« AnteriorContinuar »
I am completely shipwrecked. My head is quite bad. I almost wish that Mary were dead.—God bless you. Love to Sara and Hartley.—Monday. C. Lamb."
The prospect of obtaining a residence more suited to the peculiar exigencies of his situation than that which he then occupied at Pentonville, gave Lamb comfort, which he expressed in the following short letter :—
TO MR. MANNING.
"Dear Manning,—I feel myself unable to thank you sufficiently for your kind letter. It was doubly acceptable to me, both for the choice poetry and the kind honest prose which it contained. It was just such a letter as I should have expected from Manning.
"I am in much better spirits than when I wrote last. I have had a very eligible offer to lodge with a friend in town. He will have rooms to let at midsummer, by which time I hope my sister will be well enough to join me. It is a great object to me to live in town, where we shall be much more private, and to quit a house and a neighbourhood where poor Mary's disorder, so frequently recurring, has made us a sort of marked people. We can be nowhere private except in the midst of London. We shall be in a family where we visit very frequently ; only my landlord and I have not yet come to a conclusion. He has a partner to consult. I am still on the tremble, for I do not know where we could go into lodgings that would not be, in many respects, highly exceptionable. Only God send Mary well again, and I hope all will be well! The prospect, such as it is, has made me quite happy. I have just time to tell you of it, as I know it will give you pleasure.— Farewell. C. Lamb."
This hope was accomplished, as appears from the following letter :—
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"Dear Coleridge,—Soon after I wrote to you last, an offer was made me by Gutch (you must remember him, at Christ's,—you saw him, slightly, one day with Thomson at our
house)—to come and lodge with him, it his house in Southampton Buildings, Chancerylane. This was a very comfortable offer to me, the rooms being at a reasonable rent, and including the use of an old servant, besides being infinitely preferable to ordinary lodgings in our case, as you must perceive. As Gutch knew all our story and the perpetual liability to a recurrence in my sister's disorder, probably to the end of her life, I certainly think the offer very generous and very friendly. I have got three rooms (including servant) under 34& a year. Here I soon found myself at home; and here, in six weeks after, Mary was well enough to join me. So we are once more settled. I am afraid we are not placed out of the reach of future interruptions. But I am determined to take what snatches of pleasure we can between the acts of our distressful drama. .... I have passed two days at Oxford, on a visit which I have long put off, to Gutch's family. The sight of the Bodleian Library, and, above all, a fine bust of Bishop Taylor, at All Souls', were particularly gratifying to me; unluckily, it was not a family where I could take Mary with me, and I am afraid there is something of dishonesty in any pleasures I take without her. She never goes anywhere. I do not know what I can add to this letter. I hope you are better by this time; and I desire to be affectionately remembered to Sarah and Hartley.
"I expected before this to have had tidings of another little philosopher. Lloyd's wife is on the point of favouring the world.
"Have you seen the new edition of Burns 1 his posthumous works and letters? I have only been able to procure the first volume, which contains his life—very confusedly and badly written, and interspersed with dull pathological and medical discussions. It is written by a Dr. Currie. Do you know the well-meaning doctor? Alas, ne tutor ultra crepidam!
"I hope to hear again from you very soon. Godwin is gone to Ireland on a visit to Grattan. Before he went I passed much time with him, and he has showed me particular attention: N.B. A thing I much like. Your books are all safe: only I have not thought it necessary to fetch away your last batch, which I understand are at Johnson's, the bookseller, who has got quite as much room, and will take as much care of them as myself—and you can send for them immediately from him.
"I wish you would advert to a letter I sent you at Grassmere about Christabel, and comply with my request contained therein.
"Love to all friends round Skiddaw.
MISCELLANEOUS LETTERS TO MANNINO, COLERIDOE, AND WORDSWORTH.
[1800 to 1805.]
It would seem from the letters of 1800, that the natural determination of Lamb "to take what pleasure he could between the acts of his distressful drama," had led him into a wider circle of companionship, and had prompted sallies of wilder and broader mirth, which afterwards softened into delicacy, retaining all its whim. The following passage, which concludes a letter to Manning, else occupied with merely personal details, proves that his apprehensions for the diminution of his reverence for sacred things were not wholly unfounded; while, amidst its grotesque expressions, may be discerned the repugnance to the philosophical infidelity of some of his companions he retained through life. The passage, may, perhaps, be regarded as a sort of desperate compromise between a wild gaiety and religious impressions obscured but not effaced ; and intimating his disapprobation of infidelity, with a melancholy sense of his own unworthiness seriously to express it.
TO MR. MANNING.
"Coleridge inquires after you pretty often. I wish to be the pandar to bring you together again once before I die. When we die, you and I must part; the sheep, you know, take the right hand, and the goats the left. Stripped of its allegory, you must know, the sheep are /, and the Apostles and the Martyrs, and the Popes, and Bishop Taylor and Bishop Horsley, and Coleridge, &c. &c.; the goats are the Atheists and the Adulterers,
and dumb dogs, and Godwin and M g,
and that Thyestcean crew—yaw! how my saintship sickens at the idea!
"You shall have my play and the Falstaff letters in a day or two. I will write to Lloyd by this day's post.
"God bless you, Manning. Take my trifling as trifling—and believe me seriously and deeply your well'wisher and friend,
In the following letter Lamb's fantastic spirits find scope freely, though in all kindness, in the peculiarities of the learned and good George Dyer:—
TO MR. MANNING.
"August 22nd, 1800.
"Dear Manning,—You needed not imagine any apology necessary. Your fine hare and fine birds (which just now are dangling by our kitchen blaze), discourse most eloquent music in your justification. You just nicked my palate. For, with all due decorum and leave may it be spoken, my worship hath taken physic to-day, and being low and puling, requireth to be pampered. Foh ! how beautiful and strong those buttered onions come to my nose. For you must know we extract a divine spirit of gravy from those materials, which, duly compounded with a consistence of bread and cream (y'clept breadsauce), each to each, giving double grace, do mutually illustrate and set off (as skilful goldfoils to rare jewels) your partridge, pheasant, woodcock, snipe, teal, widgeon, and the other lesser daughters of the ark. My friendship, struggling with my carnal and fleshly prudence (which suggests that a bird a man is the proper allotment in such cases), yearneth sometimes to have thee here to pick a wing or so. I question if your Norfolk sauces match our London culinaric.
"George Dyer has introduced me to the table of an agreeable old gentleman, Dr.
A , who gives hot legs of mutton and
grape pies at his sylvan lodge at Isleworth; where, in the middle of a street, he has shot up a wall most preposterously before his small dwelling, which, with the circumstance of his taking several panes of glass out of bedroom windows (for air) causeth his neighbours to speculate strangely on the state of the good man's pericranicks. Plainly, he lives under the reputation of being deranged. George does not mind this circumstance ; he rather likes him the better for it. The Doctor, in his pursuits, joins agricultural to poetical science, and has set George's brains mad about the old Scotch writers, Barbour, Douglas's ^Eneid, Blind Harry, &c. We returned home in a return postchaise (having dined with the Doctor), and George kept wondering and wondering, for eight or nine turnpike miles, what was the name, and striving to recollect the name of a poet anterior to Barbour. I begged to know what was remaining of his works. 'There is nothing extant of his works, Sir, but by all accounts he seems to have been a fine genius !' This fine genius, without anything to show for it, or any title beyond George's courtesy, without even a name ; and Barbour, and Douglas, and Blind Harry, now are the predominant sounds in George's pia mater, and their buzzings exclude politics, criticism, and algebra—the late lords of that illustrious lumber-room. Mark, he has never read any of these bucks, but is impatient till he reads them all at the Doctor's suggestion. Poor Dyer! his friends should be careful what sparks they let fall into such inflammable matter.
"Could I have my will of the heathen, I would lock him up from all access of new ideas; I would exclude all critics that would not swear me first (upon their Virgil) that they would feed him with nothing but the old, safe, familiar notions and sounds (the rightful aborigines of his brain)—Gray, Akenside, and Mason. In these sounds, reiterated as often as possible, there could be nothing painful, nothing distracting.
"God bless me, here are the birds, smoking hot!
"All that is gross and unspiritual in me rises at the sight!
"Avaunt friendship, and all memory of absent friends! C. Lamb."
In the following letter, the exciting subjects of Dr. A and Dyer are further
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"August 26th, 1800.
"George Dyer is the only literary character I am happily acquainted with; the oftener I see him, the more deeply I admire him. He is goodness itself. If I could but
calculate the precise date of his death, I would write a novel on purpose to make George the hero. I could hit him off to a hair.* George
brought a Dr. A to see me. The Doctor
is a very pleasant old man, a great genius for agriculture, one that ties his breeches-knees with packthread, and boasts of having had disappointments from ministers. The Doctor happened to mention an epic poem by one Wilkie, called the 'Epigoniad,' in which he assured us there is not one tolerable line from beginning to end, but all the characters, incidents, &c., verbally copied from Homer. George, who had been sitting quite inattentive to the Doctor's criticism, no sooner heard the sound of Homer strike his pericranicks, than up he gets, and declares he must see that poem immediately: where was it to be had? An epic poem of 8000 lines, and he not hear of it! There must be some things j good in it, and it was necessary he should see it, for he had touched pretty deeply upon that subject in his criticisms on the Epic. George has touched pretty deeply upon the Lyric, I find ; he has also prepared a dissertation on the Drama and the comparison of the English and German theatres. As I rather doubted his competency to do the latter, knowing that his peculiar turn lies in the lyric species of composition, I questioned George what English plays he had read. I found that he had read Shakspeare (whom he calls an original, but irregular, genius);' but it was a good while ago; and he has dipped into Rowe and Otway, I suppose having found their names in 'Johnson's Lives' at full length; and upon this slender ground he has undertaken the task. He never seemed even to have heard of Fletcher, Ford, Marlowe, Massinger, and the worthies of Dodsley's Collection; but he is to read all these, to prepare him for bringing out his 'Parallel' in the winter. I find he is also determined to vindicate Poetry from the shackles which Aristotle and some others have imposed upon it, which is very goodnatured of him, and very necessary just now! Now I am touching so deeply upon poetry, can I forget that I have just
• This passage, thus far, is printed in the former volumes; the remainder was then suppressed (with other passages note for the first time published) relating to Mr. Dyer, lest they should give pain to that excellent person then living.
received from D a magnificent copy of
his Guinea Epic. Four-and-twenty Books to read in the dog-days! I got as far as the Mad Monk the first day, and fainted. Mr.
D 's genius strongly points him to the
Pattoral, but his inclinations divert him perpetually from his calling. He imitates Southey, aa Howe did Shakspeare, with his 'Good morrow to ye ; good mastej Lieutenant.' Instead of a man, a woman, a daughter, he constantly writes one a man, one a woman, one his daughter. Instead of the king, the hero, he constantly writes, he the king, he the hero ; two flowers of rhetoric, palpably from the 'Joan.' But Mr. D
soars a higher pitch: and when he u original, it is in a most original way indeed. His terrific scenes are indefatigable. Serpents, asps, spiders, ghosts, dead bodies, staircases made of nothing, with adders' tongues for bannisters—Good Heaven! what a brain he must have. He puts as many plums in his pudding as my grandmother used to do;— and then his emerging from Hell's horrors into light, and treading on pure flats of this earth—for twenty-three Books together!
The following letter, obviously written about the same time, pursues the same theme. There is some irritation in it; but even that is curious enough to prevent the excision of the reproduced passages :—
TO MR. MANNING.
"Dear Manning,—I am going to ask a favour of you, and am at a loss how to do it in the most delicate manner. For this purpose I have been looking into Pliny's Letters, who is noted to have had the best grace in begging of all the ancients (I read him in the elegant translation of Mr. Melmoth), but not finding any case there exactly similar with mine, I am constrained to beg in my own barbarian way. To come to the point then, and hasten into the middle of things; have you a copy of your Algebra to give away? I do not ask it for myself; I have too much reverence for the Black Arts, ever to approach thy circle, illustrious Trismegist! But that worthy man, and excellent Poet, George Dyer, made me a visit yesternight, great deal of poetical fire in their lyric poetry; that Aristotle's rules are not to be servilely followed, which George has shown to have imposed great shackles upon modern genius. His poems, I find, are to consist of two vols.—reasonable octavo; and a third book will exclusively contain criticisms, in which he asserts he has gone pretty deeply into the laws of blank verse and rhyme— epic poetry, dramatic and pastoral ditto— all which is to come out before Christmas. But above all he has touched most deeply upon the Drama, comparing the English with the modern German stage, their merits and defects. Apprehending that his studies (not to mention his turn, which I take to be chiefly towards the lyrical poetry) hardly qualified him for these disquisitions, I modestly inquired what plays he had read? I found by George's reply that he had read Shakspeare, but that was a good while since: he calls him a great but irregular genius, which I think to be an original and just remark. (Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Ben Jonson, Shirley, Marlowe, Ford, and the worthies of Dodsley's Collection—he confessed he had read none of them, but professed his intention of looking through them all, so as to be able to touch upon them in his book.) So Shakspeare, Otway, and I believe Rowe, to whom he was naturally directed by Johnson's Lives, and these not read lately, are to stand him in stead of a general knowledge of the subject. God bless his dear absurd head!
on purpose to borrow one, supposing, rationally enough, I must say, that you had made me a present of one before this; the omission of which I take to have proceeded only from negligence; but it is a fault. I could lend him no assistance. You must know he is just now diverted from the pursuit of the Bell Letters by a paradox, which he has heard his friend Frend,* (that learned mathematician) maintain, that the negative quantities of mathematicians were merce nugce, things scarcely in rerum naturd, and smacking too much of mystery for gentlemen of Mr. Frend's clear Unitarian capacity. However, the dispute once set a-going, has seized violently on George's pericranick; and it is necessary for his health that he should speedily come to a resolution of his doubts. He goes about teasing his friends with his new mathematics ; he even frantically talks of purchasing Manning's Algebra, which shows him far gone, for, to my knowledge, he has not been master of seven shillings a good time. George's pockets and
's brains are two things in nature which
do not abhor a vacuum. . . . Now, if you could step in, in this trembling suspense of his reason, and he should find on Saturday morning, lying for him at the Porter's Lodge, Clifford's Inn,—his safest address—Manning's Algebra, with a neat manuscription in the blank leaf, running thus, 'From The Author!' it might save his wits and restore the unhappy author to those studies of poetry and criticism, which are at present suspended, to the infinite regret of the whole literary world. N.B.—Dirty books, smeared leaves, and dogs' ears, will be rather a recommendation than otherwise. N.B.—He must have the book as soon as possible, or nothing can withhold him from madly purchasing the book on tick. . . . Then shall we see him sweetly restored to the chair of Longinus—to dictate in smooth and modest phrase the laws of verse; to prove that Theocritus first introduced the Pastoral, and Virgil and Pope brought it to its perfection; that Gray and Mason (who always hunt in couples in George's brain) have shown a
* Mr. Frend, man; years the Actuary of the Rock Insurance Office, in early life the champion of Unitarianism at Cambridge; the object of a great University's displeasure; in short, the "village Hampden" of the day.
"By the by, did I not write you a letter with something about an invitation in it 1 — but let that pass; I suppose it is not agreeable.
"N.B. It would not be amiss if you were to accompany your present with a dissertation on negative quantities. C. L."
The " Algebra " arrived; and Lamb wrote the following invitation, in hope to bring the author and the presentee together.
TO MR. MANNING.
"George Dyer is an Archimedes, and an Archimagus, and a Tycho Brah6, and a Copernicus; and thou art the darling of the Nine, and midwife to their wandering babe
also! We take tea with that learned poet and critic on Tuesday night, at half-past five, in his neat library; the repast will be light and Attic, with criticism. If thou couldst contrive to wheel up thy dear carcase on the Monday, and after dining with us on tripe, calves' kidneys, or whatever else the Cornucopia of St. Clare may be willing to pour ojit on the occasion, might we not adjourn together to theHeathen's—thou with thy Black Backs, and I with some innocent volume of the Bell Letters, Shenstone or the like: it would make him wash his old flannel gown (that has not been washed to my knowledge since it has been his—Oh the long time!) with tears of joy. Thou shouldst settle his scruples and unravel his cobwebs, and sponge off the sad stuff that weighs upon his dear wounded pia mater; thou shouldst restore light to his eyes, and him to his friends and the public; Parnassus should shower her civic crowns upon thee for saving the wits of a citizen! I thought I saw a lucid interval in George the other night— he broke in upon my studies just at tea-time,
and brought with him Dr. A , an old
gentleman who ties his breeches' knees with packthread, and boasts that he has been disappointed by ministers. The Doctor wanted to see me; for I being a Poet, he thought I might furnish him with a copy of verses to suit his Agricultural Magazine. The Doctor, in the course of the conversation, mentioned a poem called the 'Epigoniad' by one Wilkie, an epic poem, in which there is not one tolerable good line all through, but every incident and speech borrowed from Homer. George had been sitting inattentive, seemingly, to what was going on—hatching of negative quantities—when, suddenly, the name of his old friend, Homer, stung his pericranicks, and, jumping up, he begged to know where he could meet with Wilkie's works. 'It was a curious fact that there should be such an epic poem and he not know of it; and he must get a copy of it, as he was going to touch pretty deeply upon the subject of the Epic—and he was sure there must be some things good in a poem of 8000 lines!' I was pleased with this transient return of his reason and recurrence to his old ways of thinking: it gave me great hopes of a recovery, which nothing but your book can completely insure. Pray come on Monday,