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1818

LXIII.

TO MRS. WORDSWORTH.

February 18, 1818.

My Dear Mrs. Wordsworth,--I have repeatedly taken pen in hand to answer your kind letter. My sister should more properly have done it; but she having failed, I consider myself answerable for her debts. I am now trying to do it in the midst of commercial noises, and with a quill which seems more ready to glide into arithmetical figures and names of gourds, cassia, cardamoms, aloes, ginger, or tea, than into kindly responses and friendly recollections. The reason why I cannot write letters at home is that I am never alone. Plato's--(I write to W.W. now)--Plato's double-animal parted never longed more to be reciprocally re-united in the system of its first creation than I sometimes do to be but for a moment single and separate. Except my morning's walk to the office, which is like treading on sands of gold for that reason, I am never so. I cannot walk home from office, but some officious friend offers his unwelcome courtesies to accompany me. All the morning I am pestered. I could sit and gravely cast up sums in great books, or compare sum with sum, and write "paid" against this, and "unpaid" against t'other, and yet reserve in some corner of my mind "some darling thoughts all my own,"--faint memory of some passage in a book, or the tone of an absent friend's voice,--a snatch of Miss Burrell's singing, or a gleam of Fanny Kelly's divine plain face. The two operations might be going on at the same time without thwarting, as the sun's two motions (earth's I mean); or as I sometimes turn round till I am giddy, in my back parlor, while my sister is walking longitudinally in the front; or as the shoulder of veal twists round with the spit, while the smoke wreathes up the chimney. But there are a set of amateurs of the Belies Lettres,--the gay science,--who come to me as a sort of rendezvous, putting questions of criticism, of British Institutions, Lalla Rookhs, etc.,--what Coleridge said at the lecture last night,--who have the form of reading men, but, for any possible use reading can be to them but to talk of, might as well have been Ante-Cadmeans born, or have lain sucking out the sense of an Egyptian hieroglyph as long as the pyramids will last, before they should find it. These pests worrit me at business and in all its intervals, perplexing my accounts, poisoning my little salutary warming-time at the fire, puzzling my paragraphs if I take a newspaper, cramming in between my own free thoughts and a column of figures, which had come to an amicable compromise but for them. Their noise ended, one of them, as I said, accompanies me home, lest I should be solitary for a moment. He at length takes his welcome leave at the door; up I go, mutton on table, hungry as hunter, hope to forget my cares and bury them in the agreeable abstraction of mastication: knock at the door! In comes Mr. Hazlitt, or Martin Burney, or Morgan Demi-gorgon, [1] or my brother, or somebody, to prevent my eating alone,--a process absolutely necessary to my poor wretched digestion. Oh, the pleasure of eating alone! Eating my dinner alone,--let me think of it! But in they come, and make it absolutely necessary that I should open a bottle of orange; for my meat turns into stone when any one dines with me, if I have not wine. Wine can mollify stones; then that wine turns into acidity, acerbity, misanthropy, a hatred of my interrupters (God bless 'em! I love some of 'em dearly); and with the hatred, a still greater aversion to their going away. Bad is the dead sea they bring upon me, choking and deadening; but worse is the deader dry sand they leave me on, if they go before bedtime. Come never, I would say to these spoilers of my dinner; but if you come, never go! The fact is, this interruption does not happen very often; but every time it comes by surprise, that present bane of my life, orange wine, with all its dreary stifling consequences, follows. Evening company I should always like, had I any mornings; but I am saturated with human faces (divine forsooth!) and voices all the golden morning; and five evenings in a week would be as much as I should covet to be in company; but I assure you that is a wonderful week in which I can get two, or one, to myself. I am never C.L., but always C.L. & Co. He who thought it not good for man to be alone, preserve me from the more prodigious monstrosity of being never by myself! I forget bed-time; but even there these sociable frogs clamber up to annoy me. Once a week, generally some singular evening that, being alone, I go to bed at the hour I ought always to be a-bed, just close to my bed-room window is the club-room of a public-house, where a set of singers--I take them to be chorus-singers of the two theatres (it must be both of them)--begin their orgies. They are a set of fellows (as I conceive) who, being limited by their talents to the burden of the song at the playhouses, in revenge have got the common popular airs by Bishop or some cheap composer, arranged for choruses, that is, to be sang all in chorus,--at least, I never can catch any of the text of the plain song, nothing but the Babylonish choral howl at the tail on't, "That fury being quenched,'--the howl I mean,--a burden succeeds of shouts and clapping and knocking of the table. At length over-tasked nature drops under it, and escapes for a few hours into the society of the sweet silent creatures of dreams, which go away with mocks and mows at cockcrow. And then I think of the words Christabel's father used (bless me! I have dipt in the wrong ink) to say every morning by way of variety when he awoke,--

"Every knell, the Baron saith, Wakes us up to a world of death,"--

or something like it. All I mean by this senseless interrupted tale is, that by my central situation I am a little over-companied. Not that I have any animosity against the good creatures that are so anxious to drive away the harpy Solitude from me. I like 'em, and cards, and a cheerful glass; but I mean merely to give you an idea, between office confinement and after-office society, how little time I can call my own. I mean only to draw a picture, not to make an inference. I would not, that I know of, have it otherwise. I only wish sometimes I could exchange some of my faces and voices for the faces and voices which a late visitation brought most welcome, and carried away, leaving regret, but more pleasure,--even a kind of gratitude,--at being so often favored with that kind northern visitation. My London faces and noises don't hear me,--I mean no disrespect, or I should explain myself, that instead of their return 220 times a year, and the return of W. W., etc., seven times in 104 weeks, some more equal distribution might be found. I have scarce room to put in Mary's kind love and my poor name.

C. LAMB.

W. H[azlitt]. goes on lecturing against W.W., and making copious use of quotations from said W.W. to give a zest to said lectures. S.T.C. is lecturing with success. I have not heard either him or H.; but I dined with S.T.C. at Oilman's a Sunday or two since; and he was well and in good spirits. I mean to hear some of the course; but lectures are not much to my taste, whatever the lecturer may be. If read, they are dismal flat, and you can't think why you are brought together to hear a man read his works, which you could read so much better at leisure yourself; if delivered extempore, I am always in pain lest the gift of utterance should suddenly fail the orator in the middle, as it did me at the dinner given in honor of me at the London Tavern. "Gentlemen," said I, and there I stopped; the rest my feelings were under the necessity of supplying. Mrs. Wordsworth will/ go on, kindly haunting us with visions of seeing the lakes once more, which never can be realized. Between us there is a great gulf, not of inexplicable moral antipathies and distances, I hope, as there seemed to be between me and that gentleman concerned in the stamp-office that I so strangely recoiled from at Haydon's. I think I had an instinct that he was the head of an office, I hate all such people,--accountants' deputy accountants. The mere abstract notion of the East India Company, as long as she is unseen, is pretty, rather poetical; but as she makes herself manifest by the persons of such beasts, I loathe and detest her as the scarlet what-do-you-call-her of Babylon. I thought, after abridging us of all our red-letter days, they had done their worst; but I was deceived in the length to which heads of offices, those true liberty-haters, can go,--they are the tyrants, not Ferdinand, nor Nero. By a decree passed this week, they have abridged us of the immemorially observed custom of going at one o'clock of a Saturday,--the little shadow of a holiday left us. Dear W.W., be thankful for liberty.

[1] John Morgan


Charles Lamb

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