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comfort to you, I know, to know that our prospects are somewhat brighter. My poor dear, dearest sister, the unhappy and unconscious instrument of the Almighty's judgments on our house, is restored to her senses; to a dreadful sense and recollection of what has past, awful to her mind and impressive (as it must be to the end of life), but tempered with religious resignation and the reasonings of a sound judgment, which, in this early stage, knows how to distinguish between a deed committed in a transient fit of frenzy, and the terrible guilt of a mother's murder. I have seen her. I found her, this morning, calm and serene; far, very very far from an indecent forgetful serenity; she has a most affectionate and tender concern for what has happened. Indeed, from the beginning, frightful and hopeless as her disorder seemed, I had confidence enough in her strength of mind and religious principle, to look forward to a time when even she might recover tranquillity. God be praised, Coleridge, wonderful as it is to tell, I have never once been otherwise than collected and calm; even on the dreadful day, and in the midst of the terrible scene, I preserved a tranquillity which bystanders may have construed into indifference — a tranquillity not of despair. Is it folly or sin in me to say that it was a religious principle that most supported me 1 I allow much to other favourable circumstances. I felt that I had something else to do than to regret. On that first evening, my aunt was lying insensible, to all appearance like one dying,—my father, with his poor forehead plaistered over, from a wound he had received from a daughter dearly loved by him, and who loved him no less dearly,—my mother a dead and murdered corpse in the next room—yet was I wonderfully supported. I closed not my eyes in sleep that night, but lay without terrors and without despair. I have lost no sleep since. I had been long used not to rest in things of sense,—had endeavoured after a comprehension of mind, unsatisfied with the 'ignorant present time,' and this kept me up. I had the whole weight of the family thrown on me; for my brother, little disposed (I speak not without tenderness for him) at any time to take care of old age and infirmities, had now, with bis bad leg, an exemption from such duties, and I was now left alone. One
little incident may serve to make you understand my way of managing my mind. Within a day or two after the fatal one, we dressed for dinner a tongue which we had had salted for some weeks in the house. As I sat down, a feeling like remorse struck me ; — this tongue poor Mary got for me, and can I partake of it now, when she is far away? A thought occurred and relieved me,—if I give in to this way of feeling, there is not a chair, a room, an object in our rooms, that will not awaken the keenest griefs; I must rise above such weaknesses. I hope this was not want of true feeling. I did not let this carry me, though, too far. On the very second day, (I date from the day of horrors,) as is usual in such cases, there were a matter of twenty people, I do think, supping in our room; they prevailed on me to eat with them (for to eat I never refused). They were all making merry in the room! Some had come from friendship, some from busy curiosity, and some from interest; I was going to partake with them; when my recollection came that my poor dead mother was lying in the next room—the very next room ;—a mother who, through life, wished nothing but her children's welfare. Indignation, the rage of grief, something like remorse, rushed upon my mind. In an agony of emotion I found my way mechanically to the adjoining room, and fell on my knees by the side of her coffin, asking forgiveness of heaven, and sometimes of her, for forgetting her so soon. Tranquillity returned, and it was the only violent emotion that mastered me, and I think it did me good.
"I mention these things because I hate concealment, and love to give a faithful journal of what passes within me. Our friends have been very good. Sam Le Grice, who was then in town, was with me the three or four first days, and was as a brother to me, gave up every hour of his time, to the very hurting of his health and spirits, in constant attendance and humouring my poor father; talked with him, read to him, played at cribbage with him (for so short is the old man's recollection, that he was playing at cards, as though nothing had happened, while the coroner's inquest was sitting over the way !) Samuel wept tenderly when he went away, for his mother wrote him a very severe letter on his loitering so long in town,
and he was forced to go. Mr. Norris, of Christ's Hospital, has been as a father to me —Mrs. Norris as a mother; though we had few claims on them. A gentleman, brother to my godmother, from whom we never had right or reason to expect any such assistance, sent my father twenty pounds; and to crown all these God's blessings to our family at such a time, an old lady, a cousin of my father and aunt's, a gentlewoman of fortune, is to take my aunt and make her comfortable for the short remainder of her days. My aunt is recovered, and as well as ever, and highly pleased at thoughts of going—and has generously given up the interest of her little money (which was formerly paid my father for her board) wholely and solely to my sister's use. Reckoning this, we have, Daddy and I, for our two selves and an old maidservant to look after him, when I am out, which will be necessary, 170?. or 1801. rather a-year, out of which we can spare 50?. or 60?. at least for Mary while she stays at Islington, where she must and shall stay during her father's life, for his and her comfort. I know John will make speeches about it, but she shall not go into an hospital. The good lady of the madhouse, and her daughter, an elegant, sweet-behaved young lady, love her, and are taken with her amazingly ; and I know from her own mouth she loves them, and longs to be with them as much. Poor thing, they say she was but the other morning saying, she knew she must go to Bethlem for life; that one of her brothers would have it so, but the other would wish it not, but be obliged to go with the stream ; that she had often as she passed Bethlem thought it likely,'here it may be my fate to end my days,' conscious of a certain flightiness in her poor head oftentimes, and mindful of more than one severe illness of that nature before. A legacy of 100?., which my father will have at Christmas, and this 201. I mentioned before, with what is in the house, will much more than set us clear. If my father, an old servant-maid, and I, can't live, and live comfortably, on 130?. or 120?. a-year, we ought to burn by slow fires; and I almost would, that Mary might not go into an hospital. Let me not leave one unfavourable impression on your mind respecting my brother. Since this has happened, he has been very kind and brotherly; but I fear for his mind,
—he has taken his ease in the world, and is not fit himself to struggle with difficulties, nor has much accustomed himself to throw himself into their way; and I know his language is already,' Charles, you must take care of yourself, you must not abridge yourself of a single pleasure you have been used to,' &c. &(.'., and in that style of talking. But you, a necessarian, can respect a difference of mind, and love what is amiable in a character not perfect. He has been very good,—but I fear for his mind. Thank God, I can unconnect myself with him, and shall manage all my father's moneys in future myself, if I take charge of Daddy, which poor John has not even hinted a wish, at any future time even, to share with me. The lady at this madhouse assures me that I may dismiss immediately both doctor and apothecary, retaining occasionally a composing draught or so for a while ; and there is a less expensive establishment in her house, where she will only not have a room and nurse to herself, for 50?. or guineas a-year—the outside would be 60?. —you know, by economy, how much more even I shall be able to spare for her comforts. She will, I fancy, if she stays, make one of the family, rather than of the patients; and the old and young ladies I like exceedingly, and she loves dearly; and they, as the saving is, take to her very extraordinarily, if it is extraordinary that people who see my sister should love her. Of all the people I ever saw in the world, my poor sister was most and thoroughly devoid of the least tincture of selfishness. I will enlarge upon her qualities, poor dear, dearest soul, in a future letter, for my own comfort, for I understand her thoroughly; and, if I mistake not, in the most trying situation that a human being can be found in, she will be found (I speak not with sufficient humility, I fear, but humanly and foolishly speaking), she will be found, I trust, uniformly great and amiable. God keep her in her present mind, to whom be thanks and praise for all His dispensations to mankind! C. Lamb."
"These mentioned good fortunes and change of prospects had almost brought my mind over to the extreme, the very opposite to despair. I was in danger of making myself too happy. Your letter brought me back to a view of things which I had entertained
from the beginning. I hope (for Mary I can answer)—but I hope that / shall through life never have less recollection, nor a fainter impression, of what has happened than I have now. "Tis not a light thing, nor meant by the Almighty to be received lightly. I must be serious, circumspect, and deeply religious through life; and by such means may both of us escape madness in future, if it so please the Almighty!
"Send me word how it fares with Sara. I repeat it, your letter was, and will be, an inestimable treasure to me. You have a view of what my situation demands of me, like my own view, and I trust a just one.
"Coleridge, continue to write ; but do not for ever offend me by talking of sending me cash. Sincerely, and on my soul, we do not want it. God love you both.
"I will write again very soon. Do you write directly."
As Lamb recovered from the shock of his own calamity, he found comfort in gently admonishing his friend on that imbecility of purpose which attended the development of his mighty genius. His next letter, commencing with this office of friendship, soon reverts to the condition of that sufferer, who was endeared to him the more because others shrank from and forsook her.
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"October 17th, 1796.
"My dearest Friend,—I grieve from my very soul to observe you in your plans of life, veering about from this hope to the other, and settling nowhere. Is it an untoward fatality (speaking humanly) that does this for you—a stubborn, irresistible concurrence of events—or lies the fault, as I fear it does, in your own mind? You seem to be taking up splendid schemes of fortune only to lay them down again; and your fortunes are an ignis fatuus that has been conducting you, in thought, from Lancastercourt, Strand, to somewhere near Matlock; then jumping across to Dr. Somebody's, whose son's tutor you were likely to be; and, would to God, the dancing demon may conduct you at last, in peace and comfort, to the 'life and labours of a cottager.' You
see, from the above awkward playfulness of fancy, that my spirits are not quite depressed. I should ill deserve God's blessings, which, since the late terrible event, have come down in mercy upon us, if I indulged regret or querulousness. Mary continues serene and cheerful. I have not by me a little letter she wrote to me; for, though I see her almost every day, yet we delight to write to one another, for we can scarce see each other but in company with some of the people of the house. I have not the letter by me, but will quote from memory what she wrote in it: 'I have no bad terrifying dreams. At midnight, when I happen to awake, the nurse sleeping by the side of me, with the noise of the poor mad people around me, I have no fear. The spirit of my mother seems to descend and smile upon me, and bid me live to enjoy the life and reason which the Almighty has given me. I shall see her again in heaven; she will then understand me better. My grandmother, too, will understand me better, and will then say no more, as she used to do, 'Polly, what are those poor crazy moythered brains of yours thinking of always?' Poor Mary! my mother indeed never understood her right. She loved her, as she loved us all, with a
I mother's love; but in opinion, in feeling, and sentiment, and disposition, bore so distant a resemblance to her daughter, that
I she never understood her right; never could believe how much she loved her; but met her caresses, her protestations of filial
I affection, too frequently with coldness and repulse. Still she was a good mother. God forbid I should think of her but most respectfully, most affectionately. Yet she would always love my brother above Mary, who was not worthy of one-tenth of that affection which Mary had a right to claim. But it is my sister's gratifying recollection, that every act of duty and of love she could pay, every kindness, (and I speak true, when I say to the hurting of her health, and most probably in great part to the derangement of her senses) through a long course of infirmities and sickness, she could show her, she ever did. I will, some day, as I promised, enlarge to you upon my sister's excellences; 'twill seem like exaggeration, but I will do it. At present, short letters suit my state of mind best. So take my kindest wishes for your comfort and establishment in life, and for Sara's welfare and comforts with you. God love you. God love us all.
Miss Lamb's gradual restoration to comfort, and her brother's earnest watchfulness over it, are illustrated in the following fragment of a letter:—
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"October 28th, 1796. "I have satisfaction in being able to bid you rejoice with me in my sister's continued reason, and composedness of mind. Let us both be thankful for it. I continue to visit her very frequently, and the people of the house are vastly indulgent to her; she is likely to be as comfortably situated in all respects as those who pay twice or thrice the sum. They love her, and she loves them, and makes herself very useful to them. Benevolence sets out on her journey with a good heart, and puts a good face on it, but is apt to limp and grow feeble, unless she calls in the aid of self-interest, by way of crutch. In Mary's case, as far as respects those she is with, 'tis well that these principles are so likely to co-operate. I am rather at a loss sometimes for books for her, —our reading is somewhat confined, and we have nearly exhausted our London library. She has her hands too full of work to read much, but a little she must read, for reading was her daily bread."
Two months, though passed by Lamb in anxiety and labour, but cheered by Miss Lamb's continued possession of reason, so far restored the tone of his mind, that his interest in the volume which had been contemplated to introduce his first verses to the world, in association with those of his friend, was enkindled anew. While cherishing the hope of reunion with his sister, and painfully wresting his leisure hours from poetry and Coleridge to amuse the dotage of his father, he watched over his own returning sense of enjoyment with a sort of holy jealousy, apprehensive lest he should forget too soon the terrible visitation of Heaven. At this time he thus writes:—
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"December 2nd, 1796. "I have delayed writing thus long, not having by me my copy of your poems, which I had lent. I am not satisfied with all your intended omissions. Why omit 40, 63, 84? above all, let me protest strongly against your rejecting the 'Complaint of Ninathoma,' 86. The words, I acknowledge, are Ossian's, but you have added to them the 'music of Caril.' If a vicarious substitute be wanting, sacrifice (and 'twill be a piece of self-denial too), the 'Epitaph on an Infant,' of which its author seems so proud, so tenacious. Or, if your heart be set on perpetuating the fourline wonder, I'll tell you what do; sell the copyright of it at once to a country statuary; commence in this manner Death's prime poet-laureate; and let your verses be adopted in every village round, instead of those hitherto famous ones:—
* A Mictions sore long time I bore,
"I have seen your last very beautiful poem in the Monthly Magazine: write thus, and you most generally have written thus, and I shall never quarrel with you about simplicity. With regard to my lines—
'Laugh all that weep,' &c
I would willingly sacrifice them; but my portion of the volume is so ridiculously little, that, in honest truth, I can't spare them: as things are, I have very slight pretensions to participate in the title-page. White's book is at length reviewed in the Monthly ; was it your doing, or Dyer's, to whom I sent him ?—or, rather, do you not write in the Critical ?—for I observed, in an article of this month's, a line quoted out of that sonnet on Mrs. Siddons,
'With eager wondering, and perturb'd delight,'
And a line from that sonnet would not readily have occurred to a stranger. That sonnet, Coleridge, brings afresh to my mind the time when you wrote those on Bowles, Priestly, Burke ;—'twas two Christmases ago, and in that nice little smoky room at the Salutation, which is ever now continually presenting itself to my recollection, with all its associated train of pipes, tobacco, egg-hot, welshrabbits, metaphysics, and poetry.—Are we never to meet again 1 How differently I am circumstanced now! I have never met with any one—never shall meet with any one— who could or can compensate me for the loss of your society. I have no one to talk all these matters about to; I lack friends, I lack books to supply their absence: but these complaints ill become me. Let me compare my present situation, prospects, and state of mind, with what they were but' two months back—but two months! O my friend, I am in danger of forgetting the awful lessons then presented to me! Remind me of them; remind me of my duty! Talk seriously with me when you do write! I thank you, from my heart I thank you, for your solicitude about my sister. She is quite well, but must not, I fear, come to live with us yet a good while. In the first place, because, at present, it would hurt her, and hurt my father, for them to be together : secondly, from a regard to the world's good report, for, I fear, tongues will be busy whenever that event takes place. Some have hinted, one man has pressed it on me, that she should be in perpetual confinement: what she hath done to deserve, or the necessity of such an hardship, I see not; do you? I am starving at the India House, — near seven o'clock without my dinner, and so it has been, and will be, almost all the week. I get home at night o'erwearied, quite faint, and then to cards with my father, who will not let me enjoy a meal in peace ; but I must conform to my situation, and I hope I am, for the most part, not unthankful.
* This epitaph, which, notwithstanding Lamb's genUc banter, occupied an entire page in the book, is curious— •' a miracle instead of wit"—for it is a common-place of Coleridge, who, investing ordinary things with a dreamy splendour, or weighing them down with accumulated thought, has rarely if ever written a stansa so smoothly vapid—so devoid of merit or offence—(unless it be an offence to make fade do duty as a verb active) as the following :—
■ I am got home at last, and, after repeated games at cribbage, have got my father's leave to write awhile; with difficulty got it, for when I expostulated about playing any more, he very aptly replied, 'If you won't
"Ere sin could blight or sorrow fade,
play with me, you might as well not come home at all.' The argument was unanswerable, and I set to afresh. I told you I do not approve of your omissions, neither do I quite coincide with you in your arrangements. I have not time to point out a better, and I suppose some self-associations of your own have determined their place as they now stand. Your beginning, indeed, with the 'Joan of Arc' lines I coincide entirely with. I love a splendid outset—a magnificent portico,—and the diapason is grand. When I read the 'Religious Musings,' I think how poor, how unelevated, unoriginal, my blank verse is—' Laugh all that weep,' especially, where the subject demanded a grandeur of conception; and I ask what business they have among yours? but friendship covereth a multitude of defects. I want some loppings made in the 'Chatterton;' it wants but a little to make it rank among the finest irregular lyrics I ever read. Have you time and inclination to go to work upon it—or is it too late—or do you think it needs none? Don't reject those verses in one of your Watchmen, 'Dear native brook,' &c.; nor I think those last lines you sent me, in which 'all effortless' is without doubt to be preferred to 'inactive.' If I am writing more than ordinarily dully, 'tis that I am stupified with a tooth-ache. Hang it! do not omit 48, 52, and 53: what you do retain, though, call sonnets, for heaven's sake, and not effusions. Spite of your ingenious anticipation of ridicule in your preface, the five last lines of 50 are too good to be lost, the rest is not much worth. My tooth becomes importunate—I must finish. Pray, pray, write to me: if you knew with what an anxiety of joy I open such a long packet as you last sent me, you would not grudge giving a few minutes now and then to this intercourse (the only intercourse I fear we two shall ever have)—this conversation with your friend—such I boast to be called. God love you and yours! Write me when you move, lest I direct wrong. Has Sara no poems to publish? Those lines, 129, are probably too light for the volume where the 'Religious Musings' are, but I remember some very beautiful lines, addressed by somebody at Bristol to somebody in London. God bless you once more. Thur*day-night.