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TO BERNARD BARTON.
"Jan. 9th, 1824.
Dear B. B.,—Do you know what it is to succumb under an insurmountable day-mare, —' a whoreson lethargy,' Falstaff calls it,— I an indisposition to do anything, or to be anything,—a total deadness and distaste,—a suspension of vitality,—an indifference to locality, — a numb, soporifical, good-fornothingness,—an ossification all over,—an oyster-like insensibility to the passing events, —a mind-stupor,—a brawny defiance to the needles of a thrusting-in conscience. Did you ever have a very bad cold, with a total irresolution to submit to water-gruel processes 1 This has been for many weeks my lot, and my excuse; my fingers drag heavily over this paper, and to my thinking it is three-and-twenty furlongs from here to the end of this demi-sheet. I have not a thing to say; nothing is of more importance than another; I am flatter than a denial or a
pancake; emptier than Judge 'a wig
when the head is in it; duller than a country stage when the actors are off it; a cipher, an 0! I acknowledge life at all, only by an occasional convulsional cough, and a permanent phlegmatic pain in the chest. I am weary of the world; life is weary of me. My day is gone into twilight, and I don't think it worth the expense of candles. My wick hath a thief in it, but I can't muster courage to snuff it. I inhale suffocation; I can't distinguish veal from mutton ; nothing interests me. 'Tis twelve o'clock, and Thurtell is just now coming out upon the New Drop, Jack Ketch alertly tucking up his greasy sleeves to do the last office of mortality, yet cannot I elicit a groan or a moral reflection. If you told me the world will be at an end to-morrow, I should just say,' Will it?' I have not volition enough left to dot my fa, much less to comb my eyebrows; my eyes are set in my head; my brains are gone out to see a poor relation in Moorfields, and they did not say when they'd come back again; my skull is a Grub-street attic, to let—not so much as a joint-stool or a crack'd Jordan left in it; my hand writes, not I, from habit, as chickens run about a little, when their heads are off. O for a vigorous fit of gout, cholic, toothache,—an earwig in my auditory, a fly in my visual
organs; pain is life—the sharper, the more evidence of life; but this apathy, this death! Did you ever have an obstinate cold,—a six or seven weeks' unintermitting chill and suspension of hope, fear, conscience, and everything? Yet do I try all I can to cure it; I try wine, and spirits, and smoking, and snuff in unsparing quantities, but they all only seem to make me worse, instead of better. I sleep in a damp room, but it does me no good; I come home late o' nights, but do not find any visible amendment! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death 1
"It is just fifteen minutes after twelve; Thurtell is by this time a good way on his journey, baiting at Scorpion perhaps ; Ketch is bargaining for his cast coat and waistcoat; the Jew demurs at first at three half-crowns, but, on consideration that he may get somewhat by showing 'em in the town, finally closes. C. L."
Barton took this letter rather seriously, and Lamb thus sought to remove his friendly anxieties.
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"Jan. 23rd, 1824.
"My dear sir,—That peevish letter of mine, which was meant to convey an apology for my incapacity to write, seems to have been taken by you in too serious a light; it was only my way of telling you I had a severe cold. The fact is, I have been insuperably dull and lethargic for many weeks, and cannot rise to the vigour of a letter, much less an essay. The ' London' must do without me for a time, for I have lost all interest about it; and whether I shall recover it again I know not. I will bridle my pen another time, and not teaze and puzzle you with my aridities. I shall begin to feel a little more alive with the spring. Winter is to me (mild or harsh) always a great trial of the spirits. I am ashamed not^ to have noticed your tribute to Woolman, whom we love so much. It is done in your good manner. Your friend Tayler called upon me some time since, and seems a very amiable man. His last story is painfully fine. His book I 'like;' it is only too stuffed with scripture, too parsonish. The best thing in it is the boy's own story. When I say it is too full of scripture, I mean it is too full of direct quotations ; no book can have too much of silent scripture in it; but the natural power of a story is diminished when the uppermost purpose in the writer seems to be to recommend something else, viz., Religion. You know what Horace says of the Deus intersit? I am not able to explain myself,—you must do it for me. My sister's part in the 'Leicester School' (about two-thirds) was purely her own ; as it was (to the same quantity) in the 'Shakspeare Tales' which bear my name. I wrote only the 'Witch Aunt;* the 'First Going to Church ;' and the final story, about'A little Indian girl,' in a ship. Your account of my black-balling amused me. I think, as Quakers they did right. There are some things hard to be understood. The more I think, the more I am vexed at having puzzled you with that letter; but I have been so out of letterwriting of late years, that it is a sore effort to sit down to it; and I felt in your debt, and sat down waywardly to pay you in bad money. Never mind my dulness ; I am used to long intervals of it. The heavens seem brass to me ; then again comes the refreshing shower—
'I have been merry once or twice ere now.'
"You said something about Mr. Mitford in a late letter, which I believe I did not advert to. I shall be happy to show him my Milton (it is all the show things I have) at any time he will take the trouble of a jaunt to Islington. I do also hope to see Mr. Tayler there some day. Pray say so to both. Coleridge's book is in good part printed, but sticks a little for more copy. It bears an unsaleable title,' Extracts from Bishop Leighton,' but I am confident there will be plenty of good notes in it.
"Keep your good spirits up dear B. B., mine will return; they are at present in abeyance ; but I am rather lethargic than jniserable. I don't know but a good horsewhip would be more beneficial to me than physic. My head, without aching, will teach yours to ache. It is well I am.getting to the conclusion. I will send a better letter when I am a better man. Let me thank you for your kind concern for me, (which I trust will have reason soon to be dissipated,) and
assure you that it gives me pleasure to hear from you. Yours truly. C. L."
The following sufficiently indicate the circumstances under which they were written:—
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"February 25th, 1824. "My dear sir,—Your title of 'Poetic Vigils' arrides me much more than a volume of verse, which has no meaning. The motto says nothing, but I cannot suggest a better. I do not like mottoes, but where they are singularly felicitous; there is foppery in them; they are un-plain, un-Quakerish; they are good only where they flow from the title, and are a kind of justification of it. There is nothing about watchings or lucubrations in the one you suggest, no commentary on vigils. By the way, a wag would recommend you to the line of Pope,
'Sleepless himself—to give his readers sleep.'
I by no means wish it; but it may explain what I mean,—that a neat motto is child of the title. I think 'Poetic Vigils' as short and sweet as can be desired; only have an eye on the proof, that the printer do not substitute virgils, which would ill accord with your modesty or meaning. Your suggested motto is antique enough in spelling, and modern enough in phrases, — a good modern antique; but the matter of it is germain to the purpose, only supposing the title proposed a vindication of yourself from the presumption of authorship. The first title was liable to this objection—that if you were disposed to enlarge it, and the bookseller insisted on its appearance in two tomes, how oddly it would sound, 'A Volume of Verse in two Volumes, Second Edition,' &c . You see thro' my wicked intention of curtailing this epistolet by the above device of large margin. But in truth the idea of letterising has been oppressive to me of late above your candour to give me credit for. There is Southey, whom I ought to have thanked a fortnight ago for a present of the 'Church Book:' I have never had courage to buckle myself in earnest even to acknowledge it by six words ; and yet I am accounted by some people a good man. How cheap that character is acquired! Pay your debts,
don't borrow money, nor twist your kitten's neck off, or disturb a congregation, &c., your business is done. I know things (thoughts or things, thoughts are things,) of myself, which would make every friend I have fly me as a plague patient. I once * * *, and set a dog upon a crab's leg that was shoved out under a mass of sea-weeds,—a pretty little feeler. Oh ! pah! how sick I am of that; and a lie, a mean one, I once told. I stink in the midst of respect. I am much hypt. The fact is, my head is heavy, but there is hope; or if not, I am better than a poor shell-fish; not morally, when I set the whelp upon it, but have more blood and spirits. Things may turn up, and I may creep again into a decent opinion of myself. Vanity will return with sunshine. Till when, pardon my neglects, and impute it to the wintry solstice. C. Lamb."
TO BERNARD BARTON.
[No date.] "Dear B. B.,—I am sure I cannot fill a letter, though I should disfurnish my skull to fill it; but you expect something and shall have a notelet. Is Sunday, not divinely speaking, but humanly and holidaysically, a blessing? Without its institution, would our rugged taskmasters have given us a leisure day, so often, think you, as once in a month I or, if it had not been instituted, might they not have given us every sixth day? Solve me this problem. If we are to go three times a-day to church, why has Sunday slipt into the notion of a hollid&y 1 A HoLY-day I grant it. The Puritans, I have read in Southey's book, knew the distinction. They made people observe Sunday rigorously, would not let a nurserymaid walk out in the fields with children for recreation on that day. But then—they gave the 'people a holliday from all sorts of work every second Tuesday. This was giving to the two Csesars that which was his respective. Wise, beautiful, thoughtful, generous legislators! Would Wilberforce give us our Tuesdays? No !—he would turn the six days into sevenths,
1 And those three smiling seasons of the year
"I am sitting opposite a person who is making strange distortions with the gout,
which is not unpleasant—to me at least. What is the reason we do not sympathise with pain, short of some terrible surgical operation? Eazlitt, who boldly says all he feels, avows that not only he does not pity sick people, but he hates them. I obscurely recognise his meaning. Pain is probably too selfish a consideration, too simply a consideration of self-attention. We pity poverty, loss of friends, &c.—more complex things, in which the sufferer's feelings are associated with others. This is a rough thought suggested by the presence of gout; I want head to extricate it and plane it. What is all this to your letter 1 1 felt it to be a good one, but my turn when I write at all, is perversely to travel out of the record, so that my letters are anything but answers. So you still want a motto? You must not take my ironical one, because your book, I take it, is too serious for it. Bickerstaff might have used it for his lucubrations. What do you think of (for a title) Religio Tremuli 1 or Tremebundi 1 There is Religio-Medici and Laici. But perhaps the volume is not quite Quakerish enough, or exclusively so, for it. Your own 'Vigils' is perhaps the best. While I have space, let me congratulate with you the return of spring, what a summery spring too! all those qualms about the dog and cray-fish melt before it. I am going to be happy and vain again.
"A hasty farewell.
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"July 7th, 1824.
"Dear B. B,—I have been suffering under a severe inflammation of the eyes, notwithstanding which I resolutely went through your very pretty volume at once, which I dare pronounce in no ways inferior to former lucubrations. 'Abroad' and 'lord'' are vile rhymes notwithstanding, and if you count you will wonder how many times you have repeated the word unearthly; thrice in one poem. It is become a slang word with the bards; avoid it in future lustily. 'Time' is fine, but there are better a good deal, I think. The volume does not lie by me ; and, after a long day's smarting fatigue, which has almost put out my eyes (not blind however to your merits), I dare not trust myself with long writing. The verses to Bloomfield are the
sweetest in the collection. Religion is sometimes lugged in, as if it did not come naturally. I will go over carefully when I get my seeing, and exemplify. You have also too much of singing metre, such as requires no deep ear to make; lilting measure, in which you have done Woolman injustice. Strike at less superficial melodies. The piece on Nayler is more to my fancy.
"My eye runs waters. But I will give you a fuller account some day. The book is a very pretty one in more than one sense. The decorative harp, perhaps, too ostentatious; a simple pipe preferable.
"Farewell, and many thanks.
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"Dear B. B.,—I congratulate you on getting a house over your head. I find the comfort of it I am sure. The 'Prometheus,' unbound, is a capital story. The literal rogue! What if you had ordered' Elfrida,' in sheets! she 'd have been sent up, I warrant you. Or bid him clasp his Bible (». «. to his bosom), he 'd have clapt on a brass clasp, no doubt.
"I can no more understand Shelley than you can. His poetry is 'thin sown with profit or delight.' Yet I must point to your notice, a sonnet conceived and expressed with a witty delicacy. It is that addressed to one who hated him, but who could not persuade him to hate him again. His coyness to the other's passion—(for hate demands a return as much as love, and starves without it)—is most arch and pleasant. Pray, like it very much. For his theories and nostrums, they are oracular enough, but I either comprehend 'em not, or there is' miching malice' and mischief in 'em, but, for the most part, ringing with their own emptiness. Hazlitt said well of 'em—'Many are the wiser and better for reading Shakspeare, but nobody was ever wiser or better for reading Shelley.' I wonder you will sow your correspondence on so barren a ground as I am, that make such poor returns. But my head aches at the bare thought of letter-writing. I wish all the ink in the ocean dried up, and would listen to the quills shivering up in the candle flame, like parching martyrs. The same indisposition to write it is has stopt my 'Elias,' but you will see a futile effort in the
next number, 'wrung from me with slow pain.' The fact is, my head is seldom cool enough. I am dreadfully indolent. To have to do anything—to order me a new coat, for instance, though my old buttons are shelled like beans—is an effort. My pen stammers like my tongue. What cool craniums those old inditers of folios must have had, what a mortified pulse! Well; once more I throw myself on your mercy. Wishing peace in thy new dwelling, C. Lamb."
Mr. Barton, having requested of Lamb some verses for his daughter's album, received the following with the accompanying letter beneath, on 30th September in this year. Surely the neat loveliness of female Quakerism never received before so delicate a compliment!
"THE ALBUM OF LUCY BARTON.
Little book, snrnamed of white,
Never disproportion'd scrawl .
In each letter here design'd,
Gilded margins count a sin;
Sayings fetch'd from sages old;
Lighter fancies; not excluding
Amid strains of graver measure:
Riddles dark, perplexing sense;
Darker meanings of offence;
What but shades—be banish'd hence!
Whitest thoughts, in whitest dress,
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"Dear B. B.,—' I am ill at these numbers;' but if the above be not too mean to have a place in thy daughter's sanctum, take them with pleasure.
"I began on another sheet of paper, and just as I had penned the second line of stanza two, an ugly blot fell, to illustrate my counsel. I am sadly given to blot, and modern blotting-paper gives no redress; it only smears, and makes it worse. The only remedy is scratching out, which gives it a clerkish look. The most innocent blots are made with red ink, and are rather ornamental. Marry, they are not always to be distinguished from the effusions of a cut finger. Well, I hope and trust thy tick doleru, or, however you spell it, is vanished, for I have frightful impressions of that tick, and do altogether hate it, as an unpaid score, or the tick of a death-watch. I take it to be a species of Vitus's dance (I omit the sanctity, writing to ' one of the men called friends'). 1 knew a young lady who could dance no other; she danced it through life, and very queer and fantastic were her steps.
"Heaven bless thee from such measures, and keep thee from the foul fiend, who delights to lead after false fires in the night, Flibbertigibbet, that gives the web, and I forget what else.
"From my den, as Bunyan has it, 30th. Sep. 1824. C. L."
Here is a humorous expostulation with Coleridge for carrying away a book from the cottage, in the absence of its inmates.
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
[No date] "Dear C,—Why will you make your visits, which should give pleasure, matter of regret to your friends? you never come but you take away some folio, that is part of my existence. With a great deal of difficulty I was made to comprehend the extent of my loss. My maid, Becky, brought me a dirty bit of paper, which contained her description of some book which Mr. Coleridge had taken away. It was 'Luster's Tables,' which, for some time, I could not make out. 'What! has he carried away any of the tabUs, Becky?' 'No, it wasn't any tables, but it was a book that he called Luster's Tables.' I was obliged to search personally among my shelves, and a huge fissure suddenly disclosed to me the true nature of the damage I had sustained. That book, C, you should not have taken away, for it is not mine, it is the property of a friend, who does not know its value, nor indeed have I been very sedulous in explain
ing to him the estimate of it; but was rather contented in giving a sort of corroboration to a hint that he let fall, as to its being suspected to be not genuine, so that in all probability it would have fallen to me as a deodand, not but I am as sure it is Luther's, as I am sure that Jack Bunyan wrote the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' but it was not for me to pronounce upon the validity of testimony that had been disputed by learneder clerks than I, so I quietly let it occupy the place it had usurped upon my shelves, and should never have thought of issuing an ejectment against it; for why should I be so bigoted as to allow rites of hospitality to none but my own books, children, &c. ?—a species of egotism I abhor from my heart. No; let 'em all snug together, Hebrews and Proselytes of the gate; no selfish partiality of mine shall make distinction between them; I charge no warehouse-room for my friends' commodities ; they are welcome to come and stay as long as they like, without paying rent. I have several such strangers that I treat with more than Arabian courtesy; there's a copy of More's fine poem, which is none of mine, but I cherish it as my own; I am none of those churlish landlords that advertise the goods to be taken away in ten days' time, or then to be sold to pay expenses. So you see I had no right to lend you that book; I may lend you my own books, because it is at my own hazard, but it is not honest to hazard a friend's property; I always make that distinction. I hope you will bring it with you, or send it by Hartley; or he can bring that, and you the ' Polemical Discourses,' and come and eat some atoning mutton with us one of these days shortly. We are engaged two or three Sundays deep, but always dine at home on week-days at half-past four. So come all four—men and books I mean—my third shelf (northern compartment) from the top has two devilish gaps, where you have knocked out its two eye-teeth.
"Your wronged friend,
The following preface to a letter, addressed to Miss Hutchinson, Mrs. Wordsworth's sister, playing on the pretended defects of Miss Lamb's handwriting, is one of those artifices of affection which, not finding scope