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LAUREL-CROWNED LETTERS

CHARLES LAMB

It may well be that the "Essays of Elia" will be found to have kept
their perfume, and the LETTERS OF CHARLES LAMB to retain 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
produced.

W.C. HAZLITT ON LAMB'S LETTERS.

THE BEST LETTERS OF CHARLES LAMB

Edited with an Introduction

BY EDWARD GILPIN JOHNSON

A.D. 1892.


CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

LETTER
I. To Samuel Taylor Coleridge
II. To Coleridge
III. To Coleridge
IV. To Coleridge
V. To Coleridge
VI. To Coleridge
VII. To Coleridge
VIII. To Coleridge
IX. To Coleridge
X. To Coleridge
XI. To Coleridge
XII. To Coleridge
XIII. To Coleridge
XIV. To Coleridge
XV. To Robert Southey
XVI. To Southey
XVII. To Southey
XVIII. To Southey
XIX. To Thomas Manning
XX. To Coleridge
XXI. To Manning
XXII. To Coleridge
XXIII. To Manning
XXIV. To Manning
XXV. To Coleridge
XXVI. To Manning
XXVII. To Coleridge
XXVIII. To Coleridge
XXIX. To Manning
XXX. To Manning
XXXI. To Manning
XXXII. To Manning
XXXIII. To Coleridge
XXXIV. To Wordsworth
XXXV. To Wordsworth
XXXVI. To Manning
XXXVII. To Manning
XXXVIII. To Manning
XXXIX. To Coleridge
XL. To Manning
XLI. To Manning
XLII. To Manning
XLIII. To William Godwin
XLIV. To Manning
XLV. To Miss Wordsworth
XLVI. To Manning
XLVII. To Wordsworth
XLVIII. To Manning
XLIX. To Wordsworth
L. To Manning
LI. To Miss Wordsworth
LII. To Wordsworth
LIII. To Wordsworth
LIV. To Wordsworth
LV. To Wordsworth
LVI. To Southey
LVII. To Miss Hutchinson
LVIII. To Manning
LIX. To Manning
LX. To Wordsworth
LXI. To Wordsworth
LXII. To H. Dodwell
LXIII. To Mrs. Wordsworth
LXIV. To Wordsworth
LXV. To Manning
LXVI. To Miss Wordsworth
LXVII. To Coleridge
LXVIII. To Wordsworth
LXIX. To John Clarke
LXX. To Mr. Barren Field
LXXI. To Walter Wilson
LXXII. To Bernard Barton
LXXIII. To Miss Wordsworth
LXXIV. To Mr. and Mrs. Bruton
LXXV. To Bernard Barton
LXXVI. To Miss Hutchinson
LXXVII. To Bernard Barton
LXXVIII. To Mrs. Hazlitt
LXXIX. To Bernard Barton
LXXX. To Bernard Barton
LXXXI. To Bernard Barton
LXXXII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXIII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXIV. To Bernard Barton
LXXXV. To Bernard Barton
LXXXVI. To Wordsworth
LXXXVII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXVIII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXIX. To Bernard Barton
XC. To Southey
XCI. To Bernard Barton
XCII. To J.B. Dibdin
XCIII. To Henry Crabb Robinson
XCIV. To Peter George Patmore
XCV. To Bernard Barton
XCVI. To Thomas Hood
XCVII. To P.G. Patmore
XCVIII. To Bernard Barton
XCIX. To Procter
C. To Bernard Barton
CI. To Mr. Gilman
CII. To Wordsworth
CIII. To Mrs. Hazlitt
CIV. To George Dyer
CV. To Dyer
CVI. To Mr. Moxon
CVII. To Mr. Moxon


INTRODUCTION.


No writer, perhaps, since the days of Dr. Johnson has been oftener
brought before us in biographies, essays, letters, etc., than Charles
Lamb. His stammering speech, his gaiter-clad legs, - "almost immaterial
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 authorship, 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
posterity 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," hospitably
presided over by "the most quiet, sensible, and kind of women,"
Mary Lamb.

The _terati_ 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, _à propos_ of Miss Lamb's robust
viands, that Elia 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 phantasmagoria 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
charming letter or two. So far as fresh facts are concerned, the theme
may fairly be considered exhausted. Numberless 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 gentleness is
abhorrent to such vile trumpetings. 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' misplaced.

Still farther be it from us to blunt the edge of appetite 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 literature 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 Marvell 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 _mundus
edibilis_ the most delicate," Roast Pig, for that matter) without
pragmatically asking, 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 _naïve_ 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 Elia 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
schoolmaster - 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, instead of aspiring to the vanities of a "classical education,"
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 somewhat
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 moment, 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
sensibility, 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 little
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,
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 which 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
personal appearance and manner are not unjustly characterized
by what he himself says in one of his letters to Manning, [1]
'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 delightful sketch, "The Old Benchers of the
Inner Temple," "and passed the first seven years of my life in the
Temple. 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 Lincolnshire 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."

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, [2] -

"'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 children, 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 VI." Of his life 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 optimistic 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 unnecessary; but there
was an implied kindness in it, and it was a proof that his gentle
manners excited that kindness."

For us the most important fact of the Christ's Hospital 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 whatever
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 taskmaster, - 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 preluding 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 disciple.

Lamb quitted Christ's Hospital, prematurely, in November, 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 angusta domi_, for the intellectual
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
anxieties 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 [3] - a cheerful optimist, a _dilettante_ in art, genial,
prosperous, thoroughly selfish, in so far as the family fortunes were
concerned an outsider - 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 Marlowe, Drayton, Drummond of Hawthornden, and
Cowley, - "the sweetest names, which carry a perfume in the mention;"
there were the visits to the play, the yearly vacation jaunts to sunny
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 nest
four years. During his visits to London it was the habit of the two
schoolfellows to meet at a tavern near Smithfield, the "Salutation and
Cat" to discuss the topics dear to both: and it was about this time that
Lamb's sonnet to Mrs Siddons, 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!" [4]

Charles, thanks to the resolution with which he combated 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 moment, over his
small household, Madness - like Death in Milton's vision - continually
"shook its dart," and at best only "delayed to strike." [5]

It was in the September of 1796 that the calamity befell which has
tinged the story of Charles and Mary 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 ministering 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 heroism, Charles Lamb - that "sorry phenomenon" with
an "insuperable proclivity to gin" [6] - 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 to guide, to counsel, to cheer him, and to
protect him on the verge of the mysterious calamity, from the depths of
which she rose so often unruffled to his side. To a friend in any
difficulty she was the most comfortable of advisers, the wisest of
consolers." Hazlitt said that "he never met with a woman who could
reason, and had met with only one thoroughly reasonable, - Mary Lamb."
The writings of Elia are strewn, as we know, with the tenderest tributes
to her worth. "I wish," he says, "that I could throw into a heap the
remainder of our joint existences, that we might share them in equal
division."

The psychology of madness is a most subtle inquiry. How slight the
mysterious touch that throws the smooth-running human mechanism into a
chaos of jarring elements, that transforms, in the turn of an eyelash,


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