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1830

CII.

TO WORDSWORTH.

January 22, 1830.

And is it a year since we parted from you at the steps of Edmonton stage? There are not now the years that there used to be. The tale of the dwindled age of men, reported of successional mankind, is true of the same man only. We do not live a year in a year now. 'T is a punctum stans. The seasons pass us with indifference. Spring cheers not, nor winter heightens our gloom: autumn hath foregone its moralities,--they are "heypass repass," as in a show-box. Yet, as far as last year, occurs back--for they scarce show a reflex now, they make no memory as heretofore--'t was sufficiently gloomy. Let the sullen nothing pass. Suffice it that after sad spirits, prolonged through many of its months, as it called them, we have cast our skins, have taken a farewell of the pompous, troublesome trifle called housekeeping, and are settled down into poor boarders and lodgers at next door with an old couple, the Baucis and Baucida of dull Enfield. Here we have nothing to do with our victuals but to eat them, with the garden but to see it grow, with the tax-gatherer but to hear him knock, with the maid but to hear her scolded. Scot and lot, butcher, baker, are things unknown to us, save as spectators of the pageant. We are fed we know not how,--quietists, confiding ravens. We have the otium pro dignitate, a respectable insignificance. Yet in the self condemned obliviousness, in the stagnation, some molesting yearnings of life not quite killed rise, prompting me that there was a London, and that I was of that old Jerusalem. In dreams I am in Fleet Market; but I wake and cry to sleep again. I die hard, a stubborn Eloisa in this detestable Paraclete. What have I gained by health? Intolerable dulness. What by early hours and moderate meals? A total blank. Oh, never let the lying poets be believed who 'tice men from the cheerful haunts of streets, or think they mean it not of a country village. In the ruins of Palmyra I could gird myself up to solitude, or muse to the snorings of the Seven Sleepers; but to have a little teasing image of a town about one, country folks that do not look like country folks, shops two yards square, half-a-dozen apples and two penn'orth of over-looked gingerbread for the lofty fruiterers of Oxford Street, and for the immortal book and print stalls a circulating library that stands still, where the show-picture is a last year's Valentine, and whither the fame of the last ten Scotch novels has not yet travelled (marry, they just begin to be conscious of the "Redgauntlet"), to have a new plastered flat church, and to be wishing that it was but a cathedral! The very blackguards here are degenerate, the topping gentry stockbrokers; the passengers too many to insure your quiet, or let you go about whistling or gaping,--too few to be the fine indifferent pageants of Fleet Street. Confining, room-keeping, thickest winter is yet more bearable here than the gaudy months. Among one's books at one's fire by candle, one is soothed into an oblivion that one is not in the country; but with the light the green fields return, till I gaze, and in a calenture can plunge myself into St. Giles's. Oh, let no native Londoner imagine that health and rest and innocent occupation, interchange of converse sweet and recreative study, can make the country anything better than altogether odious and detestable. A garden was the primitive prison, till man with Promethean felicity and boldness luckily sinned himself out of it. Thence followed Babylon, Nineveh, Venice, London; haberdashers, goldsmiths, taverns, playhouses, satires, epigrams, puns,--these all came in on the town part and the thither side of innocence. Man found out inventions. From my den I return you condolence for your decaying sight,--not for anything there is to see in the country, but for the miss of the pleasure of reading a London newspaper. The poets are as well to listen to; anything high may--nay, must be read out; you read it to yourself with an imaginary auditor: but the light paragraphs must be glid over by the proper eye; mouthing mumbles their gossamery substance. 'Tis these trifles I should mourn in fading sight. A newspaper is the single gleam of comfort I receive here; it comes from rich Cathay with tidings of mankind. Yet I could not attend to it, read out by the most beloved voice. But your eyes do not get worse, I gather. Oh, for the collyrium of Tobias enclosed in a whiting's liver, to send you, with no apocryphal good wishes! The last long time I heard from you, you had knocked your head against something. Do not do so; for your head (I do not flatter) is not a knob, or the top of a brass nail, or the end of a ninepin,--unless a Vulcanian hammer could fairly batter a "Recluse" out of it; then would I bid the smirched god knock, and knock lustily, the two-handed skinker! Mary must squeeze out a line propri manu; but indeed her fingers have been incorrigibly nervous to letter-writing for a long interval. 'T will please you all to hear that, though I fret like a lion in a net, her present health and spirits are better than they have been for some time past; she is absolutely three years and a half younger, as I tell her, since we have adopted this boarding plan.

Our providers are an honest pair, Dame Westwood and her husband,--he, when the light of prosperity shined on them, a moderately thriving haberdasher within Bow bells, retired since with something under a competence; writes himself parcel-gentleman; hath borne parish offices; sings fine old sea-songs at threescore and ten; sighs only now and then when he thinks that he has a son on his hands about fifteen, whom he finds a difficulty in getting out into the world, and then checks a sigh with muttering, as I once heard him prettily, not meaning to be heard, "I have married my daughter, however;" takes the weather as it comes; outsides it to town in severest season; and o' winter nights tells old stories not tending to literature (how comfortable to author-rid folks!), and has one ancedote, upon which and about forty pounds a year he seems to have retired in green old age. It was how he was a rider in his youth, travelling for shops, and once (not to balk his employer's bargain) on a sweltering day in August, rode foaming into Dunstable [1] upon a mad horse, to the dismay and expostulatory wonderment of inn-keepers, ostlers, etc., who declared they would not have bestrid the beast to win the Derby. Understand the creature galled to death and desperation by gad-flies, cormorant-winged, worse than beset Inachus's daughter. This he tells, this he brindles and burnishes, on a winter's eve; 't is his star of set glory, his rejuvenescence to descant upon, Far from me be it (d avertant!) to look a gift-story in the mouth, or cruelly to surmise (as those who doubt the plunge of Curtius) that the inseparate conjuncture of man and beast, the centaur-phenomenon that staggered all Dunstable, might have been the effect of unromantic necessity; that the horse-part carried the reasoning willy-nilly; that needs must when such a devil drove; that certain spiral configurations in the frame of Thomas Westwood, unfriendly to alighting, made the alliance more forcible than voluntary. Let him enjoy his fame for me, nor let me hint a whisper that shall dismount Bellerophon. But in case he was an involuntary martyr, yet if in the fiery conflict he buckled the soul of a constant haberdasher to him, and adopted his flames, let accident and him share the glory. You would all like Thomas Westwood. [2]

How weak is painting to describe a man! Say that he stands four feet and a nail high by his own yard-measure, which, like the sceptre of Agamemnon, shall never sprout again, still, you have no adequate idea; nor when I tell you that his dear hump, which I have favored in the picture, seems to me of the buffalo,--indicative and repository of mild qualities, a budget of kindnesses,--still, you have not the man. Knew you old Norris of the Temple, sixty years ours and our father's friend? He was not more natural to us than this old Westwood, the acquaintance of scarce more weeks. Under his roof now ought I to take my rest, but that back-looking ambition tells me I might yet be a Londoner! Well, if we ever do move, we have encumbrances the less to impede us; all our furniture has faded under the auctioneer's hammer, going for nothing, like the tarnished frippery of the prodigal, and we have only a spoon or two left to bless us. Clothed we came into Enfield, and naked we must go out of it. I would live in London shirtless, bookless. Henry Crabb is at Rome; advices to that effect have reached Bury. But by solemn legacy he bequeathed at parting (whether he should live or die) a turkey of Suffolk to be sent every succeeding Christmas to us and divers other friends. What a genuine old bachelor's action! I fear he will find the air of Italy too classic. His station is in the Hartz forest; his soul is be-Goethed. Miss Kelly we never see,--Talfourd not this half year; the latter flourishes, but the exact number of his children, God forgive me, I have utterly forgotten: we single people are often out in our count there. Shall I say two? We see scarce anybody. Can I cram loves enough to you all in this little O? Excuse particularizing.

C.L.

[1] See preceding letter.

[2] Here was inserted a sketch answering to the description.



CIII.

TO MRS. HAZLITT.

May 24, 1830.

Mary's love? Yes. Mary Lamb quite well.

Dear Sarah,--I found my way to Northaw on Thursday and a very good woman behind a counter, who says also that you are a very good lady, but that the woman who was with you was naught. We travelled with one of those troublesome fellow-passengers in a stage-coach that is called a well-informed man. For twenty miles we discoursed about the properties of steam, probabilities of carriages by ditto, till all my science, and more than all, was exhausted, and I was thinking of escaping my torment by getting up on the outside, when, getting into Bishops Stortford, my gentleman, spying some farming land, put an unlucky question to me,--What sort of a crop of turnips I thought we should have this year? Emma's eyes turned to me to know what in the world I could have to say; and she burst into a violent fit of laughter, maugre her pale, serious cheeks, when, with the greatest gravity, I replied that it depended, I believed, upon boiled legs of mutton. This clenched our conversation; and my gentleman, with a face half wise, half in scorn, troubled us with no more conversation, scientific or philosophical, for the remainder of the journey.

Ayrton was here yesterday, and as learned to the full as my fellow-traveller. What a pity that he will spoil a wit and a devilish pleasant fellow (as he is) by wisdom! He talked on Music; and by having read Hawkins and Burney recently I was enabled to talk of names, and show more knowledge than he had suspected I possessed; and in the end he begged me to shape my thoughts upon paper, which I did after he was gone, and sent him "Free Thoughts on Some Eminent Composers."

"Some cry up Haydn, some Mozart, Just as the whim bites. For my part, I do not care a farthing candle For either of them, or for Handel," etc.

Martin Burney [1] is as odd as ever. We had a dispute about the word "heir," which I contended was pronounced like "air." He said that might be in common parlance, or that we might so use it speaking of the "Heir-at-Law," a comedy; but that in the law-courts it was necessary to give it a full aspiration, and to say Hayer; he thought it might even vitiate a cause if a counsel pronounced it otherwise. In conclusion, he "would consult Serjeant Wilde," who gave it against him. Sometimes he falleth into the water, sometimes into the fire. He came down here, and insisted on reading Virgil's "neid" all through with me (which he did), because a counsel must know Latin. Another time he read out all the Gospel of St. John, because Biblical quotations are very emphatic in a court of justice. A third time he would carve a fowl, which he did very ill favoredly, because we did not know how indispensable it was for a barrister to do all those sort of things well. Those little things were of more consequence than we supposed. So he goes on, harassing about the way to prosperity, and losing it. With a long head, but somewhat a wrong one,--harum-scarum. Why does not his guardian angel look to him? He deserves one,--maybe he has tired him out.

I am tired with this long scrawl; but I thought in your exile you might like a letter. Commend me to all the wonders in Derbyshire, and tell the devil I humbly kiss my hand to him.

Yours ever,

C. LAMB.

[1] Martin Burney, originally a solicitor, had lately been called to the Bar.



CIV.

TO GEORGE DYER.

December 20, 1830.

Dear Dyer,--I would have written before to thank you for your kind letter, written with your own hand. It glads us to see your writing. It will give you pleasure to hear that, after so much illness, we are in tolerable health and spirits once more. Miss Isola intended to call upon you after her night's lodging at Miss Buffam's, but found she was too late for the stage. If she comes to town before she goes home, she will not miss paying her respects to Mrs. Dyer and you, to whom she desires best love. Poor Enfield, that has been so peaceable hitherto, that has caught an inflammatory fever, the tokens are upon her; and a great fire was blazing last night in the barns and haystacks of a fanner about half a mile from us. Where will these things end? There is no doubt of its being the work of some ill-disposed rustic; but how is he to be discovered? They go to work in the dark with strange chemical preparations unknown to our forefathers. There is not even a dark lantern to have a chance of detecting these Guy Fauxes. We are past the iron age, and are got into the fiery age, undream'd of by Ovid. You are lucky in Clifford's Inn, where, I think, you have few ricks or stacks worth the burning. Pray keep as little corn by you as you can, for fear of the worst.

It was never good times in England since the poor began to speculate upon their condition. Formerly they jogged on with as little reflection as horses; the whistling ploughman went cheek by jowl with his brother that neighed. Now the biped carries a box of phosphorus in his leather breeches; and in the dead of night the half-illuminated beast steals his magic potion into a cleft in a barn, and half the country is grinning with new fires. Farmer Graystock said something to the touchy rustic that he did not relish, and he writes his distaste in flames. What a power to intoxicate his crude brains, just muddlingly awake, to perceive that something is wrong in the social system; what a hellish faculty above gunpowder!

Now the rich and poor are fairly pitted, we shall see who can hang or burn fastest. It is not always revenge that stimulates these kindlings. There is a love of exerting mischief. Think of a disrespected clod that was trod into earth, that was nothing, on a sudden by damned arts refined into an exterminating angel, devouring the fruits of the earth and their growers in a mass of fire! What a new existence; what a temptation above Lucifer's! Would clod be anything but a clod if he could resist it? Why, here was a spectacle last night for a whole country,--a bonfire visible to London, alarming her guilty towers, and shaking the Monument with an ague fit: all done by a little vial of phosphor in a clown's fob! How he must grin, and shake his empty noddle in clouds, the Vulcanian epicure! Can we ring the bells backward? Can we unlearn the arts that pretend to civilize, and then burn the world? There is a march of Science; but who shall beat the drums for its retreat? Who shall persuade the boor that phosphor will not ignite?

Seven goodly stacks of hay, with corn-barns proportionable, lie smoking ashes and chaff, which man and beast would sputter out and reject like those apples of asphaltes and bitumen. The food for the inhabitants of earth will quickly disappear. Hot rolls may say, "Fuimus panes, fuit quartem-loaf, et ingens gloria Apple-pasty-orum." That the good old munching system may last thy time and mine, good un-incendiary George, is the devout prayer of thine, to the last crust,

CH. LAMB.


Charles Lamb

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