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1822

LXVII.

TO COLERIDGE.

March 9, 1822.

Dear C.,--It gives me great satisfaction to hear that the pig turned out so well, [1]--they are interesting creatures at a certain age; what a pity such buds should blow out into the maturity of rank bacon! You had all some of the crackling--and brain sauce; did you remember to rub it with butter, and gently dredge it a little just before the crisis? Did the eyes come away kindly, with no Oedipean avulsion? Was the crackling the color of the ripe pomegranate? Had you no cursed complement of boiled neck of mutton before it, to blunt the edge of delicate desire? Did you flesh maiden teeth in it? Not that I sent the pig, or can form the remotest guess what part Owen could play in the business. I never knew him give anything away in my life. He would not begin with strangers. I suspect the pig, after all, was meant for me; but at the unlucky juncture of time being absent, the present somehow went round to Highgate. To confess an honest truth, a pig is one of those things I could never think of sending away. Teals, widgeons, snipes, barn-door fowl, ducks, geese,--your tame villatic things,--Welsh mutton collars of brawn, sturgeon, fresh or pickled, your potted char, Swiss cheeses, French pies, early grapes, muscadines, I impart as freely unto my friends as to myself. They are but self-extended; but pardon me if I stop somewhere. Where the fine feeling of benevolence giveth a higher smack than the sensual rarity, there my friends (or any good man) may command me; but pigs are pigs, and I myself therein am nearest to myself. Nay, I should think it an, affront, an undervaluing done to Nature, who bestowed such a boon upon me, if in a churlish mood I parted with the precious gift. One of the bitterest pangs I ever felt of remorse was when a child. My kind old aunt [2] had strained her pocket-strings to bestow a sixpenny whole plum cake upon me. In my way home through the Borough, I met a venerable old man, not a mendicant, but thereabouts,--a look-beggar, not a verbal petitionist; and in the coxcombry of taught-charity, I gave away the cake to him. I walked on a little in all the pride of an Evangelical peacock, when of a sudden my old aunt's kindness crossed me,--the sum it was to her; the pleasure she had a right to expect that I--not the old impostor--should take in eating her cake; the cursed ingratitude by which, under the color of a Christian virtue, I had frustrated her cherished purpose. I sobbed, wept, and took it to heart so grievously that I think I never suffered the like; and I was right. It was a piece of unfeeling hypocrisy, and proved a lesson to me ever after. The cake has long been masticated, consigned to dunghill with the ashes of that unseasonable pauper.

But when Providence, who is better to us all than our aunts, gives me a pig, remembering my temptation and my fall, I shall endeavor to act towards it more in the spirit of the donor's purpose.

Yours (short of pig) to command in everything,

C. L.

[1] Some one had sent Coleridge a pig, and the gift was erroneously credited to Lamb.

[2] Elia: "Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago."



LXVIII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

March 20, 1822.

My Dear Wordsworth,--A letter from you is very grateful; I have not seen a Kendal postmark so long. We are pretty well, save colds and rheumatics, and a certain deadness to everything, which I think I may date from poor John's loss, and another accident or two at the same time, that has made me almost bury myself at Dalston, where yet I see more faces than I could wish. Deaths overset one and put one out long after the recent grief. Two or three have died, within this last two twelvemonths, and so many parts of me have been numbed. One sees a picture, reads an anecdote, starts a casual fancy, and thinks to tell of it to this person in preference to every other; the person is gone whom it would have peculiarly suited. It won't do for another. Every departure destroys a class of sympathies. There's Captain Burney gone! What fun has whist now? What matters it what you lead, if you can no longer fancy him looking over you? [1] One never hears anything, but the image of the particular person occurs with whom alone almost you would care to share the intelligence,--thus one distributes oneself about; and now for so many parts of me I have lost the market. Common natures do not suffice me. Good people, as they are called, won't serve; I want individuals. I am made up of queer points, and I want so many answering needles. The going-away of friends does not make the remainder more precious. It takes so much from them, as there was a common link. A, B, and C make a party. A dies. B not only loses A, but all A's part in C. C loses A's part in B, and so the alphabet sickens by subtraction of interchangeables. I express myself muddily, capite dolente. I have a dulling cold. My theory is to enjoy life; but my practice is against it. I grow ominously tired of official confinement. Thirty years have I served the Philistines, and my neck is not subdued to the yoke. You don't know how wearisome it is to breathe the air of four pent walls without relief, day after day, all the golden hours of the day between ten and four, without ease or interposition. Tędet me harum quotidianarum formarum, these pestilential clerk-faces always in one's dish. Oh for a few years between the grave and the desk! they are the same, save that at the latter you are the outside machine. The foul enchanter [Nick?], "letters four do form his name,"--Busirane [2] is his name in hell,--that has curtailed you of some domestic comforts, hath laid a heavier hand on me, not in present infliction, but in the taking away the hope of enfranchisement. I dare not whisper to myself a pension on this side of absolute incapacitation and infirmity, till years have sucked me dry,--Otium cum indignitate. I had thought in a green old age (oh, green thought!) to have retired to Ponder's End,--emblematic name, how beautiful!,--in the Ware Road, there to have made up my accounts with Heaven and the Company, toddling about between it and Cheshunt, anon stretching, on some fine Izaak Walton morning, to Hoddesdon or Amwell, careless as a beggar; but walking, walking ever, till I fairly walked myself off my legs,--dying walking! The hope is gone. I sit like Philomel all day (but not singing), with my breast against this thorn of a desk, with the only hope that some pulmonary affliction may relieve me. Vide Lord Palmerston's report of the clerks in the War-office (Debates in this morning's "Times"), by which it appears, in twenty years as many clerks have been coughed and catarrhed out of it into their freer graves. Thank you for asking about the pictures. Milton hangs over my fire-side in Covent Garden (when I am there); the rest have been sold for an old song, wanting the eloquent tongue that should have set them off! You have gratified me with liking my meeting with Dodd. For the Malvolio story,--the thing is become in verity a sad task, and I eke it out with anything. If I could slip out of it I should be happy; but our chief-reputed assistants have forsaken us. The Opium-Eater crossed us once with a dazzling path, and hath as suddenly left us darkling; and, in short, I shall go on from dull to worse, because I cannot resist the booksellers' importunity,--the old plea, you know, of authors; but I believe on my part sincere. Hartley I do not so often see, but I never see him in unwelcome hour. I thoroughly love and honor him. I send you a frozen epistle; but it is winter and dead time of the year with me. May Heaven keep something like spring and summer up with you, strengthen your eyes, and make mine a little lighter to encounter with them, as I hope they shall yet and again, before all are closed!

Yours, with every kind remembrance,

C. L.

[1] Martin Burney was the grimy-fisted whist-player to whom Lamb once observed, "Martin, if dirt was trumps, what hands you would hold!"

[2] The enchanter in "The Faerie Queene."



LXIX.

TO JOHN CLARE. [1]

August 31, 1822.

Dear Clare,--I thank you heartily for your present. I am an inveterate old Londoner, but while I am among your choice collections I seem to be native to them and free of the country. The quality of your observation has astonished me. What have most pleased me have been "Recollections after a Ramble," and those "Grongar Hill" kind of pieces in eight-syllable lines, my favourite measure, such as "Cooper Hill" and "Solitude." In some of your story-telling Ballads the provincial phrases sometimes startle me. I think you are too profuse with them. In poetry slang of every kind is to be avoided. There is a rustic Cockneyism, as little pleasing as ours of London. Transplant Arcadia to Helpstone. The true rustic style I think is to be found in Shenstone. Would his "School-mistress," the prettiest of poems, have been better if he had used quite the Goody's own language? Now and then a home rusticism is fresh and startling; but when nothing is gained in expression, it is out of tenor. It may make folks smile and stare; but the ungenial coalition of barbarous with refined phrases will prevent you in the end from being so generally tasted as you desire to be. Excuse my freedom, and take the same liberty with my puns.

I send you two little volumes of my spare hours. They are of all sorts; there is a Methodist hymn for Sundays, and a farce for Saturday night. Pray give them a place on your shelf. Pray accept a little volume, of which I have a duplicate, that I may return in equal number to your welcome presents. I think I am indebted to you for a sonnet in the "London" for August.

Since I saw you I have been in France, and have eaten frogs. The nicest little rabbity things you ever tasted. Do look about for them. Make Mrs. Clare pick off the hind-quarters, boil them plain, with parsley and butter. The fore-quarters are not so good. She may let them hop off by themselves.

Yours sincerely,

CHAS. LAMB.

[1] The Northamptonshire peasant poet. He had sent Lamb his "The Village Minstrel, and other Poems."



LXX.

TO MR. BARRON FIELD.

September 22, 1822.

My Dear F.,--I scribble hastily at office. Frank wants my letter presently. I and sister are just returned from Paris! [1] We have eaten frogs. It has been such a treat! You know our monotonous general tenor. Frogs are the nicest little delicate things,--rabbity flavored. Imagine a Lilliputian rabbit! They fricassee them; but in my mind, dressed seethed, plain, with parsley and butter, would have been the decision of Apicius.... Paris is a glorious, picturesque old city. London looks mean and new to it, as the town of Washington would, seen after it. But they have no St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey. The Seine, so much despised by Cockneys, is exactly the size to run through a magnificent street; palaces a mile long on one side, lofty Edinburgh stone (oh, the glorious antiques!) houses on the other. The Thames disunites London and Southwark. I had Talma to supper with me. He has picked up, as I believe, an authentic portrait of Shakspeare. He paid a broker about £40 English for it. It is painted on the one half of a pair of bellows,--a lovely picture, corresponding with the Folio head. The bellows has old carved wings round it and round the visnomy is inscribed, as near as I remember, not divided into rhyme,--I found out the rhyme,--

"Whom have we here Stuck on this bellows, But the Prince of good fellows, Willy Shakspere?"

At top,--

"O base and coward lack, To be here stuck!"

POINS.

At bottom,--

"Nay! rather a glorious lot is to him assign'd, Who, like the Almighty, rides upon the wind."

PISTOL,

This is all in old, carved wooden letters. The countenance smiling, sweet, and intellectual beyond measure, even as he was immeasurable. It may be a forgery. They laugh at me, and tell me Ireland is in Paris, and has been putting off a portrait of the Black Prince. How far old wood may be imitated I cannot say, Ireland was not found out by his parchments, but by his poetry. I am confident no painter on either side the Channel could have painted anything near like the face I saw. Again, would such a painter and forger have taken £40 for a thing, if authentic, worth £4000? Talma is not in the secret, for he had not even found out the rhymes in the first inscription. He is coming over with it, and my life to Southey's "Thalaba," it will gain universal faith.

The letter is wanted, and I am wanted. Imagine the blank filled up with all kind things.

Our joint, hearty remembrances to both of you. Yours as ever,

C. LAMB.

[1] The Lambs had visited Paris on the invitation of James Kenney, the dramatist, who had married a Frenchwoman, and was living at Versailles.



LXXI.

TO WALTER WILSON.

December 16, 1822.

Dear Wilson,--Lightning I was going to call you. You must have thought me negligent in not answering your letter sooner. But I have a habit of never writing letters but at the office; 'tis so much time cribbed out of the Company; and I am but just got out of the thick of a tea-sale, in which most of the entry of notes, deposits, etc., usually falls to my share.

I have nothing of De Foe's but two or three novels and the "Plague History." [1] I can give you no information about him. As a slight general character of what I remember of them (for I have not looked into them latterly), I would say that in the appearance of truth, in all the incidents and conversations that occur in them, they exceed any works of fiction I am acquainted with. It is perfect illusion. The author never appears in these self-narratives (for so they ought to be called, or rather auto-biographies), but the narrator chains us down to an implicit belief in everything he says. There is all the minute detail of a log-book in it. Dates are painfully pressed upon the memory. Facts are repeated over and over in varying phrases, till you cannot choose but believe them. It is like reading evidence given in a court of justice. So anxious the story-teller seems that the truth should be clearly comprehended that when he has told us a matter of fact or a motive, in a line or two farther down he repeats it with his favorite figure of speech, "I say" so and so, though he had made it abundantly plain before. This is in imitation of the common people's way of speaking, or rather of the way in which they are addressed by a master or mistress who wishes to impress something upon their memories, and has a wonderful effect upon matter-of-fact readers. Indeed, it is to such principally that he writes. His style is everywhere beautiful, but plain and homely. "Robinson Crusoe" is delightful to all ranks and classes; but it is easy to see that it is written in phraseology peculiarly adapted to the lower conditions of readers,--hence it is an especial favorite with seafaring men, poor boys, servant-maids, etc. His novels are capital kitchen-reading, while they are worthy, from their deep interest, to find a shelf in the libraries of the wealthiest and the most learned. His passion for matter-of-fact narrative sometimes betrayed him into a long relation of common incidents, which might happen to any man, and have no interest but the intense appearance of truth in them, to recommend them. The whole latter half or two-thirds of "Colonel Jack" is of this description. The beginning of "Colonel Jack" is the most affecting natural picture of a young thief that was ever drawn. His losing the stolen money in the hollow of a tree, and finding it again when he was in despair, and then being in equal distress at not knowing how to dispose of it, and several similar touches in the early history of the Colonel, evince a deep knowledge of human nature, and putting out of question the superior romantic interest of the latter, in my mind very much exceed "Crusoe." "Roxana" (first edition) is the next in interest, though he left out the best part of it in subsequent editions from a foolish hypercriticism of his friend Southerne. But "Moll Flanders," the "Account of the Plague," etc., are all of one family, and have the same stamp of character. Believe me, with friendly recollections--Brother (as I used to call you), Yours,

C. LAMB.

[1] Wilson was preparing a Life of De Foe, and had written to Lamb for guidance.



LXXII.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

December 23, 1822.

Dear Sir,--I have been so distracted with business and one thing or other, I have not had a quiet quarter of an hour for epistolary purposes. Christmas, too, is come, which always puts a rattle into my morning skull. It is a visiting, unquiet, unquakerish season. I get more and more in love with solitude, and proportionately hampered with company. I hope you have some holidays at this period. I have one day,--Christmas Day; alas! too few to commemorate the season. All work and no play dulls me. Company is not play, but many times bard work. To play, is for a man to do what he pleases, or to do nothing,--to go about soothing his particular fancies. I have lived to a time of life to have outlived the good hours, the nine-o'clock suppers, with a bright hour or two to clear up in afterwards. Now you cannot get tea before that hour, and then sit gaping, music bothered perhaps, till half-past twelve brings up the tray; and what you steal of convivial enjoyment after, is heavily paid for in the disquiet of to-morrow's head.

I am pleased with your liking "John Woodvil," and amused with your knowledge of our drama being confined to Shakspeare and Miss Baillie. What a world of fine territory between Land's End and Johnny Groat's have you missed traversing! I could almost envy you to have so much to read. I feel as if I had read all the books I want to read. Oh, to forget Fielding, Steele, etc., and read 'em new!

Can you tell me a likely place where I could pick up cheap Fox's Journal? There are no Quaker circulating libraries? Elwood, too, I must have. I rather grudge that Southey has taken up the history of your people; I am afraid he will put in some levity. I am afraid I am not quite exempt from that fault in certain magazine articles, where I have introduced mention of them. Were they to do again, I would reform them. Why should not you write a poetical account of your old worthies, deducing them from Fox to Woolman? But I remember you did talk of something of that kind, as a counterpart to the "Ecclesiastical Sketches." But would not a poem be more consecutive than a string of sonnets? You have no martyrs quite to the fire, I think, among you, but plenty of heroic confessors, spirit-martyrs, lamb-lions. Think of it; it would be better than a series of sonnets on "Eminent Bankers." I like a hit at our way of life, though it does well for me,--better than anything short of all one's time to one's self; for which alone I rankle with envy at the rich. Books are good, and pictures are good, and money to buy them therefore good; but to buy time,--in other words, life!

The "compliments of the time" to you, should end my letter; to a Friend, I suppose, I must say the "sincerity of the season:" I hope they both mean the same. With excuses for this hastily penned note, believe me, with great respect,

C. LAMB.



LXXIII.

TO MISS WORDSWORTH.

Mary perfectly approves of the appropriation of the feathers, and wishes them peacock's for your fair niece's sake.

Christmas, 1822.

Dear Miss Wordsworth,--I had just written the above endearing words when Monkhouse tapped me on the shoulder with an invitation to cold goose pie, which I was not bird of that sort enough to decline. Mrs. Monkhouse, I am most happy to say, is better Mary has been tormented with a rheumatism, which is leaving her, I am suffering from the festivities of the season. I wonder how my misused carcase holds it out. I have played the experimental philosopher on it, that's certain. Willy shall be welcome to a mince-pie and a bout at commerce whenever he comes. He was in our eye. I am glad you liked my new year's speculations; everybody likes them, except the author of the "Pleasures of Hope." Disappointment attend him! How I like to be liked, and what I do to be liked! They flatter me in magazines, newspapers, and all the minor reviews; the Quarterlies hold aloof. But they must come into it in time, or their leaves be waste paper. Salute Trinity Library in my name. Two special things are worth seeing at Cambridge,--a portrait of Cromwell at Sidney, and a better of Dr. Harvey (who found out that blood was red) at Dr. Davy's; you should see them. Coleridge is pretty well; I have not seen, him, but hear often of him, from Allsop, who sends me hares and pheasants twice a week; I can hardly take so fast as he gives. I have almost forgotten butcher's meat as plebeian. Are you not glad the cold is gone? I find winters not so agreeable as they used to be "when winter bleak had charms forme," I cannot conjure up a kind similitude for those snowy flakes. Let them keep to twelfth-cakes!

Mrs. Paris, our Cambridge friend, has been in town. You do not know the Watfords in Trampington Street. They are capital people. Ask anybody you meet, who is the biggest woman in Cambridge, and I 'll hold you a wager they'll say Mrs. Smith; she broke down two benches in Trinity Gardens,--one on the confines of St. John's, which occasioned a litigation between the Societies as to repairing it. In warm weather, she retires into an ice-cellar (literally!), and dates the returns of the years from a hot Thursday some twenty years back. She sits in a room with opposite doors and windows, to let in a thorough draught, which gives her slenderer friends tooth-aches. She is to be seen in the market every morning at ten cheapening fowls, which I observe the Cambridge poulterers are not sufficiently careful to stump.

Having now answered most of the points contained in your letter, let me end with assuring you of our very best kindness, and excuse Mary for not handling the pen on this occasion, especially as it has fallen into so much better hands! Will Dr. W. accept of my respects at the end of a foolish letter?

C. L.


Charles Lamb

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