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his purse' in my curse, (which, for a Christian witch in a Christian country, is not too mild, I hope,) do you object? I think there is a strangeness in the idea, as well as 'shaking the poor like snakes from his door,' which suits the speaker. Witches illustrate, as fine ladies do, from their own familiar objects, and snakes and shutting up of wombs are in their way. I don't know that this last charge has been before brought against 'em, nor either the sour milk or the mandrake babe ; but I affirm these be things a witch would do if she could."
Here is a specimen of Lamb's criticism on Southey's poetical communications:—
TO MR. SOUTHEY.
"I have read your Eclogue repeatedly, and cannot call it bald, or without interest; the cast of it, and the design, are completely original, and may set people upon thinking: it is as poetical as the subject requires, which asks no poetry; but it is defective in pathos. The woman's own story is the tamest part of it—I should like you to remould that—it too much resembles the young maid's history, both had been in service. Even the omission would not injure the poem; after the words 'growing wants,' you might, not unconnectedly, introduce ' look at that little chub' down to 'welcome one.' And, decidedly, I would have you end it somehow thus,
'Give them at least this evening a good meal.
[ Gives her money. 'Saw, fare thee well; hereafter yon have taught me To give sad meaning to the village-bells,' &c.
which would leave a stronger impression, (as well as more pleasingly recall the beginning of the Eclogue,) than the present commonplace reference to a better world, which the woman 'must have heard at church.' I should like you too a good deal to enlarge the most striking part, as it might have been, of the poem—'Is it idleness?' &c., that affords a good field for dwelling on sickness, and inabilities, and old age. And you might also a good deal enrich the piece with a picture of a country wedding: the woman might very well, in a transient fit of oblivion, dwell upon the ceremony and circumstances « her own nuptials six years ago, the "nugness of the bridegroom, the feastings,
the cheap merriment, the welcomings, and the secret envyings of the maidens—then dropping all this, recur to her present lot. I do not know that I can suggest anything else, or that I have suggested anything new or material. I shall be very glad to see some more poetry, though, I fear, your trouble in transcribing will be greater than the service my remarks may do them.
"Yours affectionately, "C. Lamb.
"I cut my letter short because I am called off to business."
The following, of the same character, is further interesting, as tracing the origin of his "Rosamund," and exhibiting his young enthusiasm for the old English drama, so nobly developed in his "Specimens:"—
TO MR. SOUTHEY.
"Dear Southey,—I thank you heartily for the Eclogue; it pleases me mightily, being so full of picture-work and circumstances. I find no fault in it, unless perhaps that Joanna's ruin is a catastrophe too trite: and this is not the first or second time you have clothed your indignation, in verse, in a tale of ruined innocence. The old lady, spinning in the sun, I hope would not disdain to claim some kindred with old Margaret. I could almost wish you to vary some circumstances in the conclusion. A gentleman seducer has so often been described in prose and verse; what if you had accomplished Joanna's ruin by the clumsy arts and rustic gifts of some country-fellow? I am thinking, I believe, of the song,
* An old woman clothed in grey,
'Whose daughter was charming and young,
By Roger's false nattering tongue.'
A Roger-Lothario would be a novel character I think you might paint him very well. You may think this a very silly suggestion, and so, indeed, it is; but, in good truth, nothing else but the first words of that foolish ballad put me upon scribbling my 'Rosamund.' But I thank you heartily for the poem. Not having anything of my own to send you in return—though, to tell truth, I am at work upon something, which, if I were to cut away 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.
[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 fiird 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, Tinning upon his breast a long great scroll, How I with interest hod tormented him.
(Now hear Ithamore, the other gentle nature.)
muicou, (A comical dog.) Faith, master, and I have spent my time In setting Christian villages on Are, 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 therewithal their knees would rankle so, That I have laugh'd a good to sec the cripples Go limping home to Christendom on stilts.
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 IX, 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.
"Yours sincerely, "C. Lajcb."
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 let'tores! 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 whose custom it is, without any deserving, to importune authors to give unto them their books.' I am sorry 'tis imperfect, as the lottery board annexed to it also is. Methinks you might modernise and elegantise this Supersedeas, and place it in front of your Joan of Arc, as a gentle hint to Messrs. Parke, &c. One of the happiest emblems, and comicalest cuts, is the owl and little chirpere, page 63.
"Wishing you all amusement, which your true emblem-fancier can scarce fail to find in eTen bad emblems, I remain your caterer to command, "C. Lamb.
"Love and respects to Edith. I hope she is well . How does your Calendar prosper?"
TO MR. SOUTHEY.
"nov. 8th, 1798. "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,
'A spring of love gush'd from my heart,
It stung me into high pleasure through sufferings. Lloyd does not like it; his head
is too metaphysical, and your taste too correct; at least I must allege something against you both, to excuse my own dotage—
1 So lonely 'twas, that God himself
But you allow some elaborate beauties—you should have extracted 'em. 'The Ancient Marinere' plays more tricks with the mind than that last poem, which is yet one of the finest written. But I am getting too dogmatical; and before I degenerate into abuse, I will conclude with assuring you that I am "Sincerely yours,
"I am going to meet Lloyd at Ware on Saturday, to return on Sunday. Have you any commands or commendations to the metaphysician? I shall be very happy if you will dine or spend any time with me in your way through the great ugly city; but I know you have other ties upon you in these parts.
"Love and respects to Edith, and friendly remembrances to Cottle."
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 modesto
vanitas But for the sonnet, I heartily
wish it, as I thought it was, dead and
forgotten. If the exact circumstances under which I wrote could be known or told, it would be an interesting sonnet; but, to an indifferent and stranger reader, it must appear a very bald thing, certainly inadmissible in a compilation. I wish you could affix a different name to the volume; there is a contemptible book, a wretched assortment of vapid feelings, entitled Pratt's Glean,ings, which hath damned and impropriated the title for ever. Pray think of some other. The gentleman is better known (better had he remained unknown) by an Ode to Benevolence, written and spoken for and at the annual dinner of the Humane Society, who walk in procession once a-year, with all the objects of their charity before them, to return God thanks for giving them such benevolent hearts."
At this time Lamb's most intimate associates were Lloyd and Jem White, the author of the Falstaff Letters. When Lloyd was in town, he and White lodged in the same house, and were fast friends, though no two men could be more unlike, Lloyd having no drollery in his nature, and White nothing else. "You will easily understand," observes Mr. Southey, in a letter with which he favoured the publisher, " how Lamb could sympathise with both."
The literary association of Lamb with Coleridge and Southey drew down upon him the hostility of the young scornera of the "Anti-Jacobin," who luxuriating in boyish pride and aristocratic patronage, tossed the arrows of their wit against all charged with innovation, whether in politics or poetry, and cared little whom they wounded. No one could be more innocent than Lamb of political heresy; no one more strongly opposed to new theories in morality, which he always regarded with disgust; and yet he not only shared in the injustice which accused his friends of the last, but was confounded in the charge of the first,—his only crime being that he had published a few poems deeply coloured with religious enthusiasm, in conjunction with two other men of genius, who were dazzled by the glowing phantoms which the French Revolution had raised. The very first number of the " AntiJacobin Magazine and Review " was adorned
by a caricature of Gib-ay's, in which Coleridge and Southey were introduced with asses' heads, and Lloyd and Lamb as toad and frog. In the number for July appeared the well-known poem of the " New Morality," in which all the prominent objects of the hatred of these champions of religion and order were introduced as offering homage to Lepaux, a French charlatan, — of whose existence Lamb had never even heard.
"Couriers and Stars, sedition's evening host,
And ye five other wandering bards, that move
C dge and 8—th—y, li—d, and L—b and Co.,
Tune all your mystic harps to praise Lepaux!"
Not content with thus confounding persons of the most opposite opinions and the most various characters in one common libel, the party returned to the charge in the number for September, and thus denounced the young poets, in a parody on the "Ode to the Passions," under the title of "The Anarchists."
"Next H—lc—ft vow'd in doleful tone,
Neglected from the press, and damn'd upon
See! faithful to their mighty dam,
C dge, S—th—y, L—d, and L—b
In splay-foot madrigals of love,
And now to softer strains they struck the lyre.
They sung the beetle or the mole,
The dying kid, or ass's foal,
These effusions have the palliation which the excess of sportive wit, impelled by youthful spirits and fostered by the applause of the great, brings with it; but it will be difficult to palliate the coarse malignity of a passage in the prose department of the same work, in which the writer added to a statement that Mr. Coleridge was dishonoured at Cambridge for preaching Deism: "Since then he has left his native country, commenced citizen of the world, left his poor children fatherless, and his wife destitute. Ex hu iuce, 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?" 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 most 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.
LETTERS TO SOUTHEY, COLERIDGE, MANKIND, AND
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