Charles Lamb.

The best letters of Charles Lamb, ed. online

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It may well be that the " Essays of Elia " will be found to have
kept their perfume, and the Letters of Charles Lamb to
retam their old sweet savor, when " Sartor Resartus " has about as
many readers as Bulwer's " Artificial Changeling," and nine tenths
even of "Don Juan" lie darkening under the same deep dust that
covers the rarely troubled pages of the "Secchia Rapita."

A. C. Swinburne.

No assemblage of letters, parallel or kindred to that in the hands

of the reader, if we consider its width of range, the fruitful period

over which it stretches, and its typical character, has ever been


W, C. Hazlitt on Lamb's Letters.





lEtiiteti luiti) an Kntrotiuctiott






By a. C. McClurg and Co.

A. D. 1892.





I. To Samuel Taylor Coleridge 3^

II. To Coleridge 33

III. To Coleridge 3^

IV. To Coleridge 5^

V. To Coleridge 55

VI. To Coleridge - ^7

VII. To Coleridge 64

VIII. To Coleridge 66

IX. To Coleridge .^ ........ 69

X. To Coleridge 7°

XI. To Coleridge 74

XII. To Coleridge 79

XIII. To Coleridge 85

XIV. To Coleridge 9^

XV. To Robert Southey 94

XVI. To Southey 9^

XVII. To Southey 99

XVIII. To Southey . ; i°2

XIX. To Thomas Manning 106

XX. To Coleridge 108

XXI. To Manning . . ' io9

XXII. To Coleridge iio

XXIII. To Manning "2

XXIV. To Manning 1^5

XXV. To Coleridge "^



XXVI. To Manning 120

XXVII. To Coleridge 122

XXVIII. To Coleridge 125

XXIX. To Manning 127

XXX. To Manning 130

XXXI. To Manning 132

XXXII. To Manning 134

XXXIII. To Coleridge 137

XXXIV. To Wordsworth '. . 140

XXXV. To Wordsworth 143

XXXVI. To Manning 145

XXXVII. To Manning 147

XXXVIII. To Manning 150

XXXIX. To Coleridge 154

XL. To Manning 157

XLI. To Manning 159

XLII. To Manning i'6i

XLIII. To William Godwin 164

XLIV. To Manning 167

XLV. To Miss Wordsworth i;o

XLVI To Manning 172

XLVII. To Wordsworth 175

XLVIII. To Manning 179

XLIX. To Wordsworth 186

L. To Manning 187

LI. To Miss Wordsworth 191

LII. To Wordsworth 192

LIII. To Wordsworth 194

LIV. To Wordsworth 198

LV. To Wordsworth 203

LVI. To Southey 208

LVII. To Miss Hutchinson 212

LVIII. To Manning 213

LIX. To Manning 217

LX. To Wordsworth 219

LXI. To Wordsworth 221



LXII. To H. Dodwell 225

LXIII. To Mrs. Wordsworth 226

LXIV. To Wordsworth 232

LXV. To Manning 236

LXVI. To Miss Wordsworth 238

LXVII. To Coleridge 241

LXVIII. To Wordsworth . 244

LXIX. To John Clarke 247

LXX. To Mr. Barron Field 249

LXXI. To Walter Wilson 251

LXXII. To Bernard Barton 253

LXXIII. To Miss Wordsworth 255

LXX IV. To Mr. and Mrs. Bruton 257

LXXV. To Bernard Barton 259

LXXVr. To Miss Hutchinson 261

LXXVII. To Bernard Barton 264

LXXVIII. To Mrs. Hazlitt 266

LXXIX. To Bernard Barton 268

LXXX. To Bernard Barton 270

LXXXI. To Bernard Barton 273

LXXXII. To Bernard Barton 275

LXXXIII. To Bernard Barton 278

LXXXIV. To Bernard Barton 279

LXXXV. To Bernard Barton 281

LXXX VI. To Wordsworth 282

LXXXVII. To Bernard Barton 285

LXXXVIII. To Bernard Barton . 2S6

LXXXIX. To Bernard Barton 287

XC. To Southey 289

XCI. To Bernard Barton 293

XCIT. ToJ. B. Dibdin 295

XCin. To Henry Crabb Robinson 297

XCIV. To Peter George Patmore 299

XCV. To Bernard Barton 302

XCVI. To Thomas Hood • .... 304

XCVII. To P. G. Patmore 307



XCVIII. To Bernard Barton 309

XCIX. To Procter 312

C. To Bernard Barton 314

CI. To Mr. Gilman 317

CII. To Wordsworth 319

cm. To Mrs. Hazlitt 325

CIV. To George Dyer 328

CV. To Dyer 330

CVI. To Mr. Moxon 334

CVII. To Mr. Moxon 335


No writer, perhaps, since the days of Dr. Johnson
has been oftener brought before us in biographies,
essays, letters, etc., than Charles Lamb. His stam-
mering speech, his gaiter-clad legs, — " almost imma-
terial legs," Hood called them, — his frail wisp of a
body, topped by a head " worthy of Aristotle," his love
of punning, of the Indian weed, and, alas ! of the kindly
production of the juniper-berry (he was not, he owned,
" constellated under Aquarius "), his antiquarianism of
taste, and relish of the crotchets and whimsies of author-
ship, are as familiar to us almost as they were to the
group he gathered round him Wednesdays at No. 4,
Inner Temple Lane, where " a clear fire, a clean hearth,
and the rigor of the game" awaited them. Talfourd
has unctuously celebrated Lamb's " Wednesday Nights."
He has kindly left ajar a door through which poster-
ity peeps in upon the company, — Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt,
" Barry Cornwall," Godwin, Martin Burney, Crabb
Robinson (a ubiquitous shade, dimly suggestive of that
figment, " Mrs. Harris "), Charles Kemble, Fanny Kelly
(" Barbara S."), on red-letter occasions Coleridge and
Wordsworth, — and sees them discharging the severer
offices of the whist-table (" cards were cards " then),
and, later, unbending their minds over poetry, criticism,
and metaphysics. Elia was no Barmecide host, and
the Serjeant dwells not without regret upon the solider
business of the evening, — " the cold roast lamb or boiled
beef, the heaps of smoking roasted potatoes, and the


vast jug of porter, often replenished from the foaming
pots which the best tap of Fleet Street supplied," hos-
pitably presided over by " the most quiet, sensible, and
kind of women," Mary Lamb.

The literati of Talfourd's day were clearly hardier
of digestion than their descendants are. Roast lamb,
boiled beef, " heaps of smoking roasted potatoes," pots
of porter, — a noontide meal for a hodman, — and the
hour midnight ! One is reminded, a propos of Miss
Lamb's robust viands, that Eiia somewhere confesses
to " an occasional nightmare ; " " but I do not," he
adds, "keep a whole stud of them." To go deeper into
this matter, to speculate upon the possible germs, the
first vague intimations to the mind of Coleridge of the
weird spectra of " The Ancient Mariner," the phantas-
magoria of " Kubla Khan," would be, perhaps, over-
refining. " Barry Cornwall," too, Lamb tells us, " had
his tritons and his nereids gambolling before him in
nocturnal visions." No wonder!

It is not intended here to re- thresh the straw left by
Talfourd, Fitzgerald, Canon Ainger, and others, in the
hope of discovering something new about Charles Lamb.
In this quarter, at least, the wind shall be tempered to
the reader, — shorn as he is by these pages of a charm-
ing letter or two. So far as fresh facts are concerned,
the theme may fairly be considered exhausted. Num-
berless writers, too, have rung the changes upon " poor
Charles Lamb," "dear Charles Lamb," "gentle Charles
Lamb," and the rest, — the final epithet, by the way,
being one that Elia, living, specially resented:

" For God's sake," he wrote to Coleridge, " don't make me
ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print,
or do it in better verses. It did well enough five years ago,
when I came to see you, and was moral coxcomb enough at
the time you wrote the lines to feed upon such epithets ; but
besides that the meaning of 'gentle' is equivocal at best, and
almost always means poor-spirited, the very quality of gen-


tleness is abhorrent to such vile trumpethigs. My sentiment
is long since vanished. I hope my -virtues have done sucking.
I can scarce think but you meant it in joke. I hope you did,
for I should be ashamed to believe that you could think to
gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a cordial to some
green-sick sonneteer."

The indulgent pity conventionally bestowed upon
Charles Lamb — one of the most manly, self-reliant of
characters, to say nothing of his genius — is absurdly

Still farther be it from us to blunt the edge of appe-
tite by sapiently essaying to " analyze " and account for
Lamb's special zest and flavor, as though his writings,
or any others worth the reading, were put together upon
principles of clockwork. We are perhaps over-fond
of these arid pastimes nowadays. It is not the "sweet
musk-roses," the " apricocks and dewberries " of litera-
ture that please us best ; like Bottom the Weaver, we
prefer the " bottle of hay." What a mockery of right
enjoyment our endless prying and sifting, our hunting
of riddles in metaphors, innuendoes in tropes, ciphers in
Shakspeare ! Literature exhausted, we may turn to art,
and resolve, say, the Sistine Madonna (I deprecate the
Manes of the " Divine Painter ") into some ingenious
and recondite rebus. For such critical chopped-hay —
sweeter to the modern taste than honey of- Hybla —
Charles Lamb had little relish. " I am, sir," he once
boasted to an analytical, unimaginative proser who had
insisted upon explaining some quaint passage in Mar-
vel! or Wither, " I am, sir, a matter-of-lie man." It was
his best warrant to sit at the Muses' banquet. Charles
Lamb was blessed with an intellectual palate as fine as
Keats's, and could enjoy the savor of a book (or of that
dainty, " in the whole mtindtis edibilis the most delicate,"
Roast Pig, for that matter) without pragmatically ask-
ing, as the king did of the apple in the dumpling, " how
the devil it got there." His value as a critic is grounded


in this capacity of naive enjoyment (not of pig, but of
literature), of discerning beauty and making us discern
it, — thus adding to the known treasures and pleasures
of mankind.

Suggestions not unprofitable for these later days lurk
in these traits of Eha the student and critic. How
worthy the imitation, for instance, of those disciples who
band together to treat a fine poem (of Browning, say,
or Shelley) as they might a chapter in the Revelation,
— speculating sagely upon the import of the seven seals
and the horns of the great beast, instead of enjoying
the obvious beauties of their author. To the school-
master — whose motto would seem too often to be the
counsel of the irate old lady in Dickens," Give him a meal
of chaff ! " — Charles Lamb's critical methods are rich
in suggestion. How many ingenuous boys, lads in the
very flush and hey-day of appreciativeness of the epic
virtues, have been parsed, declined, and conjugated into
an utter detestation of the melodious names of Homer
and Virgil ! Better far for such victims had they, in-
stead of aspiring to the vanities of a " classical educa-
tion/' sat, like Keats, unlearnedly at the feet of quaint
Chapman, or Dryden, or even of Mr. Pope.

Perhaps, by way of preparative to the reading of
Charles Lamb's letters, it will be well to run over once
more the leading facts of his life. First let us glance
at his outward appearance. Fortunately there are a
number of capital pieces of verbal portraiture of Elia.

Referring to the year 1817, " Barry Cornwall" wrote:

" Persons who had been in the habit of traversing Covent
Garden at that time of night, by extending their walk a few
yards into Russell Street have noticed a small, spare man
clothed in black, who went out every morning, and returned
every afternoon as the hands of the clock moved toward
certain hours. You could not mistake him. He was some-
what stiff in his manner, and almost clerical in dress, which
indicated much wear. He had a long, melancholy face, with


keen, penetrating eyes; and he walked with a short, resolute
step citywards. He looked no one in the face for more than
a momentj yet contrived to see everything as he went on.
No one who ever studied the human features could pass him
by without recollecting his countenance ; it was full of sen-
sibility, and it came upon you like new thought, which you
could not help dwelling upon afterwards : it gave rise to
meditation, and did you good. This small, half-clerical man
was — Charles Lamb."

His countenance is thus described by Thomas Hood :

•* His was no common face, none of those willow-pattern
ones which Nature turns out by thousands at her potteries,
but more like a chance specimen of the Chinese ware, — one
to the set ; unique, antique, quaint, you might have sworn to
it piecemeal, — a separate affidavit to each feature."

Mrs. Charles Mathews, wife of the comedian, who
met Lamb at a dinner, gives an amusing account of
him : —

" Mr. Lamb's first appearance was not prepossessing. His
figure was small and mean, and no man was certainly ever
less beholden to his tailor. His 'bran' new suit of black
cloth (in which he affected several times during the day to
take great pride, and to cherish as a novelty that he had
looked for and wanted) was drolly contrasted with his very
rusty silk stockings, shown from his knees, and his much too
large, thick shoes, without polish. His shirt rejoiced in a wide,
ill-plaited frill, and his very small, tight, white neckcloth was
hemmed to a fine point at the ends that formed part of a lit-
tle bow. His hair was black and sleek, but not formal, and
his face the gravest I ever saw, but indicating great intellect,
and resembling very much the portraits of Charles I."

From this sprightly and not too flattering sketch we
may turn to Serjeant Talfourd's tender and charming
portrait, — slightly idealized, no doubt ; for the man of
the coif held a brief for his friend, and was a poet
besides : —

" Methinks I see him before me now as he appeared then,
and as he continued without any perceptible alteration to me,

1 4 INTR on UC TION.

during the twenty years of intimacy which followed, and were
closed by his death. A light frame, so fragile that it seemed
as if a breath would overthrow it, clad in clerk-like black,
was surmounted by a head of form and expression the most
noble and sweet. His black hair curled crisply about an
expanded forehead ; his eyes, softly brown, twinkled with
varying expression, though the prevalent expression was
sad ; and the nose, slightly curved, and delicately carved at
the nostril, with the lower outline of the face delicately oval,
completed a head wliich was finely placed upon the shoulders,
and gave importance and even dignity to a diminutive and
shadowy stem. Who shall describe his countenance, catch its
quivering sweetness, and fix it forever in words ? There are
none, alas ! to answer the vain desire of friendship. Deep
thought, striving with humor ; the lines of suffering wreathed
into cordial mirth, and a smile of painful sweetness, present
an image to the mind it can as little describe as lose. His per-
sonal appearance and manner are not unjustly characterized
by what he himself says in one of his letters to Manning,^
' a compound of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel.' "

The writings of Charles Lamb abound in passages of
autobiography. " I was born," he tells us in that delight-
ful sketch, "The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple,"
" and passed the first seven years of my life in the Tem-
ple. Its church, its halls, its gardens, its fountain, its
river, I had almost said, — for in those young years
what was this king of rivers to me but a stream that
watered our pleasant places ? — these are of my oldest
recollections." His father, John Lamb, the " Lovel "
of the essay cited, had come up a little boy from Lin-
colnshire to enter the service of Samuel Salt, — one of
those " Old Benchers " upon whom the pen of Elia
has shed immortality, a stanch friend and patron to
the Lambs, the kind proprietor of that " spacious closet
of good old English reading " upon whose " fair and
wholesome pasturage " Charles and his sister, as
children, " browsed at will."

1 Letter L.


John Lamb had married Elizabeth Field, whose
mother was for fifty years housekeeper at the country-
seat of the Plumers, Blakesware, in Hertfordshire, the
" Blakesmoor " of the Essays, frequent scene of Lamb's
childish holiday sports, — a spacious mansion, with its
park and terraces and " firry wilderness, the haunt of the
squirrel and day-long murmuring wood-pigeon ; " an
Eden it must have seemed to the London-bred child, in
whose fancy the dusty trees and sparrows and smoke-
grimed fountain of Temple Court had been a pastoral.
Within the cincture of its excluding garden-walls, wrote
Elia in later years, " I could have exclaimed with that
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 briers, nail me through.' "

At Blakesware, too, was the room whence the spirit
of Sarah Battle — that " gentlewoman born " — winged
its flight to a region where revokes and "luke-warm
gamesters " are unknown.

To John and Elizabeth Lamb were born seven chil-
dren, only three of whom, John, Mary, and Charles,
survived their infancy. Of the survivors, Charles was
the youngest, John being twelve and Mary ten years
his senior, — a fact to be weighed in estimating the
heroism of Lamb's later life. At the age of seven,
Charles Lamb, "son of John Lamb, scrivener, and
Elizabeth, his wife," was entered at the school of
Christ's Hospital, — " the antique foundation of that
godly and royal child King Edward VL" Of his life

1 Cowley.


at this institution he has left us abundant and charming
memorials in the Essays, *' Recollections of Christ's
Hospital," and " Christ's Hospital Five-and-thirty Years
Ago," — the latter sketch corrective of the rather op-
timistic impressions of the former.

With his schoolfellows Charles seems to have been,
despite his timid and retiring disposition (he said of
himself, "while the others were all fire and play, he
stole along with all the self-concentration of a young
monk "), a decided favorite. " Lamb," wrote C. V. Le
Grice, a schoolmate often mentioned in essay and
letter, " was an amiable, gentle boy, very sensible and
keenly observing, indulged by his schoolfellows and
by his master on account of his infirmity of speech.
... I never heard his name mentioned without the
addition of Charles, although, as there was no other
boy of the name of Lamb, the addition was unneces-
sary ; but there was an implied kindness in it, and it
was a proof that his gentle manners excited that

For us the most important fact of the Christ's Hospi-
tal school-days is the commencement of Lamb's life-long
friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, two years his
senior, and the object of his fervent hero-worship.
Most of us, perhaps, can find the true source of what-
ever of notable good or evil we have effected in life in
the moulding influence of one of these early friendships
or admirations. It is the boy's hero, the one he loves
and reverences among his schoolfellows, — not his task-
master, — that is his true teacher, the setter of the
broader standards by which he is to abide through life.
Happy the man the feet of whose early idols have not
been of clay.

It was under the quickening influence of the eloquent,
precocious genius of the " inspired charity boy " that
Charles Lamb's ideals and ambitions shaped themselves
out of the haze of a child's conceptions. Coleridge at


sixteen was already a poet, his ear attuned to the
subtlest melody of verse, and his hand rivalling, in pre-
luding fragments, the efforts of his maturer years ; he
was already a philosopher, rapt in Utopian schemes
and mantling hopes as enchanting — and as chimerical
— as the pleasure-domes and caves of ice decreed by
Kubla Khan ; and the younger lad became his ardent

Lamb quitted Christ's Hospital, prematurely, in No-
vember, 1787, and the companionship of the two friends
was for a time interrupted. To part with Coleridge, to
exchange the ease and congenial scholastic atmosphere
of the Hospital for the res angiista domi, for the intel-
lectual starvation of a life of counting-house drudgery,
must have been a bitter trial for him. But the shadow of
poverty was upon the little household in the Temple ; on
the horizon of the future the blackening clouds of anxie-
ties still graver were gathering ; and the youngest child
was called home to share the common burden.

Charles Lamb was first employed in the South Sea
House, where his brother John ^ — a cheerful optimist,
a dilettante in art, genial, prosperous, thoroughly selfish,
in so far as the family fortunes were concerned an out-
sider — already held a lucrative post. It was not long
before Charles obtained promotion in the form of a
clerkship with the East India Company, — one of the
last kind services of Samuel Salt, who died in the same
year, 1792, — and with the East India Company he
remained for the rest of his working life.

Upon the death of their generous patron the Lambs
removed from the Temple and took lodgings in Little
Queen Street, Holborn ; and for Charles the battle of
life may be said to have fairly begun. His work as a
junior clerk absorbed, of course, the greater part of his
day and of his year. Yet there were breathing-spaces :
there were the long evenings with the poets ; with Mar-

1 The James Elia of the essay " My Relations."


lowe, Drayton, Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cow-
ley, — " the sweetest names, which carry a perfume in
the mention ; " there were the visits to the play, the
yearly vacation jaunts to simny Hertfordshire. The
intercourse with Coleridge, too, was now occasionally
renewed. The latter had gone up to Cambridge early
in 1791, there to remain — except the period of his six
months' dragooning — for the next four years. During
his visits to London it was the habit of the two school-
fellows to meet at a tavern near Smithfield, the " Sal-
utation and Cat," to discuss the topics dear to both ; and
it was about this time that Lamb's sonnet to Mrs Sid-
dons, his first appearance in print, was published in the
" Morning Chronicle."

The year 1796 was a terribly eventful one for the
Lambs. There was a taint of insanity in the family
on the father's side, and on May 27, 1796, we find
Charles writing to Coleridge these sad words, — doubly
sad for the ring of mockery in them : —

" My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six
weeks that finished last year and began this, your very
humble servant spent very agreeably in a madhouse at
Hoxton. I am got somewhat rational now, and don't bite
any one. But mad I was ! " ^

Charles, thanks to the resolution with which he com-
bated the tendency, and to the steadying influence of
his work at the desk, — despite his occasional murmurs,
his best friend and sheet-anchor in life, — never again
succumbed to the family malady ; but from that mo-
ment, over his small household. Madness — like Death
in Milton's vision — continually " shook its dart," and
at best only " delayed to strike." ^

It was in the September of 1796 that the calamity
befell which has tinged the story of Charles and Mary

1 Letter I. 2 Talfourd's Memoir.


Lamb with the sombrest hues of the Greek tragedy.
The family were still in the Holborn lodgings, — the
mother an invalid, the father sinking into a second
childhood. Mary, in addition to the burden of min-
istering to her parents, was working for their support
with her needle.

At this point it will be well to insert a prefatory word
or two as to the character of Mary Lamb ; and here
the witnesses are in accord. There is no jarring of
opinion, as in her brother's case ; for Charles Lamb
has been sorely misjudged, — often, it must be admitted,
with ground of reason ; sometimes by persons who might
and should have looked deeper. In a notable instance,
the heroism of his life has been meanly overlooked by
one who preached to mankind with the eloquence of
the Prophets the prime need and virtue of recognizing
the hero. If self-abnegation lies at the root of true hero-
ism, Charles Lamb — that " sorry phenomenon " with
an " insuperable proclivity to gin " ^ — was a greater
hero than was covered by the shield of Achilles. The
character of Mary Lamb is quickly summed up. She
was one of the most womanly of women. "In all its
essential sweetness," says Talfourd, "her character
was like her brother's ; while, by a temper more placid,
a spirit of enjoyment more serene, she was enabled

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