For other uses, see Charles Lamb (disambiguation).
Charles Lamb (10 February 1775 – 27 December 1834) was an Englishessayist, poet, and antiquarian, best known for his Essays of Elia and for the children's book Tales from Shakespeare, co-authored with his sister, Mary Lamb (1764–1847).
Friends with such literary luminaries as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and William Hazlitt, Lamb was at the centre of a major literary circle in England. He has been referred to by E. V. Lucas, his principal biographer, as "the most lovable figure in English literature".
Youth and schooling
Lamb was born in London, the son of Elizabeth Field and John Lamb. Lamb was the youngest child, with a sister 11 years older named Mary and an even older brother named John; there were four others who did not survive infancy. His father John Lamb was a lawyer's clerk and spent most of his professional life as the assistant to a barrister named Samuel Salt, who lived in the Inner Temple in the legal district of London. It was there in Crown Office Row that Charles Lamb was born and spent his youth. Lamb created a portrait of his father in his "Elia on the Old Benchers" under the name Lovel. Lamb's older brother was too much his senior to be a youthful companion to the boy but his sister Mary, being born eleven years before him, was probably his closest playmate. Lamb was also cared for by his paternal aunt Hetty, who seems to have had a particular fondness for him. A number of writings by both Charles and Mary suggest that the conflict between Aunt Hetty and her sister-in-law created a certain degree of tension in the Lamb household. However, Charles speaks fondly of her and her presence in the house seems to have brought a great deal of comfort to him.
Some of Lamb's fondest childhood memories were of time spent with Mrs Field, his maternal grandmother, who was for many years a servant to the Plummer family, who owned a large country house called Blakesware, near Widford, Hertfordshire. After the death of Mrs Plummer, Lamb's grandmother was in sole charge of the large home and, as Mr Plummer was often absent, Charles had free rein of the place during his visits. A picture of these visits can be glimpsed in the Elia essay Blakesmoor in H—shire.
Why, every plank and panel of that house for me had magic in it. The tapestried bed-rooms – tapestry so much better than painting – not adorning merely, but peopling the wainscots – at which childhood ever and anon would steal a look, shifting its coverlid (replaced as quickly) to exercise its tender courage in a momentary eye-encounter with those stern bright visages, staring reciprocally – all Ovid on the walls, in colours vivider than his descriptions.
Little is known about Charles's life before he was seven other than that Mary taught him to read at a very early age and he read voraciously. It is believed that he suffered from smallpox during his early years, which forced him into a long period of convalescence. After this period of recovery Lamb began to take lessons from Mrs Reynolds, a woman who lived in the Temple and is believed to have been the former wife of a lawyer. Mrs Reynolds must have been a sympathetic schoolmistress because Lamb maintained a relationship with her throughout his life and she is known to have attended dinner parties held by Mary and Charles in the 1820s. E. V. Lucas suggests that sometime in 1781 Charles left Mrs Reynolds and began to study at the Academy of William Bird.
His time with William Bird did not last long, however, because by October 1782 Lamb was enrolled in Christ's Hospital, a charity boarding school chartered by King Edward VI in 1553. A thorough record of Christ's Hospital is to be found in several essays by Lamb as well as The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt and the Biographia Literaria of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with whom Charles developed a friendship that would last for their entire lives. Despite the school's brutality, Lamb got along well there, due in part, perhaps, to the fact that his home was not far distant, thus enabling him, unlike many other boys, to return often to its safety. Years later, in his essay "Christ’s Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago", Lamb described these events, speaking of himself in the third person as "L".
"I remember L. at school; and can well recollect that he had some peculiar advantages, which I and other of his schoolfellows had not. His friends lived in town, and were near at hand; and he had the privilege of going to see them, almost as often as he wished, through some invidious distinction, which was denied to us."
Christ's Hospital was a typical English boarding school and many students later wrote of the terrible violence they suffered there. The upper master (i.e. principal or headteacher) of the school from 1778 to 1799 was Reverend James Boyer, a man renowned for his unpredictable and capricious temper. In one famous story Boyer was said to have knocked one of Leigh Hunt's teeth out by throwing a copy of Homer at him from across the room. Lamb seemed to have escaped much of this brutality, in part because of his amiable personality and in part because Samuel Salt, his father's employer and Lamb's sponsor at the school, was one of the institute's governors.
Charles Lamb suffered from a stutter and this "inconquerable impediment" in his speech deprived him of Grecian status at Christ's Hospital, thus disqualifying him for a clerical career. While Coleridge and other scholarly boys were able to go on to Cambridge, Lamb left school at fourteen and was forced to find a more prosaic career. For a short time he worked in the office of Joseph Paice, a London merchant, and then, for 23 weeks, until 8 February 1792, held a small post in the Examiner's Office of the South Sea House. Its subsequent downfall in a pyramid scheme after Lamb left (the South Sea Bubble) would be contrasted to the company's prosperity in the first Elia essay. On 5 April 1792 he went to work in the Accountant's Office for the British East India Company, the death of his father's employer having ruined the family's fortunes. Charles would continue to work there for 25 years, until his retirement with pension (the "superannuation" he refers to in the title of one essay).
In 1792 while tending to his grandmother, Mary Field, in Hertfordshire, Charles Lamb fell in love with a young woman named Ann Simmons. Although no epistolary record exists of the relationship between the two, Lamb seems to have spent years wooing her. The record of the love exists in several accounts of Lamb's writing. "Rosamund Gray" is a story of a young man named Allen Clare who loves Rosamund Gray but their relationship comes to nothing because of her sudden death. Miss Simmons also appears in several Elia essays under the name "Alice M". The essays "Dream Children", "New Year's Eve", and several others, speak of the many years that Lamb spent pursuing his love that ultimately failed. Miss Simmons eventually went on to marry a silversmith and Lamb called the failure of the affair his "great disappointment".
Both Charles and his sister Mary suffered a period of mental illness. As he himself confessed in a letter, Charles spent six weeks in a mental facility during 1795, at the time while he was already making his name as a poet:
Coleridge, I know not what suffering scenes you have gone through at Bristol. My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six weeks that finished last year and began this your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a mad house at Hoxton—I am got somewhat rational now, and don’t bite any one. But mad I was—and many a vagary my imagination played with me, enough to make a volume if all told. My Sonnets I have extended to the number of nine since I saw you, and will some day communicate to you.
— Lamb to Coleridge; 27 May 1796.
However, Mary Lamb's illness was particularly strong, and it led her to become aggressive on a fatal occasion. On 22 September 1796, while preparing dinner, Mary became angry with her apprentice, roughly shoving the little girl out of her way and pushing her into another room. Her mother, Elizabeth, began yelling at her for this, and Mary suffered a mental breakdown as her mother continued yelling at her. A terrible event occurred: she took the kitchen knife she had been holding, unsheathed it, and approached her mother, who was sitting down. Mary, "worn down to a state of extreme nervous misery by attention to needlework by day and to her mother at night", was seized with acute mania and stabbed her mother in the heart with a table knife. Charles ran into the house soon after the murder and took the knife out of Mary's hand.
Later in the evening, Charles found a local place for Mary in a private mental facility called Fisher House, which had been found with the help of a doctor friend of his. While reports were published by the media, Charles wrote a letter to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in connection to the matricide:
MY dearest friend — White or some of my friends or the public papers by this time may have informed you of the terrible calamities that have fallen on our family. I will only give you the outlines. My poor dear dearest sister in a fit of insanity has been the death of her own mother. I was at hand only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a mad house, from whence I fear she must be moved to an hospital. God has preserved to me my senses, — I eat and drink and sleep, and have my judgment I believe very sound. My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am left to take care of him and my aunt. Mr Norris of the Bluecoat school has been very very kind to us, and we have no other friend, but thank God I am very calm and composed, and able to do the best that remains to do. Write, —as religious a letter as possible— but no mention of what is gone and done with. —With me "the former things are passed away," and I have something more to do that [than] to feel. God almighty have us all in his keeping.
— Lamb to Coleridge. 27 September 1796
Charles took over responsibility for Mary after refusing his brother John's suggestion that they have her committed to a public lunatic asylum. Lamb used a large part of his relatively meagre income to keep his beloved sister in the private "madhouse" in Islington. With the help of friends, Lamb succeeded in obtaining his sister's release from what would otherwise have been lifelong imprisonment. Although there was no legal status of "insanity" at the time, the jury returned the verdict of "lunacy" which was how she was freed from guilt of willful murder, on the condition that Charles take personal responsibility for her safekeeping.
The 1799 death of John Lamb was something of a relief to Charles because his father had been mentally incapacitated for a number of years since suffering a stroke. The death of his father also meant that Mary could come to live again with him in Pentonville, and in 1800 they set up a shared home at Mitre Court Buildings in the Temple, where they would live until 1809.
In 1800, Mary's illness came back and Charles had to take her back again to the asylum, probably Bethlehem Hospital. In those days, Charles sent a letter to Coleridge, in which he admitted he felt melancholic and lonely, "almost wishing that Mary were dead."
Later she would come back, and both he and his sister would enjoy an active and rich social life. Their London quarters became a kind of weekly salon for many of the most outstanding theatrical and literary figures of the day. In 1869, a club, The Lambs, was formed in London to carry on their salon tradition. The actor Henry James Montague founded the club's New York counterpart in 1874. 
Charles Lamb, having been to school with Samuel Coleridge, counted Coleridge as perhaps his closest, and certainly his oldest, friend. On his deathbed, Coleridge had a mourning ring sent to Lamb and his sister. Fortuitously, Lamb's first publication was in 1796, when four sonnets by "Mr Charles Lamb of the India House" appeared in Coleridge's Poems on Various Subjects. In 1797 he contributed additional blank verse to the second edition, and met the Wordsworths, William and Dorothy, on his short summer holiday with Coleridge at Nether Stowey, thereby also striking up a lifelong friendship with William. In London, Lamb became familiar with a group of young writers who favoured political reform, including Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt.
Lamb continued to clerk for the East India Company and doubled as a writer in various genres, his tragedy, John Woodvil, being published in 1802. His farce, Mr H, was performed at Drury Lane in 1807, where it was roundly booed. In the same year, Tales from Shakespeare (Charles handled the tragedies; his sister Mary, the comedies) was published, and became a best seller for William Godwin's "Children's Library".
On 20 July 1819, at age 44, Lamb, who, because of family commitments, had never married, fell in love with an actress, Fanny Kelly, of Covent Garden, and besides writing her a sonnet he also proposed marriage. She refused him, and he died a bachelor.
His collected essays, under the title Essays of Elia, were published in 1823 ("Elia" being the pen name Lamb used as a contributor to The London Magazine).
The Essays of Elia would be criticised in the Quarterly Review (January, 1823) by Robert Southey, who thought its author to be irreligious. When Charles read the review, entitled "The Progress of Infidelity", he was filled with indignation, and wrote a letter to his friend Bernard Barton, where Lamb declared he hated the review, and emphasised that his words "meant no harm to religion". First, Lamb did not want to retort, since he actually admired Southey; but later he felt the need to write a letter "Elia to Southey", in which he complained and expressed that the fact that he was a dissenter of the Church, did not make him an irreligious man. The letter would be published in The London Magazine, on October, 1823:
Rightly taken, Sir, that Paper was not against Graces, but Want of Grace; not against the ceremony, but the carelessness and slovenliness so often observed in the performance of it. . . You have never ridiculed, I believe, what you thought to be religion, but you are always girding at what some pious, but perhaps mistaken folks, think to be so.
— Charles Lamb, "Letter of Elia to Robert Southey, Esquire"
A further collection called The Last Essays of Elia was published in 1833, shortly before Lamb's death. Also, in 1834, Samuel Coleridge died. The funeral was confined only to the family of the writer, so Lamb was prevented from attending and only wrote a letter to Rev. James Gilman, a very close [word missing], expressing his condolences.
He died of a streptococcal infection, erysipelas, contracted from a minor graze on his face sustained after slipping in the street, on 27 December 1834. He was 59. From 1833 till their deaths, Charles and Mary lived at Bay Cottage, Church Street, Edmonton, north of London (now part of the London Borough of Enfield). Lamb is buried in All Saints' Churchyard, Edmonton. His sister, who was ten years his senior, survived him for more than a dozen years. She is buried beside him.
Lamb's first publication was the inclusion of four sonnets in Coleridge's Poems on Various Subjects, published in 1796 by Joseph Cottle. The sonnets were significantly influenced by the poems of Burns and the sonnets of William Bowles, a largely forgotten poet of the late 18th century. Lamb's poems garnered little attention and are seldom read today. As he himself came to realise, he was a much more talented prose stylist than poet. Indeed, one of the most celebrated poets of the day—William Wordsworth—wrote to John Scott as early as 1815 that Lamb "writes prose exquisitely"—and this was five years before Lamb began TheEssays of Elia for which he is now most famous.
Notwithstanding, Lamb's contributions to Coleridge's second edition of the Poems on Various Subjects showed significant growth as a poet. These poems included The Tomb of Douglas and A Vision of Repentance. Because of a temporary fallout with Coleridge, Lamb's poems were to be excluded in the third edition of the Poems though as it turned out a third edition never emerged. Instead, Coleridge's next publication was the monumentally influential Lyrical Ballads co-published with Wordsworth. Lamb, on the other hand, published a book entitled Blank Verse with Charles Lloyd, the mentally unstable son of the founder of Lloyds Bank. Lamb's most famous poem was written at this time and entitled The Old Familiar Faces. Like most of Lamb's poems, it is unabashedly sentimental, and perhaps for this reason it is still remembered and widely read today, being often included in anthologies of British and Romantic period poetry. Of particular interest to Lambarians is the opening verse of the original version of The Old Familiar Faces, which is concerned with Lamb's mother, whom Mary Lamb killed. It was a verse that Lamb chose to remove from the edition of his Collected Work published in 1818:
I had a mother, but she died, and left me,
Died prematurely in a day of horrors -All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
In the final years of the 18th century, Lamb began to work on prose, first in a novella entitled Rosamund Gray, which tells the story of a young girl whose character is thought to be based on Ann Simmons, an early love interest. Although the story is not particularly successful as a narrative because of Lamb's poor sense of plot, it was well thought of by Lamb's contemporaries and led Shelley to observe, "what a lovely thing is Rosamund Gray! How much knowledge of the sweetest part of our nature in it!" (Quoted in Barnett, page 50)
In the first years of the 19th century, Lamb began a fruitful literary cooperation with his sister Mary. Together they wrote at least three books for William Godwin’s Juvenile Library. The most successful of these was Tales From Shakespeare, which ran through two editions for Godwin and has been published dozens of times in countless editions ever since. The book contains artful prose summaries of some of Shakespeare's most well-loved works. According to Lamb, he worked primarily on Shakespeare's tragedies, while Mary focused mainly on the comedies.
Lamb's essay "On the Tragedies of Shakespeare Considered with Reference to their Fitness for Stage Representation", which was originally published in the Reflector in 1811 with the title "On Garrick, and Acting; and the Plays of Shakspeare, considered with reference to their fitness for Stage Representation", has often been taken as the ultimate Romantic dismissal of the theatre. In the essay, Lamb argues that Shakespeare should be read, rather than performed, in order to protect Shakespeare from butchering by mass commercial performances. While the essay certainly criticises contemporary stage practice, it also develops a more complex reflection on the possibility of representing Shakespearean dramas:
Shakespeare’s dramas are for Lamb the object of a complex cognitive process that does not require sensible data, but only imaginative elements that are suggestively elicited by words. In the altered state of consciousness that the dreamlike experience of reading stands for, Lamb can see Shakespeare’s own conceptions mentally materialized.
Besides contributing to Shakespeare's reception with his and his sister's book Tales From Shakespeare, Lamb also contributed to the recovery of acquaintance with Shakespeare's contemporaries. Accelerating the increasing interest of the time in the older writers, and building for himself a reputation as an antiquarian, in 1808 Lamb compiled a collection of extracts from the old dramatists, Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets Who Lived About the Time of Shakespeare. This also contained critical "characters" of the old writers, which added to the flow of significant literary criticism, primarily of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, from Lamb's pen. Immersion in seventeenth-century authors, such as Robert Burton and Sir Thomas Browne, also changed the way Lamb wrote, adding a distinct flavour to his writing style. Lamb's friend, the essayist William Hazlitt, thus characterised him: "Mr. Lamb ... does not march boldly along with the crowd .... He prefers bye-ways to highways. When the full tide of human life pours along to some festive show, to some pageant of a day, Elia would stand on one side to look over an old book-stall, or stroll down some deserted pathway in search of a pensive description over a tottering doorway, or some quaint device in architecture, illustrative of embryo art and ancient manners. Mr. Lamb has the very soul of an antiquarian ...."
Although he did not write his first Elia essay until 1820, Lamb’s gradual perfection of the essay form for which he eventually became famous began as early as 1811 in a series of open letters to Leigh Hunt’s Reflector. The most famous of these early essays is The Londoner, in which Lamb famously derides the contemporary fascination with nature and the countryside. He would continue to fine-tune his craft, experimenting with different essayistic voices and personae, for the better part of the next quarter century.
It has been pointed out that spirituality played an important role in Lamb's personal life, and that, although he was not a churchman, and disliked organised religion, he yet "sought consolation in religion," as shown by letters to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Bernard Barton, in which he described the New Testament as his "best guide" for life, and where he talked about how he used to read the Psalms for one or two hours without getting tired. Other papers have also dealt with his Christian beliefs. As his friend Samuel Coleridge, Lamb was sympathetic to PriestleyanUnitarianism and was a dissenter, yet, he was described by Coleridge himself as one whose "faith in Jesus ha[d] been preserved" even after the family tragedy. Wordsworth also described him as a firm Christian in the poem Written After the Death of Charles Lamb. Alfred Ainger, in his work Charles Lamb, writes that Lamb's religion had become "an habit".
The poems "On The Lord's Prayer", "A Vision Of Repentance", "The Young Catechist", "Composed at Midnight", "Suffer Little Children, And Forbid Them Not, To Come Unto Me", "Written a twelvemonth after the Events", "Charity", "Sonnet To A Friend" and "David" reflect much about Lamb's faith, whereas the poem "Living Without God In The World" has been called a "poetic attack" to unbelief, in which Lamb expresses his disgust for atheism attributing its nature to pride.
Anne Fadiman notes regretfully that Lamb is not widely read in modern times: "I do not understand why so few other readers are clamoring for his company... [he] is kept alive largely through the tenuous resuscitations of university English departments".
Notwithstanding, there has always been a small but enduring following for Lamb's works, as the long-running and still-active Charles Lamb Bulletin demonstrates. Because of his notoriously quirky, even bizarre, style, he has been more of a "cult favorite" than an author with mass popular or scholarly appeal.
Lamb was honoured by The Latymer School, a grammar school in Edmonton, a suburb of London where he lived for a time; it has six houses, one of which, "Lamb", is named after Charles.
William Wordsworth composed an epitaph-poem "Written After The Death Of Charles Lamb" (1835; 1836), in which he exalts the moral character of his friend. Sir Edward Elgar titled an orchestral work "Dream Children" having in mind Lamb's essay of that name.
- "But, then, in every species of reading, so much depends upon the eyes of the reader..." – From Lamb's essay "On the Danger of Confounding Moral with Personal Deformity"
- "He chose his companions for some individuality of character which they manifested. Hence not many persons of science, and few professed literati, were of his councils. They were, for the most part, persons of an uncertain fortune; ... his intimados, to confess a truth, were, in the world's eyes, a ragged regiment. He found them floating on the surface of society; and the colour, or something else, in the weed, pleased him...He never greatly cared for the society of what are called good people." – From Lamb's essay "A Character of the Late Elia"
- "Lawyers, I suppose, were children once." – From Lamb's essay The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple; features in the preface of To Kill a Mockingbird
- "Man is a gaming animal. He must always be trying to get the better in something or other." – features in the Essays of Elia (1823)
- Blank Verse, poetry, 1798
- A Tale of Rosamund Gray, and old blind Margaret, 1798
- John Woodvil, poetic drama, 1802
- Tales from Shakespeare, 1807
- The Adventures of Ulysses, 1808
- Specimens of English Dramatic poets who lived about the time of Shakespeare, 1808
- On the Tragedies of Shakespeare, 1811
- Witches and Other Night Fears, 1821
- The Pawnbroker's Daughter, 1825
- Eliana, 1867
- Essays of Elia, 1823
- The Last Essays of Elia, 1833
- ^Lucas, Edward Verrall; Lamb, John (1905). The life of Charles Lamb. 1. London: G.P. Putnam's Sons. p. xvii. OCLC 361094.
- ^Last Essays of Elia page 7
- ^Lucas, Life of Lamb page 41
- ^The Essays of Elia page 23
- ^Works of Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb. Letter 1, 1976.
- ^As quoted in Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. Letters (1905).
- ^Letter to S. T. Coleridge. Monday, 12 May 1800.
- ^History of The Lambs
- ^Charles Kent, ‘Kelly, Frances Maria (1790–1882)’, rev. J. Gilliland, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 18 Nov 2014
- ^"Commentary: Charles Lamb on Robert Southey".
- ^Literary EnfieldArchived 13 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 4 June 2008
- ^James, Felicity. Charles Lamb, Coleridge and Wordsworth: Reading Friendship in the 1790s. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.50.
- ^Liberto, Fabio. "Visions, Dreams and Reality: Charles Lamb and the Inward ‘Topography’ of Shakespeare’s Plays". In The Languages of Performance in British Romanticism. Peter Lang, 2008, p.156.
- ^Cecil, David. A Portrait of Charles Lamb. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983, pp. 130–1.
- ^Barnett, George L. Charles Lamb: The Evolution of Elia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 200–14.
- ^Hazlitt, William. "Elia, and Geoffrey Crayon", The Spirit of the Age, in The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, vol. 11, P. P. Howe, ed. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1932, pp. 178–79.
- ^Biography: Charles Lamb 1775–1834, The Poetry Foundation:
- ^The Open Court Publishing Company, 1923, "The Religious Opinions of Charles Lamb;" by Dudley Wright. No. 810, the Religion of Science, and the Extension of the Religious Parliament Idea.
- ^Works of Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb (2010), MobileReference. ISBN 1607787598, 9781607787594: ""His great, and indeed infinite reverence, nevertheless, for Christ is shown in his own Christian virtues and in constant expressions of reverence."
- ^E.V. Lucas. The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, Volume 2
- ^CHARLES LAMB (1775–1834). The Charles Lamb Society.
- ^In it, Wordsworth wrote of Lamb: "From the most gentle creature nursed in fields / Had been derived the name he bore— a name, / Wherever Christian altars have been raised,/ Hallowed to meekness and to innocence
- ^Jeremy Black (2007), "Culture in Eighteenth-Century England: A Subject for Taste, Continuum, p.97
- ^Charles Lamb Society (1997), "The Charles Lamb Bulletin", Números 97-104
- ^Fadiman, Anne. "The Unfuzzy Lamb". At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays. pp. 26–27.
- ^"Latymer School - Lamb House". Latymer School. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
- ^William Wordsworth (1904), "The complete poetical works of William Wordsworth", Houghton, Mifflin & Co., p. 734
- Life of Charles Lamb by E.V. Lucas, G.P. Putman & Sons, London, 1905.
- Charles Lamb and the Lloyds by E.V. Lucas Smith, Elder & Company, London, 1898.
- Charles Lamb and His Contemporaries, by Edmund Blunden, Cambridge University Press, 1933.
- Companion to Charles Lamb, by Claude Prance, Mansell Publishing, London, 1938.
- Charles Lamb; A Memoir, by Barry Cornwall aka Bryan Procter, Edward Moxon, London, 1866.
- Young Charles Lamb, by Winifred Courtney, New York University Press, 1982.
- Portrait of Charles Lamb, by David Cecil, Constable, London, 1983.
- Charles Lamb, by George Barnett, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1976.
- A Double Life: A Biography of Charles and Mary Lamb by Sarah Burton, Viking, 1993.
- The Lambs: Their Lives, Their Friends, and Their Correspondence by William Carew Hazlitt, C. Scribner's Sons, 1897.
Lamb took the name of Elia, which should, he said, be pronounced Ellia, from an old clerk, an Italian, at the South–Sea House in Lamb’s time: that is, in 1791–1792. Writing to John Taylor in July, 1821, just after he had taken over the magazine (see below), Lamb says, referring to the South–Sea House essay, “having a brother now there, and doubting how he might relish certain descriptions in it, I clapt down the name of Elia to it, which passed off pretty well, for Elia himself added the function of an author to that of a scrivener, like myself. I went the other day (not having seen him [Elia] for a year) to laugh over with him at my usurpation of his name, and found him, alas! no more than a name, for he died of consumption eleven months ago, and I knew not of it. So the name has fairly devolved to me, I think; and ’tis all he has left me.”
In the library at Welbeck is a copy of a pamphlet, in French, entitled Considérations sur l’état actuel de la France au mois de Juin 1815, par un Anglais, which was presented to the Duke of Portland by the author, F.A. Elia. This was probably Lamb’s Elia. The pamphlet is reprinted, together with other interesting matter remotely connected with Lamb, in Letters from the Originals at Welbeck Abbey, privately printed, 1909.
Elia. Essays which have appeared under that signature in the London Magazine, was published early in 1823. Lamb’s original intention was to furnish the book with a whimsical preface, as we learn from the following letter to John Taylor, dated December 7, 1822:—
“DEAR SIR— I should like the enclosed Dedication to be printed, unless you dislike it. I like it. It is in the olden style. But if you object to it, put forth the book as it is; only pray don’t let the printer mistake the word curt for curst.
“TO THE FRIENDLY AND JUDICIOUS READER, who will take these Papers, as they were meant; not understanding every thing perversely in its absolute and literal sense, but giving fair construction, as to an after-dinner conversation; allowing for the rashness and necessary incompleteness of first thoughts; and not remembering, for the purpose of an after taunt, words spoken peradventure after the fourth glass, the Author wishes (what he would will for himself) plenty of good friends to stand by him, good books to solace him, prosperous events to all his honest undertakings, and a candid interpretation to his most hasty words and actions. The other sort (and he hopes many of them will purchase his book too) he greets with the curt invitation of Timon, ‘Uncover, dogs, and lap:’ or he dismisses them with the confident security of the philosopher — ‘you beat but on the case of Elia.’
“On better consideration, pray omit that Dedication. The Essays want no Preface: they are all Preface. A Preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they do nothing else. Pray omit it.
“There will be a sort of Preface in the next Magazine, which may act as an advertisement, but not proper for the volume.
“Let ELIA come forth bare as he was born.
“N.B. —No Preface.”
The “sort of Preface in the next number” was the character sketch of the late Elia on page 171.
Elia did not reach a second edition in Lamb’s lifetime — that is to say, during a period of twelve years — although the editions into which it has passed between his death and the present day are legion. Why, considering the popularity of the essays as they appeared in the London Magazine, the book should have found so few purchasers is a problem difficult of solution. Lamb himself seems to have attributed some of the cause to Southey’s objection, in the Quarterly Review, that Elia “wanted a sounder religious feeling;” but more probably the book was too dear: it was published at 9s. 6d.
Ordinary reviewers do not seem to have perceived at all that a rare humorist, humanist and master of prose had arisen, although among the finer intellects who had any inclination to search for excellence for excellence’s sake Lamb made his way. William Hazlitt, for example, drew attention to the rich quality of Elia; as also did Leigh Hunt; and William Hone, who cannot, however, as a critic be mentioned with these, was tireless in advocating the book. Among strangers to Lamb who from the first extolled his genius was Miss Mitford. But Elia did not sell.
Ten years passed before Lamb collected his essays again, and then in 1833 was published The Last Essays of Elia, with Edward Moxon’s imprint. The mass of minor essays in the London Magazine and elsewhere, which Lamb disregarded when he compiled his two collections, will be found in Vol. I. of the present edition. The Last Essays of Elia had little, if any, better reception than the first; and Lamb had the mortification of being asked by the Norris family to suppress the exquisite and kindly little memoir of Randal Norris, entitled “A Death–Bed” (see page 279), which was held to be too personal. When, in 1835, after Lamb’s death, a new edition of Elia and The Last Essays of Elia was issued, the “Confessions of a Drunkard” took its place (see Vol. I.).
Meanwhile a Philadelphian firm had been beforehand with Lamb, and had issued in 1828 a second series of Elia. The American edition of Elia had been the same as the English except for a slightly different arrangement of the essays. But when in 1828 the American second series was issued, it was found to contain three pieces not by Lamb at all. A trick of writing superficially like Lamb had been growing in the London Magazine ever since the beginning; hence the confusion of the American editor. The three articles not by Lamb, as he pointed out to N.P. Willis (see Pencillings by the Way), are “Twelfth Night,” “The Nuns and Ale of Caverswell,” and “Valentine’s Day.” Of these Allan Cunningham wrote the second, and B.W. Procter (Barry Cornwall) the other two. The volume contained only eleven essays which Lamb himself selected for The Last Essays of Elia: it was eked out with the three spurious pieces above referred to, with several pieces never collected by Lamb, and with four of the humorous articles in the Works, 1818. Bernard Barton’s sonnet “To Elia” stood as introduction. Altogether it was a very interesting book, as books lacking authority often are.
In the notes that follow reference is often made to Lamb’s Key. This is a paper explaining certain initials and blanks in Elia, which Lamb drew up for R.B. Pitman, a fellow clerk at the East India House. I give it here in full, merely remarking that the first numerals refer to the pages of the original edition of Elia and those in brackets to the present volume:—
|M.||Page||13||(7)||Maynard, hang’d himself.|
|G.D.||“||21||(11)||George Dyer, Poet.|
|Dr. T----e||“||46||(24)||Dr. Trollope.|
|S.||“||47||(24)||Scott, died in Bedlam.|
|M.||“||47||(24)||Maunde, dismiss’d school.|
|C.V. le G.||“||48||(25)||Chs. Valentine le Grice.|
|F.||“||49||(25)||Favell; left Camb’rg because he was asham’d of his father, who was a house-painter there.|
|Fr.||“||50||(26)||Franklin, Gramr. Mast., Hertford.|
|K.||“||59||(30)||Kenney, Dramatist. Author of Raising Wind, &c.|
|S.T.C.||“||60||(31)||Samuel Taylor Coleridge. [Not in Lamb’s autograph.]|
|Alice W----n||“||63||(32)||Feigned (Winterton).|
|Mrs. S.||“||87||(44)||Mrs. Spinkes.|
|R..||“||98||(50)||Ramsay, London Library, Ludg. St.; now extinct.|
|Granville S.||“||98||(50)||Granville Sharp. [Not in Lamb’s autograph.]|
|E.B.||“||130||(65)||Edward Burney, half-brother of Miss Burney.|
|B.||“||141||(71)||Braham, now a Xtian.|
|Susan P.||“||198||(99)||Susan Peirson.|
|R.N.||“||206||(103)||Randal Norris, Subtreasr, Inner Temple.|
|B.F.||“||238||(118)||Baron Field, brother of Frank.|
|Lord C.||“||243||(121)||Lord Camelford.|
|Sally W----r||“||248||(123)||Sally Winter.|
|J.W.||“||248||(123)||Jas. White, author of Falstaff’s Letters.|
|St. L.||“||268||(133)||No meaning.|
|B., Rector of ——||“||268||(133)||No meaning.|
The London Magazine, with John Scott (1783–1821) as its editor was founded in 1820 by Baldwin, Cradock & Joy. Its first number was dated January, 1820, and Lamb’s first contribution was in the number for August, 1820. Lamb had known Scott as editor of The Champion in 1814, but, according to Talfourd, it was Hazlitt who introduced Lamb to the London Magazine.
John Scott, who was the author of two interesting books of travel, A Visit to Paris in 1814 and Paris Re-visited in 1815, was an admirable editor, and all was going exceedingly well until he plunged into a feud with Blackwood’s Magazine in general, and John Gibson Lockhart in particular, the story of which in full may be read in Mr. Lang’s Life and Letters of Lockhart, 1896. In the duel which resulted Scott was shot above the hip. The wound was at first thought lightly of, but Scott died on February 27, 1821 — an able man much regretted.
The magazine did not at first show signs of Scott’s loss; it continued to bear the imprint of its original publishers and its quality remained very high. With Lamb and Hazlitt writing regularly this could hardly be otherwise. But four months after the death of Scott and eighteen months after its establishment the London Magazine passed into the hands of the publishers Taylor & Hessey, the first number with their imprint being dated August, 1821. Although for a while no diminution of merit was perceptible and rather an access of gaiety — for Taylor brought Hood with him and John Hamilton Reynolds — yet the high editorial standards of Scott ceased to be applied. Thenceforward the decline of the magazine was steady.
John Taylor (1781–1864), senior partner in the firm of Taylor & Hessey, was known as the identifier of Sir Philip Francis with the author of “Junius,” on which subject he had issued three books. Although unfitted for the post, he acted as editor of the London Magazine until it was again sold in 1825.
With the beginning of 1825 Taylor made a change in the magazine. He started a new series, and increased the size and the price. But the experiment did not answer; the spirit had evaporated; and in the autumn he sold it to Henry Southern (1799–1853), who had founded the Retrospective Review in 1820. The last number of the London Magazine to bear Taylor & Hessey’s name, and (in my opinion) to contain anything by Lamb, was August, 1825. We have no definite information on the matter, but there is every indication in Lamb’s Letters that Taylor was penurious and not clever in his relations with contributors. Scott Lamb seems to have admired and liked; but even in Scott’s day payment does not seem to have been prompt. Lamb was paid, according to Barry Cornwall, two or three times the amount of other writers, who received for prose a pound a page. But Lamb himself says that the rate for him was twenty guineas a sheet, a sheet being sixteen pages; and he told Moore that he had received £170 for two years’ Elia. In a letter to Barton in January, 1823, Lamb remarks: “B—— [Baldwin] who first engaged me as ‘Elia’ has not paid me up yet (nor any of us without repeated mortifying appeals).”
The following references to the London in Lamb’s letters to Barton tell the story of its decadence quite clearly enough. In May, 1823:—“I cannot but think the London drags heavily. I miss Janus [Wainewright]. And O how it misses Hazlitt — Procter, too, is affronted (as Janus has been) with their abominable curtailment of his things.”
Again, a little later, in September:—“The ‘London’ I fear falls off. — I linger among its creaking rafters, like the last rat. It will topple down, if they don’t get some Buttresses. They have pulled down three, W. Hazlitt, Procter, and their best stay, kind light-hearted Wainwright, their Janus.”
In January, 1824, at the beginning of his eight months’ silence:—“The London must do without me for a time, a time, and half a time, for I have lost all interest about it.”
Again, in December, 1824:—“Taylor & Hessey finding their magazine goes off very heavily at 2s. 6d., are prudently going to raise their price another shilling; and having already more authors than they want, intend to increase the number of them. If they set up against the New Monthly, they must change their present hands. It is not tying the dead carcase of a Review to a half-dead Magazine will do their business.”
In January, 1825 (to Sarah Hutchinson):—“You ask about the editor of the Lond. I know of none. This first specimen [of a new series] is flat and pert enough to justify subscribers, who grudge at t’other shilling.”
Next month Lamb writes, again to Barton:—“Our second Number [of the new series] is all trash. What are T. & H. about? It is whip syllabub, ‘thin sown with aught of profit or delight’. Thin sown! not a germ of fruit or corn. Why did poor Scott die! There was comfort in writing with such associates as were his little band of scribblers, some gone away, some affronted away, and I am left as the solitary widow [in one of Barton’s poems] looking for watercresses.”
Finally, in August, 1825:—“Taylor has dropt the ‘London’. It was indeed a dead weight. It was Job in the Slough of Despond. I shuffle off my part of the pack, and stand like Christian with light and merry shoulders.”
In addition to Lamb and Hazlitt the London Magazine had more or less regular contributions, in its best days, from De Quincey, Allan Cunningham (Nalla), T.G. Wainewright, afterwards the poisoner, but in those days an amusing weaver of gay artificial prose, John Clare, Bernard Barton, H.F. Cary, Richard Ayton, George Darley, Thomas Hood, John Hamilton Reynolds, Sir John Bowring, John Poole, B.W. Procter; while among occasional writers for it were Thomas Carlyle, Landor and Julius Hare.
The essay, “Stage Illusion,” in the number for August, 1825, was, I believe, the last that Lamb contributed. (In this connection see Mr. Bertram Dobell’s Sidelights on Charles Lamb, 1903.) Lamb then passed over to Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine, where the “Popular Fallacies” appeared, together with certain other of his later essays. His last contribution to that magazine was dated September, 1826. In 1827 he was chiefly occupied in selecting Garrick play extracts for Hone’s Table Book, at the British Museum, and for a while after that he seems to have been more interested in writing acrostics and album verses than prose. In 1831, however, Moxon’s Englishman’s Magazine offered harbourage for anything Lamb cared to give it, and a brief revival of Elia (under the name of Peter) resulted. With its death in October, 1831, Lamb’s writing career practically ceased.
Page 1. THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE.
London Magazine, August, 1820.
Although the “Bachelor’s Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People,” “Valentine’s Day,” and “On the Acting of Munden,” were all written before this essay, it is none the less the first of the essays of Elia. I have remarked, in the notes to a small edition of Elia, that it is probably unique in literature for an author to find himself, as Lamb did, in his forty-fourth year, by recording impressions gathered in his seventeenth; but I think now that Lamb probably visited his brother at the South–Sea House from time to time in later years, and gathered other impressions then. I am led to this conclusion partly by the fact that Thomas Tame was not appointed Deputy–Accountant until four or five years after Lamb had left.
We do not know exactly what Lamb’s duties were at the South–Sea House or how long he was there: probably only for the twenty-three weeks — from September, 1791 — mentioned in the receipt below, discovered by Mr. J.A. Rutter in a little exhibition of documents illustrative of the South Sea Bubble in the Albert Museum at Exeter:—
Rec’d 8th feby 1792 of the Honble South Sea Company by the hands of their Secretary Twelve pounds 1s. 6d. for 23 weeks attendance in the Examiners Office.
£12 1 6. CHAS. LAMB.
This shows that Lamb’s salary was half a guinea weekly, paid half-yearly. His brother John was already in the service of the Company, where he remained till his death, rising to Accountant. It has been conjectured that it was through his influence that Charles was admitted, with the view of picking up book-keeping; but the real patron and introducer was Joseph Pake, one of the directors, whom we meet on page 92. Whether Lamb had ideas of remaining, or whether he merely filled a temporary gap in the Examiners’ Office, we cannot tell. He passed to the East India House in the spring of 1792.
The South Sea Company was incorporated in 1710. The year of the Bubble was 1720. The South–Sea House, remodelled, is now a congeries of offices.
Page 2, line 11. Forty years ago. To be accurate, twenty-eight to thirty.
Page 3, line 1. Accounts . . . puzzle me. Here Elia begins his “matter-of-lie” career. Lamb was at this time in the Accountants’ Office of the India House, living among figures all day.
Page 3, line 7 from foot. Evans. William Evans. The Directories of those days printed lists of the chief officials in some of the public offices, and it is possible to trace the careers of the clerks whom Lamb names. All are genuine. Evans, whose name is given one year as Evan Evans, was appointed cashier (or deputy-cashier) in 1792.
Page 4, line 4. Ready to imagine himself one. Lamb was fond of this conceit. See his little essay “The Last Peach” (Vol. I.), and the mischievous letter to Bernard Barton, after Fauntleroy’s trial, warning him against peculation.
Page 4, line 7. Anderton’s. Either the coffee-shop in Fleet Street, now Anderton’s Hotel, or a city offshoot of it. The portrait, if it ever was in existence, is no longer known there.
Page 5, line 17. John Tipp. John Lamb succeeded Tipp as Accountant somewhen about 1806.
Page 5, line 27. I know not, etc. This parenthesis was not in the London Magazine, but the following footnote was appended to the sentence:—
“I have since been informed, that the present tenant of them is a Mr. Lamb, a gentleman who is happy in the possession of some choice pictures, and among them a rare portrait of Milton, which I mean to do myself the pleasure of going to see, and at the same time to refresh my memory with the sight of old scenes. Mr. Lamb has the character of a right courteous and communicative collector.”
Mr. Lamb was, of course, John Lamb, or James Elia (see the essay “My Relations”), then (in 1820) Accountant of the South–Sea House. He left the Milton to his brother. It is now in America.
Page 6, line 5 from foot. Henry Man. This was Henry Man (1747–1790), deputy-secretary of the South–Sea House from 1776, and an author of light trifles in the papers, and of one or two books. The Miscellaneous Works in Verse and Prose of the late Henry Man was published in 1802, among the subscribers being three of the officials named in this essay — John Evans, R. Plumer, and Mr. Tipp, and also Thomas Maynard, who, though assigned to the Stock Exchange, is probably the “childlike, pastoral M——” of a later paragraph. Small politics are for the most part kept out of Man’s volumes, which are high-spirited rather than witty, but this punning epigram (of which Lamb was an admirer) on Lord Spencer and Lord Sandwich may be quoted:—
Two Lords whose names if I should quote,
Some folks might call me sinner:
The one invented half a coat,
The other half a dinner.
Such lords as these are useful men,
Heaven sends them to console one;
Because there’s now not one in ten,
That can procure a whole one.
Page 7, line 13. Plumer. Richard Plumer (spelled Plomer in the directories), deputy-secretary after Man. Lamb was peculiarly interested in the Plumers from the fact that his grandmother, Mrs. Field, had been housekeeper of their mansion at Blakesware, near Ware (see notes to “Dream–Children” and “Blakesmoor in H—— shire”). The fine old Whig was William Plumer, who had been her employer, and was now living at Gilston. He died in 1821.
The following passage from the memoir of Edward Cave (1691–1754), which Dr. Johnson wrote for the Gentleman’s Magazine (which Cave established) in 1754, shows that Lamb was mistaken about Plumer:—
He [Cave] was afterwards raised to the office of clerk of the franks, in which he acted with great spirit and firmness; and often stopped franks which were given by members of parliament to their friends; because he thought such extension of a peculiar right illegal. This raised many complaints, and having stopped, among others, a frank given to the old dutchess of Marlborough by Mr. Walter Plummer, he was cited before the house, as for breach of privilege, and accused, I suppose very unjustly, of opening letters to detect them. He was treated with great harshness and severity, but declining their questions by pleading his oath of secrecy, was at last dismissed. And it must be recorded to his honour, that when he was ejected from his office, he did not think himself discharged from his trust, but continued to refuse to his nearest friends any information about the management of the office.
I borrow from Canon Ainger an interesting note on Walter Plumer, written in the eighteen-eighties, showing that Lamb was mistaken on other matters too:—
The present Mr. Plumer, of Allerton, Totness, a grandson of Richard Plumer of the South–Sea House, by no means acquiesces in the tradition here recorded as to his grandfather’s origin. He believes that though the links are missing, Richard Plumer was descended in regular line from the Baronet, Sir Walter Plumer, who died at the end of the seventeenth century. Lamb’s memory has failed him here in one respect. The “Bachelor Uncle,” Walter Plumer, uncle of William Plumer of Blakesware, was most certainly not a bachelor (see the pedigree of the family in Cussans’ Hertfordshire).
Page 7, line 10 from foot. M——. According to the Key to the initials and blanks in some of the essays, which Lamb filled in for a curious correspondent, M—— stood for one Maynard. “Maynard, hang’d himself” is Lamb’s entry. He was chief clerk in the Old Annuities and Three Per Cents, 1788–1793.
Page 8. OXFORD IN THE VACATION.
London Magazine, October, 1820, where it is dated at the end, “August 5, 1820. From my rooms facing the Bodleian.” My own belief is that Lamb wrote the essay at Cambridge, under the influence of Cambridge, where he spent a few weeks in the summers of 1819 and 1820, and transferred the scene to Oxford by way of mystification. He knew Oxford, of course, but he had not been there for some years, and it was at Cambridge that he met Dyer and saw the Milton MSS.
Concerning a visit to Oxford (in 1810), Hazlitt had written, in his Table Talk essay “On the Conversation of Authors,” in the preceding (the September) number of the London Magazine:—
L—— [that is, Lamb] once came down into the country to see us. He was “like the most capricious poet Ovid among the Goths.” The country people thought him an oddity, and did not understand his jokes. It would be strange if they had; for he did not make any while he staid. But when we crossed the country to Oxford, then he spoke a little. He and the old colleges were hail-fellow well-met; and in the quadrangles, he “walked gowned.”
The quotation is a reference to Lamb’s sonnet, “I was not Trained in Academic Bowers,” written at Cambridge in 1819:—
Yet can I fancy, wandering ‘mid thy towers,
Myself a nursling, Granta, of thy lap;
My brow seems tightening with the Doctor’s cap,
And I walk gownèd.
Page 8, line 6 from foot. Agnize. Lamb was fond of this word. I have seen it stated ingeniously that it was of his own coinage — from agnus, a lamb — but the derivation is ad gnoscere, to acknowledge, to recognise, and the word is to be found in other places — in “Othello,” for example (Act I., Scene 3, line 232):—
I do agnise
A natural and prompt alacrity.
Page 9, middle. Red-letter days. See note on page 351. The holidays at the India House, which are given in the London directories of Lamb’s early time there, make a considerable list. But in 1820 the Accountants’ Office, where Lamb was, kept only five days in the year.
Page 10, line 11. I can here . . . enact the student. Lamb had distilled the matter of this paragraph into his sonnet, “I was not Trained in Academic Bowers,” written at Cambridge in August of the preceding year (see above and Vol. IV.).
Page 11, line 12 from foot. Unsettle my faith. At this point, in the London Magazine, Lamb appended the footnote:—
“There is something to me repugnant, at any time, in written hand. The text never seems determinate. Print settles it. I had thought of the Lycidas as of a full-grown beauty — as springing up with all its parts absolute — till, in evil hour, I was shown the original written copy of it, together with the other minor poems of its author, in the Library of Trinity, kept like some treasure to be proud of. I wish they had thrown them in the Cam, or sent them, after the latter cantos of Spenser, into the Irish Channel. How it staggered me to see the fine things in their ore! interlined, corrected! as if their words were mortal, alterable, displaceable at pleasure! as if they might have been otherwise, and just as good! as if inspirations were made up of parts, and those fluctuating, successive, indifferent! I will never go into the work-shop of any great artist again, nor desire a sight of his picture, till it is fairly off the easel; no, not if Raphael were to be alive again, and painting another Galatea.”
In the Appendix to Vol. I., page 428, I have printed a passage from the original MS. of Comus, which there is reason to believe was contributed to the London Magazine by Lamb.
Page 11, line 9 from foot. G.D. George Dyer (1755–1841), Lamb’s friend for many years. This is the first mention of him in the essays; but we shall meet him again, particularly in “Amicus Redivivus.” George Dyer was educated at Christ’s Hospital long before Lamb’s time there, and, becoming a Grecian, had entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He became at first an usher in Essex, then a private tutor to the children of Robert Robinson, the Unitarian, whose life he afterwards excellently wrote, then an usher again, at Northampton, one of his colleagues being John Clarke, father of Lamb’s friend, Charles Cowden Clarke. In 1792 he settled in Clifford’s Inn as a hack; wrote poems, made indexes, examined libraries for a great bibliographical work (never published), and contributed “all that was original” to Valpy’s classics in 141 volumes. Under this work his sight gave way; and he once showed Hazlitt two fingers the use of which he had lost in copying out MSS. of Procrus and Plotinus in a fine Greek hand. Fortunately a good woman took him under her wing; they were married in 1825; and Dyer’s last days were happy. His best books were his Life of Robert Robinson and his History of the University and Colleges of Cambridge. Lamb and his friends laughed at him and loved him. In addition to the stories told by Lamb in his letters and essays, there are amusing characteristics of Dyer in Crabb Robinson’s diary, in Leigh Hunt, in Hazlitt, in Talfourd, and in other places. All bear upon his gentleness, his untidiness and his want of humour. One of the most famous stories tells of Dyer’s criticism of Williams, the terrible Ratcliffe Highway murderer. Dyer, who would never say an ill word of any one, was asked his opinion of this cold-blooded assassin of two families. “He must,” he replied after due thought, “be rather an eccentric character.”
Page 12, line 10. Injustice to him. In the London Magazine the following footnote came here, almost certainly by Lamb:—
“Violence or injustice certainly none, Mr. Elia. But you will acknowledge that the charming unsuspectingness of our friend has sometimes laid him open to attacks, which, though savouring (we hope) more of waggery than malice — such is our unfeigned respect for G.D. — might, we think, much better have been omitted. Such was that silly joke of L[amb], who, at the time the question of the Scotch Novels was first agitated, gravely assured our friend — who as gravely went about repeating it in all companies — that Lord Castlereagh had acknowledged himself to be the author of Waverly! Note — not by Elia.“
Page 12, line 11. “Strike an abstract idea.“ I do not find this quotation — if it be one; but when John Lamb once knocked Hazlitt down, during an argument on pigments, Hazlitt refrained from striking back, remarking that he was a metaphysician and dealt not in blows but in ideas. Lamb may be slyly remembering this.
Page 12, line 15. C——. Cambridge. Dyer added a work on Privileges of the University if Cambridge to his History.
Page 12, line 8 from foot. Our friend M.‘s. Basil Montagu, Q.C. (1770–1851), legal writer, philanthropist, editor of Bacon, and the friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge. The Mrs. M. here referred to was Montagu’s third wife, a Mrs. Skepper. It was she who was called by Edward Irving “the noble lady,” and to whom Carlyle addressed some early letters. A.S. was Anne Skepper, afterwards Mrs. Bryan Waller Procter, a fascinating lady who lived to a great age and died as recently as 1888. The Montagus then lived at 25 Bedford Square.
Page 13, line 17. Starts like a thing surprised. Here we have an interesting example of Lamb’s gift of fused quotation. Wordsworth’s line in the “Ode on Intimations of Immortality,”
Tremble like a guilty thing surprised,
and Shakespeare’s phrase in “Hamlet” (Act I., Scene 1, line 148),
Started like a guilty thing,
were probably both in his mind as he wrote.
Page 13, line 24. Obtruded personal presence. In the London Magazine the following passage came here:—
“D. commenced life, after a course of hard study in the ‘House of pure Emanuel,’ as usher to a knavish fanatic schoolmaster at ***, at a salary of eight pounds per annum, with board and lodging. Of this poor stipend, he never received above half in all the laborious years he served this man. He tells a pleasant anecdote, that when poverty, staring out at his ragged knees, has sometimes compelled him, against the modesty of his nature, to hint at arrears, Dr. *** would take no immediate notice, but, after supper, when the school was called together to even-song, he would never fail to introduce some instructive homily against riches, and the corruption of the heart occasioned through the desire of them — ending with ‘Lord, keep thy servants, above all things from the heinous sin of avarice. Having food and raiment, us therewithal be content. Give me Agar’s wish,’— and the like; — which to the little auditory, sounded like a doctrine full of Christian prudence and simplicity — but to poor D. was a receipt in full for that quarter’s demands at least.
“And D. has been under-working for himself ever since; — drudging at low rates for unappreciating booksellers — wasting his fine erudition in silent corrections of the classics, and in those unostentatious but solid services to learning, which commonly fall to the lot of laborious scholars, who have not the art to sell themselves to the best advantage. He has published poems, which do not sell, because their character is inobtrusive like his own — and because he has been too much absorbed in ancient literature, to know what the popular mark in poetry is, even if he could have hit it. And, therefore, his verses are properly, what he terms them, crotchets; voluntaries; odes to Liberty, and Spring; effusions; little tributes, and offerings, left behind him, upon tables and window-seats, at parting from friends’ houses; and from all the inns of hospitality, where he has been courteously (or but tolerably) received in his pilgrimage. If his muse of kindness halt a little behind the strong lines, in fashion in this excitement-craving age, his prose is the best of the sort in the world, and exhibits a faithful transcript of his own healthy natural mind, and cheerful innocent tone of conversation.”
The foregoing passage called forth a protest from one W.K. necessitating the following reply from Lamb, which was printed in the London Magazine, under the “Lion’s Head,” for December, 1820:—
“Elia requests the Editor to inform W.K. that in his article on Oxford, under the initials G.D., it is his ambition to make more familiar to the public, a character, which, for integrity and single-heartedness, he has long been accustomed to rank among the best patterns of his species. That, if he has failed in the end which he proposed, it was an error of judgment merely. That, if in pursuance of his purpose, he has drawn forth some personal peculiarities of his friend into notice, it was only from the conviction that the public, in living subjects especially, do not endure pure panegyric. That the anecdotes, which he produced, were no more than he conceived necessary to awaken attention to character, and were meant solely to illustrate it. That it is an entire mistake to suppose, that he undertook the character to set off his own wit or ingenuity. That, he conceives, a candid interpreter might find something intended, beyond a heartless jest. That G.D., however, having thought it necessary to disclaim the anecdote respecting Dr. — — it becomes him, who never for a moment can doubt the veracity of his friend, to account for it from an imperfect remembrance of some story he heard long ago, and which, happening to tally with his argument, he set too hastily to the account of G.D. That, from G.D.‘s strong affirmations and proofs to the contrary, he is bound to believe it belongs to no part of G.D.‘s biography. That the transaction, supposing it true, must have taken place more than forty years ago. That, in consequence, it is not likely to ‘meet the eye of many who might be justly offended.’
“Finally, that what he has said of the Booksellers, referred to a period of many years, in which he has had the happiness of G.D.‘s acquaintance; and can have nothing to do with any present or prospective engagements of G.D., with those gentlemen, to the nature of which he professes himself an entire stranger.”
The result of the protest was that Lamb omitted the passage objected to when he collected Elia in 1823. It might well be restored now; but I have preferred to print everything in the body of this edition as Lamb arranged it for press.
Page 14. CHRIST’S HOSPITAL FIVE AND THIRTY YEARS AGO.
London Magazine, November, 1820.
This essay, which is based upon the “Recollections of Christ’s Hospital” in Vol. I., is a curious blend of Lamb’s own experiences at school with those of Coleridge. Both boys entered at the same time — on July 17, 1782: Coleridge was then nearly ten, Lamb was seven and a half. Coleridge was “clothed” on July 18 and went to Hertford for a while; Lamb was clothed on October 9. Lamb left the school in November, 1789, Coleridge in September, 1791.
The school which Lamb knew is now no more. The boys are now all in new buildings in the midst of green fields near Horsham, many miles from Lamb’s city and its roar.
Page 14, line 15. The worthy sub-treasurer. Randal Norris (see note to “A Death–Bed”). I have not been able to discover the cause of his influence.
Page 14, lines 18, 19. Crug . . . piggins. Crug is still current slang. In the school museum one of these piggins is preserved.
Page 14, line 25. Three banyan days. Three vegetarian days. Coleridge complains (in a letter to Poole) that he was never sufficiently fed except on Wednesdays. He gives the following table of food:—
Our diet was very scanty. Every morning a bit of dry bread and some bad small beer. Every evening a larger piece of bread, and cheese or butter, whichever we liked. For dinner — on Sunday, boiled beef and broth; Monday, bread and butter, and milk and water; Tuesday, roast mutton; Wednesday, bread and butter, and rice milk; Thursday, boiled beef and broth; Friday, boiled mutton and broth; Saturday, bread and butter, and pease-porridge. Our food was portioned; and, excepting on Wednesdays, I never had a bellyfull. Our appetites were damped, never satisfied; and we had no vegetables.
Page 14, line 8 from foot. Caro equina. Horseflesh. Mr. Pearce’s chapter on food at the school in his excellent Annals of Christ’s Hospital is very interesting, and records great changes. Rotten-roasted or rare, i.e., over-roasted or under-done.
Page 15, line 3. The good old relative. Aunt Hetty, or more properly, Sarah Lamb. Compare the “Lines written on the Day of my Aunt’s Funeral,” Vol. IV.:—
I have not forgot
How thou didst love thy Charles, when he was yet
A prating schoolboy: I have not forgot
The busy joy on that important day,
When, childlike, the poor wanderer was content
To leave the bosom of parental love,
His childhood’s play-place, and his early home,
For the rude fosterings of a stranger’s hand,
Hard, uncouth tasks, and schoolboys’ scanty fare.
How did thine eyes peruse him round and round
And hardly knew him in his yellow coats,
Red leathern belt, and gown of russet blue.
Page 15, line 13. I was a poor friendless boy. Here Lamb speaks as Coleridge, who came all the way from Ottery St. Mary, in Devonshire (not Calne, in Wiltshire), and had no London friends. In John Woodvil Lamb borrowed St. Mary Ottery again (see Vol. IV.). Coleridge has recorded how unhappy he was in his early days at school.
Page 15, line 12 from foot. Whole-day-leaves. In this connection the following passage from Trollope’s History of Christ’s Hospital, 1834, is interesting:—
Those days, on which leave is given to be absent from the Hospital during the whole day, are called whole-day leaves. . . . A ticket is a small oval medal attached to the button-hole, without which, except on leaves, no boy is allowed to pass the gates. Subjoined is a list of the holidays, which have been hitherto kept at Christ’s Hospital; but it is in contemplation to abridge them materially. Of the policy of such a measure great doubts may fairly be entertained, inasmuch as the vacations are so short as to give sufficient respite neither to master nor scholar; and these occasional breaks, in the arduous duties of the former more especially, enable him to repair the exhausted energies of body and mind by necessary relaxation. If those days, which are marked with an asterisk, fall on a Sunday, they are kept on the Monday following; and likewise the state holidays.
|Jan.||25.||St. Paul’s conversion.|
|* 30.||King Charles’s martyrdom.|
|May||1.||St. Philip and St. James.|
|* 29.||Restoration of King Charles II.|
|24.||St. John Baptist.|
|Thursday after St. James. (Nurses’ Holiday.)|
|Sept.||* 2.||London burnt.|
|* 21.||St. Matthew.|
|* 23.||King Edward VI. born.|
|28.||St. Simon and St. Jude.|
|* 5.||Gunpowder Plot.|
|* 9.||Lord Mayor’s Day.|
|* 17.||Queen Elizabeth’s birthday.|
Also the birthdays of the King and Queen, and the Prince and Princess of Wales: and the King’s accession, proclamation, and coronation.
In addition to the generous allowance of holidays above given the boys had every alternate Wednesday for a whole day; eleven days at Easter, four weeks in the summer, and fifteen days at Christmas. In 1837 the holiday system was remodelled. Compare Lamb’s other remarks on his whole-day rambles in “Recollections of Christ’s Hospital” (Vol. I.) and in the essays in the present volume entitled “Amicus Redivivus” and “Newspapers.”
Page 16, line 14. The Tower. Blue-coat boys still have this right of free entrance to the Tower; but the lions are no more. They were transferred to the Zoological Gardens in 1831.
Page 16, line 16. L.‘s governor. Meaning Samuel Salt, M.P.; but it was actually his friend Mr. Timothy Yeats who signed Lamb’s paper. More accurately, Lamb’s father lived under Salt’s roof.
Page 16, line 7 from foot. H——. According to Lamb’s Key this was Hodges; but in the British Museum copy of Elia, first edition, some one has written Huggins. It is immaterial. Nevis and St. Kitt’s (St. Christopher’s) are islands in the British West Indies. Tobin would be James Webbe Tobin, of Nevis, who died in 1814, the brother of the playwright John Tobin, author of “The Honeymoon.”
Page 17, line 2. A young ass. The general opinion at Christ’s Hospital is that Lamb invented this incident; and yet it has the air of being true.
Page 17, line 18. L.‘s admired Perry. John Perry, steward from 1761 to 1785, mentioned in Lamb’s earlier essay.
Page 17, foot. Gags. Still current slang.
Page 17, foot. ——. No name in the Key. The quotation is an adaptation of:—
It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh
Which some did die to look on.
“Antony and Cleopatra,” Act I., Scene 4, lines 67–68.
It is perhaps worth remarking that in David Copperfield Dickens has a school incident of a similar character.
Page 18, line 14 from foot. Mr. Hathaway. Matthias Hathaway, steward from 1790 to 1813.
Page 19, line 8. I was a hypochondriac lad. Here Lamb drops the Coleridge mask and speaks as himself.
Page 20, line 15. Bamber Gascoigne, and Peter Aubert. Bamber Gascoigne, M.P. (1725–1791), of Bifrons, in Essex. Of Peter Aubert I can find nothing, except that the assistant secretary of the East India Company at the time Lamb wrote this essay was Peter Auber, afterwards full secretary. His name here may be a joke.
Page 20, line 6 from foot. Matthew Field. The Rev. Matthew Feilde, also vicar of Ugley and curate of Berden. For the Rev. James Boyer see below.
Page 21, line 18. “Peter Wilkins,” etc. The Adventures of Peter Wilkins, by Robert Paltock, 1751, is still read; but The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Robert Boyle, 1736, has had its day. It was a blend of unconvincing travel and some rather free narrative: a piece of sheer hackwork to meet a certain market. See Lamb’s sonnet to Stothard, Vol. IV. The Fortunate Blue–Coat Boy I have not seen. Canon Ainger describes it as a rather foolish romance, showing how a Blue-coat boy marries a rich lady of rank. The sub-title is “Memoirs of the Life and Happy Adventures of Mr. Benjamin Templeman; formerly a Scholar in Christ’s Hospital. By an Orphanotropian,” 1770.
Page 22, footnote. I have not discovered a copy of Matthew Feilde’s play.
Page 23, line 17 from foot. Squinting W——. Not identifiable.
Page 23, line 7 from foot. Coleridge, in his literary life. Coleridge speaks in the Biographia Literaria of having had the “inestimable advantage of a very sensible, though at the same time a very severe master, the Reverend James Bowyer [Boyer],” and goes on to attribute to that master’s discrimination and thoroughness much of his own classical knowledge and early interest in poetry and criticism. Coleridge gives this example of Boyer’s impatient humour:—
In our own English compositions (at least for the last three years of our school education), he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image, unsupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp and lyre, Muse, Muses and inspirations, Pegasus, Parnassus and Hippocrene, were all an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost hear him now exclaiming, “Harp? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Muse, boy, muse? Your nurse’s daughter, you mean! Pierian spring? Oh, aye! the cloister pump, I suppose!”
Touching Boyer’s cruelty, Coleridge adds that his “severities, even now, not seldom furnish the dreams by which the blind fancy would fain interpret to the mind the painful sensations of distempered sleep.”
In Table Talk Coleridge tells another story of Boyer. “The discipline at Christ’s Hospital in my time,” he says, “was ultra-Spartan; all domestic ties were to be put aside. ‘Boy!’ I remember Bowyer saying to me once when I was crying the first day of my return after the holidays, ‘Boy! the school is your father! Boy! the school is your mother! Boy! the school is your brother! the school is your sister! the school is your first cousin, and your second cousin, and all the rest of your relations! Let’s have no more crying!’”
Leigh Hunt in his autobiography also has reminiscences of Boyer and Feilde.
James Boyer or Bowyer was born in 1736, was admitted to the school in 1744, and passed to Balliol. He resigned his Upper Grammar Mastership in 1799, and probably retired to the rectory of Gainscolne to which he had been appointed by the school committee six years earlier. They also gave him £500 and a staff.
Page 23, line 6 from foot. Author of the Country Spectator. Thomas Fanshaw Middleton (1769–1822), afterwards Bishop of Calcutta, who was at school with Lamb and Coleridge. In the little statuette group which is called the Coleridge Memorial, subscribed for in 1872, on the centenary of Coleridge’s birth, and held in rotation by the ward in which most prizes have been gained in the year, Middleton is the tallest figure. It is reproduced in my large edition. The story which it celebrates is to the effect that Middleton found Coleridge reading Virgil in the playground and asked him if he were learning a lesson. Coleridge replied that he was “reading for pleasure,” an answer which Middleton reported to Boyer, and which led to Boyer taking special notice of him. The Country Spectator was a magazine conducted by Middleton in 1792–1793.
Page 23, line 3 from foot. C——. Coleridge again.
Page 24, line 4. Lancelot Pepys Stevens. Rightly spelled Stephens, afterwards Under Grammar Master at the school.
Page 24, line 6. Dr. T——e. Arthur William Trollope (1768–1827), who succeeded Boyer as Upper Grammar Master. He resigned in 1826.
Page 24, line 21. Th ——. Sir Edward Thornton (1766–1852), diplomatist, who was sent as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Lower Saxony, to Sweden, to Denmark and other courts, afterwards becoming minister to Portugal.
Page 24, line 23. Middleton. See note above. The treatise was The Doctrine of the Greek Article as applied to the Criticism and the Illustration of the New Testament, 1808. It was directed chiefly against Granville Sharpe. Middleton was the first Bishop of Calcutta.
Page 24, line 8 from foot. Richards. This was George Richards (1767–1837). His poem on “Aboriginal Britons,” which won a prize given in 1791 by Earl Harcourt, is mentioned favourably in Byron’s English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. Richards became vicar of St. Martin’s-inthe-Fields and a Governor of Christ’s Hospital. He founded a gold medal for Latin hexameters.
Page 24, foot. S—— . . . M——. According to the Key “Scott, died in Bedlam,” and “Maunde, dismiss’d school.”
Page 24, foot. “Finding some of Edward’s race.” From Prior’s Carmen Seculare for 1700:—
Finding some of Stuart’s race
Unhappy, pass their annals by.
Lamb alters Stuart to Edward because Edward VI. founded Christ’s Hospital.
Page 25, line 12. C.V. Le G——. Charles Valentine Le Grice (1773–1858), whom we meet also in the essay on “Grace Before Meat.” Le Grice, in his description of Lamb as a schoolboy in Talfourd’s Memorials, remarked: “I never heard his name mentioned without the addition of Charles, although, as there was no other boy of the name of Lamb, the addition was unnecessary; but there was an implied kindness in it, and it was a proof that his gentle manners excited that kindness.”
Page 25, line 20. Allen. Robert Allen, whom we meet again in the essay on “Newspapers.” After a varied and not fortunate career he died of apoplexy in 1805.
Page 25, line 8 from foot. The junior Le G——. Samuel Le Grice became a soldier and died in the West Indies. Lamb wrote of him to Coleridge in 1796, after the tragedy at his home, at a time when friends were badly needed, “Sam Le Grice who was then in town was with me the first 3 or 4 days, and was as a brother to me, gave up every hour of his time to the very hurting of his health and spirits, in constant attendance and humouring my poor father.”
Page 25, line 8 from foot. F——. Joseph Favell, afterwards Captain, who had a commission from the Duke of York — as had Sam Le Grice — and was killed in the Peninsula, at Salamanca, 1812. Lamb states in the essay on “Poor Relations,” where Favell figures as “W.,” that he met his death at St. Sebastian. Both Sam Le Grice and Favell were to have accompanied Coleridge and Southey to the Susquehanna as Pantisocrats.
Page 26, line 1. Fr ——. Frederick William Franklin, master of the Hertford branch of the school from 1801 to 1827. He died in 1836.
Page 26, line 2. Marmaduke T——. Marmaduke Thompson, to whom Lamb dedicated Rosamund Gray in 1798.
Page 26, line 3. Catalogue of Grecians. Lamb was at Christ’s Hospital from 1782 to 1789, and his list is not quite complete. He himself never was a Grecian; that is to say, one of the picked scholars on the grammar side of the school, two of whom were sent up to Cambridge with a hospital exhibition every year, on the understanding that they should take orders. Lamb was one of the Deputy–Grecians from whom the Grecians were chosen, but his stammer standing in his way and a Church career being out of the question, he never became a full Grecian. Writing to George Dyer, who had been a Grecian, in 1831, Lamb says: “I don’t know how it is, but I keep my rank in fancy still since school days. I can never forget I was a deputy Grecian! . . . Alas! what am I now? What is a Leadenhall clerk, or India pensioner, to a deputy Grecian? How art thou fallen, O Lucifer!”
Lamb’s memory is preserved at Christ’s Hospital by a medal which is given for the best English essays. It was first struck in 1875, the centenary of his birth.
Page 26. THE TWO RACES OF MEN.
London Magazine, December, 1820.
Writing to Wordsworth in April of 1816, Lamb says:—“I have not bound the poems yet. I wait till people have done borrowing them. I think I shall get a chain and chain them to my shelves, more Bodleiano, and people may come and read them at chain’s length. For of those who borrow, some read slow; some mean to read but don’t read; and some neither read nor meant to read, but borrow to leave you an opinion of their sagacity. I must do my money-borrowing friends the justice to say that there is nothing of this caprice or wantonness of alienation in them. When they borrow my money they never fail to make use of it.”
Probably the germ of the essay is to be found in this passage, as Lamb never forgot his thoughts.
Page 26, line 17 of essay. Brinsley. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the dramatist and a great spendthrift. He died in 1816. Lamb knew him slightly.
Page 26, line 9 from foot. Beyond Tooke. That is, beyond the philological theories of The Diversions of Purley by John Home Tooke (1736–1812).
Page 27, line 22. Ralph Bigod. John Fenwick, an unlucky friend of the Lambs, an anticipatory Micawber, of whom we know too little, and seem likely to find out little more. Lamb mentions him again in the essay on “Chimney Sweepers,” and in that on “Newspapers,” in his capacity as editor of The Albion, for which Lamb wrote its extinguishing epigram in the summer of 1801. There are references to the Fenwicks in Mary Lamb’s letters to Sarah Stoddart and in Lamb’s letters; but nothing very informing. After financial embarrassments in England they emigrated to America.
Page 29, line 12. Comberbatch. Coleridge, who had enlisted as a young man in the 15th Light Dragoons as Silas Titus Comberback.
Page 29, line 16. Bloomsbury. Lamb was then in rooms at 20 Great Russell Street (now Russell Street), Covent Garden, which is not in Bloomsbury.
Page 29, line 27. Should he go on acting. The Letters contain references to this habit of Coleridge’s. Writing to him in 1809 Lamb says, referring among other loans to the volume of Dodsley with Vittoria Corombona (“The White Devil,” by John Webster) in it:—“While I think on it, Coleridge, I fetch’d away my books which you had at the Courier Office, and found all but a third volume of the old plays, containing the ‘White Devil, ‘Green’s ‘Tu Quoque,’ and the ‘Honest Whore,’ perhaps the most valuable volume of them all —that I could not find. Pray, if you can, remember what you did with it, or where you took it out with you a walking perhaps; send me word, for, to use the old plea, it spoils a set. I found two other volumes (you had three), the Arcadia and Daniel, enriched with manuscript notes. I wish every book I have were so noted. They have thoroughly converted me to relish Daniel, or to say I relish him, for after all, I believe I did relish him.”
And several years later (probably in 1820) we find him addressing Coleridge with reference to Luther’s Table Talk:—“Why will you make your visits, which should give pleasure, matter of regret to your friends? You never come but you take away some folio, that is part of my existence. With a great deal of difficulty I was made to comprehend the extent of my loss. My maid, Becky, brought me a dirty bit of paper, which contained her description of some book which Mr. Coleridge had taken away. It was Luster’s Tables, which, for some time, I could not make out. ‘What! has he carried away any of the tables, Becky?’ ‘No, it wasn’t any tables, but it was a book that he called Luster’s Tables.’ I was obliged to search personally among my shelves, and a huge fissure suddenly disclosed to me the true nature of the damage I had sustained.”
Allsop tells us that Lamb once said of Coleridge: “He sets his mark upon whatever he reads; it is henceforth sacred. His spirit seems to have breathed upon it; and, if not for its author, yet for his sake, we admire it.”
Page 30, line 1. John Buncle. Most of Lamb’s books are in America; Lamb’s copy of John Buncle, with an introductory note written in by Coleridge, was sold, with other books from his library, in New York in 1848. The Life of John Buncle, Esq., a book highly praised by Hazlitt, was by Thomas Amory (1691?-1788), published, Part I. in 1756 and Part II. in 1766. A condensed reprint was issued in 1823 entitled The Spirit of Buncle, in which, Mr. W.C. Hazlitt suggests, Lamb may have had a hand with William Hazlitt.
Page 30, line 19. Spiteful K. James Kenney (1780–1849), the dramatist, then resident at Versailles, where Lamb and his sister visited him in 1822. He married Louisa Mercier, daughter of Louis Sebastian Mercier, the French critic, and widow of Lamb’s earlier friend, Thomas Holcroft. One of their two sons was named Charles Lamb Kenney (1821–1881). Lamb recovered Margaret of Newcastle’s Letters (folio, 1664), which is among the books in America, as is also the Fulke Greville (small folio, 1633).
Page 31, line 4. S.T.C. . . . annotations. Lamb’s copy of Daniel’s Poetical Works, two volumes, 1718, and of Browne’s Enquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors, folio, 1658, both with marginalia by himself and Coleridge, are in existence, but I cannot say where: probably in America. Lamb’s copy of Beaumont and Fletcher, with Coleridge’s notes (see “Old China”), is, however, safe in the British Museum. His Fulke Greville, as I have said, is in America, but I fancy it has nothing of Coleridge in it, nor has his Burton — quarto, 1621 — which still exists.
Coleridge’s notes in the Beaumont and Fletcher folio are not numerous, but usually ample and seriously critical. At the foot of a page of the “Siege of Corinth,” on which he had written two notes (one, “O flat! flat! flat! Sole! Flounder! Place! all stinking! stinkingly flat!”), he added:—
N.B.— I shall not be long here, Charles! — I gone, you will not mind my having spoiled a book in order to leave a Relic.
Underneath the initials S.T.C. are the initials W.W. which suggest that Wordsworth was present.
The Museum also has Lamb’s Milton, with annotations by himself and Coleridge.
In the Descriptive Catalogue of the Library of Charles Lamb, privately issued by the New York Dibdin Club in 1897, is a list of five of Lamb’s books now in America containing valuable and unpublished marginalia by Coleridge: The Life of John Buncle, Donne’s Poems (“I shall die soon, my dear Charles Lamb, and then you will not be vexed that I have scribbled your book. S.T.C., 2d May, 1811”), Reynolds’ God’s Revenge against . . . Murder, 1651 (“O what a beautiful concordia discordantium is an unthinking good man’s soul!”), The History of Philip de Commines in English, and Petwin’s Letters Concerning the Mind.
Page 31. NEW YEAR’S EVE.
London Magazine, January, 1821.
The melancholy pessimism of this essay led to some remonstrance from robuster readers of the London Magazine. In addition to the letter from “A Father” referred to below, the essay produced, seven months later, in the August number of the London Magazine, a long poetical “Epistle to Elia,” signed “Olen,” in which very simply and touchingly Lamb was reminded that the grave is not the end, was asked to consider the promises of the Christian faith, and finally was offered a glimpse of some of the friends he would meet in heaven — among them Ulysses, Shakespeare and Alice W——n. Taylor, the publisher and editor of the magazine, sent Lamb a copy. He replied, acknowledging the kindness of the author, and adding:—“Poor Elia . . . does not pretend to so very clear revelations of a future state of being as ‘Olen’ seems gifted with. He stumbles about dark mountains at best; but he knows at least how to be thankful for this life, and is too thankful, indeed, for certain relationships lent him here, not to tremble for a possible resumption of the gift. He is too apt to express himself lightly, and cannot be sorry for the present occasion, as it has called forth a reproof so Christian-like.”
Lamb thought the poet to be James Montgomery, but it was in reality Charles Abraham Elton. The poem was reprinted in a volume entitled Boyhood and other Poems, in 1835.
It is conceivable that Lamb was reasoned with privately upon the sentiments expressed in this essay; and perhaps we may take the following sonnet which he contributed over his own name to, the London Magazine for April, 1821, as a kind of defiant postscript thereto, a further challenge to those who reproached him for his remarks concerning death, and who suggested that he did not really mean them:—
They talk of time, and of time’s galling yoke,
That like a millstone on man’s mind doth press,
Which only works and business can redress:
Of divine Leisure such foul lies are spoke,
Wounding her fair gifts with calumnious stroke.
But might I, fed with silent meditation,
Assoiled live from that fiend Occupation —
Improbus labor, which my spirits hath broke —
I’d drink of time’s rich cup, and never surfeit —
Fling in more days than went to make the gem
That crowned the white top of Methusalem —
Yea on my weak neck take, and never forfeit,
Like Atlas bearing up the dainty sky,
The heaven-sweet burthen of eternity.
It was also probably the present essay which led to Lamb’s difference with Southey and the famous letter of remonstrance. Southey accused Elia of wanting “a sounder religious feeling,” and Lamb suggests in his reply that “New Year’s Eve” was the chief offender. See Vol. I. for Lamb’s amplification of one of its passages.
It may be interesting here to quote Coleridge’s description of Lamb as “one hovering between heaven and earth, neither hoping much nor fearing anything.”
Page 31, line 10 from foot. Bells. The music of bells seems always to have exerted fascination over Lamb. See the reference in the story of the “First Going to Church,” in Mrs. Leicester’s School, Vol. III.; in his poem “Sabbath Bells,” Vol. IV.; and his “John Woodvil,” Vol. IV.
Page 31, foot. “I saw the skirts of the departing Year.” From Coleridge’s “Ode to the Departing Year,” as printed in 1796 and 1797. Lamb was greatly taken by this line. He wrote to Coleridge on January 2, 1797, in a letter of which only a small portion has been printed:—“The opening [of the Ode] is in the spirit of the sublimest allegory. The idea of the ‘skirts of the departing year, seen far onwards, waving in the wind,’ is one of those noble Hints at which the Reader’s imagination is apt to kindle into grand conceptions.” Afterwards Coleridge altered “skirts” to “train.”
Page 32, line 21. Seven. . . . years. See note to “Dream–Children.” Alice W— n is identified with Ann Simmons, who lived near Blakesware when Lamb was a youth, and of whom he wrote his love sonnets. According to the Key the name is “feigned.”
Page 32, line 25. Old Dorrell. See the poem “Going or Gone,” Vol. IV. There seems really to have been such an enemy of the Lamb fortunes. He was one of the witnesses to the will of John Lamb, the father — William Dorrell.
Page 33, line 5. Small-pox at five. There is no other evidence than this casual mention that Lamb ever suffered from this complaint. Possibly he did not. He went to Christ’s Hospital at the age of seven.
Page 33, line 13. From what have I not fallen. Lamb had had this idea many years before. In 1796 he wrote this sonnet (text of 1818):—
We were two pretty babes, the youngest she,
The youngest, and the loveliest far, I ween,
And Innocence her name. The time has been
We two did love each other’s company;
Time was, we two had wept to have been apart:
But when by show of seeming good beguil’d,
I left the garb and manners of a child,
And my first love for man’s society,
Defiling with the world my virgin heart —
My loved companion dropp’d a tear, and fled,
And hid in deepest shades her awful head.
Beloved, who shall tell me where thou art —
In what delicious Eden to be found —
That I may seek thee the wide world around?
Page 33, line 27. Phantom cloud of Elia. The speculations in the paragraph that ends with these words were fantastical at any rate to one reader, who, under the signature “A Father,” contributed to the March number of the London Magazine a eulogy of paternity, in which Elia was reasoned with and rebuked. “Ah! Elia! hadst thou possessed ‘offspring of thine own to dally with,’ thou wouldst never have made the melancholy avowal that thou hast ‘almost ceased to hope!’” Lamb did not reply.
Page 33, line 7 from foot. Not childhood alone . . . The passage between these words and “freezing days of December” was taken by Charles Lloyd, Lamb’s early friend, as the motto of a poem, in his Poems, 1823, entitled “Stanzas on the Difficulty with which, in Youth, we Bring Home to our Habitual Consciousness the Idea of Death.”
Page 34, line 15 from foot. Midnight darlings. Leigh Hunt records, in his essay “My Books,” that he once saw Lamb kiss an old folio — Chapman’s Homer.
Page 34, line 8 from foot. “Sweet assurance of a look.” A favourite quotation of Lamb’s (here adapted) from Matthew Roydon’s elegy on Sir Philip Sidney:—
A sweet attractive kind of grace,
A full assurance given by looks.
A portion of the poem is quoted in the Elia essay on “Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney.”
Page 37. MRS. BATTLE’S OPINIONS ON WHIST.
London Magazine, February, 1821.
Mrs. Battle was probably, in real life, to a large extent Sarah Burney, the wife of Rear–Admiral James Burney, Lamb’s friend, and the centre of the whist-playing set to which he belonged. The theory that Lamb’s grandmother, Mrs. Field, was the original Mrs. Battle, does not, I think, commend itself, although that lady may have lent a trait or two. It has possibly arisen from the relation of the passage in the essay on Blakesware, where Mrs. Battle is said to have died in the haunted room, to that in “Dream–Children,” where Lamb says that Mrs. Field occupied this room.
The fact that Mrs. Battle and Mrs. Burney were both Sarahs is a small piece of evidence towards their fusion, but there is something more conclusive in the correspondence. Writing in March, 1830, concerning the old whist days, to William Ayrton, one of the old whist-playing company, and the neighbour of the Burneys in Little James Street, Pimlico, Lamb makes use of an elision which, I think, may be taken as more than support of the theory that Mrs. Battle and Mrs. Burney were largely the same — practically proof. “Your letter, which was only not so pleasant as your appearance would have been, has revived some old images; Phillips (not the Colonel), with his few hairs bristling up at the charge of a revoke, which he declares impossible; the old Captain’s significant nod over the right shoulder (was it not?); Mrs. B——‘s determined questioning of the score, after the game was absolutely gone to the d —— l.” Lamb, I think, would have written out Mrs. Burney in full had he not wished to suggest Mrs. Battle too.
This conjecture is borne out by the testimony of the late Mrs. Lefroy, in her youth a friend of the Burneys and the Lambs, who told Canon Ainger that though Mrs. Battle had many differing points she was undoubtedly Mrs. Burney. But of course there are the usual cross-trails — the reference to the pictures at Sandham; to Walter Plumer; to the legacy to Lamb; and so forth. Perhaps among the Blakesware portraits was one which Lamb chose as Mrs. Battle’s presentment; perhaps Mrs. Field had told him of an ancient dame who had certain of Mrs. Battle’s characteristics, and he superimposed Mrs. Burney upon this foundation.
For further particulars concerning the Burney whist parties see the notes to the “Letter to Southey,” Vol. I.
Admiral Burney (1750–1821), a son of Dr. Burney, the historian of music, and friend of Johnson and Reynolds, was the brother of Fanny Burney, afterwards Madame d’Arblay. See also “The Wedding,” page 275 of this volume, for another glimpse of Lamb’s old friend. Admiral Burney wrote An Essay on the Game of Whist, which was published in 1821. As he lived until November, 1821, he probably read the present essay. Writing to Wordsworth, March 20, 1822, Lamb says: “There’s Capt. Burney gone! — what fun has whist now; what matters it what you lead, if you can no longer fancy him looking over you?”
Page 37, line 1 of essay. “A clean hearth.” To this, in the London Magazine, Lamb put the footnote:—
“This was before the introduction of rugs, reader. You must remember the intolerable crash of the unswept cinder, betwixt your foot and the marble.”
Page 37, line 8 of essay. Win one game, and lose another. To this, in the London Magazine, Lamb put the note:—
“As if a sportsman should tell you he liked to kill a fox one day, and lose him the next.”
Page 38, line 26. Mr. Bowles. The Rev. William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850), whose sonnets had so influenced Coleridge’s early poetical career. His edition of Pope was published in 1806. I have tried in vain to discover if Mr. Bowles’ MS. and notes for this edition are still in existence. If so, they might contain Lamb’s contribution. But it is rather more likely, I fear, that Lamb invented the story. The game of ombre is in Canto III. of The Rape of the Lock.
The only writing on cards which we know Lamb to have done, apart from this essay, is the elementary rules of whist which he made out for Mrs. Badams quite late in his life as a kind of introduction to the reading of Admiral Burney’s treatise. This letter is in America and has never been printed except privately; nor, if its owner can help it, will it.
Page 40, line 26. Old Walter Plumer. See the essay on “The South–Sea House.”
Page 42, line 18 from foot. Bad passions. Here came in the London Magazine, in parenthesis, “(dropping for a while the speaking mask of old Sarah Battle).”
Page 43, line 2. Bridget Elia. This is Lamb’s first reference in the essays to Mary Lamb under this name. See “Mackery End” and “Old China.”
A little essay on card playing in the Every–Day Book, the authorship of which is unknown, but which may be Hone’s, ends with the following pleasant passage:—
Cousin Bridget and the gentle Elia seem beings of that age wherein lived Pamela, whom, with “old Sarah Battle,” we may imagine entering their room, and sitting down with them to a square game. Yet Bridget and Elia live in our own times: she, full of kindness to all, and of soothings to Elia especially; — he, no less kind and consoling to Bridget, in all simplicity holding converse with the world, and, ever and anon, giving us scenes that Metzu and De Foe would admire, and portraits that Deuner and Hogarth would rise from their graves to paint.
Page 43. A CHAPTER ON EARS.
London Magazine, March, 1821.
Lamb was not so utterly without ear as he states. Crabb Robinson in his diary records more than once that Lamb hummed tunes, and Barron Field, in the memoir of Lamb contributed by him to the Annual Biography and Obituary for 1836, mentions his love for certain beautiful airs, among them Kent’s “O that I had wings like a dove” (mentioned in this essay), and Handel’s “From mighty kings.” Lamb says that it was Braham who awakened a love of music in him. Compare Lamb’s lines to Clara Novello, Vol. IV., page 101, and also Mary Lamb’s postscript to his “Free Thoughts on Eminent Composers,” same volume.
Page 43, foot. I was never . . . in the pillory. This sentence led to an amusing article in the London Magazine for the next month, April, 1821, entitled “The Confessions of H.F.V.H. Delamore, Esq.,” unmistakably, I think, by Lamb, which will be found in Vol. I. of this edition, wherein Lamb confesses to a brief sojourn in the stocks at Barnet for brawling on Sunday, an incident for the broad truth of which we have the testimony of his friend Brook Pulham.
Page 44, lines 6 and 7. “Water parted from the sea,” “In Infancy.” Songs by Arne in “Artaxerxes,” Lamb’s “First Play” (see page 113).
Page 44, line 11. Mrs. S——. The Key gives “Mrs. Spinkes.” We meet a Will Weatherall in “Distant Correspondents,” page 120; but I have not been able to discover more concerning either.
Page 44, line 17. Alice W——n. See note to “Dream Children.”
Page 44, line 26. My friend A. Probably William Ayrton (1777–1818), the musical critic, one of the Burneys’ whist-playing set, and a friend and correspondent of Lamb’s. See the musical rhyming letter to him from Lamb, May 17, 1817.
Page 47, line 5. My friend, Nov ——. Vincent Novello (1781–1861), the organist, the father of Mrs. Cowden Clarke, and a great friend of Lamb.
Page 47, footnote. Another friend of Vincent Novello’s uses the same couplet (from Watt’s Divine Songs for Children, Song XXVIII., “For the Lord’s Day, Evening”) in the description of glees by the old cricketers at the Bat and Ball on Broad Halfpenny Down, near Hambledon — I refer to John Nyren, author of The Young Cricketer’s Tutor, 1833. There is no evidence that Lamb and Nyren ever met, but one feels that they ought to have done so, in Novello’s hospitable rooms.
Page 48, line 3. Lutheran beer. Edmund Ollier, the son of Charles Ollier, the publisher of Lamb’s Works, 1818, in his reminiscences of Lamb, prefixed to one edition of Elia, tells this story: “Once at a musical party at Leigh Hunt’s, being oppressed with what to him was nothing but a prolonged noise . . . he said —‘If one only had a pot of porter, one might get through this.’ It was procured for him and he weathered the Mozartian storm.”
In the London Magazine this essay had the following postscript:—
“P.S. — A writer, whose real name, it seems, is Boldero, but who has been entertaining the town for the last twelve months, with some very pleasant lucubrations, under the assumed signature of Leigh Hunt29, in his Indicator, of the 31st January last, has thought fit to insinuate, that I Elia do not write the little sketches which bear my signature, in this Magazine; but that the true author of them is a Mr. L——b. Observe the critical period at which he has chosen to impute the calumny! — on the very eve of the publication of our last number — affording no scope for explanation for a full month — during which time, I must needs lie writhing and tossing, under the cruel imputation of nonentity. — Good heavens! that a plain man must not be allowed to be—
“They call this an age of personality: but surely this spirit of anti-personality (if I may so express it) is something worse.
“Take away my moral reputation: I may live to discredit that calumny.
“Injure my literary fame — I may write that up again —
“But when a gentleman is robbed of his identity, where is he?
“Other murderers stab but at our existence, a frail and perishing trifle at the best. But here is an assassin who aims at our very essence; who not only forbids us to be any longer, but to have been at all. Let our ancestors look to it —
“Is the parish register nothing? Is the house in Princes-street, Cavendish-square, where we saw the light six-and-forty years ago, nothing? Were our progenitors from stately Genoa, where we flourished four centuries back, before the barbarous name of Boldero30 was known to a European mouth, nothing? Was the goodly scion of our name, transplanted into England, in the reign of the seventh Henry, nothing? Are the archives of the steel yard, in succeeding reigns (if haply they survive the fury of our envious enemies) showing that we flourished in prime repute, as merchants, down to the period of the commonwealth, nothing?
“Why then the world, and all that’s in’t is nothing —
The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia is nothing. —
“I am ashamed that this trifling writer should have power to move me so.”
Leigh Hunt, in The Indicator, January 31 and February 7, 1821, had reprinted from The Examiner a review of Lamb’s Works, with a few prefatory remarks in which it was stated: “We believe we are taking no greater liberty with him [Charles Lamb] than our motives will warrant, when we add that he sometimes writes in the London Magazine under the signature of Elia.”
In The Indicator of March 7, 1821, Leigh Hunt replied to Elia. Leigh Hunt was no match for Lamb in this kind of raillery, and the first portion of the reply is rather cumbersome. At the end, however, he says: “There was, by the bye, a family of the name of Elia who came from Italy — Jews; which may account for this boast about Genoa. See also in his last article in the London Magazine [the essay on “Ears”] some remarkable fancies of conscience in reference to the Papal religion. They further corroborate what we have heard; viz. that the family were obliged to fly from Genoa for saying that the Pope was the author of Rabelais; and that Elia is not an anagram, as some have thought it, but the Judaico–Christian name of the writer before us, whose surname, we find, is not Lamb, but Lomb; — Elia Lomb! What a name! He told a friend of ours so in company, and would have palmed himself upon him for a Scotchman, but that his countenance betrayed him.”
It is amusing to note that Maginn, writing the text to accompany the Maclise portrait of Lamb in Fraser’s Magazine in 1835, gravely states that Lamb’s name was really Lomb, and that he was of Jewish extraction.
The subject of Lamb’s birth reopened a little while later. In the “Lion’s Head,” which was the title of the pages given to correspondence in the London Magazine, in the number for November, 1821, was the following short article from Lamb’s pen:—
“ELIA TO HIS CORRESPONDENTS. — A Correspondent, who writes himself Peter Ball, or Bell — for his hand-writing is as ragged as his manners — admonishes me of the old saying, that some people (under a courteous periphrasis I slur his less ceremonious epithet) had need have good memories. In my ‘Old Benchers of the Inner Temple,’ I have delivered myself, and truly, a Templar born. Bell clamours upon this, and thinketh that he hath caught a fox. It seems that in a former paper, retorting upon a weekly scribbler who had called my good identity in question, (see P.S. to my ‘Chapter on Ears,’) I profess myself a native of some spot near Cavendish Square, deducing my remoter origin from Italy. But who does not see, except this tinkling cymbal, that in that idle fiction of Genoese ancestry I was answering a fool according to his folly — that Elia there expresseth himself ironically, as to an approved slanderer, who hath no right to the truth, and can be no fit recipient of it? Such a one it is usual to leave to his delusions; or, leading him from error still to contradictory error, to plunge him (as we say) deeper in the mire, and give him line till he suspend himself. No understanding reader could be imposed upon by such obvious rhodomontade to suspect me for an alien, or believe me other than English. — To a second Correspondent, who signs himself ‘a Wiltshire man,’ and claims me for a countryman upon the strength of an equivocal phrase in my ‘Christ’s Hospital,’ a more mannerly reply is due. Passing over the Genoese fable, which Bell makes such a ring about, he nicely detects a more subtle discrepancy, which Bell was too obtuse to strike upon. Referring to the passage (in page 484 of our second volume31), I must confess, that the term ‘native town,’ applied to Calne, primâ facie seems to bear out the construction which my friendly Correspondent is willing to put upon it. The context too, I am afraid, a little favours it. But where the words of an author, taken literally, compared with some other passage in his writings, admitted to be authentic, involve a palpable contradiction, it hath been the custom of the ingenuous commentator to smooth the difficulty by the supposition, that in the one case an allegorical or tropical sense was chiefly intended. So by the word ‘native,’ I may be supposed to mean a town where I might have been born; or where it might be desirable that I should have been born, as being situate in wholesome air, upon a dry chalky soil, in which I delight; or a town, with the inhabitants of which I passed some weeks, a summer or two ago, so agreeably, that they and it became in a manner native to me. Without some such latitude of interpretation in the present case, I see not how we can avoid falling into a gross error in physics, as to conceive that a gentleman may be born in two places, from which all modern and ancient testimony is alike abhorrent. Bacchus cometh the nearest to it, whom I remember Ovid to have honoured with the epithet ‘Twice born.’32 But not to mention that he is so called (we conceive) in reference to the places whence rather than the places where he was delivered — for by either birth he may probably be challenged for a Theban — in a strict way of speaking, he was a filius femoris by no means in the same sense as he had been before a filius alvi, for that latter was but a secondary and tralatitious way of being born, and he but a denizen of the second house of his geniture. Thus much by way of explanation was thought due to the courteous ‘Wiltshire man.’— To ‘Indagator,’ ‘Investigator,’ ‘Incertus,’ and the rest of the pack, that are so importunate about the true localities of his birth — as if, forsooth, Elia were presently about to be passed to his parish — to all such churchwarden critics he answereth, that, any explanation here given notwithstanding, he hath not so fixed his nativity (like a rusty vane) to one dull spot, but that, if he seeth occasion, or the argument shall demand it, he will be born again, in future papers, in whatever place, and at whatever period, shall seem good unto him.
“Modò me Thebis — modò Athenis.
29 “Clearly a fictitious appellation; for if we admit the latter of these names to be in a manner English, what is Leigh? Christian nomenclature knows no such.”
30 “It is clearly of transatlantic origin.”
31 See page 15 of this volume.
“Imperfectus adhuc infans genetricis ab alvo
Eripitur, patrioque tener (si credere dignum est)
Insuitur femori —
Tutaque bis geniti sunt incunabula Bacchi.
“Metamorph. lib. iii., 310.”
Page 48. ALL FOOLS’ DAY.
London Magazine, April, 1821.
Page 49, line 1. Empedocles. Lamb appended this footnote in the London Magazine:—
He who, to be deem’d
A god, leap’d fondly into Etna’s flames.
Paradise Lost, III., lines 470–471 [should be 469–470].
Page 49, line 5. Cleombrotus. Lamb’s London Magazine footnote:—
He who, to enjoy
Plato’s Elysium, leap’d into the sea.
Paradise Lost, III., lines 471–472.
Page 49, line 8. Plasterers at Babel. Lamb’s London Magazine note:—
The builders next of Babel on the plain
Paradise Lost, III., lines 466–467.
Page 49, line 10. My right hand. Lamb, it is probably unnecessary to remind the reader, stammered too.
Page 49, line 13 from foot. Duns, Duns Scotus (1265?-1308?), metaphysician, author of De modis significandi sive Grammatica Speculativa and other philosophic works. Known as Doctor Subtilis. There was nothing of Duns in the London Magazine; the sentence ran: “Mr. Hazlitt, I cannot indulge you in your definitions.” This was at a time when Lamb and Hazlitt were not on good terms.
Page 49, last line. Honest R——. Lamb’s Key gives “Ramsay, London Library, Ludgate Street; now extinct.” I have tried in vain to find out more about Ramsay. The London Library was established at 5 Ludgate Street in 1785. Later, the books were lodged at Charles Taylor’s house in Hatton Garden, and were finally removed to the present London Institute in Finsbury Circus.
Page 50, line 6. Good Granville S——. Lamb’s Key gives Granville Sharp. This was the eccentric Granville Sharp, the Quaker abolitionist (1735–1813).
Page 51. A QUAKER’S MEETING.
London Magazine, April, 1821.
Lamb’s connection with Quakers was somewhat intimate throughout his life. In early days he was friendly with the Birmingham Lloyds — Charles, Robert and Priscilla, of the younger generation, and their father, Charles Lloyd, the banker and translator of Horace and Homer (see Charles Lamb and the Lloyds, 1898); and later with Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet of Woodbridge. Also he had loved from afar Hester Savory, the subject of his poem “Hester” (see Vol. IV.). A passage from a letter written in February, 1797, to Coleridge, bears upon this essay:—“Tell Lloyd I have had thoughts of turning Quaker, and have been reading, or am rather just beginning to read, a most capital book, good thoughts in good language, William Penn’s ‘No Cross, No Crown,’ I like it immensely. Unluckily I went to one of his meetings, tell him, in St. John Street [Clerkenwell] yesterday, and saw a man under all the agitations and workings of a fanatic, who believed himself under the influence of some ‘inevitable presence.’ This cured me of Quakerism; I love it in the books of Penn and Woolman, but I detest the vanity of a man thinking he speaks by the Spirit. . . . ”
Both Forster and Hood tell us that Lamb in outward appearance resembled a Quaker.
Page 52, line 13. The uncommunicating muteness of fishes. Lamb had in mind this thought on the silence of fishes when he was at work on John Woodvil. Simon remarks, in the exquisite passage (Vol. IV.) in reply to the question, “What is it you love?”
The fish in th’ other element
That knows no touch of eloquence.
Page 53, second quotation. “How reverend . . . ” An adaptation of Congreve’s description of York Minster in “The Mourning Bride” (Mary Lamb’s “first play”), Act I., Scene 1:—
How reverend is the face of this tall pile . . .
Page 53, middle. Fox and Dewesbury. George Fox (1624–1691) founded the Society of Friends. William Dewesbury was one of Fox’s first colleagues, and a famous preacher. William Penn (1644–1718), the founder of Pennsylvania, was the most illustrious of the early converts to Quakerism. Lamb refers to him again, before his judges, in the essay on “Imperfect Sympathies,” page 73. George Fox’s Journal was lent to Lamb by a friend of Bernard Barton’s in 1823. On returning it, Lamb remarked (February 17, 1823):—“I have quoted G.F. in my ‘Quaker’s Meeting’ as having said he was ‘lifted up in spirit’ (which I felt at the time to be not a Quaker phrase),’ and the Judge and Jury were as dead men under his feet.’ I find no such words in his Journal, and I did not get them from Sewell, and the latter sentence I am sure I did not mean to invent. I must have put some other Quaker’s words into his mouth.”
Sewel was a Dutchman — William Sewel (1654–1720). His title runs: History of the Rise, Increase and Progress of the Christian People called Quakers, written originally in Low Dutch by W. Sewel, and by himself translated into English, 1722. James Naylor (1617–1660) was one of the early Quaker martyrs —“my favourite” Lamb calls him in a letter. John Woolman (1720–1772) was an American Friend. His principal writings are to be found in A Journal of the Life, Gospel Labours, and Christian Experiences of that faithful minister of Jesus Christ, John Woolman, late of Mount Holly in the Province of Jersey, North America, 1795. Modern editions are obtainable.
Page 56. THE OLD AND THE NEW SCHOOLMASTER.
London Magazine, May, 1821.
Page 56, line 9. Ortelius . . . Arrowsmith. Abraham Ortellius (1527–1598), the Dutch geographer and the author of Theatrum Orbis Terræ, 1570. Aaron Arrowsmith (1750–1823) was a well-known cartographer at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Lamb would perhaps have known something of his Atlas of Southern India, a very useful work at the East India House.
Page 56, line 13. A very dear friend. Barren Field (see the essay on “Distant Correspondents”).
Page 56, line 10 from foot. My friend M. Thomas Manning (1772–1840), the mathematician and traveller, and Lamb’s correspondent.
Page 56, last line. “On Devon’s leafy shores.” From Wordsworth’s Excursion, III.
Page 57, line 16. Daily jaunts. Though Lamb was then (1821) living at 20 Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, he rented rooms at 14 Kingsland Row, Dalston, in which to take holidays and do his literary work undisturbed. At that time Dalston, which adjoins Shackleton, was the country and Kingsland Green an open space opposite Lamb’s lodging.
Page 58, line 23. The North Pole Expedition. This would probably be Sir John Franklin’s expedition which set out in 1819 and ended in disaster, the subject of Franklin’s book, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the years 1819, 20, 21, 22 (1823). Sir John Ross made an expedition in 1818, and Sir William Edward Parry in 1819, and again in 1821–1823 with Lyon. The panorama was possibly at Burford’s Panorama in the Strand, afterwards moved to Leicester Square.
Page 60, line 17. Tractate on Education. Milton’s Tractate on Education, addressed to his friend, Samuel Hartlib, was published in 1644. The quotation above is from that work. This paragraph of Lamb’s essay was afterwards humorously expanded in his “Letter to an Old Gentleman whose Education has been Neglected” (see Vol. I.).
Page 60, last line. Mr. Bartley’s Orrery. George Bartley (1782?-1858), the comedian, lectured on astronomy and poetry at the Lyceum during Lent at this time. An orrery is a working model of the solar system. The Panopticon was, I assume, a forerunner of the famous Panopticon in Leicester Square.
Page 61, line 8. “Plaything for an hour.” A quotation, from Charles and Mary Lamb’s Poetry for Children—“Parental Recollections”:—
A child’s a plaything for an hour.
Page 63, end of essay. “Can I reproach her for it.” After these words, in the London Magazine, came:—
“These kind of complaints are not often drawn from me. I am aware that I am a fortunate, I mean a prosperous man. My feelings prevent me from transcribing any further.”
Page 63. VALENTINE’S DAY.
This essay first appeared in The Examiner, February 14 and 15, 1819, and again in The Indicator, February 14, 1821. Signed ***
Page 64, line 18. Twopenny postman. Hone computed, in his Every–Day Book, Vol. I., 1825, that “two hundred thousand letters beyond the usual daily average annually pass through the two-penny post-office in London on Valentine’s Day.” The Bishop’s vogue is now (1911) almost over.
Page 65, line 15 from foot. E.B. Lamb’s Key gives “Edward Burney, half brother of Miss Burney.” This was Edward Francis Burney (1760–1848), who illustrated many old authors, among them Richardson.
Page 66. IMPERFECT SYMPATHIES.
London Magazine, August, 1821, where the title ran: “Jews, Quakers, Scotchmen, and other Imperfect Sympathies.”
Page 69, line 18 from foot. A print . . . after Leonardo. The Virgin of the Rocks. See Vol. IV. for Lamb’s and his sister’s verses on this picture. Crabb Robinson’s MS. diary tells us that the Scotchman was one Smith, a friend of Godwin. His exact reply to Lamb’s remark about “my beauty” was: “Why, sir, from all I have heard of you, as well as from what I have myself seen, I certainly entertain a very high opinion of your abilities, but I confess that I have not formed any opinion concerning your personal pretensions.”
Page 70, line 10. The poetry of Burns. “Burns was the god of my idolatry,” Lamb wrote to Coleridge in 1796. Coleridge’s lines on Burns, “To a Friend who had declared his intention of writing no more poetry,” were addressed to Lamb. Barry Cornwall records seeing Lamb kiss his copy of the poet.
Page 70, line 17. You can admire him. In the London Magazine Lamb added:—
“I have a great mind to give up Burns. There is certainly a bragging spirit of generosity, a swaggering assertion of independence, and all that, in his writings.”
Page 70, line 18. Smollett. Tobias George Smollett (1721–1771), the novelist, came of a Dumbartonshire family. Rory was Roderick Random’s schoolboy name. His companion was Strap. See Roderick Random, Chapter XIII., for the passage in question. Smollett continued the History of England of David Hume (1711–1776), also a Scotchman, and one of the authors whom Lamb could not read (see “Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading,” page 196).
Lamb’s criticism of Scotchmen did not pass without comment. The pleasantest remark made upon it was that of Christopher North (John Wilson) some dozen years later (after he had met Lamb), in a Blackwood paper entitled “Twaddle on Tweedside” (May, 1833), wherein he wrote:—