Copyright
Charles Lamb.

The Best Letters of Charles Lamb online

. (page 11 of 20)
Online LibraryCharles LambThe Best Letters of Charles Lamb → online text (page 11 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


moderate cup. We have not many such men in any rank of life as Mr. R.
Hopkins. Crisp the barber, of St. Mary's, was just such another. I
wonder _he_ never sent me any little token, - some chestnuts, or a puff,
or two pound of hair just to remember him by; gifts are like nails.
_Præsens ut absens_, that is, your _present_ makes amends for
your absence.

Yours,

C. LAMB.


XLV.


TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

_June_ 14, 1805.

My Dear Miss Wordsworth, - I have every reason to suppose that this
illness, like all Mary's former ones, will be but temporary. But I
cannot always feel so. Meantime she is dead to me, and I miss a prop.
All my strength Is gone, and I am like a fool, bereft of her
co-operation. I dare not think, iest I should think wrong; so used am I
to look up to her in the least and the biggest perplexity. To say all
that I know of her, would be more than I think anybody could believe or
ever understand; and when I hope to have her well again with me, it
would be sinning against her feelings to go about to praise her; for I
can conceal nothing that I do from her. She is older and wiser and
better than I, and all my wretched imperfections I cover to myself by
resolutely thinking on her goodness. She would share life and death,
heaven and hell, with me. She lives but for me; and I know I have been
wasting and teasing her life for five years past incessantly with my
cursed ways of going on. But even in this upbraiding of myself I am
offending against her, for I know that she has cleaved to me for better,
for worse; and if the balance has been against her hitherto, it was a
noble trade. I am stupid, and lose myself in what I write. I write
rather what answers to my feelings (which are sometimes sharp enough)
than express my present ones, for I am only flat and stupid. I am sure
you will excuse my writing any more, I am so very poorly.

I cannot resist transcribing three or four lines which poor Mary made
upon a picture (a Holy Family) which we saw at an auction only one week
before she left home. They are sweet lines, and upon a sweet picture.
But I send them only as the last memorial of her.

VIRGIN AND CHILD, L. DA VINCI.

"Maternal Lady, with thy virgin-grace,
Heaven-born thy Jesus seemeth, sure,
And thou a virgin pure.
Lady most perfect, when thy angel face
Men look upon, they wish to be
A Catholic, Madonna fair, to worship thee."

You had her lines about the "Lady Blanch." You have not had some which
she wrote upon a copy of a girl from Titian, which I had hung up where
that print of Blanch and the Abbess (as she beautifully interpreted two
female figures from L. da Vinci) had hung in our room. 'Tis light
and pretty.

"Who art thou, fair one, who usurp'st the place
Of Blanch, the lady of the matchless grace?
Come, fair and pretty, tell to me
Who in thy lifetime thou mightst be?
Thou pretty art and fair,
But with the Lady Blanch thou never must compare.
No need for Blanch her history to tell,
Whoever saw her face, they there did read it well;
But when I look on thee, I only know
There lived a pretty maid some hundred years ago,"

This is a little unfair, to tell so much about ourselves, and to advert
so little to your letter, so full of comfortable tidings of you all But
my own cares press pretty close upon me, and you can make allowance.
That you may go on gathering strength and peace is my next wish to
Mary's recovery.

I had almost forgot your repeated invitation. Supposing that Mary will
be well and able, there is another _ability_ which you may guess at,
which I cannot promise myself. In prudence we ought not to come. This
illness will make it still more prudential to wait. It is not a balance
of this way of spending our money against another way, but an absolute
question of whether we shall stop now, or go on wasting away the little
we have got beforehand, which my evil conduct has already encroached
upon one-half. My best love, however, to you all, and to that most
friendly creature. Mrs. Clarkson, and better health to her, when you see
or write to her.

CHARLES LAMB.


XLVI. [1]


TO MANNING.

_May_ 10, 1806.

My Dear Manning, - I didn't know what your going was till I shook a last
fist with you, and then 'twas just like having shaken hands with a
wretch on the fatal scaffold, and when you are down the ladder, you can
never stretch out to him again. Mary says you are dead, and there's
nothing to do but to leave it to time to do for us in the end what it
always does for those who mourn for people in such a case. But she'll
see by your letter you are not quite dead. A little kicking and agony,
and then - Martin Burney _took me out_ a walking that evening, and we
talked of Manning; and then I came home and smoked for you, and at
twelve o'clock came home Mary and Monkey Louisa from the play, and there
was more talk and more smoking, and they all seemed first-rate
characters, because they knew a certain person. But what's the use of
talking about 'em? By the time you'll have made your escape from the
Kalmuks, you'll have stayed so long I shall never be able to bring to
your mind who Mary was, who will have died about a year before, nor who
the Holcrofts were! Me perhaps you will mistake for Phillips, or
confound me with Mr. Dawe, because you saw us together. Mary (whom you
seem to remember yet) is not quite easy that she had not a formal
parting from you. I wish it had so happened. But you must bring her a
token, a shawl or something, and remember a sprightly little mandarin
for our mantelpiece, as a companion to the child I am going to purchase
at the museum. She says you saw her writings about the other day, and
she wishes you should know what they are. She is doing for Godwin's
bookseller twenty of Shakspeare's plays, to be made into children's
tales. Six are already done by her; to wit: "The Tempest," "Winter's
Tale," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Much Ado," "Two Gentlemen of Verona,"
and "Cymbeline;" and "The Merchant of Venice" is in forwardness. I have
done "Othello" and "Macbeth," and mean to do all the tragedies. I think
it will be popular among the little people, besides money. It's to bring
in sixty guineas. Mary has done them capitally, I think you'd think. [2]
These are the humble amusements we propose, while you are gone to plant
the cross of Christ among barbarous pagan anthropophagi. _Quam homo
homini præstat!_ but then, perhaps, you'll get murdered, and we shall
die in our beds, with a fair literary reputation. Be sure, if you see
any of those people whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, that
you make a draught of them. It will be very curious. Oh, Manning, I am
serious to sinking almost, when I think that all those evenings, which
you have made so pleasant, are gone perhaps forever. Four years you talk
of, maybe ten; and you may come back and find such alterations! Some
circumstances may grow up to you or to me that may be a bar to the
return of any such intimacy. I daresay all this is hum, and that all
will come back; but indeed we die many deaths before we die, and I am
almost sick when I think that such a hold as I had of you is gone. I
have friends, but some of 'em are changed. Marriage, or some
circumstance, rises up to make them not the same. But I felt sure of
you. And that last token you gave me of expressing a wish to have my
name joined with yours, you know not how it affected me, - like a legacy.

God bless you in every way you can form a wish! May He give you health,
and safety, and the accomplishment of all your objects, and return you
again to us to gladden some fireside or other (I suppose we shall be
moved from the Temple). I will nurse the remembrance of your steadiness
and quiet, which used to infuse something like itself into our nervous
minds. Mary called you our ventilator. Farewell! and take her best
wishes and mine. Good by.

C.L.

[1] Addressed: "Mr, Manning, Passenger on Board the 'Thames,' East
Indiaman, Portsmouth." Manning had set out for Canton.

[2] Miss Lamb has amusingly described the progress of their labors on
this volume; "You would like to see us, as we often sit writing on one
table (but not on one cushion sitting), like Hermia and Helena, in the
'Midsummer Night's Dream;' or rather like an old literary Darby and
Joan, I taking snuff, and he groaning all the while, and saying he can
make nothing of it, which he always says till he has finished, and then
he finds out that he has made something of it."


XLVII.


TO WORDSWORTH.

_June_, 1806.

Dear Wordsworth, - We are pleased, you may be sure, with the good news
of Mrs. Wordsworth. [1] Hope all is well over by this time. "A fine boy!
Have you any more? - One more and a girl, - poor copies of me!" _vide_
"Mr. H.," a farce which the proprietors have done me the honor - But I
set down Mr, Wroughton's own words, N. B. - The ensuing letter was sent
in answer to one which I wrote, begging to know if my piece had any
chance, as I might make alterations, etc, I writing on Monday, there
comes this letter on the Wednesday. Attend.

[_Copy of a letter from Mr. R. Wroughton_.]

SIR, - Your piece of "Mr. H.," I am desired to say, is accepted at Drury
Lane Theatre by the proprietors, and if agreeable to you, will be
brought forwards when the proper opportunity serves. The piece shall be
sent to you for your alterations in the course of a few days, as the
same is not in my hands, but with the proprietors,

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

RICHARD WROUGHTON.

[Dated] 66, Gower Street, Wednesday, June 11th, 1806.

On the following Sunday Mr. Tobin comes. The scent of a manager's letter
brought him. He would have gone farther any day on such a business. I
read the letter to him. He deems it authentic and peremptory. Our
conversation naturally fell upon pieces, different sorts of
pieces, - what is the best way of offering a piece; how far the caprice
of managers is an obstacle in the way of a piece; how to judge of the
merits of a piece; how long a piece may remain in the hands of the
managers before it is acted; and my piece, and your piece, and my poor
brother's piece, - my poor brother was all his life endeavoring to get a
piece accepted. I wrote that in mere wantonness of triumph. Have nothing
more to say about it. The managers, I thank my stars, have decided its
merits forever. They are the best judges of pieces, and it would be
insensible in me to affect a false modesty, after the very flattering
letter which I have received.

[Illustration: Admit to Boxes. Mr. H. _Ninth Night_ Charles Lamb]

I think this will be as good a pattern for orders as I can think on. A
little thin flowery border, round, neat, not gaudy, and the Drury Lane
Apollo, with the harp at the top. Or shall I have no Apollo, - simply
nothing? Or perhaps the Comic Muse?

The same form, only I think without the Apollo, will serve for the pit
and galleries. I think it will be best to write my name at full length;
but then if I give away a great many, that will be tedious. Perhaps _Ch.
Lamb_ will do.

BOXES, now I think on it, I'll have in capitals; the rest, in a neat
Italian hand. Or better, perhaps, BORES in Old English characters,
like Madoc or Thalaba?

_A propos_ of Spenser (you will find him mentioned a page or two before,
near enough for an _à propos_), I was discoursing on poetry (as one's
apt to deceive one's self, and when a person is willing to _talk_ of
what one likes, to believe that be also likes the same, as lovers do)
with a young gentleman of my office, who is deep read in Anacreon Moore,
Lord Strangford, and the principal modern poets, and I happened to
mention Epithalamiums, and that I could show him a very fine one of
Spenser's. At the mention of this my gentleman, who is a very fine
gentleman, pricked up his ears and expressed great pleasure, and begged
that I would give him leave to copy it; he did not care how long it was
(for I objected the length), he should be very happy to see _anything by
him_. Then pausing, and looking sad, he ejaculated, "POOR SPENCER!" I
begged to know the reason of his ejaculation, thinking that time had by
this time softened down any calamities which the bard might have
endured. "Why, poor fellow," said he, "he has lost his wife!" "Lost his
wife!" said I, "who are you talking of?" "Why, Spencer!" said he; "I've
read the Monody he wrote on the occasion, and _a very pretty thing it
is_." This led to an explanation (it could be delayed no longer) that
the sound _Spenser_, which, when poetry is talked of, generally excites
an image of an old bard in a ruff, and sometimes with it dim notions of
Sir P. Sidney and perhaps Lord Burleigh, had raised in my gentleman a
quite contrary image of the Honorable William Spencer, who has
translated some things from the German very prettily, which are
published with Lady Di Beauclerk's designs. Nothing like defining of
terms when we talk. What blunders might I have fallen into of quite
inapplicable criticism, but for this timely explanation!

N.B. - At the beginning of _Edm._ Spenser (to prevent mistakes), I have
copied from my own copy, and primarily from a book of Chalmers's on
Shakspeare, a sonnet of Spenser's never printed among his poems. It is
curious, as being manly, and rather Miltonic, and as a sonnet of
Spenser's with nothing in it about love or knighthood. I have no room
for remembrances, but I hope our doing your commission will prove we do
not quite forget you.

C. L.

[1] Wordsworth's son Thomas was born June 16, 1806.


XLVIII.


TO MANNING

_December_ 5, 1806.

Manning, your letter, dated Hottentots, August the what-was-it? came to
hand. I can scarce hope that mine will have the same luck. China,
Canton, - bless us, how it strains the imagination and makes it ache! I
write under another uncertainty whether it can go to-morrow by a ship
which I have just learned is going off direct to your part of the world,
or whether the despatches may not be sealed up and this have to wait;
for if it is detained here, it will grow staler in a fortnight than in a
five months' voyage coming to you. It will be a point of conscience to
send you none but bran-new news (the latest edition), which will but
grow the better, like oranges, for a sea-voyage. Oh that you should be
so many hemispheres off! - if I speak incorrectly, you can correct me.
Why, the simplest death or marriage that takes place here must be
important to you as news in the old Bastile. There's your friend Tuthill
has got away from France - you remember France? and Tuthill? - ten to one
but he writes by this post, if he don't get my note in time, apprising
him of the vessel sailing. Know, then, that he has found means to obtain
leave from Bonaparte, without making use of any _incredible romantic
pretences_, as some have done, who never meant to fulfil them, to come
home; and I have seen him here and at Holcroft's. An't you glad about
Tuthill? Now then be sorry for Holcroft, whose new play, called "The
Vindictive Man," was damned about a fortnight since. It died in part of
its own weakness, and in part for being choked up with bad actors. The
two principal parts were destined to Mrs. Jordan and Mr. Bannister; but
Mrs. J. has not come to terms with the managers, - they have had some
squabble, - and Bannister shot some of his fingers off by the going off
of a gun. So Miss Duncan had her part, and Mr. De Camp took his. His
part, the principal comic hope of the play, was most unluckily
Goldfinch, taken out of the "Road to Ruin," - not only the same
character, but the identical Goldfinch; the same as Falstaff is in two
plays of Shakspeare. As the devil of ill-luck would have it, half the
audience did not know that H. had written it, but were displeased at his
stealing from the "Road to Ruin;" and those who might have home a
gentlemanly coxcomb with his "That's your sort," "Go it," - such as Lewis
is, - did not relish the intolerable vulgarity and inanity of the idea
stripped of his manner. De Camp was hooted, more than hissed, - hooted
and bellowed off the stage before the second act was finished; so that
the remainder of his part was forced to be, with some violence to the
play, omitted. In addition to this, a strumpet was another principal
character, - a most unfortunate choice in this moral day. The audience
were as scandalized as if you were to introduce such a personage to
their private tea-tables. Besides, her action in the play was
gross, - wheedling an old man into marriage. But the mortal blunder of
the play was that which, oddly enough, H. took pride in, and exultingly
told me of the night before it came out, that there were no less than
eleven principal characters in it, and I believe he meant of the men
only, for the play-bill expressed as much, not reckoning one woman and
one - ; and true it was, for Mr. Powell, Mr. Raymond, Mr. Bartlett, Mr.
H. Siddons, Mr. Barrymore, etc., to the number of eleven, had all parts
equally prominent, and there was as much of them in quantity and rank as
of the hero and heroine, and most of them gentlemen who seldom appear
but as the hero's friend in a farce, - for a minute or two, - and here
they all had their ten-minute speeches, and one of them gave the
audience a serious account how he was now a lawyer, but had been a poet;
and then a long enumeration of the inconveniences of authorship,
rascally booksellers, reviewers, etc.; which first set the audience
a-gaping. But I have said enough; you will be so sorry that you will not
think the best of me for my detail: but news is news at Canton. Poor H.
I fear will feel the disappointment very seriously in a pecuniary light.
From what I can learn, he has saved nothing. You and I were hoping one
day that he had; but I fear he has nothing but his pictures and books,
and a no very flourishing business, and to be obliged to part with his
long-necked Guido that hangs opposite as you enter, and the game-piece
that hangs in the back drawing-room, and all those Vandykes, etc.! God
should temper the wind to the shorn connoisseur. I hope I need not say
to you that I feel for the weather-beaten author and for all his
household. I assure you his fate has soured a good deal the pleasure I
should have otherwise taken in my own little farce being accepted, and I
hope about to be acted, - it is in rehearsal actually, and I expect it to
come out next week. It is kept a sort of secret, and the rehearsals have
gone on privately, lest by many folks knowing it, the story should come
out, which would infallibly damn it. You remember I had sent it before
you went. Wroughton read it, and was much pleased with it. I speedily
got an answer. I took it to make alterations, and lazily kept it some
months, then took courage and furbished it up in a day or two and took
it. In less than a fortnight I heard the principal part was given to
Elliston, who liked it, and only wanted a prologue, which I have since
done and sent; and I had a note the day before yesterday from the
manager, Wroughton (bless his fat face, he is not a bad actor in some
things), to say that I should be summoned to the rehearsal after the
next, which next was to be yesterday. I had no idea it was so forward. I
have had no trouble, attended no reading or rehearsal, made no interest;
what a contrast to the usual parade of authors! But it is peculiar to
modesty to do all things without noise or pomp! I have some suspicion it
will appear in public on Wednesday next, for W. says in his note, it is
so forward that if wanted it may come out next week, and a new melodrama
is announced for every day till then; and "a new farce is in rehearsal,"
is put up in the bills. Now, you'd like to know the subject. The title
is "Mr. H.," no more; how simple, how taking! A great H. sprawling over
the play-bill and attracting eyes at every corner. The story is a
coxcomb appearing at Bath, vastly rich, all the ladies dying for him,
all bursting to know who he is; but he goes by no other name than Mr.
H., - a curiosity like that of the dames of Strasburg about the man with
the great nose. But I won't tell you any more about it. Yes, I will, but
I can't give you an idea how I have done it. I'll just tell you that
after much vehement admiration, when his true name comes out,
"Hogs-flesh," all the women shun him, avoid him, and not one can be
found to change their name for him, - that's the idea, - how flat it is
here; [1] but how whimsical in the farce! And only think how hard upon me
it is that the ship is despatched to-morrow, and my triumph cannot be
ascertained till the Wednesday after; but all China will ring of it by
and by. N.B. (But this is a secret,) The Professor [2] has got a tragedy
coming out, with the young Roscius in it, in January next, as we
say, - January last it will be with you; and though it is a profound
secret now, as all his affairs are, it cannot be much of one by the time
you read this. However, don't let it go any farther. I understand there
are dramatic exhibitions in China. One would not like to be forestalled.
Do you find in all this stuff I have written anything like those
feelings which one should send my old adventuring friend, that is gone
to wander among Tartars, and may never come again? I don't, but your
going away, and all about you, is a threadbare topic. I have worn it out
with thinking, it has come to me when I have been dull with anything,
till my sadness has seemed more to have come from it than to have
introduced it. I want you, you don't know how much; but if I had you
here in my European garret, we should but talk over such stuff as I have
written, so - Those "Tales from Shakspeare" are near coming out, and Mary
has begun a new work, Mr. Dawe is turned author; he has been in such a
way lately, - Dawe the painter, I mean, - he sits and stands about at
Holcroft's and says nothing, then sighs, and leans his head on his hand.
I took him to be in love, but it seems he was only meditating a
work, - "The Life of Morland:" the young man is not used to composition.
Rickman and Captain Burney are well; they assemble at my house pretty
regularly of a Wednesday, a new institution. Like other great men, I have
a public day, - cribbage and pipes, with Phillips and noisy Martin Burney.

Good Heaven, what a bit only I've got left! How shall I squeeze all I
know into this morsel! Coleridge is come home, and is going to turn
lecturer on taste at the Royal Institution. I shall get £200 from the
theatre if "Mr. H." has a good run, and I hope £100 for the copyright.
Nothing if it fails; and there never was a more ticklish thing. The
whole depends on the manner in which the name is brought out, which I
value myself on, as a _chef d'oeuvre_. How the paper grows less and
less! In less than two minutes I shall cease to talk to you, and you may
rave to the Great Wall of China. N.B. - Is there such a wall? Is it as
big as Old London Wall by Bedlam? Have you met with a friend of mine
named Ball at Canton? If you are acquainted, remember me kindly to him.
Maybe you'll think I have not said enough of Tuthill and the Holcrofts.
Tuthill is a noble fellow, as far as I can judge. The Holcrofts bear
their disappointment pretty well, but indeed they are sadly mortified.
Mrs. H. is cast down. It was well, if it were but on this account, that
Tuthill is come home. N.B. - If my little thing don't succeed, I shall
easily survive, having, as it were, compared to H.'s venture, but a
sixteenth in the lottery. Mary and I are to sit next the orchestra in
the pit, next the tweedle-dees. She remembers you. You are more to us
than five hundred farces, clappings, etc.

Come back one day. C. LAMB.

[1] It was precisely this flatness, this slightness of plot and
catastrophe, that doomed "Mr. H." to failure. See next letter.

[2] Godwin. His tragedy of "Faulkner" was published in 1808.


XLIX.


TO WORDSWORTH.

_December_, II, 1806.

Mary's love to all of you; I wouldn't let her write.

Dear Wordsworth, - "Mr. H." came out last night, and failed. I had many
fears; the subject was not substantial enough. John Bull must have
solider fare than a _letter_. We are pretty stout about it; have had
plenty of condoling friends; but, after all, we had rather it should
have succeeded. You will see the prologue in most of the morning papers.
It was received with such shouts as I never witnessed to a prologue. It
was attempted to be encored. How hard! a thing I did merely as a task,
because it was wanted, and set no great store by; and "Mr. H."! The
quantity of friends we had in the house - my brother and I being in
public offices, etc. - was astonishing; but they yielded at last to a
few hisses.



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryCharles LambThe Best Letters of Charles Lamb → online text (page 11 of 20)