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LIBRARY

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA

SANTA BARBARA



PRESENTED BY

MRS.
ERIC SCHMIDT






Vf. 'i



rf(*



THE LAST ESSAYS
OF ELIA



BY

CHARLES LAMB



(:hi(;a(;()
DONOHUH, HENNEBERRY & CO.

407 T(j 425 Dkariujkn STKEF.!'.



CONTENTS.



PAGK,

Blakesmoor in H shire 5

Poor Kelations 14

Detached Tiioughts on Books and Reading 25

Stage Ilhision 35

Tolhe Shade of Elliston 41

Ell istoniaua 45

The Old Margate Hoy 54

The Convalescent 07

Sanity of True Genius 75

Captain Jackson 80

The Superannuated Man 87

The Genteel Style in Writing 99

Barbara S 107

The Tombs in the Abbey 116

Amicus Itedivivus 121

Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney 129

Newspapers Thirty-Five Years Ago 141

Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in the Pro-
ductions of Modern Art 153

The Wedding 172

Rejoicings upon the New Year's Coming of Age. . . 182

Old China 191

The Child-Angel ; a Dream 201

Confessions of a Drunkard 206



Popular Fallacies —

PAGE,

I. That a Bully is Always a Coward 220

II. That IlI-(TOtten Gain Never Prospers 121

III. That a Man Must Not Laugh at Plis Own Jest. 222

IV. That >Such a One Shows His Breeding — That

it is Easy to Perceive He is No Gentle-
man 223

V. That the Poor C'opy the Vices of the Pach .... 224

vi. That Enough is as Good as a Feast 227

VII. Of Two Disputants the Warmest is Generally

in the Wrong , 22!)

v:!i. That Verbal Allusions are not AVit, Because

They Will Not Bear a Translation 230

IX. That the Worst Puns are the Best 231

X. That Handsome is That Handsome Does 235

XI. That We Must Not Look a Gift Horse in the

Mouth 289

XII. That Home is Home, Though it is Never So

Homely 242

XIII. That You ]Must Love Me and Love My Dog.... 249

XIV. That We Should Rise With the Lark 255

XV. That We Should Lie Down With the Lamb. .. 259

XVI. That a Sulky Temper is a Misfortune 262



THE LAST ESSAYS OF ELIA.



Blakesmoor in H shire.

I DO not know a pleasure more affecting
than to range at will over the deserted apart-
ments of some line old family mansion.
The traces of extinct grandeur admit of a
better passion than envy; and contempla-
tions on the great and good, whom we fancy
in succession to have been its inhabitants,
weave for us illusions, incompatible with
the bustle of modern occupancy, and vani-
ties of foolish present aristocracy. The same
difference of feeling, I think, attends us be-
tween entering an empty and a crowded
church. In the latter it is chance but some
present human frailty, — an act of inatten-
tion on the part of some of the auditory, —
or a trait of affectation, or worse, vain-glory
on that of the preacher, — puts us by our
best thoughts, disharmonizing the place and
the occasion. But Avouldst thou know the
beauty of holiness ? — go alone on some week-
day, borrowing the keys of good Master



6 ©he faist (^^m^ of (gtia.

Sexton, traverse the cool aisles of some
country church ; think of the piety that has
kneeled there, — the congregations, old and
young, that have found consolation there,-^
the meek pastor,— the docile parishioner.
With no disturbing emotions, no cross con-
flicting comparisons, drink in the tranquil-
lity of the place, till thou thyself become as
fixed and motionless as the marble efBgies
that kneel and weep around thee.
. Journej'ing northward lately, I could not
resist going some few miles out of my road
to look upon the remains of an old great
house with which I had been impressed in-
this way in infancy. I was apprised that
the owner of it had lately pulled it down ;
still I had a vague notion that it could not
all have perished, that so much solidity
with magnificence could not have been
crushed all at once into the mere dust and
rubbish which I found it.

The work of ruin had proceeded with a.
swift hand indeed, and the demolition of a
few weeks had reduced it to — an antiquity.

I was astonished at the indistinction of
everything. Where had stood the great
gates ? What bounded the court-yard ?
Whereabout did the outhouses commence ?
A few bricks only lay as representatives of
that which was so stately and so spacious..

Death does not shrink up his human vic-
tim at this rate. The burnt ashes of a man
weigh more in their proportion.



Had I seen these brick-and mortar knaves-
at their process of destruction, at the pluck-
ing of every panel I should have felt the
varlets at my heart. I should have cried
out to them to spare a plank at least out of
the cheerful store-room, in whose hot win-
dow-seat I used to sit and read Cowley, witli
the grass-plot before, and the hum and flap-
pings of that one solitary wasp that ever
haunted it about me, — it is in mine ears
now, as oft as summer returns ; or a panel
of the yellow-room.

Why, every plank and panel of that house
for me had magic in it. The tapestried bed-
rooms — tapestry so much better th»n paint-
ing — not adorning merely, but peopling the
wainscots, — at which childhood ever and
anon would steal a look, shifting its coverlet
(replaced as quickly) to exercise its tender
courage in a momentary eye-encounter with
those stern In-ight visages, staring recipro-
call}^, — all Ovid on the walls, in colors viv-
ider than his descriptions. Actason in mid
sprout, Avith the unappeasable prudery of
Diana; and the still more provoking, and
almost culinary coolness of Dan Phrebus,
eel-fashion delil)erately divesting of IVfarsyas.

Then, that haunted room — in which old
Mrs. Battle died, — whereinto I have crept,
but always in the daytime, with a passion
of fear ; and a sneaking curiosity, terror-
tainted to hold communication with th©
past. How shall they haild it up again f



It was an old deserted place, yet not so
long deserted but that traces of the splendor
of j)ast inmates were everywhere apparent.
Its furniture was still standing — even to
the tarnished gilt leather battledores, and
crumbling feathers of shuttlecocks in the
nursery, Avhich told that children had once
played there. But I was a lonely child, and
had the range at will of every ai:)artment,
knew every nook and corner, wondered and
worshiped everywhere.

The solitude of childhood is not so much
the mother of thought, as it is the feeder
of love, and silence, and admiration. So
strange a passion for the place jjossessed nie
in those years, that, though there lay — I
shame to say how few roods distant from the
mansion — half hid by trees what I judged
some romantic lake, such was the spell
which bound me to the house, and such my
carefulness not to pass its strict and proper
]3recincts, that the idle waters lay unex-
plored for me ; and not till late in life, curi-
osity prevailing over elder devotion, I found,
to my astonishment, a pretty brawling brook
had been the Lacus Incognitus of my infancy.
Variegated views, extensive prospects, — and
those at no great distance from the house, —
I was told of such — what were they to me,
being out of the boundaries of my Eden ? —
So far from a wish to roam, I would have
drawn, methought, still closer the fences of
my chosen prison ; and have been hemmed



^kt i^H^t ^>';&m;j3i at (t'lm. 9



in by a yet securer cincture of those exclud-
ing garden walls. I could have exclaimed
Avith that garden-loving poet —

" Bhifl me, ye woodbines, in j^our twines;
Curl me about, ye gadding vines;
And oil so close your circles lace.
That I may never leave this place;
But, lest your fetters ])rove too weak,
Ere I your silken bondage break,
Do you, O brambles, chain me too.
And, courteous briars, nail me tlirough."

I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug
fire-sides, — the low-built roof, — parlors ten
feet by ten, — frugal boards, and all the
homeliness of home, — these were the condi-
tion of my birth, — the wholesome soil which
I was planted in. Yet, without impeach-
ment to tlieir tenderest lessons, I am not
sorry to have had glances of something be-
yond; and to have taken, if but a peep, in
childhood, at the contrasting accidents of a
great fortune.

To have the feeling of gentility, it is not
necessary to have been born gentle. The
pride of ancestry may be had on cheaper
terms than to be obliged to an importunate
race of ancestors ; and the coatless anti-
quary in his miemblazoned cell, revolving
tlie long line of a Mowbray's or De Clifford's
pedigree, at those sounding names may
warm himself into as gay a vanity as these
who do inherit them. The claims of birth
-are ideal merely, and what herald shall go



10 m\t psit ©s'^ay.^ of mn.



about to strip ine of an idea ? Is it trench-
ant to their swords ? can it 15e hacked off as
a spur can ? or torn away like a tarnished
garter ?

What else Avere tlie families of the great
to us? What pleasure should Ave take in
their tedious genealogies, or their capitula-
tory brass monuments ? What to us the
uninterrupted current of their bloods, if our
own did not answer Avitliin us to a cognate
and correspondent elevation ?

Or wherefore else, O tattered and dimin-
ished 'scutcheon that hung upon the time-
worn walls of thy princely stairs, Blakes-
MooR ! have I in childhood so oft stood
poi'ing upon the mystic characters, — thy
emblematic supporters, with their pro-
phetic " Resurgam," — till, every dreg of
peasantry purging off, I received into myself
Very Gentility ? Thou wert first in my
morning eyes ; and of nights hast detained
my stej)s from bedward, till it was but a
step from gazing at thee to dreaming on
thee.

This is the oidy true gentry by adoption ;
the veritable change of blood, and not, as
empirics have fabled, by transfusion.

Who it was by dying that had earned the
splendid trophy, I know not, I inquired not;
but its f;idiiig rags, and colors cobweb-
stained, told that its subject was of two
centuries back.

And what if my ancestor at that date wa&



some Damoetas, — feeding flocks — not his
own, upon tlie hills of Lincoln, — did I in less
earnest vindicate to mj^self the family trap-
pings of this once proud ^Egon '? repaying
by a backward triumph the insults he might
j)ossibly have heaped in his lifetime upon my
poor pastoral progenitor.

If it were presumption so to speculate, the
present owners of the mansion had least rea-
son to complain. They had long forsaken
the old house of their fathers for a newer
trifle ; and I was left to appropriate to my-
self what images I could pick up, to raise
my fancy, or to soothe my vanity.

I was the true descendant of those old

W s ; and hot the present family of that

name, Avho had fled the old waste V)laces.

Mine was tliat gallery of good old family
portraits, Avhicli as I have gone over, giving
them in fancy my own family name, one —
and then another — would seem to smile,
reaching forward from the canvas, to recog-
nize the new relationship; while the rest
looked grave, as it seemed, at the vacancy in
their dwelling, and thoughts of fled jjos-
terity.

That Beauty with the cool blue pastoral
drapery, and a lamb — that hung next the
great bay window — with the bright yellow

H shire hair, and eye of wachet hue — so

like my Alice! — I am persuaded she was a
true Elia, Mildred Elia, I take it.

Mine too, Blakesmoor, was thy noble



Marble Hall with its mosaic pavements, and
its Twelve Csesars, — stately busts in marble,
— ranged round ; of whose countenances,
young- reader of faces as I was, the frown-
ing beauty of Nero, I remember, had most
of my wonder; but the mild Galba had my
love. There they stood in the coldness of
death, yet freshness of immortality.

Mine too, thy lofty Justice Hall, with its
one chair of authority, high-backed and wick-
ered, once the terror of luckless poacher, or
self-forgetful maiden — so common since, that
bats have roosted in it.

Mine too — whose else ? — thy costly fruit-
garden, Avith its sun-baked southern wall ;
the ampler i:)leasure garden, rising back-
wards from the house in triple terraces,
with flower-pots now of palest lead, save
that a -speck here and there, saved from the
elements, bespake their pristine state to have
been gilt and glittering ; the verdant quar-
ters backwarder still ; and, stretching still
beyond, in old formality, thy firry wilder-
ness, the haunt of the squirrel, and the day-
long murmuring wood-pigeon, with that an-
tique image in the center, God or Goddess I
wist not ; but child of Athens or old Rome
paid never a sincerer worship to Pan or to
Sylvanus in their native groves, than I to
that fragmental mystery.

Was it for this, that I kissed my childish
hands too fervently in your idol- worship,
walks and v/indings of Blakesmoor! for



®Ue i^asit (g^^ay^ of dim, IS



this, or what sin of mine, has the plow passed
over your pleasant places? I sometimes^
think that as men, when they die, do not die
all, so of their extina^nished habitations there
may be a hope — a germ to be reviviheU..



14 ©he |:a.$t (^^^ix\p of i^lm.



Poor Relations.

A Poor Relation — is the most irrelevant
thing in nature, — a piece of inij^ertinent cor-
respondency, — an oclious approximation, —
a haunting conscience, — a preposterous
shaclo^y, lengthening in the noontide of our
prosperity, — an unwelcome remembrancer,
— a perpetually recurring mortification, — a
drain on your purse, — a more intolerable
dun upon your pride, — a drawback upon suc-
cess, — a rebuke to your rising, — a stain in
your blood, — a blot on your 'scutcheon, — a
rent in your garment, — a death's head at
your banquet, — Agathocles's pot,— a Mor-
decai in your gate, a Lazarus at your door,
a lion in your path, — a frog in your cham-
ber, — a fly in your ointment, — a mote in
your eye, — a triumph to your enemy, an
apology to your friends, — the one thing not
needful, — the hail in harvest, — the ounce of
sour in a pound of sweet.

He is known by his knock. Your heart

telleth you "That is Mr. ." A rap

between familiarity and respect ; that de-
mands and at the same time seems to de-



®h« i^a^t (^^^m^^ oi (gtia. 15



spair of, entertainment. He entereth smil-
ing and — embarrassed. He holdeth out his
hand to you to shake, and — draweth it back
again. He casually looketh in about dinner-
time — when the table is full. He offereth
to go away, seeing you have company, — but
is induced to stay. He filleth a chair, and
your visitor's two chikb'en are accommo-
dated at a side-table. He never cometli upon
open days, when your wife says witli some

complacency, "My dear, perhaps Mr.

will drop in to-day." He remembereth birth-
days, — and professeth he is fortunate to have
stumbled upon one. He declaretli against
fish, the turl)ot being small — yet suffereth
himself to be importimed into a slice, against
his first resolution. He sticketh by the port,
— yet will be prevailed upon to empty the
remainder glass of claret, if a stranger press
it upon him. He is a puzzle to the servants,
who are fearful of ])eing too obsequious, or not
civil enough, to him. The guests think " they
have seen him before." Every one speculat-
eth upon his condition; and the most part
take him to be — a tide waiter. He calletli
you by your Christian name, to imply that
his other is the same with your own. He is
too familiar by lialf, yet you wish he had
less diffidence. With half the familiarity,
he miglit pass for a casual dei)endent ; with
more boldness, he would be in no danger of
being taken for what he is. He is too luim-
ble for a friend; yet taketh on him more



16 (The p.^t €$m^ of (gtia.



state than befits a client. He is a worse
guest than a country tenant, inasmuch as he
bringetli up no rent — yet 'tis odds, from his
garb and demeanor, that your guests take
him for one. He is asked. to make one at the
wliist table ; refuseth on the score of poverty,
and — resents being left out. When the com-
pany break up, he profferetli to go for a
coach — and lets the servant go. He recol-
lects your grandfather ; and will thrust in
some mean and quite unimportant anecdote
— of the family. He knew it when it was not
quite so flourishing as " he is blest in seeing
it now." He reviveth past situations, to in-
stitute Avhat he calleth — favorable compari-
sons. With a reflecting sort of congratula-
tion, he will inquire the price of your furni-
ture ; and insults you with a special com-
mendation of your window-curtains. He is
of opinion that the urn is the more elegant
shape, but, after all, there was something
more comfortable about the old tea-kettle, —
which you must remember. He dare say
you must find a great convenience in having
a carriage of your own, and appealeth to
your lady if it is not so. Inquireth if you
have had your arms done on vellum yet; and
did not know, till lately, that such-and-such
had been the crest of the family. His
memory is unseasonable; his compliments
perverse ; his talk a trouble ; his stay perti-
nacious ; and when he goeth aAvay, you dis-
miss his chair into a coi'ner, as precipitately



^\it fajst (g.ssay^ 0^ (^li«. 17



as possible, and feel fairly rid of two nui-
sances.

There is a worse evil under the sun, and
that is — a female Poor Relation. You may
do something with the other ; you may pass
him off tolerably well; but your indigent
she-relative is hopeless. "He is an old
humorist," you may say, " and affects to go
threadbare. His circumstances are better
than folks would take them to be. You
are fond of having a Character at your table,
and truly he is one." But in the indications
of female poverty there can be no disguise.
Ko womun dresses below herself from cap-
rice. The truth must out v/ithout shuffling.

" She is plainly related to the L s ; or

what does she at their house ? " She is, in
all probiibility, your wife's cousin. Nine
times out of ten, at least, this is the case.
Her garb is something between a gentle-
woman and a beggar, yet the former evi-
dently predominates. She is most pro-
vokingly humble, and ostentatiously sensi-
ble to her inferiority. He may require to be
repressed sometimes — aliquando sufilamui-
andus erat — but there is no raising her.
You send her soup at dinner, and she begs

to be helped — after tlie gentlemen. Mr.

requests the honor of taking wine with her ;
she hesitates be^-ween Port and jMadeira, and
chooses the former — because he does. She
calls the servant ^Slr ; and insists on not
troubling him to hold her plate. The house-
2



18 ^ht i;a5t (??^.$ay.s at (Bliix,



keeper patronizes her. The children's gover-
ness takes upon her to correct her Avhen she
has mistaken the piano for the harpsichord.,
Richard Amlet, Esq., in the play, is a
notable instance of the disadvantages, to
which this chimerical notion of affinity con-
stituting a claim to acquaintance, may sub-
ject the spirit of a gentleman. A little fool-
ish blood is all that is betwixt him and a lady
with a great estate. His stars are perpetu-
ally crossed by the malignant maternity of
an old woman, who persists in calling him
" her son Dick." But she has wherewithal
in the end to recompense his indignities, and
float him again upon the brilliant sur-
face, under Avliich it had been her seeming
business and pleasure all along to sink him.
All men, besides, are not of Dick's tempera-
ment. I knew an Amlet in real life, who^
wanting Dick's buoyancy, sank indeed.

Poor W was of my. own standing at

Christ's, a fine classic, and a youth of prom-
ise. If he had a blemish, it was too much
pride ; but its quality was inoffensive ; it
was not of that sort which hardens the heart,
and serves to keep inferiors at a distance;
it only sought tO ward off derogation from
itself. It was the principle of self-respect
carried as far as it could go without infring-
ing upon that respect, which he would
have every one else equally maintain for
himself, lie would have you to think alike
with him on this tofpic. Many a quarrel



^hc i:a^t (^^$inp oi min, 19



have I had with hhii, when we were rather
older boys, and our talhiess made us more
obnoxious to observation in tlie bhie clothes,
because I would not thread the alleys
mu\ blind ways of the town with him to
elude notice, when we have been out to-
gether on a holiday in the streets of this

sneering and prying metropolis. W

WTut, sore with these notions, to Oxford,
where the dignity and sweetness of a schol-
ar's life, meeting with the alloy of a humble
hitroduction, wrought in him a passionate
devotion to the place, with a profound aver-
sion from the society. The servitor's gown
(worse than his school array) clung to him
with Xessian venom. He thought himself
ridiculous in a garb, under which Latimer
must have walked erect, and in which
Hooker, in his young days, possibly flaunted
in a vein of no discommendalile vanity. In
the depth of college shades, or in his lonely
chamber, the poor student shrunk from ob-
servation. He found shelter among books,
which insult not ; and studies, that ask no
questions of a youth's finances. He was
lord of his library, and seldom cared for
looking out beyond his domains. The heal-
ing influence of studious pursuits was upon
him, to soothe and to abstract. He was
almost a healthy man ; when the wayward-
ness of his fate broke out against him with
a second and worse malignity. The father
of Vr had hitherto exercised the humble



20 5?hc i:a;st (g^'.aaM,^ of miix.



profession of house-painter at X , near-
Oxford. A supposed interest with some of
the heads of colleges had now induced him
to take up his abode in tliat city, with the
hope of being emj^loyed upon some pubUc
works which were talked of. From that
moment I read in the countenance of the
young man the determination which at
length tore him from academical pursuits
forever. To a person unacquainted with
our universities, the distance between the
gownsmen and the townsmen, as they are
called — the trading part of the latter espe-
cially — is carried to an excess that would
appear harsh and incredible. The tempera-
ment of W 's father was diametrically

the reverse of his own. Old W was a

little, busy, cringing tradesman, who, with
his son upon his arm, would stand bo^^^'ing
and scraping, cap in hand, to anything that
wore the semblance of a gown, — insensible
to the winks and opener remonstrances of
the young man, to whose chamber-fellow,
or equal in standing, perhaps, he was thus
obsequiously and gratuitously ducking.
Such a state of things could not last.

W must change the air of Oxford, or be

suffocated. He chose the former ; and let
the sturdy moralist, who strains the point
of the filial duties as high as they can bear,
censure the dereliction ; he cannot estimate

the struggle. I stood with AV , the last

afternoon I ever saw him, under the eaves of



m\t p,$t (^^^mp of (fUa. 21



his paternal dwelling. It was in the fine
lane leading from the High Street to the

back of College, where W kept his

rooms. He seemed thoughtfnl and more
reconciled. I ventured to rally him — find-
ing him in a better mood — upon a represen-
tation of the Artist Evangelist, which the
old man, whose aft'airs were beginning to
flourish, had caused to be set up in a splen-
did sort of frame over his really handsome
shop, either as a token of prosperity or
badge of gratitude to his saints. "W



looked up at the Luke, and, like Satan,
" knew his mounted sign — and fled." A let-
ter on his father's table the next morning
announced that he had accepted a commis-
sion in a regiment about to embark for
Portugal. He was among the first who per-
ished before the walls of St. Sebastian.

I do not know how, upon a suljject which
I began by treating half seriously, I should
have fallen upon a recital so eminently pain-
ful; but this theme of poor relationship
is replete with so nuich matter for tragic as
well as comic associations, that it is difficult
to keep the account distinct without blend-
ing. The earliest impressions which I re-
ceived on this matter, are certainly not


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Online LibraryCharles LambThe last essays of Elia → online text (page 1 of 15)