« AnteriorContinuar »
don't slide into the mind of the reader while he is imagining no such matter. An intelligent reader finds a sort of insult in being told, 'I will teach you how to think upon this subject.' This fault, if I am right, is in a ten-thousandth worse degree to be found in Sterne, and many many novelists and modern poets, who continually put a signpost up to show where you are to feel. They set out with assuming their readers to be stupid; very different from 'Robinson Crusoe,' 'The Vicar of Wakefield,' 'Roderick Random,' and other beautiful, bare narratives. There is implied an unwritten compact between author and reader; "I will tell you a story, and I suppose you will understand it.' Modern novels, 'St. Leons' and the like, are full of such flowers as these—' Let not my reader suppose,''Imagine, if you can, modest!' &c. I will here have done with praise and blame. I have written so much, only that you may not think I have passed
over your book without observation
I am sorry that Coleridge has christened his 'Ancient Marinere' 'a Poet's Reverie ;' it is as bad as Bottom the Weaver's declaration that he is not a lion, but only the scenical representation of a lion. What new idea is gained by this title but one subversive of all credit—which the tale should force upon us, —of its truth!
For me, I was never so affected with any human tale. After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many days. I dislike all the miraculous part of it, but the feelings of the man under the operation of such scenery, dragged me along like Tom Pipes's magic whistle. I totally differ from your idea that the 'Marinere' should have had a character and profession. This is a beauty in' Gulliver's Travels,' where the mind is kept in a placid state of little wonderments; but the 'Ancient Marinere' undergoes such trials as overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was— like the state of a man in a bail dream, one terrible peculiarity of which is, that all consciousness of personality is gone. Your other observation is, I think as well, a little unfounded : the ' Marinere,' from being conversant in supernatural events, has acquired a supernatural and strange cast of phrase, eye, appearance, &c., which frighten the 'wedding-guest.' You will excuse my
remarks, because I am hurt and vexed that you should think it necessary, with a prose apology, to open the eyes of dead men that cannot see.
"To sum up a general opinion of the second volume, I do not feel any one poem in it so forcibly as the 'Ancient Marinere,' the 'Mad Mother,' and the 'Lines at Tintern Abbey' in the first."
The following letter was addressed, on 28th September, 1805, when Lamb was bidding his generous farewell to Tobacco, to Wordsworth, then living in noble poverty with his sister in a cottage by Grasmere, which is as sacred to some of his old admirers as even Shakspeare's House.
TO MR. WORDSWORTH.
"My dear Wordsworth (or Dorothy rather, for to you appertains the biggest part of this answer by right), I will not again deserve reproach by so long a silence. I have kept deluding myself with the idea that Mary would write to you, but she is so lazy (or I believe the true state of the case, so diffident), that it must revert to me as usual: though she writes a pretty good style, and has some notion of the force of words, she is not always so certain of the true orthography of them; and that, and a poor handwriting (in this age of female calligraphy), often deters her, where no other reason does.*
"We have neither of us been very well for some weeks past. I am very nervous, and she most so at those times when I am; so that a merry friend, adverting to the noble consolation we were able to afford each other, denominated us, not unaptly, GumBoil and Tooth-Ache, for they used to say that a gum-boil is a great relief to a toothache.
"We have been two tiny excursions this summer for three or four days each, to a place near Harrow, and to Egham, where Cooper's Hill is: and that is the total history of our rustications this year. Alas! how poor a round to Skiddaw and Helvellyn, and Borrowdale, and the magnificent sesquipedalia of the year 1802. Poor old Molly ! to have lost her pride, that 'last infirmity of noble minds,' and her cow. Fate need not have set her wits to such an old Molly. I am heartily sorry for her. Remember us lovingly to her; and in particular remember us to Mrs. Clarkson in the most kind manner.
* This is mere banter; Miss Lamb wrote a very good band.
"I hope, by 'southwards,' you mean that she will be at or near London, for she is a great favourite of both of us, and we feel for her health as much as possible for any one to do. She is one of the friendliest, comfortablest women we know, and made our little stay at your cottage one of the pleasantest times we ever past. We were quite strangers to her. Mr. C. is with you too ; our kindest separate remembrances to him. As to our special affairs, I am looking about me. I have done nothing since the beginning of last year, when I lost my newspaper job, and having had a long idleness, I must do something, or we shall get very poor. Sometimes I think of a farce, but hitherto all schemes have gone off; an idle brag or two of an evening, vapouring out of a pipe, and going off in the morning; but now I have bid farewell to my 'sweet enemy,' Tobacco, as you will see in my next page,* I shall perhaps set nobly to work. Hang work!
"I wish that all the year were holiday; I am sure that indolence—indefeasible indolence—is the true state of man, and business the invention of the old Teazer, whose interference doomed Adam to an apron and set him a hoeing. Pen and ink, and clerks and desks, were the refinements of this old torturer some thousand years after, under pretence of 'Commerce allying distant shores, Promoting and diffusing knowledge, good,' &c. &c. Yours truly,
LETTERS TO HAZLITT, BTC.
About the year 1805 Lamb was introduced to one, whose society through life was one of his chief pleasures—the great critic and thinker, William Hazlitt—who, at that time,
* The " Farewell to Tobacco" was transcribed on the next page; but the actual sacrifice was not completed till some years after.
scarcely conscious of his own literary powers, was striving hard to become a painter. At the period of the following letter (which is dated 15th March, 1806) Hazlitt was residing with his father, an Unitarian minister, at Wem.
TO MR. HAZLITT.
"Dear H.—I am a little surprised at no letter from you. This day week, to wit, Saturday, the 8th of March, 1800,1 book'd off by the Wem coach, Bull and Mouth Inn, directed to you, at the Rev. Mr. Hazlitt's, Wem, Shropshire, a parcel containing, besides a book, &c., a rare print, which I take to be a Titian ; begging the said W. H. to acknowledge the receipt thereof; which he not having done, I conclude the said parcel to be lying at the inn, and may be lost; for which reason, lest you may be a Wales-hunting at this instant, I have authorised any of your family, whosoever first gets this, to open it, that so precious a parcel may not moulder away for want of looking after. What do you in Shropshire when so many fine pictures are a-going a-going every day in London? Monday I visit the Marquis of Lansdowne's, in Berkeley Square. Catalogue 2s. 6d. Leonardos in plenty. Some other day this week, I go to see Sir Wm. Young's, in Stratford Place. Hulse's, of Blackheath, are also to be sold this month, and in May, the first private collection in Europe, Welbore Ellis Agar's. And there are you perverting Nature in lying landscapes, niched from old rusty Titians, such as I can scrape up here to send you, with an additament from Shropshire nature thrown in to make the whole look unnatural. I am afraid of your mouth watering when I tell you that Manning and I got into Angerstein's on Wednesday. Man Dieu! Such Claudes! Four Claudes bought for more than 10,000? . (those who talk of Wilson being equal to Claude are either mainly ignorant or stupid); one of these was perfectly miraculous. What colours short of bond fide sunbeams it could be painted in, I am not earthly colourman enough to say; but I did not think it had been in the possibility of things. Then, a music-piece by Titian—a thousand-pound picture—five figures standing behind a piano, the sixth playing; none of the heads, as M. observed, indicating great men, or affecting it, but so
sweetly disposed; all leaning separate ways, but so easy, like a flock of some divine shepherd; the colouring, like the economy of the picture, so sweet and harmonious—as good as Shakspeare's 'Twelfth Night,'— almost, that is. It will give you a love of order, and cure you of restless, fidgetty passions for a week after—more musical than the music which it would, but cannot, yet in a manner does, show. I have no room for the rest. Let me say, Angerstein sits in a room—his study (only that and the library are shown), when he writes a common letter, as I am doing, surrounded with twenty pictures worth 60,000?. What a luxury! Apicius and Heliogabalus, hide your diminished heads!
"Yours, my dear painter,
Hazlitt married Miss Sarah Stoddart, sister of the present Sir John Stoddart, who became very intimate with Lamb and his sister. To her Lamb, on the 11th December, 1806, thus communicated the failure of "Mr. H."
TO MRS. HAZLITT.
"Don't mind this being a queer letter. I am in haste, and taken up by visitors, condolers, &c. God bless you.
"Dear Sarah,—Mary is a little cut at the ill success of' Mr. H.' which came out last night, and failed. I know you'll be sorry, but never mind. We are determined not to be cast down. I am going to leave off tobacco, and then we must thrive. A smoking man must write smoky farces.
"Mary is pretty well, but I persuaded her to let me write. We did not apprise you of the coming out of 'Mr. H.' for fear of illluck. You were much better out of the house. If it had taken, your partaking of our good luck would have been one of our greatest joys. As it is, we shall expect you at the time you mentioned. But whenever you come you shall be most welcome. "God bless you, dear Sarah,
"Yours, most truly, C. L.
"Mary is by no means unwell, but I made her let me write."
The following is Lamb's account of the same calamity, addressed
TO MR. WORDSWORTH.
"Mary's love to all of you—I wouldn't let her write.
"Dear Wordsworth,—' Mr. H.' came out last night, and failed. I had many fears; the subject was not substantial enough. John Bull must have solider fare than a letter. We are pretty stout about it; have had plenty of condoling friends; but, after all, we had rather it should have succeeded. You will see the prologue in most of the morning papers. It was received with such shouts as I never witnessed to a prologue. It was attempted to be encored. How hard !—a thing I did merely as a task, because it was wanted, and set no great store by; and 'Mr. H.'!! The quantity of friends we had in the house—my brother and I being in public offices, &c.—was astonishing, but they yielded at last to a few hisses.
"A hundred hisses! (Hang the word, I write it like kisses—how different!)—a hundred hisses outweigh a thousand claps. The former come more directly from the heart. Well, 'tis withdrawn, and there is an end.
"Better luck to us, C. Lam B.
"P.S. Pray, when any of you write to the Clarksons, give our kind loves, and say we shall not be able to come and see them at Christmas, as I shall have but a day or two, and tell them we bear our mortification pretty well."
About this time Miss Lamb sought to contribute to her brother's scanty income by presenting the plots of some of Shakspeare's plays in prose, with the spirit of the poet's genius interfused, and many of his happiest expressions preserved, in which good work Lamb assisted her; though he always insisted, as he did in reference to "Mrs. Leicester's School." that her portions were the best. The following letter refers to some of those aids, and gives a pleasant instance of that shyness in Hazlitt, which he never quite overcame, and which afforded a striking contrast to the boldness of his published thoughts.
TO MR. WORDSWORTH.
"Mary is just stuck fast in 'All's Well that Ends Well.' She complains of having to set forth so many female characters in boys' clothes. She begins to think Shakspeare must have wanted—Imagination. I, to encourage her, for she often faints in the prosecution of her great work, flatter her with telling her how well such a play and such a play is done. But she is stuck fast, and I have been obliged to promise to assist her. To do this, it will be necessary to leave off tobacco. But I had some thoughts of doing that before, for I sometimes think it does not agree with me. W. Hazlitt is in town. I took him to see a very pretty girl, professedly, where there were two young girls—the very head and sum of the girlery was two young girls—they neither laughed, nor sneered, nor giggled, nor whispered—but they were young girls—and he sat and frowned blacker and blacker, indignant that there should be such a thing as youth and beauty, till he tore me away before supper, in perfect misery, and owned he could not bear young girla; they drove him mad. So I took him home to my old nurse, where he recovered perfect tranquillity. Independent of this, and as I am not a young girl myself, he is a great acquisition to us. Ho is, rather imprudently I think, printing a political pamphlet on his own account, and will have to pay for the paper, &e. The first duty of an author, I take it, is never to pay anything. But non cuivu contigit adire Corinthum. The managers, I thank my stars, have settled that question for me.
"Yours truly, C. Lamb."
Hazlitt, coming to reside in town, became a frequent guest of Lamb's, and a brilliant ornament of the parties which Lamb now began to collect on Wednesday evenings. He seems, in the beginning of 1808, to have sought solitude in a little inn on Salisbury Plain, to which he became deeply attached, and which he has associated with some of his profoundest meditations; and some
fantastic letter, in the nature of a hoax, having puzzled his father, who expected him at Wem, caused some inquiries of Lamb respecting the painter's retreat, to which he thus replied in a letter to
THE REV. MR. HAZLITT.
"Temple, 18th February, 1808.
"Sir,—I am truly concerned that any mistake of mine should have caused you uneasiness, but I hope we have got a clue to William's absence, which may clear up all apprehensions. The people where he lodges in town have received direction from him to forward some linen to a place called Winterslow, in the county of Wilts (not far from Salisbury), where the lady lives whose cottage, pictured upon a card, if you opened my letter you have doubtless seen, and though we have had no explanation of the mystery since, we shrewdly suspect that at the time of writing that letter which has given you all this trouble, a certain son of yours (who is both painter and author) was at her elbow, and did assist in framing that very cartoon which was sent to amuse and mislead us in town, as to the real place of his destination.
"And some words at the back of the said cartoon, which we had not marked so narrowly before, by the similarity of the handwriting to William's, do very much confirm the suspicion. If our theory be right, they have had the pleasure of their jest, and I am afraid you have paid for it in anxiety.
"But I hope your uneasiness will now be removed, and you will pardon a suspense occasioned by Love, who does so many worse mischiefs every day.
"The letter to the people where William lodges says, moreover, that he shall be in town in a fortnight.
"My sister joins in respects to you and Mrs. Hazlitt, and in our kindest remembrances and wishes for the restoration of Peggy's health.
"I am, Sir, your humble servant,
Mr. and Mrs. Hazlitt afterwards took up their temporary al>ode at Winterslow, to which place Miss Lamb addressed the following letter, containing interesting details of her own and her brother's life, and illustrating her own gentle character:—
TO MRS. HAZLITT.
"December 10th, 1808.
"My dear Sarah,—I hear of you from your brother, but you do not write yourself, nor does Hazlitt. I beg that one or both of you will amend this fault as speedily as possible, for I am very anxious to hear of your health. I hope, as you say nothing about your fall to your brother, you are perfectly recovered from the effects of it.
"You cannot think how very much we miss you and H. of a Wednesday evening— all the glory of the night, I may say, is at an end. Phillips makes his jokes, and there is no one to applaud him; Hickman argues, and there is no one to oppose him.
"The worst miss of all to me is, that when we are in the dismals there is now no hope of relief from any quarter whatsoever. Hazlitt was most brilliant, most ornamental, as a Wednesday-man, but he was a more useful one on common days, when he dropt in after a quarrel or a fit of the glooms. The Sheffington is quite out now, my brother having got merry with claret and Tom Sheridan. This visit, and the occasion of it, is a profound secret, and therefore I tell it to nobody but you and Mrs. Reynolds. Through the medium of Wroughton, there came an invitation and proposal from T. S., that C. L. should write some scenes in a speaking pantomime, the other parts of which Tom now, and his father formerly, have manufactured between them. So in the Christmas holidays my brother, and his two great associates, we expect will be all three damned' together; this is, I mean if Charles's share, which is done and sent in, is accepted.
"I left this unfinished yesterday, in the hope that my brother would have done it for me. His reason for refusing me was 'no exquisite reason,' for it was because he must write a letter to Manning in three or four weeks, and therefore 'he could not be always writing letters,' he said. I wanted him to tell your husband about a great work which Godwin is going to publish to enlighten the world once more, and I shall not be able to make out what it is. He (Godwin) took his usual walk one evening, a fortnight since, to the end of Hattou Garden and back again.
During that walk a thought came into his mind, which he instantly sate down and improved upon till he brought it, in seven or eight days, into the compass of a reasonable sized pamphlet.
"To propose a subscription to all welldisposed people to raise a certain sum of money, to be expended in the care of a cheap monument for the former and the future great dead men; the monument to be a white cross, with a wooden slab at the end, telling their names and qualifications. This wooden slab and white cross to be perpetuated to the end of time ; to survive the fall of empires, and the destruction of cities, by means of a map, which, in case of an insurrection among the people, or any other cause by which a city or country may be destroyed, was to be carefully preserved; and then, when things got again into their usual order, the white-cross-wooden-sjab-makers were to go to work again and set the wooden slabs in their former places. This, as nearly as I can tell you, is the sum and substance of it; but it is written remarkably well—in | his very best manner — for the proposal (which seems to me very like throwing salt on a sparrow's tail to catch him) occupies but half a page, which is followed by very fine writing on the benefits he conjectures would follow if it were done; very excellent thoughts on death, and our feelings concerning dead friends, and the advantages an old country has over a new one, even in the slender memorials we have of great men who once flourished.
"Charles is come home and wants his dinner, and so the dead men must be no more thought of. Tell us how you go on, and how you like Winterslow and winter evenings. Knowles has not yet got back again, but he is in better spirits. John Hazlitt was here on Wednesday. Our love to Hazlitt.
To this letter Charles added the following postscript:—
"There came this morning a printed prospectus from ' S. T. Coleridge, Grasmere,' of