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This Memoir was originally published in the " Men 
of Letters Series," edited by Mr. John Morley. In 
revising it for the present Edition, I have not materi- 
ally altered its form and scale, but in the six years 
that have elapsed since its first appearance new facts 
have come to light, especially affecting the earlier 
and more obscure years of Charles Lamb's life. The 
archives of the Inner Temple, the Burial Registers 
of various churches, the Will of Samuel Salt, the 
more careful arrangement of Lamb's Letters, besides 
information from private sources, have enabled me 
to make additions to the second and third chapters 
of this book, whereby the early career of Lamb is 
now told more fully and accurately than before. 
Some footnotes have also been added. References 
in the book to Lamb's Letters are to my Edition 
of his Correspondence, in two volumes, uniform with 
the present. 

A. A 


September 1888. 


1. The Essays of Elia, and other wTitings, iu prose and 

verse, of Charles Lamb. 

2. Letters of Charles Lamb, with a Sketch of his Life 

by Thomas Noon Talfourd 1837 

3. Final Memorials of Charles Lamb, etc., by Thomas 

Noon Talfourd 1848 

4. Charles Lamb : A Memoir, by Barry Cornwall . 1866 

5. Charles and Mary Lamb : Poems, Letters, and 

Remains, by W. Carew Hazlitt .... 1874 

6. Gillman's Life of Coleridge, vol. i 1838 

7. Cottle's Early Recollections of Coleridge . . . 1837 

8. Alsop's Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of 

Coleridge 1886 

9. My Friends and Acquaintance, by P. G. Patmore . 1854 

10. Autobiography of Leigh Hunt .... 1850 

11. Memoirs of William Hazlitt, by W. Carew Hazlitt . 1867 

12. Literary Reminiscences, by Thomas Hood (in Hood's 

Own) 1839 

13. Haydon's Autobiography and Journals . . . 1853 

14. Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson .... 1869 

15. Memoir of Charles Mathews (the elder), by Mrs. 

Mathews 1838 

16. Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey . . 1849 

17. Obituary Notices, Reminiscences, Essays, etc., in 

various magazines and reviews. 




Boyhood — The Temple and Christ's 

Hospital 1775—1789 , 1 

Family Strxtgoles and Sorrows . . 1789 — 1797 . 20 


First Experiments in Literature . 1797—1800 . 41 


Dramatic Authorship and Dramatic 

Criticism 1800—1809 . 62 


Inner Temple Lane — Personal Char- 
acteristics 1809—1817 . 91 


Russell Street, Covent Garden — The 

Essays of Elia 1817—1823 . 118 




TIREMENT FKOM THE InDIA HOUSE . 1823—1826 . 153 

Enfield and Edmonton .... 1826—1834 , 183 

Lamb's Place as a Critic 200 





" I WAS bom and passed the first seven years of my 
life in the Temple. Its church, its halls, its gardens, 
its fountain, its river, I had almost said — for in those 
young years what was this king of rivers to me but a 
stream that watered our pleasant places 1 — these are 
of my oldest recollections." In this manner does 
Charles Lamb, in an essay that is one of the master- 
pieces of English prose, open for us those passages of 
autobiography which happily abound in his writings. 
The words do more than fix places and dates. They 
strike the key in which his early life was set — and 
the later life, hardly less. The genius of Lamb was 
surely guided into its special channel by the chance 
that the first fourteen years of his life were passed, 
as has been said, "between cloister and cloister," 
J S> B 


between the mediceval atmosphere of the quiet Temple 
and that of the busy school of Edward VI. 

Charles Lamb was born on the 10th of February 
1775 in Crown Office Eow in the Temple, the line 
of buildings facing the garden and the river he has 
so lovingly commemorated. His father, John Lamb, 
who had come up a country boy from Lincolnshire to 
seek his fortune in the great city, was clerk and 
servant to Mr. Samuel Salt, a Bencher of the Inner 
Temple. He had married Elizabeth Field, whose 
mother Avas for more than fifty years housekeeper at 
the old mansion of the Plumers, Blakesware in Hert- 
fordshire, the Blakesmoor of the Essays of Mia. The 
issue of this marriage was a family of seven children, 
only three of Avhom seem to have survived their early 
childhood. The registers of the Temple Church 
record the baptisms of all the seven children, ranging 
from the year 1762 to 1775. Of the three who lived, 
Charles was the youngest. The other two were his 
brother John, who Avas twelve years, and his sister 
Mary Anne (better knoAvn to us as Mary), who was 
ten years his senior. The marked difference in age 
between Charles and his brother and sister must 
never be overlooked in estimating the difficulties, and 
the heroism, of his later life. 

In the essay already cited — that on the Old Benchers 
of the Inner Temple — Charles has drawn for us a touch- 
ing portrait of his father, the barrister's clerk, under 
the name of Lovel. After speaking of Samuel Salt, the 
Bencher, and certain indolent and careless Avays from 


which he '* might have suffered severely if he had not 
had honest people about him," he digresses character- 
istically into a description of the faitliful servant who 
was at hand to protect him : — 

Lovel took care of everything. He was at once his 
clerk, his good servant, his dresser, his friend, his 
" flapper," his guide, stopwatch, auditor, treasurer. He 
did nothing without consulting Lovel, or failed in any- 
thing without expecting and fearing his admonishing. He 
put himself almost too much in his hands, had they not 
been the purest in the world. He resigned his title 
almost to respect as a master, if Lovel could ever have 
forgotten for a moment that he was a servant. 

I knew this Lovel. He was a man of an incorrigible 
and losing honesty. A good fellow withal, and " would 
strike." In the cause of the oppressed he never con- 
sidered inequalities, or calculated the number of his 
opponents. He once wrested a sword out of the hand of 
a man of quality that had drawn upon him, and pommelled 
him severely with the hilt of it. The swordsman had 
oflfered insult to a female — an occasion upon which no 
odds against him could have prevented the interference of 
Lovel. He would stand next day bare-headed to the 
same person, modestly to excuse his interference, for 
Lovel never forgot rank, where something better was not 
concerned. Lovel was the liveliest little fellow breathing ; 
had a face as gay as Garrick's, whom he was said greatly 
to resemble (I have a portrait of him which confirms it) ; 
possessed a fine turn for humorous poetry — next to Swift 
and Prior ; moulded heads in clay or plaster of Paris to 
admiration, by the dint of natural genius merely; tiu-ned 


cribbage-boards, and sucli small cabinet toys, to perfection ; 
took a band at quadrille or bowls with equal facility ; 
made punch better than any man of his degree in England ; 
had the merriest quips and conceits, and was altogether 
as brimful of rogueries and inventions as you could desire. 
He was a brother of the angle, moreover, and just such 
a free, hearty, honest companion as Mr. Izaak Walton 
would have chosen to go a-fishing with. 

I saw him in his old age, and the decay of his faculties, 
palsy-smitten, in the last sad stage of human weakness — 
"a remnant most forlorn of what he was" — yet even 
then his eye would light up upon the mention of his 
favourite Garrick. He was greatest, he would say, in 
Bayes — " was upon the stage nearly throughout the whole 
performance, and as busy as a bee." At intervals, too, he 
would speak of his former life, and how he came up a 
little boy from Lincoln to go to service, and how his 
mother cried at parting with him, and how he returned 
after some few years' absence in his smart new livery, to 
see her, and she blessed herself at the change and could 
hardly be brought to believe that it was " her own bairn." 
And then, the excitement subsiding, he would weep, till 
I have wished that sad second-childhood might have a 
mother still to lay its head upon her lap. But the 
common mother of us all in no long time after received 
him gently into hers. 

I have digressed, in my turn, from the story of 
Charles Lamb's own hfe, but it is not without interest 
to learn from whom Charles inherited, not only 
something of his versatility of gift, but his chivalry 
and tenderness. 


The household in Crown Office Kow were from 
the beginning poor — of that we may feel certain. 
An aunt of Charles, his father's sister, formed one of 
the family, and contributed something to the common 
income, but John Lamb the elder was the only other 
bread-winner. And a barrister's clerk with seven 
children born to him in a dozen years, even if lodg- 
ing were found him, could not have had much either 
to save or to spend. Before seven years of age 
Charles got the rudiments of education from a Mr. 
William Bird, whose schoolroom looked "into a 
discoloured dingy garden in the passage leading from 
Fetter Lane into Bartlett's Buildings." We owe 
this, and some other curious information about the 
academy, to a letter of Lamb's addressed in 1826 to 
Hone, the editor of the Every Day Book. In that 
periodical had appeared an account of a certain 
Captain Starkey, who was for some time an assistant 
of Bird's, The mention of his old teacher's name in 
this connection called up in Lamb many recollections 
of his earliest schooldays, and produced the letter 
just named, full of characteristic matter. The school, 
out of Fetter Lane, was a day school for boys, and 
an evening school for girls, and Charles and Mary had 
the advantages, whatever they may have been, of its 
instruction. Starkey had spoken of Bird as "an 
eminent writer, and teacher of languages and mathe- 
matics," etc. ; upon which Lamb's comment is, 
"Heaven knows what languages were taught in it 
then ! I am sure that neither my sister nor myself 


brought any out of it but a little of our native 
English." Then follow some graphic descriptions of 
the birch and the ferule, as wielded by Mr. Bird, 
and other incidents of school-life : — 

Oh, how I remember our legs wedged into those un- 
comfortable sloping desks, where we sat elbowing each 
other ; and the injunctions to attain a free hand, unat- 
tainable in that position ; the first copy I wrote after, 
with its moral lesson, "Art improves nature;" the stUl 
earlier pot-hooks and the hangers, some traces of which I 
fear may yet be apparent in this manuscript. 

When Charles had absorbed such elementary 
learning as was to be acquired under Mr, Bird and 
his assistants, his father might have been much per- 
plexed where to find an education for his younger 
son, within his slender means, and yet satisfying his 
natural ambition, had not a governor of Christ's 
Hospital, of the name of Yeates, probably a friend of 
Samuel Salt, offered him a presentation to that 
admirable charity. And on the 9th of October 1782, 
Charles Lamb, then in his eighth year, entered the 
institution, and remained there for the next seven 

There is scarcely any portion of his life about 
which Lamb has not himself taken his readers into 
his confidence, and in his essay on Witches and other 
Night-fears he has referred to his own sensitive and 
superstitious childhood, made more sensitive by the 
books, meat too strong for childish digestion, to which 


he had free access in his father's collection. " I was 
dreadfully alive to nervous terrors. The night-time 
solitude and the dark were my hell. The sufferings 
I endured in this nature would justify the expression. 
I never laid my head on my pillow, I suppose, from 
the fourth to the seventh or eighth year of my life — 
so far as memory serves in things so long ago — 
without an assurance, which realised its own prophecy, 
of seeing some frightful spectre." Lamb was fond 
both of exaggeration and of mystification, as we shall 
see farther on, but this account of his childhood is not 
inconsistent with descriptions of it from other sources. 
There was a strain of mental excitability in all the 
family, and in the case of Charles the nervousness of 
childhood was increased by the impediment in his 
speech which remained with him for life, and made so 
curious a part of his unique personality. " He was 
an amiable, gentle boy," wrote one who had been at 
school with him, " very sensible and keenly observing, 
indulged by his school-fellows and by his master on 
account of his infirmity of speech. I never heard his 
name mentioned," adds this same school -fellow, 
Charles Valentine Le Grice, "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." Let 
us note here that this term "gentle" (the special 
epithet of Shakspeare) seems to have occurred naturally 
to all Lamb's friends, as that which best described 


him. Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lander, and Gary, 
recall no trait more tenderly than this. And let us 
note also that the addition of his Christian name 
(Lamb loved the nse of it : " So Christians," he said, 
" should call one another ") followed him through life 
and beyond it. There is perhaps no other English 
writer who is so seldom mentioned by his surname 

Of Lamb's experience of school-life we are fortunate 
in having a full description in his essay, entitled 
Recollections of Christ's Hospital, published in 1818, and 
the sequel to it, called Christ's Hospital five-and-thirty 
years ago (one of the Elia essays), published two years 
later. But it requires some familiarity with Lamb's 
love of masquerading, already referred to, to disengage 
fact from fancy, and extract what refers to himself 
only, in these two papers. The former is, what it 
purports to be, a serious tribute of praise to the 
dignified and elevating character of the great Charity 
by which he had been fostered. It speaks chiefly of 
the young scholar's pride in the antiquity of the 
foundation and the monastic customs and ritual which 
had survived into modern times; of the Founder, 
"that godly and royal child. King Edward VI, the 
flower of the Tudor name — the young flower that was 
untimely cropped, as it began to fill our land with its 
early odours — the boy-patron of boys — the serious and 
holy child who walked with Cranmer and Ridley," 
with many touching reminiscences of the happy days 
spent in country excursions or visits to the sights of 


London. But in calling up these recollections it seems 
to have struck Lamb that his old school, like other 
institutions, had more than one side, and that the 
grievances of schoolboys, real and imaginary, as well 
as the humorous side of some of the regulations and 
traditions of the school, might supply material for 
another picture not less interesting. Accordingly, 
under the disguise of the signature Elia, he wrote a 
second account of his school, purporting to be a 
corrective of the over-colouring employed by "Mr. 
Lamb " in the former account. The writer affects to 
be a second witness called in to supplement the 
evidence of the first. " I remember L. at school," 
writes Lamb, under the signature of Elia. "It 
happens very oddly that my own standing at Christ's 
was nearly corresponding to his ; and with all grati- 
tude to him for his enthusiasm for the cloisters, I 
think he has contrived to bring together whatever can 
be said in praise of them, dropping all the other side 
of the argument most ingeniously." This other side 
Lamb proceeds, with charming humour, to set forth, 
and he does so in the character of one, a "poor 
friendless boy," whose parents were far away at 
" sweet Calne, in Wiltshire," after which his heart 
was ever yearning. The friendless boy whose per- 
sonality is thus assumed was young Samuel Taylor 
Coleridge, who had entered the school the same year 
as Lamb, though three years his senior. Coleiidge 
and Lamb were school-fellows for the whole seven 
years of the latter's residence, and from this early 

10 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

association arose a friendship as memorable as any in 
English Literature. "Sweet Calne, in Wiltshire," 
was thus one of Lamb's innocent mystifications. It 
was to the old home at " sweet Ottery St. Mary," in 
Devonshire, that young Samuel Taylor's thoughts 
turned, when he took his lonely country rambles, or 
shivered at the cold windows of the print-shops to 
while away a winter's holiday. 

In the character of Coleridge — though even here 
the dramatic position is not strictly sustained — Lamb 
goes on to relate, in the third person, many incidents 
of his own boyish life, which differed of necessity 
from his friend's. Charles Lamb was not troubled 
how to get through a %vinter's day, for he had shelter 
and friendly faces within easy reach of the school. 
" He had the privilege of going to see them, almost as 
often as he wished, through some invidious distinction 
which was denied to us. The present worthy sub- 
treasurer to the Inner Temple can explain how that 
happened. He had his tea and hot rolls in the morn- 
ing, while we were battening upon our quarter of a 
penny-loaf moistened with attenuated small-beer, in 
wooden piggins, smacking of the pitched leathern jack 
it was poured from." And the writer proceeds to 
draw a charming picture of some emissary from 
Lamb's home, his " maid or aunt," bringing him some 
home-cooked dainty, and squatting down on "some 
odd stone in a by -nook of the cloisters," while he 
partook of it. It suggests a pleasant and happy side 
to this portion of Charles Lamb's life. Humble as his 


home was, still home was near, and not unmindful of 
him; and even taking into account the severities of 
the discipline and other of the schoolboy's natural 
grievances, it would seem as if Lamb's school-years 
had a genial influence on his mind and spirit. 

As to the education, in the common acceptation of 
the word, which he gained during those seven years 
at Christ's Hospital, we may form a very just notion. 
When he left the school, in his fifteenth year, in 
November 1789, he was (according to his own state- 
ment made in more than one passage of his writings) 
deputy Grecian. Leigh Hunt, who entered the 
school two years after Lamb quitted it, and knew him 
intimately in later life, says the same thing. Tal- 
fourd seems to have applied to the school authorities 
for precise information, and gives a somewhat different 
account. He says that "in the language of the 
school" he was "in Greek form, but not deputy 
Grecian." No such distinction is understood by 
"Blues" of a later date, but it may possibly mean 
that Lamb was doing deputy Grecians' work, though 
he was in some way technically disqualified from taking 
rank with them. " He had read," Talfourd goes on 
to tell us, "Virgil, Sallust, Terence, Lucian, and 
Xenophon, and had evinced considerable skill in the 
niceties of Latin composition." Latin, not Greek, was 
certainly his strong point, and with Terence especially 
he shows a familiar acquaintance. He wrote collo- 
quial Latin with great readiness, and in turning 
nursery rhymes into that language, as well as in one 

12 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

or two more serious attempts, there are proofs of an 
ease of expression very creditable to the scholarship 
of a boy of fourteen. And if (as appears certain) 
Lamb, though not in the highest form at Christ's 
Hospital, had the benefit of the teaching of the head- 
master, the Rev. James Boyer, we have good reason 
for knowing that, pedant and tyrant though Boyer 
may have been, he was no bad trainer for such endow- 
ments as Coleridge's and Lamb's. 

Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, has drawn a 
companion picture of the better side of Christ's 
Hospital discipline, which may judiciously be compared 
with Lamb's. "At school I enjoyed the inestimable 
advantage of a very sensible, though at the same time, 
a very severe master. He early moulded my taste to 
the preference of Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer 
and Theocritus to Virgil, and again of Virgil to Ovid. 
He habituated me to compare Lucretius (in such 
extracts as I -then read), Terence, and above all, the 
chaster poems of Catullus, not only with the Roman 
poets of the so-called silver and brazen ages, but with 
even those of the Augustan era ; and on grounds of 
plain sense and universal logic, to see and assert the 
superiority of the former, in the truth and nativeness 
both of their thoughts and diction. At the same time 
that we were studying the Greek tragic poets, he 
made us read Shakspeare and Milton as lessons ; and 
they were the lessons, too, which required most time 
and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I 
learnt from him that poetry, even that of the loftiest. 


and seemingly that of the wildest odes, had a logic of 
its own as severe as that of science, and more difficult, 
because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on 
more and more fugitive causes. In the truly great 
poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not 
only for every word, but for the position of every 
word ; and I well remember that, availing himself of 
the synonyms to the Homer of Didymus, he made 
us attempt to show, with regard to each, why it would 
not have answered the same purpose, and wherein 
consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in the 
original text." Such a teacher, according to Coleridge, 
was the guiding spirit of Christ's Hospital ; and even 
allowing for Coleridge having in later life looked back 
with magnifying eyes upon those early lessons, and 
read into Boyer's teaching something that belonged 
rather to the learner than the teacher, we need not 
doubt how great were the young student's obligations 
to his master. Lamb, who was three years younger, 
and never reached the same position in the school, 
may not have benefited directly by this method of 
Boyer's, but he was the intimate companion of the 
elder schoolboy, and whatever Boyer taught we may 
be sure was handed on in some form or other to 
Lamb, tinged though it may have been by the wond- 
rous individuality of his friend. 

For the influence of Coleridge over Lamb, during 
these schooldays and afterwards, is one of the most 
important elements a biographer of Lamb has to take 
account of. The boy, Samuel Taylor, had entered the 

14 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

school, as we have seen, in the same year. He was a 
lonely, dreamy lad, not living wholly apart from the 
pastimes of his companions, wandering with them into 
the country, and bathing in the New Eiver, on the 
holidays of summer, but taking his pleasure on the 
whole sadly, loving above all things knowledge, and 
greedily devouring whatever of that kind came in his 
way. Middleton, afterwards Bishop of Calcutta, at 
the time a Grecian in the school, found him one day 
reading Virgil in his play-hour, for his own amuse- 
ment, and reported the circumstance to Boyer, who 
acted upon it by fostering henceforth in every way 
his pupil's talent. A stranger who met the boy one 
day in the London streets, lost in some day-dream, 
and moving his arms as one who " spreadeth forth his 
hands to swim," extracted from him the confession 
that he was only thinking of Leander and the Helles- 
pont. The stranger, impressed with the boy's love of 
books, subscribed for him to a library in the neigh- 
bourhood of the school, and young Coleridge proceeded, 
as he has told us, to read "through the catalogue, 
folios and all, whether I understood them or did not 
understand them, running all risks in skulking out to 
get the two volumes which I was entitled to have 
daily." With a full consciousness, as is apparent, of 
his power, he seems at this age to have had no desire 
for distinction, but only for enlarged experience. At 
one time he wanted to be apprenticed to a shoemaker, 
whose wife had shown him some kindness. At a later 
time, encouraged by the example of his elder brother, 


who had come up to walk the London Hospital, he 
conceived a passion for the medical profession and 
read every book on doctoring he could lay his hands 
on. He went through a phase of atheism — again, 
probably, out of sheer curiosity — until he was judi- 
ciously (so he said) flogged out of it by Boyer, And 
meantime he was reading metaphysics, and writing 
verses, in the true spirit of the future Coleridge. The 
lines he composed in his sixteenth year, suggested by 
his habit of living in the future till time present and 
future became in thought inextricably intermingled, 
surely entitle him to the name of the "marvellous 
boy," as truly as anything Chatterton had written at 
the same age ; — 

On the wide level of a mountain's head 
(I knew not where, but 'twas some fairy place) 
Their pinions, ostrich-like, for sails outspread. 
Two lovely children run an endless race, 

A sister and a brother ! 

That far outstripp'd the other ; 
Yet ever runs she with reverted face, 
And looks and listens for the boy behind ; 

For he, alas ! is blind ! 
O'er rough and smooth with even step he pass'd, 
And knows not whether he be first or last. 

A striking feature of these lines is not so much 
that they are not the echo of any one school of poetry, 
but that in the special metaphysic of the thought, and 
the peculiar witchery of the verse, Coleridge here 

16 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

anticipated his maturest powers. It is on first 
thoughts strange that the boy who had read through 
whole Hbraries, "folios and all," and who could write 
verses such as these, should have been so deeply 
stirred as we know him to have been at the age of 
seventeen, when the small volume of fourteen sonnets 
of William Lisle Bowles fell into his hands. What 
was there, it might well be asked, in the poetry of 
Bowles, pathetic and graceful as it was, so to quicken 
the poetic impulse of Coleridge, that years afterwards 
he wrote of it to a friend as having " done his heart 
more good than all the other books he ever read, 
excepting his Bible." It is the fashion in the present 
day to speak slightingly of Bowles, but his sonnets 
have unquestionable merit. Their language is me- 
lodious to a degree which perhaps only Collins in that 
century had surpassed, and it expressed a tender 
melancholy, which may have been inspired also by the 
study of the same poet. But Coleridge, the omnivor- 
ous reader, can hardly have been unacquainted with 
Gray and Collins, and the writer of such lines as — 

On the wide level of a mountain's head 

(I knew not where, but 'twas some fairy place), 

could have had little to learn, as to the subtler music 
of versification, even from the greatest models. But 
it is significant that Coleridge couples these sonnets 
with the Bible, and he could hardly have done so 
without meaning it to be understood that Bowles's 
sonnets marked some change not purely artistic in his 


mind's growth. For the melancholy of Gray was 
constitutional, but the sadness of Bowles had its root 
in a close habit of introspection, and dwelling upon 
the moral side of things. The pensive beauty of such 
a sonnet as the well-known one on the Influeiice of 
Time on Grief wakes chords not often reached by the 
sentiment of the elder poets. There can be little 
doubt that at a critical point of Coleridge's life his 
moral nature was touched in ways for which he was 
profoundly grateful by these few poems of Bowles. 
He admits the obligation, indeed, in the first version 
of his sonnet to Bowles, when he confesses that 
"those soft strains" waked in him "love and sym- 
pathy " as well as fancy, and made him henceforth 
"not callous to a brother's pains." And we are 
justified in believing that his young companion, 
Charles Lamb, was passing with him along the same 
path of deepening thoughtfulness. He, too, had felt 
the charm of Bowles's tenderness. In his earliest 
letters to Coleridge no other name is mentioned oftener 
and with more admiration ; and writing to his friend 
a few years later, from the " drudgery of the desk's 
dead wood" at the India House, Lamb complains 
sorrowfully, " Not a soul loves Bowles here : scarce 
one has heard of Burns : few but laugh at me for 
reading my Testament." 

It was in the year 1789, the year of the publication 
of Bowles's earliest sonnets, that Charles Lamb was 
removed from Christ's Hospital, and the companion- 
ship of the two friends was for a while interrupted. 

18 CHAKLES LAMB chap. 

Lamb had found other congenial associates among the 
Blue Coats, and has embalmed their names in various 
ways in his essays ; the two Le Grices from Cornwall, 
and James White, whose passion was for Shakspeare, 
and who afterwards compiled a collection of letters, 
as between Falstaff and his friends, in which he 
displayed some fancy, but chiefly a certain skill in 
taking to pieces the phraseology of the humorous 
characters in the historical plays and re-setting it in 
divers combinations. It was by these and other like 
accidents that the tastes and powers of the young 
Charles Lamb were being drawn forth in those seven 
years of school -life. The Latin and Greek of the 
Rev. Matthew Field, the under grammar-master, even 
the more advanced instruction under James Boyer, 
had a less important bearing on the future Elia than 
the picturesque surroundings of the Temple, alternat- 
ing with those of the foundation of Edward VI, and 
above all, the daily companionship of Samuel Taylor 

Leigh Hunt, in his autobiography, has described 
with great humour and spirit the Christ's Hospital of 
his day, only two or three years later. Hunt left 
school at the age of fifteen, when he had attained the 
same rank as Lamb — deputy Grecian — and, as he tells 
us, for the same reason. He, too, had an impediment 
in his speech. " I did not stammer half so badly as I 
used, but it was understood that a Grecian was bound 
to deliver a public speech before he left school, and to 
go into the Church afterwards; and as I could do 


neither of these things, a Grecian I could not be." 
During his seven years in the school Hunt often saw 
Charles Lamb, when he came to visit his old school- 
fellows, and recalled in after-life the " pensive, brown, 
handsome, and kindly face," and " the gait advancing 
with a motion from side to side, between involuntary 
unconsciousness and attempted ease." He dressed 
even then, Leigh Hunt adds, with that " Quaker-like 
plainness " that distinguished him all through life. 

To leave school must have been to Charles Lamb a 
bitter sorrow. His aptitude for the special studies of 
the school was undeniable, and to part from Coleridge 
must have been a still heavier blow. His biographers 
have followed Leigh Hunt in pointing out that the 
school exhibitions to the universities Avere given on 
the implied condition of the winners of them proceed- 
ing to holy orders, and that in Lamb's case his 
infirmity of speech made that impossible. But there 
were probably other reasons, not less cogent. It 
must have been of importance to his family that 
Charles should, with as little delay as possible, begin 
to earn his bread. There was poverty in his home, 
and the prospect of means becoming yet more strait- 
ened. There were deepening anxieties of still graver 
cast, as we shall see hereafter. The youngest child of 
the family returned to share this poverty and these 
anxieties, and to learn thus early the meaning of that 
law of sacrifice to which he so cheerfully submitted 
for the remainder of his life. 




In two of Lamb's Essays of Elia, My Relations, and 
Mackery End in Hertfordshire, he has described various 
members of his own family, and among them his 
brother John and his sister Mary. These should be 
carefully read, in conjunction with the less studied 
utterances on the same theme in his letters, by those 
who would understand the conditions of that home of 
which he now became an inmate. Of the family of 
seven children born in the Temple to John and Eliza- 
beth Lamb, only three survived, the two just men- 
tioned and Charles. The elder brother, John, at the 
time of his brother's leaving school a young man of 
twenty-six, held a clerkship in the South Sea House. 
Samuel Salt was a Deputy-Governor of the South Sea 
House, and it was no doubt to his introduction that 
John Lamb owed the appointment, and it is evident 
that at the time he first comes under our notice, his 
position in the office was fairly lucrative, and that the 


young man, unmarried, and of pleasant artistic tastes, 
was living by himself, enjoying life, and not troubling 
himself too much about his poor relations in the 
Temple. The genial selfishness of his character is 
described with curious frankness by Charles, who yet 
seemed to entertain a kind of admiration for the well- 
dressed dilettante who cast in this way a kind of 
reflected light of respectability upon his humble 
relatives. He even addresses a sonnet to his brother, 
and applauds him for keeping " the elder brother up 
in state." There is a touch of sarcasm here, perhaps ; 
and there is a sadder vein of irony in the description 
in My Belations : — 

It does me good as I walk towards the street of my 
daily avocation on some fine May morning, to meet him 
marching in a quite opposite direction, with a jolly hand- 
some presence, and shining sanguine face that indicates 
some purchase in his eye — a Claude or a Hobbima — for 
much of his enviable leisure is consumed at Christie's and 
Phillips's, or where not, to pick up pictures and such gauds. 
On these occasions he mostly stoppeth me, to read a short 
lecture on the advantage a person like me possesses above 
himself, in having his time occupied with business which 
he must do ; assureth me that he often feels it hang heavy 
on his hands ; wishes he had fewer holidays ; and goes off 
Westward Ho ! chanting a tune to Pall Mall ; perfectly 
convinced that he has convinced me, while I proceed in 
my opposite direction tuneless. 

We feel that this picture needs no additional 
touches. "Marching in a quite opposite direction" 


was what John Lamb continued to do, in all respects, 
as concerned the dutiful and home-keeping members 
of his family. It was not to him that father and 
mother, sister or brother, were to look for help in 
their great need. Wholly different was the other 
elder child, next to him in age, Mary Lamb, the 
Bridget Mia of the Essays. Ten years older than 
Charles, she filled a position to him in these boyish 
days rather of mother than of sister. It is clear that 
these two children from the earliest age depended 
much on one another for sympathy and support. 
The mother never understood or appreciated the 
daughter's worth, and the father, who seems to have 
married late in life, was already failing in health and 
powers when Charles left school. The brother and 
sister were therefore thrown upon one another for 
companionship and intellectual sympathy, when school 
friendships were for a while suspended. Mary Lamb 
shared from childhood her brother's taste for reading. 
" She was tumbled early, by accident or design, into 
a spacious closet of good old English reading, without 
much selection or prohibition, and browsed at will 
upon that fair and wholesome pasturage." The 
spacious closet was, it would seem, the library of 
Samuel Salt, to which both she and Charles early had 
access. It was a blessed resource for them in face of 
the monotony and other discomforts of their home and 
against more serious evils. There was, as we have 
seen, a taint of mania in the familj'^, inherited from 
the father's side. It appeared in different shapes in 


all three children, if we are to trust a casual remark 
in one of Charles's letters touching his brother John. 
But in Mary Lamb there is reason to suppose that it 
had been a cause of anxiety to her parents from an 
early period of her life. In one of his earliest poems 
addressed to Charles Lamb, Coleridge speaks of him 
creeping round a " dear-loved sister's bed, with noise- 
less step," soothing each pang with fond solicitude. 
These claims upon his brotherly watchfulness fell to 
the lot of Charles while still a boy, and they were 
never relaxed during life. There was a pathetic truth 
in the prediction of Coleridge which followed : — 

Cheerily, dear Charles ! 
Thou tliy best friend shalt cherish many a year. 

He continued to devote himself to this, his best friend, 
for more than forty years, and henceforth the lives of 
the brother and sister are such that the story of the 
one can hardly be told apart from the other. 

It has been said that Lamb's first years were passed 
between the Temple and Christ's Hospital — between 
*' cloister and cloister " — but there were happy holiday 
seasons when he had glimpses of a very different life. 
These were spent with his grandmother, Mary Field, 
at the old mansion of the Plumer family, Blakcsware,^ 
closely adjoining the pleasant village of Widford, 
in Hertfordshire. The Plumers had two residences 

^ Lamb disguised the name, in his well-known essay, ns 
" Blakesmoor in Hertfordshire." Readmits the identity in a 
letter to Bernard Barton of 10th August 1827. 

24 CHARLES LAMB chap, 

in the county, one at Gilston, and the other just 
mentioned, a few miles distant. The latter was the 
house where the dowager Mrs. Plumer and younger 
children of the family resided. Sometimes there 
would be no members of the family to inhabit it, and 
at such times old Mrs. Field, who held the post of 
housekeeper for the last fifty or sixty years of her 
life, reigned supreme over the old place. Her three 
grandchildren were then often with her, and the old- 
fashioned mansion, with its decaying tapestries and 
carved chimneys, together with the tranquil, rural 
beauty of the gardens and the surroimding country, 
made an impression on the childish imagination of 
Lamb, which is not to be overlooked in considering 
the influences which moulded his thought and style. 
There were many ties of family affection binding him 
to Hertfordshire. His grandmother was a native of 
the county, and in the beautiful essay called Machery 
End he has described a visit paid in later life to other 
relations, in the neighbourhood of Wheathampstead. 
It is noticeable how Lamb, the " scorner of the fields," 
as Wordsworth termed him, yet showed the true 
poet's appreciation of English rural scenery, whenever 
at least his heart was touched by any association of it 
with human joy or sorrow. 

In 1792 Mrs. Field died at a good old age, and 
lies buried in the quiet churchyard of Widford. 
Lamb has preserved her memory in the tender tribute 
to her virtues. The Grandame, which appeared among 
his earliest published verses — 


On the green hill top 
Hard by the house of prayer, a modest roof 
And not distinguished from its neighbour-barn 
Save by a slender tapering length of spire, 
The Grandame sleeps. A plain stone barely tells 
The name and date to the chance passenger. 

Time and weather have effaced even name and date, 
but the stone is still pointed out in Widford church- 
yard. The old lady had suffered long from an in- 
curable disease, and the young Charles Lamb had 
clearly found some of his earliest religious impressions 
deepened by watching her courage and resignation : — 

For she had studied patience in the school 

Of Christ ; much comfort she had thence derived 

And was a follower of the Nazarene. 

With her death the tie with Blakesware was not 
broken. The family of the Lambs had pleasant 
relations with other of the Widford people. Their 
constant friend, Mr. Randal Norris, the Sub-treasurer 
of the Inner Temple, had connections with the place, 
and long after the death of Mrs. Field we find Lamb 
and his sister spending occasional holidays in the 

At some date, unfixed, in the two years following 
his removal from Christ's Hospital, Charles obtained 
a post of some kind in the South Sea House, where 
his brother John already held an appointment. No 
account of this period of his life remains to us, except 
such as can be drawn from the essay on the South Sea 

26 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

House, written thirty years later in the Loiidon 
Magazine as the first of the papers signed Elia. The 
essay contains little or nothing about himself, and we 
are ignorant as to the duties and emoluments of his 
situation. It was not long, however, before he got pro- 
motion, in the form of a clerkship, in the accountant's 
office of the East India Company, obtained for him 
through the influence of Samuel Salt. His salary 
began at the rate of £70 a year, rising by gradual 
steps, and in the service of the East India Company 
Charles Lamb continued for the rest of his working 

The clerkship in the India House must have been 
one of the last kind services of Samuel Salt to the 
family of his faithful clerk, for the old Bencher died 
in the same year, 1792. On his death, the two sets 
of chambers occupied by him passed into other hands, 
and the Lamb family had to quit the old home in 
Crown Office Eow. For five-and-forty years John 
Lamb had served his master with true devotion, and 
Samuel Salt showed that he was not insensible of the 
obligation. By his will, dated 1786, he bequeaths 
" To my servant, John Lamb, who has lived with me 
near forty years," £500 South Sea stock ; and " to 
Mrs. Lamb £100 in money, well deserved for her 
care and attention during my illness." By a codicil, 
dated 20th December 1787, his executors are directed 
to employ John Lamb to receive the testator's 
"exchequer annuities of £210 and £14, during their 
term, and to pay him £10 a year for his trouble so 


long as he shall receive them." By a later codicil, he 
gives another £100 to Mrs. Lamb. With this small 
capital, and the pension of £10, and the small salary 
of Charles as one of the youngest clerks in the India 
OflSce, the Lamb family were now left to begin the 
real battle of life. Whether they removed at once to 
Little Queen Street, Holborn, where we find them 
living four years later, does not appear. No light is 
thrown on the matter by any reference in the writings 
of Charles Lamb. No letter, or other fragment of 
writing by him, of earlier date than 1795, has been 
preserved. His work as a junior clerk absorbed the 
greater part of his day and of his year. In his first 
years of service his annual holiday was a single week, 
and this scanty breathing-space he generally spent in 
his favourite Hertfordshire. Then there were the 
occasional visits to the theatre, and it was the theatre 
which all through life shared with books the keenest 
love of Lamb and his sister. He has left us an 
account, in the essay. My First Play, of his earliest 
experiences of this kind, beginning with Artaxerxes, 
and proceeding to The Lady of the Manm' and The 
fFay of the World, all seen by him when he was 
between six and seven years old. Seven years elapsed 
before he saw another play (for play-going was not 
permitted to Christ's Hospital boys), and he admits 
that when after that interval he visited the theatre 
again, much of its former charm had vanished. The 
old classical tragedy and the old-world sentimental 
comedy alike failed to satisfy him, and it was not till 

28 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

■he first saw Mrs. Siddons that the acted drama re- 
asserted its power. "The theatre became to him 
once more," he tells us, "the most delightful of re- 
creations." One of the earliest of his sonnets records 
the impression made upon him by this great actress. 
And as soon as we are admitted through his corre- 
spondence with Coleridge and others to know his tastes 
and habits, we find how important a part the drama 
and all its associations were playing in the direction 
of his genius. 

Nor was the gloom of his home life unrelieved by 
occasional renewals of the intellectual companionship 
he had enjoyed at school. Coleridge had gone up to 
Jesus College, Cambridge, early in 1791, and except 
during the six months of his soldier's life in the Light 
Dragoons, remained there for the next four years. 
During this time he made occasional visits to London, 
when it was the great pleasure of the two school- 
fellows to meet at a tavern near Smithfield, the 
*' Salutation and Cat " (probably a well-known rallying 
point in the old Christ's days), and there to spend 
long evenings in discussion on literature and the other 
topics dear to both, Coleridge was now writing 
poems, and finding a temporary home for them in the 
columns of the Morning Chronicle. Among them 
appeared the sonnet on Mrs. Siddons, which was thus 
probably Lamb's first appearance in print. Both the 
young men were clearly dreaming of authorship, and 
Lamb's first avowed appearance as author was in the 
first volume of poems by Coleridge, published by 


Cottle, of Bristol, in the spring of the year 1796. 
"The effusions signed C. L.," says Coleridge in the 
preface to this volume, "were written by Mr. Charles 
Lamb of the India House. Independently of the 
signature, their superior merit would have sufficiently 
distinguished them." The effusions consisted of four 
sonnets, the one already noticed on Mrs. Siddons, one 
" written at midnight by the seaside after a voyage," 
and two, in every way the most noteworthy, dealing 
with the one love-romance of Charles Lamb's life. 
The sonnets have no special literary value, but the 
first of these has importance enough in its bearing on 
Lamb's character to justify quotation : — 

Was it some sweet device of Faery 

That mocked my steps with many a lonely glade, 

And fancied wanderings with a fair-haired maid 1 

Have these things been 1 Or what rare witchery, 

Impregning with delights the charmed air. 

Enlightened up the semblance of a smile 

In those fine eyes ? methonght they spake the while 

Soft soothing things, which might enforce despair 

To drop the murdering knife, and let go by 

His foul resolve. And does the lonely glade 

Still court the footsteps of the fair-haired maid ? 

Still in her locks the gales of summer sigh ? 

While I forlorn do wander, reckless where. 

And 'mid my wanderings meet no Anna there. 

If the allusions in this and the following sonnet 
stood alone, we might well be asking, as in the case 
of Shakspeare's sonnets-, whether the situation was 

30 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

not dramatic rather than autobiographical; but we 
have good reasons for inferring that the Anna, " the 
fair-haired maid " of these poems, had a real existence. 
His first loA^e is referred to constantly in later letters 

and essays as Alice W n, and it is easy to perceive 

that the Anna of the sonnets and this Alice W n 

were the same person. In both cases the fair hair 
and the mild, pale blue eyes are the salient features. 
But the sonnets that tell of these, tell also of the 
" winding wood-walks green," and 

the little cottage which she loved, 
The cottage which did once my all contain. 

From these alone we might infer that Lamb had 
first met the subject of them, not in London, but 
during his frequent visits to Blakesware. Lamb him- 
self, often so curiously out-spoken on the subject of 
his personal history, has nowhere directly told us 
where he met his Alice, but he cannot seriously have 
meant to keep the secret. In the essay, Blakesmoor in 

H shire, he recalls the picture-gallery with the old 

family portraits, and among them " that beauty with 
the cool, blue, pastoral drapery, and a lamb, that hung 
next the great bay window, with the bright yellow 
Hertfordshire hair, so like my Alice/" His "fair- 
haired maid " was clearly from Hertfordshire. It 
will be seen hereafter what light is further thrown on 
the matter by Lamb himself. All that we know as 
certain, is that Lamb, while yet a boy, lost his heart, 
and that whether the course of true love ran smooth 


or not, he willingly submitted to forego the hoped-for 
tie, when a claim upon his devotion appeared in the 
closer circle of his home. 

Unless, indeed, a more personal and even more 
terrible occasion of this sacrifice had arisen at an 
earher date. We know, on his own admission, that 
in the winter of 1795-96, Charles Lamb himself suc- 
cumbed to the family malady, and passed some weeks 
in confinement. In the earliest of his letters that has 
been preserved, belonging to the early part of 1796, 
he tells his friend Coleridge the sad truth : — 

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 madhouse at 
Hoxton, I am got somewhat rational now, and don't bite 
any one. But mad I was ! . . . Coleridge, it may con- 
vince you of my regard for you when I tell you my head 
ran on you in my madness, as much almost as on another 
person, who I am inclined to think was the more immedi- 
ate cause of my temporary frenzy. 

The "other person" can have been no other 
than the fair-haired Alice, and if disappointed love 
was the immediate cause of his derangement, the 
discovery in him of this tendency may have served 
to break off all relations between the lovers still 
more effectually. Wonderfully touching are the lines 
which, as he tells Coleridge in the same letter, were 
written by him in his prison-house in one of his lucid 
intervals : — 

32 CHAKLES LAMB chap. 

If from my lips some angry accents fell, 
Peevish complaint, or harsh reproof unkind, 
'Twas but the error of a sickly mind 
And troubled thoughts, clouding the purer Avell, 
And waters clear, of Reason : and for me 
Let this my verse the poor atonement be — 
My verse, which thou to praise wert e'er inclined 
Too highly, and with a partial eye to see 
No blemish. Thou to me didst ever show 
Kindest affection ; and would'st oft-times lend 
An ear to the despairing, love-sick lay. 
Weeping my sorrows with me, who repay 
But ill the mighty debt of love I owe, 
Mary, to thee, my sister and my friend. 

The history of many past weeks or months seems 
written in these lines ; the history of a hopeless 
attachment, a reason yielding to long distress of mind, 
and a sister's love already repaying by anticipation 
the "mighty debt" which in after days it was itself 
to owe. 

This year, 1795-96, was indeed a memorable one in 
the annals of the brother and sister. The fortunes of 
the Lamb family were at low ebb. They were in 
lodgings in Little Queen Street, Holborn, the mother 
a confirmed invalid, and the father sinking gradually 
into second childhood. Charles had been temporarily 
under restraint, and Mary Lamb, in addition to the 
increasing labour of ministering to her parents, was 
working for their common maintenance by taking in 


needlework. It is not strange that under this pres- 
sure her own reason, so often threatened, at last gave 
way. It was in September of 1796 that the awful 
calamity of her life befell. A young apprentice girl, 
who was at work in the common sitting-room while 
dinner was preparing, appears to have excited the 
latent mania. Mary Lamb snatched a knife from the 
table, pursued the girl round the room, and finally 
stabbed to the heart her mother, who had interfered 
in the girl's behalf. It was Charles Lamb himself 
who seized the unhappy sister, and wrested the knife 
from her hand, but not before she had hurled in her 
rage other knives about the room, and wounded, 
though not fatally, the now almost imbecile father. 
The Times of a few days later relates that an inquest 
was held on the following day, and a verdict of 
insanity returned in the case of the unhappy daughter. 
Lamb's account of the event is given in a letter to 
Coleridge, of 27th September. 

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 madhouse, 
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 Mm and my aunt. Mr. Norris, of the Bluecoat 
School, has been 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 than to 

God Almighty have us well in His keeping. 

C. Lamb. 

Mention nothing of poetry. I have destroyed every 
vestige of past vanities of that kind. Do as you please ; 
but if you publish, publish mine (I give free leave) with- 
out name or initial, and never send me a book, I charge 

A second letter followed in less than a week, in a 
tone somewhat less forlorn. 

Your letter was an inestimable treasure to me. It will 
be a comfort to you, I know, to know that our prospects 
are somewhat brighter. My poor dear, dearest sister, the 
unhappy and unconscious instrument of the Almighty's 
judgments on our house, is restored to her senses ; to a 
dreadful sense and recollection of what has past, awful to 
her mind and impressive (as it must be to the end of life), 
but tempered wdth religious resignation and the reasonings 
of a sound judgment, which, in this early stage, knows how 
to distinguish between a deed committed in a transient fit 
of frenzy, and the terrible guilt of a mother's murder. I 
have seen her. I found her, this morning, calm and 
serene ; far, very far, from an indecent, forgetful serenity ; 


she has a most affectionate and tender concern for what 
has happened. Indeed, from the beginning, frightful and 
hopeless as her disorder seemed, I had confidence enough 
in her strength of mind and religious principle, to look 
forward to a time when even she might recover tranquillity. 
God be praised, Coleridge, wonderful as it is to tell, I 
have never once been otherwise than collected and calm ; 
even on the dreadful day, and in the midst of the terrible 
scene, I preserved a tranquillity which bystanders may 
have construed into indifference — a tranquillity not of 
despair. Is it folly or sin in me to say that it was a 
religious principle thfit most supported me ? I allow much 
to other favourable circumstances. I felt that I had 
something else to do than to regret. On that first even- 
ing, my aunt was lying insensible, to all appearance like 
one dying, — my father, with his poor forehead plastered 
over, from a wound he had received from a daughter dearly 
loved by him, who loved him no less dearly, — my mother 
a dead and murdered corpse in the next room, — yet was I 
wonderfully supported. I closed not my eyes in sleep 
that night, but lay without terrors and without despair. 
I have lost no sleep since. I had been long used not to 
rest in things of sense ; had endeavoured after a compre- 
hension of mind, unsatisfied with the " ignorant present 
time," and this kept me up. I had the whole weight of 
the family thrown on me ; for my brother, little disposed 
(I speak not without tenderness for him) at any time to 
take care of old age and infirmities, had now, with his bad 
leg, an exemption from such duties, and I was now left 
alone. . . . 

Our friends here have been very good. Sam Le Grice, 
who was then in town, was with me the three or four first 


clays, 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 ; 
talked with him, read to him, played at cribbage with 
him (for so short is the old man's recollection that he was 
playing at cards, as though nothing had happened, while 
the coroner's inquest was sitting over the way). Samuel 
wept tenderly when he went away, for his mother wrote 
him a very severe letter on his loitering so long in town, 
and he was forced to go. Mr. Norris, of Christ's Hospital,^ 
has been as a father to me ; Mrs. Norris as a mother, 
though we had few claims on them. A gentleman, 
brother to my godmother, from whom we never had 
right or reason to expect any such assistance, sent my 
father £20 ; and to crown all these God's blessings to 
our family at such a time, an old lady^ a cousin of my 
father's and aunt's, a gentlewoman of fortune, is to take 
my aunt and make her comfortable for the short remainder 
of her days. My aunt is recovered, and as well as ever, 
and highly pleased at thoughts of going ; and has gener- 
ously given up the interest of her little money (which 
was formerly paid my father for her board) wholly and 
solely to my sister's use. Reckoning this, we have, Daddy 
and I, for our two selves and an old maid-servant to look 
after him when I am out, which will be necessary, <£l70, 

^ The earliest mention of Mr. Randal Norris, Sub-treasurer 
of the Inner Temple, for many years the faithful friend of the 
Lamb family. Mr. Norris was twice married. It was through 
his second wife (not the Mrs. Norris mentioned above) that 
he was connected with Widford in Hertfordshire. Mrs. Arthur 
Tween, Mr. Norris's daughter by the second marriage, tells us 
that she does not know in what way her father was ever con- 
nected with Christ's Hospital. 


or £180 rather, a year, out of which we can spare £50 or 
£60 at least for Mary while she stays at Islington, where 
she must and shall stay during her father's life, for his 
and her comfort. I know John will make speeches about 
it, but she shall not go into an hospital. The good lady 
of the madhouse, and her daughter — an elegant, sweet- 
behaved young lady — love her and are taken with her 
amazingly ; and I know from her own mouth she loves 
them, and longs to be with them as much. Poor thing ! 
they say she was but the other morning saying she knew 
she must go to Bethlehem for life ; that one of her brothers 
would have it so, but the other would wish it not, but 
be obliged to go with the stream ; that she had often as she 
passed Bethlehem thought it likely, " here it may be my 
fate to end my days," conscious of a certain flightiness in 
her poor head oftentimes, and mindful of more than one 
severe illness of that nature before. A legacy of <£100, 
which my father will have at Christmas, and this £20 I 
mentioned before, with what is in the house, will much 
more than set us clear. If my father, an old servant- 
maid, and I, can't live, and live comfortably, on £130 or 
£120 a year, we ought to burn by slow fires; and I 
almost would, that Mary might not go into an hospital. 
Let me not leave one unfavourable impression on your 
mind respecting my brother. Since this has happened 
he has been very kind and brotherly, but I fear for his 
mind. He has taken his ease in the world, and is not 
fit himself to struggle with difficulties, nor has much 
accustomed himself to throw himself into their way ; and 
I know his language is already, " Charles, you must take 
care of yourself, you must not abridge yourself of a single 
pleasure you have been vised to," etc. etc., and in that 

38 CHAELES LAMB chap. 

style of talking. But you, a Necessarian, can respect a 
difference of mind, and love what is amiable in a character 
not perfect. He has been very good, but I fear for his 
mind. Thank God, I can unconnect myself with him, 
and shall manage all my father's monies in future myself 
if I take charge of Daddy, which poor John has not even 
hinted a wish, at any future time even, to share with me. 
The lady at this madhouse assures me that I may dismiss 
immediately both doctor and apothecary, retaining occa- 
sionally a composing draught or so for a while ; and there 
is a less expensive establishment in her house, where she 
will not only have a room and nurse to herself for £50 or 
guineas a year — the outside would be £60 — you know by 
economy how much more even I shall be able to spare for 
her comforts. She will, I fancy, if she stays make one of 
the family, rather than of the patients ; the old and young 
ladies I like exceedingly, and she loves dearly ; and they, 
as the saying is, take to her extraordinarily, if it is extra- 
ordinary that people who see my sister should love her. 
Of all the people I ever saw in the world, my poor sister 
was most and thoroughly devoid of the quality of selfish- 
ness. I wiU enlarge upon her qualities, dearest soul, in a 
future letter for my own comfort, for I understand her 
thoroughly ; and if I mistake not, in the most trying 
situation that a human being can be found in, she will be 
found (I speak not with sufBcient humility, I fear, but 
humanly and foolishly speaking) — she will be found, I trust, 
uniformly great and amiable. God keep her in her 
present mind, to whom be thanks and praise for all His 
dispensations to mankind. 

It is necessary for the full understanding of what 


Charles Lamb was, and of the life that lay before 
him, that this deeply interesting account should be 
given in his own words. Anything that a biographer 
might add would only weaken the picture of courage, 
dutifulness, and aflFection here presented. The only 
fitting sequel to it is the history of the remaining 
five-and-thirty years, in which he fulfilled so nobly and 
consistently his self-imposed task. 

Poor Mrs. Lamb was laid to rest in the churchyard 
of St. Andrew's, Holborn, on the 26th of this month, 
and it then became absolutely necessary for the family 
to make another change of residence. Charles, with 
his father, now between seventy and eighty years of 
age and shattered in body and mind, removed to 
Pentonville. The old aunt, Sarah Lamb ("Aunt 
Hetty "), did not long find shelter with the capricious 
relative who had undertaken the charge of her, and 
returned to share the new home at Pentonville, until 
her death in the following February. Mary Lamb 
remained for some weeks in the asylum at Hoxton, 
until, on certain conditions arranged between Charles 
and the proper authorities, her release from confine- 
ment was brought about, and the brother's guardian- 
ship accepted as sufficient for the future. The mania 
which had once attacked Charles never returned. 
Either the shock of calamity, or the controlling power 
of the vow he had laid on himself, overmastered the 
inherited tendency. But in the case of Mary Lamb 
it returned at frequent intervals through life,' never 
again happily with any disastrous result. The attacks 

40 CHARLES LAMB chap. 11 

seem to have been generally attended with forewam- 
ings, which enabled the brother and sister to take the 
necessary measures, and a friend of the Lambs has 
related how on one occasion he met the brother and 
sister, at such a season, walking hand in hand across 
the fields to the old asylum, both bathed in tears. 



The opening of the year 1797 found Charles Lamb 
with his helpless father, and his old aunt "Hetty" 
(her actual name was Sarah Lamb), in rooms in Chapel 
Street, Pentonville. Mary Lamb, who had remained 
in the asylum at Islington for many weeks after her 
mother's death, was still exiled from her home, 
Charles had wisely resolved that she must not rejoin 
her family during the father's lifetime ; and later on 
we find her established in a lodging at Hackney, where 
her brother spent with her his Sundays and holidays, 
and what other time he could spare from his invalid 
father. Aunt Hetty had returned, only to die. Lamb 
writes to Coleridge in January, " My poor old aunt 
whom you have seen, the kindest, goodest creature to 
me when I was at school ; who used to toddle there 
to bring me good things, when 1, school-boy like, only 
despised her for it, and used to be ashamed to see her 
come and sit herself do^vn on the old coal-hole steps 

42 CHAELES LAMB chap. 

as we went into the old grammar-school, and open 
her apron, and bring out her basin, with some nice 
thing she had caused to be saved for me ; the good old 
creature is now on her death-bed. . . . She says, poor 
thing, she is glad she is come home to die with me." 
The end came within a few days, and on 13th Febru- 
ary Charles again writes, " This afternoon I attend the 
funeral of my poor old aunt, who died on Thursday." ^ 

Charles was now left, the solitary companion of 
his aged father, who was to survive yet two years 
longer. Of the domestic history of the pair during 
this time we know almost nothing. Lamb's corre- 
spondence with Coleridge was intermitted for eighteen 
months, during Coleridge's absence from England, and 
there was no other correspondent to whom he cared 
to confide his family troubles. But happily for his 
sanity of mind, he was beginning to find friends and 
interests in new directions. 

What books had been to him all his life, and what 
education he had been finding in them, is evident from 
his earliest extant letters. His published correspond- 
ence begins in the spring of 1796, with a letter to 
Coleridge, then at Bristol, and from this and other 
letters of the same year we see the first signs of that 
variety of literary taste so noteworthy in a young man 
of twenty-one. The letters of this year are mainly on 
critical subjects. He encloses his own sonnets, and 

^ In the Burial Register of St. Andrew's, Holborn, an entry 
appears of the funeral on this day of "Sarah Lamb, from St. 
James's, ClerkenwelL" 


points out the passages in elder writers, Parnell or 
Cowley, to which he has been indebted. Or he 
acknowledges poems of Coleridge, sent for his criticism, 
and proceeds to express his opinion on them with 
frankness. He had been introduced to Southey, by 
Coleridge, some time in 1795, and he writes to the 
latter, "With Joan of Arc I have been delighted, 
amazed ; I had not presumed to expect anything of 
such excellence from Southey. Why, the poem is 
alone sufficient to redeem the character of the age we 
live in from the imputation of degenerating in poetry, 
were there no such beings extant as Burns, Bowles, 

and Cowper, and ; fill up the blank how you 

please." It is noticeable also how prompt the young 
man was to discover the real significance of the poetic 
revival of the latter years of the eighteenth century. 
Bums he elsewhere mentions at this time to Coleridge 
in stronger terms of enthusiasm as having been the 
" God of my idolatry, as Bowles was of yours," nor 
was he less capable of appreciating the "divine chit- 
chat " of Cowper. The real greatness of Wordsworth 
he was one of the earliest to discover and to proclaim. 
And at the same time his imagination was being 
stirred by the romantic impulse that was coming from 
Germany. "Have you read," he asks Coleridge, 
" the ballad called ' Leonora ' in the second number of 
the Monthly Magazine f If you have ! ! ! There is 
another fine song, from the same author (Burger), in 
the third number, of scarce inferior merit." But still 
more remarkable in the intellectual history of so 

44 CHAELES LAMB chap. 

young a man is the acquaintance he shows with the 
earlier English authors, at a time when the revival of 
Shakspearian study was comparatively recent, and 
when the other Elizabethan dramatists were all but 
unknown save to the archseologist. We must suppose 
that the library of Samuel Salt was more than usually 
rich in old folios, for certainly Lamb had not only 
"browsed" (to use his own expression), but had read 
and criticised deeply, as well as discursively. In a 
letter to Coleridge of this same year, 1796, he quotes 
with enthusiasm the rather artificial lines of Massinger 
in A Very Woman, pointing out the " fine effect of the 
double endings." 

Not far from where my father lives, a lady, 

A neighbour by, blest with as great a beauty 

As nature durst bestow without undoing. 

Dwelt, and most happily, as I thought then, 

And blest the house a thousand times she dwelt in. 

This beauty, in the blossom of my youth, 

When my first fire knew no adiilterate incense, 

Nor I no way to flatter but my fondness, 

lu all the bravery my friends could show me, 

In all the faith my innocence could give me, 

In the best language my true tongue could tell me, 

And all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me, 

I sued and served ; long did I serve this lady. 

Long was my travail, long my trade to win her ; 

With all the duty of my soul I served her.^ 

^ These lines are interesting as having been chosen by Lamb 
for a " motto " to his first published poems. As so used, they 
clearly bore reference to his own patient wooing at that time. 


Beaumont and Fletcher he quotes with no less 
delight, "in which authors I can't help thinking 
there is a greater richness of poetical fancy than in 
any one, Shakspeare excepted." Again, he asks the 
same inseparable friend, "Among all your quaint 
readings did you ever light upon fFalton's Complete 
Angler? I asked you the question once before; it 
breathes the very spirit of innocence, purity, and 
simplicity of heart ; there are many choice old verses 
interspersed in it : it would sweeten a man's temper 
at any time to read it : it would Christianise every 
discordant angry passion." And while thus discursive 
in his older reading, he was hardly less so in the 
literature of his own century. He had been fascinated 
by the Confessions of Rousseau, and was for a time at 
least under the influence of the sentimental school of 
novelists, the followers of Richardson and Sterne in 
England. So varied was the field of authors and 
subjects on which his style was being formed and his 
fancy nourished. 

Long afterwards, in his essay on Books and Bead- 
ing, he boasted that he could read anything which he 
called a book " I have no repugnances. Shaftesbury 
is not too genteel for me, nor Jonathan Wild too 
low." But this versatility of sympathy, which was 
at the root of so large a part of both matter and 
manner when he at length discovered where his real 
strength lay, had the effect of delaying that discovery 
for some time. His first essays in literature were 
mainly imitative, and though there is not one of them 

46 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

that is without his pecuUar charm, or that a lover 
of Charles Lamb would willingly let die, they are 
more interesting from the fact of their authorship, and 
from the light they throw on the growth of Lamb's 
mind, than for their intrinsic value. 

Meantime, his lonely life in Chapel Street, Penton- 
ville, was cheered by the acquisition of some new 
friends, chiefly introduced by Coleridge. He had 
known Southey since 1795, and some time in the 
following year, or early in 1797, he had formed a 
closer bond of sympathy with Charles Lloyd, son of 
a banker of Birmingham, a young man of poetic taste 
and melancholy temperament, who had taken up his 
abode, for the sake of intellectual companionship, 
with Coleridge at Bristol One of the first results of 
this companionship was a second literary venture in 
which the new friend took a share. A second edition 
of Poems hy S. T. Coleridge, to luhich are now added 
Poems by Charles Lamb and CJiarles Lloyd, appeared at 
Bristol, in the summer of 1797, published by Cole- 
ridge's devoted admirer, Joseph Cottle. 

" There were inserted in my former edition," writes 
Coleridge in the preface, " a few sonnets of my friend 
and old school-fellow, Charles Lamb. He has now 
communicated to me a complete collection of all his 
poems; quae qui non prorsus amet, ilium omnes et 
virtutes et veneres odere." The phrase is a trifle 
grandiloquent to describe the short list — some fifteen 
in all — of sonnets and occasional verses here printed. 
Nor is there anything in their style to indicate the in- 


fluence of new models. A tender grace of the type of 
his old favourite, Bowles, is still their chief merit, and 
they are interesting as showing how deeply the events 
of the past few years had stirred the religious side of 
Charles Lamb's nature. A review of the day charac- 
terised the manner of Lamb and Lloyd as " plaintive," 
and the epithet is not ill -chosen. Lamb was still 
living chiefly in the past, and the thought of his 
sister, and recollection of the pious "Grandame" in 
Hertfordshire, with kindred memories of his own 
childhood and disappointed affections, make the 
subject-matter of almost all the verse. A little 
allegorical poem, with the title of " A Vision of Re- 
pentance," relegated to an appendix in this same 
volume, marks the most sacred confidence that Lamb 
ever gave to the world as to his meditations on the 
mystery of evil. 

It is unlikely that this little venture brought any 
profit to its authors, or that a subsequent volume of 
blank verse by Lamb and Lloyd in the following year 
was more remunerative. To Lloyd the question was 
doubtless of less importance ; but Lamb was anxious 
for his sister's sake to add to his scanty income, and 
with this view he resolved to make an experiment in 
prose fiction. In the year 1798 he composed his little 
story, bearing the title, as originally issued, of A 
Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret. 

This " miniature romance," as Talfourd calls it, is 
perhaps better known, after the essays of Elia, than 
any of Lamb's writings, and the secret of its charm. 

48 CHARLES LAMB chap, 

in the face of improbabilities and unrealities of many 
kinds, is one of the curiosities of literature. The 
story itself is built up of the most heterogeneous 
materials. The idea of the story, the ruin of a village 
maiden, Rosamund Gray, by a melodramatic villain 
with the "uncommon" name of Matravis, was sug- 
gested to Lamb, as he admits in a letter to Southey, 
by a " foolish " (and it must be added, a very scur- 
rilous) old ballad about "an old woman clothed in 
gray." The name of his heroine he borrowed from 
some verses of his friend Lloyd's (not included in 
their joint volume), and that of the villain from one 
of the ruffians employed to murder the king in Mar- 
lowe's Edward the Second, — that death-scene which 
he afterwards told the world " moved pity and terror 
beyond any scene ancient or modern " with which he 
was acquainted. The conduct of the little story bears 
strong traces of the influence of Richardson and Mac- 
kenzie, and a rather forced reference to the latter's 
Julia de Eoubignd seems to show where he had lately 
been reading. A portion of the narrative is conducted 
by correspondence between the two well-bred young 
ladies of the story, and when one of them begins a 
letter to her cousin, " Health, innocence, and beauty 
shall be thy bridesmaids, my sweet cousin," we are 
at once aware in what school of polite letter-writing 
the author had studied. After the heroine, the two 
principal characters are a brother and sister, Allan 
and Elinor Clare, the relation between whom (the 
sister is represented as just ten years older than her 


brother) is borrowed almost without disguise from 
that of Lamb and his sister Mary. "Elinor Clare 
was the best good creature, the least selfish human 
being I ever knew, always at work for other people's 
good, planning other people's happiness, continually 
forgetful to consult for her own personal gratifica- 
tions, except indirectly in the welfare of another; 
while her parents lived, the most attentive of 
daughters; since they died, the kindest of sisters. 
I never knew but one like her." There is besides a 
school-fellow of Allan's, who precedes him to college, 
evidently a recollection of the school friendship with 
Coleridge. But still more significant, as showing the 
personal element in the little romance, is the circum- 
stance that Lamb lays the scene of it in that Hert- 
fordshire village of Widford where so many of his 
own happiest hours had been spent, and that the 
heroine, Rosamund Gray, is drawn with those features 
on which he was never weary of dwelling in the 
object of his own boyish passioa Eosamund, with 
the pale blue eyes and the "yellow Hertfordshire 
hair " is but a fresh copy of his Anna and his Alice. 
That Rosamund Gray had an actual counterpart in 
real life seems certain, and the little group of cottages, 
in one of which she dwelt with her old grandmother, 
is still shown near the village of Widford, about half 
a mile from the site of the old mansion of Blakeswarc. 
And it is the tradition of the village, and believed by 
those who have the best means of judging, that 
" Rosamund Gray " (her real name was equally remote 


from this, and from Alice W n) was Charles 

Lamb's first and only love. Her fair hair and eyes, 
her goodness, and (we may assume) her poverty, 
were drawn from life. The rest of the story in which 
she bears a part is of course pure fiction. The Anna 
of the sonnets made a prosperous marriage, and lived 
to a good old age.-^ 

As if Lamb were resolved to give his little tale 
the character of personal "confessions," he has con- 
trived to introduce into it, by quotation or allusion, 
all his favourite writers, from Walton and Wither to 
Mackenzie and Burns. But of more interest from 
this point of view than any resemblances of detail is 
the shadow, as of recent calamity, that rests upon 
the story, and the strain of religious emotion that 
pervades it. It is this that gives the romance, con- 
ventional as it is for the most part in its treatment 
of life and manners, its real attractiveness. It is 
redolent of Lamb's native sweetness of heart, delicacy 
of feeling, and undefinable charm of style. And 
these qualities did not altogether fail to attract atten- 
tion. The little venture was a moderate success, and 

^ Her actual name was, I am well assured, Ann Simmons. 
My authority is Mrs. Arthur Tween, daughter of Lamb's old 
friend, Randal Norris, and herself familiar from childhood with 
the people and traditions of Widford. Ann Simmons married 
Mr. Bartram, a silversmith and pawnbroker of Princes Street, 
Leicester Square ; and one of their daughters became the wife 
of the late Mr. William Coulson, the eminent surgeon. There 
is probably no one now living to throw any further light upon 
the course of this, Charles Lamb's earliest love. 


brought its author some " few guineas." One tribute 
to its merits was paid many years later, which, we 
may hope, did not fail to reach the author. Shelley, 
writing to Leigh Hunt from Leghorn, in 1819, and 
acknowledging the receipt of a parcel of books, adds, 
** With it came, too, Lamb's works. What a lovely 
thing is his Rosamund Gray I How much knowledge 
of the sweetest and deepest part of our nature in it ! 
When I think of such a mind as Lamb's, when I see 
how unnoticed remain things of such exquisite and 
complete perfection, what should I hope for myself, 
if I had not higher objects in view than fame?" 

There is scanty material for the biographer of 
Lamb during these first four years of struggling 
poverty. The few events that varied his monotonous 
life are to be gathered from the letters to Coleridge 
and Southey, written during this period. The former 
was married, and living at Nether Stowey, near 
the Quantock Hills, where Charles and Mary Lamb 
paid him apparently their first visit, during one of 
Charles's short holidays in the summer of 1797. This 
visit was made memorable by a slight accident that 
befell Coleridge on the day of their arrival, and forced 
him to remain at home while his visitors explored the 
surrounding country. Left alone in his garden, he 
composed the curiously Wordsworthian lines, bearing 
for title (he was perhaps thinking of Ferdinand in 
the Tempest), "This lime-tree bower my prison," in 
which he apostrophises Lamb as the " gentle-hearted 
Charles," and addresses him as one who had — 


Hungered after nature, many a year 
In the great city pent, winning thy way 
With sad and patient zeal, through evil and jmn 
And strange calamity. 

Charles did not quite relish the epithet "gentle- 
hearted," and showed that he winced under a title 
that savoured a little of pity or condescension. 
Indeed, it is evident, in spite of the real affection that 
Lamb never ceased to feel for Coleridge, that the 
relations between the friends were often strained 
during these earlier days. This year, 1797, was that 
of the joint volume, and the mutual criticism indulged 
so freely by both was leaving a little soreness behind. 
Then there was the question of precedence between 
Lamb and Lloyd in this same volume, which was 
settled in Lloyd's favour, not without a few i>ang8, 
confessed by Lamb himself. And when, in the 
following year, Coleridge was on the eve of his visit 
to Germany with the Wordsworths, a foolish message 
of his, "If Lamb requires any knowledge, let him 
apply to me," had been repeated to Lamb by some 
injudicious friend, and did not tend to improve 
matters. Lamb retaliated by sending Coleridge a 
grimly humorous list of "Theses quondam Theologicae," 
to be by him "defended or oppugned (or both) at 
Leipsic or Gottingen." Numbers five and six in this 
list may be given as a sample. " Whether the higher 
order of Seraphim illuminati over sneer ? " " Whether 
pure intelligences can love, or whether they can love 
anything besides pure intellect?" The rest are in 


the same vein, and if they have any point at all, 
it must lie in a certain assumption of intellectual 
superiority in which Coleridge had indulged to the 
annoyance of his friend. There was a temporary 
soreness in the heart of Charles on parting with his 
old companion. There had been a grievance of the 
same kind before. It had been bitterly repented of, 
even in a flood of tears. To the beginning of this 
year, 1798, belong the touching verses composed in 
the same spirit of self-confession that has marked so 
much of his writing up to this period, about the " old 
familiar faces." In their earliest shape they are more 
directly autobiographical. Lamb afterwards omitted 
the first stanza, and gave the lines a less personal 

Where are they gone, the old familiar faces ? 
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. 

I have had playmates, I have had companions 

In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days, 

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

I have been laughing, I have been carousing, 
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies- 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

I loved a love once, fairest among women. 
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her — 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 


I had a friend, a kinder friend has no man. 
Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly ! 
Left him to muse on the old familiar faces. 

Ghostlike I paced round the haunts of my childhood. 
Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse, 
Seeking to find the old familiar faces. 

Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother ; 
Why wert not thou bom in my father's dwelling, 
So might we talk of tlie old familiar faces. 

For some they have died, and some they have left me, 
And some are taken from me, all are departed ; 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

The "friend of my bosom" waa undoubtedly 
Coleridge, whose coldness and waywardness at this 
juncture had not long availed to cancel the memory 
of old and sacred ties. The friend whom Lamb had 
"left abruptly" would seem to have been the new 
associate, Charles Lloyd. In a letter to Coleridge of 
this very month (28th January) Lamb mentions a 
momentary breach with his friend. " I had well nigh 
quarrelled," ho writes, "mth Charles Lloyd." If 
Lamb was at this difficult crisis moody and sensitive, 
so also was Lloyd — even then a prey to the melancholy 
which clung to him tlirough life, and it was well for 
Lamb that on Coleridge leaving England he had some 
more genial companionship to take refuge in. Three 
years before, he had made the acquaintance of 
Southey. In the summer of 1797 he and Lloyd had 
passed a fortnight under his roof in Hampshire. 


And now that Coleridge was far away, it was Soiithey 
who naturally took his place as literary adviser and 

We gather from Lamb's letters to Southey, in 1798- 
99, that this change of association for the time was 
good for him. Coleridge and Lloyd were of temper- 
aments too nearly akin to Lamb's to be wholly 
serviceable in these days, when the calamities in his 
family still overshadowed him. The friendship of 
Southey, the healthy-natured, the industrious, and 
the methodical, was a wholesome change of atmo- 
sphere. Southey was now living at Westbury, near 
Bristol. Though only a few months Lamb's senior, 
he had been three years a married man, and was 
valiantly working to support his young wife by that 
craft of literature which he followed so patiently to 
his life's end. In this year, 1798, he was in his 
sweetest and most humorous ballad vein. It was the 
year of the TFell of St. Keyne and the Battle of BlenJieim, 
and other of those shorter pieces by which Southey 
will always be most widely known. He had not 
failed to discover Lamb's value as a critic, and each 
eclogue or ballad, as it is written, is submitted to his 
judgment. The result of this change of interest is 
shown in a marked difference of tone and style in 
Lamb's letters. He is less sad and meditative, and 
begins to exhibit that peculiar playfulness which we 
associate with the future Elia. One day he writes : 
" My tailor has brought me home a new coat, lapelled, 
with a velvet collar. He assures me everybody wears 


velvet collars now. Some are bom fashionable, some 
achieve fashion, and others, like your humble ser^'ant, 
have fashion thrust upon them." And his remarks 
on Southey's ode To a Spider (in which he justly notes 
the metre as its chief merit, and wonders that "Bums 
had not hit upon it") are followed by a discursive 
pleasantry having the true Elia ring, " I love this sort 
of poems that open a new intercourse with the most 
despised of the animal and insect race. I think this 
vein may be further opened. Peter Pindar hath very 
prettily apostrophised a fly ; Biu'ns hath his mouse 
and his louse ; Coleridge, less successfully, hath made 
overtures of intimacy to a jackass, therein only 
following, at unresembling distance, Sterne and 
greater Cervantes. Besides these, I know of no other 
examples of breaking down the partition between us 
and our 'poor earth-bom companions.'" And the 
suggestion that follows, that Southey should under- 
take a series of poems, with the object of awakening 
sympathy for animals too generally ill-treated or held 
in disgust, is most characteristic, both in matter and 
manner. Indeed it is in these earlier letters to 
Southey, rather than in his poetry or in Rosamund Gray, 
that Charles Lamb was feeling the way to his true 
place in literature. Already we observe a vein of 
reflectiveness and a curious felicity of style which owe 
nothing to any predecessor. And if his humour, even 
in his lightest moods, has a tinge of sadness, it is not 
to bo accounted for only by the sufl'ering he had 
passed through. It belonged in fact to the profound 


humanity of its author, to the circumstance that with 
him, as with all true humorists, humour was but one 
side of an acute and almost painful sympathy. 

At the close of the year 1799 Coleridge returned 
from Germany, and the intercourse between the two 
friends was at once resumed, never again to be inter- 
rupted. Mary Lamb was once more under her 
brother's care at Pentonville, for the death of the old 
father in the spring of this year had made the long- 
desired reunion possible. But the change proved to 
be the beginning of fresh troubles. It appears from 
a letter of Charles to Coleridge, in the spring of 1800, 
that there was no alleviation of his burden of constant 
anxiety. The faithful old servant of many years had 
died, after a few days' illness, and Lamb "vvrites : 
"Mary, in consequence of fatigue and anxiety, is 
fallen ill again, and I was obliged to remove her yes- 
terday. I am left alone in a house with nothing but 
Hetty's dead body to keep me company. To-morrow 
I bury her, and then I shall be quite alone, with 
nothing but a cat to remind me that the house has 
been full of living beings like myself. My heart is 
quite sunk, and I don't know where to look for relief. 
Mary will get better again, but her constantly being 
liable to these attacks is dreadful ; nor is it the least 
of our evils that her case and all our story is so well 
known around us. We are in a manner marJced. 
Excuse my troubling you, but I have nobody by me 
to speak to me. I slept out last night, not being able 
to endure the change and the stillness ; but I did not 


sleep well, and I must come back to my own bed. I 
am going to try and get a friend to come and be with 
me to-morrow. I am completely shipwrecked. My 
head is quite bad. I almost wish that Mary were 
(lead. God bless you. Love to Sarah and little 

It is the solitary instance in which he allows us to 
see his patience and hopefulness for a moment failing 
him. That terrible sentence " we are in a manner 
marked " has not perhaps received its due weight, in 
the estimate of what the brother and sister were called 
upon to bear. It seems certain that if they were not 
actually driven from lodging to lodging, because the 
dreadful rumour of madness could not bo shaken off, 
they were at least shunned and kept at a distance 
wherever they went The rooms in Pentonville they 
soon received notice to quit, and it might have been 
difficult for them at this juncture to decide which way 
to turn for shelter, but for the good-nature of an old 
friend and school-fellow of Lamb's, John Matthew 
Gutch, then living in Southampton Buildings, Holbom. 
Gutch, who was in business there as a law-stationer, 
oflFered the Lambs three rooms in his house, together 
with a share in the services of an old housekeeper. 
"I am in much better spirits," Charles writes to 
Manning in May, or June, 1800. " I have had a very 
eligible ofTer to lodge with a friend in town. He will 
have rooms to let at Midsummer ; by which time I 
ho|)e my sister will be well enough to join me. It is 
a great object to me to live in town, where we shall 


be much more private, and to quit a house and neigh- 
bourhood where poor Mary's disorder, so frequently 
recurring, has made us a sort of marked people. We 
can be nowhere private except in the midst of London, 
We shall be in a family where we visit very frequently ; 
only my landlord and I have not yet come to a con- 
clusion. He has a partner to consult. I am still on 
the tremble, for I do not know where we could go into 
lodgings that would not be, in many respects, highly 
exceptionable. Only God send Mary well again, and 
I hope all will be well ! " To the rooms in South- 
ampton Buildings they removed at Midsummer, and 
there they remained until Lady Day of the following 
year. Whether the " partner " proved intractable, or 
whether Gutch himself repented of his offer, we cannot 
say; but early in 1801 we learn from a letter of Charles 
to Manning that the brother and sister were once more 
to be cast upon the wide world of London to make a 
home. And then it was that Charles Lamb turned, 
i^erhaps because they were more retired and secure 
from vulgar overlooking, to the old familiar and 
dearly-loved surroundings of his childhood. "I am 
going to change my lodgings," he writes, in a tone of 
cheerful looking-forward simply marvellous, consider- 
ingthe terrible cause of thisfresh removal — "I am going 
to change my lodgings, having received a hint that it 
would be agreeable, at our Lady's next feast. I have 
partly fixed upon most delectable rooms, which look 
out (when you stand a tip-toe) over the Thames and 
Surrey Hills, at the upper end of King's Bench Walks 


in the Temple. There I shall have all the privacy of 
a house without the encumbrance, and shall be able 
to lock my friends out as often as I desire to hold free 
converse with my immortal mind — for my present 
lodgings resemble a minister's lev6e, I have so in- 
creased my acquaintance (as they call 'em) since I 
have resided in town. Like the country mouse that 
had tasted a little of urbane manners, I long to be 
nibbling my own cheese by my dear self, without 
mouse-traps and time-traps. By my new plan I shall 
be as airy, up four pair of stairs, as in the country, 
and in a garden in the midst of enchanting (more 
than Mahomedan paradise) London, whose dirtiest 
drab-frequented alley, and her lowest-bowing trades- 
man, I would not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn, 
James, "Walter, and the parson into the bargain. ! 
her lamps of a night ! her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, 
toy-shops, mercers, hardware men, pastry-cooks, St 
Paul's Churchyard, the Strand, Exeter Change, Char- 
ing Cross, with the man upon a black horse ! These 
are thy gods, London ! Ain't you mightily moped 
on the banks of the Cam t Had you not better come 
and set up here 1 You can't think what a difference. 
All the streets and pavements are pure gold, I warrant 
you. At least, I know an alchemy that turns her 
mud into that metal — a mind that loves to be at home 
in crowds." 

In a letter to Wordsworth, of somewhat later date, 
replying to an invitation to visit the Lakes, he dwells 
on the same passionate love for the great city, — the 


" place of his kindly engendure " — not alone for its 
sights and sounds, its print-shops, and its bookstalls, 
but for the human faces, without which the finest 
scenery failed to satisfy his sense of beauty, " The 
wonder of these sights," he says, "impels me into 
night walks about her crowded streets, and I often 
shed tears in the motley Strand from fulness of joy at 
so much life. All these emotions must be strange to 
you ; so are your rural emotions to me. But consider 
what must I have been doing all my life not to have 
lent great portions of my heart with usury to such 
scenes 1" 

"What must I have been doing all my life?" 
This might well be the language of tender retrospect 
indulged by some man of sixty. It is that of a young 
man of six-and-twenty. It serves to show us how 
much of life had been crowded into those few years. 



Lamb was now established in his beloved Temple. 
For nearly nine years he and his sister resided in 
Mitre Court Buildings, and for about the same period 
afterwards within the same sacred precincts, in Inner 
Temple Lane. Of adventure, domestic or other, his 
biographer has henceforth little to relate. The track 
is marked on the one hand by his changes of resi- 
dence and occasional brief excursions into the country, 
on the other by the books he wrote and the friend- 
ships he formed. 

Pie had written to his friend Manning, as we have 
seen, how his acquaintance had increased of late. Of 
such acquaintances Manning himself is the most in- 
teresting to us, as having drawn from Lamb a series 
of letters by far the most important of those be- 
longing to the period before us. Manning was a 
remarkable person, whose acquaintance Lamb had 
made on one of his visits to Cambridge during the 


residence at that University of his friend Lloyd. He 
was mathematical tutor at Caius, and, in addition to 
his scientific turn, was possessed by an enthusiasm 
which in later years he was able to turn to very 
practical purpose, for exploring the remoter parts of 
China and Thibet. Lamb had formed a strong 
admiration for Manning's genius. He told Crabb 
Eobinson in after years that he was the most " won- 
derful man " he had ever met. Perhaps the circum- 
stance of Manning's two chief interests in life being 
so remote from his own, drew Lamb to him by a 
kind of "sympathy of difference." Certainly he 
made very happy use of the opportunity for friendly 
banter thus afforded, and the very absence of a 
responsive humour in his correspondent seems to 
have imparted an additional richness to his own. 
Meantime, to add a few guineas to his scanty income, 
he was turning this gift of humour to what end he 
could. For at least three years (from 1800 to 1803) 
he was an occasional contributor of facetious para- 
graphs, epigrams, and other trifles to the newspapers 
of the day. " In those days," as he afterwards told 
the world in one of the Elia essays {Newspapers Thirty- 
five Years Ago), " every morning paper, as an essential 
retainer to its establishment, kept an author, who was 
bound to furnish daily a quantum of witty para- 
graphs. Sixpence a joke, and it was thought pretty 
high too, was Dan Stuart's settled remuneration in 
these cases. The chat of the day, scandal, but above 
all, dress, furnished the material. The length of no 


{jaragraph was to exceed seven lines. Shorter they 
might be, but they must be poignant." Dan Stuart 
was editor of the Morning Post, and Lamb contributed 
to this paper, and also to the Chronicle and the 
Albion. Six jokes a day was the amount he tells us 
he had to provide during his engagement on the Post, 
and in the essay just cited he dwells with much 
humour on the misery of rising two hours before 
breakfast (his days being otherwise fully employed 
at the India House) to elaborate his jests. "No 
Egyptian task-master ever devised a slavery like to 
that, our slavery. Half a dozen jests in a day (bating 
Sundays too), why, it seems nothing ; we make twice 
the number every day in our lives as a matter of 
course, and claim no sabbatical exemptions But 
then they come into our head. But when the head 
has to go out to them, when the mountain must go 
to Mahomet!" A few samples of Lamb's work in 
this line have been preserved. One political squib 
has survived, chiefly perhaps as having served to 
give the coup de grace to a moribund journal, cxdled 
the Albion, which had been only a few weeks before 
purchased (" on tick doubtless," Lamb says) by that 
light-hearted spendthrift, John Fenwick, immortalised 
in another of Lamb's essays {The Two Paces of Men) 
as the typical man who borrows. The journal had 
been in daily expectation of being prosecuted, when 
a (not very scathing) epigram of Lamb's on the apo- 
stasy of Sir James Mackintosh, alienated the last of 
Fenwick's patrons, Lord Stanhope, and the "murky 


closet," " late Eackstraw's museum " in Fleet Street, 
knew the editor and his contributors no more. Lamb 
was not called upon to air his Jacobin principles, 
survivals from his old association with Coleridge and 
Southey, any further in the newspaper world. " The 
Albion is dead," he writes to Manning, " dead as nail 
in door — my revenues have died with it ; but I am 
not as a man without hope." He had got a new 
introduction, through his old friend George Dyer, to 
the Morning Chronicle, under the editorship of Perry. 
In 1802 we find him again working for the Post, but 
in a diflFerent line. Coleridge was contributing to 
that paper, and was doing his best to obtain for 
Lamb employment on it of a more dignified char- 
acter than providing the daily quantum of jokes. 
He had proposed to furnish Lamb with prose versions 
of German poems for the latter to turn into metre. 
Lamb had at first demurred, on the reasonable 
ground that Coleridge, whose gift of verse was cer- 
tainly equal to his own, might as easily do the whole 
process himself. But the pressure of pecuniary 
difficulty was great, and a fortnight later he is telling 
Coleridge that the experiment shall at least be tried. 
" As to the translations, let me do two or three 
hundred lines, and then do you try the nostrums 
upon Stuart in any way you please. If they go 
down, I will try more. In fact, if I got, or could but 
get, fifty pounds a year only, in addition to what I 
have, I should live in affluence." By dint of hard 
work, much against the grain, he contrived during 


the year that followed to make double the hoped-for 
sum ; but humour and fancy produced to order could 
not but fail sooner or later. It came to an end some 
time in 1803. "The best and the worst to me," he 
writes to Manning in this year (Lamb rarely dates a 
letter), " is that I have given up two guineas a week 
at the Post, and regained my health and spirits, which 
were upon the wane. I grew sick, and Stuart unsatis- 
fied. Ludisti satis, temptis abire est. I must cut closer, 
that's all." 

While writing for the newspapers, he had not 
allowed worthier ambitions to cool. He was still 
thinking of success in very different fields. As early 
as the year 1799 he had submitted to Coleridge and 
Southey a five-act drama in blank verse, with the 
title of Pride's Cure, afterwards changed to John 
WoodvV. His two friends had urgently dissuaded 
him from publishing, and though he followed this 
advice, he had not abandoned the hope of seeing it 
one day upon the stage, and at Christmas of that year 
had sent it to John Kemble, then manager of Drury 
Lane. Nearly a year later, having heard nothing in 
the meantime from the theatre on the subject, he 
applied to Kemble to know his fate. The answer 
was returned that the manuscript was lost, and Lamb 
had to furnish a second copy. Later, Kemble went 
80 far as to grant the author a ])ersonal interview, 
but the final result was that the play was declined as 

That Lamb should ever have dreamed of any other 


result may well surprise even those who have some 
experience of the attitude of a young author to his 
first drama. John Woodvil has no quality that could 
have made its success on the stage possible. It shows 
no trace of constructive skill, and the character- 
drawing is of the crudest. By a strange perverseness 
of choice, Lamb laid the scene of his drama, written 
in a language for the most part closely imitated from 
certain Elizabethan models, in the period of the 
Restoration, and with a strange carelessness introduced 
side by side with the imagery and rhythm of Fletcher 
and Massinger a diction often ludicrously incongruous. 
Perhaps the most striking feature of the play, regarded 
as a serious effort, is the entire want of keeping in the 
dialogue. Certain passages have been often quoted, 
such as that on which Lamb evidently prided himself 
most, describing the amusements of the exiled baronet 
and his son in the forest of Sherwood — 

To see the sun to bed, and to arise 
Like some hot amourist with glowing eyes, 
Bursting the lazy bands of sleep that bound him 
With all his fires and travelling glories round him. 

To view the leaves, thin dancers upon air. 
Go eddying round, and small birds, how they fare. 
When mother autumn fills their beaks with com 
Filched from the careless Amalthea's horn. 

They serve to show how closely Lamb's fancy and 
his ear were attuned to the music of Shakspeare and 

68 CHAKLES LAMB ohap. 

Shakspeare's contemporaries; but tlie allusion is 
suddenly broken by scraps of dialogue sounding the 
depths of bathos — 

Servant, — Gkntlemen, the fireworks are ready. 
First Oent. — What be they ? 

Lovell. — The work of London artista, which our host has 
provided in honour of this day. 

Or by such an image as that ^vith which the play 
concludes, of the jKjnitent John Woodvil, kneeling on 
the "hassock" in the " family -jmjw" of St Mary 
Ottery, in the " sweet shire of Devon." 

Lamb was not deterred by his failure with the 
managers from publishing his drama. It appeared 
in a small duodecimo in 1802; and when, sixteen 
years later, he included it in the first collected edition 
of his writings, dedicated to Coleridge, ho was still 
able to look with a parent's tenderness upon this child 
of his early fancy. " When I wrote John Woodvil" 
he says, "Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger, 
were then & first love, and from what I was so freshly 
conversant in, what wonder if my language imper- 
ceptibly took a tinge?" This expresses in fact the 
real significance of the achievement Though it is 
impossible seriously to weigh the merits of John 
fFoodtil as a drama, it is yet of interest as the result 
of the studies of a young man of fine taste and inde- 
pendent judgment in a field of English literature 
which had lain long unexplored. Within a few years 
Charles Lamb was to contribute, by more effective 


methods, to the revived study of the Elizabethan 
drama, but in the meantime he was doing something, 
even in John WoodvU, to overthrow the despotic 
conventionalities of eighteenth -century "poetic dic- 
tion," and to reaccustom the ear to the very different 
harmonies of an older time. 

John IFoodvil was noticed in the Edinburgh Review 
for April 1803. Lamb might have been at that early 
date too insignificant, personally, to be worth the 
powder and shot of Jeffrey and his friends, but he 
was already known as the associate of Coleridge and 
Southey, and it was this circumstance — as the con- 
cluding words of the review rather unguardedly admit 
— that marked his little volume for the slaughter. 
He had been already held up to ridicule in the pages 
of the Anti- Jacobin, as sharing the revolutionary 
sympathies of Coleridge and Southey. It is certainly 
curious that Lamb, who never "meddled with politics," 
home or foreign, any more than the Anti-Jacobin's 
knife-grinder himself, should have his name embalmed 
in that periodical as a leading champion of French 
Socialism : — 

Coleridge and Southey, Lloyd and Lamb and Co., 
Tune all your mystic harps to praise Lepeavix. 

There was abundant opportunity in Lamb's play 
for the use of that scourge which the Edinburgh 
Review may be said to have first invented as a critical 
instrument. Plot and characters, and large portions 
of the dialogue, lent themselves excellently to the 


purposes of critical banter, and it was easy to show 
that Lamb had few qualincations for the task he had 
undertaken. As he himself observed in his essay on 
Hogarth : " It is a secret well known to the professors 
of the art and mystery of criticism, to insist ujwn 
what they do not find in a man's works, and to pass 
over in silence what they do." It was open to the 
reviewer to note, as even Lamb's friend Southey 
noted, the "exquisite silliness of the story," but it 
did not enter into his plan to detect, as Southey had 
done, the " exquisite beauty " of much of the jxKJtry. 
The reason why it is worth while to dwell for a 
moment on this forgotten review (not, by the way, 
by Jeffrey, although Lamb's friends seem generally 
to have attributed it to the editor's own hand) is that 
it shows how much Lamb was in advance of his 
reviewer in familiarity with our older Hterattire. 
The review is a piece of pleasantry, of which it would 
be abstird to complain, but it is the pleasantry of an 
ignorant man. The writer affects to regard the play 
as a specimen of the primeval drama. "We have 
still among us," he says, " men of the age of Thespis," 
and declares that "the tragedy of Mr. Lamb may 
indeed be fairly considered as supplying the first of 
those lost links which connect the improvements of 
./Eschylus with the commencement of the art." 
Talfourd expresses wonder that a young critic should 
"seize on a little eighteenj)enny book, simply 
printed, without any preface : make cla1)orate 
mciTimcut of its outline, and, giving no hint of its 


containing one profound thought or happy expressioUj 
leave the reader of the review at a loss to suggest a 
motive for noticing such vapid absurdities." But 
there is really little cause for such wonder. The one 
feature of importance in the little drama is that it 
here and there imitates with much skill the imagery 
and the rhythm of a family of dramatists whom 
the world had been content entirely to forget for 
nearly two centuries. There is no reason to suppose 
that Lamb's reviewer had any acquaintance with these 
dramatists. The interest of the review consists in the 
evidence it affords of a general ignorance, even among 
educated men, which Lamb was to do more than any 
man of his time to dispel. The passage about the 
sports in the Forest, which set William Godwin (who 
met with it somewhere as an extract) searching through 
Beaumont and Fletcher to find, probably conveyed no 
idea whatever to the Edinburgh Keviewer, save that 
which he honestly confessed, that here was a specimen 
of versification which had been long ago improved 
from off the face of the earth. 

In the summer of 1802 Charles and his sister spent 
their holiday, three weeks, with Coleridge at Keswick. 
The letters to Coleridge and Manning referring to 
this visit show pleasantly that there was something 
of affectation in the disparaging tone with which 
Charles was wont to speak of the charms of scenery. 
Though on occasion he Avould make his friends smile 
by telling that when he ascended Skiddaw he Avas 
obliged, in self-defence, to revert in memory to the 


ham-and-beef shop in St. Maitin's Lane, it is evident 
from his enthusiastic words to Manning that the Lake 
scenery had moved and delighted him. "Coleridge 
dwells," he writes to Manning, " uj)on a small hill by 
the side of Keswick, in a comfortable house, quite 
enveloped on all sides by a net of mountains : great 
floundering bears and monsters they seemed, all 
couchant and asleep. We got in in the evening, 
travelling in a post-chaise from Penrith, in the midst 
of a gorgeous sunset which transmuted all the moun- 
tains into colours, purple, etc. etc. We thought we 
had got into Fairyland. But that went off (as it 
never came again ; while we stayed we ha<l no more 
fine sunsets) ; and we entered Coleridge's comfortable 
study just in the dusk, when the mountains were all 
dark with clouds upon their heads. Such an imj)res- 
sion I never received from objects of sight before, nor 
do I supjwse that I can ever again. Glorious crea- 
tures, fine old fellows, Skiddaw, etc., I never shall 
forget ye, how ye lay about that night, like an en- 
trenchment ; gone to bed, as it seemed for the night, 
but promising that ye were to be seen in the morn- 
ing." And later, " We have clambered up to the top 
of Skiddaw, and I have wadetl up the bed of Lodore. 
In fine, I have Siitisfied myself that there is such a 
thing as that which tourists call romintic^ which I 
very much 8U8i)ected before." And again, of Skid- 
daw, " Oh, its fine black head, and the bleak air atop 
of it, with a prospect of mountains all about and 
about, making you giddy ; and then Scotland afar off, 


and the border countries so famous in song and ballad ! 
It was a day that will stand out like a mountain, I 
am sure, in my life." 

It is pleasant to read of these intervals of bracing 
air, both to body and mind, in the story of the brother 
and sister, for the picture of the home life in the 
Temple lodging at this time, drawn by the same frank 
hand, is anything but cheerful. This very letter to 
Manning (who was apparently spending his holiday 
in Switzerland) goes on to hint of grave anxieties and 
responsibilities belonging to the life in London. " My 
habits are changing, I think, i.e. from drunk to sober. 
Whether I shall be happier or not remains to be 
proved. I shall certainly be more happy in a morn- 
ing ; but whether I shall not sacrifice the fat, and the 
marrow, and the kidneys — i.e. the night, glorious 
care-drowning night, that heals all our wrongs, pours 
wine into our mortifications, changes the scene from 
indifferent and flat to bright and brilliant 1 Man- 
ning, if I should have formed a diabolical resolution 
by the time you come to England, of not admitting 
any spirituous liquors into my house, will you be my 
guest on such shameworthy terms? Is life, with 
such limitations, worth trying 1 The truth is that 
my liquors bring a nest of friendly harpies about my 
house, who consume me. This is a pitiful tale to be 
read at St. Gothard, but it is just now nearest my 

The tale is indeed a sad one, and we have no 
reason to suppose it less true than pitiful. There is 


no concealment on the part of I^imb himself, or his 
sister, or of those who knew him most intimately, 
of the fact that from an early age Charles found in 
wine, or its equivalents, a stimulus that relieved him 
under the i)ressure of shyness, anxiety, and low 
spirits, and that the habit remained with him till the 
end of his life. It is not easy to deal with this 
" frailty " (to borrow Talfoui-d's expression) in Lamb, 
without falling into an apologetic tone, suggestive 
of the much-abused proverb connecting excuse with 
accusation. But it is the biographer's task to account 
for these things, if not to excuse them, and at this 
|>eriod there is not wanting evidence of hard trials 
attending the life of the brother and sister which may 
well prompt a treatment of the subject the reverse 
of harsh. There is a correspondence extant of Mary 
Ijamb with Miss Stoddart, afterwards the wife of 
William Hazlitt, which throws much sad light on the 
history of the joint home during these years. The 
pressure of })Overty was being keenly felt. " I hope, 
when I write next," she says, early in 1804, "I shall 
be able to tell you Charles has begim something 
which will produce a little money : for it is not well 
to be very poor, which we certainly are at this present 
writing." Charles's engagement as contributor of 
squibs and occasional jMiragraphs to the Morning Posl 
had come to an end, just before this letter of Mary's : 
but povert}' was not the worst of the home troubles. 
It is too clear that both brother and sister suffered 
from constant and harassing depression, and that 


their heroic determination to live entirely for each 
other only made matters worse. "It has been sad 
and heavy times with us lately," Mary writes in the 
year following (1805). "When I am pretty well, his 
low spirits throw me back again ; and when he begins 
to get a little cheerful, then I do the same kind office 
for him;" and again, "Do not say anything when 
you write of our low spirits — it will vex Charles. 
You would laugh, or you would cry, perhaps both, 
to see us sit together, looking at each other with long 
and rueful faces, and saying ' How do you do V and 
'How do you dof and then we fall a crying, and 
say we will be better on the morrow. He says we 
are like toothache and his friend gum-boil, which 
though a kind of ease, is but an uneasy kind of ease, 
a comfort of rather an uncomfortable sort." In the 
following year we gather that Charles, still bent on 
success in the drama as the most likely means of adding 
to his income, had begun to write a farce, and finding 
the gloom here described intolerable, in such an 
association, had taken a cheap lodging hard by to 
which he might retire, and pursue his work without 
distraction. But the more utter solitude proved as 
intolerable as the depressing influences of home. 
"The lodging," writes Mary Lamb, "is given up, and 
here he is again — Charles, I mean — as unsettled and as 
undetermined as ever. When he went to the poor 
lodging, after the holidays I told you he had taken, 
he could not endure the solitariness of them, and I 
had no rest for the sole of my foot till I promised to 


believe his solemn protestations that he could and 
would write as well at homo as there." 

There is a remark in this same letter, hardly more 
touching than it is indicative of the clear-sighted 
wisdom of this true-hearted woman. " Our love for 
each other," she writes, " has been the torment of our 
lives hitherto. I am most seriously intending to bend 
the whole force of my mind to counteract this, and I 
think I see some prospect of success." It doubtless 
was this strong affection, working by ill-considered 
means, that made much of the luihappiness of Charles 
Lamb's life. His sense of what he owed to his sister, 
who had been mother and sister in one, his admira- 
tion for her character, and his profound pity for her 
affliction, made him resolve that no other tie, no other 
taste or pleasure, should interfere with the prime 
duty of cleaving to her as long as life should last. 
But this exclusive devotion was not a good thing for 
either. They wanted some strong human interests 
from outside to assist them to bear those of home. 
They were both fond of society. In their later more 
prosperous days they saw much society of a brilliant 
and notable sort, but already Charles had made the 
discovery that " open house " involved temptation of 
a kind he had not learnt to resist The little suppers, 
at home and with friends elsewhere, meant too much 
punch and too much tobacco, and the inevitable sequel 
of depression and moroseness on the morrow. " He 
came home very swoky and drinky last night," is the 
frequent burden of Miss Lamb's letters. And so it 


came to pass that his social life was spent too much 
between these two extremes — the companionship of 
that one sister, anxiety for whose health was always 
pressing, and whose inherited instincts were too like 
his own, and the convivialities which banished melan- 
choly for a while and set his fancy and his speech at 
liberty, but too often did not bear the morning's reflec- 
tion. He needed at this time fewer companions, 
but more friends. Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, 
Manning, were all out of London, and only in his 
scanty holidays, or on occasion of their rare visits to 
town, could he take counsel with them. 

One pleasant gleam of sunshine among the driving 
clouds of those years of anxiety is afforded in the 
lines on Hester Savory. During the three years that 
Lamb lived at Pentonville (1797-1800), he had fallen 
in love (for the second and last time) with a young 
Quakeress.^ In sending the verses to Manning (in 
Paris) in 1803, Lamb recalls the old attachment as 
one his friend would remember having heard him 
mention. However ardent it may have been, it was 
presumably without hope of requital, for Lamb 
admits that he had never spoken to the lady in his 
life. He may have met her daily in his walks to and 

^ In a note to my Letters of Charles Lamb I have printed 
some information atout this lady, with which Miss Emma 
Savory, of Blackheath, a niece of Hester, kindly supplied me. 
' ' She (Hester) was the eldest sister of my father, A. B. Savory, 
and lived with him and his sisters, Anna and Martha, at Penton- 
ville. She married Charles Stoke Dudley, and died, eight months 
after her marriage, of fever." 


from the office, or have watched her week by week 
on her way to that Quaker's meeting he has so 
lovingly described elsewhere. And now, only a 
month before, she had died, and Lamb's true vein, 
imspoiled by squibs and jKiragraphs written to order 
for party journals, flows once more in its native 
purity and sweetness : — 

When maidens such as Hester die, 
Their place ye may not well supply. 
Though ye among a thousand try 

With vain endeavour. 
A month or more hath she been dead, 
Yet cannot I by force be led 
To think upon flie wormy bed 

And her together. 

A springy motion in her gait, 

A rising step, did indicate 

Of pride and joy no common rate 

That flu8he<l her spirit 
I know not by what name beside 
I shall it call ; if 'twas not pride, 
It was a joy to theU allied 

She did inherit. 

Her parents held the Quaker rule 
Which doth the human feeling cool : 
But she was trained in Nature's school ; 

Nature ha<l blest her. 
A waking eye, a prying mind, 
A heart that stirs, is hard to bind : 


A hawk's keen sight ye cannot hlind, — 
Ye could not Hester. 

My sprightly neighbour ! gone before 
To that unknown and silent shore, 
Shall we not meet ? — as heretofore, 

Some summer morning, 
When from thy cheerful eyes a ray 
Hath struck a bliss upon the day, 
A bliss that would not go away ; 

A sweet forewarning I^ 

These charming verses are themselves a "sweet 
forewarning " of happier times to come. New friends 
were at hand and new interests in literature were 
soon to bring a little cheerful relief to the monotony 
of the Temple lodging. We have already heard 
something of a play in preparation. The first 
intimation of Lamb's resolve to tempt dramatic for- 
tune once again is in a letter to Wordsworth, in Sep- 
tember 1805. "I have done nothing," he writes, 
" since the beginning of last year, when I lost my 
newspaper job, and having had a long idleness, I 
must do something, or we shall get very poor. 
Sometimes I think of a farce, but hitherto all schemes 
have gone oflF; an idle brag or two of an evening, 
vapouring out of a pipe, and going off in the morning ; 

^ The copy of this poem, sent to Manning in Lamb's most 
careful and clerkly writing, is in my possession. I have care- 
fully reproduced Lamb's own punctuation. That of the last 
stanza is specially worth attention, as making the sense clearer 
than in the lines as usually printed. 


but now I have bid farewell to my ' sweet enemy ' 
tobacco, as you will see in the next page, I shall 
perhaps set nobly to work. Hang work !" He did 
set to work, in good heart, during the six months 
that followed. Mary Lamb's letters contain frequent 
references to the farce in progress, and before Mid- 
siimmer 1806 it was completed, and accepted by the 
proprietore of Drury Lane. The farce was the cele- 
brated Mr. U. 

No episode of Lamb's history is better known than 
the production, and the summary failure of this jeu 
(Fesprit. That it failed is no matter for surprise, and 
most certainly none for regret. Though it had the 
advantage, in its leading character, of the talent of 
EUiston, the best light-comedian of his day, the 
slightness of the interest (dealing with the inconveni- 
ences befalling a gentleman who is ashamed to confess 
that his name is Hogsflesh) was too patent for the 
best acting to contend against. Crabb Robinson, one 
of Lamb's more recent friends, accompanied the 
brother and sister to the first and only performance, 
and received the impression that the audience resented 
the vulgarity of the name, when it was at last revealed, 
rather than the flimsiness of the plot But the latter 
is quite sufficient to account for what happened. The 
curtain fell amid a storm of hisses, in which Lamb is 
said to have taken a conspicuous share. Indeed, his 
genuine critical faculty must have come to his deliver- 
ance when he thus viewed his own work from the 
position of an outsider. He expresses no surprise at 


the result, after the first few utterances of natural 
disappointment. The mortification must have been 
considerable. The brother and sister had looked 
forward to a success. They sorely needed the money 
it might have brought them, and Charles's deep-seated 
love of all things dramatic made success in that field 
a much cherished hope. But he bore his failure, as 
he bore all his disappointments in life, with a cheerful 
sweetness. He writes to Hazlitt : " Mary is a little 
cut at the ill-success of Mr. H., which came out last 
night and failed. I know you'll be sorry, but never 
mind. We are determined not to be cast down. I 
am going to leave off tobacco, and then Ave must 
thrive. A smoky man must write smoky farces," It 
must be admitted that ^fr. H. is not much better in 
reading than it was found in the acting. Its humour, 
consisting largely of puns and other verbal pleasantries, 
exhibits little or nothing of Lamb's native vein, and 
the dialogue is too often laboriously imitated from 
the conventional comedy-dialogue then in vogue. But 
even had this been different, the lack of constructive 
ability already shown in John Woodvil must have made 
success as a writer for the stage quite beyond his 

He was on safer ground, though not perhaps 
working so thoroughly con amore, in another literary 
enterprise of this time. In 1805 he had made the 
acquaintance of William Hazlitt, and Hazlitt had 
introduced him to William Godwin. Godwin had 
started, as his latest venture, a series of books for 

82 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

children, to which he himself contributed under the 
name of Edward Baldwin. Lamb, writing to his 
friend Manning, in May 1806, thus describes a joint 
task in which he and his sister were engaged in 
connection with this scheme : " She is doing for 
Godwin's bookseller twenty of Shakspeare's plays, 
to be made into children's tales. Six are already 
done by her, to wit, Tli^ Tempest, fFinter's Tale, Mid- 
summer Night, Much Ado, Two Gentlemen of Verona, 
and Cymbdine; and the Merclianl of Venice is in 
forwardness. I have done Othello and MacbeUi, and 
mean to do all the tragedies. I think it will be 
popular among the little people, besides money. It's 
to bring in sixty guineas. Mary has done them 
capitally, I think you'd think." Mary herself 
supplements this account in a way that makes 
curiously vivid to us the homely realities of their 
joint life. She writes about the same time : " Charles 
has written Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and has begun 
Hamlet. You would like to see us, as we often sit 
writing on one table (but not on one cushion sitting), 
like Uermia and Helena, in the Midsummer Night's 
Dream ; or rather like an old literary Darby and Joan, 
I taking snuff, and he groaning all the while, and 
saying he can make nothing of it, which he always 
says till he has finished, and then he finds out he has 
made something of it." Writing these Taki from 
Shakspeare was no doubt task-work to the brother and 
sister, but it was task-work on a congenial theme, and 
one for which they had special qualifications. They 


had, to start with, a profound and intimate acquaint- 
ance with their original, which set them at an infinite 
distance from the usual compilers of such books for 
children. They had, moreover, command of a style, 
Wordsworthian in its simplicity and purity, that 
enabled them to write down to the level of a child's 
understanding, without any appearance of condescen- 
sion. The very homeliness of the style may easily 
divert attention from the rare critical faculty, the 
fine analysis of character, that marks the writers' 
treatment of the several plays. It is no wonder that 
the publisher in announcing a subsequent edition was 
able to boast that a book designed for young children 
had been found suitable for those of more advanced 
age. There is, indeed, no better introduction to the 
study of Shakspeare than these Tales — no better 
initiation into the mind of Shakspeare, and into the 
subtleties of his language and rhythm. For the ear 
of both Charles and Mary Lamb had been trained on 
the cadences of Elizabethan English, and they were 
able throughout to weave the very words of Shak- 
speare into their narrative without producing any 
effect of discrepancy between the old and the new. 

The Tales were published in January 1807, and 
were a success, a second edition appearing in the 
following year. One result of this success was a 
commission from Godwin to make another version of 
a great classic for the benefit of children, the story of 
the Odyssey. Lamb was no Greek scholar, but he had 
been, like Keats, stirred by the rough vigour of 

84 ClIAKLES LAMB chap. 

Chapman's translation. "Chapman is divine," he 
said afterwards to Bernard Barton, " and my abridge- 
ment has not quite emptied him of his divinity." 
And the few words of preface with which ho modestly 
introduced his little book as a supplement to that 
well-known school classic the Adventures of TelemachuSj 
shows that the moral value of this record of human 
vicissitude had moved him not less than the variety 
of the adventure. " The picture which he exhibits," 
he writes, " is that of a brave man struggling with 
adversity; by a wise use of events, and with an 
inimitable presence of mind under difficulties, forcing 
out a way for himself through the severest trials to 
which human life can be exposed; with enemies 
natural and supernatural surrounding him on all 
sides. The agents in this tale, besides men and 
women, are giants, enchanters, sirens; things which 
denote external force or internal temptations, the 
twofold danger which a wise fortitude must expect 
to encounter in its course through this world." We 
cannot be wrong in judging that Charles Lamb had 
seen in this "wisdom of the ancients" an image of 
sirens and enchanters, of trials and disciplines, that 
beset the lonely dweller at home not less surely than 
the wanderer from city to city, and had fotxnd therein 
something of a cordial and a tonic for himself. No 
one felt more repiignance than did lAmb to the 
appending of a formal moral to a work of art, to use 
his own comparison, like the "God send the good 
ship safe into harbour " at the end of a bill of lading. 


But it was to be his special note as a critic that he 
could not keep his human compassion from blending 
with his judgment of every work of human imagina- 
tion. If his strength as a critic was — and remains for 
us — as the " strength of ten," it was because his heart 
was pure. 

To what masterly purpose he had been long train- 
ing this faculty of criticism he was now about to show. 
The letter to Manning, which tells of his Adventures 
of Ulysses, announces a more important undertaking — 
apparently a commission from the firm of Longman 
— Specimens of English Dramatic Poets contemporary 
with Shahpeare. "Specimens," he writes, "are be- 
coming fashionable. We have Specimens of Ancient 
English Poets, Specimens of Modern English Poets, 
Specimens of Ancient English Prose Writers, without 
end. They used to be called 'Beauties.' You have 
seen Beauties of Shahpeare ? so have many people that 
never saw any beauties in Shakspeare." But Lamb's 
method was to have little in common with that of the 
unfortunate Dr. Dodd. " It is to have notes," is the 
brief mention of that feature of the collection which 
was at once to place their author in the first rank of 
critics. The commentary, often extending to no more 
than a dozen or twenty lines appended to each scene, 
or each author chosen for illustration, was of a kind 
new to a generation accustomed to the Variorum 
school of annotator. It contains no philology, no 
antiquarianism, no discussion of difficult or corrupt 
passages. It takes its character from the principle set 


forth in the Preface on which the selection of scenes 
is made : — 

The kind of extracts which I have sought after have 
been, not so much passages of wit and humour — though 
the old plays are rich in such — ^as scenes of passion, some- 
times of the deepest quality, interesting situations, serious 
descriptions, that which is more nearly allied to poetry 
than to wit, and to tragic rather than comic poetry. The 
plays which I have made choice of have been M'ith few 
exceptions those which treat of human life and manners, 
rather than masques and Arcadian Pastorals, with their 
train of abstractions, unimpassioned deities, passionate 
mortals, Claius, and Medorus, and Amintas, and Amaryllis. 
My leading design has been to illustrate what may be 
called the moral sense of our ancestors. To show in what 
manner they felt when they placed themselves by the 
power of imagination in trying situations, in the conflicts 
of duty and passion, or the strife of contending duties ; 
what fort of loves and enmities theirs were ; how their 
griefs were tempered, and their full-swoln joys abated ; how 
mucli of Shakspeare shines in the great men his contem- 
poraries, and how far in his divine mind and manners he 
surpassed them and all mankind. 

The very idea of the collection was a bold one. 
When we cast our eye over the list of now familiar 
names, Marlowe and Peelo, Marston, Chapman, Ford, 
and Webster, from whom Lamb chose his scenes, we 
must not forget that be was pleading their merits 
before a public which knew them only as names, if it 
knew them at all. With the one exception of Shak- 


speare, the dramatists of the period, between "the 
middle of Elizabeth's reign and the close of the reign 
of Charles I.," were unknown to the general reader of 
the year 1808. Shakspeare, indeed, had a permanent 
stage-existence — that best of commentaries which fine 
acting supplies, to which Lamb himself had been from 
childhood so largely indebted. But for those who 
studied him in the closet there Avas no aid to his in- 
terpretation save such as was supplied by the very 
unilluminating notes of Johnson or Malone. And 
this circumstance must be taken into account if we 
would rightly estimate the genius of Lamb. As a 
critic he had no master — it might almost be said, no 
predecessor. He was the inventor of his own art. 
As the friend of Coleridge, he might have heard 
something of that school of dramatic criticism of 
which Lessing was the founder, but there is little 
trace of any such influence in Lamb's own critical 
method. And though, three years later, Coleridge 
was to make another contribution of value to the same 
cause, in the Lectures on Shakspeare delivered at the 
London Philosophical Society, it is likely that his 
obligations were at least as great to Lamb, as those of 
Lamb had ever been, in the same field, to Coleridge. 

The suggestion in the Preface, already cited, of 
Shakspeare as the representative dramatist, the stand- 
ard by which his contemporaries must be content to be 
judged, is amply followed up in the notes, and gives 
a unity of its own to a collection so miscellaneous. I 
may refer, as examples, to the masterly distinction 


drawn between the use made of the supernatural by 
Middleton in the JrUch, and by Shakspeare in Macbeth, 
and again to the contrast indicated between the Dirge 
in Webster's jrhiU Devil and the "Ditty which re- 
minds Ferdinand of his drowned father in the Tempest" 
— " as that is of the water, watery ; so is this of the 
earth, earthy. Both have that intenseness of feeling 
which seems to resolve itself into the elements which 
it contemplates," — a criticism which could only have 
been conceived by one who was himself a poet. How 
admirably again does he draw attention (in a note on 
the Merry Devil of EdmonUm) to that feature of Shak- 
speare's genius which perhaps more than any other is 
forced upon the reader's mind as he turns from passage 
to passage in this collection : — " This scene has much 
of Shakspeare's manner in the sweetness and good- 
naturedness of it It seems written to make the 
reader haj)py. Few of our dramatists or novelists 
have attended enough to this. They torture and 
wound us abundantly. They are economists only in 
delight" Nothing, again, can be more profound than 
his remark on the elaborate and ostentatious saintli- 
ness of Ordella (in Fletcher's Thierry arid Tlieodoret). 
"Shakspeare had nothing of this contortion in his 
mind, none of that craving after romantic incidents, 
and flights of strained and improbable virtue, which 
1 think always betrays an imj)crfect moral sensibility." 
And yet though Lamb's fine judgment approved the 
fidelity to nature, and the artistic self-control which 
he hero emphasises in his great model, it is clear that 


the audacious conceptions, both of character and 
situation, in which writers such as Ford and Tourneur 
indulged, had no small fascination for him. As he 
recalled the dreary types of virtue, the " insipid level- 
ling morality to which the modem stage is tied down," 
he turned with joy — as from a heated saloon into the 
fresh air — to the "vigorous passions" the "virtues 
clad in flesh and blood," with which the old dramatists 
presented him. And this joy in the presentment of 
the naked human soul is felt throughout all his criti- 
cisms on the more terrible scenes of Shakspeare's 
successors. His " ears tingle," or his eyes fill, or his 
heart leaps within him, as Calantha dies of her Broken 
Heart, or Webster's Duchess yields slowly to the 
torture. Hence it is that Lamb's criticism as often 
takes the form of a study of human life, as of the 
dramatist's art. And hence also the effect he often 
leaves of having indulged in praise too great for the 
occasion. There is, moreover, another reason for this 
last-named result, which was inseparable from Lamb's 
method. No two dramatists can be measured by 
comparing passage with passage, scene with scene. 
Shakspeare and Marlowe cannot be compared or con- 
trasted by setting the death of Edward II side by 
side with that of Richard 11. Drama must be put 
side by side with drama. Lamb does not indeed 
suggest, by anything that he says, that the rank of a 
dramatist can be decided by passages or extracts. 
Only it did not enter into his scheme to dwell upon 
that supreme art of construction, and that highest 


gift of characterisation, which are needed to make 
the perfect dramatist In "profoundness of single 
thoughts," in "richness of imagery," in "abundance 
of illustration," he could produce passage after passage 
from Shakspeare's contemporaries that evinced genius 
nearly allied to Shakspeare's ; but of that " fundamen- 
tal excellence " which " distinguishes the artist from 
the mere amateur, that jxiwer of execution which 
creates, forms, and constitutes," it was not possible 
for him to supply example. And this reservation 
the student must be prepared to make who would 
approach the study of the Elizabethan Drama by the 
aid of Charles Lamb's specimens. 

But, whatever qualification must be interposed, it 
is certain that the publication of these extracts, and 
the accompanying commentary, has a well-defined 
place in the poetical renascence that marked the early 
years of this century. The revived study of the old 
English dramatists — other than Shakspeare — dates 
from this publication. Coleridge had not yet begun 
to lecture, nor Hazlitt to write, and it was not till 
some twenty years later that Mr. Dyco began his 
different, but not less important, labours in the same 
field. To Lamb must be allowed the credit of having 
first recalled attention to a range of poetical excellence, 
in forgetfulness of which English poetry had too long 
pined and starved. It was to these mountain-heights 
of inspiration — not to the cultivated lowlands of the 
eighteenth century — that poetry was to turn her eyes 
for help. 




Talfourd made the acquaintance of Charles Lamb 
early in the year 1815, and has recorded the impression 
left by his appearance and manner at that time in 
words which at this stage of our memoir it may be 
convenient to quote. Lamb has been fortunate in his 
verbal portrayers, if not in the attempts of the 
painter's art to convey a true idea of his outward 
man. Leigh Hunt has declared that "there never 
was a true portrait of Lamb " — and those who take 
the trouble to examine in succession the half-dozen 
likenesses that are in existence are obliged to admit 
that it is difficult to derive from them any consistent 
idea of his features and expression. But it so happens 
that we have full-length portraits of him drawn by 
other hands, which more than compensate for this 
want. Poets, critics, and humorists, of kindred 
genius, have left on record how Charles Lamb 
appeared to them ; and though the various accounts 



bear, as might be expected, the strong impress of 
their writers' individuality, and though each naturally 
gives most prominence to the traits that struck him 
most, the final impression left is one of agreement, in 
remarkable degree. We have descriptions of Lamb, 
all possessing points of great interest, by Talfourd, 
Procter, Hood, Patmore, and others, and from these 
it is possible to learn how their subject looked and 
spoke and bore himself, with a precision and vividness 
that we are seldom in such cases allowed to enjoy. I 
have the advantage of being able to confirm their 
accounts by the testimony of a living witness.^ Mr. 
James Crossley, of Manchester, has related to me his 
recollections of more than one interview which he 
had with Lamb, nearly sixty years ago, and has kindly 
allowed me to make use of them. 

Talfourd's reminiscence, committed to %vriting 
shortly after Lamb's death, if slightly idealised by his 
own poetic temperament, is not for that reason a less 
satisfactory basis on which to form a conception of 
Charles Lamb's appearance. "Methinks I see him 
before me now, as he appeared then, and as he con- 
tinued with scarcely any jierceptible alteration to me, 
during the twenty years of intimacy which followed, 
and were closed by his death. A light frame, so 
fragile that it seemed as if a breath would overthrow 
it, clad in clerk-like black, was surmounted by a head 
of form and expression the most noble and sweet 
His black hair curled cris])ly about an expanded 
* Hr. Crowley died not long after these words were written. 


forehead ; his eyes, softly brown, twinkled with 
varying expression, though the prevalent feeling was 
sad; and the nose slightly curved, and delicately 
carved at the nostril, with the lower outline of the 
face regularly oval, completed a head which was finely 
placed on the shoulders, and gave importance and 
even dignity to a diminutive and shadowy stem. 
Who shall describe his countenance, catch its 
quivering sweetness, and fix it for ever in words? 
There are none, alas, to answer the vain desire of 
friendship. Deep thought, striving with humour; 
the lines of suffering wreathed into cordial mirth; and 
a smile of painful sweetness, present an image to the 
mind it can as little describe as lose. His personal 
appearance and manner are not unfitly characterised 
by what he himself says in one of his letters to 
Manning of Braham, 'a compound of the Jew, the 
gentleman, and the angel.'" 

From this tender and charming sketch it is instruc- 
tive to turn to the rude etching on copper made by 
Mr. Brook Pulham from life, in the year 1825, which, 
in the opinion of Lamb's biographers (and Mr. Crossley 
confirmed their judgment), gives a better idea than all 
other existing portraits of Charles Lamb's outward 
man. The small stature — he was very noticeably 
below the middle height — the head apparently out of 
proportion to the slender frame, the Jewish cast of 
nose, the long black hair, the figure dwindling down 
to " almost immaterial legs," the tight-fitting clerk- 
like suit of black, terminating in gaiters and straps, 

94 CHARLES LAMB chai'. 

all these appcur in Mr. Pulham's etching in such bold 
realism that the portrait might easily pass for a 
caricature, were it not confirmed in all its details by 
other authorities. Mr. Crossley recalled with jKjrfcct 
distinctness the aspect of Lamb as he sat at his desk 
in his room at the India House, looking the more 
diminutive for being perched upon a very high stool. 
His hair and complexion were so dark that, when 
looked at in combination with the complete suit of 
solemn black, they suggested old Fuller's description 
of the negro, of which Lamb was so fond — an image 
" cut in ebony." He might have passed, Hood tells 
us, for a "Quaker in black." "Ho had a long 
melancholy face," says Mr. Procter, "with keen 
penetrating eyes." "There was altogether," Mr. 
Patmore says, " a Rabbinical look about I^amb's head 
which was at once striking and impressive." But the 
feature of his expression that all his friends dwell on 
with most loving emphasis is " the bland sweet smile, 
with the touch of sadness in it ;" and Mr. Patmore's 
description of the general impression produced by 
this countenance well sums up and confirms the 
testimony of all other friends : " In point of intellectual 
character and expression, a finer face was never seen, 
nor one more fully, however vaguely corresjwnding 
with the mind whose features it interpreted. There 
was the gravity usually engendered by a life passed 
in book learning, without the slightest tinge of that 
assumption and affectation which almost always attend 
the gravity so engendered ; the intensity and elevation 


of general expression that mark high genius, without 
any of its pretension and its oddity; the sadness 
waiting on fruitless thoughts and baffled aspirations, 
but no evidence of that spirit of scorning and contempt 
which these are apt to engender. Above all, there 
was a pervading sweetness and gentleness which went 
straight to the heart of every one who looked on it : 
and not the less so, perhaps, that it bore about it an 
air, a something, seeming to tell that it was — not put 
on — for nothing would be more unjust than to tax 
Lamb with assuming anything, even a virtue, which 
he did not possess — but preserved and persevered in, 
spite of opposing and contradictory feelings within 
that struggled in vain for mastery. It was a thing 
to remind you of that painful smile which bodily 
disease and agony will sometimes put on, to conceal 
their sufferings from the observation of those they 

We know Charles Lamb's history, and have not 
to ask for any explanation of the appearances thus 
described. He had always (it must not be forgotten) 
to contend against sad memories, and anticipation of 
further sorrow. He was by nature "terribly shy," 
and his difficulties of speech, and possibly a conscious- 
ness of oddity of manner and appearance, aggravated 
this diffidence. It was "terrible" to him — as he 
confessed to Mr. Procter one morning when they were 
going together to breakfast with Rogers — to undergo 
the scrutiny of servants. Hence only at times, and 
in certain companies, was he entirely at his ease ; and 

96 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

it is evident that wheu in the society of those in 
sympathy with him and his tastes, he conveyed an 
entirely different impression of himself from that left 
under the opposite circumstances. Before strangers, 
or \mcongenial acquaintance, he was uncomfortable, 
and if not actually silent, generally indulged in some 
line of conversation or vein of sentiment foreign to 
his own real nature. Like most men, Charles Lamb 
had various oddnesses, contradictions, perversenesses 
of temi>er, and unless he was in company of those 
who loved him (and who he kneto loved him), and 
understood him, he was very prone, in a spirit of 
what children call " contrariness," to set to work to 
alienate them still more from any possibility of sym- 
pathy with him. Something of this must of course 
be laid to the account of the extra glass of wine or 
spirits that so often determined his mood for the 
evening, only that when Procter, or Talfourd, or 
Coleridge, or Hazlitt were roimd his hospitable table, 
this stimulus served but to set free the richer and 
more generous springs of thought and fancy within 
him. I have the authority of Mr. Crossley for saying 
that on one evening when in manner, speech, and 
walk, Lamb was obviously under the influence of 
what he had drunk, he discoursed at length upon 
Milton, with a fulness of knowledge, an eloquence, 
and a profundity of critical jwwer, which left an 
impression upon Mr. Crossley never to be eflaced. 
But we know tliat the wine was not in this case the 
good, any more than on other occasions it was the 


evil, influence. "It created nothing," says Mr. Pat- 
more, " but it was the talisman that not only unlocked 
the poor casket in which the rich thoughts of Charles 
Lamb were shut up, but set in motion that machinery 
in the absence of which they would have lain like 
gems in the mountain or gold in the mine." But 
where the society was unsympathetic, the wine often 
set free less lovable springs of fancy in Charles Lamb. 
He would take up a perverse attitude of contradiction, 
with too slight regard for the courtesies of human 
intercourse, or else give play to a mere spirit of reck- 
less and not very edifying mockery. The same enthu- 
siastic friend and admirer just quoted is obliged to 
admit that " to those who did not know him, or 
knowing, did not and could not appreciate him, Lamb 
often passed for something between an imbecile, a 
brute, and a buffoon; and the first impression he 
made on ordinary people was always unfavourable, 
sometimes to a violent and repulsive degree." Many 
persons have of late been startled by the discovery 
that Lamb sometimes left the same impression upon 
people the reverse of ordinary. Nothing perhaps in 
the Reminiscences of Thomas Carlyle has provoked 
so much siu"prise, and hurt so many feelings, as his 
passing criticism upon Lamb. And yet it is entirely 
supported and explained by Mr. Patmore's observa- 
tion. No two persons could have been more anti- 
pathetic than Lamb and Carlyle, and nothing there- 
fore is less surprising than that to the author of the 
Latter-Day Pamphlets Charles and his sister should 


98 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

have appeared two very ** sorry phenomena," or that 
the scraps of Lamb's talk which he overheard during 
a passing call should often have seemed " contemptibly 
small," "ghastly make-believe of wit," and the rest 
There is no need to question the substantial justice 
of this report It is only too probable that the 
presence of the austere and dyspeptic Scotchman (one 
of that nation Lamb had all his days been trying in 
vain to like) made him more than usually disposed 
to produce his entire stock of frivolity. He had 
always taken a perverse delight in shocking uncon- 
genial society. Another noticeable peraon — very dif- 
ferent in all respects from Carlyle — has left a record, 
significant by its very brevity, of an evening in 
Lamb's company. Macready tells in his diary how 
he was asked to meet him at Talfourd's, and this is 
what he records of the interview : " I noted one odd 
saying of Lamb's, that ' the last breath he drew in he 
wished might be through a pipe, and exhaled in a 
pun.'" Lamb may have discovered at a glance that 
he and the great tragedian were not likely to take 
the same views of men and things. Perhajis his love 
both for joking and smoking had struck Macready 
the reverse of favourably, and if so, it was quite in 
Lamb's way to clench once for all the unfavourable 
impression by siich an "odd saying" as that just 

Charles Lamb has drawn for us a character of him- 
self, but, so fond was he of hoaxes and mystifications 
of this kind, that we might have hesitated to accept 


it as faithful, were it not in such precise accord with 
the testimony of others already cited. The second 
series of the Essays of Elia was introduced by a 
Preface, purporting to be ^v^itten " by a friend of the 
late Elia," but of course from Charles's own hand. 
In this preface he assumes Elia to have actually died, 
and after some preliminary remarks on his writings 
thus proceeds to describe his character and manners : — 

My late friend was in many respects a singular charac- 
ter. Those who did not like him, hated him ; and some, 
who once liked him, afterwards became his bitterest haters. 
The truth is, he gave himseK too little concern what he 
uttered, and in whose presence. He observed neither 
time nor place, and would e'en out with what came upper- 
most With the severe reUgionist he would pass for a 
free-thinker ; while the other faction set him down for a 
bigot, or persuaded themselves that he belied his senti- 
ments. Few understood him, and I am not certain that 
at all times he quite understood himself. He too much 
affected that dangerous figure — irony. He sowed doubt- 
ful speeches, and reaped plain, unequivocal hatred. He 
would interrupt the gravest discussion with some light 
jest; and yet, perhaps, not quite irrelevant in ears that 
could understand it. Your long and much talkers hated 
him. The informal habit of his mind, joined to an in- 
veterate impediment of speech, forbade him to be an 
orator ; and he seemed determined that no one else should 
play that part when he was present He was petit and 
ordinary in his person and appearance. I have seen him 
sometimes in what is called good company, but where he 
has been a stranger, sit silent and be suspected for an odd 

100 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

fellow ; till some unlucky occasion provoking it, he would 
stutter out some senseless pun (not altogether senseless, 
perhaps, if rightly. taken) which has stamped his character 
for the evening. It was hit or miss with him ; but nine 
times out of ten he contrived by this device to send away 
a whole company his enemies. His conceptions rose 
kindlier than his utterance, and his happiest impromptu* 
had the appearance of effort. He has been accused of 
trying to be witty, when in truth he was but struggling 
to give his poor thoughts articulation. He chose his 
companions for some individuality of character which 
they manifested. Hence not many persons of science, 
and few professed liUrcUi, were of his councils. They 
were, for the most part, persons of an uncertain fortune ; 
and as to such people commonly nothing is more obnoxious 
than a gentleman of settled (though moderate) income, he 
passed with most of them for a great miser. To my 
knowledge this was a mistake. His intimados, to confess 
a truth, were in the world's eye a ragged regiment He 
found them floating on the surface of society ; and the 
colour, or something else, in the weed pleased him. The 
burrs stuck to him ; but they were good and loving burrs 
for all that. He never greatly cared for the society of 
what are called good people. If any of these were scan- 
dalised (and offences were sure to arise) he could not help 
it When he has been remonstrated with for not making 
more concessions to the feelings of good people, he would 
retort by asking what one point did these good people 
ever concede to him ? He was temperate in his meals 
and diversions, but always kept a little on this side of 
abstemiousness. Only in the use of the Indian weed he 
might be thought a little excessive. He took it, he would 


say, as a solvent of speech. Marry — as the friendly 
vapour ascended, how his prattle would curl up sometimes 
with it ! the ligaments which tongue-tied him were 
loosened, and the stammerer proceeded a statist ! 

When a man's account of himself — his foibles and 
eccentricities — is confirmed in minutest detail by 
those who knew and loved him best, it is reasonable 
to conclude that we are not far wrong in accepting it, 
and this self-portraiture of Lamb's gives an unexpected 
plausibility to the judgments, which otherwise have a 
harsh sound, of Mr. Patmore and Carlyle. The pecu- 
liarities which Lamb here enumerates are just those 
which are little likely ever to receive gentle considera- 
tion from the world. 

Lamb's mention of the "senseless pun" which 
often "stamped his character for the evening," sug- 
gests opportunely the subject of his reputation as a 
humorist and wit. This habit of playing upon words 
was a part of him through life, and as in the case of 
most who indulge in it, became an outlet for whatever 
mood was for the moment dominant in Charles Lamb's 
mind. When he was ill at ease, and in an attitude 
(as he often was) of antagonism to his company, it 
would take the shape of a wanton interruption of the 
argument under discussion. To use a simile of Mr. 
Oliver Wendell Holmes, it was the halfpenny laid 
upon the line by a mischievous boy to upset a whole 
train of cars. When he was annoyed, he made 
annoying puns, — when he was frivolous, ho made 
frivolous puns, but when he was in the cue, and hia 


surroundings were such as to call forth his better 
powers, he put into this form of wit, humour and 
imagination of a high order. Samples of all these 
kinds have been preserved, and are not without use 
as showing the various moods of his many-sided 
nature, but it is pitiable to read long strings of them, 
set down without any discrimination, and to be asked 
to accept them as specimens of Lamb's " wit and 
humour." Many of his jests thus handed down are 
little more than amusing evidence of a restless levity, 
and almost petulant impatience of the restraints of 
serious discourse. Much of his conversational humour 
took the form of retort — courteous, or the reverse. 
Sometimes these embodied a criticism so luminous or 
acute that they have survived, not only for their 
drollery, or even their severity. "Charles, did you 
ever hear me preach 1 " asked Coleridge, referring to 
the days of his Unitarian ministry. •' I never hcanl 
you do anything else," was the reply. When Words- 
worth was discussing with him the degree of origin- 
ality to be allowed to Shakspcare, as borrowing his 
plots from sources ready to his hand, and was even 
hinting that other poets, with the History of HamUet 
before them, might have been equally successful in 
adapting it to the stage, Charles cried out, "Oh! 
here's Wordsworth says he could have written Hamlet, 
if h^d had the mind." In both these cases the retort 
embodies a felicitous judgment A foible — if in 
cither case it is to be called a foible — in the character 
of the two poets, respectively, flashes out into sudden 


light. The pun is more than a pun ; the wit is more 
than wit ; it is a sudden glory of truth kindled by the 
imagination. Lamb's wide reading and memory give 
a peculiar flavour to much of his wit. He had a way 
of applying quotations which is all his own. When 
Crabb Eobinson, then a new-fledged barrister, told 
him of his sensations on getting his first brief in the 
King's Bench, " I suppose," said Charles, " you said to 
it, 'Thou great First Cause, least understood.'" 
Somebody remarking on Shakspeare's anachronisms — 
clocks and watches in Julius Ccesar, oracles of Delphi 
in the Winter's Tale — he said he supposed that was 
what Dr. Johnson meant when he wrote of him that 
"panting Time toiled after him in vain." Hood 
records a visit paid by him to the Lambs when they 
were living at Islington, with a wasp's nest near their 
front door. " He was one day bantering my wife on 
her dread of wasps, when all at once he uttered a 
terrible shout — a wounded specimen of the species 
had slily crawled up the leg of the table, and stung 
him in the thumb. I told him it was a refutation 
well put in, like Smollett's timely snowball. ' Yes,' 
said he, ' and a stinging commentary on Macbeth — 

By the pricking of my thumbs, 
Something wicked this way comes.'" 

Readers of the Essays of Elia will recall many happy 
effects produced by this novel use of familiar quota- 
tions. Not that he ever condescended to degrade a 
really fine passage by any vulgar associations. No 

104 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

great harm was done (in the " Essay on Roast Pig ") 
by calling in his friend's " Epitaph on an Infant " to 
justify the sacrifice of the innocent suckling, before it 
should "grow up to the grossness and indocility which 
too often accompany maturer swinehood — 

Ere sin could blight or sorrow fade 
Death came with timely care." 

And, now and then, with the true instinct of a poet, 
he throws a new and lasting halo over a homely 
object by associating it with one more poetic and 
dignified, as when in the "Praise of Chimney-sweepers" 
he notes the brilliant white of the little climbing-boys' 
teeth peering from between their sooty lips — " It is," 
he adds — 

" as when a sable cloud 
Turns forth her silver lining on the night," 

an application of Milton which is only not witty (to 
borrow Sydney Smith's skilful distinction), because the 
enjoyment of ita wit is overpowered by our admiration 
of its beauty. 

" Specimens of wit and humour " afford, under the 
happiest conditions, but melancholy reading, and none 
can less well afford to be separated from their context 
than those of Lamb. And in his case the context 
is not merely that of the written or spoken matter, 
but that of the roan himself — his look, manner, and 
habits. To understand how his drollery affected 
those who were present, and made them anxious to 
preserve some record of it, it is necessary to keep in 


mind how he looked and spoke, his odd face, his 
stammer, and his wilfulness in the presence of uncon- 
genial natures. There is a diverting scene recorded 
in the diary of Haydon, the painter, which, however 
amplified by Haydon's facile pen, seems to bring 
before us "an evening with Charles Lamb" with 
more reality than the general recollections of Talfourd 
and Procter. Something of the "diluted insanity" 
that so shocked Mr. Carlyle is here shadowed forth. 
Haydon had got up a little dinner, on occasion of 
Wordsworth being in town (December 1817), and 
Lamb and Keats were of the party. The account 
must be given in his own words : — 

On 28th. December the immortal dinner came off in 
my painting-room, with Jerusalem towering up behind us 
as a background. Wordsworth was in fine cue, and we 
had a glorious set-to — on Homer, Shakspeare, Milton, and 
Virgil. Lamb got exceedingly merry, and exquisitely witty ; 
and his fun, in the midst of Wordsworth's solemn intona- 
tions of oratory, was like the sarcasm and wit of the fool 
in the intervals of Lear's passion. He made a speech and 
voted me absent, and made them drink my health. "Now," 
said Lamb, "you old lake poet, you rascally poet, why do 
you call Voltaire dull V We all defended Wordsworth, 
and affirmed there was a state of mind when Voltaire 
would be dull. " Well," said Lamb, " here's Voltaire — 
the Messiah of the French nation — and a very proper one 

He then in a strain of humour beyond description 
abused me for putting Newton's head into my picture — 
" a fellow," said he, " who believed nothing unless it was 


as clear as the three sides of a triangle." And then he 
and Keats agreed that he had destroyed all the poetry of 
the rainbow, by reducing it to the prismatic colours. It 
was impossible to resist him, and we all drank " Newton's 
health, and confusion to mathematics." It was delightful 
to see the good humour of Wordsworth in giving in to all 
our frolics without affectation, and laughing as heartily as 
the best of us. 

By this time other friends joined, amongst them poor 
Ritchie, who was going to penetrate by Fezzan to 
Timbuctoo. I introduced him to all as "a gentleman 
going to Africa." Lamb seemed to take no notice ; but 
all of a sudden he roared out, " Which is the gentleman 
we are going to lose ?" We then drank the victim's 
health, in which Ritchie joined. 

In the morning of this delightful day, a gentleman, a 
perfect stranger, had called on me. He said he knew my 
friends, had an enthusiasm for Wordsworth, and b^ged I 
would procure him the happiness of an introduction. He 
told me he was a Comptroller of Stamps, and often had 
correspondence with the poet I thought it a liberty ; but 
still, as he seemed a gentleman, I told him he might come. 

When we retired to tea we found the Comptroller. 
In introducing him to Wordsworth I forgot to say who 
he was. After a little time the Comptroller looked down, 
looked up, and said to Wordsworth, " Don't you think, 
sir, Milton was a great genius ?" Keats looked at me, 
Wordsworth looked at the Comptroller. Lamb, who was 
dosing by the fire, turned round and said, ** Pray, sir, did 
you say Milton was a great genius ?" — '* No, sir ; I asked 
Mr. Wordsworth if he were not." — "Oh," said Lamb, 
'♦ then you are a silly fellow." — ** Charles ! my dear 


Charles !" said Wordsworth ; but Lamb, perfectly innocent 
of the confusion he had created, was off again by the fire. 
After an awful pause the Comptroller said, " Don't 
you think Newton a great genius V I could not stand 
it any longer. Keats piit his head into my books. Ritchie 
squeezed in a laugh. Wordsworth seemed asking himself, 
"Who is this ?" Lamb got up and, taking' a candle, said, 
" Sir, will you allow me to look at your phrenological 
development ?" He then turned his back on the poor 
man, and at every question of the Comptroller he 
chanted — 

" Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John 
Went to bed with his breeches on." 

The man in office finding Wordsworth did not know who 
he was, said in a spasmodic and half-chuckling anticipa- 
tion of assured victory, " I have had the honour of some 
correspondence with you, Mr. Wordsworth." — "With me, 
sir ?" said Wordsworth, " not that T remember." — " Don't 
you, sir ? I am a Comptroller of Stamps." There was a 
dead silence ; the Comptroller evidently thinking that 
was enough. While we were waiting for Wordsworth's 
reply. Lamb sung out — 

" Hey diddle diddle, 
The cat and the fiddle." 

'My dear Charles !" said Wordsworth. 

"Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John," 

chanted Lamb ; and then rising, exclaimed, " Do let me 
have another look at that gentleman's organs." Keats 
and I hurried Lamb into the painting -room, shut the 
door, and gave way to inextinguishable laughter. Monk- 
house followed, and tried to get Lamb away. We went 


back, but the Comptroller was irreconcilable. We soothed 
and smiled, and asked him to supper. He stayed, though 
his dignity was sorely affected. However, being a good- 
natured man, we x><uled all in good humour, and no ill 
effects followed. 

All the while, until Monkhouse succeeded, we could 
hear Lamb struggling in the painting-room and calling at 
intervals, "Who is that fellow? Allow me to see his 
organs once more." 

It is not difficult to guess how Carlyle or Macready 
would have commented on this scene, had they been 

But the Wednesday evenings when Charles and 
Mary Lamb kept open house — if the term could bo 
applied to the slender resources of the garret in Inner 
Temple Lane — produced something better in the way 
of intellectual result than the above. Talfourd and 
Procter have told us the names and qualities of the 
guests who gathered about the Lambs on these occa- 
sions, and the homely fare and the cordial greeting 
that awaited them — the low, dingy rooms, with books 
and prints for their chief furniture, the two tables set 
out for whist, and the cold beef and can of iK>rter on 
the sideboard, to which each guest helped himself as 
he chose. On these occasions would be found Words- 
worth and Coleridge when in town, and then the 
company resolved themselves willingly into a band of 
contented listeners ; but at other times no difference 
of rank would be recognised, and poets and critics 
painters, journalists, barristers, men in public offices^ 


dramatists, and actors met on terms of unchallenged 
equality. Hazlitt has made an attempt, in a well- 
known essay, to reproduce an actual conversation at 
which he was present on one of these Wednesdays. 
He admits that, writing twenty years after the event, 
memory was ill able to recall the actual words of the 
speakers. But even when allowance is made for the 
lapse of time, it is hard to believe that Hazlitt had 
much of the Boswellian faculty. The subject that 
had been discussed was " Persons one would wish to 
have seen." Isaac Newton and Locke, Shakspeare 
and Milton, and many others were suggested, and all 
dismissed for one reason or another by Lamb. Sir 
Thomas Browne and Fulke Greville were two he 
substituted for these. But it is impossible to accept 
the following sentence as a sample of Lamb's conver- 
sational manner. " When I look at that obscure but 
gorgeous prose composition, the Urn Burial, I seem 
to myself to look into a deep abyss, at the bottom of 
which are hid pearls and rich treasure ; or, it is like 
a stately labyrinth of doubt and withering speculation, 
and I would invoke the spirit of the author to lead 
me through it." This style is equally unlike that 
of essay and letter, and nothing so pointless and so 
grandiose, we are sure, ever proceeded from his lips. 
It was not so that Lamb, as Haydon expressed it, 
"stuttered out his quaintness in snatches, like the 
Fool in Lear" But we can distinguish that stammer- 
ing tongue, if we listen, above the din of the supper 
party and the whist -table — {not rigorous as Mrs. 

110 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

Battle's) — ranging from the maddest drollery to the 
subtlest criticism, calling out to Martin Bumey, 
"Martin, if dirt were trumps, what a hand you'd 
have," — or declaring that he had once known a young 
man who "wanted to be a tailor, but hadn't the 
spirit," — or pronouncing, d, propos of the water-cure, 
that it was neither new nor wonderful, for that it was 
at least as old as the Flood, when, " in his opinion," 
it killed more than it cured. We can hear him draw- 
ing some sound distinction, as between the ingrained 
jealousy of Leontes and the mere credulity of Othello, 
or contrasting the noble simplicity of the Nut-Broum 
Maid with Prior's vapid paraphrase, in Henry and 
Emma. We can listen to him as he fearlessly decried 
all his friends' idols of the hour, Byron or Shelley or 
Goethe, and raved with something of a perverse 
enthusiasm over some forgotten worthy of the six- 
teenth century. We can hear him pleading for the 
"divine compliments" of Pope, and repeating with 
a faltering voice the tender lines — 

Happy my studies, when by these approved ! 
Happier their author, when by these beloved ! 
From these the world will judge of men and books, 
Not from the Bumets, Oldniixons, and Cookes. 

It was this range of sympathy, yet coupled with such 
strange limitations — this alternation of tenderness and 
frolic — of scholarly fulness and luminous insight, that 
drew the poet and the critic, as well as the boon com- 
^mnion, to Lamb's Wednesday nights. 


Lamb's letters at this time afford excellent speci- 
mens of his drollery and high animal spirits. The 
following was addressed to Manning early in 1810. 
Manning was then in China. 

Dear Manning — When I last wrote you I was in 
lodgings. I am now in chambers. No. 4 Inner Temple 
Lane, where I should be happy to see you any evening. 
Bring any of your friends, the mandarins, with you. I 
have two sitting-rooms ; I call them so par excellence, for 
you may stand, or loll, or lean, or try any posture in 
them, but they are best for sitting ; not squatting down 
Japanese fashion, but the more decorous mode which 
European usage has consecrated. I have two of these 
rooms on the third floor, and five sleeping, cooking, etc., 
rooms on the fourth floor. In my best room is a choice 
collection of the works of Hogarth, an English painter of 
some humour. In my next best are shelves, containing a 
small but well-chosen library. My best room commands 
a court in which there are trees and a pump, the water of 
which is excellent cold, with brandy, and not very insipid 
without. Here I hope to set up my rest, and not quit till 
Mr. Powell, the undertaker, gives me notice that I may 
have possession of my last lodging. He lets lodgings for 
single gentlemen. I sent you a parcel of books by' my 
last, to give you some idea of the state of European litera- 
ture. There comes with this two volumes, done up as 
letters, of minor poetry, a sequel to Mrs. Leicester; the 
best you may suppose mine ; the next best are my coad- 
jutor's ; you may amuse yourself in guessing them out ; 
but I must tell you mine are but one-third in quantity of 
the whole. So much for a very delicate subject. It is 

112 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

banl to speak of one's own self, etc. Holcroft had finished 
his life when I wrote to you, and Ua/litt has since finished 
his life : I do not mean his own life, but he has finished a 
life of Holcroft, which is going to press. Tuthill is Dr. 
Tuthill ; I continue Mr. Lamb. I have published a little 
book for children on titles of honour ; and to give them 
some idea of the difference of rank and gradual rising I 
have made a little scale, supposing myself to receive the 
following various accessions of dignity from the king, who 
is the fountain of honour. As at first, 1, Mr. C. Lamb ; 
2, C. Lamb, Esq. ; 3, Sir C. Lamb, Bart ; 4, Baron Lamb 
of Stamford ; ^ 5, Viscount Lamb ; 6, Earl Lamb ; 7, 
Marquis Lamb ; 8, Duke Lamb. It would look like 
quibbling to carry it on further, and especially as it is not 
necessary for children to go beyond the ordinary titles of 
sub-r^al dignity in our own country ; otherwise, 1 have 
sometimes in my dreams imagined myself still advancing 
— as 9th, King Lamb; 10th, Emperor Lamb; 11th, 
Pope Innocent, higher than which is nothing. Puns I 
have not made many (nor punch much) since the date of 
my last ; one I cannot help relating. A constable in 
Salisbury Cathedral was telling me that eight people dined 
at the top of the spire of the cathedral, upon which 1 
remarked that they must be very sharp set. But in 
general, I cultivate the reasoning part of my mind more 
than the imaginative. I am stuflfed out so with eating 
turkey for dinner and another turkey for supper yester- 
day (Turkey in Europe and Turkey in Asia), that I can't 
jog on. It is New Year here. That is, it was New Year 
half a year back when I was writing this. Nothing 

> Where my family came from. I have chosen that, if ever 
I should have my choice. 


puzzles me more than time and space, and yet nothing 
puzzles me less, for I never think about them. The 
Persian ambassador is the principal thing talked of now. 
I sent some people to see him worship the sun on Prim- 
rose HUl, at half-past six in the morning, 28th November ; 
but he did not come, which makes me think the old fire- 
worshippers are a sect almost extinct in Persia. The 
Persian ambassador's name is Shaw Ali Mirza. The com- 
mon people call him Shaw nonsense. While I think of 
it, I have put three letters besides my own three into the 
India post for you, from your brother, sister, and some 
gentleman whose name I forget. Will they, have they, 
did they come safe ? The distance you are at cuts up 
tenses by the root. I think you said you did not know 
Kate *********. I express her by nine stars, though 
she is but one. You must have seen her at her father's. 
Try and remember her. Coleridge is bringing out a paper 
in weekly numbers, called the Friend, which I would send 
if I could ; but the difficulty I had in getting the packets 
of books out to you before deters me ; and you'll want 
something new to read when you come home. Except 
Kate, I have had no vision of excellence this year, and 
she passed by like the queen on her coronation day ; you 
don't know whether you saw her or not. Kate is fifteen ; 
I go about moping, and sing the old pathetic ballad I used 
to like in my youth — 

She's sweet fifteen, 

I'm one year more. 

Mrs. Bland sang it in boy's clothes the first time I heard 
it. I sometimes think the lower notes in my voice are 
like Mrs. Bland's. That glorious singer, Braham, one of 
my lights, is fled. He was for a season. He was a rare 
I - 


composition of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel ; 
yet aU these elements mixed up so kindly in him that 
you could not tell which preponderated ; but he is gone, 
and one Phillips is engaged instead. Kate is vanished, but 
Miss B is always to be met with ! 

Qaeens drop away, while blue-legged Maulcin thrives, 
And courtly Mildred dies while country Madge survives. 

That is not my poetry, but Quarles's ; but haven't you 
observed that the rarest things are the least obvious ? 
Don't show anybody the names in this letter. I write 
confidentially, and wish this letter to be considered as 
private. Hazlitt has written a grammar for Godwin ; 
Godwin sells it bound up with a treatise of his own on 
language, but the grey mare it the better horse, I don't 

allude to Mrs. , but to the word grammar, which 

comes near to grey mare, if you observe, in sound. That 
figure is called paranomaeia in Greek. I am sometimes 
happy in it An old woman begged of me for charity. 
" Ah ! sir," said she, " I have seen better days." — " So 
have I, good woman," I replied ; but I meant literally, 
days not so rainy and overcast as that on which she 
begged ; she meant more prosperous days. Mr. Dawe is 
made Associate of the Royal Academy. By what law of 
association I can't guess. 

The humour of this letter — and there are many as 
good — is not the humour of the Essays of Elia. It is 
not charged with thought like them, nor does it reach 
the same depths of feeling. But it is the humour of 
a man of genius. The inventiveness of it all ; the 
simplicity with which the most daring flights of fancy 


are hazarded; the amazing improbability of the 
assertion that it was the "common people" who 
called the ambassador " Shaw nonsense ;" the gravity 
with which it is set down that it is not necessary 
in England to teach children the degrees of rank 
beyond royalty, — all this is delightful in the extreme, 
and the power to enjoy it may be taken as a test of 
the reader's capacity for understanding Lamb's place 
as a humorist. 

The eight years spent in Inner Temple Lane were, 
in Talfourd's judgment, the happiest of Lamb's life. 
His income was steadily rising, and he no longer had 
to bear the pressure of inconvenient poverty. Friends 
of a higher order than the " friendly harpies " he has 
told us of, who came about him for his suppers, and 
the brandy -and -water afterwards, were gradually 
gathering round him. Hazlitt, and Crabb Eobinson, 
and Procter, and Talfourd were men of tastes and 
capacities akin to his own. The period was not a 
fertile one in literary production. The little collec- 
tion of stories for children, called Airs. Leicester's 
School, written jointly with his sister, and the volume 
of Poetry for Children, also a joint production, con- 
stitute — with one notable exception — the whole of 
Lamb's literary labours during this time. The excep- 
tion named is the contribution to Leigh Hunt's 
periodical, the Reflector, of two or three masterly 
pieces of criticism, which may be more conveniently 
noticed later in this memoir. 

Meantime the cloud of domestic anxiety was still 


uulifted. Mary Lamb's illnesses were frequent and 
embarrassing. An extract from a letter to Miss 
Hutchinson, Mrs. Wordsworth's sister (October 1815), 
tells once more the often -told tale, and shows the 
unaltered patience and seriousness of her brother's 
faithful guardianship. The passage has a further 
interest in the picture it incidentally draws of the 
happier days of the brother and sister: — "I am 
forced to be the replicr to your letter, for Mary has 
been ill, and gone from home these five weeks yester- 
day. She has left me very lonely and very miserable. 
I stroll about, but there is no rest but at one's own 
fireside, and there is no rest for me there now. I look 
forward to the worse half being past, and keep up as 
well as I can. She has begun to show some favour- 
able symptoms. The return of her disorder has been 
frightfully soon this time, with scarce a six months' 
interval. I am almost afraid my worry of spirits 
about the East India House was partly the cause of 
her illness, but one always imputes it to the cause 
next at hand; more probably it comes from some 
cause we have no control over or conjecture of. It 
cuts great slices out of the time, the little time, we 
shall have to live together. I don't know but the 
recurrence of these illnesses might help me to sustain 
her death better than if we had no partial separa- 
tions. But I won't talk of death. I will imagine us 
immortal, or forget that wo are otherwise. By God's 
blessing, in a few weeks we may be making our meal 
together, or sitting in the front row of the Pit at 


Drury Lane, or taking our evening walk past the 
theatres, to look at the outside of thena, at least, if 
not to be tempted in. Then we forget that we are 
assailable ; we are strong for the time as rocks ; — * the 
wind is tempered to the shorn Lambs.' " 




In the autumn of 1817, Lamb and his sister left the 
Temple, their home for seventeen years, for lodgings 
in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, the corner 
of Bow Street, and the site where Will's Coffee- 
House once stood. " Here we are," Lamb writes to 
Miss Wordsworth in November of this year, " trans- 
planted from our native soil. I thought we never 
could have been torn up from the Temple. Indeed 
it was an ugly wrench, but like a tooth, now 'tis 
out, and I am easy. AVe never can strike root so 
deep in any other ground. This, where we are, is a 
light bit of gardener's mould, and if they take us up 
from it, it will cost no blood and groans, like man- 
drakes pulled up. We are in the individual spot I 
like best in all this great city. The theatres with 
all their noises; Covent Garden, dearer to me than 
any gardens of Alcinous, where we are morally sure of 


the earliest peas and 'sparagus. Bow Street, where 
the thieves are examined within a few yards of us. 
Mary had not been here f our-and-twenty hours before 
she saw a thief. She sits at the window working ; 
and casually throwing out her eyes, she sees a con- 
course of people coming this way, with a constable 
to conduct the solemnity. These little incidents 
agreeably diversify a female life." 

During the seventeen years in the Temple, Lamb's 
worldly fortunes had improved. His salary from the 
India House was increasing every year, and he was 
beginning to add to his income by authorship. He 
was already known as critic and essayist to an ap- 
preciative few. Friends were gathering round him, 
and acquaintances who enjoyed his conversation and 
his weekly suppers (Wednesday evening was open 
house in the Temple days) were increasing in rather 
an embarrassing degree. Ever since he had had a 
house of his own, he had suffered from the intrusion 
of such troublesome visitors. A too easy good-nature 
on his part may have been to blame for this. He 
took often, as he confesses, a perverse pleasure in 
noticing and befriending those whom others, with 
good reason, looked shyly on, and as time went on 
he began to find very little of his leisure time that 
he could call his own. It may have been with some 
hope of beginning a freer life on new soil that he 
resolved to tear himself from his beloved Temple. 
If so, he was not successful A remarkable letter 
to Mrs. Wordsworth, a few months only after his 


removal to Russell Street, tells the same old story 
of well-meaning intruders. "The reason why I 
cannot write letters at home is that I am never alone." 
"Except my morning's walk to the office, which is 
like treading on sands of gold for that reason, I am 
never so. I cannot walk home from office, but some 
officious friend offers his unwelcome courtesies to 
accompany me. All the morning I am pestered. 
Evening company I should always like, had I any 
mornings, but I am saturated with human faces 
(divine forsooth) and voices all the golden morning ; 
and five evenings in a week would be as much as I 
should covet to be in company, but I assure you that 
it is a wonderful week in which I can get two, or one 
to myself. I am never C. L. but always C. L. & Co. 
He, who thought it not good for man to be alone, 
preserve me from the more prodigious monstrosity of 
being never by myself." "All I mean is that I am 
a little over-companied, but not that I have any 
animosity against the good creatures that are so 
anxious to drive away the harpy solitude from me. 
I like 'em, and cards, and a cheerful glass ; but I 
mean merely to give you an idea between office con- 
finement and after-office society, how little time I can 
call my own." It is not difficult to form an idea 
from this frank disclosure of the hindrances and the 
snares that beset Lamb's comfort and acted harmfully 
on his tem])cr and habita It was fortunate for him 
that at this juncture he should have been led to 
discover where his powers as a writer indisputably 


lay, and to find the exact opportunity for their 

In this same year, 1818, a young bookseller, Charles 
Oilier, whose acquaintance he had recently made, 
proposed to him to bring out a complete collection of 
his scattered writings. Some of these, John Woodvil 
and Rosamond Gray, had been published separately in 
former years, and were now out of print. Others 
were interred among extinct magazines and journals, 
and these were by far the most worthy of preservation. 
The edition appeared in the year 1818, in two hand- 
some volumes. It contained, besides John Woodvil 
and Rosamond Gray, and a fair quantity of verse 
(including the Farewell to Toha<xo), the Recollections of 
Christ's Hospital, the essay on The Tragedies of Shak- 
speare, considered with reference to their fitness for stage 
representation, and that on The Genius and Clmracter of 
Hogarth, these two last having originally appeared in 
Leigh Hunt's magazine, the Reflector. The edition 
was prefaced by a dedicatory letter to Coleridge. 
"You will smile," wi*ote Lamb, "to see the slender 
labours of your friend designated by the title of 
Works ; but such was the wish of the gentlemen who 
have kindly undertaken the trouble of collecting 
them, and from their judgment there could be no 
appeal." He goes on pleasantly to recall to his old 
schoolfellow how, in company with their friend Lloyd, 
they had so many years before tried their poetical 
fortune. "You will find your old associate," he 
adds, "in his second volume, dwindled into prose 


and criticism." Lamb must have felt, as he wrote the 
word, that " dwindled " was hardly the fitting term. 
He had written nothing as yet so noble in matter and 
in style, nothing so worthy to live, as the analysis of 
the characters of Hamlet and Lear in the essay on 
Shakspeare's Tragedies. Lamb's high rank, as essayist 
and critic, must have been put beyond dispute by the 
publication imder his own name of his collected 
IForhs. He was already well known and appreciated 
by some of the finest minds of his day. He now 
addressed a wider public, and the edition of 1818 
gave him a status he had not before enjoyed. And 
yet at this date, various as were the contents of the 
two volumes, he had not found the opportunity that 
was to call forth his special faculty. 

The opportunity was, however, at hand. In Janu- 
ary 1820, Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, the publishers, 
brought out the first number of a new monthly 
journal, reviving in it the name of an earlier and 
extinct periodical, the London Magazine. The editor 
they chose was John Scott, a competent critic and 
journalist who had formerly edited the Champion 
newspaper. The aim of this new venture, as set forth 
in the opening prospectus, was to be of a higher and 
more intellectual class than its many popular contem- 
poraries. It was to be a journal of criticism and the 
BeUes Lettres, including original poetry, and yet to 
contain in a monthly appendix such statistics of trade 
and general home and foreign intelligence as would 
make it useful to those of a less literary turn. The 


magazine had an existence of five years, undergoing 
many changes of fortune, and passing in that time 
through many hands. Its first editor, Mr. Scott, was 
killed in a duel in the summer of 1821, and its first 
publishers parted with it to Taylor and Hessey. At 
no period of its career does it seem to have been a 
marked commercial success. Either capital was 
wanted, or management was unsatisfactory, for the 
list of contributors during these five years was 
remarkable. Mr. Procter and Thomas Hood have 
discoursed pleasantly on their various fellow -contri- 
butors to the magazine, and the social gatherings held 
once a month by Taylor and Hessey (who employed 
no editor) at the office in Waterloo Place. Hazlitt, 
Allan Cunningham, Gary (the translator of Dante), 
John Hamilton Keynolds, George Darley, Keats, 
James Montgomery, Sir John Bowring, Hartley 
Coleridge, were regular or occasional contributors. 
Carlyle published his Life and Writings of Schiller in 
the later volumes, and De Quincey (besides other 
papers) his Opium Eater. 

Talfourd thinks that Lamb owed to his intimacy 
with Hazlitt his introduction to the managers of the 
London. He was not on the staff from the beginning. 
The first number was issued in January 1820, and 
Lamb's first contribution was in the August following. 
In the number for that month appeared an article, 
Avith the not very attractive title, Recollections of the 
South-Sea House. As to its authorship there was no 
indication except the signature at the end — "Elia." 



Lamb has himself told us the origin of this immortal 
nom di plume. When he had written his first essay, 
wishing to remain anonymous, and yet wanting a 
convenient mark for identification in articles to come, 
he bethought him of an Italian of the name of Elia, 
who had been fellow -clerk with him thirty years 
before, during the few months that he had been 
employed as a boy in the South-Sea House. As a 
practical joke (Lamb confesses) he borrowed his old 
friend's name, hoping to make his excuses when they 
should next meet ** I went the other day," writes 
Lamb to his publisher, Mr. Taylor, in July 1821, 
" (not having seen him for a year) to laugh over with 
him at my usuri)ation of his name, and found him, 
ala.s ! no more than a name, for he died of consump- 
tion eleven months ago, and I know not of it So the 
name has fairly devolved to me, I think, and 'tis all 
he has left me." Lamb continued to use it for his 
contributions to the London and other periodicals for 
many years. It is doubtful if the name has ever been 
generally pronounced as Lamb intended. " Call him 
miia," he went on to say, but the world has taken 
more kindly to the broad e and the single l^ 

> See letter to J. Taylor {LetUra of Charles Lamb, il 35). In 
this letter Lamb further mentions that his old fellow -clerk, 
like himself, "added the function of an author to that of a 
scrirener." I do not know that he has ever been identiOcd on 
the literary side. There was a certain Felix Ellia who, in the 
year 1799, published a melodramatic romance, of the then 
Iiopular type, called " Norman Banditti, or the Fortress of 
Constance." The book is noticed rather contemptuously in the 


When the first series of the Essays of Ella appeared 
in a collected form in 1823, it consisted of some five- 
and-twenty essays, contributed at the rate of one a 
month (occasionally two) with scarcely an intermis- 
sion between August 1820 and December 1822. It 
would seem as if no conditions had been imposed upon 
Lamb by the editor as to the subject-matter of his 
essays. He was allowed to roam at his own free will 
over the experiences of his life, and to reproduce them 
in any form, and with any discursiveness into which 
he might be allured on the way. The matter of the 
essays proved to be largely personal, or at least to 
savour of the autobiographical. The first essay 
already referred to professed to be a recollection of 
the South-Sea House as it existed thirty years before, 
with sketches of several of the clerks who had been 
Lamb's contemporaries. As, however, he was a boy 
of fifteen at the time he entered, and moreover was 
at most two years in the office, it is probable that he 
owed much of the knowledge exhibited in the paper 
to his elder brother John, who remained in the ofiice 
long after Charles had left it. Lamb was in the habit 
of spending his short summer holiday in one or other 
of the two great University towns, and his second 
essay was an account of Oxford in the Vacation. The 
third in order of appearance was an account of Christ's 

Critical Review for December of the same year. Can this have 
been Lamb's friend 1 It would be quite in accordance with 
Lamb's habits, if, while recalling the pronunciation of the 
name, ho had forgotten the spelling. 


Hospital, on that side of it which had not been 
touched in his earlier paper on the same subject 
The fourth was a discursive meditation on the Tuh) 
Races of Men^ by which Lamb meant those who borrow 
and those who lend, which he illustrated by the 
example of one Ralph Bigod (whom he had known in 
his journalist days on the Album), and Coleridge, who 
so freely borrowed from Lamb's library, and so 
bountifully returned the loan with interest in the 
shape of marginal annotations. In the essay, Mrs. 
Battles Opinions on JFhist, he describes an old lady, a 
relative of the Plumer family, whom he had known in 
person, or by repute, at the old mansion in Hertford- 
shire. In the chapter On Ears, his own want of 
musical ear, and the kind of impressions from musi- 
cal sounds to which he was susceptible, is the subject 
of his confidences. In My Rdations and Mockery End 
in Hertfordshire he draws portraits, under the disguise 
of two cousins, James and Bridget Elia, of his brother 
John and his sister Mary. The Old Benchers of the 
Inner Temple comprises all that he remembered of his 
boyhood spent in the Temple, with particulars of the 
more notable Masters of the Bench of that day, 
obtained no doubt from his father, the Lovel of the 
essay, and his father's old and loyal friend Randal 
Norris, the sub-treasurer of the Inner Temple. Other 
essays, such as that On Chimney Sweepers, and The 
Decay of Beggars in the Melropolis, contain the results 
of that observing eye with which he had daily sur- 
veyed the streets of his beloved city for so many 


years, " looking no one in the face for more than a 
moment," as Mr. Procter has told us, yet "contriving 
to see everything as he went on." 

The opening essay on the South-Sea Hmise shows 
that there was no need to feel his way, either in 
matter or style. He began in the fulness of his 
observation, and with a style already formed, and 
adapting itself to all changes of thought and feeling. 
His description of John Tipp, the accountant, was 
enough to show that not only a keen observer, but 
a master of English was at work : — 

At the desk, Tipp was quite another sort of creature. 
Thence all ideas that were purely ornamental were ban- 
ished. You could not speak of anything romantic with- 
out rebuke. Politics were excluded. A newspaper was 
thought too refined and abstracted. The whole duty of 
man consisted in writing off dividend warrants. The 
striking of the annual balance in the company's books 
(which perhaps differed from the balance of last year in 
the sum of £25 : 1 : 6) occupied his days and nights for a 
month previous. Not that Tipp was blind to the dead- 
ness of things (as they call them in the city) in his beloved 
house, or did not sigh for a return of the old stirring days 
when South Sea hopes were young (lie was indeed equal 
to the wielding of any the most intricate accounts of the 
most floxu-ishing company in these or those days) : but to a 
genuine accountant the difference of proceeds is as nothing. 
The fractional farthing is as dear to his heart as the thou- 
sands which stand before it. He is the true actor who, 
whether his part be a prince or a peasant, must act it 
with like intensity. With Tipp, form was everything. 

128 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

His life was fortnaL His actions seemed ruled with a 
ruler. His pen was not less erring than his heart. He 
made the best executor in the world ; he was plagued 
with incessant executorships accordingly, which excited 
his spleen and soothed his vanity in equal ratios. He 
would swear (for Tipp swore) at the little orphans, whose 
rights he would guard with a tenacity like the grasp of 
the dying hand that commended their interests to his 
protection. With all this there was about him a sort of 
timidity — his few enemies used to give it a worse name — a 
something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, 
if you please, a little on this side of the heroic. Nature 
certainly had been pleased to endow John Tipp with a 
sufficient measure of the principle of self-preservation. 
There is a cowardice which we do not despise, because it 
has nothing base or treacherous in its elements ; it betrays 
itself, not you ; it is mere temperament ; the absence of 
the romantic and the enterprising ; it sees a lion in the 
way, and will not, with Fortinbras, " greatly find quarrel 
in a straw," when some supposed honour is at stake. Tipp 
never mounted the box of a stage coach in his life, or 
leaned against the rails of a balcony, or walked upon the 
ridge of a parapet, or looked down a precipice, or let off a 
gun, or went upon a water-party, or would willingly let 
you go if he could have helped it ; neither was it recorded 
of him that for lucre, or for intimidation, he ever forsook 
friend or principle. 

Two of the essays have attained a celebrity, cer- 
tainly not out of proi>ortion to their merits, but 
serving to make quotation from them almost an 
impertinence. These are the Dissertation on Boast Fig, 


Lamb's version of a story told him by his friend 
Manning (though not probably to be found in any 
Chinese manuscript), and the essay, finally called 
Imperfect Sympathies, but originally bearing the cum- 
brous title of Jews, Quakers, Scotchmen, and other 
Imperfect Sympathies. It is here that occurs the famous 
analysis of the Scotch character, perhaps the cleverest 
passage, in its union of fine observation and felicity of 
phrase, in the whole of Lamb's writings. The anec- 
dote of Lamb's favourite picture, — his "beauty," — 
the Leonardo da Vinci, and that of the party where 
the son of Burns was expected, together with the 
complaint that follows of the hopelessness of satisfying 
a Scotchman in the matter of the appreciation of that 
poet, have become as much commonplaces of quotation 
as Sydney Smith's famous reference to the surgical 
operation. The brilliancy of the whole passage has 
rather thrown into the shade the disquisition on 
Quaker manners that follows, and the story he had 
heard from Carlisle, the surgeon, of the three Quakers 
who " stopped to bait " at Andover. But the whole 
paper is excellent. 

Hardly less familiar is the account of old Mrs. 
Battle, and her opinions upon the game of whist. 
" ' A clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the 
game.' This was the celebrated wish of old Sarah 
Battle (now with God), who next to her devotions 
loved a good game at whist. She was none of your 
lukewarm gamesters, your half and half players, who 
have no objection to take a hand if you want one to 


make up a rubber; who affirm that they have no 
pleasure in winning, that they like to win one game 
and lose another, that they can M'hile away an hour 
very agreeably at a card -table, but are indifferent 
whether they play or no, and will desire an adversary 
who has slipped a wrong card to take it up and play 
another. These insufferable triflers are the curse of 
a table ; one of these flies will spoil a whole \H)t Of 
such it may be said that they do not play at cards, 
but only play at playing with them." 

The portrait must have been drawn in the main 
from life.^ One of the most singular suggestions ever 
offered by Lamb's editors is that this "gentlewoman 
bom," with her " fine last-century countenance," the 
niece of "old Walter Plumer," was drawn from 
Lamb's old grandmother, Mrs. Field. As a test of the 
likclihoml of this theory it will be found instructive 
to read, after this essay, the touching lines already 
cited called Tht Grandame. 

The marked peculiarities of Lamb's style give so 
unique a colouring to all these essays that one is apt 
to overlook to what a variety of themes it is found 
suitable. There is no mood, from that of almost 
reckle-ss merriment to that of pathetic sweetness or 

' Since this passage was first written, I have been told by 
a near rclatirc of Lamb's friem], John Rickinan, and an inti- 
mate friend in her youth of the Burncy family, that the chief 
features of Sarah liattle's personality were certainly drawn from 
Sarah Bumey, the wife of the captain. The whole Bumey 
family, as is well known, were devotetl to whist. The captain 
published a little treatise on the game. 


religious awe, to which the style is not able to modu- 
late with no felt sense of incongruity. A feature of 
Lamb's method, as we have seen, is his use of quota- 
tions. Not only are they brought in so as really to 
iUustrate, but the passages cited themselves receive 
illustration from the use made of. them, and gain a 
permanent and heightened value from it. Whether 
it be a garden-scene from Marvell, a solemn paradox 
from Sir Thomas Browne, or a stanza from some then 
recent poem of Wordsworth, the quotation fulfils a 
double purpose, and has sent many a reader to explore 
for himself in the author whose words strike him with 
such luminous effect in their new setting. Take, for 
example, the Miltonic digi-ession in the essay on Grace 
before Meat. Lamb is never more happy than in 
quoting from or discoursing on Milton : — 

ITie severest satire upon full tables and surfeits is the 
banquet which Satan, in the Paradise Regained, provides 
for a temptation in the wilderness : — 

A table richly spread in regal modes 
With dishes piled and meats of noblest sort 
And savour ; beasts of chase, or fowl of game, 
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled 
Gris-araber-steamed ; all fish from sea or shore, 
Freshet or purling brook, for which was drained 
Poutus, and Lucrine bay, and Afric coast. 

The tempter, I warrant you, thought these cates would go 
down without the recommendatory preface of a benedic- 
tion. They are like to be short graces where the devil 
plays the host. I am afraid the poet wants his usual 

132 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

decorum in this place. Was he tliinking of the old 
Roman luxury, or of a gaudy day at Gimbridge ? This 
was a temptation fitter for a Heliogabalus. The whole 
banquet is too civic and culinary ; and the accompani- 
ments altogether a profanation of that deep, abstractetl, 
holy scene. The mighty artillery of sauces which the 
cook-fiend conjures up, is out of projwrtion to the simple 
wants and plain hunger of the guest He that disturbed 
him in his dreams, from his dreams might have been 
taught better. To the temperate fantasies of the famished 
Son of Qod what sort of feasts presented themselves ? He 
dreamed indeed — 

As appetite is wont to dream 
Of meats and drinks, nature's refreshment sweet. 

But what meats ? 

Him thought, he by the brook of Chcrith stood, 

And saw the ravens with their homy beaks 

Food to Elijah bringing even and morn : 

Though ravenous, taught to abstain from what they brought. 

He saw the prophet also how he fled 

Into the desert, and how there he slept 

Under a juniper : then how awaked 

He found his supper on the coals prepared, 

And by the angel was bid rise and eat, 

And ate the second time after repose, 

The strength whereof sufficed him forty days ; 

Sometimes, that with Elijah he partook 

Or as a gaest with Daniel at his pulse. 

Nothing in Milton is finelier fancied than these temperate 
dreams of the divine Hungerer. To which of these two 
visionary banquets, think you, would the introduction of 
what is called the grace have been most fitting and per- 
tinent ? 


"I am no Quaker at my food." So Lamb 
characteristically proceeds, after one short paragraph 
interposed "I confess I am not indifferent to the 
kinds of it. Those unctuous morsels of deer's flesh 
were not made to be received with dispassionate 
services. I hate a man who swallows it, affecting 
not to know what he is eating ; I suspect his taste 
in higher matters. I shrink instinctively from 
one who professes to like minced veal. There is a 
physiognomical character in the tastes for food. 

C holds that a man cannot have a pure mind who 

refuses apple-dumplings. I am not certain but he is 

And so he rambles on in almost endless digression 
and absolute fearlessness as to egotism of such a kind 
ever palling or annoying. This egotism — it is almost 
superfluous to mark — is a dominant characteristic of 
Lamb's manner. The prominence of the personal 
element had indeed been a feature of the essay proper 
ever since Montaigne, its first inventor. But Lamb's 
use of the " I " has little resemblance to the gossiping 
confessions of the Gascon gentleman. These grave 
avowals as to the minced veal and the dumplings are 
not of the same order as Montaigne's confidences as 
to his preference of white wine to red. The "I" 
of Lamb in such a case is no concession to an idle 
curiosity, nor is it in fact biographical at all. Nor 
is it the egotism of Steele and Addison, though, when 
occasion arises. Lamb shows signs of the influence 
upon him of these earlier masters in his own special 


school. Ho thus begins, for instance, his paper called 
The Wedding: — "I do not know when I have been 
better pleased than at being invited last week to be 
present at the wedding of a friend's daughter. I like 
to make one at these ceremonies, which to us old 
jMJople give back our youth in a manner, and restore 
our gayest season, in the remembrance of our own 
success, or the regrets scarcely less tender, of our own 
youthful disappointments, in this point of a settle- 
ment On these occasions I am sure to be in good- 
humour for a week or two after, and enjoy a reflected 
honeymoon." In matter, language, and cadence, this 
might have been taken bodily from the Spectator. 
Yet this was no freak of imitation on Lamb's part 
It merely arose from the subject and the train of 
thought engendered by it being of that domestic 
kind which Richard Steele loved so well to discourse 
on. Lamb's mind and memory were so stored with 
English reading of an older date, that the occurrence 
of a particular theme sends him back, quite naturally, 
to those early masters who had sjKJcially made that 
theme their own. For all his strongly-marketl indi- 
viduality of manner, there are perhajw few English 
writers who have written so differently upon diflerent 
themes. When he chose to bo fancifid, he could 1)0 
as euphuistic as Donne or Burton, — when he was led 
to bo grave and didactic, he could write with the 
sententiousness of Bacon, — when his imagination and 
feeling together lifted him alwvo thoughts of style, 
his English cleared and soared into regions not far 


below the noblest flights of Milton and Jeremy 
Taylor. When on the other hand he was at home, 
on homely themes, he wrote "like a man of this 
world," and of his own century and year. 

Still it must be said that his style is in the main 
an eclectic English. It is needless to add that this 
implies no affectation. No man ever wrote to such 
purpose in a style deliberately assumed. Hazlitt 
remarks of him, that "he is so thoroughly imbued 
with the spirit of his authors, that the idea of imita- 
tion is almost done away. There is an inward 
unction, a marrowy vein both in the thought and 
feeling, an intuition, deep and lively, of his subject 
that carries off any quaintness or awkwardness aris- 
ing from an antiquated style and dress." This is 
quite true, and Hazlitt might have added that in 
the rare instances when Lamb used this old-fashioned 
manner, without the deeper thought or finer observa- 
tion to elevate it, the manner alone, whimsical and 
ingenious as it is, becomes a trifle wearisome. The 
euphuistic ingenuity of All Fools' Day is not a pleas- 
ing sample of Lamb's faculty. 

His friend Bernard Barton wrote of him in a sonnet. 

From the olden time 
Of authorship, thy patent should be dated. 
And thou with Marvell, Browne, and Burton, mated. 

This trio of authors is well chosen. There is no poet 
he loves better to quote than Marvell, and none with 
whose poetic vein his own is more in sympathy. 


Lamb received his impressions from nature (unless it 
was in Hertfordshire) largely through the medium of 
books, and he makes it clear that old-fashioned 
garden-scenes come to him first with their peculiar 
charm when he meets with them in Milton or Marvell. 
But the second name cited by Barton is the most 
important of all among the influences on Lamb's 
style and the cast of his thought. Of all old writers, 
the author of the Urn Burial and the lleltgio Medici 
appears oftenest, in quotation or allusion, in the Essays 
of Elia. Lamb somewhere boasts that he first 
" among the modems " discovered and proclaimed his 
excellences. And though Lamb never (so far as I 
can discover) caught the special rhythm of Browne's 
sentences, it is from him that he adopted the constant 
habit just referred to, of asserting his opinions, feel- 
ings, and speculations in the first person. Different 
as are the two men in other regards, Lamb's egotism 
is largely the egotism of Sir Thomas Browne. From 
Browne too he probably caught a certain habit of 
gloomy paradox, in dwelling on the mysteries of the 
supernatural world. His sombre musings upon death 
in the essay called New Yeai^s Ere bear the strong 
impress of Browne, notwithstanding that they are 
antagonistic (perhai)s consciously) to a remarkable 
passage in the Beliffio Medici And even in his lighter 
vein of speculation, Lamb's |)er8istent use of the first 
jMjrson often reads as if he were humorously parody- 
ing the same original. 

A large portion of Lamb's history is related in 


these essays, and with the addition of a few names 
and dates, a complete biography might be constructed 
from them alone. As we have seen, he tells of his 
childish thoughts and feelings, of his school days, his 
home in the Temple, the Hertfordshire village where 
he passed his holidays as a boy, and the University 
towns where he loved to spend them in manhood. 
He has drawn detailed portraits of his grandmother, 
his father, sister, and brother, and would no doubt 
have added that of his mother, but for the painful 
memories it would have brought to Mary. Of the 
incidents in the happier days of his life, when Mary 
was in good health, and the daily sharer in all in- 
terests and pleasures, he has written with a special 
charm. There is a passage in the essay called Old 
China without which any picture of their united life 
would be incomplete. The essay had begun by de- 
claring Lamb's partiality for old china, from which 
after a few paragraphs he diverges, by a modulation 
common with him, to the recollection of his past 
struggles. He had been taking tea, he says, with his 
cousin (under this relationship his sister Mary is 
always indicated), using a new set of china, and 
remarking to her on their better fortunes which 
enabled them to indulge now and again in the luxury 
of such a purchase, "when a passing sentiment 
seemed to overshade the brows of my companion. 
I am quick at detecting these summer clouds in 

" ' I wish the good old times would come again,' 

138 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

sho s;ii<l, ' when we were not quite so rich I do not 
mean that I want to be poor, but there was a middle 
state,' 80 she was pleased to ramble on, * in which I 
am sure we were a great deal happier. A purchase 
is but a purchase, now that you have money enough 
and to spare. Formerly it used to be a triumph. 
When we coveted a cheap litxury (and ! how much 
ado I had to get you to consent in those days !) we 
were used to have a debate two or three days before, 
and to weigh the for and against, and think what we 
might spare it out of, and what saving we could hit 
upon, that should be an equivalent. A thing was 
worth buying then, when we felt the money that we 
paid for it. 

" ' Do you remember the brown suit which you 
made to hang upon you, till all your friends cried 
shame upon you, it grew so threadbare, and all 
because of that folio Beaumont and Fletcher, which 
you dragged home late at night from Barker's in 
Covent Garden 1 Do you remember how we eyed it 
for weeks before we could make up our minds to the 
purchase, and had not come to a determination till 
it was near ten o'clock of the Saturday night, when 
you set off from Islington fearing you should be too 
late — and when the old bookseller, with some grum- 
bling, opened his shop, and by the twinkling taj)cr (for 
he was setting bedwards) lighted out the relic from 
his dusty treasures, and when you lugged it home, 
wishing it were twice as cumbersome, and when you 
presented it to me, and when we were exploring the 


perfectness of it [collating, you called it), and while I 
was repairing some of the loose leaves with paste, 
which your impatience would not suffer to be left 
till daybreak — was there no pleasure in being a poor 
man 1 or can those neat black clothes which you 
wear now, and are so careful to keep brushed, since 
we have become rich and finical, give you half the 
honest vanity with which you flaunted it about in 
that over-worn suit — your old corbeau — for four or 
five weeks longer than you should have done, to 
pacify your conscience for the mighty sura of fifteen 
or sixteen shillings, was it 1 — a great affair we thought 
it then — which you had lavished on the old folio 1 
Now you can afford to buy any book that pleases you, 
but I do not see that you ever bring me home any 
nice old purchases now.' " 

The essay Blakesmow in H shire has been 

more than once referred to in connection with Lamb's 
old grandmother, Mrs. Field. The essay acquires a 
new interest when it is known how much of fact is 
contained in it. William Plumer, who represented 
his county in parliament for so many years, and was 
at the time of his death in 1822 member for Higham 
Ferrers, left his estates at Gilston and Blakesware to 
his widow, apparently with the understanding that 
the old Blakesware mansion should be pulled down. 
Accordingly not long before the date of Lamb's essay 
(September 1824) it had been levelled to the ground ; 
and some of the more valuable of its contents, includ- 
ing the busts of the Twelve Caesars, so often dwelt 

140 CHARLES LAMB chap 

on by Lamb in letter or essay, removed to the other 
house at Gilston. Under its roof, and among its 
gardens and terraces, Lamb's happiest days as a child 
had been spent, and he hatl just been to look once 
more on the few vestiges still remaining : — 

I do not know a pleasure more affecting than to range 
at will over the deserted apartments of some fine old 
family mansion. The traces of extinct grandeur admit 
of a better passion than envy ; and contemplations on the 
great and good, whom we fancy in succession to have been 
its inhabitants, weave for us illusions incompatible with 
the bustle of modern occupancy, and vanities of foolish 
present aristocracy. The same difference of feeling, I 
think, attends us between entering an empty and a 
crowded church. In the latter it is chance but some 
present human frailty — an act of inattention on the jiart 
of some of the auditory, or a trait of affectation, or worse, 
vain glory, on that of the preacher — puts us by our best 
thoughts, disharmonising the place and the occasion. But 
would'st thou know the beauty of holiness ? Go alone on 
some weekday, borri)wing the keys of good Master Sexton, 
traverse the cool aisles of some country church ; think of 
the piety that has kneeled there — the congregations, old 
and young, that have found consolation there — the meek 
pastor, the docile parishioner. With no disturbing emo- 
tions, no cross, conflicting comparisons, drink in the 
tranquillity of the place, till thou thyself become as fixed 
and motionless as the marble efiigies that kneel and weep 
around thee. 

Journeying northward lately, I could not resist going 
•ome few miles out of my road to look upon the remains 


of an old great house with which I had been impressed 
in this way in infancy. I was apprised that the owner 
of it had lately pulled it down ; still I had a vague notion 
that it could not all have perished, that so nivich solidity 
with magnificence could not have been crushed all at once 
into the mere dust and rubbish which I found it. 

The work of ruin had proceeded with a swift hand 
indeed, and the demolition of a few weeks had reduced it 
to an antiquity. 

I was astonished at the indistinction of everything. 
Where had stood the great gates ? What bounded the 
courtyard ? Whereabout did the outhouses commence ? 
A few bricks only lay as representatives of that which was 
so stately and so spacious. 

Death does not shrink up his human victim at this 
rate. The burnt ashes of a man weigh more in their pro- 

Had I seen these brick and mortar knaves at their 
process of destruction, at the plucking of every panel I 
should have felt the varlets at my heart. I should have 
cried out to them to spare a plank at least out of the 
cheerful store-room, in whose hot window-seat I used to 
sit and read Cowley, with the grass-plot before, and the 
hum and flappings of that one solitary wasp that ever 
haunted it about me — it is in mine ears now, as oft as 
summer returns ; or a panel of the yellow room. 

Why, every plank and panel of that house for me had 
magic in it. The tapestried bedrooms — 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-enccmnteE 

142 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

wiili those stern bright visages, staring reciprocally — all 
Ovid on the walls — in colours vivider than his descrip- 
tions. Actacon in mid sprout, with the unappeasable 
prudery of Diana ; and the still more provoking and 
almost culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus, eel-fashion, de- 
liberately divesting of Marsyas. 

Tlien that haunted room — in which old Mrs. Battle 
died — whereinto I have crept, but always in the daytime, 
with a passion of fear ; and a sneaking curiosity, terror- 
tainted, to hold communication with the past. — How shall 
they hiild it up again ? 

It was an old deserted place, yet not so long deserted 
but that traces of the splendour of past inmates were 
everywhere apparent. Its furniture was still standing, 
even to the tarnished gilt-leather battledores and crumbling 
feathers of shuttlecocks in the nursery, which told that 
children had once played there. But I was a lonely 
child, and had the range at will of every apartment, knew 
every nook and comer, wondered and worshipped every- 
where. The solitude of childhood is not so much the 
mother of thought, as it is the feeder of love, and silence, 
and admiration. So strange a passion for the place pos- 
sessed me in thone years, that though there lay — I shame 
to say how few roods distant from the mansion — lialf hid 
by trees, what I judged some romantic lake, such was the 
spell which bound me to the house, and such my careful- 
ness not to pass its strict and proper precincts, that the 
idle waters lay unexplored for me ; and not till late in 
life, curiosity prevailing over elder devotion, I found, to 
my astonishment, a pretty brawling brook had been the 
Lacus Incognitus of my infancy. Variegated views, exten- 
sive prospects — and those at no great distance from the 


house — I was told of such — what were they to me, being 
out of the boundaries of my Eden ? So far from a wish 
to roam, I would have drawn, methought, still closer the 
fences of my chosen prison ; and have been hemmed in 
by a yet securer cincture of those excluding garden walls. 
I could have exclaimed with that garden-loving poet — 

Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines ; 
Curl me about, ye gadding vines : 
And oh so close your circles lace, 
That I may never leave this place : 
But lest your fetters prove too weak, 
Ere I your silken bondage break. 
Do you, brambles, chain me too. 
And, courteous briars, nail me through.^ 

I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug firesides, the low- 
built roof, parlours ten feet by ten, frugal boards, and all 
the homeliness of home — these were the condition of my 
birth — the wholesome soil which I was planted in. 

Yet without impeachment to their tenderest lessons, I 
am not sorry to have had glances of something beyond ; 
and to have taken, if but a peep, in childhood, at the con- 
trasting accidents of a great fortune. 

In this essay, save for the change of Blakesware to 
Blakesmoor, the experience is related without disguise. 
But it is not always easy to disengage fact from 
fiction in these more personal confessions. Lamb had 
a love of mystifying and putting his readers on a 
false scent. And the difficulty of getting at the truth 
is the gi'eater because he is often most outspoken 
when we should expect him to be reticent, and on the 
1 llarvell on Appleton House, to the Lord Fairfax. 

144 CHARLES LAMB cnxr. 

other hand alters names and places when there would 
seem to be little reason for it A curious instance of 
this habit is supplied by the touching reverie called 
Dream Children. This essay appeared in the London 
for January 1822. Lamb's elder brother John was 
then lately dead. A letter to Wordsworth, of March 
in this year, mentions his death as recent, and speaks 
of a certain "deadness to everything," which the 
writer dated from that event The " broad, biu-ly, 
jovial " John Lamb (so Talfourd describes him) had 
lived his own, easy, prosperous life up to this time, 
not altogether avoiding social relations with his 
brother and sister, but evidently absorbed to the last 
in his own interests and pleasures. The death of this 
brother, wholly unsympathetic as he was with Charles, 
served to bring home to him his loneliness. He was 
left in the world with but one near relation, and that 
one too often removed from him for months at a time 
by the saddest of afflictions. No wonder if he became 
keenly aware of his solitude. No wonder if his 
thoughts turned to what might have been, and he 
looked back to those boyish days when he wandered in 
the glades of Blakesware with Alice by his side. Ho 
imagines himself with his little ones, who have crept 
round him to hear stories about their "great-grand- 
mother Field." For no reason that is apparent, while 
he retains his grandmother's real name, he places the 
house in Norfolk, but all the details that follow are 
drawn from Blakesware. "Then I went on to say 
how religious and how good their great-grandmother 


Field was, how beloved and respected by everybody, 
though she was not indeed the mistress of this great 
house, but had only the charge of it (and yet in some 
respects she might be said to be the mistress of it too) 
committed to her by its owner, who preferred living 
in a newer and more fashionable mansion which he 
had purchased somewhere in an adjoining county;^ 
but still she lived in it in a manner as if it had been 
her own, and kept up the dignity of the great house 
in a sort while she lived, which afterwards came to 
decay, and was nearly pulled down, and all its old 
ornaments stripped and carried away to the owner's 
other house, where they were set up, and looked as 
awkward as if some one were to carry away the old 
tombs they had seen lately at the abbey and stick 
them up in Lady C.'s tawdry gilt drawing-room. 
Here John smiled, as much as to say, * That would be 
foolish indeed.' " 

Inexpressibly touching, Avhen we have once learned 
to penetrate the thin disguise in which he clothes 
them, are the hoarded memories, the tender regrets, 
which Lamb, writing by his "lonely hearth," thus 
ventured to commit to the uncertain sympathies of 
the great public. More touching still is the almost 
superhuman sweetness with which he deals with the 
character of his lately lost brother. He had named 
his little ones after this brother, and after their 
" pretty dead mother " — John and Alice. And there 

^ This is, of course, Gilston, the other seat of the Plumcr 


146 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

is something of the magic of genius, unless, indeed, 
it was a burst of uncontrollable anguish, in the revela- 
tion with which his dream ends. He kept still, as 
always, the secret of his beloved's name. But he tells 
us who it was that won the prize from him, and it is no 
secret that in this case the real name is given. 

Then in somewhat a more heightened tone, I told how, 
though their great-gi-and mother Field loved all her grand- 
children, yet in an especial manner she might be said to 

love their uncle, John L , because he was so liandsome 

and spirited a youth, and a king to the rest of us ; and 
instead of moping about in solitary corners, like some of 
us, he would mount the most mettlesome horse he could 
get, when but an imp no bigger than tliemselves, and 
make it carry him lialf over the county in a morning, and 
join the hunters when there were any out ; and yet he 
loved the old house and gardens too, but had too much 
spirit to be always pent up within their boundaries ; and 
how their uncle grew up to man's estate as brave as he 
was handsome, to the admiration of everybody, but of 
their great-grandmother Field most e8j)ecially ; and how 
he used to carry me u]K)n his back wlien I was a lame- 
footed boy — for he was a good bit older than me — many 
a mile when I coidd not walk for pain ; and how in after- 
life he became lame-footed too, and I did not always (I 
fear) make allowance enough for him when he was impa- 
tient and in pain, nor remember sufficiently how considerate 
he had been to me when I was lame-footed ; and how 
when he died, though he had not 1>een dead an Iiour, it 
seemed as if he had died a great while ago, such a distance 
there is betwixt life and death ; and how I bore his death 


as I thought pretty well at first, but afterwards it haunted 
and haunted me ; and though I did not cry or take it to 
heart as some do, and as I think he would have done if I 
had died, yet I missed him all day long and knew not till 
then how much I had loved him. I missed his kindness 
and I missed his crossness, and wished him to be alive 
again to be quarrelling with him (for we quarrelled some- 
times), rather than not have him again, and was as uneasy 
without him as he their poor uncle must have been when 
the doctor took off his limb. Here the children fell a- 
crying, and asked if their little mourning which they had 
on was not for Uncle John, and they looked up and prayed 
me not to go on about their uncle, but to tell them some 
stories about their pretty dead mother. Then I told how 
for seven long years, in hope sometimes, sometimes in 
despair, yet persisting ever, I courted the fair Alice 

W n ; and as much as children could understand, 1 

explained to them what coyness and diflBculty and denial 
meant in maidens — when suddenly, turning to Alice, the 
soul of the first Alice looked out at her eyes with such a 
reality of representment, that I became in doubt which of 
them stood there before me, or whose that bright hair 
was ; and while I stood gazing, both the children gradually 
grew fainter to my view, receding, and still receding till 
nothing at last but two mournful features were seen in the 
uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely im- 
pressed upon me the effects of speech : " We are not of 
Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all. The children 
of Alice call Bartram father. We are nothing ; less than 
nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, 
and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of 
ages before we have existence and a name " — and immedi- 

148 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

ately awaking I found myself quietly BeateJ in my bachelor 
arm-chair, where I had fallen asleep, with the faithful 
Bridget unchanged by my side ; but John L. (or James 
Elia) was gone for ever. 

The space available for quotation is exhausted, and 
many sides of Lamb's peculiar faculty are still unre- 
presented. Those who have yet to make his ac- 
quaintance may be advised to read, in addition to 
those already named, the essay On, Some of the Old 
Adors, containing the analysis of the character of 
Malvolio, a noble example of the uses which Shak- 
spearian criticism may be made to serve — the extract 
from a letter to his friend Barron Field, a judge in 
New South Wales, entitled Distant Correspondents, and 
that called The Praise of Chimney Sweepers. Belonging 
to the personal group, which includes Blakesmoor and 
Dream Children, is the paper Mockery End in Hertford- 
shire, scarcely less delightful. The two critical essays 
on Sidney and Wither (the latter, however, docs not 
belong to the Elia series) contain some of Lamb's 
most subtle criticism and most eloquent writing. 
Barbara S. is an anecdote of Fanny Kelly's early life ; 
and Captain Jackson is a character-sketch, which, 
despite the vast difference between the two writers, 
curiously suggests the fine hand of Miss Austen. 
Lastly, the paper with the startling title, Confessions 
of a Drunkard, is not to be overlooked. A strange 
interest attaches to this paper. It had been originally 
written by Lamb, at the request of his friend, Basil 
Montagu, as a contribution to a volume of selections 


in prose and verse on the temperance question.^ In 
this capacity it had been quoted in an article in the 
Quarterly, for April 1822, as "a fearful picture of the 
consequences of intemperance," which the reviewer 
went on to say "we have reason to know is a true 
tale." In order to give the author the opportunity of 
contradicting this statement, the tract was reprinted 
in the London in the following August, under the 
signature of Elia. To it were appended a few words 
of remonstrance with the Quarterly reviewer for 
assuming the literal truthfulness of these confessions, 
but accompanied with certain significant admissions 
that showed Lamb had no right to be seriously indig- 
nant. "It is indeed," he writes, "a compound 
extracted out of his long observations of the effects of 
drinking upon all the world about him; and this 
accumulated mass of misery he hath centred (as the 
custom is with judicious essayists) in a single figure. 
We deny not that a portion of his own experiences 
may have passed into the picture (as who, that is not 
a washy fellow, but must at some time have felt the 
after-operation of a too generous cup f) ; but then how 
heightened ! how exaggerated ! how little within the 
sense of the Eeview, where a part, in their slanderous 
usage, must be understood to stand for the whole." 
The truth is that Lamb in writing his paper had been 
playing with edge-tools, and could hardly have com- 
plained if they turned against himself. It would be 

^ Some Enquiries into the Effects of Fermented Liquors. By 
a Water-Drinker. 1814. 

150 CHARLES LAMB chaf. 

those who knew Lamb, or at least the circumstances 
of his life, best, who would be most likely to accept 
these confessions as true. For in the course of them 
he gives with curious fidelity the outline of an experi- 
ence that was certainly not imaginary. The " friendly 
harpies " who came about him for his gin-and-water, 
and made its consumption more and more a habit ; 
the exchange of these in due course for companions of 
a better type, " of intrinsic and felt worth ; " the sub- 
stitution for a while, under the inBuence of two of 
these, of the " sweet enemy " tobacco, and the new 
slavery to this counter-attraction ; the increasing need 
of stimulant to set his wits to work, and the buffoonery 
indulged under its effects, — all this is told in a way 
that no friend of Lamb could affect to mistake. No 
doubt the exaggeration which Lamb pleads is there 
also, and the dnxnkard's utter collapse and misery arc 
described in a style which, as applied to himself, was 
absurd. But to call the insinuation that the tract had 
in it biographic truth, " malignant," as some of Lamb's 
apologists have done, is not less absurd. The essay 
has enough reality in it to live as a very powerful 
plea for the virtue of self-restraint, and it may 
continue to do good service in the cause. 

De Quincey has observed that one chief pleasure 
we derive from Lamb's writing is due to a secret 
satisfaction in feeling that his admirers must always 
of necessity be a select few. There is an unpleasantly 
cynical flavour about the remark, but at the same time 
one understands to what it points. Thoroughly to 


understand and enjoy Charles Lamb, one must have 
come to entertain a feeling towards him almost like 
personal affection, and such a circle of intimates will 
always be small. It is necessary to come to the study 
of his writings in entire trustfulness, and having first 
cast away all prejudice. The reader must be content 
to enjoy what is set before him, and not to grumble 
because any chance incident on the road tempts the 
writer away from the path on which he set out. If 
an essay is headed Oxfwd in the Vacation, he must not 
complain that only half the paper touches on Oxford, 
and that the rest is divided between the writer Elia 
and a certain absent-minded old scholar, George Dyer, 
on whose peculiarities Lamb was never weary of 
dwelling. What, then, is the compensating charm 1 
What is there in these rambling and multifarious 
meditations that proves so stimulating and suggestive ? 
There is an epithet commonly applied to Lamb so 
hackneyed that one shrinks from using it once more 
— the epithet "delightful." No other word certainly 
seems more appropriate, and it is perhaps because (in 
defiance of etymology) the sound of it suggests that 
double virtue of illuminating, and making happy. It is 
in vain to attempt to convey an idea of the impression 
left by Lamb's style. It evades analysis. One might 
as well seek to account for the perfume of lavender, 
or the flavour of quince. It is in truth an essence, 
prepared from flowers and herbs gathered in fields 
where the ordinary reader does not often range. And 
the nature of the writer — the alembic in which these 


various simples were distilled — was as rare for sweet- 
ness and purity as the best of those enshrined in the 
old folios — his "midnight darlings." If he had by 
nature the delicate grace of Marvell, and the quaint 
fancy of Quarles, he also shared the chivalry of 
Sidney, and could lay on himself "the lowliest 
duties," in the spirit of his best-beloved of all, John 
Milton. It is the man, Charles Lamb, that constitutes 
the enduring charm of his written words. He is, as 
I have said, an egotist — but an egotist without a touch 
of vanity or self-assertion — an egotist without a grain 
of envy or ill-nature. When asked one day whether 
he did not hate some person under discussion, he 
retorted, "How could I hate himi Don't I know 
him ? I never could hate any one I knew." It is this 
humanity that gives to his intellect its flexibility and 
its deep vision, that is the feeder at once of his pathos 
and his humour. 






The last six years of Lamb's life, though the most 
remarkable in his literary annals, had not been fruit- 
ful in incident. The death of his elder brother, 
already mentioned, was the one event that nearly 
touched his heart and spirits. Its effect had been, 
with the loss of some other friends about the same 
time, to produce, he said, "a certain deadness to 
everything." It had brought home to him his lone- 
liness, and moreover served to increase a long-felt 
weariness of the monotony of office life. Already, in 
the beginning of 1822, he was telling Wordsworth : 
"I grow ominously tired of official confinement. 
Thirty years have I served the Philistines, and my 
neck is not subdued to the yoke. You don't know 
how wearisome it is to breathe the air of four pent 
walls, without relief, day after day, all the golden 


hours of the day between ten and four, without ease 
or interposition. Taidet me harum qmtidiananim for- 
marum^ these pestilential clerk-faces always in one's 
dish. ... I dare not whisper to myself a pension on 
this side of absolute incapacitation and infirmity, till 
years have sucked me dry — otium cum indignitaU. I 
had thought in a green old age (0 green thought !) 
to have retired to Ponder's End, emblematic name, 
how beautiful ! in the Ware Road, there to have 
made up my accounts with heaven and the Company, 
toddling about it between it and Cheshunt, anon 
stretching, on some fine Isaac Walton morning, to 
Hoddesden or Amwell, careless as a beggar; but 
walking, walking ever, till I fairly walked myself off 
my legs, dying walking ! The hope is gone. I sit 
like Philomel all day (but not singing) with my heart 
against this thorn of a desk." Very touching, by the 
side of the delightfiU suggestion of Ponder's End, is 
the dream of retirement to the Ware Road — the road, 
that is to say, that led to Widford and Blakesware. 
If these were not to him exactly what Auburn was 
to Goldsmith, he still at times had hopes — 

His long vexation past, 
There to return, and die at home at lost. 

Three years were, however, to elapse before he was 
at liberty to choose his own place of residence. It is 
significant that though he could never bring himself 
to live quite beyond reach of town, and the " sweet 
security of streets," it was in the Hertfordshire 


direction that he turned in his last days, and died 
as it were half-way between London and that quiet 
Hertfordshire village, the two places he loved best 
on earth. 

There was one incident in those Russell Street 
days that would have been an event indeed in the 
life of most home-keeping men who had reached 
middle life without having once left English shores. 
In the summer holiday of 1822 Charles and his 
sister made a trip to Paris. James Kenney, the 
dramatist, who had married a French lady, was 
living with his family at Versailles, and had invited 
the Lambs to be his guests. They left England in the 
middle of June, and two months later we find Mary 
Lamb still in Paris, and seeing the sights under the 
direction of their friend, Crabb Robinson. Charles, 
who had returned earlier to England, had left a 
characteristic note of instructions for his sister's guid- 
ance, advising her to walk along the " Borough side 
of the Seine," where she would find a mile and a half 
of print-shops and bookstalls. " Then," he adds, not 
unfairly describing a first impression of Pere-la-Chaise, 
" there is a place where the Paris people put all their 
dead people, and bring them flowers and dolls and 
gingerbread-nuts and sonnets and such trifles ; and 
that is all, I think, worth seeing as sights, except 
that the streets and shops of Paris are themselves 
the best sight," In a note to Barron Field on his 
return he adds a few more of his experiences, how 
he had eaten frogs, fricasseed, " the nicest little deli- 


cate things," and how the Seine was " exactly the 
size to run through a magnificent street." 

He finds time, however, to add to his hasty note 
the pleasant intelligence that he had met Talma, 
doubtless through Kenney's introduction. Talma 
had lately given a thousand francs for what he was 
assured was an authentic portrait of Shakspeare, and 
he invited Kenney to bring Lamb to see it.^ " It is 
painted," Lamb writes, "on the one half of a pair of 
bellows, a lovely picture, corresponding with the folio 
head." It is hard to believe that Lamb had any 
doubts about the spuriousness of this relic, though 
his language on the point is dubious. He quotes the 
rhymes " in old carved wooden letters " that sur- 
rounded the {x>rtrait, and adds the significant remark 
that Ireland was not found out by his parchments, 
but by his poetry. And perhaps he did not wish to 
hurt Talma's feelings. It was arranged that the 
party should see the tragedian in Regulus the same 
evening, and that he should sup with them after thei)er- 
formance. Lamb, we are told, '* could not at all enter 
into the spirit of French acting, and in his general 
distaste made no exception in favour of his intended 
guest. This, however, did not prevent their mutual 
and high relish of each other's character and conver- 
sation, nor was any allusion made to the performance, 
till, on rising to go. Talma inquireil how he liked it 

* The Shakspeare Portrait imposture is exposed in an article 
in Chambers's Journal of 27th September 1 856, " The AiMx:ryphal 
ia Portraitare." 


Lamb shook his head and smiled. ' Ah ! ' said Talma. 
' I was not very happy to-night : you must see me in 
Sylla.' — 'Incidit in Scyllam,' said Lamb,' qui vult 
vitare Charybdim.' — 'Ah ! you are a rogue ; you are 
a great rogue,' said Talma, shaking him cordially by 
the hand, as they parted." 

There is a sad story, only too likely to be true, 
that Mary Lamb was seized with one of her old 
attacks on the journey, and had to be left at Amiens 
in charge of her attendant. If so, it may account for 
her brother avoiding the subject in later essays and 
letters. An Elia essay embodying even the surface 
impressions of a month's stay in Paris would have 
been a welcome addition to the number. Lamb was 
usually prompt to seize on the latest incident in his 
life and turn it to this purpose. When short-sighted 
George Dyer, leaving the cottage at Islington, walked 
straight into the New Eiver in broad daylight, the 
adventure appears the very next month in the London 
Magazine, under the heading of Amicus Bedivivus. 
But France and the French do not seem to have 
opened any new vein of humour or observation. In 
truth. Lamb was unused to let his sympathies go 
forth save in certain customary directions. Any 
persons, and any book that he had come to know 
well — any one of the "old familiar faces" — served 
to draw out those sympathies. But novelties he 
almost always passed by unmoved. 

The first series of Lamb's essays, under the title of 
Elia — Essays that have appeared under that signature 


in the London Magazine — was published in a single 
volume by Taylor and Hessey at the opening of the 
year 1823. It contained the contributions of some- 
thing less than two years. As yet there was assuredly 
no sign of failing power in the brain and heart that 
produced them. Nor did Lamb cease to contribute to 
the magazine and elsewhere after the appearance of 
the first volume. The second series, published ten 
years later, is an exception to the rule that sequels 
must necessarily be failures. Old China and Poor 
Belations, the Old Margate Hoy, Blakesmoor, Barbara S., 
and the Superannuated Man, which are found in the 
second series, exhibit all Lamb's qualities at their 
highest It was perhaps only a passing mood of 
melancholy that made him write to Bernard Barton, 
in March 1823, when the book had already begun to 
make its mark — "They have dragged me again into 
the magazine, but I feel the spirit of the thing in my 
own mind quite gone. ' Some brains ' (I think Ben 
Jonson says it) ' will endure but one skimming.' " But 
another cause for this depression may have been at 
work. There was a painful incident connected with 
the Elia volume from the first, for which even the 
quick appreciation of the public could not compensate. 
There had been one exception to the welcome with 
which the book had been greeted. A word of grave 
disapprobation, or what had seemed such to Lamb, 
had been heard amid the chorus of approval, and this 
word had been spoken by a dear and valued friend. 
In the Quarterly Review of January 1823 appeared 


an article, known to be by Southey, professing to be 
a review of a work by Gregoire, ex-Bishop of Blois, 
on the rise and progress of Deism in France. After 
the fashion of reviewers, Sonthey had made the book 
an occasion for a general survey of the spread of free 
thought in England as well as abroad, and the 
article was issued with the alarming title. Progress of 
Infidelity. Towards its close Southey is led charac- 
teristically into many general reflections on the 
reasonableness of belief, and the unreasonableness of 
scepticism, and while engaged on this line of thought, 
it seems to have occurred to him that he might at 
once "point a moral" and call attention to a friend's 
book, by a quotation from the then newly published 
volume of Lamb. And this is how he set about it : — 
"Unbelievers have not always been honest enough 
thus to express their real feelings ; but this we know 
concerning them, that when they have renounced 
their birthright of hope, they have not been able 
to divest themselves of fear. From the nature of the 
human mind this might be presumed, and in fact it is 
so. They may deaden the heart and stupefy the 
conscience, but they cannot destroy the imaginative 
faculty. There is a remarkable proof of this in ElicCs 
Essays, a book which wants only a sounder religious 
feeling to be as delightful as it is original. In that 
upon Witches and other Night Fears, he says * It is not 
book or picture, or the stories of foolish servants, 
which create these terrors in children. They can at 
most but give them a direction. Dear little T. H., 

160 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

who of all children has been brought up with the most 
scrupulous exclusion of every taint of superstition, who 
was never allowed to hear of goblin or apparition, or 
scarcely to be told of bad men, or to hear or read of 
any distressing story, finds all this world of fear, from 
which he has been so rigidly excluded ab extra, in his 
own " thick-coming fancies ;" and from his little mid- 
night pillow this nurse-child of optimism will start at 
shapes, unborrowed of tradition, in sweats to which 
the reveries of the cell -damned murderer are tran- 

I have had occasion to refer to this essay before, in 
speaking of Lamb's childhood For, as usual, it 
originated in his own experience. He was led to relate 
how from the age of four to seven his nightly sleep 
had been disturbed by childish terrors, in which the 
grim picture of Saul and the Wit«h, in Stackhouse's 
History of the Bible, had borne so prominent a part. 
And then, in order to strengthen his argument that 
these terrors are nervous, and not to be traced to any 
gloomy or improper religious training, he cites the 
parallel case, within his own knowledge, of "dear 
little T. H." All Lamb's friends and associates knew 
that this was little Thornton Hunt, Leigh Hunt's 
eldest son. The use of initials was really no disguise 
at all. Lamb admitted in his subsequent remonstrance 
with Southey that to call him T. H. was "as good as 
naming him." If the sanctity of private life had been 
violated, it was certainly Lamb who had set the 
example. But, as certainly, he had said nothing to 


the discredit of the poor child or his parents. Ac- 
cording to the ethics of journalism current sixty years 
ago there was nothing uncommon in this way of 
indicating living people. Lamb was specially fond of 
bringing in his friends and acquaintances by their 
initials. His own family, Coleridge, Norris, Barron 
Field, and many others, occur repeatedly in his writ- 
ings in this guise. He was intimate with Leigh Hunt 
and his young family, and sincerely attached to them. 
Nothing had been further from his thoughts than to 
cast any kind of slight upon the little boy, " Thornton 
Hunt, my favourite child," or his educators. It must 
therefore have been with something more than disgust 
that he found the Quarterly Reviewer proceeding, 
after the passage just cited, to point out with unmis- 
takable animus that such nervous terrors were easily 
to be accounted for in the case of one who had been 
brought up in ignorance of all the facts and consola- 
tions of the Christian religion. 

It is possible that this gratuitous attack upon a 
political opponent, through his own child, was not 
added to the article until after it had left Southey's 
hands. All that we know from Southey himself is 
that his sole object in mentioning Lamb's volume had 
been to call attention to its general merits — that he 
had in the first instance written " a saiur religious feel- 
ing," which was the word that exactly expressed his 
meaning; that happily remembering in time the 
previous history of the Lamb family, he had hastily 
changed the word to " sounder," meaning to re-cast 


the sentence when the article returned to him in 
proof, and that the opportunity never came. Wo 
may be sure that this explanation represents the 
whole truth. Southey had written to his friend 
Wynn, in the very month in which the article ap- 
peared : " Read Elia, if the book has not fallen in 
your way. It is by my old friend, Charles Lamb. 
There are some things in it which will offend, and 
some which will pain you, as they do me ; but you 
will find in it a rich vein of pure gold." And the 
things which pained him were certainly of a kind 
about which the word sane might be more properly 
used than the word sound. Lamb was probably mis- 
taken in thinking that Southey referred to certain 
familiarities, if not flippancies, of expression on serious 
subjects that he may at times have indulged in. On 
this score he had a fair retort ready in the various 
ballads of dialjleiie that Southey had not disdained to 
write, and to publish. Nor was Southey, we may be 
sure, offended by so genuinely earnest a plea for 
temperance and rational gratitude as is contained in 
the essay Grace be/ore Meat. Rather (as Lamb evi- 
dently suspected) was it such a vein of speculation as 
that followed out in New Year's Eve, which would 
cause a strange chill to the simple faith and steadfast 
hopefulness of his friend. As I have said^ Lamb 
seems in this essay to have written with the express 
purpose of presenting the reverse side of a passage in 
his favourite Religio Medici. Sir Thomas Browne had 
there written : " I thank God I have not those strait 


ligaments, or narrow obligations to the world, as to 
dote on life, or be convulsed and tremble at the name 
of death." "When I take a full view and circle of 
myself without this reasonable moderator, and equal 
piece of justice, death, I do conceive myself the 
miserablest person extant." Lamb may have argued 
(in the very words applied to this treatise in the essay 
on Imperfect Sympathies) that it was all very well for 
the author of the JReligio Medici, " mounted upon the 
airy stilts of abstraction," to "overlook the imper- 
tinent individualities of such poor concretions as 
mankind," but that to him, Elia, death meant some- 
thing by no means to be defined as a "reasonable 
moderator," and "equal piece of justice." He clung 
to the things he saw and loved — the friends, the 
books, the streets and crowds around him, and he was 
not ashamed to confess that death meant for him the 
absence of all these, and that he could not look it 
steadfastly in the face. 

It is worth noticing that the profound melancholy 
of this essay had already attracted attention, and 
formed the subject of a copy of verses, in the form of 
a Poetical Epistle to Elia, signed " Olen," in the London 
Magazine for August 1821.^ Elia had been there 
taken to task, in lines of much eloquence and feeling, 

^ The lines were by the late Sir Charles Elton, of Clevedon 
Court, Somersetshire, a frequent contributor at the time to the 
London Magazine. They were afterwards included by him in 
a volume Boyhood, and other Poems, published in 1835. (See 
Letters of Charles LamA, ii. pp. 35 and 313.) 


for his negative views on the subject of a future life. 
And indeed, for all the dallying with paradox, and 
the free blending of fact with fiction, in this singular 
paper, the fragments of personal confession are very 
remarkable. There are few things in literature more 
pathetic than the contrast drawn between the two 
stages of his own life, as if he would have given the 
lie sadly to his friend's adage about the child being 
father of the man : — 

If I know aught of myself, no one whose mind is 
introspective — and mine is painfully so— can have a less 
respect for bis present identity, than I have for the man 
Elio. I know him to be light, and vain, and humor- 
some ; a notorious . . . ; addicted to ... ; averse from 
coimsel, neither taking it nor offering it ; . . . besides ; a 
stammering buffoon ; what you will ; lay it on, and spare 
not ; I subscribe to it all, and much more than thou canst 
be willing to lay at his door — but for the child Elia — 
that " other me " there in the background — I must take 
leave to cherish the remembrance of that young master, 
with as little reference, I protest, to this stupid changeling 
of five-and-forty as if it had been a child of some other 
house, and not of my parents. I can cry over its patient 
small-pox at five, and rougher medicaments. I can lay 
its poor fevered head upon the sick pillow at Christ's, 
and wake with it in surprise at the gentle posture of 
maternal tenderness hanging over it, that unknown had 
watched its sleep. I know how it shrank from any the 
least colour of falsehood. Qod help thee, Elia, how art 
thou changed ! Thou art sophisticated. I know how 
honest, how courageous (for a weakling) it was; how 


religious, how imaginative, how hopeful ! From what 
have I not fallen if the child I remember was indeed 
myself, and not some dissembling guardian, presenting a 
false identity, to give the rule to my unpractised steps, 
and regulate the tone of my moral being. 

Although the gloom is relieved by no ray of hope 
or consolation, the reality of the self-reproach might 
well have saved the writer from criticism, even as to 
the " sanity " of his religious feeling. 

Lamb was annoyed, rather than deeply hurt, by 
the attack upon himself. He had old grievances 
against the Quarterly Review. Eight or nine years 
before, he had written for it a review of Wordsworth's 
Excursion^ which Gifford inserted after alterations that 
Lamb compared to pulling out the eyes and leaving 
only the bleeding sockets. "I cannot give you an 
idea of what he (Gifford) has done to it," he wrote to 
Wordsworth. '* The langimge he has altered through- 
out. Whatever inadequateness it had to its subject, 
it was, in point of composition, the prettiest piece of 
prose I ever writ." And it is clear from the article 
itself, as it appears in the number for October 1814, 
that this language is not exaggerated. The sweetness 
and delicate perception of the author are there, but 
the diction bears little of his peculiar mark. Then 
had come the unfortunate reference to the Confessions 
of a Dnmkard, already mentioned. In general the 
Quarterly set were in implacable opposition to the Lamb 
set, and now, not for the first time, he had to hear 
hard things said, not only of himself, but of those who 


were bound to him by ties of strong affection. He 
seems not to have been informed of the attack till 
some months after its appearance. It is not till the 
July following, at least, that any mention of it occurs 
in his letters. In that month he writes to Bernard 
Barton : " Southey has attacked Elia on the score of 
infidelity, in the Quarterly article, Progress of Infidelity. 
He might have spared an old friend such a construc- 
tion of a few careless flights, that meant no harm to 
religion. If all his unguarded expressions on the 
subject were to be collected — but I love and respect 
Southey, and will not retort. I hate his review and 
his being a reviewer. The hint he has dropped will 
knock the sale of the book on the head, which was 
almost at a stop before." This last apprehension was 
evidently groundless. There is no reason to suppose 
that the book made its way more slowly for the para- 
graph in the review. For whatever here and there 
is morbid in them, the Essays themselves contain the 
best antidota 

Lamb could not resist the opportunity it aflforded 
him for a fresh essay of Elia, and in the London for 
October 1823 appeared the Letter of Elia to Robert 
Southey, Esq. As a whole, it is not one of Lamb's 
happiest efTorts. His more valid grounds of complaint 
against the review are set forth with sufficient dignity 
and force. He urges quite fairly that to say a book 
"wants a sounder rehgious feeling," is to say either 
too much or too little. And the indecency of attack- 
ing Leigh Hunt through his own child, a boy of 


twelve, is properly rebuked. But when Lamb carries 
the war into the enemy's territory, he is less success- 
ful. As two blacks do not make a Avhite, it was beside 
the mark to make laborious fun over Southey's 
youthful ballads; and the grievance as to the fees 
extorted from visitors to Westminster Abbey comes 
in rather flatly as a peroration. The concluding 
paragraphs of the letter are the only portions that 
Lamb afterwards thought well to reprint. They 
appeared, ten years later, in the Second Series of Elia 
under the title of Tombs of the Abbey. The letter, as 
a whole, is given in Mrs. Leicestei^s School, etc. 

Lamb was not so deeply moved by Southey's criti- 
cism but that he could make some sport over his 
annoyance. What actually galled him was the attack, 
through himself, upon a friend. In previous articles 
in the same Eeview he had found himself compli- 
mented at the expense of another friend, William 
Hazlitt And now he took the opportunity to vindi- 
cate his friendship for both Hunt and Hazlitt in a 
passage that forms the most interesting and valuable 
portion of the letter. There had been a coolness, 
he tells us, between himself and Hazlitt, and it is 
pleasant to know that Lamb's generosity of tone at 
this time helped to make the relations between them 
once more cordial. "Protesting," he says, "against 
much that he has written, and some things which he 
chooses to do ; judging him by his conversation which 
I enjoyed so long, and relished so deeply ; or by his 
books, in those places where no clouding passion 

168 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

intervenes, I should belie my own conscience if 1 
said less than that I think W. H. to be, in his natural 
and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest spirits 
breathing. So far from being ashamed of that in- 
timacy which was betwixt us, it is my boast that I 
was able for so many years to have preserved it 
entire ; and I think I shall go to my grave without 
finding or expecting to find such another companion." 
Not less manly and noble is the justification of his 
steady friendship for Leigh Hunt, at that time liv- 
ing abroad, and with a reputation in England of ill 
savour with those to whom the pages of the Quarterly 
were addressed. " L. R is now in Italy ; on his 
departure to which land, with much regret, I took 
my leave of him and of his little family, seven of 
them, sir, with their mother, and as kind a set of 
little people (T. H. and all), as afiFectionate children 
aa ever blessed a parent. Had you seen them, sir, I 
think you could not have looked upon them as so 
many little Jonases, but rather as pledges of the 
vessel's safety, that was to bear such a freight of love. 
I wish you would read Mr. H.'s lines to that same 
T. H., ' six years old, during a sickness ' — 

Sleep breathes at last from out tbee, 
My little patient boy — 

(they are to be found on the 47th page of Fdiage)— 
and ask yourself how far they are out of the spirit of 

As ho wrote these words, Lamb may have recalled 


how his own unfailing sympathy had been a comfort 
to this friend in those darker days when Leigh Hunt 
was undergoing his two years' imprisonment in the 
Surrey jail for his newspaper attack on the Prince 
Eegent. Lamb and his sister were among the Hunts' 
most regular visitors at that time. "My eldest little 
boy," writes Hunt in his Autobiography, " was my con- 
stant companion, and we used to play all sorts of 
juvenile games together." And it was on watching 
the child at play among the uncongenial surroundings 
of prison life that Lamb had written his own lines to 
" T. L. H. — a child," comforting child and father 
with the thought that the time of deliverance was at 
hand, when the boy would be once more in his native 
element, breathing the healthful air and plucking the 
wild flowers on Hampstead Heath. Lamb was 
always tender over children, and these lines have a 
simplicity, over and above their studied quaintness, 
that savours pleasantly of Blake : — 

Guileless traitor, rebel mild. 

Convict unconscious, culprit-child ! 

Gates that close with iron roar 

Have been to thee thy nursery door : 

Chains that chink in cheerless cells 

Have been thy rattles and thy bells : 

Walls contrived for giant sin 

Have hemmed thy faultless weakness in : 

Near thy sinless bed black guilt 

Her discordant house hath built, 

And filled it with her monstrous brood — 


Sights by thee not understood — 

Sights of fear, and of distress, 

That pass a harmless infant's guess ! 

But the clouds that overcast 

Thy young morning, may not last. 

Soon shall arrive the rescuing hour 

That yields thee up to Nature's power. 

Nature that so late doth greet thee 

Shall in o'erflowing measure meet thee. 

She shall recompense with cost 

For every lesson thou hast lost. 

Then wandering up thy sire's loved hill 

Thou shalt take thy airy fill 

Of health and pastime. Birds shall sing 

For thy delight each May morning. 

'Mid new-yeaned lambkins thou shalt play, 

Hardly less a lamb than they. 

Then thy prison's lengthened bound 

Shall be the horizon skirting round. 

And, while thou fiU'st thy lap with tlowcrs 

To make amends for wintry hours, 

Tlie breeze, the sunshine, and the place, 

Shall from thy tender brow efface 

Each vestige of untimely care 

That sour restraint had graven there ; 

And on thy every look impress 

A more excelling childishness. 

So shall be thy days beguiled, 

Thornton Hunt, my favourite child. 

Southey first learned from the pages of the London 
Magazine the effect of the language used by him in 


the Quarterly Review. " On my part," he wrote to his 
publisher, after reading Lamb's epistle, "there was 
not even a momentary feeling of anger. I was very 
much surprised and grieved, because I knew how 
much he would condemn himself, and yet no resent- 
ful letter was ever written less offensively ; his gentle 
nature may be seen in it throughout." Southey was 
in London in the month after the publication of 
Lamb's remonstrance, and wrote him a letter in lan- 
guage full of affection and sorrow. The soreness at 
once passed away. " Dear Southey," he replied, " the 
kindness of your note has melted away the mist which 
was upon me. I have been fighting against a shadow. 
That accursed Q. R. had vexed me by a gratuitous 
speaking, of its own knowledge, that the Confessions 

of a D d was a genuine description of the state of 

the writer. Little things that are not ill meant may 
produce much ill. That might have injured me alive 
and dead : I am in a public office, and my life is 
insured. I was prepared for anger, and I thought I 
saw in a few obnoxious words a hard case of repeti- 
tion directed against me. I Avish both Magazine and 
Review at the bottom of the sea. I shall be ashamed 
to see you, and my sister (though innocent) still more 
so ; for the folly was done without her knowledge, and 
has made her uneasy ever since. My guardian angel 
was absent at that time. I will muster up courage 
to see you, however, any day next week. We shall 
hope that you will bring Edith with you. That will 
be a second mortification. She will hate to see us ; 


but come, and heap embers. We deserve it — I for 
what I've done, and she for being my sister." The 
visit was paid, and the old intimacy renewed, never 
again to be weakened by unkindly word. 

In this note to Southey, Lamb has to tell of a 
change of address. In August of this year (1823) he 
and his sister had finally moved from Russell Street, 
and for the first time in their united lives became 
householders. The rooms over the brazier's had from 
the first had many drawbacks, and for some years 
the brother and sister had occasionally retired to a 
rural lodging at Dalston, partly to enjoy a short re- 
spite from the din of the theatres and the marketj 
but chiefly that Charles might be able to write with- 
out interruption from the increasing band of intruders 
on his scanty leisure. There is a pretty glimpse of 
one such period of retreat in a note to Miss Hutchin- 
son of April in this year — " Meanwhile of afternoons 
we pick up primroses at Dalston, and Mary corrects 
me when I call 'em cowslips." And now they re- 
solved to fix their tent permanently within reach of 
primroses and cowslips, and Charles must tell the 
story in his own words. He writes to Bernard 
Barton : *' When you come London ward, you will 
find me no longer in Covent Garden. I have a 
cottage in Colebrook Row, Islington ; a cottage, for 
it is detached ; a white house with six good rooms ; 
the New River (rather elderly by this time) runs (if 
a moderate walking pace can be so termed) close to 
the foot of the house; and behind is a spacious 


garden with vines (I assure you), pears, strawberries, 
parsnips, leeks, carrots, cabbages, to delight the heart 
of old Alcinous. You enter without passage into a 
cheerful dining-room, all studded over and rough 
with old books ; and above is a lightsome drawing- 
room, three windows, full of choice prints. I feel 
like a great lord, never having had a house before." 
The sequel must be given, so amusingly illustrative 
of the snares and pitfalls that are inseparable even 
from rural felicity : " I am so taken up with pruning 
and gardening, quite a new sort of occupation to me. 
I have gathered my Jargonels, but my Windsor pears 
are backward. The former were of exquisite raciness. 
I do now sit under my own vine and contemplate the 
growth of vegetable nature. I can now understand 
in what sense they speak of father Adam. I re- 
cognise the paternity while I watch my tulips. I 
almost fell with him, for the first day I turned a 
drunken gardener (as he let in the serpent) into my 
Eden, and he laid about him, lopping off some choice 
boughs, etc., which hung over from a neighbour's 
garden, and in his blind zeal laid waste a shade which 
had sheltered their window from the gaze of passers- 
by. The old gentlewoman (fury made her not hand- 
some) could scarcely be reconciled by all my fine 
words. There was no buttering her parsnips. She 
talked of the law. What a lapse to commit on the 
first day of my happy ' garden state ' ! " 

The same letter tells of the failing fortunes of the 
London Magazine. Lamb was still contributing to its 


pages, though not so regularly as of old. He speaks 
of himself as lingering among its creaking rafters, like 
the last rat, and of many ominous 'secessions from 
the ranks of its old supporters. Hazlitt and Procter 
had forsaken it, and with them one who might well 
have been spared before, the wretched Wainwright, 
who had contributed to its pages various flimsy and 
conceited rhapsodies on art and letters. It is char- 
acteristic of Lamb that he always finds some good- 
natured word to say of this man, such as " kind " or 
"light-hearted," principally, no doubt, because the 
others of his set looked on him with some sus- 
picion. It was his way to seek for the redeeming 
qualities in those the world looked coldly on. He 
did not live to know the worst of this now notorious 
hypocrite and scoundrel. 

In their autumn holiday of 1823, Charles and Mary 
Lamb made an acquaintance destined for the next 
ten years to add a new and most happy interest to 
their lonely lives. They were still faithful to the 
University towns in vacation time, and at the house 
of a friend^ in Cambridge, where Charles liked to 
play his evening game at whist, they found a little 
girl, the orphan daughter of Charles Isola, one of the 
Esquire Bedells of the University ; her grandfather, 
an Italian refugee, having settled in Cambridge as 
teacher of his own language. The child, who was at 

* Mrs. Paris, mother of the eminent physician of that name, 
and sister of Lamb's friend William Ayrton, the musical critic 
and operatic manager. 


other times at school, spent her holidays with an 
aunt in Cambridge. The Lambs took a strong fancy 
to her, invited her to stay with them during her next 
holidays, and finally adopted her. She called them 
uncle and aunt, and their house was generally her 
home, until her marriage with Mr. Moxon, the pub- 
lisher, in 1833. The education of this young girl 
became the constant care of the brother and sister. 
They wished to give her the means of becoming her- 
self a teacher, in the event of her not marrying, and 
while Charles taught her Latin, Mary Lamb worked 
hard at French that she might assist her young pupil. 
Many are the allusions in the letters of the last years 
to "our Emma;" and as Mary Lamb's periods of 
mental derangement became more and more frequent 
and protracted, this new relationship became ever a 
greater comfort to them both. 

In the meantime Charles was fretting under the 
unbroken confinement of office life. "I have been 
insuperably dull and lethargic for many weeks," he 
writes to Bernard Barton early in 1824, "and cannot 
rise to the vigour of a letter, much less an essay. 
The London must do without me for a time, for I 
have lost all interest about it." A subsequent letter, 
in August, tells the same tale of increasing weariness. 
"The same indisposition to write has stopped my 
'Elias,' but you will see a futile effort in the next 
number, ' wrung from me with slow pain.' The fact 
is, my head is seldom cool enough. I am dreadfully 
indolent." The " futile effort " in the next number 

176 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

was no other than the beautiful essay on Blakesmoor, 
fresh proof (if any were needed) that " difficult writ- 
ing " need not make itself felt as such by the reader. 
Nothing more unforced in style ever came from 
Charles Lamb's hand — no sentences more perfect in 
feeling and expression than those with which it 
ends : — 

Mine, too — whose else ?— the costly fniit-garden, with 
its sun-baked southern wall ; the ampler pleasure-garden, 
rising backwards from the house in triple terraces, with 
flower-pots, now of palest lead, save that a epeck, here 
and there, saved from the elements, bespoke their pristine 
state to have been gilt and glittering ; the verdant 
quarters, backwarder still ; and, stretching still beyond, 
in old formality, the firry wilderness, the haunt of the 
squirrel and the day-long-murmuring wood-pigeon, with 
that antique image in the centre, god or goddess I wist 
not; but child of Athens or old Rome paid never a 
sincerer worship to Pan or to Sylvanus in their native 
groves, than I to that fraginental mystery. 

Was it for this, that I kissed my childish hands too 
fen'ently in your idol worship, walks and windings of 
Blakesmoor ! for this, or what sin of mine, has the plough 
passed over your pleasant places 7 I sometimes think 
that as men, when they die, do not die all, so of their 
extinguished habitations there may be a bope — a germ to 
be revivified. 

The "firry wilderness" still remains, and in the 
grassy meadow where house and garden once stood 
may faintly be traced the undidations of the ground 


where the triple terraces rose backwards; but this 
is all of the actual Blakesmoor that survives. Yet in 
this very essay Lamb has fulfilled his own happy 
vision, and revivified for all time that " extinguished 

In spite of indolence and low spirits, the hand of 
Lamb had not lost its cunning, as the pretty Album 
verses written for Bernard Barton's daughter, Lucy, 
sufficiently testify. They were sent to Barton at the 
end of this month, September. "I am ill at these 
numbers," he pleaded, " but if the above be not too 
mean to have a place in thy daughter's sanctum, take 
them with pleasure." The lines are interesting, as 
giving another proof of Lamb's native sympathy with 
the Quaker simplicity. His Elia essay on the Quakers^ 
Meeting has shown it. He had impressed Leigh Hunt, 
when a boy, by his Quaker-like demeanour. He had 
conveyed to Hood, we remember, on their first meet- 
ing, the idea of a "Quaker in black." He had told 
Barton in an earlier letter, " In feelings, and matters 
not dogmatical, I hope I am half a Quaker." And 
here, taking the word Album as text, "little book, 
surnamed of White" he descants on the themes alone 
fitted to find shelter in such a home : — ■ 

Whitest thoughts, la whitest dress, 
Candid meanings, best express 
Mind of quiet Quakeress. 

In February and March of the following year his 
letters to Barton — the correspondent who now drew 


178 CHARLES LAMB cuap. 

forth his best and most varied powers — show that the 
desire for rest was becoming irritably strong. " Your 
gentleman brother sets my mouth watering after 
liberty. Oh that I were kicked out of Leadenhall 
vnih every mark of indignity, and a competence in 
my fob. The birds of the air would not be so free as 
I should. How I would prance and curvet it, and 
pick up cowslips, and ramble about purposeless as an 
idiot ! " Later in March we learn that he had con- 
veyed to the Directors of the Eaat India Company 
his willingness to resign. "I am sick of hope de- 
ferred," he writes. *' The grand wheel is in agitation 
that is to turn up my fortune ; but round it rolls, and 
will turn up nothing. I have a glimpse of freedom, 
of becoming a gentleman at large, but I am put off 
from day to day. I have offered my resignation, and 
it is neither accepted nor rejected. Eight weeks am 
I kept in this fearful suspense. Guess what an ab- 
sorbing state I feel it. I am not conscious of the 
existence of friends, present or absent. The East 
India Directors alone can be that thing to me, or not. 
I have just learned that nothing will be decided this 
week. Why the next ? why any week ? " 

When he wrote these words, the gratification of 
his hopes was nearer than he thought. He can 
scarcely have had any serious anxiety as to the result 
of his application. Some weeks before he had received 
some kind of intimation that the matter might be 
arranged to his satisfaction, and his medical friends 
had certified that failing health and spirits made the 


step at least desirable. But he had served only 
thirty-three years, and it was not unusual for clerks to 
complete a term of forty or fifty years' service, so that 
he may have had some uneasy doubts as to the 
amount of pension. But all doubts were happily dis- 
pelled on the last Tuesday in March 1825, when the 
Directors sent for him and acquainted him with the 
resolution they had passed. 

Lamb has described this interview in several 
letters, but nowhere so fully as in the Elia essay, the 
Superannuated Man, which, after his custom, he at 
once prepared for the next month's London Magazine. 
With the one exception that he transforms the 
Directors of the India House into a private firm of 
merchants, and with one or two other slight changes 
of detail, the account seems to be a faithful version of 
what actually happened. 

A week passed in this manner, the most anxious one, I 
verily believe, in my life, when on the evening of the 12th 
of April, just as I was about quitting my desk to go home 
(it might be about eight o'clock) I received an awful sum- 
mons to attend the presence of the whole assembled firm 
in the formidable back parlour. I thought, Now my time 
has surely come ; I have done for myself. I am going to 

be told that they have no longer occasion for me. L , 

I could see, smiled at the terror I was in, which was a 
little relief to me ; when to my utter astonishment, 

B , the eldest partner, began a formal harangue to 

me on the length of my services, my very meritorious 
conduct during the whole of the time (the deuce, thought 


I, how (lid he find out that ? I protest I never had the 
confidence to think as much). He went on to descant on 
the expediency of retiring at a certain time of life (how 
my heart panted ! ), and asking me a few questions as to 
the amount of my own property, of which I have a little, 
ended with a proposal, to which his three partners nodded 
a grave assent, that I should accept from the house which 
I had served so well a pension for life to the amount of 
two-thirds of my accustomed salary — a magnificent offer ! 
I do not know what I answered between surprise and 
gratitude, but it was understood that I accepted their 
proposal, and I was told that I was free from that hour to 
leave their service. I stammered out a bow, and at just 
ten minutes after eight I went home — for ever. 

The munificence thus recorded was hapi)ily no 
fiction. Lamb's full salary at the time was little short 
of seven hundred a year, and the offer made to him 
was a pension of four hundred and fifty, with a de- 
duction of nine pounds a year to secure a fitting 
provision for his sister, in the event of her surviving 
him. " Here am I," he writes to Wordsworth, " after 
thirty-three years' slavery, sitting in my own room at 
eleven o'clock, this finest of all April mornings, a freed 
man, with £441 a year for the remainder of my life, 
live I as long as John Dennis, who outlived his annuity, 
and starved at ninety." 

The East India Directors seem to have been gener- 
ous and considerate in a marked degree. If they 
wished to pay some compliment to literature in the 
person of their distinguished clerk, it was not less to 


their credit. But in spite of Lamb's modest language 
as to his ofl&cial claims upon their kindness, it would 
seem that he served them steadily and faithfully 
during those thirty-three years. Save for his brief 
annual holiday, he stuck to his post. He wrote his 
letters from the desk in Leadenhall Street, and received 
some of his callers there, but there is nothing to show 
that he neglected his daily work. He had sometimes 
to tell of headache and indisposition, as when he had 
been dining with the poets the night before, where 
they had not "quaffed Hippocrene, but Hippocrass 
rather." And there is a tradition — not to be too 
curiously questioned — that on occasion of being re- 
proved for coming to the office late in the mornings, 
he pleaded that he made up for it by going away very 
early. But these peccadilloes are as nothing set 
against the long extent of actual service, and the 
hearty and spontaneous action of his employers at its 

Though Lamb had always fretted against what he 
called his slavery to the "desk's dead wood," the 
discipline of regular, and even of mechanical work 
was of infinite service to him. With his special tem- 
perament, bodily and mental, he needed, of all men, 
the compulsion of duty. The "unchartered freedom" 
and the " weight of chance desires," which his friend 
Wordsworth has so feelingly lamented, would have 
been shipwreck to him. When deliverance from the 
necessity of toil came, he could not altogether resist 
their baneful effects. And we may be sure that we 


should not have had more, but fewer Essays of Elia, if 
the daily routine of different labour had been less 
severe or regular. He was well paid for the best of 
his literary work, but there was no pressure upon him 
to write for bread. " Thank God," he writes to Ber- 
nard Barton, " you and I are something besides being 
writers ! There is com in Egypt, while there is cash 
at Leadenhall ! " 




*' I CAME home for ever on Tuesday in last week," 
Lamb writes to Wordsworth, on the 6th of April 
1825. "The incomprehensibleness of my condition 
overwhelmed me. It was like passing from life into 
eternity. Every year to be as long as three, i.e. to 
have three times as much real time — time that is my 
own — in it ! I wandered about thinking I was happy, 
but feeling I was not. But that tumultuousness is 
passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of 
the gift. Holidays, even the annual month, were 
always uneasy joys : their conscious fugitiveness ; the 
craving after making the most of them. Now, when 
all is holiday, there are no holidays. I can sit at 
home, in rain or shine, without a restless impulse 
for walkings. I am daily steadying, and shall soon 
find it as natural to me to be my own master, as it 
has been irksome to have had a master. Mary wakes 
every morning with an obscure feeling that some good 
has happened to us." 


Certain misgivings as to the consequences of the 
step he had taken are apparent here, even in his words 
of congratulation. They appear elsewhere, as in a 
letter to Barton of the same month, where he tells 
how the day before he had gone back and sat at his 
old desk among his old companions, and felt yearnings 
at having left them in the lurch. Still, he was forcing 
himself to take the most hopeful view of the change 
in his life, and the essay on the Superannuated Man, that 
appeared a month later in the London, elaborates with 
excellent skill the feelings which he wished to culti- 
vate and preserve. " A man can never have too much 
Time to himself, nor too little to do. Had I a little 
son, I would christen him Nothing-to-do ; he should 
do nothing. Man, I verily believe, is out of his ele- 
ment as long as he is operative. I am altogether for 
the life contemplative." 

One of the earliest uses that he made of his freedom 
was to pay visits out of London with Mary. In the 
summer they are at Enfield, having quiet holidays. 
"Mary walks her twelve miles a day some days," 
Charles writes to Southey in August, "and I my 
twenty on others. 'Tis all holiday with me now, you 
know. The change works admirably." But as time 
went on, the change was found to be less admirable. 
The spur and the discipline of regular hours and 
occupation being taken away. Lamb had to make 
occupation, or else to find amusement in its stead. 
He had been always fond of walking, and he now tried 
the experiment of a companion in his walks in the 


shape of a dog, Dash, that Hood had given him. But 
the dog proved unmanageable, and was fond of run- 
ning away down any other streets than those intended 
by his master, and Lamb had to part with him a year 
or two later in despair. He passed Dash on to Mr. 
Patmore, and to this change of ownership we owe the 
amusing letter in which he writes for information as 
to the dog's welfare. " Dear P., excuse my anxiety, 
but how is Dash ? I should have asked if Mrs. Pat- 
more kept her rules, and was improving : but Dash 
came uppermost. The order of our thought should 
be the order of our writing. Goes he muzzled, or 
wperto ore ? Are his intellects sound, or does he wan- 
der a little in his conversation 1 You cannot be too 
careful to watch the first symptoms of incoherence. 
The first illogical snarl he makes — to St. Luke's with 
him. All the dogs here are going mad, if you can 
believe the overseers : but I protest, they seem to me 
very rational and collected. But nothing is so deceit- 
ful as mad people, to those who are not used to them. 
Try him with hot water ; if he won't lick it up it is a 
sign — he does not like it. Does his tail wag horizon- 
tally, or perpendicularly 1 That has decided the fate 
of many dogs in Enfield. Is his general deportment 
cheerful 1 I mean when he is pleased, for otherwise 
there is no judging. You can't be too careful. Has 
he bit any of the children yet ? If he has, have them 
shot, and keep him for curiosity, to see if it is the 
hydrophobia " — and so this " excellent fooling " 
rambles on into still wilder extravagances. " We are 

186 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

dawdling our time away very idly and pleasantly," the 
letter concludes, "at a Mrs. Leishman's, Chace, En- 
field, where if you come a hunting, we can give you cold 
meat and a tankard," For two years from the time 
of his leaving the India House, the brother and sister 
paid occasional visits to Mrs. Leishman's lodgings, 
until, finally, in 1827, they became sole tenants of the 
little house, furnished. 

The year 1827 opened sadly for Charles and Mary 
Lamb. Since the death of their father, thirty years 
before, they had not had to mourn the loss of many 
friends connected with their early life. Their brother 
John had died five years before — but he had helped 
to make their real loneliness felt, rather than to 
relieve it — and they had no other near relations. But 
there was one dear friend of the family, who had been 
associated with them in their seasons of heaviest 
sorrow and hardest struggle. This was Mr. Randal 
Norris, for many years sub-treasurer and librarian of 
the Inner Temple, whose name has occurred so often 
in Lamb's letters and essays. The families of Norris 
and Lamb were united by more than one bond of 
friendship. They were neighljours in the Temple for 
many years, and Mrs. Norris was a native of Widford, 
and a friend of the old housekeeper at Blakesware. 
And now Charles writes to Crabb Kobinson to tell 
him that this, his oldest friend, is dying. " In him I 
have a loss the world cannot make up. He was my 
friend and my father's fnend all the life I can remem- 
Ixjr. I seem to have made foolish friendships ever 


since. These are friendships which outlive a second 
generation. Old as I am waxing, in his eyes I was 
still the child he first knew me. To the last he called 
me Charley. I have none to call me Charley now. 
He was the last link that bound me to the Temple. 
You are but of yesterday. In him seem to have died 
the old plainness of manners and singleness of heart." 
In a few days the lingering illness was over, and the 
old friend was laid to rest in the Temple Churchyard. 
During the year that followed, Lamb found a con- 
genial occupation, and a healthy substitute for his 
old regular hours, in working daily at the British 
Museum. He wished to assist Hone, the editor of 
the Every Day Boohs, and undertook to make extracts, 
on the plan of his former volumes of Dramatic Speci- 
mens, from the collection of plays bequeathed by 
Garrick to the British Museum, for publication in 
Honeys Table Booh " It is a sort of office-work to me," 
he writes to Barton, "hours, ten to four, the same. 
It does me good. Man must have regular occupation 
that has been used to it." The extracts thus chosen 
were confessedly but gleanings after the earlier 
volumes, and in the scanty comments prefixed to 
them there is a corresponding falling- off in interest. 
Some remarks upon the dramas of Thomas Heywood 
and Henry Porter, in comparison with Shakspeare, 
show all the old enthusiasm and keen observation. 
And it is pleasant to hear him repeat once more that 
the plays of Shakspeare have been the " strongest and 
sweetest food of his mind from infancy." But the 


real impetus to the study of the great Elizabethans 
had been given in the volumes of 1808. 

A series of short essays contributed in this same 
year to the Neio Monthly Magazine, under the title of 
Popular Fallacies, are for the most part of slight value. 
The one of these that was the author's favourite is 
suggested by the saying that " Home is home, though 
it is never so homely." The first exception that he 
propounds to the truth of this maxim is in the case 
of the " very poor." To places of cheap entertain- 
ment, and the benches of ale-houses. Lamb says, the 
poor man " resorts for an image of the home which 
he cannot find at home." Very touching is the 
picture he goes on to draw of the discrepancy between 
the " humble meal shared together," as described by 
the sentimentalist, and the grim irony of the actual 
facts. " The innocent prattle of his children takes 
out the sting of a man's poverty. But the children 
of the very poor do not prattle. It is none of the 
least frightful features in that condition that there is 
no childishness in its dwellings. Poor people, said a 
sensible nurse to us once, do not bring up their child- 
ren, they drag them up." The whole passage is in a 
strain of more sustained earnestness than is usual 
with Lamb, and serves to show how widely his sym- 
pathetic heart had travelled. From this theme he 
turns to one which touched his own circumstances 
more nearly. There is yet another home, he says, 
which gives the lie to the popular saying. It may have 
all the material comforts that are wanting to the poor 


man, all its fireside conveniences, and yet be no home. 
"It is the house of the man that is infested with 
many visitors." And he goes on to draw the distinc- 
tion between the noble -hearted friends that are 
always welcome, and the purposeless droppers-in at 
meal-time, or just at the moment that you have sat 
down to a book. " They have a peculiarly compas- 
sionating sneer with which they hope that they do 
not interrupt your studies." It is Charles Lamb 
himself who is here publishing to the world the old 
grievance, which appears so constantly in his letters. 
He was being driven from Islington by the crowd of 
callers and droppers-in, from whom he professed his 
inability to escape in any other way. Hardly is he 
settled at Enfield, in August 1827, when he has to 
protest that the swarm of gnats follows him from 
place to place. " Whither can I take wing," he writes 
to Barton, "from the oppression of human faces? 
Would I were in a wilderness of apes, tossing cocoa- 
nuts about, grinning and grinned at !" 

There is reason to believe, as already observed, 
that Lamb wag in part responsible for these idle 
trespassers upon his time. He had not had the 
courage to keep them off when his days were fully 
occupied, and his evenings were his only time for 
literature ; and now, when he passed for a man wholly 
at leisure, it was not likely that the annoyance would 
diminisL But the truth is, there was an element of 
irritability in Lamb, due to the family temperament, 
which the new life, though he could now wander " at 


his own sweet will," was little calculated to appease. 
The rest of which he dreamed, when he retired in 
the prime of life from professional work, could only 
mean, to such a temperament as Lamb's, restless- 
ness. He looked for relief from many troubles in 
the mere circumstance of change. It was the calum, 
non animum disillusion that so many have had to 
experience. And at the same time he hated having 
to break with old associations, and to part from any- 
thing to which he had been long accustomed. When 
he moved to Enfield, in the autumn of 1827, he 
wrote to Hood that he had had " no health " at Isling- 
ton, and having found benefit from previous visits at 
Enfield, was going to make his abode there altogether. 
But, he adds, *' 'twas with some pain we were evulsed 
from Colebrook. To change habitations is to die 
to them ; and in my time I have died seven deaths. 
But I don't know whether such change does not bring 
with it a rejuvenescence. 'Tis an enterprise ; and 
shoves back the sense of death's approximating, which 
though not terrible to me, is at all times particularly 
distasteful" The letter ends in a more cheerful vein, 
with news of ten pounds a year less rent than at 
Islington, and many anticipations of occasional trips 
to London " to breathe the fresher air of the metro- 
polis," and of the curds and cream he and Mary 
would set before Hood and Jerdan and other London 
friends who might visit them in their country home. 
Some of these joys were to l>e realised, and there are 
many signs of the old humour and fancy not having 


been altogether banished by the separation from 
London interests and friends. Mrs. Shelley meets him 
in town in August 1828, and writes to Leigh Hunt: 
" On my return to the Strand I saw Lamb, who was 
very entertaining and amiable, though a little deaf. 
One of the first questions he asked me was, whether 
they made puns in Italy. I said ' Yes, now Hunt is 
there.' He said that Burney made a pun in Otaheite, 
the first that ever was made in that country. At 
fijst the natives could not make out what he meant ; 
but all at once they discovered the pun, and danced 
round him in transports of joy." 

Lamb's work in literature was now substantially 
over, and he did little more than trifle with it, plea- 
santly and ingeniously, for the last few years. The 
London Magazine, after a long decay, and many 
changes of management, came to an end in 1826 ; 
and though some of Lamb's later contributions to the 
New Monthly and the Englishman's Magazine were 
included in the Last Essays of Elia, collected and 
published in 1833, Elia may be said to have been 
born, and to have died, with the London Magazine. 
In 1828 he wrote, at the request of the wife of 
Thomas Hood, who had lately lost a child, the well- 
known lines. On an infant dying as soon as born, 
redolent of the spirit and fancy of Ben Jonson and 
the later Elizabethans, and though written to order 
showing no lack of spontaneity. He continued to 
supply his young lady friends with acrostics and 
other such contributions to their albums. He suffered. 


as he alleged, terrible things from albums at this 
time. They were another of the taxes he found ruth- 
lessly exacted from " retired leisure." He writes to 
Procter in 1829 :— 

We are in the last ages of the world, when St. Paul 
prophesied that women should be " headstrong, lovers of 
their own wills, having albums." I fled hither to escape 
the albumean persecution, and had not been in my new 
house twenty-four hours when the daughter of the next 
house came in with a friend's album to beg a contribution, 
and the following day intimated she had one of her own. 
Two more have sprung up since. If I take the wings of 
the morning, and fly unto the uttermost parts of the 
earth, there wiU albums be. New Holland has albums. 
But the age is to be complied with. 

He 80 far complied with the age as to produce 
enough, with a few occasional verses of other kinds, 
to make a little volume for his friend Moxon, then 
newly starting as a publisher, to issue in appropriate 
shape in 1830. 

The "new house" spoken of in the letter just 
quoted was the Enfield house already mentioned ; but 
in the summer of 1829 Charles and Mary Lamb again 
changed their home. The sister's illnesses were 
becoming more frequent and more protracted, and 
the cares of housekeeping weighed too heavily on her. 
Their old servant, Becky, had married and left them, 
and they were little contented with her successor. 
There is a gloomy letter of Charles to his constant 
correspondent Barton, in July of this year, telling 


how time was not lightening the difficulties of a man 
with no settled occupation. He had been paying a 
visit in London, but even London was not what it 
had been. 

The streets, the shops, are left, but all old friends are 
gone. . . . When I took leave of our adopted young 
friend at Charing Cross, 'twas heavy, unfeeling rain, and 
I had nowhere to go. Home have I none, and not a 
sympathising house to turn to in the great city. Never 
did the Avaters of heaven pour down on a forlorner head. 
... I got home on Thursday, convinced that I was better 
to get home to my home at Enfield, and hide like a sick 
cat in my corner. And to make me more alone, our ill- 
tempered maid is gone, who, with all her airs, was yet 
a home-piece of furniture, a record of better days ; the 
young thing that has succeeded her is good and attentive, 
but she is nothing. And I have no one here to talk over 
old matters with. . . . What I can do, and do over-do, is 
to walk ; but deadly long are the days, these summer 
all-day days, with but a half-hour's candle-light and no 
fire-light. ... I pity you for over-work, but I assure you 
no work is worse. The mind preys on itself — the most 
unwholesome food. I bragged formerly that I could not 
have too much time. I have a surfeit With few years 
to come, the days are wearisome. But weariness is not 
eternal. Something will shine out to take the load off 
that flags me, which is at present intolerable. I have 
killed an hour or two in this poor scrawl. I am a 
sanguinary murderer of time, and would kill him inch- 
meal just now. But the snake is vital. Well, I shall 
write merrier anon. 


194 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

A letter of a week or two before had given sadder 
reasons for this depression of spirits. Mary Lamb 
had again been taken ill, and it had been necessary 
to remove her from home. 

I have been very desolate indeed. My loneliness is a 
little abated by our young friend Emma having just come 
here for her holidays, and a schoolfellow of hers that was 
with her. Still the house is not the same, though she is 
the same. 

It was these repeated illnesses of his sister, and 
the loss of their old servant, that made them resolve 
to give up housekeeping, and take lotlgings next door 
("Forty-two inches nearer town," Lamb said) with 
an old couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Wcstwood, who under- 
took to board as well as lo<lge them. "We have 
lx)th had much illness this year," he ^vrote to a friend, 
"and feeling infirmities and fretfulness grow upon 
us, we have cast off' the cares of housekeeping, sold 
off" our goods, and commenced boarding and lodging 
with a very comfortable old couple next door to 
where you found us. Wc use a sort of common table. 
Nevertheless, we have reserved a private one for an 
old friend." In less than a week he was able to 
report the good effect of the change upon Mary. 
"She looks two and a half years younger for it. 
But we have had sore trials." 

The next year opens with a letter to Wordsworth 
describing the new mSnage, and containing a charming 
picture of the old couple who now were host and 
hostess as well as landlords. 


Our providers are an honest pair, Dame Westwood and 
her husband ; he, when the light of prosperity shined on 
them, a moderately thriving haberdasher within Bow 
Bells, retired since with something under a competence ; 
writes himself parcel gentleman ; hath borne parish offices ; 
sings fine old sea-songs at threescore and ten ; sighs only 
now and then when he thinks that he has a son on his 
hands about fifteen, whom he finds a difficulty in getting 
out into the world ; and then checks a sigh with mut- 
tering, as I once heard him prettily, not meaning to be 
heard, "I have married my daughter, however;" takes 
the weather as it comes ; outsides it to town in severest 
season ; and o' winter nights tells old stories not tending 
to literature (how comfortable to author-rid folks !), and 
has one anecdote, upon which and about forty pounds a 
year he seems to have retired in green old age. 

The letter gives encouraging news of his sister's 
health and spirits, but the loneliness and the want of 
occupation are pressing heavily, he says, upon him- 
self. He yearns for London and the cheerful streets. 
"Let no native Londoner imagine that health and 
rest, innocent occupation, interchange of converse 
sweet, and recreative study, can make the country 
anything better than altogether odious and detest- 
able." Later, in March, his thoughts are diverted 
from his own condition by the illness of Emma Isola, 
then living as governess in the family of Mr. 
Williams, rector of Fornham All Saints', in Suffolk; 
and a proposal from John Murray to continue the 
Specimens of the Old Dramatists is declined, because in 

196 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

his anxiety for their young prot^gde he could think 
of nothing else. Miss Isola happily recovered. 
Lamb fetched her from Fornhara, where the illness 
had occurred, to Enfield, and it was on the journey 
home that the famous stage-coach incident occurred. 
" We travelled with one of those troublesome fellow- 
passengers in a stage coach that is called a well- 
informed man. For twenty miles we discoursed 
about the properties of steam, probabilities of carriage 
by ditto, till all my science, and more than all, was 
exhausted, and I was thinking of escaping my torment 
by getting up on the outside, when, getting into 
Bishop Stortford, my gentleman, spying some farming 
land, put an unlucky question to me : ' What sort of 
crop of turnips I thought we should have this year t ' 
Emma's eyes turned to me, to know what in the world 
I could have to say ; and she burst into a violent fit 
of laughter, maugre her pale serious cheeks, when 
with the greatest gravity I replied that ' It depended, 
I believed, upon boiled legs of mutton,' " 

There is little to record of incident or change in 
these last years of the life, now more and more lonely, 
of brother and sister. A small volume of occasional 
poetry, Album Verses — the amusements of the latter 
years of lebure — was produced by Mr. Moxon in 
1830, but contains little to call for remark; and 
another venture of Mr. Moxon's, The EngluJinuin's 
Magazine, in the following year, drew from Lamb some 
prose contributions, under the heading of Peters Net. 
In 1833 the Lambs made their last change of resi- 


dence. Their furniture had been disposed of when 
they settled at Enfield, and they now entered on an 
arrangement similar to the last, of boarding and 
lodging with another married pair — younger, however, 
and more active — a Mr. and Mrs. Walden, of Bay 
Cottage, in the neighbouring parish of Edmonton. 
The reasons for the change are of the old sad kind. 
A letter to Wordsworth, of May 1833, tells the 
melancholy story : — " Mary is ill again. Her illnesses 
encroach yearly. The last was three months, followed 
by two of depression most dreadful. I look back 
upon her earlier attacks Avith longing. Nice little 
durations of six weeks or so, followed by complete 
restoration, shocking as they were to me then. In 
" short, half her life is dead to me, and the other half 
is made anxious with fears and lookings-forward to 
the next shock." Mary Lamb had been on former 
occasions of illness under the care of the Waldens, and 
the increasing frequency of her attacks made this 
change necessary in the interest of both brother and 
sister. It secured for Mary the constant supervision 
of an attendant. 

The same letter tells of an additional element of 
loneliness that was in store for them. Emma Isola 
was engaged " with my perfect approval and entire 
concurrence " to Mr. Moxon, the publisher, and the 
wedding was fixed. Lamb writes of it with the old 
habitual unselfishness, though it was to leave him 
Avithout his "only walk -companion, whose mirthful 
spirits were the 'youth of our house.'" He turns, 


after his manner, to think of his compensations. He 
is emancipated from Enfield, with attentive people and 
younger, and what is more, is three or four miles 
nearer to his beloved to^vn. Miss Isola was married 
on the 30th of July, and it is pleasant to know that 
though up to the very day of the wedding Mary Lamb 
had been unable to interest herself in the event, and 
was of course unable to be present at the ceremony, 
she attributes her recovery from this attack to the 
stimulus of the good news suddenly communicated. 
There is a pathetic note of congratulation from her to 
the newly-married pair, in which she tells them of this 
with characteristic simj)licity. The Waldens had with 
happy tact proposed Mr. and Mre. Moxon's health at 
their quiet meal. " It restored me from that moment," 
writes Mary Lamb, " as if by an electrical stroke, to 
the entire possession of my senses. I never felt so 
calm and quiet after a similar illness as I do now. I 
feel as if all tears were wiped from my eyes, and all 
care from my heart" And Charles is able to add, in 
a postscrij)t, how they are again happy in their old 
pursuits — cards, walks, and reading : " never was such 
a calm, or such a recovery." 

In this year, 1833, the later essays of Lamb contri- 
buted to the London Magnzine^ together with some 
shorter pieces from other periodicals, were published 
by Mr. Moxon under the title of the ImsI Essays of 
Elia, and with this event the literary life of Lamb was 
destined to close. Nothing more, beyon<l an occa- 
sional copy of verses for a friend, came from his pen. 


Notwithstanding the increasing illness of his sister, 
he was able to enjoy some cheerful society, notably 
with a friend of recent date, Mr. Gary, the translator 
of Dante, with whom he dined periodically at the 
British Museum. Mr. John Forster, afterwards to be 
known widely as the author of the Life of Goldsmith, 
was another accession to his list of congenial friends. 
But these could not make compensation for the loss 
of the old. Lamb was not yet sixty years of age, but 
he was without those ties and relationships which 
more than all else we know bring " forward-looking 
thoughts." His life was lived chiefly in the past, and 
one by one "the old familiar faces" were passing 
away. In July 1834 Coleridge died, after many 
months of suffering. For the last eighteen years of 
his life he had resided beneath Mr. Gillman's roof at 
Highgate, and Charles and Mary Lamb were among 
the most welcome visitors at the house : and now the 
friendship of fifty years was at an end. All the little 
asperities of early rivalry ; all the natural regrets at 
sight of a life so wasted— powers so vast ending in 
performance so inadequate— a spirit so willing, and a 
will so weak — were forgotten now. Lamb had never 
spared the foibles of his old companion ; when Cole- 
ridge had soared to his highest metaphysical flights 
he had apologised for him — " Yes ! you know Cole- 
ridge is so full of his fun ; " — he had described him as 
an " archangel, a little damaged " ; — but the indescrib- 
able moral afflatus felt through Coleridge's obscurest 
rhapsodies had been among the best influences on 


Charles Lamb's life. A few months later he tried to 
put his regrets and his obligations into words. 
"When I heard of the death of Coleridge, it was 
without grief. It seemed to me that he had long 
been on the confines of the next world — that he had 
a hunger for eternitj'. I grieved then that I could 
not grieve ; but since, I feel how great a part he was 
of me. His great and dear spirit haunts me. I 
cannot think a thought, I cannot make a criticism on 
men or books, without an ineffectual turning and 
reference to him. He was the proof and touchstone 
of all my cogitations." 

The death of his friend was Charles Lamb's death- 
blow. There had been two persons in the world for 
whom he would have wished to live — Coleridge and 
his sister Mary. Tlie latter was now for the greater 
part of each year worse than dead to him. The 
former was gone, and the blank left him helplessly 
alone. In conversation with friends he would suddenly 
exclaim, as if with surpiiso that ^ught else in the 
world should interest him, " Coleridge is dead ! " 
And within five weeks of the day when the affecting 
tribute just cited was committed to paper, he was 
called to join his friend. One day in the middle of 
December, as he was taking his usual walk along the 
London lioad, his foot struck against a stone, and ho 
stumbled and fell, inflicting a slight wound on his 
face. For some days the injury appeared trifling, and 
on the 22d of the month he writes a cheerful note to 
the wife of his old friend George Dyer, concerning the 


safety of a certain book belonging to Mr. Gary, which 
he had left at her house. On the same day, however, 
symptoms of erysipelas supervened, and it soon became 
evident that his general health was too feeble to resist 
the attack. From the first appearance of the disease 
the failure of life was so rapid that his intimate 
friends, Talfourd and Crabb Robinson, did not reach 
his bedside in time for him to recognise them. The 
few words that escaped his lips while his mind was 
still unclouded, conveyed to those who watched him 
that he was undisturbed at the prospect of death. 
His sister was, happily for herself, in no state to feel or 
appreciate the blow that was falling. On the 27th of 
December, murmuring in his last moments the names 
of his dearest friends, he passed tranquilly out of life. 
" On the following Saturday his remains were laid in 
a deep grave in Edmonton churchyard, made in a 
spot which, about a fortnight before, he had pointed 
out to his sister on an afternoon wintiy walk, as the 
place where he wished to be buried." 

There is a touching fitness in the circumstance that 
Charles Lamb could not longer survive his earliest and 
dearest friend — that, trying it for a little while, "he 
liked it not — and died." It was a fitting comment on 
the circumstance, that that other great poet and 
thinker who next to Coleridge shared Lamb's deepest 
pride and affection, as he looked back a year afterwards 
on the gaps that death had made in the ranks of those 
he loved, should have once more linked their names 
in imperishable verse : — 

202 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

Nor has the rolling year twice measured 
From sign to sign its 8tcadfa«t course, 
Since every mortal |x)wer of Coleridge 
Was frozen at its marvellous source. 

The rapt one of the godlike forehead, 
The heaven-eyed creature, sleeps in earth : 
And Lamb, the frolic and the gentle. 
Has vanished fix>m his lonely hearth. 

The friends of Lamb were not slow in giving ex- 
pression to their sorrow for his loss, and their admira- 
tion of his cliaracter — Wordsworth and Lander in 
verse, Procter, Moxon, Forster, and many others 
through various channels, in prose. For the most 
part they had to deal in generalities, for Mary Lamb 
still lived, and the full extent of her brother's devotion 
and sacrifice could not yet be told. But abundant 
testimony was forthcoming that (to borrow Landor's 
words) he had left behind him that " worthier thing 
than tears," 

The love of friends, without a single foe. 

Wordsworth, in a beautiful tribute to his friend, 
begun with some view to an inscription for his grave, 
expressed no more than the verdict of all who knew 
him well when he wrote — 

Oh, he was good, if ever good man was. 

And yet there must have been many of his old ac- 
quaintances who were startled at finding admiration 
for him thus expressed. Those who were not aware 


of the conditions of his life, or knew him only on his 
ordinary convivial side, regarded him, we are assured, 
as a flippant talker, reckless indeed in speech, moody, 
and of uncertain temper. Few could know what 
Coleridge and "Wordsworth and Southey knew so well, 
that with all his boastful renunciation of orthodoxy 
in belief, and his freedom of criticism on religious 
matters, he was one capable of feeling keenly both 
the sentiment and the principle of religious trust. 
There is ample evidence of this in those early letters 
written in the darkest hours of his life. And though 
the sentiment waned as a different class of associates 
gathered round him, and there were few at hand with 
whom to interchange his deeper thoughts, religion in 
him never died, but became a habit — a habit of en- 
during hardness, and cleaving to the steadfast per- 
formance of duty in face of the strongest allurements 
to the pleasanter and easier course. He set himself a 
task, one of the saddest and hardest that can be 
undertaken, to act as guardian and companion to one 
living always on the brink of insanity. For eight- 
and- thirty years he was faithful to this purpose, 
giving up everything for it, and never thinking that 
he had done enough, or could do enough, for his early 
friend, his " guardian angel," 

It is noteworthy that those surface qualities of 
Charles Lamb by which so many were content to 
judge him, were just those which men are slow to 
connect with sterling goodness such as this. There 
was a certain Bohemianism in him, it must be allowed 


— a fondness for overmuch tobacco and gin-and-water, 
and for the company of those whom more particular 
people looked shy upon. He often fretted against 
the loss of time they caused him, but he was tolerant 
for the moment of what fed his sense of humour or 
fancy, and always of that which touched the " virtue of 
compassion " in him. He was free of speech, and not 
in the least afraid of shocking his company. And it 
seems a natural inference that such traits betoken a 
hand-to-mouth existence, a certain want of moral back- 
bone, irregularity in money matters, and the absence of 
any settled purpose. Yet it was for the opposite of all 
this that Lamb's life is so notable. He was well 
versed in poverty — for some years in marked degree 
— but he seems never to have exceeded his income, or 
to have been in debt In the days of his most strait- 
ened means he was never so poor but that he had in 
reserve something to help those poorer than himself. 
His letters show this throughout; and as his own 
fortunes mended, his generosity in giving becomes 
truly surprising. "He gave away greaihj" says his 
friend Mr. Procter, and goes on to relate how on one 
occasion when he was in low spirits, and Lamb 
imagined that it might proceed from pecuniary causes, 
he said suddenly, "My dear Ixiy, I have a quantity of 
useless things — I have now in my desk a — a hundred 
l)0und8 — that I don't know what to do with. Take 
it." In his more prosperous days he always had 
pensioners on his bounty. For many years he allowed 
Ids old schoolmistress thirty potmds a year. To a 


friend of Soiithey's who was paralysed, he paid ten 
pounds yearly; and when a subscription was raised for 
Godwin in his gravest difficulties, Lamb's contribution 
was the munificent one of fifty pounds. His letters, 
too, prove that he could always make the more diffi- 
cult sacrifices of time and thought when others were 
in need. For a young lady establishing a school — for 
a poor fellow seeking an occasional clerkship in the 
India House — for such as these he is continually 
pleading and taking trouble. And before he knew 
that the Directors of the India House intended to pro- 
vide for his sister, in the event of her surviving him, 
on the footing of a wife, he had managed to put by a 
sufficient sum to place her beyond the reach of want. 
At his death he left a sum of two thousand pounds 
for his sister during her life, with a reversion to the 
child of their adoption, Emma Isola, then Mrs. Moxon. 

Mary Lamb survived her brother nearly thirteen 
years, dying at the advanced age of 82, on the 20th 
of May 1847. After the death of Charles her health 
rallied sufficiently for her to visit occasionally among 
their old friends ; but as years passed, her attacks 
became still more frequent, and of longer duration, 
till her mind became permanently enfeebled. Aftei 
leaving Edmonton, she lived chiefly in St. John's 
Wood, under the care of a nurse. Her pension, 
together with the income from her brother's savings, 
was amply sufficient for her few needs. 

"She will live for ever in the memory of her 
friends," writes that true and faithful friend, Crabb 


Robinson, " as one of the most amiable and admirable 
of women." From this venlict there is no dissentient 
voice. With much less from which to form a direct 
opinion than in lier brother's case, we seem to read 
her character almost equally well. The tributes of 
her brother scattered through essay and letter, her 
own few but very significant letters, and her contri- 
butions to literature, show a strong and healthy 
common sense, a true womanliness, and a gift of keen 
and active sympathy. She shared with Charles a 
love of Quaker-like colour and homeliness in dress. 
" She wore a neat cap," Mr. Procter tells us, " of the 
fashion of her youth ; an old-fashioned dresa Her 
face was pale and somewhat square, but very placid, 
with gray intelligent eyes. She was very mild in 
her manners to strangers ; and to her brother, gentle 
and tender, always. She had often an upward look 
of peculiar meaning when directed towanls him, as 
though to give him assurance that all was then well 
with her." This unvarying manner, betokening 
mutual dependence and interest, was the feature that 
most impressed all who watched them together, her 
eyes often fixed on his as on " some adoring disciple," 
and ever listening to help his speech in some difficult 
word, and to anticipate the coming need He in 
turn was always on the watch to detect any sign in 
her face of failing health or spirits, and to divert the 
conversation, if occasion arose, from any topic that 
might distress her or set up some dangerous excite- 
ment Among the strange and motley guests that 


their hospitality brought around them, her own 
opinions and habits remained, Avith little danger oi 
being shaken. "It has been the lot of my cousin," 
writes Lamb in the essay Mockery End, " oftener per- 
haps than I could have wished, to have had for her 
associates, and mine, free thinkers, leaders and dis- 
ciples of novel philosophies and systems ; but she 
neither wrangles with nor accepts their opinions. 
That which was good and venerable to her when she 
was a child retains its authority over her mind still. 
She never juggles or plays tricks with her under- 
standing." It was this element of quietism in Mary 
Lamb that made her so inestimable a companion for 
her brother. She was strong where he was weak, 
and reposeful where he was so often ill at ease. 

She was indeed fitted in all respects to be Charles 
Lamb's lifelong companion. She shared his worthiest 
tastes, to the full More catholic in her partialities 
than he, she devoured modern books as well as 
ancient with unfailing appetite, and had formed out 
of her reading a pure and idiomatic English style, 
with just a touch, as in everything else belonging to 
her, of an old-world formality. She possessed a 
distinct gift of humour, as her portion of Mrs. 
Leicester's School amply shows. The story of the 
Father's JFedding-day has strokes of humour and obser- 
vation not unworthy of Goldsmith. Landor used to 
rave, with characteristic vehemence, about this little 
sketch, and to declare that the incident of the child 
wishing, when dressed in her new frock, that her 

208 CHARLES LAMB chap, vill 

poor " niamina was alive, to see how fine she was on 
papa's wedding-day," was a masterpiece. The story 
called The Young Mahometan has a special interest as 
containing yet one more recollection of the old house 
at Blakesware. The medallions of the Twelve Ciesars, 
the Hogarth prints, and the tapestry hangings, arc 
all there, together with that picturesque incident, 
which Charles elsewhere has not overlooked, of the 
broken battledore and shuttlecock telling of happy 
children's voices that had once echoed through the 
lonely chambers. It is certain that Charles and 
Mary, ardently as they both clung in after years to 
London sights and sounds, owed much both in genius 
and character to having breathed the purer, calmer 
air of nual homesteads, 

A common education, whether that of sweet garden 
scenes, or the choice fancies and meditations of poet 
and moralist — a sense of mutual need — a profound 
pity for each other's frailties — of these was forged 
the bond that held them, and years of suffering an«l 
self-denial had made it ever more and more strong. 
" That we had much to struggle with, as we grew up 
together, we have reason to be most thankful. It 
strengthened and knit our compact closer. We could 
never have been what we have been to each other, if 
we had always had the suflBcicncy which you now 
complain of." It is with these words of divine philo- 
sophy that, when comparative ease had at last been 
achieved, Charles Lamb could look back upon the 
anxious past. 


lajib's place as a critic 

It remains to speak of those prose writings of Lamb, 
many of earlier date than the Essays of Elia, by which 
his quality as a critic must be determined. As early 
as 1811 he had published in Leigh Hunt's Reflector 
his essay on The Genius and Character of Hogarth. 
This was no subject taken up for the occasion, " His 
graphic representations," says Lamb, "are indeed 
books : they have the teeming, fruitful, suggestive 
meaning of ivords " — and no book was more familiar 
to him. A set of Hogarth's prints, including the 
Harlot's and Make's Progresses, had been among the 
treasures of the old house at Blakesware ; and Lamb 
as a child had spelled through their grim and ghastly 
histories again and again, till he came to know every 
figure and incident in them by heart. And now the 
cavalier tone in which certain leaders of the classical 
and historical schools of painting Avere wont to dis- 
miss Hogarth as of slight value in point of art, made 
him keen to vindicate his old favourite. He has 

210 CUAliLES LAMB mvi-. 

scant patience with those who noted defective draw- 
ing or "knowledge of the figure " in the artist. He 
is intolerant altogether of technical criticism. ITie 
essay is devoted to showing how true a moralist the 
painter is, and how false the view which would regard 
him chiefly as a humorist He is a great satirist — 
a Juvenal or a Persius. Moreover, he is a combina- 
tion of satirist and dramatist. Hogarth had claimed 
for his pictures that they should be judged as suc- 
cessive scenes in a play, and Lamb takes him at his 
word. He is canned away by admiration for the 
tragic power displayed. He is in ecstasies over the 
print of Gin Lane, certainly one of the ix)orest of 
Flogarth's pictures as a composition, losing its due 
efiect by overcrowding of incident, and made grotesque 
through sheer exaggeration. Yet what stirs the 
critic's heart is " the pity of it," and he is in no 
humour to admit other considerations. He calls it 
"a sublime print." "Ever)' part is full of strange 
images of death ; it is perfectly amazing and astound- 
ing to look at;" and so forth. It is noticeable that 
Lamb does not write with the pictiires before him, 
and trusts to a memory not quite trustworthy. For 
example, to prove that Hogarth is not merely re- 
pulsive, tliat there is always a sweet humanity in 
reserve as a foil for the horrors he deals with — some- 
thing to " keep the general air from tainting," he says : 
"Take the mild, supplicating posture of patient 
poverty, in the poor woman that is persuading the 
pawnbroker to accept her clothes in pledge in the 

IX lamb's place as a CKITIC 211 

plate of Gin Lane." There is really no such incident 
in the picture. There is a woman offering in pawn 
her kettle and fire-irons ; but, taken in combination 
with all the other incidents of the scene, she is cei-- 
tainly pledging them to buy gin. Here, as elsewhere, 
Lamb damages his case by over -statement, partly 
through love of surprises, partly because he willingly 
discovered in poem or picture what he wished to find 
there. He sees more of humanity and sweetness in 
what affects him than is actually present. He reads 
something of himself into the composition he is re- 
viewing. He is on safer ground when he dwells on 
the genuine power, the pity and the terror, in that 
last scene but one of The Marriage-a-la-Mode ; and on 
- the gentleness of the wife's countenance, poetising 
the whole scene, in the print of The Distressed Poet. 
And he is doing a service to art of larger scope than 
fixing the respective ranks of Hogarth and Poussin, in 
these noble concluding lines : — 

I say not that all the ridiculous subjects of Hogarth 
have necessarily something in them to make us like them ; 
some are indifferent to us, some in their natures repulsive, 
and only made interesting by the wonderful skill and 
truth to nature in the painter ; but I contend that there 
is in most of them that sprinkling of the better nature 
which, like holy water, chases away and disperses the 
contagion of the bad. They have this in them besides, 
that they bring us acquainted with the every-day human 
face ; they give us skill to detect those gradations of sense 
and virtue (which escape the careless or fastidious observer) 


in the countenances of the world about us ; and prevent 
that disgust at common life, that t(edium quotiduinarum 
formarumy which an unrestricted passion for ideal forma 
and beauties is in danger of producing. 

His judgments of pictures are, as might lie ex- 
pected, those of a man of letters, not of a painter. It 
is the story in the picture that impresses him, and the 
technical qualities leave him unmoved. A curious 
instance of this is afforded in his essay on Tlie Barren- 
ness of the Imaginalire Faculty in the Productions of 
Modem Art. After complaining that, ^vith the 
exception of Hogarth, no artist within the last fifty 
years had treated a story imaginatively — " upon whom 
his subject has so acted that it has seemed to direct 
him, not to be arranged by him " — he breaks out into a • 
fine rhapsody on the famous Bacchus and Ariadne of 
Titian in the National Gallery. But it is not as a 
masterpiece of colour and drawing that it excites his 
admiration. The qualities of the poet, not those of 
the painter, are what he discovers in it. It is tlio 
" imaginative faculty " which he detects, as shown in 
the power of uniting the past and the present. 
** Precipitous, with his reeling satyr-rout around him, 
re-peopling and re-illuming suddenly the waste places, 
dnink with a new fury beyond the grape, Bacchus, 
bom of fire, fire-like flings himself at the Cretan : " 
this is i)xQ present. Ariadne, " unconscious of Bacchus, 
or but idly casting her eyes as upon some unconccm- 
ing pageant, her soul undistracted from Theseus" — 
Ariadne, " pacing the solitary shore in as much heart- 

IX lamb's place as a critic 213 

silence, and in almost the same local solitude, with 
which she awoke at daybreak to catch the forlorn last 
glances of the sail that bore away the Athenian : " 
this is the past. But it is in the situation itself, not 
in Titian's treatment of it, that Lamb has found the 
antithesis that so delights him. He is in fact the 
poet, taking the subject out of the painter's hands, 
and treating it afresh. Lamb obtains an easy victory 
for the ancients over the moderns by choosing as his 
foil for Titian and RafFaelle the treatment of sacred 
subjects by Martin, the painter of Belshazzar's Feast 
and llie Plains of Heaven. And it is significant of a 
certain inability in Lamb to do full justice to his con- 
temporaries, that in noting the barrenness of the fifty 
years in question in the matter of art, he has no 
exception to make but Hogarth. He might have had 
a word to say for Turner and Wilkie. 

The essay on The Artificial Comedy of the Last 
Century has received more attention than its import- 
ance at all warrants, from the circumstance that 
Macaulay set to work seriously to demolish its 
reasoning, in reviewing Leigh Hunt's edition of the 
Restoration Dramatists. Lamb's essay was originally 
[)art of a larger essay upon the old actors, in which he 
was led to speak of the comedies of Congreve and 
Wycherley, and the reasons why they no longer held 
the stage. His line of defence is well known. He 
protests that the world in which their characters move 
is so wholly artificial — a conventional world, quite 
apart from that of real life — that it is beside the mark 

214 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

to judge them by any moral standard. " They are a 
world of themselves almost as much as fairy-land." 
The apology is really (as Hartley Coleridge acutely 
points out) for those who, like himself, could enjoy 
the wit of these writers, without finding their actual 
judgment of moral questions at all influenced by it. 
It must be admitted that Lamb does not convince us 
of the sincerity of his reasoning, and probably he did 
not convince himself. He loved paradox ; and he 
loved, moreover, to find some soul of goodness in 
things evil. As Hartley Coleridge adds, it was his 
way always to take hold of things "by the better 

The same love of paradox is manifest in the essay 
on Shakspeare's Tragedies^ "considered with reference 
to their fitness for stage representation." If there are 
any positions which we should not expect to find Laml) 
disputing, they are the acting qualities of Shakspeare's 
plays, and the intellectual side of the actor's art Yet 
these are what he devotes this paper to impugning. 
He had been much disgusted by the fulsome flattery 
contained in the epitaph on Garrick in Westminster 
Abbey. In this bombastic effusion, this "farrago of 
false thoughts and nonsense," aa Lamb calls it, Garrick 
is put on a level with Shaksjieare : — 
And till Eternity with power sublime 
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time, 
Shakspearc and Garrick like twin-8tar» shall shine, 
And earth irradiate with a beam divine. 

Why is it, asks Lamb, that " from the days of the 

IX lamb's place as a critic 215 

actor here celebrated to our own, it should have been 
the fashion to compliment every performer in his 
turn, that has had the luck to please the town in any 
of the great characters of Shakspeare, with the 
notion of possessing a mind congenial ivith the poet's : 
how people should come thus unaccountably to con- 
found the power of originating poetical images and 
conceptions with the faculty of being able to read or 
recite the same when put into words V And he goes 
on, in the same strain of contempt, to speak of the 
" low tricks upon the eye and ear " which the player 
can so easily compass, as contrasted with the " ab- 
solute mastery over the heart and soul of man, whicli 
a great dramatic poet possesses." No one knew better 
than Lamb that the resources of the actor's art are 
not fairly or adequately stated in such language as 
this. He had himself the keenest relish for good 
acting, and no one has described and criticised it 
more finely. Witness his description of his favourite 
Munden, in the part of the Greenwich Pensioner, Old 
Dosey, and of Bensley's conception of the character of 
Malvolio. Or, again, take the exquisite passage in 
which he recalls Mrs. Jordan's performance of Viola : 
"There is no giving an account how she delivered the 
disguised story of her love for Orsino. It was no 
set speech, that she had foreseen, so as to weave it 
into a harmonious period, line necessarily follomng 
line to make up the music — yet I have heard it so 
spoken, or rather read, not without its grace and 
beauty ; but when she had declared her sister's 

21 G CHARLES LAMB chap. 

history to be a 'blank,' and that she 'never told 
her love,' there was a pause, as if the story had 
ended — and then the image of the ' worm in the bud ' 
came up as a new suggestion — and the heightened 
image of 'Patience' still followed after that, as by 
some growing (and not mechanical) process, thought 
springing up after thought, I would almost say, as they 
were watered by her tears." We are quite sure that 
the writer of these eloquent words did not seriously 
regard the art of acting as a mere succession of tricks 
"upon the eye and ear." He was for the moment 
prejudiced against the great actor — whom, by the 
way, he had never seen, Garrick having left the stage 
in 1776 — by the injudicious language of his flatterers. 
But if we make due allowance for his outburst of 
spleen, we shall find much that is admirably tnie 
mixed up with it. Critics have often, for instance, 
insisted uj)on what is gained by seeing a drama acted, 
as distinguished from reading it, and Lamb here 
devotes himself to showing how far it is from being 
all gain. " It is difficult for a frequent playgoer to 
disembarrass the idea of Hamlet from the person 
and voice of Mr. Kemble. We speak of Lady 
Macbeth, while we are in reality thinking of Mrs. 
Siddons." We get distinctness, says Lamb, from 
seeing a character thus embodied, but " dearly do wo 
pay " for this sense of distinctness. 

This line of criticism leads up to the crowning 
paradox of this essay, that the plays of Shakspearo 
" are less calculated for performance on a stage than 

IX lamb's place as a critic 217 

those of almost any other dramatist whatever." Here 
again it may be said that no one knew better than 
Lamb that in a most important sense these words are 
the very reverse of truth. There is no quality in 
which Shakspeare's greatness as a dramatist is more 
conspicuous than his knowledge of what is effective in 
stage representation. But Lamb chose to mean some- 
thing very different from this. He was thinking of 
certain other qualities in the poet which are incom- 
municable by the medium of acting, and on these he 
proceeds to dwell, discussing for that purpose the 
traditional stage rendering of Hamlet and other 
characters. He points out how the stage Hamlet 
almost always overdoes his scorn for Polonius, and 
his brutality to Opheha, and asks the reason of this. 
It does not seem to occur to him that this is simply 
bad acting, and that it is not at all a necessary incident 
of the art that Hamlet's feelings should be thus 
represented. He seems to be confounding the limita- 
tions of the particular actor with those of his art. 
Indeed it is clear that many of the positions main- 
tained in this paper are simply convenient oppor- 
tunities for enlarging upon some character or con- 
ception of the great dramatist. 

Lamb had a juster complaint against Garrick than 
that supplied by the words of a foolish epitaph. He 
boldly expresses a doubt whether the actor was capable 
of any real admiration for Shakspeare. Would any 
true lover of his plays, he asks, have " admitted into 
his matchless scenes such ribald trash " as Tate and 


Gibber and the rest had foisted into the acting versions 
of the dramas 1 Much of the scorn and indignation 
expressed by Lamb in this paper becomes intelligible 
when we recall in what garbled shapes the dramatist 
was presented. Garrick himself had taken a pro- 
minent share in these alterations of the text It was 
ho who completely changed the last act of Hamlet, 
and turned the IFinter's Tale into a piece of Arcadian 
insipidity. But the greatest outrage of all, in Lamb's 
view, would be Tate's version of Lear — in a modified 
edition of which Garrick himself had performed. In 
this version — which the editor of Bell's acting edition 
(1774) calls a "judicious blending" of Shakspeare 
and Tate — the character of the Fool is altogether 
omitted ; Cordelia survives, and marries Edgar ; and 
Lear, Kent, and Gloster announce their intention of 
retiring into private life, to watch the happiness of 
the young couple, Lear himself bringing down the 
curtain with these amazing lines : — 

Thou, Kent, and I, retired from noise and strife, 
Will calmly pass our short reserves of time 
In cool reflections on our fortunes past, 
Clieered with relation of the prosi>crous reign 
Of this celestial pair ; thus our remains 
Shall in an even course of thoughts be past, 
Enjoy the present hour, nor fear the last 

This was the stuff which in Lamb's day the actors 
and their audience were content to accept as the work 
of the Master-hand. It may well account for a tone 

IX lamb's place as a critic 219 

of bitterness, and even of exaggeration, that pervades 
the essay. It is some compensation that it drew from 
Lamb his noble vindication of Shakspeare's original. 
The passage is well known, but I cannot deny myself 
the pleasure of quoting it once again : — 

The Lear of Shakspeare cannot be acted. The con- 
temptible machinery by which they mimic the storm 
which he goes out in, is not more inadequate to represent 
the horrors of the real elements than any actor can be to 
represent Lear ; they might more easily propose to per- 
sonate the Satan of Milton upon a stage, or one of Michael 
Angelo's terrible figures. The greatness of Lear is not in 
corporal dimension, but in intellectual ; the explosions of 
his passion are terrible as a volcano ; they are storms 
turning up and disclosing to the bottom that sea, his mind, 
with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. 
This case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be 
thought on : even as he himself neglects it. On the stage 
we see nothing but corporal infirmities and weakness, the 
impotence of rage ; while we read it, we see not Lear, but 
we are Lear, we are in his mind, we are sustained by a 
grandeur which baffles the malice of daughters and storms ; 
in the aberrations of his reason we discover a mighty 
irregular power of reasoning, immethodised from the 
ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers, as the 
wind blows where it listeth, at will upon the corruptions 
and abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones to do 
with that sublime identification of his age with tliat of the 
heavens themselves, when in his reproaches to them for 
conniving at the injustice of his children he reminds them 
that " they themselves are old " ? "What gestures shall we 


appropriate to this ? Wliat has the voice or the eye to do 
with such things ? But the play is beyond all art, as the 
tamperinga with it show : it is too hanl and stony ; it 
must have love-scenes, and a happy ending. It is not 
enough that Cordelia is a daughter ; she must shine as a 
lover too. Tate has put his hook in the nostrils of this 
Leviathan, for Garrick and his followers, the showmen of 
the scene, to draw the mighty beast about more easily. A 
happy ending ! — as if the living martyrdom that Lear had 
gone through, the flaying of his feelings alive, did not 
make a fair dismissal from the stage of life the only 
decorous thing for him. If he is to live and be happj' 
after, if he could sustain this world's bunlen after, why all 
this pudder and preparation — why torment us with all 
this unnecessary sympathy ? as if the childish pleasure of 
getting his gilt robes and sceptre again could tempt him 
to act over again his misused station — as if, at his years, 
and with his experience, anything was left but to die. 

No passage in Lamb's writings is better fitted than 
this to illustrate his peculiar power as a commentator. 
It as little suggests Hazlitt or Coleridge as it does 
Schlegel or Gervinus. It is more remote still — it need 
hardly be added — from the fantastic tricks of a later 
day, which are doing all they can to make Shak- 
spearian criticism hideous. Lamb's emphatic vindica- 
tion of the course of events in Shakspeare's tragedy 
of course implies a criticism and a commendation of 
the dramatist But no one feels that he is cither 
patronising, or judging, Shaksiware. He takes Lear, 
as it were, out of the hands of literature, and regards 

IX lamb's place as a critic 221 

him as a human being placed in the world where all 
men have to suffer and be tempted. We forget that 
he is a character in a play, or even in history. Lamb's 
criticism is a commentary on life, and no truer homage 
could be paid to the dramatist than that he should be 
allowed for the time to pass out of our thoughts. 

Thoroughly characteristic of Lamb is the admir- 
able paper on The Sanity of True Genius, suggested by 
Dryden's famous line as to "great wit" being nearly 
allied to madness. It aims to disprove this, and to 
show that, on the contrary, the greatest wits " will 
ever be found to be the sanest writers." He illus- 
trates this by the use that Shakspeare and others 
make of the supernatural persons and situations in 
their writings. " Caliban, the Witches, are as true to 
the laws of their own nature (ours with a difference) 
as Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Herein the great 
and the little wits are differenced : that if the latter 
wander ever so little from nature or actual existence, 
they lose themselves and their readers." And with a 
marvellous semblance of paradox, which yet is felt to 
be profoundly true, he proceeds to declare that in 
Spenser's Episode of the " Cave of Mammon," where 
the Money -God, and his daughter Ambition and 
Pilate washing his hands — the most discordant per- 
sons and situations — are introduced, the controlling 
power of the poet's sanity makes the whole more 
actually consistent than the characters and situations 
of everyday life in the latest novel from the Minerva 
Press. It is a proof, he says, " of that hidden sanity 

222 CHARLES LAMB chap. 

which still guides the poet in his wildest seeming 
aberrations." No detached sentences can, however, 
convey an idea of this splendid argument Nothing 
that Lamb has written proves more decisively how 
large a part the higher imagination plays in true 
criticism; nothing better illustrates the truth of 
Butler's claim, that the poet be tridl by his peers, 
And not by pedants and philosophers. 

That Lamb was a poet is at the root of his great- 
ness as a critic; and his o^vn judgments of poetry 
show the same sanity to which he points in his poetical 
brethren. He is never so impulsive or discursive that 
he fails to show how unerring is his judgment on 
all points connected with the poet's art. There had 
been those before Lamb, for example, who had quoted 
and called attention to the poetry of George Wither ; 
but no one had thought of noticing that his metre 
was also that of Ambrose Philips, and that Pope and 
his friends had only proved their own defective ear 
by seeking to make it ridiculous. " To the measure 
in which these lines are written, the wits of Queen 
Anne's days contemptuously gave the name of Namby- 
Pamby, in ridicule of Ambrose Philips, who has used 
it in some instances, as in the lines on Cuzzoni, to my 
feeling at least very dcliciously ; but Wither, whose 
darling measure it seems to have been, may show that 
in skilful hands it is capable of expressing the subtlest 
movement of passion. So true it is, what Drayton 

IX lamb's place as a ceitic 223 

seems to have felt, that it is the poet who modifies 
the metre, not the metre the poet." 

It was in the margin of a copy of Wither's poems 
that this exquisite comment was originally made ; 
and in such a casual way did much of Lamb's finest 
criticism come into being. All through his life, in 
letter and essay, he was making remarks of this kind, 
throwing them out by the way, never thinking that 
they would be hereafter treasured up as the most 
luminous and penetrative judgments of the century. 
And it may well be asked why, with such a range of 
sympathy, from Marlowe to Ambrose Philips, from 
Sir T. Browne to Sir William Temple, he was so 
limited, so one-sided in his estimate of the literature 
of his own age 1 It is true that he was among the 
first in England to appreciate Burns and Wordsworth. 
But to Scott, Byron, and Shelley he entertained a 
feeling almost of aversion. He was glad (as we gather 
from the essay on The Sanity of True Genius) that *' a 
happier genius " had arisen to expel the " innutritions 
phantoms " of the Minerva Press ; but the success of 
the Waverley Novels seems to have caused him amuse- 
ment rather than any other feeling. About Byron 
he wrote to Joseph Cottle, " I have a thorough aversion 
to his character, and a very moderate admiration of 
his genius : he is great in so little a way. To be a 
poet is to be the man, not a petty portion of occasional 
low passion worked up in a permanent form of 
humanity." Shelley's poetry he told Barton he did 
not understand, and that it was "thin sown with 


en A P. 

profit or delight" When he read Goethe's Faud (of 
course in an English version), he at once pronounced 
it inferior to Marlowe's in the chief motive of the plot, 
and was evidently content to let criticism end there. 
Something of this may be ascribed to a jealousy in 
Lamb — a strange and needless jealousy for his own 
loved writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen- 
turies, and a fear lest the new-comers should usuqj 
some of the praise and renown that he claimed for 
them; something, also, to a per^'ersenes3 in him 
which made him like to be in opposition to the current 
opinion, whatever it might be. He was often unwill- 
ing, rather than unable, to discuss the claims of a new 
candidate for public favour. He lived mainly in 
communion with an older literature. It was to him 
inexhaustible in amount and in excellence, and he was 
impatient of what sought to divert his attention from 
it It was literally true of him that " when a new 
book came out — he read an old one." 

But even of the old ones, the classics of our litera- 
ture, it was not easy to say what his opinion in any 
case would l)e. For instance, he was a great admirer 
of Smollett, and was with great difficulty brought to 
admit the superiority of Fielding, And in the work 
of a greater humorist than Smollett, in the Picaresque 
school — Gil Bias — he would not acknowledge any merit 
at all. The truth is that for Lamb to enjoy a work 
of humour, it must emlx>dy a strong human interest, 
or at least have a pulse of himianity throbbing 
through it Humour, without pity or tenderness, 

IX lamb's place as a critic 225 

only repelled him. It was another phase of the same 
quality in him that — as we have seen in his estimate 
of Byron — where he was not drawn to the inan, he 
was almost disabled from admiring, or even under- 
standing, the man's work. Had he ever come face to 
face with the author for a single evening, the result 
might have been quite different. 

There is no difficulty, therefore, in detecting the 
limitations of Lamb as a critic. In a most remark- 
able degree he had the defects of his qualities 
Where his heart was, there his judgment was sound. 
Where he actively disliked, or was passively indiffer- 
ent, his critical powers remained dormant. He was 
too fond of paradox, too much at the mercy of his 
emotions or the mood of the hour, to be a safe guide 
always. But where no disturbing forces interfered, 
he exercised a faculty almost unique in the history of 
criticism. When Southey heard of his Specimens of 
the English Dramatic Poets, he wrote to Coleridge : 
"If co-operative labour were as practicable as it is 
desirable, what a history of English literature might 
he and you and I set forth ! " Such an enterprise 
would be, as Southey saw, all but impossible ; but if 
the spiritual insight of Coleridge, and the unwearied 
industry and sober common-sense of Southey, could 
be combined with the special genius of Charles Lamb, 
something like the ideal commentary on English 
literature might be the result.' 

As it is, Lamb's contribution to that end is of the 
rarest value. If it is too much to say that he singly 

226 CHARLES LAMB chap, ix 

revived the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is 
because we see clearly that that revival was coming, 
and would have come even without his help. But he 
did more than recall attention to certain forgotten 
writers. He flashed a light from himself upon them, 
not only heightening every charm and deepening 
every truth, but making even their eccentricities 
beautiful and lovable. And in doing this he has 
linked his name for ever with theirs. When we think 
of " the sweetest names, and which carry a perfume 
in the mention, — Kit Marlowe, Drayton, Dnunmond 
of Hawthornden, and Cowley," — then the thought of 
Charles Lamb will never be far off. His name, too, 
has a perfume in the mention. "There are some 
rej)utations," wrote Southey to Caroline Bowles, 
" which will not keep, but Lamb's is not of that kind. 
His memory will retain its fragrance as long as- the 
best spice that ever was exj)ended upon one of the 


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