Charles Lamb.

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

. (page 9 of 29)
Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 9 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

me out of my dues and privileges ?

Pray take my unfortunate case into your con-
sideration, and see that I am restored to my lawful
Rejoicings, Firings, Bon-Firings, Illuminations, &c.

And your Petitioner shall ever pray.

Twelfth Day of August.


Sir, — I am the youngest of Three hundred and
sixty-six brethren — there are no fewer of us — who
have the honour, in the words of the good old song,
to call the Sun our Dad. You have done the rest of
our family the favour of bestowing an especial com-
pliment upon each member of it individually — I mean
as far as you have gone : for it will take you some
time before you can make your bow all round — and I
have no reason to think it is your intention to neglect
any of us but poor Me. Some you have hung round
with flowers ; others you have made fine with martyrs'
palms and saintly garlands. The most insignificant
of us you have sent away pleased with some fitting
apologue or pertinent story. What have I done that
you dismiss me without mark or attribute ? What
though I make my public appearance seldomer than
the rest of my brethren ? I thought that angels' visits
had been accounted the more precious for their very
rarity. Reserve was always looked upon as dignified.
I am seen but once for four times that my brethren


obtrude themselves ; making their presence cheap
and contemptible in comparison with the state which
I keep.

Am I not a Day (when I do come) to all purposes,
as much as any of them. Decompose me, anatomise
me ; you will find that I am constituted like the rest.
Divide me into twenty-four, and you will find that I
cut up into as many goodly hours (or main limbs) as
the rest. I too have my arteries and pulses, which
are the minutes and the seconds.

It is hard to be disfamilied thus, like Cinderella in
her rags and ashes, while her sisters flaunted it about
in cherry-coloured ribbons and favours. My brethren,
forsooth, are to be dubbed ; one Sahit Day ; another
Pope Day ; a third Bishop Day ; the least of them is
Squire Day, or Mr. Day, while I am — plain Day.
Our house, Sir, is a very ancient one, and the least of
us is too proud to put up with an indignity. What
though I am but a younger brother in some sense —
for the youngest of my brethren is by some thousand
years my senior — yet I bid fair to inherit as long as
any of them, while I have the Calendar to show;
which, you must understand, is our Title Deeds.

Not content with slurring me over with a bare and
naked acknowledgment of my occasional visitation in
prose, you have done your best to deprive me of my
verse honours. In column 310 of your Book, you
quote an antique scroll, leaving out the last couplet,
as if on purpose to affront me. "Thirty days hath
September" — so you transcribe very faithfully for four
lines, and most invidiously suppress the exceptive
clause : —

" Except in Leap Year, that's the time
When February's days hath twenty and ."


I need not set down the rhyme which should follow ;
I dare say you know it very well, though you were
pleased to leave it out. These indignities demand
reparation. While you have time it will be well for
you to make the amende honorable. Ransack your
stories, learned Sir, I pray of you, for some attribute,
biographical, anecdotical, or floral, to invest me with.
Did nobody die, or nobody flourish — was nobody born
— upon any of my periodical visits to this globe ?
Does the world stand still as often as I vouchsafe to
appear? Am I a blank in the Almanac? Alms for
oblivion ? If you don't find a flower at least to grace
me with (a Forget-Me-Not would cheer me in my
present obscurity), I shall prove the worst day to you
you ever saw in your life : and your work, instead of
the title it now vaunts, must be content (every fourth
year at least) to go by the lame appellation of. The

Yours, as you treat me.

Twenty-ninth of February.


Then Mrs. Gilpin sweetly said

Unto her children three,
" I'll clamber o'er this stile so high.

And you'll climb after me."
But having climbed unto the top,

She could no further go :
But sate to every passer by

A spectacle and show :


Who said " Your spouse and you this day

Will show your horsemanship ;
And if you stay till he comes back.

Your horse will need no whip."

The sketch here engraved (probably from the poet's
friend, Romney,) was found with the above three
stanzas in the handwriting of Cowper, among the
papers of the late Mrs. Unwin. It is to be regretted
that no more was found of this little Episode, as it
evidently was intended to be, in the " Diverting His-
tory of Johnny Gilpin." It is to be supposed that Mrs.
Gilpin, in the interval between dinner and tea, finding
the time to hang upon her hands, during her hus-
band's involuntary excursion, rambled out with the
children into the fields at the back of the Bell (as
what could be more natural ?); and at one of these high
awkward stiles, for which Edmonton is so proverbially
famed, the embarrassment represented, so mystifying
to a substantial City madam, might have happened ;
a predicament which leaves her in a state which is the
very Antipodes to that of her too-locomotive husband.
In fact, she rides a restive horse. Now I talk of
Edmonton stiles, I must speak a little about those of
Enfield, its ne.xt neighbour, which are so ingeniously
contrived — every rising bar to the top becoming more
protuberant than the one under it — that it is impossible
tor any Christian climber to get over without bruising
liis (or her) shins as many times as there are bars.
These inhospitable invitations to a flayed skin, arc
planted so thickly too, and are so troublesomely im-
portunate at every little paddock here, that this, with
more propriety than Thebes of old, might be entitled
Hecatompolis : the Town of the Hundred Gates or
jfuly i6, 1827. A Sojourner at Enfifld.


Christmas has been among us so lately, that we need
not apologise for introducing a character who at thic
season of the year comes forth in renovated honoursi
and may aptly be termed one of her ever blues. It is

Beadle of St. *s

No personal application, reader, we entreat of you ;
it is not this or that good man, but the Universal
Parish Beadle, not peculiar to either of the Farring-
dons, or limited to St. Giles in the Fields, or him of
Cripplegate, such as he is, within any one of the wards
within the bills — the same form shall find him in all.
"How Christmas and consolatory he looks I How
redolent of good cheer is he ! He is a Cornu-Copia —
an abundance. What pudding-sleeves! what a collar,
red, and like a beef-steak, is his 1 He is a walking
refreshment 1 he looks like a whole parish : full, im-
portant, but untaxed. The children of charity gaze at
him with a modest smile. The straggling boys look
on him with confidence. They do not pocket their
marbles. They do not fly from the familiar gutter.
This is a red-letter day, and the cane is reserved for
to-morrow. For the verbal description of him we are
indebted to an agreeable writer in the London Maga-
zine for December, 1822 ; his corporal lineaments
we have borrowed from a Caricature (if we may give


it so low a name) just published ini which this figure
is the very gem and jewel, in a grouping of characters
of all sorts and denominations, brought together with
infinite skill and fun to illustrate the many shapes of
cant in this canting age. A piece of satire without
illnature — of character rather than of caricature, too
broad and comprehensive to admit of particular and
invidious application.

1 The Progress of Cant, Invented and Etched by one of the Authors
of " Odes and Addresses of Grea Persons." Sold by Maciean, Hay-
market ; and Relf, Comhlll.


" Nought but a blank remains, a dead void space,

" A step of life that promised such a race."- — Dryden,

Napoleon has now sent us back from the grave
sufficient echoes of his living renown : the twiHght
of posthumous fame has Hngered long enough over
the spot where the sun of his glory set ; and his
name must at length repose in the silence, if not in
the darkness, of night. In this busy and evanescent
scene, other spirits of the age are rapidly snatched
away, claiming our undivided sympathies and regrets,
until in turn they yield to some newer and more
absorbing grief. Another name is now added to the
list of the mighty departed, — a name whose influence
upon the hopes and fears, the fates and fortunes, of
our countrymen, has rivalled, and perhaps eclipsed,
that of the defunct " child and champion of Jacobin-
ism," while it is associated with all the sanctions of
legitimate government, all the sacred authorities of
social order and our most holy religion. We speak
of one, indeed, under whose warrant heavy and in-

^ Since writing this article, we have been informed that the object of
our funeral oration is not definitively dead, but only moribund. So
much the better : we shall have an opportunity of granting the requef-t
made to Walter by one of the children in the wood, and " kill him
two times." The Abbe de Vertot having a siege to write, and not
receiving the materials in time, composed the whole from his inven-
tion. Shortly after its completion, the expected documents arrived,
when he threw them aside, exclaiming, "You are of no use tome
now: 1 liave carried the town."


cessant contributions were imposed upon our fellow-
citizens, but who exacted nothing without the signet
and sign-manual of most devout Chancellors of the
Exchequer. Not to dally longer with the sympathies
of our readers, we think it right to premonish them
that we are composing an epicedium upon no less
distinguished a personage than the Lottery, whose
last breath, after many penultimate puffs, has been
sobbed forth by sorrowing contractors, as if the world
itself were about to be converted into a blank. There
is a fashion of eulogy, as well as of vituperation ;
and, though the Lottery stood for some time in the
latter predicament, we hesitate not to assert that
multis ille bo7iis Jlebilis occidit. Never have we joined
in the senseless clamour which condemned the only
tax whereto we became voluntary contributors, — the
only resource which gave the stimulus without the
danger or infatuation of gambling ; the only alembic
which in these plodding days sublimized our imagina-
tions, and filled them with more delicious dreams
than ever flitted athwart the sensorium of Alnaschar.
Never can the writer forget, when, as a child, he
was hoisted upon a servant's shoulder in Guildhall,
and looked down upon the installed and solemn pomp
of the then drawing Lottery. The two awful cabinets
of iron, upon whose massive and mysterious portals
the royal initials were gorgeously emblazoned, as if,
after having deposited the unfulfilled prophecies
within, the king himself had turned the lock, and
still retained the key in his pocket ; the blue-coat boy,
with his naked arm, first converting the invisible
wheel, and then diving into the dark recess for a
ticket ; the grave and reverend faces of the commis-
sioners eyeing the announced number; the scribes


below calmly committing it to their huge books ; the
anxious countenances of the surrounding populace ;
while the giant figures of God and Magog, like pre-
siding deities, looked down with a grim silence upon
the whole proceeding, — constituted altogether a scene,
which, combined with the sudden wealth supposed to
be lavished from those inscrutable wheels, was well
calculated to impress the imagination of a boy with
reverence and amazement. Jupiter, seated between
the two fatal urns of good and evil, the blind goddess
with her cornucopia, the Parcffi wielding the distaff,
the thread of life, and the abhorred shears, seemed
but dim and shadowy abstractions of mythology,
when I had gazed upon an assemblage exercising, as
I dreamt, a not less eventful power, and all presented
to me in palpable and living operation. Reason and
experience, ever at their old spiteful work of catching
and destroying the bubbles which youth delighted to
follow, have indeed dissipated much of this illusion :
but my mind so far retained the influence of that early
impression, that I have ever since continued to de-
posit my humble offerings at its shrine, whenever the
ministers of the Lottery went forth with type and
trumpet to announce its periodical dispensations ;
and though nothing has been doled out to me from
i<-s undiscerning coffers but blanks, or those more
vexatious tantalisers of the spirit, denominated small
prizes, yet do I hold myself largely indebted to this
most generous diffuser of universal happiness. In-
grates that we are I are we to be thankful for no
benefits that are not palpable to sense, to recognize
no favours that are not of marketable value, to
acknowledge no wealth unless it can be counted with
the five fingers ? If we admit the mind to be the sole


depository of genuine joy, where is the bosom that
has not been elevated into a temporary Elysium by
the magic of the Lottery ? Which of us has not
converted his ticket, or even his sixteenth share of
one, into a nest-egg of Hope, upon which he has
sate brooding in the secret roosting-places of his
heart, and hatched it into a thousand fantastical
apparitions ?

What a startling revelation of the passions if all
the aspirations engendered by the Lottery could be
made manifest ! Many an impecuniary epicure has
gloated over his locked-up warrant for future wealth,
as a means of realizing the dream of his namesake
in the " Alchemist " : —

" My meat shall all come in in Indian shells, —
Dishes of agate set in gold, and studded
With emeralds, sapphires, hyacinths, and rubies ;
The tongues of carps, dormice, and camel's heels.
Boiled i' the spirit of Sol, and dissolved in pearl,
(Apicius' diet 'gainst the epilepsy.)
And I will eat these broths with spoons of amber.
Headed with diamant and carbuncle.
My footboy shall eat pheasants, calvered salmons.
Knots, godwits, lampreys : I myself will have
The beards of barbels served, instead of salads ;
Oiled mushrooms, and the swelling unctuous paps
Of a fat pregnant sow, newly cut off.
Dress'd with an exquisite and poignant sauce.
For which I'll say unto my cook, 'There's gold:
Go forth, and be a knight.'"

Many a doting lover has kissed the scrap of paper
whose promissory shower of gold was to give up to
him his otherwise unattainable Danae ; Nimrods have
transformed the same narrow symbol into a saddle,
by which they have been enabled to bestride the backs


of peerless hunters ; while nymphs have metamor-
phosed its Protean form into —

" Rings, gauds, conceits.
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats,"

and all the braveries of dress, to say nothing of the
obsequious husband, the two-footmaned carriage, and
the opera-box. By the simple charm of this num-
bered and printed rag, gamesters have, for a time at
least, recovered their losses ; spendthrifts have cleared
off mortgages from their estates ; the imprisoned
debtor has leapt over his lofty boundary of circum-
scription and restraint, and revelled in all the joys of
liberty and fortune ; the cottage vi^alls have swelled
out into more goodly proportion than those of Baucis
and Philemon ; poverty has tasted the luxuries of
competence ; labour has lolled at ease in a perpetual
arm-chair of idleness ; sickness has been bribed into
banishment ; life has been invested with new charms ;
and death deprived of its former terrors. Nor have
the affections been less gratified than the wants,
appetites, and ambitions of mankind. By the conju-
rations of the same potent spell, kindred have lavished
anticipated benefits upon one another, and charity
upon all. Let it be termed a delusion, — a fool's
paradise is better than the wise man's Tartarus ; be
it branded as an ignis-fatuus, — it was at least a
benevolent one, which, instead of beguiling its
followers into swamps, caverns, and pitfalls, allured
them on with all the blandishments of enchantment
to a garden of Eden, — an ever-blooming Elysium of
delight. True, the pleasures it bestowed were evanes-
cent : but which of our joys are permanent ? And who
so inexperienced as not to know that anticipation is


always of higher relish than reality, which strikes a
balance both in our sufferings and enjoyments ?
" The fear of ill exceeds the ill we fear ; " and fruition,
in the same proportion, invariably falls short of hope.
" Men are but children of a larger growth," who may
amuse themselves for a long time in gazing at the re-
flection of the moon in the water ; but if they j^mp
in to grasp it, they may grope for ever, and only get
the farther from their object. He is the wisest who
keeps feeding upon the future, and refrains as long as
possible from undeceiving himself by converting his
pleasant speculations into disagreeable certainties.

The true mental epicure always purchased his
ticket early, and postponed inquiry into its fate to the
last possible moment, during the whole of which
intervening period he had an imaginary twenty
thousand locked up in his desk ; and was not this well
worth all the money ? Who would scruple to give
twenty pounds interest for even the ideal enjoyment
of as many thousands during two or three months ?
Crede quod habes, et habes ; and the usufruct of such
a capital is surely not dear at such a price. Some
years ago, a gentleman in passing along Cheapside
saw the figures i,o6g, of which number he was the
sole proprietor, flaming on the window of a lottery
oflice as a capital prize. Somewhat flurried by this
discovery, not less welcome than unexpected, he re-
solved to walk round St. Paul's that he might con-
sider in what way to communicate the happy tidings
to his wife and family ; but, upon repassing the shop,
he observed that the number was altered to io,o6g,
and, upon inquiry, had the mortification to learn that
his ticket was a blank, and had only been stuck up in
the window by a mistake of t^>e clerk. This effec-


tually calmed his agitation ; but he always speaks of
himself as having once possessed twenty thousand
pounds, and maintains that his ten-minutes' walk
round St. Paul's was worth ten times the purchase-
money of the ticket. A prize thus obtained, has,
moreover, this special advantage, — it is beyond the
reach of fate ; it cannot be squandered ; bankruptcy
cannot lay siege to it ; friends cannot pull it down,
nor enemies blow it up ; it bears a charmed life, and
none of women born can break its integrity, even by
the dissipation of a single fraction. Show me the
property in these perilous times that is equally com-
pact and impregnable. We can no longer become
enriched for a quarter of an hour ; we can no longer
succeed in such splendid failures : all our chances of
making such a miss have vanished with the last of
the Lotteries.

Life will now become a flat, prosaic routine of
matter of fact ; and sleep itself, erst so prolific of
numerical configurations and mysterious stimulants
to lottery adventure, will be disfurnished of its figures
and figments. People will cease to harp upon the
one lucky number suggested in a dream, and which
forms the exception, while they are scrupulously
silent upon the ten thousand falsihed dreams which
constitute the rule. Morpheus will stifle Cocker with
a handful of poppies, and our pillows will be no
longer haunted by the book of numbers.

And who, too, shall maintain the art and mystery
of puffing, in all its pristine glory, when the lottery
professors shall have abandoned its cultivation ?
They were the first, as they will assuredly be the last,
who fully developed the resources of that ingenious
art ; who cajoled and decoyed the most suspicious



and waiy reader into a perusal of their advertise-
ments by devices of endless variet}' and cunning;
who baited their lurking schemes with midnight
murders, ghost-stories, crim-cons, bon-mots, balloons,
dreadful catastrophes, and every diversity of joy and
sorrow, to catch newspaper-gudgeons. Ought not
such talents to be encouraged ? Verily the aboli-
tionists have much to answer for !

And now, having established the felicity of all
those who gained imaginary prizes, let us proceed to
show that the equally numerous class who were pre-
sented with real blanks have not less reason to con-
sider themselves happy. Most of us have cause to be
thankful for that which is bestowed ; but we have all,
probably, reason to be still more grateful for that
which is withheld, and more especially for our being
denied the sudden possession of riches. In the
Litany, indeed, we call upon the Lord to deliver us
" in all time of our wealth ;" but how few of us are
sincere in deprecating such a calamity ! Massinger's
Luke, and Ben Jonson's Sir Epicure Mammon, and
Pope's Sir Balaam, and our own daily observation,
might convince us that the Devil "now tempts by
making rich, not making poor." We may read in the
" Guardian" a circumstantial account of a man who
was utterly ruined by gaining a capital prize. We
may recollect what Dr. Johnson said to Garrick, when
the latter was making a display of his wealth at
Hampton Court, — "Ah, David, David! these are the
things that make a death-bed terrible." We may re-
call the Scripture declaration, as to the difficulty a
rich man finds in entering into the kingdom of
Heaven; and, combining all these denunications
against opulence, let us heartily congratulate one


another upon our lucky escape from the calamity of a
twenty or thirty thousand pound prize ! The fox in
the fable, who accused the unattainable grapes of
sourness, was more of a philosopher than we are
generally willing to allow. He was an adept in that
species of moral alchemy which turns every thing to
gold, and converts disappointment itself into a ground
of resignation and content. Such we have shown to
be the great lesson inculcated by the Lottery, wh^n
rightly contemplated ; and, if we might parody M.
de Chateaubriand's jingling expression, — " le Roi est
mort : vive le Roi /" — we should be tempted to
exclaim, " The Lottery is no more : long live the
Lottery 1"

k '2



I AM the only son of a considerable brazier in Bir-
mingham, who, dying in 1803, left me successor to
the business, with no other encumbrance than a sort
of rent-charge, which I am enjoined to pay out it, of
ninety-three pounds sterling per annum, to his widow,
my mother ; and which the improving state of the
concern, I bless God, has hitherto enabled me to dis-
charge with punctuality. (I say I am enjoined to
pay the said sum, but not strictly obligated : that is
to say, as the will is worded ; I believe the law would
relieve me from the payment of it ; but the wishes
of a dying parent should in some sort have the effect
of law.) So that, though the annual profits of my
business, on an average of the last three or four
years, would appear to an indifferent observer, who
should inspect my shop-books, to amount to the sum
of one thousand three hundred and three pounds, odd
shillings, the real proceeds in that time have fallen
short of that sum to the amount of the aforesaid pay-
ment of ninety-three pounds sterling annually.

I was always my father's favourite. He took a
delight, to the very last, in recounting the little saga-
cious tricks and innocent artifices of my childhood.
One manifestation thereof I never heard him repeat


without tears of joy trickling down his cheeks. It
seems, that when I quitted the parental roof,
(Aug. 27, 1788,) being then six years and not quite
a month old, to proceed to the Free School at
Warwick, where my father was a sort of trustee, my
mother — as mothers are usually provident on these
occasions — had stuffed the pockets of the coach,
which was to convey me and six more children of
my own growth that were going to be entered along
with me at the same seminary, with a prodigious
quantity of gingerbread, which I remember my father

Online LibraryCharles LambThe life, letters, and writings of Charles Lamb (Volume 6) → online text (page 9 of 29)