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1819

LXIV.

TO WORDSWORTH.

May, 1819.

Dear Wordsworth.--I received a copy of "Peter Bell" [1] a week ago, and I hope the author will not be offended if I say I do not much relish it. The humor, if it is meant for humor, is forced; and then the price,--sixpence would have been dear for it. Mind, I do not mean your "Peter Bell," but a "Peter Bell," which preceded it about a week, and is in every bookseller's shop-window in London, the type and paper nothing differing from the true one, the preface signed W. W., and the supplementary preface quoting as the author's words an extract from the supplementary preface to the "Lyrical Ballads." Is there no law against these rascals? I would have this Lambert Simnel whipped at the cart's tail. Who started the spurious "P.B." I have not heard. I should guess, one of the sneering brothers, the vile Smiths; but I have heard no name mentioned. "Peter Bell" (not the mock one) is excellent,--for its matter, I mean. I cannot say the style of it quite satisfies me. It is too lyrical. The auditors, to whom it is feigned to be told, do not arride me. I had rather it had been told me, the reader, at once. "Hart-leap Well" is the tale for me; in matter as good as this, in manner infinitely before it, in my poor judgment. Why did you not add "The Wagoner"? Have I thanked you, though, yet for "Peter Bell"? I would not not have it for a good deal of money. Coleridge is very foolish to scribble about books.

Neither his tongue nor fingers are very retentive. But I shall not say anything to him about it. He would only begin a very long story with a very long face, and I see him far too seldom to tease him with affairs of business or conscience when I do see him. He never comes near our house, and when we go to see him he is generally writing or thinking; he is writing in his study till the dinner comes, and that is scarce over before the stage summons us away. The mock "P.B." had only this effect on me, that after twice reading it over in hopes to find something diverting in it, I reached your two books off the shelf, and set into a steady reading of them, till I had nearly finished both before I went to bed,--the two of your last edition, of course, I mean, And in the morning I awoke determined to take down the "Excursion." I wish the scoundrel imitator could know this. But why waste a wish on him? I do not believe that paddling about with a stick in a pond, and fishing up a dead author, whom his intolerable wrongs had driven to that deed of desperation, would turn the heart of one of these obtuse literary BELLS. There is no Cock for such Peters, damn 'em! I am glad this aspiration came upon the red-ink line. [2] It is more of a bloody curse. I have delivered over your other presents to Alsager and G. Dyer, A., I am sure, will value it and be proud of the hand from which it came. To G.D. a poem is a poem,--his own as good as anybody's, and, God bless him! anybody's as good as his own; for I do not think he has the most distant guess of the possibility of one poem being better than another. The gods, by denying him the very faculty itself of discrimination, have effectually cut off every seed of envy in his bosom. But with envy they excited curiosity also; and if you wish the copy again, which you destined for him, I think I shall be able to find it again for you on his third shelf, where he stuffs his presentation copies, uncut, in shape and matter resembling a lump of dry dust; but on carefully removing that stratum, a thing like a pamphlet will emerge. I have tried this with fifty different poetical works that have been given G.D. in return for as many of his own performances; and I confess I never had any scruple in taking my own again, wherever I found it, shaking the adherences off; and by this means one copy of 'my works' served for G.D.,--and, with a little dusting, was made over to my good friend Dr. Geddes, who little thought whose leavings he was taking when he made me that graceful bow. By the way, the Doctor is the only one of my acquaintance who bows gracefully,--my town acquaintance, I mean. How do you like my way of writing with two inks? I think it is pretty and motley. Suppose Mrs. W, adopts it, the next time she holds the pen for you. My dinner waits. I have no time to indulge any longer in these laborious curiosities. God bless you, and cause to thrive and burgeon whatsoever you write, and fear no inks of miserable poetasters.

Yours truly,

CHARLES LAMB.

Mary's love.

[1] Lamb alludes to a parody, ridiculing Wordsworth, by J. Hamilton Reynolds, The verses were entitled "Peter Bell: A Lyrical Ballad;" and their drift and spirit may be inferred from the following lines from the preface: "It is now a period of one-and-twenty years since I first wrote some of the most perfect compositions (except certain pieces I have written in my later days) that ever dropped from poetical pen. My heart hath been right and powerful all its years. I never thought an evil or a weak thought in my life. It has been my aim and my achievement to deduce moral thunder from buttercups, daisies, celandines, and (as a poet scarcely inferior to myself hath it) 'such small deer,'" etc.

[2] The original letter is actually written in to inks,--alternate black and red.



LXV.

TO MANNING,

May 28, 1819,

My Dear M..--I want to know how your brother is, if you have heard lately. I want to know about you, I wish you were nearer. How are my cousins, the Gladmans of Wheathampstead, and Farmer Bruton? Mrs. Bruton is a glorious woman,

"Hail, Mackery End!" [1]

This is a fragment of a blank-verse poem which. I once meditated, but got no farther. The E. I. H. has been thrown into a quandary by the strange phenomenon of poor Tommy Bye, whom I have known, man and madman, twenty-seven years, he being elder here than myself by nine years and more. He was always a pleasant, gossiping, half-headed, muzzy, dozing, dreaming, walk-about, inoffensive chap, a little too fond of the creature,--who isn't at times? But Tommy had not brains to work off an overnight's surfeit by ten o'clock next morning, and unfortunately, in he wandered the other morning drunk with last night and with a superfoetation of drink taken in since he set out from bed. He came staggering under his double burden, like trees in Java, bearing at once blossom, fruit, and falling fruit, as I have heard you or some other traveller tell, with his face literally as blue as the bluest firmament. Some wretched calico that he had mopped his poor oozy front with, had rendered up its native dye, and the devil a bit would he consent to wash it, but swore it was characteristic, for he was going to the sale of indigo; and set up a laugh which I did not think the lungs of mortal man were competent to. It was like a thousand people laughing, or the Goblin Page. He imagined afterwards that the whole office had been laughing at him, so strange did his own sounds strike upon his nonsensorium. But Tommy has laughed his last laugh, and awoke the next day to find himself reduced from an abused income of 600 per annum to one sixth of the sum, after thirty-six years' tolerably good service. The quality of mercy was not strained in his behalf; the gentle dews dropped not on him from heaven. It just came across me that I was writing to Canton. Will you drop in to-morrow night? Fanny Kelly is coming, if she does not cheat us. Mrs. Gold is well, but proves "uncoined," as the lovers about Wheathampstead would say.

I have not had such a quiet half hour to sit down to a quiet letter for many years. I have not been interrupted above four times. I wrote a letter the other day in alternate lines, black ink and red, and you cannot think how it chilled the flow of ideas. Next Monday is Whit-Monday. What a reflection! Twelve years ago, and I should have kept that and the following holiday in the fields a-maying. All of those pretty pastoral delights are over. This dead, everlasting dead desk,--how it weighs the spirit of a gentleman down! This dead wood of the desk instead of your living trees! But then, again, I hate the joskins, a name for Hertfordshire bumpkins. Each state of life has its inconvenience; but then, again, mine has more than one. Not that I repine, or grudge, or murmur at my destiny. I have meat and drink, and decent apparel,--I shall, at least, when I get a new hat,

A red-haired man just interrupted me. He has broke the current of my thoughts, I haven't a word to add, I don't know why I send this letter, but I have had a hankering to hear about you some days. Perhaps it will go off before your reply comes. If it don't, I assure you no letter was ever welcomer from, you, from Paris or Macao.

C. LAMB.

[1] See the Elia essay, "Mackery End, in H---shire."



LXVI.

TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

November 25, 1819.

Dear Miss Wordsworth,--You will think me negligent, but I wanted to see more of Willy [1] before I ventured to express a prediction, Till yesterday I had barely seen him,--Virgilium tantum vidi; but yesterday he gave us his small company to a bullock's heart, and I can pronounce him a lad of promise. He is no pedant nor bookworm; so far I can answer. Perhaps he has hitherto paid too little attention to other men's inventions, preferring, like Lord Foppington, the "natural sprouts of his own." But he has observation, and seems thoroughly awake. I am ill at remembering other people's bon mots, but the following are a few. Being taken over Waterloo Bridge, he remarked that if we had no mountains, we had a fine river, at least,--which was a touch of the comparative; but then he added in a strain which augured less for his future abilities as a political economist, that he supposed they must take at least a pound a week toll. Like a curious naturalist, he inquired if the tide did not come up a little salty. This being satisfactorily answered, he put another question, as to the flux and reflux; which being rather cunningly evaded than artfully solved by that she-Aristotle Mary, who muttered something about its getting up an hour sooner and sooner every day, he sagely replied, "Then it must come to the same thing at last,"--which was a speech worthy of an infant Halley! The lion in the 'Change by no means came up to his ideal standard,--so impossible is it for Nature, in any of her works, to come up to the standard of a child's imagination! The whelps (lionets) he was sorry to find were dead; and on particular inquiry, his old friend the orang-outang had gone the way of all flesh also. The grand tiger was also sick, and expected in no short time to exchange this transitory world for another or none. But, again, there was a golden eagle (I do not mean that of Charing) which did much arride and console him. William's genius, I take it, leans a little to the figurative; for being at play at tricktrack (a kind of minor billiard-table which we keep for smaller wights, and sometimes refresh our own mature fatigues with taking a hand at), not being able to hit a ball he had iterate aimed at, he cried out, "I cannot hit that beast." Now, the balls are usually called men, but he felicitously hit upon a middle term,--a term of approximation and imaginative reconciliation; a something where the two ends of the brute matter (ivory) and their human and rather violent personification into men might meet, as I take it,--illustrative of that excellent remark in a certain preface about imagination, explaining "Like a sea-beast that had crawled forth to sun himself!" Not that I accuse William Minor of hereditary plagiary, or conceive the image to have come ex traduce. Rather he seemeth to keep aloof from any source of imitation, and purposely to remain ignorant of what mighty poets have done in this kind before him; for being asked if his father had ever been on Westminster Bridge, [2] he answered that he did not know!

It is hard to discern the oak in the acorn, or a temple like St. Paul's in the first stone which is laid; nor can I quite prefigure what destination the genius of William Minor hath to take. Some few hints I have set down, to guide my future observations. He hath the power of calculation in no ordinary degree for a chit. He combineth figures, after the first boggle, rapidly; as in the tricktrack board, where the hits are figured, at first he did not perceive that 15 and 7 made 22; but by a little use he could combine 8 with 25, and 33 again with 16,--which approacheth something in kind (far let me be from flattering him by saying in degree) to that of the famous American boy. I am sometimes inclined to think I perceive the future satirist in him, for he hath a sub-sardonic smile which bursteth out upon occasion,--as when he was asked if London were as big as Ambleside; and indeed no other answer was given, or proper to be given, to so ensnaring and provoking a question. In the contour of skull certainly I discern something paternal; but whether in all respects the future man shall transcend his father's fame, Time, the trier of Geniuses, must decide. Be it pronounced peremptorily at present that Willy is a well-mannered child, and though no great student, hath yet a lively eye for things that lie before him.

Given in haste from my desk at Leadenhall. Yours, and yours most sincerely,

C. LAMB.

[1] Wordsworth's third son. He was at the Charter-house School in London, and the Lambs had invited him to spend a half holiday with them.

[2] "William Minor" was evidently forgetful of the exquisite sonnet, "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge."


Charles Lamb

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