Charles Lamb.

The life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 4) online

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vol.. IV.



List of Portraits viii

THE LAST ESSAYS OF El.lA—Contt'iucd .—

Ellistoniana I

The Old Margate Hoy 8

The Convalescent 19

Sanity of True Genius 25

Captain Jackson 29

The Superannuated Man 35

The Genteel Style in Writing 44

Barbara S 5°

The Tombs in the Abbey 58

Amicus Redivivus 61

Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sydney's 68

Newspapers Thirty-five years ago 78

Barrenness of the Lmaginative Faculty in the Pro-
ductions OF Modern Art 87



The Wedding 1 03

Rejoicings on the New Ykak's coming ok age 1 1 1

Old China 118

The Child Angel : A DreaaI 126

A Death-3ed 130

Popular Fallacies 133


Recollections of Christ's Hospital 1 70

On the Tragedies of Shakspeare 188

Characters of Dramatic Writers 113

Specimens from the Writings of Fuller the Ciii'R>.h

Historian ^67

Curious Fragments 17^

On the Genius and Character of Hogarth 1X7

On the Poetical Works of George Wiiher 314


The Londone* 322

On Burial Societies 325

On the Danger of Confounding Moral with I'i'RM)N;vl

Deformity 332

On the Inconveniences Resulting from being Hanged. 341



O.v TME Melancholy of Tailors 353

HospiTA ON THE Immoderate Indulgence of the

Pleasures of the Palate 359

Edax on Appetite 363


Rosamond Gray jyj

Notes ,. 425


Lamb, bV Wagem ak frontispiece

Miss Kelly face page 5 o

Garrick „ „ 202




My acquaintance with the pleasant creature, whose
loss we all deplore, was but slight.

My first introduction to Elliston, which afterwards
ripened into an acquaintance a little on this side of
intimacy, was over a counter in the Leamington Spa
Library, then newly entered upon by a branch of his
family. Elliston, whom nothing misbecame — to au-
spicate, I suppose, the filial concern, and set it a-going
with a lustre — was serving in person two damsels
fair, who had come into the shop ostensibly to inquire
for some new publication, but in reality to have a
sight of the illustrious shopman, hoping some con-
ference. With what an air did he reach down the
volume, dispassionately giving his opinion of the



work in question, and launching out into a disserta-
tion on its comparative merits with those of certain
publications of a similar stamp, its rivals! his en-
chanted customers fairly hanging on his lips, subdued
to their authoritative sentence. So I have seen a
gentleman in comedy acting the shopman. So Love-
lace sold his gloves in King Street. I admired the
historic art by which he contrived to carry clean away
every notion of disgrace, from the occupation he had
so generously submitted to ; and from that hour I
judged him, with no after repentance, to be a person
with whom it would be a felicity to be more ac-

To descant upon his merits as a Comedian would
be superfluous. With his blended private and pro-
fessional habits alone I have to do ; that harmonious
fusion of the manners of the player into those of
every-day life, which brought the stage boards into
streets and dining-parlours, and kept up the play when
the play was ended. " I like Wrench," a friend was
saying to him one day, " because he is the same
natural, easy creature 07i the stage that he is off."
" My case exactly," retorted EUiston, with a charming
forgetfulness that the converse of a proposition does
not always lead to the same conclusion, " I am the
same person off the stage that I am on." The infer-
ence, at first sight, seems identical ; but examine it a
little, and it confesses only that the one performer
was never, and the other always, acting.

And in truth this was the charm of Elliston's
private deportment. You had spirited performance
always going on before your eyes, with nothing to pay.
As where a monarch takes up his casual abode for a
night, the poorest hovel which he honours by his


sleeping in it, becomes ipso facto for that time a
palace ; so wherever Elliston walked, sate, or stood
still, there was the theatre. He carried about with
him his pit, boxes, and galleries, and set up his port-
able playhouse at corners of streets, and in the
market-places. Upon flintiest pavements he trod the
boards still ; and if his theme chanced to be passion-
ate, the green baize carpet of tragedy spontaneously
rose beneath his feet. Now this was hearty, and
showed a love for his art. So Apelles always painted,
in thought. So G. D. always poetises. I hate a
lukewarm artist. I have known actors, and some of
them of Elliston's own stamp, who shall have agree
ably been amusing you in the part of a rake or a
coxcomb, through the two or three hours of their
dramatic existence ; but no sooner does the curtain
fall with its leaden clatter, but a spirit of lead seems
to seize on all their faculties. They emerge sour,
morose persons, intolerable to their families, servants,
-&C. Another shall have been expanding your heart
with generous deeds and sentiments, till it even beats
with yearnings of universal sympathy ; you abso-
lutely long to go home and do some good action.
The play seems tedious till you can get fairly out of
the house, and realize your laudable intentions. At
length the final bell rings, and this cordial represen-
tative of all that is amiable in human breasts steps
forth a miser. Elliston was more of a piece. Did he
play Ranger ? and did Ranger fill the general bosom
of the town with satisfaction ? why should he not be
Ranger, and diffuse the same cordial satisfaction
among his private circles ? With his temperament,
his animal spirits, ^i5 good-nature, his follies perchance,
could he do better than identify himself with his im-

B 2


personation ? Are we to like a pleasant rake or
coxcomb on the stage, and give ourselves airs of
aversion for the identical character, presented to us
in actual life ? or what would the performer have
gained by divesting himself of the impersonation ?
Could the man Elliston have been essentially different
from his part, even if he had avoided to reflect to
us studiously, in private circles, the airy briskness,
the forwardness, and 'scape-goat trickeries of his pro-
totype ?

" But there is something not natural in this ever-
lasting acting ; we want the real man.''

Are you quite sure that it is not the man himself,
whom you cannot, or will not see, under some ad-
ventitious trappings, which, nevertheless, sit not at
all inconsistently upon him? What if it is the nature
of some men to be highly artificial ? The fault is
least reprehensible in players. Gibber was his own
Foppington, with almost as much wit as Vanbrugh
could add to it.

" My conceit of his person " (it is Ben Jonson
speaking of Lord Bacon) " was never increased to-
wards him by his place or honours ; but I have and
do reverence him for the greatness that was only proper
to himself; in that he seemed to me ever one of the
greatest men that had been in many ages. In his
adversity I ever prayed that Heaven would give him
strength ; iov greatness he could not want."

The quality here commended was scarcely less con-
spicuous in the subject of these idle reminiscences
than in my Lord Verulum. Those who have imagined
that an unexpected elevation to the direction of a great
London Theatre affected the consequence of Elliston,
or at all changed his nature, knew not the essential


greatness of the man whom they disparage. It was
my fortune to encounter him near St. Dunstan's
Church, (which, with its punctual giants, is now no
more than dust and a shadow,) on the morning of his
election to that high office. Grasping my hand with
a look of significance, he only uttered, " Have you
heard the news ? " then, with another look following
up the blow, he subjoined, " I am the future Manager
of Drury Lane Theatre." Breathless as he saw me,
he stayed not for congratulation or reply, but mutely
stalked away, leaving me to chew upon his new-blown
dignities at leisure. In fact, nothing could be said
to it. Expressive silence alone could muse his praise.
This was in his great style.

But was he less great, (be witness, ye Powers of
Equanimity, that supported in the ruins of Carthage
the consular exile, and more recently transmuted, for
a more illustrious exile, the barren constableship of
Elba into an image of Imperial France,) when, in
melancholy after-years, again, much near the same
spot, I met him, when that sceptre had been wrested
from his hand, and his dominion was curtailed to the
petty managership, and part proprietorship, of the
small Olympic, his Elba ? He still played nightly
upon the boards of Drury, but in parts, alas, allotted
to him, not magnificently distributed by him. Waiving
his great loss as nothing, and magnificently sinking
the sense of fallen material grandeur in the more
liberal resentment of depreciations done to his more
lofty intellectual pretensions, " Have you heard," (his
customary exordium,) " have you heard," said he,
"how they treat me? They put me in comedy!"
Thought I, (but his finger on his lips forbade any
verbal interruption,) " where could they have put you


better?" Then, after a pause, " Where I formerly
played Romeo, I now play Mercutio;" and so again
he stalked away, neither staying nor caring for re-

O it was a rich scene (but Sir A C , the

best of story-tellers and surgeons, who mends a lame
narrative almost as well as he sets a fracture, alone
could do justice to it,) that I was a witness to,
in the tarnished room (that had once been green) of
that same little Olympic. There, after his deposition
from Imperial Drury, he substituted a throne. That
Olympic Hill was his "highest heaven;" himself
"Jove in his chair." There he sat in state, while
before him, on complaint of prompter, was brought
for judgment (how shall I describe her ?) one of those
little tawdry things that flirt at the tails of choruses —
a probationer for the town, in either of its senses —
the pertest little drab — a dirty fringe and appendage
of the lamp's smoke — who, it seems, on some disap-
probation expressed by a ** highly respectable"
audience, had precipitately quitted her station on the
boards, and withdrawn her small talents in disgust.

" And how dare you," said her manager, — assuming
a censorial severity which would have crushed the
confidence of a Vestris, and disarmed that beautiful
rebel herself of her professional caprices, (I verily
believe bethought her standing before him,) "how
dare you. Madam, withdraw yourself, without a notice,
from your theatrical duties ?" "I was hissed. Sir."
" And you have the presumption to decide upon the
taste of the town ?" "I don't know that. Sir; but I
will never stand to be hissed," was the subjoinder of
young Confidence, — when gathering up his features
into one significant mass of wonder, pity, and


expostulatory indignation, in a le-sson never to have
been lost upon a creature less forward than she who
stood before him, his words were these : " They have
hissed me."

'Twas the identical argument a fortiori, which the
son of Peleus uses to Lycaon trembling under his
lance, to persuade him to take his destiny with a good
grace. *' I too am mortal." And it is to be believed
that in both cases the rhetoric missed of its applica-
tion, for want of a proper understanding with the
faculties of the respective recipients.

" Quite an Opera pit," he said to me, as he was
courteously conducting me over the benches of his
Surrey Theatre, the last retreat and recess of his
every-day waning grandeur.

Those who knew Elliston will know the manner in
which he pronounced the latter sentence of the few
words I am about to record. One proud day to me he
took his roast mutton with us in the Temple, to which
I had superadded a preliminary haddock. After a
rather plentiful partaking of the meagre banquet, not
unrefreshed with the humbler sort of liquors, I made
a sort of apology for the humility of the fare, observ-
ing that for my own part I never ate but one dish at
dinner. " I too never eat but one thing at dinner,"
was his reply ; then after a pause — " reckoning fish as
nothing." The manner was all. It was as if by one
peremptory sentence he had decreed the annihilation
of all the savoury esculents, which the pleasant and
nutritious-food-giving Ocean pours forth upon poor
humans from her watery bosom. This was greatness,
tempered with considerate tenderness to the feelings
of his scanty but welcoming entertainer.

Great wert thou in thy life, Robert William


ElHston ! and not lessened in thy death, if report
speak truly, which says that thou didst direct that
thy mortal remains should repose under no inscrip-
tion but one of pure Latinity. Classical was thy
bringing up ; and beautiful was the feeling on thy
last bed, which, connecting the man with the boy,
took thee back to thy latest exercise of imagination,
to the days when, undreaming of Theatres and
Managerships, thou wert a scholar, and an early ripe
one, under the roofs builded by the munificent and
pious Colet. For thee the Pauline Muses weep. In
elegies, that shall silence this crude prose, they shall
celebrate thy praise.


I AM fond of passing my vacations (I believe I have
said so before) at one or other of the Universities.
Next to these my choice would fix me at some woody
spot, such as the neighbourhood of Henley affords in
abundance, on the banks of my beloved Thames.
But somehow or other my cousin contrives to wheedle
me, once in three or four seasons, to a watering-place.
Old attachments cling to her in spite of experience.
We have been dull at Worthing one Summer, duller
at Brighton another, dullest at Eastbourne a third,
and are at this moment doing dreary penance at
Hastings ; and all because we were happy many
years ago for a brief week at Margate. That was our


first sea-side experiment, and many circumstances
combined to make it the most agreeable holiday of
my life. We had neither of us seen the sea, and we
had never been from home so long together in com-

Can I forget thee, thou old Margate Hoy, with thy
weather-beaten, sun-burnt captain, and his rough ac-
commodations ? — ill exchanged for the foppery and
fresh-water niceness of the modern steam-packet. To
the winds and waves thou committedst thy goodly
freightage, and didst ask no aid of magic fumes, and
spells, and boiling caldrons. With the gales of
heaven thou wentest swimmingly ; or, when it was
their pleasure, stoodest still with sailor-like patience.
Thy course was natural ; not forced, as in a hot-bed ;
nor didst thou go poisoning the breath of ocean with
sulphureous smoke, — a great sea chimera, chimneying
and furnacing the deep ; or liker to that fire-god
parching up Scamander.

Can I forget thy honest, yet slender crew, with
their coy reluctant responses (yet to the suppression
of any thing like contempt) to the raw questions,
which we of the great City would be ever and anon
putting to them, as to the uses of this or that strange
naval implement? 'Specially, can I forget thee, thou
happy medium, thou shade of refuge between us and
them, conciliating interpreter of their skill to our
simplicity, comfortable ambassador between sea and
land ! — whose sailor-trousers did not more convin-
cingly assure thee to be an adopted denizen of the
former, than thy white cap, and whiter apron over
them, with thy neat-figured practice in thy culinary
vocation, bespoke thee to have been of inland nurture


heretofore — a master cook of Eastcheap ? How
busily didst thou ply thy multifarious occupation ! —
cook, mariner, attendant, chamberlain ! — here, there,
like another Ariel, flaming at once about all parts of
the deck, yet with kindlier ministrations ; not to
assist the tempest, but, as if touched with a kindred
sense of our infirmities, to soothe the qualms which
that untried motion might haply raise in our crude
land-fancies. And when the o'erwashing billows
drove us below deck, (for it was far gone in October,
and we had stiff and blowing weather,) how did thy
officious ministerings, still catering for our comfort,
with cards, and cordials, and thy more cordial con-
versation, alleviate the closeness and the confinement
of thy else (truth to say) not very savoury nor very
inviting little cabin !

With these additaments to boot, we had on board
a fellow-passenger, whose discourse in verity might
have beguiled a longer voyage than we meditated,
and have made mirth and wonder abound as far as
the Azores. He was a dark, Spanish-complexioned
young man, remarkably handsome, with an officer-
like assurance, and an insuppressible volubility oi
assertion. He was, in fact, the greatest liar I had
met with then, or since. He was none of your hesi-
tating, half-story-tellers (a most painful description ol
mortals) who go on sounding your belief, and only
giving you as much as they see you can swallow at a
time — the nibbling pickpockets of your patience — but
one who committed downright daylight depredations
upon his neighbour's faith. He did not stand shiver-
ing upon the brink, but was a hearty, thorough-paced
liar, and plunged at once into the depths of your
credulity. I partly believe he made pretty sure of


his company. Not many rich, not many wise or
learned, composed at that time the common stowage
of a Margate packet. We were, I am afraid, a set of
as unseasoned Londoners (let our enemies give it a
worse name) as Aldermanbury or Watling Street at
that time of day could have supplied. There might
be an exception or two among us ; but I scorn to
make any invidious distinctions among such a jolly,
companionable ship's company as those were whom
I sailed with. Something too must be conceded to
the Genius Loci. Had the confident fellow told us
half the legends on land which he favoured us with
on the other element, I flatter myself the good sense
of most of us would have revolted. But we were in
a new world, with every thing unfamiliar about us ;
and the time and place disposed us to the reception
of any prodigious marvel whatsoever. Time has
obliterated from my memory much of his wild
fablings ; and the rest would appear but dull, as
written, and to be read on shore. He had been
Aide-de-camp (among other rare accidents and for-
tunes) to a Persian Prince, and at one blow had
stricken off the head of the King of Carimania on
horseback. He of course married the Prince's
daughter. I forget what unlucky turn in the politics
of that Court, combining with the loss of his consort,
was the reason of his quitting Persia ; but, with the
rapidity of a magician, he transported himself, along
with his hearers, back to England, where we still
found him in the confidence of great ladies. There was
some story of a princess (Elizabeth, if I remember,)
having intrusted to his ca^ - an extraordinary casket
of jewels, upon some extraordinary occasion ; but, as
I am not certain of the name or circumstance at this


distance of time, I must leave it to the Royal daughters
of England to settle the honour among themselves in
private. I cannot call to mind half his pleasant
wonders ; but I perfectly remember that in the course
of his travels he had seen a phoenix ; and he oblig-
ingly undeceived us of the vulgar error that there is
but one of that species at a time, assuring us that
they were not uncommon in some parts of Upper
Egypt. Hitherto he had found the most implicit
listeners. His dreaming fancies had transported us be-
yond the *' ignorant present." But when (still hardy-
ing more and more in his triumphs over our simplicity)
he went on to affirm that he had actually sailed
through the legs of the Colossus at Rhodes, it really
became necessary to make a stand. And here I must
do justice to the good sense and intrepidity of one of
our party, a youth, that had hitherto been one of his
most deferential auditors, who, from his recent read-
ing, made bold to assure the gentleman that there
must be some mistake, as "the Colossus in question
had been destroyed long since;" to whose opinion,
delivered with all modesty, our hero was obliging
enough to concede thus much, that " the figure was
indeed a little damaged." This was the only oppo-
sition he met with, and it did not at all seem to
stagger him, for he proceeded with his fables, which
the same youth appeared to swallow with still more
complacency than ever, — confirmed, as it were, by
the extreme candour of that concession. With these
prodigies he wheedled us on till we came in sight of
the Reculvers, which one of our own company
(having been the voyage before) immediately recog-
nising, and pointing out to us, was considered by us
as no ordinary seaman.


All this time sat upon the edge of the deck quite
a different character. It was a lad, apparently very
poor, very inlirm, and very patient. His eye was
ever on the sea with a smile ; and if he caught now
and then some snatches of these wild legends, it was
by accident, and they seemed not to concern him.
The waves to him whispered more pleasant stories.
He was as one being with us, but not of us. He
heard the dinner-bell ring without stirring ; and when
some of us pulled out our private stores — our cold
meat and our salads — he produced none, and seemed
to want none. Only a solitary biscuit he had laid in ;
provision for the one or two days and nights, to which
these vessels then were oftentimes obliged to prolong
their voyage. Upon a nearer acquaintance with him,
which he seemed neither to court nor decline, we
learned that he was going to Margate, with the hope
of being admitted into the Infirmary there for sea-
bathing. His disease was scrofula, which appeared
to have eaten all over him. He expressed great
hopes of a cure ; and when we asked him whether he
had any friends where he was going, he replied, " I
have no friends."

These pleasant and some mournful passages with
the first sight of the sea, co-operating with youth,
and a sense of holidays, and out-of-door adventure,
to me that had been pent up in populous cities for
many months before, have left upon my mind the
fragrance as of summer days gone by, bequeathing
nothing but their remembrance for cold and wintry
hours to chew upon.

Will it be thought ^ digression (it may spare some
unwelcome comparisons) if I endeavour to account
for the dissatisfaction which I have heard so many


persons confess to have felt (as I did myself feel in
part on this occasion) at the sight of the sea for the
first time? I think the reason usually given, (referring
to the incapacity of actual objects for satisfying our
preconceptions of them,) scarcely goes deep enough
into the question. Let the same person see a lion,
an elephant, a mountain for the first time in his life,
and he shall perhaps feel himself a little mortified.
The things do not fill up that space vi^hich the idea
of them seemed to take up in his mind. But they
have still a correspondency to his first notion, and in
time grow up to it, so as to produce a very similar
impression : enlarging themselves (if I may say so)
upon familiarity. But the sea remains a disappoint-
ment. Is it not, that in the latter we had expected to
behold, (absurdly, I grant, but, I am afraid, by the law
of imagination, unavoidably,) not a definite object,
as those wild beasts, or that mountain compassable
by the eye, but all the sea at once, the commensurate
ANTAGONIST OF THE EARTH ? I do not say we tell
ourselves so much, but the craving of the mind is
to be satisfied with nothing less. I will suppose the
case of a young person of fifteen, (as I then was,)
knowing nothing of the sea but from description.
He comes to it for the first time — all that he has
been reading of it all his life, and that the most
enthusiastic part of life, all he has gathered from
narratives of wandering seamen, what he has gained
from true voyages, and what he cherishes as credu-
lously from romance and poetry, crowding their
images, and exacting strange tributes from expec-
tation. He thinks of the great deep, and of those

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 30)