The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, Vol. 5
Edited by E. V. Lucas
Part 6 out of 14
pleading, appointed by the king, before himself in person of Antonio as
proxy for Roderigo, and Guzman for himself--the form and ordering of it
to be highly solemn and grand. For this purpose, (allowing it,) the king
must be reserved, and not have committed his royal dignity by descending
to previous conference with Antonio, but must refer from the beginning
to this settlement. He must sit in dignity as a high royal arbiter.
Whether this would admit of spiritual interpositions, cardinals
&c.--appeals to the Pope, and haughty rejection of his interposition by
Antonio--(this merely by the way).
The pleadings must be conducted by short speeches--replies, taunts, and
bitter recriminations by Antonio, in his rough style. In the midst of
the undecided cause, may not a messenger break up the proceedings by an
account of Roderigo's death (no improbable or far-fetch'd event), and
the whole conclude with an affecting and awful invocation of Antonio
upon Roderigo's spirit, now no longer dependent upon earthly tribunals
or a froward woman's will, &c., &c.
Almanza's daughter is now free, &c.
This might be made _very affecting_. Better nothing follow after; if
anything, she must step forward and resolve to take the veil. In this
case, the whole story of the former nunnery _must_ be omitted. But, I
think, better leave the final conclusion to the imagination of the
spectator. Probably the violence of confining her in a convent is not
necessary; Antonio's own castle would be sufficient.
To relieve the former part of the Play, could not some sensible images,
some work for the Eye, be introduced? A gallery of Pictures, Almanza's
ancestors, to which Antonio might affectingly point his sister, one by
one, with anecdote, &c.
At all events, with the present want of action, the Play must not extend
above four Acts, unless it is quite new modell'd. The proposed
alterations might all be effected in a few weeks.
Solemn judicial pleadings always go off well, as in Henry the 8th,
Merchant of Venice, and perhaps Othello.
[Lamb, said Mr. Paul, writing of this critical Minute, was so genuinely
kind and even affectionate, in his criticism that Godwin did not
perceive his real disapproval.
Mr Swinburne, writing in _The Athenaeum_ for May 13, 1876, made an
interesting comment upon one of Lamb's suggestions in the foregoing
document. It contains, he remarks, "a singular anticipation of one of
the most famous passages in the work of the greatest master of our own
age, the scene of the portraits in 'Hernani:' 'To relieve the former
part of the play, could not some sensible images, some work for the eye,
be introduced? _A gallery of pictures, Alexander's ancestors, to which
Antonio might affectingly point his sister, one by one, with anecdote_,
&c.' I know of no coincidence more pleasantly and strangely notable than
this between the gentle genius of the loveliest among English essayists
and the tragic invention of the loftiest among French poets."
After long negotiation "Antonio" was now actually in rehearsal at Drury
Lane, to be produced on December 13. Lamb supplied the epilogue.
Cooper was Godwin's servant.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
Dec. 10th, 1800.
Dear Sir,--I expected a good deal of pleasure from your company
to-morrow, but I am sorry I must beg of you to excuse me. I have been
confined ever since I saw you with one of the severest colds I ever
experienced, occasioned by being in the night air on Sunday, and on the
following day, very foolishly. I am neither in health nor spirits to
meet company. I hope and trust I shall get out on Saturday night. You
will add to your many favours, by transmitting to me as early as
possible as many tickets as conveniently you can spare,--Yours truly,
I have been plotting how to abridge the Epilogue. But I cannot see that
any lines can be spared, retaining the connection, except these two,
which are better out.
"Why should I instance, &c.,
The sick man's purpose, &c.,"
and then the following line must run thus,
"The truth by an example best is shown."
Excuse this _important_ postscript.
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. Dec. 13, 1800.]
Don't spill the cream upon this letter.
I have received your letter _this moment_, not having been at the
office. I have just time to scribble down the epilogue. To your epistle
I will just reply, that I will certainly come to Cambridge before
January is out: I'll come _when I can_. You shall have an amended copy
of my play early next week. Mary thanks you; but her handwriting is too
feminine to be exposed to a Cambridge gentleman, though I endeavour to
persuade her that you understand algebra, and must understand her hand.
The play is the man's you wot of; but for God's sake (who would not like
to have so pious a _professor's_ work _damn'd_) do not mention it--it is
to come out in a feigned name, as one Tobin's. I will omit the
introductory lines which connect it with the play, and give you the
concluding tale, which is the mass and bulk of the epilogue. The _name_
is _Jack_ INCIDENT. It is about promise-breaking--you will see it all,
if you read the _papers_.
Jack, of dramatic genius justly vain,
Purchased a renter's share at Drury-lane;
A prudent man in every other matter,
Known at his club-room for an honest hatter;
Humane and courteous, led a civil life,
And has been seldom known to beat his wife;
But Jack is now grown quite another man,
Frequents the green-room, knows the plot and plan
Of each new piece,
And has been seen to talk with Sheridan!
In at the play-house just at six he pops,
And never quits it till the curtain drops,
Is never absent on the _author's night_,
Knows actresses and actors too--by sight;
So humble, that with Suett he'll confer,
Or take a pipe with plain Jack Bannister;
Nay, with an author has been known so free,
He once suggested a catastrophe--
In short, John dabbled till his head was turn'd;
His wife remonstrated, his neighbours mourn'd,
His customers were dropping off apace,
And Jack's affairs began to wear a piteous face.
One night his wife began a curtain lecture;
"My dearest Johnny, husband, spouse, protector,
Take pity on your helpless babes and me,
Save us from ruin, you from bankruptcy--
Look to your business, leave these cursed plays,
And try again your old industrious ways."
Jack who was always scared at the Gazette,
And had some bits of skull uninjured yet,
Promised amendment, vow'd his wife spake reason,
"He would not see another play that season--"
Three stubborn fortnights Jack his promise kept,
Was late and early in his shop, eat, slept,
And walk'd and talk'd, like ordinary men;
No _wit_, but John the hatter once again--
Visits his club: when lo! one _fatal night_
His wife with horror view'd the well-known sight--
John's _hat, wig, snuff-box_--well she knew his tricks--
And Jack decamping at the hour of six,
Just at the counter's edge a playbill lay,
Announcing that "Pizarro" was the play--
"O Johnny, Johnny, this is your old doing."
Quoth Jack, "Why what the devil storm's a-brewing?
About a harmless play why all this fright?
I'll go and see it if it's but for spite--
Zounds, woman! Nelson's to be there to-night."
_N.B_.--This was intended for Jack Bannister to speak; but the sage
managers have chosen Miss _Heard_,--except Miss Tidswell, the worst
actress ever seen or _heard_. Now, I remember I have promised the loan
of my play. I will lend it _instantly_, and you shall get it ('pon
honour!) by this day week.
I must go and dress for the boxes! First night! Finding I have time, I
transcribe the rest. Observe, you have read the last first; it begins
thus:--the names I took from a little outline G. gave me. I have not
read the play.
"Ladies, ye've seen how Guzman's consort died,
Poor victim of a Spaniard brother's pride,
When Spanish honour through the world was blown,
And Spanish beauty for the best was known
In that romantic, unenlighten'd time,
A _breach of promise_ was a sort of crime--
Which of you handsome English ladies here,
But deems the penance bloody and severe?
A whimsical old Saragossa fashion,
That a dead father's dying inclination,
Should _live_ to thwart a living daughter's passion,
Unjustly on the sex _we_ men exclaim,
Rail at _your_ vices,--and commit the same;--
Man is a promise-breaker from the womb,
And goes a promise-breaker to the tomb--
What need we instance here the lover's vow,
The sick man's purpose, or the great man's bow?
The truth by few examples best is shown--
Instead of many which are better known,
Take poor Jack Incident, that's dead and gone.
Jack," &c. &c. &c.
Now you have it all-how do you like it? I am going to hear it recited!!!
[Footnote 1: A good clap-trap. Nelson has exhibited two or three times
at both theatres--and advertised himself.]
[Footnote 2: Four _easy_ lines.]
[Footnote 3: For which the _heroine died_.]
[Footnote 4: In _Spain!!?]
[Footnote 5: Two _neat_ lines.]
[Footnote 6: Or _you_.]
[Footnote 7: Or _our_, as _they_ have altered it.]
[Footnote 8: Antithesis.]
["As one Tobin's." The rehearsals of "Antonio" were attended by Godwin's
friend, John Tobin, subsequently author of "The Honeymoon," in the hope,
on account of Godwin's reputation for heterodoxy, of deceiving people as
to the real authorship of the play. It was, however, avowed by Godwin on
Jack Bannister, the comedian, was a favourite actor of Lamb's. See the
_Elia_ essay "On some of the Old Actors."
Miss Heard was a daughter of William Heard, the author of "The
Snuff-Box," a feeble comedy. Miss Tidswell, by the irony of fate, had a
part in Lamb's own play, "Mr. H.," six years later.
"I have not read the play." Meaning probably, "I have not read it in its
final form." Lamb must have read it in earlier versions. I quote Mr.
Kegan Paul's summary of the plot of "Antonio":--
"Helena was betrothed, with her father's consent, to her brother
Antonio's friend, Roderigo. While Antonio and Roderigo were at the wars,
Helena fell in love with, and married, Don Gusman. She was the king's
ward, who set aside the pre-contract. Antonio, returning, leaves his
friend behind; he has had great sorrows, but all will be well when he
comes to claim his bride. When Antonio finds his sister is married, the
rage he exhibits is ferocious. He carries his sister off from her
husband's house, and demands that the king shall annul the marriage with
Gusman. There is then talk of Helena's entrance into a convent. At last
the king, losing patience, gives judgment, as he had done before, that
the pre-contract with Roderigo was invalid, and the marriage to Gusman
valid. Whereupon Antonio bursts through the guards, and kills his
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
Dec. 14, 1800.
Late o' Sunday.
Dear Sir,--I have performed my office in a slovenly way, but judge for
me. I sat down at 6 o'clock, and never left reading (and I read out to
Mary) your play till 10. In this sitting I noted down lines as they
occurred, exactly as you will read my rough paper. Do not be frightened
at the bulk of my remarks, for they are almost all upon single lines,
which, put together, do not amount to a hundred, and many of them merely
verbal. I had but one object in view, abridgement for compression sake.
I have used a dogmatical language (which is truly ludicrous when the
trivial nature of my remarks is considered), and, remember, my office
was to hunt out faults. You may fairly abridge one half of them, as a
fair deduction for the infirmities of Error, and a single reading, which
leaves only fifty objections, most of them merely against words, on no
short play. Remember, you constituted me Executioner, and a hangman has
been seldom seen to be ashamed of his profession before Master Sheriff.
We'll talk of the Beauties (of which I am more than ever sure) when we
meet,--Yours truly, C. L.
I will barely add, as you are on the very point of printing, that in my
opinion neither prologue nor epilogue should accompany the play. It can
only serve to remind your readers of its fate. _Both_ suppose an
audience, and, that jest being gone, must convert into burlesque. Nor
would I (but therein custom and decorum must be a law) print the actors'
names. Some things must be kept out of sight.
I have done, and I have but a few square inches of paper to fill up. I
am emboldened by a little jorum of punch (vastly good) to say that next
to _one man_, I am the most hurt at our ill success. The breast of
Hecuba, where she did suckle Hector, looked not to be more lovely than
Marshal's forehead when it spit forth sweat, at Critic-swords
contending. I remember two honest lines by Marvel, (whose poems by the
way I am just going to possess)
"Where every Mower's wholesome heat
Smells like an Alexander's sweat."
["Antonio" was performed on December 13, with John Philip Kemble in the
title-role, and was a complete failure. Lamb wrote an account of the
unlucky evening many years later in the "Old Actors" series in the
_London Magazine_ (see Vol. II. of the present edition). He speaks
there, as here, of Marshal's forehead--Marshal being John Marshall, a
friend of the Godwins.
After the play Godwin supped with Lamb, when it was decided to publish
"Antonio" at once. Lamb retained the MS. for criticism. The present
letter in the original contains his comments, the only one of which that
Mr. Kegan Paul thought worth reproducing being the following:--
"'Enviable' is a very bad word. I allude to 'Enviable right to bless
us.' For instance, Burns, comparing the ills of manhood with the state
of infancy, says, 'Oh! enviable early days;' here 'tis good, because the
passion lay in comparison. Excuse my insulting your judgment with an
illustration. I believe I only wanted to beg in the name of a favourite
Bardie, or at most to confirm my own judgment."
Lamb, it will be remembered, had refused to let Coleridge use "enviable"
in "Lewti." Burns's poem to which Lamb alludes is "Despondency, an Ode,"
Stanza 5, "Oh! enviable, early days."
Godwin's play was published in 1801 without Lamb's epilogue.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
Dec. 16th, 1800.
We are damn'd!
Not the facetious epilogue could save us. For, as the editor of the
"Morning Post," quick-sighted gentleman! hath this morning truly
observed, (I beg pardon if I falsify his _words_, their profound _sense_
I am sure I retain,) both prologue and epilogue were worthy of
accompanying such a piece; and indeed (mark the profundity, Mister
Manning) were received with proper indignation by such of the audience
only as thought either worth attending to. PROFESSOR, thy glories wax
dim! Again, the incomparable author of the "True Briton" declareth in
_his_ paper (bearing same date) that the epilogue was an indifferent
attempt at humour and character, and failed in both. I forbear to
mention the other papers, because I have not read them. O PROFESSOR, how
different thy feelings now (_quantum mutatus ab illo professore, qui in
agris philosophiae tantas victorias aquisivisti_),--how different thy
proud feelings but one little week ago,--thy anticipation of thy nine
nights,--those visionary claps, which have soothed thy soul by day and
thy dreams by night! Calling in accidentally on the Professor while he
was out, I was ushered into the study; and my nose quickly (most
sagacious always) pointed me to four tokens lying loose upon thy table,
Professor, which indicated thy violent and satanical pride of heart.
Imprimis, there caught mine eye a list of six persons, thy friends, whom
thou didst meditate inviting to a sumptuous dinner on the Thursday,
anticipating the profits of thy Saturday's play to answer charges; I was
in the honoured file! Next, a stronger evidence of thy violent and
almost satanical pride, lay a list of all the morning papers (from the
"Morning Chronicle" downwards to the "Porcupine,") with the places of
their respective offices, where thou wast meditating to insert, and
didst insert, an elaborate sketch of the story of thy play--stones in
thy enemy's hand to bruise thee with; and severely wast thou bruised, O
Professor! nor do I know what oil to pour into thy wounds. Next, which
convinced me to a dead conviction of thy pride, violent and almost
satanical pride--lay a list of books, which thy un-tragedy-favoured
pocket could never answer; Dodsley's Old Plays, Malone's Shakspeare
(still harping upon thy play, thy philosophy abandoned meanwhile to
Christians and superstitious minds); nay, I believe (if I can believe my
memory), that the ambitious Encyclopaedia itself was part of thy
meditated acquisitions; but many a playbook was there. All these visions
are _damned_; and thou, Professor, must read Shakspere in future out of
a common edition; and, hark ye, pray read him to a little better
purpose! Last and strongest against thee (in colours manifest as the
hand upon Belshazzar's wall), lay a volume of poems by C. Lloyd and C.
Lamb. Thy heart misgave thee, that thy assistant might possibly not have
talent enough to furnish thee an epilogue! Manning, all these things
came over my mind; all the gratulations that would have thickened upon
him, and even some have glanced aside upon his humble friend; the
vanity, and the fame, and the profits (the Professor is L500 ideal money
out of pocket by this failure, besides L200 he would have got for the
copyright, and the Professor is never much beforehand with the world;
what he gets is all by the sweat of his brow and dint of brain, for the
Professor, though a sure man, is also a slow); and now to muse upon thy
altered physiognomy, thy pale and squalid appearance (a kind of _blue
sickness_ about the eyelids), and thy crest fallen, and thy proud demand
of L200 from thy bookseller changed to an uncertainty of his taking it
at all, or giving thee full L50. The Professor has won my heart by this
_his_ mournful catastrophe. You remember Marshall, who dined with him at
my house; I met him in the lobby immediately after the damnation of the
Professor's play, and he looked to me like an angel: his face was
lengthened, and ALL OVER SWEAT; I never saw such a care-fraught visage;
I could have hugged him, I loved him so intensely--"From every pore of
him a perfume fell." I have seen that man in many situations, and from
my soul I think that a more god-like honest soul exists not in this
world. The Professor's poor nerves trembling with the recent shock, he
hurried him away to my house to supper; and there we comforted him as
well as we could. He came to consult me about a change of catastrophe;
but alas! the piece was condemned long before that crisis. I at first
humoured him with a specious proposition, but have since joined his true
friends in advising him to give it up. He did it with a pang, and is to
print it as _his_.
[The Professor was Lamb's name for Godwin.
The _Porcupine_ was Cobbett's paper.]
LETTERS 78 AND 79
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
I send you all of Coleridge's letters to me, which I have preserved:
some of them are upon the subject of my play. I also send you Kemble's
two letters, and the prompter's courteous epistle, with a curious
critique on "Pride's Cure," by a young physician from EDINBRO, who
modestly suggests quite another kind of a plot. These are monuments of
my disappointment which I like to preserve.
In Coleridge's letters you will find a good deal of amusement, to see
genuine talent struggling against a pompous display of it. I also send
you the Professor's letter to me (careful Professor! to conceal his
_name_ even from his correspondent), ere yet the Professor's pride was
cured. Oh monstrous and almost satanical pride!
You will carefully keep all (except the Scotch Doctor's, _which burn in
status quo_), till I come to claim mine own.
For Mister Manning, Teacher of Mathematics and the Black Arts. There is
another letter in the inside cover of the book opposite the blank leaf
Mind this goes for a letter. (Acknowledge it _directly_, if only in ten
DEAR MANNING--(I shall want to hear this comes safe.) I have scratched
out a good deal, as you will see. Generally, what I have rejected was
either false in feeling, or a violation of character--mostly of the
first sort. I will here just instance in the concluding few lines of the
"Dying Lover's Story," which completely contradicted his character of
_silent_ and _unreproachful_. I hesitated a good deal what copy to send
you, and at last resolved to send the worst, because you are familiar
with it, and can make it out; and a stranger would find so much
difficulty in doing it, that it would give him more pain than pleasure.
This is compounded precisely of the two persons' hands you requested it
should be.--Yours sincerely,
[These were the letters accompanying the copy of "Pride's Cure" (or
"John Woodvil") which Charles and Mary Lamb together made for Manning,
as requested in the note on page 197.
All the letters mentioned by Lamb have vanished; unless by an unlikely
chance the bundle contained Coleridge's letters on Mrs. Lamb's death and
on the quarrel with Lamb and Lloyd.
Manning's reply, dated December, 1800, gives a little information
concerning the Edinburgh physician's letter--"that gentleman whose
fertile brain can, at a moment's warning, furnish you with 10 Thousand
models of a plot--'The greatest variety of Rapes, Murders, Deathsheads,
&c., &c., sold here.'" Manning thinks that the Scotch doctor understands
Lamb's tragedy better than Coleridge does. He adds: "P.S.--My verdict
upon the Poet's epitaph is 'genuine.'" This probably applies to a
question asked by Lamb concerning Wordsworth's poem of that name.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
December 27th, 1800.
At length George Dyer's phrenesis has come to a crisis; he is raging and
furiously mad. I waited upon the heathen, Thursday was a se'nnight; the
first symptom which struck my eye and gave me incontrovertible proof of
the fatal truth was a pair of nankeen pantaloons four times too big for
him, which the said Heathen did pertinaciously affirm to be new.
They were absolutely ingrained with the accumulated dirt of ages; but he
affirmed them to be clean. He was going to visit a lady that was nice
about those things, and that's the reason he wore nankeen that day. And
then he danced, and capered, and fidgeted, and pulled up his pantaloons,
and hugged his intolerable flannel vestment closer about his poetic
loins; anon he gave it loose to the zephyrs which plentifully insinuate
their tiny bodies through every crevice, door, window or wainscot,
expressly formed for the exclusion of such impertinents. Then he caught
at a proof sheet, and catched up a laundress's bill instead--made a dart
at Blomfield's Poems, and threw them in agony aside. I could not bring
him to one direct reply; he could not maintain his jumping mind in a
right line for the tithe of a moment by Clifford's Inn clock. He must go
to the printer's immediately--the most unlucky accident--he had struck
off five hundred impressions of his Poems, which were ready for delivery
to subscribers, and the Preface must all be expunged. There were eighty
pages of Preface, and not till that morning had he discovered that in
the very first page of said Preface he had set out with a principle of
Criticism fundamentally-wrong, which vitiated all his following
reasoning. The Preface must be expunged, although it cost him L30--the
lowest calculation, taking in paper and printing! In vain have his real
friends remonstrated against this Midsummer madness. George is as
obstinate as a Primitive Christian--and wards and parries off all our
thrusts with one unanswerable fence;--"Sir, it's of great consequence
that the _world_ is not _misled_!"
As for the other Professor, he has actually begun to dive into Tavernier
and Chardin's _Persian_ Travels for a story, to form a new drama for the
sweet tooth of this fastidious age. Hath not Bethlehem College a fair
action for non-residence against such professors? Are poets so _few_ in
_this age_, that he must write poetry? Is _morals_ a subject so
exhausted, that he must quit that line? Is the metaphysic well (without
a bottom) drained dry?
If I can guess at the wicked pride of the Professor's heart, I would
take a shrewd wager that he disdains ever again to dip his pen in
_Prose_. Adieu, ye splendid theories! Farewell, dreams of political
justice! Lawsuits, where I was counsel for Archbishop Fenelon _versus_
my own mother, in the famous fire cause!
Vanish from my mind, professors, one and all! I have metal more
attractive on foot.
Man of many snipes, I will sup with thee, Deo volente et diabolo
nolente, on Monday night the 5th of January, in the new year, and crush
a cup to the infant century.
A word or two of my progress. Embark at six o'clock in the morning, with
a fresh gale, on a Cambridge one-decker; very cold till eight at night;
land at St. Mary's light-house, muffins and coffee upon table (or any
other curious production of Turkey or both Indies), snipes exactly at
nine, punch to commence at ten, with _argument_; difference of opinion
is expected to take place about eleven; perfect unanimity, with some
haziness and dimness, before twelve.--N.B. My single affection is not so
singly wedded to snipes; but the curious and epicurean eye would also
take a pleasure in beholding a delicate and well-chosen assortment of
teals, ortolans, the unctuous and palate-soothing flesh of geese wild
and tame, nightingales' brains, the sensorium of a young sucking-pig, or
any other Christmas dish, which I leave to the judgment of you and the
cook of Gonville. C. LAMB.
[Lamb's copy of George Dyer's _Poems_ is in the British Museum. It has
the original withdrawn 1800 title-page and the cancelled preface bound
up with it, and Lamb has written against the reference to the sacrifice,
in the new 1801 preface: "One copy of this cancelled preface, snatch'd
out of the fire, is prefaced to this volume." See Letter 93, page 234.
It runs to sixty-five pages, whereas the new one is but a few words.
Southey tells Grosvenor Bedford in one of his letters that Lamb gave
Dyer the title of Cancellarius Magnus. Dyer reprinted in the 1802
edition of his Poems the greater part of the cancelled preface and all
of the first page--so that it is difficult to say what the fallacy was.
The original edition of his _Poems_, was to be in three large volumes.
In 1802 it had come down to two small ones.
Godwin's Persian drama was "Abbas, King of Persia," but he could not get
it acted. The reference to Fenelon is to Godwin's _Political Justice_
(first edition, Vol. I., page 84) where he argues on the comparative
worth of the persons of Fenelon, a chambermaid, and Godwin's mother,
supposing them to have been present at the famous fire at Cambrai and
only one of them to be saved. (As a matter of fact Fenelon was not at
We must suppose that Lamb carried out his intention of visiting Manning
on January 5; but there is no confirmation.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
[P.M. January 30, 1801.]
Thanks for your Letter and Present. I had already borrowed your second
volume. What most please me are, the Song of Lucy.... _Simon's sickly
daughter_ in the Sexton made me _cry_. Next to these are the description
of the continuous Echoes in the story of Joanna's laugh, where the
mountains and all the scenery absolutely seem alive--and that fine
Shakesperian character of the Happy Man, in the Brothers,
--that creeps about the fields,
Following his fancies by the hour, to bring
Tears down his cheek, or solitary smiles
Into his face, _until the Setting Sun_
Write Fool upon his forehead.
I will mention one more: the delicate and curious feeling in the wish
for the Cumberland Beggar, that he may have about him the melody of
Birds, altho' he hear them not. Here the mind knowingly passes a fiction
upon herself, first substituting her own feelings for the Beggar's, and,
in the same breath detecting the fallacy, will not part with the
wish.--The Poet's Epitaph is disfigured, to my taste by the vulgar
satire upon parsons and lawyers in the beginning, and the coarse epithet
of pin point in the 6th stanza. All the rest is eminently good, and your
own. I will just add that it appears to me a fault in the Beggar, that
the instructions conveyed in it are too direct and like a lecture: they
don't slide into the mind of the reader, while he is imagining no such
matter. An intelligent reader finds a sort of insult in being told, I
will teach you how to think upon this subject. This fault, if I am
right, is in a ten-thousandth worse degree to be found in Sterne and
many many novelists & modern poets, who continually put a sign post up
to shew where you are to feel. They set out with assuming their readers
to be stupid. Very different from Robinson Crusoe, the Vicar of
Wakefield, Roderick Random, and other beautiful bare narratives. There
is implied an unwritten compact between Author and reader; I will tell
you a story, and I suppose you will understand it. Modern novels "St.
Leons" and the like are full of such flowers as these "Let not my reader
suppose," "Imagine, _if you can_"--modest!--&c.--I will here have done
with praise and blame. I have written so much, only that you may not
think I have passed over your book without observation,--I am sorry that
Coleridge has christened his Ancient Marinere "a poet's Reverie"--it is
as bad as Bottom the Weaver's declaration that he is not a Lion but only
the scenical representation of a Lion. What new idea is gained by this
Title, but one subversive of all credit, which the tale should force
upon us, of its truth? For me, I was never so affected with any human
Tale. After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many
days--I dislike all the miraculous part of it, but the feelings of the
man under the operation of such scenery dragged me along like Tom
Piper's magic whistle. I totally differ from your idea that the Marinere
should have had a character and profession. This is a Beauty in
Gulliver's Travels, where the mind is kept in a placid state of little
wonderments; but the Ancient Marinere undergoes such Trials, as
overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was, like the
state of a man in a Bad dream, one terrible peculiarity of which is:
that all consciousness of personality is gone. Your other observation is
I think as well a little unfounded: the Marinere from being conversant
in supernatural events _has_ acquired a supernatural and strange cast of
_phrase_, eye, appearance, &c. which frighten the wedding guest. You
will excuse my remarks, because I am hurt and vexed that you should
think it necessary, with a prose apology, to open the eyes of dead men
that cannot see. To sum up a general opinion of the second vol.--I do
not feel any one poem in it so forcibly as the Ancient Marinere, the Mad
Mother, and the Lines at Tintern Abbey in the first.--I could, too, have
wished the Critical preface had appeared in a separate treatise. All its
dogmas are true and just, and most of them new, _as_ criticism. But they
associate a _diminishing_ idea with the Poems which follow, as having
been written for _Experiment_ on the public taste, more than having
sprung (as they must have done) from living and daily circumstances.--I
am prolix, because I am gratifyed in the opportunity of writing to you,
and I don't well know when to leave off. I ought before this to have
reply'd to your very kind invitation into Cumberland. With you and your
Sister I could gang any where. But I am afraid whether I shall ever be
able to afford so desperate a Journey. Separate from the pleasure of
your company, I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life. I
have passed all my days in London, until I have formed as many and
intense local attachments, as any of you mountaineers can have done with
dead nature. The Lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street, the
innumerable trades, tradesmen and customers, coaches, waggons,
playhouses, all the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden, the
very women of the Town, the Watchmen, drunken scenes, rattles,--life
awake, if you awake, at all hours of the night, the impossibility of
being dull in Fleet Street, the crowds, the very dirt & mud, the Sun
shining upon houses and pavements, the print shops, the old book stalls,
parsons cheap'ning books, coffee houses, steams of soups from kitchens,
the pantomimes, London itself a pantomime and a masquerade,--all these
things work themselves into my mind and feed me, without a power of
satiating me. The wonder of these sights impells me into night-walks
about her crowded streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand
from fulness of joy at so much Life.--All these emotions must be strange
to you. So are your rural emotions to me. But consider, what must I have
been doing all my life, not to have lent great portions of my heart with
usury to such scenes?--
My attachments are all local, purely local. I have no passion (or have
had none since I was in love, and then it was the spurious engendering
of poetry & books) to groves and vallies. The rooms where I was born,
the furniture which has been before my eyes all my life, a book case
which has followed me about (like a faithful dog, only exceeding him in
knowledge) wherever I have moved--old chairs, old tables, streets,
squares, where I have sunned myself, my old school,--these are my
mistresses. Have I not enough, without your mountains? I do not envy
you. I should pity you, did I not know, that the Mind will make friends
of any thing. Your sun & moon and skys and hills & lakes affect me no
more, or scarcely come to me in more venerable characters, than as a
gilded room with tapestry and tapers, where I might live with handsome
visible objects. I consider the clouds above me but as a roof,
beautifully painted but unable to satisfy the mind, and at last, like
the pictures of the apartment of a connoisseur, unable to afford him any
longer a pleasure. So fading upon me, from disuse, have been the
Beauties of Nature, as they have been confinedly called; so ever fresh &
green and warm are all the inventions of men and assemblies of men in
this great city. I should certainly have laughed with dear Joanna.
Give my kindest love, _and my sister's_, to D. & your_self_ and a kiss
from me to little Barbara Lewthwaite.
Thank you for Liking my Play!!
[This is the first--and perhaps the finest--letter from Lamb to
Wordsworth that has been preserved. Wordsworth, then living with his
sister Dorothy at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, was nearly thirty-one years of
age; Lamb was nearly twenty-six. The work criticised is the second
edition of the _Lyrical Ballads_. The second and sixth stanzas of the
"Poet's Epitaph" ran thus:--
A Lawyer art thou?--draw not nigh;
Go, carry to some other place
The hardness of thy coward eye,
The falshood of thy sallow face.
* * * * *
Wrapp'd closely in thy sensual fleece
O turn aside, and take, I pray,
That he below may rest in peace,
Thy pin-point of a soul away!
_St. Leon_ was by Godwin.
Of "The Ancient Mariner, a Poet's Reverie," Wordsworth had said in a
note to the first volume of _Lyrical Ballads_:--
"The Poem of my Friend has indeed great defects; first, that the
principal person has no distinct character, either in his profession of
Mariner, or as a human being who having been long under the controul of
supernatural impressions might be supposed himself to partake of
something supernatural; secondly, that he does not act, but is
continually acted upon; thirdly, that the events having no necessary
connection do not produce each other; and lastly, that the imagery is
somewhat too laboriously accumulated."
"The Mad Mother." The poem beginning, "Her eyes are wild, her head is
"I could, too, have wished." The passage from these words to "don't well
know when to leave off," used to be omitted in the editions of Lamb's
Letters. When Wordsworth sent the correspondence to Moxon, for
Talfourd's use, in 1835, he wrote:--
"There are, however, in them some parts which had better be kept
back.... I have also thought it proper to suppress every word of
criticism [Wordsworth meant adverse criticism] upon my own poems....
Those relating to my works are withheld, partly because I shrink from
the thought of assisting in any way to spread my own praises, and still
more I being convinced that the opinions or judgments of friends given
in this way are of little value."
"Joanna." Joanna of the laugh. "Barbara Lewthwaite." See Wordsworth's
"Thank you for Liking my Play!!" We must suppose this postscript to
contain a touch of sarcasm. Lamb had sent "John Woodvil" to Grasmere and
Keswick. Wordsworth apparently had been but politely interested in it.
Coleridge had written to Godwin: "Talking of tragedies, at every perusal
my love and admiration of his [Lamb's] play rises a peg."
Here should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, dated at end
February 7, 1801, not available for this edition. It is one of the best
letters written by Lamb to Robert Lloyd, or to any one. Lamb first
praises Izaak Walton, whose _Compleat Angler_ he loved for two reasons:
for itself and for its connection with his own Hertfordshire country,
Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Amwell and the Ware neighbourhood. The letter
passes to a third eulogy of London. Lamb closes by remarking that
Manning is "a dainty chiel, and a man of great power, an enchanter
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
Feb. 15, 1801.
I had need be cautious henceforward what opinion I give of the "Lyrical
Ballads." All the North of England are in a turmoil. Cumberland and
Westmoreland have already declared a state of war. I lately received
from Wordsworth a copy of the second volume, accompanied by an
acknowledgement of having received from me many months since a copy of a
certain Tragedy, with excuses for not having made any acknowledgement
sooner, it being owing to an "almost insurmountable aversion from
Letter-writing." This letter I answered in due form and time, and
enumerated several of the passages which had most affected me, adding,
unfortunately, that no single piece had moved me so forcibly as the
"Ancient Mariner," "The Mad Mother," or the "Lines at Tintern Abbey."
The Post did not sleep a moment. I received almost instantaneously a
long letter of four sweating pages from my Reluctant Letter-Writer, the
purport of which was, that he was sorry his 2d vol. had not given me
more pleasure (Devil a hint did I give that it had _not pleased me_),
and "was compelled to wish that my range of sensibility was more
extended, being obliged to believe that I should receive large influxes
of happiness and happy Thoughts" (I suppose from the L.B.)--With a deal
of stuff about a certain Union of Tenderness and Imagination, which in
the sense he used Imagination was not the characteristic of Shakspeare,
but which Milton possessed in a degree far exceeding other Poets: which
Union, as the highest species of Poetry, and chiefly deserving that
name, "He was most proud to aspire to;" then illustrating the said Union
by two quotations from his own 2d vol. (which I had been so unfortunate
as to miss). 1st Specimen--a father addresses his son:--
First camest into the World, as it befalls
To new-born Infants, thou didst sleep away
Two days: and _Blessings from Thy father's Tongue
Then fell upon thee_."
The lines were thus undermarked, and then followed "This Passage, as
combining in an extraordinary degree that Union of Imagination and
Tenderness which I am speaking of, I consider as one of the Best I ever
2d Specimen.--A youth, after years of absence, revisits his native
place, and thinks (as most people do) that there has been strange
alteration in his absence:--
"And that the rocks
And everlasting Hills themselves were changed."
You see both these are good Poetry: but after one has been reading
Shakspeare twenty of the best years of one's life, to have a fellow
start up, and prate about some unknown quality, which Shakspeare
possessed in a degree inferior to Milton and _somebody else_!! This was
not to be _all_ my castigation. Coleridge, who had not written to me
some months before, starts up from his bed of sickness to reprove me for
my hardy presumption: four long pages, equally sweaty and more tedious,
came from him; assuring me that, when the works of a man of true genius
such as W. undoubtedly was, do not please me at first sight, I should
suspect the fault to lie "in me and not in them," etc. etc. etc. etc.
etc. What am I to do with such people? I certainly shall write them a
very merry Letter. Writing to _you_, I may say that the 2d vol. has no
such pieces as the three I enumerated. It is full of original thinking
and an observing mind, but it does not often make you laugh or cry.--It
too artfully aims at simplicity of expression. And you sometimes doubt
if Simplicity be not a cover for Poverty. The best Piece in it I will
send you, being _short_. I have grievously offended my friends in the
North by declaring my undue preference; but I need not fear you:--
"She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the Springs of Dove,
A maid whom there were few [none] to praise
And very few to love.
"A violet, by a mossy stone,
Half hidden from the eye.
Fair as a star when only one
Is shining in the sky.
"She lived unknown; and few could know,
When Lucy ceased to be.
But she is in the grave, and oh!
The difference to me."
This is choice and genuine, and so are many, many more. But one does not
like to have 'em rammed down one's throat. "Pray, take it--it's very
good--let me help you--eat faster."
[It cannot be too much regretted that Lamb's "very merry Letter" in
answer to Wordsworth and Coleridge's remonstrances has not been
At the end of the letter is a passage which can be read only in the
Boston Bibliophile edition, referring to Dyer's Poems, to _John Woodvil_
and to Godwin.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[Late February, 1801.]
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 expressed 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 remembrance 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) 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
lyric 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
"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, John Stoddart, Esq.
N.B. the 2nd.--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, heroical, amatory, and satirical, would be
acceptable. So, you don't think there's a Word's--worth of good poetry
in the great L.B.! I daren't put the dreaded syllables at their just
length, for my back tingles from the northern castigation. I send you
the three letters, which I beg you to return along with those former
letters, which I hope you are not going to print by your detention. But
don't be in a hurry to send them. When you come to town will do. Apropos
of coming to town, last Sunday was a fortnight, as I was coming to town
from the Professor's, inspired with new rum, I tumbled down, and broke
my nose. I drink nothing stronger than malt liquors.
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 tiptoe) 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 urban 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 [that] enchanting,
more than Mahometan paradise, London, whose dirtiest drab-frequented
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! Ain't you mightily moped on the banks of the
Cam! 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.
Between you and me, the "Lyrical Ballads" are but drowsy performances.
C. LAMB (as you may guess).
[Lamb refers in his opening sentences to a letter from himself to
Manning which no longer exists. In Manning's last letter, dated February
24, he complains that he found on returning to Cambridge three copies of
a letter from Lamb suggesting that he was offended because he had not
The passage in George Dyer's _Poems_ between pages 291 and 296 is long,
but it is so quaint and so illustrative of its author's mind that I give
it in full, footnotes and all, in the Appendix to this volume.
Stoddart we have already met. He had translated, with Georg Heinrich
Noehden, Schiller's _Fiesco_, 1796, and _Don Carlos_, 1798. The copy of
Dyer's _Poems_ annotated by Lamb and Stoddart I have not seen.
"So, you don't think there's a Word's-worth..." Manning had written, on
February 24, 1801, of the second volume of _Lyrical Ballads_: "I think
'tis utterly absurd from one end to the other. You tell me 'tis good
poetry--if you mean that there is nothing puerile, nothing bombast or
conceited, everything else that is so often found to disfigure poetry, I
agree, but will you read it over and over again? Answer me that, Master
Lamb." The three letters containing the northern castigation are
"My back tingles." "Back" is not Lamb's word.
"I am going to change my lodgings." The Lambs were still at 34
Southampton Buildings; they moved to 16 Mitre Court Buildings just
before Lady Day, 1801.
"James, Walter, and the parson." In Wordsworth's poem "The Brothers."
Exeter Change, which stood where Burleigh Street now is, was a great
building, with bookstalls and miscellaneous stalls on the ground floor
and a menagerie above. It was demolished in 1829.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS 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'. You 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 shew you the Surrey Hills. My bed faces 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 panes, 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 on which Manning lay--the
friendly, the mathematical Manning! How forcibly does it remind me of
the interesting Otway! "The very 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 condition you will be my day-guest.
I have been ill more than month, with a bad cold, which comes upon me
(like a murderer's conscience) about midnight, and vexes me for many
hours. I have successively been drugged with Spanish licorice, opium,
ipecacuanha, paregoric, and tincture of foxglove (tinctura purpurae
digitalis of the ancients). I am afraid I must leave off drinking.
[Francis Maseres (1731-1824), whom Lamb mentions again in his _Elia_
essay on "The Old Benchers," was the mathematician (hence his interest
to Manning) and reformer. His rooms were at 5 King's Bench Walk. He
became Cursitor Baron of the Exchequer in 1773. To the end he wore a
three-cornered hat, a wig and ruffles. Priestley praised the Baron's
mathematical labours, in which he had the support of William Frend.]
CHARLES LAME TO THOMAS MANNING
[No date. ? April, 1801.]
Dear Manning,--I sent to Brown's immediately. Mr. Brown (or Pijou, as he
is called by the moderns) denied the having received a letter from you.
The one for you he remembered receiving, and remitting to Leadenhall
Street; whither I immediately posted (it being the middle of dinner), my
teeth unpicked. There I learned that if you want a letter set right, you
must apply at the first door on the left hand before one o'clock. I
returned and picked my teeth. And this morning I made my application in
form, and have seen the vagabond letter, which most likely accompanies
this. If it does not, I will get Rickman to name it to the Speaker, who
will not fail to lay the matter before Parliament the next sessions,
when you may be sure to have all abuses in the Post Department
N.B. There seems to be some informality epidemical. You direct yours to
me in Mitre Court; my true address is Mitre Court Buildings. By the
pleasantries of Fortune, who likes a joke or a _double entendre_ as well
as the best of her children, there happens to be another Mr. Lamb (that
there should be two!!) in Mitre Court.
Farewell, and think upon it.
[Here should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, dated April 6,
1801, in praise of Jeremy Taylor, particularly the _Holy Dying_. Lamb
recommends Lloyd to read the story of the Ephesian matron in the eighth
Here also should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, dated June 26,
1801, containing a very interesting criticism of George Frederick
Cooke's acting as Richard III. at Covent Garden. Lamb wrote for the
_Morning Post_, January 8, 1802, a criticism of Cooke in this part,
which will be found in Vol. I. of the present edition.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
June 29, 1801.
Dear Sir,--Doctor Christy's Brother and Sister are come to town, and
have shown me great civilities. I in return wish to requite them,
having, _by God's grace_, principles of generosity _implanted_ (as the
moralists say) in my nature, which have been duly cultivated and watered
by good and religious friends, and a pious education. They have picked
up in the northern parts of the island an astonishing admiration of the
great author of the New Philosophy in England, and I have ventured to
promise their taste an evening's gratification by seeing Mr. Godwin
_face_ to _face!!!!!_ Will you do them and me _in_ them the pleasure of
drinking tea and supping with me at the _old_ number 16 on Friday or
Saturday next? An early nomination of the day will very much oblige
[Dr. Christy's brother and sister I do not identify.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WALTER WILSON
August 14th, 1801.
Dear Wilson.--I am extremely sorry that any serious difference should
subsist between us on account of some foolish behaviour of mine at
Richmond; you knew me well enough before--that a very little liquor will
cause a considerable alteration in me.
I beg you to impute my conduct solely to that, and not to any deliberate
intention of offending you, from whom I have received so many friendly
attentions. I know that you think a very important difference in opinion
with respect to some more serious subjects between us makes me a
dangerous companion; but do not rashly infer, from some slight and light
expressions which I may have made use of in a moment of levity in your
presence, without sufficient regard to your feelings--do not conclude
that I am an inveterate enemy to all religion. I have had a time of
seriousness, and I have known the importance and reality of a religious
Latterly, I acknowledge, much of my seriousness has gone off, whether
from new company or some other new associations; but I still retain at
bottom a conviction of the truth, and a certainty of the usefulness of
religion. I will not pretend to more gravity or feeling than I at
present possess; my intention is not to persuade you that any great
alteration is probable in me; sudden converts are superficial and
transitory; I only want you to believe that I have _stamina_ of
seriousness within me, and that I desire nothing more than a return of
that friendly intercourse which used to subsist between us, but which my
folly has suspended.
Believe me, very affectionately yours,
[Walter Wilson (1781-1847) was, perhaps, at this time, or certainly
previously, in the India House with Lamb. Later he became a bookseller,
and then, inheriting money, he entered at the Inner Temple. We meet him
again later in the correspondence, in connection with his _Life of
One wonders if the following passage in Hazlitt's essay "On Coffee-House
Politicians" in _Table Talk_ has any reference to the Richmond
"Elia, the grave and witty, says things not to be surpassed in essence:
but the manner is more painful and less a relief to my own thoughts.
Some one conceived he could not be an excellent companion, because he
was seen walking down the side of the Thames, _passibus iniquis_, after
dining at Richmond. The objection was not valid."]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
Dear Manning,--I have forborne writing so long (and so have you, for the
matter of that), until I am almost ashamed either to write or to forbear
any longer. But as your silence may proceed from some worse cause than
neglect--from illness, or some mishap which may have befallen you--I
begin to be anxious. You may have been burnt out, or you may have
married, or you may have broken a limb, or turned country parson; any of
these would be excuse sufficient for not coming to my supper. I am not
so unforgiving as the nobleman in "Saint Mark." For me, nothing new has
happened to me, unless that the poor "Albion" died last Saturday of the
world's neglect, and with it the fountain of my puns is choked up for
All the Lloyds wonder that you do not write to them. They apply to me
for the cause. Relieve me from this weight of ignorance, and enable me
to give a truly oracular response.
I have been confined some days with swelled cheek and rheumatism--they
divide and govern me with a viceroy-headache in the middle. I can
neither write nor read without great pain. It must be something like
obstinacy that I choose this time to write to you in after many months
I will close my letter of simple inquiry with an epigram on Mackintosh,
the "Vindiciae Gallicae"-man--who has got a place at last--one of the
last I _did_ for the "Albion";--
"Though thou'rt like Judas, an apostate black,
In the resemblance one thing thou dost lack;
When he had gotten his ill-purchas'd pelf,
He went away, and wisely hanged himself:
This thou may do at last, yet much I doubt,
If thou hast any _Bowels_ to gush out!"
Yours, as ever,
[The Albion was at the time of its decease owned and edited by John
Fenwick, a friend of Lamb's whom we shall meet again. Lamb told the
story in the _Elia_ essay on "Newspapers" in the following passage:--
"From the office of the _Morning Post_ (for we may as well exhaust our
Newspaper Reminiscences at once) by change of property in the paper, we
were transferred, mortifying exchanged to the office of the Albion
Newspaper, late Rackstrow's Museum, in Fleet Street. What a transition--
from a handsome apartment, from rose-wood desks, and silver inkstands,
to an office--no office, but a _den_ rather, but just redeemed from the
occupation of dead monsters, of which it seemed redolent--from the
centre of loyalty and fashion, to a focus of vulgarity and sedition!
Here in murky closet, inadequate from its square contents to the receipt
of the two bodies of Editor, and humble paragraph-maker, together at one
time, sat in the discharge of his new Editorial functions (the 'Bigod'
of _Elia_) the redoubted John Fenwick.
"F., without a guinea in his pocket, and having left not many in the
pockets of his friends whom he might command, had purchased (on tick
doubtless) the whole and sole Editorship, Proprietorship, with all the
rights and titles (such as they were worth) of the Albion, from one
Lovell; of whom we know nothing, save that he had stood in the pillory
for a libel on the Prince of Wales. With this hopeless concern--for it
had been sinking ever since its commencement, and could now reckon upon
not more than a hundred subscribers--F. resolutely determined upon
pulling down the Government in the first instance, and making both our
fortunes by way of corollary. For seven weeks and more did this
infatuated Democrat go about borrowing seven shilling pieces, and lesser
coin, to meet the daily demands of the Stamp Office, which allowed no
credit to publications of that side in politics. An outcast from politer
bread, we attached our small talents to the forlorn fortunes of our
friend. Our occupation now was to write treason.
"Recollections of feelings--which were all that now remained from our
first boyish heats kindled by the French Revolution, when if we were
misled, we erred in the company of some, who are accounted very good men
now--rather than any tendency at this time to Republican doctrines--
assisted us in assuming a style of writing, while the paper lasted,
consonant in no very under-tone to the right earnest fanaticism of F.
Our cue was now to insinuate, rather than recommend, possible
abdications. Blocks, axes, Whitehall tribunals, were covered with
flowers of so cunning a periphrasis--as Mr. Bayes says, never naming the
_thing_ directly--that the keen eye of an Attorney-General was
insufficient to detect the lurking snake among them. There were times,
indeed, when we signed for our more gentleman-like occupation under
Stuart. But with change of masters it is ever change of service. Already
one paragraph, and another, as we learned afterwards from a gentleman at
the Treasury, had begun to be marked at that office, with a view of its
being submitted at least to the attention of the proper Law Officers--
when an unlucky, or rather lucky epigram from our pen, aimed at Sir
J------s M------h, who was on the eve of departing for India to reap the
fruits of his apostacy, as F. pronounced it, (it is hardly worth
particularising), happening to offend the nice sense of Lord, or, as he
then delighted to be called, Citizen Stanhope, deprived F. at once of
the last hopes of a guinea from the last patron that had stuck by us;
and breaking up our establishment, left us to the safe, but somewhat
mortifying, neglect of the Crown Lawyers."
There are, however, in Lamb's account, written thirty years afterwards,
some errors. He passed rather from the _Albion_ to the _Post_ than from
the _Post_ to the _Albion_ (see the notes in Vol. II.). Sir James
Mackintosh was not in 1801 on the eve of departing for India: he did not
get the post of Recordership of Bombay until two years later. The
epigram probably referred to an earlier rumour of a post for him. His
apostasy consisted in recanting in 1800 from the opinions set forth in
his _Vindiciae Gallicae_, 1791, a book supporting the French
Revolutionists, and in becoming a close friend of his old enemy Burke. I
have not succeeded in finding a file of the Albion, nor, I believe, has
any one else.
"The nobleman in 'St. Mark.'" Lamb was thinking of Luke xiv. 16-24.]
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[P.M. August 31, 1801.]
I heard that you were going to China, with a commission from the
Wedgwoods to collect hints for their pottery, and to teach the Chinese
_perspective_. But I did not know that London lay in your way to Pekin.
I am seriously glad of it, for I shall trouble you with a small present
for the Emperor of Usbeck Tartary, as you go by his territories: it is a
fragment of a "Dissertation on the state of political parties in England
at the end of the eighteenth century," which will no doubt be very
interesting to his Imperial Majesty. It was written originally in
English for the use of the _two_ and _twenty_ readers of "The Albion"
(this _calculation_ includes a printer, four pressmen, and a devil); but
becoming of no use when "The Albion" stopped, I got it translated into
Usbeck Tartar by my good friend Tibet Kulm, who is come to London with a
_civil_ invitation from the Cham to the English nation to go over to the
worship of the Lama.
"The Albion" is dead--dead as nail in door--and my revenues have died
with it; but I am not as a man without hope. I have got a sort of
opening to the "Morning Chronicle," !!! Mister Manning, by means of that
common dispenser of benevolence, Mister Dyer. I have not seen Perry the
editor yet: but I am preparing a specimen. I shall have a difficult job
to manage, for you must know that Mister Perry, in common with the great
body of the Whigs, thinks "The Albion" _very low_. I find I must rise a
peg or so, be a little more decent and less abusive; for, to confess the
truth, I had arrived to an abominable pitch; I spared neither age nor
sex when my cue was given me. _N'importe_ (as they say in French): any
climate will suit me. So you are about to bring your old face-making
face to London. You could not come in a better time for my purposes; for
I have just lost Rickman, a faint idea of whose character I sent you. He
is gone to Ireland for a year or two, to make his fortune; and I have
lost by his going, what [it] seems to me I can never recover--_a
finished man_. His memory will be to me as the brazen serpent to the
Israelites,--I shall look up to it, to keep me upright and honest. But
he may yet bring back his honest face to England one day. I wish your
affairs with the Emperor of China had not been _so urgent_, that you
might have stayed in Great Britain a year or two longer, to have seen
him; for, judging from _my own_ experience, I almost dare pronounce you
never saw his equal. I never saw a man that could be at all a second or
substitute for him in any sort.
Imagine that what is here erased was an apology and explanation,
perfectly satisfactory you may be sure! for rating this man so highly at
the expense of ----, and ----, and ----, and M----, and ----, and ----,
and ----. But Mister Burke has explained this phenomenon of our nature
very prettily in his letter to a Member of the National Assembly, or
else in his Appeal to the old Whigs, I forget which. Do you remember an
instance, from Homer (who understood these matters tolerably well) of
Priam driving away his other sons with expressions of wrath and bitter
reproach, when Hector was just dead.
I live where I did, in a _private_ manner, because I don't like _state_.
Nothing is so disagreeable to me as the clamours and applauses of the
mob. For this reason I live in an _obscure_ situation in one of the
courts of the Temple.
[Manning had taken up Chinese at Cambridge, and in 1800 he had moved to
Paris to study the language under Dr. Hagan. He did not, however, go to
China until 1806. The Wedgwoods were Coleridge's patrons. Lamb's
reference to them is, of course, a joke.
The _Morning Chronicle_ was then the chief Whig paper, the principal
opponent of the _Morning Post_. I have, I think, traced two or three of
Lamb's contributions to the _Chronicle_ at this period, but they are not
of his best. He quickly moved on to the _Post_, but, as we shall see,
only for a short period.
Rickman went to Dublin in 1801 with Abbot, the Chief Secretary for
Ireland, and was appointed Deputy-Keeper of the Privy Seal. He returned
in February, 1802.
The reference to Burke is to his justification of his particular
solicitude for the Crown, as the part of the British Constitution then
in danger, though not in itself more important than the other parts, in
the "Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs." The Priam-Hector
illustration is there employed.
"Homer." See _The Iliad_, Book 24, lines 311-316. Pope translates
Next on his sons his erring fury falls,
Polites, Paris, Agathon, he calls;
His threats Diphobus and Dius hear,
Hippothoues, Pammon, Helenus the seer,
And generous Antiphon: for yet these nine
Survived, sad relics of his numerous line.
Following this letter should come one from Lamb to John Rickman, dated
September 16, 1801 (the first of a valuable series printed in Canon
Ainger's latest edition), saying that he and his sister are at Margate.
He has been trying to write for the _Morning Chronicle_ but with little
success. Is now meditating a book: "Why should every creature make books
but I?" After a passage concerning George Burnett, Lamb describes Godwin
and his courtship of his second wife--"a very disgusting woman." "You
never saw such a philosophic coxcomb, nor any one play the Romeo so
Here should come a mutilated letter, not yet printed, I believe, shown
to me by Mr. Bertram Dobell, from Lamb to Manning, written probably at
Margate, where this year's holidays were spent. It is deeply interesting
and I wish 1 could print it even with its imperfections. There are
references to White, Dyer, Coleridge ("Pity that such human frailties
should perch upon the margin of Ulswater Lake") and the Lloyds. Also to
politics and the riddle of life. "What we came here for I know no more
than [an] Ideot."]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
Sept. 9, 1801.
Dear Sir,--Nothing runs in my head when I think of your story, but that
you should make it as like the life of Savage as possible. That is a
known and familiar tale, and its effect on the public mind has been very
great. Many of the incidents in the true history are readily made
dramatical. For instance, Savage used to walk backwards and forwards o'
nights to his mother's window, to catch a glimpse of her, as she passed
with a candle. With some such situation the play might happily open. I
would plunge my Hero, exactly like Savage, into difficulties and
embarrassments, the consequences of an unsettled mind: out of which he
may be extricated by the unknown interference of his mother. He should
be attended from the beginning by a friend, who should stand in much the
same relation towards him as Horatio to Altamont in the play of the Fair
Penitent. A character of this sort seems indispensable. This friend
might gain interviews with the mother, when the son was refused sight of
her. Like Horatio with Calista, he might wring his [her?] soul. Like
Horatio, he might learn the secret _first_. He might be exactly in the
same perplexing situation, when he had learned it, whether to tell it or
conceal it from the Son (I have still Savage in my head) might _kill_ a
man (as he did) in an affray--he should receive a pardon, as Savage
did--and the mother might interfere to have him _banished_. This should
provoke the Friend to demand an interview with her husband, and disclose
the whole secret. The husband, refusing to believe anything to her
dishonour, should fight with him. The husband repents before he dies.
The mother explains and confesses everything in his presence. The son is
admitted to an interview with his now acknowledged mother. Instead of
embraces, she resolves to abstract herself from all pleasure, even from
his sight, in voluntary penance all her days after. This is crude
indeed!! but I am totally unable to suggest a better. I am the worst
hand in the world at a plot. But I understand enough of passion to
predict that your story, with some of Savage's, which has no repugnance,
but a natural alliance with it, cannot fail. The mystery of the
suspected relationship--the suspicion, generated from slight and
forgotten circumstances, coming at last to act as Instinct, and so to be
mistaken for Instinct--the son's unceasing pursuit and throwing of
himself in his mother's way, something like Falkland's eternal
persecution of Williams--the high and intricate passion in the mother,
the being obliged to shun and keep at a distance the thing nearest to
her heart--to be cruel, where her heart yearns to be kind, without a
possibility of explanation. You have the power of life and death and the
hearts of your auditors in your hands; still Harris will want a
skeleton, and he must have it. I can only put in some sorry hints. The
discovery to the son's friend may take place not before the 3d act--in
some such way as this. The mother may cross the street--he may point her
out to some gay companion of his as the Beauty of Leghorn--the pattern
for wives, &c. &c. His companion, who is an Englishman, laughs at his
mistake, and knows her to have been the famous Nancy Dawson, or any one
else, who captivated the English king. Some such way seems dramatic, and
speaks to the Eye. The audience will enter into the Friend's surprise,
and into the perplexity of his situation. These Ocular Scenes are so
many great landmarks, rememberable headlands and lighthouses in the
voyage. Macbeth's witch has a good advice to a magic [? tragic] writer,
what to do with his spectator.
"_Show_ his _eyes_, and grieve his heart."
The most difficult thing seems to be, What to do with the husband? You
will not make him jealous of his own son? that is a stale and an
unpleasant trick in Douglas, etc. Can't you keep him out of the way till
you want him, as the husband of Isabella is conveniently sent off till
his cue comes? There will be story enough without him, and he will only
puzzle all. Catastrophes are worst of all. Mine is most stupid. I only
propose it to fulfil my engagement, not in hopes to convert you.
It is always difficult to get rid of a woman at the end of a tragedy.
_Men_ may fight and die. A woman must either take poison, _which is a
nasty trick_, or go mad, which is not fit to be shown, or retire, which
is poor, only retiring is most reputable.
I am sorry I can furnish you no better: but I find it extremely
difficult to settle my thoughts upon anything but the scene before me,
when I am from home, I am from home so seldom. If any, the least hint
crosses me, I will write again, and I very much wish to read your plan,
if you could abridge and send it. In this little scrawl you must take
the will for the deed, for I most sincerely wish success to your
[This and the letter that follows it contain Lamb's suggestions for
Godwin's play "Faulkener," upon which he was now meditating, but which
was not performed until 1807. Lamb wrote the prologue, a poem in praise
of Defoe, since it was in _Roxana_, or at least in one edition of it,
that the counterpart to, or portion of, Godwin's plot is found. There,
however, the central figure is a daughter, not a son. See the letters to
Mr. Swinburne, in the little article to which I have already alluded,
says of this and the following letter: "Several of Lamb's suggestions,
in spite of his own modest disclaimer ('I am the worst hand in the world
at a plot'), seem to me, especially as coming from the author of a
tragedy memorable alike for sweetness of moral emotion and emptiness of
theatrical subject, worthy of note for the instinctive intuition of high
dramatic effect implied in their rough and rapid outlines."
Richard Savage, the poet, whose life Johnson wrote, claimed to be the
illegitimate son of Lady Macclesfield by Lord Rivers. Savage killed
Sinclair in a tavern quarrel in 1727, and was condemned to death. His
pardon was obtained by the Countess of Hertford.
"The Fair Penitent" is by Nicholas Rowe.
Falkland and Williams are in Godwin's novel _Caleb Williams_, dramatised
by Colman as "The Iron Chest."
"Harris will want a skeleton." Thomas Harris, stage manager of Covent
Nancy Dawson (1730?-1767), the famous dancer and _bona roba_.
"The husband of Isabella." In Southern's "Fatal Marriage."]
CHARLES LAMB TO WILLIAM GODWIN
Margate, Sep. 17, 1801.
I shall be glad to come home and talk these matters over with you. I
have read your scheme very attentively. That Arabella has been mistress
to King Charles is sufficient to all the purposes of the story. It can
only diminish that respect we feel for her to make her turn whore to one
of the Lords of his Bed-chamber. Her son must not know that she has been
a whore: it matters not that she has been whore to a _King_: equally in
both cases it is against decorum and against the delicacy of a son's
respect that he should be privy to it. No doubt, many sons might feel a
wayward pleasure in the honourable guilt of their mothers; but is it a
true feeling? Is it the best sort of feeling? Is it a feeling to be
exposed on theatres to mothers and daughters? Your conclusion (or rather
Defoe's) comes far short of the tragic ending, which is always expected;
and it is not safe to disappoint. A tragic auditory wants _blood_. They
care but little about a man and his wife parting. Besides, what will you
do with the son, after all his pursuits and adventures? Even quietly
leave him to take guinea-and-a-half lodgings with mamma in Leghorn! O
impotent and pacific measures!... I am certain that you must mix up some
strong ingredients of distress to give a savour to your pottage. I still
think that you may, and must, graft the story of Savage upon Defoe. Your
hero must _kill a man or do some thing_. Can't you bring him to the
gallows or some great mischief, out of which she _must_ have recourse to
an explanation with her husband to save him. Think on this. The husband,
for instance, has great friends in Court at Leghorn. The son is
condemned to death. She cannot teaze him for a stranger. She must tell
the whole truth. Or she _may_ tease him, as for a stranger, till (like
Othello in Cassio's case) he begins to suspect her for her importunity.
Or, being pardoned, can she not teaze her husband to get him banished?
Something of this I suggested before. _Both_ is best. The murder and the
pardon will make business for the fourth act, and the banishment and
explanation (by means of the _Friend_ I want you to draw) the fifth. You
must not open any of the truth to Dawley by means of a letter. A letter
is a feeble messenger on the stage. Somebody, the son or his friend,
must, as a _coup de main_, be exasperated, and obliged to tell the
husband. Damn the husband and his "gentlemanlike qualities." Keep him
out of sight, or he will trouble all. Let him be in England on trade,
and come home, as Biron does in Isabella, in the fourth act, when he is
wanted. I am for introducing situations, sort of counterparts to
situations, which have been tried in other plays--_like_ but not the
_same_. On this principle I recommended a friend like Horatio in the
"Fair Penitent," and on this principle I recommend a situation like
Othello, with relation to Desdemona's intercession for Cassio. By-scenes
may likewise receive hints. The son may see his mother at a mask or
feast, as Romeo, Juliet. The festivity of the company contrasts with the
strong perturbations of the individuals. Dawley may be told his wife's
past unchastity at a mask by some witch-character--as Macbeth upon the
heath, in dark sentences. This may stir his brain, and be forgot, but
come in aid of stronger proof hereafter. From this, what you will
perhaps call whimsical way of counterparting, this honest stealing, and
original mode of plagiarism, much yet, I think, remains to be sucked.
Excuse these abortions. I thought you would want the draught soon again,
and I would not send it empty away.--Yours truly,
Somers Town, 17th Sept., 1801.
[The point of signing this letter with Godwin's name and adding his
address (Lamb, it will be noticed, was then at Margate) is not clear.
I place here the following letter, not having any clue as to date, which
CHARLES LAMB TO MRS. WILLIAM GODWIN
Dear Mrs. G.,--Having observed with some concern that Mr. Godwin is a
little fastidious in what he eats for supper, I herewith beg to present
his palate with a piece of dried salmon. I am assured it is the best
that swims in Trent. If you do not know how to dress it, allow me to add
that it should be cut in thin slices and boiled in paper _previously
prepared in butter_. Wishing it exquisite, I remain,--Much as before,
Some add _mashed potatoes_.
[Following this letter should come a letter from Lamb to John Rickman,
describing the state of their two George friends: George the First
(George Dyer) and George the Second (George Burnett). Burnett, he says,
as ill becomes adversity as Dyer would prosperity. He tells also of
another poor acquaintance of Rickman's--one Simonds with a slit lip, who
has been to Lamb to borrow money. "Saving his dirty shirt and his
physiognomy and his 'bacco box, together with a certain kiddy air in his
walk, a man w'd have gone near to have mistaken him for a gentleman. He
has a sort of ambition to be so misunderstood."]
CHARLES LAMB TO JOHN RICKMAN
John Rickman, Esqr.,
[No date. ? November, 1801.]
A letter from G. Dyer will probably accompany this. I wish I could
convey to you any notion of the whimsical scenes I have been witness to
in this fortnight past. 'Twas on Tuesday week the poor heathen scrambled
up to my door about breakfast time. He came thro' a violent rain with no
neckcloth on, and a _beard_ that made him a spectacle to men and angels,
and tap'd at the door. Mary open'd it, and he stood stark still and held
a paper in his hand importing that he had been ill with a fever. He
either wouldn't or couldn't speak except by signs. When you went to
comfort him he put his hand upon his heart and shook his head and told
us his complaint lay where no medicines could reach it. I was dispatch'd
for Dr. Dale, Mr. Phillips of St. Paul's Church yard, and Mr. Frend, who
is to be his executor. George solemnly delivered into Mr. Frend's hands
and mine an old burnt preface that had been in the fire, with
injunctions which we solemnly vow'd to obey that it should be printed
after his death with his last corrections, and that some account should
be given to the world why he had not fulfill'd his engagement with
subscribers. Having done this and borrow'd two guineas of his bookseller
(to whom he imparted in confidence that he should leave a great many
loose papers behind him which would only want methodizing and arranging
to prove very lucrative to any bookseller after his death), he laid
himself down on my bed in a mood of complacent resignation. By the aid
of meat and drink put into him (for I all along suspected a vacuum) he
was enabled to sit up in the evening, but he had not got the better of
his intolerable fear of dying; he expressed such philosophic
indifference in his speech and such frightened apprehensions in his
physiognomy that if he had truly been dying, and I had known it, I could
not have kept my countenance. In particular, when the doctor came and
ordered him to take little white powders (I suppose of chalk or alum, to
humour him), he ey'd him with a _suspicion_ which I could not account
for; he has since explain'd that he took it for granted Dr. Dale knew
his situation and had ordered him these powders to hasten his departure
that he might suffer as little pain as possible. Think what an aspect
the heathen put on with these fears upon a dirty face. To recount all
his freaks for two or three days while he thought he was going, and how
the fit operated, and sometimes the man got uppermost and sometimes the
author, and he had this excellent person to serve, and he must correct
some proof sheets for Phillips, and he could not bear to leave his
subscribers unsatisfy'd, but he must not think of these things now, he
was going to a place where he should satisfy all his debts--and when he
got a little better he began to discourse what a happy thing it would be
if there was a place where all the good men and women in the world might
meet, meaning heav'n, and I really believe for a time he had doubts
about his soul, for he was very near, if not quite, light-headed. The
fact was he had not had a good meal for some days and his little dirty
Niece (whom he sent for with a still dirtier Nephew, and hugg'd him, and
bid them farewell) told us that unless he dines out he subsists on tea
and gruels. And he corroborated this tale by ever and anon complaining
of sensations of gnawing which he felt about his heart, which he mistook
his stomach to be, and sure enough these gnawings were dissipated after
a meal or two, and he surely thinks that he has been rescued from the
jaws of death by Dr. Dale's white powders. He is got quite well again by
nursing, and chirps of odes and lyric poetry the day long--he is to go
out of town on Monday, and with him goes the dirty train of his papers
and books which follow'd him to our house. I shall not be sorry when he
takes his nipt carcase out of my bed, which it has occupied, and
vanishes with all his Lyric lumber, but I will endeavour to bring him in
future into a method of dining at least once a day. I have proposed to
him to dine with me (and he has nearly come into it) whenever he does
not go out; and pay me. I will take his money beforehand and he shall
eat it out. If I don't it will go all over the world. Some worthless
relations, of which the dirty little devil that looks after him and a
still more dirty nephew are component particles, I have reason to think
divide all his gains with some lazy worthless authors that are his
constant satellites. The Literary Fund has voted him seasonably L20 and
if I can help it he shall spend it on his own carcase. I have assisted
him in arranging the remainder of what he calls Poems and he will get
rid of 'em I hope in another. [_Here three lines are torn away at the
foot of the page, wherein Lamb makes the transition from George Dyer to
another poor author, George Burnett._]
I promised Burnet to write when his parcel went. He wants me to certify
that he is more awake than you think him. I believe he may be by this
time, but he is so full of self-opinion that I fear whether he and
Phillips will ever do together. What he is to do for Phillips he
whimsically seems to consider more as a favor done _to_ P. than a job
_from_ P. He still persists to call employment _dependence_, and prates
about the insolence of booksellers and the tax upon geniuses. Poor
devil! he is not launched upon the ocean and is sea-sick with
aforethought. I write plainly about him, and he would stare and frown
finely if he read this treacherous epistle, but I really am anxious
about him, and that [? it] nettles me to see him so proud and so
helpless. If he is not serv'd he will never serve himself. I read his
long letter to Southey, which I suppose you have seen. He had better
have been furnishing copy for Phillips than luxuriating in tracing the
causes of his imbecillity. I believe he is a little wrong in not
ascribing more to the structure of his own mind. He had his yawns from
nature, his pride from education.
I hope to see Southey soon, so I need only send my remembrance to him
now. Doubtless I need not tell him that Burnett is not to be foster'd in
self-opinion. His eyes want opening, to see himself a man of middling
stature. I am not oculist enough to do this. The booksellers may one day
remove the film. I am all this time on the most cordial supping terms of
amity with G. Burnett and really love him at times: but I must speak
freely of people behind their backs and not think it back-biting. It is
better than Godwin's way of telling a man he is a fool to his face.
I think if you could do any thing for George in the way of an office
(God knows whether you can in any haste [? case], but you did talk of
it) it is my firm belief that it would be his _only chance_ of
settlement; he will never live by his _literary exertions_, as he calls
them--he is too proud to go the usual way to work and he has no talents
to make that way unnecessary. I know he talks big in his letter to
Southey that his mind is undergoing an alteration and that the die is
now casting that shall consign him to honor or dishonour, but these
expressions are the convulsions of a fever, not the sober workings of
health. Translated into plain English, he now and then perceives he must
work or starve, and then he thinks he'll work; but when he goes about it
there's a lion in the way. He came dawdling to me for an Encyclopaedia
yesterday. I recommended him to Norris' library and he said if he could
not get it there, Phillips was bound to furnish him with one; it was
Phillips' interest to do so, and all that. This was true with some
restrictions--but as to Phillips' interests to oblige G.B.! Lord help
his simple head! P. could by a _whistle_ call together a host of such
authors as G. B. like Robin Hood's merry men in green. P. has regular
regiments in pay. Poor writers are his crab-lice and suck at him for
nutriment. His round pudding chops are their _idea_ of plenty when _in
their idle fancies they aspire to be rich_.
What do you think of a life of G. Dyer? I can scarcely conceive a more
amusing novel. He has been connected with all sects in the world and he
will faithfully tell all he knows. Every body will read it; and if it is
not done according to my fancy I promise to put him in a novel when he
dies. Nothing shall escape _me_. If you think it feasible, whenever you
write you may encourage him. Since he has been so close with me I have
perceiv'd the workings of his inordinate vanity, his gigantic attention
to particles and to prevent open vowels in his odes, his solicitude that
the public may not lose any tittle of his poems by his death, and all
the while his utter ignorance that the world don't care a pin about his
odes and his criticisms, a fact which every body knows but himself--he
_is a rum genius_.
[Dr. Dale would probably be Thomas Dale of Devonshire Square,
Bishopsgate, who had a large city practice in those days. He died in
"An old burnt preface." See note on page 210.
George Burnett we have already met. He was born probably in 1776. He
went to Balliol, met Southey and Coleridge and became a Pantisocratist.
Subsequently he became a dissenting minister at Yarmouth, and then a
medical student at Edinburgh; and later he succeeded George Dyer as
tutor in the family of Lord Stanhope. He became one of Phillips' hacks,
as Lamb's letter tells us. His principal work was the _Specimens of
English Prose Writers_, 1807, in three volumes, in which it has been
stated that Lamb had a hand. He died in want in 1811.
The reference to Southey being in Dublin is explained by the fact that,
through Rickman, he had been appointed private secretary to Mr. Corry,
Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland, at a salary of L400. He did not
long retain the post, as it was vexatious and the duties very irregular.
Lamb's next letter to Rickman, dated November 24, 1801, contains better
news of Dyer and returns to the subject of _John Woodvil_. "Dyer
regularly dines with me when he does not go a visiting, and brings his
shilling." Also, says Lamb, he talks of marrying. "He has not forgiven
me for betraying to you his purpose of writing his own Life. He says,
that if it once spreads, so many people will expect and wish to have a
place in it, that he is sure he shall disoblige all his friends."
Another, undated, letter to Rickman should probably come here-abouts,
saying that Dyer has been lent a house at Enfield full of books, where
he is at work on his Poems.
Here perhaps should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, returning
to Jeremy Taylor, and deprecating a selection from his works, which
Robert Lloyd had suggested that Lamb should make. (In 1805 Basil
Montagu, afterwards, if not now, a friend of Lamb's, published a volume
of _Selections from the Works of Taylor, Etc_.) Lamb says that Manning
and Coleridge are in town, and he is making a thorough alteration in the
structure of his play (_John Woodvil_) for publication.
Here perhaps should come a further undated letter to Rickman in which
Lamb says that the receipt of L50 for an old debt has made it possible
to print _John Woodvil_. Dyer, he says, is "the most unmanageable of
God's creatures." Burnett is in a very bad way again. Fenwick's paper
_The Plough_ has become a weekly. Godwin is not yet married. Fell,
Godwin's shadow, is writing a comedy: "An Owl making a Pun would be no
bad emblem of the unnatural attempt." In a postscript Lamb says that he
has since read the play and it is not bad: "Who knows, but Owls do make
Puns when they hoot by moonshine." The best news is that Lamb hopes to
be a theatrical critic for the _Morning Post_.
Here should come a letter to Rickman dated January 9, 1802, the
principal news in which is that George Dyer is consorting with the Earl
of Buchan, the "eccentric biographer of Fletcher of Saltoun," and has
brought him to see Lamb. "I wan't at home, but Mary was washing--a
pretty pickle to receive an Earl in! Lord have mercy upon us! a Lord in
my garret! My utmost ambition was some time or other to receive a
Secretary. Well, I am to breakfast with this mad Lord on Sunday." Lamb
refers to his article in the _Post_ on Cooke's "Richard III."
Here should come a letter to Rickman dated January 14, 1802, in which
Lamb confesses to the authorship of "Dick Strype" in the _Morning Post_
of January 6 (see Vol. IV.); also of a whimsical account of the Lord
Mayor's State Bed (see Vol. I.); and of some of the Twelfth Night
Epigrams (see Vol. IV.). He includes two epigrams which the editor
Here should come a note to Rickman dated January 18, 1802, relating to a
joint subscription with Rickman's father for certain newspapers.
Here should come a letter to Rickman dated February 1, 1802, giving the
first draft of the epitaph for Mary Druitt (see Vol. IV.). He also says
that George Burnett, who had just been appointed tutor to the sons of
Lord ("Citizen") Stanhope, is perplexed because his pupils have run
Here should come a note to Rickman, dated February 4, 1802, accompanying
three copies of _John Woodvil_ and saying that an annuity is to be
bought for George Dyer by certain friends.
Here should come a letter to Rickman, dated February 14, 1802, which
contains the news that Lamb has given up the _Post_. He feels much
relieved in consequence, in spite of the loss of money. George Dyer's
dinner money is now paid from his friends' fund, and Burnett is happy in
doing nothing for Lord Stanhope's salary. Mary Lamb does not want
Rickman to know that "Helen," in the _John Woodvil_ volume, is of her
CHARLES LAMB TO THOMAS MANNING
[No date. ? Feb. 15, 1802.]
Not a sentence, not a syllable of Trismegistus, shall be lost through my
neglect. I am his word-banker, his storekeeper of puns and syllogisms.
You cannot conceive (and if Trismegistus cannot, no man can) the strange
joy which I felt at the receipt of a letter from Paris. It seemed to
give me a learned importance, which placed me above all who had not
Parisian correspondents. Believe that I shall carefully husband every
scrap, which will save you the trouble of memory, when you come back.
You cannot write things so trifling, let them only be about Paris, which
I shall not treasure. In particular, I must have parallels of actors and
actresses. I must be told if any building in Paris is at all comparable
to St. Paul's, which, contrary to the usual mode of that part of our
nature called admiration, I have looked up to with unfading wonder every
morning at ten o'clock, ever since it has lain in my way to business. At
noon I casually glance upon it, being hungry; and hunger has not much
taste for the fine arts. Is any night-walk comparable to a walk from St.
Paul's to Charing Cross, for lighting and paving, crowds going and
coming without respite, the rattle of coaches and the cheerfulness of
shops? Have you seen a man guillotined yet? is it as good as hanging?
are the women _all_ painted, and the men _all_ monkeys? or are there not
a _few_ that look like _rational_ of _both sexes_? Are you and the First
Consul _thick_? All this expense of ink I may fairly put you to, as your
letters will not be solely for my proper pleasure, but are to serve as
memoranda and notices, helps for short memory, a kind of Rumfordising
recollection, for yourself on your return. Your letter was just what a
letter should be, crammed and very funny. Every part of it pleased me
till you came to Paris; and your damn'd philosophical indolence or
indifference stung me. You cannot stir from your rooms till you know the
language! What the devil!--are men nothing but word-trumpets? are men
all tongue and ear? have these creatures, that you and I profess to know
_something about_, no faces, gestures, gabble: no folly, no absurdity,
no induction of French education upon the abstract idea of men and
women, no similitude nor dis-similitude to English! Why! thou damn'd
Smell-fungus! your account of your landing and reception, and Bullen (I
forget how you spell it--it was spelt my way in Harry the Eighth's
time,) was exactly in that minute style which strong impressions INSPIRE
(writing to a Frenchman, I write as a Frenchman would). It appears to me
as if I should die with joy at the first landing in a foreign country.
It is the nearest pleasure, which a grown man can substitute for that
unknown one, which he can never know--the pleasure of the first entrance
into life from the womb. I dare say, in a short time, my habits would
come back like a "stronger man" armed, and drive out that new pleasure;
and I should soon sicken for known objects. Nothing has transpired here
that seems to me of sufficient importance to send dry-shod over the
water: but I suppose you will want to be told some news. The best and
the worst to me is, that I have given up two guineas a week at the
"Post," and regained my health and spirits, which were upon the wane. I
grew sick, and Stuart unsatisfied. _Ludisti satis, tempus abire est_; I
must cut closer, that's all.
In all this time I have done but one thing, which I reckon tolerable,
and that I will transcribe, because it may give you pleasure, being a
picture of _my_ humours. You will find it in my last page. It absurdly
is a first Number of a series, thus strangled in its birth.
More news! The Professor's Rib has come out to be a damn'd disagreeable
woman, so much so as to drive me and some more old cronies from his
house. If a man will keep snakes in his house, he must not wonder if
people are shy of coming to see him because of the _snakes_.
Mister Fell--or as you, with your usual facetiousness and drollery, call
him, Mr. F + II--has stopped short in the middle of his play. Some
_friend_ has told him that it has not the least merit in it. Oh! that I
had the rectifying of the Litany! I would put in a _libera nos
(Scriptores videlicet) ab amicis_! That's all the news. _A propos_ (is
it pedantry, writing to a Frenchman, to express myself sometimes by a
French word, when an English one would not do as well? methinks, my
thoughts fall naturally into it).
_Apropos_, I think you wrong about my play. All the omissions are right.
And the supplementary scene, in which Sandford narrates the manner in
which his master is affected, is the best in the book. It stands where a
hodge-podge of German puerilities used to stand. I insist upon it that
you like that scene. Love me, love that scene.
I will now transcribe the "Londoner" (No. 1), and wind up all with
affection and humble servant at the end.
THE LONDONER. No. 1.
In compliance with my own particular humour, no less than with thy
laudable curiosity, Reader, I proceed to give thee some account of my
history and habits. I was born under the nose of St. Dunstan's steeple,
just where the conflux of the eastern and western inhabitants of this
twofold city meet and justle in friendly opposition at Temple-bar. The
same day which gave me to the world saw London happy in the celebration
of her great annual feast. This I cannot help looking upon as a lively
type or omen of the future great goodwill which I was destined to bear
toward the City, resembling in kind that solicitude which every Chief
Magistrate is supposed to feel for whatever concerns her interests and
well-being. Indeed, I consider myself in some sort a speculative Lord
Mayor of London: for, though circumstances unhappily preclude me from
the hope of ever arriving at the dignity of a gold chain and spital
sermon, yet thus much will I say of myself, in truth, that _Whittington_
himself with his _Cat_ (just emblem of _vigilance_ and a _furred gown_),
never went beyond me in affection, which I bear to the citizens. Shut
out from serving them in the most honourable mode, I aspire to do them
benefit in another, scarcely less honourable; and if I cannot, by virtue
of office, commit vice and irregularity to the _material Counter_, I
will, at least, erect a _spiritual one_, where they shall be _laid fast
by the heels_. In plain words, I will do my best endeavour to _write
To return to _myself_ (from whence my zeal for the Public good is
perpetually causing me to digress), I will let thee, Reader, into
certain more of my peculiarities. I was born (as you have heard), bred,
and have passed most of my time, in a _crowd_. This has begot in me an
entire affection for that way of life, amounting to an almost
insurmountable aversion from solitude and rural scenes. This aversion
was never interrupted or suspended, except for a few years in the
younger part of my life, during a period in which I had fixed my
affections upon a charming young woman. Every man, while the _passion_
is upon him, is for a time at least addicted to groves and meadows, and
purling streams. During this short period of my existence, I contracted
just enough familiarity with rural objects to understand tolerably well
ever after the _Poets_, when they declaim in such passionate terms in
favour of a _country life_.
For my own part, now the _fit_ is long past, I have no hesitation in
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