Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 4 of 29)
Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 4 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the most expert in the banking-house,) now scald
my hands. When I go to sign my name, I set down



that of another person, or write my own in a counter-
feit character. I am beset with temptations without
motive. I want no more wealth than I possess. A
more contented being than myself, as to money
matters, exists not. What should I fear ?

When a child, I was once let loose, by favour of a
nobleman's gardener, into his lordship's magnificent
fruit garden, with full leave to pull the currants and
the gooseberries ; only, I was interdicted from touch-
ing the wall fruit. Indeed at that season (it was the
end of Autumn) there was little left. Only on the
south wall (can I forget the hot feel of the brick-work ?)
lingered the one last peach. Now, peaches are a fruit
which I always had, and still have, an almost utter
aversion to. There is something to my palate singu-
larly harsh and repulsive in the flavour of them. I
know not by what demon of contradiction inspired,
but I was haunted with an irresistible desire to pluck
it. Tear myself as often as I would from the spot, I
found myself still recurring to it, till maddening
with desire, (desire I cannot call it, with wilfulness
rather, —without appetite, — against appetite, I may
call it,) in an evil hour I reached out my hand, and
plucked it. Some few raindrops just then fell ; the
sky (from a bright day) became overcast ; and I was
a type of our first parents, after the eating of that
fatal fruit. I felt myself naked and ashamed, stripped
of my virtue, spiritless. The downy fruit, whose
sight rather than savour had tempted me, dropped
from my hand, never to be tasted. All the commen-
tators m the world cannot persuade me but that the
Hebrew word, in the second chapter of Genesis,
translated " apple," should be rendered " peach."
Only this way can I reconcile that mysterious story.


Just such a child at thirty am I among the cash
and valuables, longing to pluck, without an idea of
enjoyment further. I cannot reason myself out of
these fears ; I dare not laugh at them. I was tenderly
and lovingly brought up. What then ? Who that in

life's entrance has seen the babe F , from the

lap stretching out his little fond mouth to catch the
maternal kiss, could have predicted, or as much
as imagined, that life's very different exit ? The
sight of my own fingers torments me ; they seem so
admirably constructed for pilfering. Then the jugu-
lar vein which I have in common ; in an

emphatic sense may I say with David, I am " fearfully
made." All my mirth is poisoned by these unhappy
suggestions. If, to dissipate reflection, I hum a tune,
it changes to the " Lamentations of a Sinner." My
very dreams are tainted. I awake with a shocking
feeling of my hand in some pocket.

Advise me, dear Editor, on this painful heart-
malady. Tell me, do you feel any thing allied to it in
yourself? Do you never feel an itching as it were, —
a dactylomania, — or am I alone? You have my
honest confession. My next may appear from Bow



[About the year i8 — , one R d, a respectable

London merchant, (since dead,) stood in the pillory
for some alleged fraud upon the Revenue. Among
his papers were found the following " Reflections,"
which we have obtained by favour of our friend Elia,
who knew him well, and had heard him describe the
train of his feelings upon that trying occasion almost
in the words of the MS. Elia speaks of him as a
man (with the exception of the peccadillo aforesaid)
of singular integrity in all his private dealings, pos-
sessing great suavity of manner, with a certain turn
for humour. As our object is to present human
nature under every possible circumstance, we do not
think that we shall sully our pages by inserting it. —
Editor of the Londoft Magazine.]

Scene — Opposite the Royal Exchange.
Time — 1nuel-ve to One, Noon.

Ketch, my good fellow, you have a neat hand.
Prithee, adjust this new collar to my neck gingerly.
I am not used to these wooden cravats. There, —
softly, softly ! That seems the exact point between
ornament and strangulation. A thought looser on
this side. Now it will do. And have a care in


turning me, that I present my aspect due vertically.
I now face the orient. In a quarter of an hour I
shift southward, (do you mind ?) and so on till I face
the east again, travelling with the sun. No half
points, I beseech you, — N.N. by W. or any such
elaborate niceties. They become the shipman's card,
but not this mystery. Now leave me a little to my
own reflections.

Bless us, what a company is assembled in honour
of me! How grand I stand here! I never before
felt so sensibly the effect of solitude in a crowd. I
muse in solemn silence upon that vast miscellaneous
rabble in the pit there. From my private box I con-
template with mingled pity and wonder the gaping
curiosity of those underlings. There are my White-
chapel supporters. Rosemary Lane has emptied
herself of the very flower of her citizens to grace my
show. Duke's Place sits desolate. What is there in
my face that strangers should come so far from the
east to gaze upon it ? \_Here an egg narrowly misses
him.] That offering was ■<" " ennt but not so
cleanly executed. By the tricklings, it should not be
either myrrh or frankincense. Spare your presents,
my friends ; I am noways mercenary. I desire no
missive tokens of your approbation. I am past those
valentines. Bestow these coffins of untimely chickens
upon mouths that water for them. Comfort your
addle spouses with them at home, and stop the
mouths of your brawling brats with such 011a
Podridas : they have need of them. [A brick is le
fly]. Disease not, I pray you, nor dismantle your
rent and ragged tenements, to furnish me with archi-
tectural decorations, which I can excuse. This frag-
ment might have stopped a flaw against snow comes.


[A coal flies.] Cinders are dear, gentlemen. This
nubbling might have helped the pot boil, when your
dirty cuttings from the shambles at three ha'pence a
pound shall stand at a cold simmer. Now, south
about, Ketch ! I would enjoy Australian popu-

What my friends from over the water ! Old
benchers — flies of a day — ephemeral Romans — wel-
come ! Doth the sight of me draw souls from limbo ?
can it dispeople purgatory ? — Ha !

What am I, or what was my father's house, that I
should thus be set up a spectacle to gentlemen and
others ? Why are all faces, like Persians at the sun-
rise, bent singly on mine alone ? It was wont to be
esteemed an ordinary visnomy, a quotidian merely.
Doubtless, these assembled myriads discern some
traits of nobleness, gentility, breeding, which hitherto
have escaped the common observation, — some inti-
mations, as it were, of wisdom, valour, piety, and
so forth. My sight dazzles; and if I am not deceived
by the too familiar pressure of this strange neckcloth
that envelopes it, my countenance gives out lambent
glories. For some painter now to take me in the
lucky point of expression 1 — the posture so convenient,
— the head never shifting, but standing quiescent in
a sort of natural frame. But these artisans require a
westerly aspect. Ketch, turn me 1

Something of St. James's air in these my new
friends. How my prospects shift, and brighten !
Now if Sir Thomas Lawrence be anywhere in that
group, his fortune is made for ever. I think I see
some one taking out a crayon. I will compose my
whole face to a smile, which yet shall not so predomi-
nate but that gravity and gaiety shall contend as it


were, — (you understand me ?) I will work up rriy
thoughts to some mild rapture — a gentle enthusiasm,
which the artist may transfer in a manner warm
to the canvass. I will inwardly apostrophize my

Delectable mansion, hail ! House, not made of
every wood ! Lodging, that pays no rent ; airy and
commodious ; which, owing no window tax, art yet
all casement, out of which men have such pleasure
in peering and overlooking, that they will sometimes
stand an hour together to enjoy thy prospects ! Cell,
recluse from the vulgar ! Quiet retirement from the
great Babel, yet affording sufficient glimpses into it '
Pulpit, that instructs without note or sermon-book,
into which the preacher is inducted without tenth or
first fruit I Throne, unshared and single, that dis-
dainest a Brentford competitor ! Honour without
co-rival ! Or hearest thou rather, magnificent theatre
in which the spectator comes to see and to be seen ?
From thy giddy heights I look down upon the com-
mon herd, who stand with eyes upturned as if a
winged messenger hovered over them ; and mouths
open as if they expected manna. I feel, I feel the
true Episcopal yearnings. Behold in me, my flock,
your true overseer ! What though I cannot lay hands,
because my own are laid, yet I can mutter benedic-
tions. True otium cum dignitate ! Proud Pisgah
eminence ! Pinnacle sublime ! O Pillory, 'tis thee
I sing ! Thou younger brother to the gallows, with-
out his rough and Esau palms ; that with ineffable
contempt surveyest beneath thee the grovelling stocks,
which claims presumptuously to be of thy great race.
Let that low wood know, that thou art far higher
born ! Let that domicile for groundling rogues and


base earth-kissing varlets envy thy preferment, not
seldom fated to be the wanton baiting-house, the
temporary retreat of poet and of patriot. Shades of
Bastwick and of Prynne hover over thee ! Defoe is
there, and more greatly daring Shebbeare : from their
(little more elevated) stations they look down with
recognitions. Ketch, turn me !

I now veer to the north. Open your widest g'ates,
thou proud Exchange of London, that I may look in
as proudly 1 Gresham's wonder, hail 1 I stand upon
a level with all your kings. They, and I, from equal
heights, with equal superciliousness, o'er-look the
plodding money-hunting tribe below ; who, busied in
their sordid speculations, scarce elevate their eyes to
notice your ancient, or my recent, grandeur. The
second Charles smiles on me from three pedestals!*
He closed the Exchequer; I cheated the Excise.
Equal our darings, equal be our lot.

Are those the quarters? 'tis their fatal chime.
That the ever-winged hours would but stand still !
But I must descend, descend from this dream of
greatness. Stay, stay, a little while, importunate
hour-hand ! A moment or two, and I shall walk on
foot with the undistinguished many. The clock
speaks one. I return to common life. Ketch, let me

^ A statue of Charles II. by the elder Cibber, adorns the front of the
Exchange. He stands also on high, in the train of his crowned
ancestors, in his proper order, <within that building. But the merchants
of London, in asuperfoetation of loyalty, have, within a few years, caused
to be erected another effigy of him on the ground in the centre of the
interior. We do not hear that a fourth is in contemplation. — Editor
of the London Magazine.


My thoughts had been engaged last evening
in solving the problem, why in all times and
places the horn has been agreed upon as the
symbol, or honourable badge, of married men.
Moses's horn, the horn of Ammon, of Amalthea,
and a cornucopia of legends besides, came to
my recollection, but afforded no satisfactory solu-
tion, or rather involved the question in deeper
obscurity. Tired with the fruitless chase of in-
explicant analogies, I fell asleep, and dreamed in
this fashion : —

Methought certain scales or films fell from
my eyes, which had hitherto hindered these little
tokens from being visible. I was somewhere in
the Cornhill (as it might be termed) of some
Utopia. Busy citizens jostled each other, as
they may do in our streets, with care (the
care of making a penny) written upon their
foreheads; and something else, which is rather.


imagined than distinctly imaged, upon the brows of
my own friends and fellow-townsmen.

In my first surprise I supposed myself gotten into
some forest, — Arden, to be sure, or Sherwood ; but
the dresses and deportment, all civic, forbade me to
continue in that delusion. Then a scriptural thought
crossed me, (especially as there were nearly as many
Jews and Christians among them,) whether it might
not be the Children of Israel going up to besiege
Jericho. I was undeceived of both errors by the
sight of many faces which were familiar to me. I
found myself strangely (as it will happen in dreams)
at one and the same time in an unknown country,
with known companions. I met old friends, not with
new faces, but with their old faces oddly adorned in
front, with each man a certain corneous excrescence.
Dick Mitis, the little cheesemonger in St. ****'s
Passage, was the first that saluted me, with his hat
off, (you know Dick's way to a customer,) and, I not
being aware of him, he thrust a strange beam into my
left eye, which pained and grieved me exceedingly ;
but, instead of apology, he only grinned and fleered
in my face, as much as to say, " It is the custom of
the country," and passed on.

I had scarce time to send a civil message to his
lady, whom I have always admired as a pattern of a
wife, — and do indeed take Dick and her to be a model
of conjugal agreement and harmony, — when I felt an
ugly smart in my neck, as if something had gored it
behind ; and turning round, it was my old friend and
neighbour, Dulcet, the confectioner, who, meaning
to be pleasant, had thrust his protuberance right
into my nape, and seemed proud of his power of



Now I was assailed right and left, till in my own
defence I was obliged to walk sideling and wary, and
look about me, as you guard your eyes in London
streets ; for the horns thickened, and came at me like
the ends of umbrellas poking in one's face.

I soon found that these towns-folk were the civillest
best-mannered people in the world, and that if they
had offended at all, it was entirely owing to their
blindness. They do not know what dangerous wea-
pons they protrude in front, and will stick their best
friends in the eye with provoking complacency. Yet
the best of it is, they can see the beams on their
neighbours' foreheads, if they are as small as motes,
but their own beams they can in nowise discern.

There was little Mitis, that I told you I just
encountered. He has simply (I speak of him at
home in his own shop) the smoothest forehead in his
own conceit. He will stand you a quarter of an hour
together, contemplating the serenity of it in the glass,
before he begins to shave himself in a morning; yet
you saw what a desperate gash he gave me.

Desiring to be better informed of the ways of this
extraordinary people, I applied myself to a fellow of
some assurance, who (it appeared) acted as a sort of
interpreter to strangers ; he was dressed in a military

uniform, and strongly resembled Colonel , of

the Guards. And " Pray, sir," said I, "have all the
inhabitants of your city these troublesome excres-
cences ? I beg pardon ; I see you have none. You
perhaps are single." " Truly, sir," he replied with a
smile, " for the most part we have, but not all alike.
There are some, like Dick, that sport but one tumes-
cence. Their ladies have been tolerably faithful, —
have confined themselves to a single aberration or so;


these we call Unicorns. Dick, you must know,
is my Unicorn. [He spoke this with an air of
invincible assurance.] Then we have Bicorns,
Tricorns, and so on up to Millecorns. {Here me-
thought I crossed and blessed myself in my dream.]
Some again we have, — there goes one : you see how
happy the rogue looks, — how he walks smiling and
perking up his face, as if he thought himself the only
man. He is not married yet ; but on Monday next
he leads to the altar the accomplished widow Dacres,
relict of our late sheriff."

" I see, sir," said I, " and observe that he is happily
free from the national goitre (let me call it) which
distinguishes most of your countrymen."

" Look a little more narrowly," said my conductor.

I put on my spectacles ; and, observing the man a
little more diligently, above his forehead I could mark
a thousand little twinkling shadows dancing the horn-
pipe ; little hornlets, with rudiments of horn, of a soft
and pappy consistence, (for I handled some of them,)
but which, like coral out of water, my guide informed
me would infallibly stiffen and grow rigid within a
week or two from the expiration of his bachelorhood.

Then I saw some horns strangely growing out
behind ; and my interpreter explained these to be
married men whose wives had conducted themselves
with infinite propriety since the period of their mar-
riage, but were thought to have antedated their good
men's titles, by certain liberties they had indulged
themselves in, prior to the ceremony. This kind of
gentry wore their horns backwards, as has been said,
in the fashion of the old pig-tails ; and as there was
nothing obtrusive or ostentatious in them, nobody took
any notice of it.


Some had pretty little budding antlers, like the
first essays of a young faun. These, he told me, had
wives, whose affairs were in a hopeful way, but not
quite brought to a conclusion.

Others had nothing to show : only by certain red
angry marks and swellings in their foreheads, which
itched the more they kept rubbing and chafing them,
it was to be hoped that something was brewing.

I took notice that every one jeered at the rest, only
none took notice of the sea-captains ; yet these were
as well provided with their tokens as the best among
them. This kind of people, it seems, taking their
wives upon so contingent tenures, their lot was con-
sidered as nothing but natural : so they wore their
marks without impeachment, as they might carry
their cockades ; and nobody respected them a whit
the less for it.

I observed, that the more sprouts grew out of a
man's head, the less weight they seemed to carry
with them ; whereas a single token would now and
then appear to give the wearer some uneasiness. This
shows that use is a great thing.

Some had their adornings gilt, which needs no ex-
planation ; while others, like musicians, went sound-
ing theirs before them, — a sort of music which I
thought might very well have been spared.

It was pleasant to see some of the citizens en-
counter between themselves; how they smiled in their
sleeves at the shock they received from their neigh-
bour, and none seemed conscious of the shock which
their neighbour experienced in return.

Some had great corneous stumps, seemingly torn
off and bleeding. These, the interpreter warned
me, were husbands who had retaliated upon their



wives, and the badge was in equity divided between

While I stood discerning of these things, a slight
tweak on my cheek unawares, which brought tears
into my eyes, introduced to me my friend Placid,
between whose lady and a certain male cousin some
idle flirtations I remember to have heard talked of;
but that was all. He saw he had somehow hurt me,
and asked my pardon with that round unconscious face
of his, and looked so tristful and contrite for his no-
offence, that I was ashamed for the man's penitence.
Yet I protest it was but a scratch. It was the least little
hornet of a horn that could be framed. " Shame on
the man," I secretly exclaimed, "who could thrust so
much as the value of a hair into a brow so unsus-
pecting and inoffensive ! What, then, must they
have to answer for, who plant great, monstrous,
timber-like, projecting antlers upon the heads ot
those whom they call their friends, when a puncture
of this atomical tenuity made my eyes to water at
this rate 1 All the pincers at Surgeons' Hall cannot
pull out for Placid that little hair."

I was curious to know what became of these
frontal excrescences when the husbands died ; and
my guide informed me that the chemists in their
country made a considerable profit by them, extract-
ing from them certain subtile essences ; and then I
remembered that nothing was so efficacious in my
own for restoring swooning matrons and wives
troubled with the vapours as a strong sniff or two at
the composition, appropriately called hartshorn, — far
beyond sal volatile.

Then also I began to understand why a man, who
is the jest of the company, is said to be the butt ;


as much as to say, such a one butteth with the

I inquired if by no operation these wens were ever
extracted ; and was told that there was indeed an
order of dentists, whom they call canonists in their
language, who undertook to restore the forehead to
its pristine smoothness ; but that ordinarily it was
not done without much cost and trouble ; and when
they succeeded in plucking out the offending part it
left a painful void, which could not be filled up ; and
that many patients who had submitted to the excision
were eager to marry again, to supply with a good
second antler the baldness and deformed gap left by
the extraction of the former, as men losing their
natural hair substitute for it a less-becoming peri-

Some horns I observed beautifully taper, smooth, and
(as it were) flowering. These I understand were the
portions brought by handsome women to their spouses;
and I pitied the rough, homely, unsightly deformities
on the brows of others, who had been deceived by
plain and ordinary partners. Yet the latter I observed
to be by far the most common ; the solution of which
I leave to the natural philosopher.

One tribe of married men I particularly admired
at, who, instead of horns, wore, engrafted on their
forehead, a sort of horn-book. " This," quoth my
guide, " is the greatest mystery in our country, and
well worth an explanation. You must know that all
infidelity is not of the senses. We have as well
intellectual, as material, wittols. These, whom you
see decorated with the Order of the Book, are triflers,
who encourage about their wives' presence the
society of your men of genius, (their good friends,


ds they call them,) — literary disputants, who ten to
one out-talk the poor husband, and commit upon the
understanding of the woman a violence and estrange-
ment in the end, little less painful than the coarser sort
of alienation. Whip me these knaves — [my conductor
here expressed himself with a becoming warmth] —
whip me them, I say, who, with no excuse from the pas-
sions, in cold blood seduce the minds rather than the
persons of their friends' wives ; who, for the tickling
pleasure of hearing themselves prate, dehonestate
the intellects of married women, dishonouring the
husband in what should be his most sensible part.

If I must be [here he used a plain word] let it be

by some honest sinner like myself, and not by one of
these gad-flies, these debauchers of the understanding,
these flattery-buzzers." He was going on at this
rate, and I was getting insensibly pleased with my
friend's manner, (I had been a little shy of him at
first,) when the dream suddenly left me, vanishing —
as Virgil speaks — through the gate of Horn.



How oddly it happens that the same sound shall sug-
gest to the minds of two persons hearing it ideas
the most opposite ! I was conversing, a few years


since, with a young friend upon the subject of poetry,
and particularly that species of it which is known by
the name of the epithalamium. I ventured to assert
that the most perfect specimen of it in our language
was the " Epithalamium " of Spenser upon his own

My young gentleman, who has a smattering of
taste, and would not willingly be thought ignorant of
any thing remotely connected with the belles lettres,
expressed a degree of surprise, mixed with mortifica-
tion, that he should never have heard of this poem ;
Spenser being an author with whose writings he
thought himself peculiarly conversant.

I offered to show him the poem in the fine folio
copy of the poet's works which I have at home. He
seemed pleased with the offer, though the mention
of the folio seemed again to puzzle him. But,
presently after, assuming a grave look, he compas-
sionately muttered to himself, "Poor Spencer! "

There was something in the tone with which he

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 4 of 29)