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1831

CV.

TO DYER.

February 22, 1831.

Dear Dyer,--Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rogers's friends are perfectly assured that you never intended any harm by an innocent couplet, and that in the revivification of it by blundering Barker you had no hand whatever. To imagine that, at this time of day, Rogers broods over a fantastic expression of more than thirty years' standing, would be to suppose him indulging his "Pleasures of Memory" with a vengeance. You never penned a line which for its own sake you need, dying, wish to blot. You mistake your heart if you think you can write a lampoon. Your whips are rods of roses. [1] Your spleen has ever had for its objects vices, not the vicious,--abstract offences, not the concrete sinner. But you are sensitive, and wince as much at the consciousness of having committed a compliment as another man would at the perpetration of an affront. But do not lug me into the same soreness of conscience with yourself. I maintain, and will to the last hour, that I never writ of you but con amore; that if any allusion was made to your near-sightedness, it was not for the purpose of mocking an infirmity, but of connecting it with scholar-like habits,--for is it not erudite and scholarly to be somewhat near of sight before age naturally brings on the malady? You could not then plead the obrepens senectus. Did I not, moreover, make it an apology for a certain absence, which some of your friends may have experienced, when you have not on a sudden made recognition of them in a casual street-meeting; and did I not strengthen your excuse for this slowness of recognition by further accounting morally for the present engagement of your mind in worthy objects? Did I not, in your person, make the handsomest apology for absent-of-mind people that was ever made? If these things be not so, I never knew what I wrote or meant by my writing, and have been penning libels all my life without being aware of it. Does it follow that I should have expressed myself exactly in the same way of those dear old eyes of yours now,--now that Father Time has conspired with a hard taskmaster to put a last extinguisher upon them? I should as soon have insulted the Answerer of Salmasius when he awoke up from his ended task, and saw no more with mortal vision. But you are many films removed yet from Milton's calamity. You write perfectly intelligibly. Marry, the letters are not all of the same size or tallness; but that only shows your proficiency in the hands--text, german-hand, court-hand, sometimes law-hand, and affords variety. You pen better than you did a twelvemonth ago; and if you continue to improve, you bid fair to win the golden pen which is the prize at your young gentlemen's academy.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

But don't go and lay this to your eyes. You always wrote hieroglyphically, yet not to come up to the mystical notations and conjuring characters of Dr. Parr. You never wrote what I call a schoolmaster's hand, like Mrs. Clarke; nor a woman's hand, like Southey; nor a missal hand, like Porson; nor an all-on-the-wrong-side sloping hand, like Miss Hayes; nor a dogmatic, Mede-and-Persian, peremptory tory hand, like Rickman: but you wrote what I call a Grecian's hand,--what the Grecians write (or wrote) at Christ's Hospital; such as Whalley would have admired, and Boyer [2] have applauded, but Smith or Atwood [writing-masters] would have horsed you for. Your boy-of-genius hand and your mercantile hand are various. By your flourishes, I should think you never learned to make eagles or cork-screws, or flourish the governor's names in the writing-school; and by the tenor and cut of your letters, I suspect you were never in it at all. By the length of this scrawl you will think I have a design upon your optics; but I have writ as large as I could, out of respect to them,--too large, indeed, for beauty. Mine is a sort of Deputy-Grecian's hand,--a little better, and more of a worldly hand, than a Grecian's, but still remote from the mercantile. I don't know how it is, but I keep my rank in fancy still since school-days; I can never forget I was a Deputy-Grecian. And writing to you, or to Coleridge, besides affection, I feel a reverential deference as to Grecians still [3]. I keep my soaring way above the Great Erasmians, yet far beneath the other. Alas! what am I now? What is a Leadenhall clerk or India pensioner to a Deputy-Grecian? How art thou fallen, O Lucifer! Just room for our loves to Mrs. D., etc.

C. LAMB.

[1] Talfourd relates an amusing instance of the universal charity of the kindly Dyer. Lamb once suddenly asked him what he thought of the murderer Williams,--a wretch who had destroyed two families in Ratcliff Highway, and then cheated the gallows by committing suicide. "The desperate attempt," says Talfourd, "to compel the gentle optimist to speak ill of a mortal creature produced no happier success than the answer, 'Why, I should think, Mr. Lamb, he must have been rather an eccentric character.'"

[2] Whalley and Boyer were masters at Christ's Hospital.

[3] "Deputy-Grecian," "Grecian," etc., were of course forms, or grades, at Christ's Hospital.


Charles Lamb

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