
me to show you into the room which we now call the
playroom. " The ladies, " said she, " may play and amuse
themselves, and be as happy as they please this evening,
that they may be well acquainted with each other before
they enter the schoolroom to-morrow morning."

The traces of tears were on every cheek, and I also
was sad ; for I, like you, had parted from my friends,
and the duties of my profession were new to me, yet I
felt that it was improper to give Avay to my own melan-
choly thoughts. I knew that it was my first duty to
divert the soUtary young strangers ; for I considered that
this was very unlike the entrance to an old-established
school, where there is always some good-natured girl who
will show attentions to a new scholar, and take pleasiu-e
in initiating her into the customs and amusements of the
place. These, thought I, havf; their own amusements to
invent ; their own customs to establish. How unlike, too,
is this forlorn meeting to old schoolfellow^s returning after
the holidays, when mutual greetings soon lighten the
memory of parting sorrow.

I invited you to draw near a bright fire which blazed
in the chimney, and looked the only cheerful thing in
tlie room.

During our first solemn silence, which, you may re-
member, was only broken by my repeated requests that
you would make a smaller and still smaller circle, till I
saw the fireplace fairly enclosed round, the idea came
into my mind, which has since been a source of amusement
to you in the recollection, and to myself in particular has
been of essential benefit, as it enabled me to form a just
estimate of the dispositions of you, my young pupils, and


assisted me to adopt my plan of t'utiiro instructions to
eacli individual temper.

An introduction to a i)oint wc wiah to carry, wc always
feel to be an awkward atiair, and generally execute it in
an awkward manner ; so I believe I did then ; for when
I imparted this idea to you, I think I iirefaced it rather
too formally for such young auditors ; for I began with
telling you that I had read in old authors, that it was not
unfrequent in former times, when strangers were assembled
together, as we might be, for them to amuse themselves
with telling stories — either of their own lives, or the
adventures of others. "Will you allow me, ladies," I
continued, " to persuade you to auuise yourselves in this
way ■? You will not then look so unsociably upon each
other ; for Ave find that these strangers, of Avhom we read,
were as well acquainted before the conclusion of the first
story as if they had known each other many years. Let
me prevail upon you to relate some little anecdotes of
your own lives. Fictitious tales we can read in books,
and they were therefore better adapted to conversation in
tliose times when books of amusement were more scarce
than they are at present."

After many objections of not knowing what to say or
how to begin, which I overcame by assuring you how
easy it would be, for that every person is naturally
eloquent when they are the hero or heroine of their own
tale ; — tlie Who should bff/in ? was next in question.

I proposed to draw lots, which formed a little amuse-
ment of itself. Miss Manners, who till then had been the
saddest of the sad, began to brighten, and said it was just
like drawing king and queen ; and began to tell us where
she passed last Twelfth-day ; but as her narration must
have interfered with the more important business of the
lottery, I advised her to postpone it till it came to her
turn to favour u* with the history of her life, when it
would appear in its proper order. The first number fell
to the share of Miss Villiers, whose joy at drawing what
we called the first prize was tempered with shame at

4 MRS. Leicester's school.

appearing as the first historian in the company. She
wished she had not been the very first : — she had passed
all her life in a retired village, and had nothing to I'clate
of herself that could give the least entertainment ; she
had not the least idea in the world where to begin.

"Begin," said I, "with your name, for that at present
is unknown to us. Tell us the first thing you can
remember; relate whatever happened to make a great
impression on you when you were very young ; and if you
find you can connect yoiu* story till your arrival here to-
day, I am sure we shall listen to you with pleasure ; and
if you like to break off, and only treat us with a part of
your history, we will excuse you, with many thanks for
the amusement which you have aff"orded us; and the
young lady who has drawn the second number will, I
hope, take her turn with the same indulgence, to relate
either all, or any part of the events of her life, as best
pleases her own fimcy, or as she finds she can manage it
with the most ease to herself." Encouraged by this offer
of indulgence, Miss Villiers began.

If in my report of her story, or in any which follow, I
shall appear to make her or you speak an older language
than it seems probable that you should use, speaking in
your own words, it must be remembered that what is
very proper and becoming when spoken, requires to be
arranged with some little difference before it can be set
down in writing. Little inaccuracies must be pared
away, and the whole must assume a more formal and
correct appearance. My own way of thinking, I am
sensible, wiU too often intrude itself; but I have endea-
voured to preserve, as exactly as I could, yom* own words
and your own peculiarities of style and manner, and to
approve myself

Your faithful historiographer,

as well as true friend,

M. R


My father is the curate of a village church about five
miles from Amwell. I was born in the parsonage-house,
which joins the churchyard. The fii'st thing I can
remember was my father teaching me the alphabet from
the letters on a tombstone tliat stood at the head of my
mother's grave. I used to tap at my father's study door ;
I think I now hear him say, " Who is there ?— What do
you want, little girl V " Go and see mamma. Go and
learn pretty letters." Many times in the day would my
father lay aside his books and his papers to lead me to
this spot, and make me point to the letters, and then set
me to spell syllables and words : in this manner, the
epitaph on my mother's tomb being my primer and m.y
spelling-book, I learned to read.

I was one day sitting on a step placed across the
churchyard stile, when a gentleman, passing by, heard
me distinctly repeat the letters which formed my mother's
name, and then say Elizabeth ViUiers, with a firm tone,
as if I had performed some great matter. This gentle-
man was my uncle James, my mother's brother ; he was
a lieutenant in the Navy, and had left England a few
weeks after the marriage of my fixther and mother, and
now, retm-ned home from a long sea- voyage, he was coming
to visit my mother — no tidings of her decease having
reached him, though she had been dead more than a

When my uncle saw me sitting on the stile, and heard
me pronounce my mother's name, he looked earnestly in
my face, and began to fancy a resemblance to his sister,


and to think I migbt be her child. I was tou iutcut on
my empluyment to observe him, and went spelling on.
" Who has taught you to si^ell so prettily, my little maid?"
said my uncle. " Mamma," I replied ; for I had an idea
that the words on the tombstone were somehow a part of
mamma, and that she had taught me. "And who is
mamma?" asked my uncle. "Elizabeth Villiers," I
replied ; and then my uncle called me his dear little niece,
and said he would go with me to mamma ; he took hold
of my hand, intending to lead me home, delighted that
he had found out who I was, because he imagined it
would be such a pleasant surprise to his sister to see her
little daughter bringing home her long-lost sailor uncle.

I agreed to take him to mamma, but we had a disjiute
about the way thither. My uncle was for going along
the road which led directly up to our house ; I pointed
to the churchyard, and said that was the way to mamma.
Though impatient of any delay, he was not willing to
contest the point with his new relation ; therefore he
lifted me over the stile, and was then going to take me
along the path to a gate he knew was at the end of oiu*
garden ; but no, I would not go tliat way neither ; letting
go his hand, I said, " You do not know the way, — I will
show you;" and making what haste I could among the
long grass and thistles, and jumping over the low graves,

Online LibraryCharles LambMrs. Leicester's school, and other writings in prose and verse → online text (page 1 of 32)