Page images

TO BERNARD BARTON. "January 9th, 1823. "Throw yourself on the world without any rational plan of support, beyond what the chance employ of booksellers would afford you!!!'

"Keep to your bank, and the bank will keep you. Trust not to the public; you may hang, starve, drown yourself, for anything that worthy personage cares. I bless

every star, that Providence, not seeing good
to make me independent, has seen it next
good to settle me upon the stable foundation
of Leadenhall. Sit down, good B. B., in the
banking-office; what! is there not from six
to eleven P.M. six days in the week, and is
there not all Sunday? Fie, what a super-
fluity of man's-time, if you could think so!
Enough for relaxation, mirth, converse,
poetry, good thoughts, quiet thoughts. Oh
the corroding, torturing, tormenting thoughts,
that disturb the brain of the unlucky wight,
who must draw upon it for daily sustenance!
Henceforth I retract all my fond complaints
of mercantile employment; look upon them
as lovers' quarrels. I was but half in earnest.
Welcome dead timber of a desk, that makes
me live. A little grumbling is a wholesome
medicine for the spleen, but in my inner
heart do I approve and embrace this our
close, but unharassing way of life. I am
quite serious. If you can send me Fox, I
will not keep it six weeks, and will return it,
with warm thanks to yourself and friend,
without blot or dog's-ear. You will much
oblige me by this kindness.
"Yours truly,

"Throw yourself rather, my dear sir, from the steep Tarpeian rock, slap-dash headlong upon iron spikes. If you had but five consolatory minutes between the desk and the bed, make much of them, and live a century in them, rather than turn slave to the booksellers. They are Turks and Tartars, when they have poor authors at their beck. Hitherto you have been at arm's length from them. Come not within their grasp. I have known many authors want for bread, some repining, others envying the blessed security of a counting-house, all agreeing they had rather have been tailors, weavers--what not? rather than the things they were. I have known some starved, some to go mad, one dear friend literally dying in a workhouse. You know not what a rapacious, dishonest set these booksellers are. Ask even Southey, who (a single case almost) has made a fortune by book-drudgery, what he has found them. Oh, you know not, may you never know! the miseries of subsisting by authorship. 'Tis a pretty appendage to a situation like yours or mine; but a slavery, worse than all slavery, to be a bookseller's dependant, to drudge your brains for pots of ale, and breasts of mutton, to change your free thoughts and voluntary numbers for ungracious task-work. Those fellows hate us. The reason I take to be, that contrary to other trades, in which the master gets all the credit, (a jeweller or silversmith for instance,) and the journeyman, who really does the fine work, is in the back-ground: in our work the world gives all the credit to us, whom they consider as their journeymen, and therefore do they hate us, and cheat us, and oppress us, and would wring the blood of us out, to put another beginning of the book. It is clear he means sixpence in their mechanic pouches! I con- a physical knowledge, without trope or figure. tend that a bookseller has a relative honesty | Also, pretences to miraculous healing, and towards authors, not like his honesty to the the like, are more frequent than I should rest of the world. have suspected from the epitome in Sewell. He is nevertheless a great spiritual man, and I feel very much obliged by your procuring me the loan of it. How I like the Quaker phrases, though I think they were hardly

TO BERNARD BARTON. "February 17th, 1823. "My dear Sir,-I have read quite through the ponderous folio of George Fox. I think Sewell has been judicious in omitting certain parts, as for instance where G. F. has revealed to him the natures of all the creatures in their names, as Adam had. He luckily turns aside from that compendious study of natural history, which might have superseded Buffon, to his proper spiritual pursuits, only just hinting what a philosopher he might have been. The ominous passage is near the


Lamb thus communicated to Mr. Barton his prosecution of his researches into Primitive Quakerism.



completed till Woolman. A pretty little other, without paying anything,* had excited manual of Quaker language (with an endea- some gentle remonstrance on the part of vour to explain them) might be gathered out Barton's sister, to which Lamb thus replied. of his book. Could not you do it? I have read through G. F. without finding any explanation of the term first volume in the title-page. It takes in all, both his life and his death. Are there more last words of him? Pray how may I return it to Mr. Shewell at Ipswich? I fear to send such a treasure by a stage-coach; not that I am afraid of the coachman or the guard reading it; but it might be lost. Can you put me in a way of sending it in safety? The kindhearted owner trusted it to me for six months; I think I was about as many days in getting through it, and I do not think that I skipt a word of it. I have quoted G. F. in my Quakers' Meeting,' as having said he was lifted up in spirit,' (which I felt at the time to be not a Quaker phrase,) and the judge and jury were as dead men under his feet.' I find no such words in his journal, and I did not get them from Sewell, and the latter sentence I am sure I did not mean to invent: I must have put some other Quaker's words into his mouth. Is it a fatality in me, that everything I touch turns into 'a lie?' I once quoted two lines from a translation of Dante, which Hazlitt very greatly admired, and quoted in a book as proof of the stupendous power of that poet, but no such lines are to be found in the translation, which has been searched for the purpose. I must have dreamed them, for I am quite certain I did not forge them knowingly. What a misfortune to have a lying memory! Your description of Mr. Mitford's place makes me long for a pippin and some caraways, and a cup of sack in his orchard, when the sweets of the night come in.


"C. LAMB."

In the beginning of the year 1823, the "Essays of Elia," collected in a volume, were published by Messrs. Taylor and Hessey, who had become the proprietors of the "London Magazine." The book met with a rapid sale, while the magazine in which its contents had appeared, declined. The anecdote of the three Quakers gravely walking out of the inn where they had taken tea on the road, on an extortionate demand, one after the

TO BERNARD BARTON. "March 11th, 1823. "Dear Sir,―The approbation of my little book by your sister is very pleasing to me. The Quaker incident did not happen to me, but to Carlisle the surgeon, from whose mouth I have twice heard it, at an interval of ten or twelve years, with little or no variation, and have given it as exactly as I could remember it. The gloss which your sister or you have put upon it, does not strike me as correct. Carlisle drew no inference from it against the honesty of the Quakers, but only in favour of their surpassing coolness; that they should be capable of committing a good joke, with an utter insensibility to its being any jest at all. I have reason to believe in the truth of it, because, as I have said, I heard him repeat it without variation at such an interval. The story loses sadly in print, for Carlisle is the best story-teller I ever heard. The idea of the discovery of roasting pigs I also borrowed, from my friend Manning, and am willing to confess both my plagiarisms. Should fate ever so order it that you shall ever be in town with your sister, mine bids me say, that she shall have great pleasure in being introduced to her. Your endeavour at explaining Fox's insight into the natures of animals must fail, as I shall transcribe the passage. It appears to me that he stopt short in time, and was on the brink of falling with his friend Naylor, my favourite. The book shall be forthcoming whenever your friend can make convenient to call for it.


"They have dragged me again into the Magazine, but I feel the spirit of the thing in my own mind quite gone. 'Some brains' (I think Ben Jonson says it) will endure but one skimming.' We are about to have an inundation of poetry from the Lakes— Wordsworth and Southey are coming up strong from the north. How did you like Hartley's sonnets? The first, at least, is vastly fine. I am ashamed of the shabby letters I send, but I am by nature anything but neat. Therein my mother bore me no Quaker. I never could seal a letter without

[blocks in formation]

dropping the wax on one side, besides scalding my fingers. I never had a seal, too, of my own. Writing to a great man lately, who is moreover very heraldic, I borrowed a seal of a friend, who by the female side quarters the Protectoral arms of Cromwell. How they must have puzzled my correspondent! My letters are generally charged as double at the Post-office, from their inveterate clumsiness of foldure; so you must not take it disrespectful to yourself, if I send you such ungainly scraps. I think I lose 1007. a-year at the India House, owing solely to my want of neatness in making up accounts. How I puzzle 'em out at last is the wonder. I have to do with millions!!

"It is time to have done my incoherences. "Believe me, yours truly,

"C. LAMB."

"I do not exactly see why the goose and little goslings should emblematise a Quaker poet that has no children. But after all perhaps it is a pelican. The 'Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin' around it I cannot decipher. The songster of the night pouring out her effusions amid a silent meeting of madge-owlets, would be at least intelligible. A full pause here comes upon me as if I had not a word more left. I will shake my brain, Once! Twice !-nothing comes up. George Fox recommends waiting on these occasions. I wait. Nothing comes. G. Fox-that sets me off again. I have finished the ‘Journal,'

Lamb thus records a meeting with the and 400 more pages of the 'Doctrinals,' poets.

which I picked up for 7s. 6d. If I get on at
this rate, the society will be in danger of
having two Quaker poets-to patronise.
"Believe me cordially yours,
"C. LAMB."

TO BERNARD BARTON. "April 5th, 1823. "Dear Sir, I wished for you yesterday. I dined in Parnassus, with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Rogers, and Tom Moore,-half the poetry of England constellated and clustered in Gloucester Place! It was a delightful evening! Coleridge was in his finest vein of talk-had all the talk; and let 'em talk as evilly as they do of the envy of poets, I am sure not one there but was content to be nothing but a listener. The Muses were dumb, while Apollo lectured, on his and their fine art. It is a lie that poets are envious; I have known the best of them, and can speak to it, that they give each other their merits, and are the kindest critics as well as best authors. I am scribbling a muddy epistle with an aching head, for we did not quaff Hippocrene last night; marry, it was hippocrass rather. Pray accept this is a letter in the mean time, C. L."

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

the vein lately. A philosophical treatise is wanting, of the causes of the backwardness with which persons after a certain time of life set about writing a letter. I always feel as if I had nothing to say, and the performance generally justifies the presentiment.

The following letter was addressed to Mr. Procter, in acknowledgment of a miniature of Pope which he had presented to Lamb.



April 13th, 1823. "Dear Lad,-You must think me a brute beast, a rhinoceros, never to have acknowledged the receipt of your precious present. But indeed I am none of those shocking things, but have arrived at that indisposition to letter-writing, which would make it a hard exertion to write three lines to a king to spare a friend's life. Whether it is that the Magazine paying me so much a page, I am loath to throw away composition-how much a sheet do you give your correspondents ? I have hung up Pope, and a gem it is, in my town room; I hope for your approval. Though it accompanies the 'Essay on Man,' I think that was not the poem he is here meditating. He would have looked up, somehow affectedly, if he were just conceiving 'Awake, my St. John.' Neither is he in the 'Rape of the Lock' mood exactly. I think he has just

made out the last lines of the 'Epistle to enlisted on behalf of Hazlitt and Hunt, who Jervis,' between gay and tender, had been attacked in this work in a manner which he regarded as unfair; for the critics had not been content with descanting on the peculiarities in the style and taste of the one, or reprobating the political or personal vehemence of the other,-which were fair subjects of controversy,-but spoke of them with a contempt which every man of letters had a right to resent, as unjust. He had been much annoyed by an allusion to himself in an article on "Hazlitt's Political Essays,"

'And other beauties envy Worsley's eyes.'

"I'll be hanged if that isn't the line. He is brooding over it, with a dreamy phantom of Lady Mary floating before him. He is thinking which is the earliest possible day and hour that she will first see it. What a miniature piece of gentility it is! Why did you give it me? I do not like you enough to give you anything so good.



since Wordsworth has been in town. I was

"I have dined with T. Moore and break-which appeared in the Review for November, fasted with Rogers, since I saw you; have 1819, one whom we should wish to see much to say about them when we meet, in more respectable company;" for he felt a which I trust will be in a week or two. I compliment paid him at the expense of a have been over-watched and over-poeted friend, as a grievance far beyond any direct attack on himself. He was also exceedingly hurt by a reference made in an article on Dr. Reid's work "On Nervous Affections,” which appeared in July, 1822, to an essay which he had contributed some years before to a collection of tracts published by his friend, Mr. Basil Montague, on the effect of spirituous liquors, entitled "The Confessions of a Drunkard." The contribution of this paper is a striking proof of the prevalence of Lamb's personal regards over all selfish feelings and tastes; for no one was less disposed than he to Montague's theory or practice of abstinence; yet he was willing to gratify his friend by this terrible picture of the extreme effects of intemperance, of which his own occasional deviations from the right line of sobriety had given him hints and glimpses. The reviewer of Dr. Reid, adverting to this essay, speaks of it as "a fearful picture of the consequences of intemperance, which we happen to know is a true tale." How far it was from actual truth the "Essays of Elia," the production of a later day, in which the maturity of his feeling, humour, and reason is exhibited, may sufficiently witness. These articles were not written by Mr. Southey; but they prepared Lamb to feel acutely any attack from the Review; and a paragraph in an article in the number for July, 1823, entitled "Progress of Infidelity," in which he recognised the hand of his old friend, gave poignancy to all the painful associations which had arisen from the same work, and concentrated them in one bitter feeling. After recording some of the confessions of unbelievers of the wretchedness

obliged for health sake to wish him gone, but now he is gone I feel a great loss. I am going to Dalston to recruit, and have serious thoughts of-altering my condition, that is, of taking to sobriety. What do you advise


"Rogers spake very kindly of you, as every body does, and none with so much reason as your C. L."




In the year 1823, Lamb appeared, for the first and only time of his life before the public, as an assailant: and the object of his attack was one of his oldest and fastest friends, Mr. Southey. It might, indeed, have been predicted of Lamb, that if ever he did enter the arena of personal controversy, it would be with one who had obtained a place in his affection; for no motive less powerful than the resentment of friendship which deemed itself wounded, could place him in a situation so abhorrent to his habitual thoughts. Lamb had, up to this time, little reason to love reviews or reviewers; and the connexion of Southey with "The Quarterly Review," while he felt that it raised, and softened, and refined the tone of that powerful organ of a great party, sometimes vexed him for his friend. His indignation also had been

which their infidelity brought on them, Mr. Southey thus proceeded :


"Unbelievers have not always been honest enough thus to express their real feelings; but this we know concerning them, that when they have renounced their birthright of hope, they have not been able to divest themselves of fear. From the nature of the human mind, this might be presumed, and in fact it is so. They may deaden the heart and stupify the conscience, but they cannot destroy the imaginative faculty. There is a remarkable proof of this in 'Elia's Essays,' a book which wants only a sounder religious feeling, to be as delightful as it is original. In that upon Witches and the other Night Fears,' he says, 'It is not book, or picture, or the stories of foolish servants, which create these terrors in children; they can at most but give them a direction. Dear little T. H., who of all children has been brought up with the most scrupulous exclusion of every taint of superstition, who was never allowed to hear of goblin or apparition, or scarcely to be told of bad men, or to hear or read of any distressing story, finds all this world of fear, from which he has been so rigidly excluded ab extra, in his own "thickcoming fancies," and from his little midnight pillow this nurse child of optimism will start at shapes, unborrowed of tradition, in sweats to which the reveries of the well-damned murderer are tranquillity.'-This poor child, instead of being trained up in the way he should go, had been bred in the ways of modern philosophy; he had systematically been prevented from knowing anything of that Saviour who said, 'Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven;' care had been taken that he should not pray to God, nor lie down at night in reliance upon his good providence! Nor let it be supposed that terrors of imagination belong to childhood alone. The reprobate heart, which has discarded all love of God, cannot so easily rid itself of the fear of the devil; and even when it succeeds in that also, it will then create a hell for itself. We have heard of unbelievers who thought it probable that they should be awake in their graves; and this was the opinion for which they had exchanged a Christian's hope of immortality!"

The allusion in this paragraph was really, as Lamb was afterwards convinced, intended by Mr. Southey to assist the sale of the book. In haste, having expunged some word which he thought improper, he wrote, "sounder religious feeling," not satisfied with the epithet, but meaning to correct it in the proof, which unfortunately was never sent him. Lamb saw it on his return from a month's pleasant holidays at Hastings, and expressed his first impression respecting it in a letter.


"July 10th, 1823. "Dear Sir, I have just returned from Hastings, where are exquisite views and walks, and where I have given up my soul to walking, and I am now suffering sedentary contrasts. I am a long time reconciling to town after one of these excursions. Home is become strange, and will remain so yet a while; home is the most unforgiving of friends, and always resents absence; I know its old cordial look will return, but they are slow in clearing up. That is one of the features of this our galley-slavery, that peregrination ended makes things worse. I felt out of water (with all the sea about me) at Hastings; and just as I had learned to domiciliate there, I must come back to find a home which is no home. I abused Hastings, but learned its value. There are spots, inland bays, &c., which realise the notions of Juan Fernandez. The best thing I lit upon by accident was a small country church, (by whom or when built unknown,) standing bare and single in the midst of a grove, with no house or appearance of habitation within a quarter of a mile, only passages diverging from it through beautiful woods to so many farm-houses. There it stands like the first idea of a church, before parishioners were thought of, nothing but birds for its congregation; or like a hermit's oratory (the hermit dead), or a mausoleum; its effect singularly impressive, like a church found in a desert isle to startle Crusoe with a home image; you must make out a vicar and a congregation from fancy, for surely none come there; yet it wants not its pulpit, and its font, and all its seemly additaments of our worship.

"Southey has attacked ‘Elia' on the score

« PreviousContinue »