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1798

XIV.

TO COLERIDGE.

January 28, 1798.

You have writ me many kind letters, and I have answered none of them. I don't deserve your attentions. An unnatural indifference has been creeping on me since my last misfortunes, or I should have seized the first opening of a correspondence with you. To you I owe much under God. In my brief acquaintance with you in London, your conversations won me to the better cause, and rescued me from the polluting spirit of the world. I might have been a worthless character without you; as it is, I do possess a certain improvable portion of devotional feelings, though when I view myself in the light of divine truth, and not according to the common measures of human judgment. I am altogether corrupt and sinful. This is no cant. I am very sincere.

These last afflictions, [1] Coleridge, have failed to soften and bend my will. They found me unprepared. My former calamities produced in me a spirit of humility and a spirit of prayer. I thought they had sufficiently disciplined me; but the event ought to humble me. If God's judgments now fail to take away from the the heart of stone, what more grievous trials ought I not to expect? I have been very querulous, impatient under the rod, full of little jealousies and heartburnings. I had wellnigh quarrelled with Charles Lloyd, and for no other reason, I believe, than that the good creature did all he could to make me happy. The truth is, I thought he tried to force my mind from its natural and proper bent: he continually wished me to be from home; he was drawing me from the consideration of my poor dear Mary's situation, rather than assisting me to gain a proper view of it with religious consolations. I wanted to be left to the tendency of my own mind in a solitary state which, in times past, I knew had led to quietness and a patient bearing of the yoke. He was hurt that I was not more constantly with him; but he was living with White,--a man to whom I had never been accustomed to impart my dearest feelings; though from long habits of friendliness, and many a social and good quality, I loved him very much, I met company there sometimes,--indiscriminate company. Any society almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly, when alone. All these things the good creature did with the kindest intentions in the world, but they produced in me nothing but soreness and discontent. I became, as he complained, "jaundiced" towards him.... But he has forgiven me; and his smile, I hope, will draw all such humors from me. I am recovering, God be praised for it, a healthiness of mind, something like calmness; but I want more religion, I am jealous of human helps and leaning-places. I rejoice in your good fortunes. May God at the last settle you! You have had many and painful trials; humanly speaking, they are going to end; but we should rather pray that discipline may attend us through the whole of our lives.... A careless and a dissolute spirit has advanced upon me with large strides. Pray God that my present afflictions may be sanctified to me! Mary is recovering; but I see no opening yet of a situation for her. Your invitation went to my very heart; but you have a power of exciting interest, of leading all hearts captive, too forcible to admit of Mary's being with you. I consider her as perpetually on the brink of madness. I think you would almost make her dance within an inch of the precipice; she must be with duller fancies and cooler intellects. I know a young man of this description who has suited her these twenty years, and may live to do so still, if we are one day restored to each other. In answer to your suggestions of occupation for me, I must say that I do not think my capacity altogether suited for disquisitions of that kind.... I have read little; I have a very weak memory, and retain little of what I read; am unused to composition in which any methodizing is required. But I thank you sincerely for the hint, and shall receive it as far as I am able,--that is, endeavor to engage my mind in some constant and innocent pursuit. I know my capacities better than you do.

Accept my kindest love, and believe me yours, as ever.

C. L.

[1] Mary Lamb had fallen ill again.



XV.

TO ROBERT SOUTHEY

(No month, 1798.)

Dear Southey,--I thank you heartily for the eclogue [1]; it pleases me mightily, being so full of picture-work and circumstances. I find no fault in it, unless perhaps that Joanna's ruin is a catastrophe too trite; and this is not the first or second time you have clothed your indignation, in verse, in a tale of ruined innocence. The old lady, spinning in the sun, I hope would not disdain to claim some kindred with old Margaret. I could almost wish you to vary some circumstances in the conclusion. A gentleman seducer has so often been described in prose and verse: what if you had accomplished Joanna's ruin by the clumsy arts and rustic gifts of some country fellow? I am thinking, I believe, of the song,--

"An old woman clothed in gray, Whose daughter was charming and young, And she was deluded away By Roger's false, flattering tongue."

A Roger-Lothario would be a novel character; I think you might paint him very well. You may think this a very silly suggestion, and so indeed it is; but, in good truth, nothing else but the first words of that foolish ballad put me upon scribbling my "Rosamund." [2] But I thank you heartily for the poem. Not having anything of my own to send you in return,--though, to tell truth, I am at work upon something which, if I were to cut away and garble, perhaps I might send you an extract or two that might not displease you; but I will not do that; and whether it will come to anything, I know not, for I am as slow as a Fleming painter when I compose anything. I will crave leave to put down a few lines of old Christopher Marlowe's; I take them from his tragedy, "The Jew of Malta." The Jew is a famous character, quite out of nature; but when we consider the terrible idea our simple ancestors had of a Jew, not more to be discommended for a certain discoloring (I think Addison calls it) than the witches and fairies of Marlowe's mighty successor. The scene is betwixt Barabas, the Jew, and Ithamore, a Turkish captive exposed to sale for a slave.

BARABAS.

(A precious rascal.)

"As for myself, I walk abroad o' nights, And kill sick people groaning under walls; Sometimes I go about and poison wells; And now and then, to cherish Christian thieves, I am content to lose some of my crowns, That I may, walking in my gallery, See 'm go pinioned along by my door. Being young, I studied physic, and began To practise first upon the Italian; There I enriched the priests with burials, And always kept the sexton's arms in ure [3] With digging graves and ringing dead men's knells. And after that, was I an engineer, And in the wars 'twixt France and Germany, Under pretence of serving Charles the Fifth, Slew friend and enemy with my stratagems. Then after that was I an usurer, And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting, And tricks belonging unto brokery, I fill'd the jails with bankrupts in a year, And with young orphans planted hospitals, And every moon made some or other mad; And now and then one hang'd himself for grief, Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll, How I with interest tormented him."

Now hear Ithamore, the other gentle nature, explain how he has spent his time:--

ITHAMORE

(A Comical Dog.)

"Faith, master, in setting Christian villages on fire, Chaining of eunuchs, binding galley-slaves. One time I was an hostler in an inn, And in the night-time secret would I steal To travellers' chambers, and there cut their throats. Once at Jerusalem, where the pilgrims kneel'd, I strewèd powder on the marble stones, And therewithal their knees would rankle so, That I have laugh'd a-good to see the cripples Go limping home to Christendom on stilts."

BARABAS.

"Why, this is something."

There is a mixture of the ludicrous and the terrible in these lines, brimful of genius and antique invention, that at first reminded me of your old description of cruelty in hell, which was in the true Hogarthian style. I need not tell you that Marlowe was author of that pretty madrigal, "Come live with me, and be my Love," and of the tragedy of "Edward II.," in which are certain lines unequalled in our English tongue. Honest Walton mentions the said madrigal under the denomination of "certain smooth verses made long since by Kit Marlowe."

I am glad you have put me on the scent after old Quarles. If I do not put up those eclogues, and that shortly, say I am no true-nosed hound. I have had a letter from Lloyd; the young metaphysician of Caius is well, and is busy recanting the new heresy, metaphysics, for the old dogma Greek. My sister, I thank you, is quite well. She had a slight attack the other day, which frightened me a good deal; but it went off unaccountably. Love and respects to Edith.

Yours sincerely,

C. LAMB.

[1] The eclogue was entitled "The Ruined Cottage."

[2] His romance. "Rosamund Gray."

[3] Use.



XVI.

TO SOUTHEY.

November 8, 1798.

I perfectly accord with your opinion of old Wither. Quarles is a wittier writer, but Wither lays more hold of the heart. Quarles thinks of his audience when he lectures; Wither soliloquizes in company with a full heart. What wretched stuff are the "Divine Fancies" of Quarles! Religion appears to him no longer valuable than it furnishes matter for quibbles and riddles; he turns God's grace into wantonness. Wither is like an old friend, whose warm-heartedness and estimable qualities make us wish he possessed more genius, but at the same time make us willing to dispense with that want. I always love W., and sometimes admire Q. Still, that portrait is a fine one; and the extract from "The Shepherds' Hunting" places him in a starry height far above Quarles, If you wrote that review in "Crit. Rev.," I am sorry you are so sparing of praise to the "Ancient Marinere;" [1] so far from calling it, as you do, with some wit but more severity, "A Dutch Attempt," etc., I call it a right English attempt, and a successful one, to dethrone German sublimity. You have selected a passage fertile in unmeaning miracles, but have passed by fifty passages as miraculous as the miracles they celebrate. I never so deeply felt the pathetic as in that part,--

"A spring of love gush'd from my heart, And I bless'd them unaware."

It stung me into high pleasure through sufferings. Lloyd does not like it; his head is too metaphysical, and your taste too correct,--at least I must allege something against you both, to excuse my own dotage,--

But you allow some elaborate beauties; you should have extracted 'em. "The Ancient Marinere" plays more tricks with the mind than that last poem, which is yet one of the finest written. But I am getting too dogmatical; and before I degenerate into abuse, I will conclude with assuring you that I am,

Sincerely yours,

C. LAMB.

[1] The "Lyrical Ballads" of Wordsworth and Coleridge had just appeared. The volume contained four pieces, including the "Ancient Mariner," by Coleridge.



XVII.

TO SOUTHEY.

November 28, 1798.

I showed my "Witch" and "Dying Lover" to Dyer [1] last night; but George could not comprehend how that could be poetry which did not go upon ten feet, as George and his predecessors had taught it to do; so George read me some lectures on the distinguishing qualities of the Ode, the Epigram, and the Epic, and went home to illustrate his doctrine by correcting a proof-sheet of his own Lyrics, George writes odes where the rhymes, like fashionable man and wife, keep a comfortable distance of six or eight lines apart, and calls that "observing the laws of verse," George tells you, before he recites, that you must listen with great attention, or you 'll miss the rhymes. I did so, and found them pretty exact, George, speaking of the dead Ossian, exclaimeth, "Dark are the poet's eyes," I humbly represented to him that his own eyes were dark, and many a living bard's besides, and recommended "Clos'd are the poet's eyes." But that would not do, I found there was an antithesis between the darkness of his eyes and the splendor of his genius, and I acquiesced.

Your recipe for a Turk's poison is invaluable and truly Marlowish.... Lloyd objects to "shutting up the womb of his purse" in my Curse (which for a Christian witch in a Christian country is not too mild, I hope): do you object? I think there is a strangeness in the idea, as well as "shaking the poor like snakes from his door," which suits the speaker. Witches illustrate, as fine ladies do, from their own familiar objects, and snakes and shutting up of wombs are in their way. I don't know that this last charge has been before brought against 'em, nor either the sour milk or the mandrake babe; but I affirm these be things a witch would do if she could.

My tragedy [2] will be a medley (as I intend it to be a medley) of laughter and tears, prose and verse, and in some places rhyme, songs, wit, pathos, humor, and if possible, sublimity,--at least, it is not a fault in my intention if it does not comprehend most of these discordant colors. Heaven send they dance not the "Dance of Death!" I hear that the Two Noble Englishmen [3] have parted no sooner than they set foot on German earth; but I have not heard the reason,--possibly to give novelists a handle to exclaim, "Ah me, what things are perfect!" I think I shall adopt your emendation in the "Dying Lover," though I do not myself feel the objection against "Silent Prayer."

My tailor has brought me home a new coat lapelled, with a velvet collar. He assures me everybody wears velvet collars now. Some are born fashionable, some achieve fashion, and others, like your humble servant, have fashion thrust upon them. The rogue has been making inroads hitherto by modest degrees, foisting upon me an additional button, recommending gaiters; but to come upon me thus in a full tide of luxury, neither becomes him as a tailor or the ninth of a man. My meek gentleman was robbed the other day, coming with his wife and family in a one-horse shay from Hampstead; the villains rifled him of four guineas, some shillings and halfpence, and a bundle of customers' measures, which they swore were bank-notes. They did not shoot him, and when they rode off he addressed them with profound gratitude, making a congee: "Gentlemen, I wish you good-night; and we are very much obliged to you that you have not used us ill!" And this is the cuckoo that has the audacity to foist upon me ten buttons on a side and a black velvet collar,--a cursed ninth of a scoundrel!

When you write to Lloyd, he wishes his Jacobin correspondents to address him as Mr. C. L. Love and respects to Edith. I hope she is well.

Yours sincerely,

C. LAMB.

[1] This quaint scholar, a marvel of simplicity and universal optimism, is a constantly recurring and delightfully humorous character in the Letters. Lamb and Dyer had been schoolfellows at Christ's Hospital.

[2] John Woodvil.

[3] Coleridge and Wordsworth, who started for Germany together.


Charles Lamb

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