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in eulogistic epithets, take refuge in apparent abuse. Lamb himself, at this time, wrote a singularly neat hand, having greatly improved in the India House, where he also learned to nourish,—a facility he took a pride in, and sometimes indulged; but his flourishes (wherefore it would be too curious to inquire) almost always shaped themselves into a visionary corkscrew, " never made to draw."
TO MISS HUTCHINSON.
"Dear Miss H.,—Mary has such an invincible reluctance to any epistolary exertion, that I am sparing her a mortification by taking the pen from her. The plain truth is, she writes such a pimping, mean, detestable hand, that she is ashamed of the formation of her letters. There is an essential poverty and abjectness in the frame of them. They look like begging letters. And then she is sure to omit a most substantial word in the second draught (for she never ventures an epistle without a foul copy first), which is obliged to be interlined; which spoils the neatest epistle, you know. Her figures, 1, 2, 3, 4, &c., where she has occasion to express numerals, as in the date (25th April, 1823), are not figures, but figurantes ; and the combined posse go staggering up and down shameless, as drunkards in the daytime. It is no better when she rules her paper. Her Lines ' are not less erring' than her words. A sort of unnatural parallel lines, that are perpetually threatening to meet; which, you know, is quite contrary to Euclid. Her very blots are not bold like this [here a large blot is inserted], but poor smears, half left in and half scratched out, with another smear left in their place. I like a clear letter. A bold free hand, and a fearless flourish. Then she has always to go through them (a second operation) to dot her j's, and cross her t's. I don't think she can make a corkscrew if she tried, which has such a fine effect at the end or middle of an epistle, and fills up.
"There is a corkscrew! One of the best I ever drew. By the way, what incomparable whisky that was of M's! But if I am to write a letter, let me begin, and not stand flourishing, like a fencer at a fair.
"It gives me great pleasure, &c. &c. &c.
[The letter now begins.]
What a strange mingling of humour and solemn truth is there in the following reflection on Fauntleroy's fate, in a letter addressed to Bernard Barton 1
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"Dec. lst, 1824. "And now, my dear sir, trifling apart, the gloomy catastrophe of yesterday morning prompts a sadder vein. The fate of the unfortunate Fauntleroy makes me, whether I will or no, to cast reflecting eyes around on such of my friends as, by a parity of situation, are exposed to a similarity of temptation. My very style seems to myself to become more impressive than usual, with the change of theme. Who that standeth, knoweth but he may yet fall? Your hands as yet, I am most willing to believe, have never deviated into other's property. You think it impossible that you could ever commit so heinous an offence ; but so thought Fauntleroy once; so have thought many besides him, who at last have expiated as he hath done. You are as yet upright; but you are a banker, at least the next thing to it. I feel the delicacy of the subject; but cash must pass through your hands, sometimes to a great amount. If in an unguarded hour but I will hope better. Consider the
scandal it will bring upon those of your persuasion. Thousands would go to see a Quaker hanged, that would be indifferent to the fate of a Presbyterian or an Anabaptist. Think of the effect it would have on the sale of your poems alone, not to mention higher considerations! I tremble, I am sure, at myself, when I think that so many poor victims of the law, at one time of their life, made as sure of never being hanged, as I in my presumption am too ready to do myself. What are we better than they? Do we come into the world with different necks 1 Is there any distinctive mark under our left ears? Are we unstrangulable, I ask you? Think of these things. I am shocked sometimes at the shape of my own fingers, not for their resemblance to the ape tribe (which is something), but for the exquisite adaptation of them to the purposes of picking, fingering, &c. No one that is so framed, I maintain it, but should tremble. C. L."
In the year 1824, one of Lamb's last ties
to the theatre, as a scene of present enjoyment, was severed. Munden, the rich peculiarities of whose acting he has embalmed I in one of the choicest "Essays of Elia," i quitted the stage in the mellowness of his powers. His relish for Munden's acting was almost a new sense; he did not compare him with the old comedians, as having common qualities with them, but regarded him as altogether of a different and original style. On the last night of his appearance, Lamb was very desirous to attend, but every place in the boxes had long been secured; and Lamb was not strong enough to stand the tremendous rush, by enduring which, alone, he could hope to obtain a place in the pit; when Munden's gratitude for his exquisite praise anticipated his wish, by providing for him and Miss Lamb places in a corner of the orchestra, close to the stage. The play of the "Poor Gentleman," in which Munden played "Sir Robert Bramble," had concluded, I and the audience were impatiently waiting for the farce, in which the great comedian was to delight them for the last time, when my attention was suddenly called to Lamb by Miss Kelly, who sat with my party far withdrawn into the obscurity of one of the upper boxes, but overlooking the radiant hollow which waved below us, to our friend. In his hand, directly beneath the line of stagelights, glistened a huge porter-pot, which he was draining; while the broad face of old Munden was seen thrust out from the door by which the musicians enter, watching the close of the draught, when he might receive and hide the portentous beaker from the gaze of the admiring neighbours. Some unknown benefactor had sent four pots of stout to keep up the veteran's heart during his last trial; and, not able to drink them all, he bethought him of Lamb, and without considering the wonder which would be excited in the brilliant crowd who surrounded him, conveyed himself the cordial chalice to Lamb's parched lips. At the end of the same farce, Munden found himself unable to deliver from memory a short and elegant address which one of his sons had written for him; but, provided against accidents, took it from his pocket, wiped his eyes, put on his spectacles, read it, and made his last bow. This was, perhaps, the last night when Lamb took a hearty interest in the present
business scene; for though he went now and then to the theatre to gratify Miss Isola, or to please an author who was his friend, his real stage henceforth only spread itself out in the selectest chambers of his memory.
LAMB'S EMANCIPATION FROM THE INDIA MOUSE.
The year 1825 is marked by one of the principal events in Lamb's uneventful life— his retirement from the drudgery of the desk, with a pension equal to two-thirds of his now liberal salary. The following letters vividly exhibit his hopes and his apprehensions before he received this noble boon from the East India Company, and his bewilderment of pleasure when he found himself in reality free. He has recorded his feelings in one of the most beautiful of his "Last Essays of Elia," entitled " The Superannuated Man ;" but it will be interesting to contemplate them, "living as they rose," in the unstudied letters to which this chapter is devoted.
A New Series of the London Magazine was commenced with this year, in an increased size and price ; but the spirit of the work had evaporated, as often happens to periodical works, as the store of rich fancies with which its contributors had begun, was in a measure exhausted. Lamb contributed a "Memoir of Liston," who occasionally enlivened Lamb's evening parties with his society; and who, besides the interest which he derived from his theatrical fame, was recommended to Lamb by the cordial admiration he expressed for Munden, whom he used to imitate in a style delightfully blending his own humour with that of his sometime rival. The "Memoir" is altogether a fiction —of which, as Lamb did not think it worthy of republication, I will only give a specimen. After a ludicrously improbable account of his hero's pedigree, birth, and early habits, Lamb thus represents his entrance on the life of an actor.
"We accordiugly find him shortly after making his debut, as it is called, upon the Norwich boards, in the season of that year, being then in the 22nd year of his age. Having a natural bent to tragedy, he chose the part of 'Pyrrhus,' in the 'Distrest Mother,' to Sally Parker's ' Hermione.* We find him afterwards as 'Barnwell,' 'Altamont,'' Chamont,' &c.; but, as if nature had destined him to the sock, an unavoidable infirmity absolutely discapacitated him for tragedy. His person at this latter period of which I have been speaking, was graceful, and even commanding; his countenance set to gravity; he had the power of arresting the attention of an audience at first sight almost beyond any other tragic actor. But he could not hold it. To understand this obstacle, we must go back a few years, to those appalling reveries at Charnwood. Those illusions, which had vanished before the dissipation of a less recluse life, and more free society, now in his solitary tragic studies, and amid the intense calls upon feeling incident to tragic acting, came back upon him with tenfold vividness. In the midst of some most pathetic passage—the parting of Jaffier with his dying friend, for instance—he would suddenly be surprised with a fit of violent horse laughter. While the spectators were all sobbing before him with emotion, suddenly one of those grotesque faces would peep out upon him, and he could not resist the impulse. A timely excuse once or twice served his purpose, but no audiences could be expected to bear repeatedly this violation of the continuity of feeling. He describes them (the illusions) as so many demons haunting him, and paralysing every effort. Even now, I am told, he cannot recite the famous soliloquy in Hamlet, even in private, without immoderate bursts of laughter. However, what he had not force of reason sufficient to overcome, he had good sense enough to turn to emolument, and determined to make a commodity of his distemper. He prudently exchanged the buskin for the sock, and the illusions instantly ceased, or, if they occurred for a short season, by their very co-operation, added a zest to his comic vein; some of his most catching faces being (as he expresses it) little more than transcripts and copies of those extraordinary phantasmata."
He completed his half century on the day when he addressed the following letter
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"February 10th, 1825.
"Dear B. B.,—The 'Spirit of the Age * is by Hazlitt, the characters of Coleridge, &c he had done better in former publications, the praise and the abuse much stronger, &c, but the new ones are capitally done. Horne Tooke is a matchless portrait. My advice is, to borrow it rather than buy it. I have it. He has laid too many colours on my likeness; but I have had so much injustice done me in my own name, that I make a rule of accepting as much over-measure to Elia as gentlemen think proper to bestow. Lay it on and spare not. Your gentleman brother sets my mouth a-watering after liberty. Oh that I were kicked out of Leadenhall with every mark of indignity, and a competence in my fob. The birds of the air would not be so free as I should. How I would prance and curvet it, and pick up cowslips, and ramble about purposeless, as an idiot! The author-mometer is a good fancy. I have caused great speculation in the dramatic (not thy) world by a lying 'Life of Liston,' all pure invention. The town has swallowed it, and it is copied into newspapers, play-bills, &c., as authentic. You do not know the Droll, and possibly missed reading the article (in our first number, new series). A life more improbable for him to have lived would not be easily invented. But your rebuke, coupled with ' Dream on J. Bunyan,' checks me, I'd rather do more in my favourite way, but feel dry. I must laugh sometimes. I am poor Hypochondriacus, and not Liston.
"I have been harassed more than usually at office, which has stopt my correspondence lately. I write with a confused aching head, and you must accept this apology for a letter.
"I will do something soon, if I can, as a peace-offering to the queen of the East Angles—something she shan't scold about. For the present farewell.
"Thine, C. L."
"I am fifty years old this day. Drink my health."
Freedom now gleamed on him, and he became restless with the approach of deliver
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"March 23rd, 1825.
"Dear B. B.,—I have had no impulse to write, or attend to any single object but myself for weeks past—roy single self, I by myself—I. I am sick of hope deferred. The grand wheel is in agitation, that is to turn np my fortune; but round it rolls, and will turn up nothing. I have a glimpse of freedom, of becoming a gentleman at large; but I am put off from day to day. I have offered my resignation, and it is neither accepted nor rejected. Eight weeks am I kept in this fearful suspense. Guess what an absorbing stake I feel it. I am not conscious of the existence of friends present or absent. The East India Directors alone can be that thing to me or not. I have just learned that nothing will be decided this week. Why the next? Why any week? It has fretted me into an itch of the fingers; I rub 'em against paper, and write to you, rather than not allay this scorbuta.
"While I can write, let me abjure you to
have no doubts of Irving. Let Mr. M
drop his disrespect. Irving has prefixed a dedication (of a missionary subject, first part) to Coleridge, the most beautiful, cordial, and sincere. He there acknowledges his obligation to S. T. C. for his knowledge of Gospel truths, the nature of a Christian Church, &c., to the talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (at whose Gamaliel feet he sits weekly), rather than to that of all the men living. This from him, the great dandled and petted sectarian —to a religious character so equivocal in the world's eye as that of S. T. C, so foreign to the Kirk's estimate—can this man be a quack 1 The language is as affecting as the spirit of the dedication. Some friend told him, 'This dedication will do you no good,' »>., not in the world's repute, or with your own people. 'That is a reason for doing it,' quoth Irving.
■ I am thoroughly pleased with him. He is firm, out-speaking, intrepid, and docile as a pupil of Pythagoras. You must like him. "Yours, in tremors of painful hope, ■ C. Lamb."
These tremors of painful hope were soon changed into certain joy. The following
letters contain his own expressions of delight on his deliverance, as conveyed to several of his dearest friends. In the first his happiness is a little checked by the death of Mr. Monkhouse, a relation of Mrs. Wordsworth, who had gradually won Lamb's affections, and who nobly deserved them.
TO MR. WORDSWORTH.
"Dear Wordsworth,—I have been several times meditating a letter to you concerning the good thing which has befallen me, but the thought of poor Monkhouse came across me. He was one that I had exulted in the prospect of congratulating me. He and you were to have been the first participators, for indeed it has been ten weeks since the first motion of it. Here am I then, after thirtythree years' slavery, sitting in my own room at eleven o'clock this finest of all April mornings, a freed man, with 44U. a year for the remainder of my life, live I as long as John Dennis, who outlived his annuity and starved at ninety: 441?., i. e., 450?., with a deduction of 91. for a provision secured to my sister, she being survivor, the pension guaranteed by Act Georgii Tertii, &c.
"I came home For Ever on Tuesday in last week. The incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. It was like passing from life into eternity. Every year to be as long as three, i. e., to have three times as much real time—time that is my own, in it! I wandered about thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But that tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of the gift. Holydays, even the annual month, were always uneasy joys; their conscious fugitiveness; the craving after making the most of them. Now, when all is holyday, there are no holydays. I can sit at home, in rain or shine, without a restless impulse for walkings. I am daily steadying, and shall soon find it as natural to me to be my own master, as it has been irksome to have had a master. Mary wakes every morning with an obscure feeling that some good has happened to us.
"and , after their releasements,
describe the shock of their emancipation much as I feel mine. But it hurt their frames. I eat, drink, and sleep sound as ever. I lay no anxious schemes for going hither and thither, but take things as they occur. Yesterday I excursioned twenty miles ; to-day I write a few letters. Pleasuring was for fugitive play-days, mine are fugitive only in the sense that life is fugitive. Freedom and life co-existent!
"At the foot of such a call upon you for gratulation, I am ashamed to advert to that melancholy event. Monkhouse was a character I learned to love slowly, but it grew upon me, yearly, monthly, daily. What a chasm has it made in our pleasant parties! His noble friendly face was always coming before me, till thus hurrying event in my life came, and for the time has absorbed all interest; in fact it has shaken me a little. My old desk companions, with whom I have had such merry hours, seem to reproach me for removing my lot from among them. They were pleasant creatures; but to the anxieties of business, and a weight of possible worse ever impending, I was not equal. Indeed this last winter I was jaded out— winters were always worse than other parts of the year, because the spirits are worse, and I had no day-light. In summer I had daylight evenings. The relief was hinted to me from a superior power when I, poor slave, had not a hope but that I must wait another seven years with Jacob—and lo! the Rachel which I coveted is brought to me.
"Have you read the noble dedication of Irving's 'Missionary Orations' to S. T. C. Who shall call this man a quack hereafter? What the Kirk will think of it neither I nor Irving care. When somebody suggested to him that it would not be likely to do him good, videlicet, among his own people,'That is a reason for doing it,' was his noble answer. That Irving thinks he has profited mainly by S. T. C, I have no doubt. The very style of the Dedication shows it.
"Communicate my news to Southey, and beg his pardon for my being so long acknowledging his kind present of the 'Church,' which circumstances, having no reference to himself, prevented at the time. Assure him of my deep respect and friendliest feelings.
"Divide the same, or rather each take the whole to you—I mean you and all yours. To Miss Hutchinson I must write separate.
"Farewell! and end at last, long selfish letter! C. Lamb."
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"Dear B. B.—My spirits are so tumultuary with the novelty of my recent emancipation, that I have scarce steadiness of hand, much more mind, to compose a letter. I am free, B. B.—free as air!
* The little bird that wings the sky
I was set free on Tuesday in last week at four o'clock. I came home for ever!
"I have been describing my feelings as
well as I can to Wordsworth in a long letter,
I and don't care to repeat. Take it briefly,
that for a few days I was painfully oppressed
by so mighty a change, but it is becoming
daily more natural to me. I went and sat
I among 'em all at my old thirty-three-years'
j desk yester morning; and, deuce take me,
I if I had not yearnings at leaving all my old
pen-and-ink fellows, merry, sociable lads, at
leaving them in the lurch, fag, fag, fag!—
The comparison of my own superior felicity
gave me anything but pleasure.
"B. B., I would not serve another seven I years for seven hundred thousand pounds! I have got 441?. net for life, sanctioned by act of parliament, with a provision for Mary if she survives me. I will live another fifty years; or, if I live but ten, they will be thirty, reckoning the quantity of real time in them, i.e. the time that is a man's own. Tell me how you like ' Barbara S.* ;' will it be received in atonement for the foolish 'Vision'—I mean by the lady 1 A-propos, I never saw Mrs. Crawford in my life ; nevertheless it's all true of somebody.
"Address me, in future, Colebrookcottage, Islington. I am really nervous (but that will wear off), so take this brief announcement.
"Yours truly, C. L."
TO MISS HUTCHINSON.
"April 18th, 18 25.
"Dear Miss Hutchinson,—You want to know all about my gaol delivery. Take it then. About twelve weeks since I had a sort
• The true heroine of this beautiful story is still living, though she has left the stage. It is enough to make a severer quaker than B. B. feci "that there is some soul of goodness" in players.