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1824

LXXIX.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

January 9, 1824.

Dear B.B.,--Do you know what it is to succumb under an insurmountable day-mare,--"a whoreson lethargy," Falstaff calls it,--an indisposition to do anything or to be anything; a total deadness and distaste; a suspension of vitality; an indifference to locality; a numb, soporifical good-for-nothingness; an ossification all over; an oyster-like insensibility to the passing events; a mind-stupor; a brawny defiance to the needles of a thrusting-in conscience? Did you ever have a very bad cold, with a total irresolution to submit to water-gruel processes? This has been for many weeks my lot and my excuse. My fingers drag heavily over this paper, and to my thinking it is three-and-twenty furlongs from here to the end of this demi-sheet. I have not a thing to say; nothing is of more importance than another. I am flatter than a denial or a pancake; emptier than Judge Parke's wig when the head is in it; duller than a country stage when the actors are off it,--a cipher, an o! I acknowledge life at all only by an occasional convulsional cough and a permanent phlegmatic pain in the chest. I am weary of the world; life is weary of me, My day is gone into twilight, and I don't think it worth the expense of candles. My wick hath a thief in it, but I can't muster courage to snuff it. I inhale suffocation; I can't distinguish veal from mutton; nothing interests me. 'T is twelve o'clock, and Thurtell [1] is just now coming out upon the new drop, Jack Ketch alertly tucking up his greasy sleeves to do the last office of mortality; yet cannot I elicit a groan or a moral reflection. If you told me the world will be at an end to-morrow, I should just say, "Will it?" I have not volition enough left to dot my i's, much less to comb my eyebrows; my eyes are set in my head; my brains are gone out to see a poor relation in Moorfields, and they did not say when they'd come back again; my skull is a Grub Street attic to let,--not so much as a joint-stool left in it; my hand writes, not I, from habit, as chickens run about a little when their heads are off. Oh for a vigorous fit of gout, colic, toothache,--an earwig in my auditory, a fly in my visual organs; pain is life,--the sharper the more evidence of life; but this apathy, this death! Did you ever have an obstinate cold,--a six or seven weeks' unintermitting chill and suspension of hope, fear, conscience, and everything? Yet do I try all I can to cure it. I try wine, and spirits, and smoking, and snuff in unsparing quantities; but they all only seem to make me worse, instead of better. I sleep in a damp room, but it does me no good; I come home late o' nights, but do not find any visible amendment! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

It is just fifteen minutes after twelve. Thurtell is by this time a good way on his journey, baiting at Scorpion, perhaps. Ketch is bargaining for his cast coat and waistcoat; and the Jew demurs at first at three half-crowns, but on consideration that he may get somewhat by showing 'em in the town, finally closes.

C. L.

[1] Hanged that day for the murder of Weare.



LXXX.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

January 23, 1824.

My dear sir,--That peevish letter of mine, [1] which was meant to convey an apology for my incapacity to write, seems to have been taken by you in too serious a light,--it was only my way of telling you I had a severe cold. The fact is, I have been insuperably dull and lethargic for many weeks, and cannot rise to the vigor of a letter, much less an essay. The "London" must do without me for a time, for I have lost all interest about it; and whether I shall recover it again I know not. I will bridle my pen another time, and not tease and puzzle you with my aridities. I shall begin to feel a little more alive with the spring.

Winter is to me (mild or harsh) always a great trial of the spirits. I am ashamed not to have noticed your tribute to Woolman, whom we love so much; it is done in your good manner. Your friend Tayler called upon me some time since, and seems a very amiable man. His last story is painfully fine. His book I "like;" it is only too stuffed with Scripture, too parsonish. The best thing in it is the boy's own story. When I say it is too full of Scripture, I mean it is too full of direct quotations; no book can have too much of silent Scripture in it. But the natural power of a story is diminished when the uppermost purpose in the writer seems to be to recommend something else,--namely, Religion. You know what Horace says of the Deus intersit? I am not able to explain myself,--you must do it for me. My sister's part in the "Leicester School" (about two thirds) was purely her own; as it was (to the same quantity) in the "Shakspeare Tales" which bear my name. I wrote only the "Witch Aunt," the "First Going to Church," and the final story about "A little Indian girl" in a ship. Your account of my black-balling amused me. I think, as Quakers, they did right. There are some things hard to be understood. The more I think, the more I am vexed at having puzzled you with that letter; but I have been so out of letter-writing of late years that it is a sore effort to sit down to it; and I felt in your debt, and sat down waywardly to pay you in bad money. Never mind my dulness; I am used to long intervals of it. The heavens seem brass to me; then again comes the refreshing shower,--

"I have been merry twice and once ere now."

You said something about Mr. Mitford in a late letter, which I believe I did not advert to. I shall be happy to show him my Milton (it is all the show things I have) at any time he will take the trouble of a jaunt to Islington. I do also hope to see Mr. Tayler there some day. Pray say so to both. Coleridge's book is in good part printed, but sticks a little for more copy. It bears an unsalable title,--"Extracts from Bishop Leighton;" but I am confident there will be plenty of good notes in it,--more of Bishop Coleridge than Leighton in it, I hope; for what is Leighton? Do you trouble yourself about libel cases? The decision against Hunt for the "Vision of Judgment" made me sick. What is to become of the good old talk about our good old king,--his personal virtues saving us from a revolution, etc.? Why, none that think can utter it now. It must stink. And the "Vision" is as to himward such a tolerant, good-humored thing! What a wretched thing a Lord Chief Justice is, always was, and will be!

Keep your good spirits up, dear B. B., mine will return; they are at present in abeyance, but I am rather lethargic than miserable. I don't know but a good horsewhip would be more beneficial to me than physic. My head, without aching, will teach yours to ache. It is well I am getting to the conclusion. I will send a better letter when I am a better man. Let me thank you for your kind concern for me (which I trust will have reason soon to be dissipated), and assure you that it gives me pleasure to hear from you.

Yours truly,

C. L.

[1] Letter LXXIX.



LXXXI.

TO BERNARD BARTON

April, 1824.

Dear B.B.,--I am sure I cannot fill a letter, though I should disfurnish my skull to fill it; but you expect something, and shall have a notelet. Is Sunday, not divinely speaking, but humanly and holiday-sically, a blessing? Without its institution, would our rugged taskmasters have given us a leisure day so often, think you, as once in a month? or, if it had not been instituted, might they not have given us every sixth day? Solve me this problem. If we are to go three times a-day to church, why has Sunday slipped into the notion of a holiday? A HOLY-day, I grant it. The Puritans, I have read in Southey's book, knew the distinction. They made people observe Sunday rigorously, would not let a nurserymaid walk out in the fields with children for recreation on that day. But then they gave the people a holiday from all sorts of work every second Tuesday. This was giving to the two Cęsars that which was his respective. Wise, beautiful, thoughtful, generous legislators! Would Wilberforce give us our Tuesdays? No; he would turn the six days into sevenths,--

"And those three smiling seasons of the year Into a Russian winter." OLD PLAY.

I am sitting opposite a person who is making strange distortions with the gout, which is not unpleasant pleasant,--to me, at least. What is the reason we do not sympathize with pain, short of some terrible surgical operation? Hazlitt, who boldly says all he feels, avows that not only he does not pity sick people, but he hates them. I obscurely recognize his meaning. Pain is probably too selfish a consideration, too simply a consideration of self-attention. We pity poverty, loss of friends, etc.,--more complex things, in which the sufferer's feelings are associated with others. This is a rough thought suggested by the presence of gout; I want head to extricate it and plane it. What is all this to your letter? I felt it to be a good one, but my turn, when I write at all, is perversely to travel out of the record, so that my letters are anything but answers. So you still want a motto? You must not take my ironical one, because your book, I take it, is too serious for it. Bickerstaff might have used it for his lucubrations. What do you think of (for a title) Religio Tremuli? or Tremebundi? There is Religio Medici and Laici. But perhaps the volume is not quite Quakerish enough, or exclusively so, for it. Your own "Vigils" is perhaps the best. While I have space, let me congratulate with you the return of spring,--what a summery spring too! All those qualms about the dog and cray-fish [1] melt before it. I am going to be happy and vain again.

A hasty farewell,

C. LAMB.

[1] Lamb had confessed, in a previous letter to Barton, to having once wantonly set a dog upon a cray-fish.



LXXXII.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

May 15, 1824.

Dear B. B.,--I am oppressed with business all day, and company all night. But I will snatch a quarter of an hour. Your recent acquisitions of the picture and the letter are greatly to be congratulated. I too have a picture of my father and the copy of his first love-verses; but they have been mine long. Blake is a real name, I assure you, and a most extraordinary man, if he is still living. He is the Robert [William] Blake whose wild designs accompany a splendid folio edition of the "Night Thoughts," which you may have seen, in one of which he pictures the parting of soul and body by a solid mass of human form floating off, God knows how, from a lumpish mass (fac-simile to itself) left behind on the dying bed. He paints in water-colors marvellous strange pictures, visions of his brain, which he asserts that he has seen; they have great merit. He has seen the old Welsh bards on Snowdon,--he has seen the beautifullest, the strongest, and the ugliest man, left alone from the massacre of the Britons by the Romans, and has painted them from memory (I have seen his paintings), and asserts them to be as good as the figures of Raphael and Angelo, but not better, as they had precisely the same retro-visions and prophetic visions with themself [himself]. The painters in oil (which he will have it that neither of them practised) he affirms to have been the ruin of art, and affirms that all the while he was engaged in his Welsh paintings, Titian was disturbing him,-- Titian the Ill Genius of Oil Painting. His pictures--one in particular, the Canterbury Pilgrims, far above Stothard--have great merit, but hard, dry, yet with grace. He has written a Catalogue of them, with a most spirited criticism on Chaucer, but mystical and full of vision. His poems have been sold hitherto only in manuscript. I never read them; but a friend at my desire procured the "Sweep Song." There is one to a tiger, which I have heard recited, beginning,--

"Tiger, Tiger, burning bright, Thro' the deserts of the night,"

which is glorious, but, alas! I have not the book; for the man is flown, whither I know not,--to Hades or a madhouse. But I must look on him as one of the most extraordinary persons of the age. Montgomery's book [1] I have not much hope from, and the society with the affected name [2] has been laboring at it for these twenty years, and made few converts. I think it was injudicious to mix stories, avowedly colored by fiction, with the sad, true statements from the parliamentary records, etc. But I wish the little negroes all the good that can come from it. I battered my brains (not buttered them,--but it is a bad a) for a few verses for them, but I could make nothing of it. You have been luckier. But Blake's are the flower of the set, you will, I am sure, agree; though some of Montgomery's at the end are pretty, but the Dream awkwardly paraphrased from B.

With the exception of an Epilogue for a Private Theatrical, I have written nothing new for near six months. It is in vain to spur me on. I must wait. I cannot write without a genial impulse, and I have none. 'T is barren all and dearth. No matter; life is something without scribbling. I have got rid of my bad spirits, and hold up pretty well this rain-damned May.

So we have lost another poet. [3] I never much relished his Lordship's mind, and shall be sorry if the Greeks have cause to miss him. He was to me offensive, and I never can make out his real power, which his admirers talk of. Why, a, line of Wordsworth's is a lever to lift the immortal spirit; Byron can only move the spleen. He was at best a satirist. In any other way, he was mean enough. I daresay I do him injustice; but I cannot love him, nor squeeze a tear to his memory. He did not like the world, and he has left it, as Alderman Curtis advised the Radicals, "if they don't like their country, damn 'em, let 'em leave it," they possessing no rood of ground in England, and he ten thousand acres. Byron was better than many Curtises.

Farewell, and accept this apology for a letter from one who owes you so much in that kind.

Yours ever truly, C. L.

[1] "The Chimney-Sweeper's Friend, and Climbing-Boy's Album,"--a book, by James Montgomery, setting forth the wrongs of the little chimney-sweepers, for whose relief a society had been started.

[2] The Society for Ameliorating the Condition of Infant Chimney-Sweepers.

[3] Byron had died on April 19.



LXXXIII.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

August, 1824.

I can no more understand Shelley than you can; his poetry is "thin sown with profit or delight." Yet I must point to your notice a sonnet conceived and expressed with a witty delicacy. It is that addressed to one who hated him, but who could not persuade him to hate him again. His coyness to the other's passion--for hate demands a return as much as love, and starves without it--is most arch and pleasant. Pray, like it very much. For his theories and nostrums, they are oracular enough, but I either comprehend 'em not, or there is "miching malice" and mischief in 'em, but, for the most part, ringing with their own emptiness. Hazlitt said well of 'em: "Many are the wiser and better for reading Shakspeare, but nobody was ever wiser or better for reading Shelley." I wonder you will sow your correspondence on so barren a ground as I am, that make such poor returns. But my head aches at the bare thought of letter-writing. I wish all the ink in the ocean dried up, and would listen to the quills shivering up in the candle flame, like parching martyrs. The same indisposition to write it is has stopped my "Elias;" but you will see a futile effort in the next number, [1] "wrung from me with slow pain." The fact is, my head is seldom cool enough. I am dreadfully indolent. To have to do anything--to order me a new coat, for instance, though my old buttons are shelled like beans--is an effort. My pen stammers like my tongue. What cool craniums those old inditers of folios must have had, what a mortified pulse! Well, once more I throw myself on your mercy. Wishing peace in thy new dwelling,

C. LAMB.

[1] The essay "Blakesmoor in Hertfordshire," in the "London Magazine" for September, 1824.



LXXXIV.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

December 1, 1824.

Taylor and Hessey, finding their magazine [1] goes off very heavily at 2s. 6d., are prudently going to raise their price another shilling; and having already more authors than they want, intend to increase the number of them. If they set up against the "New Monthly," they must change their present hands. It is not tying the dead carcase of a review to a half-dead magazine will do their business. It is like George Dyer multiplying his volumes to make 'em sell better. When he finds one will not go off, he publishes two; two stick, he tries three; three hang fire, he is confident that four will have a better chance.

And now, my dear sir, trifling apart, the gloomy catastrophe of yesterday morning prompts a sadder vein. The fate of the unfortunate Fauntleroy [2] makes me, whether I will or no, to cast reflecting eyes around on such of my friends as, by a parity of situation, are exposed to a similarity of temptation. My very style seems to myself to become more impressive than usual, with the change of theme. Who, that standeth, knoweth but he may yet fall? Your hands as yet, I am most willing to believe, have never deviated, into others' property; you think it impossible that you could ever commit so heinous an offence. But so thought Fauntleroy once; so have thought many besides him, who at last have expiated as he hath done. You are as yet upright; but you are a banker,--at least, the next thing to it. I feel the delicacy of the subject; but cash must pass through your hands, sometimes to a great amount. If in an unguarded hour--But I will hope better. Consider the scandal it will bring upon those of your persuasion. Thousands would go to see a Quaker hanged, that would be indifferent to the fate of a Presbyterian or an Anabaptist. Think of the effect it would have on the sale of your poems alone, not to mention higher considerations! I tremble, I am sure, at myself, when I think that so many poor victims of the law, at one time of their life, made as sure of never being hanged as I, in my presumption, am too ready to do myself. What are we better than they? Do we come into the world with different necks? Is there any distinctive mark under our left ears? Are we unstrangulable, I ask you? Think of these things. I am shocked sometimes at the shape of my own fingers, not for their resemblance to the ape tribe (which is something), but for the exquisite adaptation of them to the purposes of picking fingering, etc. No one that is so framed, I maintain it, but should tremble.

C. L.

[1] Taylor and Hessey succeeded John Scott as editors of the "London Magazine" (of which they were also publishers), and it was to this periodical that most of Lamb's Elia Essays were contributed.

[2] The forger, hanged Nov. 30, 1824. This was the last execution for this offence.


Charles Lamb

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