Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 13 of 29)
Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 13 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

selling of Widehope, which was to have been sold
that day my mother was buried. Now it is unsold
yet, but will be disposed of as soon as can be conveni-
ently done; though indeed it is perplexed with some
difficulties. I was a long time living here at my own
charges, and you know how expensive that is ; this,
together with the furnishing of myself with clothes,
linen, one thing and another, to fit me for any business
of this nature here, necessarily obliged me to contract
some debts. Being a stranger, it is a wonder how I
got any credit ; but I c mnot expect it will be long
sustained, unless I immediately clear it. Even now,
I believe it is at a crisis — my friends have no money
to send me till the land is sold ; and my creditors will
not wait till then. You know what the consequence
would be. Now the assistance I would beg of you, and
which I know, if in your power, you will not refuse
me, is a letter of credit on some merchant, banker, or
such like person in London, for the matter of twelve
pounds, till I get money upon the selling of the land,
which I am at last certain of, if you could either give


it me yourself or procure it ; though you owe it not to
my merit, yet you owe it to your own nature, which I
know so well as to say no more upon the subject ;
only allow me to add, that when I first fell upon such
a project (the only thing I have for it in my present
circumstances), knowing the selfish inhuman temper
of the generality of the world, you were the first
person that offered to my thoughts, as one to whom
I had the confidence to make such an address.

Now I imagine you are seized with a fine romantic
kind of melancholy on the fading ol the year — now I
figure you wandering, philosophical and pensive,
amidst brown withered groves ; whiles the leaves
rustle under your feet, the sun gives a farewell parting
gleam, and the birds

Stir the faint note, and but attempt to sing.

Then again, when the heavens wear a gloomy aspect,
the winds whistle and the waters spout, I see you in
the well-known cleugh, beneath the solemn arch of tall,
thick, embowering trees, listening to the amusing lull
of the many steep, moss-grown cascades ; while deep,
divine contemplation, the genius of the place, prompts
each swelling, awful thought. I am sure you would
not resign your place in that scene at an easy rate, —
none ever enjoyed it to the height you do, and you are
worthy of it. There I walk in spirit and disport in its
beloved gloom. This country I am in is not very
interesting — no variety but that of woods, and these
we have in abundance. But where is the living
stream ? the airy mountain ? or the hanging rock ?
with twenty other things that elegantly please the
lover of nature. Nature delights me in every form.
I am just now painting her in her most luxurious

N 2


dress; for my own amusement, describing winter as
it presents itself. After my first proposal of the
subject —

I sing of winter and his gelid reign;

Nor let a rhyming insect of the spring

Deem it a barren theme, to me 'tis full

Of manly charms ; to me who court the shade.

Whom the gay seasons suit not, and who shun

The glare of summer. Welcome, kindred gloom !

Drear awful wintry horrors, welcome all 1 &c.

Alter this introduction, I say, which insists for a few
lines further, I prosecute the purport of the following
one : —

Nor can I, O departing Summer ! choose
But consecrate one pitying line to you ;
Sing your last temper'd days and sunny balm
That cheer the spirits and serene the soul.

The terrible floods, and high winds, that usually
happen about this time of the year, and have already
happened here (I wish you have not felt them too
dreadfully) ; the first produced the enclosed lines ; the
last are not completed. Mr. Rickleton's poem on
Winter, which I still have, first put the design into
my head — in it are some masterly strokes that
awakened me — being only a present amusement it is
ten to one but I drop it whenever another fancy comes
across. I believe it had been much more for your
entertainment if in this letter I had cited other people
instead of myself — but I must refer that till another
lime. If you have not seen it already, I have just
now in my hands an original of Sir Alexander Brands
(the crazed Scots knight of the woful countenance),
you would relish. I believe it might make Mis^Joho

1 Mas^


catch hold of his knees, which I take in him to be a
degree of mirth only inferior to fall back again with
an elastic spring. It is very [here a word is wag-
gishly obliterated] printed in the Evening Post ; so
perhaps you have seen these panegyrics of our declin-
ing bard ; one on the Princess's birthday ; the other
on his Majesty's, in [obliterated] cantos : they are
written in the spirit of a complicated craziness. I was
lately in London a night, and in the old playhouse
saw a comedy acted, " Love makes a Man ; or, the
Fop's Fortune," where I beheld Miller and Gibber
shine to my infinite entertainment. In and about
London this month of September, near a hundred
people have died by accident and suicide. There was
one blacksmith tired of the hammer, who hung him-
self, and left written behind him this concise epitaph —

I, Joe Pope,

Lived without hope.

And died with a rope,

or else some epigrammatic Muse has belied him.

Mr. Muir has ample fund for politics in the present
posture of affairs, as you will find by the public news.
I should be glad to know that great minister's frame
just now. Keep it to yourself — you may whisper it
too in Mis John's ear. Far otherwise is his lately
mysterious brother, Mr. Tait, employed. Started a
superannuated fortune and just now upon the full
scent. It is comical enough to see him amongst the
rubbish of his controversial divinity and politics,
furbishing up his antient rusty gallantry.

Yours sincerely, J. T.

Remember me to all friends, Mr. Rickle, Mis
John, Br. John, &c.


" Besides the words 'riant' and * Euphrosyne,' the
sentence is senseless. * A sweet sadness' capable of
inspiring a more grave joy — than what ? — than de-
monstrations of mirth ? Odd if it had not been. I
had once a wry aunt, which may make me dislike the

" ' Pleasurable :' — no word is good that is awkward
to spell. (Query.) Welcome or Joyous.

" • Steady self-possession rather than undaunted
courage,' &c. The two things are not opposed enough.
You mean, rather than rash fire of valour in action."

" * Looking like a heifer,' I fear won't do in prose.
(Qy.) * Like to some spotless heifer,' — or, ' that you
might have compared her to some spotless heifer,' &c.
— or, ' Like to some sacrificial heifer of old.' I should
prefer, 'garlanded with flowers as for a sacrifice' — and
cut the cow altogether."

" Say * Like the muttering of some strange spell,'
— omitting the demon, — they are subject to spells, they
don't use them."

" ' Feud ' here (and before and after) is wrong.
Say old malice, or difference. Feud is of clans. It
might be applied to family quarrels, but is quite im-
proper to individual fallings out."

" ' Apathetic' Vile word.'


" ' Mechanically,' faugh ! — insensibly — involuntarily
— in-anything-ly — but mechanically."

" Calianax's character should be somewhere briefly
drawn, not left to be dramatically inferred."

" ' Surprised and almost vexed while it troubled
her.' (awkward.) Better, < in a way that while it
deeply troubled her, could not but surprise and
vex her to think it should be a source of trouble at

" * Reaction ' is vile slang. ' Physical ' — vile word."

" Decidedly, Dorigen should simply propose to him
to remove the rocks as tigly or dangerous, not as
affectingher with fears for her husband. The ideaofher
husband should be excluded from a promise which is
meant to be frank upon impossible conditions. She
cannot promise in one breath infidelity to him, and
make the conditions a good to him. Her reason for
hating the rocks is good, but not to be expressed

** Insert after 'to whatever consequences it might
lead,' — ' Neither had Arviragus been disposed to inter-
pose a husband's authority to prevent the execution
of this rash vow, was he unmindful of that older and
more solemn vow which, in the young days of their
marriage, he had imposed upon himself, in no instance
to control the settled purpose or determination of his
wedded wife ;— so that by the chains of a double
contract he seemed bound to abide by her decision in
this instance, whatever it might be.' "


There are a few circumstances belonging to the case
which are not sufficiently adverted to in the above
letter. Mr. Godwin's opponent declares himself de-
termined to act against him with the last degree of
hostility. The law gives him the power the first
week in November to seize upon Mr. Godwin's pro-
perty, furniture, books, &c., &c., together with all his
present sources of income for the support of himself
and family. Mr. Godwin has, at this time, made con-
siderable progress in a work of great research, and re-
quiring all the powers of his mind ; to the completion
of which he had looked for future pecuniary ad-
vantage. His mind is at this moment so entirely
occupied in this work that he feels within himself the
firmness and resolution that no prospect of evil or
calamity shall draw him off from it, or suspend his
labours. But the calamity itself, if permitted to arrive,
will produce the physical impossibility for him to pro-
ceed. His books and the materials of his work, as
well as his present sources of income, will be taken
from him. Those materials have been the collection
of years ; and it would require a long time to replace
them, if they could ever be replaced. The favour of


an early answer is particularly requested, that the ex-
tent of the funds supplied may as soon as possible be
ascertained, particularly as any aid, however kindly
intended, will, after the lapse of a very few weeks,
become useless to the purpose in view..


Critics I read on other men.

And Hypers upon them again. — Prior.

I HAVE in my possession Scott's " Critical Essays on
some of the Poems of several English Poets," — a
handsome octavo, bought at the sale of Ritson's
books; and enriched (or deformed, as some would
think it) with MS. annotations in the handwriting of
that redoubted Censor. I shall transcribe a few,
which seem most characteristic of both the writers —
Scott, feeble, but amiable — Ritson, coarse, caustic,
clever; and, I am to suppose, not amiable. But
they have proved some amusement to me ; and, I
hope, will produce some to the reader, this rainy
season, which really damps a gentleman's wings for
any original flight, and obliges him to ransack his
shelves, and miscellaneous reading, to furnish an
occasional or make-shift paper. If the sky clears up.


and the sun dances this Easter, (as they say he is
wont to do,) the town may be troubled with some-
thing more in his own way the ensuing month from
its poor servant to command. Elia.


The pilgrim oft

At dead of night 'mid his oraison hears
Aghast the voice of time-disparting towers.
Tumbling all precipitate down-dash'd,
Rattling around, loud thund'ring to the moon ;
While murmurs soothe each awful interval
Of ever- falling waters.


There is a very bold transposition in this passage.
A superficial reader, not attending to the sense of the
epithet ever, might be ready to suppose that the
intervals intended were those between the falling oj
the waters, instead of those between the falling of the


A beauty, as in Thomson's Winter —

Cheerless towns, far distant, never blest.

Save when its annual course the caravan
Bends to the golden coast of rich Cathay,
With news of human kind.'

^ May I have leave to notice an instance of the same agreeable di»-
continuity in my friend Lloyd's admirable poem on Christmas?

Where the broad-bosom'd hills,

Swept with perpetual clouds, of Scotland rise.
Me fate compelt to tarry.


A superficial person — Mr. Scott, for instance, —
would be apt to connect the last clause in this period
with the line foregoing — " bends to the coast of
Cathay with news," &c. But has a reader nothing
to do but to sit passive, while the connection is to
glide into his ears like oil ?

denham's cooper's hill.

The stream is so transparent, pure, and clear.
That, had the self-enamour'd youth gazed here.
So fatally deceived he had not been.
While he the bottom, not his face had seen.

The last two lines have more music than Denham'a
can possibly boast.

May I have leave to conjecture, that in the very
last line of all, the word " the " has erroneously crept
in ? I am persuaded that the poet wrote " his." To
my mind, at least, this reading, in a surprising
degree, heightens the idea of the extreme clearness
and transparency of the stream, where a man might
see more than his face (as it were) in it.


The second of these little pieces, called Hassan,
or the Camel Driver, is of superior character. This
poem contradicts history in one principal instance ;
the merchants of the east travel in numerous cara-
vans, but Hassan is introduced travelling alone ia


the desert. But this circumstance detracts little
Irom our author's merit ; adherence to historical fact
is seldom required in poetry.

It is always, where the poet unnecessarily trans-
ports you to the ends of the world. If he must
plague you with exotic scenery, you have a right to
exact strict local imagery and costume. Why must
I learn Arabic, to read nothing after all but Gay's
Fables in another language ?

Abra is introduced in a grove, wreathing a flowery
chaplet for her hair. Shakspeare himself could not
have devised a more natural and pleasing incident
than that of the monarch's attention being attracted
by her song:

Great Abbas chanced that fated morn to stray.
By love conducted from the chase away.
Among the vocal vales he heard her song — •

Ch— t ?

O stay thee, Agib, for my feet deny.
No longer friendly to my life, to fly—


From the pen of Cowley such an observation as
Secander's, that " his feet were no longer friendly to
his life," might have been expected ; but Collins
rarely committed such violations of simplicity,

Pen of Cowley I impudent goose-quill, how darest
thou guess what Cowley would have written ?


Save where the beetle wheels —


The beetle was introduced into poetry by Shak-
speare * * *. Shakspeare has made the most of his
description ; indeed far too much, considering the

occasion :

to black Hecate's summons

The shard-born beetle with his drowsy hum
Hath rung night's yawning peal.

The imagination must be indeed fertile which
could produce this ill-placed exuberance of imagery.
The poet, when composing this passage, must have
had in his mind all the remote ideas of Hecate, a
heathen Goddess, of a beetle, of night, of a peal of
bells, and of that action of the muscles, commonly
called a gape or yawn.


Numbscull ! that would limit an infinite head by
the square contents of thy own numbscull.


The great merit of a poet is not, like Cowley,
Donne, and Denham, to say what no man but him-
self has thought, but what every man besides himself
has thought, but no man expressed ; or, at least,
expressed so well.


In other words, all that is poetry, which Mr. Scott
has thought, as well as the poet ; but that cannot be
poetry, which was not obvious to Mr. Scott, as well
as to Cowley, Donne, and Denham.



Mr. Mason observes of the language in this part,
[the Epitaph,] that it has a Doric delicacy. It has,
indeed, what I should rather term a happy rusticity.


Come, see
Rural felicity.

goldsmith's deserted village.

No busy steps the grass-grown footway tread.

But all the bloomy flush of life is fled —

All but yon widow'd solitary thing,

That feebly bends beside the plashy spring ;

She, wretched matron, forced, in age, for bread.

To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread.


Our author's language, in this place, is very de-
fective in correctness. After mentioning the general
privation of the *' bloomy flush of life," the excep-
tionary " all but " includes, as a part of that " bloomy
flush," an aged decrepit matron ; that is to say, in
plain prose, " the bloomy flush of life is all fled but
one old woman."

Yet Milton could write :

Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the cricket on the hearth.
Or the bell-man's drowsy charm — -

and I dare say he was right. O never let a Quaker,
or a woman, try their hand at being witty, any more
than a Tom Brown affect to speak by the spirit I



Aaron Hill, who, although in general a bombastic
writer, produced some pieces of merit, particularly
the Caveat, an allegorical satire on Pope.


Say rather his verses on John Dennis, beginning
*' Adieu, unsocial excellence!" which are implicitly a
finer satire on Pope than twenty Caveats. All that
Pope could or did say against Dennis, is there con-
densed ; and what he should have said, and did not,
for him, is there too.


Address to the Angler to spare the young Fish,

If yet too young, and easily deceived,
A worthless prey scarce bends your pliant rod.
Him, piteous of his youth, and the short space
He has enjoy'd the vital light of heaven.
Soft disengage, and back into the stream
The speckled infant throw.


The praise bestowed on a preceding passage
cannot be justly given to this. There is in it an
attempt at dignity above the occasion. Pathos
seems to have been intended, but affectation only is


It is not aflFectation, but it is the mock heroic of
pathos, introduced purposely and wisely to attract
the reader to a proposal, which from the unimport-
ance of the subject — a poor little fish — might else


have escaped his attention — as children learn, or may
learn, humanity to animals from the mock romantic
*' Perambulations of a Mouse."


Infant hands

Trail the long rake ; or, with the fragrant load
O'er- charged, amid the kind oppression roll.


" Kind oppression " is a phrase of that sort which
one scarcely knows whether to blame or praise : it
consists of two words, directly opposite in their signi-
fication ; and yet, perhaps, no phrase whatever could
have better conveyed the idea of an easy uninjurious
weight —


— and yet he does not know whether to blame or
praise it I


By many a dog


• « • • •

The clamour much of men, and boys, and dogs —

• • • • •


The mention of dogs twice was superfluous ;
might have been easily avoided.

Very true — by mentioning them only once.



Nature is rich in a variety of minute but striking
circumstances ; some of which engage the attention
of one observer, and some that of another.


This lover of truth never uttered a truer speech.
Give me a He with a spirit in it.

Air, eaith, and ocean, smile immense. —


The bombastic " immense smile of air," &c., better



Quite Miltonic — " enormous bliss " — and both, I
presume, alike caviare to the Quaker.

He comes ! he comes ! in every breeze the power
Of philosophic melancholy comes !
His near approach, the sudden-starting tear.
The glowing cheek, the mild dejected air.
The softened feature, and the beating heart.
Pierced deep with many a virtuous pang, declare.

This fine picture is greatly injured by a few words.
The power should have been said to come " upon the
breeze ; " not " in every breeze ; " an expression
which indicates a multiplicity of approaches. If he
came " in every breeze," he must have been always

VOL. VI. o


— and so he was.

The branching Oronoque

Rolls a brown deluge, and the native drives

To dwell aloft on life-sufficing trees.

At once his dome, his robe, his food, and arms.

Swell'd by a thousand streams, impetuous hurl'd

From all the roaring Andes, huge descends

The mighty Orellana. Scarce the muse

Dares stretch her luing o'er this enormous masis

Of rushing water : scarce she dares attempt

The sea-like Plata ; to whose dread expanse.

Continuous depth, and wond'rous length of course,

Our floods are rills. With unabated force

In silent dignity they sweep along.

And traverse realms unknown, and blooming wilds.

And fruitful deserts, worlds of solitude.

Where the sun smiles, and seasons teem, in vait;.

Unseen and unenjoy'd. Forsaking these,

O'er peopled plains they fair-diffusive flow.

And many a nation feed, and circle safe

In their fair bosom many a happy isle.

The seat of blameless Pan, yet undisturb'd

By Christian crimes and Europe's cruel sons.

Thus pouring on, they proudly seek the deep,

Whose vanqui-ih'd tide, recoiling from the shock.

Yields to this liqnid weight of half the globe,

.A.nd Ocean trembles for his green domain.


Poets not unfrequently aim at aggrandising their
Bubject by avowing their inabihty to describe it. This
is a puerile and inadequate expedient. Thomson has
here, perhaps inadvertently, descended to this feeble
art of exaggeration.



A magnificent passage, in spite of Duns Scotus !
The poet says not a word about his " inabiHty to
describe," nor seems to be thinking about his readers
at all. He is confessing his own feelings, awe-struck
with the contemplation of such o'erwhelming objects;
in the same spirit with which he designates the den
of the " green serpent " in another place —

— Which ev'n imagination fears to tread —

A dazzling deluge reigns, and all

From pole to pole is undistinguis'd blaze —


From pole to pole, strictly speaking, is improper.
The poet meant, " from one part of the horizon to
the other."


From his pole to thy pole was a more downward
declension than " from the centre thrice," &c.

Obr/ I am satis.

O -7

( 196 ^


The different way in which the same story may be
told by different persons was never more strikingly
illustrated than by the manner in which the celebrated
Jeremy Collier has described the effects of Timotheus's
music upon Alexander, in the second part of his
Essays. We all know how Dryden has treated the
subject. Let us now hear his great contemporary
and antagonist: "Timotheus, a Grecian," says
Collier, " was so great a master, that he could make a
man storm and swagger like a tempest : and then, by
altering the notes and the time, he could take him
down again, and sweeten his humour in a trice. One
time, when Alexander was at dinner, the man played
him a Phrygian air. The Prince immediately rises,
snatches up his lance, and puts himself into a posture
of fighting ; and the retreat was no sooner sounded
by the change of the harmony than his arms were
grounded and his fire extinct ; and he sat down as
orderly as if he had come from one of Aristotle's


lectures. I warrant you, Demosthenes would have
been flourishing about such business a long hour,
and may be not have done it neither. But Timotheus
had a nearer cut to the soul : he could neck a passion
at a stroke, and lay it asleep. Pythagoras once met
with a parcel of drunken fellows, who were likely to
be troublesome enough. He presently orders music
to play grave, and chops into a Dorian. Upon this
they all threw away their garlands, and were as sober
and as shame-faced as one would wish." It is evident
that Dryden in his inspired Ode, and Collier in all this
pudder of prose, meant the same thing. But what a

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 13 of 29)