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1825

LXXXV.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

March 23, 1825.

Dear B. B.,--I have had no impulse to write, or attend to any single object but myself for weeks past,--my single self, I by myself, I. I am sick of hope deferred. The grand wheel is in agitation that is to turn up my fortune; but round it rolls, and will turn up nothing. I have a glimpse of freedom, of becoming a gentleman at large; but I am put off from day to day. I have offered my resignation, and it is neither accepted nor rejected. Eight weeks am I kept in this fearful suspense. Guess what an absorbing stake I feel it. I am not conscious of the existence of friends present or absent. The East India Directors alone can be that thing to me or not. I have just learned that nothing will be decided this week. Why the next? Why any week? It has fretted me into an itch of the fingers; I rub 'em against paper, and write to you, rather than not allay this scorbuta.

While I can write, let me adjure you to have no doubts of Irving. Let Mr. Mitford drop his disrespect. Irving has prefixed a dedication (of a missionary subject, first part) to Coleridge, the most beautiful, cordial, and sincere. He there acknowledges his obligation to S. T. C. for his knowledge of Gospel truths, the nature of a Christian Church, etc.,--to the talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (at whose Gamaliel feet he sits weekly), rather than to that of all the men living. This from him, the great dandled and petted sectarian, to a religious character so equivocal in the world's eye as that of S. T. C., so foreign to the Kirk's estimate,--can this man be a quack? The language is as affecting as the spirit of the dedication. Some friend told him, "This dedication will do you no good,"--i. e., not in the world's repute, or with your own people. "That is a reason for doing it," quoth Irving.

I am thoroughly pleased with him. He is firm, out-speaking, intrepid, and docile as a pupil of Pythagoras. You must like him.

Yours, in tremors of painful hope,

C. LAMB.



LXXXVI.

TO WORDSWORTH

April 6, 1825

Dear Wordsworth,--I have been several times meditating a letter to you concerning the good thing which has befallen me; but the thought of poor Monkhouse [1] came across me. He was one that I had exulted in the prospect of congratulating me. He and you were to have been the first participators; for indeed it has been ten weeks since the first motion of it. Here am I then, after thirty-three years' slavery, sitting in my own room at eleven o'clock this finest of all April mornings, a freed man, with 441 a year for the remainder of my life, live I as long as John Dennis, who outlived his annuity and starved at ninety: 441; i.e., 450, with a deduction of 9 for a provision secured to my sister, she being survivor, the pension guaranteed by Act Georgii Tertii, etc.

I came home FOREVER on Tuesday in last week. The incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me; it was like passing from life into eternity. Every year to be as long as three, i.e., to have three times as much real time--time that is my own--in it! I wandered about thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But that tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of the gift. Holidays, even the annual month, were always uneasy joys,--their conscious fugitiveness; the craving after making the most of them. Now, when all is holiday, there are no holidays. I can sit at home, in rain or shine, without a restless impulse for walkings. I am daily steadying, and shall soon find it as natural to me to be my own master as it has been irksome to have had a master. Mary wakes every morning with an obscure feeling that some good has happened to us.

Leigh Hunt and Montgomery, after their releasements, describe the shock of their emancipation much as I feel mine. But it hurt their frames. I eat, drink, and sleep sound as ever, I lay no anxious schemes for going hither and thither, but take things as they occur. Yesterday I excursioned twenty miles; to-day I write a few letters. Pleasuring was for fugitive play-days: mine are fugitive only in the sense that life is fugitive. Freedom and life co-existent!

At the foot of such a call upon you for gratulation, I am ashamed to advert to that melancholy event. Monkhouse was a character I learned to love slowly; but it grew upon me yearly, monthly, daily. What a chasm has it made in our pleasant parties! His noble, friendly face was always coming before me, till this hurrying event in my life came, and for the time has absorbed all interest; in fact, it has shaken me a little. My old desk companions, with whom I have had such merry hours, seem to reproach me for removing my lot from among them. They were pleasant creatures; but to the anxieties of business, and a weight of possible worse ever impending, I was not equal. Tuthill and Gilman gave me my certificates; I laughed at the friendly lie implied in them. But my sister shook her head, and said it was all true. Indeed, this last winter I was jaded out; winters were always worse than other parts of the year, because the spirits are worse, and I had no daylight. In summer I had daylight evenings. The relief was hinted to me from a superior power when I, poor slave, had not a hope but that I must wait another seven years with Jacob; and lo! the Rachel which I coveted is brought to me.

[1] Wordsworth's cousin, who was ill of consumption in Devonshire. He died the following year.



LXXXVII.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

April 6, 1825.

Dear B.B.,--My spirits are so tumultuary with the novelty of my recent emancipation that I have scarce steadiness of hand, much more mind, to compose a letter. I am free, B.B.,--free as air!

"The little bird that wings the sky Knows no such liberty." [1] I was set free on Tuesday in last week at four o'clock. I came home forever!

I have been describing my feelings as well as I can to Wordsworth in a long letter, and don't care to repeat. Take it, briefly, that for a few days I was painfully oppressed by so mighty a change; but it is becoming daily more natural to me. I went and sat among 'em all at my old thirty-three-years' desk yester-morning; and, deuce take me, if I had not yearnings at leaving all my old pen-and-ink fellows, merry, sociable lads,--at leaving them in the lurch, fag, fag, fag! The comparison of my own superior felicity gave me anything but pleasure.

B.B., I would not serve another seven years for seven hundred thousand pounds! I have got 441 net for life, sanctioned by Act of Parliament, with a provision for Mary if she survives me. I will live another fifty years; or if I live but ten, they will be thirty, reckoning the quantity of real time in them,--i.e., the time that is a man's own, Tell me how you like "Barbara S.;" [2] will it be received in atonement for the foolish "Vision"--I mean by the lady? A propos, I never saw Mrs. Crawford in my life; nevertheless, it's all true of somebody.

Address me, in future, Colebrooke Cottage, Islington, I am really nervous (but that will wear off), so take this brief announcement.

Yours truly,

C.L.

[1]

 "The birds that wanton in the air
    Know no such liberty."
LOVELACE.

[2] The Elia essay. Fanny Kelly was the original of "Barbara S."



LXXXVIII.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

July 2, 1825.

I am hardly able to appreciate your volume now; [1] but I liked the dedication much, and the apology for your bald burying grounds. To Shelley--but that is not new, To the young Vesper-singer, Great Bealings, Playford, and what not.

If there be a cavil, it is that the topics of religious consolation, however beautiful, are repeated till a sort of triteness attends them. It seems as if you were forever losing Friends' children by death, and reminding their parents of the Resurrection. Do children die so often and so good in your parts? The topic taken from the consideration that they are snatched away from possible vanities seems hardly sound; for to an Omniscient eye their conditional failings must be one with their actual. But I am too unwell for theology.

Such as I am,

I am yours and A.K.'s truly,

C. LAMB.

[1] "Barton's volume of Poems."



LXXXIX.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

August 10, 1825.

We shall be soon again at Colebrooke.

Dear B.B.,--You must excuse my not writing before, when I tell you we are on a visit at Enfield, where I do not feel it natural to sit down to a letter. It is at all times an exertion. I had rather talk with you and Anne Knight quietly at Colebrooke Lodge over the matter of your last. You mistake me when you express misgivings about my relishing a series of Scriptural poems. I wrote confusedly; what I meant to say was, that one or two consolatory poems on deaths would have had a more condensed effect than many. Scriptural, devotional topics, admit of infinite variety. So far from poetry tiring me because religious, I can read, and I say it seriously, the homely old version of the Psalms in our Prayer-books for an hour or two together sometimes, without sense of weariness.

I did not express myself clearly about what I think a false topic, insisted on so frequently in consolatory addresses on the death of infants. I know something like it is in Scripture, but I think humanly spoken. It is a natural thought, a sweet fallacy, to the survivors, but still a fallacy. If it stands on the doctrine of this being a probationary state, it is liable to this dilemma. Omniscience, to whom possibility must be clear as act, must know of the child what it would hereafter turn out: if good, then the topic is false to say it is secured from falling into future wilfulness, vice, etc. If bad, I do not see how its exemption from certain future overt acts by being snatched away at all tells in its favor. You stop the arm of a murderer, or arrest the finger of a pickpurse; but is not the guilt incurred as much by the intent as if never so much acted? Why children are hurried off, and old reprobates of a hundred left, whose trial humanly we may think was complete at fifty, is among the obscurities of providence, The very notion of a state of probation has darkness in it. The All-knower has no need of satisfying his eyes by seeing what we will do, when he knows before what we will do. Methinks we might be condemned before commission. In these things we grope and flounder; and if we can pick up a little human comfort that the child taken is snatched from vice (no great compliment to it, by the by), let us take it. And as to where an untried child goes, whether to join the assembly of its elders who have borne the heat of the day,--fire-purified martyrs and torment-sifted confessors,--what know we? We promise heaven, methinks, too cheaply, and assign large revenues to minors incompetent to manage them. Epitaphs run upon this topic of consolation till the very frequency induces a cheapness. Tickets for admission into paradise are sculptured out a penny a letter, twopence a syllable, etc. It is all a mystery; and the more I try to express my meaning (having none that is clear), the more I flounder. Finally, write what your own conscience, which to you is the unerring judge, deems best, and be careless about the whimsies of such a half-baked notionist as I am. We are here in a most pleasant country, full of walks, and idle to our heart's desire. Taylor has dropped the "London." It was indeed a dead weight. It had got in the Slough of Despond. I shuffle off my part of the pack, and stand, like Christian, with light and merry shoulders. It had got silly, indecorous, pert, and everything that is bad. Both our kind remembrances to Mrs. K. and yourself, and strangers'-greeting to Lucy,--is it Lucy, or Ruth?--that gathers wise sayings in a Book.

C. LAMB.



XC.

TO SOUTHEY.

August 19, 1825.

Dear Southey,--You'll know whom this letter comes from by opening slap-dash upon the text, as in the good old times. I never could come into the custom of envelopes,--'tis a modern foppery; the Plinian correspondence gives no hint of such. In singleness of sheet and meaning, then, I thank you for your little book. I am ashamed to add a codicil of thanks for your "Book of the Church." I scarce feel competent to give an opinion of the latter; I have not reading enough of that kind to venture at it. I can only say the fact, that I have read it with attention and interest. Being, as you know, not quite a Churchman, I felt a jealousy at the Church taking to herself the whole deserts of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, from Druid extirpation downwards. I call all good Christians the Church. Capillarians and all. But I am in too light a humor to touch these matters. May all our churches flourish! Two things staggered me in the poem (and one of them staggered both of as): I cannot away with a beautiful series of verses, as I protest they are, commencing "Jenner," 'Tis like a choice banquet opened with a pill or an electuary,--physic stuff. T'other is, we cannot make out how Edith should be no more than ten years old. By 'r Lady, we had taken her to be some sixteen or upwards. We suppose you have only chosen the round number for the metre. Or poem and dedication may be both older than they pretend to,--but then some hint might have been given; for, as it stands, it may only serve some day to puzzle the parish reckoning. But without inquiring further (for 'tis ungracious to look into a lady's years), the dedication is eminently pleasing and tender, and we wish Edith May Southey joy of it. Something, too, struck us as if we had heard of the death of John May. A John May's death was a few years since in the papers. We think the tale one of the quietest, prettiest things we have seen. You have been temperate in the use of localities, which generally spoil poems laid in exotic regions. You mostly cannot stir out (in such things) for humming-birds and fireflies. A tree is a Magnolia, etc.--Can I but like the truly Catholic spirit? "Blame as thou mayest the Papist's erring creed,"--which and other passages brought me back to the old Anthology days and the admonitory lesson to "Dear George" on "The Vesper Bell," a little poem which retains its first hold upon me strangely.

The compliment to the translatress is daintily conceived. Nothing is choicer in that sort of writing than to bring in some remote, impossible parallel,--as between a great empress and the inobtrusive, quiet soul who digged her noiseless way so perseveringly through that rugged Paraguay mine. How she Dobrizhoffered it all out, it puzzles my slender Latinity to conjecture. Why do you seem to sanction Landor's unfeeling allegorizing away of honest Quixote? He may as well say Strap is meant to symbolize the Scottish nation before the Union, and Random since that Act of dubious issue; or that Partridge means the Mystical Man, and Lady Bellaston typifies the Woman upon Many Waters. Gebir, indeed, may mean the state of the hop markets last month, for anything I know to the contrary. That all Spain overflowed with romancical books (as Madge Newcastle calls them) was no reason that Cervantes should not smile at the matter of them; nor even a reason that, in another mood, he might not multiply them, deeply as he was tinctured with the essence of them. Quixote is the father of gentle ridicule, and at the same time the very depository and treasury of chivalry and highest notions. Marry, when somebody persuaded Cervantes that he meant only fun, and put him upon writing that unfortunate Second Part, with the confederacies of that unworthy duke and most contemptible duchess, Cervantes sacrificed his instinct to his understanding.

We got your little book but last night, being at Enfield, to which place we came about a month since, and are having quiet holidays. Mary walks her twelve miles a day some days, and I my twenty on others. 'T is all holiday with me now, you know; the change works admirably.

For literary news, in my poor way, I have a one-act farce [1] going to be acted at Haymarket; but when? is the question, 'Tis an extravaganza, and like enough to follow "Mr. H." "The London Magazine" has shifted its publishers once more, and I shall shift myself out of it. It is fallen. My ambition is not at present higher than to write nonsense for the playhouses, to eke out a something contracted income. Tempus erat. There was a time, my dear Cornwallis, when the muse, etc. But I am now in Mac Flecknoe's predicament,--

"Promised a play, and dwindled to a farce." Coleridge is better (was, at least, a few weeks since) than he has been for years. His accomplishing his book at last has been a source of vigor to him. We are on a half visit to his friend Allsop, at a Mrs. Leishman's, Enfield, but expect to be at Colebrooke Cottage in a week or so, where, or anywhere, I shall be always most happy to receive tidings from you. G. Dyer is in the height of an uxorious paradise. His honeymoon will not wane till he wax cold. Never was a more happy pair, since Acme and Septimius, and longer. Farewell, with many thanks, dear S. Our loves to all round your Wrekin.

Your old friend,

C. LAMB.

[1] Probably "The Pawnbroker's Daughter," which happily was not destined to be performed.--AINGER.


Charles Lamb

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