Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

by giving me a sight of it. Lloyd is sadly deficient in some of those virtuous vices.

"George Dyer is the only literary character I am happily acquainted with. The oftener I see him, the more deeply I admire him. He is goodness itself. If I could but calculate the precise date of his death, I would write a novel on purpose to make George .the hero. I could hit him off to a hair."

The tragedy which Lamb was thus anxious to read, has been perseveringly withheld from the world. A fine passage, quoted in one of Hazlitt's prose essays, makes us share in his earnest curiosity:—

11 Action is momentary—a word, a blow—
The motion of a muscle—this way or that;
Suffering is long, drear, and infinite."

Wordsworth's genius is perhaps more fitly employed in thus tracing out the springs of heroic passion, and developing the profound elements of human character, than in following them out through their exhibition in violent contest or majestic repose. Surely he may now afford to gratify the world!

The next is a short but characteristic letter to Manning.

TO MR. MANNING.

"Aug. 11th, 1800.

"My dear fellow, (N.B. mighty familiar of late!) for me to come to Cambridge now is one of Heaven's impossibilities. Metaphysicians tell us, even it can work nothing which implies a contradiction. I can explain this by telling you that I am engaged to do double duty (this hot weather!) for a man who has taken advantage of this very weather to go and cool himself in ' green retreats' all the month of August.

"But for you to come to London instead! —muse upon it, revolve it, cast it about in your mind. I have a bed at your command. You shall drink rum, brandy, gin, aqua-vitse, usquebaugh, or whiskey a' nights; and for the after-dinner trick, I have eight bottles of genuine port, which, mathematically divided, gives 1 j- for every day you stay, provided you stay a week. Hear John Milton sing,

'Let Euclid rest and Archimedes pause.'

Tfccnty.Jirtt Sonnet.

And elsewhere,—

'What neat repast shall feast us, light * and choice, Of Attic taste, with wine,f whence we may rise To hear the lute well touch'd, or artful voice Warble immortal notes and Tuscan air!'

"Indeed the poets are full of this pleasing morality,—

1 Veni cito, Domine Manning! *

"Think upon it. Excuse the paper, it is all I have. "C. Lamb."

Lamb now meditated a removal to the home-place of his best and most solemn thoughts—the Temple; and thus announced it in a letter to Manning.

TO MR. MASSING.

"You masters of logic ought to know (logic is nothing more than a knowledge of words, as the Greek etymon implies), that all words are no more to be taken in a literal sense at all times than a promise given to a tailor. When I exprest an apprehension that you were mortally offended, I meant no more than by the application of a certain formula of efficacious sounds, which had done in similar cases before, to rouse a sense of decency in you, and a remembrauce of what was due to me! You masters of logic should advert to this phenomenon in human speech, before you arraign the usage of us dramatic geniuses. Imagination is a good blood mare, and goes well ; but the misfortune is, she has too many paths before her. 'Tis true I might have imaged to myself, that you had trundled your frail carcass to Norfolk. I might also, and did imagine, that you had not, but that you were lazy, or inventing new properties in a triangle, and for that purpose moulding and squeezing Landlord Crisp's three-cornered beaver into fantastic experimental forms; or, that Archimedes was meditating to repulse the French, in case of a Cambridge invasion, by a geometric hurling of folios on their red caps; or, peradventure, that you were in extremities, in great wants, and just set out for Trinity-bogs when my letters came. In short, my genius! (which is a short word now-a-days, for what-a-great-man-am-I!)

• "We, poets! generally give light dinners." f No doubt the poet here alludes to port-wine at 38*. the dozen.

was absolutely stifled and overlaid with its own riches. Truth is one and poor, like the cruse of Elijah's widow. Imagination is the bold face that multiplies its oil; and thou, the old cracked pipkin, that could not believe it could be put to such purposes. Dull pipkin, to have Elijah for thy cook. Imbecile recipient of so fat a miracle. I send you George Dyer's Poems, the richest production of the lyrical muse this century can justly boast: for Wordsworth's L. B. were published, or at least written, before Christmas.

"Please to advert to pages 291 to 296 for the most astonishing account of where Shakspeare's muse has been all this while. I thought she had been dead, and buried in Stratford Church, with the young man that kept her company,

'But it seems, like the Devil,
Buried in Cole Harbour,
Some say she's risen again.
Gone 'prentice to a Barber. '

"N.B.—I don't charge anything for the additional manuscript notes, which are the joint productions of myself and a learned translator of Schiller, Stoddart, Esq.

"N.B. the 2d.—I should not have blotted your book, but I had sent my own out to be bound, as I was in duty bound. A liberal criticism upon the several pieces, lyrical, beroical, amatory, and satirical, would be acceptable. So, you don't think there's a Word's—worth of good poetry in the great L R! I daren't put the dreaded syllables at their just length, for my back tingles from the northern castigation.

"I am going to change my lodgings, having received a hint that it would be agreeable, at our Lady's next feast. I have partly fixed upon most delectable rooms, which look out (when you stand a tip-toe) over the Thames, and Surrey Hills; at the upper end of King's Bench walks, in the Temple. There I shall have all the privacy of a house without the encumbrance, and shall be able to lock my friends out as often as I desire to hold free converse with my immortal mind, for my present lodgings resemble a minister's levee, I have so increased my acquaintance (as they call 'em) since I have resided in town. Like the country mouse, that had tasted a little of urbane manners, I long to

be nibbling my own cheese by my dear self, without mouse-traps and time-traps. By my new plan, I shall be as airy, up four pair of stairs, as in the country ; and in a garden, in the midst of enchanting, more than Mahometan paradise, London, whose dirtiest drabfrequented alley, and her lowest bowing tradesman, I would not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn, James, Walter, and the parson into the bargain. O! her lamps of a night! her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toyshops, mercers, hardwaremen, pastry-cooks! St. Paul's churchyard! the Strand! Exeter Change! Charing Cross, with the man upon a black horse! These are thy gods, O London! An't you mightily moped on the banks of the Cam 1 Had not you better come and set up here? You can't think what a difference. All the streets and pavements are pure gold, I warrant you. At least, I know an alchemy that turns her mud into that metal,—a mind that loves to be at home in crowds.

"'Tis half-past twelve o'clock, and all sober people ought to be a-bed.

"C. Lamb (as you may guess)."

The following two letters appear to have been written during Coleridge's visit to Wordsworth.

TO MR. COLERIDGE.

"By some fatality, unusual with me, I have mislaid the list of books which you want. Can you from memory, easily supply me with another?

"I confess to Statins, and I detained him wilfully, out of a reverent regard to your style. Statius, they tell me, is turgid. As to that other Latin book, since you know neither its name nor subject, your wants (I crave leave to apprehend) cannot be very urgent. Meanwhile, dream that it is one of the lost Decades of Livy.

"Your partiality to me has led you to form an erroneous opinion as to the measure of delight you suppose me to take in obliging. Pray, be careful that it spread no further. 'Tis one of those heresies that is very pregnant. Pray, rest more satisfied with the portion of learning which you have got, and disturb my peaceful ignorance as little as possible with such sort of commissions.

"Did you never observe an appearance well known by the name of the man in the moon? Some scandalous old maids have set on foot a report, that it is Endymion.

"Your theory about the first awkward step a man makes being the consequence of learning to dance, is not universal. We have known many youths bred up at Christ's, who never learned to dance, yet the world imputes to them no very graceful motions. I remember there was little Hudson, the immortal precentor of St. Paul's, to teach us our quavers; but, to the best of my recollection, there was no master of motions when we were at Christ's.

"Farewell, in haste.

"C. L."

TO MR. WORDSWORTH.

"Oct. 13th, 1800.

"Dear Wordsworth,—I have not forgot your commissions. But the truth is,—and why should I not confess it ?—I am not plethorically abounding in cash at this present. Merit, God knows, is very little rewarded; but it does not become me to speak of myself. My motto is, 'contented with little, yet wishing for more.' Now, the books you wish for would require some pounds, which, I am sorry to say, I have not by me; so, I will say at once, if you will give me a draft upon your town banker for any sum you propose to lay out, I will dispose of it to the very best of my skill in choice old books, such as my own soul loveth. In fact, I have been waiting for the liquidation of a debt to enable myself to set about your eommission handsomely; for it is a scurvy thing to cry, 'Give me the money first,' and I am the first of the family of the Lambs that have done it for many centuries; but the debt remains as it was, and my old friend that I accommodated has generously forgot it! The books which you want, I calculate at about 81. Ben Jonson is a guinea book. Beaumont and Fletcher, in folio, the right folio not now to be met with; the octavos are about 3? . As to any other dramatists, I do not know where to find them, except what are in Dodsley's Old Plays, which are about 3l. also. Massinger I never saw but at one shop, but it is now gone; but one of the editions of Dodsley contains about a fourth (the best) of his

plays. Congreve, and the rest of King Charles's moralists, are cheap and accessible. The works on Ireland I will inquire after, but, I fear, Spenser's is not to be had apart from his poems; I never saw it. But you may depend upon my sparing no pains to furnish you as complete a library of old poets and dramatists as will be prudent to buy; for, I suppose you do not include the 201. edition of Hamlet, single play, which Kemble has. Marlowe's plays and poems are totally vanished; only one edition of Dodsley retains one, and the other two of his plays: but John Ford is the man after Shakspeare. Let me know your will and pleasure soon, for I have observed, next to the pleasure of buying a bargain for one's self, is the pleasure of persuading a friend to buy it. It tickles one with the image of an imprudeucy, without the penalty usually annexed. "C. Lamb."

CHAPTER VI.

[1800.]

LETTERS TO MANNING, APTER LAMB'S REMOVAL TO THE TEMPLE.

In the year 1800, Lamb carried into effect his purpose of removing to Mitre-court Buildings, Temple. During this time he wrote only a few small poems, which he transmitted to Manning. In his letters to Manning a vein of wild humour breaks out, of which there are but slight indications in the correspondence with his more sentimental friends; as if the very opposition of Manning's more scientific power to his own force of sympathy provoked the sallies which the genial kindness of the mathematician fostered. The prodigal and reckless humour of some of these letters forms a striking contrast to the deep feeling of the earlier letters to Coleridge. His 'Essays of Elia' show the harmonious union of both. The following letter contains Lamb's description of his new abode.

TO MR. MANNING.

"I was not aware that you owed me anything beside that guinea ; but I dare say you are right. I live at No. 16, Mitre-court Buildings, a pistol-shot off Baron Maseres'. Ton must introduce me to the Baron. I think we should suit one another mainly. He lives on the ground floor, for convenience of the gout; I prefer the attic story, for the air! He keeps three footmen and two maids; I have neither maid nor laundress, not caring to be troubled with them! His forte, I understand, is the higher mathematics ; my turn, I confess, is more to poetry and the belles lettres. The very antithesis of our characters would make up a harmony. You must bring the baron and me together. —N.B. when you come to see me, mount up to the top of the stairs—I hope you are not asthmatical—and come in flannel, for it's pure airy up there. And bring your glass, and I will show you the Surrey Hills. My bed feces the river, so as by perking up upon my haunches, and supporting my carcase with my elbows, without much wrying my neck, I can see the white sails glide by the bottom of the King's Bench walks as I lie in my bed. An excellent tiptoe prospect in the best room :—casement windows, with small fanes, to look more like a cottage. Mind, I have got no bed for you, that's flat; sold it to pay expenses of moving. The very bed oo which Manning lay; the friendly, the mathematical Manning! How forcibly does it remind me of the interesting Otway!' The Tery bed which on thy marriage night gave thee into the arms of Belvidera, by the coarse hands of ruffians—' (upholsterers' men,) &c. My tears will not give me leave to go on. But a bed I will get you, Manning, on conation you will be my day-guest.

[ocr errors]

"I have been ill more than a month, with a bad cold, which comes upon me (like a murderer's conscience) about midnight, and ?exes me for many hours. I have succesrively been drugged with Spanish licorice, fpium, ipecacuanha, paregoric, and tincture of foxglove (tinctura purpurs e digitalis of the ancients). I am afraid I must leave off drinking."

Lamb then gives an account of his visit to an exhibition of snakes—of a frightful vividness and interesting—as all details of these fascinating reptiles are, whom we at once loathe and long to look upon, as the old enemies and tempters of our race.

TO MR. MANNING.

"Oct. 16th, 1800.

"Dear Manning,—Had you written one week before you did, I certainly should have obeyed your injunction; you should have seen me before my letter. I will explain to you my situation. There are six of us in one department. Two of us (within these four days) are confined with severe fevers; and two more, who belong to the Tower Militia, expect to have marching orders on Friday. Now six are absolutely necessary. I have already asked and obtained two young hands to supply the loss of the feverites. And, with the other prospect before me, you may believe I cannot decently ask leave of absence for myself. All I can promise (and I do promise, with the sincerity of Saint Peter, and the contrition of sinner Peter if I fail) that I will come the very first spare week, and go nowhere till I have been at Cambridge. No matter if you are in a state of pupilage when I come; for I can employ myself in Cambridge very pleasantly in the mornings. Are there not libraries, halls, colleges, books, pictures, statues 1 I wish you had made London in your way. There is an exhibition quite uncommon in Europe, which could not have escaped your genius,—a live rattlesnake, ten feet in length, and the thickness of a big leg. I went to see it last night by candlelight. We were ushered into a room very little bigger than ours at Pentonville. A man and woman and four boys live in this room, joint tenants with nine snakes, most of them such as no remedy has been discovered for their bite. We walked into the middle, which is formed by a half-moon of wired boxes, all mansions of snakes,—whip-snakes, thundersnakes, pig-nose-snakes, American vipers, and this monster. He lies curled up in folds ; and immediately a stranger enters (for he is used to the family, and sees them play at cards,) he set up a rattle like a watchman's in London, or near as loud, and reared up a head, from the midst of these folds, like a toad, and shook his head, and showed every sign a snake can show of irritation. I had the foolish curiosity to strike the wires with my finger, and the devil flew at mo with his toad-mouth wide open: the inside of his mouth is quite white. I had got my finger away, nor could he well have bit me with his big mouth, which would have been certain death in five minutes. But it frightened me so much, that I did not recover my voice for a minute's space. I forgot, in my fear, that he was secured. You would have forgot too, for 'tis incredible how such a monster can be confined in small gauzy-looking wires. I dreamed of snakes in the night. I wish to heaven you could see it. He absolutely swelled with passion to the bigness of a large thigh. I could not retreat without infringing on another box, and just behind, a little devil not an inch from my back, had got his nose out, with some difficulty and pain, quite through the bars! He was soon taught better manners. All the snakes were curious, and objects of terror: but this monster, like Aaron's serpent, swallowed up the impression of the rest. He opened his cursed mouth, when he made at me, as wide as his head was broad. I hallooed out quite loud, and felt pains all over my body with the fright.

"I have had the felicity of hearing George Dyer read out one book of 'The Farmer's Boy.' I thought it rather childish. No doubt, there is originality in it, (which, in your self-taught geniuses, is a most rare quality, they generally getting hold of some bad models, in a scarcity of books, and forming their taste on them,) but no /election. All is described.

"Mind, I have only heard read one book. "Yours sincerely,

"Philo-Snake,

"C. L."

The following are fragments from a letter chiefly on personal matters, the interest of which is gone by:—

TO MR. MANNING.

"And now, when shall I catch a glimpse of your honest face-to-face countenance again? Your fine dogmatical sceptical face by punchlight 1 O! one glimpse of the human face, and shake of the human hand, is better than whole reams of this cold, thin correspondence; yea, of more worth than all the letters that have sweated the fingers of sensibility, from Madame S6vign6 and Balzac to Sterne and Shenstone.

"Coleridge is settled with his wife and the

young philosopher at Keswick, with the Wordsworths. They have contrived to spawn a new volume of lyrical ballads, which is to see the light in about a month, and causes no little excitement in the literary world. George Dyer too, that good-natured heathen, is more than nine months gone with his twin volumes of ode, pastoral, sonnet, elegy, Spenserian, Horatian, Akensidish, and Masonic verse— Clio prosper the birth! it will be twelve shillings out of somebody's pocket. I find he means to exclude 'personal satire,' so it appears by his truly original advertisement. Well, God put it into the hearts of the English gentry to come in shoals and subscribe to his poems, for He never put a kinder heart into flesh of man than George Dyer's!

"Now farewell, for dinner is at hand.

"C. L."

Lamb had engaged to spend a few days when he could obtain leave, with Manning at Cambridge, and, just as he hoped to accomplish his wish, received an invitation from Lloyd to give his holiday to the poets assembled at the Lakes. In the joyous excitement of spirits which the anticipated visit to Manning produced, he thus plays off Manning's proposal on his friend, abuses mountains and luxuriates in his love of London :—

TO MR. MANNING.

"Dear Manning,—I have received a very kind invitation from Lloyd and Sophia, to go and spend a month with them at the Lakes. Now it fortunately happens, (which is so seldom the case !) that I have spare cash, by me, enough to answer the expenses of so long a journey; and I am determined to getaway from the office by some means. The purpose of this letter is to request of you (my dear friend), that you will not take it unkind, if I decline my proposed visit to Cambridge for the present. Perhaps I shall be able to take Cambridge in my way, going or coming. I need not describe to you the expectations which such an one as myself, pent up all my life in a dirty city, have formed of a tour to the Lakes. Consider Grasmere! Ambleside! Wordsworth! Coleridge! Hills, woods, lakes, and mountains, to the eternal devil.

« AnteriorContinuar »