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Wouldst thou divert thyself from melancholy!
Wouldst thou be pleasant, yet be far from folly?
Wouldst thou read riddles, and their explanation f
Ot else be drowned in thy contemplation?
Dost thou love picking meat t or wouldst thou see
A man V the clouds, and hear him speak to thee!
Wouldst thou be in a dream, and yet not sleep?
Or wouldst thou in a moment laugh and weep?
Or wouldst thou lose thyself, and catch no harm,
And find thyself again without a charm?
Wouldst read thyself, and read thou knowest not what,
And yet know whether thou art blest or not
By reading the same lines! O then come hither,
And lay my book, tby head, and heart together.
Show me any such poetry in any one of the fifteen forthcoming combinations of show and emptiness, yclept 'Annuals.' So there's verses for thy verses; and now let me tell you, that the sight of your hand gladdened me. I have been daily trying to write to you, but paralysed. You have spurred me on this tiny effort, and at intervals I hope to hear from and talk to you. But my spirits have been in an opprest way for a long long time, and they are things which must be to you of faith, for who can explain depression 1 Yes, I am hooked into the 'Gem,' but only for some lines written on a dead infant of the Editor's, which being, as it were, his property, I could not refuse their appearing; but I hate the paper, the type, the gloss, the dandy plates, the names of contributors poked up into your eyes in first page, and whisked through all the covers of magazines, the barefaced sort of emulation, the immodest candidateship. Brought into so little space —in those old 'Londons,' a signature was lost in the wood of matter, the paper coarse (till latterly, which spoiled them); in short, I detest to appear in an Annual. What a fertile genius (and a quiet good soul withal) is Hood! He has fifty things in hand; farces to supply the Adelphi for the season; a comedy for one of the great theatres, just ready; a whole entertainment, by himself, for Mathews and Yates to figure in; a meditated Comic Annual for next year, to be nearly done by himself. You'd like him very much.
"Wordsworth, I see, has a good many pieces announced in one of 'em, not our Gem. W. Scott has distributed himself like a bribe haunch among 'em. Of all the poets, Cary has had the good sense to keep quite clear of 'em, with clergy-gentle-manly right notions. Don't think I set up for being
proud on this point; I like a bit of flattery, tickling my vanity, as well as any one. But these pompous masquerades without masks (naked names or faces) I hate. So there's a bit of my mind. Besides, they infallibly cheat you; I mean the booksellers. If I get but a copy, I only expect it from Hood's being my friend. Coleridge has lately been here. He too is deep among the prophets, the yearservers,—the mob of gentlemen annuals. But they'll cheat him, I know. And now, dear B. B., the sun shining out merrily, and the dirty clouds we had yesterday having washed their own faces clean with their own rain, tempts me to wander up Winchmore Hill, or into some of the delightful vicinages of Enfield, which I hope to show you at some time when you can get a few days up to the great town. Believe me, it would give both of us great pleasure to show you our pleasant farms and villages.
"We both join in kindest loves to you and yours. C. Lamb, redivivus."
The following is of December, and closes the letters which remain of this year.
TO BERNARD BARTON.
"Dec. 5th, 1828.
"Dear B. B.,—I am ashamed to receive so many nice books from you, and te have none to send you in return. You are always sending me some fruits or wholesome potherbs, and mine is the garden of the Sluggard, nothing but weeds, or scarce they. Nevertheless, if I knew how to transmit it, I would send you Blackwood's of this month, which contains a little drama, to have your opinion of it, and how far I have improved, or otherwise, upon its prototype. Thank you for your kind sonnet. It does me good to see the Dedication to a Christian Bishop. I am for a comprehension, as divines call it; but so as that the Church shall go a good deal more than half way over to the silent Meeting-house. I have ever said that the Quakers are the only professors of Christianity, as I read it in the Evangiles; I say professors—marry, as to practice, with their gaudy hot types and poetical vanities, they are much as one with the sinful. Martin's Frontispiece is a very fine thing, let C. L. say what he please to the contrary. Of the Poems, I like them as a volume, better than any one of the preceding; particularly, 'Power and Gentleness'—'The Present'—'Lady Russell;' with the exception that I do not like the noble act of Curtius, true or false—one of the grand foundations of the old Human patriotism—to be sacrificed to Lady R.'s taking notes on her husband's trial. If a thing is good, why invidiously bring it into light with something better? There are too few heroic things in this world, to admit of our marshalling them in anxious etiquettes of precedence. Would you make a poem on the story of Ruth, (pretty story!) and then say— Ay, but how much better is the story of Joseph and his brethren! To go on, the stanzas to ' Ghal on' want the name of Clarkson in the body of them ; it is left to inference. The 'Battle of Gibeon' is spirited, again; but you sacrifice it in last stanza to the song at Bethlehem. Is it quite orthodox to do so? The first was good, you suppose, for that dispensation. Why set the word against the word? It puzzles a weak Christian. So Watts' Psalms are an implied censure on David's. But as long as the Bible is supposed to be an equally divine emanation with the Testament, so long it will stagger weaklings to have them set in opposition. 'Godiva' is delicately touched. I have always thought it a beautiful story, characteristic of the old English times. But I could not help amusing myself with the thought—if Martin had chosen this subject for a frontispiece—there would have been in some dark corner a white lady, white as the walker on the waves, riding upon some mystical quadruped; and high above would have risen' tower above tower a massy structure high'—the Tenterden steeples of Coventry, till the poor cross would scarce have known itself among the clouds; and far above them all the distant Clint hills peering over chimney-pots, piled up, Ossa-on-Olympus fashion, till the admiring spectator (admirer of a noble deed) might have gone look for the lady, as you must hunt for the other in the lobster. But M. should be made royal architect. What palaces he would pile! But then, what parliamentary grants to make them good! Nevertheless, I like the frontispiece. 'The Elephant' is pleasant; and I am glad you are getting into a wider scope of subjects.
There may be too much, not religion, but too many good words in a book, till it becomes a rhapsody of words. I will just name, that you have brought in the 'Song to the Shepherds' in four or five, if not six places. Now this is not good economy. The 'Enoch' is fine; and here I can sacrifice 'Elijah' to it, because 'tis illustrative only, and not disparaging of the latter prophet's departure. I like this best in the book. Lastly, Lmuch like the 'Heron ;' 'tis exquisite. Know you Lord Thurlow's Sonnet to a bird of that sort on Lacken water 1 If not, 'tis indispensable I send it you, with my Blackwood. 'Fludyer' is pleasant,—you are getting gay and Hoodish. What is the enigma? Money? Knot, I fairly confess I am foiled, and sphynx must
eat me. Four times I've tried to
write—eat me, and the blotting pen turns it into—cat me. And now I will take my leave with saying, I esteem thy verses, like thy present, honour thy frontispicer, and right reverence thy patron and dedicatee, and am, dear B. B.,
"Yours heartily, C. Lamn."
LETTERS TO ROBINSON, PROCTER, BARTON, WILSON, OILMAN, WORDSWORTn, AND DYER.
Having decided on residing entirely at Enfield, Lamb gave up Colebrooke-cottage, and took what he described in a notelet to me as "an odd-looking gambogish-coloured house," at Chase-side, Enfield. The situation was far from picturesque, for the opposite side of the road only presented some middling tenements, two dissenting-chapels, and a public-house decorated with a swinging sign of a Rising Sun; but the neighbouring fieldwalks were pleasant, and the country, as he liked to say, quite as good as Westmoreland.
He continued occasional contributions to the New Monthly, especially the series of "Popular Fallacies ;" wrote short articles in the Athenseum; and a great many acrostics on the names of his friends. He had now a neighbour in Mr. Serjeant Wilde, to whom he was introduced by Mr. Burney, and whom he held in high esteem, though Lamb cared nothing for forensic eloquence, and thought very little of eloquence of any kind; which, it must be confessed, when printed is the most vapid of all reading. What political interest could not excite, personal regard produced in favour of his new friend ; and Lamb supplied several versified squibs and snatches of electioneering songs to grace Wilde's contests at Newark. With these slender avocations his life was dull, and only a sense of duty induced him to persist in absence from London.
The following letter was written in acknowledgment of a parcel sent to Miss Lamb, comprising (what she had expressed a wish to have) a copper coal-scoop, and a pair of elastic spectacles, accompanied by a copy of "Pamela," which having been borrowed and supposed to be lost, had been replaced by another in Lamb's library.
TO MR. H. C. ROBINSON.
"Enfield, Feb. 27th, 1829.
■ Dear R.,—Expectation was alert on the receipt of your strange-shaped present, while yet undisclosed from its fuse envelope. Some said, 'tis a viol da Gamba, others pronounced it a fiddle; I, myself, hoped it a liqueur case, pregnant with eau-de-vie and such odd nectar. When midwifed into daylight, the gossips were at a loss to pronounce upon its species. Most took it for a marrow-spoon, an applescoop, a banker's guinea-shovel; at length its true scope appeared, its drift, to save the back-bone of my sister stooping to scuttles. A philanthropic intent, borrowed, no doubt, from some of the Colliers. You save people's backs one way, and break 'em again by loads of obligation. The spectacles are delicate and Vulcanian. No lighter texture than their steel did the cuckoldy blacksmith frame to catch Mrs. Vulcan and the Captain in. For ungalled forehead, as for back unbursteu, you have Mary's thanks. Marry, for my own peculium of obligation, 'twas supererogatory. A second part of Pamela was enough in conscience. Two Pamelas in a house are too much, without two Mr. B.'s to reward 'em.
"Mary, who is handselling her new aerial perspectives upon a pair of old worsted stockings trod out in Cheshunt lanes, sends
her love: I, great good-liking. Bid us a personal farewell before you see the Vatican. "charles Lamb."
The following letter to his friend, who so prosperously combines conveyancing with poetry, is a fair sample of Lamb's elaborate and good-natured fictions. It is hardly necessary to say, that the reference to a coolness between him and two of his legal friends, is part of the fiction.
TO MR. PROCTER.
"Jan. 19th, 1829. "My dear Procter,—I am ashamed not to have taken the drift of your pleasant letter, which I find to have been pure invention. But jokes are not suspected in Boeotian Enfield. We are plain people, and our talk is of corn, and cattle, and Waltham markets. Besides, I was a little out of sorts when I received it. The fact is, I am involved in a case which has fretted me to death, and I have no reliance except on you to extricate me. I am sure you will give me your best legal advice, having no professional friend besides, but Robinson and Talfourd, with neither of whom, at present, I am on the best of terms. My brother's widow left a will, made during the lifetime of my brother, in which I am named sole executor, by which she bequeaths forty acres of arable property, which it seems she held under covert baron, unknown to my brother, to the heirs of the body of Elizabeth Dowden, her married daughter by a first husband, in fee simple, recoverable by fine; invested property, mind, for there is the difficulty; subject to leet and quit-rent; in short, worded in the most guarded terms, to shut out the property from Isaac Dowden, the husband. Intelligence has just come of the death of this person in India, where he made a will, entailing this property (which seemed entangled enough already) to the heirs of his body, that should not be born of his wife, for it seems by the law in India, natural children can recover. They have put the cause into Exchequer process here, removed by certiorari from the native courts; and the question is, whether I should, as executor, try the cause here, or again re-remove it to the Supreme Sessions at Bangalore, which I understand I can, or plead a hearing before the Privy Council here. As it involves all the little property of Elizabeth Dowden, I am anxious to take the fittest steps, and what may be least expensive. For God's sake assist me, for the case is so embarrassed that it deprives me of sleep and appetite. M. Burney thinks there is a case like it in chap. 170, sec. 5, in 'Fearn's Contingent Remainders.' Pray read it over with him dispassionately, and let me have the result. The complexity lies in the questionable power of the husband to alienate in umm; enfeoffments whereof he was only collaterally seised, &c.
"I had another favour to beg, which is the beggarliest of beggings. A few lines of verse for a young friend's album (six will be enough). M. Burney will tell you who she is I want 'em for. A girl of gold. Six lines
—make 'em eight—signed Barry C .
They need not be very good, as I chiefly want 'em as a foil to mine. But I shall be seriously obliged by any refuse scrap. We are in the last ages of the world, when St. Paul prophesied that women should be 'headstrong, lovers of their own wills, having albums.' I fled hither to escape the albumean persecution, and had not been in my new house twentyfour hours, when the daughter of the next house came in with a friend's album to beg a contribution, and the following day intimated she had one of her own. Two more have sprung up since. If I take the wings of the morning and fly unto the uttermost parts of the earth, there will albums be. New Holland has albums. But the age is to be complied with. M. B. will tell you the sort of girl I request the ten lines for. Somewhat of a pensive cast, what you admire. The lines may come before the law question, as that cannot be determined before Hilary Term, and I wish your deliberate judgment on that. The other may be flimsy and superficial. And if you have not burnt your returned letter, pray resend it me, as a monumental token of my stupidity."
Lamb was as unfortunate in his communications with the annuals, as unhappy in the importunities of the fair owners of albums. His favourite pieces were omitted; and a piece not his, called "The Widow," was, by a license of friendship, which Lamb forgave,
inserted in one of them. He thus complains of these grievances in a letter which he wrote on the marriage of the daughter of a friend to a great theoretical chemist.
TO MR. PROCTER.
"Jan. 22nd, 1829.
"Rumour tells us that Miss is married. Who is ?Have I seen him at
Montacutes? I hear he is a great chemist. I am sometimes chemical myself. A thought strikes me with horror. Pray heaven he may not have done it for the sake of trying chemical experiments upon her,—young female subjects are so scarce. An't you glad about Burke's case! We may set off the Scotch murders against the Scotch novels. Hare, the Great Unhanged.
"M. B. is richly worth your knowing. He is on the top scale of my friendship ladder, on which an angel or two is still climbing, and some, alas! descending. Did you see a sonnet of mine in Blackwood's last 1 Curious construction! Elaborata facilitas! And now I'll tell. 'Twas written for 'The Gem,' but the editors declined it, on the plea that it would shock all mothers; so they published 'The Widow' instead. I am born out of time. I have no conjecture about what the present world calls delicacy. I thought'Rosamund Gray' was a pretty modest thing. Hessey assures me that the world would not bear it. I have lived to grow into an indecent character. When my sonnet was rejected, I exclaimed, 'Hang the age, I will write for antiquity!"
"Erratum in sonnet.—Last line but something, for tender, read tend. The Scotch do not know our law terms; but I find some remains of honest, plain, old writing lurking there still. They were not so mealy-mouthed as to refuse my verses. Maybe 'tis their oatmeal
"Blackwood sent me 201. for the drama. Somebody cheated me out of it next day; and my new pair of breeches, just sent home, cracking at first putting on, I exclaimed, in my wrath, 'All tailors are cheats, and all men are tailors.' Then I was better.
The next contains Lamb's thanks for the verses he had begged for Miss Isola's album. They comprehended a compliment turning on the words Isola Bella.
TO MR. PROCTER.
"The comings in of an incipient conveyancer are not adequate to the receipt of three twopenny post non-paids in a week. Therefore, after this, I condemn my stub to long and deep silence, or shall awaken it to write to lords. Lest those raptures in this honeymoon of my correspondence, which you avow for the gentle person of my Nuncio, after passing through certain natural grades, as Love, Love and Water, Love with the chill off, then subsiding to that point which the heroic suitor of his wedded dame, the noblespirited Lord Randolph in the play, declares to be the ambition of his passion, a reciprocation of 'complacent kindness,'—should suddenly plum down (scarce staving to bait at the mid point of indifference, so hungry it is for distaste) to a loathing and blank aversion, to the rendering probable such counter expressions as this,—'Hang that infernal two-penny postman,' (words which make the not yet glutted inamorato 'lift up his hands and wonder who can use them.') While, then, you are not ruined, let me assure thee, O thou above the painter, and next only under Oiraldus Cambrensis, the most immortal and worthy to be immortal Barry, thy most ingenious and golden cadences do take my fancy mightily. But tell me, and tell me truly, gentle swain, is that Isola Bella a true spot in geographical denomination, or a floating Delos in thy brain. Lurks that fair island in verity in the bosom of Lake Maggiore, or some other with less poetic name, which thou hast Cornwallized for the occasion. And what if Maggiore itself be but a coinage of adaptation? Of this, pray resolve me immediately, for my albumess will be catechised on this subject; and how can I prompt her? Lake Leman I know, and Lemon Lake (in a punch bowl) I have swum in, though those lymphs be long since dry. But Maggiore may be in the moon. Unsphinx this riddle for me, for my shelves have no gazetteer."
The following letters contain a noble instance of Lamb's fine consideration, and exquisite feeling in morality.
TO MR. PROCTER.
."Jan. 29th, 1829.
"When Miss was at Enfield, which
she was in summer-time, and owed her health to its sun and genial influences, she visited (with young lady like impertinence) a poor man's cottage that had a pretty baby (O the yearning!), gave it fine caps and sweetmeats. On a day, broke into the parlour our two maids uproarious. 'O ma'am, who
do you think Miss has been working a
cap for?' 'A child,' answered Mary, in true Shandean female simplicity. 'It's the man's child as was taken up for sheepstealing.' Miss was staggered, and
would have cut the connection, but by main force I made her go and take her leave of her protegee. I thought, if she went no more, the Abactor or Abactor's wife (vide Ainsworth) would suppose she had heard something; and I have delicacy for a sheepstealer. The overseers actually overhauled a mutton-pie at the baker's (his first, last, and only hope of mutton-pie), which he never came to eat, and thence inferred his guilt. Per occasionem cujus, I framed the sonnet; observe its elaborate construction. I was four days about it.
'THE GIPSY'S MALISON.
"Suck, baby, suck! mother's love grows by giving, Drain the sweet founts that only thrive by wasting; Black manhood comes, when riotous guilty living Hands thee the cup that shall be death in tasting. Kiss, baby, kiss! mother's lips shine by kisses, Choke the warm breath that else would fall in blessings; Black manhood comes, when turbulent guilty blisses
Tend thee the kiss that poisons 'mid caressingB. Hang, baby, hang! mother's love loves such forces, Strain the fond neck that bends still to thy clinging; Black manhood comes, when violent lawless courses Leave thee a spectacle in rude air swinging." So sang a wither'd beldam energetical. And bann'd the ungiving door with lips prophetical.'
"Barry, study that sonnet. It is curiously and perversely elaborate. 'Tis a choking subject, and therefore the reader is directed to the structure of it. See you? and was this a fourteener to be rejected by a trumpery annual? forsooth, 'twould shock all mothers; and may all mothers, who would so be shocked, be hanged! as if mothers were such sort of logicians as to infer the future hanging