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* And how does little David Hartley? 'Ecquid in antiquam virtutem?' Does his mighty name work wonders yet upon his little frame and opening mind 1 I did not distinctly understand you—you don't mean
i to make an actual ploughman of him 1 Is Lloyd with you yet 1 Are you intimate with Southey1 What poems is he about to publish 1 —he hath a most prolific brain, and is indeed a most sweet poet. But how can you answer all the various mass of interrogation I have put to you in the course of the sheet 1 Write back just what you like, only write something, however brief. I have now nigh
j finished my page, and got to the end of another evening (Monday evening), and my eyes are heavy and sleepy, and my brain nnsuggestive. I have just heart enough awake to say good night once more, and God love you, my dear friend; God love us all. Mary bears au affectionate remembrance of you.
A poem of Coleridge, emulous of Southey's "Joan of Arc," which he proposed to call the "Maid of Orleans," on which Lamb had made some critical remarks, produced the humourous recantation with which the following letter opens.
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"Feb. 13th, 1797. "Your poem is altogether admirable— parts of it are even exquisite—in particular your personal account of the Maid far surpasses any thing of the sort in Southey. I perceived all its excellences, on a first reading, as readily as now you have been removing a supposed film from my eyes. I was only struck with certain faulty disproportion, in the matter and the style, which I still think I perceive, between these lines and the former ones. I had an end in view, I wished to make you reject the poem, only as being discordant with the other, and, in subservience to that end, it was politically done in me to over-pass, and make no mention of merit, which, could you think me capable of overlooking, might reasonably damn for ever in your judgment all pretensions, in me, to be critical . There—I will be judged by Lloyd, whether I have not made a very handsome recantation. I was in the case of
a man, whose friend has asked him his opinion of a certain young lady—the deluded wight gives judgment against her in toto— don't like her face, her walk, her manners; finds fault with her eyebrows; can see no wit in her ; his friend looks blank, he begins to smell a rat — wind veers about—he acknowledges her good sense, her judgment in dress, a certain simplicity of manners and honesty of heart, something too in her manners which gains upon you after a short acquaintance,—and then her accurate pronunciation of the French language, and a pretty uncultivated taste in drawing. The reconciled gentleman smiles applause, squeezes him by the hand, and hopes he will do him the honour of taking a bit of
dinner with Mrs. and him,—a plain
family dinner,—some day next week ; 'for, I suppose, you never heard we were married. I 'm glad to see you like my wife, however; you 'll come and see her, ha?' Now am I too proud to retract entirely? Yet I do perceive I am in some sort straitened; you are manifestly wedded to this poem, and what fancy has joined let no man separate. I turn me to the Joan of Arc, second book.
"The solemn openings of it are with sounds, which LI. would say' are silence to the mind.' The deep preluding strains are fitted to initiate the mind, with a pleasing awe, into the sublimest mysteries of theory concerning man's nature, and his noblest destination— the philosophy of a first cause—of subordinate agents in creation, superior to man— the subserviency of Pagan worship and Pagan faith to the introduction of a purer and more perfect religion, which you so elegantly describe as winning, with gradual steps, her difficult way northward from Bethabra. After all this cometh Joan, a publican's daughter, sitting on an ale-house bench, and marking the swingings of the signboard, finding a poor man, his wife and six children, starved to death with cold, and thence roused into a state of mind proper to receive visions, emblematical of equality; which, what the devil Joan had to do with, I don't know, or, indeed, with the French and American revolutions, though that needs no pardon, it is executed so nobly. After all, if you perceive no disproportion, all argument is vain: I do not so much object to parts. Again, when you talk of building your fame on these lines in preference to the 'Religious Musings,' I cannot help conceiving of you, and of the author of that, as two different persons, and I think you a very vain man.
"I have been re-reading your letter; much of it I could dispute, but with the latter part of it, in which you compare the two Joans with respect to their predispositions for fanaticism, I, toto corde, coincide; only I think that Southey's strength rather lies in the description of the emotions of the Maid under the weight of inspiration,—these (I see no mighty difference between her describing them or you describing them), these if you only equal, the previous admirers of his poem, as is natural, will prefer his,—if you surpass, prejudice will scarcely allow it, and I scarce think you will surpass, though your specimen at the conclusion, I am in earnest, I think very nigh equals them. And in an account of a fanatic or of a prophet, the description of her emotions is expected to be most highly finished. By the way, I spoke far too disparagingly of your lines, and, I am ashamed to say, purposely. I should like you to specify or particularise; the story of the 'Tottering Eld,' of 'his eventful years all come and gone,' is too general; why not make him a soldier, or some character, however, in which he has been witness to frequency of 'cruel wrong and strange distress!' I think I should. When I laughed at the 'miserable man crawling from beneath the coverture,' I wonder I did not perceive that it was a laugh of horror—such as I have laughed at Dante's picture of the famished Ugolino. Without falsehood, I perceive an hundred beauties in your narrative. Yet I wonder you do not perceive something out-of-the-way, something unsimple and artificial, in the expression 'voiced a sad tale.' I hate made-dishes at the muses' banquet. I believe I was wrong in most of my other objections. But surely 'hailed him immortal,' adds nothing to the terror of the man's death, which it was your business to heighten, not diminish by a phrase, which takes away all terror from it. I like that line, 'They closed their eyes in sleep, nor knew 'twas death.' Indeed there is scarce a line I do not like. 'Turbid ecstacy' is surely not so good as what you had written, 'troublous.' Turbid rather suits the muddy kind of inspiration which
London porter confers. The versification is, throughout, to my ears unexceptionable, with no disparagement to the measure of the 'Religious Musings,' which is exactly fitted to the thoughts.
"You were building your house on a rock, when you rested your fame on that poem. I can scarce bring myself to believe, that I am admitted to a familiar correspondence, and all the licence of friendship, with a man who writes blank verse like Milton. Now, this is delicate flattery, indirect flattery. Go on with your 'Maid of Orleans,' and be content to be second to yourself. I shall become a convert to it, when 'tis finished.
"This afternoon I attend the funeral of my poor old aunt, who died on Thursday. I own I am thankful that the good creature has ended all her days of suffering and infirmity. She was to me the 'cherisher of infancy,' and one must fall on those occasions into reflections, which it would be common-place to enumerate, concerning death,' of chance and change, and fate in human life.' Good God, who could have foreseen all this but four months back! I had reckoned, in particular, on my aunt's living many years; she was a very hearty old woman. But she was a mere skeleton before she died, looked more like a corpse that had lain weeks in the grave, than one fresh dead. 'Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun; but let a man live many days and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many.' Coleridge, why are we to live on after all the strength and beauty of existence are gone, when all the life of life is fled, as poor Burns expresses it? Tell Lloyd I have had thoughts of turning Quaker, and have been reading, or am rather just beginning to read, a most capital book, good thoughts in good language, William Penn's 'No Cross, no Crown,' I like it immensely. Unluckily I went to one of his meetings, tell him, in St. John-street, yesterday, and saw a man under all the agitations and workings of a fanatic, who believed himself under the influence of some 'inevitable presence.' This cured me of Quakerism; I love it in the books of Penn and Woolmau, but I detest the vanity of a man thinking he speaks by the Spirit, when what he says an ordinary man might say without all that quaking and trembling. In the midst of his inspiration, and the effects of it were most noisy, was handed into the midst of the meeting a most terrible blackguard Wapping sailor; the poor man, I believe, had rather have been in the hottest part of an engagement, for the congregation of broad-brims, together with the ravings of the prophet, were too much for his gravity, though I saw even he had delicacy enough, not to laugh out. And the inspired gentleman, though his manner was so supernatural, yet neither talked nor j professed to talk anything more than good sober sense, common morality, with now and then a declaration of not speaking from himself. Among other things, looking back , to his childhood and early youth, he told the meeting what a graceless young dog he had been, that in his youth he had a good share of wit: reader, if thou hadst seen the gentleman, thou •wouldst have sworn that it must indeed have been many years ago, for his rueful physiognomy would have scared away the playful goddess from the meeting, where he presided, for ever. A wit! a wit! what could he mean? Lloyd, it minded me of Falkland in the Rivals, 'Am I full of wit and humour? No, indeed you are not. Am l the life and soul of every company I come into! No, it cannot be said you are.' That hard-faced gentleman, a wit! Why, nature wrote ou his fanatic forehead fifty years ago, 'Wit never comes, that comes to all.' I should be as scandalised at a bon mot issuing from his oracle-looking mouth, as to see Cato go down a country-dance. God love you all. You are very good to submit to be pleased with reading my nothings. 'Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.—Yours ever,
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"April 7th, 1797. "Your last letter was dated the 10th February; in it you promised to write again the next day. At least, I did not expect so long, so unfriend-like a silence. There was a time, Col., when a remissness of this sort in a dear friend would have lain very heavy on my mind, but latterly I have been too familiar with neglect to feel much from the semblance of it. Yet, to suspect one's self overlooked,
and in the way to oblivion, is a feeling rather humbling; perhaps, as tending to self-mortification, not unfavourable to the spiritual state. Still, as you meant to confer no benefit on the soul of your friend, you do not stand quite clear from the imputation of unkindliness (a word, by which I mean the diminutive of unkindness). And then David Hartley was unwell; and how is the small philosopher, the minute philosopher 1 and David's mother? Coleridge, I am not trifling, nor are these matter-of-fact questions only. You are all very dear and precious to me; do what you will, Col., you may hurt me and vex me by your silence, but you cannot estrange my heart from you all. I cannot scatter friendships like chuck-farthings, nor let them drop from mine hand like hour-glass sand. I have but two or three people in the world to whom I am more than indifferent, and I can't afford to whistle them off to the winds.
"My sister has recovered from her illness. May that merciful God make tender my heart, and make me as thankful, as in my distress I was earnest, in my prayers. Congratulate me on an ever-present and neveralienable friend like her. And do, do insert, if you have not lost, my dedication. It will have lost half its value by coining so late. If you really are going on with that volume, I shall be enabled in a day or two to send you a short poem to insert. Now, do answer this. Friendship, and acts of friendship, should be reciprocal, and free as the air; a friend should never be reduced to beg an alms of his fellow. Yet I will beg an alms; I entreat you to write, and tell me all about poor Lloyd, and all of you. God love and preserve you all. "C. Lamb."
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"June 13th, 1797. "I stared with wild wonderment to see thy well-known hand again. It revived many a pleasing recollection of an epistolary intercourse, of late strangely suspended, once the pride of my life. Before I even opened thy letter, I figured to myself a sort of complacency which my little hoard at home would feel at receiving the new-comer into the little drawer where I keep my treasures of this kind. You have done well in writing to me. The little room (was it not a little one !) at the Salutation was already in the way of becoming a fading idea! it had begun to be classed in my memory with those' wanderings with a fair hair'd maid,' in the recollection of which I feel I have no property. You press me, very kindly do you press me, to come to Stowey; obstacles, strong as death, prevent me at present; maybe I may be able to come before the year is out; believe me, I will come as soon as I can, but I dread naming a probable time. It depends on fifty things, besides the expense, which is not nothing. As to Richardson, caprice may grant what caprice only refused, and it is no more hardship, rightly considered, to be dependent on him for pleasure, than to lie at the mercy of the rain and sunshine for the enjoyment of a holiday: in either case we are not to look for a suspension of the laws of nature. 'Grill will be grill.' Vide Spenser.
"I could not but smile at the compromise you make with me for printing Lloyd's poems first; but there is in nature, I fear, too many tendencies to envy and jealousy not to justify you in your apology. Yet, if any one is welcome to pre-eminence from me, it is Lloyd, for he would be the last to desire it. So pray, let his name uniformly precede mine, for it would be treating me like a child to suppose it could give me pain. Yet, alas! I am not insusceptible of the bad passions. Thank God, I have the ingenuousness to be ashamed of them. I am dearly fond of Charles Lloyd; he is all goodness, and I have too much of the world in my composition to feel myself thoroughly deserving of his friendship.
"Lloyd tells me that Sheridan put you upon writing your tragedy. I hope you are only Coleridgeizing when you talk of finishing it in a few days. Shakspeare was a more modest man, but you best know your own power.
"Of my last poem you speak slightingly; surely the longer stanzas were pretty tolerable; at least there was one good line in it,
'Thick.shaded trees, with dark green leaf rich clad.'
"To adopt your own expression, I call this a :rich' line, a fine full line. And some others I thought even beautiful. Believe me, my little gentleman will feel some repugnance
at riding behind in the basket, though, I confess, in pretty good company. Your picture of idiocy, with the sugar-loaf head, is exquisite ; but are you not too severe upon our more favoured brethren in fatuity? I send you a trifling letter; but you have only to think that I have been skimming the superficies of my mind, and found it only froth. Now, do write again; you cannot believe how I long and love always to hear about you. Yours, most affectionately,
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"June 24th, 1797.
"Did you seize the grand opportunity of seeing Kosciusko while he was at Bristol? I never saw a hero; I wonder how they look. I have been reading a most curious romance-like work, called the Life of John Buncle, Esq. 'Tis very interesting, and an extraordinary compound of all manner of subjects, from the depth of the ludicrous to the heights of sublime religious truth. There is much abstruse science in it above my cut, and an infinite fund of pleasantry. John Buncle is a famous fine man, formed in nature's most eccentric hour. I am ashamed of what I write. But I have no topic to talk of. I see nobody; and sit, and read, or walk alone, and hear nothing. I am quite lost to conversation from disuse; and out of' the sphere of my little family, who, I am thankful, are dearer and dearer to me every day, I see no face that brightens up at my approach. My friends are at a distance (meaning Birmingham and Stowey); worldly hopes are at a low ebb with me, and unworldly thoughts are not yet familiarised to me, though I occasionally indulge in them. Still I feel a calm not unlike content. I fear it is sometimes more akin to physical stupidity than to a heaven-flowing serenity and peace. What right have I to obtrude all this upon you? and what is such a letter to you 1 and if I come to Stowey, what conversation can I furnish to compensate my friend for those stores of knowledge and of fancy; those delightful treasures of wisdom, which, I know, he will open to me 1 But it is better to give than to receive; and I was a very patient hearer, and docile scholar, in our winter evening meetings at Mr. May's;
was I not, Col.? What I have owed to thee, my heart can ne'er forget. "God love you and yours. "C. L."
At length the small volume containing the poems of Coleridge, Lloyd, and Lamb, was published by Mr. Cottle at Bristol. It excited little attention ; but Lamb had the pleasure of seeing his dedication to his sister printed in good set form, after his own fashion, and of witnessing the delight and pride with which she received it. This little book, now very scarce, had the following motto expressive of Coleridge's feeling towards his associates :—Duplex nobis vinculum, et amicitice et rimilium junctarumque Camcenarum; quod utinam nequt mora solvat, neque temporis longinquiras. Lamb's share of the work consists of eight sonnets; four short fragments of blank verse, of which the Grandame is the principal; a poem, called the Tomb of Douglas; some verses to Charles Lloyd ; and a vision of Repentance ; which are all published in the last edition of his poetical works, except one of the sonnets, which was addressed to Mrs. Siddons, and the Tomb of Douglas, which was justly omitted as common-place and vapid. They only occupy twenty-eight duodecimo pages, within which space was comprised all that Lamb at this time had written which he deemed worth preserving.
The following letter from Lamb to Coleridge seems to have been written on receiving the first copy of the work.
TO MR. COLERIDGE.
"Dec. 10th, 1797.
"I am sorry I cannot now relish your poetical present so thoroughly as I feel it deserves ; but I do not the less thank Lloyd and you for it.
"Before I offer, what alone I have to offer, a few obvious remarks, on the poems you sent me, I can but notice the odd coincidence of two young men, in one age, carolling their grandmothers. Love, what L. calls the 'feverish and romantic tie,' hath too long domineered over all the charities of home: the dear domestic ties of father, brother, husband. The amiable and benevolent Cowper has a beautiful passage in his 'Task,' —some natural and painful reflections on his
deceased parents: and Hayley's sweet lines to his mother are notoriously the best things he ever wrote. Cowper s lines, some of them are—
'How gladly would the man recall to Ufe
"I cannot but smile to see my granny so gaily decked forth : though, I think, whoever altered ' thy' praises to ' her' praises—' thy' honoured memory to' her' honoured memory did wrong—they best exprest my feelings. There is a pensive state of recollection, in which the mind is disposed to apostrophise the departed objects of its attachment; and, breaking loose from grammatical precision, changes from the first to the third, and from the third to the first person,just as the random fancy or the feeling directs. Among Lloyd's sonnets, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 11th, are eminently beautiful. I think him too lavish of his expletives; the do's and did's, when they occur too often, bring a quaintness with them along with their simplicity, or rather air of antiquity, which the patrons of them seem desirous of conveying.
"Another time, I may notice more particularly Lloyd's, Southey's, Dermody's Sonnets. I shrink from them now: my teasing lot makes me too confused for a clear judgment of things, too selfish for sympathy ; and these ill-digested, meaningless remarks, I have imposed on myself as a task, to lull reflection, as well as to show you I did not neglect reading your valuable present. Return my ackowledgments to Lloyd ; you two seem to be about realising an Elysium upon earth, and, no doubt, I shall be happier. Take my best wishes. Remember me most affectionately to Mrs. C , and give little David
Hartley—God bless its little heart !—a kiss for me. Bring him up to know the meaning of his Christian name, and what that name (imposed upon him) will demand of him.
"God love you !" C. Lamb.
"I write, for one thing to say, that I ;hall write no more till you send me word, where you are, for you are so soon to move.
"My sister is pretty well, thank God. We think of you very often. God bless you: continue to be my correspondent, and I will