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their radiant deputy, mild viceroy of the
moon ! — We love to read, talk, sit silent, eat,
drink, sleep, by candle-light. They are
everybody's sun and moon. This is our
peculiar and household planet. Wanting
it, what savage unsocial niglits must our
ancestors have spent, wintering in caves
and unillumined fastnesses ! They must
have lain about and grumbled atone another
in the dark. AVhat repartees could have
passed, when you must have felt about for
a smile, and handled a neighbor's cheek to



260 (The |:ji,^t (^^$^\p of mm.



be sure that he understood it ? This ac-
counts for the seriousness of the elder
poetry. It has a somber cast (try Hesiod or
Ossian), derived from the tradition of those
unlanterned nig'hts. Jokes came in with
candles. ^Ve wonder how they saw to pick
up a pin, if they had any. How did they
sup? what a melange of chance carving they
must have made of it ! — here one had got a
leg of a goat, Avhen he Avanted a horse's
shoulder — there , another had dipped his
scooped palm in a kid-skin of wild honey,
when he meditated right mare's milk.
There is neither good eating nor drinking
in fresco. Who, even in these civilized
times, has never experienced this, when at
some economic cable he has commenced
dining after dusk, and waited for the flavor
till the lights came ? The senses absolutely
give and take reciprocally. Can you tell
pork from veal in the dark ? or distinguish
Sherris from pure Malaga ? Take away the
candle from the smoking man ; by the glim-
mering of the left ashes, he knows that he
is still smoking, but he knows it only by an
inference ; till the restored light, coming in
aid of the olfactories, reveals to both senses
the full aroma. Then how he redoubles his
puffs ! how he burnishes ! — There is absol-
utely no such thing as reading but by a
candle. "We have tried the affectation of a
book at noonday in gardens, and in sultry
arbors ; but it Avas labor thrown away.



^\\t i^aist (^s^mp ot (6lia. 2G1



Those gay motes in the beam come about
you, hovering- and teasing, like so many
coquettes, tliat will have you all to their
self, and are jealous of your abstractions.
By the midnight taper the writer digests
his meditations. By the same light we
must approach to their perusal, if we would
catch the flame, the odor. It is a mockery,
Jill that is reported of the influential
Phoebus. No true poem ever owned its
birth to the sun's light. They are ab-
stracted works —

*' Things that were born, when none but the still
night,
And his dumb candle, saw his pinching throes."

IMarry, daylight — daylight might furnish
tlie images, the crude material ; but for the
line shapings, the true turning and filing
(as mine author hath it), they nuist be con-
tent to hold their inspiration of the candle.
The mild internal light, that reveals them,
like fires on the domestic hearth, goes out in
the sunshine. Xight and silence call out tlie
>starry fancies. Milton's Morning Hymn in
Paradise, Ave would hold a good Avager, Avas
penned at midnight; and Taylor's rich de-
scription of a sunrise smells decidedly of the
taper. Ea'cu ourself, in these our hnmbler
lucubrations, tune our best-measured ca-
dences (Prose has her cadences) not unfre-
quently to thccharm of the drowsier Avatch-
man, "■ blessing tlie doors ; " or the Avild



262 W\u p^t a^m^^ ot mm.

sweep of winds at midnight. Even now
a loftier speculation than Ave have yet at-
tempted courts our endeavors. ^Ye would
indite something about the Solar System. —
Jietti/, bring the candles.



XVI.

THAT A STTLKY TEMPER IS A MISFOETUXE.

«

We grant that it is, and a vei'y serious one
— to a man's friends, and to all that have
to do with him ; but whether the condition of
the man himself is so much to be deplored,
may admit of a question. We can speak a,
little to it, being ourself but lately recovered
— we whisper it in confidence, reader — out
of a long and desperate fit of the sullens.
Was the cure a blessing ? The conviction
which wrought it came too clearly to leave
a scruple of the fanciful injuries — for they
Avere mere fancies — which had provoked the
humor. But the humor itself was too self-
pleasing, Avhile it lasted — we know how
bare we lay ourself in the confession — to be
abandoned all at once vj\t\\ the grounds of
it. We still .brood over wrongs which we
know to have been imaginary ; and for our

old acquaintance X , Avhom we find to

have been a truer friend than we took him
for, we substitute some phantom — a Caius
or a Titius — as like him as we dare to form



^Ut pj^t (S's-'^aysi of drtia. 263



it, LO wreak our yet unsatisfied resentments
on. It is mortifying to fall at once from the
pinnacle of neglect ; to forego the idea of
having been ill-used and contumaciously
treated, by an old friend. The first thing to
aggrandize a man in his own conceit is to
conceive of himself as neglected. There let
him fix if he can. To undeceive him is to
deprive him of the most tickling morsel with-
in the range of self-complacency. No flat-
tery can come near it. Happy is he who
suspects his friend of an injustice; but
supremely blest, who thinks all his friends
in a conspiracy to depress and undervalue
him.

There is a pleasure (we sing not to the pro-
fane) far beyond the reach of all that the
world counts joy — a deep, enduring satis-
faction in the depths, where the superficial
seek it not, of discontent. "Were we to recit3
one-half of this mystery, which we were
let into by our late dissatisfaction, all the
world Would be in love with disrespect ; we
should wear a slight for a bracelet, and neg-
lects and contumacies would be the only
matter for courtship. Unlike to tliat mys-
terious book in the Apocalyjjse, the study
of this mystery is unpalatable only in the
commencement. The first sting of a sus-
picion is grievous ; but wait — out of that
wound, which to flesh and blood seemed so
difficult, there is balm and honey to be ex-
tracted. Your friend passed you on such a



264 ^l\c |:a.si a^^np ot Clia.



day, — having in his company one that j^ou
conceived worse tlian ambiguously disposed
towards you, — passed you in the street
without notice. To be sure he is some-
thing short-sighted ; and it was in your
power to have accosted /u'm. But facts and
sane inferences are trifles to a true adept
in the science of dissatisfaction. He must

have seen you ; and S , who was with

him, must have been the cause of the con-
tempt. It galls you, and well it may. But
have patience. Go home, and make the
worst of it, and you are a made man from
this time. Shut yourself up, and — rejecting,
as an enemy to your xjeace, every whisper-
hig suggestion that but insinuates there may
be a mistake — reflect seriously upon the
many lesser instances which you had begun
to perceive, in proof of }■ our friend's dis-
affection towards you. None of them singly
was much to the purpose, but the aggregate
"weight is positive ; and you have this last
affront to clench them. Thus far the pro-
cess is anything but agreeable. But now to
your relief comes in the comparative faculty.
You conjure up all the kind feelings you
have had for your friend ; Avhat you have
been to him, and what you would luive been
to him, if he would have suffered you ; how
you defended him in this or that place ; and
his good name, his literary reputation, and
so forth, was always dearer to you than your
own! Your heart, Si3ite of itself, yearns



Z%t ^m^i (^^$nxp 0f (»:Ua. 26?



towards him. Yon could weep tears of blood
but for a restraining pride. How soy you !
do you not yet begin to apprehend a com-
fort ? some allay of sweetness in the bitter
waters? Stop not here, nor penuriously
cheat yourself of your reversions. You are
on vantage ground. Enlarge your specu-
lations, and take in the' rest of your friends,
as a spark kindles more sparks. "Was there
one among them, who has not to you proved
hollow, false, slippery as water? Begin to
think that the relation itself is inconsistent
with mortality — that the very idea of
friendship, with its component parts, as
honor, fidelity, steadiness, exists but in your
single bosom. Image yourself to yourself,
as the only possible friend in a v.orld in-
capable of that communion. Now the
gloom thickens. The little star of self-love
twinkles, that is to encourage you through
deeper glooms than this. You are not yet
nt the half point of your elevation. You
are not yet, believe me, half sulky enough.
Adverting ^o the world in general (as these
circles in 'he mind will sprc.ul to infinity),
reflect with what strange injustice you have
been treated in quarters where (setting
gratitude and the expectation of friendly
returns aside as chimeras) yott pretended no
claim beyond justice, the naked due of all
Inen. Think the very idea of right and fit
fled from tlie earth, or your breast the soli-
tary receptacle of it, till you have swelled



yourself into at least one hemisphere ; the
other being the vast Arabia Stony of your
friends and the world aforesaid. To grow
bigger every moment in your own conceit,
and the world to lessen ; to defy yourself
at the expense of your species ; to judge the
world, — this is the acme and supreme point
of your mystery, — these the true Pleasures
OF SuLKiNEss. Wo profcss no more of
this grand secret than what ourself ex-
perimented on one rainy afternoon in the
last week, sulking in our study. We had
liroceedecl to the penultimate point, at which
the true adept seldom stops, where the con-
sideration of benefit forgot is about to merge
in the meditation of general injustice — when
a knock at the door was followed by the
entrance of the very friend whose not see-
ing of us in the morning (for we will now
confess the case our own), an accidental
oversight, had given rise to so much agree-
able generalization ! To mortify us still
more, and take down the whole flattering
superstructure which pride had piled upon
neglect, he had brought in his hand the
identical S , in whose favor we had sus-
pected him of the contumacy. Assevera-
tions were needless, where the frank inan-
ner of them both was convictive of the in-
jurious nature of the suspicion. We fan-
cied that they jDerceived our embarrassment;
but were too proud, or something else, to
confess to the secret of it. We had been



®he faist €^mp 0f mm, 267



but too lately in the condition of the noble
patient in Argos : —

Qui se credebat miros audire tragoedos,
In vacuo lietus sessor i>lausorque tlieatro—

and ccmld have exclaimed with equal reason
against the friendly hands that cured us —

Pol, me occidistis, amici,
"fon servastis, ait ; cui sic extorta voluptas,
£t demptus per vim mentis gratissimus error»



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