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1814

LIII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

August 14, 1814.

Dear Wordsworth,--I cannot tell you how pleased I was at the receipt of the great armful of poetry which you have sent me: and to get it before the rest of the world, too! I have gone quite through with it, and was thinking to have accomplished that pleasure a second time before I wrote to thank you; but Martin Burney came in the night (while we were out) and made holy theft of it: but we expect restitution in a day or two. It is the noblest conversational poem [1] I ever read,--a day in heaven. The part (or rather main body) which has left the sweetest odor on my memory (a bad term for the remains of an impression so recent) is the "Tales of the Churchyard"--the only girl among seven brethren, born out of due time, and not duly taken away again; the deaf man and the blind man; the Jacobite and the Hanoverian, whom antipathies reconcile; the Scarron-entry of the rusticating parson upon his solitude,--these were all new to me too. My having known the story of Margaret (at the beginning), a very old acquaintance, even as long back as when I saw you first at Stowey, did not make her reappearance less fresh. I don't know what to pick out of this best of books upon the best subjects for partial naming. That gorgeous sunset is famous; I think it must have been the identical one we saw on Salisbury Plain five years ago, that drew Phillips from the card-table, where he had sat from rise of that luminary to its unequalled setting. But neither he nor I had gifted eyes to see those symbols of common things glorified, such as the prophets saw them in that sunset,--the wheel, the potter's clay, the washpot, the wine-press, the almond-tree rod, the baskets of figs, the four-fold-visaged head, the throne, and Him that sat thereon.

One feeling I was particularly struck with, as what I recognized so very lately at Harrow Church on entering in it after a hot and secular day's pleasure,--the instantaneous coolness and calming, almost transforming, properties of a country church just entered; a certain fragrance which it has, either from its holiness, or being kept shut all the week, or the air that is let in being pure country,--exactly what you have reduced into words; but I am feeling that which I cannot express. The reading your lines about it fixed me for a time a monument in Harrow Church,--do you know it?--with its fine long spire, white as washed marble, to be seen, by vantage of its high site, as far as Salisbury spire itself almost.

I shall select a day or two very shortly, when I am coolest in brain, to have a steady second reading, which I feel will lead to many more; for it will be a stock book with me while eyes or spectacles shall be lent me. There is a great deal of noble matter about mountain scenery, yet not so much as to overpower and discountenance a poor Londoner, or south-countryman entirely,--though Mary seems to have felt it occasionally a little too powerfully; for it was her remark, during reading it, that by your system it was doubtful whether a liver in towns had a soul to be saved. She almost trembled for that invisible part of us in her.

Save for a late excursion to Harrow, and a day or two on the banks of the Thames this summer, rural images were fast fading from my mind, and by the wise provision of the Regent all that was countrified in the parks is all but obliterated. The very colour of green is vanished; the whole surface of Hyde Park is dry, crumbling sand (Arabia Arenosa), not a vestige or hint of grass ever having grown there; booths and drinking-places go all round it, for a mile and a half, I am confident,--I might say two miles in circuit; the stench of liquors, bad tobacco, dirty people and provisions, conquers the air, and we are all stifled and suffocated in Hyde Park [2]. Order after order has been issued by Lord Sidmouth in the name of the Regent (acting in behalf of his royal father) for the dispersion of the varlets; but in vain. The vis unita of all the publicans in London, Westminster, Marylebone, and miles round, is too powerful a force to put down. The Regent has raised a phantom which he cannot lay. There they'll stay probably forever. The whole beauty of the place is gone,--that lake-look of the Serpentine (it has got foolish ships upon it); but something whispers to have confidence in Nature and its revival,--

"At the coming of the milder day, These monuments shall all be overgrown."

Meantime I confess to have smoked one delicious pipe in one of the cleanliest and goodliest of the booths,--a tent rather,--

"Oh, call it not a booth!"

erected by the public spirit of Watson, who keeps the "Adam and Eve" at Pancras (the ale-houses have all emigrated, with their train of bottles, mugs, cork-screws, waiters, into Hyde Park,--whole ale-houses, with all their ale!) in company with some of the Guards that had been in France, and a fine French girl, habited like a princess of banditti, which one of the dogs had transported from the Garonne to the Serpentine. The unusual scene in Hyde Park, by candle-light, in open air,--good tobacco, bottled stout,--made it look like an interval in a campaign, a repose after battle. I almost fancied scars smarting, and was ready to club a story with my comrades of some of my lying deeds. After all, the fireworks were splendid; the rockets in clusters, in trees, and all shapes, spreading about like young stars in the making, floundering about in space (like unbroke horses), till some of Newton's calculations should fix them; but then they went out. Any one who could see 'em, and the still finer showers of gloomy rain-fire that fell sulkily and angrily from 'em, and could go to bed without dreaming of the last day, must be as hardened an atheist as--.

The conclusion of this epistle getting gloomy, I have chosen this part to desire our kindest loves to Mrs. Wordsworth and to Dorothea. Will none of you ever be in London again?

Again let me thank you for your present, and assure you that fireworks and triumphs have not distracted me from receiving a calm and noble enjoyment from it (which I trust I shall often), and I sincerely congratulate you on its appearance.

With kindest remembrances to you and household, we remain, yours sincerely,

C. LAMB and Sister.

[1] The Excursion.

[2] Early in 1814 the London parks were thrown open to the public, with fireworks, booths, illuminations, etc., in celebration of the peace between France and England, it was two or three years before they recovered their usual verdure.


Charles Lamb

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