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the letter was to go out before the reading. There are calamities in authorship which only authors know. I am going to call on Moxon on Monday, if the throng of carriages in Dover-street, on the morn of publication, do not barricade me out.
"With many thanks, and most respectful remembrances to your sister,
"Yours, C. Lamb.
"Have you seen Coleridge's happy exemplification in English of the Ovidian Elegiac metre?
In the Hexameter rises the fountain's silvery current, In the Pentameter aye falling in melody down.
"My sister is papering up the book—careful soul!"
Lamb and his sister were now, for the last year of their united lives, always together. What his feelings were in this companionship, when his beloved associate was deprived of reason, will be seen in the following most affecting letter, to an old schoolfellow and very dear friend of Mrs. Moxon's—since dead—who took an earnest interest in their welfare.
TO MISS FRYER.
"Feb. 14, 1834. "Dear Miss Fryer,—Your letter found me just returned from keeping my birthday (pretty innocent!) at Dover-street. I see them pretty often. I have since had letters of business to write, or should have replied earlier. In one word, be less uneasy about me; I bear my privations very well; I am not in the depths of desolation, as heretofore. Your admonitions are not lost upon me. Your kindness has sunk into my heart. Have faith in me! It is no new thing for me to be left to my sister. When she is not violent, her rambling chat is better to me than the sense and sanity of this world. Her heart is obscured, not buried ; it breaks out occasionally; and one can discern a strong mind struggling with the billows that have gone over it. I could be nowhere happier than under the same roof with her. Her memory is unnaturally strong; and from ages past, if we may so call the earliest records of our poor life, she fetches thousands
of names and things that never would have dawned upon me again, and thousands from the ten years she lived before me. What took place from early girlhood to her coming of age principally, lives again (every important thing, and every trifle) in her brain, with the vividness of real presence. For twelve hours incessantly she will pour out without intermission, all her past life, forgetting nothing, pouring out name after name to the Waldens, as a dream ; sense and nonsense ; truths and errors huddled together; a medley between inspiration and possession. What things we are! I know you will bear with me, talking of these things. It seems to ease me, for I have nobody to tell these things to now. Emma, I see, has got a harp! and is learning to play. She has framed her three Walton pictures, and pretty they look. That is a book you should read; such sweet religion in it, next to Woolman's! though the subject be baits, and hooks, and worms, and fishes. She has my copy at present, to do two more from.
"Very, very tired! I began this epistle, having been epistolising all the morning, and very kindly would I end it, could I find adequate expressions to your kindness. We did set our minds on seeing you in spring. One of us will indubitably. But I am not skilled in almanac learning, to know when spring precisely begins and ends. Pardon my blots; I am glad you like your book. I wish it had been half as worthy of your acceptance as John Woolman. But 'tis a good-natured book."
A few days afterwards Lamb's passionate desire to serve a most deserving friend broke out in the following earnest little letter:—
TO MR. WORDSWORTH.
"Church-street, Edmonton, "February 32, 1834. "Dear Wordsworth,—I write from a house of mourning. The oldest and best friends I have left are in trouble. A branch of them (and they of the best stock of God's creatures, I believe) is establishing a school at Carlisle;
her name is L M ;her address, 75,
Castle-street, Carlisle; her qualities (and her motives for this exertion) are the most amiable, most upright. For thirty years she has been tried by me, and on her behaviour I would stake my soul. O, if you can recommend her, how would I love you—if I could love you better! Pray, pray, recommend her. She is as good a human creature,— next to my sister, perhaps, the most exemplary female I ever knew. Moxon tells me you would like a letter from me ; you shall have one. This I cannot mingle up with any nonsense which you usually tolerate from C. Lamb. Need he add loves to wife, sister, and all 1 Poor Alary is ill again, after a short lucid interval of four or five months. In short, I may call her half dead to me. How good you are to me. Yours with fervour of friendship, for ever, C. L.
"If you want references, the Bishop of
Carlisle may be one. L 's sister (as good
as she, she cannot be better though she tries) educated the daughters of the late Earl of Carnarvon, and he settled a handsome annuity on her for life. In short, all the family are a sound rock."
A quiet dinner at the British Museum with Mr. Cary once a month, to which Lamb looked forward with almost boyish eager« ness, was now almost his only festival. In a little note to his host about this time, he hints at one of his few physical tastes.—" We are thinking," he says, "of roast shoulder of mutton with onion sauce, but I scorn to prescribe to the hospitalities of mine host." The following, after these festivities had been interrupted by Mr. Gary's visit to the Continent, is their last memorial:—
TO MR. CARY.
"Sept. 12, 1834.
"By Cot's plessing we will not be absence at the grace."
"Dear C,—We long to see you, and hear account of your peregrinations, of the Tun at Heidelburg, the Clock at Strasburg, the statue at Rotterdam, the dainty Rhenish, and poignant Moselle wines, Westphalian hams, and Botargoes of Altona. But perhaps you have seen, not tasted any of these things.
"Yours, very glad to chain you back again to your proper centre, books and Bibliothecse, "C. and M. Lamb.
"I have only got your note just now per negligentiam periniqui MoxonV
The following little note has a mournful interest, as Lamb's last scrap of writing. It is dated on the very day on which erysipelas followed the accident, apparently trifling, which, five days after, terminated in his death. It is addressed to the wife of his oldest surviving friend :—
TO MRS. DYER.
"Dec. 22nd, 1834.
"Dear Mrs. Dyer,—I am very uneasy about a Book which I either have lost or left at your house on Thursday. It was the book I went out to fetch from Miss Buffam's, while the tripe was frying. It is called 'Phillip's Theatrum Poetarum,' but it is an English book. I think I left it in the parlour. It is Mr. Cary's book, and I would not lose it for the world. Pray, if you find it, book it at the Swan, Snow Hill, by an Edmonton stage immediately, directed to Mr. Lamb, Church-street, Edmonton, or write to say you cannot find it. I am quite anxious about it. If it is lost, I shall never like tripe again.
"With kindest love to Mr. Dyer and all, "Yours truly, C. Lamb."
CHAPTER THE LAST.
LAMB'S WEDNESDAY NIGHTS COMPARED WITH THE EVEN-
DYER, GODWIN, THELWALL, HAZLITT, BARNES, HAY-
CHARLES AND MARY LAMB.
*' Gone; all are gone, the old familiar faces I"
Two circles of rare social enjoyment—differing as widely as possible in all external circumstances—but each superior in its kind to all others, during the same period frankly opened to men of letters—now existing only in the memories of those who are fast departing from us—may, without offence, be placed side by side in grateful recollection; they are the dinners at Holland House and the suppers of "the Lambs" at the Temple, Great Russell-street, and Islington. Strange, at first, as this juxta-position may seem, a little reflection will convince the few survivors who have enjoyed both, that it involves no injustice to either; while with those who are too young to have been admitted to these rare festivities, we may exercise the privilege of age by boasting what good fellowship was once enjoyed, and what "good talk" there was once in the world!
But let us call to mind the aspects of each scene, before we attempt to tell of the conversation, which will be harder to recall and impossible to characterise. And first, let us invite the reader to assist at a dinner at Holland House in the height of the London and Parliamentary season, say a Saturday in June. It is scarcely seven—for the luxuries of the house are enhanced by a punctuality in the main object of the day, which yields to no dilatory guest of whatever pretension— and you are seated in an oblong room, rich in old gilding, opposite a deep recess, pierced by large old windows through which the rich j branches of trees bathed in golden light, just admit the faint outline of the Surrey Hills. Among the guests are some perhaps of the highest rank, always some of high political importance, about whom the interest of busy life gathers, intermixed with others eminent already in literature or art, or of that dawning promise which the hostess delights to discover and the host to smile on. All are assembled for the purpose of enjoyment; the anxieties of the minister, the feverish struggles of the partisan, the silent toils of the artist or critic, are finished for the week; professional and literary j ealousies are hushed; sickness, decrepitude, and death are silently voted shadows; and the brilliant assemblage is prepared to exercise to the highest degree the extraordinary privilege of mortals to live in the knowledge of mortality without its consciousness, and to people the present hour with delights, as if a man lived and laughed and enjoyed in this world for ever. Every appliance of physical luxury which the most delicate art can supply, attends on each; every faint wish which luxury creates is anticipated ; the noblest and most gracious countenance in the world smiles over the happiness it is diffusing, and redoubles it by cordial invitations and encouraging words, which set the humblest stranger guest at perfect ease. As the dinner merges into the dessert, and the sunset casts a richer glow on
the branches, still, or lightly waving in the evening light, and on the scene within, the harmony of all sensations becomes more perfect; a delighted and delighting chuckle invites attention to some joyous sally of the richest intellectual wit reflected in the faces of all, even to the favourite page in green, who attends his mistress with duty like that of the antique world ; the choicest wines are enhanced in their liberal but temperate use by the vista opened in Lord Holland's tales of bacchanalian evenings at Brookes's, with Fox and Sheridan, when potations deeper and more serious rewarded the Statesman's toils and shortened his days; until at length the serener pleasure of conversation, of the now carelessly scattered groups, is enjoyed in that old, long, unrivalled library in which Addison mused, and wrote, and drank; where every living grace attends; a and more than echoes talk along the walls." One happy peculiarity of these assemblies was, the number of persons in different stations and of various celebrity, who were gratified by seeing, still more, in hearing and knowing each other; the statesman was relieved from care by association with the poet of whom he had heard and partially read; and the poet was elevated by the courtesy which "bared the great heart" which "beats beneath a star;" and each felt, not rarely, the true dignity of the other, modestly expanding under the most genial auspices.
Now turn to No. 4, Inner Temple Lane, at ten o'clock, when the sedater part of the company are assembled, and the happier stragglers are dropping in from the play. Let it be any autumn or winter month, when the fire is blazing steadily, and the cleanswept hearth and whist-tables speak of the spirit of Mrs. Battle, and serious looks require "the rigour of the game." The furniture is old-fashioned and worn; the ceiling low, and not wholly unstained by traces of " the great plant," though now virtuously forborne: but the Hogarths, in narrow black frames, abounding in infinite thought, humour and pathos, enrich the walls ; and all things wear an air of comfort and hearty English welcome. Lamb himself, yet unrelaxed by the glass, is sitting with a sort of Quaker primness at the whist-table, the gentleness of his melancholy smile half lost in his intentness on the game; his partner, the author of" Political Justice," (the majestic expression of his large head not disturbed by disproportion of his comparatively diminutive stature,) is regarding his hand with a philosophic but not a careless eye ; Captain Burney, only not venerable because so young in spirit, sits between them ; and H. C. R, who alone now and then breaks the proper silence, to welcome some incoming guest, is his happy partner—true winner in the game of life, whose leisure achieved early, is devoted to his friends! At another table, just beyond the circle which extends from the fire, sit another four. The broad, burly, jovial bulk of John Lamb, the Ajax Telamon of the slender clerks of the old South Sea House, whom he sometimes introduces to the rooms of his younger brother, surprised to lear n from them that he is growing famous, confronts the stately but courteous Ahager; while P.,"his few hairs bristling " at gentle objurgation, watches his partner M. B., dealing, with "soul more white" * than the hands of which Lamb once said, "M., if dirt was trumps, what hands you would hold!" In one corner of the room, you may see the pale earnest countenance of Charles Lloyd, who is discoursing "of fate, free-will, fore-knowledge absolute," with Leigh Hunt; and, if you choose to listen, you will scarcely know which most to admire—the severe logic of the melancholy reasoner, or its graceful evasion by the tricksome fantasy of the joyous poet. Basil Montague, gentle enthusiast in the cause of humanity, which he has lived to see triumphant, is pouring into the outstretched ear of George Dyer some tale of legalised injustice, which the recipient is vainly endeavouring to comprehend. Soon the room fills; in slouches Hazlitt from the theatre, where his stubborn anger for Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo has been softened by Miss Stephens's angelic notes, which might " chase anger, and grief, and fear, and sorrow, and pain from mortal or immortal minds;" Kenney, with a tremulous pleasure, announces that there is a crowded house to the ninth representation of his new comedy, of which Lamb lays down his cards to inquire; or Ayrton, mildly radiant, whispers the con
• Lamb's Sonnet, dedicatory of his first volume of prose to this cherished friend, thus concludes :—
"Free from self-seeking, envy, low design,
tinual triumph of " Don Giovanni," for which Lamb, incapable of opera, is happy to take his word. Now and then an actor glances on us from " the rich Cathay " of the world behind the scenes, with news of its brighter human-kind, and with looks reflecting the public favour—Liston, grave beneath the weight of the town's regards—or Miss Kelly, unexhausted in spirit by alternating the drolleries of high farce with the terrible pathos of melodrama,—or Charles Kemble mirrors the chivalry of thought, and ennobles the party by bending on them looks beaming with the aristocracy of nature. Meanwhile Becky lays the cloth on the side-table, under the direction of the most quiet, sensible, and kind of women — who soon compels the younger and more hungry of the guests to partake largely of the cold roast lamb or boiled beef, the heaps of smoking roasted potatoes, and the vast jug of porter, often replenished from the foaming pots, which the best tap of Fleet-street supplies. Perfect freedom prevails, save when the hospitable pressure of the mistress excuses excess; and
'perhaps, the physical enjoyment of the play
. goer exhausted with pleasure, or of the
i author jaded with the labour of the brain, is not less than that of the guests at the most charming of aristocratic banquets. As the hot water and its accompaniments appear,
j and the severities of whist relax, the light of conversation thickens: Hazlitt, catching the influence of the spirit from which he has lately begun to abstain, utters some fine criticism with struggling emphasis; Lamb stammers out puns suggestive of wisdom, for happy Barron Field to admire and echo ; the various driblets of talk combine into a stream, while Miss Lamb moves gently about to see
I that each modest stranger is duly served;
j turning, now and then, an anxious loving eye on Charles, which is softened into a half
'humorous expression of resignation to inevitable fate, as he mixes his second tumbler! This is on ordinary nights, when the accus
I tomed Wednesday-men assemble; but there is a difference on great extra nights, gladdened by " the bright visitations " of Wordsworth or Coleridge :—the cordiality of the welcome is the same, but a sedater wisdom prevails. Happy hours were they for the young disciple of the then desperate, now triumphant cause of Wordsworth's genius, to be admitted to the presence of the poet who had opened a new world for him in the undiscovered riches of his own nature, and its affinities with the outer universe; whom he worshipped the more devoutly for the world's scorn; for whom he felt the future in the instant, and anticipated the "All hail hereafter!" which the great poet has lived to enjoy! To win him to speak of his own poetry—to hear him recite its noblest passages—and to join in his brave defiance of the fashion of the age—was the solemn pleasure of such a season; and, of course, superseded all minor disquisitions. So, when Coleridge came, argument, wit, humour, criticism were hushed; the pertest, smartest, and the cleverest felt that all were assembled to listen; and if a card-table had been filled, or a dispute begun before he was excited to continuous speech, his gentle voice, undulating in music, soon
"Suspended wrftwf, and took with ravishment
The conversation which animated each of these memorable circles, approximated, in essence, much more nearly than might be surmised from the difference in station of the principal talkers, and the contrast in physical appliances; that of the bowered saloon of Holland House having more of earnestness and depth, and that of the Temple-attic more of airy grace than would be predicated by a superficial observer. The former possessed the peculiar interest of directly bordering on the scene of political conflict—gathering together the most eloquent leaders of the Whig party, whose repose from energetic action spoke of the week's conflict, and in whom the moment's enjoyment derived a peculiar charm from the perilous glories of the struggle which the morrow was to renew—when power was just within reach, or held with a convulsive grasp—like the eager and solemn pleasure of the soldiers' banquet in the pause of victory. The pervading spirit of Lamb's parties was also that of social progress ; but it was the spirit of the dreamers and thinkers, not of the combatants of the world—men who, it may be, drew their theories from a deeper range of meditation, and embraced the future with more comprehensive hope—but about whom the immediate interest of party did not gather ; whose victories were all within; whose rewards were visions of blessings
for their species in the furthest horizon of benevolent prophecy. If a profounder thought was sometimes dragged to light in the dim circle of Lamb's companions than was native to the brighter sphere, it was still a rare felicity to watch there the union of elegance with purpose in some leader of party—the delicate, almost fragile grace of illustration in some one, perhaps destined to load advancing multitudes or to withstand their rashness;—to observe the growth of strength in the midst of beauty expanding from the sense of the heroic past, as the famed Basil tree of Boccaccio grew from the immolated relic beneath it. If the alternations in the former oscillated between wider extremes, touching on the wildest farce and most earnest tragedy of life ; the rich space of brilliant comedy which lived ever between them in the latter, was diversified by serious interests and heroic allusions. Sydney Smith's wit—not so wild, so grotesque, so deep-searching as Lamb's—had even more quickness of intellectual demonstration; wedded moral and political wisdom to happiest language, with a more rapid perception of secret affinities; was capable of producing epigrammatic splendour reflected more permanently in the mind, than the fantastic brilliancy of those rich conceits which Lamb stammered out with his painful smile. Mackintosh might vie with Coleridge in vast and various knowledge ; but there the competition between these great talkers ends, and the contrast begins; the contrast between facility and inspiration; between the ready access to each ticketed and labelled compartment of history, science,art, criticism, and the genius that fused and renovated all. But then a younger spirit appeared at Lord Holland's table to redress the balance—not so poetical as Coleridge, but more lucid—in whose vast and joyous memory all the mighty past lived and glowed anew ; whose declamations presented, not groups tinged with distant light, like those of Coleridge, but a series of historical figures in relief, exhibited in bright succession, as if by dioramio art there glided before us embossed surfaces of heroic life.* Rogers too, was there—connecting the literature of the last age with
* I take leave to copy the glowing picture of the evenings of Holland House and of its adiuirahlc master, drawn by this favourite guest himself, from an article