Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

his purse' in my curse, (which, for a Chris- the cheap merriment, the welcomings, and tian witch in a Christian country, is not too the secret envyings of the maidens—then mild, I hope,) do you object? I think there dropping all this, recur to her present lot. is a strangeness in the idea, as well as I do not know that I can suggest anything

shaking the poor like snakes from his door,' else, or that I have suggested anything new which suits the speaker. Witches illustrate, or material. I shall be very glad to see some as fine ladies do, from their own familiar more poetry, though, I fear, your trouble in objects, and snakes and shutting up of transcribing will be greater than the service wombs are in their way. I don't know that my remarks may do them. this last charge has been before brought “Yours affectionately, “C. LAMB. against 'em, nor either the sour milk or the mandrake babe ; but I affirm these be things

“I cut my letter short because I am called a witch would do if she could.”

off to business.”

Here is a specimen of Lamb's criticism on The following, of the same character, is | Southey's poetical communications :

further interesting, as tracing the origin of

his “Rosamund,” and exhibiting his young TO MR. SOUTHEY.

enthusiasm for the old English drama, so "I have read your Eclogue repeatedly, and nobly developed in his “Specimens :"cannot call it bald, or without interest ; the cast of it, and the design, are completely

TO MR. SOUTHEY. original, and may set people upon thinking: “Dear Southey,- I thank you heartily for it is as poetical as the subject requires, which the Eclogue ; it pleases me mightily, being asks no poetry ; but it is defective in pathos. so full of picture-work and circumstances. The woman's own story is the tamest part of I find no fault in it, unless perhaps that it-I should like you to remould that-it too Joanna's ruin is a catastrophe too trite: and much resembles the young maid's history, this is not the first or second time you have both had been in service. Even the omission clothed your indignation, in verse, in a tale would not injure the poem ; after the words of ruined innocence. The old lady, spinning 'growing wants,' you might, not uncon in the sun, I hope would not disdain to claim nectedly, introduce 'look at that little chub' some kindred with old Margaret. I could down to 'welcome one.' And, decidedly, I almost wish you to vary some circumstances would have you end it somehow thus, in the conclusion. A gentleman seducer has

so often been described in prose and verse; "Give them at least this evening a good meal. | what if you had accomplished Joanna's ruin

(Gires her money. Now, fare thee well; hereafter you have taught me

by the clumsy arts and rustic gifts of some To give sad meaning to the village-bells,' &c. country-fellow? I am thinking, I believe, of

the song, which would leave a stronger impression, (as well as more pleasingly recall the beginning

* An old woman clothed in grey,

Whose daughter was charming and young, of the Eclogue,) than the present common

And she was deluded away place reference to a better world, which the

By Roger's false flattering tongue.' woman 'must have heard at church. I should like you too a good deal to enlarge A Roger-Lothario would be a novel character the most striking part, as it might have been, I think you might paint him very well. You of the poem-'Is it idleness ?' &c., that may think this a very silly suggestion, and affords a good field for dwelling on sickness, so, indeed, it is ; but, in good truth, nothing and inabilities, and old age. And you might else but the first words of that foolish ballad also a good deal enrich the piece with a put me upon scribbling my ‘Rosamund.' picture of a country wedding : the woman But I thank you heartily for the poem. Not might very well, in a transient fit of oblivion, having anything of my own to send you in dwell upon the ceremony and circumstances return—though, to tell truth, I am at work of her own nuptials six years ago, the upon something, which, if I were to cut away sugness of the bridegroom, the feastings, and garble, perhaps I might send you an

extract or two that might not displease you; but I will not do that; and whether it will come to anything, I know not, for I am as slow as a Fleming painter when I compose anything—I will crave leave to put down a few lines of old Christopher Marlow's ; I take them from his tragedy, “The Jew of Malta. The Jew is a famous character, quite out of nature; but, when we consider the terrible idea our simple ancestors had of a Jew, not more to be discommended for a certain discolouring (I think Addison calls it) than the witches and fairies of Marlow's mighty successor. The scene is betwixt Barabas, the Jew, and Ithamore, a Turkish captive, exposed to sale for a slave.

BARAbAs.

(A precious rascal.) As for myself, I walk abroad a-nights, And kill sick people groaning under walls : Sometimes I go about, and poison wells; And now and then, to cherish Christian thieves, I am content to lose some of my crowns, That I may, walking in my gallery, See 'm go pinioned along by my door. Being young, I studied physic, and began To practise first upon the Italian : There I enriched the priests with burials, And always kept the sexton's arms in use With digging graves, and ringing dead men's knells; And, after that, was I an engineer, And in the wars 'twixt France and Germany Under pretence of serving Charles the Fifth, Slew friend and enemy with my stratagems. Then after that was I an usurer, And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting, And tricks belonging unto brokery, I fill'd the jails with bankrupts in a year, And with young orphans planted hospitals, And every moon made some or other mad; And now and then one hang himself for grief, Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll, How I with interest had tormented him.

(Now hear Ithamore, the other gentle

nature.)
ITHAMohr.
(A comical dog.)
Faith, master, and I have spent my time
In setting Christian villages on fire,
Chaining of eunuchs, binding galley-slaves.
One time I was an hostler in an inn,
And in the night-time secretly would I steal
To travellers' chambers, and there cut their throats.
Once at Jerusalem, where the pilgrims kneel'd,
I strewed powder on the marble stones,
And there withal their knees would rankle so,
That I have laugh’d a good to see the cripples
Go limping home to Christendom on stilts.

BARABAs. Why, this is something—

“There is a mixture of the ludicrous and

the terrible in these lines, brimful of genius

and antique invention, that at first reminded me of your old description of cruelty in hell, which was in the true Hogarthian style. I need not tell you that Marlow was author of that pretty madrigal, “Come live with me and be my Love,’ and of the tragedy of Edward II, in which are certain lines unequalled in our English tongue. Honest Walton mentions the said madrigal under the denomination of “certain smooth verses made long since by Kit Marlow.’ “I am glad you have put me on the scent after old Quarles. If I do not put up those eclogues, and that shortly, say I am no truenosed hound. I have had a letter from Lloyd ; the young metaphysician of Caius is well, and is busy recanting the new heresy, metaphysics, for the old dogma, Greek. My sister, I thank you, is quite well.

[ocr errors]

The following letters, which must have been written after a short interval, show a rapid change of opinion, very unusual with Lamb (who stuck to his favourite books as he did to his friends), as to the relative merits of the “Emblems” of Wither and of Quarles:

TO Mr. SOUTHEY.
“Oct. 18th, 1798.

“Dear Southey, I have at last been so fortunate as to pick up Wither's Emblems for you, that “old book and quaint,’ as the brief author of Rosamund Gray hath it ; it is in a most detestable state of preservation, and the cuts are of a fainter impression than I have seen. Some child, the curse of antiquaries and bane of bibliopical rarities, hath been dabbling in some of them with its paint and dirty fingers; and, in particular, hath a little sullied the author's own portraiture, which I think valuable, as the poem that accompanies it is no common one; this last excepted, the Emblems are far inferior to old Quarles. I once told you otherwise, but I had not then read old Q. with attention. I have picked up, too, another copy of Quarles for ninepence | | | O tempora! O lectores so that if you have lost or parted with your own copy, say so, and I can furnish you, for you prize these things more than I do. You will be amused, I think, with honest Wither's ‘Supersedeas to all them

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

“I perfectly accord with your opinion of old Wither; Quarles is a wittier writer, but Wither lays more hold of the heart. Quarles thinks of his audience when he lectures; Wither soliloquises in company with a full heart. What wretched stuff are the ‘Divine Fancies’ of Quarles | Religion appears to him no longer valuable than it furnishes matter for quibbles and riddles; he turns God’s grace into wantonness. Wither is like an old friend, whose warm-heartedness and estimable qualities make us wish he possessed more genius, but at the same time make us willing to dispense with that want. I always love W., and sometimes admire Q. Still that portrait poem is a fine one ; and the extract from “Shepherds' Hunting’ places him in a starry height far above Quarles. If you wrote that review in ‘Crit. Rev., I am sorry you are so sparing of praise to the ‘Ancient Marinere;’—so far from calling it as you do, with some wit, but more severity, “A Dutch Attempt,’ &c., I call it a right English attempt, and a successful one, to dethrone German sublimity. You have selected a Passage fertile in unmeaning miracles, but have passed by fifty passages as miraculous as the miracles they celebrate. I never so deeply felt the pathetic as in that part,

[ocr errors][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

In this year, Mr. Cottle proposed to publish an annual volume of fugitive poetry by various hands, under the title of the “Annual Anthology;” to which Coleridge and Southey were principal contributors, the first volume of which was published in the following year. To this little work Lamb contributed a short religious effusion in blank verse, entitled “Living without God in the World.” The following letter to Southey refers to this poem by its first words, “Mystery of God,” and recurs to the rejected sonnet to his sister; and alludes to an intention, afterwards changed, of entitling the proposed collection “Gleanings.”

TO MR. SOUTHEY.
“Nov. 28th, 1798.

“I can have no objection to your printing ‘Mystery of God’ with my name, and all due acknowledgments for the honour and favour of the communication ; indeed, 'tis a poem that can dishonour no name. Now, that is in the true strain of modern modestovanitas. . . . . But for the sonnet, I heartily wish it, as I thought it was, dead and

forgotten. If the exact circumstances under by a caricature of Gilray's, in which Colewhich I wrote could be known or told, it ridge and Southey were introduced with would be an interesting sonnet; but, to an asses' heads, and Lloyd and Lamb as toad indifferent and stranger reader, it must and frog. In the number for July appeared appear a very bald thing, certainly inadmis- the well-known poem of the “New Morality," sible in a compilation. I wish you could in which all the prominent objects of the affix a different name to the volume; there hatred of these champions of religion and is a contemptible book, a wretched assort-order were introduced as offering homage to ment of vapid feelings, entitled Pratt's Glean- Lepaux, a French charlatan, - of whose ings, which hath damned and impropriated existence Lamb had never even heard. the title for ever. Pray think of some other. The gentleman is better known (better had “Couriers and Stars, sedition's evening host,

Thou Morning Chronicle, and Morning Post, he remained unknown) by an Ode to Bene

Whether ye make the Rights of Man' your theme, volence, written and spoken for and at the Your country libel, and your God blaspheme,

Or dirt on private voorth and virtue throno, annual dinner of the Humane Society, who

Still blasphemous or blackguard, praise Lepaux. walk in procession once a-year, with all the objects of their charity before them, to return

And ye five other wandering bards, that move

In sweet accord of harmony and love, God thanks for giving them such benevolent

C---dge and s—th-y, L d, and L-b and Co., hearts."

Tune all your mystic harps to praise Lepaux !”

Not content with thus confounding persons At this time Lamb's most intimate asso- of the most opposite opinions and the most ciates were Lloyd and Jem White, the author various characters in one common libel, the of the Falstaff Letters. When Lloyd was in party returned to the charge in the number town, he and White lodged in the same for September, and thus denounced the house, and were fast friends, though no two young poets, in a parody on the “Ode men could be more unlike, Lloyd having no to the Passions," under the title of “The drollery in his nature, and White nothing Anarchists." else. “You will easily understand,” observes

“Next H-lc-ft vow'd in doleful tone, Mr. Southey, in a letter with which he

No more to fire a thankless age : favoured the publisher, “how Lamb could Oblivion mark'd his labours for her own,

Neglected from the press, and damn'd upon sympathise with both.”

the stage. The literary association of Lamb with Coleridge and Southey drew down upon him

See ! faithful to their mighty dam,

C dge, s—th-y, L-d, and 1-b the hostility of the young scorners of the In splay-foot madrigals of love, “ Anti-Jacobin," who luxuriating in boyish Soft moaning like the widow'd dove,

Pour, side-by-side, their sympathetic notes ; pride and aristocratic patronage, tossed the

Of equal rights, and civic feasts, arrows of their wit against all charged with And tyrant kings, and knavish priests, innovation, whether in politics or poetry,

Swift through the land the tuneful mischief floats. and cared little whom they wounded. No And now to softer strains they struck the lyre, one could be more innocent than Lamb of

They sung the beetle or the mole,

The dying kid, or ass's foal, political heresy; no one more strongly

By cruel man permitted to expire.” opposed to new theories in morality, which he always regarded with disgust; and yet. These effusions have the palliation which he not only shared in the injustice which the excess of sportive wit, impelled by youthaccused his friends of the last, but was con- ful spirits and fostered by the applause of founded in the charge of the first,-his only the great, brings with it; but it will be crime being that he had published a few difficult to palliate the coarse malignity of a poems deeply coloured with religious enthu- passage in the prose department of the same siasm, in conjunction with two other men of work, in which the writer added to a stategenius, who were dazzled by the glowing ment that Mr. Coleridge was dishonoured at phantoms which the French Revolution had Cambridge for preaching Deism: “Since then raised. The very first number of the“ Anti- he has left his native country, commenced Jacobin Magazine and Review” was adorned citizen of the world, left his poor children

fatherless, and his wife destitute. Er his disce, his friends Lamb and Southey.” It was surely rather too much even for partisans, when denouncing their political opponents as men who “dirt on private worth and virtue threw,” thus to slander two young men of the most exemplary character—one, of an almost puritanical exactness of demeanour and conduct—and the other, persevering in a life of noble self-sacrifice, chequered only by the frailties of a sweet nature, which endeared him even to those who were not admitted to the intimacy necessary to appreciate the touching example of his severer virtues : If Lamb's acquaintance with Coleridge and Southey procured for him the scorn of the more virulent of the Anti-Jacobin party, he showed by his intimacy with another distinguished object of their animosity, that he was not solicitous to avert it. He was introduced by Mr. Coleridge to one of the most remarkable persons of that stirring time—the author of “Caleb Williams,” and of the “Political Justice.” The first meeting between Lamb and Godwin did not wear a promising aspect. Lamb grew warm as the conviviality of the evening advanced, and indulged in some freaks of humour which had not been dreamed of in Godwin's philosophy; and the philosopher, forgetting the equanimity with which he usually looked on the vicissitudes of the world or the whisttable, broke into an allusion to Gilray's caricature, and asked, “Pray, Mr. Lamb, are you toad or frog f" Coleridge was apprehensive of a rupture ; but calling the next morning on Lamb, he found Godwin seated at breakfast with him ; and an interchange of civilities and card-parties was established, which lasted through the life of Lamb, whom Godwin only survived a few months. Indifferent altogether to the politics of the age, Lamb could not help being struck with productions of its new-born energies, so remarkable as the works and the character of Godwin. He seemed to realise in himself what Wordsworth long afterwards described, “the central calm at the heart of all agitation.” Through the medium of his mind the stormy convulsions of society were seen “silent as in a picture.” Paradoxes the Inost daring wore the air of deliberate wisdom as he pronounced them. He foretold

the future happiness of mankind, not with the inspiration of the poet, but with the grave and passionless voice of the oracle. There was nothing better calculated at once to feed and to make steady the enthusiasm of youthful patriots than the high speculations, in which he taught them to engage on the nature of social evils and the great destiny of his species. No one would have suspected the author of those wild theories, which startled the wise and shocked the prudent, in the calm, gentlemanly person who rarely said anything above the most gentle common-place, and took interest in little beyond the whist-table. His peculiar opinions were entirely subservient to his love of letters. He thought any man who had written a book had attained a superiority over his fellows which placed him in another class, and could scarcely understand other distinctions. Of all his works Lamb liked his “Essay on Sepulchres” the best—a short development of a scheme for preserving in one place the memory of all great writers deceased, and assigning to each his proper station, — quite chimerical in itself, but accompanied with solemn and touching musings on life and death and fame, embodied in a style of singular refinement and beauty.

CHAPTER W. [1799, 1800.]

LETTERs to southEY, coller IDGE, MANNING, AND wordswort.Th.

THE year 1799 found Lamb engaged during his leisure hours in completing his tragedy of John Woodvil, which seems to have been finished about Christmas, and transmitted to Mr. Kemble. Like all young authors, who are fascinated by the splendour of theatrical representation, he longed to see his conceptions embodied on the stage, and to receive his immediate reward in the sympathy of a crowd of excited spectators. The hope was vain;–but it cheered him in many a lonely hour, and inspired him to write when exhausted with the business of the day, and when the less powerful stimulus of the press would have been insufficient to rouse him. In the mean time he continued to correspond

« AnteriorContinuar »