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Nor I no way to flatter but my fondness,
In the best language my true tongue could tell me,
And all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me,
I sued and served. Long did I love this lady." [1]
MASSINGER.

THE DEDICATION.

THE FEW FOLLOWING POEMS,
CREATURES OF THE FANCY AND THE FEELING
IN LIFE'S MORE VACANT HOURS,
PRODUCED, FOR THE MOST PART, BY
LOVE IN IDLENESS,
ARE,
WITH ALL A BROTHER'S FONDNESS,
INSCRIBED TO

MARY ANN LAMB,

THE AUTHOR'S BEST FRIEND ANB SISTER.

This is the pomp and paraphernalia of parting, with which I take my
leave of a passion which has reigned so royally (so long) within me;
thus, with its trappings of laureateship, I fling it off, pleased and
satisfied with myself that the weakness troubles me no longer. I am
wedded. Coleridge, to the fortunes of my sister and my poor old father.
Oh, my friend, I think sometimes, could I recall the days that are past,
which among them should I choose? Not, those "merrier days," not the
"pleasant days of hope," not "those wanderings with a fair-hair'd
maid," [2] which I have so often, and so feelingly regretted, but the
days, Coleridge, of a _mother's_ fondness for her _schoolboy_. What
would I give to call her back to earth for _one_ day, on my knees to ask
her pardon for all those little asperities of temper which from time to
time have given her gentle spirit pain. And the day, my friend, I trust
will come; there will be "time enough" for kind offices of love, if
"Heaven's eternal year" be ours. Hereafter, her meek spirit shall not
reproach me. Oh, my friend, cultivate the filial feelings, and let no
man think himself released from the kind "charities" of relationship.
These shall give him peace at the last; these are the best foundation
for every species of benevolence. I rejoice to hear, by certain
channels, that you, my friend, are reconciled with all your relations.
'T is the most kindly and natural species of love, and we have all the
associated train of early feelings to secure its strength and
perpetuity. Send me an account of your health; _indeed_ I am solicitous
about you. God love you and yours!

C. LAMB.

[1] From "A Very Woman."

[2] An allusion to Lamb's first love, - the "Anna" of his sonnets, and
the original, probably, of "Rosamund Gray" and of "Alice W - -n" in the
beautiful essay "Dream Children."

[3] The earliest sonnets of William Lisle Bowles were published in 1789,
the year of Lamb's removal from Christ's Hospital.

[4] Alluding to the prospective joint volume of poems (by Coleridge,
Lamb, and Charles Lloyd) to be published by Cottle in 1797. This was
Lamb's second serious literary venture, he and Coleridge having issued a
joint volume in 1796.


IX.

TO COLERIDGE.

[Fragment.]

_Dec_. 5, 1796.

At length I have done with verse-making, - not that I relish other
people's poetry less: theirs comes from 'em without effort; mine is the
difficult operation of a brain scanty of ideas, made more difficult by
disuse. I have been reading "The Task" with fresh delight. I am glad you
love Cowper. I could forgive a man for not enjoying Milton; but I would
not call that man my friend who should be offended with the "divine
chit-chat of Cowper." Write to me. God love you and yours!

C. L.


X.

TO COLERIDGE,

_Dec_. 10, 1796.

I had put my letter into the post rather hastily, not expecting to have
to acknowledge another from you so soon. This morning's present has made
me alive again. My last night's epistle was childishly querulous: but
you have put a little life into me, and I will thank you for your
remembrance of me, while my sense of it is yet warm; for if I linger a
day or two, I may use the same phrase of acknowledgment, or similar, but
the feeling that dictates it now will be gone; I shall send you a _caput
mortuum_; not a _cor vivens_. Thy "Watchman's," thy bellman's verses, I
do retort upon thee, thou libellous varlet, - why, you cried the hours
yourself, and who made you so proud? But I submit, to show my humility,
most implicitly to your dogmas, I reject entirely the copy of verses you
reject. With regard to my leaving off versifying [1] you have said so
many pretty things, so many fine compliments, Ingeniously decked out in
the garb of sincerity, and undoubtedly springing from a present feeling
somewhat like sincerity, that you might melt the most un-muse-ical soul,
did you not (now for a Rowland compliment for your profusion of
Olivers), - did you not in your very epistle, by the many pretty fancies
and profusion of heart displayed in it, dissuade and discourage me from
attempting anything after you. At present I have not leisure to make
verses, nor anything approaching to a fondness for the exercise. In the
ignorant present time, who can answer for the future man? "At lovers'
perjuries Jove laughs," - and poets have sometimes a disingenuous way of
forswearing their occupation. This, though, is not my case. The tender
cast of soul, sombred with melancholy and subsiding recollections, is
favorable to the Sonnet or the Elegy; but from -

"The sainted growing woof
The teasing troubles keep aloof."

The music of poesy may charm for a while the importunate, teasing cares
of life; but the teased and troubled man is not in a disposition to make
that music.

You sent me some very sweet lines relative to Burns; but it was at a
time when, in my highly agitated and perhaps distorted state of mind, I
thought it a duty to read 'em hastily and burn 'em. I burned all my own
verses, all my book of extracts from Beaumont and Fletcher and a
thousand sources; I burned a little journal of my foolish passion which
I had a long time kept, -

"Noting, ere they past away,
The little lines of yesterday."

I almost burned all your letters; I did as bad, - I lent 'em to a friend
to keep out of my brother's sight, should he come and make inquisition
into our papers; for much as he dwelt upon your conversation while you
were among us, and delighted to be with you, it has been, his fashion,
ever since to depreciate and cry you down, - you were the cause of my
madness, you and your damned foolish sensibility and melancholy; and he
lamented with a true brotherly feeling that we ever met, - even as the
sober citizen, when his son went astray upon the mountains of Parnassus,
is said to have cursed wit, and poetry, and Pope. [2] I quote wrong, but
no matter. These letters I lent to a friend to be out of the way for a
season; but I have claimed them in vain, and shall not cease to regret
their loss. Your packets posterior to the date of my misfortunes,
commencing with that valuable consolatory epistle, are every day
accumulating, - they are sacred things with me.

Publish your _Burns_ [3] when and how you like; it will "be new to
me," - my memory of it is very confused, and tainted with unpleasant
associations. Burns was the god of my idolatry, as Bowles of yours. I am
jealous of your fraternizing with Bowles, when I think you relish him
more than Burns or my old favorite, Cowper, But you conciliate matters
when you talk of the "divine chit-chat" of the latter; by the expression
I see you thoroughly relish him. I love Mrs. Coleridge for her excuses
an hundred-fold more dearly than if she heaped "line upon line,"
out-Hannah-ing Hannah More, and had rather hear you sing "Did a very
little baby" by your family fireside, than listen to you when you were
repeating one of Bowles's sweetest sonnets in your sweet manner, while
we two were indulging sympathy, a solitary luxury, by the fireside at
the "Salutation." Yet have I no higher ideas of heaven. Your company was
one "cordial in this melancholy vale," - the remembrance of it is a
blessing partly, and partly a curse. When I can abstract myself from
things present, I can enjoy it with a freshness of relish; but it more
constantly operates to an unfavorable comparison with the uninteresting
converse I always and _only_ can partake in. Not a soul loves Bowles
here; scarce one has heard of Burns; few but laugh at me for reading my
Testament, - they talk a language I understand not; I conceal sentiments
that would be a puzzle to them. I can only converse with you by letter,
and with the dead in their books. My sister, indeed, is all I can wish
in a companion; but our spirits are alike poorly, our reading and
knowledge from the selfsame sources, our communication with the scenes
of the world alike narrow. Never having kept separate company, or any
"company _together_;" never having read separate books, and few books
_together_, - what knowledge have we to convey to each other? In our
little range of duties and connections, how few sentiments can take
place without friends, with few books, with a taste for religion rather
than a strong religious habit! We need some support, some
leading-strings to cheer and direct us. You talk very wisely; and be not
sparing of _your advice_. Continue to remember us, and to show us you do
remember us; we will take as lively an interest in what concerns you and
yours. All I can add to your happiness will be sympathy. You can add to
mine _more_; you can teach me wisdom. I am indeed an unreasonable
correspondent: but I was unwilling to let my last night's letter go off
without this qualifier: you will perceive by this my mind is easier, and
you will rejoice. I do not expect or wish you to write till you are
moved; and of course shall not, till you announce to me that event,
think of writing myself. Love to Mrs. Coleridge and David Hartley, and
my kind remembrance to Lloyd, if he is with you.

C. LAMB.

[1] See preceding letter.

[2] Epistle to Arbuthnot: -

"Poor Cornus sees his frantic wife elope,
And curses wit, and poetry, and Pope."

[3] The lines on him which Coleridge had sent to Lamb, and which the
latter had burned.


XI.


TO COLERIDGE.

_January_ 5, 1797.

_Sunday Morning_. - You cannot surely mean to degrade the Joan of Arc
into a pot-girl. [1] You are not going, I hope, to annex to that most
splendid ornament of Southey's poem all this cock-and-a-bull story of
Joan, the publican's daughter of Neufchâtel, with the lamentable episode
of a wagoner, his wife, and six children. The texture will be most
lamentably disproportionate. The first forty or fifty lines of these
addenda are no doubt in their way admirable too; but many would prefer
the Joan of Southey.

[1] Coleridge, in later years, indorsed Lamb's opinion of this
portion of his contribution to "Joan of Arc." "I was really astonished,"
he said, "(1) at the schoolboy, wretched, allegoric machinery; (2) at
the transmogrification of the fanatic virago into a modern novel-pawing
proselyte of the "Age of Reason," - a Tom Paine in petticoats; (3) at the
utter want of all rhythm in the verse, the monotony and dead plumb-down
of the pauses, and the absence of all bone, muscle, and sinew in the
single lines."

"On mightiest deeds to brood
Of shadowy vastness, such as made my heart
Throb fast; anon I paused, and in a state
Of half expectance listened to the wind."

"They wondered at me, who had known me once
A cheerful, careless damsel."

"The eye,
That of the circling throng and of the visible world,
Unseeing, saw the shapes of holy phantasy."

I see nothing in your description of the Maid equal to these. There is a
fine originality certainly in those lines, -

"For she had lived in this bad world
As in a place of tombs,
And touched not the pollutions of the dead;"

but your "fierce vivacity" is a faint copy of the "fierce and terrible
benevolence" of Southey; added to this, that it will look like rivalship
in you, and extort a comparison with Southey, - I think to your
disadvantage. And the lines, considered in themselves as an addition to
what you had before written (strains of a far higher mood), are but such
as Madame Fancy loves in some of her more familiar moods, - at such times
as she has met Noll Goldsmith, and walked and talked with him, calling
him "old acquaintance." Southey certainly has no pretensions to vie with
you in the sublime of poetry; but he tells a plain tale better than you.
I will enumerate some woful blemishes, some of 'em sad deviations from
that simplicity which was your aim. "Hailed who might be near" (the
"canvas-coverture moving," by the by, is laughable); "a woman and six
children" (by the way, why not nine children? It would have been just
half as pathetic again); "statues of sleep they seemed;" "frost-mangled
wretch;" "green putridity;" "hailed him immortal" (rather ludicrous
again); "voiced a sad and simple tale" (abominable!); "unprovendered;"
"such his tale;" "Ah, suffering to the height of what was sufffered" (a
most _insufferable line_); "amazements of affright;" "The hot, sore
brain attributes its own hues of ghastliness and torture" (what shocking
confusion of ideas!).

In these delineations of common and natural feelings, in the familiar
walks of poetry, you seem to resemble Montauban dancing with Roubigné's
tenants [1], "_much of his native loftiness remained in the execution_."

I was reading your "Religious Musings" the other day, and sincerely I
think it the noblest poem in the language next after the "Paradise
Lost;" and even that was not made the vehicle of such grand truths.
"There is one mind," etc., down to "Almighty's throne," are without a
rival in the whole compass of my poetical reading.

"Stands in the sun, and with no partial gaze
Views all creation."

I wish I could have written those lines. I rejoice that I am able to
relish them. The loftier walks of Pindus are your proper region. There
you have no compeer in modern times. Leave the lowlands, unenvied, in
possession of such men as Cowper and Southey. Thus am I pouring balsam
into the wounds I may have been inflicting on my poor friend's vanity.

In your notice of Southey's new volume you omit to mention the most
pleasing of all, the "Miniature."

"There were
Who formed high hopes and flattering ones of thee,
Young Robert!"

"Spirit of Spenser! was the wanderer wrong?"

Fairfax I have been in quest of a long time. Johnson, in his "Life of
Waller," gives a most delicious specimen of him, and adds, in the true
manner of that delicate critic, as well as amiable man, "It may be
presumed that this old version will not be much read after the elegant
translation of my friend Mr. Hoole." I endeavored - I wished to gain some
idea of Tasso from this Mr. Hoole, the great boast and ornament of the
India House, but soon desisted. I found him more vapid than smallest
small beer "sun-vinegared." Your "Dream," down to that exquisite line, -

"I can't tell half his adventures,"

is a most happy resemblance of Chaucer. The remainder is so-so. The best
line, I think, is, "He belong'd, I believe, to the witch Melancholy." By
the way, when will our volume come out? Don't delay it till you have
written a new "Joan of Arc." Send what letters you please by me, and in
any way you choose, single or double. The India Company is better
adapted to answer the cost than the generality of my friend's
correspondents, - such poor and honest dogs as John Thelwall
particularly. I cannot say I know Coulson, - at least intimately; I once
supped with him and Austin; I think his manners very pleasing. I will
not tell you what I think of Lloyd, for he may by chance come to see
this letter; and that thought puts a restraint on me. I cannot think
what subject would suit your epic genius, - some philosophical subject, I
conjecture, in which shall be blended the sublime of poetry and of
science. Your proposed "Hymns" will be a fit preparatory study wherewith
"to discipline your young novitiate soul." I grow dull; I'll go walk
myself out of my dulness.

_Sunday Night_, - You and Sara are very good to think so kindly and so
favorably of poor Mary; I would to God all did so too. But I very much
fear she must not think of coming home in my father's lifetime. It is
very hard upon her, but our circumstances are peculiar, and we must
submit to them, God be praised she is so well as she is. She bears her
situation as one who has no right to complain. My poor old aunt, whom
you have seen, the kindest, goodest creature to me when I was at school;
who used to toddle there to bring me good things, when I,
schoolboy-like, only despised her for it, and used to be ashamed to see
her come and sit herself down on the old coal-hole steps as you went
into the old grammar-school, and open her apron, and bring out her
basin, with some nice thing she had caused to be saved for me, [2] - the
good old creature is now lying on her death-bed. I cannot bear to think
on her deplorable state. To the shock she received on that our evil day,
from which she never completely recovered, I impute her illness. She
says, poor thing, she is glad she is come home to die with me. I was
always her favourite;

"No after friendship e'er can raise
The endearments of our early days;
Nor e'er the heart such fondness prove,
As when it first began to love."

[1] In Mackenzie's tale, "Julia de Roubigné."

[2] See the essay, "Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago."


XII.


TO COLERIDGE.

_January_ 10, 1797.

I need not repeat my wishes to have my little sonnets printed _verbatim_
my last way. In particular, I fear lest you should prefer printing my
first sonnet, as you have done more than once, "did the wand of Merlin
wave," it looks so like Mr. Merlin, [1] the ingenious successor of the
immortal Merlin, now living in good health and spirits, and flourishing
in magical reputation, in Oxford Street; and, on my life, one half who
read it would understand it so.

Do put 'em forth finally, as I have, in various letters, settled it; for
first a man's self is to be pleased, and then his friends, - and of
course the greater number of his friends, if they differ _inter se_.
Thus taste may safely be put to the vote. I do long to see our names
together, - not for vanity's sake, and naughty pride of heart altogether;
for not a living soul I know, or am intimate with, will scarce read the
book, - so I shall gain nothing, _quoad famam_; and yet there is a little
vanity mixes in it, I cannot help denying. - I am aware of the unpoetical
cast of the last six lines of my last sonnet, and think myself
unwarranted in smuggling so tame a thing into the book; only the
sentiments of those six lines are thoroughly congenial to me in my state
of mind, and I wish to accumulate perpetuating tokens of my affection to
poor Mary. That it has no originality in its cast, nor anything in the
feelings but what is common and natural to thousands, nor ought properly
to be called poetry, I see; still, it will tend to keep present to my
mind a view of things which I ought to indulge. These six lines, too,
have not, to a reader, a connectedness with the foregoing. Omit it if
you like, - What a treasure it is to my poor, indolent, and unemployed
mind thus to lay hold on a subject to talk about, though 'tis but a
sonnet, and that of the lowest order! How mournfully inactive I
am! - 'Tis night; good night.

My sister, I thank God, is nigh recovered; she was seriously ill. Do, in
your next letter, and that right soon, give me some satisfaction
respecting your present situation at Stowey. Is it a farm that you have
got? and what does your worship know about farming?

Coleridge, I want you to write an epic poem. Nothing short of it can
satisfy the vast capacity of true poetic genius. Having one great end to
direct all your poetical faculties to, and on which to lay out your
hopes, your ambition will show you to what you are equal. By the sacred
energies of Milton! by the dainty, sweet, and soothing phantasies of
honey-tongued Spenser! I adjure you to attempt the epic, or do something
more ample than the writing an occasional brief ode or sonnet; something
"to make yourself forever known, - to make the age to come your own." But
I prate; doubtless you meditate something. When you are exalted among
the lords of epic fame, I shall recall with pleasure and exultingly the
days of your humility, when you disdained not to put forth, in the same
volume with mine, your "Religious Musings" and that other poem from the
"Joan of Arc," those promising first-fruits of high renown to come. You
have learning, you have fancy, you have enthusiasm, you have strength
and amplitude of wing enow for flights like those I recommend. In the
vast and unexplored regions of fairy-land there is ground enough unfound
and uncultivated: search there, and realize your favorite Susquehanna
scheme. In all our comparisons of taste, I do not know whether I have
ever heard your opinion of a poet very dear to me, - the
now-out-of-fashion Cowley. Favor me with your judgment of him, and tell
me if his prose essays, in particular, as well as no inconsiderable part
of his verse, be not delicious. I prefer the graceful rambling of his
essays even to the courtly elegance and ease of Addison, abstracting
from this the latter's exquisite humor.

When the little volume is printed, send me three or four, at all events
not more than six, copies, and tell me if I put you to any additional
expense by printing with you, I have no thought of the kind, and in that
case must reimburse you.

Priestley, whom I sin in almost adoring, speaks of "such a choice of
company as tends to keep up that, right bent and firmness of mind which
a necessary intercourse with the world would otherwise warp and
relax.... Such fellowship is the true balsam of life; its cement is
infinitely more durable than that of the friendships of the world, and
it looks for its proper fruit and complete gratification to the life
beyond the grave." Is there a possible chance for such an one as I to
realize in this world such friendships? Where am I to look for 'em? What
testimonials shall I bring of my being worthy of such friendship? Alas!
the great and good go together in separate herds, and leave such as I to
lag far, far behind in all intellectual and, far more grievous to say,
in all moral accomplishments. Coleridge, I have not one truly elevated
character among my acquaintance, - not one Christian; not one but
undervalues Christianity. Singly what am I to do? Wesley (have you read
his life?), was _he_ not an elevated character? Wesley has said,
"Religion is not a solitary thing." Alas! it necessarily is so with me,
or next to solitary. 'T is true you write to me. But correspondence by
letter and personal intimacy are very widely different. Do, do write to
me, and do some good to my mind, already how much "warped and relaxed"
by the world! 'T is the conclusion of another evening. Good night; God
have us all in His keeping!

If you are sufficiently at leisure, oblige me with an account of your
plan of life at Stowey; your literary occupations and prospects, - in
short, make me acquainted with every circumstance which, as relating to
you, can be interesting to me. Are you yet a Berkleyan? Make me one. I
rejoice in being, speculatively, a necessarian. Would to God I were
habitually a practical one! Confirm me in the faith of that great and
glorious doctrine, and keep me steady in the contemplation of it. You
some time since expressed an intention you had of finishing some
extensive work on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. Have
you let that intention go? Or are you doing anything towards it? Make to
yourself other ten talents. My letter is full of nothingness. I talk of
nothing. But I must talk. I love to write to you. I take a pride in it.
It makes me think less meanly of myself. It makes me think myself not
totally disconnected from the better part of mankind. I know I am too
dissatisfied with the beings around me; but I cannot help occasionally
exclaiming, "Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Meshech, and
to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar." I know I am noways
better in practice than my neighors, but I have a taste for religion, an
occasional earnest aspiration after perfection, which they have not. I
gain, nothing by being with such as myself, - we encourage one another in
mediocrity, I am always longing to be with men more excellent than
myself. All this must sound odd to you; but these are my predominant
feelings when I sit down to write to you, and I should put force upon my
mind, were I to reject them, Yet I rejoice, and feel my privilege with
gratitude, when I have been reading some wise book, such as I have just
been reading, - Priestley on Philosophical Necessity, - in the thought
that I enjoy a kind of communion, a kind of friendship even, with the


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