Charles Lamb.

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

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their heads about such speculations ? It is all that
you can do to drive them into your churches ; they
do not voluntarily offer themselves. They have,
alas ! no passion for antiquities ; for tomb of king or
prelate, sage or poet. If they had, they would be no
longer the rabble.


For forty years that I have known the Fabric, the
only well-attested charge of violation adduced, has
been — a ridiculous dismemberment committed upon
the effigy of that amiable spy Major Andre. And is
it for this — the wanton mischief of some school-boy,
fired perhaps with raw notions of Transatlantic Free-
dom — or the remote possibility of such a mischief
occurring again, so easily to be prevented by station-
ing a constable within the walls, if the vergers are
incompetent to the duty — is it upon such wretched
pretences, that the people of England are made to
pay a new Peter's Pence, so long abrogated; or must
content themselves with contemplating the ragged
Exterior of their Cathedral ? The mischief was done
about the time that you were a scholar there. Do
you know anything about the unfortunate relic ?
Can you help us in this emergency to find the nose ?
or can you give Chantrey a notion (from memory) of
its pristine life and vigour ? I am willing for peace's
sake to subscribe my guinea towards the restoration
of the lamented feature.

1 am. Sir, your humble Servant,

hi lA.

( 8? )




The Good Clerk. — He writeth a fair and switt hand,
and is competently versed in the first four rules of
arithmetic, in the Rule of Three, (which is sometimes
called the Golden Rule,) and in Practice, We mention
these things that we may leave no room for cavillers
to say that any thing essential hath been omitted in
our definition ; else, to speak the truth, these are but
ordinary accomplishments, and such as every under-
strapper at a desk is commonly furnished with. The
character we treat of soareth higher.

He is clean and neat in his person, not from a vain-
glorious desire of setting himself forth to advantage
in the eyes of the other sex, with which vanity too
many of our young sparks now-a-days are infected ;
but to do credit, as we say, to the office. For this
reason, he evermore taketh care that his desk or his
books receive no soil ; the which things he is com-
monly as solicitous to have fair and unblemished as
the owner of a fine horse is to have him appear in
good keep.

He riseth early in the morning ; not because early
rising conduceth to health, (though he doth not alto-
gether despise that consideration,) but chiefly to the


intent that he may be first at the desk. There is hi3
post, there he dehghteth to be, unless when his meals
or necessity calleth him away : which time he alway
esteemeth as lost, and maketh as short as possible.

He is temperate in eating and drinking, that he
may preser\'e a clear head and steady hand for his
master's service. He is also partly induced to this
observation of the rules of temperance by his respect
for religion and the laws of his country; which things,
it may once for all be noted, do add special assistances
to. his actions, but do not and cannot furnish the main
spirng or motive thereto. His first ambition, as ap-
peareth all along, is to be a good clerk; his next, a
good Christian, a good patriot, &c.

Correspondent to this, he keepeth himself honest,
not for fear of the laws, but because he hath observed
how unseemly an article it maketh in the day-book or
ledger when a sum is set down lost or missing ; it
being his pride to make these books to agree and to
tally, the one side with the other, with a sort of archi-
tectural symmetry and correspondence.

He marrieth, or marrieth not, as best suiteth with
his employer's views. Some merchants do the rather
desire to have married men in their counting-houses,
because they think the married state a pledge for their
servants' integrity, and an incitement to them to be
industrious ; and it was an observation of a late Lord
Mayor of London, that the sons of clerks do generally
prove clerks themselves, and that merchants encourag-
ing persons in their employ to marry, and to have
families, was the best method of securing a breed of
sober, industrious young men attached to the mercan-
tile interest. Be this as it may, such a character as
we have been describing will wait till the pleasure of


his employer is known on this point ; and regulateth
his desires by the custom of the house or firm to which
he belongeth.

He avoideth profane oaths and jesting, as so much
time lost from his employ. What spare time he hath
for conversation, which, in a counting-house such as
we have been supposing, can be but small, he spendeth
in putting seasonable questions to such of his fellows
(and sometimes respectfully to the master himself)
who can give him information respecting the price
and quality of goods, the state of exchange, or the
latest improvements in book-keeping ; thus making
the motion of his lips, as well as of his fingers, sub-
servient to his master's interest. Not that he refuseth
a brisk saying, or a cheerful sally of wit, when it
comes unforced, is free of offence, and hath a con-
venient brevity. For this reason, he hath commonly
some such phrase as this in his mouth : —


" 'Tis a slovenly look
" To blot your book."

"Red ink for ornament, black for use:
" The best of things are open to abuse."

So upon the eve of any great holy-day, of which he
keepeth one or two at least every year, he will merrily
say, in the hearing of a confidential friend, but to
none other, —

" All work and no play
" Makes Jack a dull boy."


"A bow always bent must crack at last."

But then this must always be understood to be spoken
confidentially, and, as we say, under the rose.

Lastly, his dress is plain, without singularity; with


no other ornament than the quill, which is the badge
of his function, stuck behind the dexter ear, and this
rather for convenience of having it at hand, when he
hath been called away from his desk, and expecteth
to resume his seat there again shortly, than from any
delight which he taketh in foppery or ostentation.
The colour of his clothes is generally noted to be
black rather than brown, brown rather than blue or
green. His whole deportment is staid, modest, and
civil. His motto is " Regularity."

This character was sketched in an interval of busi-
ness, to divert some of the melancholy hours of a
counting-house. It is so little a creature of fancy,
that it is scarce any thing more than a recollection of
some of those frugal and economical maxims, which,
about the beginning of the last century, (England's
meanest period,) were endeavoured to be inculcated
and instilled into the breasts of the London Appren-
tices^ by a class of instructors who might not inaptly
be termed " The Masters of Mean Morals." The as-
tonishing narrowness and illiberality of the lessons
contained in some of those books is inconceivable by
those whose studies have not led them that way, and
would almost induce one to subscribe to the hard
censure which Drayton has passed upon the mercan-
tile spirit : —

"The gripple merchant, born to be the curse
" Of this brave Isle."

I have now lying before me that curious book by
Daniel Defoe, " The Complete English Tradesman."
The pompous detail, the studied analysis of every
little mean art, every sneaking address, every trick
and subterfuge, short of larceny, that is necessary to


the tradesman's occupation, with the hundreds of
anecdotes, dialogues (in Defoe's liveliest manner)
interspersed, all tending to the same amiable purpose,
namely, the sacrificing of every honest emotion of
the soul to what he calls the main chance, — if you
read it in an ironical sense, and as a piece of covered
satire, — make it one of the most amusing books which
Defoe ever writ, as much so as any of his best novels.
It is difficult to say what his intention was in writing
it. It is almost impossible to suppose him in earnest.
Yet such is the bent of the book to narrow and to
degrade the heart, that if such maxims were as catch-
ing and infectious as those of a licentious cast, which
happily is not the case, had I been living at that time,
I certainly should have recommended to the Grand
Jury of Middlesex, who presented "The Fable of the
Bees," to have presented this book of Defoe's in
preference, as of a far more vile and debasing tendency.
I will give one specimen of his advice to the young
tradesman on the government of his temper: " The
retail tradesman in especial, and even every trades-
man in his station, must furnish himself with a com-
petent stock of patience. I mean that sort of patience
which is needful to bear with all sorts of impertinence,
and the most provoking curiosity that it is impossible
to imagine the buyers, even the worst of them, are, or
can be, guilty of. A tradesman behind his counter
must have no flesh and blood about hiyn, no passions,
no resentmcjtt ; he must never be angry, no, not so
much as seem to be so, if a customer tumbles him
five hundred pounds' worth of goods, and scarce bids
money for any thing ; nay, though they really come
to his shop with no intent to buy, as many do, only
to see what is to be sold, and though he knows they


cannot be better pleased than they are at some other
shop where they intend to buy, 'tis all one; the trades-
man must take it ; he must place it to the account of
his calling, that 'tis his busiiiess to be ill used, and
resent nothing ; and so must answer as obligingly to
tho«e that give him an hour or two's trouble, and buy
nothing, as he does to those, who, in half the time,
lay out ten or twenty pounds. The case is plain ;
and if some do give him trouble, and do not buy,
others make amends, and do buy; and as for the
trouble, 'tis the business of the shop."

Here follows a most admirable story of a mercer,
who by his indefatigable meanness, and more than
Socratic patience under affronts, overcame and recon-
ciled a lady, who upon the report of another lady that
he had behaved saucily to some third lady, had deter-
mined to shun his shop, but, by the over-persuasions
of a fourth lady, was induced to go to it ; which she
does, declaring beforehand that she will buy nothing,
but give him all the trouble she can. Her attack and
his defence, her insolence and his persevering patience,
are described in colours worthy of a Mandeville ; but
it is too long to recite. " The short inference from
this long discourse," says he, " is this, — that here
you see, and I could give you many examples like
this, how and in what manner a shop-keeper is to
behave himself in the way of his business ; what
impertinences, what taunts, flouts, and ridiculous
things, he must bear in his trade ; and must not
show the least return, or the least signal of disgust :
he must have no passions, no fire in his temper; he
must be a'l soft and smooth ; nay, if his real temper
be naturally fiery and hot, he must show none of it in
his shop ; he must be a perfect complete hypocrite if


he will be a complete tradesman} It is true, natural
tempers are not to be always counterfeited : the man
cannot easily be a lamb in his shop, and a lion in
himself; but, let it be easy or hard, it must be done,
and is done. There are men who have by custom
and usage brought themselves to it, that nothing
could be meeker and milder than they when behind
the counter, and yet nothing be more furious and
raging in every other part of life : nay, the provoca-
tions they have met with in their shops have so
irritated their rage, that they would go up stairs from
their shop, and fall into frenzies, and a kind of mad-
ness, and beat their heads against the wall, and per-
haps mischief themselves, if not prevented, till the
violence of it had gotten vent, and the passions abate
and cool. I heard once of a shopkeeper that behaved
himself thus to such an extreme, that, when he was
provoked by the impertinence of the customers beyond
what his temper could bear, he would go up stairs and
beat his wife, kick his children about like dogs, and
be as furious for two or three minutes as a man
chained down in Bedlam ; and again, when that heat
was over, would sit down, and cry faster than the
children he had abused ; and, after the fit, he would
go down into the shop again, and be as humble,
courteous, and as calm, as any man whatever ;
so absolute a government of his passions had he in
the shop, and so little out of it : in the shop, a soul-
less animal that would resent nothing ; and in the
family, a madman : in the shop, meek like a iamb ;
but in the family outrageous, like a Lybian lion. The

' As no qualification accompanies this maxim, it must Dc understood
as tKe genuine sentiment of the author!


sum of the matter is — It is necessary for a tradesman
to subject himself, by all the ways possible, to his
business ; his customers are to be his idols : so far as
he may worship idols by allowance, he is to bow down
to them, and worship thetn ; at least, he is not in any
way to displease them, or show any disgust or
distaste, whatsoever they may say or do. The bottom
of all is, that he is intending to get money by them ;
and it is not for him that gets money to offer the least
inconvenience to them by whom he gets it : he is to
consider, that, as Solomon says, " the borrower is
servant to the lender;" so the seller is servant to the
buyer. What he says on the head of " Pleasures and
Recreations" is not less amusing : " The tradesman's
pleasure should be in his business ; his companions
should be his books ; (he means his ledger, waste-
book, &c. ;) and, if he has a family, he makes his
excursions up stairs, and no further. None of my
cautions aim at restraining a tradesman from divert-
ing himself, as we call it, with his fire-side, or keeping
company with his wife and children," Liberal allow-
ance ! nay, almost licentious and criminal indulgence !
But it is time to dismiss this Philosopher of Mean-
ness. More of this stuff would illiberalize the pages
of the " Reflector." Was the man in earnest, when
he could bring such powers of description, and all the
charms of natural eloquence, in commendation of the
meanest, vilest, wretchedest degradations of the
human character ? Or did he not rather laugh in his
sleeve at the doctrines which he inculcated ; and, re-
torting upon the grave citizens of London their own
arts, palm upon Uiera a sample of disguised satire
under the name of wholesome instruction ?

( 95 )




Dear Sir, — I read your account of this unfortunate
being, and his forlorn piece of self-history,^ with that
smile of half-interest which the annals of insignificance
excite, till I came to where he says, " I was bound
apprentice to Mr. William Bird, an eminent writer,
and teacher of languages and mathematics," &c. ;
when I started as one does in the recognition of an
old acquaintance in a supposed stranger. This, then,
was that Starkey of whom I have heard my sister
relate so many pleasant anecdotes ; and whom, never
having seen, I yet seem almost to remember. For
nearly fifty years she had lost all sight of him ; and
behold the gentle usher of her youth grown into an
aged beggar, dubbed with an opprobrious title to
which he had no pretentions, — an object and a May-
game ! To what base purposes may we not return !
What may not have been the meek creature's suffer-
ings, what his wanderings, before he finally settled

1 " Memoirs of the Life of Benjamin Starkey, late of London, but
now an inmate of the Freemen's Hospital in Newcastle. Written by
himself. With a portrait of the author, and a fac-simile of his hand
v-riting. Printed and sold by William Hall, Great Market, New-
castle." 1818. i2mo. pj:.i4.


down in the comparative comfort of an old hospitaller
of the almonry of Newcastle ! And is poor Starkey

I was a scholar of that " eminent writer" that he
speaks of; but Starkey had quitted the school about
a year before I came to it. Still the odour of his
merits had left a fragrancy upon the recollection of
the elder pupils. The schoolroom stands where it
did, looking into a discoloured, dingy garden in the
passage leading from Fetter Lane into Bartlett's
Buildings. It is still a school, though the main
prop, alas ! has fallen so ingloriously, and bears a
Latin inscription over the entrance in the lane, which
was unknown in our humbler times. Heaven knows
what " languages " were taught in it then ! I am
sure that neither my sister nor myself brought any
out of it but a little of our native English. By
" mathematics," reader, must be understood " cipher-
ing." It was, in fact, an humble day-school, at
which reading and writing were taught to us boys
in the morning ; and the same slender erudition was
communicated to the girls, our sisters, &c., in the
evening. Now, Starkey presided, under Bird, over
both establishments. In my time, Mr. Cook, now or
lately a respectable singer and performer at Drury
Lane Theatre, and nephew to Mr. Bird, had suc-
ceeded to him. I well remember Bird. He was a
squat, corpulent, middle-sized man, with something
of the gentleman about him, and that peculiar mild
tone — especially while he was inflicting punishment
— which is so much more terrible to children than the
angriest looks and gestures. Whippings were not
frequent ; but, when they took place, the correction
was performed in a private room adjoining, where we


could only hear the plaints, but saw nothing. Thir.
heightened the decorum and the solemnity. But the
ordinary chastisement was the bastinado, a stroke or
two on the palm with that almost obsolete weapon
now, — the ferule. A ferule was a sort of flat ruler,
widened, at the inflicting end, into a shape resembling
a pear, — but nothing like so sweet, — with a delectable
hole in the middle to raise blisters, like a cupping-
glass. I have an intense recollection of that disused in-
strument of torture, and the malignancy, in proportion
to the apparent mildness, with which its strokes were
applied. The idea of a rod is accompanied with
something ludicrous ; but by no process can I look
back upon this blister-raiser with any thing but un-
mingled horror. To make him look more formidable,
— if a pedagogue had need of these heightenings, —
Bird wore one of those flowered Indian gowns
formerly in use with school-masters, the strange
figures upon which we used to interpret into hiero-
glyphics of pain and suffering. But, boyish fears
apart. Bird, I believe, was, in the main, a humane
and judicious master.

Oh, how I remember our legs wedged into those
uncomfortable sloping desks, where we sat elbowing
each other ; and the injunctions to attain a free hand,
unattainable in that position ; the first copy I wrote
after, with its moral lesson, " Art improves Nature ; "
the still earlier pot-hooks and the hangers, some
traces of which I fear may yet be apparent in this
manuscript; the truant looks side-long to the garden,
which seemed a mockery of our imprisonment ; the
prize for best spelling which had almost turned m}'
head, and which, to this day, I cannot reflect upon
without a vanity, which I ought to be ashamed of;

VOL. vr. H


our little leaden inkstands, not separately subsisting,
but sunk into the desks ; the bright, punctually-
washed morning fingers, darkening gradually with
another and another ink-spot ! What a world of
little associated circumstances, pains, and pleasures,
mingling their quotas of pleasure, arise at the reading
of those few simple words, — " Mr. William Bird, an
eminent writer, and teacher of languages and mathe-
matics in Fetter Lane, Holborn ! "

Poor Starkey, when young, had that peculiar stamp
of old-fashionedness in his face which makes it im-
possible for a beholder to predicate any particular age
in the object. You can scarce make a guess between
seventeen and seven and thirty. This antique cast
always seems to promise ill-luck and penury. Yet
it seems he was not always the abject thing he came
to. My sister, who well remembers him, can hardly
forgive Mr. Thomas Ranson for making an etching
so unlike her idea of him when he was a youthful
teacher at Mr. Bird's school. Old age and poverty —
a life-long poverty, she thinks — could at no time have
so effaced the marks of native gentility which were
once so visible in a face otherwise strikingly ugly,
thin, and care-worn. From her recollections of him,
she thinks that he would have wanted bread before
he would have begged or borrowed a half-penny. " If
any of the girls," she says, " who were my school-
fellows, should be reading, through their aged
spectacles, tidings, from the dead, of their youthful
friend Starkey, they will feal a pang, as I do, at
having teased his gentle spirit." They were big
girls, it seems, too old to attend his instructions with
the silence necessary ; and, however old age and a
long state of beggary seem to have reduced his


writing faculties to a state of imbecility, in those
days his language occasionally rose to the bold and
figurative : for, when he was in despair to stop their
chattering, his ordinary phrase was, " Ladies, if you
will not hold your peace, not all the powers in heaven
can make you." Once he was missing for a day or
two : he had run away. A little, old, unhappy-
looking man brought him back, — it was his father, —
and he did no business in the school that day, but
sat moping in a corner, with his hands before his
face ; and the girls, his tormentors, in pity for his
case, for the rest of that day forbore to annoy him.
" I had been there but a few months," adds she,
*' when Starkey, who was the chief instructor of us
girls, communicated to us a profound secret, — that
the tragedy of ' Cato ' was shortly to be acted by the
elder boys, and that we were to be invited to the
representation." That Starkey lent a helping hand
in fashioning the actors, she remembers ; and, but
for his unfortunate person, he might have had some
distinguished part in the scene to enact. As it was,
he had the arduous task of prompter assigned to him;
and his feeble voice was heard clear and distinct, re-
peating the text during the whole performance. She
describes her recollection of the cast of characters,
even now, with a relish. Martia, by the handsome
Edgar Hickman, who afterwards went to Africa, and
of whom she never afterwards heard tidings ; Lucia,
by Master Walker, whose sister was her particular
friend; Cato, by John Hunter, a masterly declaimer,
but a plain boy, and shorter by the head than his two
sons in the scene, &c. In conclusion, Starkey appears
to have been one of those mild spirits, which, not
originally deficient in understanding, are crushed by

H 2


penury into dejection and feebleness. He might
have proved a useful adjunct, if not an ornament,
to society, if Fortune had taken him into a very little
fostering; but, wanting that, he became a captain, —
a by-word, — and lived and died a broken bulrush.


What is gone with the cages with the climbing
squirrel, and bells to them, which were formerly the
indispensable appendage to the outside of a tinman's
shop, and were, in fact, the only live signs ? One,
we believe, still hangs out on Holborn ; but they are
fast vanishing with the good old modes of our an-
cestors. They seem to have been superseded by
that still more ingenious refinement of modern
humanity, — the tread-mill ; in which human squirrels
still perform a similar round of ceaseless, impro-
gressive clambering, which must be nuts to them.

We almost doubt the fact of the teeth of this
creature being so purely orange-coloured as Mr.
Urban's correspondent gives out. One of our old
poets — and they were pretty sharp observers of
Nature — describes them as brown. But perhaps the
naturalist referred to meant " of the colour of a


Maltese orange,"^ which is rather more obfuscated
than your fruit of Seville or St. Michael's, and may
help to reconcile the difference. We cannot speak

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 7 of 29)