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make a thousand lines as I propose completing 'em, and the substance must be wire-drawn."
The following letter, written at intervals, will give an insight into Lamb's spirit at this time, in its lighter and gayer moods. It would seem that his acquaintance with the old English dramatists had just commenced with Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger :—
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"Tuesday evening. "To your list of illustrative personifications, into which a fine imagination enters, I will take leave to add the following from Beaumont and Fletcher's' Wife for a Month;' 'tLs the conclusion of a description of a seafight ;—' The game of death was never played so nobly ; the meagre thief grew wanton in his mischiefs, and his shrunk hollow eyes smiled on his ruins.' There is fancy in these of a lower order, from 'Bonduca ;'—' Then did I see these valiant men of Britain, like boding owls creep into tods of ivy, and hoot their fears to one another nightly.' Not that it is a personification; only it just caught my eye in a little extract book I keep, which is full of quotations from B. and F. in particular, in which authors I can't help thinking there is a greater richness of poetical fancy than in any one, Shakspeare excepted. Are you acquainted with Massinger? At a hazard I will trouble you with a passage from a play of his called 'A Very Woman.' The lines are spoken by a lover (disguised) to his faithless mistress. You will remark the fine effect of the double endings. You will by your ear distinguish the lines, for I write 'em as prose. 'Not far from where my father lives, a lady, a neighbour by, blest with as great a beauty as nature durst bestow without undoing, dwelt, and most happily, as I thought then, and blest the house a thousand times she dwelt in. This beauty, in the blossom of my youth, when my first fire knew no adulterate incense, nor I no way to flatter but my fondness; in all the bravery my friends could show me, in all the faith my innocence could give me, in the best language my true tongue could tell me, and all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me, I sued and served; long did I serve this lady, long
was my travail, long my trade to win her; with all the duty of my soul I Served Her.' 'Then she must love.' 'She did, but never me: she could not love me; she would not love, she hated,—more, she scorn'd me; and in so poor and base a way abused me for all my services, for all my bounties, so bold neglects flung on me.'—' What out of love, and worthy love I gave her, (shame to her most unworthy mind,) to fools, to girls, to fiddlers and her boys she flung, all in disdain of me.' One more passage strikes my eye from B. and F.'s 'Palamon and Arcite.' One of 'em complains in prison: 'This is all our world ; we shall know nothing here but one another; hear nothing but the clock that tells us our woes; the vine shall grow, but we shall never see it,' &c.—Is not the last circumstance exquisite? I mean not to lay myself open by saying they exceed Milton, and perhaps Collins, in sublimity. But don't you conceive all poets after Shakspeare yield to 'em in variety of genius 1 Massinger treads close on their heels; but you are most probably as well acquainted with his writings as your humble servant. My quotations, in that case, will only serve to expose my barrenness of matter. Southey in simplicity and tenderness, is excelled decidedly only, I think, by Beaumont and F. in his ' Maid's Tragedy,' and some parts of 'Philaster' in particular; and elsewhere occasionally; and perhaps by Cowper in his 'Crazy Kate,' and in parts of his translation; such as the speeches of Hecuba and Andromache. I long to know your opinion of that translation. The Odyssey especially is surely very Homeric. What nobler than the appearance of Phoebus at the beginning of the Iliad —the lines ending with 'Dread sounding, bounding on the silver bow!'
"I beg you will give me your opinion of the translation; it afforded me high pleasure. As curious a specimen of translation as ever fell into my hands, is a young man's in our office, of a French novel. What in the original was literally 'amiable delusions of the fancy,' he proposed to render 'the fair frauds of the imagination.' I had much trouble in licking the book into any meaning at all. Yet did the knave clear fifty or sixty pounds by subscription and selling the copyright. The book itself not a week's work! To-day's portion of my journalising epistle has been very dull and poverty-stricken. I will here end."
"Tuesday night. "I have been drinking egg-hot and smoking Oronooko, (associated circumstances, which ever forcibly recall to my mind our evenings and nights at the Salutation,) my eyes and brain are heavy and asleep, but my heart is awake ; and if words came as ready as ideas, and ideas as feelings, I could say ten hundred kind things. Coleridge, you know not my supreme happiness at having one on earth (though counties separate us) whom I can call a friend. Remember you those tender lines of Logan ?—
'Our broken friendships we deplore.
"I am wilting at random, and half-tipsy, what you may not equally understand, as you will be sober when you read it; but my sober and my half-tipsy hours you are alike a sharer in. Good night.
* Then up rose our bard, like a prophet in drink, Craigdoroch, thou'lt soar when creation shall sink. '
"Thursday. "I am now in high hopes to be able to visit you, if perfectly convenient on your part, by the end of next montli—perhaps the last week or fortnight in July. A change of scene and a change of faces would do me good, even if that scene were not to be Bristol, and those faces Coleridge's and his friends'! In the words of Terence, a little altered,'Tsedet me hujus quotidiani mundi.' I am heartily sick of the every-day scenes of life. I shall half wish you unmarried (don't show this to Mrs. C.) for one evening only, to have the pleasure of smoking with you, and drinking egg-hot in some little smoky room in a pot-house, for I know not yet how I shall like you in a decent room, and looking quite happy. My best love and respects to Sara notwithstanding.
A proposal by Coleridge to print Lamb's poems with a new edition of his own (an association in which Lloyd was ultimately included) occaaioued reciprocal communications of each other's verses, and many questions of small alterations suggested and argued on both sides. I have thought it better to omit much of this verbal criticism, which, not very interesting in itself, is unintelligible without a contemporary reference to the poems which are its subject. The next letter was written on hearing of Coleridge being afflicted with a painful disease.
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"Nov. 8th, 1796.
"My brother, my friend,—I am distrest for you, believe me I am; not so much for your painful, troublesome complaint, which, I trust, is only for a time, as for those anxieties which brought it on, and perhaps even now may be nursing its malignity. Tell me, dearest of my friends, is your mind at peace, or has anything, yet unknown to me, happened to give you fresh disquiet, and steal from you all the pleasant dreams of future rest? Axe you still (I fear you are) far from being comfortably settled? Would to God it were in my power to contribute towards the bringing of you into the haven where you would be! But you are too well skilled in the philosophy of consolation to need my humble tribute of advice; in pain, and in sickness, and in all manner of disappointments, I trust you have that within you which shall speak peace to your mind. Make it, I entreat you, one of your puny comforts, that I feel for you, and share all your griefs with you. I feel as if I were troubling you about little things; now I am going to resume the subject of our last two letters, but it may divert us both from unpleasanter feelings to make such matters, in a manner, of importance. Without further apology, then, it was not that I did not relish, that I did not in my heart thank you for those little pictures of your feelings which you lately sent me, if I neglected to mention them. You may remember you had said much the same things before to me on the same subject in a former letter, and I considered those last verses as only the identical thoughts better clothed; either way (in prose or verse) such poetry must be welcome to me. I love them as I love the Confessions of Rousseau, and for the same reason; the same frankness, the same openness of heart, the same disclosure of all the most hidden and delicate affections of the mind: they make me proud to he thus esteemed worthy of the place of friend-confessor, brother-confessor, to a man like Coleridge. This last is, I acknowledge, language too high for friendship; but it is also, I declare, too sincere for flattery. Now, to put on stilts, and talk magnificently about trifles. 1 condescend, then, to your counsel, Coleridge, and allow my first sonnet (aick to death am I to make mention of my sonnets, and I blush to be so taken up with them, indeed I do); I allow it to run thus, 'Fairy Land,' &c. &c., as I last wrote it.
"The fragments I now send you, I want printed to get rid of 'em; for, while they stick burr-like to my memory, they tempt me to go on with the idle trade of versifying, which I long, most sincerely I speak it, I long to leave off, for it is unprofitable to my soul; I feel it is; and these questions about words, and debates about alterations, take me off, I am conscious, from the properer business of my life. Take my sonnets, once for all, and do not propose any re-amendments, or mention them again in any shape to me, I charge you. I blush that my mind can consider them as things of any worth. And, pray, admit or reject these fragments as you like or dislike them, without ceremony. Call 'em sketches, fragments, or what you will, and do not entitle any of my things love sonnets, as I told you to call 'em; 'twill only make me look little in my own eyes; for it is a passion of which I retain nothing; 'twas a weakness, concerning which I may say, in the words of Petrarch (whose life is now open before me), 'if it drew me out of some vices, it also prevented the growth of many virtues, filling me with the love of the creature rather than the Creator, which is the death of the soul.' Thank God, the folly has left me for ever; not even a review of niy love verses renews one wayward wish in <ne ; and if I am at all solicitous to trim 'em out in their best apparel, it is because they are to make their appearance in good company. Now to my fragments. Lest you have lost my Grandame, she shall be one,
'Tis among the few verses I ever wrote, that to Mary is another, which profit me in the recollection. God love her, and may we two never love each other less!
"These, Coleridge, are the few sketches I have thought worth preserving; how will they relish thus detached 1 Will you reject all or any of them 1 They are thine, do whatsoever thou listest with them. My eyes ache with writing long and late, and I wax wondrous sleepy; God bless you and yours, me and mine! Good night.
"I will keep my eyes open reluctantly a minute longer to tell you, that I love you for those simple, tender, heart-flowing lines with which you conclude your last, and in my eyes best, sonnet (so you call 'em),
'So, for the mother's sake, the child was dear, And dearer was the mother for the child.'
Cultivate simplicity, Coleridge; or rather, I should say, banish elaborateness; for simpli city springs spontaneous from the heart, and carries into day-light with it its own modest buds, and genuine, sweet, and clear flowers of expression. I allow no hot-beds in the gardens of Parnassus. I am unwilling to go to bed, and leave my sheet unfilled (a good piece of night-work for an idle body like me), so will finish with begging you to send me the earliest account of your complaint, its progress, or (as I hope to God you will be able to send me) the tale of your recovery, or at least amendment. My tenderest remembrances to your Sara.
"Once more good night."
A wish to dedicate his portion of the volume to his sister gave occasion to the following touching letter:
TO MR. COLERIIKSK.
"Nov. 14th, 1796.
"Coleridge, I love you for dedicating your poetry to Bowles: Genius of the sacred fountain of tears, it was he who led you gently by the hand through all this valley of weeping, showed you the dark green yew trees, and the willow shades, where, by the fall of waters, you might indulge an uncomplaining melancholy, a delicious regret for the past, or weave fine visions of that awful future,
* When all the vanities of life's brief day
"I have another sort of dedication in my head for my few things, which I want to know if you approve of, and can insert. I mean to inscribe them to my sister. It will be unexpected, and it will give her pleasure; or do you think it will look whimsical at all 1 as I have not spoke to her about it, I can easily reject the idea. But there is a monotony in the affections, which people living together, or, as we do now, very frequently seeing each other, are apt to give in to; a sort of indifference in the expression of kindness for each other, which demands that we should sometimes call to our aid the trickery of surprise. Do you publish with Lloyd, or without him 1 in either case my little portion may come last, and after the fashion of orders to a country correspondent, I will give directions how I should like to have 'em done. The title-page to stand thus:—
CHARLES LAMB, OF THE INDIA HOUSE.
"Under this title the following motto, which, for want of room, I put over leaf, and desire you to insert, whether you like it or no. May not a gentleman choose what arms, mottoes, or armorial bearings the herald will give him leave, without consulting his republican friend, who might advise none 1 May not a publican put up the sign of the Saracen's Head, even though his undiscerning neighbour should prefer, as more genteel, the Cat and Gridiron?
1 This beauty, in the blossom of my youth, When my first fire knew no adulterate incense, Nor I no way to natter but my fondness, In the best language my true tongue could tell me, And all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me, 1 sued and served. Long did I love this lady.'
THE FEW FOLLOWING POEMS,
CREATURES OF THE FANCY AND THE FEELING
IN LIFE'S MORE VACANT HOURS,
PRODUCED, FOR THE MOST PART, BT
LOVE AND IDLENESS,
WITH ALL A BROTHER'S FONDNESS,
MARY ANNE LAMB,
THE AUTHOR'S BEST FRIEND AND SISTER.
"This is the pomp and paraphernalia of parting, with which I take my leave of a passion which has reigned so royally (so long) within me; thus, with its trappings of laureatship, I fling it off, pleased and satisfied with myself that the weakness troubles me no longer. I am wedded, Coleridge, to the fortunes of my sister and my poor old father. Oh! my friend, I think sometimes, could I recall the days that are past, which among them should I choose? not those 'merrier days,' not the 'pleasant days of hope,' not 'those wanderings with a fair hair'd maid,' which I have so often and so feelingly regretted, but the days, Coleridge, of a mother's fondness for her school-boy. What would I give to call her back to earth for one day, on my knees to ask her pardon for all those little asperities of temper which, from time to time, have given her gentle spirit pain; and the day, my friend, I trust, will come; there will be 'time enough' for kind offices of love, if 'Heaven's eternal year' be ours. Hereafter, her meek spirit shall not reproach me. Oh, my friend, cultivate the filial feelings! and let no man think himself released from the kind 'charities' of relationship: these shall give him peace at the last; these are the best foundation for every species of benevolence. I rejoice to hear, by certain channels, that you, my friend, are reconciled with all your relations. 'Tis the most kindly and natural species of love, and we have all the associated train of early feelings to secure its strength and perpetuity. Send me an account of your health ; indeed I am solicitous about you. God love you and yours.
The following, written about this time, : alludes to some desponding expression in a letter which is lost, and which Coleridge had combated.
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"Dec. 10th, 1796. ■ I had put my letter into the post rather hastily, not expecting to have to acknowledge another from you so soon. This morning's present has made me alive again: my last night's epistle was childishly querulous; but you have put a little life into me, and I will thank you for your remembrance of me, while my sense of it is yet warm; for if I linger a day or two I may use the same phrase of acknowledgment, or similar, but the feeling that dictates it now will be gone. I shall send you a caput mortuum, not a cor vivens. Thy Watchman's, thy bellman's verses, I do retort upon thee, thou libellous varlet,—why you cried the hours yourself, and who made you so proud! But I submit, to show my humility most implicitly to your dogmas. I reject entirely the copy of verses you reject. With regard to my leaving off versifying you have said so many pretty things, so many fine compliments, ingeniously decked out in the garb of sincerity, and undoubtedly springing from a present feeling somewhat like sincerity, that you might melt the most un-muse-ical soul,—did you not (now for a Rowland compliment for your profusion of Olivers), did you not in your very epistle, by the many pretty fancies and profusion of heart displayed in it, dissuade and discourage me from attempting anything after you. At present I have not leisure to make verses, nor anything approaching to a fondness for the exercise. In the ignorant present time, who can answer for the future man ?' At lovers' perjuries Jove laughs' — and poets have sometimes a disingenuous way of forswearing their occupation. This though is not my case. Publish your Burns when and how you like, it will be new to me,—my memory of it is very confused, and tainted with unpleasant associations. Burns was the god of m^ idolatry, as Bowles of yours. I am jealous of your fraternising with Bowles, when I think you relish him more than Burns, or my old favourite, Cowper. But you conciliate matters when you talk of the 'divine chit-chat' of the latter: by the expression, I see you thoroughly relish him. I love Mrs. Coleridge for her excuses an
hundredfold more dearly, than if she heaped 'line upon line,' out Hannah-ing Hannah More ; and had rather hear you sing 'Did a very little baby' by your family fire-side, than listen to you, when you were repeating one of Bowles's sweetest sonnets, in your sweet manner, while we two were indulging sympathy, a solitary luxury, by the fire-side at the Salutation. Yet have I no higher ideas of heaven. Your company was one 'cordial in this melancholy vale ' — the remembrance of it is a blessing partly, and partly a curse. When I can abstract myself from things present, I can enjoy it with a freshness of relish ; but it more constantly operates to an unfavourable comparison with the uninteresting converse I always and only can partake in. Not a soul loves Bowles here ; scarce one has heard of Burns ; few but laugh at me for reading my Testament, —they talk a language I understand not, I conceal sentiments that would be a puzzle to them. I can only converse with you by letter, and with the dead in their books. My sister, indeed, is all I can wish in a companion ; but our spirits are alike poorly, our reading and knowledge from the selfsame sources; our communication with the scenes of the world alike narrow; never having kept separate company, or any 'company' together—never having read separate books, and few books together—what knowledge have we to convey to each other? In our little range of duties and connexions, how few sentiments can take place, without friends, with few books, with a taste for religion, rather than a strong religious habit! We need some support, some leading-strings to cheer and direct us ; you talk very wisely, and be not sparing of your advice. Continue to remember us, and to show us you do remember us: we will take as lively an interest in what concerns you and yours. All I can add to your happiness, will be sympathy: you can add to mine more; you can teach me wisdom. I am indeed an unreasonable correspondent; but I was unwilling to let my last night's letter go off without this qualifier: you will perceive by this my mind is easier, and you will rejoice. I do not expect or wish you to write, till you are moved ; and, of course, shall not, till you announce to me that event, think of writing myself. Love to Mrs. Coleridge and David