Charles Lamb.

The life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) online

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cry of 'Jug, Jug, Jug,' Elia pronounces that a hare,
to be truly palated, must be roasted. Jugging sophis-
ticates her. In our way it eats so * crips,' as Mrs.
Minikin says. Time was, when Elia was not arrived
at his taste, that he preferred to all luxuries a
roasted pig. But he disclaims all such green-sick-
ness appetites in future, though he hath to acknow-
ledgfe the receipt of many a delicacy in that kind from
correspondents — good, but mistaken men — in con-
sequence of their erroneous supposition that he had
carried up into mature life the prepossessions of
childhood. From the worthy Vicar of Enfield he ac-
knowledges a tithe contribution of extraordinary sapor.
The ancients must have loved hares ; else why adopt

i\i 2


the word lepores (obviously from lepus) but for some
subtle analogy between the delicate flavour of the
latter and the finer relishes of wit in what we most
poorly translate pleasantries. The fine madnesses of
the poet are the very decoction of his diet. Thence
is he hare-brained. Harum-scarum is a libellous un-
founded phrase, of modern usage. 'Tis true the hare
is the most circumspect of animals, sleeping with her
eye open. Her ears, ever erect, keep them in that
wholesome exercise which conduces them to form
the very tit-bit of the admirers of this noble animal.
Noble will I call her, in spite of her detractors, who
from occasional demonstrations of the principle of
self-preservation, (common to all animals,) infer in her
a defect of heroism. Half a hundred horsemen, with
thrice the number of dogs, scour the country in pur-
suit of puss across three counties ; and because the
well-flavoured beast, weighing the odds, is willing to
evade the hue and cry, (with her delicate ears shrink-
ing perchance from discord,) comes the grave natu-
ralist, Linnaeus perchance, or Buffon, and gravely sets
down the hare as a timid animal. Why Achilles,
or Bully Dawson, would have declined the prepos-
terous combat.

" In fact, how light of digestion we feel after a
hare ! How tender its processes after swallowing !
What chyle it promotes ! How ethereal ! as if its
living celerity were a type of its nimble coursing
through the animal juices. The notice might be
longer. It is intended less as a Natural History of
the Hare than a cursory thanks to the country ' good
Unknown.' The hare has many friends, but none sin-
cerer than •* Elia.'

Niv. 30, 1834.






What Apelles was to the Grecian Alexander, the
same to the Russian was the late G — D — None
but Apelles might attempt the lineaments of the
world's conqueror ; none but our Academician could
have done justice to the lines of the Czar and his
courtiers. There they hang, the labour of ten plod-
ding years, in an endless gallery, erected for the
nonce, in the heart of Imperial Petersburgh — eternal
monuments of barbarian taste submitting to half-
civilized cunning — four hundred fierce Half- Lengths,
all male, and all military; like the pit in a French
theatre, or the characters in " Timon " as it was last
acted, with never a woman among them. Chaste
sitters to Vandyke, models of grace and womanhood,
and thou. Dame Venetia Digby, fairest among thy
fair compeers at Windsor, hide your pure pale cheeks,
and cool English beauties, before this suffocating
horde of Scythian riflers, this male chaos ! Your
cold oaken frames shall wane before the gorgeous

With Tartar faces thronged, and horrent uniforms.

One emperor contended for the monopoly of the
a.icient ; two were competitors at once for the pencil


of the tnodern Apelles. The Russian carried it
against the Haytian by a single length. And if fate,
as it was at one time nearly arranged, had wafted
D. to the shores of Hayti, with the same com-
placency in his art with which he persisted in
daubing in, day after day, his frozen Muscovites, he
would have sate down for life to smutch in upon
canvass the faces of blubber-lipped sultanas, or the
whole male retinue of the dingy court of Christophe ;
for in truth a choice of subjects was the least of
D.'s care. A Goddess from Cnidus, or from the
Caffre coast, was equal to him ; Lot, or Lot's wife ;
the charming widow H., or her late husband.

My acquaintance with D. was in the outset of his
art, when the graving tools, rather than the pencil,
administered to his humble wants. Those imple-
ments, as is well known, are not the most favourable
to the cultivation of that virtue which is esteemed
next to godliness. He might " wash his hands in
innocency," and so metaphorically " approach an
altar;" but his material puds were any thing but fit
to be carried to church. By an ingrained economy
in soap — if it was not for pictorial effect rather — he
would wash (on Sundays) the inner oval, or portrait,
as it may be termed, of his countenance, leaving the
unwashed temples to form a natural black frame round
a picture in which a dead white was the predominant
colour. This, with the addition of green spectacles,
made necessary by the impairment which his graving
labours by day and night (for he was ordinarily at
them for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four) had
brought upon his visual faculties, gave him a singular
appearance when he took the air abroad ; in so much,
that I have seen a crowd of young men and boys


following him along Oxford Street with admiration,
not without shouts ; even as the Youth of Rome, we
read in Vasari, followed the steps of Raphael with
acclamations for his genius, and for his beauty, when
he proceeded from his work-shop to chat with Car-
dinals and Popes at the Vatican.

The family of D. were not at this time in affluent
circumstances. His father, a clever artist, had out-
lived the style of art, in which he excelled most of
his contemporaries. He, with the father of the
celebrated Morland, worked for the shop of Car-
rington and Bowles, which exists still for the poorer
sort of caricatures, on the North side of St. Paul's
Church Yard. They did clever things in colours.
At an inn in Reading a screen is still preserved, full
of their labours ; but the separate portions of either
artist are now undistinguishable. I remember a
Mother teaching her Child to read ; (B. Barton has a
copy of it ;) a Laundress washing; a Young Quaker,
a beautiful subject. But the flower of their forgotten
productions hangs still at a public-house on the left
hand, as thou arrivest, Reader, from the now High-
gate archway, at the foot of the descent where
Crouch End begins, on thy road to green Hornsey.
Turn in, and look at it, for the sight is well worth a cup
of excusatory cyder. In the parlour to the right you
will find it — an antiquated subject — a Damsel sitting
at her breakfast table in a gown of the flowered
chintz of our grandmothers, with a tea-service before
her of the same pattern. The effect is most delicate.
Why have these harmonies — these agremens — no
place in the works of modern art ?

With such niceties in his calling D. did not much
trouble his head, but, after an ineffectual experiment


to reconcile his eye-sight with his occupation, boldly
quitted it, and dashed into the beaten road of com-
mon-place portraiture in oil. The Hopners and the
Lawrences were his Vandykes and his Velasquezes ;
and if he could make any thing like them, he insured
himself immortality. With such guides he struggled
on through laborious nights and days, till he reached
the eminence he aimed at — of mediocrity. Having
gained that summit, he sate down contented. If the
features were but cognoscible, no matter whether the
flesh resembled flesh or oil-skin. For the thousand
tints — the grains — which in the life diversify the nose,
the chin, the cheek — which a Reynolds can but
coarsely counterfeit — he cared nothing at all about
them. He left such scrupulosities to opticians and
anatomists. If the features were but there, the
character of course could not be far off. A lucky hit
which he made in painting the dress of a very dressy
lady — Mrs. W — e — , whose handsome countenance
also and tall elegance of shape were too palpable
entirely to escape under any masque of oil, with
which even D. could overlay them — brought to him
at once, an influx of sitters, which almost rivalled the
importunate calls upon Sir Thomas. A portrait he
did soon after, of the Princess Charlotte, clenched
his fame. He proceeded Academician. At that
memorable conjuncture of time it pleased the Allied
Sovereigns to visit England.

I called upon D. to congratulate him upon a crisis
so doubly eventful. His pleasant housekeeper seemed
embarrassed ; owned that her master was alone.
But could he be spoken with ? With some impor-
tunity I prevailed upon her to usher me up into his
painting-room. It was in Newman Street. At hia


easel stood D., with an immense spread of canvass
before him, and by his side a Uve Goose. I inquired
into this extraordinary combination. Under the rose
he informed me that he had undertaken to paint a
transparency for Vauxhall, against an expected visit
of the Allied Sovereigns to that place. I smiled at
an engagement so derogatory to his new-born
honours ; but a contempt of small gains was never
i)ne of D.'s foibles. My eyes beheld crude forms of
warriors, kings, rising under his brush upon this
interminable stretch of cloth. The Wolga, the Don,
and the Nieper were there, or their representative
River Gods ; and Father Thames clubbed urns with
the Vistula. Glory with her dazzling Eagle was not
absent, nor Fame, nor Victory. The shade of
Rubens might have evoked the mighty allegories.
But what was the Goose ? He was evidently sitting
for a something.

D. at last informed me, that having fixed upon a
group of rivers, he could not introduce the Royal
Thames without his swans ; that he had inquired
the price of a live swan, and it being more than he
was prepared to give for it, he had bargained with
the poulterer for the next thing to it ; adding signifi-
cantly, that it would do to roast, after it had served
its turn to paint swans by. Reader, this is a true

So entirely devoid of imagination, or any feeling
for his high art, was this Painter, that for the few
historical pictures he attempted, any sitter might sit
for any character. He took once for a subject The
Infant Hercules. Did he chuse for a model some
robust antique ? No. He did not even pilfer from
Sir Joshua, who was nearer to his own size. But


from a shoiu he hired to sit to him a child in years
indeed, (though no Infant,) but in fact a precocious
Man, or human portent, that was disgustingly exhi-
biting at that period ; a thing to be strangled. From
this he formed his Infant Hercules. In a scriptural
flight he next attempted a Samson in the lap of
Delilah. A Delilah of some sort was procurable for
love or money, but who should stand for the Jewish
Hercules ? He hired a tolerably stout porter, with a
thickish head of hair, curling in yellowish locks, but
lithe — much like a wig. And these were the robust
strengths of Samson !

I once was witness to a family scene in his painting
closet, which I had entered rather abruptly, and but
for his encouragement, should as hastily have re-
treated. He stood with displeased looks eyeing a
female relative — whom I had known under happier
auspices — that was kneeling at his feet with a baby
in her arms, with her eyes uplifted and suppliant.
Though I could have previously sworn to the virtue

of Miss , yet casual slips have been known.

There are such things as families disgraced, where
least you would have expected it. The child might

be ; I had heard of no wedding — I was the

last person to pry into family secrets — when D. re-
lieved my uneasy cogitations by explaining, that the
innocent, good-humoured creature before me, (such as
she ever was, and is now that she is married,) with a
baby borrowed from the public-house, was acting
Andromache to his Ulysses, for the purpose of trans-
ferring upon canvass a tender situation from the
Troades of Seneca.

On a subsequent occasion I knocked at D.'s door.
1 had chanced to have been in a dreamy humour


previously. I am not one that often poetizes, but
I had been musing (coxcombically enough in the
heart of Newman Street, Oxford Road,) upon Pindus
and the Aonian Maids. The Lover of Daphne was
in my mind — when, answering to my summons, the
door opened, and there stood before me, laurel-
crowned, the god himself, unshorn Apollo, I was
beginning to mutter apologies to the Celestial
Presence — when on the thumb of the right hand of
the Delian (his left held the harp) I spied a pallet,
such as painters carry, which immediately reconciled
me to the whimsical transformation of my old
acquaintance — with his own face, certainly any other
than Grecianesque — into a temporary image of the
oracle-giver of Delphos. To have impersonated the
Ithacan was little ; he had been just sitting for a
god. — It would be no incurious inquiry to ascertain
what the minimiun of the faculty of imagination,
ever supposed essential to painters along with poets,
is, that, in these days of complaints of want of
patronage towards the fine arts, suffices to dub a man

a R 1 A n.

Not only had D. no imagination to guide him in
the treatment of such subjects, but he had no relish
for high art in the productions of the great masters.
He turned away from them as from something
foreign and irrelative to him and his calling. He
knew he had neither part nor portion in them. Cozen
him into the Stafford or the Angerstein Gallery, he
involuntarily turned away from the Baths of Diana —
the Four Ages of Guercino — the Lazarus of Piombo
— to some petty piece of modern art that had been
inconsistently thrust into the collection through
favour. On that he would dwell and pore, blind as


the dead to the dehcacies that surrounded him.
There he might learn something. There he might
pilfer a little. There was no grappling with Titian
or Angelo.

I'he narrowness of his domestic habits to the very
last, was the consequence of his hard bringing up,
and unexpected emergence into opulence. While
rolling up to the ears in Russian rubles, a penny was
still in his eyes the same important thing, which it
had with some reason seemed to be, when a few
shillings were his daily earnings. When he visited
England a short time before his death, he reminded
an artist of a commission which he had executed for
him in Russia, the package of which was " still
unpaid." At this time he was not unreasonably sup-
posed to have realized a sum little short of half a
million sterling. What became of it was never
known ; what gulf, or what Arctic vorago, sucked it
in, his acquaintance in those parts have better means
of guessing than his countrymen. It is certain that
few of the latter were any thing the better for it.

It was before he expatriated himself, but subse-
quently to his acquisition of pictorial honours in this
country, that he brought home two of his brother
Academicians to dine with him. He had given no
orders extraordinary to his housekeeper. He trusted,
as he always did, to her providing. She was a
shrewd lass, and knew, as we say, a bit of her
master's mind.

It had happened that on the day before, D. passing
near Clare Market by one of those open shambles
where tripe and cow-heel are exposed for sale, his
eye was arrested by the sight of some tempting flesh
rolled up. It is a part of the intestines of some


animal, which my olfactory sensibilities never per-
mitted me to stay long enough to inquire the name
of. D. marked the curious involutions of the unac-
quainted luxury ; the harmony of its colours — a sable
yert — pleased his eye ; and, warmed with the prospect
of a new flavour, for a few farthings he bore it off in
triumph to his housekeeper. It so happened that his
day's dinner was provided, so the cooking of the
novelty was for that time necessarily suspended.

Next day came. The hour of dinner approached.
His visitors, with no very romantic anticipations,
expected a plain meal at least ; they were prepared
for no new dainties ; when, to the astonishment of
them, and almost of D. himself, the purchase of the
preceding day was served up piping hot — the cook
declaring, that she did not know well what it was, for
" her master always marketed." His guests were
not so happy in their ignorance. They kept dogs.

I will do D. the justice to say, that on such occa-
sions he took what happened in the best humour
possible. He had no false modesty ; though I have
generally observed that persons who are quite defi-
cient in that mauvais honte, are seldom over-troubled
with the quality itself, of which it is the counterfeit.

By what arts, with his pretensions, D. contrived to
wriggle himself into a seat in the Academy, I am not
acquainted enough with the intrigues of that body
(more involved than those of an Italian conclave) to
pronounce. It is certain, that neither for love to
him, nor out of any respect to his talents, did they
elect him. Individually he was obnoxious to them
all. I have heard that, in his passion for attaining
this object, he went so far as to go down upon his
knees to some of the members, whom he thought


least favourable, and beg their suffrage with many

But death, which extends the measure of a man'a
stature to appearance ; and wealth, which men
worship in life and death, which makes giants of
punies, and embalms insignificance ; called around
the exequies of this pigmy Painter the rank, the
riches, the fashion of the world. By Academic hands
his pall was borne ; by the carriages of nobles of the
land, and of ambassadors from foreign Powers, his
bier was followed ; and St. Paul's (O worthy casket
for the shrine of such a Zeuxis!) now holds all that
was mortal of g. d.

Charles Lamb.


There is a Saturday night — I speak not to the ad-
mirers of Burns — erotically or theologically con-
sidered ; HIS of the " Cotter's " may be a very charm-
ing picture, granting it to be but half true. Nor speak
I now of the Saturday Night at Sea, which Dibdin
hath dressed up with a gusto more poignant to the
mere nautical palate of un-Calvinized South Britons.
Nor that it is marketing night with the pretty tripping
servant-maids all over London, who with judicious
and economic eye, select the white and well-blown
fillet, that the blue-aproned contunder of the calf can
safely recommend as " prime veal," and which they



are to be sure not to over-brown on the morrow. Nor
speak I of the hard-handed Artisan, who on this night
receives the pittance which is to furnish the neat
Sabbatical dinner — not always reserved with Judaical
rigour for that laudable purpose, but broken in upon,
perchance, by inviting pot of ale, satisfactory to the
present orifice. These are alleviatory, care-consoling.
But the Hebdomadal Finale which I contemplate hath
neither comfort nor alleviation in it; I pronounce it,
from memory, altogether punitive, and to be abhorred.
It is — Saturday Night to the School-boy.

Cleanliness, says some sage man, is next to God-
liness. It may be ; but how it came to sit so very
near, is the marvel, Methinks some of the more
human virtues might have put in for a place befbre it.
Justice — Humanity — Temperance — are positive qua-
lities ; the courtesies and little civil offices of life, had
I been Master of the Ceremonies to that Court,
should have sate above the salt in preference to a
mere negation. I confess there is something won-
derfully refreshing, in warm countries, in the act of
ablution. Those Mahometan washings — how cool to
the imagination ! but in all these superstitions, the
actiori itself, if not the duty, is voluntary. But to be
washed perforce ; to have a detestable flannel rag
soaked in hot water, and redolent of the very coarsest
coarse soap, ingrained with hard beads for torment,
thrust into your mouth, eyes, nostrils — positively
Burking you, under pretence of cleansing — substi-
tuting soap for dirt, the worst dirt of the two — making
your poor red eyes smart all night, that they might
look out brighter on the Sabbath morn,) for their clear-
ness was the effect of pain more than cleanliness,)
could this be true religion ?


The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. I am
always disposed to add, so are those of Grand-
mothers. Muie — the Print has made her look rather
too young — had never-failing pretexts of tormenting
children for their good. I was a chit then ; and 1
well remember when a fly had got into a corner of
my eye, and I was complaining of it to her, the old
lady deliberately pounded two ounces or more of the
finest loaf sugar that could be got, and making me
hold open the eye as wide as I could, (all innocent of
her purpose,) she blew from delicate white paper,
with a full breath, the whole saccharine contents into
the part afflicted, saying, "There, — now the fly is
out ! " 'Twas most true : a legion of blue-bottles,
with the prince of flies at their head, must have dis-
lodged with the torrent and deluge of tears which
followed. I kept my own counsel, and my fly in my
eye when I had got one, in future, without troubling
her dulcet applications for the remedy. Then her
medicine case was a perfect magazine of tortures for
infants. She seemed to have no notion of the com-
paratively tender drenches which young internals
require : her potions were any thing but milk for babes.
Then her sewing up of a cut finger, pricking a whit-
loe before it was ripe, because she could not see well,
with the aggravation of the pitying tone she did
it in !

But of all her nostrums, (rest her soul !) nothing,
came up to the Saturday Night's flannel, that rude
fragment of a Witney blanket, (Wales spins none so
coarse), thrust into the corners of a weak child's eye
with soap that might have absterged an Ethiop,
whitened the hands of Duncan's She-murderer, and
scoured away Original Sin itself. A faint image of


my penance you see in the Print — but the Artist has
sunk the flannel— the Age, I suppose, is too nice to
bear it : and he has faintly shadowed the expostula-
tory suspension of the razor-strap in the hand of my
Grandfather, when my pains and clamours had waxed
intolerable. Peace to the Shades of them both I And
if their well-meaning souls had need of cleansing
when they quitted earth, may the process of it have
been milder than that of my old Purgatorial Satur-
day Night's path to the Sabbatical rest of the
morrow !



The following very interesting letter has been re-
covered from oblivion, or at least from neglect, by
our friend Elia, and the public will no doubt thank
him for the deed. It is without date or superscription
in the manuscript, which (as our contributor declares)
was in so '* fragmentitious " a state as to perplex his
transcribing faculties in the extreme. The poet's
love of nature is quite evident from one part of it ; and
the " poetical pressure of his affairs " from another.
Whether regarded as elucidating the former or the
latter, it is a document not a little calculated to excite
the attention of the curious as well as the critical. We
could ourselves write an essay-full of conjectures from
the ground it affords both with respect to the author's



poems and his pride. But we must take another
opportunity, or leave it to his next biographer.

Dear Sir, — I would chide you for the slackness
of your correspondence ; but having blamed you
wrongeously(sfc in MS.) last time, I shall say nothing
till I hear from you, which, I hope, will be soon.

There's a little business I would communicate to
you before I come to the most entertaining part of
our correspondence.

I'm going (hard task) to complain, and beg your
assistance. When I came up here I brought very
little money with me ; expecting some more upon the

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 12 of 29)