Charles Lamb.

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body of humanity became, as it were, lame to the

L 2


performance of good works. Pride he will have to
be nothing but a stiff neck; irresolution, the nerves
shaken ; an inclination to sinister paths, crookedness
of the joints ; spiritual deadness, a paralysis ; want of
charity, a contraction in the fingers ; despising of
government, a broken head ; the plaster, a sermon ;
the lint to bind it up, the text ; the probers, the
preachers ; a pair of crutches, the old and new law ;
a bandage, religious obligation : a fanciful mode of
illustration, derived from the accidents and habits of
his past calling spiritualized, rather than from any
accurate acquaintance with the Hebrew text, in which
report speaks him but a raw scholar. Mr. EUiston,
from all that we can learn, has his religion yet to
choose ; though some think him a Muggletonian.


Charles Lamb, born in the Inner Temple, loth
February, 1775 ; educated in Christ's Hospital ; after-
wards a clerk in the Accountants' Office, East-India
House ; pensioned off from that service, 1825, after
thirty-three years' service ; is now a gentleman at
large ; can remember few specialties in his life worth
noting, except that he once caught a swallow flying
{teste sua mami). Below the middle stature ; cast of
face slightly Jewish, with no Judaic tinge in his com-
plexional religion ; stammers abominably, and is


eJAyi>my,^^^c&^cA^::6^' ^ta,c^e;d€^


therefore more apt to discharge his occasional con-
versation in a quaint aphorism, or a poor quibble,
than .in set and edifying speeches ; has consequently
been libelled as a person always aiming at wit ;
which, as he told a dull fellow that charged him with
it, is at least as good as aiming at dulness. A small
eater, but not drinker ; confesses a partiality for the
production of the juniper-berry ; was a fierce smoker
of tobacco, but may be resembled to a volcano burnt
out, emitting only now and then a casual puff. Has
been guilty of obtruding upon the public a tale, in
prose, called " Rosamund Gray ; " a dramatic sketch,
named **John Woodvil ;" a "Farewell Ode to
Tobacco," with sundry other poems, and light prose
matter, collected in two slight crown octavos, and
pompously christened his works, though in fact they
were his recreations ; and his true works may be
found on the shelves of Leadenhall Street, filling
some hundred folios. He is also the true Elia, whose
Essays are extant in a little volume, published a year
or two since, and rather better known from that name
without a meaning than from any thing he has done,
or can hope to do, in his own. He was also the first
to draw the public attention to the old English dra-
matists, in a work called ** Specimens of English
Dramatic Writers who lived about the Time of Shak-
speare," published about fifteen years since. In short,
all his merits and demerits to set forth would take to
the end of Mr. Upcott's book, and then not be told

He died i8 , much lamented.
Witness his hand,

Charles Lamb.

1 8th April, 1827.



" Dear Sir, — Your communication to me of the death
of Munden made we weep. Now, Sir, I am not of
the melting mood. But, in these serious times, the
loss of half the world's fun is no trivial deprivation.
It was my loss (or gain shall I call it) in the early
time of my play-going, to have missed all Munden's
acting. There was only he and Lewis at Covent
Garden, while Drury Lane was exuberant with
Parsons, Dodd, &c., such a comic company as, I sup-
pose, the stage never showed. Thence, in the even-
ing of my life I had Munden all to myself, more
mellowed, richer perhaps, than ever. I cannot say
what his change of faces produced in me. It
was not acting. He was not one of my * old
actors.' It might be better. His power was extra-
vagant. I saw him one evening in three drunken
characters. Three farces were played. One part was
Dosey — I forget the rest ; but they were so discri-
minated that a stranger might have seen them all,
and not have dreamed that he was seeing the same
actor. I am jealous for the actors who pleased my
youth. He was not a Parsons or a Dodd, but he was
more wonderful. He seemed as if he could do any
thing. He was not an actor, but something better,
if you please. Shall I instance Old Foresight, in
" Love for Love," in which Parsons was at once the


old man, the astrologer, &c. Munden dropped the
old man, the doater — which makes the character —
but he substituted for it a moon-struck character, a
perfect abstraction from this earth, that looked as if
he had newly come down from the planets. Now,
that is not what I call acting. It might be better. He
was imaginative; he could impress upon an audience
an idea — the low one, perhaps, of a leg of mutton and
turnips ; but such was the grandeur and singleness
of his expressions, that that single expression would
convey to all his auditory a notion of all the plea-
sures they had all received from all the legs of mutton
and turnips they had ever eaten in their lives. Now
this is not acting, nor do I set down Munden amongst
my old actors. He was only a wonderful manj
exerting his vivid impressions through the agency of
the stage. In one only thing did I see him act — that
is, support a character ; it was in a wretched farce,
called " Johnny Gilpin," for Dowton's benefit, in
which he did a Cockney. The thing ran but one night ;
but when I say that Liston's Lubin Log was nothing
to it, I say little : it was transcendent. And here let
me say of actors, envious actors, that of Munden,
Liston was used to speak, almost with the enthusiasm
due to the dead, in terms of such allowed superiority
to every actor on the stage, and this at a time when
Munden was gone by in the world's estimation, that
it convinced me that artists (in which term I include
poets, painters, &c.,) are not so envious as the world
think. I have little time, and therefore enclose a
criticism on Munden's Old Dosey and his general
acting, by a friend.

"C. Lamb."
" Mr. Munden appears to us to be the most classical


of actors. He is that in high farce which Kemble
was in high tragedy. The Hnes of these great artists
are, it must be admitted, sufficiently distinct ; but the
same elements are in both, — the same directness of
purpose, the same singleness of aim, the same con-
centration of power, the same iron-casing of inflexible
manner, the same statue-like precision of gesture,
movement, and attitude. The hero of farce is as little
affected with impulses from without, as the retired
Prince of Tragedians. There is something solid,
sterling, almost adamantine, in the building up of his
most grotesque characters. When he fixes his
wonder-working face in any of its most amazing
varieties, it looks as if the picture were carved out
from a rock by Nature in a sportive vein, and might
last for ever. It is like what we can imagine a mask
of the old Grecian Comedy to have been, only that it
lives, and breathes, and changes. His most fantas-
tical gestures are the grand ideal of farce. He seems
as though he belonged to the earliest and the state-
liest age of Comedy, when instead of superficial
foibles and the airy varieties of fashion, she had the
grand asperities of man to work on, when her
grotesque images had something romantic about them,
and when humour and parody were themselves heroic.
His expressions of feeling and bursts of enthusiasm
are among the most genuine which we have ever felt.
They seem to come up from a depth of emotion in
the heart, and burst through the sturdy casing of
manner with a strength which seems increased tenfold
by its real and hearty obstacle. The workings of his
spirit seem to expand his frame, till we can scarcely
believe that by measure it is small : for the space
which he fills in the imagination is so real, that we



almost mistake it for that of corporeal dimensions.
His Old Dosey, in the excellent farce of " Past Ten
o'clock," is his grandest effort of this kind, and we
know of nothing finer. He seems to have a " heart
of oak " indeed. His description of a sea-fight is
the most noble and triumphant piece of enthusiasm
which we remember. It is as if the spirits of a whole
crew of nameless heroes " were swelling in his
bosom." We never felt so ardent and proud a sym-
pathy with the valour of England as when we heard
it. May health long be his, thus to do our hearts
good ; for we never saw any actor whose merits have
the least resemblance to his, even in species ; and
when his genius is withdrawn from the stage, we
shall not have left even a term by which we can fitly
describe it."



No. L

The greatest pleasure I know, is to do a good action
by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.

'Tis unpleasant to meet a beggar. It is painful to
deny him ; and if you relieve him, it is so much
out of your pocket.

Men marry for fortune, and sometimes to please
their fancy ; but, much oftener than is suspected,



they consider what the world will say of it ; how
such a woman in their friends' eyes will look at the
head of a table. Hence we see so many insipid
beauties made wives of, that could not have struck
the particular fancy of any man, that had any fancy
at all. These I call furniture wives ; as men buy
furniture pictures, because they suit this or that niche
in their dining parlours.

Your universally cried-up beauties are the ver)"- last
choice which a man of taste would make. What
pleases all, cannot have that individual charm which
makes this or that countenance engaging to you, and
to you only, perhaps you know not why. What
gained the fair Gunnings titled husbands, who, after
all, turned out very sorry wives ? Popular repute.

It is a sore trial when a daughter shall marry
against her father's approbation. A little hard-
heartedness, and aversion to a reconcilement, is
almost pardonable. After all. Will Dockwray's way
is perhaps the wisest. His best-loved daughter
made a most imprudent match ; in fact, eloped with
the last man in the world that her father would have
wished her to marry. All the world said that he
would never speak to her again. For months she
durst not write to him, much less come near him.
But, in a casual rencounter, he met her in the streets
of Ware ; — Ware, that will long remember the mild
virtues of William Dockwray, Esq. What said the
parent to his disobedient child, whose knees faltered
under her at the sight of him ? " Ha, Sukey, is it
you ?" with that benevolent aspect, with which he
paced the streets of Ware, venerated as an angel,
"come and dine with us on Sunday;" then turning
away, and again turning back, as if he had forgotten



something, he added, " and Sukey, do you hear,
bring your husband with you." This was all the
reproof she ever heard from him. Need it be added,
that the match turned out better for Susan than the
world expected ?

" We read the Paradise Lost as a task," says
Dr. Johnson. Nay, rather as a celestial recreation,
of which the dullard mind is not at all hours alike
recipient. " Nobody ever wished it longer ;" — nor
the moon rounder, he might have added. Why, 'tis
the perfectness and completeness of it, which makes
us imagine that not a line could be added to it, or
diminished from it, with advantage. Would we have
a cubit added to the stature of the Medicean Venus ?
Do we wish her taller ?

No: 11.

Lear. Who are you ?
Mine eyes are none o' the best. I'll tell you straight.
Are you not Kent ?

Kent. The same; your servant Kent.
Where is your servant Caius ?

Lear. He's a good fellow, I can tell you that;
He'd strike, and quickly too: he's dead and rotten.

Kent. No, my good Lord ; I am the very man —

Lear. I'll see that straight —

Kent. That, from your first of difference and decay.
Have follow'd your sad steps.

Lear. You are welcome hither.

Albany. He knows not what he says ; and vain it is
That we present us to him.

Edgar. Look up, my Lord.

Kent. Vex not his ghost. O, let him pass ! He hates him.
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.

So ends " King Lear," the most stupendous of the
Shakspearian dramas ; and Kent, the noblest feature
3f the conceptions of his divine mind. This is the


magnanimity of authorship, when a writer, having a
topic presented to him, fruitful of beauties for
common minds, waives his privilege, and trusts to
the judicious few for understanding the reason of his
abstinence. What a pudder would a common dra-
matist have raised here of a reconciliation scene, a
perfect recognition, between the assumed Caius and
his master ! — to the suffusing of many fair eyes, and
the moistening of cambric handkerchiefs. The old
dying king partially catching at the truth, and imme-
diately lapsing into obliviousness, with the high-
minded carelessness of the other to have his services
appreciated, as one that

served not for


Or foUow'd out of form,

are among the most judicious, not to say heart-
touching, strokes in Shakspeare.

Allied to this magnanimity it is, where the pith
and point of an argument, the amplification of which
might compromise the modesty of the speaker, is
delivered briefly, and, as it were, parenthetically ; as
in those few but pregnant words, in which the man
in the old ' Nut-brown Maid ' rather intimates than
reveals his unsuspected high birth to the woman : —

Now understand, to Westmorland,

Which is my heritage,
I will you bring, and with a ring,

By way of marriage,
I will you take, and Lady make.

Turn we to the version of it, ten times diluted, of
dear Mat. Prior — in his own way unequalled, and a
poet now-a-days too much neglected — " In me,"
quoth Henry, addressing the astounded Emma — with
a flourish and an attitude, as we may conceive : —


In me behold the potent Edgar's heir.
Illustrious Earl ! him terrible in war.
Let Loire confess.

And with a deal of skimble-skamble stuff, as Hotspur
would term it, more, presents the Lady with a full
and true enumeration of his Papa's rent-roll in the
fat soil by Deva,

But of all parentheses, (not to quit the topic too
suddenly,) commend me to that most significant one,
at the commencement of the old popular ballad of
Fair Rosamund : —

When good King Henry ruled this land.
The second of that name,

Now mark —

(Besides the Queen) he dearly loved
A fair and comely dame.

There is great virtue in this besides.

Amidst the complaints of the wide spread of infi-
delity among us, it is consolatory that a sect is
sprung up in the heart of the metropolis, and is daily
on the increase, of teachers of that healing doctrine
which Pope upheld, and against which Voltaire
directed his envenomed wit. We mean those prac-
tical preachers of optimism, or the belief that What-
ever is is best — the Cads of Omnibuses ; who, from
their little back pulpits — not once in three or four
hours, as those Proclaimers of " God and his prophet "
in Mussulman countries ; but every minute, at the
entry or exit of a brief passenger, are heard, in an
almost prophetic tone, to exclaim — (Wisdom crying
out, as it were, in the streets,) — All's right.


No. III.

Advice is not so commonly thrown away as is
imagined. We seek it in difficulties. But, in
common speech, we are apt to confound with it
admonition ; as when a friend reminds one that drink
is prejudicial to the health, &c. We do not care to
be told of that which we know better than the good

man that admonishes. M sent to his friend

L , who is no water-drinker, a twopenny tract

' Against the Use of Fermented Liquors.' L

acknowledged the obligation, as far as to twopence.
Penotier's advice was the safest after all :

*' I advised him "

But I must tell you. The dear, good-meaning,
no-thinking creature, had been dumb-founding a
company of us with a detail of inextricable diffi-
culties, in which the circumstances of an acquaint-
ance of his were involved. No clue of light offered
itself. He grew more and more misty as he pro-
ceeded. We pitied his friend, and thought,

God help the man so wrapt in error's endless maze :

when, suddenly brightening up his placid counte-
nance, like one that had found out a riddle, and
looked to have the solution admired, " At last," said

he, " I advised him "

Here he paused, and here we were again inter-
minably thrown back. By no possible guess could
any of us aim at the drift of the meaning he was
about to be delivered of. " I advised him," he re-
peated, "to have some advice upon the subject." A
general approbation followed ; and it was unanimously
agreed, that, under all the circumstances of the case.


no sounder or more judicious counsel could have
been given.

A laxity pervades the popular use of words. Parson

W is not quite so continent as Diana, yet prettily

dissembleth his frailty. Is Parson W therefore

a hypocrite ? I think not. Where the concealment
of a vice is less pernicious than the bare-faced publi-
cation of it would be, no additional delinquency is

incurred in the secrecy. Parson W is simply an

immoral clergyman. But if Parson W were to

be for ever haranguing on the opposite virtue —
choosing for his perpetual text, in preference to all
other pulpit topics, the remarkable resistance recorded
in the 39th of Exodus — dwelling, moreover, and

dilating upon it — then Parson W might be

reasonably suspected of hypocrisy. But Parson

W rarely diverteth into such line of argument,

or toucheth it briefly. His ordinary topics are fetched
from " obedience to the Powers that be " — " submis-
sion to the civil magistrate in all commands that are
not absolutely unlawful ;" on which he can delight
to expatiate with equal fervour and sincerity. Again,
to despise a person is properly to look down upon him
with none, or the least possible emotion. But when
Clementina, who has lately lost her lover, with bosom
heaving, eyes flashing, and her whole frame in
agitation, pronounces with a peculiar emphasis, that
she " despises the fellow," depend upon it that he is
not quite so despicable in her eyes as she would have
us imagine. — One more instance : — If we must
naturalize that portentous phrase, a truism, it were
well that we limited the use of it. Every common-
place or trite observation is not a truism. For
example : A good name helps a man on in the world.


This is nothing but a simple truth, however hack-
neyed. It has a distinct subject and predicate. But
when the thing predicated is involved in the term of
the subject, and so necessarily involved that by no
possible conception they can be separated, then it
becomes a truism ; as to say, A good name is a proof
of a man's estimation in the world. We seem to be
saying something when we say nothing. I was

describing to F some knavish tricks of a mutual

friend of ours. " If he did so and so," was the reply,
*' he cannot be an honest man." Here was a genuine
truism — truth upon truth — inference and proposition
identical ; or rather a dictionary definition usurping
the place of an inference.

No. IV.

The vices of some men are magnificent. Compare
the amours of Henry the Eighth and Charles the
Second. The Stuart had mistresses — the Tudor kept

We are ashamed at sight of a monkey — somehow
as we are shy of poor relations.

C imagined a Caledonian compartment in

Hades, where there should be fire without sulphur.

Absurd images are sometimes irresistible. I will
mention two. An elephant in a coach-office gravely
coming to have his trunk booked ; — a mermaid over
a fish-kettle cooking her own tail.

It is praise of Shakspeare, with reference to the
play-writers, his contemporaries, that he has so
few revolting characters. Yet he has one that is
singularly mean and disagreeable — the King in
Hamlet. Neither has he characters of insignificance,


unless the phantom that stalks over the stage as
Julius Caesar, in the play of that name, may be ac-
counted one. Neither has he envious characters,
excepting the short part of Don John, in " Much Ado
about Nothing." Neither has he unentertaining cha-
racters, if we except Parolles, and the little that there
is of the Clown, in "All's Well that Ends Well."

It would settle the dispute, as to whether Shak-
speare intended Othello for a jealous character, to con-
sider how differently we are affected towards him, and
for Leontes in the "Winter's Tale." Leontes is that
character. Othello's fault was simply credulity.

Is it possible that Shakspeare should never have
read Homer, in Chapman's version at least ? If he
had read it, could he mean to travesty it in the parts
of those big boobies, Ajax and Achilles ? Ulysses.,
Nestor, and Agamemnon, are true to their parts in
the Iliad : they are gentlemen at least. Thersites,
though unamusing, is fairly deducible from it. Troilus
and Cressida are a fine graft upon it. But those two
big bulks —

It is a desideratum in works that treat de re culinarid,
that we have no rationale of sauces, or theory of
mixed flavours ; as to show why cabbage is repre-
hensible with roast beef, laudable with bacon ; why
the haunch of mutton seeks the alliance of currant
jelly, the shoulder civilly declineth it; why a loin of
veal, (a pretty problem, ) being itself unctuous, seeketh
the adventitious lubricity of melted butter; and why
the same part in pork, not more oleaginous, abhorreth
it ; why the French bean sympathises with the
flesh of deer ; why salt fish points to parsnip, brawn
makes a dead set at mustard ; why cats prefer valerian
to hearts-ease, old ladies vice versa, — though this is



rather travelling out of the road of the dietetics, and
may be thought a question more curious than rele-
vant ; — why salmon (a strong sapor per se) fortifieth
its condition with the mighty lobster sauce, whose
embraces are fatal to the delicater relish of the turbot ;
why oysters in death rise up against the contamina-
tion of brown sugar, while they are posthumously
amorous of vinegar ; why the sour mango and the
sweet jam, by turns, court and are accepted by the
compliable mutton hash — she not yet decidedly
declaring for either. We are as yet but in the em-
pirical stage of cookery. We feed ignorantly, and
want to be able to give a reason of the relish that is
in us ; so that if Nature should furnish us with a
new meat, or be prodigally pleased to restore the
phoenix, upon a givtii flavour, we might be able to
pronounce instantly, on philosophical principles,
what the sauce to it should be — what the curious ad-


" Wb love to have our friend in the country sitting
thus at our table by proxy ; to apprehend his presence
(though a hundred miles may be between us) by a
turkey, whose goodly aspect reflects to us his ' plump
corpusculum ;' to taste him in grouse or woodcock;
to feel him gliding down in the toast peculiar to the
latter ; to concorporate him in a slice of Canterbury
brawn. This is indeed to have him within ourselves;
to know him intimately; such participation is me-


thinks unitive, as the old theologians phrase it." —
Last Essays of Elia.

" Elia presents his acknowledgments to his ' Cor-
respondent Unknown,' for a basket of prodigiously
fine game. He takes for granted that so amiable a
character must be a reader of the Athenceum, else he
had meditated a notice in the Times. Now if this
friend had consulted the Delphic oracle for a present
suited to the palate of Elia, he could not have hit
upon a morsel so acceptable. The birds he is barely
thankful for ; pheasants are poor fowls disguised in
fine feathers; but a hare roasted hard and brown,
with gravy and melted butter ! — Old Mr. Chambers,
the sensible clergyman in Warwickshire, whose son's
acquaintance has made many hours happy in the life
of Elia, used to allow a pound of Epping to every
hare. Perhaps that was over-doing it. But, in spite
of the note of Philomel, who, like some fine poets,
that think no scorn to adopt plagiarisms from an
humble brother, reiterates every Spring her cuckou

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 11 of 29)